Fall 2020 – Week 5 in Review

3 weeks ago 31

Hello all, and welcome the heck back to Wrong Every Time. I ran through a fresh bevy of films this week, with some fresh horror picks in keeping with the season, along with a classic that had been sitting on my list for months. There was some “how many horror classics have you seen” quiz going around on twitter a couple weeks ago, and when it turned out I’d only seen around fifty-five or so of the one hundred entries, I felt consumed by a deep shame, and determined to improve my ratio. So of course, I ended up watching a couple no-name horror flicks with no lasting cultural legacy whatsoever, but hey, one step at a time here. Incidentally, I also watched some actual goddamn anime this week, so you can look forward to at least a few words in that direction, too. All this and… well, yeah, pretty much exactly this, as we run down one more Week in Review!

First off, I checked out a film that counts as my introduction to both Jean-Luc Goddard and the French New Wave more generally, Pierrot le Fou. I was a little intimidated to be embarking on a journey into what I understood to be one of film’s most formative yet unapproachable artistic movements – I’ve been doing my best to pursue a self-study film education, but to contextualize a movement like this, I had a creeping feeling that I’d require a bit more formal education.

Fortunately, as it turns out, Pierrot le Fou actually occupies a film mode that’s quite familiar to me: the yearning, self-destructive road trip film, which generally focuses on a young couple seeking a greater world out there, and losing themselves in the process. Though in Pierrot’s case, this process is an inescapably self-aware one. The titular fool, actually named Ferdinand, opens the film in the bath, smoking a cigarette and reciting art criticism to his oblivious young daughter. That image is essentially the film in a nutshell; a self-important dreamer mythologizing his own life, while ignoring his genuine adult responsibilities in order to remain an effervescent fantasy of a person.

Ferdinand soon elopes with his children’s babysitter, and embarks on a rambling and frequently violent journey, seeking not escape or riches, but some sort of artistically vibrant essential life force, an understanding of beauty and order more fundamental and true than mundane reality. Goddard’s direction echoes his myopic and self-conscious quest, embracing tricks ranging from aggressive lighting experiments to documentarian camera confessions, and challenging the idea of linear progression, as if Ferdinand himself were revising his story – hoping to find greater beauty, but ultimately just erasing both consequences and, through them, the potential for emotional growth. Pierrot le Fou is an endlessly imaginative, white-hot takedown of a foolish and self-important man, which simultaneously feels like the director’s humble acknowledgment of the limits on art’s profundity. I’ve clearly got more Goddard ahead of me!

Of course, you can’t have Halloween without horror movies, so we also screened a few of those. First up was Overlord, wherein a group of American paratroopers are tasked with blowing up a communication tower just prior to D Day, only to find that the nazis have been up to their old tricks again, and are breeding zombies in the basement. In spite of its unabashedly goofy premise, Overlord actually holds its zombie cards very close to the vest – for the first hour or so, it could pass for any other reasonable-enough WWII drama, only for the last half hour to erupt in explosions and gory, reanimated creations.

Overlord actually impressed me on the whole, at least relative to my expectations. It’s an unabashed roller coaster of a film, and though a sequence or two can lag as it’s building up to its reveal, it generally manages to keep tension throughout, and play its B horror and war drama influences off each other with a pleasing sense of synergy. The war drama structure adds both tension and natural dramatic setpieces, keeping things interesting until the film can flourish into its unabashed B movie self. It’s pure popcorn, and not particularly exceptional in any craft sense, but if you’re looking for a gory adventure, it doesn’t disappoint.

Following that, we also watched 0.0Mhz, a Korean film about a group of horror enthusiasts who perform a summoning ritual at an allegedly haunted site, with predictably dire results. The first forty or so minutes of 0.0Mhz are classic slasher setup, introducing our Scholar, Jock, Fool, First Girl, and Final Girl, and even dressing them up in role-appropriate t-shirts (I loved Scholar’s “Thinker” shirt). Unfortunately, just before halfway through the film, the crew end up actually escaping the ritual site – and from there on, the film deflates entirely, devolving into tedious personal drama and undercooked Species/Under the Skin-style spooks.

If that were all, I’d simply remember 0.0Mhz as underwhelming – unfortunately, the film also has a CG hair monster, whose embarrassingly unconvincing attacks ultimately squander all the goodwill it engenders in the first half. While I enjoyed the film’s initial tongue-in-cheek audacity and occasional Raimi-esque flourishes, I can’t honestly recommend a film that falls apart this badly to anyone.

As for anime, I watched through episode three of Jujutsu Kaisen, which unfortunately confirmed most of my misgivings regarding the premiere. Jujutsu Kaisen’s first episode was a visual marvel, but in terms of storytelling, it was basically the default “urban fantasy” shonen template from start to finish. Still, it can take some time for these stories to differentiate themselves, so I figured I’d give it another couple episodes. Unfortunately, both episodes two and three held to that template with a fearsome rigidity, with two covering the familiar “I’ll be your teacher, but you have to prove yourself” segment (complete with an obnoxious summoned creature that totally deflated the appeal of its central fight), and episode three handling the requisite “introducing the team girl.”

It was Nobara’s introduction that put the last nail in the coffin for me. It’d be aggravating enough if she were simply another “I’m not like the other girls, I’m tough” template, but she was actually introduced in an even more aggravating fashion, through two straight “how dare you not think I’m pretty, I’ll beat you up” comedic beats. I’ve watched a whole lot of girls in shonen get shamed for not being conventionally ladylike characters, and I am very, very tired of seeing the assumed insecurity of these girls, an insecurity clearly instilled in them via the author’s own biases, get played for laughs.

Already fatigued by the frustration of those attempted jokes, I then watched Nobara’s “backstory,” a personal anecdote so simplistic and clumsily written that it suddenly made me realize I don’t have to be watching this. I’m not writing seasonal episode reviews, and I’m not contributing to the preview guide – I don’t have to make excuses for lousy writing, I can just watch something else. So I decided to exercise that right, and dropped Jujutsu Kaisen right then and there.

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