Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

A bumbling pig farmer, a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an ambitious expat architect and a disenchanted rich girl converge and collide as thousands of dead pigs float down the river towards a rapidly modernizing Shanghai, China.  Based on true events.  (From IMDb)

I don’t know about how true the events are, but the movie is called DEAD PIGS, and here’s the IU Cinema’s take on it:  Filmmaker Ash Mayfair is scheduled to be present.  A mysterious stream of pig carcasses floats silently toward China’s populous economic hub, Shanghai.  As authorities struggle to explain the phenomenon, a down-and-out pig farmer with a youthful heart struggles to make ends meet, while an upwardly mobile landowner fights gentrification against an American expat seeking a piece of the Chinese dream.  Like a mosaic, their stories intersect and converge in a showdown between human and machine, past and future, brother and sister.  In Mandarin with English subtitles.  Contains mature content.

Ms. Mayfair, a Vietnamese filmmaker herself, was on campus for one of her films as well, but she also acted as docent for this one, adding, of DEAD PIGS, “So funny, so moving, very sophisticated.”  And yes, the funniness often was buried within the absurdity of the situations, though in details also, but I at least began to feel sorry for some of the characters — not always all that innocent themselves — but trapped in an overall context that, laughs aside, wasn’t likely to end well for most.  But family, and love, became stronger than than one might have thought at first and over the closing credits was a an upbeat chorus, in English, of “Everybody Celebrate” (there’s also a group sing near the end in the movie proper, but that one in Chinese).

So to me, DEAD PIGS wasn’t entirely a laugh fest, but was surprisingly good as a movie.  Or, for a little bit more of the flavor, here’s the first paragraph of a Sundance review by Jessica Kiang, from VARIETY.COM (which can be read in its entirety here):   In the Chinese zodiac, the happy-go-lucky pig stands for good fortune and wealth.  So an inexplicable epidemic that decimates the porcine population in a developing part of China still heavily reliant on pig farming, could be symbolically as well as literally disastrous, and it provides Cathy Yan’s sprawling, bouncing, jaunty debut with its darkest images.  Along the wide river that flows sluggishly to the nearby city, thousands of discarded pig corpses keep bobbing to the surface like troublesome metaphors.  But despite tracking with forensic rigor the domino effects of this sudden aporkalypse, the surprise is the light sureness of Yan’s touch.  “Dead Pigs” is delightfully uneven, eagerly see-sawing between screwy and serious, occasionally even daring to be ditzy — not a quality usually associated with Sixth Generation maestro and executive producer Jia Zhangke.  If anything, Yan’s film, with its dancing girls, pigeon-fancying beauticians, Westerners-on-the-make and spontaneous musical numbers, is an antidote to China’s weightier arthouse output, settling the stomach after too much stolid social realism, effervescent as an alka-seltzer.

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It’s not easy being different — and especially so if one has what one may call “special” powers.  So, too, of films, Julia Hart’s FAST COLOR (billed as Drama, Science Fiction, and Thriller) being a last minute addition to the Indiana University Cinema’s “International Arthouse Series” with special reference this fall to films directed by women, and of which the docent declined to comment on “the way the movie unfolds.”

There was, though, a blurb, even if emailed just four days before:  In the dystopian near future of a drought-plagued American Midwest, a young woman, Ruth, with superhuman abilities is forced to go on the run when her powers are discovered.  Pursued by law enforcement and scientists who want to control her and study her powers, Ruth is running out of options.  Years after having abandoned her family, she realizes the only place she has left to hide is home.  While seeking shelter with her mother, Bo, and the daughter she’s never really known, Lila, Ruth begins to mend her fractured familial bonds and discovers how to harness her powers rather than be haunted by them.

And on Friday the thirteenth as well (and a rare one on which there was also a full moon!), I had some doubts as I went to the screening.  But I can say that I was delighted.  The docent did point out that FAST COLOR received rave reviews at its premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival; for myself I would say while there may have been plot holes as well as a possibly simplified ending (e.g., would not agents of the “evil” scientists and cops still have pursued the main character, even if having had it demonstrated that that might not be a good idea), the characters came off as emotionally true — relatable to and likeable, if in weird circumstances — and the SFX (when sparingly used) were good.  All of which I’d expect goes to good direction.

This was the classic, 1989 version, by Mary Lambert and screenplay (as well as a brief role) by Stephen King himself.  Though I think, if it were me, I might have ended the film a few minutes earlier, letting the viewers imagine the last scene.  And I thought there might have been too much suspension of disbelief asked for, not only the main premise which was okay, but also the “friendly” ghost PLUS the little girl’s 100 percent accurate prescient dreams.  But the ghost had some good lines, and the theme of “a man does something stupid, then seeing what he has done — and with plenty of warning against it — does a stupid thing again” is at least well served.

