Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

ABOVE SUSPICION (1943)
Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray are newlyweds who spy on the Nazis for the British government during their honeymoon. I'm surprised how forgotten this movie seems to be, as I found it to be absolutely delightful. It's a serious spy thriller, but Joan and Fred are playing it like low-level Thin Man stuff, and somehow the two tones mix together perfectly. Filmed in the middle of World War II, it doesn't turn the Nazis into cartoon villains, but it does manage to find moments of lightness. I loved it. Basil Rathbone co-stars; Conrad Veidt's final film. It ends with a great, pithy final line. ****

THE FOG (1980)
I'd never bothered to see this John Carpenter film because I'd always seen it dismissed as boring. I didn't find it boring at all. It's deliberately paced, but it's very moody and builds up its suspense. I think it's a minor work of Carpenter's, but one that draws interesting characters and tries to put a modern spin on Gothic thrills. (Carpenter seems to be influenced here as much by Jaws as he is by haunting films.) It makes a lot of its low budget with great locations and wide lenses. ***

HIGH SCHOOL POSSESSION (2014)
Lifetime movie about dumbass kids being dumbasses. Jennifer Stone (from Wizards of Waverly Place) is a high school girl whose parents are breaking up and is going through a rough time. We're supposed to believe that this is a horror thriller and something supernatural might be occurring, but everything that happens to her is really just an unnecessarily overblown (by the film) version of being a teenager going through a really rough time (and possibly going through some kind of psychotic breakdown or schizophrenic episode; she's disassociating, but to be fair, it doesn't help that everyone keeps abandoning her or getting frustrated that, for example, they took her to one meeting with a therapist and "it didn't work"). This was a dumb, frustrating movie. Stone's best friend (my darling little Janel Parrish from Pretty Little Liars), who has been reconnecting with church, is fully convinced that Stone is possessed by a demon and needs an exorcism. This movie seems to be under the bizarre impression that exorcisms are not only perfectly legal, but are pretty well-regulated (the priest who performs them references confidentiality laws), a matter of regular occurrence, and a completely legitimate option for people who have lost their way a bit. The movie spends so much time seemingly arguing that any normal expression of teenage sexuality, autonomy and freedom is actually the unhappy and bizarre result of demonic possession, that the twist that comes in the last 20 minutes or so is completely unexpected. Unfortunately, everyone has to act like a total dumbshit (including the supposedly brilliant Parrish, who is the star journalist of the school paper) to get there. And then the ending seems more interested in setting everything up for a sequel than in resolving anything. It's... it's kind of infuriating. Bad, but not in that fun way we hope for from Lifetime movies. No stars.

THE GHOST GOES WEST (1935)
Fun comedy directed by Rene Clair with Robert Donat in a dual role as an impoverished Scottish lord who sells his castle to an American family, and as the ghost of that castle who is forced to roam each night until he can restore his family's honor. You can see the seams a little bit, but Donat is great and he has a lot of chemistry with Jean Parker, and it's just so damn likable. Great romantic mood, too. I loved it. ****

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939)
Another movie that creates a great mood, although I didn't quite enjoy this one as much as I wanted to. Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard are a great team, and the production value is high, but this is the third version of this play I've seen on film, and even though it is the best one, it's just not that moving a story. Great action climax, though, and I love all of the secret passages and intrigue. That black cat is really wonderful, too. ***

2 comments:

Tallulah Morehead said...

I liked The Fog. Whatever you do, avoid the remake, which really sucks. I couldn't get even one-third of the way through the remake.

There's a wonderful British horror novel titled The Fog, by James Herbert. It' similar to George Romero's The Crazies. A science fiction novel in which a military gas weapon gets loose in England, causing madness and murder wherever it drifts, burt written well before The Crazies. (Herbert also wrote a very similar, also very good, novel titled The Dark, with a similar premise, but in The Dark it's fantasy, a "Darkness" that is from Hell that causes madness and murder everywhere it drifts.)

One unforgettable scene had everyone in a beach resort town like Brighton turning and walking into the sea to drown like lemmings. But a handful of bathers in or at the edge of the sea weren't reached by the fog and aren't mad. They try to escape, but the great heavy mass of marching people (The entire population of the seaside town) trample over them and drag them into the sea with them.

Jason said...

I'm surprised you've never seen The Fog. It's my personal favorite horror film, and probably my second favorite Carpenter film (behind Escape from New York). I love the atmosphere of it, so perfectly initiated by the opening scene with John Houseman: it's a campfire ghost story. The low budget works for the movie instead of against it, everyone in the movie is perfectly cast (except Carpenter himself ... oy. Stick to directing, John!), the music -- as usual for a Carpenter film -- is perfect. And I love that the characters, although not deeply defined, still feel like real human beings, ordinary working joes and people with pasts... I watch it for Halloween every year.