Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2021 Edition

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BUTTERFLY KISSES
(2018, Myers)
A film with the word "Kiss" in its title



"When you make a film that is presenting itself as roughly cut together found footage, you are building in your excuse for anything that's wrong with it."

In 1999, directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez unleashed The Blair Witch Project into unsuspecting audiences around the world. The film, for better or worse, revitalized the "found footage" subgenre, which was sparsely used during the 1980s and 1990s, and turned it into a horror phenomenon that has spawned numerous similar films through the last 20 years.

Butterfly Kisses is, perhaps, one of the lesser known films within this wave. But if I open this write-up by mentioning The Blair Witch Project, it's not only because they're both "found footage" films, but rather because the film itself does so, in more ways than one. Butterfly Kisses is an odd duck in that it presents itself as a documentary-within-documentary-within-documentary. There are three "filmmakers" involved in the process which, at the very least, sets it apart.

The film follows Gavin York (Seth Adam Kallick), a struggling filmmaker that stumbles upon some tapes recorded some 15 years before by Sophia Crane (Rachel Armiger), a film student that, along with her partner, wanted to document the alleged appearances of a local entity called "Peeping Tom". York intends to clean and spruce up the footage to present it as a feature film, and in order to validate the process, he hires Erik Kristopher Myers (Erik Kristopher Myers) to document it. As we follow the process, the intentions and motivations of everybody involved, from Sophia to York to Myers himself, come into question, as well as the real nature behind "Peeping Tom".

Found footage films have been a sorta "hit and miss" (mostly "miss") situation. Most of them have tried to ape more successful examples like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. Butterfly Kisses leans more towards the latter (film student trying to document the existence of an entity), but as the film progresses, addresses those similarities head-on, which results in a bit of clever "meta" play.

Aside from that clever take, the film does have other things going for it; Kallick's performance is pretty solid, the initial buildup around the lore of the "Peeping Tom" works, and the overall atmosphere during the first two acts is effective. There's also a couple of pretty good jumpscares there. However, the film ends up falling apart a bit at the weight of too many loose strands, a lack of a proper payoff regarding the legend, some weak performances (most notably Armiger), and a significantly weak third act, which ironically starts when the actual director, Myers, steps in the forefront.

Maybe better actors, a more structured narrative, a bit more thought to the lore... and a better title, could've helped Butterfly Kisses. But as it is, it remains another disappointing entry in the "found footage" pantheon with clever ideas, being poorly executed.

Grade:
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RODRIGO D: NO FUTURO
(1990, Gaviria)
A film from Colombia



"♪ Cómo me calmo yo; todo rechazo,
ya no, consigo más, satisfacción; ♫
♫ ya ni con drogas; ni con alcohol;
ya no consigo ninguna reacción ♪"

The above is an excerpt from a song by Colombian band Peste Mutantex, which in turn, is a cover of a song by Sex Pistols, which in turn is a cover of Frank Sinatra's song, written by Paul Anka. The song, any version of it, has become some sort of anthem for rebellion or non-conformity (the above Spanish lyrics can be translated to "I can't get no satisfaction; not with drugs nor alcohol, I can't get no reaction"), which is one of the underlying themes of this seminal Colombian film.

Rodrigo D: No Futuro follows the titular character (Ramiro Meneses), a young man growing up amidst the poverty and crime of Medellín, while dreaming to be a drummer. Rodrigo is still reeling from the death of his mother and just can't get his act together. He doesn't work or go to school, he fights constantly with his sister, his relationship with his father is distant (despite the latter's attempts to connect), and he just wanders around the city, hanging out with friends and listening to music.

Of course, Rodrigo's dreams and aspirations are complicated and suffocated by the environment around him. Meneses does a pretty good job conveying that mixture of unhappiness and bottled up restlessness inside him. As it is, the film gave me vibes of Truffaut's The 400 Blows or Meirelles City of God, in how they present kids/teenagers trying to escape the circumstances around them.

The rest of the cast is serviceable, which is good, considering that most of them were not trained actors as far as I know. Gaviria's direction is simple, but effective. The plot is a bit loose, particularly when it shifts its focus to the supporting characters like Rodrigo's friends, which somewhat hinders the effect of the film.

I have to say that the print I saw of the film wasn't very good, and the audio was pretty poor, but overall, I found the film to be fairly moving and tragic. A raw and honest look at a time and place where circumstances constantly nix the future of young men; be it by relegating them to the grind of work to get by, by decimating them through drugs and crime, or simply by keeping their dreams and satisfactions away from them.

Grade:



MUSTANG
(2015, Ergüven)
A film with a title that starts with the letters M or N



"The house became a wife factory that we never came out of."

Mustang is a Turkish film that follows the lives of five orphaned sisters as they struggle with the conservative beliefs and upbringing of their grandmother and uncle who are raising them. The above exchange comes at a point when the grandmother has had enough of the girls behavior and decides to isolate them at their home as she marries them off.

The film is co-written and directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and apparently the catalyst event is inspired in her own experience as a Turkish girl. The "catalyst event" is nothing but an innocent game of "chicken fight" with some male friends at the beach; something that their grandmother (Nihal Koldaş) classifies as her "granddaughters, pleasuring themselves on boys' necks". That gives you an idea of the kind of "conservative" mindset they're trapped in.

After this event, the girls are taken off school, and groomed to be "perfect wives"; cooking, sewing, cleaning. Their regular clothes are traded by shapeless garbs which they refer to as "sh-it-colored dresses", bars are set in their windows, locks on the doors... and for every window barred and key turned, the girls grow up more determined to run away any way they can.

The comparisons with Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides are expected, but I'll just say that I appreciated more Ergüven's approach which, unlike the former, manages to flesh out each daughter well enough for the story to have an emotional baggage. The performances from the girls, most of which weren't professional actresses, are also pretty good and they each manage to convey both a sense of individuality to each of them, as well as the endearing yet tragic bond between them.

There are some brief tidbits of narration, provided by the youngest daughter, Lale (Güneş Şensoy), which are not entirely necessary, but the dramatic weight and tension of what is happening is enough to make of this a very surprising discovery.

Grade:



I just finished The Innocents for the Criterion category, so these are my plans for this last week of July...

A musical: Thinking of going with Sweeney Todd
A film about astronauts or set in space (Moon Day, July 20): Maybe a rewatch of 2001: A Space Odyssey, in preparation for one of the next episodes of my podcast
A film from Sydney Pollack (born July 1): Tootsie, which also counts for the Personal Recommendation Hall of Fame



THE INNOCENTS
(1961, Clayton)
A film from the Criterion Collection whose number includes the #7



"All I want to do is save the children, not destroy them. More than anything, I love children."

"More than anything, I love children". That's Miss Giddens' (Deborah Kerr) selling point in order to secure a job as the "governess" (or caretaker) of two recently orphaned children in this eerie dramatic thriller. With no desire to take care of them, their wealthy but selfish uncle disposes of them in the hands of Giddens and the housekeeper at his country estate, but not before reminding her of her own words. "They need affection and love... I feel that you are that person".

The Innocents follows Miss Giddens as she tries to take care of the kids. But things start to unravel when she starts to fear that the estate is haunted and that the kids are possessed, putting to the test her love and her desire to "save the children". Can she handle the situation? Will she do what's needed to "save" them?

This is a pretty darn good film, but the story behind the scenes is compelling as well. Based on a popular play, the original script was written by William Archibald. However, producer/director Jack Clayton, wanting to add layers to Archibald's script, commissioned Truman Capote to rework it, incorporating deeper psychological themes that take the story beyond the inherent eeriness of its plot.

But also the excellent performances elevate what is already a great script. Kerr does a great job of portraying the mental and emotional deterioration in Giddens; from a rather naïve and insecure, yet eager woman to someone who's desperate for answers at any cost. Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens are simply excellent as the two children: Flora and Miles. Stephens, in particular is a revelation in almost every scene he's in.

Finally, a gorgeous black and white cinematography and an assured direction from Clayton create a creepy atmosphere that juxtaposes feelings of isolation with a sense that these characters might not be alone. Something that's bound to drive anyone into the edge of uneasiness, or even madness.

Grade:



2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
(1968, Kubrick)
A film about astronauts or set in space



"I don't suppose you have any idea what the damn thing is."
"I wish to hell we did."

2001: A Space Odyssey was released in the spring of 1968, puzzling critics and audiences in the way. It is reported that in one premiere alone, more than 200 people walked out. Much like the scientists (or the apes, or Bowman) in the film upon finding the famous monolith, they were probably wondering "what the damn thing [was]". That is a question that even I, on perhaps my 4th or 5th viewing, still ask myself, regardless of my undying love of the film.

Although it spans several centuries, 2001: A Space Odyssey primarily follows a crew of astronauts on their way to Jupiter; a journey that was apparently sparked by the discovery of a mysterious monolith buried under the surface of the moon. But to limit the film to just that chunk is a disservice to it. The film is much more than that, more than the "apes" that initially encountered the monolith in the first act of the film, or more than Dave Bowman's colorful space "trip" beyond Jupiter in the last act.

The most logical interpretation of the film is that the monolith is a catalyst for evolution and change among species. Every encounter with it "triggers" a new era; from the use of tools, the shift to a predator/prey society, and violence itself, to further leaps in space beyond the moon and beyond Jupiter. The appearance of the monolith, bizarre in its perfection, unconsciously challenges those that touch it to go further.

