Tag Archives: The Uninvited

Scorecard: October

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

As usual in recent years, I devoted October almost solely to horror films, and actually managed to catch up on several that I’ve been meaning to see for a LONG time. I only loved a few of these, but I enjoyed watching them all. It was a good month, all in all, with a lot of variety despite sticking pretty much exclusively to a single genre. Horror has a lot of facets! Most of these capsules are recycled from posts at Row Three, so if you read me there, you’ve seen most of this – the only other film I saw in October was Take Shelter, so that capsule is brand new. I kind of like focusing on a single theme for a month. Maybe I’ll do it more often. (I probably won’t – I always say stuff like that and then don’t do it.)

What I Loved

The Cat and the Canary

It figures that my favorite new-to-me film of the month would turn out to be a silent. I think I’m made backwards or something. Heh. Anyway, this “old dark house” film was namechecked at the screening of The Bat I went to earlier this month (see capsule below), and even though I liked The Bat well enough, THIS is the film it largely wanted to be. I saw “largely” because this film is not a crime film in the same way, and those crime elements are solid in The Bat. The Cat and the Canary focuses on a last testament left by a crotchety old man twenty years ago – he stipulated waiting twenty years after his death to read it, and this is the time, with all his relatives gathered like vultures in his spooky old house to find out who will get his fortune. His instructions are complicated, involving a second inheritor if the main one proves to be insane, which leads to much suspicion all around. Add in a potential escaped lunatic running around through hidden passageways in the house and a mystery involving the family diamonds, plus some well-done comedy around the disparate group of people, not to mention the quite excellent Expressionist-style cinematography and really innovative animated titles, and this is a super-fun time. Is it scary? Well, maybe not, but there are some moments of genuine suspense and tension, and a few of the visuals are extremely creepy. I posted a longer review here.
1927 USA. Director: Paul Leni. Starring: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Shanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch, Arthur Edmund Carew, Martha Mattox.
Seen October 25 on Netflix Instant.

Carrie

I’ve had Carrie on my horror to-watch list every October for about three years – in other words, as long as I’ve had a horror to-watch list. I finally got to it! And despite its reputation and that I knew the basic beats of the menstruation-bullying-to-prom-night-revenge plot, the film still had a lot of surprises for me, most of them good. First off, Carrie’s mom is CRAZY – it’s a little disheartening to find yet another crazy Christian immortalized on celluloid, but I think it’s pretty obvious that she is totally off the deep end, not only extremely strict on Carrie’s interactions with boys, but insistent that natural biological functions are markers of specific sexual sins and that Carrie’s telepathic ability is a sign of demon possession. Although, to be fair, the film doesn’t really explain where that comes from. Anyway, what makes the film strong and memorable is the focus on Carrie, whose transformation into queen of the prom is utterly beautiful and utterly heartbreaking because you know what’s in store for her – the lead-up, though, is so well-done (if a bit retroactively cliched) that you ache for her to have her perfect night. The denoument had me a little baffled, I will admit, though, and undermines Carrie’s deserved revenge; I’m still not sure what I make of it. Plus De Palma has a tendency to go for flashy shots when he doesn’t need them – the writing and acting here is strong enough that he could afford to save those flashy moments for really striking scenes, giving them greater impact. Longer review here.
1976 USA. Director: Brian De Palma. Starring: Sissy Spacek, William Katt, Piper Laurie, John Travolta.
Seen October 19 on DVD.

The Descent

My interest in seeing this cave creature feature went up a lot after I quite enjoyed Neil Marshall’s Centurion, but the opportunity never presented itself until now. Six young women who have shared various outdoors adventures with each other meet up again to do a little spelunking a year after one member of the group lost her husband and daughter in a car accident. The trip is supposed to kind of bring the friends back together again after the trauma, but things, well, don’t go according the plan. Tensions rise when the trip planner reveals it’s an unexplored cave and that cave-in might just block the only entrance; even this part of the film is good, with some quite intense cave-in and climbing scenes. But they’re not alone in the cave, and the film continues to ramp up all the way to the end, balancing out and out action and thrills with quiet moments that are often just as nail-bitingly intense. The scares here are solid, and even though some are jump scares (which I don’t necessarily like), a lot of them are also the quieter “evil thing randomly in a shot” kind of scares that I LOVE. The effects are surprisingly good despite what I assume is a relatively low budget, and though it’s not hard to predict the order of deaths, there are still a lot of surprises in HOW they come. I apparently watched the director’s cut version, which has quite a different ending merely by having an extra couple of minutes of footage to the end of the theatrical cut – from what my boyfriend was telling me, I muchly prefer the darker DVD cut.
2005 UK. Director: Neil Marshall. Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone.
Seen October 16 on DVD.

