Saturday, 30 April 2011


I feel slightly weird, as a pretentious film geek, to admit that I am also a major horror nerd. Be it the junky exploitation-type movies or...errrr...the arty exploitation-type movies, I have always loved horror. I don't know how to explain it - I enjoy them all differently, be it the stunningly crafted, yet visceral Inside (A L'interieur), The trashy, yet ultimately goods-delivering Hostel films, or the warped and troubling Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Horror is largely ignored as part of the "speculative horror ghetto" by old-school film critics, and I, along with others (Heyyyyy Moviebob) feel a little obligated to give these genres a little more respect. And I'm going to start here.

Phantasm, a movie released around the same time as Halloween, is another in the canon of at-the-time shocking pre-slasher movies. Directed by Don Coscarelli, who'd go on to direct The Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep, and who is currently working on an adaptation of John Dies At The End (Mental note: AWESOME), it told the story of the citizens of a small town who come under attack by The Tall Man, a malevolent alien disguised as an undertaker. While simple in narrative structure, it does create some pretty good characters, and you care about a lot of these people throughout the film. In particular, the little brother character is one of the few kid characters in horror to this day who wasn't so annoying you wish death upon him.

The film-making is pretty unremarkable here. The photography is perfectly serviceable, the effects are...surprisingly solid, given both the budget and the period. Fortunately, whether it's just a product of the progress that's been made or just how it turned out, this is one of those horror movies which pulls of hilariously cheesy without being so-bad-it's-good; it's not a bad enough movie. The sheer fucking lunacy of this film vastly overshoots its more serial-killerish contemporaries. This movie contains, and I'm not kidding here, flying death-spheres which harvest people's brains to make zombie midgets. That's just a taste of the almost cartoonish madness that this film has up its sleeve.

So, if you're looking for a horror movie you can enjoy both ironically and sincerely (and you've already seen the sublime Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon) Phantasm is definitely worth a watch.

P.S. Over the last few days, I've gotten A LOT of traffic from America, among other places. Kari's too. Was I linked on another film blog or something? 


P.P.S. I just found a recipe for BeaverTails. One of the many things I miss about Canada.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Personal Post: Buuuuuugh

Do y'know what's fun? Being asked every five fuck-mothering seconds what's happening with the Fisher investigation. Fine times. Why they don't just go onto Kari's blog and read it there is beyond me; she's basically put up details about an ongoing investigation on her blog for all the world to see, which is of course the sensible option. AND she has eighteen more views than me, so whatever she's doing, it's working.



Anyway, while Kari's just glad that the rape guy is locked up, I'm just concerned about Joey. I bumped into his older sister, Natalie, earlier today. Her friends were in the park with her, evidently trying to cheer her up, maybe take her mind off of her abducted brother. They've certainly set themselves a lofty goal. I was walking through on my way into town when she spotted me, got up and ran over. Entertainingly, as she ran, all the guys in the park's heads turned. She's rather pretty, especially in a tank top and short shorts (I'd be more worried about writing this if Kari didn't also agree that she's hot as all hell). Anyway, she came jogging over to me, all rich, dark hair, long tanned legs and bouncing, barely-contained....ARGH! Okay, so she ran over and asked "Hey, Simon...I was wondering if you knew anything I maybe didn't about my little brother."
This is awkward for me. Any other person asks me that - and they have been - and I can just turn around and say "Listen, you'll know when the papers know." But there's Natalie, standing there with her head lowered, her eyes full of hope and of hopelessness, and I couldn't just send her away.
"The guy they arrested? He doesn't really have an alibi. The police are still searching around for things they can use to convict, but the case is looking pretty sewn up. In the meantime, he's still protesting his innocence, saying he doesn't know where your brother is. Still, if he is alright, that means that right now there's no-one out there to hurt him."
Natalie looked up at me quickly, met my eyes, looked down again, and started crying. She latched onto me and wept onto my shoulder. I hugged her back and tried to whisper reassuring nothings into her ear, but it all felt like platitudes. She's sobbing away because her little brother could be dead, or have had terrible things done to him, and all I can do is tell her there's a chance the police have the guy who did it and hug her awkwardly. Her friends came over, concerned, and she let go of me, pulling away to go rejoin them. Taken aback, I walked back into town. Kari's forgetting that this thing's not over yet.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

(500) Days of Summer

So, Kari's back to sleeping on her own, in her own bed. I kinda made a fuss about it - jokes about clinginess, jabs about "moving in together" - but I actually kind of miss her. I know this sounds bad, but I liked that she needed me. I'm glad she's getting better though (although her getting involved in the investigation the way she is is WAY too dangerous).