But there is also a commentary in how far is too much, or how fast should we go, and the effect that evolution has in our humanity. In the "apes", it comes with violence; in the astronauts, with detachment and isolation. This is represented by the ultimate "tool", the sentient computer HAL 9000, which like many people like to point out, behaves more humanly than its astronaut companions, and who ends up rebelling against them when its infallibility is put into question.

Kubrick doesn't spell things out for you or offer any particular answers to the "why's" of the film, choosing a unique approach and narrative that, much like the monolith itself, challenges the viewer to look further. You can walk away wondering "what the damn thing is", or you can just reach out, touch it, and see where it goes. I'd say it's worth the trip.

Grade:



oooh forgot to comment on The Innocents. One of my favorite movies, obviously. Freddie Francis crushed it.
That was your first time?
Yep.



Just watch Interstellar instead. Nolan is better than Kubrick in literally every way.



Oh, come on, now. Do you really think that Kubrick refusing to hold your hand and allowing for you to find the answers yourself is somehow better than all that clunky exposition in Interstellar?



SWEENEY TODD
THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

(2007, Burton)
A musical



"I will get him back even as he gloats; In the meantime I'll practice on less honorable throats."

There is a popular saying that reads "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." Popularly attributed to Confucius, the saying means that the quest for revenge consumes the avenger as much as it consumes the target, sometimes to the point of being blind to anything else. But nonetheless, revenge is what fuels the titular character in this Tim Burton's musical.

Sweeney Todd follows the barber (Johnny Depp) as he returns to London after 15 years of being falsely convicted and exiled by corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Realizing that he has lost his wife and that his young daughter is now under the care of Turpin, Todd sets out for revenge by reopening his parlor in order to lure Turpin, and eventually kill him. Aiding him in this quest is Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who owns a meat pie shop below Todd's establishment.

For some reason, I had relatively low expectations for this. Burton and Depp have been hit and miss for the last decade or more, it's not a film you see mentioned often, and I seem to recall a more lukewarm reaction to it (although it seems I was confused or mistaken). But anyway, a while ago some friend listed it among her own favorite films or musicals, which intrigued me. So when this category came, and I saw this was available on Hulu, I decided "why not?" and what a surprise it was.

Yeah, Sweeney Todd won't end up among my all-time favorite films, or not even my favorite musicals (I think?), but it was sure damn fun to watch. I found myself caught in the bizarre mish-mash of the whimsically quirky approach of Burton and the pomp of the songs, with the dirty and dark sets and lighting and the equally macabre and dark tone. I liked that Burton didn't skimp much on the violence and the blood, and I was surprised that the studio let him do it.

The performances were all pretty good, with Depp bringing a certain gravitas to a performance that could easily fall in caricaturesque. Plus it's always a delight to see the late Alan Rickman in anything. Finally, some solid supporting roles from Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen.

My main gripe with the film is with the subplot of Todd's daughter and her lover. I feel that for how important it is, it needed to be more fleshed out and better executed. Even if Burton had fears that it might have taken the focus off of Todd and his revenge, he could've given a bit more attention to this so it wouldn't feel as half-baked. As Todd himself found out, you can't be blinded by revenge, when there is the chance of love around.

Grade:



TOOTSIE
(1982, Pollack)
A film from Sydney Pollack



"I am Dorothy. Dorothy is me. Nobody's writing that part. It's coming out of me."

Tootsie follows Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), an unemployed actor that's been "blacklisted" for being a perfectionist and hard to work with. Desperate for money, he assumes the persona of Dorothy, a middle aged, feisty woman, in order to land a job in a soap opera. Of course, things get complicated when "she" becomes a star, while also falling in love for "her" main co-star (Jessica Lange).

This is a film I didn't feel that drawn to; I probably wouldn't have seen it if someone hadn't recommended it to me, but I'm glad I watched it. However, I won't deny that I had some significant issues with how the plot develops, but for the most part, it was an enjoyable watch, well acted and with some important and still relevant points to get across about the treatment of women in the workforce, and in general.

The thing is that it has to be a man the one that tries to get those points across. I like that the experience serves as a moment of introspection for Michael and how he himself views and treats women, but when it comes to the larger point of how women are seen and treated in the workforce, and how they react, the fact that a man is the catalyst for this "change" kinda muddles the message.

In addition, there is no proper balance in terms of male vs. female characters. Michael/Dorothy interacts primarily with two female characters: Sandy (Teri Garr) and Julie (Lange). The former is a well-intentioned, female friend with whom he gets "accidentally" involved. Unfortunately, she ends up being used as a bit of comic relief in the end, and comes up as a bit of a hysterical, while Julie, although a more balanced character, still comes off a bit underdeveloped and ultimately needy.