What I Liked

The Fog

This was a nearly random pick off Netflix Instant (not totally random, because I have been meaning to watch more John Carpenter films), and I knew almost nothing about it. I haven’t seen the remake or anything. I ended up really enjoying it – Carpenter has a talent for the kind of creepy scares that I love. Not quite jump scares, but where something just appears (with no cut or music to make it a jump) or you become aware of the bad guy’s presence and it sends chills down your spine. I love that, and there are several scenes in here that did that for me. The story is based on a ghost story (told wonderfully by John Houseman to a bunch of kids in the first scene) about a group of people killed 100 years earlier when their ship wrecked in a massive fog. Legend has it that when the fog returns, so will they, and this apparently is the year for it. Fog is creepy anyway, hiding things until they’re right upon you and tending toward exactly the kind of reveals I just mentioned. And there’s more to the story, as the priest in the town uncovers, that means these ghosts are not just unsettled due to their violent deaths, but actually seeking revenge. Not all of this plot works out totally, and the end is fairly nonsense-making, but on a scene-by-scene basis, I loved this. I actually liked it a little bit more than Halloween, which I’m sure I’ll get eviscerated for, but it’s because I like the ghost back story more (despite the nonsense-making). Halloween is the tighter, better movie, but The Fog appealed to my sensibilities more.
1980 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman.
Seen October 24 on Netflix Instant.

Halloween

Yes, I had never seen this before, though it’s been on my list for a few years. Really, I don’t have much interest in slasher films, but I felt like I needed to see the first entry in each of the major franchises just to be able to say I had and have some level of competence as a film buff. I expected Halloween to be one of the best of those initial films, and it pretty much is. The film establishes Michael Myers with a creepy first-person opening, then immediately jumps ahead to him escaping from the mental institution where he’s been ever since – enough back story to set him up as a character, but not enough to risk falling into the psychoanalysis explanations that too many remakes fall into. But we’re also introduced to Jamie Lee Curtis’s character along with her less-well-grounded friends, giving us a connection to her that a lot of later slasher films eschew (to their detriment). And then the film does those creepy reveals and disappearances that I like so much, even if Carpenter here tends to announce them with obvious music cues. I like his score for the film, so I didn’t mind too much, but some of them I think would’ve been more effective if Michael had just appeared with no score backup. The moment in the screencap above is the best. Anyway, by the time the killing actually gets going, the atmosphere is sufficiently built and it steamrolls to the end nicely. Still, like I mentioned above under The Fog, a psycho killing teenagers is not really that interesting to me as a basic plotline. It’s handled here better than most movies I’ve seen, but it doesn’t really grab me beyond the level of craft.
1978 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Tony Moran, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Ciphers.
Seen October 27 on DVD.

Eyes Without a Face

For once I made good on a promise to see a film soon after I made it, thanks to a couple of Row Three-ers talking it up recently. I won’t say I loved it immediately, but I can definitely see the haunting and disturbing beauty that draws people to it. Dr. Génessier is one of the most clinical and detached monsters I’ve seen in cinema – he doesn’t even seem to care that much about his daughter Christiane, whose facial scarring he’s trying to fix via skin grafts. She even indicates that she’s more of a guinea pig to him, a convenient way for him to practice surgical grafts of this level of complexity. Despite our intellectual understanding of her plight, it remains a little hard to empathize with her – that’s partially due to the blank mask she wears to cover her injury, and also to her seeming indifference (for a while, at least) to the girls her father kidnaps and operates on to get faces for her – but in a way, that very distance is horrific in and of itself. Christiane doesn’t say a whole lot, so we’re mostly left with this masked girl wandering around an ornate house, a house which is hers but yet she seems utterly alien in it. That otherworldly quality continues to the ambiguous but poetic ending; the film is more like a strange dream than a horror film (it doesn’t go for scares), though I will say, the operation scene was far more graphic than I expected!
1960 France. Director: Georges Franju. Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob.
Seen October 23 on HuluPlus.

Take Shelter

My one new release, non-horror film of the month! Although, in a way, it is pretty scary – more on the level of a psychological drama/thriller than horror, but still. Shannon turns in yet another fantastic performance as a working class husband and father plagued by nightmares (and sometimes daytime visions) of a massive encroaching storm. He knows mental illness runs in his family (his mother has been hospitalized since he was ten), and fears he may be suffering from schizophrenia, but even as he takes steps to seek medical treatment and therapy, he can’t fight the compulsion to fix up the old storm shelter outside his house to protect his family from the storm he dreads. This causes havoc in his family, already dealing with a lot due to the young daughter’s deafness – aside from his instability frightening his wife (one of several fine roles for Chastain this year) and child, his actions threaten his job and thus the medical insurance that would cover his daughter’s cochlear implant. It’s a lot to deal with, but writer/director Nichols shows remarkable restraint in focusing on this family and their day-to-day interactions, many of which are wonderful and normal – the constant threat of breakdown is meaningful because all the actors, including young Stewart, do such a great job of making this family real to us. The storm metaphor is an obvious one, but it works, and a bunch of the scenes just play like gangbusters. It repeats itself a bit sometimes and could’ve been trimmed a bit, but this is a very strong second feature from Nichols (his previous Shotgun Stories I actually own via some blog contest I won, but have never watched), with some great visuals ably supported by a great score and a raft of solid performances.
2011 USA. Director: Jeff Nichols. Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Wingham.
Seen October 29 at a Laemmle cinema.

