Primal Fear

20 Mini Movie Reviews

I’ve not been feeling well, and almost a month ago I worked my first Black Friday sale in a clothing store. It reminded me of why I don’t even leave the house on Boxing Day (Black Friday is kind of new to Canada). It broke something inside of me. I wasn’t free to work through my negative thoughts and feelings because I had to smile most of the time. So I watched a bunch of movies. I’m going to write brief thoughts about them. Maybe I can write some detailed, intelligent reviews later.

Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund. Sweden/ France/ Norway, 2014): This is fantastic. I like the visual style, I like the score, I like the pace, I like the tension, I like the humour, I like the performances, and I hate that I don’t know how to add an umlaut in this wordpress template. The avalanche scene makes the most perfect shift from terrifying to funny that I’ll ever see. Without the “help” of sentimentality, the story captures the negativity that can arise in a family when quick decisions are made and regretted. The cinematography is so clever and beautiful that at times it almost distracted me from the dialogue. I saw an IMDB review that described it as similar to the work of Stanley Kubrick, which is exactly what I thought in the cinema. I’m a bit worried that if this movie doesn’t win Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (which are a total sham and should be ignored), a lot of average moviegoers won’t bother to watch it.

Friday (F. Gary Gray. USA, 1995): Obviously a step down from the last movie. It wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be, but I get why it’s so frequently quoted. It was written by Ice Cube. Maybe he should only write music lyrics.

Working Girl (Mike Nichols. USA, 1988): I’m confused as to whether this is a satire of greed and climbing the vicious corporate ladder in the ’80s, or this is sincere and I’m supposed to feel happy for Tess (Melanie Griffith) at the end. I don’t want to talk crap on this because Mike Nichols just died, so Tess’ hair was cool and I enjoyed Joan Cusack.

Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman. USA, 1984): I can tell it’s an excellent movie, but it didn’t smack me in the face the way it does most people. After thinking about it, I really believe this is something you should see when you’re young. Notes on the cast: Sigourney Weaver is talented, cool and attractive; I get tired of watching Bill Murray just Bill-Murraying around, but he’s gotta be the best Bill Murray in Hollywood; Rick Moranis is hilarious; I’m sad that Harold Ramis died, because his performance is my favourite out of all the players; What the fuck is Ernie Hudson even doing there? He’s a Ghostbuster but he doesn’t ever get to do anything interesting. At least Ringo Starr got to appear on the Beatles’ album art, but I don’t think Ernie Hudson is on the poster. Read up on it; Hudson was really bummed about getting the shaft. Ha, bum shaft.

American History X (Tony Kaye. USA, 1998): Pretty great. There were some moments I found so corny and overly sentimental that I had to laugh. The bit where Derek and Danny (Edwards Norton and Furlong) take the Neo-Nazi paraphernalia off the walls should be powerful. However, the music and seemingly choreographed performances are so uncomfortable and inorganic. Those moments were balanced by scenes that came together as a near perfect combination of photography, editing, acting and a challenging narrative. I hear the post-production of this movie was a mess because Kaye might be crazy, so New Line Cinema and Norton took over the editing process. It was deeply disturbing that I found Norton sexy, even with the huge swastika on his chest.

Eraserhead (David Lynch. USA, 1977): I tried to watch this movie when I was about 13 years old. I got it through, a now defunct mail delivery rental service. I didn’t know what was coming and sent it back after 20 minutes. Last year I obtained a DVD of the film from Kim’s Video and Music in New York’s East Village, another business that has closed down. My copy has, like, Korean language packaging or something and I took it home not knowing if I even bought a watchable English version. I think I can appreciate the beauty of this film, but 8 years later I still felt ill-prepared, like Eraserhead is meant to reach a part of my consciousness that I can’t reach. Maybe if I had an accidental pregnancy or lived in a creepy industrial apartment and my life had a bizarre soundscape, I would be more in step with the film.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton. USA, 1986): Wow. I felt all grimy after this one. Henry and Otis (Michael Rooker and Tom Towles) watching their video taped killing of a family is an amazing scene. The movie is wonderful and I never want to see it again.

Primal Fear (Gregory Hoblit. USA, 1996): This is so ’90s. It seemed cobbled together out of tropes and stylistic choices so many courtroom dramas had at the time. The look of the costumes and sets, the unsexy sexual tension between the lawyers who are unrealistically theatrical in the courtroom (I’d be uncomfortable if the prosecution or defense acted like that and my freedom was on the line), the repartee that makes you wants to slap the smirks right off of the characters’ faces. It reminded me of Reversal of Fortune (1990), but inferior and with some discount Billy Bibbit thrown in. This film is enjoyable because you’ve already seen it in the form of another film. Roy was hot (I’m having an Edward Norton problem right now, but only in a certain type of role).

Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick. UK/ USA, 1987): I honestly don’t know what to say. I can’t articulate how much of an impact this movie is having on me. I’ve thought about it every day since I saw it. That can’t be normal. The weirdest part of watching this film was that I’d only ever seen Matthew Modine in Vision Quest (1985), which I thought kinda sucked. I checked out the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto last week and I’m so glad I saw this before I went. I should have watched the other films I hadn’t previously seen, but I’m afraid of having to sit through Barry Lyndon (1975) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), so I’ll give myself some time and go to the exhibit again.

