Lake Mungo [2008]

I feel like I've seen Lake Mungo before, but my memories are only faint. They could also be false—just a feeling of having seen this, the film a mosaic of ideas that have worked their way through countless other films that maintain some connection to the realm of found footage. Having just recently watched Ghostwatch for the first time, its influence seems recognizable with misdirection often used to bait and redirect focus amid glimpses of what might or might not be paranormal activity. The story here is what plays out as most impressive though, as it plays with the expectation of horror by leaving its subjects and their circumstances extremely human, offering wrinkles that sometimes obscure what might have actually happened as much as they might reveal.

I Killed My Mother [2009]

This is so hard to view as its own piece, having seen Mommy first: The tone and tension of both films are so similar, as are the featured faces (Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, at least). I appreciate each, but in watching this to see the genesis of Xavier Dolan's directorial prowess I can't help but feel a tug to return to Mommy yet again. I crave the intensity and long for how it spikes emotionally where I Killed My Mother seems to fade. That aside—fantastic performances and a remarkable debut, regardless of the comparison-laden opinion.

Poltergeist [1982]

To echo Daisoujou's thoughts, Poltergeist is more of a family film with supernatural and horror elements, than something of "pure" horror (whatever that might mean). Having seen many many clips of the film without watching it in whole until now, it's a bit off-putting to recognize the film's legacy, or at least my interpretation of it, to be something far more terrifying and sinister than anything that actually makes it onto the screen... Save for that damn clown near the end. So much of my reaction has to do with Jerry Goldsmith's score, which totally shapes the experience and is far more reminiscent of—and appropriate for—something like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (which bested Poltergeist for the 1983 Best Original Score Oscar). Though I haven't a clue of how heavy his hand was over director Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg's voice and vision are evident in the writing and production, which only serves to further distance Poltergeist's "scarier" moments from anything truly terrifying.

Climax [2018]

This one has me stumped. Aaron's marvelous summary captures influence and intent alike in painting this as something of a triumph, but the inherent endlessness of a bad trip felt emptier than Noé's past jaunts into the realm of the oblique. Ranking Climax as a visual epic isn't unjust, but after having seen both Irreversible and Enter the Void a few times over, the camera work here is less innovative or spectacular and more reminiscent of a style that the director has been honing, going on two decades now. This isn't a criticism, but it's the bittersweet reality of hearing one of your favorite bands release an album that sounds just like they did twenty years ago. The production is cleaner but the same beats play throughout. (Even the non-linear take on credits ache with a certain "we've been here before"-ness, which feels both fresh and self-aping at the same time.)

The must-see element of the film comes with the first proper dance sequence, which is truly stunning. Therein lies the payoff for the price of admission, but from that point on the film becomes an exercise in tedium. Character interviews follow that purposefully ache on and on only to eventually give way to an acid trip that reveals crude and devastating visuals (not to mention the audio) in line with a hellscape of epic proportions. No where is there a monster in sight, yet everywhere seemingly a human embodiment of one. Purposeful as the duration of the bad trip might be, it's no less a turn-off that this film feels every moment of its ninety minute run-time. Much like Enter the Void, that aching plod might prevent me from ever taking this one on again. That, and if I never touch another glass of sangria it will be too soon.

Slacker [1990]

"Every single commodity you produce is a piece of your own death." There's a rhythm here that I don't recall picking up on before. It's been so long since I've seen Slacker that I'd forgotten every detail—which isn't to comment on the state of consciousness I may have been in the first time around—but I went in without a trace of expectation. What I got out wasn't entirely different from what I continue to take away from Waking Life. The dialog of armchair quarterbacking is, at times, a firehose of conceptual static which can either be filtered through or let go completely. Eventually I took the latter position so as to avoid getting caught up in the characters who are merely regurgitating "bits and pieces from [their own] authoritative sources," as one accused another of doing. Before shifting gears like that the film felt like a hollow first try for what would follow with his 2001 feature, but like I said, I eventually fell victim to the flow of the dance, taking Linklater's lead and giving in to the waves of dialog, each rising and crashing like little waves breaking across a coastline. A piece of me wishes I was in Austin in 1990, a participant of that moment in time, while another is glad I never had the chance as it would have likely swallowed me whole.