The Wicker Man

Another one that’s been on my horror to-watch list for years; how I made it this long knowing as little about the story as I did I’m not sure. I knew there was something about a remote village and cultists, but that’s about it. Religious/ideological battles are at the heart of this film much more strongly than I expected. Police detective Woodward heads to this remote Scottish village on a tip that a girl there has gone missing, but when he gets there, everyone (including the girl’s mother) denies that she even existed. Sensing something’s up, the detective keeps poking around, running across rituals and teachings that hearken back to pre-Christian paganism. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Christian in a personal sense, but he’s explicitly saving his virginity for his upcoming marriage, and when confronted with the contented villagers practicing public orgies and teaching their children about the Maypole as a phallic symbol, he can’t quite stand it and goes all holier-than-thou on them, much to their amusement. The film skews toward the pagans for much of its running time, as Woodward comes across as a bumbling interloper interfering in things that aren’t his business, but that only makes the eventual climax that much more disturbing. Note I didn’t say “scary.” The film isn’t really scary in a visceral way, but by end (which is somehow both surprising and inevitable), it is existentially frightening. I suspect that sense will increase on rewatch, when I’m not as focused on figuring out what’s going to happen. Oh, and for the record, I did love the inclusion of all the weird folk music which almost threatens to make the film an out-and-out musical for a little while. It’s a weirder film than I was expecting, but a less scary one.
1973 UK. Director: Robin Hardy. Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt.
Seen October 13 on IFC (via DVR).

[Rec] 2

The first [rec] was a fantastic example of the first-person camera found-footage technique (one of the few that’s fairly internally consistent), and made great use of its claustrophobic environments. The second one picks up right where it left off, with our intrepid reporter in the attack on the verge of being caught by the virus’s progenitor, then cuts to a SWAT team about to enter the building to shut down whatever is causing the attacks. The scares here aren’t as effective because they’re more out in the open – instead of a creepy feeling of something being just out of sight, the infected here are right there in your face. Which is more gross, but less scary. There are some really interesting things done with structure, though, as parts of the film are done from the point of view of a group of kids who think it’d be cool to break into the building – they’re pretty freaking annoying, but seeing some of the things from a different perspective is nice. The tension ramps up toward the end, and there’s a fairly neat use of night vision. I enjoyed the film, but it doesn’t have the pure viseral thrills of the first.
2009 Spain. Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca.
Seen October 6 on DVD.

Candyman

I hadn’t even heard of this film before my boyfriend started telling me about it – he likes the Chicago ghetto location and the way the ending plays out, which of course he wouldn’t tell me about until after I’d watched it. I was apprehensive, and it was definitely more on the jump scare creepy side than I usually like, but it did have elements that I appreciated. For one, like he said, the location in the Chicago projects is quite interesting, and the way Virginia Madsen’s character (very white, very middle-class) gets drawn in there through her academic research into urban legends works pretty well – it creates a double element of danger because, really, she probably shouldn’t be there at all, mythical killer or no mythical killer. Then the way the plot turns as she starts seeing Candyman and somehow winding up at crime scenes in incriminating circumstances gave it a thriller angle that I didn’t expect (I even wondered for a while if there was a non-supernatural explanation for everything). Some of the imagery (like the paintings in Candyman’s lair) was nice and creepy, too. It goes on a bit too long at times, and even though I liked the ending on a visceral level, it doesn’t quite make sense to me, but that seems to be happening with a bunch of these horror films. Ah, well.
1992 USA. Director: Bernard Rose. Starring: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Tony Todd, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams.
Seen October 29 on DVD.

