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

Monday, October 24, 2011

movies: [rec] (2007)

Dir:  Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza

As in [Record]. Another film that mines the increasingly common gimmick (in horror) of the first-person shaky-cam narrative. Man Bites Dog, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, etc, have all used this conceit - that what we are watching is actually happening, or the faux-documentary. And now (or, at least, 2 years ago) along comes this little Spanish horror flick doing the same dance. Thing is, this one's good. Really good. This is what Romero's Diary of the Dead coulda and shoulda been.

We start with Angela, a news reporter, doing a kinda fluff-piece on the lives and habits of firemen. After a bit of familiarizing us with both herself and a couple firemen, an alarm comes in, beckoning the firemen to an unknown crisis at a Barcelona apartment building, Angela and cameraman in tow. What begins as a fairly routine call turns into a very confusing and frightening descent into harnessed chaos. While ostensibly a zombie film, [Rec] is more about the interrelationships of people kept against their will in close quarters, and how bonds are formed and emotions are frayed when people are forced to act without a safety net.

The filmmakers cleverly play with the viewers' senses and sound and lighting are used to expert effect, showing just enough, but not too much. The film takes a bizarre turn in the final 10 minutes, but if you can go along for the ride after what seemed to me like a bit of a stretch plot-wise - and one that admittedly comes out of left-field - then the final scenes are incredibly frightening.

Yes, some think it's silly or puerile to revel in films categorised as "horror", especially with the world's economies crumbling before our eyes and truly terrifying environmental threats that dwarf any cinematic ones, but I think what the genre at its best can offer is a mirror of the pressing issues of today, without having to conform to any kind of constraints of traditional dramatic cinema. [Rec] is kind of a frenzied hybrid of Night of the Living Dead and Cloverfield, and if you dug either of those, you'll probably find something very intriguing and surprising in [Rec], which touches on strained relationships, bio-horror (think The Host), and religious obsession all in an economical 76 minutes (even though the box claims the running time is 89 minutes. Extra long credits?).

Be forewarned - the R1 Seville DVD has a default English-language audio track (a la Let the Right One In). Be sure to change the settings to the original Spanish with English subtitles for maximum enjoyment. Also, avoid the American remake Quarantine, which stumbles badly out of the gates by foresaking subtlety of character for blunt-object head trauma.

it could be

Sunday, October 16, 2011

movies: batman vs. dracula (2005)

Think about it: BATMAN. VERSUS. DRACULA. It doesn't get any better than this. Well of course it does!

Batman vs. Dracula is certainly neither profound or thought-provoking, but it is incredibly entertaining and retains a wonderfully fast pace throughout its economical 75 minute run-time. Yes, it is ostensibly a "kids" movie, but no more so than Batman Forever/Batman and Robin. If you subjected yourself to those atrocities, you at least owe it to yourself to check this out.

A very cool take on the Joker, a darker version of the Penguin than the cartoons usually show, and above all, the Dark Knight versus the Prince of Darkness, a match-up that was bound to happen sooner or later. Virtuoso animation that would make Frank Miller proud, a surprisingly atmospheric score, and some very interesting and often frightening (given the target audience) interpretations of both Batman, Joker and Dracula.

Recommended for the open-minded who won't scoff at "children's fare". Fits together quite well with last year's shamefully overlooked Batman: Gotham Knight. Really, how can you not love a cartoon that references both The Shining and Jerry Maguire? BOOM goes the dynamite!

movies: hated (1994)

Most of us know Todd Phillips as the director of frat-coms Road Trip, Old School and Starsky & Hutch, but there is a different kind of comedy that marks the director's debut film, the enthralling and disgusting rock-doc Hated. Enjoyment of the film is not entirely dependent upon your liking (or even knowledge of) GG Allin, but it helps to know what you're getting yourself into prior to the viewing. This is not some Don't Look Back wannabe, but a doc that focuses on one of the most notorious figures in the punk underground. GG was famous for self-mutilation, physical crowd abuse, and defecation (followed by the smearing of said shit on himself and flinging the remains at the crowd) during his shows, which are well-documented here. There is enough poo, blood, vomit and degradation for several lifetimes, but GG and his fans revel in the whole spectacle. And that's exactly what it is (or was). 17 years after his death, the show remains spectacular. Something I was simultaneously repelled and attracted to, and I can only imagine (thankfully - I have no real desire to have my nose broken and possibly contract hep C and e. coli poisoning) the terror and excitement of the adrenaline rush provided by attending one of the live shows. Truly an unmatched visceral rush, I'm sure.

