Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet, 2021

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Oscars are coming and we get to spend some time celebrating the worst of the horror movies made by nominees. Have they made great horror? Well, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) are nominees, so yes. In fact, there are a whole slew of horror films made by this year’s batch of nominees, most of them far too good to qualify for this list.

No, we want the skeletons. And every single year, nominees have them. Here are this year’s contenders.

5. Daniel Kaluuya: Chatroom (2010) 

What is the matter with this movie? Writer Edna Walsh, who’d go on to pen the excellent films Disco Pigs and Hunger, adapted her own stage play. Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water) directed. The cast is exceptional: Daniel Kaluuya, Imogen Poots, Aaron Taylor-Johnson all play Chelsea teens who hang out in a new chatroom.

How did this to so terribly wrong? As five kids get to know each other online, it turns out that one is a predator looking for a very specific weakness and playing the others against each other. Not a terrible premise, and the overall design is surreal enough to avoid individuals at their laptops. Performances are solid as well.

But, ideas come and go, conflicts arise and disappear, characters appear without warning or introduction and vanish, and storylines fail to make any real sense.

4. Amanda Seyfried & Gary Oldman: Red Riding Hood (2011)

A two-fer! Truth be told, there were plenty of two-fer opportunities with Oldman on this list (he also co-starred with fellow nominee Anthony Hopkins in both Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Hannibal).

But this is the one, because it lets us talk about another time he co-starred with Amanda Seyfried. Both are nominated for their work together in 2020’s Mank. Neither were nominated for this.

Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke helms this fractured fairy tale, and it looks gorgeous. The story is overly complicated and stupid, but it hits all the important marks: Valerie (Seyfried) is loved by two potentially dangerous boys whose passion might actually kill her. Oh, it’s such an angsty YA dream!

Seyfried is fine. Oldman is a ham, and he’s such a joy when he’s a ham. There’s a fun cameo from Julie Christie as well. But the weak writing and utterly laughable performances by the two suitors (Max Irons and Shiloh Fernandez) are enough to sink this one deep.

3. Anthony Hopkins: The Wolfman (2010)

Hopkins has a lot of horror in his closet, much of it bad. The Rite is the least watchable, but this is the one that’s the most fun to lambast. What a ludicrous waste of talent!

Sir Anthony bites through scenery (among other things) as Sir John Talbot, father of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro). Their background is murky, their property is foggy, their accents are jarringly different.

Director Joe Johnson likes stuff big and hokey. You’ll find that here. The film won an Oscar for its make up, which we cannot get behind. The final battle looks like two rhoided-up Pomeranians duking it out.

Still, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving are good, and even though the great Del Toro sleepwalks through this embarrassment, Hopkins is always a bit of fun when he camps it up in a bad movie.

2. Gary Oldman: The Unborn (2009)

Oh, Gary Oldman, why do you so rarely say no?

He’s just in so, so, so many movies – mathematically speaking, it only makes sense that a lot of them will be terrible. Like this one, a film that feels less like a single cohesive unit and more like a string of individual scenes filmed as examples of cliches and non sequiturs.

Oldman plays a rabbi who works with a Christian minister played by Idris Elba to help an incredibly entitled young woman who looks like a blander version of Megan Fox (Odette Annable) exorcise a Jewish demon who likes twins.

Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, James Remar and Carla Gugino also co-star for no logical reason. Well, writer/director David S. Goyer is also writer David S. Goyer (Blade trilogy & Nolan’s Batman trilogy). This movie came immediately on the heels of 2008’s The Dark Knight, which explains Oldman as well as some unmet expectations.

1. Youn Yuh-jung: Insect Woman (1972)

Youn Yuh-jung is a treasure. Her fifty years in movies boasts dozens of remarkable performances usually marked by quirky humor that never feels gimmicky. She’s had a hell of a 2020, with pivotal supporting roles in Beasts Clawing at Straws and the Oscar-nominated Minari.

She does what she can in writer/director Kim Ki-young’s inexplicably titled Insect Woman.

