Lovely Molly: Naked, Grim, and Surprising

Streaming choices seem bountiful this week; I finally sat down to watch Lovely Molly and didn’t find myself as disappointed as Rotten Tomatoes (an underwhelming 42%) or several other high-profile reviewers apparently were with the film. That said, this isn’t a title that is going to make it on my favorites list, either. Allow me to explain.

Initial Reactions (Mild Spoilers)

1. Why would anyone move into that old house?
2. She sure is nude an awful lot.
3. What’s with the horses? …HORSES ARE SCARY!
4. Wait, whatisthatinthegarden?!

It’s not usually a good sign when, asked about a film’s best attributes, a person replies “the soundtrack” before all else. In this case, though, I thought the soundtrack stood alongside as its own work of art. It’s still softly spinning in my head, lingering like the climactic garden scene.

As I understand it, a lot of feedback–push back, even–about the film was about the “ambivalence” in the plot devices: is Molly losing her mind as we watch, or is there something paranormal afoot: you be the judge, viewers! I didn’t get that, and feel pretty secure in saying that the film weighed much more heavily toward straight up paranormal. From the ghostly assault caught on camera to the sister doing the same thing with the closet at the end, it seemed structured in either haunting or possession. Sure, she did some drugs and had awful memories to live with, but in the second scene her husband Tim witnesses a disturbance in the house just as she did; in no way did that feel like a marked beginning to a “descent into madness” but one of “your house is probably haunted, dudes”.

Gretchen Lodge handled the Molly character well, getting better as the intensity grew. Everyone did a decent acting job, in fact, but the stand out for me was Alexandra Holden as her sister Hannah. (Which is weighing the two unfairly, as this was Lodge’s debut role.) I thought that employing them in a cleaning service was a good touch because it added not to the plot, but to the characters. The two were believable as onscreen sisters. Hannah’s own childhood memories and the care she has for her sister are relatable; raw. Tim is, well, Tim.

This movie is not filmed all as cinéma vérité nor is it overbearing with its usage of that device, but surprisingly, this is the best camerawork I’ve seen in any found footage. The story told through Molly’s camera is striking and added a tense freak out level that really boosted the film’s overall horror. Sánchez has made it quite the art form since the Blair Witch Project while many other directors just repeat what he did back in 1999. If found footage transcends its rapidly closing coffin, I’d keep an eye on Sánchez as the one coordinating the lift.

Sanchez’s choice of color palette and shadow was as beautiful as a bruise and a welcome backdrop. Some eliciting visuals like a dead deer and even some of the *many* scenes where Molly is nude are startling. (Not to mention the garden scene! My boyfriend confirms that, upon seeing this finale, I spoke the only words of the entire viewing: “Wait, what is THAAA-?”) The one big reveal that would be an unfortunate spoiler for those of you who haven’t viewed but plan on it is the only real questions I was left with after the credits. It has to deal with motive. I think most actions are explained outright or given a fleshy allusion, but one is tenuously lacking by my account. The very end part that focuses on Hannah was the only point in the film that felt a little trite, but was necessary I think.

Overall, Lovely Molly had a fair amount of scares, enough original story to be captivating, good female leads, and it gives the clop of a horse’s hoof a much darker tone than any movie before. I wouldn’t recommend it as the centerpiece of a movie night, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend skipping it, either. Let me know what you think!

 

“V/H/S” … It Could’ve Been Better

Sorry I’ve been away for a bit. A few posts back I think I mentioned that I have night terrors on occasion and am regularly plagued by nightmares; turns out this week was time for the cycle to come round again. If I can, one that is now apparently recurring has a horrible…thing…I want to sketch out and share with you fine folk. (But I don’t know, I’m kind of superstitious about bringing it into my waking life.)

*******

Moving on! If you’re on the streaming ‘flix plan, then you may notice that last year’s V/H/S is now available to view at our leisure. It’s a title that I researched and was looking forward to running across. (If I haven’t said it before now, it bears mentioning that I am a broke-ass woman, so I really have to choose which titles to buy. That’s why I’m so dreadfully all over the map.)

This American horror anthology isn’t bad, I mean, it’s not terrible, but my overall reaction is underwhelmed. [Maybe my dreamlife lately is skewing perception, who knows?] With six cinema verite shorts by six different directors, it was risky business from the start. Several reviews agreed that the works as a whole were “unbalanced”, but I didn’t think so. They all obviously catered to different tropes of our beloved sub-genres and–weighed against each other–held ground equally.

The framing short (indeed NOT a wrap-around; it essentially ends before the last short and is remixed for the credits) is “Tape 56” directed by Adam Wingard. He plays “Brad” in this short, by the by. Of all the stories, this one really unsettled me. So much so that thinking back on many reviews that glossed it over, dismissing it as a brief device of some “hooligans” kind of pisses me off. Alone, or as a feature length, it would have leaned toward the disgusting nihilism of films like The Snowtown Murders. But without the possibility of any likable protagonists. Within the first minute and a half, this group of four degenerate fucks (uh, yup!) are sexually assaulting (again, word choice accurate) a young woman by accosting her and her boyfriend and forcibly exposing her breasts so that they can film it.

[Listen real quick: the types of people who comment on videos made by women on literally any subject but the sexiness of said woman by leaving a comment hollering “tits or gtfo” or “show me your tits” are one virtually verbal step away from this kind of humiliating action. Cut that shit out. It’s not a compliment (and you damn well know it), it’s not on topic, it’s not even a smidgen respectful, and other people are disgusted by it too. Yeah, I know Cracked did a video on it. This is my tie in. Good day to you.]

Anyway, our destructive gang of scumbums wants to make mo’ money by being even more deplorable, so they take a “job” to get a specific tape from some guy’s house. When they show up, sorpresa! Here there be many video tapes and a dead guy. Unaware that karma is a bitch, they split up to root around the house, leaving one alone in the t.v. room to launch into the other shorts.

