Posts Tagged ‘Movie Review’

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?”

*And there is a short sequence actually visiting Haiti, plus a brief reference to Wade Davis (e.g., THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW).


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.

Dracula does retain his name in the Turkish version of his movie (see March 26, including a link to the film itself), although spelled at least three different ways in the subtitles.  The other characters, however, are Turkish and the Mina Harker equivalent works as a showgirl (for convenience, let’s call her “Alt-Mina,” who’s also already married to Alt-Jonathan), allowing for two dance sequences which, among other things, neatly divide the 1953-made 94-minute film into three approximately half-hour segments.  And otherwise, while also set in the 1950s, it follows Lugosi’s 19-year earlier classic (and the novel) better than, say, the Hammer Films versions.  Also as it happens the dance sequences served as convenient markers for watching it on a library computer in three separate not-overly-lengthy segments.  And even if “Dracula” is balding and a little bit boorish, the movie is fun.

In brief, the first half hour takes us through Alt-Jonathan’s meeting in Dracula’s castle, ending with him shooting Dracula (or so he thinks) in one of several coffins being readied for shipping to Istanbul.  Then fast forward to Istanbul and Alt-Mina’s club with a reasonably sexy dance sequence, after which she receives a message in her dressing room that Alt-Jonathan’s doing fine (one of the fake letters that Drac had made him write in advance), followed by a phone call that her “sister” Alt-Lucy is ailing and she should pay her a visit.  Thus segment two gives us Dracula’s attacks on Alt-Lucy, her getting “sicker” (one symptom being sleepwalking into the garden where . . . well, you know), doctors being called for, one opining that while surely she’ll get better soon there is this specialist he knows. . . .  And Alt-Mina gets a phone call that there’s a charity show in town that night and could she, maybe, do a dance number for it?

Thus another “Bollywood” moment, after which she receives a message in her dressing room that Alt-Jonathan was discovered having escaped from Drac’s castle and is now in a hospital on the Hungarian(?) border.  This leads to a series of short scenes in which (1) she drives to join hubby who must remain in the hospital three more days, (2) the “specialist,” Alt-Van Helsing, receives a message requesting he consult on the Alt-Lucy case, (3) he does, prescribes transfusions and garlic but she dies anyway with Alt-Mina and hubby arriving back just in time to say goodbye, (4) newspaper articles highlight a strange woman luring children into the cemetery and leaving them with neck-scars whereupon Alt-Van H. drafts Alt-Lucy’s erstwhile fiance plus Alt-Jonathan on a staking (or as the subtitles have it, “poking”) expedition, (5) Alt-Mina’s charity gig is continuing and, while having been talked into always wearing a garlic neclace, she has to take it off when she’s in costume, leading to (6) a visit from Dracula in her dressing room after, moments before hubby arrives to pick her up (while the others await in the last of Dracula’s lairs — real estate agent Alt-Jonathan having pass keys, you see [the subtitles use the term “kiosk” for these properties, a word derived from Turkish, but I assume with more a British than American meaning]), a chase ensues, and (7) a final fight scene and subsequent happy reunion.

Well, you knew how it would end anyway, but go ahead and give DRACULA IN ISTANBUL a look, if only for its curiosity value (remember? March 26th’s post has a link — way, way down at the very very end [and the reason the desk clerk crosses herself is she’s Romanian]).  And as I say, it holds up well enough as a movie (despite sometimes injudicious subtitles) as well as being fun.

No, no, not the one with Boris Karloff.  This is the original Frankenstein movie as written and directed by J. Searle Dawley for Thomas A. Edison, Inc., which had its premiere on March 18 1910.  And with it a tip of the hat goes to Jenny Ashford, a.k.a. the GODDESS OF HELLFIRE, a blog buddy as it were who offers it on her site, complete with a (ahem) tongue-in-cheek review.  Or, in her own introductory words:

Look, my Scary Silents series is alive!  ALIVE!!!  And today we’re dissecting a classic, the Edison Studios adaptation of Frankenstein from 1910.  As most horror buffs know, this was the first filmed version of Mary Shelley’s novel, even though I gotta say the adaptation is a tad on the “creative” side.  Time to get this experiment started, so fire up the kinetogram and watch along!

The film itself, with a running time of approximately 13 and a half minutes, can be seen in its entirety on GODDESSOFHELLFIRE.COM with, as noted above, a possibly slightly less than entirely sympathetic appreciation, and which for both press here.  But be warned, it being, as it informs us itself, “a liberal adaptation of Mrs. Shelley’s story for Edison production.”