The film follows GG's life in roughly chronological order, from his messed up childhood to his early attempts at starting bands, to his jail time, up to the then-present formation of the Murder Junkies, his band. The band itself is one of the more intriguing aspects of the whole shebang, and they act as the yin to GG's yang. There is no real weirdness there, except for hilarious and well-spoken brother Merle's penchant for fake beards, and drummer Dino's (who seems like he took a wrong turn during a peyote trip) preference for playing in the nude (matching GG's most oft-used stage costume). Other than that, they are relatively low-key, and almost a non-presence during the shows, as everyone is transfixed by the rabid performance of GG. The band merely gives Allin a canvas on which to paint, or more accurately, a toilet in which to shit.

Another cool thing about the film is its investigation of GG's fans - what sort of person is drawn to this type of spectacle? Predictably, perhaps, we see a rogue's gallery of freaks and weirdos, drunks, junkies, angry loners, social outcasts - in short, those who believe, rightfully or not, that there is no place for them in society, and have adopted GG as a kind of leader or god. There is also discussion in the film of GG's visits to and adoration by John Wayne Gacy. To be a fly on the wall during those conversations...

There is also footage of a rather bizarre appearance on Geraldo, and interviews with GG himself, who is visibly worse for wear in latter interviews, years of self-abuse and an increasing dependence on alcohol and heroin having taken their toll. GG was famous for claiming that he was going to kill himself on stage, and probably take a few audience members with him, but, as the doc notes "he died like a rock star, overdosing on heroin." The recently released special edition DVD has some good features, including a very lengthy interview with the present day Merle (still with it) and Dino (who seems like he's gone further down the rabbit hole); however, it was long rumoured and promised that this edition of the film would include footage from the final show, the night GG died. I was kind of morbidly curious, but was let down when the footage was absent. There is additional footage of the funeral, which is, sadly, very ordinary.

An extreme original, in the same way that Charles Manson was, it's cool to see people like GG exist (or existed), kicking against the pricks and with clearly no regard for authority of any kind and with very clear goals. It's also quite comforting to know that they're dead, or behind bars. There will be another GG, though, the world needs, and thus creates one every 20 years or so. Three years to go...

"My mind's a machine gun, my body's the bullets, and the audience is the target" - GG Allin

Monday, October 10, 2011

movies: the midnight meat train (2008)

Dir: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones

Adapted from the second short story in volume one of Clive Barker's Books of Blood, The Midnight Meat Train is, for the most part, a ferocious descent into hell and madness. If you want to go along for the ride, you'll follow one man's downward spiral from aspiring art-photographer to a butcher forced to kill in order to feed a sect of older-than-humankind monstrosities. Um, yeah.

Although he wrote the short story upon which the script was based, and had a hand in the film's production, Barker himself did not direct. That role was left to Ryuhei Kitamura, probably best known for his 2000 effort Versus and less so for the hugely underrated 2004 flop Godzilla: Final Wars. In the film, we follow Leon (Cooper), an art-photog on the cusp of breakthrough as he begins to stalk and photograph a man who he believes is killing people in the subway. Leon begins to lose both his perspective and his grip on reality, and becomes obsessed with the butcher Mahogany (an incredible, wordless turn by Vinnie Jones).

Once it is revealed that Mahogany is indeed a killer, the film becomes less about the hunt and more about the quickly shrinking mental/physical divide between he and Leon. In the end, Mahogany is dispatched by a now near-mad Leon, who is then unwillingly handed the role once occupied by the recently deceased butcher - that is, he is now charged with harvesting the meat supply for the creatures who live in the abandoned subway station.

