Dr. Sex (1964)

Dr. Sex (1964) movie poster

director Ted V. Mikels
viewed: 01/27/2016

This “nudie cutie” comes from schlockmeister Ted V. Mikels, a sex comedy in where three psychologists meet to discuss their most bizarre cases.  The gags are the types ripped from the lesser brethren of Playboy of the time, certainly not urbane but also not really all that sleazy.  Mostly each story is a set up to gaze at comely young females in the almost altogether (T & A, but no V, as someone has suggested.)

The print available at Fandor is pretty rough, blotchy and choppy at times, but watchable.

As for the stories themselves, I’ll have to admit I even laughed at one of them.  I won’t ruin it for you in case you feel so inclined.

He Named Me Malala (2015)

He Named Me Malala (2015) movie poster

director David Guggenheim
viewed: 01/27/2016

Malala Yousafzai is 18 years old right now.  She came to international prominence at the age of 15 when she was shot in the head by Pakastani Taliban assassin on October 9, 2012, who attempted to silence her for reports that she had been issuing to the BBC, daring to speak out that girls deserved a right to education, while the increasingly brutal and conservative group bombed schools and murdered anyone who dared to speak against them.

David Guggenheim’s documentary He Named Me Malala is not a great movie, though it tries to depict Malala as she is, a teenage girl from the Swat Valley of Pakistan who has survived a vicious attack and had to leave her home country.  A girl who is adjusting to her life in Britain and as an international icon for women’s rights and children’s rights, all at such a tender age.

And this is the film’s value point, seeing and hearing Malala in her own words, with her family: her father who really imbued her with the strength and beliefs that seeded the person she has become, her mother a largely uneducated contrast to her father also adapting to her new life in the UK, her brothers, especially her youngest brother who is quite funny.

I picked this to watch with my kids because I thought it would be a story of interest (with which they were already familiar) but also to have some deeper experience to put with the story.  It’s not a very satisfying documentary, but it still has power, most of which emanates directly from Malala herself.  She is an amazing girl/woman, thrust onto the global stage.  She is still so young, so much possibility in her life, so much that I would expect that she can and will do.  I hope that she gets to achieve everything she hopes for.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) movie poster

director Marielle Heller
viewed: 01/26/2016

“Coming of age” isn’t exclusively a euphemism for becoming sexually active for the first time, but I’d be willing to bet that more than half of all “coming of age” stories are essentially about sex.

This is very much the case of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s 2002 graphic novel, retelling the story of her own young womanhood in mid-1970’s San Francisco.  The film opens on 15 year old Minnie (Bel Powley), walking through Golden Gate Park and thinking with pride about having just lost her virginity, which she did with her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (played by the hunky Alexander Skarsgård).  Though this is far from the only sex Minnie gets up to in this exploratory, experimental time of her life transcribed onto cassette tape, it’s the primary relationship of the film.

Minnie’s mother is played by the excellent Kristen Wiig.  Divorced and separated from another long-time step-father figure, she’s almost quintessentially 1970’s middle aged, experimenting with drugs, in open relationships, wide-open to her daughters, free-reining it.

Diary of a Teenage Girl is the first film by Marielle Heller, who originally adapted the graphic novel as a play (which she starred in herself), but you wouldn’t guess this was a fledgling effort.  The film’s aesthetic and design captures the 1970’s vividly and gives the feel of time and place without reeking of clichés.  It’s a very solid effort, also employing animations of Gloeckner’s drawings (Minnie is also a budding cartoonist) in imaginative flights into Minnie’s mind.

It’s an interesting contrast to teen dramas of the period that it depicts.  Films of the time (the ones I’m thinking of are Over the Edge (1979), Foxes (1980), or Little Darlings (1980) — not EXACTLY the time frame but close) tended toward the more gritty or realistic, less sentimental.  Diary is a mix of realism and some sentimentality.  A point that is a real contrast is the depiction of sexuality in a 15 year old girl, especially in having a relationship with a man 20 years older.  Today that would be seen entirely as statutory rape.  Minnie’s story, though, is told from her sensibility and perspective, that this is something for which she had volition and consent.  I won’t get into the debate on this, but it’s certainly one of the strengths of this story.

I’d heard good things about the film and I will only echo them here.  It’s a very good film.  Powley is excellent, 23 years old playing 15, but it works.  Skarsgård and Wiig are very good too.

Diary of a Nudist (1961)

Diary of a Nudist (1961) movie poster

director Doris Wishman
viewed: 01/25/2016

The skimpiest plot for a Doris Wishman nudist film.

A local newspaperman sends his not-so-thrilled Nellie Bly to a nudist camp to develop a real, *ahem* exposé, only to find that she comes to really appreciate the life of a “sun lover”: “After one week of nudism, I, Stacy Taylor, girl reporter am now Stacy Taylor, girl sold on nudism.”

Another staff member questions his ethics and gives us a pithy: “This isn’t sensationalism!  It’s exploitation!”  This sends the newspaperman to go and investigate the issues first-hand himself.  What he finds…will not shock you.

