Mini-Review: Excision

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Excision

What is most successful about Excision is that it is a study in character from the inside out. Which is to say that the fantasy/daydream segments in this film may be too numerous, but the purpose they do serve is to show how the inner-monologue of a disturbed, delusional character come to the fore and affect her everyday life. There are a few dichotomous splits in character: a struggle between adoration and mutilation (both their own versions of body worship), a fight against authority, a struggle between a libertine attitude and a theistic construct. Perhaps, what’s most intriguing about Excision is watching the journey, granted I did figure where the journey would end at some point, but it seems like a basic virginity plot with a very socially awkward lead, but as it progresses you see so much more is going on here. Through all the serious and horrific observations you make there are also some laughs to be had, and many great performances notably AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter and Jeremy Sumpter.

8/10

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The Best Horror Films of 2012

I was better at tracking my views, and it was a better cinematic year overall in my estimation, so this list has expanded to 15 selections this year.

15. Absentia

Absentia (2011, Constellation, Phase 4)

This is a case of faith rewarded. The beginning is a little rocky but I saw something in it that made me stick with it and I was rewarded several fold. The film really picks up in all aspects of production as the details of the narrative start to fall into place. It’s most certainly worth a look.

14. The Hidden Face

The Hidden Face (2011, Fox International Productions)

Fans of cinematic frames should rejoice at this film, which I will grant will likely grow from a revisit. It’s a very well orchestrated and constructed, twisted tale.

13. Cold Sweat

Cold Sweat (2010, Dark Sky Films)

Bring out the skeletons from your collective sociopolitical closets and great horror can be found. Cold Sweat really takes that premise and expound on it moreso than many other Argentine horror films I saw in a row this year. It’s expounding takes some suspension of disbelief but is quite effective.

12. Silent Night

Silent Night (2012, Anchor Bay)

This film has tremendous fun with its premise. Evil Santas of all shapes, sizes and styles should be on the comeback trail because there really is a tremendous amount of latitude there if you’re willing to trek it. Steven C. Miller makes his first of two appearances on this list and having seen two of his films I’ll be on the lookout for more. This film features some great supporting turns. It was also filmed in Manitoba, who seems to be positioning itself as a new hotbed of production in the Great White North, and I can see why based on the locales used here.

11. Excision

Excision (2012,  Anchor Bay Films)

Excision, moreso than any other film on this list, has a possibility to have its reputation blossom over the years to come. This film very much inhabits the mind of its protagonist. This film does not fear exposing the the delusions of its main character opaquely, slowly revealing a plan of action that unfolds with precise and exacting horror. The film also features a number of great performances and very well-cast players including AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords and Jeremy Sumpter. It is definitely the one film on the list that warrants warning the faint of heart or stomach not to apply.

10. Whisperer in the Darkness

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, HPLHS)

While I can’t say this is as successful as The Call of the Cthulhu in transcending it period-mimicking trappings; it does again choose the right time period and cinematic style for its Lovecraft adaptation. If the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society continues blending old-style cinematic ethos with mythos they’ll have hits for years to come.

9. The Monitor

The Monitor (2012, Grindstone Entertainment Group)

Here’s one you could pigeonhole as psychological horror. It features two very strong lead performances by Noomi Rapace and Kristoffer Joner. It hints at a rather big twist early and delivers on more to follow to keep things intriguing. Mind-play, particularly in the horror genre, is under-utilized and can be highly effective and is used quite well here.

8. The Aggression Scale

The Aggression Scale (2012, Achor Bay)

You can call it a crime thriller if you like, and I’ll spend minimal time on this point, but I will address why I consider it horror. I don’t feel it’s a stretch. Any film that deals with home invasion can be considered horror if it plays towards that realm. Home Alone, which I compare this film to, never allows itself to be taken too seriously, this film ups the stakes, maims and kills people and is serious in tone, so: horror. Just because the villains are unmasked, in organized crime and have clear motives doesn’t make it less horrific.