“Amateur Night” (David Bruckner) was pretty cool, in the way that I think all girls-as-monsters are pretty cool. The set-up was stale and the three main fellows came off wa-a-ay too archetypal as the drunken party doodz with one shy, virginal pal. But props to character Patrick, who drunkenly manages to deter his coked up buddy Shane not to bang a girl who has passed out. Because that’s a gross thing to do. Patrick also proves to be hella resourceful even in the nude. The effects were decent and the acting by Hannah Fierman (Lily the lady monster) was A-Okay.

We are then briefly back to the Awful Boyz Club to find out that Brad kind of disappeared, that there are many tapes in the basement, and also what seems to be a Quarantine-esque creepy old man. Inevitably, another idiot is left alone with the body and the tapes, so on we get.

“Second Honeymoon” (Ti West) started off well but didn’t end to my expectations. The couple–Sam and Stephanie–were very realistic in dialogue and this was the most convincing contrivance for “found footage”. The twist was genuinely surprising, but wasn’t very good. The up-close shot of the “switchblade popping open” in the dark was silly, and I just kept thinking how the hell did that girl even get in the room?! I saw the door get locked. I SAW IT. And I streamed back to see it again. So plot hole there, unless it was so subtle I missed it twice. All in all, I’d like to see more of these two actors.

Sigh, and we’re back to the Fool Squad. And the second guy is now gone. And the body seems to be gone. But don’t worry, it’s back being dead next time we see this room. Oh, another tape, for me?

“Tuesday the 17th” (Glenn McQuaid) I’m not even a big fan of slasher films, but this was a tie for favorite out of the six shorts. It was witty (being freaked out on drugs = now forever known as “The Fear”), cut to the chase with no fuss, was self-referential (“Why can’t I FILM YOU?!”) but was also dedicated to the storyline. Essentially, this is a short about the most balls-out PTSD anyone can imagine, and I dug it.

Hey, dead guy’s back! So’s the guy who tried to trick his girlfriend into having sex on tape! Was wondering when he’d get his chance to disappear.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (Joe Swanberg) The title is long and sort of sums up this short, I suppose. Many reviewers counted this as their favorite in story, film device, and scares so I was looking forward to it; unfortunately, this was my least favorite of the group. I didn’t buy the acting from Daniel Kaufman as James, either before or after I knew the reveal. Helen Rogers as Emily, however, was a delight. If the haunting angle had been played out as firmly as it framed the first few frights, this would have been a good one, but the twist only showed me the budget of the makeup department, an expository “dialogue” of the truth(?), and honestly cheapened the short as a whole. However, I think if this was a feature-length that had more time for nuance and character development, it would be much more promising.

Alright, mustache “hooligan” Gary, you feel up to getting killed? …yes. Okay, good. Onto the final film, which had an extended ending in the home release that sounds as thought it would tie the whole bundle up really nicely but is NOT part of the Netflix version.

“10/31/98” (Radio Silence) is the other half of the tie for favorite here. It had the only group of men (Sam doesn’t count) who were, like, just regular dudes with balanced silliness and ethical behavior. It also had the coolest effects (though somewhat spoiled for me because I saw this video on the YouTubes before catching this anthology.) I feel a little dense that I didn’t realize the situation in the attic was an exorcism (methinks it was a sacrifice) and if I hadn’t had the subtitles on, the volume would have been way too cranked, but overall I think this short was a great end.

That’s it, basically. The credits, as I mentioned, are a remix of the Original Douches exploits, and I had to turn them off. I wish this could have been more, BUT you guys, I’m happy that this kind of collaboration could happen and realistically work where it has fallen apart with egos and tropes before (here’s looking at you, ABC’s of Death.)

Heave-Ho to the Happy Crappy

Alright folks: a new year. Another one. Will this be the year I stop mucking around and set off down a glorious career path? Say “bollocks!” to debt and get my MFA? Give up my hair coloring regiment and let my silver hair be publicly silver even though I’ve got a few more of these new years before I reach 30? Just like any innovative movie or game (see what I did there?) the plot twists remain to be seen! I do know this: the cosmos would have to be very cruel indeed to set a year in motion worst than the last, so with a bout of zealously rare optimism, here’s to throwing out all the moldy remnants of 2012!

For those of you who have been patiently waiting for me to round out that Tomb Raider series, just, uh…hang in there. It’s actually tied into another topic very dear to my heart that will show up soon, but for now I really want to hail the new year with a few topical fun-stuffs.

Titles To Anticipate

Sometimes I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than sit and watch a barrage of movie trailers. Just such a time came up a few days ago. I, by random search, came across this youtube channel devoted to Sci-Fi and Horror movie trailers (it’s all in the name!). Spent a happy hour browsing trailers–old and new–and researching the standouts. Below is a list of the titles I wrote down in my “Watch This Shit!” notebook. (Unless noted with a ” * “, the trailers can be found by following that link to the Sci-Fi & Horror Movie Trailers channel; a few of them were already on the list from other sources.) Without further ado and in no particular order!

2013 Upcoming Releases

  • The Babadook  and These Final Hours (*no trailers yet, but both include David Henshall from The Snowtown Murders and that hooked me. The first appears to be true horror and the second is more a character movie, but I’ll allow the genre slip for Henshall’s mesmerizing acting. And an apocalypse is involved, so, c’mon. That’s scary.)
  • The Host 2 -if you haven’t checked out the first one, mark it ‘high priority
  • Warm Bodies 
  • Dark Skies
  • Star Trek: Into Darkness *Listen, I’ve never been a Trekkie, but the most recent movie was highly entertaining with re-play value to boot and seriously you guys, just watch this trailer, it looks fanta-a-astic….guh!
  • Mama – oh sweet jesus, this looks terrifying. Hooray!

Out Now: Top Titles I’m Tracking Down. Reviews Imminent! 

