Psychdoc77 is a cinephile in Chicago, IL. His interest in film dates to childhood and a long-closed video store named Video Vault which, in 1987, seemed to have every movie ever made. In particular, it had all the James Bond films, and the employees even knew in what order they were made. The Bond movies were his first true love but soon he discovered many other types of films. This process accelerated during his period of employment at QED Laser, America’s fourth largest laserdisc store in 1995. It was there that he met Bob Lentz, the founder of Filmbobbery, as well as many other serious film fanatics. Ever since, he has been interested in trying to watch and learn as much about film as possible. A busy schedule with work and family make it difficult to watch 300 movies a year as in the past, but whenever there is time he tries to watch a film from his DVD collection, along with his most understanding wife.
His core beliefs about film focus on the centrality of the director and the joy of pure cinema. While open to all types of film, his favorite genres include silent films, classic Hollywood, film noir, horror, exploitation films, and international cinema. Key filmmakers include Welles, Kubrick, Ford, Bergman, Kurosawa, and Tarantino, among many others. By providing capsule reviews to Filmbobbery, Psychdoc77 hopes to expand his appreciation for film and hopefully connect with others interested in film. Sometimes there will be a connected series of reviews (all the “Doctor in the House” films!) and other times there will be no apparent connection, but he will try to bring the perspective of a psychologically-minded cinema lover to the task. Psychdoc77 looks forward to comments or other interaction with readers and appreciates their attention.
Jigoku (translated from Japanese as “hell”) is a tale of two college students who accidently run down a gangster with their car. They don’t report the killing and things start to spiral out of control for them, especially Shiro, the one with the guiltier conscience. Eventually, the entire cast of the film is murdered in one way or another and end up in Hell, where they are tormented.
Jigoku is strong stuff for 1960. The 35-minute closing is a tour-de-force of outré film. The torments displayed include dismemberment, sawing, eye gouging, and lashing. Post-war Japan appears to have known something about hell and it appears that everyone ends up there, even if they appear to be without sin. The film seems to suggest that life itself is a version of hell and that demons walk among us. Disjointed, experimental, and fairly disturbing, Jigoku is an excellent introduction to Japanese horror. ☆ ☆ ☆.
In 1927, a silent film star (Jean Dujardin, looking like a French James Bond) helps a young ingénue (Berenice Bejo) get her break into films. As sound comes in and his star fades, she explodes into a top star. She tries to help him but his life continues to spiral out of control until they come up with a scheme to revive his career that might not involve talking.
Best known as both a gimmick (silent in 2011) and the Best Picture Oscar winner of 2011, The Artist is a divisive film. While most admire its use of the period framing and intertitles, director Michel Hazanavicius’ depth of vision is shown to be limited by his multiple introductions of a synchronized soundtrack. In addition, while the actors do a fine job of using silent film techniques to further capture the era, too many modern touches prevent any real veracity. Examples of this include one character giving the middle finger and another putting a gun in his mouth. If he trusted the audience Hazanavicius could have more convincingly used the film to speak about film history and form. Instead, he dilutes it, I think out of fear that people wouldn’t accept a silent film. Obviously they have, although the film’s box office is as low as any Best Picture winner. It is interesting that the Academy Awards seem to be moving towards picking “difficult” films over blockbusters. Perhaps the divide between audiences and artists working in film is larger than ever. Regardless, the film is certainly worth seeing and is a success; it just sparks ideas of what might have been. ☆ ☆ ☆.
Prozac Nation, based on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s bestselling memoir of depression during college, details a Harvard student’s experience of depression. Christina Ricci stars as Wurtzel, a writer who almost immediately becomes known for her music journalism when she starts college. She becomes depressed when she can’t write and enters into psychiatric treatment. Therapy helps some but relationship problems persist and she eventually begins to take Prozac. She recovers but feels she has an uncertain future.
Even though the film was originally made in 2001, it wasn’t released theatrically in America at all and only received release on DVD in 2005. There are some real strengths in the film but ultimately it is easy to see why Miramax kept it shelved for so long. Ricci is convincing as a disturbed young woman (she cuts herself, uses drugs and alcohol impulsively, and clings to relationships too tightly) and the supporting cast, including Michelle Williams as her best friend and Jessica Lange as her mother, is also good. Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s film lacks direction, though, and really lacks an ending. The distributor reportedly reedited the film a number of times and it is possible that the original ending has been lost. The film is recommended as an accurate portrayal of psychopathology, specifically borderline personality disorder, but is of less interest to the general moviegoer. ☆ ☆.
Steven Spielberg’s first World War I film, War Horse, concerns a horse that a boy obtains in England during the lead-up to the war. The boy and the horse become close and the horse nearly saves the family, but when the war starts the boy’s father sells the horse to the military to maintain the family’s welfare. The horse passes between many owners and masters before finally finding its way back to the boy.
War Horse is a frustrating mix of elements. It is old-fashioned epic filmmaking with beautiful outdoor photography by Janusz Kaminski and a sweeping score by John Williams. These elements are generally very effective but unfortunately they are in service of a weak script. While the pointlessness of war comes across clearly, the heavy symbolism involving the relationship between the boy and the horse hangs like a yoke around the horse’s neck. A heart-warming tale that is also a warning about the horrors of war? This incongruity simply doesn’t work. For me, the film that Spielberg likely had in the back of his mind was Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick’s essential anti-war film. Trying to pin that film’s crushing message into what is essentially a Disney family film about a love affair between a boy and a horse captures the deep problems with Spielberg’s oeuvre better than any other misstep he has made. Some things in life, like war, neglect of children, and the Holocaust, just don’t have a bright side, but Spielberg will never stop trying. ☆ ☆.
