Wednesday, October 22, 2014
( 6:09 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Do you love Jeremy Gardner? No? Maybe you've never heard of him. That's okay, Gardner admires himself enough for a million fans. He made a movie about himself wandering in beautiful Connecticut woodlands in 2012 called The Battery. It's supposed to be after a zombie apocalypse but it mainly concerns hillbilly hipster Gardner as Ben and an irritable foil called Mickey (Adam Cronheim) wandering around on nice days, confident their mundane conversations are entertaining. Sometimes they are kind of funny but mostly the movie is a shallow and derivative failed attempt at a film of the post-apocalyptic wasteland genre.
Supposedly Ben and Mickey are baseball players. It's never established if they're professional or amateur but Mickey's weak arm in the scenes where the two play catch makes neither seem plausible. They both seem able to kill zombies with baseball bats, something they seem to forget in the climactic scene where the two are trapped in their car by a mob of zombies.
With his full, untrimmed beard, the young Gardner doesn't vaguely resemble any baseball player I've seen but he does look like a certain crop of hipsters who emulate stereotypical impressions of hillbillies, a resemblance that becomes irrefutable in a scene where Gardner dances around with a gun and a bottle of whiskey.
In all the pretty shots of nature at the beginning, including one of Gardner idly staring at a grasshopper on the roof of a car, one might take him for a department store window version of Walt Whitman, the embodiment of a popular, shallow, modern day lip-service to nineteenth century transcendentalism, complete with the sense that the two who've supposedly been on the run from zombies for months always look freshly showered and rested.
The film was reportedly made for just six thousand dollars, which would be impressive if it didn't look like it was made for two hundred dollars, five hundred if you include the cost of the camera. Houses Ben and Mickey scavenge aren't even dusty, even the plants look like they've been watered.
But no-where is the cheapness more evident than in the zombies which never look like anything more than kids with a few smudges of fake blood.
Again, these two guys have supposedly been fighting hordes of zombies, but neither of them has so much as a blood stain on his clothes. In one scene where Ben traps Mickey in a room with a zombie to teach him the hard way he has to kill them to survive, Ben laughs at what a mess Mickey makes when he finally succeeds. This "mess" is clearly the aftermath of people strategically smudging blood on themselves and furniture. Mickey supposedly wacked the zombie in the head with a baseball bat but there's no stain that remotely resembles a splatter.
Some of the dialogue the two have is amusing. Ben teases Mickey for getting stuck on women in a way pretty strongly reminiscent of Randall teasing Dante in Clerks. In fact, Gardner tends to sound, when he speaks, halfway between Kevin Smith and Will Smith. The dynamic is also reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead and Gardner even lifts a bit from that film when Mickey is unable to say the "z" word.
This is a movie for people who don't like to take horror movies seriously. Not, like Shaun of the Dead, a loving parody with genuine characters but a movie made by and for people comfortable with only the most superficial of emotions. A consummate hipster film.
It's also a movie for Jeremy Gardner who could love it as probably no-one can. He includes a scene of himself bathing naked in a river, and an actually effective performance at the end where he agonises, wondering if Mickey has been killed. Of course, since the movie so continually softballs every threat, whether or not Mickey survives never seems like it's up to anyone but Gardner.
Twitter Sonnet #678
Cherub shoulder guards win the football stick.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
( 6:12 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Van Helsing's work is never done. It's not until 1904 that he finds time to tackle China's vampire problem, an adventure depicted in 1974's The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. A collaboration between Britain's legendary low budget horror studio, Hammer, and Hong Kong's legendary Shaw Brothers studio, the film featured a Hammer director and star--Roy Ward Baker and Peter Cushing--and Shaw director and stars--Chang Cheh and stars David Chiang and Shih Szu. The result is a definitely campy but rather enjoyable mixture of wuxia and broad, western horror fantasy. It is also Peter Cushing's final appearance as Van Helsing.
He easily gives the best performance in the film and in his frequent dialogues with David Chiang one can see the younger actor a little intimidated by Cushing's ability to infuse lines and reactions with sincerity. During the acrobatic action scenes, though, it's Cushing who's forced to stand aside and watch as Hsi Ching (Chiang) and his seven expert martial artist siblings dispatch gangsters or vampire controlled zombies.
