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1436 reviews in total 
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Vigilante (1983)
Seething justice, 19 October 2014

A husband has to take justice in his own hands, reluctantly at first, in the end comes to see the necessity. His wife has been brutalized by nasty gang-bangers in their own home, their little son torn to pieces; so we're made to feel for the necessity, we pore with interest over the ugly world where but for some dumb turn of chance it could happen to us and we'd be helpless to reason our way out of it in much the same way.

It's a Death Wish scenario of course, almost a replica. The city must look believably grimy, they do it here. It's from the same filmmaker who had done Maniac a few years prior, he films here the same bleak New York, a meaningless violence roams the streets. The man must look stoic in the face of what he must do without enjoyment, they find one in Forester. The crime, the system that fails to do anything about it, these all upset in the usual way.

So it works in a small way, leaving us to think that necessity is some kind of insight, it never is, but sheer determination carries it. The violence we've witnessed haunts and wants an outlet where it takes shape. Fred Williamson delivers a few seething speeches on how this is justice. It's okay.

Maniac (1980)
Soliloquies of the knife, 16 October 2014

Horror is most purely about the violent impulse that surges from behind the eyes, the mist it creates; a story can be anything. Here it's the simplest story, man goes crazy in the big city, unable to contain the impulse, the whole seen through his mist.

There's a trauma that haunts him we find out, his cramped apartment is the mind then that fixates on memory and dwells among the fragments. The walls are lined with old photos of women, mannequins are scattered around; objects of a dead representation that he hoards unable to let go.

Quite a bit more of that story is explained to us later on, not much interesting; Freudian stuff about a mother, a vengeful child who never grew. But there's nothing we can't know by just seeing him pace up and down in his apartment, muttering to himself.

There's later a human connection to a photographer girl who snaps a picture of him one day in the park. The scenario is completely forced, a stranger knocks on her door one day and they're best friends within minutes. But it's an opportunity to put our finger on the pulse; she a photographer who also freezes life into image but she's able to let go and share it in the open, while it just drives him to madness. We see her fuss with her models during a shoot much like he does with his gruesome mannequins, but her fiction has life, playfulness.

There's of course the violence, though it doesn't cut like perhaps it did then. It's still bloody and vivid. But what makes it powerful in its niche is the air of desperation around it, the whole film an internal monologue carving its garbled madness on the body of the night.

New York looks suitably barren, from the time before the makeover when people would walk down streets as bleak as in this film to see movies like it in dingy fleapit cinemas down 42nd street. The film is from that time when horror could perhaps still unsettle with the thought that somewhere in the same city deranged souls very much like the character skulked around with a camera having horrible thoughts like this.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Allegoric oppression, 15 October 2014

There are two mindsets at war here trying to purge each other. One wants to revel in the anarchic horror it creates, the story is that for one night each year murder is legal across America, instincts come out to play. It's the same instinct that brings us in front of the screen for this, the desire to see ordered life go to pieces, safeties assailed.

Would we watch this if it was about people quietly huddling in their homes until they night was over? No, we want to be out there, seeing people purge from the safe distance of fiction, seeing the inanity of the violence, it's the whole reason we come. And along the way, having drawn this violent self out, endless opportunity to show how this violent self already creeps in the fabric of normal life and waits for this one night; a lecherous neighbor, a wife who is cheated on.

It's a great idea, you can already tell it's going to be a recurring event each summer.

The other mindset is that seriously political things must be said through all this. We can't be just allowed to watch and arrive at conclusions, we have to be bluntly purged of thinking for ourselves. The 'purge' is organized by an oppressive government. It has to be assisted by government troops, the people just don't kill enough. It's all so hamfisted on this end - the rich literally buy the poor as fodder for their game show.

Did we have the slightest bit of trouble understanding for ourselves in the first Dawn of the Dead the desensitized world, the egos and pecking orders? The havoc was organic, swarmed out of nowhere like instincts do. Here it's all the rich guys' fault to get rid of the poor. It's the same Hunger Games mentality at play, a corporate one, where 'sponsors' lure an audience promising spectacle only to constantly remind it's all so decadent and oppressive.

So it devolves from the horror of what people can do to the horror of what an evil government orchestrates, leaving us witless consumers of a message. It's oppressive to watch as what it warns against. The Warriors was as removed from actual life but then it never said it was more than opera.

In the end it all comes down to action kicking and punching rich guys to escape from their maze.

'Trying to do magic instead of havoc', 5 October 2014

This is an action thriller by Besson but shows a softer glint beneath the guns. A gun opens the night, fired by the heroine for no particular reason at all, a moment's whim but it takes someone's life, a karmic chain whirs in place. She then emerges inside a spyworld where she's going to be groomed to be the action heroine we expect, a figurative death has preceded.

