It’s a busy week, and I’m not sure I’ll get to the movies. In the meantime, here are some short reviews of films I’ve watched recently.
“Mothra” — The Madison Theater is showing this terrific 1961 film RIGHT NOW, and it is totally worth the $5 admission. Directed by Ishiro Honda, the filmmaker responsible for the first Godzilla film, 1954’s “Gojira,” “Mothra” is a delightful monster movie about a rampaging giant moth. The plot concerns an expedition to an island in the South Pacific, and the carnage that ensues when an evil explorer kidnaps the pint-sized fairies who live there, brings them to the mainland and forces them to perform on stage. In response, the island natives awaken Mothra, who swims to the mainland, forms a cocoon, emerges, and then flies around knocking over buildings.
“Mothra” is endlessly entertaining, and prompted the moviegoer in the seat behind me to wonder whether it was simply a great movie, or the greatest movie ever made. It’s also strangely beautiful — the image of the giant Mothra cocoon will linger with me for some time — and contains a valuable message about the dangers of radiation and nuclear weapons.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “Gojira, of course. I also like “Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla,” which also features the Mothra fairies.
“The Missing Picture” — I caught this inventive and heartbreaking 2013 documentary at Time & Space Limited in Hudson. The film is both history and memoir, recounting director Rithy Panh’s experiences in the Cambodian labor camps run by the Khmer Rouge. Panh’s approach to this material is unique: He uses clay figurines and dioramas to tell much of his story. The film isn’t animated, but the hand-built aesthetic gives it an otherworldly, intensely personal and childlike feel. Which is appropriate, as Panh is delving into very painful childhood memories. The film also features news clips and archival footage, and Panh makes it clear that his dioramas and figurines are meant to fill in gaps — to provide the world with a glimpse of horrors that were documented, or were documented only sparingly. “The Missing Pictures” is a unique and unsettling experience, sorrowful and searing.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: The 2013 documentary “The Act of Killing” also approached the topic of genocide in an unusual way: by having men who served on death squads responsible for killing 500,000 people in Indonesia in 1965-1966 reenact their crimes in the style of their favorite movies.
“Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” — This 2013 documentary tells the story of Pussy Riot, the all-female Russian punk band that was arrested, tried and jailed as a result of performing guerrilla-style at an Orthodox Church. Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, the film offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on events that made international headlines, depicting the controversial performance and the court proceedings, and also features interviews with relatives of the band members. For those with little knowledge of Pussy Riot and their opposition to Vladimir Putin, “A Punk Prayer” provides context and background. The film is informative, but never boring, and the footage is thought-provoking and compelling.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “The Punk Singer,” the 2013 documentary about Kathleen Hanna, leader of the seminal feminist punk band Bikini Kill.
“Mr. Stitch” — My boyfriend owns this 1995 film on VHS and has watched it about 400 million times, but I had never heard of it. I decided to humor him and watch it, and was surprised to discover a visually-compelling and provocative modern-day Frankenstein tale. The film stars Wil Wheaton as a young man stitched together from the body parts of dead men and women as part of a sinister military project; he happens to be a genius and elite fighter, and decides to call himself Lazarus after reading the Bible.
The first half of the film is surreal and creepy, while the second half is a more conventional escape tale. Because “Mr. Stitch” is a pretty good science-fiction film that features well-known actors such as Rutger Hauer and Ron Perlman and was directed by “Pulp Fiction” scribe Roger Avary, I began to wonder why nobody other than my boyfriend is aware of its existence. Turns out, the film was developed as a TV pilot and eventually aired as a TV movie before heading straight to video. I wouldn’t say “Mr. Stitch” is perfect, but it definitely deserved a better fate.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: I’m a big fan of Avary’s much-maligned 2002 film “The Rules of Attraction.” Like “Mr. Stitch,” it also deserves a second chance.
“Rabbit Hole” — I finally caught up with this 2010 film about a couple, played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, mourning the death of their 4-year-old son. I assumed that “Rabbit Hole” would be the most depressing thing ever, which might explain why I put off watching it for so long, and the film is often very sad. But it also contains many moments of tenderness and insight, and it can be quite funny: I laughed aloud a couple of times.
“Rabbit Hole” is also more interesting than I anticipated, depicting Kidman’s tentative relationship with the teenager (played by Miles Teller, the talented young star of “The Spectacular Now”) who accidentally hit and killed her son when he darted into the road, as well as her combative interactions with her mother and sister. An emotionally rich film, with a surprisingly nuanced take on love, marriage and grief.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “Rabbit Hole” was directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who is better known for his gender-bending musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and the exuberant sex romp “Shortbus.”
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