I somehow loved these zombies with their heavy skull masks. They're led by the golden vampires, their names related apparently to ceremonial gold masks they wear over their withered faces.
Lest anyone think I'm being hard on Chinese performers, Cushing outshines his white costars, too, including Robin Stewart as Van Helsing's son and Julie Ege as a wealthy heiress who provides the prodigious funding for the expedition to the vampire village Van Helsing for some reason insists is necessary.
Ege was Norwegian and her accent in the film is thick--it seems like a role that may have been intended for Ingrid Pitt and Pitt would have been a welcome substitute for Ege's dead eyed, listless performance as she delivers awkward expository lines about how she craves adventure even though she's a woman.
Shih Szu as the film's other female lead stands out far better. She's Mai Kwei, one of Hsi Ching's siblings, and she holds her own as a fighter among them. One can see in this movie a precursor to to-day's horror action films which frequently combine acrobatic martial arts with supernatural horror.
Monday, October 20, 2014
( 5:30 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Artistic interpretation is, in some respects, always subjective. Many things in our realities depend on our perceptions but there are some things that are true regardless of whether or not we believe or recognise them, things like murder. But in Dario Argento's 1970 giallo film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo), stopping a serial killer is dependent upon one man's perspective. It's a film that effectively builds terror and suspense from the protagonist's attempts to find the right interpretation in time to save the next victim, each one of whom is killed in the gory and slightly eroticised fashion one might expect from giallo.
All of the victims are beautiful young women and in one case the killer slices off the victim's clothing before killing her, which would seem to indicate a sexual motive. In the first attack we witness along with the protagonist, an American writer named Sam (Tony Musante), another beautiful young woman is in danger of getting slashed.
Sam witnesses the scene through a glass front of a brightly lit art gallery, the rectangular portal of bright light in the darkness, separated by an invisible barrier, is conspicuously reminiscent of a movie screen. The fact that it's an art gallery further emphasises the need for interpretation.
Becoming trapped in the entry way between two glass doors, Sam is both helpless to intervene and unable to leave and call the cops. He catches the attention of a passer-by who phones the police and the woman manages to survive despite a bloody gut wound.
Sam is only briefly a suspect but he becomes obsessed with finding the killer anyway. He befriends the chief inspector who lends a few officers and the crime lab to assist Sam. There was something strange about the scene, Sam says, something off that he's missing and he replays it over and over in his head, certain he'll be able to find the killer when he realises what it was.
The fallibility of Sam's perceptions manifests repeatedly in the film. He and his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) are at one point pursued by a gunman in a yellow coat. When they get to a public area and Sam tries to pursue the gunman, he chases the man into a pugilists' convention where everyone is wearing identical yellow jackets.
When he learns the killer was obsessed with a particular work of art, he and girlfriend study the painting looking for some clue. It looks slightly like Bruegel's The Hunters in the Snow but with a murder.
Eventually Sam tracks down the artist himself who offers Sam dinner, meat the nature of which Sam finds he has misinterpreted to his disgust and chagrin. The killer makes calls to the police and to Sam and in one case an unusual sound can be heard which the police and Sam endeavour to recognise to no avail. Even the seemingly omniscient crime lab computer doesn't recognise it.
The movie has plenty of red herrings and several characters seem plausible as being the killer's true identity. But when the revelation comes, it's possibly the most interesting choice and one that serves the film's ideas nicely.#
Sunday, October 19, 2014
( 5:19 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Is what's known as karmic retribution a form of justice? Do murderers and rapists deserve to be assaulted in the same way that they assaulted others? That's a question posed in a very cold way by 2013's Under the Skin, a movie about an alien living among humans. It features a brilliant and subtle performance from Scarlett Johansson and beautiful filmmaking by Jonathan Glazer evocative of the sense of burden imposed by basic needs in a cold world. It's a fascinating and remarkable film.
Vittorio De Sica cast a non-actor in the lead role of his 1948 Italian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves and the neorealists were fond of using non-professional actors. Under the Skin, like Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy films, goes another step by having real people unwittingly interact with a fictional character. Scarlett Johansson, in the role of an alien being, drove around Scotland in a plain white van and picked up men.
