Showing posts with label dvd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dvd. Show all posts

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oscar Wilde, Jude Law's prettiness, and working on my English-Lit degree

Repost from 2010. I think people just like the Mean Girls meme.


While it's a Wilde-meets-Mean Girls LOL image thing, this isn't too far from the truth, if you've seen Wilde or have read Wilde's "De Profundis." Jude Law was kind of brilliant as Bosie, who was basically a beautiful man, but a godawful boyfriend. Considering how many Jude Law movies I've almost inadvertently taken in these past few months, it's the only role where his prettiness fit perfectly with the role, whereas with eXistenZ, it was really distracting, and not helping the fact that eXistenZ turned out to be the only Cronenberg movie I've ever hated.

This is perhaps my long-winded way of saying that for the next 2-8 weeks I'm going to be too busy writing papers on Oscar Wilde and other 19th century writers to blog much. Any posts will likely be short and/or video-based.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (II) (1997)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Steven Spielberg || 1997 || USA

According to Wikipedia, the reason why there has yet to be a Jurassic Park IV is because Steven Spielberg has yet to find a script he is satisfied with. One wonders why he did not use the same discretion for The Lost World: Jurassic Park II and I am assuming Jurassic Park III as well. The Lost World is a sequel that sort of chips away at any goodwill one has towards the first Jurassic Park film. It worst of all suffers from plotholes and having so many characters that one is never sure of some of the secondary character's names, nor why they are there to begin with.

In The Lost World, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is forced into a Ripley-like position of having to head a second exposition to the "Plan B Island" of the original Jurassic Park. His only reason is to save his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), who fancies herself a Diane Fossey amongst dinosaurs; and who wants to prove that dinosaurs, T-Rexes in particular, did take care of their young instead of leaving them to fend for themselves not too long after birth. Along for the ride is a documentarian (Vince Vaughn), a beardless Toby from The West Wing (Richard Schiff); and inexplicably, Malcolm's pre-adolescent daughter, Kelly, because there always has to be at least one child in supreme danger in the Jurassic Park films. Kelly sneaks into a high-tech caravan in California, which is put on a boat that I am assuming was at sea for at least three days. Why Malcolm did not make sure his daughter did not get in a car or taxi with the nanny he wanted her to stay with while he went to the islands, I do not know. By the end of the film, she does get to kick a raptor through a window using her skills as a gymnast, so she fills that absurd purpose besides being the endangered child.

Not too long after arriving at the island, they do find Sarah, who is nearly killed by a stegosaurus while trying to photograph them. Malcolm is failing at trying to convince her to leave the island, and we learn more of Malcolm's bad boyfriend and fathering skills. Much like the first Jurassic Park film, Jeff Goldblum does not do much; but in The Lost World he is not even allowed to be funny or charming. I guess PTSD does that to a man. Then helicopters arrive bringing a group of hunters to the island, courtesy of the new head of InGen, who I will call "British Bob Balaban". I do not know why this happens, but the hunters immediately proceed to hunt dinosaurs. Pete Postlethwaite is there to hunt a T-Rex, although no one ever considers how the hell you are supposed to haul a T-Rex back home. They capture some dinos, including a baby T-Rex. Vince Vaughn is there not only to document the island, but also serve as a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs, so that night, he and Sarah free all the captured dinosaurs who then wreak havoc at the hunter's camp, destroying their equipment. He and Sarah can also work as Dinosaur Veterinarians, because they then take the injured baby T-Rex back to the caravan where they try to repair its leg until mama T-Rex arrives, knocking the caravan over a cliff after they give her the baby back. It's like a bad, overlong version of the Land Rover in the tree-scene from the first film. It's nice how Sarah proves her theory that T-Rexes cared for their young, but simultaneously forgets the damage it would cause to herself and others if she decided to treat an injured baby T-Rex. She also wears her jacket that is stained with baby T-Rex blood for the rest of the film, leading the mama T-Rex to the path of where her team and the hunters are going to try to get off the island since everyone's high-tech equipment is destroyed. Many deaths ensue. She really is no Dr. Grant or Dr. Sadler. We also learn that the Island B raptors do not know how to open doors, unlike the raptors in the original Jurassic Park. But they can dig holes under the doors like dogs!

The baby T-Rex is captured and brought to San Diego to be a part of a Jurassic Park exhibition at the San Diego Zoo, because British Bob Balaban never saw King Kong. Inexplicably, mama T-Rex manages to hijack a freighter ship and makes her way to San Diego just in time for the unveiling. Crappy jokes ensue, such as a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in MacBeth, Asian businessmen running down the street away from the T-Rex, and the 76 gas station logo ball careening past Malcolm's bitchin' vintage Cadillac.

Of course a film that I highly disdain brings me out of my blogging break. I think the only reason this film was made was because Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum needed to buy new vacation houses. I guess this film made Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Stormare into slightly higher profiled actors, but that is not saying much. I think it would have been more interesting to watch how a T-Rex hijacked a freighter ship, including lowering itself into a cargo hole. Or watch Vince Vaughn work as both a Dinosaur Veterinarian and a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs (PETD).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Othello (2001)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Geoffrey Sax || 2001 || UK (made for TV)

The late 90s/early 00s were a time of modern day re-imaginings of William Shakespeare's plays. Hollywood in particular released at least three re-imaginings set in modern-day American high schools (although in the 1996 Romeo + Juliet, they were apparently home schooled). 2001's Othello cannot and should not be confused with O, also released in 2001. O takes place in an American high school and for some unknown reason stars Josh Hartnett in the Iago role, and the film revolves around the politics of high school basketball. 2001's Othello takes place in modern day London, revolves around the politics of Scotland Yard, and stars Christopher Eccleston in the Iago role (here re-christened as "Ben Jago").

Othello does not bother with attempting to adapt all of Shakespeare's language to the modern day. It comes in snippets, most notably from Jago. Scotland Yard is in turmoil because of while publicly stating that they plan to hire more Black and Asian officers, the commissioner is caught saying racist things right afterwards. In the meantime, Inspector John Othello has quelled a riot in a multiracial project he grew up in after a suspected Black drug dealer is beat to death by four white cops. Assistant Commissioner Jago, Othello's mentor, waits in the wings to receive the Police Commissioner position after the current one resigns. Othello, of course, gets it instead so Scotland Yard can basically kill two birds with one stone in a PR move. Jago plots his revenge on Othello, despite his claims of loving him, by planting doubts in Othello's mind as to the faithfulness of his new wife, Desi; and undermining the investigation of the four white cops who beat the suspected drug dealer to death.

It is a compelling, poignant, and fitting adaptation. However, I am not sure it will hold up well to a second viewing. While Christopher Eccleston does a pretty good job as Jago (and he probably kills this role on stage), his one soliloquy is shot as a hyper-edited temper tantrum in a hallway, which ends with Jago walking out of Scotland Yard and saying "well, that was dramatic, wasn't it?" to the camera. Constantly having Jago break the fourth wall does not seem as an attempt to make Jago charming or sympathetic, but it does make him come off as Bugs Bunny when Bugs says "ain't I a stinker?". Worst of all, Jago gets his wish by the end of the film. He is not hauled off and arrested, like in the play, and the sole source of comfort in the wake of all the bodies on the floor by the end (the death count is considerably less in this film). What the film is trying to say, I am not quite sure. Is it that manipulation is harder to prove in modern times? Is it that cunts are still running the world, to quote Jarvis Cocker? Evil will prevail? It is a depressing ending, made more so by the sinking feeling that I have that somewhere on the internet, someone has written fan fiction based on this film that has given Jago the "Draco in leather pants" treatment just because Eccleston was Doctor Who, a role where he divided his dramatic and apparent comedic talents well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

Repost from 2010. I think I only watched this because Misha Collins is briefly in it and this was at the height of my obsession with Supernatural...a show which I have not watched since 2011.