  • Antiviral (2012) – this has been on my mind since I caught the trailer a long time ago, but I missed it in theatres. My latter portion of 2012 was kind of fucked up.
  • Kill List (2011) – it’s amazing how pivotal movies like this fly over my head. Constantly. Time to rectify.
  • Take Shelter (2011) *
  • Tideland (2005) *
  • Outcast (2010) *
  • Sound of My Voice (2011) *
  • Animal Kingdom (2011) *

The “Watch This Shit!” list is bigger than these highlights assert–it’s obese, honestly–but these are the titles actively tickling my cinema viscera. I welcome any and all suggestions, words of caution, and personal experiences with any of these or others, so please! Speak on up!

Um, and Games, Too?

Of course, games! I’d be pretty daft if I didn’t openly recognize that I represent only a portion of the gaming community solely based on the limited platforms I use. (And I don’t have an iPhone, where so many of the games are at. That’s fine by me.) Still, my PC and PS3 have a few things to look forward to and titles that I missed this year to catch up on:

  • If it’s not clear that I’m eagerly awaiting the Tomb Raider reboot/prequel/whatever then here: I’m so eagerly awaiting the new Tomb Raider game.
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth 
  • Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs – eeeee!
  • Journey (PS)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online -this might be a huge turning point for my gaming life; I am not an MMO gamer. But the design, story, and map looked amazing at E3 and frankly, I just haven’t had enough Elder Scrolls in my life. Yet.
  • BioShock Infinite -it’s about freaking time.
  • The Last of Us -may end up not being my kind of game, but it looks too stunning to dismiss before I try!

Games I’ll probably end up playing anyway? GOW: Ascension, Resident Evil 6, and of course, Minecraft in its various iterations, mods, and deliciously hypnotic repetition. I love you, Minecraft. Please be kinder to my PC.

2013: Predictions? 

In general, I’m trying not to have any major life “predictions” about this year. That tends to go sour, so I’m going with the flow as far as being a person in society is concerned. But for entertainment? Let me scry.

  • Horror Cinema: New French Extremism will continue to innovate, disturb, and delight, but I think this year is going to see Australian cinema making a well-deserved and lasting statement. Particularly in psychological horror and stark character stories. We will have to groan past the umpteenth “reboot” of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and probably a few others as the gears of our beloved genre find a renewed pitch. Meanwhile, American and Canadian indie crews are going to keep us on edge and talking plenty afterward. Overall, this may not be the year of a booming horror renaissance, but it will do a lot to get us there.
  • Video games:  After 2012, a year with the lowest amount of “great games” according to the powers that be, surely we can look forward to a variety of ass-kicking entertainment to choose from. (Although I don’t foresee anything until 2014 stepping up to equal Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series from ’12. Just not going to happen this year.) No doubt there will be some wide-spread disappointment surrounding one or two of the bigger anticipated titles, but who’s to say which ones? Honestly? I’m not kidding about spending more lavish quality time with Minecraft, so let that say what it will about my predictions.

Well folks, here’s to you, to me, to the shadows of horror, to the adventure of games; to a new calendar year! Best of luck to us all. Stay tuned!

 

Dark, Ugly, Brilliant: ‘The Snowtown Murders’

When I think about enduring an illness during winter months, I envision a lot of couch-lounging movie marathons. Unfortunately (and this will be the last whaaambulance call about me being sick, promise!) I’ve been so sick that sleep took priority over my inner film freak. I did manage to watch a few, so let me kick off my return with one of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen: Australian director Justin Kurzel‘s debut The Snowtown Murders.

Reviewers say “[a specific disturbing] film made me feel so dirty that I had to shower after watching it”, but I never empathized with the sentiment. My experience with dark and disturbing films is extensive, so does that makes me some kind of insensitive degenerate? Dunno. After watching The Snowtown Murders, I can say that I finally understand what everyone else means about a movie temporarily impacting their moral self-image.

Australian Tragedy Breeds Australian Cinematic Genius

***TRIGGER WARNING: Pedophilia, Homophobia, &  Animal Cruelty***

The Snowtown Murders is a harrowing dramatization of the people and events surrounding Australia’s worst serial killer, John Bunting. In fact, Wikipedia states the details of the case were suppressed to the public until the producers of this film petitioned for them in order to make the film.  In addition to being among the most prolific crime stories of the country, the murders are unique for involving six perpetrators of the serial killings (usually no more than two are involved.)

Kurzel’s film does a masterful job of developing the involved characters. While the film has scenes of nakedly brutal violence and abuse, the choice to focus on the group of personalities successfully brought home the stark horror better than gore-sploitation could ever do. The acting is flawless to the point that these people seem like the real deal.

Our main POV is Jaime (Lucas Pittaway), teenage son of Elizabeth Harvey. Early on in the movie we witness Elizabeth’s boyfriend being sexually inappropriate with Jaime and his two younger brothers in scenes that are not horrifically explicit but are so poignant that they don’t need to be. When police do nothing, the opportunity for John Bunting to melt into and over their lives through mutual friend Barry (a pre-op transexual with a young boyfriend named Robert,) is opened.

Bunting (spectacularly portrayed by Daniel Henshall) is a charismatic, passionate personality known for openly loathing pedophiles (and homosexuals) and talks of taking action. Bunting becomes a father figure to the boys, bonding closely with Jaime. Can’t say enough about the acting; Henshall makes Bunting a truly charming figure, fully realized in his care for the boys just as he is in his twisted fury against pedophiles.

Slowly–this movie is paced with measured cadence–impressionable Jaime is drawn into Bunting’s escalating hatred and violence. We hear a voice mail from Barry stating that he is leaving town while his boyfriend Robert is indoctrinated by Bunting. We see slices of Jaime’s closest friendship with a drug addict named Gavin. We watch the neighborhood through Bunting’s gaze, focused on the wayward and the not-quite-right. We see a boiling danger underneath a mending family finally finding the love and guidance of a dominant male figure.

We don’t see any on screen brutality until two-thirds of the movie has set a scene so gritty and grim, so tense and foreboding that I actually had to press pause a few times to take a cigarette break in another part of my house just to remove myself from the bleak immersion. (That’s not something I’d normally do, you guys. Even now, writing this, I need to listen to some upbeat music.) The details are yours to learn either from the film or the written history; it’s not so much that there are major spoilers, but there is no need for me to give the play-by-play when the events speak for themselves.

