.............................................................TRAPPED INSIDE A WORLD UNDER LEAGUES OF OCEAN........................................................

Monday, April 25, 2011

movies: maniac (1980)

Dir: William Lustig
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro

Today, let's look at an absolute classic of twisted, misanthropic glee. Yes, I'm talking about Bill Lustig's notorious 1980 exploitation treasure, Maniac.

Pretty obscure by mainstream standards, this sleaze-fest is revered in cult and horror circles as the missing link between Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. Wallowing in a festering, greasy, apartment, Frank Zito (the zany and totally awesome Joe Spinell) stalks and kills prostitutes (actually, pretty much any woman) and scalps them, collecting the cadavers' hairpieces and wardrobes in order to dress up a gaggle of female mannequins he keeps at home and converses with, fondles and lovingly caresses.

Amidst accusations of misogyny, the film was picketed by women's groups upon its release into the grindhouse cinemas of New York's 42nd St. ("The Deuce"). While understandable, Maniac is nothing more than an exploitation film that actually does what it sets out to do - which doesn't make it wrong or right, but certainly makes it effective. It is a wickedly twisted glimpse into a marginalized mind with some great sleazy atmosphere and rad gore effects from fx-wiz Tom Savini (who also shows up in what is the movie's most talked about death scene - has to be seen to be believed). Caroline Munro is stunning in a rather strange role.

Maniac is an all-out creep fest that really redefines the concept of "momma's boy". The film oozes a gritty, scuzzy, pre-Giuliani New York vibe, and has a documentary-like feel, lending a chilling authenticity to the depraved goings on. Spinell was honestly astonished and saddened at the backlash the film received and his attempt to shake the bad rap, 1989's proposed Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie (in which he was to play a TV host by day and an avenger of abused children by night), was cut short by his untimely and heartbreaking death.

easter in dundas

Sunday, April 24, 2011

baseball: domeage #2

sophia, pre-game (water) drinking
 meats, me
field, from the last row in the park (thanks mark)
 my beautiful lover, enduring the marathon
we were closer to the roof than the field

jays win 6-4 in extras.  walk-off home run in the 11th inning courtesy of john mcdonald.  absolute poetry.  the kind of dreams that never come true, came true.

birds: trumpeter swan

i saw one today.  heavily tagged and seemingly docile.  once all but extinct, they are making a comeback, thanks to one of conservation's greatest victories.  more info here and here.

nature: flowers and a starling's wing

Thursday, April 21, 2011

movies: the orphanage (2007)

Dir: Juan Antonio Bayona
Cast: Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep

Going in to Catalan horror The Orphanage (El Orfonato), I was a bit worried because all the adverts for the film had Guillermo del Toro's name prominently displayed above the title, as if to suggest that it was actually his creation - no, the onscreen direction is credited to one Juan Antonio Bayona (del Toro merely serves as one of half a dozen producers). The gimmick of top-billing a big name producer is usually done to get asses in seats, which is fine by me - often, producers' personal touches give a film all it needs to be more than the sum of its parts (think Val Lewton), which is exactly what The Orphanage is. Now, don't recoil in terror (that'll come later) when you see Bayona's name on the screen as director - this one has del Toro's fingerprints all over it, and Bayona is clearly paying homage to the master - this film plays out very much like a companion piece to del Toro's own 2001 effort The Devil's Backbone (El Espinoza del Diablo), in that both share ghost children, a haunted orphanage (or school), strong ties to the past (whether personal or historical), and both come across as strange Spanish versions of Grimm fairy tales.

My main (however minor) problem with this film was that it wasn't able to sustain a sense of rising dread throughout. I was expecting a ghost story in the same vein as The Others (or better yet, The Innocents), but this seemed kind of.....obvious? I don't know, I feel bad criticizing new original horror, and while this one is certainly slick, it seems to move in stops and starts rather than a slow ascension towards a terrifying finale. There certainly were some very frightening scenes, but for the most part they played as shock elements and surface distraction rather than providing deeply atmospheric chills, which is what the film seemed to be striving for. The face of the dead Benigna, the appearance of Tomas in the house at the birthday party, and, especially, the sequence with Geraldine Chaplin's spirit advisor, were all particularly hair-raising, but overall, the movie seemed to lack cohesion; perhaps a sign of Bayona's inexperience. But there is a lot to like here, and it is certainly a film worth seeing. Simon's voice is inadvertently hilarious and heart-warming, and it sounds like, as my sister put it, "a child smoker". Sounds good to me. And the masked Tomas, I'll mention again, is terrifying. Oddly, I found the unmasked, deformed Tomas not frightening at all, but incredibly sad and galvanizing - that was one of the most "real" moments of the film to me; I was able to identify with Tomas' alienation and the overwhelming, if unintentional, cruelty of children.

The final reveal where Simon's fate is mapped out to Laura is simultaneously bone-chilling and heartbreaking. If it was my movie (which it certainly is NOT, and until I have the guts/motivation to get up and make my own, none will be), I would have ended it right there, with a devastated Laura in full realization of the awful consequences of her rash actions, and having no other choice but to go on with the guilt. But as in so many "fairy-tale" flicks, Bayona felt the need to have a neat wrap-up with parallels drawn between his story and that of Peter Pan, Wendy and the lost boys.

