Posts Tagged ‘Film Reviews’

Yes, with the last day of April finally upon us, songbirds flitting through new-leaved trees, a freshness of growth and the promise of summer, it’s six long months until next Halloween.  But while we wait, courtesy of Terry The-Night-Stalker-375x304M. West and HALLOWEENFOREVERMORE.COM, a little nostalgia from days not that far past.  To let him explain:  “When I was a kid and there were only a few television stations, it was always a thrill when a made for TV horror movie or mini-series was announced.  I was a horror junkie before I hit the age of ten.  But there were many movies I was not allowed to go see at the drive-in.”  And so, herewith, Terry’s rundown of “five top Made for TV Horror films,” for which one need but press here.

How many have you seen?

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Two items today, the first being the receipt of the contract from L. Andrew Cooper and Blackwyrm Publishing for “Marcie and Her Sisters” to be in REEL DARK (see March 13).  “We’ll be arranging the TOC and copy editing over the next few weeks . . . and we should be in print for a small-run bunch at the World Horror Convention and Bram Stoker Awards® in Atlanta, May 7-10.”  So things happen fast sometimes when they happen:  first sending back last evening’s contract for “The Good Work” to BLURRING THE LINE, now filling the blanks and readying REEL DARK’s to be returned tomorrow morning.  And, as for “Marcie,” to quote once more from this (early) morning’s email, “[you] will be in diverse company, but you all have in common two things:  a dark sensibility, of course, but also an incisive perspective that will challenge the way people think and feel.  I couldn’t have wished for more.”

Then this evening (speaking of movies and darkness) marked the start of the Indiana University Cinema’s Ray Bradbury Film Festival — officially titled “Ray Bradbury:  From Science to the Supernatural” and with a number of co-sponsors including the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute (see also November 20 2014) — with further screenings set for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Tonight what we saw was a program of five short films and TV dramas, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” by Bradbury in collaboration with illustrator Joe Mugnaini; “And the 208px-The_Martian_Chronicles_(TV_miniseries)Moon Still as Bright” from the 1980 TV mini-series adaptation of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, teleplay by Richard Matheson; “The Burning Man” from the 1980s revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (beginning the move toward “the supernatural” but also one of the most “Bradburyesque” in feeling); “Marionattes Inc.,” 1985, RAY BRADBURY THEATER; and 1964’s “The Life Work of Juan Diaz” from THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, story and teleplay by Bradbury and reportedly Hitchcock’s own favorite from the final season after moving to the one-hour format in 1963.

Bradbury, we were told, doted on movies, often going to eight or nine films a week as a teenager in Los Angeles as part of his preparation for becoming a writer.  These would have included probably far more bad films than good ones, but he is also understood to have said “you learn more from trash than excellence,” noting that “excellence is mysterious while trash is obvious.”  Then I might add that this program is of especial interest to me in that not only do I watch a lot of films myself, but in various interviews I’ve done I’ve almost always listed Ray Bradbury as one of my own major influences.

See you again at the movies Thursday night?

You heard it here first!  Yesterday evening I received a date from Kate Hill, October 25 — the Saturday before Halloween — for my appearance on her “Annual Halloween Page Promo, 10 Year Anniversary.”  I don’t know about the whole ten years myself, but I was a guest last year too on October 21 (cf. the same date, or, if you should wish to see it for yourself, press here) when the topics discussed were favorite autumn treats, Halloween celebrations, and sexiest paranormal creatures.  Vampires scored high in that last, as I recall.  Whereas, for this year, the emphasis will be on decorations for Halloween (discover what you would see on my porch should you come to trick-or-treat — or any other time, for that matter).

There’s also an opportunity to promote one’s works as the title of the page suggests, and this year’s promotee is . . . THE TEARS OF ISIS!  As it happens, THE TEARS OF ISIS was featured last year too, but this year’s picture should show her in her new dress as well as mention her Bram Stoker Award® Fiction Collection Nominee status, along with including an all-new, never-seen-before-in-its-entirety excerpt (hint:  it takes place in the Heard Museum in Phoenix Arizona — now see if you can guess which story it’s from).