Madeline’s Madeline [2018]

I don't believe I'll be able to express what this film touched in me, but here goes... By her own explanation, director and writer Josephine Decker looked to use Madeline's Madeline to explore mental health issues within the context of a problematic domestic environment, showing the almost-seventeen year old Madeline dealing with a mental health disorder while also having it held over her head by her mother. In that space, theater is Madeline's safe space, her outlet, and she excels, but there her director's motives come into question over the exploitive nature of her use of Madeline (and Madeline's story).

The story is wonderfully told and it yields a captivating depiction of mental illness, but there's that thing it touched on within me... How much of art is a reflection or projection of actual existence, and when it's done well that art—real art, passionate art, art that makes you feel—evokes a reaction when it says something true. But why doesn't that same thing, that same "truth," elicit the same reaction in the wild, in its real life form? Films like this and Mommy frame mental health in a way that humanizes. Maybe that's part of it. In real life it's easier to not always see a person as a living, breathing individual, unique to their situation and trying to overcome their lot in life. I see a good amount of that in my work, but never do I have the reaction that films like these bring me.

(Unrelated to all that, Helena Howard is stellar in the lead role and it tickled me that this was released as a production of Cat Ladies, LLC.—that last point made much more wonderful by the director's memorable appearance in one of my favorite documentaries.)

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood [2019]

The highlight of the entire film comes with Leo DiCaprio's on-set meltdown scenes, projecting a past-his-prime actor struggling to balance his ego with his drinking problem. In that, his amplified emotional reactions are on point—his overly sentimental teary eyed responses clashing with empty threats of self-harm hit the mark; he really nailed it. The scene that might make the film comes between DiCaprio's Rick Dalton and his ten year old co-star (Julia Butters), who whispers words of encouragement in his ear after a well-executed scene together. But here's the thing: Why spend so much time lingering on their relationship when it's almost immediately forgotten? And why does the rest of the film meander so much to try to include so many different threads of plot when they're all discarded in the end for a single violent payoff (the slapstick brutality of which felt so incredibly out of place within the rest of the film) that spins a once-was tragedy into would-be comic relief?

One of the arguments I'm reading in favor of the film touches on the going-with-the-flow of it all—just kicking back and watching the story unfold and enjoying the rides each of the characters take. But why are they taking that ride? What does taking the ride in the way they did communicate? And further, how do those "rides" reconcile with the film as a whole? If the character Rick Dalton is challenged by his director to step outside of his image and truly act, why are we stuck with a lengthy list of cameos which add little beyond inserting familiar images to the already bloated story? (Because: Hollywood? I guess?) But if that's the case, why bother with little odes to Tarantino's past by inserting the likes of Michael Madsen when the film seems dead set on shoe-horning actors like Lena Dunham into roles so that actors like Lena Dunham could be in roles and not because they're particularly well suited for those roles? I don't know, I really didn't enjoy this. Maybe I'm just salty because they did Bruce Lee so cold in this one... Good lord, did they ever make a joke of him.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

The "right" thing? The nerve isn't even a deep one that this film taps in to—it's right below the surface. So much has happened since 1989, but what comes to my mind is still Ferguson. The pain and confusion and fear of that was so incredible, and to have that turn into what we have today... How? Just how? How does any of this happen? I remember that year, going into the house of my girlfriend's best friend for Thanksgiving and hearing the n-word at the dinner table. I went from zero to ten in my head, not knowing how to start or where. What do I do here? Why is there so much anger? Why do I suddenly feel like it's me against a room full of people? The only thing that came to mind was to reflexively walk away, gnashing my teeth, full of impotent rage. These were supposed to be safe people. How could my girlfriend be friends with them, I thought? What was I doing there? Yet that feeling of helplessness, and that momentary feeling of self-imposed plight, was just a grain of sand compared to the cultural wasteland that millions navigate every single day. Even now though, I am far richer in platitudes than I am in genuine understanding of what it feels like to be victimized for the crime of just trying to be myself. Maybe all I can do is shut up and keep trying to listen. It won't be in the time that I'm alive that this happens, but the day will come when the dessert will undoubtedly be reclaimed by the sea. Maybe then, with it, a little bit of justice.