Dir. Jeff Lowell || 2008 || USA

Over Her Dead Body exemplifies the worst ideas and stereotypes I have of modern romantic comedies: that they are full of shrill, bland, unlikeable, and crazy people who I hope do not exist in real life. If I think about it too much, the idea that people pay $10 to see these things will make me an even bigger misanthrope than I already am.

Over Her Dead Body's plot is thus: Eva Longoria-Parker plays a bridezilla of sorts who gets crushed by her own ice sculpture on her wedding day. A year later, her still-despondent fiance, played by a slumming-it Paul Rudd, is convinced by his Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque sister to start dating again and to see this acquaintance of  hers that is a psychic caterer, played by Lake Bell. While a psychic connection sort of fails, the sister gives the psychic caterer bridezilla's diary so that she can convince Rudd that she is psychic and can speak to his dead fiancee. The psychic caterer and Rudd fall in love, Eva Longoria-as-a-ghost wreaks havoc on the psychic caterer and they are torn apart by the reveal of the diary thing, and it ends with a reunion in an airport after Longoria realizes that she would want her fiance to be happy.

Again, Lake Bell plays a psychic caterer. It is never explained how or why she thinks she has psychic powers, and all we ever learn is that she is a lapsed Catholic, because she calls her priest to perform an exorcism at one point. It is also never explained whether she gets catering customers by using her psychic powers to tell them which competitors will give them food poisoning.

It's a pretty boring movie, and I only laughed once because of one of Longoria's pranks. Everyone in this movie, with the exception of Stephen Root, is bland or unlikeable. Paul Rudd manages to be both bland and unlikeable, which is unusual for him because he tends to have a lively presence in his films. His character is not interesting or funny and he seems to kind of hate his job as a veterinarian. He is just there for two women to fight over, and there is no reason to fight over him. You can tell that he doesn't want to be in this film, and that this is either a favor or that he needs money to put his kid into a good school. Lake Bell seems to be trying, but she is always bland, and I for one am always confusing her with the equally odd-named Piper Perabo, or Amanda Peet. Eva Longoria is just playing an extension of her character on Desperate Housewives. Jason Biggs is around as Bell's bland and unfunny catering business partner, who is a straight guy pretending that he is gay because he is in love with Bell's character and has been for five years. Even his comic pratfalls are awful. Ugh.

Over Her Dead Body has perhaps two things going for it. Rudd's character does call out the antics of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl sister, and accuses her of doing crazy things just because she wants to prove that she is right (this includes, after the diary reveal, kidnapping her neighbor's cat to bring it to her brother, the veterinarian because she thinks this will break the ice and make him not be mad at her anymore). And the actress who plays the sister is of course a ringer for Zooey Deschanel. And when Rudd flees to the airport to stop the psychic caterer before she flies to Las Vegas for a weekend with her not-gay business partner/best friend, he ends up paying over $1200 just to get a ticket to the gate because he pisses off the ticket counter lady. Although it is never explained how or why these characters know which carrier and which gate their beloveds are at when these things happen in movies.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Crazy Theory #8: Ghostbusters as a Metaphor for Koch Era NYC


Last year for my Cinematic Urbanism class, I chose NYC to write about for my final paper. It was not until almost very late in the semester that I chose to write on Born in Flames after realizing No Wave Cinema was not going to pan out due to inaccessibility of most of the films. I briefly flirted with using the more mainstream films of 1970s and 1980s NYC in my paper, including Ghostbusters.*

I conducted some historical research into the Koch era of NYC beginning in the mid-1970s when everything was rather bad and the US government declined to help financially save the city that was on the brink of bankruptcy. NYC began to see some reversal in the early 1980s. But you still see how bad it was in films** - the city did not prevent these films to be made, sort of under the guise of "any publicity is good publicity". Wolfen (1981, Dir. Michael Wadleigh) was shot in the Bronx after a large portion of it was burnt down (primarily by landlords or pyromaniacs hired by landlords) and the borough's destruction becomes a part of the film: 

A shot of the Bronx from Wolfen (1981).

Ghostbusters was released in 1984, or thirty years ago this month. Stories have been told, particularly after Harold Ramis' death in February, about how he helped Dan Akroyd scale the film down so it would have a more reasonable budget and therefore more studio support. The film was originally supposed to take place in space in the future, instead of then-modern day NYC. Perhaps partially due to the fact that Ghostbusters was filmed in NYC as well as a soundstage in Los Angeles, the audience is never shown how rough NYC was or looked, even as it was in the beginning-middle stages of being cleaned up. The Ghostbusters somehow never leave Manhattan, nor do they venture to Times Square or 42nd Street - which were filled with porn theaters at the time, because Ghostbusters is a family film. But their work appears to be a metaphor for the clean up NYC was in the midst of during the film's production and release. They are cleaning out the past to make way for a future for the city (or arguably, the ghosts are the have-nots). This is alluded to in one of the perkier MOR songs on the soundtrack with the line "the Ghostbusters are back here, cleaning up the town, oh yeah!" The only allusion given to the aesthetic state of the city is when Egon says the future Ghostbusters HQ is in "a demilitarized zone." 

But of course the clean up job turns out to be much bigger than anticipated, particularly after the government (the EPA) steps in and releases all the ghosts that they have caught. Despite perhaps only having no more than 6 blocks of the city destroyed by the end of the film, mostly due to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man exploding, we find out that the city and state blamed the Ghostbusters***. By the release of the second film, when the clean-up of the city was a success (and maybe a handful of years before the "Disneyfication" of Times Square), the Ghostbusters are not needed anymore. It is hard to say whether they are there to remind the city to not forget its past, including the past buried in NYC's infrastructure, or to remind the city to come together in the face of adversity.  

* If this post seems a bit stilted, it's because it's somewhat impossible to write about the one film I have seen the most times in my life. I used to watch Ghostbusters obsessively as a child, and I still watch it a few times a year as an adult. 
** While there is a coffee table book released within the past 5 years on NYC in films, I do not know if it chronicles the rougher Koch era much. You can see the issues in not only in Taxi Driver and Wolfen, but in The Warriors, Street Trash, C.H.U.D., Smithereens (and Desperately Seeking Susan to a lesser extent), Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper, Frank Henenlotter's films from this period (Basket Case, Frankenhooker, Brain Damage), and you can see the porn districts in Bette Gordon's film Variety. The documentary Blank City features clips from No Wave films and early Jim Jarmusch films shot in the mid-1970s-early 1980s. Escape from New York was primarily filmed in St. Louis, which also had some trouble during the same period.
*** Okay, maybe I am underestimating the destruction. This simulation video released this week demonstrates the amount of damage the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man would do in terms of zones. The maximum impact zone would be 4-6 blocks, while the total impact area appears to be 24 blocks of Manhattan.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Peacock (2010)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Michael Lander || 2010 || USA

Peacock is a film that went direct-to-DVD recently after sitting on the shelf for 2 years. While not a horror film per se (most are crediting it as a "psychological thriller"), the inability to categorize the film is probably one of the reasons why the film was shelved. I'm not sure if the other was that the film prominently features Cillian Murphy in drag, although Peacock is not the first film where he has appeared in drag. Perhaps Lionsgate felt that America, unlike Britain, was not ready to see The Scarecrow from the Nolan-era Batman films* in drag. Also, Cillian Murphy in drag is prettier than a whole lot of women.