The Aggression Scale also functions in large part due to the fact that it builds its character, in fact, quite a bit more than its situation at first. When things start coming to a head the two converge and the escalation of narrative intensity is quite great.

7. The Possession

The Possession (2012, Lionsgate)

I had better tracking of films and more horror watched this year, so the likelihood of another possession tale ending up on the list was actually lessened unless it was little better handled than last year’s pick. The Possession most certainly is. The Possession concerns itself less with differentiating details though Judaism, Dybbuk boxes and the like are new, as it does with character development, and that’s what makes it effective.

6. ParaNorman

ParaNorman (2012, Focus Features)

In some ways, I can’t help but feel that this film’s balance keeps it lower here than it should be. ParaNorman splits time between doing a lot of things, and it does so in a horror milieu but isn’t always a traditional horror film. However, since it’s excellent at whatever it does it belongs. ParaNorman not only tackles feeling like an outsider, a child coming to grips with death himself, and in essence that tired phrase coming-of-age, but in horror terms it also more effectively draws a distinct parallel between protagonist and antagonist by having him experience the anguish and isolation of the victimizer when they were victimized. However, especially since it’s ostensibly designed for kids, ParaNorman never sugarcoats the wrongdoing of its antagonist; it explains, it even empathizes but never forgives it – it states the obvious: you’re not getting out of it what you think you are. The zombies feeling persecuted and being persecutors is also a great touch such that reversals are near-constant.

I had yet to write about it so I could further discuss what ParaNorman does in other regards, but that’s about as succinctly as I can cover the horror angle.

5. [REC] 3

[REC] 3 (2012, Magnet Releasing)

Yes, [REC] 3 went somewhere I wasn’t expecting it to either, but I rather enjoy it nonetheless. In this film there are thematic expansions and new veins of thought explored if not literally picking up pre-exisiting narrative threads, which is all fine by me. It all comes down to how it’s done.

4. Intruders

Parallel narratives can be a double-edged sword. I’ve seen this film twice and it really works in both viewings in one I was naively accepting and offering no guesswork, in the second I knew it all and enjoyed it nearly as much as the first time. It’s a bilingual tale with a sensibility many horror fans will be familiar, one that’s uniquely Spanish even in the English portions of the film. It’s a different kind of approach to apparitions that I enjoyed.

3. Sinister

Sinister (2012, Blumhouse Productions)

You’ll note that this is the only title on this list in which any footage is even found, not that I’d consider this film a found footage approach per se. What Sinister does is take the concept of malevolent celluloid a step further than most and build a story around the film and not strap it diegesis or camerawork to a narrator-cum-camera. Sinister also interestingly works again with a male protagonist, oft times alone who is very expressive and his fear allows us to fear. Silence or gasping is scarier than incessant screaming. That’s just one thing Sinister understands so much better than many other films.

2. The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012, Hammer Films))

There’s just something about Gothic horror tale done well that will affect me like few others do. There’s a primal hearkening to the sensitivities ingrained in us. The pitfall of the subgenre is that its been done to death and knowing tropes and protocols makes it hard for a style so old hat to work. However, there are some tweaks, techniques and approaches that dress up this old favorite and make it more effective than most.

1. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Lionsgate)

It’s one thing to deconstruct a genre, however, it’s another entirely to reconstruct it following said evisceration and build a beautifully grotesque new prometheus in its stead. It’s the second half of its master plan that put The Cabin in the Woods over the top.

Favorite Older Films First Seen in 2012, Part 2

This is an idea I first saw on @bobfreelander‘s blog. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Wait Until Dark (1967)

Wait Until Dark (1967, Warner Bros.)

Part of what I really like about 31 Days of Oscar is that despite how high up the you-shoulda-seen-this-by-now ladder a film is the slate typically makes it quite easy to catch up on many of those titles. I always figured that the closing half of this film must be great, but what good is that without an effective build-up? Not much, but this film has both.

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Wild Boys of the Road (1933, Warner Bros.)

