Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Talking Heads singer David Byrne plays host to this bizarre patchwork of tabloid-inspired tales, set in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas.  Cruising the streets in his cherry-red drop-top, Byrne introduces viewers to the local eccentrics gearing up for the town’s 150th anniversary.  They include a community leader (Spalding Gray) with a thing for veggies, a woman (Swoosie Kurtz) so lazy she won’t leave her bed, a lovelorn country singer (John Goodman) and more!  (Google blurb)

Not the Indiana University Cinema blurb this time, for a change of pace.  But what can you say?  It was Monday night’s showing at the Cinema, and it was fun.  Except of course the tales in TRUE STORIES aren’t really true, but they almost could be.  They’re tales of middle American individuals and families that ought to be true, the eccentrics and characters you likely met yourself when you were growing up — and that you still might be now if you pause to look.  Well, maybe not quite the fashion show at the local mall, but even it sort of.  And it’s clean, gentle fun, enhanced this time, I thought, by seeing on the big screen in the theater partly because of the people around me, picking the humor up, laughing out loud at times but never raucously, always with its own kind of politeness.

It was a good film for an unseasonably warm day at its afternoon best, but for which the rains had come when we got out.  A residual warmness on the walk home, and even the rain more of a friendly drizzle.  And one thing I noted, but kind of strangely:  The film, really a series of vignettes, has at its closest to a plot the fictional town of Virgil, Texas preparing for its 150th anniversary, culminating in a parade and a nighttime talent show, the latter of which gave me a sudden reminder — and maybe a new understanding as well — of President Trump’s inaugural concert three years ago.  Small town acts in spirit, yet for the performers a kind of love too.  But in overall context still with a touch of weirdness that gave the feeling that this is a film that might be most enjoyed if one watches it having been mildly soused.

Four years before Wassily Kandinsky painted his first abstract canvas, Swedish artist Hilma af Klint painted the first abstract canvas.  Until recently, her contributions have been forgotten, overshadowed by narratives of male genius.  In BEYOND THE VISIBLE, the story of af Klint’s own genius receives the spotlight it deserves.  Inspired by science and spiritualism, af Klint created an astonishing body of work rich in symbolism and meaning; her brilliance has been compared with that of Leonardo da Vinci.  Halina Dyrschka’s fascinating documentary investigates how this exceptional woman was erased from art history and makes the case that it’s finally time for that history to be rewritten.  In Swedish, English, and German with English subtitles.  (IU Cinema blurb)

This was one not in the Indiana University Cinema catalog for spring semester, but rather added at the semi-last minute (cf., e.g., the black and white version of PARASITE, February 20), and a very interesting film for me.  As a writer and poet, I’m presumably some kind of artist myself, so I have a professional need, if one will, to know how other artists do their thing.  Painters.  Musicians.  What is abstract art anyway, for instance?  So, home from the film I feel possibly more inspired than enlightened, but in some way I think it spoke to me — it’s presumably one way of finding one’s place in the world.  Or maybe trying to “see” what the world is?  That is, it’s powered not just by aesthetics — some of af Klint’s work may be visually beautiful, but that’s not the point.  Or if symbolism (in part anyway), symbolism of what?

Some may come down to zeitgeist, the spirit of the time:  if af Klint was the first, Kandinsky and others were working along the same lines and ultimately with similar results, and they seem to have been working independently (e.g., it’s possible Kandinsky may have met or seen something by af Klint, but she wasn’t selling or generally displaying her work so it seems unlikely).  But both, along with other pioneer abstract artists, were into spiritualism to some degree — a popular belief in the early 1900s — while elsewhere scientists were discovering such things as atoms, and theories of relativity.  Things you can’t really see with your eyes, but now understood to be a basic part of reality.  So how do you express something like that?

As I say, I don’t think the film gave an answer as such, but it may have given some insight into how a particular artist searched for it.  And so, for me, maybe some hints for my own search.

At the movies again, with a new 10 p.m. Friday night “Not-Quite Midnights” Indiana University Cinema feature, Terry Gilliam’s 1977 JABBERWOCKY.  Says the cinema’s program blurb:  Terry Gilliam’s first solo directorial film — less than two years after directing MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL with Terry Jones — is a wildly imaginative tale that follows a young peasant with no taste for adventure as he is mistakenly chosen to rid the kingdom of a ghastly monster threatening the countryside.  Though inspired by a line from a Lewis Carroll poem, “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch,” the film is unquestionably a product of Gilliam’s creative genius.  Restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.  Contains mature content, including nudity, strong language, and violence.

I recommend it!  I admittedly went with a slightly doubtful feeling, having seen MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL before, the first time enjoying it well enough, but more recently realizing that it was really more a series of skits, any of which could have been good alone on the old MONTE PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS TV show, but which became tedious strung together into a feature length movie.  That is they may have been agreeably silly, and all on a medieval theme tied into a sort of quest plot, but ultimately not really rising to much more than a series of jokes.  Indeed, the docent pointed out before the film that Gilliam himself was anxious to not just produce a repeat but to put his own stamp on JABBERWOCKY, and now having seen it I think he succeeded.  There’s silliness, yes, a lot of it, but now of a kind that grows out of the situations in the film as opposed to being there just for its own sake, and giving the whole a sense of more depth.  A fleshing out of, yes, a still fairly simple plot, but combined with much better production values as well, giving for me a greater sense of completeness.  And, attempted explanations aside, still a lot of fun.

STUFFED is a documentary about the surprising world of taxidermy. Told through the eyes and hands of acclaimed artists across the world, the film explores this diverse subculture, where sculptors must also be scientists, seeing life where others only see death.  From an all-woman studio in Los Angeles which has elevated taxidermy to the forefront of fashion and modern art, to fine artists in the Netherlands, these passionate experts push creative boundaries.  The film highlights a diversity of perspectives including an anatomical sculptor in South Africa and a big-game taxidermist in Ohio.  And, in an unexpected twist, STUFFED reveals the importance of preserving nature, using taxidermy as its unlikely vehicle, and the taxidermist as its driver.  So says the IU Cinema’s blurb, but of course, as horror readers and writers, what we’re interested in is psycho taxidermists handling people as subjects.

Aren’t we?  That is, I have at least one story on that subject making the rounds now, perhaps not so much about a psycho but about a group that considers human taxidermy not abnormal.  But that’s not the point in watching the film anyway, it’s about what is in its own right a fascinating subject (including in movies — anyone remember the furry fish in the 2001 film BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF?*).

That aside, very little taxidermy today involves things like hunting trophies, as the film pointed out, but rather combines both science and art, especially the former in venues like natural history museums where context — environmental details of an animal’s habitat — can be as important as the main subject.  But also there are artistic approaches, to tell a story perhaps in a scene with multiple subjects.  And there are such concepts as “rogue taxidermy” — creating perhaps a mythical concept combining parts from different animals — or “novelty taxidermy,” a particular fad in Victorian times but coming back, an equivalent of pictures popular not that long ago of things like dogs playing poker (I seem to recall, though the film didn’t say, that frogs in human-like poses were prized in the 1900s), or even fashion, like feathers in women’s hats — but also perhaps an entire small bird.  Also as to the animals themselves, most will have died from natural causes, often already in captivity (think zoos, for instance), or due to accidents as being hit by cars — indeed most taxidermists, having come to cherish life through their art, tend to be avid conservationists as well.

So actually, no, the movie did not discuss stuffing humans, nor did a post-film discussion including IU Biology Department Senior Director Susan Hengeveld and William R. Adams Zooarchaeology Laboratory Director and Anthropology Department Associate Professor Laura L. Schreiber.  But it was still fascinating to watch.


*In the film’s parlance, an example of rogue taxidermy.