Oh my God, what a trainwreck! What is going on here? Youn plays a teen with nowhere to turn once her father returns to his wife. Now her mother, older brother and she must fend for themselves. But how? Well, maybe she can be mistress to an impotent (or is he?!) high school teacher.

The film swings back and forth between highly irrational melodrama to profoundly unsexy eroticism to unconvincing gritty street indie. An hour or more into this, they introduce a vampire baby.

I swear!

Then it’s on. Who knows what the hell is happening or is going to happen or why it’s happening or what the film is trying to say. If it were a better movie I’d think Insect Woman was trying to make a point about misogyny and classism in South Korea.

It’s not a better movie, though. It’s very bad.

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet, 2020

It’s the hap-happiest time of the year! Oh, our favorite thing about Oscar nominations is the excuse it gives us to dredge up those old horror flicks lingering in every good and bad actor’s past. This year’s crop was especially ripe, too. Here are the handful that made the final cut.

5. Al Pacino & Charlize Theron: The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

A guilty pleasure, this one. Theron’s screen debut just two years earlier came from an uncredited role in the clearly inferior Children of the Corn 3, but she has no lines in that and how do we pass up a two for one like this movie?

Al Pacino plays to type as Satan, disguised as NY lawyer John Milton who invites unbeaten Florida lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) to join the firm (after Lomax knowingly gets a child molester acquitted). Lomax and his saucy wife Mary Ann (Theron) head north, but Milton keeps Kevin working late and Mary Ann becomes isolated and then paranoid and then possessed.

Theron’s performance is solid throughout and Pacino’s a lot of fun chewing scenes and spitting them out. Reeves is Reeves. But this is such a ludicrous, over-the-top morality play—one that Theron plays for drama and Pacino plays for camp—that Reeves’s goofball in the middle feels somehow right.

4. Tom Hanks: He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

Tommy’s first show biz performance came by way of Armand Mastroianni’s bride stalker, He Knows You’re Alone.

The first problem with the film is the plot. It is absolutely impossible to believe that any knife wielding maniac is scarier than a bride just 24 hours before her wedding. She’d kick his ass then slit his throat, all the while screaming about seating arrangements.

The bride thing is a weak gimmick to introduce a slasher, so we watch a shiny knife catch the light just before slicing through some friend or acquaintance of bride-to-be Amy (Caitlin O’Heaney).

In the film that’s little more than a smattering of ideas stolen from Wes Craven and John Carpenter, surrounded by basic stock images and sounds from early 80s slashers, the only thing that stands out is Hanks. In an essentially useless role, Hanks introduces the idea of comic timing and natural character behavior. Too bad we have to wait a full hour for his first scene, and that he only gets one more before his girlfriend’s head finds its way into the fish tank and he vanishes from the film.

3. Renee Zellweger: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)

Written and directed by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper’s co-scriptor for the original, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation amounts to one bizarre cabaret of backwoods S&M horror. You’ll think for a while it’s a regular ol’ slasher, what with the unlikable teens, broken down car, and bad decision-making. But if you stick it out, you’ll find it tries to be something different – something almost surreal, kind of madcap. It doesn’t work, but it counts that they tried, doesn’t it?

A profoundly unconvincing set-up involves Renee Zellweger as well as several colleagues no longer in the acting profession. They deliver teen clichés while wandering into a truly weird situation. The four prom-goers are terrorized by Matthew McConaughey, now leader of Team Leatherface, and his bizarre band. It’s not necessarily weird in a good way, but weird is rarely ever entirely bad.

There’s a visit from a limo-driven S& M maestro of some kind, paranoid delusions of Big Brother control, a more clearly cross-dressing Leatherface, but absolutely no tension or terror, and shocking little in the way of horror, either, regardless of Freaky Limo Guy’s line: I want these people to know the meaning of horror.

(Hint: they should watch the original.)

2. Brad Pitt: Cutting Class (1989)

Someone’s killing off folks at the nameless high school where Pitt, as Dwight Ingalls, portrays the horny, popular basketball star repressing rage concerning his overbearing father. Perhaps he’s bottling up something more?

Sexual frustration, no doubt, as he spends every second on screen trying to get somewhere with girlfriend Paula (Jill Schoelen, frequent flier on bad 80s Horror Express).