Also for October I’ve sent a blog post/review to the Horror Writers Association’s “Halloween Haunts 2014,” although no date has been set for it as yet.  Last year, also, I had an entry, the review originally posted  on this blog on May 31 2012 of the film/opera DRACULA:  ENTRE L’AMOUR ET LA MORT (see October 13, or to view the HWA version directly press here).  So for this year . . . well, what I sent is another review from these pages of a film for late Halloween-night viewing with a friend you like very much.  Can you guess which it is?  (And, for extra credit, what refreshment I recommend for sipping while you watch?)

Well, if you don’t get offended too easily (or have Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker finished rolling over in their own graves yet?).*  You see, everything in this film is excessive.  Everything.  Yet part of the point is that’s the way it is in Japanese society, especially with teens.  There are the ganguros, for instance, girls who paint or tan their faces a deep brown-black, wear white lipstick and eye shadow, and otherwise emulate American Blacks who here take their models, seemingly, from 1930s cartoons.  And then there’s wrist-cutting (“Wrist cut is very popular in Japan,” according to one source.  “Some people attempt ‘Wrist cut’ for autoside, but many people do ‘Wrist cut’ to ensure they are living.  Japan is very controlled society.  It is difficult to feel that people live their own life.”), which here includes a sanctioned school team and competitions to see who can fill buckets the fullest (the girl who cuts her arm entirely off is not the winner!).  And then there’s the teacher from China who has super lungs from all the pollution on the mainland, so much so that he can allegedly smoke ten cigarettes all at once.  These things, believe it or not, turn out to play an important part in the film’s denouement.

It starts off calmly enough, however (well, not counting the opening sequence where an otherwise quiet girl destroys three zombie-like creatures to lead to the title sequence, disarming [literally], face-peeling, and beheading, accompanied by spurting blood and gore in the more than bucketful), with an explanation that another Japanese teen custom is for a girl to give the boy she fancies a piece of chocolate on Valentine’s Day, which he will then eat to show reciprocation.  But when quiet transfer student Monami (who, harking back to the pre-title sequence, we seem to have met before), the only one with chocolate left after a zealous teacher has confiscated all the other girls’ candy, offers hers to clueless male heartthrob Mizushima, Mizushima finds that the candy is filled with blood and yet strangely delicious.  In fact, he feels strange after he’s eaten it, among other things having flashes of people as walking circulatory systems, and no wonder, it turns out.  The blood is Monami’s, demure, shy, who skips class a lot on excessively sunny days either staying at home in bed or holing up in the school nurse’s infirmary, and who is a vampire.

Unfortunately for young love, however, Keiko, the vice principal’s daughter, has the hots for the young man as well, while the vice principal who has his own hots for the oversexed school nurse (as do most of the male students except Mizushima) has a secret laboratory in the school basement where he, seeing himself as the spiritual heir of Dr. Frankenstein, attempts to cut up and then reassemble various corpses and bring them back to life.  So, when Monami corners Mizushima on the school roof  and explains to him that with another drop of her blood he can turn fully into a vampire too and live with her and no longer grow old and (cutting her lip with one of her fangs and puckering up for him to kiss it) would he be interested (he says no at first until she explains that, since he now knows her secret, the alternative is that she’ll have to kill him, at which point love triumphs), who should appear but a jealous Keiko.  Then, attempting to attack Monami, clumsy Keiko tumbles over the roof’s edge and goes splat below.

The body is brought to the nurse’s office, the nurse takes it downstairs, and even she is a little surprised when Keiko’s pop is delighted.  Here is the perfect corpse for him to bring back to life, but first it must be augmented by certain improved body parts which the nurse, who moonlights as a psycho killer, delightedly gets for him.