Anyway, last week, we rented out a movie. We expected it to be a typical indie romcom; quirky, offbeat, and probably not as intelligent as it thinks it is (see: Youth In Revolt) but instead we got a remarkable deconstruction of romance fiction, the Mary Sue, and of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl idea. (500) Days of Summer is the story of Tom Hansen, and his obsession with emotionally unavailable Summer Finn, and proceeds as a non-linear sequence of notable days in their relationship. The movie's structure being told in such a jumbled fashion allows for fascinating storytelling turns, Joseph Gordon Levitt returns as my leading man-crush (He's actually better in this than in Brick!), and the movie is absolutely worth whatever you have to pay to see it. Go do so, then read the rest of this - otherwise, just skip to "SPOLERS OVER". SPOILERS AHEAD.

The best thing about (500) Days of Summer is that it doesn't bullshit us. This actually tuned off a lot of people I know who honestly wanted the bullshit, but this movie isn't concerned with this. The emotionally immature, over-romantic protagonist, who'd be the Mary Sue author avatar in any other work, is here presented as a flawed person. At no point does he try to engage Summer as anything other than a symbol representing his perfect woman. Indeed, the most important line in the film, and one which sums up Tom's problem, is his friend's line during the interview sequence: "Robyn's better than the girl of my dreams. 'Cause she's real." And his inability to grasp this is what causes his eventual heartbreak. They were never right for each other, and the film won't just stick them together because "They're the romantic leads, it's what we do!" It didn't surprise me to find out that this film was based on an actual relationship, heartbreak, and accompanying revelation, because it possesses an honesty and a brutal reality (think the heartbreaking "Expectations vs. Reality" scene) which most indie romcoms avert, instead putting the author avatar with the vague representation of the girl who got away.


Of course another thing to be aware of is that this movie is frequently hilarious, well acted, stunningly written and brilliantly put together piece of cinema. Chloe Moretz continues to be far and away the best under-18 actor in Hollywood, Zooey Deschanel continues to be the knit-cap-owner's alternative to Katy Perry, for what that's worth, and the whole thing comes off as the best, most refreshing and by far most intelligent romantic comedy since Annie Hall back in the 70s. A must-see.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Whatever Works

Kari's getting better. She's got a new post up on her blog. It's...she's been through a lot. But yeah, she's improving. After what she was in that flat, it's going to be an uphill battle. She's basically trying out anything to bring her comfort; she's delving more into her religious beliefs (which I have...mixed feelings about), trying to spend more time with her family. Seeking comfort wherever she can find it. But she's not finding it. I don't know why my nihilistic ass is so saddened by her coming to the same conclusion about the world that I did years ago, but it's troubling to me. Her genuine belief that the world is fundamentally a good place's going fast. There's no two ways about it.

But anyway, the show must go on. This isn't a fucking LiveJournal, this is a movie blog! And next up is a review which, for once, isn't about a movie which has the sun shining out of it's hindquarters.

Woody Allen could almost be seen as an inspirational figure, one who plods ever onwards in his quest to make the movie he's made over and over again since the early 80s. His tenacity may be admirable, but his writing and directing chops are unfortunately nowhere near the levels they were at during those Annie Hall/Love and Death/Manhattan years, despite a light patch with Match Point back in 2006. With Whatever Works, he hands the lead role over to Larry David, perhaps trying to cash in on the rightly lauded Curb your Enthusiasm (The Season 1-7 boxset of which I have right here, and which I display more love than I would towards my firstborn). Both David and Allen delve into untrodden ground by, of all things, having the lead character be a neurotic, audience aware Jew.

Anyway, the movie details a Russian physicist's relationship with a young southern runaway (Played by Evan Rachel Wood) and eventually her family, and the theme of the movie ends up coming across as "everyone's life would be better if only they lived like Woody Allen." Everyone in this movie's problems are solved by integrating into the Manhattan social scene which, while always a trapping of Allen's cinema, has never quite taken the reins this way before, and it just comes off as unbearably smug.

Of course, what sucks the most is that there's nothing to back it up. David flounders with too rigid a script, the supporting cast, with the exception of Wood, are entirely forgetable, and the script falls flat and feels altogether unfinished. The comedy in particular lacks any real humour, and never once made me laugh.