What should be noted is the portrayal of Jaime’s unwilling but unavoidable journey into this irredeemable hell. It’s amazing, it’s haunting, and it’s at the heart of “dirty” feeling that settled over me after I finished the film. Watching such a lost, hurt soul in the full revolution of transition isn’t a new story arc but is at its zenith in this film. From innocence taken to influence to systematic mental break down to breaking point to assimilation, Pittaway’s performance as Jaime is so horrifyingly stark (and as far as I can tell, true to history) that it’s harder to deal with in the film’s immersion than Bunting’s ruthless madness. I knew going in that it was based on reality, but goddamnit, it was so mind-blasting realistic that it almost breaks the fourth wall somehow.

If you are planning on watching this movie, I have a specific suggestion to enhance your viewing. Normally I would be wary of this kind of influence but since it made such a difference for me I thought I’d at least put it out into the ether: read about the details of the real murders (not the film!) before you watch the movie. It will help greatly in keeping track of who is connected to who and how in the film since it is a true-to-life dramatization; the cast is relatively small but the accents and frank, open story-telling have a few “wait, who is that?” moments.

It will also elevate the last ten minutes or so of the film from frighteningly foreboding to sickeningly bleak. Why exactly would I want to do that to myself when the rest of the film is so harrowing, hmm? you may be wondering. Well, depending on how much aftermath you are willing to subject yourself to, the real benefit lies with the finality of Jaime’s character development. For me, this is not a film that I’d want to go back and watch again to pick up what I missed, so I’m grateful that I conducted some research beforehand. 

Last Thoughts

I think The Snowtown Murders is a brilliant film. From the cinematography to the impressive acting, Kurzel took prolific Australian history and made an honest masterpiece. It’s also taken the place of the darkest, most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. (Overtaking Irreversible, Martyrs, Men Behind the Sun, and many Cat III’s.) Do not sit down to watch this on a whim, or if you have any overpowering triggers from pedophilia, homophobia, or raw cruelty. The Snowtown Murders is available streaming on Netflix or DVD if you decide to add this one to your list…just don’t let it be said that I didn’t try to warn you that this one will be with you for a while after the credits roll.

*Quick Note: The majority of professional and amateur reviews put out about this film blithely throw around the term “white trash” when referring to the community at whole portrayed in the film. I wish the folks disposed to use such a term would cut it and shut it ASAP. Calling a demographic of people “trash” is 1.) not justifiable because of the race qualifier, 2.) an inherently violent dismissal of each individual’s self-worth within the group (especially the children, for chrissakes!) and 3.) an act of burying one’s head in the sand about the vulnerability of all communities to dominant personalities by putting oneself’s societal status above those who have proved to be susceptible. I’m sick of seeing the term in film reviews just as I am sick of seeing the term “faggot” march merrily around the gamer lexicon. Struggling lower-class folks aren’t trash; people who do wicked and cruelty to them are the trash. Make the contrast.

Hey, Real Quick: Best Horror/Sploitation Compilation Films Streaming on Netflix Right Now!

There are many options for [legally] viewing movies online. I just happen to use Netflix’s online streaming archives as one of my main supplements. If you don’t have an account and don’t plan on getting one, you should still track down the films listed.  Here are spectacular horror compilations replete with trailers, interviews, commentary, and lore!

1. American Grindhouse (2010)- a top-notch exploration into the chronicles of exploitation films in America. Great commentary from John Landis, Larry Cohen, and many more.

2. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)- a hidden gem I found at random, this well-made film is a comprehensive look at Australian cinema’s evolution in the 70’s and 80’s. Enhanced with interesting factoids about Australian censorship law and culture. Quentin Tarantino even shows up!

3. Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)- a fascinating look into exploitation cinema’s Filipino headquarters and the classics we know and love today.

4. Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue (2009)- sometimes criticized for “looking too hard to find meaning that isn’t there,” this incredibly thoughtful compilation doubles as a documentary on evolving straight-up film horror, from the turn of the century to our new millennium. Includes commentary from John Carpenter, George Romero, and more. If you like horror and want a fresh look at the genre, don’t miss this one. (Personal favorite!)

Queued Up Next: American Scary (2006)- a film about classic American television “horror hosts”

Hope this gives you some ideas and good times in front of the t.v. If you have any compilations or documentaries to add re: horror or exploitation cinema, please share in the comments!

 

‘Zombiethon’: “God Help Us…[Make Them] Rise Again!”

mandible, sketch, ink, jaw, jawbone, zombiethon, laugh, hilarious, art

It were a violent laughter what made me go and  drop my jaw     –JS–      2011

*Bonus: Zombiethon is available now for streaming on Netflix! 

A Treat Among the Barely Tolerable

     One of the fantastic aspects to the horror cinema niche is that beyond the DVD commentary, the film itself, and all the publications the fanatic can delight in viewing the many preview/trailer compilation out there devoted to the genre. For as many that leave us scratching our heads or exasperated at the overzealous host, there are those that are a nod and a wink at the happy explorer. Zombiethon is a gem, especially if you are all about classic exploitation horror from the seventies and eighties. BE WARNED: in the universe of these films, bras, underpants, Venus razors, and modesty have not come to pass, so if you commit to viewing, make sure everyone in the room has checked their inner prude at the door!

T & A & Bush Galore! (Not to Mention Gore!) Come Laugh Your Ass Off

     Directed by Ken Dixon, this compilation doesn’t cover as extensive a film listing as some of its kin does, but it treats the included seven in a wonderful vignette of some of the more notorious zombie-themed exploits from cinema history. Instead of employing filler scenes with hosts, interviews, or puppetry gimmicks, the previews are punctuated by original flash-film scenes that enhance the hell out of the experience.