Yes, I learned it an always vaguely knew what Pre-Code was, but this year was the first time I really studied up on it and started to watch it more. This film, in part, was the catalyst. What really strikes you is how this film epitomizes the working class, stoic tackling of Depression themes head on that was a Warner signature of the era.

The Window (1949)

The Window (1949, RKO)

If I wanted to try and completely drive myself insane and place these films in order, this would likely come out atop the fray. This is a film based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, the same man who gave us Rear Window, and is essentially that tale crossed with “The Boy who Cried Wolf.” It’s short and as suspenseful as you could possibly stand, with real danger and a tremendous performance by Bobby Driscoll that earned him the Juvenile Award from the Academy.

Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Mrs. Parkington (1944, MGM)

This is a another 31 Days of Oscar selection that allowed me to redeem missing one of Greer Garson’s nominations as Best Actress. A few years back TCM aired each of her five successive nominations in order and I should’ve seen the whole block. This is a duplicitous family portrait that spans lifetimes and does so very entertainingly.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The Masque Red Death (1964, AIP)

In my previous post I discussed the dichotomy between Roger Corman and Charles Band. Where Corman sets himself apart is in the careers he helped kickstart, but also with his Poe adaptations. I saw a lot of these films in the past year and this was likely the most artistically daring and complete of the lot.

Faces of Children (1925)

Visages d'Enfants (1925, Pathé)

I have a lot of silents and older films sitting on my DVR that I must get to. This is a case of my catching a piece of this film on TCM late one night then being determined to watch it whole again one day. This film stuck with me not just because I discovered the work of Jacques Feyder through it, but also due to the wonderful tinting work involved in it.

Spectre (2006)

Spectre (2006, LionsGate)

I embrace any and all horror series like Six Films to Keep You Awake that round up genre directors from certain countries to tell quick effective tales. It’s not dissimilar to Door into Darkness or Masters of Horror, this edition highlights the uniquely opaque, intricate and dramatic flair that Spain has for the genre. There will be another tale from the series on this list. This is the one that separates the die hards from the casual admirers.

A Child Called Jesus (1987)

A Child Called Jesus (1987, Silvio Burlusconi Communications)

Any film willing to fill in some Biblical gaps, or at the very least cover ground rarely trod, will get my attention. Similarly any film that can hold my attention in spite of terrible dubbing is also worth noting.

The Christmas Tale (2005)

A Christmas Tale (2006, Lionsgate)

As mentioned above in Spectre, this is a Six Films to Keep You Awake tale, but this is the more accessible of the two I chose. It deals with a group of kids who find a woman trapped in a hole, as they learn about what got her there each faces moral dilemmas about how to deal with the situation. It not only sets up good horror but great character study.


Death and Cremation (2010)

Death and Cremation (2010, Green Apple Entertainment)

Prior to Jeremy Sumpter being the not-so-obscure object of desire in Excision he starred in this film which features a very overt and twisted mentor-protegé relationship. Bringing horror icons into the fold of a new project can be a double-edged sword but Brad Dourif is very effective in this role. Conversely, Sumpter utilizes his seeming vulnerability to channel a disconnected attitude and anger. The undertaker/death obsession mixed with suburban malaise can be seen as an obvious connection, but it’s not an overwrought one and works well with the performances.

Mini-Review Round-Up: October 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews, or another kind of write-up as per my recent shift in focus.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

9.79*

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back, and I’m glad. More than ever it seems like the landscape of sports fandom and coverage is more reactionary and instantaneous. We’ve almost devolved to the point where we’re immune to revisionism because there is less and less focus on the past, history and progression of certain sports. Not to sound overly dire or pessimistic, but sometimes perception is reality. However, what the ESPN Films documentary series is goes back and finds milestones, overlooked stories and traces the trajectory of the events, themes and trends involved.