Under the Skin [2013]

This is going to be one of those “no one’s going to appreciate this but me” kinda “reviews”… But sometimes you just have to write the thoughts out to try and make sense of them...

Indie Wire just named Under the Skin the second best film of the 2010's, and while I didn't set out with the goal of doing so, I ended up watching the movie twice this past night. What a strange piece of work. It got me thinking about so many things, ranging from nature to identity to the sometimes-ambiguous reasons why I give one film a second chance over another.

To be frank, when it comes to heady works like this, more often than not I feel like I miss the point. I miss the intention of the art, and I overlook what's to be made of such high-minded work. Low-brow is in my DNA, but there are plenty of times when "deep," ambiguous works resonate with me in a way that little else does. Tarkovsky's Stalker is a good example of that... But I hardly “understand” the majority of it, beyond what I have prescribed my own meaning to. (Or is that the point?) Here, this film got me to thinking about why that sense of appreciation for the abstract is so hard to nail down. Why do I commit to some films but reject others, while they’re critically viewed as equally worthwhile? Take a look at the rest of that Indie Wire list, for example. There are numerous works that obscure any intended meaning, instead leaving consensus definition of their intention up for debate: Among them are the likes of The Tree of Life and Holy Motors (which I love), or Uncle Boonmee and Burning (which I appreciate, despite neither resonating deeply with me). The latter pair I might never watch again despite recognizing that a second viewing is almost mandatory to grasp a sense for what the films are actually trying to communicate. So why do I not give them another go while a film like Under the Skin gets two watches in a single night? A whim? There's gotta be more to it than that.

One film that failed to make that list altogether was Upstream Color . For the longest time I really wanted to be the kind of person who would appreciate that film, until one day I was. But what is it that I’m searching for with that sort of feeling? A longing to be taken “seriously”? A desire to be understood as someone who “gets it”? I don’t know exactly, but somewhere along the way my relationship to films like that (and this) began to change from aspirational to genuine. For whatever reason that came to the surface the first time around watching Under the Skin.

Part of why I started thinking about that line of thinking was because I had such a strong a reaction to something I couldn’t place while watching the film, while also internally feeling what many of the negative reviews on this site had to say about it. Mark Kermode called the film “partly successful but wholly ambitious.” I agreed with that the first time around, but I still felt (still feel!) like there’s more to it than that (I mean, what would make this "more successful"?). Even with the story being as basic as it is, maybe it’s the visual storytelling which touched something inside of me? Many times what we’re seeing is alien, but so often what shows up on screen depicts nature, portraying it on a near-spiritual plane of existence. Practically the only thing I know about naturalism is how to spell Ralph Waldo Emerson, but the second time around with the film I was struck by how much nature was connected (if not blended) with the extraterrestrial.

I continue to have so many questions about this film, but maybe Stalker is an appropriate lens through which to define my appreciation for it for now. It’s slow cinema, tonally positioned as sci-fi but clearly grounded in the mundane. It speaks to universal questions, but seems to elaborate with certainty on none of them. Whatever it is, it’s got me. And maybe that’s all the more sense I’m likely to make of it.

The Skin I Live In [2011]

While the pacing of this thing was tedious, The Skin I Live In becomes slightly more interesting when following the online commentary surrounding the film, where opinions swing between polar opposites, either celebrating or demonizing it. Granted, I have zero experience with Almodóvar's other work, which leaves me little historical context from which to base my reaction. That, and I believe I first learned of this film's existence several years ago from a list of must-see "shocking" movies (which sets the stage for my expectations of it). But here's the thing: It was neither shocking, amazing, or wretched. Oafishly vulgar at times? Certainly. And "daring," I suppose. But the aimless direction of it all, contrasted by the airy romantic visuals and misguided plot (and, oh my, the twists!) loudly proclaimed the film to be an extension of soap opera culture, rather than something to be taken seriously.