I think that Peacock, even with its somewhat problematic and confusing third act, is a distant cousin to Psycho. Both films feature a shy young men who were abused by their mothers, leading to a split personality disorder with a male and female personality. But Peacock does not treat the split personality as a twist, but as a jumping off point for the film. John Skillpa is a banker of the Milton variety who is so shy that he has trouble speaking to people he works with or has known his entire life living in Peacock, Nebraska. His mother died a year and a half ago, and he still lives in his childhood home. He hides baseball cards and candy bars in a box outside of his home as a habit from childhood, not realizing that as an adult, you can eat candy bars whenever you want. Emma Skillpa tends to the house and laundry and makes the meals, leaving notes for John with his meals and reminders to go to the store on the way home from work. There is a solid routine for this, with Emma being up early in the day and taking care of things before John has to be at work. One day while Emma is out taking the laundry off of the clothesline, a train derails and narrowly misses her. The neighbors arrive and believe Emma to be John's wife. As more attention is brought onto the Skillpa household, the personality breaks become more divided, and Emma becomes more dominant, much to John's dismay and confusion, when he finds that he has been missing work more often and Emma has been doing and agreeing to things that he did not want to happen, like a political rally in the backyard that also functions as a fundraiser for the local women's shelter.

If you're wondering why no one notices how similar John and Emma look, it is at least partially because Cillian Murphy as John is not the typical pretty man version of Cillian Murphy. Neither character has his trademark bright blue eyes. As John, he looks middle aged, he has some wrinkles and a bad haircut; whereas Emma's skin is smoothed out and she has perfect hair. John and Emma both seem as if they come from the 1950s or 1960s while everyone else in Peacock lives in modern times for the most part (the exception being Bill Pullman's character, who dresses as if he either lives in the 1960s or 1970s and has the air of a desperate used car salesman about him). This is evident in the way the Skillpa's dress, down to the details of the house. John's bicycle is vintage, as is Emma's car, stove, kitchen clock. When the break begins to happen, John is more willing to display the old "I'm the man of the house!" attitude in public, much to the shock of his co-workers and Fannie, the mayor's wife who runs the woman's shelter (Susan Sarandon).


There is a weird tension to this film. Part of it is due to its similarity in some ways to Psycho, the other is the fact that Murphy has become an expert at portraying mentally ill people to the point where just knowing that he is not playing a normal person ratchets up the tension level so that you know something bad is going to happen to someone in the film. This perhaps means that he is officially a character actor now.


What is interesting about Peacock is not only its treatment of split personalities, but how John deals with it. As the flim wears on and Emma is taking over, John is in denial at first and tries to fight it. This includes offering the money to the local waitress/prostitute Maggie (Ellen Page) who bore his child so that she can have her wish to get out of Peacock and let her son have a better life. Characterizing Maggie as a the typical "hooker with a heart of gold" is taking the easy way out. She is just a poor and desperate woman. John's mother had been paying her off before her death, because she forced John and Maggie to have sex while she was in the room. John offers the money and interest in leaving with her and their son after Emma has gotten Maggie placed into the women's shelter, where clothes and food are provided and she can learn new skills to find a better job. He begins to believe that if he stays out of his house and leaves Peacock, he can leave the Emma personality behind. He donates the Emma clothes to the women's shelter. He moves into a motel only to find that he had packed more women's clothes with him. Both John and Emma begin smoking cigarettes, which is a hackneyed split personality character trait and trick typically, but it is used with some subtlety here because it indicates that a bigger breakdown is in the future, we just do not know how or when. And this is where the film gets a tad confusing, as the blur between John and Emma is not delineated anymore.

Because John is the more introverted character and does not always telegraph his emotions well (although no one buries his face into his hands to express anguish better than Cillian Murphy), we do not know how or when he decided to kill the John part of his personality and become Emma. Perhaps he feels that as John, he has no future. He is a broken  man with the inability to connect to anyone. At work, he is like Milton from Office Space, but not miserable about it. It is only when he has made some sort of decision, whether it is to run off with Maggie or to kill off the male part of his personality, that he begins to  act chatty towards his co-workers and neighbors. It is the typical behavior of someone who is about to commit suicide, as they see themselves as about to be free. Emma is trying to do good within the community and is connecting with women such as Maggie and Fannie. She is friendly and more understanding of people and their imperfections and indiscretions. But the dark side still exists within her. She somewhat secretly goes about trying to find out how she can adopt Jake away from Maggie, and at the end of the film she takes a photo of Jake that is not unlike the picture of baby John throughout the film. She realizes that because she still has John's memories, that she could never have a child without perhaps turning into John's terrible mother, whom she is already dressing as. The film ends with Emma giving all of John's savings to Maggie and Jake, and telling her to get as far away from Peacock as possible. The ending implies that the personality break is not over, and killing the other half is not an automatic and easy solution, as Emma begins to shut herself off inside of the house as the rally continues, not unlike John's behavior.

I think there is some odd victim/survivor dichotomy going on within John and Emma. John was a survivor of ongoing child abuse into adulthood, and this allows Emma to identify with Maggie, who was also a victim of the abuse of John's mother, as well as a victim of, as catch-all as it sounds, oppression in general. The film hints that the world was not kind to Maggie to begin with, and being a poor single mother in a small town does not help matters. This is why Emma wants to be helpful towards the local women's shelter, which helps out the abused women and children of the town. The film only hints as to whether or not people like the sheriff and other townspeople know that John was abused as a child. They know something is off about John and his mother, but they kept their distance. Not much is mentioned about John's father, so it is not known whether he died when John was a child or if John even knew who his father was. I do not know if Peacock is trying to say that given John's sort of old school attitude towards gender ideas, that it is hard for a man to admit to being a victim of abuse, and this is part of the reason for his personality split, or if it is trying to say something entirely different.

*I am trying my best not to insert a rant towards the treatment of The Scarecrow in the recent Batman films soaked in the nostalgia of the 90s Batman cartoon, where The Scarecrow was a terrifying character.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Descent (2005)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Neil Marshall || 2005 || UK

I'm easing back into this series with a well-known film while I still suss out my feelings about 2009's Dorian Gray, which I will post about either next week or the week after.

Upon its release in 2005, The Descent was heralded by some as a feminist horror film, primarily on the basis that the film focuses on a group of women who are extreme adventurers. While I liked the Dali-inspired poster art for the film, upon watching the film, I did not like the film as much as other people. I am ambivalent about the issue of whether a film featuring an all-female cast automatically equals feminist film. It tends to set low aspirations, or it lets certain films pass when they perhaps do not hold the most feminist viewpoints in the world. Upon second viewing, wherein I enjoyed the film more, I am willing to let The Descent pass, although it has an odd issue or two.