Halloween II is Rob Zombie’s sequel to his own remake of John Carpenter’s original Halloween. This version largely leaves Carpenter’s storyline behind and sees Michael Myers resurrected by his mother and a white horse after an ambulance accident. Two years later, he returns to Haddonfield and murders many people while trying to get to his sister. Malcolm McDowell, who is ossified and terrible in the film, returns as Dr. Loomis and helps to end Michael’s reign of terror.
Zombie’s remake of the original has some elements to recommend it such as a psychologically interesting take on family trauma and an intense level of violence. The sequel keeps the latter but is absolutely void of any subtext or insight. The magical elements of the plot, such as the white horse, don’t work (is it Michael’s hallucination or is it really there?) and the whole affair feels slapped together. The script is simply terrible with profanity substituting for dialogue. People don’t speak like this anywhere, ever. This hopefully will bring an end to the up and down series because it suggests that there is nowhere else to go. ☆.
Robert Crumb, one of the most famous cartoonists in the world and an underground art figure from the late 1960s, is the centerpiece of this documentary by Terry Zwigoff. The film shows Crumb at work and documents his family life in great detail. It also analyzes his work by reviewing strips and having discussants comment on the work. Crumb’s brothers, Charles and Max, are also featured and their art is explored. Crumb leaves for France at the end of the film to escape some of what he might call the horrors of America but it is clear that his life here has had a deep impact on him.
Terry Zwigoff was close friends with Crumb for many years and thus granted rare access into a unusually guarded life. This portrait of the American family is outstanding and Zwigoff manages to create something like a psychological autopsy on Crumb and his family. Crumb’s art is shocking and offensive but when placed next to his family’s serious mental health problems it becomes more understandable. This stands as one of the definitive American films of the last 25 years and is essential viewing. ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆.
A major entry in the remake cycle of horror films from the mid to late aughts, Halloween represents Rob Zombie’s attempt to flesh out the original American slasher film. Running at two hours, the first half of the film involves material that John Carpenter chose to ignore, namely the family context that created a monster. Myers’ family is violent, profane, and poor. After he slaughters an animal, a peer, and half his family, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital where he is cared for by the opportunistic Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, making us all long for Donald Pleasance) until he is 25 (not 21, as in the original). Myers breaks out and returns to his hometown to find his baby sister, the last person he remembers with his human aspects. After killing more people, he finds her and appears to ask her to help him. She stabs him instead and he returns to his murderous ways.
Violent and disgusting, Zombie’s film features far more blood, torture, and nudity than the original did, but unfortunately it isn’t really any scarier. The back story he develops that fleshes out Myers as a traumatized, bullied child who deserves the sympathy of the audience, is certainly interesting and well-developed. Once the second half starts, though, the poor contrast with the original becomes clear and matters decline. Jamie Lee Curtis is missed, but so is the music, photography, and atmosphere of the creepy original. The psychosexual aspects of Myers’ character that Carpenter appeared to be interested in are largely absent here, replaced with a more conventional tale of trauma leading to violence. It’s better than many of the sequels, yet this is still hard to recommend to anyone outside of the horror community. ☆ ☆ 1/2.
Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a young bank executive, is moving up in the world. He has a kind girlfriend (Minnie Driver) who wants to be married and was recently promoted. He manages large accounts and is admired by his co-workers. Underneath the surface, though, he has a problem with gambling. His bookie shows up at work demanding money and Mahowny begins to manipulate accounts in his favor in order to pay. Soon, he is travelling to Atlantic City to gamble every weekend and starts losing large amounts of money. He ends up distant from his girlfriend and eventually loses more than $10 million of the bank’s money with his schemes collapsing around him.
Richard Kwietniowski’s film is a serious attempt to portray gambling addiction and it largely works well. The isolation of repetitive gambling is clear from the space between Mahowny and the other characters that is omnipresent during the film. The thrill of gambling is also captured well and allows the viewer to understand the character’s motivation in an emotional way. One major weak point is John Hurt as the casino manager, a role meant to capture menace that the actor never reveals. Otherwise, though, it is a fine film about a personal crisis that deserves a wider audience. ☆ ☆ ☆.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s second controversial novel receives a full studio treatment here via Scott Rudin’s production company. The story involves a boy (Thomas Horn) who loses his father (Tom Hanks, a holy being) on September 11 and has a difficult time dealing with the loss. He keeps secrets from his mother (Sandra Bullock) and his relationship with her deteriorates until he finds a key that he thinks may be a clue from his father. He searches New York City for a lock to fit his key and along the way meets many lovable, colorful characters. He also meets his grandfather (Max Von Sydow, silent and graceful) but eventually runs him off with his rudeness. A happy ending is waiting once he solves the mystery and reconnects with his mother.
A film about such a serious matter will obviously be dramatic and this film pulls out all the stops in trying to make the subject larger than life. Thomas Horn is game as the mildly autistic main character but in the end he is impossible to like. He is rude, impulsive, strange, and not worth all the trouble. Are the children of 9/11 going to end up as emotionally stunted rudeniks? Apparently so. This film’s Best Picture nomination is one of the weakest in years and other than Von Sydow’s performance there is little to recommend it. ☆ 1/2.