A lot of critics have called these segments dull, which I find rather hard to understand, but perhaps many of them were unaware that these were unscripted situations. It's also possible critics who disliked the scenes were unable to understand people speaking with thick Scottish accents. I've heard there are people who can't even understand Peter Capaldi on Doctor Who and his accent is pretty mild--the accents in Under the Skin are much more colloquial. Still, I didn't have real difficulty but your mileage may vary.
After the initial interaction, the men were told about the film and invited to participate in a scripted scene where they strip naked in a completely black room, following a slowly stripping Johansson.
I wonder if the fact that so many random guys on the street agreed to be filmed not only naked but with full erections in any way inspired Johansson to do nude scenes for the film, her first, I think. As the title suggests, though, the point is what's under the skin and the great thing about Johansson's performance is how she conveys that sense of someone basically wearing a Scarlett Johansson suit.
She puts on an act for the guys but when she's alone there's a kind of far away blankness in her eyes. When she has facial expressions, they're sort of numb and abrupt, like an animatronic puppet face.
The guys she seduces start out walking towards her but then slowly sink into a black liquid. They keep their eyes fixed on her as though they're unaware of sinking.
These scenes compel the viewer not to take them completely literally, the lack of awareness in the victims of the strangeness of their environment makes the sinking seem like a metaphor for their lusts driving them forward even through danger. Yet, of course, something strange really is happening to them.
The alien woman does some really cruel things. In the course of her adventures, we see her abandon a baby on the beach to death and a scene where she seduces a man with neurofibromatosis--real, of course, not prosthetics--is sort of heartbreaking.
Then, when she becomes lost in fog on a lonely highway, the tables are turned as she finds herself at the mercy of strange men. We're forced to question our sympathies. As horrible as she was to the people in the first part of the film, do we feel bad for her now that she's the one in similar danger? I did. You could say the deck is a little stacked, of course--even with an alien inside her, Johansson is gorgeous. There's also an innocence in the alien's crimes, as though she's acting from need. In this way, she really feels like a Doctor Who alien and it actually wouldn't have been strange to have the Doctor show up and ask these questions--are you preying on humans because you require them for sustenance? Are you aware your actions are hurting other sentient beings?
It seems likely the answer to the latter question is "yes" since the alien is able to mimic human behaviour so convincingly. As for the former question, in one scene she attempts to eat some cake in a restaurant but vomits it up, reminiscent of the sort of vampire in David Cronenberg's Rabid who finds herself forced to prey on men when she's unable to digest normal food.
But these reasons for the alien's behaviour end up highlighting the ambiguity of the scales of justice and emphasising the complexity of questions about criminal motive and punishment.
And it's well shot--in the latter portion of the film, Glazer does an excellent job of creating shots that both take advantage of Scotland's natural beauty and also speak to the story and themes. I particularly loved this shot of Johansson trying to hide among some felled trees which form angled lines all drawing the eye to her. And the fact that they've been cut down, living things killed to serve men, emphasises the broader themes at work.
By the way, between now and Halloween I'm going to be watching a horror movie every night. I have a good pile ready to go but I'd be happy to receive more recommendations.
Twitter Sonnet #677
Television corn pukes from the bulged glass.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
( 5:13 PM ) posted by Setsuled
So here's your female Doctor Who after all. Well, it's just Clara calling herself Doctor while the real Doctor helps her through an earpiece. Which she readily admits--I love when someone catches her talking to him she doesn't come up with some lame sitcom excuse about how she's not talking to herself, instead just plainly saying she's talking to someone. In the age of Blue Tooth, that old plot device may be dead.
It was a good episode, "Flatline", to-day's new Doctor Who. The second written by Jamie Mathieson, not quite as exciting as his previous, last week's "Mummy On the Orient Express", but good. Solid.
It's another gimmick monster, if you will, this time a species that lives in two dimensions. Sometimes this was very effective, I particularly liked a scene where Clara and guest star Joivan Wade watch the beings swallow a sofa as it rapidly crunches into what looks like moving paint.