Then comes the main event, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, beginning in the school gym but soon moving outside to a more heroic venue, while still inside Keiko’s dad and the school nurse (who, after having been killed by an all-but-torch-bearing mob of faculty and students who have traced the recent disappearances of experimental body-part donors to her, has been brought back as a zombie) continue their own bout matched against “Mr. Igor,” the school janitor (the old janitor had somehow disappeared at about the time Monami transferred in), and a newly released Mizushima who resurrected-and-augmented Keiko had captured and lashed to a cross to lure Monami to the gym in the first place.

The film is hilarious, gory (in spades — one reviewer has noted that people here seem to have thirty gallons of blood which, when tapped, will spray out over everything near them including the camera lens), over the top Japanese grindhouse, and yet it works.  The special effects, to be sure, are largely cartoonish, ditto the sets and most of the characters, but the glue that holds it together, I think, is Yukie Kawamura, the actress who plays Vampire Girl Monami.  She plays it straight (well, almost straight, think of Carolyn Jones as Morticia in the original 1960s TV version of THE ADDAMS FAMILY) and is actress enough that she pulls it off.  The poor girl who had to flee with her mother, pursued by a relentless vampire hunter, and saw her mother murdered before her eyes.  Who’s been on her own for hundreds of years since, so she says to Mizushima who comes to genuinely love her in spite of everything (including a twist at the very end reminiscent of the Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN).  Who has limitations (she can be killed, for instance, as was her mother) but has no qualms about admitting she’s left her own body count behind her, yet exudes a shy charm — and makes us accept it.  She kills people, sure, we all have our faults, but she’s SO CUTE.

You just have to see it .

 

*As reviewer Maggie Lee says of it, “’Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl’ is ‘Twilight’ for kinky adults with an appetite for gushing gore, Japanese schoolgirls and proudly politically incorrect humor.”

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I went to a poetry reading last night, following a day when the temperature reached 103 degrees.  Not to worry though, we sat outside under the trees, enjoying a breeze and a cooler of ice and a table of cool drinks:  water, wine, diet root beer, and cider.  By odd coincidence many of the poems read concerned fire – both featured readers led off with “fire” poems.  Then when my turn came I read a “Little Willlie” slated for publication in STAR*LINE (see February 6), “Burning Down Woods on a Snowy Evening,” as well as a poem about a fire in a cemetery.

Today it’s supposed to hit 99 degrees and stay in the high 90s well into next week, with half the United States  (at least) in a heat wave according to the Weather Channel.  So I thought I’d do something I haven’t done before on this blog, repeat a previous entry.  This time however it seems appropriate.

So, for planning safe, satisfying, stay-at-home activities for a coming week of torrid evenings, herewith from July 12 2011 a précis of films on appropriately cold subjects to make you begin to be glad it’s still summer:

3 Cold Movies for Hot Nights — “Freeze Me,” “L’Iceberg,” & “The Holy Mountain” (with a quick side mention of “Woman in the Moon”)

July 12, 2011

I received the check today for my recently published STAR*LINE poem, “Saving Places” (see Jul. 5), giving me reason to go to the bank, then to the market to walk back home with, among other things, 1.5 quarts of vanilla ice cream through 92-degree late morning heat. Then yesterday it was 95, with a heat index of 110, not the hottest in the US (one friend in Florida told me her car’s air-conditioning conked out, not a good thing in Florida), but after a respite in the high 80s the next couple of days, the weather forecast calls for the 90s again for the weekend.

So perhaps tonight I will watch again one of the occasional treasures one finds at library sales, an almost pristine Kino VHS of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (aka DER HEILIGE BERG, 1926, silent, complete with tinting), starring Leni Riefenstahl, the actress who later went on to direct, among other things, the highly artistic films OLYMPIA (about the 1936 Olympics) and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL for, as it happens, her personal friend Hitler. This however is a love story, filmed in the Alps: “Enthralled by the scenic majesty and heaving power of nature, an alluring dancer seeks the man of her dreams in a small mountain village. There she encounters a reclusive climber and a young skier, who are each pursuing their own elusive ideals amid the intoxicating beauty and treacherous dangers of the alps.” Dripping with ubermensch-ism (literally looking down on those who don’t climb mountains — and presumably filmed with real