No, the Goth Cat Triana once again stayed at home, concentrating on her important work of holding down the bed.  After all, if she didn’t it could drift away — and then where would either of us be!  Be that as it may, “CatVideoFest 2020” (cf., for 2019, June 8) was also sold out at the Indiana University Cinema, though again I had bought my ticket early.  And it’s for a good cause, as notes the IU Cinema blurb:  A percentage of the proceeds from this event will directly support Lil BUB’s Big FUND, the first national fund for special-needs pets.
We are excited to welcome Yorick and Grace from the Monroe County Humane Association’s V.I.Paws program to CatVideoFest 2020!  V.I.Paws is an MCHA program intended to share the support and success of the human-animal bond and provide animal-related therapies in the community.   V.I.Paws is a specialized group of volunteer handler and animal teams.
Yorick and Grace will be positioned in our lower lobby prior to the CatVideoFest 2020 screening from 3:15–4 pm.
The Ranch Cat Rescue will also be be present for CatVideoFest 2020.
(In particular, we may recall the late Lil Bub, Bloomington’s own special-need cat and video star who passed, at the age of 8, on December 1 2019, having spent her short life, among other things, publicizing and raising money for animal rescue groups.)
And of CatVideoFest in general:  CatVideoFest is a compilation reel of the latest and best cat videos culled from countless hours of unique submissions and sourced animations, music videos, and, of course, classic Internet powerhouses.  CatVideoFest is a joyous communal experience, only available in theaters, and is committed to raising awareness and money for cats in need around the world.
Even without Triana’s presence, this afternoon’s presentation was great fun.  Lil Bub was represented too, in one of the videos, as well as a comeback of Henri, le Chat Noir (who in a way we owe for the whole thing), this time with “Part Deux.”  And otherwise, drama, action, thrills, and lots of humor — including a sequence on cats’ relation with beds!
For an idea of the Fest for yourself, to see the “official” trailer press here.

You don’t get many movies at the IU Cinema that are announced as sold out only days after first being listed, but this was an exception.  The Korean “Best Picture” Oscar winner, PARASITE, but with an added twist.  This would be the black and white version.

Why black and white? As noted by HOLLYWOODREPORTER.COM, Director Bong Joon Ho has suggested, first, that movie classics we remember, the NOSFERATUs, earlier Alfred Hitchcock, et al., were in black and white, so why not modern films as well?  But it’s not done lightly:  The new version of PARASITE was actually made before the original color edition had its premiere in Cannes, where it won the Palme d’Or.  Bong, with his director of photographer and colorist, worked on the new grading shot by shot.

“You can’t just put it in a computer and turn it into black and white,” he said, adding that he faced extra difficulties because he hadn’t considered black and white when working on the film’s production design or art direction, making particular scenes — such as the flooding, with mud water floating around — require extra consideration.

With the color removed, he said, viewers were given a stronger sense of contrast between the rich family and the poor.

“We can focus more on the texture,” he said, emphasizing the “very glossy and clean” surfaces in the house of the rich family.

Or, as the IU Cinema itself put it:  Regarding this version, which was created prior to the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Director Bong Joon Ho said:

“I’m extremely happy to present PARASITE in black and white and have it play on the big screen.  It will be fascinating to see how the viewing experience changes when an identical film is presented in black and white.  I watched the black and white version twice now, and at times the film felt more like a fable and gave me the strange sense that I was watching a story from old times.”

“The second time I watched it, the film felt more realistic and sharp as if I was being cut by a blade.  It also further highlighted the actors’ performances and seemed to revolve more around the characters.  I had many fleeting impressions of this new version, but I do not wish to define them before it is presented.  I hope everyone in the audience can compare their own experiences from the color version and find their own path to PARASITE in black and white.”

And so it goes.  I have not myself seen the color version, however, so — with memories, granted, of the films cited above, as well as Japanese films like RASHOMON and the original SEVEN SAMURAI, as well as American film noir classics — I (having bought my ticket well in advance), went into the theater prepared for what might be an unusual experience.  And in short, it was, with I thought the black and white version working quite well as an Asian sort of film noir in its own right, but quite a bit more too.  And — very possibly — better than it might have been in the color version.

Beyond that, the docent said before the film that “a lot of fun for this movie comes from not knowing anything about it,” though adding three points that pervade the film:  (1) that “money tends to smooth rich people out” — that is, despite being ignorant of those below them, they seem nice; (2) a lack of class solidarity (particularly in the lower orders); (3) the hand of American capitalism coloring all, e.g. “[knowledge of] English is almost like a commodity.”  In an earlier blurb, the IU Cinema classed the film’s genres as Drama and Thriller, though I was also struck by how funny the film is, in a knowing, satirical manner at first but, in the end, also darkly hilarious.  Also while not a horror film, really, there are horror tropes.  And mostly, in a perverse kind of sense, it’s a film about family — at least in my opinion.