Zombiethon covers extended previews of the films: Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), Zombie Lake (1981), Oasis of the Zombie / The Treasure of the Living Dead (1982), Fear (1981), The Invisible Dead / Dr. Orloff’s Invisible Monster (1970/71), Franco’s A Virgin Among the Living Dead / Christine, Princess of Eroticism (1973), and the ever-awesome schlockfest that is The Astro-Zombies (1968).

These are movies from a time before the average movie-goer locked into streamlined vision of shambling or sprinting rotting corpses when they hear “zombie”. (I confess: I am on a temporary abstinence from our more recent zombie movies because I can’t appreciate the genre after being so over-stimulated. And I’m avoiding vampires altogether.) These were the times where “zombie” covered not only our walking dead, but stood for any kind of hunger–in these films, “lust” is an entrée. With these films, you’ll be delighted with content like an underwater zombie vs. shark fight, nazi zombies snatching up nude swimmers, over-sized rubber spider complete with web, a randy invisible ape-man butler, and so many different kinds of boobs that you start to feel like an anthropologist.

The only criticism I have about this compilation is that the first five titles are given so much screen-time that they are really condensed versions of the films, and then the pacing zooms through the last few titles so I had a superficial sense that I was missing something (or being cheated!) Aside from that, this is a great way to spend 73 minutes. Not only do you get to check out some classic zombie exploitation that you may have missed, but the film is a chance for you to play at being your very own MST3K right in your living room. Or bedroom. Or kitchen. Or wherever!

 

‘Looper’ And What I Finally Noticed About JGL’S Face

Hail all from inside the snowy nor’easter! Hope my east coast neighbors are somewhere safe and warm in the enduring devastation from Sandy. (And–because my enthusiasm is still ripe–hooray, Obama!) Moving on!

When I saw it, I wasn’t in the mood to watch Looper (or any movie for that matter.) It was my boyfriend’s idea, and the only reason I went along with it was because it has been a rare thing in the past two years that he wants to watch a movie with me, much less suggests which one we watch. (Not because our love life’s entertainment aspect is rocky–our first date viewing of The Lion King and homemade mac and cheese was his giddy idea–but because he works long hours, and he swears he “watches” everything I do as he sits behind me exploring Diablo III patches or haunting WoW forums.) Unfortunately, if I’m not in movie-mode, I have a hard time getting immersed.

I am pleased to report such was not the case with Looper.

Initial Reactions

1. Hey, Jeff Daniels, it is GREAT to see you again! You look adorable; are you a Lebowski?
2. There is…something…off about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face…I can’t…hmm.
3. Oh MAN great effects! Alright, I’m in!

Brutality, Making Rain, and What’s Going On With That FACE?!

Writer-Director Rian Johnson’s film Brick is an enduring title on my top 20 drama favorites, so even though I was reluctant about committing to the length of a movie, I was excited to see him team up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL from now on) once more. Inception has had the lasting impact of making me skeptical of these kinds of intellectual psy-fi types (in case I never manage a post on it, well, I was lukewarm at best regarding Inception.) However, it seemed like Johnson actively anticipated the obvious parallels and neatly sidestepped the potholes.

The premise: in the future, time travel is both illegal and widely used by syndicated crime to take care of icing unfortunate victims so neatly that Law and Order would have a run for their money. The film’s present day is set in 2044 after an economic crisis that allowed said crime to take root and organize “loopers” as the assassins for those sent back. (Neat tidbit: a looper’s only weapon is a blunderbuss!) Additionally, about 10% of the population went Dr. Jean Grey and developed telekinetic (TK) powers.)

In the present, Joe Simmons (JGL) is both TK and looper, working for Kansas-based mafia boss Abe (Jeff Daniels,) who was sent back from the future to organize the assassination side of business. Abe is an affably be-robed character, clearly playing the father role to parentless Joe, colleague looper Seth (Paul Dano), and the hot-shot of Abe’s muscle–the Gat Men– Kid Blue (Noah Segan.) He also owns a predictably sleaze-tastic bar where Joe indulges in ocular drug use and the company of a woman named Suzie (Piper Perabo.) Loopers enjoy top indulgences, financial reward, and protection for their services; the big hitch is a looper’s contract inevitably ends (we are told aprx. 30 years in the future by Joe) they are sent back in time to be killed by their younger selves. [Disjointed] SPOILERS THE REST OF THE WAY!

For all Brick‘s verbal and scene-shot complexities, Johnson handled all aspects of Looper with poignant minimalism. I think he handled the paradoxes of time travel, continuity, and exploring human motivation and their consequences in top form. Nothing in the film felt heavy-handed, out of intellectual reach, or made me roll my eyes. I don’t want to overview the whole plot, just focus on my favorite aspects/scenes so if you haven’t seen it but don’t mind spoilers, not all secrets are revealed but one of them could really ruin a lot of the fun for you!

Visuals

Essentially, Johnson successfully created one of the first well-lit sci-fi movies I’ve come across. It is a beautiful movie, no bones about it, and mostly takes place outside during daylight. He avoids embellishing the “look” of time travel and telekinesis. Really, the most futuristic visual effect we get is a hovering speeder-cylce, getting no more than 1 minute screen time, max.

Being a junky as I am for all cinematic instances of primal disturbing visuals (gimme that body horror!), I got my fix of two fantastically unique scenes. The first is early on, when Seth’s future self  is frantically trying to escape the city after escaping death by his younger self. A scar appears on his arm of an address and 15-minute deadline. Then his fingers begin to disappear. As he races to the location he is steadily mutilated and whittled away; a human face with a healed cavity where his nose has been cut off is fundamentally disturbing. He reaches the destination and lunges limbless for the door, desperately begging them to stop. The door opens and he is shot dead. The viewer’s last impression is a vague, blood-soaked surgical table in the middle of a dark room. I thought that this sequence evoked brilliant levels of horror and compassion.