Like other Doris Wishman pictures of this period, Diary of a Nudist features a fun, jazzy theme song penned by Judy J. Kushner, Wishman’s niece.  “Sun Lovers Blues” is sung by Rosemary June and is actually the film’s most charming component.

Considering there are no bank robbers (Hideout in the Sun (1960)) nor lunar exploration (Nude on the Moon (1961)), all you’ve really got here is the not so hard hitting look at the healthy choices and positive lifestyle of nudists (mostly actors and models and dancers brought in to improve the overall “shape” of the nudist colony.)

Skimpy, I say.  Skimpy.  Still an interesting cultural artifact.

The Look of Silence (2014)

The Look of Silence (2014) movie poster

director Joshua Oppenheimer
viewed: 01/25/2016

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence is a very different film than his The Act of Killing (2012) though it deals with the same facts and histories of the Indonesian Genocide of 1965-1966 and its reality in present day Indonesia for survivors and perpetrators.  The Look of Silence is a more conventional film, not predicated on the surreal reenactments and theater of The Act of Killing, but rather its focus is on Adi Rukun, a 44 year old optometrist who dares to question the killers of his older brother and thousands of others, questions that raise ire and threats from the aging criminals who still retain great power in their communities.

The film is a response in some ways to the work that Oppenheimer put into The Act of Killing.  Adi was a friend of Oppenheimer’s as he researched and developed the earlier film over a period of a decade.  Adi witnessed a lot of the footage that Oppenheimer shot of the murderers recalling their crimes with pride and braggadocio, including very specifically the murder of Adi’s own brother (who was actually killed before Adi was conceived).  This is Adi’s movie, the story of his family, his 103 old father, blind and barely mentally “there”, his elderly mother who still cares for and washes his father, whose mind is still intensely sharp and whose recall of the murder of her son still exquisite in its pain.

Oppenheimer’s films don’t always spell everything out, he shuns text presenting information in films and leaves the subjects to tell their stories in their various ways.  He still is very much “in” the movie himself, having worked very hard to insinuate himself into this world allowing him access to the subjects to tell their stories.  His process is about recording and making explicit knowledge about the genocide that is actively suppressed and recast by the government.

Oppenheimer has stated that this film was much more physically dangerous to make, not just for him and his largely unnamed crew, but in particular for Adi and his family.  The potential repercussions required their family to relocate away from those who might try to not just threaten them but make good on those threats.  Adi’s questions are polite and yet inflammatory.  One certainly hopes for his and his family’s continued well-being.

These two films are a pair, different as they are, both very polemical and political.  The films have both since been released in Indonesia and have initiated some aspects of change in the culture and dialog about the true history of this all.  And in the long run, that is Oppenheimer’s intent.  What comes of that, I suppose only time will tell.

What these films mean for those of us in “the West”?  Knowledge of this hidden history is significant and important, especially the facts and truths (not delved into deeply here but clearly alluded to) about the West’s involvement in these horrors, political, government sanctioned support and corporate insinuation (e.g. Goodyear employing slave labor at rubber plantation, slaves who would later be slain as communists.)

It’s a fine film and hopefully an important one.  But it’s not as profound and uncanny as The Act of Killing.  Really, how could it be?  The Act of Killing is one of the most fascinating and profound films I have seen.  I wondered if The Look of Silence would be anything like it.  It’s not, which is right in its own terms.

The Wasp Woman (1959)

The Wasp Woman (1959) movie poster

director Roger Corman, Jack Hill
viewed: 01/24/2016

Roger Corman might have been a visionary (of a variety of aspects of filmmaking) but early in his career, his failure to establish copyrights was a real lack of perspective on how his work would be seen in its perpetuity.  His 1959 horror thriller The Wasp Woman is a prime example, part of Corman’s unintentional donation to the trove of the public domain.

A couple truisms about Roger Corman’s 1950’s-early 1960’s films: the posters were often the best thing about them, often designed by Albert Kallis (not sure who designed The Wasp Woman poster), and the poster could be as misleading and far-out as you needed to get the people into the theater.  The films themselves are varying degrees of care and utter lack of care, usually determined by Corman’s budget-mindedness.  But Corman himself came to start appreciating movies after a while and would be known to put a little more in on a film if it was his own or something he cared about, most notably in his Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe series.

The Wasp Woman is an interesting riff on the cult of youth in feminine beauty, about a make-up mogul, Susan Cabot, whose empire is on the wane as she, not only the president but the face of her company, is giving in to the mild ravages of age.  She takes an intravenous hit of a wasp-derived youth serum and starts to look younger, but then turns into a killer Wasp Woman.  Those side effects will get you.

The social critique isn’t heavy, but has merit.  The film’s other qualities include some nice scenes with the gabby secretaries and some glaring points of not caring an iota for reality on Corman’s part: Los Angeles stand-in for New York City in a canvassing scene or a rat standing in for a baby guinea pig (frankly, if you injected a ratty guinea pig with something that turned it into a rat, you’ve really got something strange in your syringe.)

It is quite funny how little the film’s wasp woman has in common with her poster’s presentation.  I really wonder what a 1959 audience for this picture thought when they saw this.

