Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shameless Self-promotion: Kickstarter Edition

I normally keep my art projects off my movie blog, but I have a financial stake in this, so here we go: I have a Kickstarter. I'm trying to fund a collection of my transgender-themed comics (some of which you can read here). If it seems like I'm trying my level best to avoid doing nine-to-five work between Patreon and this, well, you would be correct. Ideally, I'll never have to go back to the capitalist employment model ever again. In the mean time, I have to sell myself to you, dear potential patron. Anyway, I've put a lot of work and love into this comic. I don't think you need to be trans to enjoy it (I have it on the authority of my cis friends that it reads pretty well). It IS pretty sexually explicit, but hopefully not exploitative. Anyway, check it out and back it if you like what you see.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Shameless Self-Promotion: Hidden Horror



Because I'm lousy at self-promotion, I don't think I've touted this book I was in at the start of the year. It's Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks and it was put together by all-around good guy Aaron Christensen. My piece for the book was about X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, which you can read at Filmmaker Magazine's web site. I know that one criticism of the book so far has been that a lot of the films discussed aren't nearly that "underrated" or "overlooked," but that sniping comes from inside horror fandom itself, so it shouldn't be taken too seriously. If May was well-known for example, it would have been a much bigger hit and Lucky McKee wouldn't have had so many problems getting films made ever since.  And, you know? There's stuff in the book that even I haven't seen and I'm an obsessive, so you get no qualms from me about the films my colleagues selected. More than that, though, I'm shocked at how few of the films in the book that I have seen are films that I've written about. A lot of those are films that I saw pre-internet. I may have written about them in the spiral notebooks I used as film diaries when I was a teen, but I'll be damned if I'll let any of that writing onto the web. Be that as it may, I recognize a challenge when I see it.


This is the full list of films in the book. The ones with links are films I've written about. The ones in italics are films I haven't seen:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The October Challenge--2014 Edition


There's a snap of autumn in the air this week and here at Stately Krell Laboratories, that can only mean one thing: it's horror movie season. Yes, boils and ghouls, The October Challenge will soon be upon us once more. To recap the rules, in case you've forgotten: the goal is to watch 31 horror movies during the month of October, with at least 16 of those films being completely new to you. There are plenty of side games you can play with the challenge, but the one I usually pursue for myself is to write a substantial blog post about every movie I see for the Challenge. This is not, strictly speaking, necessary. My friend, the inestimable Dr. AC over at Horror 101 usually runs his challenge as a fundraiser for charity--something I've done in the past and may do again.


If you're blogging the challenge, I'll be doing link round-ups again, so leave me comments when your content appears. I'll add you to the (hopefully) daily link dump.


In any event, I hope you've stockpiled some movies and laid in a supply of cider and pumpkin pie. Here's a new set of banners for the challenge, if you want them, but any of the banners from past years are fair game. Tally ho!











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Flowers in the Wreckage

Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeri in In Bloom

My local arthouse runs a series of recent international cinema every fall. They call it "The Passport Series" and the conceit is that they hand out a punch card with your ticket and if you attend at least six of the eight films in the series, they throw your card in a hopper and give you a chance to win passes for the St. Louis Film Festival later in the year. They also theme the series around wine, but I don't imbibe, so that's never something I notice. I do like the idea of a passport, though, as a kind of tally of cinematic destinations (in lieu of actual travel, which I usually can't afford). I often approach this series with the attitude of a collector: Do I have this country yet? I've seen films from an impressive number of countries. In any event, this year's series kicks off with a Georgian film, and I can check that country off the list now.