But something's off in this underground spyworld, the effort is not fidelity to genre. Her spymaster takes a birthday cake to her room, the room's walls are painted with scrawlings like out of a child's paintwork, this to underscore something we've been seeing. Besson isn't propping here the cool silent image of the gun totting hero, he would later. This heroine is childlike, irreverent, fragmented.

I am reminded here of Ruiz's drawings of internal landscape using genre ink dipped in mirrors, he would later use Parillaud in a film I've seen called Shattered Image. A whimsical irreverence as she flummoxes instructors in the academy, this is all ostensibly under the pretense that she's being groomed to be the genre character but it's also the entry to what's promising. Different portraits of this girl, the journey is to womanhood as a woman advises while doing her makeup., femininity as growing into your role.

The role expects pain, as all roles do. There's a love affair, schematic but this is to quickly set up a next life where she has her own life that she shares, one of spontaneous gestures, joy that just wells up from breakfast in bed - nothing like the soulless Angelina Jolie products that explain plots. But what do we see of that love, what pain threatens?

An ordinarily happy one but suddenly being yanked by doubt; 'Josephine' on the phone, and she has to drop everything and sneak out for the spy story where she has to pretend to be someone else, in Venice she has to worry about shooting a target while her man outside the door pours out a confession. Here nothing is really explained of the missions, we figure it but the point is the intrusion, the spying as doubt.

I don't get from it the coercion and oppression of a beautiful spirit by society, this would turn her into merely an icon of purity. I see all this as the same obstacles, outlandish here to thrill ourselves on the side, that every life has to face as it grapples to realize magic in the havoc.

Besson promises here a better film than he eventually delivers, because the promise is masterful but it requires an even more fluid hand that wants to trace the contours; I imagine a threehour film in the hands of Rivette who gave us Celine and Julie about girls confronting the responsibility to a role. A third shift has her disguised as a man in hat and coat, abandoning her femininity to snap images of meaningless documents.

The ending is poignant, we never really truly know what casts the shadow, this is even before shooting the gun, we're never told where she goes.

Slow middle - but life crawls that way, 1 October 2014

The film is notorious for the opening sequence, a babysitter receives unsettling phonecalls in the middle of the night, most reviews recommend it for this opening and find the rest boring. The scene is potent, if not typical now, there are more intense scenes from the time, and yet the rest of the film also deserves to be propped up in horror viewers' estimation.

It's telling that only the opening (and very similar last) scenes are recommended, the ones were a pure girl is menaced in four walls by an unseen presence. Inbetween the killer is revealed to be not a masked figment of pure evil but a mentally unstable john who gets a beating, later on we follow a burly PI as he tracks him and not a beautiful girl as she scampers away in terror.

I say again and again in IMDb comments that horror is a matter of perception, this is so clearly what haunts in the first scene, the notion that something, a presence, is out there in the same house, that it can be anywhere and conjured anywhere by the imagination, the kitchen, the livingroom, that it comes through the phone to haunt the whole of space.

And so a closer look shows that the whole film is in the same vein, a proximity to evil, a premonition and search for it in familiar surroundings, initially (and again in the end) this is just the ordinary suburban home but later opened up to be the whole of New York with its crummy alleys and nondescript concrete, and this is every bit as potent, that the presence of this deranged man somewhere in this city brings out an entire space that is quietly haunted.

One scene marvelously has him hide in a Salvation Army hospital in the middle of the night, we see nameless streets with baleful figures dragging their feet, drunks, hobos, earlier a lonely woman alone in her house after bar-hopping; there's a whole lonely city that aches out there.

And I also like how this disembodied presence becomes a damaged human being, and that we become the killing presence seeking him out. The PI (ex-cop) decides to snuff the killer rather than make the arrest, the moral complexity has him lie to him in the end as he tries to calm him down so he can get a quick kill.

It is slow in the middle, not as a matter of art so much as dwelling observation.

It's not all there, you will have to observe and imagine, but what you will imagine may be something like the horror film Cassavetes never made.

Godzilla (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The serpentine skin of flow, 27 September 2014

Not many viewers will take to this. I agree with the first complaint, badly scripted and acted, bad even by comparison to Marvel's similar stuff.

I take a different tack on the other complaint, not much lizzard time. There's more behind the decision. The idea was to give us the usual Godzilla movie of destruction where a giant creature stomps around but through the eyes of people who run to and from it, as shifting glimpses of unfathomable beings tearing at the skies, to toy with and zigzag through our anticipation of panorama.