Therefore, 9.79* about Ben Johnson’s disqualification after winning gold with a record-shattering time in 1988 Seoul Olympics starts by tracking each of the finalists (some more than others) following the events that lead to that fateful day and the fall out since. It’s not a story told in precise chronology, there are jumps and clearly new interview footage will reflect the past, but it tracks the phenomenon of doping rather well, exposes the testing issues of the time and leaves a lot of great tidbits dangling for your interpretation. One of the more astounding one is ones that gets hinted at early then dropped like a hot potato until very late in the film. In a way, it makes the capping of the story even more potent. There are quite a few players in the game here. My interpretation is that it’s all a moral quagmire when in this era doping was rampant, harder to prove and everyone is seemingly guilty of something. It makes the situation fascinating almost like a “sports noir” tale. No one’s angel, but you fall on one side of the issue or another, and maybe even side with one camp or another on certain claims.

Not only is it an event that I wanted to be more informed about (and now I am) but Daniel Gordon does great work reconstructing the narrative from an impartial place and bringing forth all the opinions and information known and presenting it in a compelling and dramatic way.

9/10

Girl vs. Monster

For a review of Girl vs. Monster please go here.

Excision

What is most successful about Excision is that it is a study in character from the inside out. Which is to say that the fantasy/daydream segments in this film may be too numerous, but the purpose they do serve is to show how the inner-monologue of a disturbed, delusional character come to the fore and affect her everyday life. There are a few dichotomous splits in character: a struggle between adoration and mutilation (both their own versions of body worship), a fight against authority, a struggle between a libertine attitude and a theistic construct. Perhaps, what’s most intriguing about Excision is watching the journey, granted I did figure where the journey would end at some point, but it seems like a basic virginity plot with a very socially awkward lead, but as it progresses you see so much more is going on here. Through all the serious and horrific observations you make there are also some laughs to be had, and many great performances notably AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter and Jeremy Sumpter.

8/10

Magic Silver and Magic Silver 2

Without going into a full rehash of recent guest post that I did, what I will say on a wider scale with relation to the Magic Silver films is that it’s prime example of what’s great about Netflix. Here you have two recent and rather popular Norwegian films that I had heretofore not heard of. Physical home video distribution of these titles in North America is a riskier, more expensive proposition so the streaming solution is perfect and brings these films to a wider audience.

As for the films, what drew me to the films at first was the 1980s-like illustrated approach to the artwork. Sure enough, the first film does have that feel, with some 21st Century technique thrown in. The film excels in virtually every level of production and maximizes the values it can get for whatever the budget is.

It’s a fantastical tale about how gnomes can control the weather and their life in a mountain. The sets of the inside of the mountain in the first film are simply but beautifully done and gives everyone just enough room. In the sequel the expanded space is not maximized. Similar to the costuming which in the first film is simple but effective, but in the second gets a bit more intricate and somehow doesn’t work as well. However, the art direction in both is quite good.

The story, however, again more so in the first film than the second, introduces the rules of this world wisely, as we hear it being told to the children of the village. It’s a thin but effective veil on the exposition, and some of the rules are really fascinating dramatically as they have intriguing consequences.

Both films are quite good, but the difference being that the first film has much higher stakes. Not only is the protagonist, Bluerose, coming to grips with overcoming her own fears, she must also learn the consequences of her actions, learn to assume responsibility, deal with mortality and try to do what is best for all concerned; a test of true leadership. Making this an even more intriguing dynamic is the fact that her struggles as princess are mirrored by a child king in the other clan of gnomes. There’s an innocent, subtly played romantic interest, but they both in working together learn how they can face up to their newfound responsibilties.

In these films I expected good escapist fun, what caught me most off guard about the first film was the gravitas of it, how involved and moved I would be by the narrative, and how compelling the performances of the entire cast especially Ane Viola Semb and Johan Tinus Lindgren. The best fantasy tales go to a very real place emotionally, when they are character-driven. When plot-drives a bit too much it’s harder to reach that heightened level. So a film like the former can be fun (read the sequel) but is ultimately disposable. Whereas, the film that finds universal truths in its fantastic settings, and also connects across cultural boundaries is truly special.