In Bloom (2013, directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß), finds neo-realism alive and well in Georgia. Set in the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet empire, this details the coming of age of two teenage girls, Eka and Natia, who are best friends. They live in the wreckage of Tblisi, where they stand in line for bread, are terrorized by autocratic teachers, and where they fend off the aggressions of boys. It would be easy for the filmmakers to use their story as some kind of grand historical gesture, but this is too smart for that. This finds itself following the path of other neo-realists who find in the lives of their characters broad possibilities for melodrama. In Bloom is also a withering critique of patriarchy.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Begin the Beguine


John Carney's Begin Again (2014) is an indie version of a musical romantic drama. In truth, I didn't know I had an itch for such a thing until that itch was scratched. Musicals are always hit or miss with me, particularly contemporary musicals, so when one of them hits the spot, I'm always delighted and a bit surprised. In this case, I'm especially taken in because I had no faith in Kiera Knightley as a singer, never having heard that she can sing. She acquits herself well. If the story seems a little over-familiar, well, that's fine. It's the execution that counts.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Mundane Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-man 2

As I was watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, directed by Marc Webb), I was imagining Shailene Woodley sitting in a theater somewhere this spring breathing a sigh of profoundest relief. She was famously cast as Mary Jane Watson in this film and even shot some scenes for it before being cut, ostensibly to move her to this film's inevitable sequel. That sequel is now in some doubt. This film is the least successful film in the franchise, both commercially and aesthetically. If Woodley is smart--and it appears that she is--she'll find some other movie to clog her schedule if Sony decides to pick her up again for the role.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is awful. There's not any getting around it. It lurches from set piece to set piece without any coherent connective tissue. Its scenes veer from the romantically heartfelt to day-glow camp and back again. It squanders actor after actor in scenes that aren't worthy of them. It's busy and ugly and not really much fun. Spider-Man needs to be fun. The world has enough grimdark Batman wannabes. This doesn't need to be one.


Here there be spoylers...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Star Time

Chadwick Boseman and Craig Robinson in Get On Up

In spite of its similarity to other recent musical biopics, Get On Up (2014, directed by Tate Taylor), a biography of James Brown, stands apart both for the intensity of its musical scenes and its cinematic invention. This is not a dry recitation of facts, nor is it any kind of redemptive narrative. This is a portrait of the artist as an egotistical asshole, one that skips around in time and breaks the fourth wall and generally throbs with a kind of staccato cinematic life. It's a film that lives and breathes as film, something that has eluded other projects of its type. As such, it's energizing, a quality augmented by an absolutely killer soundtrack. James Brown in life was a braggart and egotist who variously claimed to have invented funk and rap as new musical forms. Musicologists of late have come to think that Brown was entirely too modest. Brown was a musical titan, but, man, the Brown in this film decidedly has feet of clay.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

You Know How To Whistle, Don't You?

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not

According to legend, To Have and Have Not (1944, directed by Howard Hawks) was made on a bet. Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway were hunting (and drinking) buddies. Hawks was a fan of the writer but not of To Have and Have Not. "A bunch of junk," he called it. He bet Hemingway that he could make a good movie out of it, or so the legend goes. Whether this is true or not doesn't really matter, I guess. It's Hollywood, after all, and when the legend becomes fact and all that. What we do know is that Hawks bought the rights from Howard Hughes and sold them to Warner Brothers, hired an out of work and out of print writer named William Faulkner to write the movie with Jules Furthman (a move that surely rankled Hemingway, given the rivalry between Faulkner and Hemingway), and discarded most of the second half of the book. He also cast an unknown actress in the lead. Her name was Lauren Bacall.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Dancing Among the Stars

Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy

After I saw the film, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, directed by James Gunn) that went something like this:

Me: I have no idea of how I'm going to write about this film. There's nothing there to write about!

Friend: Yeah...it's pretty lightweight.

Me: I suppose I could cobble something together about how it's got a queer subtext and it's about how people who are cast out of their own families are forced to form families of choice.

Friend: Hmm...I could see that.

Me: Man, this movie is shallow.


Upon reflection, I think that the formation of families of choice is exactly what the film is about, only in a painfully heterosexual way. I might even be offended by the appropriation if the movie were more interested in that theme rather than in blowing shit up real good. As it is, the pleasures of Guardians of the Galaxy are all on the surface. There's not really anything wrong with that, I guess.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Endangered Species

Andy Serkis in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, directed by Matt Reeves) is probably the best film in the franchise since the original item back in 1968. That it's made something from the leavings of Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the last and least regarded of the original series, is something completely unlooked-for. Dawn has formidable technical bona fides, including another astonishing mocap performance by Andy Serkis (who is top-billed!). It's a thoughtful sci fi apocalypse; yet another post-human speculation, no less. It's also not very much fun.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Beyond Human Ken