The second comes after a great many other things have happened in the main plot so here’s what you need to know: after also escaping assassination, we find out Joe’s future self (“Joe II”, Bruce Willis) is there to find/kill a person who will become a super-villain known as Rainmaker in the future. Hunted by Abe’s Gat Men and trying to stop Joe II, Joe locates one of the potential targets: Sara Rollins (Emily Blunt) and four-year old Cid (a phenomenal Pierce Gagnon). They become close as they wait for Joe II to show up. BIG SPOILER ALERT! The second scene that resonated with me is when a Gat Man finds them, threatens them, and accidentally causes Cid to fall down the stairs. Turns out Cid is a super-TK with no control of his powers; in reaction to his fright, Cid literally rips the Gat Man apart on a cellular level, and it is beautifully shot. Timing, sounds, effects, facial expressions–everything. Excuse a second X-Men reference, but it put Professor X’s demise to shame.

Last of all, JGL’s face. I saw right away that something was off about the way he looked, and didn’t figure out that he was wearing contacts until about twenty minutes in. Ah, that’s it! Right? Blue contacts sure change a face! After the movie was over, my boyfriend casually mentioned that he was impressed the director actually altered JGL’s nose to make him look more like Bruce Willis. I stopped for a moment, thought back for another, and then promptly facepalmed. I’ve since studied some screen shots and yeah, that’s what they did. Points for commitment, but I don’t think it was very successful.

Handling Themes

Time travel is vital to the story, but not what the story’s about. In the end we are left with a larger exploration about the cycle of consequences that come from using violence to prevent violence, and to what degree can self-motivation twist moral convictions. We are also given to ponder how thin the boundary is between choosing one action or another and how vast the resulting chain of events are.

As with all complex subjects in movies, there has been much debate and speculation regarding plot holes, implications, and paradoxes of time travel in this film, but I don’t think I need to do any more thinking on it. Johnson didn’t over-complicate the matter by only giving vital explanations and keeping his structure consistent. I’m not saying it was too background or didn’t engage me, just that I am satisfied at face value.

As for the human nature side of things, I felt most emotionally provoked by Sara and Cid and a lesser degree by Joe. Willis didn’t phone it in or anything, but there was an element to his character that left me wanting; I think it was desperation to round out his determination. Cid was just awesome and I’d watch it again just to pay more attention to his character.

On the whole, I think this is one I’d like to own. It was just so engrossing and beautiful. I’m already a loyal JGL fan because of Brick and 50/50 but now I’ll keep my eyes peeled for anything Rian Johnson has his hands on as well. Let me know if you agree, disagree, or think I missed anything important!

 

‘Prometheus’: It’s All About Scott & Fassbender (Post 1 of 2)

Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated Prometheus made all sorts of waves; not only in the sci-fi/horror communities but for many average movie-goers of all persuasions. To enhance my own experience of the movie, I want to follow my review with a separate post for some exploration and rumination into some of the more widely voiced questions/controversy. No time to waste!

General Reactions (Warning: Spoilers!)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Prometheus and came away pleased, even enthusiastic for a sequel. (IMDb tells me one was announced in August, but is in early talks. The same was said of Guillermo del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness, once, and alas. So it goes.) The film hit all the right notes for me: captivating opening sequence, no time wasted on explaining the how and why of the Prometheus mission, proper role development, quick to get into the action stay there til the credits, inspiring design for the Engineers and their gadgets, thrilling new concepts for the alien organisms, and an ending that left me wanting to continue the adventure. (The bone-chillingly scored trailer was an unexpected perk.)

A few stand-outs clinched a positive experience. I really dig Ridley Scott’s pacing sensibilities*. Scott gets the plot moving, ensures no one farts around with wanton dialogue or visual artistry, and he keeps getting shit done until it’s over. Prometheus stands on some heady ideology, not to mention the chance for fans to re-enter the universe they love, so there were opportunities to wax too philosophical or over/under-service the fan base. Scott’s no-nonsense speed and editing kept the film from falling into those traps.

Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) pumped me up as the leading lady. I responded to her brutal endurance so much because it didn’t seem like it came from a fanatic need to get answers, just the need to survive in a hostile, belief-system crushing environment. Charlize Theron’s Captain Meredith Vickers was a great contrast in ego and actions, but fell a little flat (heh) overall.

The best thing about Prometheus? Michael Fassbender’s android David, no contest. Whether it was deliberate or just his acting ability, Fassbender’s David performance stole the show. He was a more complex character study than all the humans and more fascinating than the present alien races. Fassbender’s commitment to consistency, expression and posture, and screen presence made me hope that David is more focus than vehicle in the tentative sequel.

There were some clear weaknesses, too. The predictability level was a little heavy with events sequence echoing Alien (systematic destruction of secondary characters, demonizing and redemption of android, etc.) The added “twist” of expedition founder Weylon (Guy Pearce in heavy prosthetic)  turning up on board still alive detracted from Shaw’s story and came off as an obvious vehicle for the consequences of human hubris. The scene revealing Vicker’s connection to Weylon was (IMO) the weakest: painfully forced, unconvincing, and altogether cliché. Since the mission was well underway, and with Vickers ripe for embodying hubris, the sub-plot could be cut with no injury to the film’s success.

The one glaring weakness I didn’t mind swallowing was Shaw’s miraculous physical recovery after undergoing emergency surgery that would have left her unable to do more than shuffle between bed and bathroom. It’s forgivable because a) the “surgery” scene was totally worth it, b) she does display some convincing physical ramifications, and c) it’s a sci-fi film about species survival, and Dr. Shaw made damn sure she survived.

In summary, Prometheus beat my expectations, kept me entertained, and left me wanting more. As part of a franchise so dominated by “love it or hate it” mentalities, Prometheus stood strong.

* (Might be biased: Legend will always be–I don’t even CARE–my first cinematic love.)