The story sounds completely wack, but it actually works for a few reasons. One is the performances, or rather, performance - Jones is chilling as the tongueless butcher and carries far more menace here than in his "enforcer" roles in the Guy Ritchie films. The other characters aren't as strong, but they do a serviceable job. Two - if you sympathize with Leon's slow melt into insanity, you'll appreciate the film much more than if you don't care. Without that, it's simply a bloodbath. But what I find sets Barker above other schlock-meisters is the depth of his characters, and his complete willingness and unafraidness to go deeper and deeper still - sometimes there isn't a happy ending, and sometimes, when you hit rock bottom, you don't climb back up, but instead burrow further - recall Hellraiser, Candyman, even Lord of Illusions (I count myself as one of three people who actually liked that film), all of which deal in much more complex and mature relationships to the self - to sex, to death, to pleasure and pain and ecstasy - than your stock "horror" film. And three - Kitamura, along with Max Payne lensman Jonathan Sela, employs some incredible camera work and displays an incredibly dynamic visual sense. The camera is always moving, zooming, panning, swooping, and seems very much a character itself, as cliched as that is.

Barker's obsessions, even from this early story, are evident here - rough sex, twisted personalities, the real and the imagined, and the base, dumb physicality of meat. While not his best work (or adaptation thereof), The Midnight Meat Train is an intriguing film in its own right, and a solid addition to the Barker cinematic oeuvre. And it takes place largely in a subway, which automatically gains it a pass in my book (see: The Warriors, Jacob's Ladder, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, etc...). I've got this thing about subways in film...

The R1 Lionsgate DVD has a few nice extras in which Barker talks about his painting and writing and breaks down his philosophy of art, and also an "Anatomy of a Murder" feature, in which various cast and crew explain the behind-the-scenes workings of one of the film's subway murders. Not for everyone, but if you dig Barker's work or subways, then I say, "All aboard....the Midnight Meat Train".

movies: the quare fellow (1962)

Dir: Arthur Dreifuss
Cast: Patrick McGoohan

My only previous experience with Patrick McGoohan was through a well-worn VHS copy (taped off TV in two parts) of the fantastic Pryor/Wilder vehicle Silver Streak. My best friend Mark Sampson and I watched it at least once a week, without fail, from age 8-11. We could recite the movie by heart, and often did, even the blurred out curses, making it suitable for TV broadcast and safe for our young ears. We always got a kick out of McGoohan's Roger Devereau (I didn't even have to look that up), and looking back I realize what a restrained and wonderfully sinister performance he gave in the film. McGoohan's character was not a blustery supervillian, full of sound and fury, but instead displayed a restrained and calculated criminality.

It is with that as my sole reference of McGoohan that I went into his much earlier and different work in The Quare Fellow. Based on a play by Irish playwright Brendan Behan, the film is a superb exercise in realist acting and cinematic humanism. Unlike many theatre to screen adaptations, The Quare Fellow does not suffer from stagey direction, and has just enough in the way of sets and locations to keep it real, but not too much so as to distract from the central premise. McGoohan plays Thomas Crimmin, a newly appointed guard or "screw" at an Irish prison. We see him go through a major change in the film, from thinking justice is black and white to realizing that there exists a far greater grey zone than he ever believed. Throughout, we see McGoohan struggling to reconcile his theoretical ideas of justice with the very real lives he sees wasting away in front of him.

The film runs an economical 85 minutes and is very much worth watching for both the involving story and the excellent performances from not only McGoohan but also Walter Macken, Sylvia Sims, and a group of Irish actors who do a wonderful job portraying the inmates with a fatalistic black humour necessary to create a sense of realistic incarceration. The recently released Kino DVD is an excellent transfer, though the sound mix is a little raw. For a film that is relatively obscure and nearly 50 years old, it's a flaw that is easy to overlook. There are scant, though nice, extras, including a short doc called "Behan's Dublin".

movies: blood tea and red string (2006)

Dir: Christiane Cegavske

Well, this was a delicious treat. Apparently 13 years in the making, Christiane Cegavske's Blood Tea and Red String is an enchanting "fairytale for grown-ups", that could just as easily be enjoyed by children. The lovingly handmade creatures and meticulous stop-motion animation recalls such classics as The Wind in the Willows and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas. There is a very visceral, tactile sense to the film, and you quickly become drawn in because of the realization that you are watching something that someone has actually MADE, manually.