Still from Frau im Mond

mountaineers rather than professional actors for most of the parts). And — and this is the point for late night watching with temperatures still up in the high 80s — ends with mountain men caught on a ledge in the storm and being FROZEN TO DEATH. (Also interesting to science fiction fans is Fritz Lang’s 1929 WOMAN IN THE MOON [aka FRAU IM MOND], ubermensch again plus “good” vs. “bad” capitalism which in a weird kind of way prefigures Ayn Rand. Lang though, for his part, was one of those like Bertolt Brecht and Peter Lorre who left Germany after Hitler came to power. [Well, Communist Brecht didn’t last long in Hollywood either, but that’s another story.])

More recent and perhaps best of all, though, for forgetting the heat is an odd little Belgian film (French language [mostly] with English subtitles) I came across, L’ICEBERG, presumably with no political overtones at all, concerning a fast food restaurant manager who gets locked in a walk-in freezer only to discover, when she finally gets out, that her husband and children hadn’t even missed her. “But when Fiona develops an obsession for everything cold and icy — snow, polar bears, refrigerators, icebergs — she drops everything, climbs into a frozen food delivery truck, and leaves home. . . .” Funny. Quirky. Absurdist. One reviewer on Amazon calls it “almost like a comedy version of OPEN WATER (without the sharks) in the way it explores relationships.” And, we mustn’t forget, with icebergs.

Then finally, for relationships gone cold (sorry) there’s FREEZE ME, a Japanese film about a woman who murders, one after the other, a gang of men who had attacked her in the past, storing their bodies in a succession of freezers, continuing to buy new freezers to pack into her apartment as the old ones get full. But she’s running out of space to put them all in, and besides there’s this smell. . . .

I watched an odd Irish film a few nights back, DEAD BODIES (2003), about a guy who accidentally kills his ex-girlfriend (who had moved back in to his apartment because after they broke up she found she couldn’t get along with going back to living with her mother). So, because he’d pushed past her leaving his place to get out of an argument, he reasons she must have tripped and fell, and scared he’ll be arrested for manslaughter he pretends she’d left already and then takes the body out to the woods and buries it. The problem is, as he digs the hole, he discovers there’s already a body there — so girlfriend gets dumped on top.  So a dog digging in the woods leads to ex-girlfriend’s body’s discovery, followed by police also finding body #2 and identifying it as a politician’s wife who’d disappeared eight years ago. . . .  And, the thing is, the movie wasn’t played for comedy but was serious (and a bit sad) pretty much all the way through.

However there’s a little bit more.  The investigating policeman seems to have a past and, well, the original guy gets himself a new girlfriend who may have an agenda too.  Or maybe the guy’s just the world’s biggest loser.  Nevertheless, the film walks a knife-thin line between absurdity (check girlfriend #1, you’ll be glad when she’s gone!) and nihilism (it’s billed on the cover as suspense except nobody much seems to give a damn; for me, in fact, it’s reminiscent of the final scenes of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD where, even if you do everything right to survive the night, you’re still shot the next morning — and here nobody even makes the attempt to do things right).  Moreover, it was nominated for seven Irish Film and Television Awards and won in three categories (Best Actor for lead Andrew Scott, Best Editing, and Best Sound/Sound Editing).  So, while I almost regret having to say it, I think DEAD BODIES will be worth a second look.

