Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Sunset Boulevard, or: Christmas Party for Two

We’re kicking off what was intended as a month of Christmas-themed classics with…Sunset Boulevard.  HEY—a Christmas party happens in the course of this film PLUS there are so many horrible financial decisions that it’s basically the story of my Christmas every year.

The Film:

Sunset Boulevard

The Premise:

Please tell me you know this.  Lie if you have to.

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

I’ll try to keep the summary short since this is possibly THE movie classic and I really feel you need to watch this if you haven’t.  It’s so good, and Gloria Swanson’s performance makes life worth living.  This is that film about an aging star deluding herself, grooming and controlling a much younger man, and uttering that line about being ready for her close-up.

It can’t be spoiler-y to reveal our protagonist Joe’s death—for one thing, this film is 60+ years old, and for the other, the narrator tells us within 5 minutes of the beginning that the body floating in the pool is his own.

As a result, the mystery here is not who was murdered, but how, why, and by whom.  Rather interestingly, the way Joe frames his story, he offers the facts to those who want the truth.  …So that may not be a hell of a lot of people in these post-truth times (to get just a teensy bit topical).

Flashback to 6 months earlier, when Joe was a broke, unsuccessful screenwriter trying to scrape together $300 to save his car from being repossessed.  His last effort to make money honestly is pitching an original story about a baseball player who must throw the World Series, which is flat-out refused to his face by a woman named Betty, who will be important later.

a man stands in front of a large Spanish-style mansion
“I remember Manderley…”  Oops–wrong film.

As Joe leaves, he runs into his creditors and loses them by parking in an empty garage that appears to be part of an abandoned estate.  However, as Joe quickly learns, this creepy old house belongs to none other than former silent movie star Norma Desmond.  Like Miss Havisham, Norma lives in the past and, since she never appears to leave the house, she is both literally and figuratively detached from reality.  God, but she’s a fucking brilliant badass and quite honestly my personal hero.  In Norma Desmond’s words, “I AM big—it’s the pictures that got small.”

The first meeting is incredibly surreal as Norma believes Joe is there to bring a monkey-sized coffin for her dead monkey (not a euphemism).  Things deteriorate when she discovers Joe is a screenwriter and gets the question all Hollywood types must dread:  Can you read my screenplay?

an elegantly dressed woman looks angrily down at a man sitting in front of a typewriter
How can you possibly find the nude scenes for the aspiring screenwriter gratuitous?

Norma’s screenplay is a retelling of the story of Salome, starring its writer in her comeback role (“I hate the word; it’s a return”).

Joe agrees to this, but is immediately incredibly weirded out when Max, Norma’s all-purpose maid, chauffeur, butler, and provider of organ music, moves all of Joe’s belongings into the house overnight.  Their relationship gets more uncomfortable for Joe as Norma pretty much Pygmalions him with a new wardrobe, gold-plated watches and cigarettes, and moves him to the room where her husband used to sleep.  Norma is becoming dependent on Joe to the point of obsession, but Joe continues to hold her at arm’s length with a mixture of pity and disdain.  But not enough disdain to refuse the rent-free stay in her mansion or the many gifts she bestows on him, of course.

The tension amps up when Joe runs into Betty again and Norma fears losing both her return to the big screen as well as her man (admittedly something of a wet blanket).  All of this leads to a spectacular mess that is just so goddamn fun to watch fall apart and full of opportunities for Gloria Swanson to flash some major crazy eyes (and do her best Charlie Chaplin impression for some reason), which is of course swept along by sudden, dramatic music in true ‘50s noir style.

a woman dressed as Charlie Chaplin holds up a cane while a man with a duster looks on in the background

I’d be happy doing Noir 2.0 for this month—fuck, I love film noir.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s a reason this is a classic.  This is a perfect movie AND a brilliant film noir with a career-defining performance from Gloria Swanson.  I don’t like William Holden at all, but that never detracts from this film in the least.  In fact, I reluctantly admit this was a good role for him as it requires a balance between being a total sleaze vs sticking to his principles, which creates some of the film’s carefully crafted dramatic tension.

That being said, Gloria Swanson is clearly the star here, and pulls off completely delusional yet sympathetic and arguably somewhat heroic.  She is the underdog here, and I think it’s impossible not to root for her return to the screen.  Hollywood has taken her youth and talent to leave her wasting away in her mansion/prison.

Serious question:  are there any other films dealing with ageism in Hollywood or ageism at all?  Advantageous, as reviewed for the collab, comes to mind, but that’s the only other movie I can think of.  I’m glad we see older ladies on the screen like heroes Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, but Sunset Boulevard’s interest in Hollywood ageism still holds up.