The Skeleton Key

I’ve tended to avoid most mainstream horror movies for the past several years, mostly because they aren’t frankly very good. I’m not sure I’d call The Skeleton Key GOOD, per se, but I had an enjoyable time watching it, and it definitely has some intriguing concepts under the hood. Kate Hudson takes a job caring for an older man who’s had a stroke at the old Southern mansion home he and his wife share in the bayous of Louisiana. You pretty much can’t have a supernatural horror flick set outside New Orleans without voodoo (or hoodoo, as the film distinguishes them), and sure enough, turns out the house originally belonged to a Southern gentleman who had no concept of his black servants being anything more than “the help,” when in fact, they were hoodoo practictioners of the highest order. Hudson stumbles into all this and OF COURSE won’t let it go and OF COURSE goes investigating in locked rooms and OF COURSE starts playing with spells herself and OF COURSE gets herself into deep trouble. Most of it is fairly predictable, but it has a few genuinely interesting twists, and watching Gena Rowlands go to town in her hammy part more than makes up for some wooden line readings from Hudson. Plus Peter Sarsgaard is on hand to be his usual self, full of benevolent menace.
2005 USA. Director: Iain Softley. Starring: Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Joy Bryant.
Seen October 9 on Netflix Instant.

The Bat

October’s Silent Treatment program at Cinefamily screened the rare silent horror film The Bat, one of several “haunted” house crime thrillers of the time. In the opening scene, a master criminal known as The Bat (because he dresses like a bat) manages to burgle a millionaire’s home right under the noses of scads of police, who he magnanimously tipped off to his plans. It plays like Fantômas or Les Vampires, and has gorgeous Expressionist photography as we see him set off to another job, a bank robbery. But turns out the bank owner may not’ve been on the up-and-up either, as he seems to have disappeared and the majority of the bank’s money as well. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down. I was in and out doing volunteering stuff during some of this exposition. Anyway. Before long, the plot converges on a country home owned by the bank owner, but currently being leased to the imposing Miss Cornelia and her niece, where police and private detectives, bank clerks and criminals, not to mention a hysterical maid, all try to figure out where the money is and stay safe from The Bat, whose identity is kept a secret to the bitter end. The promise of the early scenes is squandered a bit in the long, comedic center section with all the characters (except Miss Cornelia and the Bat, both of whom are self-possessed to a fault – a real stand-off between these two would’ve been something to behold!) bumbling about. But the end pulls it back together for a satisfying conclusion. Bonus: Even though I’ve read that this isn’t the inspiration for Batman, there’s basically a batsignal moment that’s pretty awesome to see.
1926 USA. Director: Roland West. Starring: Emily Fitzroy, George Beranger, Jack Pickford, Jewel Carmen, Tullio Carminati, Eddie Gribbon, Charles Herzinger, Louise Fazenda, Robert McKim.
Seen October 5 at Cinefamily.

Child’s Play

My boyfriend cajoled me into watching this despite my protestations about doll fears (damn those ventriloquist dummies), arguing that it was the first of a franchise and I’d stated my intention to watch the originals of the major horror franchises. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; the voodoo element of soul transference was a fun surprise, the pacing of the film is pretty solid, the effects on Chucky are good, the kid is quite good, and those swooping camera moves are fun if a bit over the top and cliched. I do think there were a few too many “oh, he’s not dead YET?” continuations, but aside from that, I was pretty entertained. I do not intend on watching the sequels, though.
1988 USA. Director: Tom Holland. Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif.
Seen October 22 on Netflix Instant.

Pit and the Pendulum

I quite enjoyed the Corman-Price take on The Masque of the Red Death, so I figured I’d circle around for another dose of their Poe cycle, and I enjoyed it, too. Here John Kerr (a little wooden) hears that his sister has died suddenly and goes to visit her husband Price at his remote castle. Price is apparently devastated and eventually lets out that his wife died after a growing fixation on the castle’s torture chamber, left there by Price’s Inquisitor father. More and more macabre details emerge about Price’s childhood and his father, as well as the potentiality that his wife was actually still alive when buried – a fact that seems more likely as she takes to haunting the castle. It all builds to a climax with the titular pit and pendulum, but the more ghastly moments spread throughout involve B-movie scream queen Barbara Steele, who carries off the part of wife Elizabeth with panache that puts even Price in his place. It’s a splashy big colorful film (it is in color, despite my only finding quality promo images in B&W online), with lots of relatively mindless fun to be had.
1961 USA. Director: Roger Corman. Starring: Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone, Patrick Westwood, Lynette Bernay.
Seen October 20 on Netflix Instant.

What I Thought Was All Right

Friday the 13th

And with this one, my quest to see all the firsts of the slasher franchises is complete, I think. I’m told I still need to watch Black Christmas, but that isn’t a franchise, so I’m counting it separately. This is the one I was looking forward to the least, and it is pretty darn stupid. But it has a good bit of campy fun to it, too. Clearly influenced by Halloween right down to the first-person opening kill and the twenty-year jump in time, this one doesn’t bother very much to create any empathy between us the teenage summer camp counselors being killed one by one. The fun in the film is all in seeing exactly how each one is going to be offed, with Kevin Bacon’s post-coital knife-through-the-throat a high point. We never see the killer until the very end, though a lot of the time we’re in the killer’s perspective, which adds to our distance from the victims. In this way, Friday the 13th is perhaps the clearest antecedent to the legions of slasher films to follow, which tend to lose human connection in favor of the most outrageous kills – a trend I don’t particularly like, even though it’s done with freshness and naivete here. The music is quite effective, evoking some combination of Psycho and Jaws with screeching violins and see-saw melodies, but again, none of the character depth or quality scripting that made those films so lasting.
1980 USA. Director: Sean S. Cunningham. Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bertram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer.

