Sunday, November 13, 2011

November: Quick Reviews and Ratings (Part 1)

I don't have the time and energy to review every film I watch, so I'll give a quick review and rating of some first viewings I have not looked at a feature length review throughout the first half of November:

El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970) - Firstly...what the hell? This is one warped film. At times brilliant, at times unendurable. It's length is certainly a detractor - on one hand there is only so much violent surrealism and explicit sex and nudity that one can endure, and following the intriguing first half, it becomes less and less interesting - though still horrifying and unexpected. Essentially, it is a western full of religious allegory and Christian symbolism, which focuses on El Topo, a black-clad gunfighter (played by Jodorowsky himself) and his quest for enlightenment. The film opens with El Topo and his naked son travelling through the desert on horseback. They are searching for the perpetrators responsible for the death of his wife and the slaughter of the inhabitants of a town they come across. He tracks them down and kills them, before taking on a mission (instigated by a slave woman he rescues) to defeat the four great gun masters of the land. It is interesting that each of the gun masters represents a particular philosophy and in order to defeat them he has to learn from them first. It is this half I liked a lot, and if you think this sounds bizarre, the second half is something else. It's extremely violent, and deranged in just about every manner possible, but it's cult status is certainly justified. UNRATED

American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973) - This was a lot of fun, and proof that George Lucas has directed more than one good film (A New Hope being the other). Set in the early 60's this is a nostalgic portrait of teenage life - documenting the time of the sock hop, when youths were measured by how cool their car was and how fast they could drive it, and when drive-in diners were the local hangout. The film follows a group of teenagers and their wild adventures over the course of one night, the night before longtime friends Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are to leave for college together. They meet up with their friends John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and Terry Fields (Charles Martin Smith) in the diner parking lot at the start of the night - and from there, the night takes it course. Curt's is perhaps the most memorable - unsure whether he is going to accept his $2,000 scholarship and leave for college, he spends the entire night seeking out a beautiful blonde he spies in a white Ford Thunderbird, crossing paths with a group of greasers who coerce him into an initiation along the way. This would have been a nightmare to shoot, and the film balances all of the stories really well - and offers up believable cause/effect developments. The soundtrack is perhaps the most memorable (well, along with Harrison Ford's cameo) - effectively capturing the mood of each scene with an array of pop favourites. ★★★★

Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982) - "They're here!" Poltergeist, now considered a classic of the genre, felt very very dated and like I had seen it all before. It's practically Insidious but made 29 years earlier. Set in California, the plot focuses on the Freeling family whose home (later revealed to have been built on land where a cemetery was once located) is invaded my ghosts, including a demon known as "Beast" who abducts the daughter, Carol Anne, and tries to manipulate the other spirits. A spiritual medium is called in to assess the situation and offer a reprieve. Despite the dodgy visual effects, there were some effective scares (though they come from obvious set-ups at times), but my interest was not wholeheartedly invested. ★★★

Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1983) - Unlike Poltergeist, this one had me hooked. There are so many awesome things about this 1983 B-Grade slasher film, which was one of the earlier examples of the sub-genre that continued to evolve throughout the 80's. It is one of those rare films where technical incompetence, awful acting (Mike Kellin) and horrendous fake moustaches (above) actually add to the enjoyment. While the film pretty effectively captures the atmosphere of a summer camp - youth bonding, bullying, sporting rivalries, experimentation with new-found sexual urges etc. - there are plenty of clever thrills and inventive ways to eliminate the campers. The two central characters are cousins, Angela and Ricky. Ricky is a popular Camp Arawak regular, while Angela is quiet, introverted and becomes a target for bullying. Their lives, and those of the other campers (who for some reason are allowed to remain at camp, and aren't sent home) are threatened by a killer on the loose. No-one will see the twist coming. It's something special. ★★★1/2

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar, 2009) - While it doesn't rival Almodovar's best films (All About My Mother and Talk to Her) in terms of thematic depth and audience engagement, Broken Embraces is still emotionally satisfying and very decent. Lluis Homar (one of the most interesting characters I have been exposed to in an Almodovar film) gives a great performance as a former film director, blinded in an accident, who becomes a writer. He shares his life (and most of the events are revealed in flashback) to his agent and her adult son. The central arc is his passionate romance with the lead actresses in one of his films (Penelope Cruz). It's a dangerous affair because he finds himself the target of a jealous producer who is also in love with her. Almodovar's complex screenplay balances the dual time periods beautifully, and drawing influence from the neo-noir genre, weaves together several tragic tales of  love. ★★★1/2


  1. Glad you checked out Sleepaway Camp! It is quite the film.

    Gotta love the stache.

  2. nice post, somehow I have never seen American Graffiti I am going to have to add that to my watch list.

  3. Yeah, the second half of El Topo where it suddenly turns into another film is where it definitively goes off whatever rails it may still have been on. I think it's complete dogshit.

  4. Wow, I still want to see El Topo just for all of the things people have said over the years.

    I think I'm one of the few that really loves Broken Embraces yet, I'm a sucker for a really good film by Almodovar.

  5. I must see El Topo, now! It looks like my kind of film...

  6. I gotta say it: I LOVE EL TOPO. Just a fantastic, brilliant movie. Jodorowsky is fantastic.

  7. @ James - The stache is fantastic!

    @ 3guys - Definitely worth a look.

    @ James1511 - I admired the bold attempts to be surreal and shocking, but the second half is something I don't see ever growing on me.

    @ Steven - I have found something to like in every Almodovar film (though not so much in Bad Education) but it wasn't as special an experience as the other two I mentioned.

    @ Cherokee - Give it a go. You may even find it more bizarre than you expect.

    @ Tyler - I certainly didn't love it, but it stuck in my head and prompted some discussion.

  8. I also love El Topo, and also the rest of Jodorowsky's insane creations.

  9. I might wait a little while before checking out more of his work, but I will someday!