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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Recently seen at Cinema du Brooks

I haven't seen a lot of movies recently, so I’ve been lax on doing reviews. I need to rectify both of those sins, so I’ll begin by giving you my take on a couple of recent Netflix films.

Juliet of the Spirits

JulietandSuzy_1.jpgThe new B52s CD, Funplex, includes a very beautiful song based on this movie, which is a 1965 surreal drama about an Italian housewife, directed by Federico Fellini. It was Fellini's first feature length color film.

Since I love the song, I had to see the movie. Last night I did.

The film is beautifully shot and acted, though, the first two-thirds are a bit frenetic as Juliet’s privileged lifestyle is full of quirky personalities, arrogant and deliciously odd psychics, and women wearing hats much bigger than their heads. Because it’s subtitled and the characters constantly talk over one another, it can be hard to follow at times, and your eyes never get a chance to stray from the bottom eighth of the screen. Often, multiple people’s comments appear on screen at a time to keep up…it can be jarring. You want to look up, because the film is a visual treat, but every time you do, you miss a thread or two or three of dialog. While that’s always an issue with subtitled films, it’s more of a problem here than with most films, because of the pacing.

Despite its brisk direction, the film does suffer a bit from its 2 hour and 17 minute length. The theme, now almost quaint, of a kept housewife discovering her worth, is understood from the very first scene. We know where it’s going – not how, mind you, but we know the destination. Fortunately, getting there is a lot of fun, so I give this film a solid B (the B52s song gets an A).

The Haunting (1963)

1963_the_haunting.jpgRobert Wise’s movie, based on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel (The Haunting of Hill House), is considered a classic for good reason. The power of the novel is on full display here as the juxtaposition of mental illness, want, desire, and supernatural goings on allow the story to unfold in a dreamy, suspenseful manner. This is a movie which, at its core, is about need and want and desire.

Shot in 1963, it’s notable for the use of a lesbian character, Theodora, in the plot. It’s fun to watch the looks she gives Eleanor and smile at the psychic bitchiness once she realizes Eleanor is interested in the Doctor. At one point, during an argument, Eleanor calls Theodora  as “unnatural as Hill House”, erasing any doubt in the viewer's mind to the subtle innuendos.

The DVD we watched had an annoying flicker, though the print it was struck from was surprising crisp. Go figure.

The Haunting is one of the best ghost stories ever filmed. Steer clear of the atrocious Catherine Zeta Jones remake fiasco. A-

5 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've never seen the Original "Haunting" movie. The remake was awful. That book, though, is one of my favorites of all time. I consider it in the top 2 or 3 scariest books of all time.

Clifford said...

@charles,

Oh man, I'm sorry you had to be subjected to the remake...it's like they didn't even see the original, because all the stuff that was so effective in the original, they screwed up in the remake.

I think you'll really like the original...I loved it, all the way up to the very last line. I won't spoil it here, but the last line before the credits rolled should have been cut...really, it muddies the impact of the preceeding. Other than that, you should have a ball.

Thomas M. Sipos said...

Some other EXCELLENT pre-The Sixth Sense ghosts films...

* The Haunting of Julia.

* The Changling

Also pretty good is...

* The Woman in Black.

* Haunted

Highly overrated is...

* The Lady in White

The Sixth Sense really upped the quality of ghost films. Since then we've had...

* The Others

* Gothika

* The Ring

* The Grudge

All excellent.

Clifford said...

@Thomas,

Thanks for the list..I agree, the Sixth Sense uppded the ante on the ghost story.

Here's my comments on the films yo mentioned:

The Haunting of Julia -- Never heard of it, adding it to my Netflix queue, thanks!

The Changeling - Solid A. Great ghost story. Chilling scenes. Engaging plot.

The Woman in Black -- didn't see it, Netflix to the rescue, thanks!

Haunted -- didn't see it...Netflix (:

The Lady in White - Yep, overrated.

The Others -- would put it in the excellent category, too.

Gothika -- didn't see it, NF!

The Ring -- remake was a winner...meets my excellent criteria.

The Grudge -- saw the original (Ju-on) and hated it more than just about any film I've ever seen.

Here's two for you: The Orphanage (good) and The Eye (original Asian version), The Devil's Backbone (excellent) and A Tale of Two Sisters (maybe the creepiest ghost story ever, for my money).

Thomas M. Sipos said...

I loved The Eye (the original Hong Kong film -- I've yet to see the remake).

The Eye may well be my favorite Asian horror film. Ironically, it's not Japanese. I say ironically, because most famous Asian horror these days are J-horror. Yet The Eye is Hong Kong.

I also kinda liked The Eye 2, although it wasn't so good. An entirely different story, unrelated to the first. And it seemed to borrow from The Grudge.

Some creepy moments, though. Creepy births and suicides.

These Japanese do have a thing for suicide -- ever see The Suicide Club? -- sort of a David Lynch feel to it. I can see why the Japanese love David Lynch. They share a sensibility.

The Suicide Club begins with about 50 Japanese school girls throwing themselves en masse in front of a speeding train. HUGE blood splatter.

The Japanese also have a thing for school girls, or haven't you noticed?

The Haunting Of Julia may only be available on VHS.

I don't know about The Woman In Black. That's a BBC TV movie from the 1980s. A period piece set in the 1920s. Has an old fashioned, Masterpiece Theater quality to it. Some very creepy, quiet moments.

I remember when Ghost Story came out about 1980. It tried (unsuccessfully) to "update" the ghost film by making it gory, like all the slasher and zombie films of the time. Nice wintry scenes, but the gore didn't quite work for it.

Haunted (1996) is also pre-Sixth Sense, and also tries to "update" the ghost film with some CGI effects. Not so effective (gets silly at the end) but some good moments, and a mostly good story.

Woman In Black and Haunted are both set in the English country, in the 1920s. Interesting.

I think the Haunted DVD may be out of printe, but Netflix may still have it.

I never heard of The Orphanage, The Devil's Backbone, and A Tale of Two Sisters. Must check them out.

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.