Then several weeks back (life intervenes, I’m only getting around to reviewing them now) the Fox HD channel finally showed AVATAR (2009 — gee, it doesn’t seem that long back) and, the following night, perusing the freebies on the local cable’s “Movies on Demand” I ran across 1959’s THE ANGRY RED PLANET.  Thus seen back to back, the thing that struck me is they tell the same story.  ANGRY RED PLANET begins with the discovery of the presumed lost first ship to Mars in a near-Earth orbit, allowing ground control to signal the ship’s computer to bring it back to base.  Two of four crew members are still aboard, the Pretty, Young, Civilian Female Assistant Scientist and  the Handsome Young Captain, the latter of whom has a space fungus of some sort growing on his arm that threatens to take over his entire body.  Also the data tapes the ship should have detailing what happened have been erased and, when they ask the assistant scientist, she more or less goes into shock, so they (and we) have to find out the story via hypnosis (and flashback).  AVATAR has to do with an Earthling base on an alien planet where folks want to mine a rare mineral called “unobtainium” (for which, Heaven help me, I chronically mentally substituted the old ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE SHOW’s “upsidaisium”), trying to get in good with the natives (or at least learn where the stuff is and, if they can’t be talked into cooperating, where their vulnerabilities are) via mind transplants into cloned native bodies.

So, the ANGRY RED space crew consists of four stock characters, seen in various manifestations from the mid 1940s (World War II films at first, later Cold War era science fiction) to at least the mid ‘60s:  1. The Handsome Young Captain, 2. the Pretty Civilian Female Assistant Scientist, 3. the Older Usually Civilian Head Scientist, and 4. the Mildly Obnoxious Working Class Joe Who’s Often from Brooklyn  (in this case a non-commissioned officer who actually references Brooklyn, but who doesn’t really attempt the accent).  Also, just so you’ll know — and this isn’t really a spoiler, just straight formula — #s 3 and 4 will be least likely to survive.  In AVATAR, however, they’re brought back in new guises, #1 becoming a wounded, wheelchair-bound Marine who’s mind-transferred into a  Handsome Young Native (who later becomes a planet-wide high chief), #2 a Pretty Native Female (an on the ground expert, as it were, who mentors #1 — and also just happens to be the local chief’s daughter), #3 an Older Female Civilian Head Scientist, and #4 a promotion to More-Than-Just-Mildly Obnoxious Head Officer With Working Class Manners.  As for survival, you have your scorecards.  Things don’t go too well in AVATAR, however, though much of the earlier part of the film concerns various adventures the hero has in learning about the planet (one of which, the flying reptile lesson, is eerily reminiscent of a more extended sequence in 2002’s DINOTOPIA).  It seems the upsi-oops-unobtanium is underneath one of only (I think) four World Trees which, since the natives consider these sacred, is not a good omen, and to which the Head Scientist adds some vague mumbo-jumbo about the whole planet having maybe some kind of hive mind.  Fighting ensues, the upshot of which is most of the humans are kicked off because, well, while we humans have made admirably enormous scientific and technological strides, they’ve far outstripped our abilities at socialization (particularly with non-human species).  In ANGRY RED, on the other hand, once into the flashback we see the crew having various adventures in which they learn about Mars (a three-eyed monster is seen through the landed spaceship’s porthole, a plant tries to eat the Pretty Female Assistant [setting up a stock Rescue by the Handsome Young Captain situation — by AVATAR standards ANGRY RED is blatantly sexist, Cappy’s continually tying to put the make on her aboard the ship too, but then it was made 50 years before], a lake monster attacks just as they spot a distant Martian city, a giant amoeba-like goo thing attempts to absorb the ship, and the ship is held on the planet for a time by a mysterious force field) as well as hear the Older Head Scientist opine some vague mumbo-jumbo about the whole planet having maybe some kind of hive mind.   The upshot of which is, the force field having finally let the ship go, the hypnosis having been a success, the means to cure the Captain’s space fungus (a souvenir of the amoeba-like goo thing) learned, a final non-erased data tape is discovered in which we see the three-eyed monster telling us that our scientific and technological advancement has far outstripped our abilities at socialization and Don’t Come Back.