The whole tiny TARDIS thing was pretty fun, especially with the Doctor still able to reach his hand through when the TARDIS is stashed in Clara's purse. Just imagine what Alfred Hitchcock would make of that.
Clara's purse essentially becomes Mary Poppins' carpet bag and I love when the cop turns around to see Clara suddenly holding a sledge hammer.
The business about trying to communicate with the beings, trying to figure out what they want and stopping just to try and imagine how two dimensional entities could understand our universe, was nice.
The idea behind Clara being the Doctor's temporary surrogate was pretty obvious in the context of what has been the ongoing story of the season, Clara being the judge of the Doctor's virtue. Here Clara is actually put in the Doctor's shoes and she can see from her own perspective whether the things she's criticised the Doctor for--lying to keep hope alive, making ruthlessly pragmatic decisions--are necessary.
Here's a thought--what if the mysterious woman, Missy, played by Michelle Gomez, is the Doctor? Maybe that's why people who die during the Doctor's adventures seem to be snatched up by her. Maybe the Doctor regenerates into Missy at the end of the season? I suppose I'm probably not the first one to think of this.
That might be kind of fun. If she ends up being the Doctor's romantic interest, I fear it would be another River Song case, where plot takes the place of chemistry.#
Friday, October 17, 2014
( 2:05 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Happy birthday to Montgomery Clift and to Arthur Miller, the final free chapter of my web comic, The Casebook of Boschen and Nesuko, is now online, meaning you can now read the entire thing for free. Use it responsibly.
That's a scene featuring Montgomery Clift (along with Clark Gable, Eli Wallach, and Marilyn Monroe) from The Misfits, screenplay by Arthur Miller.
I had two really nice glasses of absinthe last night, I think I got the absinthe to sugar to water ratio just right, so maybe that explains the vivid, frightening dreams I had.
In the first, I was on a very flat world, a very flat orange sand island with a few dark, jagged brown hills under a greenish blue sky, and of course it was all surrounded by a dark, greenish sea. I was with a man and a woman and we were trying to escape from an infinite horde of zombies. The man and woman both got eaten pretty fast but I had some kind of jet ski I took out over the water. But the ocean was infinite and the zombies were swimming in the water, too, filling it completely.
In my second dream, I was told that due to some deficiencies recently discovered in my academic records, I was required to take nine high school classes every day for the rest of my life. I met some kind of sea goddess or demi-goddess played by Jean Marsh who took me to a small, shadowed lagoon on a remote island. She told me I could choose to take the classes or to be killed by her. I chose death and the last thing I saw before I woke up was her turning into a bear and attacking me. Well, let's hope I never have to make that choice.#
Thursday, October 16, 2014
( 3:28 PM ) posted by Setsuled
It's possible I spent too much time thinking about Doctor Who yesterday. I did my laundry and started sewing buttons on trousers for suspenders and, as I did so, I listened to two Doctor Who audio serials, the Sixth Doctor story The Apocalypse Element and the Seventh Doctor story The Fires of Vulcan. If the latter story's title makes you think of the Tenth Doctor episode "The Fires of Pompeii", you're not alone. But the resemblance doesn't end there--the broadcast from September 2000 also features a story about the Doctor travelling to Pompeii a day before the volcano is to erupt. I assumed the Wikipedia article would have a note about how the episode was inspired by the audio play, which has been the case for a few episodes of the new series, but it doesn't.
Anyway, I was compelled to watch the episode again last night to see if there were any other similarities or if the Doctor makes any mention of his previous visit to Pompeii at the very same time. The "canonicity of the audio dramas, as with other Doctor Who spin-off media, is unclear"(Wikipedia) but since the Eighth Doctor rattled off all his audio play companions in Night of the Doctor, and in the article for the serial preceding The Fires of Vulcan, The Apocalypse Element, Russell R. Davies is quoted as saying the adventure is an "opening skirmish" in the Time War, it seems like the new series is at least in part interested in acknowledging the audio plays.
The only possible reference I could see in Pompeii to Vulcan was that people in Pompeii had a tendency to call the TARDIS a "temple". In Vulcan, it's mistaken for a temple of Isis and the Doctor and his companion Mel are taken for messengers of Isis.