 

‘Contagion’ Proves Star-Studded Casts CAN Just Be Icing In A Film Done Well

Prologue: In Regards to Hurricane Sandy*

I wasn’t even aware Contagion  existed until the recent super-storm created the circumstances for me to find it. Anxious about what Hurricane Sandy had to deliver, I spent an adrenalized, pre-storm movie marathon watching disaster epics from the mid-90’s. Surely the best way to show a hurricane you’ve got no fear is to get jacked-up Tommy Lee Jones style while the wind hollers around the eaves, yeah? (Miraculously, it worked! Not only did we stay safe but also unimaginably well-lit with one small power outage…on that day. The rest of the week has been full of trees thunking down uninvited in the yard and brown-to-black-to-brown outs, but I count that as extraordinary luck.)

I whistled over the wind, engrossed in every decent disaster-ama Netflix offers until I ran out of options. With the storm was still acting a boss, I tossed up a hail mary and searched “top fifty disaster movies OF ALL TIME”. Culling from many I’d already seen, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) stuck out in the “meh, this was okay” ranks. As Sandy danced her wild rumpus, I settled in for viewing, armed only with a few reviews crying “blasé” and a dubious attitude about the magnitude of superstars swarming the casting bill.

(Now hang in there; this will no doubt be a tall drink of water, being blog-rusted in cahoots with a complex film to tackle. This movie is totally worth it, trust me.)

Initial Reactions & Overall Taste

1. Instantly engaged by the soundtrack and color scheme.
2. The opening 8-odd minutes of disconnected jumps between the  first-infected is striking; the direction/editing drives unease to apprehension to tension in such short order that my smoking adrenal glands dig up hidden reserves of chemicals to gnosh.
3. Matt Damon has aged into a lovable, middle-aged father type and-OH JEEZE LOUISE Gwyneth Paltrow is burning her  horrifying death-throes into my brain dictionary under “pandemic.” Good god-DAMN she is unsettling.

I’ma be straight: everything about this movie went above and beyond for me. More favorable reviews I caught before pressing “play” shared similar warnings à la: “If you want a horror or disaster film, skip Contagion; it’s a solid, documentary style narrative about the affects of a pandemic blah blah..” After enough of this cautionary tale, I tuned in trusting the sentiment. Happily–and maybe due to the subjectivity of defining what “horror” or “disaster” means–this movie scored both genres for me. The odds and sheer power of a pandemic scare me to the core, and the unapologetic depiction of an overwhelming race to find anything to curb literally millions of deaths sure sounds like a disaster to me!

The Trio That Won My Top Praise

1 – Pacing

Editing choices that dictated jumps between the parallel story lines reflects (and enhances) the various speeds of a pandemic’s life cycle. Quick successions from here to there to yon echoes the frantic urgency dogging our characters, from response organizations cobbling a plan, scientists racing to identify the virus, to fact-hungry citizens in panic, looking for someone to tell them what to do. Complementary decisions to go from charged story line or frantic character to a static, near-claustrophobic counter-story do much to drive home that in a pandemic there is just as much hell in waiting or isolation as there is in the race for answers and a cure.

Normally I can get frustrated or disappointed in films defined by the hyperlink narrative Soderbergh is fond of using. They either:
a) smack viewers two-thirds of the way through a tediously paced production with an overwrought, plot-colliding,  “the veil is lifted!” jambalaya that tanks any gravity in the finale,  OR
b) obsessively focus on only a third or half of the plot threads–rounding out characters, using thoughtful timing–but then totally cram the remaining threads into whatever chronology and time frame they have left
This never fails to jettison me, screaming, right out of my immersion.

I am pleased to report that there was only a glimmer of the latter fallacy in Dr. Sussman’s (Elliott Gould) thread as he defies a cease & desist order and keeps working with the virus to help find a vaccine. His character sort of pops off the grid for an extended time but it mirrors his secret lab work. Frankly I didn’t even notice it during the movie, only in hindsight.

2- Actors/Character Development

Biggest thing about the star-heavy ensemble is that every actor/actress cast was both a natural fit for the written character and, despite being enormously famous, each possesses the rare quality of filling no more of the movie than their given role. Damon’s tragic, enduring character dominated my empathy because his character was meant to, not because he eclipsed anyone with his stardom.  Other standouts for me based on performance tandem to role development were Kate Winslet as the vividly real EIS officer Dr. Erin Mears, and Jude Law’s delightfully unexpected, loathsome portrayal of false-prophet blogger Alan Krumwiede. (*Check out top link for a full list!*)

What more can be said about the character development beyond the actors other than to high-five screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for crafting each role to its full potential within the scope of screen time and plot thread? Not one character felt flat, unfinished, unrecognized, or failed to evoke an immersed reaction from me as the viewer. Double high-fives and a fist bump for doing it with such a populated cast.

3- Plot n’ Plots

The spinal plot–the sum of the whole–may have been the reason critics decided that Contagion doesn’t qualify in the “disaster” genre. And it DOESN’T qualify if the accepted scope of a disaster film is defined by one of about four predictable story arcs punctuated by the following: a blithely unassuming introduction, unsettling harbinger of things to come, initial peak of sporadic disaster activity (SURPRISE!) effecting the main character(s) so totally that they leap into into heroics from here on out, an uneasy lull offering options to shock audience with untimely supporting role demise, a wildly tense shriek into quasi-absurdist climax, and final ease into relieved or hopeful conclusion.

If that is the currently accepted disaster movie, then Contagion is a transcendent iteration waiting for us to haul ass into the future.

Back to the main plot and sub-threads: fully-realized, unexpected and original, frighteningly realistic, subtly connected, multi-faceted, and with a refreshing absence of forced or too-good-to-be-true connections in the 11th hour. The narrative’s natural horror in watching a virus emerge from nothing and relentlessly rise to become a pandemic, reaches choice level of impact and sustainability. Every scene delivers enough information to pull us into the fold of growing chaos but doesn’t answer so many questions that we walk away omniscient.

