My Month in Film: September 2015

As expected, Fantastic Fest dominated September like a kaiju. (Incidentally, if you haven’t read my daily recaps yet, go do so. I don’t write this blog for my health, ya know.) But I didn’t expect to get so far behind with the rest of it. Oh well.

The regular schedule of reviews will resume later this month…probably not next week, hopefully the week after. Probably going to focus more on horror throughout October and November. I’ll try to finish off the final four episodes of Hannibal by the end of the year.

Top 10 movies of 2015 so far

I did a top 5 of the year back in June. Let’s update it and expand it to 10.

Note that this list does not take into account what I saw at Fantastic Fest. A film doesn’t qualify for a yearly list until it receives limited, wide, or VOD release in the U.S., and that date determines the yearly list it gets included on. So some of the higher-ranking movies from FF might not even appear on the 2015 list if they don’t see wider release before the end of the year. (For example, February is slated for a 2016 release, thus will qualify for next year’s list.)

That being said, once my FF movies start qualifying for the 2015 top-ten start expecting the list to warp wildly.

  1. The Nightmare
  2. Ex Machina
  3. It Follows
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. We Are Still Here
  6. The Duke of Burgundy
  7. What We Do in the Shadows
  8. The Voices
  9. Faults
  10. Song of the Sea

This month’s content

Reviews of current or recent releases

Television reviews

TV Good Sleep Bad

  • Episode 2: “Dick Spanner P.I. and Mr. Show with Bob and David


For Cinema Axis

Guest podcast appearances

*     *     *

Other movies I watched this month include…

A scene from SCAREWAVES.

Scarewaves (Henrique Caruto, 2015)

One of the things I really tried to do when I was part of Forced Viewing was champion backyard horror. Not merely low-budget, more like no-budget. I’ve got a few hundred bucks and a digital video camera, let’s make a movie this weekend. That sort of thing. And after a while I got sick of it, which is why I don’t go to the Spook Show festivals any more. It’s not that backyard can’t be done well; it’s that there are some specific common problems backyard horror movies tend to have, and if I’m not in the right mood, I have a hard time looking past those problems and appreciating the energy and enthusiasm.

I don’t think I was in the right mood going into the backyard horror-anthology Scarewaves. When introducing the film, director Henrique Caruto talked about trying to hit a specific vibe, similar to the Creepshow movies and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. The first Creepshow works not just because it’s funny-goofy-scary, but because it’s funny-goofy-scary in a specific way; Romero and King did a fairly good job of replicating the feel of the old E.C. horror comics. (Not having seen Creepshow 2 or Darkside since the late ’80s/early ’90s, I can’t comment on those.) And I don’t think Caruto hits the specific kind of funny-goofy-scary that Scarewaves needs to be. I’m not sure what exactly he would need to have done to make it work.

But, as always, your mileage may very–in this case, more than is usually so.

Paul Dano stars in LOVE & MERCY.

Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad, 2015)

Over the past few years we’ve had a trend of biopics about musicians that all pretty much have the same shape. We follow the musicians from obscurity to superstardom, to the downward slope, to rock bottom, and then to a triumphant return. Through it all, they consume copious amounts of recreational pharmaceuticals and tend not to treat their families well.

Love and Mercy, whose subject is Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, has two strikes going against it from the outset. First, if there’s any rock star in history whose life followed the aforementioned narrative arc to a T, that rock star would be Brian Wilson. Second, almost everything that makes Brian Wilson interesting as a rock star happens inside his head. Not only is that hard to portray cinematically, it doesn’t make him the most sympathetic figure.

So why does Love and Mercy succeed where others fail? Well, it actually bothers to give the audience a context for what exactly it was the Beach Boys did between ’65 and ’67 that was so radical. It shows us his creative process. And it shows us what transformed him from the introverted but fertile genius of the ’60s to the washed-out, anxiety-ridden has-been of the ’80s. He feels human in a way that the James Brown of Get on Up, who was basically a superhero with a coke habit and a habit of domestic violence, did not.

Director Bill Pohlad makes the weird decision of casting two different actors to play the ’60s and ’80s versions of Wilson, but that decision proves absolutely vital. Paul Dano perfectly embodies the chubby-cheeked, bright-eyed Wilson of Pet Sounds, but the lynchpin is John Cusack’s take on the Landy-era version. While he doesn’t exactly disappear into the role–and he certainly doesn’t look like anyone other than himself–he does an incredible job of portraying eccentricity and anxiety. Elizabeth Banks (as Wilson’s eventual wife, Melinda Kae Ledbetter) and Paul Giamatti (as Landy) play off him perfectly in scenes such as the charged “hamburger” sequence.

Love and Mercy understands exactly what it’s like to be an artist, which more than makes up for its painfully hackneyed narrative arc.

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