The main issue is that Juno's hubris is a double-edged sword, which may be the point. She wanted the group to go cave-diving in an uncharted cave in hopes that upon their making it out, they will have "discovered" this cave and get to name it, which would apparently be a first for a group of women. But of course, the uncharted cave is uncharted for a reason, and depending on which ending you prefer, only one person makes it out alive, or no one does. Or if you chuck in the recent sequel, which I have been advised by at least two reliable sources not to watch, there may be two survivors within the original group afterall. So ignoring the sequel and the alternate survivor ending, there is the underlying and vaguely sexist element of "well, if you ladies had kept your aspirations low and stuck to the charted caves, none of this would have happened!" Of course, at a certain point in the movie, most of the women feel the same way and are rightfully mad at Juno for putting them in danger.

I always see the two endings of the film discussed, but I rarely hear the idea discussed that perhaps the entire thing was a coma dream by Sarah after the car accident that kills her husband and daughter. There is the scene after she wakes up in the hospital where she is walking down the hallway and all the lights flicker off as she walks by. This scene heavily hints that it is a dream, but Sarah is woken up in the middle of the hallway by Beth, the nurturing member of the group and Sarah's best friend. The film immediately jumps a year later to Sarah and Beth driving through the Appalachian Mountains to the cabin Juno has rented near the caves, where we meet the rest of the group (which seems to deepen the unfamiliarity, since the majority of the group is British and are likely not familiar with this part of the US). Could the film just be a metaphor for Sarah falling deeper and deeper into a coma, while in her dream state sort of placing the blame on and eventually exacting revenge on Juno, because it was implied that she was having an affair with Sarah's husband (on top of in the possible dream, having killed Beth by accident and lying about it)? The original ending implies as much, where Sarah is shown kneeling over a fire and daydreaming about her daughter's birthday in the caves instead of climbing out, driving away, and envisioning a dead Juno (which is the alternate ending, and in the copy I watched this time, shown before the real ending with Sarah in the cave). The sequel apparently runs with the idea that it wasn't a dream, and Sarah is accused of having gone insane after the car accident, and killed everyone in the cave.

The other thing that the film only vaguely implies is that the creatures in the cave were at one point, humans. There are various shots where the creatures mouths are shown in close-up, and they have human tongues and teeth. There is another shot where you see the bottoms of their feet, and they are like the bottoms of human feet. The women find equipment that Juno claims is at least "100 years old", so perhaps it is the people who previously tried to explore the cave, could not get out, and evolved. It is a wise move that Marshall keeps this bit a mystery and instead focuses on the group trying to find their way out of the cave.

So I liked The Descent a lot more in this second viewing, and I will give that it is an interesting film. I just think that as far as Marshall's films go, I like Doomsday a lot more, and perhaps Dog Soldiers, although I haven't re-watched that in years. Marshall has his motifs and homages that he likes to use, such as the John Carpenter title fonts (The Descent, Doomsday), and having characters rendered immobile in dangerous situations by a sharp object to the knee (The Descent, Centurion).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

La Horde/The Horde, 28 Days Later, and the division of heroines

Repost from 2011.



Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology || Jennifer K. Stuller || 2010
28 Days Later || Dir. Danny Boyle || 2003 || UK
La Horde/The Horde || Dirs. Benjamin Rocher & Yannick Dahan || 2009 || France

I recently finished a book by Jennifer K. Stuller called Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Despite the somewhat academic-y title, it's a breezy read, primarily because Stuller never takes sides in the debates over whether female heroines should be nurturing and sexual while still being protective, or not (i.e., the lone wolf stereotype); at least when these debates are brought up. The book of course covers Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias, The Sarah Jane Chronicles, blaxploitation films; and in a radical turn, Dark Angel, the series starring Jessica Alba. Most of these shows and films did allow the main female characters to have romantic and sexual relationships while still fighting for good. So it is only when discussing these shows or movies that Stuller takes the former side rather than the latter.

This crossover has maybe not quite yet made it into film, perhaps because TV is episodic and you get to know characters of the course of several seasons, if you're lucky; and of course you want to see characters develop relationships with each other in some form. When 28 Days Later came out nine years ago, feminist zinester friends of mine seemed to bemoan the fact that once at the military compound and/or she falls in love with Jim, Selena is not much of a fighter anymore and is made fun of by the military men when she attempts to. She is forced to shift over to protect herself and the much younger Hannah over the dreadful fate that looms over them (i.e., rape and forced motherhood). The problem with this argument is that it ignored the fact that Selena was not a superhuman warrior, she was not prepped to become one, and she was not trained by any secret force. She is just a human who had to put up a very cold facade to deal with an ugly situation. The only hint we're given to Selena's life pre-outbreak is that she "qualifies as a chemist!" While I'm sure she would put up a very good fight if she had to battle a dozen or so military officers with a machete, she would probably be defeated. In the scene where she and Mark give Jim the exposition in the subway convenience store, she is the only one who does not share what she had to go through to survive (the actress who played Selena, Naomie Harris, said that she made up the backstory that Selena had to kill her entire family when they became infected, including a 3-year-old brother). This doesn't explain why the recently convalescent Jim sprightly takes down the military group when he is a whisper-thin thing of a man, but it is Jim's story. In battle mode, he's like the wind, and perhaps uses his smallness to his advantage. Then again, he was a bike courier and those dudes are tough. There was an alternate ending or two for Jim. One being that he died from his gunshot wound, the other being a completely alternate storyline where Jim gives himself up by transfusing all his blood to the infected Frank, bypassing the entire military compound storyline. The latter was not shot, just storyboarded.

In zombie films, there is a divide. It can be pinpointed to the two different portrayals of Barbara in the 1968 and 1990 versions of Night of the Living Dead. 1968 Barbara, as portrayed by Judith O'Dea, was completely useless, but dealt with the new situation as some people would, which would be to have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, it's cool that in 2011 people are so inured to the fictionalized zombie world that they think that they could survive if zombies or something similar were to actually happen, but it's just a thought. See civilization and everyone you know fall apart or die, and realize that you actually have never held a weapon in your life, and we'll see what happens. 1990 Barbara, as portrayed by professional stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, becomes the hardcore version of Barbara. She breaks down at first, but becomes an almost cold and emotionless fighter. Tony Todd's Ben is more emotional in this film - he is more prone to crying. This isn't to say that Barbara won't break down later, but she shoots a fellow survivor in cold blood just because he is an asshole. There is no middle ground with the Barbaras in these two films.

Aurore in The Horde is closer to 1990 Barbara, despite being a whisper-thin (and braless) thing of a French woman. However, unlike Selena, she has had combat training because she is a cop. The Horde revolves around a small group of corrupt cops who invade a rundown building in the projects outside of Paris, seeking revenge upon a group of immigrant drug dealers who killed a fellow cop who was undercover. Not too long after the cops come upon the dealers, they realize a zombie infection has broken out. Not just within the dealers' apartment and the building, but also in Paris. The remaining dealers and cops must band together to try to find a way out of the building alive. There is a high level of distrust going on, especially from the dealers, as well as Aurore. Aurore early on is yelled at for crying, and the blame is placed on her for having the undercover cop killed, since she told him that she was pregnant with his child. It is implied that she did this just to mess with his head. She is given immediate care of the other wounded cop who has been shot in the leg.

