Cinema Digest 2012 – Week 49

The Collection (2012)
the_collection

Arkin (Josh Stewart) is back and ready for more collecting a paycheck. Our hero is able to escape from The Collector’s latest murder spree in a dance club. In the ensuing chaos, another girl is kidnapped. The girl’s father hires a group of mercenaries to get her back but they’re dragging Arkin along with them because he’s the only person to have seen The Collector’s lair and survive.

This is going to be a short review because I don’t feel like spending any more time on it after having to sit through this garbage. It’s more watchable than The Collector but somehow even more implausible and ridiculous. Again, the initial premise is interesting and fortunately they don’t focus as much on the torture this time around but it’s so poorly made that none of that really matters. It sucks, that’s all.

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The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Queen of Versailles

Things are going well for the Siegel family. Incredibly well, in fact. Patriarch of the family, David, is worth a couple billion thanks to his successful time share resort business and he’s got enough money lying around that he and his wife are planning to build the largest single-family house in America. It’ll have over a dozen bathrooms, ten kitchens, closets as big as large bedrooms, a grand ballroom, bowling alley, multiple tennis courts, the works. Construction is well underway on the $50 million+ estate when the economy collapses. Suddenly, the Siegels find themselves facing the disintegration of their American dream.

Sometimes documentary filmmakers find their subject taking a drastic turn and going places they never could have imagined. What could have just been a story about a very vain family building a big house becomes a meditation on the American dream and what really brings happiness. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel more than a tinge of schadenfreude as the Siegels fall on hard times. It’s never a total collapse as they still have way more money than I’ll ever see in my life, but with their opulent lifestyle at risk, it gives them time to reflect on their lives and maybe come to their senses. Maybe. What sets the movie apart from your “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” type of reality show, is that the Siegels aren’t painted as horrible people to be cruelly mocked. Sure, wife Jackie proudly shows off her enormous fake boobs, wears gaudy clothing, and has a beloved, deceased dog stuffed and displayed in a plexiglass case. But she’s a smart, genuinely caring woman who perhaps just got caught up in the wealthy lifestyle. You might find yourself hating her but I could not. She’s much too human to hate.

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Killing Them Softly (2012)
killing-them-softly

Once upon a time, a gangster named Markie (Ray Liotta) set up an inside job to rob his own mafia poker game. Years later, he confessed to it and the mafia considered it water under the bridge. Now, another gangster hires two criminals (Scoot McNairyBen Mendelsohn) to rob another poker game. Everyone will assume that Markie’s up to his old tricks again and never think to go after anyone else. It’s a foolproof plan! Except you’ve seen enough of these to know that’s not the case. Soon, the mafia brings in hitman Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to get their money back.

Director Andrew Dominik‘s previous film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is one of my favorite movies so it’s safe to say that I was looking forward to this one. It’s nowhere near the masterpiece that TAoJJbtCRF is, but it’s really good. If you’re expecting the kind of gangster movie with ultra-clever dialogue and snappy editing set to an obscure but hip soundtrack, you’re knocking on the wrong door. In fact, Killing Them Softly (much like this year’s Seven Psychopaths) could be seen as an antithesis to those kind of movies. These gangsters and the things they do aren’t glamorized or made to look fun. It’s a brutal, dirty world and you do not want to be part of it. KTS is heavy on talk but there are some incredibly tense sequences. Some have complained that Dominik is hitting way too hard on the capitalistic themes of this film. It’s true that he’s essentially yelling at you, but it obviously comes from a place of very bitter anger and he’s just not interested in being subtle about it. Furthermore, this very prevalent theme, enhances what would otherwise be a fairly run-of-the-mill story. In spite of the pretty low-key execution, I was entranced from beginning to end thanks to both Dominik‘s assured hand and all the actors’ great performances.

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The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
thephantom

You know the story.  Opera singer Christine (Mary Philbin) is being simultaneously mentored and stalked by a mysterious, masked phantom (Lon Chaney) who lives deep below the stage. He lures her into his underground lair but she reveals him to be hideously deformed and he goes on a murderous spree to keep his iron grip on the woman he loves from afar. This is arguably the most famous adaptation of the novel and Chaney‘s most well-known role. It’s notoriety mostly stems from Chaney‘s impressively ghoulish makeup but apart from that, it’s a merely decent film. I know that silent film acting, for the most part, is pretty hammy but Philbin in particular is almost hilariously so. It is only Chaney‘s fiendish and frightening acting that keep the film afloat. I’ve seen a couple other adaptations including Joel Schumacher‘s musical adaptation and a 1980’s slasher version starring Robert Englund and this is, personally, the weakest of the three. However, due primarily to Chaney and the film’s historical significance, it ought to be seen.

