Just like in 2011, a World Series run by the St. Louis Cardinals meant that I punted on almost a month’s worth of movies this year. This weekend was my first shot at diving back into it. Along the way, I visited a Sight & Sound top 10 film, a French comedy classic (yes, those exist), a little-known horror/sci-fi classic, and more. This is the movie weekend that was.
Bride of Chucky (1998)
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about the Child’s Play series that lures me in more than any of the other classic 80s slashers (Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and I guess Pinhead). I’m certain that part of it is that the Chucky films never take themselves seriously. Bride of Chucky is no different, working almost as much as a screwball comedy as it is a slasher film. It’s a film that clearly came in the wake of the massive success of Scream (1996), and so the audience is treated to a flurry of schlock that’s referential to Chucky’s 80s horror peers. And, of course, there are some very overt references to The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). I like what they tried here, even if it does come off as ham-fisted and over-the-top. It’s a failure, but it’s a fun failure.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
The Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
Dziga Vertov’s experimental silent film is a resounding success on at least two major levels. First and foremost, Vertov either invented or employed countless camera techniques, stretching the medium just about as far as it could go in 1929. The Man with a Movie Camera features double exposure, freeze frames, slow motion, split screens, tracking shots, and some very effective stop-motion. It’s reminiscent of the inventiveness of Georges Méliès, Abel Gance, and Jean Vigo. In fact, the other level where The Man with a Movie Camera excels is not unlike Vigo’s A Propos de Nice. It’s a tremendous snapshot of life in the Ukraine’s urban centers during the era. It’s a sociologist’s dream. Apparently, Vertov’s experiment ranked as the 8th best film of all-time in the 2012 Sight and Sound poll. I can’t say I’m surprised.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The Suitor (1962)/Rupture (1961)
Pierre Étaix is known as “the French Buster Keaton” and films like The Suitor spell out that moniker perfectly. Étaix’ style is a fantastic mix of hilarious and somber, stone-faced enthusiasm mixed with lovelorn disappointment. If that’s not evocative of Keaton, I’m not really sure what else is. In fact, Étaix created this film as an homage to Keaton. The film centers around a young man whose wealthy parents insist that he must get married. And so he embarks on a journey to find a suitable wife. Highjinx ensue as he echoes the efforts of other suitors around him, often with disastrous results. Eventually, he becomes obsessed with a beautiful singer… all while the attractive maid working for the family carries a flame for him. It comes packaged with healthy doses of slapstick and finishes with a flourish, a very clever ending given the inability of Étaix’ character to understand the fairer sex.
Rupture is a short film that accompanied The Suitor on the Criterion release. There’s not a lot to say about it, per se, but if you’re a fan of slapstick and the classic clowns (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd), then you can’t go wrong here whatsoever. And just like most of the other Étaix work I’ve seen (the Oscar-winning short Happy Anniversary; Le Grand Amour), it combines hearty laughs with some occasional dark humor. If you can’t tell by now, I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of Étaix. He parallels Jacques Tati in the world of French comedy* and even surpasses Tati in some regards.
*yes, I realize the French aren’t known for their comedy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars for The Suitor; 4.5 out of 5 stars for Rupture
Room 237 (2012)
Far be it from me to downplay the notion of subtext within film. It’s very real, after all. But some of the notions put forth in Room 237 about The Shining come off like the ramblings of someone in the grips of a hallucinogenic bender. At one point, one of the theorists espouses that ”Kubrick is like a giant mega-brain boiling down the sum of human existence” (I’m paraphrasing, but only very little). And that statement just about sums up most of these theories. There are a few theories that have some plausibility- specifically, those that discuss shot composition and Kubrick’s use of hotel layout to create notions of space and tone. That’s what filmmakers do, and those are the types of tools they have to make their magic happen. But going beyond that, most of these theories are absurd. I find the documentary far more fascinating if I look at it as a documentary about weirdos with nutty conspiracy theories.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
This is the film that launched 1,000 Hammer horror films. It’s actually based on a British TV serial from just two years prior. Without having seen the TV serial, it’s hard to gauge originality and the like. That said, Quatermass is an amazing combination of horror and science fiction. Throw in the British flair for suspense and you’ve got yourself a classic, one that’s regrettably difficult to find. I’d rank it easily in a list of top-shelf horror/sci-fi combos, along with The Thing from Another World, The Thing, and The Fly, just to name a few. You’ll note that it’s spelled “Xperiment,” without an E. That’s because the studio wanted to play up its X rating, which typically indicated “horror” in the UK in the era. If you can somehow find a way to get your grubby paws on Quatermass, I highly recommend it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
30 for 30: Free Spirits (2013)
My initial draw to Free Spirits was that I knew it was a documentary about the Spirits of St. Louis- an ABA basketball team, based out of St. Louis in the mid-1970s. However, it didn’t immediately click for me that the Spirits played in the old St. Louis Arena. The Arena, affectionately known as “The Barn”, was located just a quick two mile drive down the street where I currently live. Of course, the Barn is long gone, just like the Spirits. All that’s left is a Hampton Inn, a Jimmy John’s, and a really lame bar where someone like David Schwimmer would probably love to hang out. All of this is to say that the location of the team added a special level for me. The documentary itself focused on the wild amounts of fun- usually out of control fun- that the talented, wild-card Spirits had during their ABA days. They were the embodiment of what ultimately became the future of the NBA, and all of the best (and worst) parts of the ABA in the era. Much of the documentary focuses on Marvin Barnes, a massively talented player who let his personal life intrude on his greatness. Adding to the credibility of the film, the Spirit’s radio announcer was Bob Costas, well before anyone knew who Bob Costas was. Costas is featured prominently in interviews for the documentary. It’s not the best 30 for 30 episode but it certainly fills the series brand well.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars