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Films I Neglected To Review: "We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/11/17 03:05:13

Please enjoy short reviews of "78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene," "Mayhem," "The Square" and "Tragedy Girls"

With perhaps the exceptions of ''Citizen Kane'' and ''The Godfather,'' no American film has been as studied, analyzed and flat-out obsessed over than Alfred Hitchcock’s ''Psycho,'' the groundbreaking horror film that exploded onto the cultural landscape in 1960 with reverberations that are still being felt today. Over the years, it has been the subject of an astonishing array of books, articles, films and other ephemera that have sought to understand exactly why this particular film--which was pretty much the antithesis of the kind of lavishly produced cinema that Hitchcock was known for at the time--should strike such a chord with multiple generations of moviegoers and continue to maintain its power and pull over them. However, few have tackled it with the kind of deep-dish detail that the fascinating new documentary ''78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'' applies to it. Director Alexander O, Philippe tackles the subject at hand in two different ways. In one, he looks at the film as a whole and, with the aid of a number of observers that include Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth, Karyn Kusama, Richard Stanley, Oz Perkins and Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrates to viewers just how groundbreaking it was in the way that it thumbed its nose at all manner of cultural taboos, ranging from the audacity of showing Janet Leigh flushing a toilet onscreen (which was enough of a jolt to scramble viewers up even before she then got into the shower) to audience moviegoing habits (back then, moviegoers tended to go in and out whenever they felt like it, an approach that Hitchcock forbade exhibitors from allowing if they wanted to show the film). In the other, he digs deep into the very DNA of the film itself by taking the infamous shower scene (the film takes its name from the 78 camera setups and 52 pieces of film edited together required to create it) and breaking it down in order to pore over the smallest details to not only demonstrate all of the elements that came together to make it work but to show how Hitchcock quietly and methodically laid the foundation for a sequence that seemed to come out of nowhere. For hardcore film buffs, ''78/52'' is obviously manna from heaven but even the more casual moviegoers should find it to be an engrossing and eye-opening look at one of the most significant pieces of art to emerge in the 20th century and beyond.

If ''The Belko Experiment'' did not satisfy your desire for films involving white collar workers butchering each other from within the confines of their office building in an orgy of depraved, gruesome and oh-so-ironic bloodshed (and God help you if it didn’t), then perhaps the appropriately titled ''Mayhem'' will do the trick. Essentially a looney hybrid of ''28 Days Later'' and ''Office Space,'' workers inside a massive office complex are infected with a virus that causes people to act out their most depraved impulses and, having been quarantined from the world at large for the next eight hours while it burns itself out, they begin killing each other off in any number of grisly ways. Stuck inside the building is Derek (Steven Yeuh), who has just been made the scapegoat for a costly error on the part of his elite law firm and who won’t let a simple thing like hordes of insane co-workers get in the way of reaching the top floor, where the firm’s board of directors have sequestered themselves, in the hopes of pleading his case. Although better than ''The Belko Experiment,'' which is still the single most odious film that I can recall seeing this year, ''Mayhem'' isn't that much of an improvement as whatever points about the savagery of corporate culture that the filmmakers may have intended to make are lost amidst the tedious action set-pieces, unlikable characters (even our hero is kind of a jerk) and the endless array of killings, none of which are as clever or transgressive as the film would like you to believe. ''Mayhem'' may be better than spending a couple of hours stuck at a corporate retreat but alas, it is not that much better.

Having scored an international hit with his previous effort, the jet-black comedy of bad manners ''Force Majeure,'' Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund returns with his latest effort, ''The Square,'' and while it did win the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the results aren't quite as impressive this time around. In this satire of the pretensions of the contemporary art world, the curator (Claes Bang) at an ultra-modern museum has just programmed a new exhibit known as ''The Square,'' which is just an empty space that asks viewers to reject their self-involved lives for a more altruistic approach to life. Neat idea, but how exactly does one sell it to the masses? A radical ad campaign is needed but the one devised goes way too far and attracts unwanted attention when it inadvertently goes viral. Meanwhile, the path of altruism that he preaches at work does not evidently extend to his personal life--his cell phone is stolen as part of an elaborately crafted pickpocket routine and when he manages to track it down, he kicks off a chain of events that have sad consequences for a number of people. The problem with ''The Square'' is that while its jibes at self-satisfied artists, curators and journalists (Elisabeth Moss turns up as an American art critic who turns out to be just as weird as everyone else and even apparently lives with a monkey) is quite funny at times, the humor is disappointingly shallow and glib and never manages to mine uncomfortable truths in the way that ''Force Majeure'' did to such bracing effect. To make matters worse, the film clocks in at 2 1/2 hours, which I suspect most people will feel is just a tad too much to spend watch someone shooting Swedish fish in a barrel. That said, it does contain a fair number of amusingly uncomfortable moments (the sequence involving a seemingly deranged performance artist (Terry Notary) unleashed on a fancy banquet is already semi-legendary) and the performances are pretty good throughout. Despite my misgivings, I suppose that I would probably still offer ''The Square'' a mild recommendation since the stuff that works does work quite well. However, when it is all over with, I suspect many viewers will emerge from it the same way that they do after visiting art installations like the ones skewered here--shaking their heads and wondering what the hell all the fuss was about.

The horror comedy ''Tragedy Girls'' starts off like an ordinary slasher movie with a masked killer named Lowell (Kevin Durand) chasing teen girl Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) but quickly shifts gears when she and best pal McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) end up capturing him and begin zapping him with tasers. It turns out that the two girls are equally obsessed with murderers--they host an online show on the topic--and their status on social media and have hit upon a plan to combine the two. With Lowell’s tutelage, they will start killing people in their own small town themselves and become online media stars as the sympathetic and highly telegenic victims while at the same time pinning the crimes on some unsuspecting dope. From the start, it is clear that writer-director Tyler MacIntyre is trying to offer viewers a combination of the cult classics ''Heathers'' and ''Scream'' but falls short in both cases regarding the cynical humor of the former and the self-aware attitude of the latter. The oftentimes snide and rude dark humor clangs uncomfortably with the bloody mayhem on display and there are so many dead ends and plot divergences that it feels like a killer short film premises that has been uncomfortably padded to feature length. As the two leads, Hildebrand and Ships do make for an appealing team and many of the best moments involve the two of them sparking off of each other. Unfortunately, despite their winning chemistry and a few funny moments here and there, ''Tragedy Girls,'' like many of their onscreen victims, runs out of life long before it finally ends.

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