I wanted to like this. I love a lot of Allen's work, and I outright resent having to criticise Larry David, but this film comes off as smug, without the chops to back itself up. Avoid if at all possible.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Last few days've been stressful. Kari is still in a really bad way. Having walked in on what she saw would do that to anyone. She needs me there for her to sleep, and she wakes up screaming every night. She's not eating. Police questioning didn't help. They wouldn't say it, but her calling it in was too close to the proposed time of death for her not to be a suspect. But she's getting better, slowly but surely.

She's not telling me something that happened up there. She wouldn't tell the police, and she hasn't told me. But she's scared. And I can't help her.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Bad stuff going down here. Check Kari's Blog over on the right there to see what I mean. That's what's going on in my life.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Sucker Punch

Hey all! Sorry for the...errr, dark last post, just felt the need to get down what I was thinking. To make it up for you, here's a new review.

Zack Snyder's status as the geekiest director to be largely disliked by geeks isn't exactly an enviable one. His Dawn of the Dead adaptation was interesting, if ill-realised, his 300 adaptation was flat, if meme-riffic, and his Watchmen adaptation was...well, it was fucking superb, but people were so determined to hate it that it's still gone down in infamy. For this, his first non-adaptation, the internet hate machine (no, not THAT one) was already fully powered up. Indeed, the first wave of reviews have largely panned it as flashy, superficial crap, the kind of mindless processed cheese which shouldn't get out of the studio in this day and age. They're missing the point spectacularly.

Of course, on a superficial level, the movie does have a lot on display. Sucker Punch, a phrase meaning a surprise attack, tells the story of Baby Doll, a girl banished to a corrupt insane asylum by her evil step-father following her mother and sister's deaths, as she seeks to escape, both mentally and physically. The tale of mental patients, imagining themselves as old-time prostitutes and dancers, imagining themselves as badass super-soldiers gives a lot to look at, certainly; rip-roaring action scenes which use their in-universe fictionality to whip up anime-esque Japanese temples, besieged castles, futuristic train jobs and steam-punk warzones, each offering the main girls' imagined selves a playground of baddies on which to show their violent, powerful sides. This is a film where scantily-clad badasses with sub-machine guns take on both sides of a Lord of the Rings-style battle while Search and Destroy plays in the background. That's all kinds of awesome by itself. The film itself uses a similar photography style to 300 and Watchmen, using heavy post-production to weave a sense of hyper-reality in the visuals, full of inky blacks and limited colour palettes. This allows Snyder to establish a sense of place with startling efficiency, and gets him showing off his action scene expertise in visually sumptuous combat sequences.

However, there is a lot more going on under the surface than the film has been given credit for. The hints at a greater underlying intelligence should have been clear, particularly in the subtle use of feminist themes. The film is one of the girls using their sex appeal to get the better of the men who have them trapped, in a way which clearly draws a parallel between the use of feminine sexuality and the power they display in the combat fantasies; of a violent, pragmatic, objective-based nature typical of male action heroes. Indeed, while the girls, in both the bordello and war-zone delusions, are very scantily or sexily attired, the camera never stoops to male gaze in order to pander to the males in the audience, instead choosing to shoot the girls like any other action hero. Again, their sexuality is analogous to the more typically masculine power gained through violence and pragmatism. Their femininity gives them power. Directorial choices like this make the accusations of exploitation on the part of the movie's detractors ring hollow.

Of course, a feminist reading still doesn't plumb the depths of this film. The central themes would be "seduction" and "escapism". Indeed, the film's aesthetic and narrative choices are largely informed by escapism. The story uses escapism as a motivation for it's dream worlds, with the characters' imaginations taking them away from the horror of their violent, degrading, sexually abusive asylum into places where they have power. The aesthetics and set-pieces, however, heavily borrow from OUR forms of escapism; films, videogames, comics, anime and the like. The futuristic train invasion is straight out of Firefly's "The Train Job", with elements of Final Fantasy XIII amongst others. The castle draws from both Lord of the Rings and the Dragon Age games. The WWI/WWII steam-punk battlefield is more than just reminiscent of Killzone (the enemies in particular look EXACTLY like the Helghast). The Japanese setting could be any anime or samurai film ever, realised as gorgeous live-action HD. This gives the audience a level of familiarity and comfort in these worlds that mimics the sentiments of the girls; these digressions are a welcome shift from the sincerely horrible mental hospital, and the only-slightly-better bordello, which draws us in with the characters with startling efficacy. