Friday, November 30, 2012

An Appointment In Tehran

So, two different versions of Tehran in two films in two months. The Tehran of Argo was a place of terror, of menace, of geo-politik paranoia, in which dissenters hung from construction cranes. Argo, made by a white American, communicates its fear of Iran, of the Other. It's a very different Tehran from what one finds in Chicken With Plums (2011, directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi). That Tehran is a place of magic and mystery. It's a place a modern Scheherazade might set one of her fanciful tales. The story, based on director Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel of the same name, has that feel to it. It even begins, the movie's narrator tells us, in the way all Persian stories begin. "There was a man, there was not a man." The Tehran of Chicken with Plums is a place of dreams, where mysterious shops lurk in out of the way corners and savants take on students and teach them the deep mysteries of their arts. It's obviously a place that Satrapi loves--she's actually been there, unlike Ben Affleck. Sure, Satrapi's Tehran is a place that probably never existed--surely not in the 1958 of the movie--but it's a place I like to believe exists somewhere. It's a place I'd love to visit.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Eighth Wonder of the World

I was going through some of my old notebooks earlier this week looking for the review I wrote of King Kong when I was 14. I won't inflict my juvenilia on you, but suffice it to say, that kid was absolutely convinced that she had written the definitive overview of Kong, one that would never be surpassed by future film scholars. It was the kind of hubris only a 14 year old kid can have. You can probably see why I'm not going to share it with you, right? Right.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bond and Back

With apologies to Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg and Daniella Bianchi and Ursula Andress and all the other bombshells who have worn the mantle of "Bond Girl," the most important woman in the Bond franchise is Judi Dench, who has played "M" since Goldeneye and retires from the role in Skyfall (2012, directed by Sam Mendes). This is something of which the makers of Skyfall are acutely aware. The relationship between Bond and M in the Judi Dench years has been a complicated one, one that is founded on mutual respect and a prickly balance between duty and personal feeling. M is the only woman in the series to whom Bond's charm means nothing. She's the only woman that Bond doesn't chase. Dame Judi's predecessors in the role (including Bernard Lee, who played M eleven times) left nothing like the same impression and had nothing like the same relationship with Bond, either personally or thematically. When she first appears on screen in GoldenEye, she tells Bond, point blank, "I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War..." She tells another operative at MI6 "...if I want sarcasm, Mr Tanner, I'll talk to my children, thank you very much." Dench is a master at the cutting witticism. She meets Bond not as an equal, but as a superior. She also mentions: "You don't like me, Bond. You don't like my methods. You think I'm an accountant, a bean counter more interested in my numbers than your instincts." In GoldenEye, she's the new blood, doing things differently than the old guard. In Skyfall, she is the old guard, and she has a different point of view, defending her use of agents and espionage networks before a parliamentary subcommittee in light of a world where the enemy has no face and no state. She's making an argument for the necessity of not just James Bond and his ilk, but for the relevance of the Bond films themselves.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Head in the Clouds

Almost all movies fracture time. It's fundamental to the art of film. We're used to it now. We don't always know that they're doing it because the language of film has evolved to make it seem invisible, but even movies that adhere to a strictly linear chronology omit things in order to move from significant action to significant action. Sometimes the gaps between significant actions are long, sometimes as long as eons. How long is the gap between the second and third acts of Spielberg's A.I., I wonder? Geological epochs, methinks, but the film is not particularly confusing. Some movies fracture time and rearrange events so that they appear on screen in achronological order. Some films return to a specific event again and again like someone is hitting a reset button. Some films take place over the course of many years. Some are made in "real time." This isn't always the province of experimental films. Movies in the mainstream are as likely to eviscerate the flow of time as art films. I wonder, then, why it is that some audiences--including the one I was sitting in--have such a hard time with Cloud Atlas (2012, directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer). It's not like what they're doing is actually new, even considering the wide gulf of time the movie encompasses. D. W. Griffith made more or less the same movie nearly a hundred years ago.