Aurore and the wounded cop are soon separated from the rest of the group. It is soon displayed that Aurore is not someone you want to trifle with. She kills a zombie by repeatedly punching it in the head and body, then overturning a refrigerator onto it. She nearly kills the other cop, after he expresses some sympathy for her. The plot, character, and motivations in The Horde are not the most well-written. We don't know why Aurore suddenly flips and turns into a mercenary. It is likely that she has taken a lot of shit over the years for being a female cop, but why flip now? Even after the other characters notice the change in her, they still treat her as someone to be protected, when they perhaps should be more afraid that she will kill them all (and the group is soon small enough where she could). She particularly has it out for the leader of the dealers, Adewale, who she believes murdered the father of her child. The most reasonable member of both groups, Adewale is a Nigerian immigrant and refugee from the violence there, along with his more tempestuous younger brother Bol. He is the only member of the group who seems to have some sort of respect for the dead. Yet, he tends to patronize Aurore by calling her "dear", even after she has threatened his life.

The Horde is a pretty good film. Not as good as I thought it would be, but better than most. It is interesting because of the characters of Adewale and Aurore, as well as the fact that the characters tend to fight the zombies in hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes this is because there are no weapons, sometimes it is by choice. Aurore especially seems to thrive in crushing zombie heads. However, it is frustrating to watch the characters learn, then almost immediately forget that the zombies stay down if you shoot them in the head (not unlike the doctor in The Beyond). The zombies run in this one, adding to the tension. They also strangely hoard bodies. These are all interesting elements, but not enough is done with them. It is as if the filmmakers did not know whether to make a zombie action film or something a bit more human like the old Romero movies or the 28...Later series.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crazy Theory #7: Dogtooth as a Temporally Nonlinear Film


An excerpt of something I wrote in grad school is below. Because it is based in more Gilles Deleuze, the Cliff Notes version: Time in Dogtooth (2009, Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) is nonlinear based on the injury to the brother's arm and how it is displayed in various scenes. Therefore, on top of all of the other insanity in the film, you do not know in which order the events of the film occurred.

"The most complex display of the first index of the short form action-image occurs periodically throughout the film, perhaps to signify the concept that Dogtooth may be a temporally nonlinear film. The oldest sister slashes her brother’s arm with a kitchen knife. In the next shot, his younger sister asks him about his wound while they are by the pool. But for the rest of the film, there is no consistency as to when the brother is shown with his injury and when he is not. Particularly with the pool scenes where the siblings practice holding their breath underwater for their father (no bandage, cut appears to be healing), practice CPR (no bandage or sign of injury), or when the oldest sister re-enacts Jaws (bandaged arm). To interpret in terms of the ASA’, action (A) would be that the brother’s arm is cut by his oldest sister. The situation (S) would be the implications of jealousy on the sister’s behalf or nonlinear temporality. The last Action (A’) is the implied action that the mother punishes the oldest sister for attacking her brother by hitting her over the head and locking her in her room. But due to the jumps in time where the injury is displayed, then not, it implies that the attack and the punishment could have been two separate and unconnected incidents.[1] However, if the incongruities of time are delineated, it can be argued that the frequent jealous and violent behavior that the oldest sister displays towards her brother (and the subsequent humiliation of being forced to have sex with him) could factor into one of her reasons for escaping the compound."




[1] In order and with approximate times, these sequences delineate the inconsistency of the brother’s injury: his arm is  cut (:38), pool practicing CPR – no bandage or visible injury (:45), underwater breathing contest – cut is visible and healing (:48), dinner with Sinatra/”grandpa” record – bandage (:56), Jaws re-enactment in pool – bandage (1:05), brother picks a sister to have sex with – bandage (1:12), sex with oldest sister – bandage (1:14), finds the “zombie” in the garden – no bandage (1:16), parents anniversary party – no bandage or visible injury (but no close-ups of the brother either) (1:20), kisses younger sister – no bandage, possible healing of cut visible (if it is not a chunk of the younger sister’s hair resting on his arm) (1:28)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Double Feature (on a disc!): A Real Friend & X-Mas Tale (a.k.a. Christmas Tale) (2006)

Repost from 2011.

A Real Friend 
Dir. Enrique Urbizu || 2006 || Spain

A Real Friend focuses on a lonely little latchkey girl named Estrella who loves horror stories and films; and whose imaginary friends consist of Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a vampire. But as it turns out, the vampire may be real and dangerous. Estrella's mother is a nurse and soon men who either want to have sex with her or do have sex with her end up dead. While somewhat slow, the movie stays interesting until the final 10-15 minutes of its 75 minute run when the twist is further revealed. Then of course, it twists again, and it leaves more questions than answers. The twist and overall film is a bit more artfully done than say, Slumber Party Massacre II, but it's a bit messy leaving the questions of whether it was all in Estrella's overactive imagination, if any of the characters actually exist, or is this just a way for Estrella to deal with the fact that maybe her mom is still a prostitute? You know, things of that nature.

But points for having Leatherface be someone's imaginary friend. I know I would normally balk at the idea of Leatherface being anyone's friend, but it was kind of cute and well done.

X-Mas Tale
Dir. Paco Plaza || 2006 || Spain

X-Mas Tale is a film about a group of kids in the 1980s who watch way too many movies. It's a bizarre and dark take on films from the 80s where a ragtag group of kids takes on a bad guy like E.T. and The Goonies. A group of kids encounter a female bank robber in a Santa suit who has fallen into a hole in the woods where they play. They first try to go to the police, where they are ignored, only to discover that she is a currently wanted bank robber. A couple of the kids decide that they want to hold her hostage in the hole until she tells them where the money is, and the others reluctantly go along with it. It escalates badly from there, including attempting to deny the woman food and other care. The sole female member of the group tries to bring her food, but it is often taken by the meaner boys. The meaner boys after watching the film-within-the-film Zombie Invasion, perform a voodoo ritual over the hole one night. So after the woman does get out of the hole and starts stalking them with an axe, they decide that she is a zombie. And still, it escalates, and has a twist ending, but one not nearly as semi-hopeful as A Real Friend, although how you perceive the ending probably depends on how you look at things such as disturbed children.

Plaza is best known as the co-director of the [REC] films, and this film is a bit more visually dazzling than A Real Friend. He does capture the 80s retro style better than say, House of the Devil, which was primarily hyped as being an 80s throwback film based on the appearances of puffy vests, an early Sony Walkman, and squeeze bottle cozies. Plaza also captures the sheer loneliness of being the only girl in a group of boys. But this is an unpleasant film just because of how terrible most of the children are. Plaza does throw shades to the audience to acknowledge that these children are not old enough to have a definite moral compass, that their overwatching of films and TV is what is teaching them their moral compass since they seem to see little of their parents for some reason (the police are either shown from behind or from the waist down, but Plaza doesn't go as far as having the adults speak like the adults in Peanuts cartoons) and that perhaps police overhype how dangerous some people actually are; but he doesn't excuse the children's actions either. The fact that this movie takes place around Christmas holds little bearing. It is mentioned a few times, but there are no scenes of the children opening presents with their families or learning the meaning of Christmas. It is shown that most of the children, if anything, already own too many toys and things.

So neither of these films, while prominently featuring children, are actually meant for children to watch. A Real Friend does have brief sex scenes in it, and X-Mas Tale has a lot of cursing in Spanish. Both of these films were apparently made for Spanish television.

(And yes, because of X-Mas Tale, this had been in my Netflix queue since December, and due to a combination of my laziness with watching Netflix DVD's now and queue factors was this sent to me in February!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Crazy Theory #5: Jason X and Its Prediction of the Future of Academia


Jason X is commonly either derided because of how silly it is, or how sillier it is than the rest of the Friday the 13th series. I like Jason X because it knows how silly it is and it is a fun movie. I admit that it is in my top 3 of favorite installments of Friday the 13th, and the only one I own a copy of. It certainly works better than Jason Takes Manhattan, also a silly, bottom-of-the-barrel concept.