Encouraged by the film’s characters and plot journeys, our mental Center for Logic and Reason in Crisis Situations singles out “Where and how did the virus first infect man?” as the top vital question to answer. It subliminally acknowledges that finding a vaccine is the core answer but is being handled by racing scientists; we the viewer can’t help them there. Surprisingly, we actually get the whole answer of origin as the film endures, richly rewarded in the final minutes with a blunt visual timeline that leaves no secrets. Most full-scale disaster plots rely on a certain degree of need-to-know basis and deus ex machina, so Contagion seems to committed to earnest disclosure to give the viewer footing amid the devastation. But…by the time that the mystery is laid bare, the virus in decline, and an informed control over our mortal fear of helpless vulnerability is in our grasp, that’s when the real horror sinks in.

In the end, it wasn’t really so important to find patient zero and the place they called home. After all that time lapsed and lives destroyed, all we’ve accomplished by answering “why” and “how” is to catch up to the beginning again. All we really gain through the search for accurate timelines, exact location, and elusive vector is a sense of purposeful accomplishment that amounts to nothing more than a scientific study tucked into the archives of hindsight. It ends up alongside all the other hard-won facts in times of rampant smallpox and polio; information that did us no good and stopped none of the loss. The real horror is that, if and when it  happens again, we start the race all over with only as much control as the virus allows us time because a virus is the most powerful, adaptable, and unpredictable monster of them all.  As if that wasn’t enough to send us away rattled, the film warns that contagion is far from the only deadly force in a pandemic by displaying eerily plausible fallacies of human behavior and the tragic consequences in a time of mass hysteria.

Quiet Aftermath

I know that was a lot of exposition with glaringly few actual film details. It’s a quandary: an overview would do the film no justice, and a play-by-play would give you the facts but rob so much of the immersion it has to offer. Decide for yourself if Contagion was a genre hit-or-miss, or if your experience with it led you to the same unease that was left with me. Here’s with my final reaction: the first time I went out after Sandy spent her wrath and every time since, well, I’m not so oblivious anymore to the person coughing openly on merchandise or the kid wiping snot on his palm right before grabbing the pole on the subway, just a few feet from where I’m standing…

contagion, pandemic, virus, viral, doctor, cold, sick, ill, flu, gross

This is how I feel when I have the common cold; a pandemic would not be good for me.

 

 

*To any of you reading who suffered any ill-effects before/during/after Sandy’s arrival, I wish you and yours the best of a speedy recovery. Though we are less than 15 minutes from the bitter Atlantic, hung out like a sore thumb, my locale in MA was very fortunate compared to our neighboring communities. Good thoughts and good luck!

Critics, Critiques In Our Time

I’m currently watching a movie called Heckler that has me thinking (and totally engrossed. There’s a fascinating onslaught of celebrity interviews, from Jamie Kennedy to Deep Roy, Carrie Fisher, Uwe Boll, Dave Attell, George Lucas, Perez Hilton, Jewel…on and on!) It’s a documentary exploring the personae of the “heckler,” primarily in the stand-up comedy world, but has now begun a fabulous portion about professional media critics, followed by a foray into how the Internet has changed the flow of public opinion and how that has an effect on the subjects of those shared opinions.

Okay, wait. Nicole Mandich just showed her the audience her boobs. And that’s alright, because it made sense, and kudos to her. Sorry, I’m trying to write while I watch the rest of this because I easily lose my thoughts.

The Internet

One of the sub-texts being talked about is that “everyone has an opinion,” or the often-intoned “everyone’s a critic.” Absolutely true. It seems that the internet is currently in the stage of growth–early pubescence–where we have figured out how to use it’s hyper-speed to knit ourselves into communities of societal interests to share or amplify our opinions with/at one another, but that we are now too soon after this discovery to have evolved internet empathy, understand the possible weight of our words, or find pleasure in the measure of positive progression through constructive “feedback.”

It seems that the forums open to discussions of the loudest social issues are rife with trigger-warnings, immediate offense and defense, and swarms of the Many protecting the injured Few from the opposing masses. That sense of personal space, in regards to respect and insult, IS eerily absent from the majority of main-stream sites that post media-related reviews, critiques, or personal reactions. I don’t understand the value of a film or game review to the public that offers no analysis or breakdown–even through personal experience only–of the material if the message is entirely negative. Maybe it’s a catharsis for the scribe and in that it contains value. Just not to the community of media consumers, or to those that produce them.

Negative Criticism

If a vitriolic review is meant to “help [actors/directors/developers] get better at their craft”, it is a toil in hopelessness. A point the film makes through interviews is that if someone walks into your place of work, or upon you working on your craft of passion, and simply states “you suck at that. This is awful. YOU suck, and should be stopped,” well, how is that helpful? Criticism can be hurtful but still carry useful information, but it seems that it is the responsibility of anyone writing a piece that they label a “review” (anything beyond the scope of their personal “journaling”; something specifically meant to have some influence with other consumers) to try not to write out of anger. If that is unavoidable, and it is sometimes, then the responsibility becomes the imperative to communicate that anger through examples and reason.

The Tie-In

I bring this up for two reasons: obviously in a self-conscious nod to this fledgling blog of mine, and in appreciation of the horror film review community. The only reason I didn’t just give up on the blog idea altogether is because I found a way to test the waters by offering my opinions on two things I am google-eyed over (horror movies and video games!) Finding a tempered and impacting way to  write about the social issues that I am tied to has proven to be a tangled ball of slippery thread so I am taking the easy route by sharing my topical opinions of media artworks. After viewing Heckler, I am going to be even more conscientious about what I say. Not because I believe I am anybody in the world of weighty reviews, but because I have no place even accidentally influencing someone else’s experiences with my own disappointments.

On a bright side, I have to say how pleased I am every time I visit a site dedicated to horror-genre reviews. The reviews are always earnest , usually lengthy with balanced personal reaction and analysis, and containing at least one affable nod to the concerns of other horror fans. Tomorrow, when I’m not writing on sleep deprivation, I’ll do some due diligence and link those sites for your continued reading experience!

It’s not horrific in the least, but I recommend Heckler if you like comedy-based, celebrity driven documentaries with a lot to think about regarding the media overlapping with consumers.