There’s a thing about Norwegian Fjords, highly scenic narrow inlets surrounded by tall, steep mountains.  If a mountainside should collapse — which they sometimes do — there will be a tsunami which will cross that fjord as a possibly eighty-meter high wave in a very short time.   Thus tonight at the Indiana University cinema the screening was the Norwegian film THE WAVE, in which geologist-hero Kristin who works for the local resort community’s warning center is getting ready, with his family, to move on to a new, cushy job with an oil company.  Indeed, they’re packed up and will move tomorrow except that Kristin, who has trouble leaving his old gig behind, notices something funny on the sensors that measure the local mountain’s activity.  It’s all a bit odd, though — nothing to TheWaveworry about most likely, except the family is delayed one more night and Mom, in the meantime, what with the tourist season just starting, decides to help out in her just-resigned head night clerk role at the local hotel.

Well, you can probably see what’s coming.  These types of movies do have a pattern, but nevertheless it’s well done, especially in the movie’s first half as more anomalous signals come in, geologists in the field gather more data, and one sees the big one gathering steam with the same never-quite-complete vision the characters themselves would have.  Until, that is . . . well, the movie has been praised for beautiful mountain photography and, when it starts to let loose. . . .

The family dynamic works nicely in THE WAVE too.  The acting is good, though as a writer I did have one qualm.  One of the characters acts irresponsibly, although in innocence, but in a way that later may have caused a number of deaths and which therefore gave me trouble rooting for the character to survive.  But it brings up a moral question as well which is worth considering:  to what extent might one risk other people’s lives in order to try to save one he or she loves?

I don’t think it’s easy, and in this I found THE WAVE more thought provoking than the average disaster flick.  Add to that the first part’s suspense as the disaster approaches, plus nice photography in general, plus, when it happens with a warning time of only ten minutes for a whole town to be evacuated, a realization of how many dumb things can just go wrong, and I found it an interesting evening’s viewing.

One of my nieces, just before Christmas, posted a link to an article about how housecats are really none-too-stable predators and, if they were large enough, would probably kill us.  But we knew that already, didn’t we?  It’s part of their charm, like they’re little vampires.

Suppose, however, it wasn’t cats, but children.  One’s own children, perhaps, who at first seem to precipitate accidents — a misdirected sled sliding down a hill — but which escalate into causing real harm.  Or maybe just mischief, but which somehow turns lethal.

And suppose they’re doing this intentionally, intending to kill us.

If we were parents, could we believe the truth?  Or would we fight to believe, as the woundings and deaths pile up, that it has to be somebody else’s fault?

This is the premise of the British film THE CHILDREN (see “10 Films to Peruse for Your Christmas Holiday Watching Pleasure,” December 13):  “A family anticipates a Christmas filled with sledding, laughter and hot cocoa as they head to their vacation home in the secluded backcountry.  The holiday cheer takes a turn for the worse after a mysterious flu-like virus sweeps through the kids, and one by one the children become deadly.  TheChildrenNow, amidst suspicion, mayhem and murder, the parents must fight for survival against their own twisted offspring.”  And, oh yes, while police are called after the first actual death, the roads are hard to get through due to snow, so don’t expect them to arrive any too soon.

And remember, imagine that they’re your children — or maybe some of them nieces or nephews.  One flaw is that it is an extended family and there was some confusion, at least for me, keeping straight who’s related, and how, to whom.  Also, as a film of this sort probably must, it starts a bit on the slow side.

Nevertheless it becomes intense with, I think, the character of Casey as the key.  She’s the one teenage daughter, neatly caught between the two generations, who didn’t want to be there in the first place.  Rebellious, yes, but also the one who can be objective — who is first to figure out what’s going on — who through this begins to re-bond with her mom.  And it’s she who I found myself following.

Will she be able to keep her mom alive?  Will she survive?  There are loose ends aplenty — are those neighboring families’ children we see briefly at the end?  Is this ending up something like Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS?  But the focus by now is squarely on Casey and Mom, and. . . .

Well, the film’s not perfect, but for a different kind of night-after-Christmas horror — no demon Santas in this one — it makes for a delightfully creepy, subversive holiday package.

(While as for the piece on cats, press here.)

And what did you see at the movies on Halloween?  For me, with a screen time beginning at 11:59 last night at the IU Cinema, the midnight showing for All Hallow’s Eve was a strange one, the 1977 Japanese film HAUSU.  And yes, it means “house.”   It’s an “evil house” movie, but with a big difference.  This one combines the expected tropes with a weird 2Hausuundercurrent of surrealism, including cartoons, a demon cat, telegraphed punches — all clearly intentional — even slapstick humor in a tale of seven schoolgirls’ summer outing at the home of one of the girls’ maiden aunt.  An aunt she hadn’t seen since her grandmother’s funeral years in the past.

But the past stretched further.  Auntie, it seems, had loved a man during World War II who had promised to come back — but never did.  And since then, with the exception of Auntie, the village seems to have become bereft of unmarried young women (it does, however, possess a creepy male watermelon seller who points the way to Auntie’s over-large house).  That is, until now.

There was no docent to explain the movie.  It is what it is.  The program notes say, in part:  “Too absurd to be genuinely terrifying, yet too nightmarish to be merely comic, HOUSE seems like it was beamed to Earth from another planet.  Or 1Hausuperhaps the mind of a child:  the director Nobuhiko Obayashi fashioned the script after the eccentric musings of his 11-year-old daughter, then employed all the tricks in his analog arsenal (mattes, animation, and collage) to make them a visually astonishing, raucous reality.  Contains graphic content, including violence and nudity.”  I say if you don’t mind wackiness with your surrealism, nor mind an ending that masks its horror with sweetness and sadness — and even a philosophic note on the persistence of love — I recommend HAUSU.

(Or, so I may still not have actually read it, second from top on Monday’s list of Most Disturbing Novels, but last night I did watch the DVD.  The quote in the headline, however, is cribbed from Amazon’s blurb on the book.)

There is a legend (if I remember the details correctly) that a vial of perfume thousands of years old was discovered in a tomb in Egypt, still sealed and intact.  The archaeologists opened it and the scent of its contents was so exquisite that, for a moment, everybody on the Earth forgot they were living and thought they were in heaven.  The perfume was subsequently analyzed and twelve of its ingredients identified, but a thirteenth remains unknown.

This we learn about an hour, of a total 147 minutes, into the movie PERFUME.  Subtitled THE STORY OF A MURDERER — no spoiler here — the movie details the life of one Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born with a preternaturally enhanced sense of smell and, as he determines just about halfway through the film, no natural body odor himself.  He, by then a connoisseur of smells, fears this means he has no real identity, while from a practical point of view it also means he can sneak up on people fairly easily.  So the movie itself (as is the book too) is one about smells, with a movement progressing from the stinky to the near-divine.  Jean-Baptiste is born in the fish market of 1738 Paris, the smelliest part of the smelliest, if only because it’s the largest, city in France.  From the start he is fascinated by odors with no judgment as to “badness” or “goodness” until as a young man working for a tanner, while making a delivery in Paris he comes upon a young, just-pubescent woman whose smell fascinates him.  Cue in a truly creepy scene in the course of which he accidentally kills her, then strips her and sniffs all over her body — but the thing is, he knows now some smells may be especially desired.  This, he also soon learns, includes shops that sell perfume as well as women who buy it.

He now gets himself apprenticed to a perfumer where he learns how perfume is mixed and made.  There are three stages in a completed perfume — the initial impression, the odor continuing to be enjoyed with its wearer present, then that which remains after — each of these composed of a harmony of four distinct scents, plus a theoretical thirteenth scent.  This is the one unanalyzed in the Egyptian legend, which he learns at this time too, but, as his master explains, it’s only a legend.

Still, he must learn more, and, receiving his journeyman’s papers, he travels to the flower-growing town of Grasse, a center of perfume manufacture, and it is here he conceives his grand plan:  if he has no identity himself as a result of having no odor, he will gain one by concocting the ultimate perfume.  Learning the process of enfleurage 220px-Perfume_poster— capturing scents in odorless fats — to augment the more common distillation method his old master taught him, and recalling the young woman he’d killed in Paris, he proceeds to extract the scents of women.  Twelve women in all, but then a thirteenth. . . .

Perhaps we can sense where this is going — but what a journey!  The idea behind the tale may be fantastic but the sets, the costumes, the details are supremely naturalistic.  The ugly depravity of Paris’s slums, the opulence of a wealthy estate outside of Grasse, the fields of flowers, all enlisted to help supply for the imagination the dimension that’s missing from both book and film, the smells themselves.  The inhuman despair of the Parisian rabble contrasted with the brightness, especially, of the two women, the young girl of Paris and now, at Grasse, a rich man’s daughter that Jean-Baptiste has designs on for a thirteenth new victim, both strikingly red-haired, leading the eye if not the nose, literally, to the exotic.

And then the ending, at least for me quite unexpected, yet perfect in its own disturbing way.  It’s a kind of film that I enjoy, intricate, beautiful, chilling as well but especially so as one recalls details well after it has ended.  I recommend it.

The word came today from Flame Tree Publisher Nick Wells, via Editor Gillian Whitaker, that CHILLING GHOST SHORT STORIES and its companion volumes (cf. August 7, July 31, et al.) will be delayed, in part simply due to the fact that it’s summer — and even printers can take vacations!  “As any Publisher will tell you, printing is easy until it goes wrong.  It’s the most expensive part of the process, and usually carried out in a remote location.  Many’s the time I’ve travelled to a lonely industrial estate, far outside the beautiful city my plane flew over (Hong Kong, Madrid, Seville, Venice) soon to find myself sitting in a windowless room checking proofs as they grind off the press.

“So, we’re told that the inside book blocks have been printed, but they await the return of the specialists from their quiet contemplations on some distant beach, to finish the covers to their and our satisfaction, after which the books can be bound, boxed, and transported across Europe to the UK, then off to the US. . . .”

Thus such things happen, as indeed we’ve seen more than once on these very pages.  In fact the delay here is relatively short with release now expected “in Europe on or around 10th September, with the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand following as quickly as we can despatch to the various distribution centres around the globe.  Author copies come from our office, and will be despatched as soon as we receive them.”

In other news, Thursday evening marked the Indiana University Cinema’s screening of six award-winning short films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, two of which held special interest to horror/science fiction aficionados.  The first, from France, and winner of the Short Film Jury Prize:  Animation, was a sort of absurdist disaster movie, listed in the program as “Storm hits jacket.  Written and directed by PauSundancel Cabon.  2014, France, 13 minutes.  A storm reaches the shores of Brittany.  Nature goes crazy, and two young scientists get caught up in the chaos.   Espionage, romantic tension, and mysterious events clash with enthusiasm and randomness.”  Also included are a mad spy-master, a Vespa-riding femme fatale, a witchy mysterious elderly woman, and (to quote the subtitle as best I remember) a “tempest of cows.”

Then, last in the showing, was the Short Film Jury Award (Best of Fest) winner, “World of Tomorrow.  Written and directed by Don Hertzfeldt.  U.S.A., 17 minutes.  A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of the distant future.”  In this one, also an animation (and in a charmingly primitive style), a third-generation clone visits her “original.”  Too young to really comprehend, “Emily” is shown a future where human emotions are all but dead; the rich are immortal through successive cloning while those who can’t afford it are downloaded into memory cubes; robots instilled with a fear of death, which they’ve been taught to associate with darkness, endlessly march around the moon in order to always be on the sunlit side; but in which none of this really matters because the whole world is doomed anyway.  And throughout it all, with a deadpan exposition style that made the film screamingly funny.

In short, a good night, and a not-too-disappointing announcement to follow on Friday.

Imagine if Edgar Allan Poe had a chat with Alice, of Wonderland fame.  That sort of describes my ultimate feeling when, last night, I took a chance watching Ken Russell’s somewhat dubious-sounding movie THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER.  Yes, that’s not a misprint, it’s a buggy interpretation “for the 21st century” of not just Poe’s “House” (which possibly more 17julydeflates than falls at the end of the picture) but almost everything else Poesque beginning with a wink of the eye to “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Thus rock star Rod Usher is convicted of killing his wife and sent to the local insane asylum run by, if not “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” the equally cracked Dr. Calahari (played by Russell himself), assisted by buxom and oft-groped nurse ABC Smith, “whose [to quote the back-cover blurb] mind-blowing shock treatments set off a series of bizarre, nightmarish adventures.”  Other assistants, patients, relations, and/or references include “Berenice,” Valdemar (as in “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”), etc., including, in that this becomes a detective tale too, Gory the Gorilla (as borrowed from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”).  And, Rod being a rocker, there are songs as well, or at least snippets thereof including a rap piece with overtones of “The Bells,” a rock song that quotes “The Conqueror Worm,” and most luscious of all, a rock video treatment of “Annabel Lee.”  And more!

To paraphrase one of its reviewers, THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER is at heart a series of ten-minute takes in filmmaker Russell’s back garden with his friends and neighbors, done ultra low-budget.  But also allowing him total control.  And that’s where the ALICE IN WONDERLAND aspect comes through for me, that book also being a succession of takes, one mini-adventure, one new and eccentric character met following after another, presenting a broadening but never complete, surrealistic view of a world of madness.  But madness still with a sophistication, a story behind it.

Love it or hate it, following the lead of seemingly most of the film’s reviews — I myself could have done with a bit less gratuitous phallic imagery, though in fairness there’s really not that much.  So maybe you shouldn’t show it to the kids.  But otherwise, in late 1960s parlance:  Man, what a trip!

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