It's nothing new, Cloverfield did it most clearly, District 9, Spielberg's War of Worlds. Cloverfield's 'someone is filming this' angle is effective, placing us on the scene, but the deliberate amateurishness lacks elegance. So here, all other shortcomings aside, they tried to be creative in how they could choreograph this camera that unveils and acquires presence.

One clear example of this choreography begins with the discovery of the Russian sub on the island, a plane crashes down. The exploding fireball is seen from inside a train screeching to a halt where the protagonist sits with a child. We get no more than a vague glimpse of Godzilla's hulk swimming underneath a ship, rushing to battle, followed by another vague reveal of only bits of a larger creature to the reddish light of cascading flares, a majestic unveiling seen by an audience of onlookers.

Then a child's pov from inside the stopped train as lights come back on, popping up one by one in the cordon of tracks, guiding our eye to the monster, another unveiling here. The train drawn towards the monster as if by the urge to see, our eye with it. All this prefigures the first encounter between Godzilla and monster, but we only catch glimpses of this first battle as news footage on TV in front of which another child is dozing off on a couch, again teasing with postponement.

You'll see again and again this choreographed pattern of withthold and unveil, humorously in the destruction of Vegas, more ordinary actionlike in the night bridge scene.

A superb moment that encapsulates the approach has a special ops team parachute down on the city from a plane, they have to do a plot thing about a bomb, no matter. A beautiful shot at the edge of the atmosphere as planedoors open, then as they fall, a first-person parachutist's view of the two monsters fighting among skyscrapers unfurls across the screen, a majestic glimpse stolen on the way down.

How can anyone say there's no creativity here? It's what we came to see all along, monsters, only given to us in this more dynamic way, as ribbons of perception fluttering in the turbulence of spectacle. There are overall few shots of the monsters that are not tethered to a person on the scene, a pan downwards to soldiers running or sideways to our man injured as the 'mother' howls above her destroyed nest.

I don't think a great filmmaker was stifled here by the blandness of what he signed to, no. People are generally drawn to things that reflect their desires, this one towards spectacle. He may hone the storytelling for the next film or not, it doesn't matter to me. More polished formula doesn't improve meaning, but he may be a technician to watch.

A vacant certainty, 27 September 2014

Just the first scene with crowds of people rushing past the camera lays out the main anchor, the camera juggling its way among hurried faces but unable to rest on a single one: where is some certainty in life? Where we can ground ourselves, find meaning in a transient life that constantly outruns us and slips through the fingers?

The red-tinged bedroom scenes between boy and girl extend this anchor in a more intimate way. Does he love her? Does she love him? Words don't cut it, how can they be sure? Again certainty, being centered. There's a superficiality in the exchange like in Godard's cocky youth years ago; but I accept this as part of the life shown, the questions are deep after all. How can we know someone, make ourselves known? Hiroshima mon amour was about this, some of the deepest cinema.

So, forget about the plot of having to come up with money in 20' or the boy dies, this is so we can have a reason for the girl to desperately run to him putting herself in harm's way to be there even with empty hands, a reason for him to wait for her before he throws away his life. The twice repeated scenario so we can mull over the fragility of different pathways to love, love as certainty.

The first time she's too passive and gets there late, the second time too aggressive and overshoots the mark, the third is meant to ground us; a metaphor used is an ambulance that at first screeches inches short of a glass divide, the second time shoots right through, the third she latches on to it and finds inside someone who needs her to hold his hand, who she can be there for; this is the center, loving-kindness.

But all this growth is a schematic scenario, a mere tinkertoy that repeats, the quest reduced to a mechanical game. The money comes from spinning the roulette, magical reward for having 'followed' the right path. Once it's handed back they walk away smiling as if that has taken care of everything. So the initial shallowness is not overpowered by the depth of what they discover about each other, the rushing and waiting merely shuffles baggage to fit in the trunk and presents this as journey.

More Tarantino than Resnais, pity.

Sensual and fun, 27 September 2014

There's a vacation resort up in the mountains the girl, the fairytale princess, goes to with her family, the place as vibrant life opening up in front of her; games by the pool, dinner parties, dancing lessons for everyone, a senile, airbrushed safety that makes everything available, except the real stuff that make the heart beat faster. It takes place in the early 60s with Vietnam a faint worry, but just as well speaks to its own time of all the pleasing comfort and diversion that money can buy.

She enters his dancing space instead, tiptoeing one evening out of the family bungalow and across a path to the big house. She finds rhythm, bodies grinding, cessation of etiquette and empty chitchat and in their place passion and soul; sex of course, dance as discovery. He enters her dancing space and finds a desire to help others and get tangled up in their problems rather than coast through like the other vacationers, again cessation of etiquette and in its place zest and soul.