Then, finally, to quote the “earlier” IU Cinema blurb:  Winner of the 2019 Cannes Palme d’Or, Bong Joon Ho’s newest film is a darkly comedic, genre tale of class struggle that has drawn comparisons to Jordan Peele’s US.  Ki-taek’s family is close, but fully unemployed, with a bleak future ahead of them.  Ki-woo, Ki-taek’s son, is recommended for a well-paid tutoring job, spawning the promise of a regular income.  Carrying the expectations of all his family, Ki-woo heads to the Park family home for an interview.  Arriving at the house of Mr. Park, the owner of a global IT firm, Ki-woo meets Yeon-kyo, the beautiful young woman of the house.  Following this first meeting between the two families, an unstoppable string of mishaps lies in wait.  In Korean with English subtitles.  Contains mature content. 

It’s not a pretty film, dark, dingy, a low-level industrial machine noise permeating the soundtrack. Interesting, though, and I’m not sure whether I like it or not. A man has made his girlfriend pregnant and now they must marry. She moves in with him in his slum apartment along with the already prematurely born baby, a creature that looks more like a reptile’s head sticking out from a cloth-swaddled body. It also cries — not a baby’s shrill cry but more a constant whimpering sound — until the mom can no longer take it, moving out and leaving the baby with hapless pop.

So pop muddles along, has a brief affair with the woman who lives across the hall; there are several dream sequences, one with a puffy-cheeked woman who “lives in a radiator” and sings a song.  In another dream sequence the man’s head flies off; it falls out the window and a boy finds it, takes it to a pencil-making factory where it’s made into erasers.  Thus the name of the film:  ERASERHEAD.  When he wakes up(?), he finally unwraps the baby’s full-body diaper to find there’s nothing beneath to serve for skin. . . .  Ick!  But eventually may find some kind of salvation, somehow, with the radiator lady.

As the film ended, a girl in the row behind me blurted, “What?”  But, yes, ERASERHEAD is nothing if not surreal.  I’d seen it before, but on DVD, and a lot seems to make more sense (symbolic and/or actual) when seen on the large screen — and some parts are quite good on any level, the awkwardness of a dinner with the man’s girlfriend’s parents as one example, though others to me seemed perhaps a bit drawn out.

To quote the IU Cinema’s blurb:  A dream of dark and troubling things, David Lynch’s 1977 debut feature, ERASERHEAD, is both a lasting cult sensation and a work of extraordinary craft and beauty.  With its mesmerizing black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell, evocative sound design, and unforgettably enigmatic performance by Jack Nance, this visionary nocturnal odyssey continues to haunt American cinema like no other film.  Contains mature content, including violence and disturbing imagery.

And whether one likes the film or not might not really matter.

With its bright color palette, creative use of the Ginza nightclub district, and catchy pop-ballad theme song, TOKYO DRIFTER starts by indulging the hedonistic youth culture of 1960s Tokyo and builds toward stylistic abstraction in its climactic gunfight, filmed in nearly empty studio space with striking shifts in color and lighting.  Suzuki’s minimalist soundstage set blurs the distinction between fantasies, supernatural, and reality, creating a fever-dream-like cityscape.  In English and Japanese with English subtitles.  Contains mature content, including violence.  (IU Cinema Program)

Thus Monday night’s Indiana University Cinema fare, another one of those that discourages an orderly plot-based description.  Think spaghetti westerns, themselves with Japanese cinema roots, a man with a sense of personal honor, but otherwise existing mainly as a stimulus to violence.  One side played against another, loyalties, betrayals, and, in the case of this city-based crime shoot-em-up, beat-em-up, lots of color.  Color a-go-go.  Gorgeous color, although the beginning is in black and white — but even then with one quick color flashback!  A hero who’ll take being knocked down three times but then will go wild, or so we’re told, who’s taking it this time because he’s going straight.  Because his almost father-like boss is going straight too — but of course you know it’s not going to work out.  Gorgeous, if generally sleazy settings, and gangs being allied to other gangs, or else maybe not, until you’d be lost even with a scorecard.

But what a ride!