Lords of Chaos [2018]

Lords of Chaos is only as complicated a film as the viewer makes it out to be, and by the look of the Letterboxd comments and reviews, those whose opinions are overly complicated are also those who have a history with the subject matter. On top of that, one's appreciation for the film seems to be inversely related to their appreciation of black metal... Which is also to say that if you were at all familiar with Mayhem prior to watching the movie, your reaction is likely to be mixed. If not, you're far more likely to enjoy it at face value. By the length of my rambling alone, it's probably evident which group I land in.

Purely approaching Lords of Chaos as entertainment, it's totally watchable and I understand (and agree with some of) the positions shared through positive reviews of the film. But even in attempting to distance myself from my own personal knowledge of the source material, the movie felt like it wasn't ever sure what it was trying to be. As a result, things never felt quite right—such as the casting which seemed to rely on fresh faces rather than actors who more closely portrayed the subject matter's menacing themes. Approaching the film from that angle, I tried to let go of any hope that this was made for the truest fans of true Norwegian black metal (or even metal fans in general), because Lords of Chaos was clearly never that. Director Jonas Åkerlund never wanted this thing to breathe reality, which is why he made sure the film didn't feature Norwegian actors, the dialog wasn't in Norwegian (or even with Norwegian accents), and film ended up focusing very little on the music in favor of the drama that surrounded it. Instead of a biopic or a true crime story, what we're left with is a story true to the film's tagline: "Based on truth, lies... and what actually happened."

Unfortunately what comes out of the director's mission to introduce the story (or at least the underlying story that inspired the film) to a wider audience leaves the film trying to be too many things to too many different people. There's shocking self-mutilation and gore in one scene and Sigur Rós playing during a(n oddly gentle) sex scene in another. There's newsreel footage balanced by ridiculous fictitious voice-overs ("All this evil and dark crap was supposed to be fun"). By the film's finale, Rory Culkin's narration does less to bring closure to the story than it does to allow the film's lead "character" to relay a post-mortem mission statement which neatly encapsulates everything that actually happened in the movie (from Per Ohlin's suicide to Kristian "Varg" Vikernes' church burnings) as being part of Øystein Aarseth's calculated mission statement.

Which might be understandable if so much of this wasn't actually grounded in "what actually happened."

Vikernes, for example, is (and was) a vile human being, who resented Aarseth over a clash of ideologies before eventually murdering the man. Here he's portrayed as a poseur turned sex idol who just happened to commit acts of terrorism in the name of darkness before clumsily revealing his hand to authorities. (The interview scene makes him out to be an absolute idiot, which I don't believe fairly portrays how poisonous the man's beliefs actually are.) There in part is why I think naming the film after Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind's 1998 book documenting "The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground" makes little sense. Åkerlund, himself, has explained how he doesn't care much for the book, so why not call it something like "True Norwegian Black Metal" (though it would then have to compete with the late-2000s [and highly superior] Gorgoroth documentary of the same name produced by Vice). In naming the film after the book it just feels like this is trying to shoehorn one man's distinct creative agenda into the mold of a work that clearly had different intentions. (Which is another reason why this feels so all over the place to me.)

CJ's review does well to expand on the problematic nature of using this source material in the way it was portrayed, and I recommend reading that review for more on the matter, but I will add that in approaching Lords of Chaos as a work of fiction, reality, or even something in between: It was still ultimately a let down. I don't claim to be a "fan" of the band, and while you can count the number of Mayhem songs I've listened to this past decade on two hands, I did see Mayhem play live about a decade ago. While I'm (now, at least) entirely conflicted over seeing a group (albeit one with a pretty high rate of turnover among its band members) with such a violent and repulsive history, I was also drawn to it for those very same reasons... There's a magnetism to the spectacle of it all, and as as a twenty-five year old I was more than happy to see such a notorious group up close and personal. I mean, several years prior I read Lords of Chaos, and to this day I still hold an odd reverence for the mythology that's grown out of the scene portrayed in this film. Maybe as a result of having made all this as complicated as I have do I find myself disappointed by how it came across, feeling like the story at the heart of the matter was given little more than a watered down I, Tonya treatment.