But that’s just my carping. I hadn’t seen PET SEMATARY before, but for suspense, marvelous cinematography, and some neat “down east” accents in the parts of Jud and Missy, I will say the movie is well worth seeing.  To quote the IU Cinema blurb:  The Creed family — Louis, Rachel, and their children, Ellie and Gage — is just settling into a new country home in Maine when the family cat, Church, meets an untimely death.  Convinced by a neighbor to bury the animal in a nearby pet cemetery, Louis soon learns how the ground — an ancient burial site — can change a thing.  Yet, when their toddler Gage wanders onto a busy road and is tragically killed by a semi-trailer truck, Louis is inconsolable and determined to resurrect him by any means necessary.  Based on the Stephen King horror novel of the same name, the film adaptation rights for PET SEMATARY were originally sold in 1984 to George A. Romero, but Romero chose to leave the production to finish another film, MONKEY SHINES.  Mary Lambert was Paramount’s first choice to replace Romero. She began her career in music video — creating iconic videos for The Go-Gos, The Eurythmics, Sting, and Janet Jackson.  Just one month prior to the release of PET SEMATARY, Lambert directed Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video, which premiered to protests from the Catholic Church and a call for boycott from the pope himself.  Contains mature content.

The Goth Cat Triana, as I write this, is asleep on the chair I usually sit in — I’m inclined just now not to disturb her.  And that about says it.

THE BUBBLE is the work of writer/director Arch Oboler, famous for his LIGHTS OUT! radio plays in the 1930s and ’40s.  He’s the same Arch Oboler responsible for the 1952 3-D film BWANA DEVIL, who for the rest of his life was a vocal cheerleader for the artistic and commercial potential of 3-D movies.

Oboler liked communicating his ideas about humanity and our imperfect society using the narrative vehicle of the strange, the bizarre, the unexpected.  THE BUBBLE is this kind of story.  Some have compared the film to an extended episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or THE OUTER LIMITS, and there’s a ring of truth to that.  The events of THE BUBBLE unfold like a groggy dream, nightmarish not in its intensity but in its unsettling mood and mysterious implications.

Thus begins an Amazon review by David M. Ballew of THE BUBBLE, Friday’s “Not-Quite Midnights” series first fall semester screening at the Indiana University Cinema.  Maybe not madness, exactly, but lovely 1966 schlock with at least a sort of zombie apocalypse.  That is, it’s more a psychological thing, but the people in the mysterious town our heroes find themselves in, a man and his wife and their newborn child along with the pilot who unwittingly landed them there, certainly act like zombies.  The cabdriver asks “do you need a ride” but never drives (the hero ultimately commandeering his taxi), the bartender keeps polishing the same glass pausing only to repeat “how may I serve you?” when addressed directly, the bar’s entertainer does her dance without needing music. . . .  A kind of a bad place to raise a new child.  And, as the Cinema’s program puts it, [t]hen there is an even more terrifying discovery — the zombie inhabitants live under an impenetrable dome, trapped like insects in a jar.  Can Catherine, Mark, and their newborn baby escape THE BUBBLE, or will they become mindless drones trapped in a human zoo?

AND, going back to David M. Ballew on Amazon, the real star of THE BUBBLE is Space-Vision 3-D.  The first truly practical American single-strip 3-D system, Space-Vision delivers strong, deep, beautifully rounded stereoscopic imagery that is nevertheless pleasantly comfortable to view, owing in part to the felicities of the original system design and in part to the remarkable restoration work put forth in this Blu-Ray incarnation by Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz.  If 3-D were a classic Hollywood film actress, you would say she was never lovelier than she is right here.

In other words (but noting this was a theater version “[r]estored from the 35mm negatives by the 3-D Film Archive,” though it may have led to the Blu-Ray one Ballew cites), an ideal film for the IU Cinema:  entertaining, historically /technically important, even avant-garde in its way, and just a whole lot of fun.

Then a second quick note, in view of the lateness in sending some print copies, the DWARF STARS voting deadline for ultra short poems (see just below, August 30) has been extended until September 15.  SFPA has emailed a new voting link to members and it also appears in the July 7 email that included the link for the PDF edition.

So we’ve all seen the movie SHAUN OF THE DEAD, yes?  It’ll be number 1 on the list that follows.  But what about LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS (I have)?  Or, number 10, I BOUGHT A VAMPIRE MOTORCYCLE?  Or in other words, how many have you (or I) actually seen of “The Top 10 British Comedy Horror Films!” by fellow blogger cmsaunders, courtesy of CMSAUNDERS.WORDPRESS.COM?