Here's the main point where Pompeii is superior to Vulcan--Mel is justly considered one of the worse companions of the series and her chatty, bubble headed wanderings in the city become kind of grotesque compared to Donna's heartbroken concern for the doomed inhabitants. Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor conveys a sense of real sorrow but he has his own problems to worry about--the story also concerns the Doctor's memory of the TARDIS being excavated in Pompeii in the future, meaning the Doctor has possible foreknowledge of his death, a story recently used by Steven Moffat in the Eleventh Doctor's final season.
Other points of contrast include the usual greater focus on more domestic characterisations of the Davies era--I do love the natural rapport among the family Ten and Donna encounter. And another contrast is the audio play's more frank allusions to sex. This has been a sort of fascinating aspect of the audio dramas, I guess the writers assume children aren't listening to audio plays. But The Fires of Vulcan prominently features a prostitute character and the brothel where she works. Mel's anger at the injustice of slaves forced into prostitution constitutes a cultural shock that might have strengthened Pompeii.
Pompeii and Vulcan don't exactly contradict each other. It's possible Ten just never mentions to Donna that there's another him running around town. I found myself contemplating some more superficial things, like the fact that Pompeii features two actors who would go on to be main characters on the show, Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillen. It occurred to me that both Scottish performers concealed their accents for the episode and then I realised that every Scottish Doctor--Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant, and Peter Capaldi--have in some way visited Pompeii.
So. There's that.
Twitter Sonnet #676
Enormous elephant malls stack neatly.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
( 3:05 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Here's just part of the incredible cast from 1973's Nothing But the Night--Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Fulton Mackay, and, in his first film role, a young Michael Gambon. The film also has Diana Dors and Kathleen Byron which makes it a real pity that it's generally such a lifeless, rote murder mystery.
The protagonist for the first part of the film is a young doctor named Haynes (Keith Barron) who's investigating the mysterious circumstances around a patient of his, a young girl named Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong). She is recovering from minor injuries after the school bus she was in crashed.
On the periphery are two men who will become the main protagonists in the second half, Mark (Cushing), who's in charge of the hospital, and Charles (Lee), who's a police colonel investigating the recent murders of five trustees of a lucrative fund. Although the girl's name is Valley, her mother is Anna Harb (Dors), who's kept away from Mary because of her reputation. She's apparently given to violent behaviour and was at one time a prostitute.
By this time Dors, the former sex symbol, was considered to have hit the wall but seemed happy to accept supporting roles as unattractive women. Which seems strange--she was only forty two when the movie was made--the film's female romantic lead, Georgia Brown, was only two years younger.
Brown plays a reporter investigating the murders and seems also to be Anna's unofficial agent. Eventually, Mary is taken to her large boarding school in Scotland and Brown's reporter character follows. It's here we meet Mackay and Gambon.
Gambon plays a helpful police inspector and is fine exchanging exposition with the other characters. It was exciting to imagine Gambon and Lee exchanging dialogue with a little more substance.
The movie never really gets personal. The closest anyone gets close to feeling something besides passion about following up on clues is when the reporter challenges Mark for ignoring her because she's a reporter and he gets slightly ruffled. Dors screams and pushes people because they won't let her see her kid but she spends most of her time sneaking around Scottish countryside.
Kathleen Byron appears once or twice as one of Mary's teachers but she has nothing to say or do. I think she has two close ups in the whole film. It's a movie filled with missed opportunity.#
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
( 5:09 PM ) posted by Setsuled
This shot nicked from The Empire Strikes Back is from last week's episode of Star Wars: Rebels which I finally got around to watching yesterday. I enjoyed it for the celebrity cameos but unfortunately the writing sucked.
In addition to Anthony Daniels as C-3PO (accompanied by R2-D2), the episode also features Paul Reubens reprising his role as RX-24, the droid pilot from Disneyland's Star Tours ride.
No surprise Disney wanted to make him canon--in case you haven't heard, Disney has proclaimed that Clone Wars and Rebels take place in the same universe as the movies instead of being part of an "Expanded Universe". Anyway, Reubens is the best part of the episode, just for a brief snooty exchange with Imperial brass over regulations.