Enemy [2013]

It's tempting to lean on the several YouTube videos I just watched dissecting Enemy to reveal its would-be meaning, or focus my opinions toward the numerous great reviews of the film here on Letterboxd, but I'm gonna be real with you: Near the end, when Adam and that dude were riding up the elevator and the guy mentions about how he has to go back, I had entirely forgotten about the sex club scene at the beginning and thought this might be a twist revealing a wrinkle of time travel to the movie. Like the dude needs to go back, like back in time, revealing numerous threads which have become entangled, leaving Adam and Anthony in the same timeline. Apparently this is not a good movie to be "dozing off" to.

I don't see Enemy's opaqueness as a cop-out, as one review I read claimed. But instead I look forward to watching this again knowing what I know now, to try to piece together the larger picture of what Denis Villeneuve is trying to convey, for myself. And spoiler alert, for my future self: It has nothing to do with time travel, you idiot.

Motel Hell [1980]

Despite being a murderous, cannibalistic, sister-puncher, I still think the most cruel thing Farmer Vincent did in this movie was to put his bumper sticker on that family's car without asking first.

Ghostwatch [1992]

I will say this about the rotten bucket of dumpster juice that is Grave Encounters: Without it I'd have never been turned on to Ghostwatch (or more specifically, without this review of Grave Encounters, I'd have never been turned on to Ghostwatch). That aside, how did I not already know about Ghostwatch?!
For Halloween 1992, the BBC decides to broadcast an investigation into the supernatural, hosted by TV chat-show legend Michael Parkinson. Parky (ably assisted by Mike Smith, Sarah Greene & Craig Charles) and a camera crew attempt to discover the truth behind the most haunted house in Britain. This ground-breaking live television experiment does not go as planned, however…
An early-'90s made-for-TV British haunt flick angled as reality for an unsuspecting audience is in itself a cool enough premise to merit a watch... But beyond pre-dating the found footage fest spawned by The Blair Witch by several years, Ghostwatch is also worth the while due to the clever hand by which it reveals itself.

Bloody Disgusting has a good article which sums up Ghostwatch, but it also points out where in the movie the ghost actually appears. And that's by necessity as it's so damn subtle that I missed all but one of the moments without the article's aid. The tone is brooding, yet the delivery is so much more intriguing due to the lingering sense of dread that accompanies the general dearth of shock. This, opposed to something like that of Grave Encounters which vomits up every last drop of mystery, leaving only an aftertaste of hair gel, Monster energy drinks and regret. Ghostwatch is definitely worth checking out for those who get a kick out of ghosts, found footage, or simply knowing that thousands of Brits went to bed one night not knowing if the BBC had exposed them to an unholy world of darkness, or if someone was merely just taking the piss outta them.

Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore [1996]

I would love to know how something like this film would have sat with me twenty years ago. In the headspace I was in at the time I was just warming to the frame of mind required to appreciate Kevin Smith's early movies, including Clerks which is so often referred to as a lesser version of Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore. (It is.) And, while this is only the first time I've seen the latter, I still love it infinitely more than Clerks the last time I watched it.

For me, the Clerks comparison comes because of the day in the life type focus on blossoming adulthood (plus: video store vs. movie theater), but its humor comes at the expense of relatability... Not to mention the nonchalant exclusion of an entire gender. But that's the thing: I didn't realize any of that at the time that I was first exposed to Clerks. I just liked how it felt edgy and it seemed funny and adult in the way that people in their twenties seem when you're a teenager.

There are a bunch of great one-liners in here that made me laugh (bite it like beef jerky, the Eraserhead score line, etc.) but Mary Jane still seems far too authentic in its cool to have been something I'd have picked up when I was of the age where it could have had its greatest influence on me. In my Clerks viewing years I was still a ways off from being introduced to the Dead Kennedys (so Jello Biafra's amazing cameo would have been lost on me) and when I did fall in love with AFI it was with The Art of Drowning, a few years removed from Davey Havok (and co.'s) shift away from their East Bay origins. I guess that's just who I was/am: The kid who gravitated toward Pearl Jam instead of Babes in Toyland. All that said, it could be worse: I could have never watched Mary Jane in the first place.