From, as it were, the horse’s mouth:  Everyone does lists of their Top 10 Horror films. I wanted to do something special for you instead.  How about a Top 10 BRITISH Horror Film List?  Not special enough?  Well, taking it to the next level, you know how us Brits are renowned for our unique, irreverent, occasionally wacky yet sophisticated sense of humour?  No?  Well, we are.  Sometimes it can be as subtle as an autumn breeze.  Other times it can be fast, bloody, and brutal.  Like a good bout of period sex.  So . . . how about a Top 10 British COMEDY Horror Film List?  Yeah, let’s do that.

So let’s do.  Or for the record, re. the last sentence in paragraph one, I’ve only seen four but some that I haven’t seem worth looking into.  And there’s at least one other you may have seen too, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.  For all, then, press here.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I wrote a story called “The Plant-Sitter.”  The sitter in question, hired to take care of an exotic plant while its owner attends a horror convention, in part was a homage to the 1960 Roger Corman film LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, specifically when at the end, the hiree apparently now deceased, the hirer tries to remember her name.  “Audrey something?”  The story was published in the Fall 2004 BOOK OF DARK WISDOM by William Jones, who later founded Elder Signs Press, and who I subsequently worked with on an idea I had for a novel-in-stories about a far-future world of the “Tombs.”  For various reasons that project got delayed, but eventually under new editor/publisher Chuck Zaglanis, thirteen years later, the book was published as TOMBS:  A CHRONICLE OF LATTER-DAY TIMES OF EARTH.

So these things are connected.  The Corman movie begat a 1960s retro rock musical in 1982, and that in turn was made into a movie four years after, in 1986, which I also have seen.  And now — one of the perks of living in a university town, where slightly off the beaten track films and theatre are nurtured — I had a chance to see the play on stage last night in an Indiana University Summer Theatre production.

For local readers the play can be seen on various dates through July 28.  For those who like horror in urban settings (a flower shop in New York’s “skid row”?) and dark, dark humor, all I can say is that it’s a delight.  It does have, yes, a carnivorous plant as well as, like most musicals, innocent lovers — or those at least who start off with some innocence.  Also it adds a sadistic dentist, and a Greek chorus-like trio of girl pop singers (early 1960s style, remember) who’re not averse to demanding tips to give strangers directions — to get to the flower shop, that is — although greed and materialism infect most of the other players as well.  Or in the plant’s case (named “Audrey II,” after the not quite entirely guileless ingenue) perhaps it’s more properly gluttony.

Anyhow I greatly recommend it.

Then a quick note on yesterday afternoon’s post on “11 Space Movies for Apollo 11,” it turns out that the wily SHORT LIST may have sent that particular feature as, apparently, a special treat for its newsletter subscribers — which means that the link may not have worked for all who tried it.  There doesn’t seem to be much I can do about that, but I can give a list of the movies alone.  Thus, from number one to eleven:  2001:  A SPACE ODYSSEY, APOLLO 13, INTERSTELLAR, FIRST MAN, HIDDEN FIGURES, CAPRICORN ONE, THE RIGHT STUFF, GRAVITY, THE MARTIAN, MOON, SPACE CAMP.

Well, there’s APOLLO 11 which I think was on CNN on TV a week or two back (also, I believe, being re-screened locally this weekend by Ryder Films), but that’s not on this list.  Rather this is a list of Hollywood films, some of epic proportion like 2001:  A SPACE ODYSSEY, some uplifting like THE RIGHT STUFF, even some you might not have immediately thought of as about space like HIDDEN FIGURES.  So the list for today is by Libby Plummer, “The 11 Best Space Movies that Are Out of This World,” brought to us via SHORLIST.COM.  We’ve trawled the galaxy to pick out the best of the bunch so if you’re looking for something to watch in celebration of Apollo 11’s historic mission to the moon or you’re just a massive space nerd, here’s our shortlist of the 11 best space movies around.  Since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon 50 years ago, space has been a popular destination for filmmakers.  Whether it’s true-life stories of daring space missions or the possible future of Earthlings in space you’re after, the movie world has you covered.

Others noted: CAPRICORN ONE, THE MARTIAN, APOLLO 13 . . . the list goes on.  But see it for yourself by pressing here!

Vampire movies might feel a little overplayed in our post-Twilight era — but in all honesty who doesn’t love a good vampire flick?  There’s just something so cool and thrilling about an immortal blood-sucking creature prowling through the night.  The folklore surrounding these supernatural terrors has been around for centuries, so you know the ghoulish bloodsuckers aren’t going away anytime soon.

And that’s what we’re here to talk about — the scary kind of vampires.  So if you’re looking for some Twilight-y melodrama, I’m sorry to say you’ve come to the wrong place.  But if you’re willing to stay, we invite you to check out these 19 spooky vampire movies that will make your blood run cold.  Grab the garlic and start watching.