The episode's plot concerns the protagonists trying to intercept a shipment of illegal rifles called Disrupters. They're banned by the Empire because they can take out whole AT-STs with one shot. Which doesn't seem like something the Empire would avoid using themselves but maybe this was the senate exerting some last shred of influence over policy.
The episode also features Phil LaMarr as Bail Organa, Leia's adoptive father who was played by Jimmy Smitts in the prequel trilogy. I never thought he was an especially interesting character but I'd like to see the show shift focus from the second string original trilogy type crew to the architects of the Rebel Alliance. I'd like to see Mon Mothma in action, for example. Though not as much as I'd like to see Freddie Prinze Jr.'s character die like a sucker.
Prince--sorry . . . Prinze (fucking hell) cannot act. He's flatter than flat bread. And Disney's been trying to push him on us for so long, in one failed project after another. Meanwhile there's probably a more talented actor out there waiting tables, just hoping for the opportunity to help make a show like Rebels shine. But there's a quite conscious avoidance of imagination on Disney's part here.
I can see their thinking; people complained about the prequels, so they're trying to make something more like the original trilogy. It's going to bite them two ways; the kids who grew up on the prequels won't like it, and this generic version of the original trilogy crew is going to be fatally boring unless something changes.
In spite of all this, I am excited about James Earl Jones' upcoming cameo as Darth Vader. Partly because I do want this show to be good.#
Monday, October 13, 2014
( 2:57 PM ) posted by Setsuled
What is meant by terms like "otherworldly" or "supernatural"? They're things that are fundamentally unrelated to our world, different from ours. If something becomes explained as natural, it ceases to be supernatural, so something supernatural can only be something strange to us and always will be. 2012's Thale depicts supernatural entities, Scandinavian mythological beings called huldra, a form of nymph, and depicts the human relationship with these beings. It's a very short movie, less than an hour and twenty minutes, and in some ways feels more like a long trailer than like a proper film. But it successfully shows the dichotomy of the flawed human man and the seductive and beautiful Other.
The film follows two men whose job it is to clean up crime scenes, disposing of bodies, blood, and other physical remains. One of the men, Elvis (Erlend Nervold), has a weak stomach for the job and the sight of blood or dismembered limbs quickly provokes him to vomit.
His partner, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard), is by contrast cool and casual on the job. Its his calm that saves Elvis when they discover Thale (Silje Reinamo), a beautiful naked woman who gets Elvis in a headlock shortly after he discovers her in a bath of what looks like milk in a lab at a crime scene.
But Leo is subject to the fallibility of the human body as well. It's revealed he has cancer which eventually causes him to vomit in a way similar to Elvis' reaction to gore.
Thale accepts a coat when Leo offers it to her but there's the impression that she is not especially afraid of being naked. She doesn't speak but has the ability to create psychic connexions with people and she has the ability to heal others.
As a horror movie, the film isn't effectively scary. A scene where Thale attacks some interlopers seems more contemplative of her beauty than a portrayal of terror. The men she attacks are in white suits, hoods, and masks and are as dehumanised as Star Wars stormtroopers. The slow motion footage of her attacking them naked serves more to establish her aesthetic perfection as a contrast to the more average looking men.
But Thale has been mutilated and violated--the owner of the lab, her adoptive father, experimented on her and cut off the cow-like tail that marked her most clearly as a huldra. More than removing the physical symbol of her true nature, the man drags her into the human world through processes that emphasise her organic nature, the blood and guts of the lab being intimately linked to Elvis and Leo's world.
It's significant that all the human characters are male and all the female characters are huldra. Like the original stories of nymphs, the huldra in Thale are like reflections of young heterosexual male preoccupations with the simultaneous appeal and strangeness of women--the film is never told from Thale's point of view. Even when we have glimpses of her memories, they are shown via a psychic communication with Elvis--we only see them because he sees them. But it is a mistake to, as some might, call this a flaw in the film. In reality, obviously women are as human as Elvis and Leo. But saying that art should avoid fantasising about the beauty of people and things strange to us, because they're other, is close to the misogynist argument that women are liars because they wear makeup. It's a virtue of the human mind that its myths lend a beauty to existence.
Twitter Sonnet #675
Green trimmed tension brow lines bind straw.