One more note about the follow-up film, it is fun and intriguing for randomly deciding to have four musical numbers. The first caught me totally by surprise but the next three are better, and the last one is a great Christmas-themed song that also highlights the climate change subtext of the story.

Very fun and different movies both that lend themselves to consecutive viewings like I had.

10/10 and 6/10

There’s No Place Like Home

ESPN’s 30 for 30 continued last week with There’s No Place Like Home. Here’s another case whereupon seeing the synopsis of the film I was not so interested, but after having viewed the film it’s more effective than anticipated.

The film tells the tale of Josh Swade, a lifelong Kansas Jayhawk fanatic, who organized a grassroots effort to try and win the original rules of basketball as written by James Naismith. When reading the narrative the piece I was missing, either from ignorance or faulty memory, was that Naismith shortly posting these rules in a Massachusetts YCMA took the game to Kansas and started the Basketball program at Kansas. He was at the University for four plus decades after that. So, yes, Kansas has, and had, a very rightful claim to ownership that I was unaware of.

Another moment of enlightenment was the underscoring of the fact was that basketball, as opposed to other sports which became formalized after years of play, was very much created fairly spontaneously. I was always a rules nerd as a kid, and gaining access to rule books was a big deal, and writing down rules to created games was something I’d partake in. Therefore, the provenance of the document also interested me.

However, that’s all information gleaned, which is valuable but not the be all and end all. What’s truly most interesting in this film is that it takes perhaps the most interesting avenue in telling the film. It takes the perspective of a superfan who has the unmatched, undying passion for his team and has him be the mouthpiece, the spokesman for what he knows is something right but hasn’t the means to accomplish: acquisition of the rules. Through sheer will and determination he does get in contact with those who have the connections and the financial means, and it is impressive to see the seemingly spontaneous outpouring of similar emotions from members of the KU family.

There are some occurrences that would’ve been great to see on camera (like the apparent defeat faced), but other portions that seem rather extraneous do come back into play. The film does feel like it could’ve been tightened a bit, however, it builds the personal connection well and gets a lot of tension and drama out of the auction day even though the outcome is somewhat foreseeable.

All in all, it’s a very good dramatic rendering of the situation, and I always like to see the bump where the filmmakers discuss the process, their inspiration, etc. and this one is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

8/10

Sexual Chronicles of a French Family

I discovered that this film existed through Instant Watcher, more specifically their Twitter. It is a website that it perhaps the best source for what’s new to stream on Netflix. I was not surprised to see that this film is a popular streaming choice. The title is designed to intrigue and get people watching. Based on the fact that it’s a French film, and the totality of the synopsis, I expected more scenes like the one between the matriarch of the household and the grandfather. So, my expectation of more of a chamber drama was mislaid, OK. I won’t, and can’t, penalize it for that. What I can penalize it for is that for as short as it is, the insightful, charming, touching, intelligent scenes are few and far between. Instead, you get many love scenes which are protracted and only add minimally, sometimes not at all, to the story. The intention of the film is one I understand and respect, and it is successful in a few of its attempts, but ultimately it left me wanting and a bit bored.

5/10

The Monitor

I will freely admit that Noomi Rapace along with the fact that this film is a subdued Swedish horror film were both selling points. I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in rapid succession and became quite an admirer of hers rather quickly. Sadly, elevating her global star status was just one of the many failings of Prometheus.

What is perhaps most surprising about The Monitor is not that it reveals twists, and character in wonderfully indirect, yet clear, ways; but that what would be the biggest twist in most films is one you become fairly certain of early on, and I was actively thinking and hoping that “There’s gotta be another one,” and sure enough there are plenty both big and small.

The Monitor is a very interestedly handled narrative that is a great character study not only of the protagonist but of her newfound friend Helge, played wonderfully by Kristoffer Joner.

I watched this on Amazon Prime, but any way you can watch this film would be good.

9/10