Usually, when you look back on a superstar’s early career and find low-budget horror, one of two trends emerges. Either the superstar stands out as clearly the greatest talent in the film, or else they just cut their teeth on a very small role. Sometimes both. In Pitt’s case, well, at least he looks like Brad Pitt.

Still, it’s fun to see him try on some tics and idiosyncrasies he’ll come to rely on in later, better roles. (Like Pitt’s Oceans character Rusty Ryan, Dwight eats in every scene.)

The freakishly uneven tone, the film’s episodic nature, each scene’s seeming amnesia concerning other scenes’ actions, and the whiplash of comedy to psychological thriller to comedy all add up to an exercise in incoherence.

1. Laura Dern: Grizzly II: The Concert (1987)

Here’s the crowning jewel for nearly any Skeletons in the Closet feature. It features not just a current nominee, but one past winner and ever-the-winner Charlie Sheen. It’s hard to come by and even harder to watch. The sequel to William Girdler’s 1796 forest-astrophe Grizzly was filmed in 1983 and never completed, but sort of, kind of released anyway in 1987. Every death scene ends just before the death itself, because the bear side of the struggle was never shot. So, we get a lot of bear’s eye view of the victim, but never a look at the bear side of the sequence. It’s surreal, almost.

Sandwiched somewhere between the non-death sequences is a never ending faux-eighties synth pop concert. The concert footage is interminably long, nonsensical enough to cause an aneurism, and awful enough to make you grateful for the aneurism. You will lose your will to live. So, why bother? Because this invisible grizzly puppet kills Charlie Sheen, Oscar nominee Laura Dern, and George Clooney. (Dern and Clooney are making out at the time, which actually probably happened).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B4EyMoMmzY

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet 2019

It’s that time of year! The Academy celebrates the best work in the industry and we celebrate the early, mainly terrible work of those same nominees. It’s Skeletons in the Closet season, people!

We will let you know up front that, because Sam Rockwell and Bradley Cooper have already been subjects of the program, we will not be discussing Clown House (Rockwell’s feature debut) or Midnight Meat Train (or My Little Eye, for that matter, though Cooper appears in both).

And let us also congratulate nominee Willem Dafoe for managing to make several decent horror films, and garnering his first Oscar nomination for his work in one great one—Shadow of the Vampire.

But enough about good movies. Here are the stinkers.

Dial up the full podcast, co-hosted by Senior Aussie Correspondent (and host of Golden Spiral Media’s Rewatch podcast), Cory Metcalfe.

5. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III

Viggo Mortensen has been a working actor for more than 30 years, which means bones in that there closet. There was the questionable Psycho remake, and his version of Lucifer in Christopher Walken’s dark angel camp classic Prophesy (featured on the 2018 Skeleton’s episode).

Let’s focus on his place with the inbred cannibal clan the Sawyers in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Directed by Jeff Burr (From a Whisper to a Scream, Stepfather II, Puppet Master 4, 5 and Blitzkrieg Massacre), it’s a competently made if inspirationally dry episode.

Viggo plays Tex, and unquestionably outshines all the rest of the talent in the film. He’s sneaky, snaky, sexy, and he loves his mama.

4. Warlock (1989)

There is something to be said for this oh-so-Eighties adventure. Steve Miner (Friday 13th 2 & 3, H20, Lake Placid) directs from a screenplay by David Twohy (Critters 2, Pitch Black, The Perfect Getaway). The film follows witch Julian Sands 300 years into the future to 1989 USA, where he’s followed by witchhunter Redfern (Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant).

There’s nothing especially interesting about the film, and Lori Singer could not be more annoying in the lead, but both Sands and Grant elevate the material. The two veteran low-budget, crowd-pleasing horror filmmakers know how to give you something.

The flight sequences are too lame—in fact, all the FX promise to make you cringe—and much of the humor dates horrifically. But Grant commits to his character and Sands’s wicked grin makes up for a lot of plot holes.