Finally, I don't think the conclusion was properly executed. The character of Sandy, regardless of how important seemed to be, ends up being unceremoniously dismissed, and the resolution to Michael/Dorothy's predicament felt haphazardly executed. Despite those issues, the acting is solid. Dabney Coleman, who was quite a presence in the 80s, is great as a sexist director, and so is Bill Murray, who I didn't even know was in this, as Michael's roommate.

But the key to the film is Hoffman. Not only is he perfect in the role, but he also seemed to be a driving force behind the film's production. Hoffman, who oversaw the writing process, said in an interview that the film helped him reevaluate how he related to women. He said he found the character of "Dorothy" to be interesting, but argued that he would not have spoken to her because she was not beautiful, which led him to realize how many interesting conversations he had missed. For a man that must've met hundreds/thousands of women, it's weird that it took a meeting with a "man" to realize it.

Grade:



RED DOT
(2021, Darborg)
A film from Sweden





How often can you say that you've walked into a film completely blind, just a cover/poster and a short description, and be pleasantly surprised by it? Maybe back in the video rental days, but with the Internet and the constant bombarding of trailers, teasers, scoops, and news everywhere, it just doesn't happen often. But that's what happened last night to me as I browsed "Swedish movies" on Netflix and stumbled upon this neat thriller.

Red Dot follows a couple, David and Nadja (Anastasios Soulis and Nanna Blondell), as they head into a hiking trip to rekindle their relationship. Unfortunately, their romantic weekend is interrupted as they start being hunted and terrorized by an unknown shooter.

The laser dot from a rifle scope is what gives title to the film, as that's the first signal we have of the presence of an "enemy" watching them as they camp. But although the titular "red dot" is not seen much after, the dread of whoever's hiding beneath the trees and the mountains persists. The couple's struggle for survival is complicated by some unspecified tensions between them that surface as the film progresses.

This is a film that I can say caught me off guard for the most part, so if you get a chance to check it out, just don't give up with it until it's done. There are some logistic issues regarding the climax, so I wouldn't say it's great. But other than that, it was certainly a well done and competent thriller that packs a punch in the end.

Grade:
I checked this one out tonight and mostly agree with your reaction.

 


Nice find.



I checked this one out tonight and mostly agree with your reaction.

 


Nice find.
I totally agree.

WARNING: spoilers below

My main issue was with the reveal of the neighbor, which I found to be a bit clunky and formulaic. But like I said in my review, the film still managed to upend that in its very last act.


Glad you liked it.



A film with a title that starts with the letters M or N:
Native Son (1986)
Kind of a forgotten one starring Matt Dillon, Oprah Winfrey, and way down in the credits a young Ving Rhames. About a young black man in the 1940s who is inadvertently involved in the accidental death of his white employer's daughter, but must cover up the accident because he knows he won't be believed. Only available to me in a cruddy Youtube post, but solid enough to maybe gain an audience if it got a proper release.

A film from the 1970s:
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Re-watch. Still great.

A musical:
Help! (1965)
Great music, ok movie

A film about astronauts or set in space (Moon Day, July 20):
Lensman (1984)
Anime film that is based on a series of books from the 30s and 40s but which has obviously been retooled to borrow a LOT from Star Wars. Still pretty cool, though. Character designs and background work scratched my space opera itch.



A film with a title that starts with the letters M or N:
Native Son (1986)
Kind of a forgotten one starring Matt Dillon, Oprah Winfrey, and way down in the credits a young Ving Rhames. About a young black man in the 1940s who is inadvertently involved in the accidental death of his white employer's daughter, but must cover up the accident because he knows he won't be believed. Only available to me in a cruddy Youtube post, but solid enough to maybe gain an audience if it got a proper release.

A film from the 1970s:
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Re-watch. Still great.

A musical:
Help! (1965)
Great music, ok movie

A film about astronauts or set in space (Moon Day, July 20):
Lensman (1984)
Anime film that is based on a series of books from the 30s and 40s but which has obviously been retooled to borrow a LOT from Star Wars. Still pretty cool, though. Character designs and background work scratched my space opera itch.
Hmm, hadn't heard of Native Son or Lensman. Thanks for sharing!



For those that listen, here is the link for Episode 42 of Thief's Monthly Movie Loot, where I talk about the best films I saw in July as well as some brief reviews of everything else I saw.

Thief's Monthly Movie Loot 42 - The July Loot

If you're an Apple Podcasts user, we were recently added to their platform so here's the link; and if you're a Spotify user, you can check it out here.

Since we just joined Apple Podcasts, any Apple Podcasts user that feels like, can leave a review and a star rating, which will help other people find us. Thanks!