Friday, January 29, 2016


Years ago, I watched The Ring, which was an effective, scary horror film, even if the premise is a little silly. I mean, a cursed videotape, which kills everyone who watches it? Even though an explanation is given, it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

I find Ringu, the original Japanese film, based on a popular Japanese novel of the same name, to be more thoughtful and interesting. I guess I’m not alone in that. Most people who have seen both films prefer the original.

For me, the original is better because it seems to have two themes weaving throughout the film. The first is obvious—fear of technology. All the most frightening images have to do with the technology that we fill our lives with—videos, phones, pictures. These are manipulated to turn against their users, to stir fear and ultimately death.

But the second half of the film seems to go deeper than this. We delve into a story of a woman who is accused of lying and is so shamed by her society that she commits suicide. Her daughter is later buried alive by her own father for being a “monster”. And we might also note the tragedy of the main character, a reporter who was abandoned by her husband, left to raise their son on her own. He is a main character in the film, and he is often dismissing her suggestions, rejecting her participation and telling her to remember their child. Ultimately, this film isn’t really about technology at all, but about the use and abuse of women. It is the act of a woman, a mother, who brings deliverance to all.

Why then is the very end of the film about sharing the David Lynch-esque video? Of course, to avoid death. But why would the ghost want this done? First of all, I think that the death of Ryuji is simply to get back at his abuse of his wife. But it seems that the deaths end because of the spreading of the video? Probably, like David Lynch, the author of the video is an artist and she thinks that she is really communicating something about abuse and suffering through her video and so wants it shared with everyone. Of course, it took the whole length of the film to find out what the video meant, but artists don’t always get that.


Ingrid has just become blind. She's too afraid to go out of her home, has a strained relationship with her husband and types on her computer all day. Her husband is gently nagging her to go to an event, to go outside sometimes. And he sometimes stays in the apartment, silent, to see what she's doing.

There are studies that show that people who are isolated torture themselves, and delve deeper into an increasingly unbalanced psyche. That fundamentally, to force someone to be in isolation, like in a prison or in a mental institution, only increases aberrant behavior and makes it more difficult for them to connect to others. As if the muscle of "getting along" weakens with lack of use, and that muscle is connected to "paranoid fantasy" which gains greater use. This film brilliantly illustrates this.

It is full of simple but mind-bending subjective scenes, filling us with questions until the end. But, like Jacob's Ladder, once we are given the answer, there is no need to question or to consider the film anymore. So while it is satisfying while watching, I wish there was even more to chew on.


The very peak, the lowest depth of love is found in the perfect vulnerability. 

Right at the moment when desire turns the corner into need, even desperation, that is the terrible sweetness of our hearts. 

At that moment, our truest dreams can become reality, or our very souls can be shattered like a mirror dashed on the ground. 

What horror should we find ourselves completely open to our lover and our need is far less than theirs! 

And yet should our desire be requited with equal desire, can there be any other joy greater?

A film of supreme romance, it begins with a nod to David Lean's Brief Encounter. This gave me a pause, for a movie that reminds one of one of the great films is usually prone to disappoint. Although it did not hit the emotional heights of Brief Encounter, yet it took two steps beyond that earlier film, making it at least the equal, if not the greater film. Carol explores love with a depth that the earlier film did not. And it takes us past the brilliant bookends to see what we should have seen in Lean's classic-- the triumph of love.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Justs: The Best Films of 2015

Best Horror Film
For most people, this would be hands-down given to It Follows, which has an interesting premise, but, in my mind, doesn’t end in an interesting way at all.  While What We Do in the Shadows is certainly a contender, it works far better as a comedy instead of a horror. No, this year the movie that truly frightened me wasn’t a fiction film at all, but the documentary film The Nightmare.  It describes the night terrors of a number of people, who are scared horribly, but they cannot awake.  While it is on the surface about the condition called sleep paralysis, it draws us into the experiences of those who suffer from it, helping us understand their nightmarish existence.

