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  • The Unknown

    The Unknown

    ★★½

    The Unknown (1927) is a strange little nightmare of a film that has little by way of substance but manages to be quite disturbing nonetheless. Not wishing to spoil its brief contents I will not reveal much, only that, like his later Freaks (1932), Browning's film centres around jealousy in a circus. These two films (the only Browning I've seen) make me think of him as a bit of a proto-Cronenberg, as both represent an early type of body horror.…

  • Hardcore Henry

    Hardcore Henry

    ★★★★

    The obvious criticism of Hardcore Henry would be that it is a macho, homophobic, misogynistic video game fantasy with some of the most gratuitous violence ever perpetrated on an audience—not to mention a pretty poor sense of humour. But that would ignore its many virtues. On a visual level, it's at least as impressive in its cinematography as Russian Ark (2002), with its uncut, relentless first-person GoPro perspective. Like The Raid (2011) or Dredd (2012) the action sequences can be…

  • A Touch of Zen

    A Touch of Zen

    ★★★

    This film is just about worth seeing for its stunning cinematography, the natural beauty of its locations, and some unexpectedly cool monks. It could be half as long without losing much due to its unremarkable plot and poorly-developed characters. I know it's meant to be a classic but I found the glacial pace, hokey props and outfits, and the insufferable bouncing around hard to take. Then again, I'm no fan of Crouching Tiger or Once Upon the Time in the…

  • Tristana

    Tristana

    ★★½

    Tristana a strange film that I can't really recommend. It feels a bit like Lorca gone wrong, in that it has all the elements of male hegemony with its unbearable consequences as The House of Bernarda Alba, yet it somehow fails to reach the same pitch of suffering. A description of it might also read like some of Strindberg or Chekhov, where the real tragedy is a sense of powerlessness which leads to no momentous cataclysm; yet somehow it doesn't…

  • Dreams

    Dreams

    ★★★★

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    I've often felt that many of Bergman's middling films, had they been directed by virtually anyone else, could be another filmmaker's masterpiece, but Bergman made so many phenomenal films that he more or less overwhelms any possible selection process. Dreams is like that; minor for Bergman, average even, but still outstanding in its own right. Beginning with no dialogue, it introduces its two female protagonists in opposite power dynamics: Susanne (Eva Dahlbeck), owner of a model agency, watching and judging,…

  • Sexy Beast

    Sexy Beast

    ★★★

    A surreal take on the clichéd "one last heist" film. With feverish moments in the heat of Spain reminiscent of Walkabout, High Plains Drifter, or maybe even El topo, contrasted with an ugly and brutal London underworld, the thoroughly unpredictable but somehow believable characters make for an enjoyably unexpected twist on a classic crime drama structure.

  • The Misfits

    The Misfits

    ★★★★

    The Misfits (1961) is a beautiful (if hard-to-watch) elegy, not only for the American West it depicts in a slow fade into obsolescence, but also for three of its actors. Plotwise, Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) goes through a dismissively quick divorce (for which Reno was already famous by 1931) at the start of the film. Through a divorcee friend Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter) she meets Guido (Eli Wallach) and then Gay Langland (Clark Gable); Steers disappears without fanfare about halfway…

  • The Gospel According to Matthew

    The Gospel According to Matthew

    ★★★★½

    Because the only Pasolini film I had previously seen was the harrowing Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), I began The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1963) with some trepidation. I expected it to be dark, visceral, and transgressive. It turns out to be a refreshingly straightforward adaptation of the book of Matthew, with none of the horrors of Salo, his final film.

    That’s not to say that The Gospel According to St. Matthew lacks power. On the…

  • The Place Beyond the Pines

    The Place Beyond the Pines

    ★★★★½

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    I had heard The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) compared favourably to Derek Cianfrance’s earlier film Blue Valentine (2010). I thought the latter was quite good when I saw it last year, so I wondered whether his new effort would measure up. I was especially dubious as the trailer looked like a (stunt) vehicle for capitalizing on Gosling’s success in Drive (2011). But the positive reviews were from sources I trusted, and they were right: The Place Beyond the Pines…

  • In the House

    In the House

    ★★★

    I don't have a great deal to say about François Ozon's Dans la maison (2013). It's a decent thriller with some good comedy. It starts out strong with a reference to Scorpio Rising (1964) but the ending is a bit mediocre, with a reference to Rear Window (1954). In between its well-acted, charming/creepy teenage protagonist gradually intrudes into a bourgeois classmate's home in order to see his more privileged life, eventually with the goal of seducing his mother. He's spurred…

  • The Pillow Book

    The Pillow Book

    ★★

    I found Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book (1996) pretty difficult to get through. Although it’s just over two hours long, it actually took me a few weeks to finish it, and it felt longer and was less enjoyable than Shoah (1985), which as a nine-hour documentary about Nazi death camps, is saying something (by comparison I finished Shoah in under two days). Paradoxically, given the amount of nudity, sex, and violence in The Pillow Book, it’s one of the most…

  • Funny Games

    Funny Games

    ★★½

    Haneke's Funny Games (1997) is a powerful, unforgettable film. It's suspenseful and provocative. It implicates its viewers in its transgressions, forces them into the position of voyeurs, and challenges them on other levels. It is an extreme counterpoint to glamorized Hollywood violence. All these things sound positive, but in fact I cannot in conscience recommend this film.

    The primary problem with Funny Games is that it insults and punishes its viewers. In its violence and themes it is unpleasant, but…