Are these films worth seeing?  Yes.  (Granted ANGRY RED PLANET contains sexism — well, let’s face it, once he’s cured of the Martian goo, the Captain nowadays would probably be up on sexual harassment charges — and AVATAR a sort of queasy noble savage/Native American ambience that I suspect might irritate me mightily if I were Native American myself, but, even with one just three years old, perhaps these films can be seen as simply typical of their times, and possibly even of extra sociological interest for it.)  The “message,” if not ground-breaking, holds up well enough and the story line, if a bit simplistic, provides sufficient adventure for a good night’s entertainment.  The special effects, though, are something else:  ANGRY RED PLANET, once boots are on the ground, is angry and red through a system of ultra low budget red-tinted stock with occasional solarization, with puppet monsters (did I mention the combination giant rat/bat/crab/spider?) against actually well done matte backgrounds.  These intersperse with aboard-ship scenes that are strictly standard providing a contrast that, if perhaps not even intended to be “realistic,” are even better.  They’re interesting.  And with AVATAR I can say almost the same thing.  Much, much, much, much more expensively done with state of the art computer effects (the only fault of which is that occasionally one remembers what’s being watched is still essentially a cartoon — the fault in this case, though, being much more the viewer’s than the presenters’) contrasted with grittier, pretty much standard by today’s taste scenes on the human base.  But as for the “on the ground” scenes in AVATAR, cartoons or no, the impression is beautiful.

The week just past featured an interesting sort of double feature, THE BLOOD STAINED BRIDE a few nights before followed, Friday night, by the classic THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE.  BLOOD STAINED is about the romance between wimpy gentleman Tracy, just dumped by his old girlfriend, and Madeline who, thinking marriage is great but having a problem with the sex part of it, finds herself free having recently multiply stabbed her old husband to death on their wedding night.  So she sets about molding Tracy into the perfect (and presumably sexless) husband to be, murdering occasional threats she encounters along the way (notably the old girlfriend) until the night before the wedding when Tracy rebels by going to a bachelor party thrown by his old ne’er-do-well guy pals — and Madeline finds out even though he had promised not to go.  Carnage follows.  This is all played for humor though (well, along with sleaze too) and is actually surprisingly good, although in a genre where the bar is set extremely low.  The kind of thing that should probably best be watched with degenerate friends, and while high.  (Although it does have some pretty good laughs, but not really the movie you want to bring anyone you want to impress — even a little — to.)

BLOOD SPATTERED, on the other hand, is a Spanish vampire film directed by Vicente Aranda (though filmed in English) with some cult status, based a little on Le Fanu’s short novel CARMILLA.  New bride Susan is brought home to the castle by her sophisticated and mildly sadistic Euro-trash husband where, through a series of dreams, she meets the reincarnated black-sheepette of the distaff side of hubby’s family, one Mircalla Karnstein, buried more or less alive some centuries ago for having — are we ready? — murdered her husband on their wedding night because he had wanted her to commit “unspeakable acts.”  In her new life as Carmilla, the sheepette reintroduces herself to the melange by (a) stalking Susan in “real life” as well as in dreams and (b) burying herself nude in the sand on the family beach with only a snorkel and one hand sticking out when hubby happens by and digs her up.  From there Carmilla helps Susan discover her inner lesbian as well as the delightful relief from tension repeated knifings of various family retainers (the doctor, the gamekeeper — the latter of whom gets his as a result of Carmilla being caught in a fox trap) can bring one.  Oh, and turns her into a fellow vampire along the way (no sense in letting all that spilled blood go to waste).  The movie ends when hubby, suspecting, goes into the castle basement by day to discover Susan and Carmilla snoozing sans PJs in each others arms in a coffin built for two, and does what any,  ahem, red–blooded husband would do:  He re-closes the coffin, takes his hunting rifle, and shoots a zillion holes through coffin and contents.  The servant woman’s teenage daughter (who’s thus far played a sort of “Igor” role, enabling Carmilla in minor ways) then appears to (a) inform hubby that “they’ll some back.  You can’t kill them”), (b) reveals tooth marks in her own throat, and (c) kneels down so hubby can shoot her too.