Each frame of film is beautifully rendered. This is not a digital experience, or some cold, detached exercise in life-like CGI - the viewer is very aware of the obvious limitations of the puppets and the scenarios; but rather than a hindrance, this is very much an endearing quality and creates a very human warmth, even if we are watching fox-crows, devious, arrogant mice, and a frog-wizard...

The story goes like this - a group of aristocratic mice appears at the home of the Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak, who are talented craftsmen. The mice commission the fox-crows (that is what they resemble, so I will call them such) to create for them a beautiful doll. A deal is reached and the doll is made, but the fox-crows become attached to the doll-lady, and when the mice return to pick up their product, the fox-crows return the mice's money and shoo them away, for they have no other desire than to hold onto the doll, who by now has become somewhat of an idol that the fox-crows seem to worship. Later that night, the mice come and steal the doll-woman, and when the fox-crows awake the next day, they set out on a Baggins-worthy quest to bring her back. Along the way there are drunken woodland waltzes with a frog wizard, a bartering black widow, and an epic, absurd card game in which the mice become drunk on blood tea...

This is a fascinating, hilarious, altogether gorgeous film that exudes the love of its creator. There are also some very intriguing elements of pagan ritual in the film, so it is not merely a surface experience. Some may be turned off by the prospect of a 75 minute, dialogue-free (but accompanied by a magical, creepy woodwind score) stop-motion film, but they will be sorely mistaken if they choose to ignore this wonderful little piece of ART.

The Cinema Epoch DVD is fairly shy of features, but does have a few short, insightful looks at early character sketches and set photography. Well worth seeking out. And it's a film that Robyn and I both enjoyed, so that's saying something huge right there...

Check it.

movies: the wrestler (2008)

Dir: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marissa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Much ballyhoo'd return to grace for Mickey Rourke, it is everything the hype machine claims it to be, and more, for cheap quotable praise is too easily given away these days.

The wrestler and the stripper are symbols, as obvious as it may seem, for those who rely solely on their bodies for their living and as their bodies begin to fail them, so goes their worth in the world. As each grows older, and the form is stripped away, all that is very apparently left is the soul and the innate need to be loved, wanted, needed, simply not to be alone. Aronofsky eschews all sentimentality, though, in favour of raw emotion, of small lives laid bare and lived large, of characters who are legends in their own mind, but who ultimately come to the terrifying, soul-crushing, and ultimately redemptive - and profoundly human - realization that this...is...it. Facing the void, but too stubborn or too dumb to turn away. This small spark is often all we have and we must clutch the spark, protect it, never let it go out. As long as we have that tiny spark inside of us then the soul of man can never die.

Instead of throwing in the towel, the characters soldier on, absurdly and beautifully. The final scene alone is worth the price of a million bleeding hearts, and the rest of the film is just as good.

The Wrestler breathes, it bleeds, it weeps; it is broken, it sins, and it forgives. It simultaneously revels in the absurdity of human life and shows why that life is worth living.

movies: paranoid park (2007)

Dir: Gus Van Sant

Two words: Severed Corpse. No, it's not the GWAR song, but what is ostensibly the crux of Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park. What Van Sant is really interested in here, though, are not the gory details (and they are surprisingly VERY gory) of the death, around which everything in the film revolves, but once again, the faces, backs and showering bodies of high school teens. Actually not as creepy as that sounds.

In PP, he mines the same territory and style he explored in the superb Elephant and the underrated Last Days, though Van Tarr gets a bit lost in this one. I don't know if it's the script, or the oft-horrendous non-actors' non-acting, but the film feels a bit flimsy. As usual the cinematography is gorgeous, and there are some beautiful instances of soundtrack and film meshing synchronously. But overall, fans of the director will probably feel cheated by the threadbare plot and what feels like two movies in one: the first half's experimental-film feel cut with grainy slo-mo super-8 footage of skaters riding "Paranoid Park" (actually Portland's Burnside, and what are seemingly outtakes from Fruit of the Vine, Northwest, and Tent City); and the second half, which focuses more on the murder mystery, the implications of which are sadly hard to care about.

If he had have picked one side and ran with it, there could have been an excellent film in there; as it stands, Van Sant has made a mildly interesting, but frustratingly flawed one.

Sunday, October 9, 2011