Paranormal Activity

I was more amused than intrigued by the first Paranormal Activity‘s marketing campaign, and didn’t rush out to see it, especially as reactions seemed pretty split between “it’s the scariest thing in the world ever” (which I didn’t particularly care to see) and “it’s not scary, it’s totally stupid” (which also isn’t particularly tempting). As is typical for me with films that most people seem to either love or hate, I’m right down the middle. I liked a lot of things about it – the evocation of the demon using very small touches, like a moving sheet or a shadow on a door, are evocative and effective. It does well with creating its mood. On the other hand, almost everything is telegraphed well in advance, so very little of it is actually scary. And the editing drove me crazy – if this is supposed to be a found footage film, with everything coming from the boyfriend’s camera, why are there so many random little edits everywhere? I mean, he didn’t pause and unpause the camera as he’s walking across the room (the camera would’ve jostled a bit while he did, besides why would he), and whoever found the camera later wouldn’t have bothered with editing out a half-second here and there as the guy’s crossing the room. And those edits were EVERYWHERE. So it succeeds on creepy, suggestive low-budget special effects, but it utterly fails as a found footage film, and that’s such a big part of it that I have to mark it down a lot for that.
2007 USA. Director: Oren Peli. Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs.
Seen October 12 on Netflix Instant.

Rewatches – Love

A Tale of Two Sisters

I first watched this in October 2009, and it was my favorite film that month. I simply had to revisit it and share it with my boyfriend this year, and it did not disappoint on rewatch. I’m notoriously bad at remembering endings, so even though I remembered part of the twist, I’d forgotten the other part so slowly remembering it as the movie went on was quite enjoyable. I love that the film works equally well as a tragic drama as it does as a creeptastic horror film – the very end is absolutely heartbreaking as well as chilling. It takes its time a bit more toward the ending than I’d like, threatening to delve into “too many endings” territory, but as I said, the final sequence makes it all totally worth it. And as I watch more horror films and nail down the approaches I like and don’t like and what scares me and doesn’t, this film is an excellent example of what actually scares me. The sequence where Soo-mi sees a dark figure at the foot of her bed that’s hunched over awkwardly and moves closer until it rushes above her…that whole part. Scares the crap out of me. It’s some combination of sound design, plain weirdness (the unnatural positioning of the figure) and the editing shifting from slow to incredibly fast without warning. So yeah. If you want to scare me, do stuff like that. Jump scares and gore don’t do it.
2005 South Korea. Director: Kim Jee-woon. Starring: Lim Su-jeong, Moon Geun-Young, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-su.
Seen October 30 on DVD.

Dead of Night

This was one of the first horror films I remember seeing that I actually liked – a trend in my tastes toward creepy B&W atmospheric horror that hasn’t really abated, despite my new openness to other subsets of the genre. When TCM played it this week, I jumped at the opportunity to see it again. What I’d forgotten before this rewatch was how quickly it jumps into the frame story, no explanation, just the guy driving up to the country house where he has a weird sense of having dreamt about all these people before and an incredible ability to predict things that will happen throughout the evening. Intrigued by his uncanny sixth sense, the other guests start telling about their own experiences with unexplained phenomena – each of these stories could easily be a Twilight Zone episode, and they all have that feel of something just outside normal, none moreso than the frame story. Often frame stories in anthology films are throwaway and rather tiresome, but I really love this one, and the way it circles in on itself and the other stories at the end is surreal and genuinely intense, even though several of the stories are not particularly scary. I was a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up to my memories on rewatch, but it did. I still love it.
1945 UK. Director: Basil Dearden, Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton. Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Robert Wyndam.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Jaws

Watching this again, I’m not entirely sure what genre it should be. I guess all creature features tend to be lumped into horror, but it plays more like a character drama punctuated by bursts of intense thrills. So, creature feature drama thriller, I guess. Whatever it is, it’s damned impressive, even thirty-five years later. Countless films have tried to capture whatever it is that makes Jaws special, but few even come close – the pacing is perfect, building up the tension before the shark attacks and letting it go just at the last minute, or temporarily difusing it with a red herring. The fact that the film comes right out of the gate and makes a dog and a little boy among the first set of victims is telling – it remains shocking. Thrills aside, the real pleasure here is the interactions between the three very different characters who go after him. Beginning as stereotypes, but not sticking to them, Brody, Quint, and Hooper have a competition/companionship vibe among them that’s much stronger than most creature features have time to establish. Sure, the movie has great special effects (you’ll rarely notice the shark is animatronic), thrilling action, and even awkward humor in the form of the dumbass mayor and his cronies, but the depth of character and willingness to linger on the in-between moments are what make Jaws great.
1975 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton.
Seen October 7 on DVD.