What I have noticed during the past two recent viewings of movie is how well it eerily predicts the corporatization of higher education. Granted, it was likely already taking hold when the film was released, but it is prominent now. Academia is still romanticized to some degree, and it is because of this romanticization, as well as the rather poisonous culture of "Do What You Love" that has now resulted in more adjuncts being hired to teach undergrads and the adjuncts being paid at an extremely poor rate. I read early on in my graduate school career that 75% of people teaching undergrads at the university I was attending were graduate and PhD students. There were horror stories of an adjacent department where the PhD students had to teach large lecture classes of 200-300 students with no TA's.

And Jason X predicts this to some degree. The field trip conducted by the professor in the film does seem to be both a lesson and a form of work for various students once they are back on the space ship, with the work seeming to fall mostly on the older students, presumably grad students. The professor puts the lives of everyone on the ship in danger after he is told that Jason Voorhees would be worth a lot of money if brought back to Earth 2. He even dismisses the idea that the students would want credit or money for finding Jason by stating that the learning experience will be enough for them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Roller Derby Double Feature: Hell on Wheels (2008) and Whip It (2009)

Repost from 2011.

Hell on Wheels 
Dir. Bob Ray || 2008 || USA

Hell on Wheels is a documentary concerning the travails of the early formation of the Texas Rollerderby Lonestar Rollergirls in the early 2000s and the offshoot league, the Texas Rollergirls. And yes, there is a difference, which this movie painstakingly shows. It's indeed more about the politics and administration of the teams and why there are two separate leagues rather than playing the sport itself, and it proves that it takes a lot just to get any event or organization off the ground at a single city basis. It's like The West Wing, but with more static shots and for Austin roller derby. It's quite possibly the most honest film I have seen about starting and organizing an event with a group of women. Given that the sport does feature sexy outfits and is often violent, the women on the teams acknowledge the line between "sexy and slutty" that the teams have to take to make the sport entertaining; but towards the end, that line becomes very uncomfortable as one league is forced to wrestle in oil at a bar to promote the upcoming game.

The film and sound quality for Hell on Wheels is not the greatest, and I'm pretty sure this film was made for a small budget, with cheap equipment, and took several years to come out. There are subtitles for some of the meetings, not because of dialects, but because of where some of the meetings took place (the patios of restaurants with miniature waterfalls). It's still an interesting film to watch if you have any interest in the sport or the recent history of it. Despite all the drama that goes on in the film, it has a happy ending because both leagues became the inspiration for the formation of other leagues all over the US and the rest of the world.



Whip It
Dir. Drew Barrymore || 2009 || USA

In Whip It, Drew Barrymore makes the conscious choice not to follow the politics of being on a roller derby team or a part of a league and instead focuses on what can make the sport so inspiring and fun. The film is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Shauna Cross, who played roller derby in Austin and Los Angeles. The plot primarily concerns Texas alternateen Bliss leading a double life between becoming a new roller derby player and a beauty pageant contestant, something her Mom has had her do her entire life. It is a coming-of-age tale of sorts and I don't want to give much away because it is a good movie with some positive messages. Drew Barrymore has an eye for talent and what makes a good movie (most of the time, your mileage may vary with the Charlie's Angels films she produced and starred in) and I wish she would do more producing and directing work rather than acting in crummy-looking romantic comedies at this point; although she has a small and funny role as Smashley Simpson, the most accident prone of the roller derby players.


The Ring (2002) and Its Prediction of Viral Media


I recently re-watched The Ring (2002, dir. Gore Verbinski) for the first time in about ten years because a friend is using it in his thesis on surveillance films. io9 recently ran a discussion post on what films could never be made today, and several people listed The Ring. Granted, it appears that some filmmakers in Japan, Ringu/The Ring's country of origin, have recently tried to place the story into 2014 with a "reboot" of the series. 

I do not necessarily believe that a film like The Ring could not be made today, but what I noticed upon my recent viewing is how it does exist in a certain weird time period in regards to technology. It also seems to predict viral media in a way, while at the same time functioning as an actual virus on some level.

The technology in The Ring exists in a time right before technology became more compact, or more functional. The video itself is on a VHS tape, not DVD. The characters have flip phones, but in their brief use at various points of the film, they almost seem foreign and they definitely cannot get a signal once on the island where Samara originated. The characters still have home phones, whether cordless or not. Rachel (Naomi Watts) conducts her research both in libraries or archives as well as on a computer.

The tape in The Ring functions as a normal biological virus would with the same imperative biological beings have - it has to replicate in order to survive. But where it goes horribly wrong is that if the viewer fails to replicate the tape, the viewer will die, not the virus/tape. The tape seems to exist with the confidence that it will never actually cease to exist, perhaps even predicting that it will continue to exist even as new viewing formats are invented and become popular. Samara's father seems to have an older, top-loading VCR (I mistook it for a Betamax player initially), so the tape began its rotation as home viewing technology became easily accessible. If somehow the series was perpetuated in sequels into the 2010s, there is no reason to disbelieve that the video would be online, or co-existing with physical media as well.

The Ring also came out sort of right at the beginning of viral media – preceded by The Blair Witch Project and its viral marketing campaign in 1999, but the only other sort of “viral” media I can think of or remember around that time are those images of 9/11 that circulated but were also doctored to feature things like Satan’s face in the smoke/dust of the buildings. So The Ring is predicting the uptick of viral media in a way, just making it biological on some level and deadly. Either that or it’s predicting creepypasta, which, like The Ring, exists in a realm that incorporates both urban legends and technology.

PS - The separate issue in this film is the presentation of what are essentially experimental film and Surrealist aesthetics as horror. This is not exactly the first film to do it, I just find it kind of amusing. Because this film was so popular, I like to think that it was the gateway to experimental films for some people.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)


Dir. Donald Petrie || 2003 || USA

Preface #1
One of my interests this past year-and-a-half has been how it is really becoming rather impossible to ascribe one type of ideology or another to a film. Most films, almost regardless of whether or not they are produced in Hollywood seem to attempt to espouse both conservative and liberal ideologies (to use the most basic dichotomy of ideologies). However, this is not to say that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has an ideology at all, because I am not even sure the film ultimately has a point.

Preface #2
About two months ago, I was traveling for work and staying in a hotel. Oprah's cable network was having a "Never forget that Matthew McConaughey made romcoms for several years" night by playing Failure to Launch and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in succession. I did not catch much of the former, which seems to exist in a universe where people who look like Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Zooey Deschanel are the "loser" or even more "loser-y" friends. I watched maybe 2/3 of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days before turning it off to read and go to sleep. Curiosity got the better of me and I actually rented it this weekend, determined to find out what the "project" of this movie actually was, or if there even seriously was one. Well, a project besides product placement of (and in ascending order) Revlon, Budweiser, and the New York Knicks. I am pretty sure the Knicks alone financed at least half of the film.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, an 11-year-old film released in 2003, nonetheless seems like it was written and meant to be produced in the late 1990s. I cannot pinpoint why exactly, because it seems like people cared more about magazines or criticizing magazines then. But maybe I am projecting because I do not really see the point in the majority of magazines existing anymore, particularly in print. The covers of the magazine in the film, Composure, features non-famous women and models, in photos more along the lines of the pictures seen in "Women Laughing Alone with Salad". This is despite starring Kate Hudson, an actress who has probably been on dozens of magazine covers and having former supermodel of the 90s, Shalom Harlow, in a supporting role. The film fails to recognize the shift in actresses appearing on the majority of women's magazine covers now, above supermodels. It also maybe more late 90s-centric because it is one of those films that seems to erase 9/11 out of New York City on the basis that films are where people go to escape painful things and incidents. Also, it features a Ginblossoms song as chase theme music, which seems even more outdated in 2014 than it probably did even in 2003.

Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a woman with a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University slumming at women's magazine Composure by writing a "How To" column on various trends or "lifehacks for the privileged" as they are sometimes called now. She aspires to write about politics and international relations, which her boss has shot down numerous times because of the inherent fluffiness of the magazine's content. Inspired by a co-worker's latest brief 7-day disastrous relationship, Andie begins her latest piece with the titular title. The film never seems to decide whether it wants to be subtle or broad in its characterization of Andie and her co-workers. Andie is supposed to be "different" because she has higher aspirations, likes to eat large hamburgers and go to New York Knicks games. She is actually called the "cool girl" at some point, which is another stereotype upon itself, a construct that some women feel they have to live up to so they are not seen as the "crazy girlfriend".*  Beyond its somewhat promising beginning, the film eventually decides to pack stereotypes upon stereotypes, and it never seriously questions too much that it is magazines and advertising that pushes these sorts of gender stereotypes.

McConaughey plays the also improbably cute-named Benjamin Barry, a fellow who works in advertising and feels stuck because his division only obtains the sports and beer accounts. He has recently snagged an account with a diamond company, with the idea that diamond rings should also be advertised to men as desirable accessories, or something - it's never made clear. Benjamin seems to be criticizing the diamond industry, knowing that it is an industry based on the false idea that diamonds are rare, and therefore valuable. And to an lesser extent he seems to be criticizing the sexist one-sided marketing of diamonds. But he is in competition with the division who typically receives the more women's-oriented accounts. A bet is made that if he can arrive to a party the company is throwing in 10 days with a woman who is in love with him, he will win the account.

Shenanigans and stereotypes ensue, almost endlessly for a a film that does not need to be 2 hours long. Andie behaves in the stereotypical (and seen through 2014 lenses, downright creepy) ways that men are supposed to hate. Benjamin relents because he wants to win the account. Both are frustrated. The reveals come at the big party, where inexplicably, female attendees are given diamonds to wear from a snack table, and feelings are hurt. Benjamin's partners show him Andie's article as he is working on the diamond commercial which still seems to be advertising to women, albeit to older women. Andie gets told she can write whatever she wants as long as its the typical fluffy stuff. She quits, decides to interview for a job in DC. Benjamin chases her cab through NYC and stops on the Brooklyn Bridge where they make up. And while Benjamin wins her over with the point that she can do the reporting she likes in NYC, we never learn if Andie succeeds. Can this film be seen as dark because it appears neither character actually succeeds in their careers? The ending seems entirely based in, "Well, they are attractive and they have each other."

The only time I laughed out loud was when Andie said Benjamin killed their "love fern" and he replies, "No honey, it's just sleeping." I think I might not be the right audience for these movies.

*Since Andie is a variation on what is typically a boy's name, maybe we can infer the Carol Clover theory that when male or borderline-gender neutral names are given to female characters, it is because that character is meant for male audiences to identify with.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I have been watching lately: Jean Rollin, Red State, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story...

Repost from November 2011.
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I should be working on papers right now, although I took an extension on them for Winter Break because of intermittent severe headaches and vision problems leftover from my concussion in October. I have no control over when they happen, and unfortunately they keep happening when I want or need to write or do research. My papers, as I predicted in October, are on Jean Rollin, classical French film theory, and I also have one on Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon that I have been sitting on, unfinished, since the day before my concussion. I have been on a French film and surrealist bender this quarter. I have been watching a lot of Jean Rollin's films this year and this past month. While my paper will only be focusing on The Rape of the Vampire and The Night of the Hunted (one of his three "zombie" films), I have still been watching anything of his that interests me or that I can get my hands on. The only one of his films that I cannot recommend at any level is Zombie Lake, which oddly enough, is his fairly straight zombie picture...I say "fairly straight" because it does have a story line where one of the Nazi zombies has reunited with his pre-teen daughter...although the Nazis were assassinated during of course, World War II by the villagers, and the film seems to take place in 1980, which makes no sense if the daughter is ten years old. Zombie Lake was also one of Rollin's lowest budgeted pictures, and that's saying something if you have ever seen any of his movies or read much on his films. It is one of the few Rollin pictures where you can tell that it seemed impossible to make the most of what little money there was.


Yeah, I don't know either. At least the Italians made their zombies look all arts & craftsy, what with the papier mache faces.

I think I discovered Rollin at a good point, considering for the past couple of years or so, I have been quite bored with horror at times. While Rollin has his obsessions that anyone will notice if they watch enough of his films, including how entrenched he is in surrealism well after its time as an art movement was over; I like how unconventional his films are. His endings are rarely happy and even if certain films end relatively well for the characters, there is still a sense of melancholia or even a looming sense of death. 

Speaking of unconventional horror films, I watched Red State last weekend. I am not a Kevin Smith megafan. I liked his movies when I was a teenager, but now I tend to see every other one if it sounds kind of interesting. Red State is not a perfect film - it is not subtle in its message, it's final message is kind of mixed, Melissa Leo's acting was over the top, and the opening scene at the high school bugs me to no end because that is not how a public school teacher acts in any era; but it is unconventional. It is almost like Full Metal Jacket how abruptly it switches gears, tone, and the characters we follow. Who we expect to live just based on horror conventions, likeability, or even logic is defied. The only other good thing I can say about the film is that John Goodman is awesome in it. I have missed seeing John Goodman in movies.

I have been watching a lot of bad TV this past week since last Monday night I had the worst headache I have had since hitting my head. My doctor says it is okay if I watch stupid things. So I was bedridden for a couple of days watching nothing but the second season of The Walking Dead so far and whatever episodes of American Horror Story I could find on Hulu. 

I was not a total fan of the first season of The Walking Dead. I maintain that the first episode was wonderful. But if I have to remain diplomatic at some level, I will say that the even numbered episodes were terrible, while the odd ones were better. Other than Rick being Sheriff Exposition for the first five minutes of the second season premiere, the first episode of this season was pretty good. Unfortunately, it has become tedious and like a spinning tire*. I look forward to this week's episode if it means opening up the zombie barn and maybe losing a few more characters. The series likes to project things, then take several episodes, if perhaps another season to get to the issue and/or resolve it. Lori's pregnancy for example. What is being projected this year from the main characters and secondary or even tertiary characters is Rick's leadership, the issue of neglect, and the idea of splitting up the group. Shane and Andrea, obviously. Daryl in last week's episode (and Daryl truly needs to ditch the group, even if it means taking boring old Carol), and in the second episode, T-Dog, even if he reneges on the idea later. What I find weird about T-Dog's "fever" thoughts is that he is right - he, Dale, and sometimes even Glenn are sidelined because of their age (Dale) and races (T-Dog and Glenn). Women on this show are sidelined altogether. The Walking Dead is not exactly Lost, where we learn about each character every week. Granted, Lost was not a perfect show either and harped on the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle for several seasons, but at least each character got his or her individual episodes! And maybe The Walking Dead is going in that direction a bit this season, where we followed Shane and his adventure to get medical supplies to help Carl, and last week's episode with Daryl in the woods, but it was too little and did not establish much beyond what we already knew: Shane is likely deranged, and Daryl is a badass...and oh, he's not as racist as his brother Merle because he has saved T-Dog at least three times by now**. I think they fired last season's writers and replaced them with even worse writers. But yeah, the group will at least temporarily disband before the season is over. And maybe Lori will finally tell Rick about her pregnancy and/or her time with Shane, and maybe The Walking Dead will finally have a Maury Povich-based episode. And I guess Daryl better watch it since characters played by noted indie character actors do not live forever on this show, as this season has shown yet again.


