Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

So a few things it fails at, to credit the homage to Richard Matheson’s vampire novel I AM LEGEND behind George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  To give much attention to non-English language movies and, in particular, to Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBI II for not only popularizing “zombies” as the name of the shamblers but also attempting to bridge the gulf between the original Haitian beliefs (noted here in, e.g., Bela Lugosi in WHITE ZOMBIE and Val Lewton’s I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, though it does suggest a different “bridge” via science fiction movies where aliens animate dead as puppets, e.g. PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE*) and post-Romero popular culture.  But then again, hey, we weren’t there to be literary scholars but just to enjoy ripping good zombie destruction scenes.  And for that, Alexandre O. Philippe’s 2014 DOC OF THE DEAD delivered at Friday night’s Indiana University Cinema “Midnight” (that is, it ends around midnight, starting at 10 p.m. — we all need our sleep eventually) Movie.

To quote from the I.U. Cinema blurb:  Shot and edited in a cinematically edgy, high-octane style, DOC OF THE DEAD creates a rich pop-culture dialogue between zombie experts, celebrities, and indie filmmakers, including Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, and George Romero.  Created by the makers of THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS, this definitive zombie-culture documentary investigates the possibility and ramifications of an actual zombie outbreak.  Contains mature content, including graphic imagery and sexual violence.  Well, it had better contain the latter, that is to say otherwise what’s the point?  But it also ends on a sort of semi-serious note, on the idea of surviving if not “real” zombies, some kind of disease where victims might simulate zombie behavior.

Docent this time was Director Philippe himself as an extra, explaining the film as an attempt to discover “how zombies went from underground (or ‘under cover’) to mainstream in a very short period of time.”  Much thus is a series of short clips, jumping to topics like zombie fandom, zombie walks, etc., along with films that advanced the myth (e.g., RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD with the notion of zombies craving brains), allowing a sort of montage effect — fast moving and fun — with the ultimate question at least somewhat answered:  “Why are zombies such a big deal?”
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*And there is a short sequence actually visiting Haiti, plus a brief reference to Wade Davis (e.g., THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW).

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So it might have been more a celebration for Halloween, first published on FILMSCHOOLREJECTS.COM on October 18, but even if just for the first three-quarters of the year (January 2018 through September), Rob Hunter’s “The Best Horror Movies of 2018 So Far” offers goodies worth a look any time of the year. And,  especially, for Thanksgiving weekend if sometimes the football games don’t thrill enough.

Well, see for yourself by pressing here!

 

(Triana, on the other hand, thinks she’ll just eat and eat. . . .)

The way the IU Cinema docent explained it, in Mexico November 1 is for remembering departed children, November 2 for all the dead.  Not being Hispanic, I’d learned that the 1st is All Saints Day, the 2nd All Souls, but if one assumes that children die innocent these map together.  The occasion Thursday night, as I write this, was a special Dia de Meurtos (so it’s really a three-day plural “day,” also taking in October 31, All Hallows Eve) showing of the film COCO. Or, quoting the IU Cinema blurb:  Produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures, COCO is a vibrant tale of family, fun and adventure, as an aspiring young musician named Miguel (newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) embarks on an extraordinary journey to the magical land of his ancestors.  There, the charming trickster Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) becomes an unexpected friend who helps Miguel uncover the mysteries behind his family’s stories and traditions. Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and Edward James Olmos round-out the cast.  The film won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, “Remember Me.”  The screening is part of IU Arts and Humanities Council’s First Thursday celebration of Day of the Dead.  And, yes, the events of the film take place on Dia de Muertos.

So I liked it.  It is fun and had good music, though as a Disney movie it also had some flaws, such as taking a visual joke that’s funny (in this case, a skeleton falling apart, then putting itself back together), repeating it while it’s still a bit funny, and then repeating it four or five times more.  Also heaping on its villain, making things worse and worse, stamping out even a hint at redemption.  But there are also bits of really good writing, one of which mentioned by the docent was the inclusion of the traditional song “La Llorona” near the end.  This is a film at heart of sadness and almost too-late reconciliation.  Also when the twelve-year-old hero requires his ancestors’ blessing — and needs it fast! — his great grandmother’s spirit first offers it if he’ll remember always to love his family (I don’t remember the exact words, but something like that — previously she had refused it unless he gave up music), then quickly changes it to “no conditions.”  It took me a moment to let that sink in, but yes, like love, a blessing that isn’t unconditional is really no more than a business deal.  And third, as it ended, I understood why the title of the film had to be “Coco,” why it couldn’t be anything else.

Well, yesterday probably as you read this, but October 29 is National Cat Day in the US “to bring awareness to the number of homeless cats,” as Triana herself was before I found her at the County Animal Shelter.  And what better way to combine that with a Monday Pre-Halloween movie than . . . well, as the Indiana University Cinema explains:  Making its U.S. debut at IU Cinema on the 80th anniversary of its original release in Japan, THE GHOST CAT AND THE MYSTERIOUS SHAMISEN is a rare surviving example of a pre-World War II Japanese horror film.  Suzuki Sumiko, Japan’s original horror star, plays a jealous stage actress who murders her romantic rival — and her lover’s cherished pet cat for good measure!  But her bloody past comes back to haunt her … literally.  In Japanese with English subtitles.  Yes, a cat horror movie!  And, one may add, Suzuki Sumiko is not your Western-style “Scream Queen” either, but more often played the monster itself or, in this case, the second best thing.

As to the monster itself, though, there is a Japanese tradition of the ghost cat that comes upon a murder victim and drinks its blood, becoming itself a kind of ghost-monster.  Here it has evolved a little, however, with Kuro the cat as a go-between in what becomes a love triangle.  Or maybe not — our shamisen player is already promised to Ms Sumiko’s character as he explains to the second woman, a samuri’s daughter — and too high-born to be a musician’s girlfriend anyway — who had found and returned his missing Kuro to him.  He does end up giving her his shamisen though just before his betrothed takes matters into her own blood-stained hands and, well, the ghosts of the cat and the rival combine.  And the shamisen thus becomes a cursed object being passed from person to person — assisted by visitations by the cat/woman ghost, depicted through a sort of kaleidoscopic effect — until it winds up in the hands of the dead woman’s little sister, while in the meantime the actress has dumped the musician, becoming instead the mistress of the local feudal lord.  And then it happens there’ll be a kabuki theatre performance where actress, musician, lord, little sister, and ghosts come together. . . .

But let us end now with a guest review, courtesy of IMDb, which I will agree with for the most part.  I will add via the IU Cinema docent, though, that only about four of these pre-war Japanese horror movies have survived in complete form (after 1940 the Japanese movie industry turned to propaganda films, and afterward “revenge” films were banned until the American occupation ended in the early 1950s) and the print we saw, while less than perfect, was probably the best now in existence.  Also the Japanese described such movies, including the 1930s Universal films (e.g., DRACULA,  FRANKENSTEIN, which were shown there too) with a word that means not so much “horror” as “weird.”

Charming movie which lets itself down with poor horror special effects
19 February 2012 | by oOgiandujaOo_and_Eddy_Merckx

Seijiro is a shamisen player for a kabuki troupe (a shamisen being a type of stringed instrument).  He is engaged to Mitsue, a sociopathic actress.  Seijiro’s kindly behaviour towards his cat seems to prove good karma when the cat (Kuro) brings home Okiyo, a kindly and beautiful lady from a higher caste, with whom he forms a friendship.  For this gesture the cat is murdered by Mitsue.  Movies with ghost cats are apparently a genre in Japan, the only one I had previously been aware of is Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko, but this is an early example.

A number of scenes feature subsequent hauntings by the cat’s ghost.  The special effects in these moments unfortunately come across as fairly ludicrous.  The ending of the movie revolves around a kabuki performance that’s fairly unintelligible to a modern audience and some frankly pretty unwatchable action/horror scenes.

All that said though, I felt that the movie was very beautiful at points and was rather elegantly framed and shot.  I think what I love about black and white cinema is busy frames full of detail, and the contrast of light and shadow in these busy frames.  This movie, especially in the first half, is quite voluptuous and ornate, and shows a very idealised form of Japanese life, it’s easy to sense that the Japanese are a people who turned living into an art form.

Thursday followed Wednesday’s FrankenPanel (see just below) with a day of film at the County Library auditorium, FRANKENSTEIN (the “original” one, with Boris Karloff), YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and GOTHIC, of which (other obligations intervening) I was able to see most of the first.  Well, not to worry, I have the others on DVD.  But also competing with the third was an evening lecture at Indiana University’s Lilly Library by Leslie S. Klinger, who just last year published THE NEW ANNOTATED FRANKENSTEIN*, on “The Teenager Who Became Immortal:  Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.”

So, having met Mr. Kilinger in the past, I took the opportunity to say “Hi” (he was very impressed by the Lilly Library’s FRANKENSTEIN exhibit of books before and after/influencing and influenced by/read by Frankenstein in the novel or by his creation), and enjoyed an hour of discussion of Mary Shelly’s life and companions; the genesis of FRANKENSTEIN with Byron’s challenge to Percy Shelley, not-yet-married Mary Godwin, John Polidori, and others at the Villa Diodati (the subject as well of the movie GOTHIC); the reflection of Mary Shelley’s own life in the novel with its several themes (and how, in Klinger’s opinion, a major one shifted from that of Victor as an irresponsible young man to him more as, with the monster, a victim of fate in the 1831 edition); how most movie translations concentrate more on a parallel theme that one must be careful of consequences of actions; FRANKENSTEIN (and other influences) in popular culture. . . .

Let it be said it was a full evening.

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*Editor of THE NEW ANNOTATED DRACULA, THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES, and others as well, Klinger also chaired the 2012 Horror Writers Association/Bram Stoker Estate jury, of which I was a member, that selected Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND as the most important vampire novel in the 100 years since Stoker’s death (cf. June 19 2013; April 3, April 2 2012, et al.)

The announcement was flattering:

FrankenFest

October 3–7, 2018
Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein!

FrankenPanel

Noted horror and sci-fi author, James Dorr, The Lilly Library’s Franken-expert, Rebecca Baumann, and IU professor Monique Morgan talk about this classic novel. Moderated by Joan Hawkins, Indiana University professor of horror and avant-garde cinema.

Adults and age 12 & up
6–7:30 PM
Wednesday, October 3
Meeting Room 1B, first floor

“Noted author” one wishes!  But more can be said of the other two, Rebecca Baumann being head of public services at Lilly Library, the Indiana University rare books archive, who among other things explained why the original printing of FRANKENSTEIN was in three volumes (a common practice of the day when, books being a bit of a luxury, many read them through “circulating libraries”) and why a print run of 500 copies implied a much larger readership then than it would today; and Monique Morgan, associate professor of English with a specialty in Victorian literature who, referencing the part in Volume 3 where Victor Frankenstein first creates but then has second thoughts and destroys the female he was building to be the monster’s companion, discussed male/female relations in the early 19th century and Mary Shelly’s place in the mix.

Moderator Joan Hawkins had led off, introducing the three of us plus citing chapter 4 in volume 1 when the monster first comes alive and Frankenstein’s reaction to it as not a single action but a sort of process, while I followed her by quoting from the preceding chapter the method Frankenstein had used in studying the process of moving from life to death to lead to, through a kind of reverse engineering, “discovering the cause and generation of life.”  But I also mentioned the 1930s films FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and the “launching the kites” scene in the latter, quoting a passage in chapter 2 describing a tree destroyed by lightning and then 15-year-old Frankenstein’s father explaining electricity (wherein “he made also a kite, with a wire and string, which drew down that fluid from the clouds”) which Shelly later rewrote in the 1831 edition, changing the father to “a man of great research in natural philosophy” who “entered on the explanation of a theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism” — “galvanism” being a key hint (assisted by a passage in her introduction about how listening to a discussion of galvanism led to her dream that inspired the novel) that the “cause and generation of life” would most likely have something to do with electricity, as indeed is the case in the movies.

This all took up a bit less than half the session, which then opened up to audience questions, expanding on the sexual mores of Shelley’s time; the transformation of the well educated, if self taught, well-spoken monster of the book to the lurching, grunting hulk of the movies (Boris Karloff actually does move with some grace, it was pointed out, and as he gains a few lines in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN it also shows him in the process of learning); Victor Frankenstein as flawed creator becoming himself a monster in his own way; and modern science fiction monsters (or possible monsters) in robots and androids, with actual fears of industrial robots displacing humans plus such cutting-edge concepts as artificial intelligence.

PONTYPOOL anyone?  REPULSION?  THE VANISHING (the original 1988 Dutch-French version, not the remake)?  THE BROOD?  These are but four of “10 Bizarre but Great Horror Movies You Need to See,” by The Lineup Staff on THE-LINE-UP.COM.  Subtitled “[t]hese weird horror movies flew under the radar, but they’re worth finding,” the feature adds:  Horror movies are inherently at least a little bit weird.  These picks lean into it, resulting in some twisted, hilarious, haunting, and horrifying films.  Next time you’re in the mood for something a bit off-beat, one of these bizarre but great horror movies should do the trick.  I will say I’ve enjoyed the titles here that I’ve seen myself, or, as days grow shorter, here perhaps are some films to shake up your late night viewing, for more on which check here.

Let’s give the piece its exact title, “The 100 best horror films,” subtitled “The best horror films and movies of all time, voted for by over 100 experts including Simon Pegg, Stephen King and Alice Cooper, and Time Out writers.”  The byline (that is to say, the TIME OUT writers themselves) is to Tom Huddleston, Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun, Nigel Floyd, Alim Kheraj, and Phil de Semlyen and it was posted Friday April 13 2018 on the British site TIMEOUT.COM.  So how can you go wrong?  And, credit due, it comes to us courtesy of C.M. Saunders as mentioned in an interesting review on his blog of the Spanish film [REC] — one of the relatively few “found footage” films that really works — for which one can press here.

But to the main event, quoting the “Time Out writers” (as well, credit due, appropriating their title illustration):  For years, horror, unlike romance, action and science fiction, has been mistreated and subjected to vicious critical attacks.  For some, horror films are focused purely on provoking a reaction with little thought for ‘higher’ aspirations.  For others, they’re just a bit of fun.

Thankfully, it looks like the horror genre is finally getting the recognition it deserves, with recent releases getting Oscar buzz and proving to be box office hits.  To celebrate this often overlooked and thrilling genre, we approached horror experts, writers, directors and actors to help us chose the 100 best horror films.

Yes, I disagree with some, although if it is an endorsement of sorts I’ve seen or own well over half of these.  And everyone reading this will no doubt have their doubts about others, and possibly even criteria used to decide which is best.  And of course some favorites will fail to be there — we all have our tastes, yes?  But for me, also, part of the value of lists like these is finding the films I haven’t seen, but from the descriptions I might well want to.

So, giving a press here, shall we explore together?

There’s THE OTHER, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, THE ORPHANAGE . . . but then there’s also PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  Well, as they say in the biz mileage will vary, or, some people’s tastes may be different than others.  But to cut to the chase, according to compiler Aliza Polkes:  Spirits, poltergeists, otherworldly visitors:  Hollywood ghosts go by many different names.  Whether they’re possessing people, haunting houses, orphanages or schools, or just generally terrorizing those around them, these souls have a bone to pick with the living.

The List?  “14 Haunting Ghost Movies That Will Send Chills Down Your Spine” on THE-LINE-UP.COM, with its mocking sub-title: “We see dead people.”  To see for oneself, one need but press here.

Two quickies for Monday, the first a YouTube followup on Sunday’s post on LOVING VINCENT.  For an 8 minute, 21 second peek into “The Making Of. . . .” via the BBC, with an starrynightrhonevinterview of one of the artists, Sarah Wimperis, please to press here.

Then the second, just out of curiosity, I’ve noted several times that while paperback copies of TOMBS:  A CHRONICLE OF LATTER-DAY TIMES OF EARTH often seem on sale, I seldom see bargains on THE TEARS OF ISIS.  So (why not?  thought I) this morning I made a comparison, at least on Amazon, and came across what seemed to me a curious counterpoint, that THE TEARS OF ISIS is the bargain if you like electronic copies, but TOMBS is still king for print on paper.  Thus THE TEARS OF ISIS Kindle edition is priced (today, at least) at $2.99 compared with TOMBS at $8.99; for print editions, however, TEARS has one used “good” copy at $12.94 with free shipping but everything else at full price or higher, while TOMBS bargains abound with one new copy at $10.02 (plus shipping) and a number of others for $14.02 and $14.07 with shipping free.  What is to be made of this I know not myself, other than that strange are the ways of book pricing on Amazon (or, if you haven’t already, treat yourself to a Kindle copy of THE TEARS OF ISIS for which I should get at least a small royalty while, for TOMBS, snap up those new copies in print if you will, or even Kindle for which the royalty is a bit better — that is, I do have a dog in this fight myself).




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