So I have an especially soft spot for these, a couple maybe not really on my must re-watch list, but most I think should not be missed.  A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, reviewed here below (see January 11, also January 15 2015), or ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (see June 26 2014), for instance.  Or how about the original versions of NOSFERATU (1922) or DRACULA (1931), or to be a bit funky the meta-“the-making-of” film SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE?  Or possibly CRONOS (1993), Guillermo del Toro’s first full-length movie?

The list goes on, the Swedish LET THE RIGHT ONE IN as well as its (not as good, in my opinion, but still worth a look) American remake.  BYZANTIUM.  THIRST. . .  But see the rest for yourself by checking out “19 Vampire Movies that will Make Your Blood Run Cold,” by Aliza Polkes & Xavier Piedra on THE-LINE-UP.COM, by pressing here.

HIGH LIFE is not an easy film.  Here’s the way the Indiana University Cinema put it:  In Claire Denis’ highly anticipated science-fiction film, Monte and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to deep space.  The crew — death-row inmates led by a doctor with sinister motives — has vanished.  As the mystery of what happened onboard the ship is unraveled, father and daughter must rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.  Contains mature content, including sexual violence.

For me, I enjoyed it, dark as it might be for science fiction, but then when have I been put off by “dark.”  However between non-linear time and a disjointed scene structure, I’d have to see it a few times more to really get a handle on it.  But as a film (to quote the docent as best I remember) “draw[ing] strong visceral and emotional reactions,” and one “to think about afterward,” it worked.

Beyond that as one Amazon reviewer put it, to say anything much about the plot, other than it begins with a spaceman’s talking with a baby, would risk multiple spoilers.  So here is a closing of other reviews from Wikipedia:  David Ehrlich of INDIEWIRE gave the film an A- grade, saying it owed more to SOLARIS than STAR WARS and describing it as “a pensive and profound study of human life on the brink of the apocalypse.”  Jessica Kiang of VARIETY called it “extraordinary, difficult, hypnotic, and repulsive”. Charles Bramesco of the GUARDIAN gave the film 5 stars out of 5, saying Denis had reconfigured the genre’s “familiar components to create a startlingly fresh engagement with the question of what it means to be human.”  Steve MacFarlane of SLANT MAGAZINE wrote:  “The film asks down-and-dirty questions about what really resides beneath thousands of years of human progress, a savage and haunting antidote to the high-minded idealism of movies like Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR and Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN.”

HIGH LIFE will be re-screened Friday (tonight) after which the Cinema will go dark for renovations during the summer, then resume (I believe) in late August.

As the Indiana University Cinema docent put it, this “Caturday” afternoon feature was to “celebrate the joy of the internet cat video.”  Also noted, of what might be (sort of) the feature’s sponsor, “[o]ne of the internet’s most famous felines, Lil Bub, lives right here in Bloomington” (Lil Bub, however, would be unable to attend herself).  More formally put by the IU Cinema’s printed blurb:  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.  A percentage of the proceeds from this event will directly support Lil BUB’s Big FUND for the ASPCA, which benefits special needs pets nationwide.

And so it was for a good cause too, CatVideoFest being an annual compilation (quoting the Fest’s own website) . . . raising awareness and money for cats in need around the world.  A percentage of the proceeds from each event go to local animal shelters and/or animal welfare organizations.  Thus the idea that local presenters can aim the funding to whatever they feel is the most pressing need.  The 70-minute-reel of cat videos is family-friendly and can be enjoyed by anyone.  The wide demographic appeal allows for it to be shown in virtually any type of setting — from museums to theaters to outdoor festivals and beyond.  This flexibility means there are almost no limits to where CatVideoFest can go!

Thus about an hour and a half of weekend afternoon fun (my favorite was the piece about the man who rescued a kitten on the highway, but when he got home could no longer find it in his car — it had to be there, but was also not there!  With the help of a mechanic it was ultimately retrieved from inside the automobile’s engine compartment, and thusly adopted is now named “Schrodinger”), and also a chance to be a do-gooder, which isn’t bad.  But also while doing a little research before the movie, I discovered (courtesy of Le Grande Cinema) that CatVideoFest is founded by filmmaker Will Braden, creator of YouTube sensation Henri, le Chat Noir, and curator of the popular Internet Cat Video Festival.

I know le chat Henri (see picture above, a mostly black cat much like Triana* but not quite that black), which is to say I’m acquainted with some of his own videos, one of which — the seventh, having to do with an incompetent cat-sitter while his real “caretakers” were on a vacation — was also a part of this year’s 2019 CatFest, and I recommend him to those who might not be.  One can find links in the footnotes in his Wikipedia entry or, for starters, Henri having retired from public life in 2018, one can find his final (eleventh), farewell video “Oh, revoir” by pressing here.

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*The Goth Cat Triana was also unable to attend, but received a petting (plus her supper) when I got home.  One wonders though, should they ever meet, how she, a Goth, would get along with the older, Sartrean existentialist Henri.




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