Excision [2012]

Excision is a little uneven, but there are so many aspects to it that I appreciate which would lead me to watching it again: The small one liners and the awkward cool of AnnaLynne McCord's Pauline clashing with the suburban frustration of Traci Lords' Phyllis to name just a couple. Pauline swayed between incredibly self-aware and insane, which detracted from her character some, but what would be expected of a psychopathic high schooler if not a little inconsistency? The gory body horror scenes felt a little out of place at times while also creating a through-line that helped sew the larger story together in the end. As a whole, Excision was surprisingly appealing given its rather simple concept.

Bodied [2017]

Bodied is such a strange movie. I like the fact that it was made, if only because there aren't many cinematic options focusing on rap that don't devolve into Malibu's Most Wanted-level of stereotype... And damn, some of those rhymes are entertaining. But then again, how far off is it, really?

When it comes to focusing on the subject matter of lyricists and how to reconcile the irrefutably problematic issues of using rap as cover for otherwise hateful, prejudiced and homophobic language... I like the idea, but Bodied drifts in and out of even having a point beyond paper-thin reminders that words carry weight even when used in a context that attempts qualify an alternative intent.

There are moments like that of the scene where Behn Grymm's wife gets frustrated at Adam when he tries to explain his racial sensitivity by adding that, yeah, maybe sometimes all white people need is just a black person to explain to them how certain things look from the perspective of someone who's not white... to which she responds by telling him how insane it is that he thinks it's her job to dissect the nuances of racism for him so he can feel like he's not an absolute shitheel. A number of reviews compare Bodied to something of a Scott Pilgrim/8 Mile crossover, but it's more like a far-too-drawn-out episode of South Park, all the way to its finish. (After all, Adam's last name is the term for a public hair wig, so tell why I'm crazy?)

I mean, what's the intention of it all and how does the conclusion speak to the vision? What am I supposed to feel in the last battle scene when dramatic music swoops in and the bloodied up white kid gets his hand raised like Rocky by his opponent? The feels, maybe? Happy because he proved that some people have a snapping point, while he stayed true to his limited interpretation of what rap battles are in remaining immune to showing a shred of sensitivity because it's all just part of battling?

And to follow that up with the scene of his return to the campus that exiled him due to the racist and homophobic language he used in his first battle video, where he seems to have learned nothing from trespassing upon his friendship with Behn, why the school did what it did, or even what his girlfriend dumped him over seems insane unless re-contextualized as that South Park episode. And in the closing scene Adam sits there with an altogether-too-tilted straight brim hat (tell me he's not Jamie Kennedy's character, 15 years removed) watching himself on his phone, please by himself and planning how to market his next move. You mean the whole movie was to then conclude that to Adam it was all worth it because viral lives matter more than just being a decent human being? Even ironically, you're telling me that's the point? Cue theme song.

Paths of Glory [1957]

My mind is swirling with another puzzle piece now added to the cinematic wartime mosaic building in my mind. Paths of Glory is the Kubrickian slight to the caste system of wartime "leadership," yet I can't help but feel a sense of defeat in its wake. In the end the violence remains, the war rages on. In the end the audacity of the system remains unchecked. Just as the courtroom scene spoke to the absurdity of believing one man could charge a battlefield by himself, so too is audacious to think one man's challenge of the system would create change of any sort. Sometimes courage has nothing to do with reality.

Still only a few months removed from watching Come and See, my mind is stuck on that film's vision of war as a balance to this. That vision of depraved brutality. That vision of senselessness, nearly as punishing visually as it is thematically. Then to think about how the decisions behind wartime actions are sometimes made by men like those portrayed here. It's sickening, but normal. Its normalization is sickening. This line by SirFolmarv sums Paths of Glory up nicely: "The film doesn't even take an easy path of showing these themes simply through violence. It chooses to use apathy, selfishness, cowardice, and the complete lack of human understanding." From a technical perspective, having recently watched the "Kubrick // One-Point Perspective" short, the symmetry of the court room scene caught my eye, specifically. There was so much captured so effortlessly throughout the film that it was easy to overlook the skill behind the shots. Beautiful or not though, the veneer of civility washed over the gross undercurrent of inhumanity is what remains.