Well this Worth Watching is exceptionally late. As you may have seen, my beautiful son Theodore arrived recently, meaning writing and viewing is on the backburner for now. But I did manage to get through a fair amount of really good stuff in September, including digging into the filmography of Wes Craven. His passing really motivated me to explore his work more and I am loving it. There are a couple of 1001 reviews of his films in the pipeline too. Hope you’re all well and watching some cool stuff.
- The People Under the Stairs (1991), Wes Craven – I adore the title and poster for this, and the film functions as a throwback in a similar vein. The genre mishmash hybrid of classic adventure, comedy and horror works much better than it really should. It is an interesting and highly political world Craven is operating in. Predatory landlords, the woes of capitalism, racial inequality and the American health system are all dealt with in a reasonable amount of depth. The film is simultaneously very grounded in reality, yet much of it takes place in a house of heightened gothic ludicrousness. Legitimately one of Craven’s best.
- Dial M for Murder (1954), Alfred Hitchcock – This is very classical, and very fun Hitchcock. Much plotting intrigue, an inversion of thriller conventions. As far as Hitchcock thrillers go, this is very much at the lighter end of the spectrum. Functions perhaps more as a mystery film than thriller. There is an extended murder sequence that shows his mastery – lurking in the curtains leading to sheer violence. Grace Kelly is luminous onscreen, a classical mysterious woman at the heart of the story.
- Deep Red (1975), Dario Argento – My intro to Argento. The synthy 70s soundtrack is as ace as advertised. This is a trippy film, plunging you into a totally different (and frightening) world right from the start. It’s a strange tonal experience, descending into almost slapsticky comedy at some points. The acting is a little patchy as well. But this is utterly stylish. A thrillingly put together fish out of water detective story. With much blood. Disturbing and otherworldly.
- Cursed (2005), Wes Craven – I am a sucker for a werewolf film and this teen take on the genre did just enough for me. There is plenty of roughness, especially with the script. But Craven clearly has a reverence for classical Hollywood horror which results in some decent imagery. The creature looks cool which is such a plus for a werewolf film and it is stylish on the whole. The acting in particular is really overtly stylised, a decision that does not uniformly succeed but makes for a point of interest at least. Rather uneven, with plenty of teen film silliness (a mirror maze anyone?), but Craven pulls it out.
- Persepolis (2007), Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi – Gotta love this style of animation – feels hand drawn, playful, artistic and nicely unrealistic. The film combines a background rich with historical fact with a great burgeoning revolutionary for a central character. Coupled with the animation style, scenes seem to surf through events. Without ever feeling dry, it’s an insider’s view of the shifting atmosphere and tone of life in Iran. Nicely weaves in whimsical elements to better convey very real emotion and feelings. Autobiography in fleeting memories and experiences rather than a point A to B plot.
- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), Charles B. Pierce – Really is an ace title for a horror film. Set in immediate post WWII, the film combines pseudo-documentary seriousness with exceedingly silly slapstick. The result is something that feels surprisingly modern. There is some great direction and iconography around the murderer, which makes it surprising that the character has not become more of a classic. The comedy interludes jar with the callousness of the killer and their murders. Much of it plays like a really good crime procedural novel. Also astute regarding how a community reacts to a killer in its mist.
- Focus (2015), Glenn Ficarra & John Requa – Starts off with a funky old school vibe, cool soundtrack and cityscapes. That sort of passes in the second half, but the film still gets by mainly due to the charm of Will Smith and Margot Robbie in the lead roles. Is good to see Smith playing a smooth, suave old school Hollywood type. There is a lot of fun banter between him and Robbie, who is utterly excellent. She conveys such a sense of fun and takes you along with her. It’s silly. But fun and frothy silly.
- Mission Impossible 2 (2000), John Woo – Starts off more as campy comic book film than spy flick. Russians, evil pharmaceutical companies and borderline super powered Tom Cruise. An interesting franchise in that it allows individual directors to retain their own style – Woo really works the slow-mo and some very non-blockbustery arty shots in here. Stylish as. Some great set-pieces as you would expect, the highlight being a hybrid chase/fight on motorcycles. There is also some cool plotting throughout in a charming throwback kind of way.