We know that Shane is crazy because of the shaved head, vacant stare, mouth agape, and furrowed brow.
American Horror Story is at least fun-bad and thoroughly entertaining. It is truly the most batshit live-action television show I have ever seen. The pregnant wife eats a brain like it's no thing! There is a teenage boy stuck in 1994 who frequently speaks of Kurt Cobain (just Kurt Cobain, never Nirvana), Quentin Tarantino, Al Pacino, and Robert DeNiro; and the depressed neo-Blossom Russo-dressed teenage daughter of the family nevernever asks him his opinion on the more recent and terrible movies Pacino and DeNiro have been in! I have never been one for haunted house stories, but American Horror Story takes your average haunted house story and amps it up several times over and then combines it with at least one other horror story or trope every week, usually more than one! It is hard to say if there is a bigger meaning to this show, I doubt it even knows. The classmate who told me about this show said it was Ryan Murphy's gay revenge on America. We keep discovering the lives of the previous inhabitants who are now ghosts of the house. There is the drunk surgeon-turned-abortionist-turned-mad scientist and his wife, two nursing students, a gay couple, a woman who was raped, the pregnant mistress maybe, the male redheaded twins...but we also have the people from the home invasion episode, and rubber man who may or may not be a ghost. I mean, I guess redheads have been persecuted throughout society. Some people believe that everyone on this show is a ghost! We will eventually find out that the house was built on an Native American burial ground, because why not?

American Horror Story is also fun because most episodes feature at least one "hey, it's that guy!/lady!" moment. 


Rubber Man, Rubber Man. Does whatever a rubber can...except not.
* Yesterday, I read this post at the TCM Movie Morlocks blog that discusses how bloodthirsty zombie movie fans and movie characters are these days. I would not say that I am a bloodthirsty zombie fan or that the characters on The Walking Dead are bloodthirsty (although that is another inconsistency, especially with Rick). I would like The Walking Dead to be a watchable show that like in the first episode, does consider that the zombies were people once. Overall, I would like a good story and some characters I could care about and who are maybe more thoughtful or intelligent. The only thing The Walking Dead has been somewhat good at displaying is the tried-and-true story method of humans being just as dangerous to humans as zombies are, if not more so.

** 2011 seems to be the year of the (good) redneck in horror. I finally saw Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a couple of weeks ago because it surprisingly came to the indie theater in town (I guess because it takes place in West Virginia, and I live about 40 minutes away from the West Virginia state line now). I was worried that it would not meet my expectations because I have been anticipating this movie for almost two years, but I also had no idea what the film was about past the trailer. It was a good, fun movie that was surprisingly sweet and had some interesting twists to the story and characters. And yes, the film was quite gory at times. So there are surprises out there every once in awhile. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

What I've been watching lately in four sentences or less

Repost from 2011.

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The Fall of the House of Usher (1929 || Dir. Jean Epstein || France)
Not nearly as surrealist as some would have you believe.

Blood and Roses (1960 || Dir. Roger Vadim || France)
A slightly more heteronormative-incestuous take on Carmilla, but still interesting.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966 || Dir. Robert Bresson || France)
Poor donkey.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011 || Dir. Joe Johnston || USA)
The most watchable and fun out of the Marvel Studios films released this year. No daddy issues ('sup, Thor?), and it doesn't take itself too seriously ('sup, X-Men: First Class?). It honestly has Cap jumping a ramp on a motorcycle, away from an exploding Nazi camp. Cap runs away from explosions quite a few times in the film, so it almost cancels out the terrible creepiness of the first 30 minutes consisting of Chris Evans being made to appear shorter and skinnier through CGI.





The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962 || Dir. Jess Franco ||France-Spain)
Jess Franco's first film, a slightly sleazier retread on Eyes without a Face. It's not a very entertaining retread and the era it takes place in is indeterminable.

The Spirits of the Dead (1968 || Dirs. Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini || France-Italy)
European artsy-sleazy takes on Poe stories with pretty people? Bet you didn't know Fellini could do head decapitations, did you? I would like to frame most of the shots in Fellini's segment "Toby Dammit" and put it on my wall because that man could do Technicolor. The anthology is pretty good, although Malle's story isn't that great except for being able to look at Alain Delon and a brunette Brigitte Bardot.

Faceless (1987 || Dir. Jess Franco || France-Spain)
Another retread of Eyes without a Face by Jess Franco, this one being better, if a bit repetitive and drawn out. There are nods to The Awful Dr. Orloff.

Flyboys (2006 || Dir. Tony Bill || USA)
A dull movie that takes itself too seriously, despite what the trailer would have you believe sometimes (i.e., guy running away from explosion on top of a zeppelin). I fast-forwarded through much of the last hour and was a better person for doing that. Someone should have told James Franco that there were no frosted hair tips during World War I.




Punisher: War Zone (2008 || Dir. Lexi Alexander || USA)
The most comic book out of all comic book movies - the colors, the over-the-top violence and characters (complete with bad NYC accents for the villains), the cinematography  - all comic book. Sometimes the film drags a little, but then there's another insane set piece. 

Don't Open 'Till Christmas (1984 || Dir. Edmund Purdom || UK)
I watched this because the guy who played the dean in Pieces stars and directed this movie. I guess if the idea of a serial killer killing people in Santa suits sounds good, check it out. Otherwise, I can't recommend it because that's really all the film is: killing Santas and some police procedural - it's as if the movie was being written as it was filmed. This movie makes Silent Night, Deadly Night look profound.

Burnt Offerings (1976 || Dir. Dan Curtis || USA)
Many of the daytime scenes were very washed out looking and I am not totally sure why. It's perhaps better than most haunted house movies, if a little slow sometimes (this is a high compliment from me, considering that I've never been one for haunted house films). The ending is quite good and dark.

C.H.U.D. (1984 || Dir. Douglas Cheek || USA)
Not a terribly bonkers horror film, but it has a good "future stars" cast, good special effects, and it fits in well with other early 1980s gritty NYC horror films.




Children of the Corn (1984 || Dir. Fritz Kiersch || USA)
While I haven't read the short story since I was probably 12, this is not a good movie. It's like a moralistic, somewhat dull, and ballsless version of Who Could Kill a Child?. The film also has this bizarre dichotomy of the two good, non-cult children being cute, while the majority of the children in the cult are either awkward-looking or ugly.

The Bride Wore Black (1968 || Dir. Francois Truffaut || France)
Bet you didn't know that Truffaut did semi-Hitchcockian revenge films, did you? This is not a bloody film, but quite clever.