It’s been forever! What’s wrong with us? Business, basically. I am utterly sorry, but the fun thing is that we’re gonna recap everything in one big go. It’s gonna be crazy, especially with the crop of movies we have to talk about: 13th, The Handmaiden, Get Out, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Re-Animator. I’m not going to try to tie these together, because that’s probably impossible. Instead, you’ll get capsule reviews.
13th – Ava DuVernay
This was our first documentary, and it was a doozy. DuVernay captures the terrible tragedy that is the prison industrial complex, one she, along with the scholars and politicians she interviews have connected to the way that the 13th amendment abolished slavery except through the prison system. A good portion of the movie is a well-developed timeline, going decade by decade through the 20th century and seeing how our modern prison system came to be. It’s a sobering look at the influence of racism and corporations on something that people don’t pay enough attention to, which has allowed the problem to get wildly out of hand. For me, the film’s best bits came at the beginning and the end. In the early goings, DuVernay investigates how D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation played a part in the resurgence of the KKK and ties that in with the way that prisons became the new slavery. The very end of the film features pictures of black men and women and children doing everyday things, an important part of the story and the reason why this story matters so much. It also makes the whole documentary, which is a chronicle of human suffering, less heavy without cutting the power of the film.
The Handmaiden – Park Chan-Wook
The best part of this movie was the credits, that’s when Laura Kremmel exclaimed, “I have that book!” as the title of the original book came onscreen. If you’ve seen The Handmaiden, you’ll know that the previous 2+ hours had been full of amazing filmmaking, crazy twists, and, well, a lot of lesbian sex. That Laura, who to be fair has not read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters yet, didn’t recognize the film as an adaptation with those mix of strange elements is a testament to the extensive changes that the story underwent as it transitioned from page to screen. Part of that process included changing the setting from England to Japanese-occupied Korea, which introduces a really interesting language barrier in the film, one which the subtitles solve with differently colored words to indicate different languages. This forced me to pay more attention than I might have already to the character dynamics, an attention which paid off dramatically. But the film’s best element is its inventive camerawork and transitions. There’s a point-of-view shot that will stay in my memory for a long time, and some really cool door-opening scenes that might just be among the best I’ve seen. This was one of my favorite movies from last year, and I was happy to share it with everybody.
Get Out – Jordan Peele
By now there are like a billion other things you could read about all the various aspects of Get Out. It was a big hit and it’s chock full of interesting stuff to write about and so the thinkpieces keep on coming. That’s great, because there’s tons to read if you just can’t get the movie out of your head, but it leaves me with little to talk about. Instead, let me tell you about how much fun this movie is. Friends, it’s a blast. If you can get into the level the film is working on, and I’d argue that the opening scene and credits sequence do a fantastic job at getting you onto its level, it’s a fantastic ride to go on. For horror fans, there’re plenty of references to classics of the genre. If you’re here for the social commentary, it’s everywhere and super well done. Key and Peele acolytes will not be surprised by the film’s dedication to looking and feeling like a serious entry into the genre while also participating in other conversations and including some seriously funny bits, but for everybody else, this is like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s scarier than Scream or The Cabin in the Woods, and it’s funnier than something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so it’s really the best of all worlds.
The Island of Dr. Moreau – John Frankenheimer
I was surprised when I looked this movie up on IMDB and it said that it actually had a director. It’s, um, terrible. That was on purpose, last week was crazy busy and we wanted to just chill out a bit and watch something bad. This fit the bill. It tries really hard to be about something intelligent, to say something about violence and human nature. But it is undermined by bad choices and bad acting and bad makeup. Val Kilmer is alternately boring and crazy for attempting a bad Brando impersonation. Brando himself is out there, I’m not sure what the whole thing was supposed to be. It’s a mess. But hey, it’s got David Thewlis in an action hero role, so that’s also terrible. Oh, sorry, that was supposed to be a positive thing. Um, I can’t think of anything, which is why we also watched…
Re-Animator – Stuart Gordon
Although this was technically part of Bad Movie Night, it’s actually quite brilliant because it leans so heavily into the campy badness. Jeffrey Combs and David Gale overact so wildly that they just become magnetic on screen. Combs’ eyebrow- and jaw-work alone would make the film fun, but combine them with Gale’s raspy-whispering decapitated head and you’ve got one bloody good time. It’s kind of Frankenstein-y, though the direct source is a Lovecraft story. The body’s strange convulsions become unknowably horrifying, and then there’s also just a lot of naked flesh. It’s an 80’s version of the story, so nakedness was always going to be a thing, but I think this does some interesting stuff on top of all the titillation. For as low budget as it seems, the film does a remarkable amount with make-up and special effects, especially that magic radioactive-green serum that is featured so prominently.
We’ll be back in two weeks or so after watching Fanny and Alexander, hopefully with a guest post if I can wrangle somebody into writing about it. I’m already writing way too much about it and I need to stop.