Rewatches – Like

The Uninvited

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this one I didn’t remember anything beyond the descriptor “creepy haunted house movie.” Which could describe umpteen different movies. A rewatch was definitely in order, especially since I’ve continued to mention the film as an example of the kind of 1940s quiet horror that’s closest to my heart even as my memory of it faded into nothingness. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are brother and sister who buy a deserted seaside mansion, only to discover that it’s routinely filled with noises of crying, flickering candles, creeping coldness, and a scent of mimosas, none of which can be explained scientifically. It all seems bound up in the former owner’s granddaughter, who lived in the house until she was three and her mother died falling off the cliff. The next logical step – hold some seances! Of course. It’s a charming little film, really, with a nice crotchety performance from veteran Donald Crisp as the dour grandfather, and some really effective special effects on the ghost. It’s not particularly scary, but it definitely has the quietly chilling atmosphere down pat.
1944 USA. Director: Lewis Allen. Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Alan Napier.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Totals

Films seen for the first time in October: 16
Rewatches in October: 4
Films seen in theatres in October: 2
List of Shame films seen in October: 3
2010s films seen in October: 1
2000s films seen in October: 5 (1 rewatch)
1990s films seen in October: 1
1980s films seen in October: 3
1970s films seen in October: 4 (1 rewatch)
1960s films seen in October: 2
1940s films seen in October: 2 (2 rewatches)
1920s films seen in October: 2
American films seen in October: 14 (2 rewatches)
British films seen in October: 3 (1 rewatch)
Spanish films seen in October: 1
French films seen in October: 1
Korean films seen in October: 1 (1 rewatch)

Film on TV: February 1-7

lawrence1.jpg
Lawrence of Arabia, playing Monday at 11pm on TCM

This is February, which means Oscars are coming up, which means TCM has launched into their annual 31 Days of Oscar lineup, meaning every film they play in the month of February has been at least nominated for an Academy Award. Now, that could mean it was nominated for Best Costume Design in 1937, but hey. Generally it means a fairly high overall quality of programming, and a number of films they don’t play very often the rest of the year.

Monday, February 1

8:55am – Sundance – Metropolitan
If Jane Austen made a movie in 1990 and set it among entitled Manhattan socialites, this would be it. The film follows a group of such entitled teens from party to party, focusing especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar class who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But from start to finish, it’s both entertaining and an incisive look at the American class structure.
1990 USA. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Dylan Hundley.
(repeats at 3:40pm and 10:30pm, and 5:45pm on the 6th)

8:00pm – TCM – Funny Girl
Barbra Streisand tied Katharine Hepburn, no less, to win an Oscar for her role as Ziegfeld comedienne Fanny Brice. I’m neither a big Brice fan nor a big Streisand fan, so I haven’t seen it, but maybe I’ll get around to it one day.
1968 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon.

11:00pm – TCM – Lawrence of Arabia
Most epics are over-determined and so focused on spectacle that they end up being superficial – all big sets and sweeping music with no depth. The brilliance of Lawrence of Arabia is that it looks like an epic with all the big sets and sweeping music and widescreen vistas, but at its center is an enigmatic character study of a man who lives bigger-than-life, but is as personally conflicted as any intimate drama has ever portrayed.
1962 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jose Ferrer.
Must See
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Tuesday, February 2

5:30am – TCM – Great Expectations
David Lean’s definitive version of one of Charles Dickens’ most well-known books, about the boy Pip and his rise to fortune through the aid of a mysterious benefactor. I’ve avoided this because of my distaste for Dickens, but hey. The movie can’t have time to ramble on like Dickens does, so maybe I’d like it.
1946 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: John Mills, Tony Wager, Valerie Hobson, Jean Simmons, Bernard Miles, Martita Hunt.
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8:05am – IFC – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
Must See
(repeats at 1:35pm)

8:00pm – TCM – The Thin Man
If there’s such a genre as “sophisticated comedy-mystery,” The Thin Man is the apex of it. William Powell and Myrna Loy starred in thirteen films together, but never did their chemistry sparkle quite so much as here, in their first of six outings as husband-and-wife detectives Nick and Nora Charles. In between cocktails and marital moments, they investigate the disappearance of the titular thin man (later in the series, “thin man” erroneously became associated with Nick). There’s so much to love about this film – the great dialogue, hilarious supporting characters (only a few of which go too far over the top), and honestly, most of all, the amazing portrayal of a solid, loving marriage in the midst of so much chaos.
1934 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Must See