3. Mary Reilly (1996)

Boy, there were high hopes for this bloated embarrassment when it came out back in ’96. Director Stephen Frears re-teamed with his Dangerous Liaisons screenwriter and stars John Malkovich and Glenn Close for a retelling of the old Jekyll and Hyde tale.

At the center, a plucky young housemaid named Mary (Julia Roberts).

Roberts’s career had begun its slide by this point, and this movie did not help things because she is just God awful. Oh my word, that accent.

Eight-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close plays Mrs. Farraday, proprietress of a brothel. Boasting gold tooth, smeared lipstick and sneer, Close camps it up with an accent a bit more bizarre even than Roberts’s.

There is so much wrong with this movie—its leaden pace, its inconsistent tone, its sense of self-importance, the fact that we’re supposed to believe no one realizes both guys are Malkovich, the idea of Malkovich in a sexy role, Roberts performance in literally every scene—it’s hard to know where to start.

Maybe just don’t.

2. Frogs (1972)

As the eco-terror flick from the Seventies opens, a handsome and manly brunette with no facial hair canoes through a swamp. He’s so manly!

Hey wait, that beardless brunette is Sam Elliott!

The manly Picket Smith (Elliott) ends up stranded on the vacation island of a wealthy family led by Ray Milland. He’s a dick. The frogs know it.

We get it, rich people who believe men are meant to rule the world will be the downfall of the planet. (If we didn’t know it in 1972, we know it now.) But couldn’t these scenes be briefer? Couldn’t there be any action at all?

Frogs? Seriously?

1. Death Machine (1994)

Holy cow, this movie is bad.

And we had more than a few to choose from, because Rachel Weisz makes a lot of movies. The Mummy was not good. The Mummy Returns was worse. Constantine—yikes. Even Dream House, which had all the earmarks of a decent flick, chose not to be.

But Death Machine, which showcases the young thespian for maybe 45 seconds, sucks right out loud. Written and directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), it follows a young executive (Ely Pouget) as she tries to end the evil inventing of a mad genius (Brad Dourif).

Weisz plays Junior Executive, and her scene is the one that doesn’t blow.

Dourif is so wildly miscast as the long haired, heavy metal misfit that you almost overlook the idiocy of every moment of screen time.

Almost.





All You Need

Loveless

by Hope Madden

There is a deep and deeply Russian melancholy to the films of Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Loveless opens on a sweet-faced boy meandering playfully through the woods between school and home. Once home, Alexey (Matvey Novikov) stares blankly out his bedroom window while his hostile mother (Maryana Spivak) shows the apartment to two prospective buyers.

Alexey’s parents are divorcing. Each has gone on to another relationship, each indulges images of future comfort and bliss, each bristles at the company of the other, and neither has any interest in bringing Alexey into their perfect futures.

So complete is their self-absorption that it takes more than a day before either realizes 12-year-old Alexey hasn’t been home.

Zvyagintsev’s films depict absence as much as presence. His dilapidated buildings become emblematic characters, as do his busily detailed living quarters. They appear to represent a fractured image of Russia, whose past haunts its present as clearly as these abandoned buildings mar the urban landscape where Alexey and his parents live.

TV and radio newsbreaks setting the film’s present day in 2012 concern political upheaval and war in Ukraine. They sometimes tip the film toward obviousness, Zvyagintsev’s allegory to the moral blindness of his countrymen becoming a little stifling.

Alexey’s parents Zhenya and Boris—thankless roles played exquisitely by Spivak and Aleksey Rozin—border on parody in their remarkable self-obsession. But this is a tension Zvyagintsev builds intentionally, and it is thanks to the stunning performances as well as the director’s slow, open visual style that his film never abandons its human drama in favor of its larger themes.

Like the filmmaker’s 2015 Oscar nominee Leviathan, another poetic dip into Russian misery, Loveless does offer small reasons for optimism. The volunteers—led by a dedicated Ivan (Aleksey Fateev), who has no time for bickering parents—brighten an otherwise exhaustingly grim look at familial disintegration.

Loveless doesn’t balance intimacy and allegory as well as Leviathan did, and its opinion of the Russian people feels more like finger wagging this time around, but Zvyagintsev remains a storyteller like few other. His latest is a visually stunning gut punch.