Best Award for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars must be mentioned.  Rebooting the series is an accomplishment, as is topping the boxoffice  the U.S. (even though Avatar will retain the worldwide boxoffice).  It was a good film, entertaining, and a fine beginning to what I expect to be a good series of films.  But it wasn’t great and there was nothing remarkable and little original about it.  However, one aspect of the film deserves high praise: the hype that was created before the film came out.  Advertisements, leaked “information”, stills, casting, all were displayed with such skill as to play all the fan-boys and –girls with ultimate finesse, stirring up excitement to a money-making frenzy.  And so I award Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Best Marketing.  Good job, folks.

Best Animated Film
I had much more anticipation of this category than realization.  Studio Ghibli gave a lackluster showing with When Marnie Was There, Anomalisa was not as busy with ideas as I expected a Charlie Kauffman film to be, Inside Out was quite good, thoughtful, but didn’t stir my emotions despite the subject matter.   The only animated film that gave me exactly what I was looking for was Minions, which allowed me some guilt-free chuckles on the level of juvenile humor.  But one film went beyond my expectations and entertained me in a thoughtful way even while dissuading me from hope for the future: World of Tomorrow.  Sixteen minutes of genius.

Best Hidden Twist
The Visit gave us a fine surprise ending in the midst of a horde of movies that pretty much gave us what we expected and wanted. But only one movie actually called us to a deeper look, to put it in reverse to help us see the whole proceedings from a different angle, only if we caught it.  This is Gett, the Israeli film about an Orthodox Jewish woman attempting to divorce her husband.  The final shot of the film gives us a strange view: a pair of calves in sandals walking down the courtroom hallway.  Then we have to go back and look at the footware throughout the film, which tells us a different story, an ancient story, the story of Tamar, a woman seeking justice.  I recommend watching the film, and if you don’t get it, read my review.

Best Conclusion
This is a difficult category for I have two films that fight in this context.  First is Phoenix, a post-WWII drama about a holocaust survivor, trying to find whether her husband loved her or not, which concludes with a beautiful musical peace which gives a solid emotional determination.  Second is Carol, about a female couple who fall in love in the 50s, with brilliant bookends which reflect but go beyond the bookends of David Lean’s Brief Encounter.  Phoenix’s  conclusion is so memorable, but the film as a whole is not, but I think this is because the nuances of the performances are lost the first time it is viewed.  I will need to see it again to evaluate the film as a whole, but the final scene is without peer.  I will, however, give Carol my favorite film of the year, exploring the romantic power and heartache of love with phenomenal performances and brilliant direction by Todd Haynes.   Best Conclusion goes to  Phoenix, but the big prize to Carol.

Most Laughs
It wasn’t a bad year for comedy.  The raunchy comedy of the last decades seems to be giving way to more mature bittersweet humor, which is a trend I appreciate.  Spy was a fantastic genre fest, giving a number of comedians the opportunity to really show what they can do, especially Melissa McCarthy in a multiple-character role.  What We Do In the Shadows gave me a number of laughs, but I smiled appreciatively more than chortled. Trainwrecked might end up being my favorite comedy of the year (apart from the genius Netfix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), which introduced a different kind of comedy, teaching me to appreciate it by the end of the film.  But as much as I laughed at those films, I’m pretty sure the movie I laughed at the most was The Martian, which I did not expect.  Matt Damon gave a brilliant comedic performance and perhaps because I didn’t think of the film as a comedy, it turned out to be the most entertaining film of the year for me.

Best Psychological Thriller
Another tough run for me.  On the one hand, there is the Norwegian drama, Blind about a woman who turned Blind and whose life is going on without her, outside the walls within which she is isolated.  The other is Ex Machina, which is about the psychology of robots (?) and how they interact with humans.  The latter is the better film, in which special effects, acting and plot fit together well.  But there is more than meets the eye with Blind, and I highly recommend this Hitchcockian-twisty film.

Best Action: Mad Max Fury Road.  Duh.

Best Documentary: Amy, possibly the most emotional film of the year for me

Drama around men at tables
My top 15 of 2015 is:

1. Carol
2. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalme
3. World of Tomorrow
4. Ex Machina
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Amy
7. The Martian
8. Inside Out
9. Trainwreck
10. Spy
11. What We Do In the Shadows
12. Blind
13. Bridge of Spies
14. Avengers: Age of Ultron
15. Phoenix