10:00pm – TCM – The Best Years of Our Lives
One of the first films to deal with the aftermath of WWII, as servicemen return home to find both themselves and their homes changed by the long years of war. Director William Wyler and a solid ensemble cast do a great job of balancing drama and realism without delving too much into sentimentality.
1946 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Herbert Russell, Cathy O’Donnell.
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3:15am (3rd) – TCM – Sergeant York
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for his portrayal of WWI hero Sgt. Alvin York, a pacifist who somehow decided that the fastest way to stop the killing was to join up and kill as many Germans as he could to end the war.
1941 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond.
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Wednesday, February 3

6:00am – IFC – Garden State
First-time director Braff brings his quirky personality and taste in indie music to this story of a young man who returns to his home town for the first time in years for his mother’s funeral. While there, he meets a girl who teaches him how to feel for the first time since his father started prescribing meds to him as a child. It’s become a popular pastime to hate on Garden State and its self-conscious quirk, but I refuse. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it now.
2004 USA. Director: Zach Braff. Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard.
(repeats at 11:15am and 4:35pm)

7:15am – TCM – The Champ
Wallace Beery earned an Oscar for his role as a has-been prizefighter, living hand to mouth with his adoring son. But then the boy has a chance to go live with his mother, long-divorced from Beery and now married to a well-to-do man. This is a great example of a high-end Warner Bros. programmer from the early 1930s – it’s very lean, nothing extra in it, but it’s got a heart that I didn’t expect.
1931 USA. Director: King Vidor. Starring: Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Irene Rich, Roscoe Ates.

7:45am – IFC – Hannah and Her Sisters
Though I love Manhattan and Annie Hall to bits, I throw my vote for best Woody Allen movie ever to Hannah and Her Sisters. It has all the elements Allen is known for – neurotic characters, infidelity, a tendency to philosophize randomly, New York City, dysfunctional family dynamics, acerbic wit – and blends them together much more cogently and evenly than most of his films do.
1986 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Barbara Hershey, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Woody Allen.
Must See
(repeats at 1:00pm, and 4:35am on the 4th)

10:45am – TCM – The Public Enemy
Famous for the scene where James Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face, this is one of the gold standards of early gangster films, along with Little Caesar and Howard Hawks’s Scarface.
1931 USA. Director: William A. Wellman. Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke.

12:15pm – TCM – Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney won an Oscar putting on his dancing shoes to play song-and-dance man and Broadway composer George M. Cohan in this biopic. Though it seems strange to think of gangster picture regular Cagney in a musical, he actually got his start in show business as a hoofer, and returned to musicals many times throughout his career, though this remains the most notable example.
1942 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: James Cagney, Joan Leslie.

Thursday, February 4

7:30am – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
Must See
(repeats at 11:30am and 4:30pm)

7:15am – TCM – Captain Blood
This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s first of eight films together, and it’s one of the best. Flynn is the eponymous captain, a dentist named Blood who gets captured by pirates and ends up escaping and taking over the pirate ship himself. Full of swashbuckling and derring-do.
1935 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee.

9:45am – IFC – Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Lawrence Sterne’s 1769 proto-postmodern novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy has long been considered unfilmable. So what does director Michael Winterbottom do? He makes a film about the difficulty of filming Tristram Shandy. Winterbottom’s film is something of an experiment, but it’s a delightful one, showing the behind-the-scenes antics of production as well as highlighting the circularity and self-defeating narrative of Sterne’s novel in the film-within-the-film.
2005 UK. Director: Michael Winterbottom. Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson, Jeremy Northam.
(repeats at 2:50pm)

8:00pm – TCM – The Uninvited (1944)
Not to be confused with the 2009 film The Uninvited, which is actually a remake of Korea’s A Tale of Two Sisters, this unrelated ghost story film is a lovely example of a certain style of 1940s horror – quiet, understated, atmospheric, and yet chilling and haunting.
1944 USA. Director: Lewis Allen. Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp.
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10:00pm – Sundance – Adaptation.
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to Being John Malkovich is slightly less bizarre, but still pretty out there – just in a more subtle way. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who’s stuck in his attempt to adapt a bestseller; it doesn’t help when his successful brother (also played by Cage) shows up. The end feels like it’s going off the rails, but that’s all part of the genius.
2002 USA. Director: Spike Jonze. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Chris Cooper.