But wily hubby has the last laugh in this one at least (unlike wimpy husband-to-be in THE BLOOD STAINED BRIDE) by then taking out his hunting knife, re-opening the coffin, and starting to carve a slice of breast when the screen switches to a newspaper headline:  MAN CUTS HEARTS OUT OF THREE WOMEN (which at least means he probably went to jail for it, but, memo to Carmilla, next time pick a less mouthy servant’s daughter to tell your secrets to).

All that said, I’d seen both these films before and both were more or less as I remembered them, with BLOOD STAINED BRIDE being an okay idle night’s entertainment (though one may feel a little embarrassed to watch it, especially if someone else sees you doing it) but with BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE holding up quite well on a second look.  It’s one I’m tempted to see if I can find a better version of on DVD (the VHS though is letterboxed so I get some effect of its original wide screen) and probably plan to watch again some day.

(The cave cat Wednesday, on the other hand, slept through them both — which is just as well since SPATTERED has a fox-killing scene early on that, Spain apparently not having a code at the time for not harming animals used in films, was reportedly done for real.)

Then moving to poetry for another bit of news — and a minimalist lagniappe — the Science Fiction Poetry Association posted its flier EXPLORING THE COSMOS (cf. Feb. 11) at the beginning of this week.  My entries here are “Escape Velocity” and “Snapshot:  The Voyagers” which can be seen with other brief poems by several SFPA poets by checking out the SFPA Promos site here, then pressing “Exploring the Cosmos,” just under where it says “SFPA Fact Sheet.”

Having watched/rewatched a couple of ultra well known films the last few weeks (notably CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) for various reasons, the new-to-me movie I ended up seeing Wednesday night was an exotic one, ORLANDO, which I’d recommend, though perhaps strangely.  Amazon reviews say it’s “based on, but scarcely resembling” Virginia Woolf’s book, and several reviews complain of wooden acting, but (of the acting at least) I had much less quarrel.  It’s supposed to be odd.  Orlando, a (male) courtier in England’s Elizabethan Age is played by actress Tilda Swinton, who at one point very, very early on addresses the audience directly — so you know this isn’t going to be played as ordinary drama.  Orlando is ordered by the Queen (played by male cross-dresser Quentin Crisp) never to age so, like any good subject, he doesn’t, leading thus to a series of vignettes illuminating various periods of British history, and through which Orlando seems to look slightly but increasingly feminine (check the hair when he takes his wig off, subtle but it was the impression I got anyway) until at one point he/she changes sex completely (“no difference really, just a different sex,” she says while gazing in the mirror, having awakened from a long nap) but carries on, now wearing dresses, meeting and sharing barbs with Jonathan Swift and Samuel Pepys, etc., later having a daughter, up to the more or less present (wearing slacks riding a motorcyle now — go figure).  Interesting, head-swimming, and (in my opinion) deliberately distanced from viewers to give it all a legendary quality.  AND, throughout which, even in the pan-and-scan VHS copy I found for a buck at the local Goodwill, there is absolutely beautiful photography, my favorite probably being the skating party on the frozen Thames during the “Great London Frost” of 1603 (in which I recognized the music for the dance, on skates, as a sprightly version of “Belle Qui Tient Ma Vie,” one that I’ve played many a time myself) — this is back when Orlando is still male, of course, and is using the occasion to romance the daughter of the ambassador from Russia (whose party has been iced in for the season!).

Weird and interesting.

I received the check today for my recently published STAR*LINE poem, “Saving Places” (see Jul. 5), giving me reason to go to the bank, then to the market to walk back home with, among other things, 1.5 quarts of vanilla ice cream through 92-degree late morning heat.  Then yesterday it was 95, with a heat index of 110, not the hottest in the US (one friend in Florida told me her car’s air-conditioning conked out, not a good thing in Florida), but after a respite in the high 80s the next couple of days, the weather forecast calls for the 90s again for the weekend.