I'm exaggerating, of course, though not by much.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Any Colour You Like

I wouldn't be upset at all if the filmmaking model pursued by The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society were to spread. Their relative success within their own self-defined niche of semi-pro filmmaking can be cloned. I've already seen it replicated. The results are as watchable as either The Call of Cthulhu or The Whisperer in Darkness, even if the source material, the already much-filmed "The Colour Out of Space," is a more intractable source material. The Colour Out of Space (aka: De Farbe, 2010, directed by Huan Vu) transplants the familiar Lovecraft story to Germany just after WW II. It actually thrives in its new setting.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Baying at the Moon

The Howling Reborn (2011, directed by Joe Nimziki) is what you get when exploitation filmmakers try to ride the zeitgeist. It's about as good as any other movie that bears the title, "The Howling," whenever said movie is not directed by Joe Dante. Which is to say, it pretty much sucks. I don't know if this is the worst episode the franchise has ever produced--the standard of comparison is ridiculously low--but it's probably in the conversation.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Night Life

One of the things I've been noticing about some of my horror movie selections this October is a tendency among low budget horrors to delay their horrors as long as they can. I understand this, of course. This is the soul of so-called "slow burn" horror, in which tension mounts from the outset, or in which the filmmakers spend some time getting to know their characters before pushing them over the cliff. This can work wonderfully in the right hands--Ti West is good at this among currently working horror filmmakers--but in less sure hands, it can result in movies that are kind of a slog. When I see a movie that plays like this, I sometimes think of the wisdom Samuel Z. Arkoff, who once claimed that all a good (horror) movie needed was a good first reel, a good last reel, and that what's in between doesn't matter. I was thinking about this while I was watching Midnight Son (2011, directed by Scott Leberecht), a film that opts for the slow burn. Like many contemporary American slow burn horrors, this one plays out like a mumblecore indie drama for most of its length before erupting in its last act as a full-blooded vampire movie.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Public Service Message

See that sticker? That's right. I voted. I vote in EVERY election, even the wee local ones. If that terrifies you (and it probably should because I'm totally a radical queer leftie socialist feminazi who wants to dismantle global capitalism), get your ass to the polls before they close. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Much love to you all,

Your humble bloginatrix.

The Eyes Have It

I have a phobia about my eyes. You know all those injury to the eye scenes in Lucio Fulci movies? Yeah? I can't watch those. It squicks me out. And don't even get me started on the scene with the needle in Dead and Buried. Do you know the one? Where the nurse enters the room of a burn victim and inserts a huge needle into his one unbandaged eye? Where the camera holds the shot just long enough to see the needle quiver in the man's socket? That scene sent me from the room, screaming. My own eyes are not the best. I have an astigmatism. I wear glasses. I can see my eyes getting worse as time goes by and the next glasses I get will be progressive lenses. I may, like my grandmother before me, develop cataracts if I live so long. I may end my life blind. This thought terrifies me, and not just because I'm an artist and graphic designer by trade. Some people dream about losing their teeth. I dream of losing my eyes. So I'm an easy mark for movies like Julia's Eyes (2010, directed by Guillem Morales), whose central character is going blind.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Darkness, Take My Hand

The HP Lovecraft Historical Society returns to filmmaking with their version of The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, directed by Sean Branney). "The Whisperer" is probably my favorite of Lovecraft's stories, so I was keen to see what the HPLHS did with it. I loved their version of The Call of Cthulhu. Like that film, this is made as if it is a contemporary to Lovecraft--an early talkie, rather than a silent film this time. This film's production values are higher than their first film, which is a double edged sword, because it lets the filmmakers attempt visuals that might best be left to the mind. But maybe not. "The Whisperer in Darkness" isn't as replete with gelid monstrosities as some of Lovecraft's other stories, and the Mi-Go, its alien creatures, are well represented in this film version. And while The Call of Cthulhu works as a kind of curio, this film aspires to more. It's a fully fledged feature film rather than a well-executed fan film, though it's not without its problems...

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Shameless Self-promotion: Dreams in the Bitch House edition

I don't talk about it much here, but I'm part of the brain trust at Dreams in the Bitch House. I'm normally responsible for recording and editing the podcast. The podcast kind of got derailed a couple of years ago when one of our collaborators died. It kind of shocked us out of doing it. This year, I had the opportunity to sit in the same room with a couple of the other women who contribute to the site and record a podcast with us all around the same table. It was awesome, and I hope to do it again. Meanwhile, the result is an hour and a half of four movie fans pouring out our love of horror movies, Halloween, and really, each other. Check it out at the Dreams in the Bitch House site.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Writer's Block

David Koepp's Secret Window (2004) is another avatar of the vogue for identity horror that was so popular around the turn of the millennium. As such movies go, it's not bad. It mostly acts as a showcase for star Johnny Depp, who dials back the quirks of his usual roles for a more nuanced character than we're used to seeing from him. It's a middlebrow horror movie that's light on the violence and long on psychological suspense. For all that, it's not bad.