Scarlett Johansson in Lucy (2014)

The truth of the matter is this: I didn't particularly want to go see Lucy (2014, directed by Luc Besson). I'm not fond of Luc Besson's films. He's not quite on my black list because his films usually strike me as stupid rather than malign, but his films can be so very, very profoundly stupid. More, he tends to fetishize his heroines in a way that makes me uncomfortable. But here's the train of thought that put my butt in a theater seat on the first day it was in theaters. I've been bitching about the sorry lot of superhero women for a while. It galls me that a talking raccoon with a machine gun is going to get a movie before Wonder Woman. It galls me that they fobbed off the Catwoman movie on "talent" that had nothing invested in the character nor any respect for it either. It galls me that mealy-mouthed movie executives bleat prejudice as truth when they say that women can't open a tentpole movie while counting all that money from The Hunger Games and Maleficent. It galls me that I don't have a Black Widow movie yet. I want my damned Black Widow movie. And so: Lucy is a superhero movie of sorts starring the Black Widow her ownself, Scarlett Johannson. I better put my money where my mouth is if I want my Black Widow movie. So I ponied up to see Lucy.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mere Anarchy

Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in The Rover

I was in the wrong headspace for The Rover (2014, directed by David Michôd), a bleak, more naturalistic version of a Mad Max movie. The movie turns out to be a shaggy dog story, but the punchline of the film had a particular meaning to me when I saw it. I sat in my car for a few minutes after the film trying to process what I'd just seen. Films affect people differently, depending on all sorts of personal factors that vary from viewer to viewer. Some films are more personally relevant than others. For me, this was such a film. Your mileage, of course, will vary. The why of this requires me to reveal elements of the plot that likely should be surprises, so go watch the movie and come back later. I'll still be here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mystery Train

Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in Snowpiercer

When I first heard the premise of Snowpiercer (2014, directed by Bong Joon-ho), I thought it sounded ridiculous. I thought, actually, that it sounded like something that would show up on the SyFi channel. Still, the director gave me pause. This is the man who made Memories of Murder and Mother, after all, to say nothing of The Host. He's proven his chops both as a gifted director and as a gifted purveyor of genre entertainments.  And when you get right down to it, it's not a more ridiculous premise than, say, anything by Park Chan-Wook or Kim Ji-Woon. And then I heard that Harvey Weinstein wanted to slash twenty minutes out of it. Bong actually won that power struggle, but it limited the film's horizons. Seeing it at the earliest opportunity became for me a moral imperative. It turns out that my initial impression of the whole thing was correct: it's utterly ridiculous. It's also kind of awesome.


Note: here there be spoilers.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Death on the Installment Plan

Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow

It would be a mistake to think of Edge of Tomorrow (2014, directed by Doug Liman) as a mere rip-off of Groundhog Day filtered through Starship Troopers. I mean, sure. It is exactly that. Its just not only that. I'm probably going to regret saying this, but it seems to me that director Doug Liman is an auteur in the classic sense of the word, and that this film, one that plays around with both identity and cinematic chronology is very much of a piece with films like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Go. Oh, Liman is an entertainer first and foremost, but like other "entertainers" I could name, he seems drawn back to the same themes again and again, much like the hero in this film is drawn back to the start of his sojourn as an unwilling soldier over and over and over. Edge of Tomorrow might be Liman's magnum opus. Whatever it is, it's a lot of fun to watch, and not only for the dubious pleasure of watching Tom Cruise being horribly killed on repeat. Though that's fun, too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Death in the Family

Paddy Considine in Honour

I'm at something of a disadvantage when it comes to writing about the British crime film, Honour (2014, directed by Shan Khan), because I don't want to step into the landmine of racial politics it engenders. It would be easy--poisonously easy--to deplore the cultural norms that give rise to honor killings in the Muslim world in a way that crosses into outright racism. The last thing I want to do is turn myself into Richard Dawkins, railing about the awfulness of Islam. The world isn't that simple and Islam is not monolithic. The film itself is intensely aware of its racial politics, but charges ahead with its story anyway.