To end, two brief Amazon reviews:

Watching this as a straight-ahead movie is difficult.  The plot starts and stops and veers into strange places.  But watching it as a conflicted mash-up of cinematic genres — coming at a crucial time in Japan’s postwar development — turns it into a hyperkinetic meditation on art and art’s boundaries (or lack thereof). I ‘ll avoid doing a plot summary, but will say that, if you can handle a movie that steps back and makes sport of its own genre conventions (not necessarily caring for the characters or action, as such), then this is as good as it gets.  (marko a pyzyk – 4.0 out of 5 stars – “A jazzy western/samurai/martial arts/gangster mash-up”)

James Bond and the Yakuza.  Goddard and Fuller.  Might and Majesty.  And the best editing of a film that I’ve ever seen.  It’s all here in a movie with negligible plot and characters who are intended purely as archetypes, stereotypes, and ciphers.  But that makes it sound all academic and no fun, when really it is a fun movie.  (Michael A. Duvernois VINE VOICE – 5.0 out of 5 stars – “The perfect sums of the 1960s”)

Well, okay, this is another movie list from THE-LINE-UP.COM, “Growing Pains, Growing Terror:  11 Best Teen Horror Movies” by Hezra Martinez.  Subtitled “[b]eing a teenager has never been more terrifying,” it starts and ends with genre classics, 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH and, just four years later, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  With one exception, the remaining nine titles are more recent, four even from the just ending decade, including such possibly less-known entries as HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) and JENNIFER’S BODY (2009), along with such staples as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997).  The one pre-’80s one: 1976’s CARRIE.

To reacquaint oneself with one’s youth (if one really wants to), including links for Amazon rentals, for all eleven one need but press here.

This is a dark film, literally.  Dark browns, shadowy, scenes in the slums of a Mexican city in the midst of a drug war, and how a child may or may not survive after her own mother becomes a victim.  Having just seen it this evening I’d have to add I had trouble following it — the kind of film I may want to see again, having just looked it up now on Wikipedia to, as it were, compare notes on the plot.  Interesting, sad, but requiring perhaps sharper eyes than mine to ascertain just what, exactly, it is lurking within some of the darker places.
This is the Indiana University Cinema’s take on VUELVEN  (literally “Return,” or so says Wikipedia), or in the U.S. TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID:  A haunting horror fairytale set against the backdrop of Mexico’s devastating drug wars, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID follows a group of orphaned children armed with three magical wishes, running from the ghosts that haunt them and the cartel that murdered their parents.  Filmmaker Issa López creates a world that recalls the early films of Guillermo del Toro, imbued with her own gritty, urban spin on magical realism to conjure a wholly unique experience audiences will not soon forget.  Del Toro, who presented the film along with López at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, described it as “an unsparing blend of fantasy and brutality, innocence and evils.  Innovative, compassionate, and mesmerizing.”  The two are currently working together on a werewolf Western.  In Spanish with English subtitles.  Contains explicit content, including violence, strong language, and drug references.
So think Magical Realism and realize that what exactly is “real” may be called in question.  The girl, Estrella, is given three wishes in the midst of a school shooting incident.  Then when she discovers her mother missing she wishes to have her back.  Well, there are such things as ghosts, or visions, and demands from the grave to “bring him to us,” the one, that is, responsible for Mom’s death.
She finds other children orphaned in the “war” and, as a condition to join them, is told to murder one of the drug chiefs which, attempting to carry it out, she wishes she didn’t have to do — which may come true as well, but not without her still being linked to the death.  Then for the third, at the kids’ leader’s request, she wishes for a scar on his face to be erased, which leads to more death and a chase that ends with discovering her mother’s corpse.  And with the drug gang’s big boss hot on her heels. . . .
These are some notes at the end of Wikipedia’s article:  On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 97% based on 98 reviews, and an average rating of 8.22/10.  The website’s critical consensus reads, “TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID draws on childhood trauma for a story that deftly blends magical fantasy and hard-hitting realism — and leaves a lingering impact”.  Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 76 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating “Generally favorable reviews”.
Peter Debruge of the Variety wrote, “The actors may be young, but the story skews decidedly mature.  After all, in her commitment to realism, López allows terrible things to happen to the kids — including death in several cases — and that’s a hard thing to accept, not because it doesn’t happen in the real world, but on account of the melodramatic and manipulative way such tragedy is handled”.  Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Both the emotion and the horror might have taken still deeper root if the world of the movie felt less hectic and more coherently realized, if the supernatural touches and occasional jump scares welled up organically from within rather than feeling smeared on with a digital trowel”.  Brian Tallerico of the wrote,”TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID may be imperfect, but you can feel the passion and creativity of its filmmaker in every decision.  She’s fearless.”
Oh, and yes, the “tiger” has up to now been sort of a graffiti logo, to be not afraid.  But there is a real tiger too (what one might call a validation) at the very end.

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