The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960)

The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) movie poster

director Piero Regnoli
viewed: 01/23/2016

The “playgirls” of The Playgirls and the Vampire are a “feckless troupe of European exotic dancers” (thank you, Wikipedia) who are driven to a weird castle during a thunderstorm that strands them in the ancient countryside.  The castle is the home of a Count Gabor Kernassy (you know if he’s a Count then he’s also a vampire!)  One of the gals, Vera (Lyla Rocco), is strangely drawn to the Count and resembles a long-lost relative in paintings that decorate the castle.

This is the 2nd film I’ve seen of late that is a European horror film-cum-light sexploitation, brought to the states and re-dubbed in “American”.  The other film I’m thinking of is Horrors of Spider Island (1960) which also featured a troupe of dancers who liked to dress scantily.  I have the sense that The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) might also fall into this odd categorization.  Others, too?

The Americanization of the characters is particularly odd.  Alfredo Rizzo who plays Lucas, the girl’s manager, really reads as American with his porkpie(?) hat and shtick.  I can imagine if I’d seen this as a kid, it would have been really confusing to comprehend as a cultural artifact.

In contrast with Horrors of Spider Island, this film seems bent a little more toward the horror story with its foot a little less fully extended into the sexploitation (mild as it is) arena.

Mostly, it’s pretty weak stuff, though there are segments of Expressionistic shadows and stuff (though they are more mere moments.)  Still, it’s an odd little micro-genre sample perhaps, that Euro-horror-cum-sexploitation-lite-redubbed-American micro-genre.  You can see why no one asks me to name such things.

The Boy (2016)

The Boy (2016) movie poster

director William Brent Bell
viewed: 01/23/2016 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

Back when we first saw the trailer for The Boy, my 11 year old daughter said, “We HAVE to see THAT!” and my 14 year old son said, “There’s no way I’m seeing THAT!”

There you go: the parenting economy.

Starring Lauren Cohan, or as we’ve come to know her, “Maggie” from AMC’s The Walking Dead, it’s a strangely contrived story about a young nanny hired by a reclusive English family to care for their “son”, a porcelain-faced doll surrogate for their long-dead son.  She’s taken the job to get away from an abusive boyfriend and starts to wonder if this doll is something more than just a doll.

It’s a nicely shot film, using lots of statuary and taxidermy to haunt most of the film’s frames with human or animal figures, adding to the question of the primary figure in the film.  Cohan’s character isn’t particularly well-developed, even though she’s the main character.  She’s a likable screen presence, though, as is Rupert Evans as the grocery store guy who’d like to take her on a date.

It’s PG-13 horror, quite often derided these days, and rightly so.  At some point PG-13 horror films tried to develop their creepy heebie jeebie qualities forsaking gore and other things that would bump it into R territory.  When done well, this can work, certainly.  But how often is it really done well?  The result is the promise of scares with the absence of them.

My son did sit this one out.  My daughter liked it pretty well, though there is a significant twist that I’ll omit discussing, that raises lots of questions about the whole concept.

The Children (1980)

The Children (1980) movie poster

director Max Kalmanowicz
viewed: 01/22/2016

Ah, low budget horror cinema with regional flavor.  The title presentation has the quality of a back of the high school notebook doodle of an Iron Maiden logo to it.  You don’t get more genuine and low budget than that.

If you like such stuff, you’d have a hard time not liking The Children, which tells the story of a school bus of kids (only 5 of them) that comes out the other side of a toxic cloud as zombies(ish) with tell-tale black fingernails and a nuclear microwave touch (usually delivered via “hugs”.)

There is something extremely weird about how everybody in the film acts.  Nobody does anything resembling anything remotely logical or realistic.  The cop in charge of the small town (Gil Rogers) is pretty tight-lipped about the odd disappearance of five children and a bus driver.  The first parent he seeks out acts as if the sheriff is a scumbag and coddles her strange piano-playing daughter.  Then there is the couple who are sunbathing and flexing and making jokes about the sheriff being a pedophile.  There is no rhyme nor reason here, just oddities upon oddities.

For all its amateurity, the children themselves have moments of eeriness, stepping in and out of shadows and mulling about strangely.  And the FX/make-up of the burn victims is actually pretty cool.

The film verges at times pretty close to “so bad it’s good” territory, but that would be only one aspect of the movie’s odd charms.

When Animals Dream (2014)

When Animals Dream (2014) movie poster

director Jonas Alexander Arnby
viewed: 01/21/2016

Coming of age per coming of werewolfishness is the gist of this concise (84 minutes) Danish flick.  What it’s got going for it is nice cinematography, the striking and compelling Sonia Suhl in the lead, and its very concision.   Unfortunately, the concision at times also pulls away from the film, with certain scenes going down so rapidly that you don’t always have time to fully absorb everything.

Marie (Suhl) is nearing adulthood and is finding weird things about herself, like patches of hair.  Is she somewhat like her sort of catatonic mother who must be shaved by her father?  Why does the small fishing village tolerate the existence of these potentially dangerous ladies?  Are they the only ones?  Will you get these answers?  Will you ask these questions?

That, and you’ll get a sense of hazing rituals at Danish fish processing plants.

For its strengths and shortcomings, I found the film kind of a wash.