The role reversal in this film is great too; it feels much like the inverse of Rebecca or My Fair Lady but with a much more tragic twist, esp. re: women holding the power in a romantic relationship.  I imagine this story wasn’t intended to question gender roles at the time given its ending, but it leaves things just ambiguous enough for viewers to draw their own conclusions.  Was it wrong for Norma to take advantage of Joe’s situation, or were they both disenfranchised by the Hollywood movie machine?  Watch this film and write 500 words in response.

Did Christa think this made a big return or did it fail to make a comeback?  Find out by reading her review here!

Film Reviews

Evil Dead, or: The Terror of Horrible Jewelry

The Film:

The Evil Dead

Where to Watch:

Overdrive, Hoopla, Youtube (I would encourage you to watch using your library’s Overdrive or Hoopla services, but their streaming usually frustrates me. Youtube all the way.)

The Premise:

Five college students in this campy horror classic.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

I’ve been neglecting Evil Dead for a while, mostly because it’s not on Netflix (and I am, at my core, an incredibly lazy being).

I have temporarily overcome my laziness since I’ve been promising one of my favorite people I would review this movie for months, if not years. So let’s do this.

The movie begins with the ultimate horror movie cliché: 5 college students spending a weekend in a secluded cabin where they can party in peace. Though they narrowly escape being hit by a truck and falling into a ravine on the broken-down bridge of doom, they refuse to turn back before reaching the creepy, abandoned cabin.

a young man stands outside of a small cabin with boarded-up windows in the woods
All in all, a great place to spend a weekend.

Later that evening, the floor boards start banging, and a trap door leading to the basement opens. One of the two guys (not Ash) who is sort of an asshole goes into the basement BY HIMSELF to investigate. Ash follows, and the asshole guy in plaid just sort of fucks with him. I want him to DIE. They discover guns and mysterious occult objects in the basement, including an account of the owner’s excavation of these objects at a burial site (H.P. Lovecraft was probably the uncredited screenwriter). As the two play the recording of the Book of the Dead, all of these ominous occurrences start happening, like the ground smoking and turning red.

However, everyone just keeps calm and carries on as usual. Ash gives his girlfriend a (beautiful?) magnifying glass necklace. It’s the thought that counts, I guess?

close-up of a necklace that looks like a magnifying glass
The most horrifying image from the movie. A truly terrible piece of jewelry that Ash’s girlfriend has to pretend is beautiful.

Basically everyone starts making out except for the lonely headscarf girl who is the fifth wheel. She wanders outside by herself into the woods. Maybe you’re aware of the weird tree rape scene that happens at this point. If not, consider yourself warned. It’s creepy. It’s unnecessary. Even the director agrees. So no judgment if you fast-forward.

The headscarf girl runs back to the cabin, and Ash opens the door just in time. Ash begins to drive her into town, but the bridge has been destroyed. At this point, headscarf girl has a teeeeeeeeeeensy (major) breakdown. She returns to the cabin with Ash, but suddenly becomes demonically possessed and stabs Ash’s girlfriend, Linda, with a pencil. It’s actually kind of disgusting in an over-the-top way. The others manage to lock possessed headscarf girl in the basement, where she keeps taunting them from the trapdoor.

Meanwhile, the asshole guy’s girlfriend is standing RIGHT in front of the window when something breaks in and possesses her. She attacks her boyfriend, who throws her onto the fire and stabs her. She starts spewing white paint(?) and, as she is STILL not dead, they chop off her head with an ax and bury her.

a man uses his thumbs to push in the eyes of a zombie, who is covered in very thick, fake blood
Perhaps as a consequence of watching too much Star Trek, I didn’t think the special effects were all that bad.

The asshole guy then decides to leave even though Linda can’t walk. He dies not long after (thank GOD).

Linda, now possessed, attacks Ash, who stabs her and prepares to cut her body into pieces (the only way to prevent her from reanimating). But then he sees that god awful necklace and decides to just bury her. NOT A GOOD IDEA. Headscarf girl escapes from the trapdoor as Linda rises from the grave and attacks Ash. AGAIN. He decapitates her with a shovel and fights her headless corpse with a lot of reasonably disgusting blood/milk-vomiting special effects (again—could just be the Star Trek talking).

It’s now Ash’s turn to have a bit of a meltdown until his possessed friends attack him again. He manages to get the Book of the Dead and burn it, so all of the demons turn into sort of Play-Doh/cottage cheese piles, which then erupt into blood and insects.

The sun is rising as Ash leaves the cabin, but the sinister wind starts up and blows through the cabin and out the front door after him. Suddenly, Ash turns around and screams, setting up the scene for Evil Dead 2.

The Critique:

My friend B is always right, and I should accept this. Biggest criticism is that I’m still really creeped out by the tree scene, and not in an it’s-fun-to-be-scared kind of way. Overall, solidly entertaining and just disgusting enough to be satisfying.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther Heads (I know, I know…4/5 is becoming my default.  I will utterly destroy a film in my next review.   I swear it.)