I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of March 12

It’s Oscar week, people. Not the week of the Oscars, but the week the Oscar winners and nominees come home to us. All told, five Oscar nominees (including the best picture winner) are available for home entertainment. And, if you prefer bad movies, Justice League is also out. Choice!

Click the film title for a full review.

The Shape of Water

Call Me By Your Name

I, Tonya

The Disaster Artist

Ferdinand

Justice League





I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of February 26

It is one hell of a week in home entertainment, people. Oscar nominees aplenty! No reason to leave home even one time this week. Woot!

Click the film title for a full review.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Coco

Darkest Hour

Murder on the Orient Express





Fright Club: Oscar Nominee Skeletons in the Closet

You know what? This year’s batch of Oscar hopefuls have made some genuinely excellent horror movies. Richard Jenkins starred in not only the amazing Bone Tomahawk, but also the underseen Fright Club favorite Let Me In. Willem Dafoe took a beating in the amazing Antichrist and grabbed an Oscar nomination for his glorious turn in Shadow of the Vampire. Laurie Metcalf made us laugh and squirm in Scream 2 and Woody Harrelson led one of our all time favorite zombie shoot-em-ups, Zombieland.

But what’s the fun in talking about that when so many of the nominees have made so many bad movies? Here we focus on the worst of the worst, but if you check out the podcast we mention even more.

5. Halloween II (2009)

Octavia Spencer’s 20+ year career, struggling early with low-budget supporting work, guarantees her a place in this list. Indeed, she could have taken several slots (2006’s Pulse is especially rank), but we find ourselves drawn to Rob Zombie’s sequel to his 2007 revisionist history.

Zombie ups the violence, adds dream sequences and suggests that Laurie Strode (played here, poorly, by Scout Taylor-Compton) shares some hereditary psychosis with her brother Michael.

Spencer plays the Night Nurse, which naturally means that she dies. Pretty spectacularly, actually, but that hardly salvages the mirthless cameo-tastic retread.

4. Gary Oldman: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola took his shot at Dracula in ’92. How’d he do?

Cons: Keanu Reeves cannot act. Winona Ryder can act—we’ve seen her act—but she shows no aptitude for it here, and lord she should not do accents. Anthony Hopkins has always enjoyed the taste of scenery, but his performance here is just ham-fisted camp.

Pros: Gary Oldman, who can chomp scenery with the best chewers in the biz, munches here with great panache. He delivers a perversely fascinating performance. His queer old man Dracula, in particular – asynchronous shadow and all – offers a lot of creepy fun. Plus, Tom Waits as Renfield – nice!

Still, there’s no looking past Ryder, whose performance is high school drama bad.

3. Clownhouse (1989)

There are several fascinating pieces of information concerning the derivative yet uniquely weird Clownhouse. These range from odd to awful.

1) The Sundance Film Festival somehow found this film—this one, Clownhouse, the movie about 3 escaped mental patients who dress as clowns, break into a house where three brothers are home alone on Halloween night, and commence to terrify and slaughter them— worthy of a nomination for Best Drama. If you haven’t seen this film, you might not quite recognize how profoundly insane that is.

2) The great and underappreciated Sam Rockwell made his feature debut as the dickhead oldest brother in this movie. The clowns themselves—Cheezo, Bippo, and Dippo—are genuinely scary and garishly fascinating, but outside of them, only Rockwell can act. At all.

3) Writer/director Victor Salva would go on to create the Jeepers Creepers franchise. But first he would serve 15 months of a 3-year state prison sentence for molesting the 12-year-old lead actor in this film, Nathan Forrest Winters.

So, basically, this film should never have been made. But at least Rockwell got his start here.

2. Margot Robbie: ICU (2009)

Margot Robbie is a confirmed talent. Underappreciated in her wickedly perfect turn in Wolf of Wall Street, she has gone on to prove that she is far more than a stunning beauty (though she certainly is that).

Not that you’d realize that by way of her early work in this low-budget Aussie dumpster fire.

The then-19-year-old leads a cast of unhappy teens vacationing for the weekend with their estranged dad, who’s called into work yet again. To entertain themselves, they peep on their neighbors through the facing skyscraper windows.

