“Nothing is as it seems” was the thematic starting point when Nicolas Roeg envisioned the iconic horror-drama Don’t Look Now (1973). The phrase not only matches the recurring events in the film where John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) desperately tries to make sense of what he sees, but also informs the artistic rendition of the idea, “doubt what you see,” imbuing the audience with a sense of mistrust. The imagery and editing style of the film are aligned with this thematic statement, reaffirming the film’s status as not just an awesome horror flick but also an art film where every element is carefully and purposefully designed, performed, and built to elicit a specific response from the audience.
Category: Main Slate
In 1999, Stanley Kubrick cast then-married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman to play well-to-do Manhattan doctor Bill Hartford and his wife, Alice, in what would be his final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The film’s cryptic title and mysterious, sexy trailer, set to Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing,” caught my eye, especially as I was a teenage Kubrick fanatic and closet Cruise admirer. After nearly three hours in a darkened theater, I wasn’t sure what I had seen, but I knew I liked it. Looking back almost twenty years later and after many repeat screenings, I’m not sure the film is as sexually liberated and transgressive as I once thought. Herein, then, I take a closer look at the film’s messages on marriage, fidelity and Tom Cruise’s mysterious on-screen sexuality.
Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Museo, aside from being a virtuoso piece of filmmaking, is unique in that it considers the precarious morality of history museums. Based on a 1985 heist, in which two thieves made off with 124 artifacts from Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, it explores the tension between a country’s cultural “heritage” and the indigenous cultures that the country robbed and appropriated.
Exactly four decades after Jacques Tourneur terrified audiences with his quick and moody werecat horror film Cat People in 1942, Paul Schrader – following the success of American Gigolo – released a nearly in-name-only remake. The cultural climate in 1982 was vastly different than when Tourneur was making his film. Schrader’s remake, after all, came in the same year as the gleefully excessive epic Conan the Barbarian, the ultra-gory remake of The Thing, and slasher films like The Slumber Party Massacre and Friday the 13th: Part III testing the limits of on screen carnage. But where was the sex?
Few monsters have as strong of a cinematic tradition as the werewolf. Nearly as soon as the first silent films were made, the werewolves appeared in them. Though these films were inspired by both mythological folklore and accounts of “real” werewolves, the movies seem to have largely ignored the fact that in these old tales, lycanthropy affected both men and women. Ginger Snaps not only aims for a bit of gender equality amongst these shapeshifters, but it does so by pointing at the obvious female markers within werewolf mythology.
When Jennifer’s Body came out in 2009, I thought it was the coolest movie I had seen since Mean Girls. The film followed Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried), two BFFs as they navigated boys and high school. If that wasn’t stressful enough, Jennifer gets sacrificed to a satanic cult and becomes a boy-eating demon. To quote from the film, hell is a teenage girl. Or rather, is the teenage girl just a victim of the hellish patriarchy?
Like the sweet stray dogs that run and play during the opening scenes of Mon Oncle, Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot lives a free, unstructured life in an older section of Paris. He chats with neighbors, stops in the local pub, and takes things slowly. His only appointment is to pick up his 9-year-old nephew, Gérard after school. Hulot loves Gérard and the feeling is clearly mutual. With his uncle, Gérard can be a kid. He plays with other boys, gets his clothes dirty, and eats too many sweets. He has fun.
What do we need to procure a powerful imagination? A childhood steeped in traumatic events, emotionally supportive family members, being exposed to various quirky people, enriching early experiences, long hours of solitude…. Ingmar Bergman in Fanny and Alexander, his ode to the origins of imagination, suggests that all of the above is true. Bergman’s semi-autobiographical farewell gift to cinema is a reflection on what nourished his imagination to create decades of outstanding cinematic work.
Allen Baron’s lonely, murky, Christmas-set noir Blast of Silence is notable for a number of things – its barely existent budget, stark city photography done without permits, and a rare second person narration track (read by veteran character actor Lionel Stander). The latter suitably sets the mood of the film and includes passages like, “When the Better Business Bureau rings the Christmas bell, the suckers forget there’s such a business as murder, and businessmen who make it their exclusive line,” which blur the usual holiday spirit with something a lot colder, and a lot more sinister.
Like its protagonist, It’s a Wonderful Life has its own redemption story. Released in 1946, the film received tepid reviews from critics and was famously a box office flop, failing to earn enough revenue to break even with the budget, contributing to the bankruptcy of the production company Liberty Films and its eventual sale to Paramount. Twenty-eight years later, a clerical error allowed the movie to enter the public domain, at which point television stations started airing it solely because they could do so without paying royalties. Just as Uncle Billy’s clerical error was the catalyst that pushed George Bailey to find new appreciation for his life in Bedford Falls, that mistake at Paramount allowed a new American audience to find and embrace Bailey’s story, turning the forgotten film into the perennial classic it is today.