The Den (Zachary Donohue. USA, 2013): Whatever. The atmosphere is established and escalated very well, and the screenwriters found yet another variation on the found footage film that actually works. The performance of lead actress Melanie Papalia was good. I’m already forgetting this movie, which is why I’m writing brief thoughts now.

Death to Smoochy (Danny DeVito. USA/ UK/ Germany, 2002): This movie made me so sad. There are awesome things one could say about it: DeVito has always been fun to watch and his directorial style is distinctive, Catherine Keener is in it, I like dark humour, and it successfully ended my crush on Edward Norton. Mostly the movie disappointed me and is a waste of a terrific premise. Why does it feel so lifeless? Even Robin Williams couldn’t pep it up. Also, I don’t like movies that end with a cheesy fuck-up of great songs of the 1960s.

Fall (Terrence Odette. Canada, 2014): I enjoyed this. Enjoyed isn’t quite the right word because it made me uncomfortable. It invites the viewer to ask questions about some important binary oppositions we try to apply to everything in life, even though there are clearly middle grounds. The main character is a mess of contradictions, but many people are like him (aside from the accusations of pedophilia). Well made in pretty much every way.

Robocop (Paul Verhoeven. USA, 1987): This was awesome! I don’t watch many action films, so maybe if I did I wouldn’t be so impressed. I think Verhoeven just wanted his American films to entertain, not echo through the ages as examples of masterful cinema, and Robocop was very entertaining.

Juice (Ernest R. Dickerson. USA, 1992): Omar Epps, Tupac Shakur and Dickerson were all kind of new to their jobs, but they showed so much promise. The dark turn of the plot is almost too sudden for me. When Tupac’s character becomes all bloodthirsty and manipulative it feels like a different character all together. Maybe that was the point, because there are early indicators of how emotionally damaged he is. I most enjoyed the opening credits due to my love of “Juice” by Eric B. and Rakim.

Wayne’s World (Penelope Spheeris. USA, 1992): Really should have watched this sooner. Excellent.

Monster [short film] (Jennifer Kent. Australia, 2005): I watched this because I’m itching to see The Babadook (2014). This is a good, simple story well told. I keep thinking it’s harder to fuck up a short film, but then I remember all the short films I’ve seen that made me angry about losing 12 minutes of my life. An effective but concise film must be harder to create than I assumed, much like short stories.

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese. USA, 1976): I haven’t seen many of Scorsese’s films because he’s been working with Leonardo DiCaprio, whose face I can’t stand. Even Raging Bull (1980) couldn’t sway me. I will remedy this situation asap. This is another movie I can’t write about in a few words. Travis Bickle might become one of my favourite characters in anything ever. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting family in New York over holidays, but unfortunately I only saw the city after it was cleaned up, not the colourful and dangerous city where “scum” didn’t have to be carefully hidden. I think my body was tingling in an odd way while the end credits rolled.

Afflicted (Derek Lee, Clif Prowse. Canada/ USA, 2013): I’m ashamed of this the way I’m ashamed of Justin Bieber and Drake. Canada does so much better than Afflicted. I didn’t like this movie from the beginning because the characters are so annoying and unlikeable. The whole opening with those assholes introducing their video diary in the most annoying asshole way made me want to keep watching just so I could see them suffer. I love horror, and I like to go into horror movies not knowing much, so when the characters come up with a theory as to why Derek is falling victim to a strange illness, I thought it was a joke. But then that’s the real explanation. Many people enjoyed the movie, and it’s really not bad, but it’s not at all a movie for my tastes.

Scrooged (Richard Donner. USA, 1988): Cool movie. Again, Bill Murray is the best at being Bill Murray. The de-Scrooging of his character is unconvincing and cheesy in a bad way. At least this time the end credits’ traditional corny fuck-up of a ’60s song used an ’80s cover version.

Barbara (Christian Petzold. Germany, 2012): This is a beautiful story set in the context of East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The cold shell with which the main character protects herself can be sympathised with, because everyone probably had to be detached and ready to snitch on people to the Stasi. Plus, her lover is in the “good” side of the country and she has to work in a hospital with substandard equipment. Of course she’s miserable. The erosion of her emotional shell was subtle enough to feel genuine, in part because she can’t become a completely open and trustful person in East Germany, and in part due to Nina Hoss’ incredible performance. The look of the movie, in terms of colour, composition and static shots, contributed to a tone that made me feel tired and trapped in a way the characters must feel. I loved the movie but it was a bad move to watch it on an overcast day when I was already drowsy and sad.

So I watched a good number of movies recently. I’m so prone to irritation and lack of focus that I can’t really keep up this pace. Better ways to spend my time are probably enjoying nature, volunteering to help the poor, improving my health and generally bringing meaning to my life. But watching movies is so much more passive. Why live when I can just watch other people live?