Robbie showers, swims and changes clothes at least 3 needless times within the film’s opening 10 minutes, which makes a film that wags a finger at modern voyeurism feel a little hypocritical. But to even make that statement is to take writer/director Aash Aaron’s film too seriously. Heinously acted, abysmally written and tediously directed, it amounts to 50 minutes of whining followed by utterly ludicrous plot twists, unless Australia boasts the largest per-capita number of serial killers on earth.

But the point is this: Robbie would go on to deliver stellar performances, so this is just something we all need to shake off.

1. Frances McDormand: Crimewave (1985)

Is a horror film really a horror film just because imdb.com says so?

Well, anything as bad as Crimewave is a horror, that’s for sure. The fact that it’s a slapstick crime comedy at its heart hardly matters.

Co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen, directed by Sam Raimi and co-starring Bruce Campbell, this film has a pedigree. And we love them all so much we can almost forgive them for this insufferable disaster. But we suffered through it for two scenes—one at the beginning, one at the end—involving a nun who’s taken a vow of silence.

Frances McDormand, what the hell are you doing in this movie?

No, no. We get it. If we were duped into optimism by Coen brother involvement, what hope did you have? You couldn’t have known that the result would be a tiresome, embarrassing, un-funny, painful waste of 83 minutes.





Oscar Nominated Shorts – Animation

by Rachel Willis

This year’s batch of Oscar nominated animated shorts are varied in both style and subject matter. They run the gauntlet of emotion from tortured to heartwarming to comedic, and the heart of each story is reflected in the animation. Each film succeeds in marrying the story to the art so that none of the films would feel right without their particular style of animation.

Borrowed Time
Directors: Andrew Coates, Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Run Time: 7 minutes

Borrowed Time follows a sheriff as he reflects on a dark and brutal moment from his childhood. The minimal dialogue and bleak animation highlight the character’s inner turmoil. It’s a poignant piece that effectively utilizes the medium to explore the sadder side of human emotion.

https://youtu.be/2iDCfsQfst4

 

Pearl
Director: Patrick Osborne
Run Time: 6 minutes

A sweet tale, but overall bland in style and substance, Pearl tells the story of a single father and his daughter as they navigate the ups and downs of life. A song about home connects the story, as the audience is shown vignettes from the small family’s life. The animation is simplistic in style, but it works for the narrative. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to set Pearl apart from other films.

 

Blind Vaysha
Director: Theodore Ushev
Run Time: 8 minutes

Blind Vaysha blends a unique story with gorgeous visuals. A faceless narrator tells the story of Vaysha, a girl born with one eye that can see the past and one that can see the future. Blinded to the present, Vaysha can see the beginning of creation and the destruction of the earth, or the beginning and end of the same day. The animation highlights the terror the future holds for Vaysha, as well as the staid limitations of the past. Blind Vaysha is a marvelous, even flawless film.

 

Piper
Director: Alan Barillaro
Run Time: 6 minutes

Piper is also superb. The animation is stylized, but it offers hints of realism in the movements of the sand pipers as they dart back and forth across the sand dunes. The story of a young sand piper that overcomes fear with the help of a friend is reminiscent of the most touching Pixar films. At times both comedic and heartwarming, Piper is a worthy addition to the Pixar line up.

 

Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Director: Robert Valley
Run Time: 35 minutes

Techno Styles is the character at the center of Pear Cider and Cigarettes. With gritty graphics, Rob narrates the story of his friend Techno, a man seemingly larger-than-life. The imagery matches the story, from dull yellows to highlight Techno’s failing liver, to golden silhouettes to illustrate Techno as a mythic person. For a short film, Pear Cider and Cigarettes feels long, with moments of redundancy that slow the pace of an otherwise solid film.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Oscar Nominated Shorts – Live Action

by Hope Madden

This year’s Oscar-nominated live-action shorts take on an international flavor. Entries from Hungary, Switzerland, Denmark, France and Spain talk culture, loneliness, oppression and racism in a spate of lovely dramas, comedies and romantic bits.