I'll admit, I was moved - but only briefly - by the ending. Afterwards, I was disappointed by the filmmaker's choice to take the easy out and side with sentimentality over hard truths.  Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the film, just don't see del Toro's name on the poster and go in all glassy-eyed expecting Pan's Labyrinth 2, because that, The Orphanage ain't.

nature: tommy thompson park on a grey sunday afternoon in march

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

books: bird guide

the golden guide to field identification: birds of north america.  i love the illustrations, and in particular the birds in the second photo, which shows a golden-crowned kinglet (top) and ruby-crowned kinglet (bottom).  i saw my first golden-crowned just last week.  spring is here.

nature: nature's first green is gold

nature: sunsets

pencils: writing research

books: now reading/how i spent my sunday afternoon

baseball: my beloved blue jays

cap

Monday, April 18, 2011

movies: death hunt (1981)

"Well, well, well......look who just got uncivilized....."

Dir: Peter Hunt
Cast: Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Carl Weathers, Angie Dickinson

Sun. aft., snow-bound. I can think of no better tonic on this stormy day than to curl up with a superb action/chase film from the early '80s. A film that deals in equal parts comedy and drama, high adventure and romance. A film that never takes itself too seriously, but doesn't shy away from scenes of hard-hitting, and often disarmingly true, dialogue. And most importantly, a movie that takes place in the snowy wilds of the Yukon territory (aka Canmore and Drumheller, Alberta) in 1931. The movie is Death Hunt.

Apparently based on a true story, the plot concerns aging and world-weary RCMP man Sgt. Edgar Millen (Marvin) who is more content with playing poker, smoking cheap cigars and drinking whisky than he is with upholding the law. This is still the frontier after all, and Millen is content to let the law take care of itself. That is until upstart recruit Constable Alvin Adams (Andrew Stevens) reports for duty, upsetting the old ways. Millen and his friend (fellow officer? This is never made clear), the bizarrely monikered but totally awesome Sundog/George Washington Lincoln Brown (Weathers) are pestered by local dog-fighter and general ne'er-do-well Hazel (ubiquitous character actor Lauter) to take down the famous Mad Trapper, Albert Johnson (Bronson) for "stealing" one of his fighting dogs (read: humiliating him in front of his peers). Millen leaves well-enough alone, as per usual, and Hazel and his group of cronies head up to Johnson's cabin to mete out their own terrible brand of justice. But of course, things go awry, one of Hazel's men is killed, and this is finally the impetus for Millen to spring into action. And the chase begins....

Bronson and Marvin are superb in their respective roles, and while this is generally an ignored work in Marvin's ouevre (having the misfortune of falling between Sam Fuller's 1980 war film The Big Red One and Michael Apted's Gorky Park in 1983), he really comes alive in the role, and seems to be having a lot of fun here as a man who is torn between being forced to uphold the law and the "new ways" - the fast approaching future where men of his ilk are left to grow old and die alone - and sticking to his own moral code, his begrudging respect and admiration for men like Johnson, men with the bark still on. Bronson has less material to work with, and outside of a few intense scenes, he ends up having more dialogue with a convalescing fighting dog than he does with any human character. Which I guess is partially the point - a man like Johnson is more at home in the natural world than he is with any man.

Call it a stretch if you will, but the chase here, and Johnson's flight, seems to be very much an attempt to escape from the encroaching world of man, the new world filled with gadgets and technology that simultaneously and paradoxically present a near infinite amount of possibility for connection while driving a wedge between a man and his spirit. It is no small matter that the new deputy, Alvin Adams is trained in "communications"; ironically, he seems to know far less about really "communicating", and is more inclined to shoot first, ask questions later, than the old-timer Millen.

There are scenes throughout the movie that show the advancement of technology and it's permeation of the small town, from the introduction of a radio to the appearance of an RCAF pilot who wants to take down Johnson and usurp Millen's power at the same time. Symbolically, the plane and its pilot meet a fiery end by crashing into a cliff, and the radio is shown in close-up and bullet-riddled after a shoot-out. There are also a few great scenes of dialogue where Millen makes it very clear that he doesn't like what he sees coming, even if he knows he is powerless to stop it.

Policewoman herself, Angie Dickinson, appears in a bizarre role that is completely incongruous to the goings-on, and reeks of studio tampering demanding a romantic subplot - too bad really, as she is a great actress, and deserves better. Her appearance only seems to distract from and bog down what could have been a much more streamlined tale. Look for William Sanderson, getting comfortable on the frontier as a warm-up for his role 25 years later in Deadwood, and a deadpan comic duo of Canadians (by birth or adoption) August Schellenberg and Maury Chaykin.

If you want to see two of Hollywood's baddest bad-asses face off, here it is. It's Into the Wild without the self-righteous preachy philosophizing of a deluded 23-year old. Oh, and with guns. Recommended.

beer: byn and i make a trip to great lakes brewery in etobicoke

every month, great lakes brewery hosts a party called project x at their brewery.  they brew one-off beers for the event, and have local restaurants provide the food, which is always scrumptious.  this month, we were treated to a double black belgian ipa, a cask double ipa, a cask version of their orange peel ale, and several other intriguing brews.  great lakes is a gem in the ontario brewing scene.

nature: the fog

on april 7, a sudden fog descended on south toronto.