Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Love Poem for No-one in Particular

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in The Sessions

Back when The Sessions (2012, directed by Ben Lewin) was in theaters, I ran into a friend of mine coming out of our local art house where it was showing. His praise of the film was effusive, particularly after he had ground his teeth at several other films that had been making the art house rounds at the same time. “So well written,” he said, “Really terrific.” I don’t remember why I missed it in the theaters, but I’m glad I finally caught up with it on video. My friend was right. It’s very well written. But that’s only the half of it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pub Crawl

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, The World's End

I had a pretty good time at The World’s End (2013), the third film in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s loosely connected “Cornetto” trilogy. My long-suffering partner laughed her ass off at the film, and this soothes my conscience, given that I’ve dragged her to movies that have traumatized her in the past and given that she sat through Edgar Wright’s last film, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, in a resentful, stony silence. (Her remarks afterward: “Well, that was stupid.”). I can’t ignore this part of the filmgoing experience because having a companion who is having a visibly bad time can poison the well and having the opposite can likewise sweeten the pot. The movie itself isn’t bad, but it has its problems and even though the experience of watching it was good, that doesn’t necessarily I’m ignoring those problems. At another time, at another showing, I might have had an equally bad time. This is why you should take all film writing with a grain of salt—especially mine—because it all exists in the liminal spaces of value judgments and emotional responses. It’s all unreliable. For myself, I don’t even trust myself over time. But I digress.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So Long, Dutch

Dell cover of The Law at Randado by Elmore Leonard

I had planned to write about something else today, but the death of Elmore Leonard has put me in a funk. Leonard has been a fixture on my bookshelf for decades now and I was beginning to think he'd outlive me. Leonard is the last of the great mid-century pulp writers to shuffle off this mortal coil. He follows other populist writers like John D. McDonald, Ed McBain, Ross MacDonald, and Donald Westlake in to the great hereafter. His legacy is arguably broader and more durable. The movies have assured that. Unlike his contemporaries, Leonard was as much a cinematic artist as he was a literary one. Dozens of movies are based on Leonard, some of which he wrote directly for the screen himself. Lately, I've been watching Justified, a series based on one of Leonard's short stories, and it's almost a perfect amalgam of his career: equal parts western and wry hardboiled crime story. A friend of mine thinks that Leonard's westerns are where his real legacy lies, and I don't know that he's wrong. The western movies based on Leonard are pretty hefty, including 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre, Joe Kidd, Valdez is Coming, and The Tall T. I don't know that my friend is right, either, because nobody makes westerns anymore. But crime stories? Those seem evergreen.

My favorite movie based on one of Leonard's novels is probably Stephen Soderbergh's Out of Sight, but it's hard to choose, given that there's also Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Mr. Majestyk, and the aformentioned westerns. My favorite of Leonard's novels is probably Maximum Bob, because it's the funniest of them, not because it's the best (I liked the ill-fated TV series, too, probably in spite of my better judgement). But this is all splitting hairs.

So this morning, I grabbed The Law at Randado from my shelf and I'll start rereading it on my lunch hour. And if I drank, I'd raise a glass to Leonard after work, and I'll probably watch an episode of Justified. So long, Dutch.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In My Glass Coffin, I Am Waiting...

Macarena Garcia in Blancanieves

Allow me cut right to the chase with my thoughts on Blancanieves (2012, directed by Pablo Berger). Such was my delight in this movie that I saw it in the theater twice in the span of four days. I don't remember the last time I did that. This is a film that ran a needle-fine wire into the pleasure center of my brain and jolted it unmercifully for a hundred and four minutes. It's a film that plays like a lost Tod Browning film, rediscovered and restored by Pedro Almodovar. It's a film that's so intoxicating to my filmgoing sensibilities and appetites that I hardly know how to convey how much I loved it.

Nota bene: here be spoylers beyond the cut.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Delusions in the Witch House

Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring

There’s a depressing sameness to the middlebrow horror that’s being released into the multiplexes these days. Without gainsaying their various qualities, there’s not a lot of difference between the basic elements of, say, The Possession and The Devil Inside and Mama and Sinister and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and The Woman in Black. All of them represent a kind of zeitgeist, in which the signature horror of the times is the family unit under threat. This is the horror movie at its most conservative, if not at its most formulaic. This is doubly true of 2013’s The Conjuring (directed by James Wan), which gathers up familiar elements from the genre toybox and assembles yet another portrait of the nuclear family under siege. If you’re looking for something new, or even a fresh wrinkle on something old, you will look for it in vain in this movie.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Snake in the Grass


It's been well over a decade since I last saw Onibaba (1964, directed by Kaneto Shindô). Once upon a time, I would have named it my favorite Japanese film. Time and (I hope) wisdom has put the kibosh on that. I mean, the very notion of having a favorite anything seems ridiculous to me anymore, particularly a favorite from a national cinema as broad and as deep as Japan's. Even so, Onibaba continues to haunt me. The details of its plot may have receded in my memory a bit, but the images? The tall grass swaying menacingly in the wind? The old woman in the demon mask? The hole into which the bodies of dead samurai were cast? Those are burned into my brain. Looking at Onibaba from the point of view of a Western horror geek, I couldn't help but notice mythic resonances with the Sawney Bean myth, in which rural travelers are waylaid by the locals. Indeed, the first time I saw Onibaba, I was convinced that it was some kind of missing link between the walk through the cane field in Jacques Tourneur's I Walked With a Zombie and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's a film that encompasses a range of horror traditions, though in retrospect, it is uniquely its own thing deriving from traditions of which I was ignorant at the time. The intervening decade has changed my perception of Onibaba a little. Not much. It's still one of the great horror movie and it's still a movie that I love unreservedly. It's more a matter of placing it in the context of the Japanese New Wave, of the pinku eiga, and of the generation of filmmakers to whom director Kaneto Shindô belongs.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And the Colored Girls Sing...

The Sapphires

 The Sapphires (2012, directed by Wayne Blair) is a surprisingly serious film given that it's ostensibly a musical comedy biopic. Given that most of the film is set in Vietnam in 1968, it's also a surprise that the film's seriousness doesn't necessarily derive from the Vietnam war. But that's what you get when you look at the various cultural contexts surrounding soul music in the 1960s. It was an artform that was inextricably tied to the civil rights movements of the time. And, apparently, not just in America.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sound and Vision

Toby Jones in Berberian Sound Studio

When I was describing Berberian Sound Studio (2012, directed by Peter Strickland) to a friend of mine shortly after I left the theater, his response was "Oh, so it's Blow Out?" I laughed, because that's kind of what I thought from the synopsis I had read of the film prior to heading out to see it. But, no. It's not Blow Out, though it does share with that film a narrative built overtly on the craft of filmmaking--of sound, in particular--as text rather than as form and it does crib Blow Out's best joke. Like Blow Out, it's almost impossible to divorce Berberian Sound System from the patterns of influence exerted from other movies. This is true of most movies, I think, but Berberian Sound System is different. Its touchstones are deliberately invoked as talismans or dire warnings throughout rather than as homages or casual swipes. It's also a boldly experimental plunge into cinema as complete abstraction. It builds a formidable sense of menace mainly through sound divorced from image. An audience for horror movies might be forgiven for chafing at the way this film plunges off the narrative deep end in its last act, but I found it thrilling.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

It's That Time of the Year Again...

October Horror Movie Challenge Banner Thing version

...when a girl's fancy turns toward horror movies. The 2013 edition of the October Horror Movie Challenge is a mere month and a half away, and it's time to start planning.