Enemies Within (Ennemis Interieurs)
Director: Selim Aazzazi
Running Time: 28 minutes

Enemies Within (Ennemis interieurs) from France’s Selim Aazzazi intimately examines a power struggle between two men – a French inspector interrogates an Algerian-born Frenchman looking to formalize his citizenship.

McCarthyism knows no geographic border, nor does terrorism, paranoia, or the fallout from all three. Two nuanced performances keep the work – also written by Aazzazi – riveting.

 

La Femme et la TGV
Director: Timo von Gunten
Running Time: 30 minutes

Switzerland’s La femme et le TGV, a slight but insightful pseudo-romance, follows an aging woman who clings to things as they are. “I’ve never sent an Internet and I never will,” she declares. A charming and sometimes poignant look at embracing change, the film also looks great.

 

Silent Nights
Director: Aske Bang
Running Time: 30 minutes

A holiday piece on loneliness, longing and belonging, Denmark’s Silent Nights is the most sentimental of the shorts. Written and directed by Aske Bang, the film follows an immigrant from Ghana (Prince Yaw Appiah) and the homeless shelter volunteer (Malene Beltoff Olsen) who loves him.

Strong performances, especially from Olsen, buoy a solid if too tidy film.

 

Sing
Director: Kristof Deak
Running Time: 25 minutes

Kristof Deak’s entry from Hungary is equal parts sinister and triumphant as the new kid in school gets to join the country’s most successful children’s choir. Sing (Mindenki) follows Zsofi (Dorka Gasparfalvi). Befriended by popular Liza (Dorka Hais) and invited – as are all students – to join the world famous choir, Zsofi couldn’t be happier. Until she – and, by extension, Liza – learn something not quite right.

Deak articulates the logic of a child in a drama that offers as much tension and as welcome a resolution as most full-length films.

 

Timecode
Director: Juanjo Gimenez Pena
Running Time: 15 minutes

Spain’s Timecode is the most charming of the lot. Two parking garage security guards see each other in person only at the beginning and end of each shift. Regardless, they develop a very particular friendship – one that is fun, funny, endearing and full of welcome surprises.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Unbearable Secrets

Son of Saul

by Hope Madden

When Son of Saul, Laszlo Nemes’s blistering Holocaust drama, opens, you will think the film is out of focus. Hold tight, because Nemes has made a conscious decision here and this is just the first of many moments that will alter the way you look at a film.

The director’s breathlessly confident feature debut, which the Academy has nominated for best foreign language film, closely follows one Auschwitz inmate over a particularly tumultuous 36 hour period of his confinement. If you think you’ve seen everything there is to see about the Holocaust, well, the director will surprise you there as well.

Saul (a phenomenal Geza Rohrig) is a sonderkommando, or “bearer of secrets.” He is among the prisoners used by the Nazis to grease the machinery of extermination: rifling through clothing for valuables, removing victims from gas chambers, burning bodies, scrubbing floors in preparation for the next batch being hustled to the “showers.”

Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely keep Saul in shallow focus so that the horror around him is all only glimpsed peripherally. We are focused, as Saul is focused, on just one thing – and yet we are, as he is, saturated in the hell of this existence.

When Saul spies the body of a young boy he deems his son, an idea seizes him. He becomes possessed to save the corpse from the knife, find a rabbi to perform a Kaddish (prayer for the dead), and give the child a proper burial.

The counterproductive, myopic insanity of this act and the controlled lunacy of Saul’s determination become almost reasonable in the context of the mechanized dehumanization around him – a horror that is immersive thanks to Nemes singular vision and Tamas Zanyi’s suffocating sound design.

Much remains ambiguous as the relatively simple story unfolds, but that simplicity allows for the director’s unrelenting focus. It mirrors Saul’s necessary focus, and the moans, screams, beatings, death, and misery that surround him and us – because it is not neatly packaged or clearly articulated – may offer the most realistic picture of the incomprehensible events that any filmmaker could hope to achieve.

Son of Saul is a deeply human film about man’s inhumanity to man and Laszlo Nemes is an artistic phenomenon.

Verdict-5-0-Stars