The fallacy of realism may keep some from enjoying it, pity. She a pure girl, shy but eager. He a movie hunk, tortured but good. Superficial strokes for the rest of the characters; smug Ivy League waiter, vacant sister. The sex is that soft movie sex where silhouettes are caressed against an orange bedroom glow.

What movie is real? It's all about the point-of-view, the point from which we view. Here it's the girl's on her journey to womanhood, the story of meeting someone like him, a movie hunk with a dancer's body who needs her nurturing, something she would dream about.

Would the sex be more 'real' if we were shown a cold slapping of thighs? The recent Adele comes to mind. It would be if sex was merely perspiring bodies writhing together, without the emotional air that wraps you up. So it is of course a commercial decision to not show for example nudity, to offer us simple dilemmas. But it does also embrace what this girl covets; touch, intimacy.

A more ambitious film would play everything in the dancefloor leading up to the eye, it could have been more slippery, this is safe, it doesn't tiptoe out. But I like the innocent quality, perfectly teenage. The princess can leave all this behind on her way to the safe life. Roman Holiday with dance.

Flashdance (1983)
Tacking on a last dance, 27 September 2014

It takes practice to probe ourselves for insight of how we felt about something, it's not easy. Easier to numb ourselves, watch and forget it afterwards, but in this way we never really know anything. This is also in a roundabout way the point behind musicals, easy to be numbed, takes practice to probe and push yourself to create something that is true.

The enemy of the protagonist in the musical or dance film then is compromise, mediocrity. It's the nagging worry that life will never amount to something, it will be drowned in routine—the antidote is dance, love, staging the circumstances that will permit purity of expression. In the musical this usually took the shape of showmen and women fighting to stage a show that sublimates the difficulties, this is also the case here, but with a twist.

A final show is promised early on, a dance audition that makes or breaks her future (she thinks), failing which she's going to become just another 9 to 5 person chasing after the next bill. The place is glum Pittsburgh, she works in a factory by day. Around her we see the people who have been numbed by failure, lost their color—the failed comedian, her ice-rink dancer friend who ends up on the floor of a sleazy titty bar after a bad performance.

They could have done something here. A bleak urban landscape instead of Broadway, the factory as the place where self is constructed to be only another cog in the machine—and yet in this place, dance, expression, sexuality. Her latenight show (she's an exotic dancer by night) struggling to find purity and truth in the midst of cheap thrills, still exhilarating in spite of how viewers consume it. Can dance become routine? Does it matter how the viewers see it?

Their twist was something else. The final show is always postponed and the fight to stage it and dream to be someone are dredged from a pseudo Cassavetes desperation about life instead of using the snappy cadence of the musical. A bit of dance in the beginning and end and the whole middle is an hour of wallowing. The idea must have been, first make the viewer bleed, serve us 'reality' instead of a musical fairytale.

But what I see is no less of a fairytale.

A materialism about the difficulties but when it comes to the last release, the dance audition, we go back to the snappy, idealized Hollywood dance we expected all along. She triumphs of course. An awestruck committee member claps childishly at how good. So the slice- of-life was merely an idealized style, a trope rather than commitment. It kills both the fun and the honesty, bad in a comical way. Pure and utter failure.

Only if you stop minding, 18 September 2014

It's enough for me when a film has spontaneity and spirit, what the Spanish call duende; it's okay to not be sophisticated, to not try to think up everything, there's no surer way after all of reaching your limits of observation (art is that) than an intellectual approach.

This observes in a simplistic way, a young dance hero at the local disco has to envision life ahead of just tonight. He works in a store by day, gets slapped upside the head by his Italian dad for being late for dinner and only minds that it messes his hairdo, not the indignity. By night though he commands the stage, life acquires shape, colorful order out of the swirl, and this is the beauty of dance and dance films in general; an expression that ritually transforms scattered reality, we see this wonderfully in the disco floor, room is cleared for him, he acts out with the whole body, the moves are not stupendously choreographed such as you'd see in a Gene Kelly confection, they look goofy now, much parodized as silly, but it clears up our own rooms from minding.

I like this in much the same way I like Showgirls. Easy to be critical of both, to dismiss as unsophisticated, to find the protagonists and overall lifestyle vacant and catty. Easy also to run into trouble in the effort to prop either as somehow profound satire that is above what it shows; it's not, even though the moral is creating an ordinary life outside the dance.

But it has a bit of the spirit that many films lack. This is all epitomized in Travolta; it's not necessarily in the moves, this duende, he could do it of course, but it's more than just suaveness that attracts, the dance scenes are few after all. It's in the eyes of spontaneous swagger, innocence and not being afraid to stupidly dance at the edge of the Brooklyn bridge.

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