Back to a lot of movies this week,
Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch, Germany/Japan/United States Of America) ***1/2
There’s a distinct flavor to a Jim Jarmusch film, and Dead Man is no different. Mr. Jarmusch overloads Dead Man with style, but hidden beneath the style is a great amount of substance. The black and white look of Dead Man is gorgeous, and the offbeat framing style of Mr. Jarmusch really fits the story. But, it is in said story where Dead Man shines the most. A frivolous tale of mistaken identity and an acid fueled journey belie the theme of labeling. All the characters in Dead Man fall into the labels they are given, similar to how Mr. Jarmusch falls into the style he has been labeled as producing. There’s no escape from labels in Mr. Jarmusch’s film, and in the end no matter how much one may not want to they will become the label they have been given. Substance, and damn pretty to look at, Dead Man is one unique Western.
Gettin’ Some (2013, Luther Bhogal-Jones, United Kingdom) **
I appreciate the effort behind Gettin’ Some, but that’s not the same as appreciating the film. Gettin’ Some was made on absolutely no budget, and it does show. Truth be told I can forgive all of the elements that point to a film made on no budget. The so so acting, the dicey editing, and so on. Regardless of budget story should not be a problem, and for me the story in Gettin’ Some was a pretty big problem. In order for me to be interested in any of the musings and ramblings of the characters I needed to be given a reason to care about said characters. I was never given a reason to care about any characters in Gettin’ Some, and that was where the great disconnect formed between myself and the film. Like I said at the onset, I appreciate the no budget effort. But, I would have liked a more engaging story with well drawn characters, and that’s something Gettin’ Some wasn’t going to provide regardless of budget.
It’s No Game (2013, Gideon Blackman, United Kingdom) **1/2
I did find myself laughing a few times during It’s No Game. The laughs weren’t from the belly, but they were a nice consistent chuckle. The sort of laugh that comes from something that isn’t uproariously funny but is funny in its own peculiar way. The character of Mr. G was especially funny, his dry delivery more than made up for the too timid approach of the lead actor. Although, truth be told the timid approach from Joseph Loughrell did work really well on a few occasions to deliver one of those peculiar jokes I was talking about earlier. There was one particular scene right near the end of the film, the penultimate scene if you will, that simply did not belong with the rest of It’s No Game. Whereas the rest of the film was absurdly comedic, the penultimate scene was deathly serious in a way that did not tonally fit. Still, I enjoyed the majority of It’s No Game, and I did have a nice chuckle with the short, and that counts for something in my book.
Reprise (2006, Joachim Trier, Norway) ***
I did like most of what Reprise had to offer, but the way that Joachim Trier played with narration and time shifting left me cold. It was as if those pieces of the film were inserted to dampen the momentum the film had gathered, as well as my interest in the film as a whole. The quality acting and the feeling of dread and inevitability that permeated Reprise consistently helped the film to regain said momentum. By itself the story was engaging, it overcame its predictability by investing some time in its main characters. The narration breaks, and the playing with time, those were the only real drawbacks for me, but they did affect my enjoyment of the film quite a bit.
ParaNorman (2012, Chris Butler & Sam Fell, United States Of America) ***
Splendidly animated, and a story that isn’t afraid to turn some cliches on their heads. Still, I felt ParaNorman was missing that extra something to really put it over the top. I’m not sure what that something was, or how to put it into words. All I know is that when the film had finished I felt that the film had held back in some areas and been a little too “cute” in others. That being said, I really did love the animation, as well as the way that the film played with horror concepts. I wish that the relationships had been developed more and not just a series of one liners or screams, but the characters were still enjoyable. ParaNorman is far from the top of the class in 2012 animation, but it’s still a decent movie.
Chunhyangdyun (Chunhyang, 2000, Kwon-taek Im, South Korea) **
Perhaps I am missing the boat when it comes to Chunhyangdyun. Everything about this film annoyed the crap out of me, and I appear to be in the minority with that opinion. The decision to make the narration into a spoken word musical form is baffling to me. Said decision results in annoying musical voiceover throughout that is the worst kind of voiceover narration as most of the time it’s telling me exactly what is happening on screen. The overbearing narration took me out of the film right away, and I was never able to get back into the film. I didn’t care about any of the gender politics, the sets, costumes, etc. because the narration wouldn’t allow me to engage with the film. To some this is an underseen masterpiece, but to me it’s a failed musical that is disaffecting and overwrought at every turn.
Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal, United States Of America) ***1/2
Rick Rosenthal would never be better as a director than he was in Halloween II. This film is a master class in horror framing, in getting the most out of spatial relations to create tension and create iconic imagery. It’s not Halloween, but Halloween II is pretty damn close. A streamlined slasher flick that is about the slow and methodical killer loosed in a great setting. The score is just as terrific as it always is in this series, but Mr. Rosenthal makes tremendous use of silence as well. There are a lot of well done gore shots, but the film never loses sight of the build and the tension that is so important to a quality payoff in a horror film. I remember liking Halloween II, but I damn well didn’t remember it being this great.
Vozvrashchenie (The Return, 2003, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia) ***1/2
A coming of age story on the surface, but so much more beneath said surface. Vozvrashchenie gets to the heart of some very Russian themes, such as the toughness of youth, the need to be a man sooner than a boy should have to, and a country that has been left barren by the neglect of its previous generation. At the same time the film touches on some universal themes, like the importance of a parent (whether or not he/she is around) and the bond formed between siblings. The story could be read as manipulation in the amount of information the narrative withholds. I wouldn’t agree with that assessment, Vozvrashchenie is not a film about the information of the past, but the actions of the now. Slow and laconic, Vozvrashchenie is filled with beautiful and haunting imagery. This is a film that will stay with the viewer, and make more of an impression than any pre-fabricated comedy coming of age story from Hollywood.
A mixed bag this week, but the cream of the crop was very tasty indeed. The tops of the cream was an example of the best the slasher subgenre of horror has to offer, and that’s why Halloween II takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!