- Shocker (1989), Wes Craven – Starts with a power ballad and really hammers that teen film vibe early. Much of this feels like Craven remixing the tropes and hallmarks of Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), just not as successfully. So 80s, though more psychologically brutal than something I’d expect from the era. I like the idea of the villain being able to pass from one physical body to another. The last act is kinda bad. I’m a fan of this, though it has dated more than most of Craven’s filmography.
- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014), Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – So meta man. Mimics the structure of the first film as well as the real life reception of that film and its yearly screenings. Don’t like the change to the mythology, with the killer talking. Pretty frightening and looks great though. Stylish angles and shots. But that creativity does take you out of the world of the film a bit. Love the way it engages with the original and real life. Has quite a lot of resonance and heart to it. There is so much tension and genuine horror throughout that unfortunately the reveal at the end sort of clunks in comparison. Still, a great way to revitalise a long-dead property.
- The Great Beauty (2013), Paolo Sorrentino – This is mad arty and shit. About beauty in all its forms, including the horrific. Also pretensions and the breaking down of them. It’s quite funny too, in the way it skewers convention. Makes you stop and consider the themes, talent and the gulf between those that have it and those that really don’t. At some level, the imagery and situations depicted are quite disturbing. Sorrentino has a hell of an eye for cool looking shit. Exquisite, painterly, but unique. A dark comedy about maintaining a distancing facade and the inevitability of that crumbling.
- Red Eye (2005), Wes Craven – Rachel McAdams plays the world’s most uber-capable hotel receptionist. Script is a little shitty, especially at the start. Though the film does a food job of invoking national security concerns and using the airport/plane settings to heighten that. Craven does tension so well and he shoots even the arbitrary scenes in this film in a way that enhances that. Almost his take on a Hitchcock film. The switch in Cillian Murphy’s character is chilling. It’s a great performance, one that could have been too silly. A cracking little thriller.
- The Visit (2015), M. Night Shyamalan – A collision between a funny film about film and some relatively standard found footage scares. It’s well acted, the two young Aussie leads are really talented. Even if it never entirely works as a classical horror film, Shyamalan invokes a lot of classical tropes. But the doco stylings, unforced found footage conceit and the fact it never takes itself too seriously means this is his best film for an age (not that hard I know).
- Sicario (2015), Denis Villeneuve – A lean & brutal coiled spring of a film. It occasionally loses its story. In large part cause the characters we go into the film through are essentially powerless. Functions excellently as a rumination on the nature and fulfilment of violence. The fact that violence inevitably gives rise to violence. Also the willingness of America to export violence. Acting is really good, especially from Brolin & Del Toro. Blunt is good but it’s an awful female character really. It’s a dark essay shot in bloody glorious widescreen. Will leave you pretty battered and downbeat.
- Community Season 5 (2014), Dan Harmon – Acting is so strong, helps to pick back up these characters and this world so easily. Everything, including the performances, is delightfully meta. Alison Brie is a super underrated comedic performer. Perhaps no show has ever interacted with pop culture as well as this one. Most of the episodes are pretty creative stylistic exercises, toying with the form. Combines silly and pathos so well.
Not Worth Watching
- Mission Impossible (1996), Brian De Palma – Can really see the Bond influence on this one. Haven’t seen it in 15 odd years. Recalled not liking it, but decided to revisit after loving this year’s. It still doesn’t really work for me. Loads of clunky dialogue and dumb plotting. It’s not all bad. The score elevates the extended espionage sequences, the casting is super interesting and there are three excellent set-pieces. The approach is just not there as a whole though.
- Everest (2015), Baltasar Kormakur – Frankly this is a pretty appalling piece of storytelling, failing at the most basic level to spin a yarn. The film is unable to keep track of its characters and tell a cohesive narrative. It’s a film that should look cool in 3D and there are some cool images, but it’s dim and washed out to the point of being almost unwatchable. There are some good performances, Josh Brolin and Jason Clarke especially. But it also really wastes talent such as Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington. A strangely uneventful film with basically nothing to recommend it.
- Adult World (2013), Scott Coffey – An unbearably twee and hip chronicle of a pretentious wannabe artist. That’s hard to watch, even if it is someone I like as much as Emma Roberts playing the part. The film reflects its protagonist too much. The writing is really bad, comedic beats fall flat and the occasional insightful note about the creative process is more than drowned out. Gets a little more genuine as more characters are introduced and her self-centredness strips away to some extent. But there is no flow to what should be a breezy story. Quite labourious.
If you only have time to watch one The People Under the Stairs
Avoid at all costs Everest