Capsule Reviews: May 21 – 23

The Fury (Brian De Palma, 1978) – 3/5

Hard on the heels of his 1976 hit Carrie, De Palma revisits the telekinesis/psychic powers genre with lamentably diminished returns. Granted, there are standout set-pieces – the opening abduction scene, a sequence set in an indoor amusement park, the explosive finale – as well as moments of comic relief like the Mother Nuckles bit. But long stretches of the film sag, pedestrian to the point of boredom, serving merely as “exposition dumps.” De Palma shoots them with as much verve as he can muster; nevertheless, the dialogue is often wooden and the narrative indulges in storyline hopscotch once or thrice too often.

Love Object (Robert Parigi, 2003) – 3/5

Black comedy/psychological horror film about a lonely tech writer’s obsession with a “Real Doll” he customizes to resemble a coworker. Writer/director Parigi pushes the material into fairly obvious, if amusingly handled, territory. Sanguine turn in the plot climaxes in a politically incorrect, suitably ironic twist ending. Bolstered by a strong lead in Desmond Harrington and propped up by able support from Rip Torn as his demanding boss and Udo Kier as the kinky-sex-obsessed apartment manager.

Ghost Story of Yotsuya (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1959) – 3/5

One year before he filmed Jigoku, Nakagawa gave an oft-filmed 19th century kabuki play  (about a rogue samurai, or ronin, who murders, among others, his father-in-law and first wife) the same widescreen, lushly colored treatment, reminiscent of Hammer horror films that were then making waves on the international film scene. Building slowly, the film spends almost half its brief 77 minute run-time on establishing the rather convoluted back-story for its supernatural events, rife with lust, betrayal and murder plots. The second half displays the same delight in retributive and guilt-inducing visions as Nakagawa’s subsequent film, lacking only its obvious derivation from Buddhist eschatology, opting instead to insistently remain within the realm of human psychology.

Mademoiselle Fifi (Robert Wise, 1946) – 3/5

Val Lewton produced this Franco-Prussian war picture, conflating two “patriotic” Guy de Maupassant stories, ably directed by former editor Wise, and starring Cat People’s Simone Simon. The first half concerns a group of characters thrown together on a carriage bound for Dieppe – the cross-sectional aspect of the story was clearly an influence on John Ford’s 1939 classic Stagecoach – excoriating the vanities, prejudices and hypocrisies of the French middle class who accommodate, if not actually collaborate with, the invading Prussian army. The second half deals with a vain Prussian count who keeps our motley crew hostage at an inn until Simon’s “little laundress” agrees to dine with him (the film tones down the character and situation from Maupassant’s original, where the girl is a prostitute and the Prussian wants to bed her). Incidentally, the title doesn’t refer to Simon’s character, but rather ironically to the dandified Prussian officer, whose constant epithet “fi, fi donc” expresses contempt for the exempla of French arts and culture he enjoys passing the time by either blowing up or using for target practice.

Autumn Leaves (Robert Aldrich, 1956) – 3.5/5

Aldrich shoots this woman’s picture about the tormented May-December romance between stay-at-home typist Joan Crawford and young buck Cliff Robertson as if he didn’t realize it wasn’t a film noir – canted angles and pools of shadow abound. Not to mention the twisted psychology driving its characters: the Oedipal relations between the two leads pale in comparison to the overtly incestuous pairing of Robertson’s father (Lorne Greene) and his first wife (Vera Miles), whose gold-digging scheme to have him committed to a mental institution comes across at first like vintage noir, before subsequent events (a stunning scene in which an enraged Robertson smashes Crawford’s hand to a pulp with her own typewriter) prove them all too right, even if for all the wrong reasons.

Model Shop (Jacques Demy, 1969) – 2/5

English-language debut from Demy has 2001’s Gary Lockwood as a drop-out architect tooling around LA in his vintage auto (which is about to be repo’d) in pursuit of French siren Anouk Aimée, who works in the titular “Rent-A-Girl” near-nude emporium. At the same time, Lockwood’s in the process of breaking up with girlfriend Alexandra Hay, looking for work with an alternative newspaper and learning that he’s been drafted. None of this amounts to much, for the simple reason that – beyond an extended (and excruciating, because woodenly delivered) dialogue between the two leads, serving more as a way to catch up with Aimée’s character, who also appeared in Demy’s debut Lola, than as an exploration of its characters’ attitudes or motivations – the film never lingers on any of it. On the plus side, Demy’s habit of shooting tons of extended-take driving scenes provides a fine glimpse of a side of late 60s LA that might otherwise be lost to posterity.

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About Budd Wilkins

Budd Wilkins is a writer, film critic and instructor. He is a Staff Critic for Slant Magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Nordic Issue of Acidemic Journal of Film and Media. He is currently writing a chapter for an anthology on international horror directors to be published by Intellect Press and distributed by University of Chicago Press. Mr. Wilkins was born and raised in Hollywood, Florida. He attended Penn State for several years before moving to North Carolina in 1994, where he earned his Bachelor's in Religious Studies and a Master's in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Film Studies from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His primary focus is film history, film literacy and criticism, with the goal of bringing obscure, foreign and films that are labeled "difficult" to the attention of film aficionados of all kinds. Other interests and focus of critique include comparative religion, black humor, 19th century European literature, horror and graphic novels. Mr Wilkins lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with his wife, Tina. Follow @buddwilkins on Twitter.
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