Viewing Diary September 2017

Entries run chronologically from bottom to top.

Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), directed by Robert Hamer

This gaslit noir intertwines the stories of a druggist’s family and a barkeep’s wife. They live in a world of shadows and top hats constructed on the Ealing lot. Starring as the wife is actress Googie Withers, whose delicate face is a world of its own. She’s cagey with sharp eyes and pursed lips that nonetheless betray her longing for love. Her beauty aches as she plots her husband’s murder, her womanhood a burden in a society run by men. It’s understated work that tilts the film’s ethical balance in her favor.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991), directed by Ngai Choi Lam

The gore in this prison-set kung fu tourney bears comparison to Lucio Fulci. What, it asks, can you do to a body? A lot, apparently: any limb or bone or internal organ is ripe for mutilation. The title character climbs a ladder of wardens and fellow inmates. Each showdown’s its own miniature climax. Through them all, the film operates in its own idiom of intensifying violence—goofy, nauseating, and anatomical.

Colossal (2017), directed by Nacho Vigalondo

Anne Hathaway wears a beat-up jacket and bangs nearly down to her eyes. She’s an inspiration to trashy women everywhere. Her character Gloria’s a continuation of Kym from Rachel Getting Married, if a tad less toxic. She gets sloshed, stagnates, then falls under the thrall of an old hometown friend. He gives her things to assert his control. The two discover psychic ties to monsters half a world away, and this sci-fi metaphor renders questions of power (and complicity and gendered abuse) larger than life. The autumn daylight seems hateful back where she grew up; the nighttime’s even worse.

Smiley Face (2007), directed by Gregg Araki

Maybe the finest screen comedy of the new millennium? Anna Faris’s performance sweeps through a range of THC-addled emotions: awe, disbelief, delight, confusion, terror. Each one’s a punchline emerging on her daffy face. The intricate screenplay by Dylan Haggerty (his only such credit) is marvel of invention that subjects Faris’s character Jane to dozens of challenges, none of which she’s even remotely equipped to handle. And Araki’s cartoony direction is in precise sync with his collaborators; sound effects and insert shots submerge the viewer in Jane’s never-ending high. It’s a profoundly funny movie.

Suspiria (1977), directed by Dario Argento

Seeing this in Italian was disorienting, and that feels right, because it’s all about disorientation. Suzy seems mystified by her own mere presence in Europe, let alone her school’s architecture and its spiritual pestilence. Revisiting the film in a theatrical setting eased the descent into its folk tale structure. The madness grows more incomprehensible on a giant screen, and the dark excess is more riotous. Suzy’s roommate stacking suitcases so she can hop through a window only to land in a blue-bathed tangle of barbed wire might be the worst “out of the frying pan, into the fire” in all of horror cinema.

Splendor (1999), directed by Gregg Araki

Even this minor Araki movie feels like a model other dopey romcoms could stand to follow. It may have some typical contrivances—a dull romantic rival, climactic nuptials—but it’s also highly endearing and full of punky caricature. The actress heroine and her two boyfriends act plausibly naïve as they form their tentative poly triad. (They’re all beautiful, too, a fact the film is not shy about.) They live, lose, learn, and earn their happy ending. It’s bisexually utopian, an outlook more romcoms could stand to share.

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