12:00M – TCM – The Adventures of Robin Hood
I will state almost categorically that this is the greatest adventure film ever made. Maybe it’s a dead heat between this one and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, a whole raft of fantastic character actors fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s all done in gorgeous Technicolor (it’s one of the earliest Technicolor films).
1938 USA. Directors: William Keighley & Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Una O’Connor.
Must See

4:15am (5th) – TCM – Little Women (1933)
This first sound version of Little Women has a young Katharine Hepburn in the lead, along with a roll-call of great 1930s starlets and character actors. It’s a bit wooden compared to the 1994 version, but it’s got a lot of charm nonetheless.
1933 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver, Jean Parker, Frances Dee.

Friday, February 5

7:45am – Sundance – Paris je t’aime
I have a huge soft spot for Paris – basically any movie set there I will like to at least some degree. So an anthology film with eighteen internationally-renowned directors giving their take on Paris with eighteen short films all mashed together? Yeah, instant love. Obviously some sections are far stronger than others – the Coens, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven turn in my favorites.
2006 France. Director: various. Starring: many.
(repeats at 3:00pm)

10:45am – TCM – Gold Diggers of 1933
The story’s nothing to get excited about (and in fact, the subplot that takes over the main plot wears out its welcome fairly quickly), but the strong Depression-era songs, kaleidoscopic choreography from Busby Berkeley, and spunky supporting work from Ginger Rogers pretty much make up for it.
1933 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Guy Kibbee.

8:00pm – TCM – True Grit
John Wayne had a career full of iconic western roles before he won an Oscar for this one, as tough old U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn, recruited by a young woman to help her avenge her father’s death, a quest that takes them deep into Indian territory.
1969 USA. Director: Henry Hathaway. Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper.
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2:30am (6th) – TCM – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Interracial marriage may not be quite the hot topic now that it was in 1967 (although if you check some parts of the American South, you might be surprised), but at the time, Katharine Houghton bringing home Sidney Poitier to meet her parents Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film) was the height of socially conscious filmmaking.
1967 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway.
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Saturday, February 6

12:30pm – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawa’s film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ain’t no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus there’s a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

5:00pm – TCM – The Great Escape
I expected to mildly enjoy or at least get through this POW escape film. What happened was I was completely enthralled with every second of it, from failed escape attempts to planning the ultimate escape to the dangers of carrying it out. It’s like a heist film in reverse, and extremely enjoyable in pretty much every way.
1963 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald.
Must See
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10:00pm – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Bu˜uel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.
1972 France. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Fankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel.
(repeats at 4:00am on the 7th)

12:00M – TCM – Bonnie and Clyde
This is a perfect film. If you have not seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. In either case, rather than write again how much I love it, I will just refer you here.
1967 USA. Director: Arthur Penn. Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons.
Must See

2:00am – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
This unflinching Romanian film remains one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in the last several years. Set in the mid-1980s, it builds a thriller-like story of a woman trying to help her friend obtain a dangerous illegal abortion – yet it’s a thriller so deliberate that its very slowness and lack of movement becomes a major source of tension. When the camera does move, it has an almost physical force. I can hardly describe how blown away I am by this film…tough to watch, but incredibly worth it.
2007 Romania. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean.
Must See

Sunday, February 7

1:45pm – TCM – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s first American film, based on Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. Rebecca is actually the previous wife of our mousy narrator’s new husband – her greatest fear is that he still loves Rebecca too much to care for her, but the truth may be more sinister than that. A lot of people really love this film, but I personally dislike the Hollywoodized ending enough that I’m not a huge fan.
1940 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders.

4:00pm – TCM – Wuthering Heights
William Wyler’s moody 1939 version of Emily Bronte’s moody gothic novel, with Laurence Olivier as the moody Heathcliff. It’s moody. Get it? It’s also probably the best film version of the story up till now.
1939 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Geraldine Fitzgerald, David Niven, Flora Robson.

6:00pm – TCM – The Pink Panther
Most people would agree that A Shot in the Dark is the best of the Pink Panther series, but the first entry is still well worth watching. Peter Sellers is perfect as bumbling detective Jacques Clouseau, trying to recover a stolen diamond for David Niven.
1963 UK/USA. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine.

8:00pm – TCM – 8 1/2
Federico Fellini translates his creative block in making his next film into a film about a director with a creative block – and in so doing, makes one of the most elusively brilliant and creative films of all time.
1963 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée.
Must See

10:30pm – TCM – Juliet of the Spirits
I’ve seen this Fellini film, but darned if I could tell you anything about it except Guilietta Masina has crazy weird surrealist visions. It’s gorgeous looking, at any rate, and would be worth a rewatch on my part, for sure.
1965 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, Sandro Milo, Mario Pisu, Valentine Cortese.
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3:15am (7th) – TCM – On the Beach
After nuclear war, most of humanity is destroyed; a small outpost in Australia survives, but not for long. See David’s longer take here.
1959 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire.
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