So perhaps tonight I will watch again one of the occasional treasures one finds at library sales, an almost pristine Kino VHS of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (aka DER HEILIGE BERG, 1926, silent, complete with tinting), starring Leni Riefenstahl, the actress who later went on to direct, among other things, the highly artistic films OLYMPIA (about the 1936 Olympics) and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL for, as it happens,  her personal friend Hitler.  This however is a love story, filmed in the Alps:   “Enthralled by the scenic majesty and heaving power of nature, an alluring dancer seeks the man of her dreams in a small mountain village.  There she encounters a reclusive climber and a young skier, who are each pursuing their own elusive ideals amid the intoxicating beauty and treacherous  dangers of the alps.”  Dripping with ubermensch-ism (literally looking down on those who don’t climb mountains  — and presumably filmed with real mountaineers rather than professional actors for most of the parts).  And — and this is the point for late night watching with temperatures still up in the high 80s — ends with mountain men caught on a ledge in the storm and being FROZEN TO DEATH.  (Also interesting to science fiction fans is Fritz Lang’s 1929 WOMAN IN THE MOON [aka FRAU IM MOND], ubermensch again plus “good” vs. “bad” capitalism which in a weird kind of way prefigures Ayn Rand.  Lang though, for his part, was one of those like Bertolt Brecht and Peter Lorre who left Germany after Hitler came to power.  [Well, Communist Brecht didn’t last long in Hollywood either, but that’s another story.])

More recent and perhaps best of all, though, for forgetting the heat is an odd little Belgian film (French language [mostly] with English subtitles) I came across, L’ICEBERG, presumably with no political overtones at all, concerning a fast food restaurant manager  who gets locked in a walk-in freezer only to discover, when she finally gets out, that her husband and children hadn’t even missed her.  “But when Fiona develops an obsession for everything cold and icy — snow, polar bears, refrigerators, icebergs — she drops everything, climbs into a frozen food delivery truck, and leaves home. . . .”  Funny.  Quirky.  Absurdist.  One reviewer on Amazon calls it “almost like a comedy version of OPEN WATER (without the sharks) in the way it explores relationships.”  And, we mustn’t forget, with icebergs.

Then finally, for relationships gone cold (sorry) there’s FREEZE ME, a Japanese film about a woman who murders, one after the other, a gang of men who had attacked her in the past, storing their bodies in a succession of freezers, continuing to buy new freezers to pack into her apartment as the old ones get full.  But she’s running out of space to put them all in, and besides there’s this smell. . . .

(Sometimes you have to be very, very old to get all the references. . . .)

So COLIN, who we recently met, is now on the shelf between YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and FIDO, the latter of which I finally watched Saturday.  Very funny — think “WARD AND JUNE CLEAVER AND ZOMBIES” with the Beav’s part taken by 9 year old Timmy.  No older brother Wally as such, but there is a new girl in the neighborhood who Timmy makes friends with who’s more sophisticated about things zombie and helps when it’s needed.  (Well, there’s also the neighborhood letch who keeps a zombie “girlfriend” named Tammy.)

This is the idealized 1950s, but one in which the events of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD might have happened 20 years earlier, say around 1948.  Following the “Zombie Wars,” civilized areas have been fenced in while the wild lands are left for zombie survivors — as well as, since traces of the radiation that started it all are still in the air, human dead whose families can’t afford special decapitation/separate burial of their heads and bodies funeral services to prevent them from “turning.”   Zombie bites still work as well, of course, but American commercial ingenuity has come up with special electronic collars for zombies that suppress their desire to eat human flesh (though it’s not clear what they eat instead — perhaps that’s a plot hole, but such is the nature of this movie that who cares?), making them suitable for menial work, including domestic service.  Well, a bit clumsy maybe, and sort of stupid, but still. . . .

So Mom, over Dad’s protests, gets a zombie butler — because everyone else in the neighborhood has at least one — and Beaver, er, Timmy, christens him Fido and treats him as a cross between a playmate and a pet.  And yes, for those old enough to remember the movie collie dog “Lassie” (“Lassie, get help — Timmy’s fallen into the well!”) there’s a reason our Timmy’s named Timmy too.

It’s a fun movie!




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