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Weekly Review

This week has been a madhouse of sickness, screenings – The Boxtrolls, Tracks, A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Equalizer – and having nothing better to do than watch a bunch of movies at home. From 1950’s Akira Kurosawa to 2011 Lynn Shelton, I went on a tear of international and domestic, the old and the new cinema this week. Considering it’s still the beginnings of fall, I’ve been consuming horror movies like the sports oriented consume March Madness – though have admittedly slowed down since Kevin Smith‘s Tusk left me with harrowing nightmares. This week on the horror front though, the ones I expected to be good disappointed and vice versa. To quote The Kinks, “It’s a mixed up, muddled up shook up world“. Considering I ended up watching a lot more than I expected, let’s waste no more time and get down to business with this super duper long entry of Weekly Review.

RASHOMON (1950)

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The very idea that a film’s narrative could be untrustworthy was a novelty to not only Japanese cinema in the 1950 but cinema around the world. A massively important film that brought Japanese film to the international stage, Rashomon sees Akira Kurosawa play with perspective in such a way that changed the game. Following an encounter between a bandit, a samurai and his wife, Kurosawa’s film plays with the idea of the unreliable narrator, presenting four interpretations of the same exact incident and forcing us to parse out a given character’s shaded motivations from the truth of their testimony. Considered a masterpiece, Rashomon, aided by Kazuo Miyagawa‘s groundbreaking and moody cinematography, holds up today for its inventive take on what makes a story believable in the first place and is certainly a much watch for fans of foreign cinema. (A-)

JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002)

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Not very well acted or particularly scary, Ju-On: The Grudge fails to develop one single yarn worthy of interest. Instead franchise creator Takashi Shimizu essentially repeats the same gimmick over and over again with new victims in different locales. This wouldn’t be so egregiously lame if there weren’t seven additionally films in the series, all presumed scattershot and directionless. Broken down into six connected but disparate parts, Ju-On sees a bluish-white-tinged Japanese boy meow people to death and it just didn’t work for me at all. What evidently was horrifying for Japanese audiences and some horror fanboys failed to stir the slightest bit of intrigue or tension. Even the best scene – in which a spooky-faced girl awkwardly descends a staircase – is aped from an Exorcist deleted scene. (D)

YOUR SISTER’S SISTER (2011)

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A definitively mumblecore effort from Seattle director Lynn Shelton, Your Sister’s Sister is a restrained, emotionally honest depiction of loss and love and the intersection between the two. Starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt, Shelton’s tale sees a man struggling to get over his brother’s death attempt to take a respite from society but ends up crossing paths with an unexpected relation… and maybe impregnating her. Funny, sensitive and well acted, Your Sister’s Sister likely represents the best of Shelton’s work and is certainly worth a watch for anyone looking for something light but not fluffy. Now available on Netflix. (B-)

MY BEST FIEND (1999)

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Enough to convince me that were Kinski not a famous actor, he might have made quite a dictator, My Best Fiend attempts to get to the heart of the defunct relationship between German filmmaker Werner Herzog and his muse, actor Klaus Kinski. Filled with behind the scenes battles and Herzog poetically musing on events past, My Best Fiend seeks to answer how the two could have ever worked a day together, much less make five incredible films over the span of decades. I’d already been clued into the vanity and insanity that Kinski brought to set with him but watching the man in action is like having a front row seat to an atom bomb exploding. Hubristic, calculated and ultimately genius, Klaus Kinski is just one of those guys that comes around once in a lifetime and we’re lucky the madman stayed in front of the camera long enough to wrap a production…or 100. (B+)

INTO THE ABYSS (2011)

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A show-stopping documentary from Werner Herzog, Into the Abyss takes a pensive look at capital punishment in Texas. By interviewing both the victims, the perpetrators and the families of both, Herzog’s pointed questions carry the expected brainwracking sensitivity that he brings to each of his endeavors. Rather than try to find a solution to the problem, Herzog characteristically tries to piece together the emotional impact of it all. From the executor to the witnesses and to the executed themselves, he helps us understand the mélange of messy thoughts running through their minds. It likely won’t change your stance on the death penalty – that’s not the point – because Herzog gives equal credence to both sides, even while making his own opposing views quite clear. A powerful, hypnotic documentary that’s likely to inspire a few tears. (A)

HELLRAISER (1987)

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I had no idea how little the series iconic Pinhead would play into this gory horror affair as Hellraiser is a more much more interested in the idea of a twisted love triangle and human resurrection than it is with being a slasher of any sort. Clive Barker‘s 1987 British horror flick may have spawned a slew of lesser quality sequels and spinoffs but his original film – the only one which he directed – is actually quite a lot of fun. The practical effects are delightfully gooey and the love torn asunder plot line is marinated in equal amounts of Stockholm Syndrome and femme fatality. As a dated, creepy, yucky schlockfest, Hellraiser succeeds tremendously. (B-)

POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2006)

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Carelessly racist, deplorably insensitive, greviously disgusting, obnoxiously homophobic, massively misogynistic, aggressively stupid and poorly sung to boot, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead certainly accomplishes its goal of trying its hardest to be a bad movie. The totally childish sense of humor is actually fitfully funny but the juvenile charm wears off quickly, only to return in later portions where the gore is upped past 11 and the practical effects – though unconvincing – are enough to cull some laughs. Early on protagonist Arbie jokingly states, “My mom’s a retard and my dad’s blind”, which seems to kind of sum up the movie as an entirety. Attempting to skewer the genre in some kind of sadist, overblown way, Poultrygeist ends up the satirical equivalent of bukakke. (D+)

SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982)

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Outstanding performances from Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline make Sophie’s Choice an actor’s delight. Less admirable is the long-winded, onion-esque aspect of the two hour and thirty minute Holocaust opus. It’s a film in bad need of a narrative trim and even though the piece relies on our interaction and connection with the characters more than anything, such a pricetag of time never really seems called for or necessary. That being the case, the character work is still absolutely delightful – if you could throw such a cheery adjective as such a dreary film. Streep throws down one of her finest performances as a Polish Holocaust survivor, one that would go on to define the greatness she consistently brought with her to projects. From the perfect candor of her accent to the emotionality welling behind her fragile eyes, Streep is Sophie. Amazingly enough, co-star Kevin Kline almost threatens to overpower her when they share scenes together. While Streep took home the Oscar, Kline wasn’t even nominated – though he went on to win 6 years later for his (dramatically inferior) work in A Fish Called Wanda. (B+)
 

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