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Our Hospitality (1923)
ourhospitality

Over the long history of humanity, there have been family feuds: Esau and Jacob, the Hatfields and the McCoys, Richard Dawson. This film tells the story of the feud between the Canfield and McKay families. Silent comedy master, Buster Keaton, plays Willie McKay, the last living McKay who has grown up far away and unaware of the family’s history. When he gets a letter of inheritance from his father’s estate, Willie finds himself caught in the middle of the deadly feud.

Keaton is undoubtedly one of cinema’s very best physical comedians. His films are always bursting with hilarious and clever visual gags and this one is no exception. I watched this with a few friends and we were all consistently busting our guts laughing. What is also amazing is his incredible stunt work and there is a rescue scene in this film that rivals some modern films. It’s impressive to me that there are sequences in Our Hospitality where I have no idea how they did certain things and it shows just how innovative these silent films had to be when they couldn’t easily fake things. If anyone told me that they don’t like silent films because they’re “boring/irrelevant/old/black and white” or whatever stupid excuse they might come up with, I would very lovingly smack them upside the head for being stupid and then sit them down with a stack of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films and show them just how wrong they are.

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Cosmopolis (2012)
cosmopolis

A young billionaire (Robert Pattinson) in need of a haircut goes on a crosstown odyssey; taking meetings with various people, occasionally having sex, and getting his prostate examined all in the comfort of his high-tech limo.

I wish I could go more in-depth into the plot of this film but it would just get more confounding than it already is. Cosmopolis is guilty of perhaps the worst sin a movie can commit: it’s really, really boring. It just plods on and on with everybody in the film talking in a pseudo-intellectual babble that doesn’t even try to make sense or be interesting. The film is deliberately antagonizing and obtuse, gleefully letting you wander around blindfolded in a labyrinth with no exit. If there’s one positive thing I can say about the film, it’s that it has some impressively long takes filled with dialogue that I could only make sense if they were just doing free association. But the immensely boring action and dialogue is not helped by Pattinson‘s sleep-inducing, monotone acting. The film is an hour and forty-five minutes long but it felt like at least six hours and at least two thirds of that time was spent desperately wanting the film to end. By the time the end did come around I felt no elation, no relief. I was exhausted and slightly depressed. So if that sounds like a good time to you, then welcome to Cosmopolis.

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V/H/S (2012)
vhs

A group of criminals are sent to a mysterious house to retrieve a particular video tape for an unknown client. When they enter the house, they discover a corpse sitting in front of a wall of TVs and stacks of VHS tapes everywhere. One by one, they begin watching the tapes which all contain a different event, each one more disturbing than the last.

This story provides the framing device for an anthology of short horror films, all shot in found-footage style by different writers and directors including Adam WingardDavid BrucknerTi West, Glen McQuaidJoe Swanberg, and Radio Silence. I’ll first speak generally and then get more specific. Overall, the film worked for me. It’s a tad too long at almost two hours and almost every short could have done with being shorter. Nearly every one of the stories brings something unique to the genres they’re riffing on and I was frightened more than a few times. The shorts being only 15-20 minutes, there’s a lot that goes unexplained but I prefer it that way. Much better to leave you unsettled and questioning than to explain away everything. The filmmakers obviously worked very hard to make it feel authentically low-fi and some of these are very impressive given how low budget obviously is. So very generally, I enjoyed the film and would recommend it heartily to any fan of horror anthologies.

MINOR SPOILERS BELOW

Now for specifics. As with any anthology, it’s going to be uneven in terms of quality but which films you like more and less are going to vary from person to person. I’ve seen defenses for every short so the following is just my opinion.

  • The framing story, “Tape 56” is easily the worst of the bunch. It features some incredibly annoying douchebags, didn’t have a good enough reason to be shot handheld and might have actually been better if it weren’t shot that way. It never does enough with its given time and ultimately doesn’t amount to much besides giving a reason for us to be watching the other segments.
  • Amateur Night” also features a group of grating alpha males but not unrealistically so, and they’re very obviously the bad guys here. It’s supposed to be filmed through spyglasses and had an annoying lo-fi “frame sticking” effect (like when a streaming video lags for a half-second). Nevertheless, it has an incredibly disturbing performance by Hannah Fierman and fantastic prosthetic effects so this ended up being a strong entry.
  • Second Honeymoon” is boring as hell, is only briefly scary, and doesn’t have a strong enough payoff to justify the slog that came before.
  • Tuesday the 17th” is a mostly uninteresting riff on the Friday the 13th (get it?) type of film with the exception of one really cool and unique element that just barely kept me interested.
  • The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” is sort of an odd one in that it takes place entirely over Skype but it’s one of the more unsettling of the bunch. Starts with a sort of Paranormal Activity vibe but quickly shows that it’s doing its own thing.
  • And finally, we have “10/31/98” which is easily the best of the bunch and just knocks it out of the park. Incredibly disturbing, scary and impressive as hell. A very strong, and practically perfect segment to end on. I loved this one.
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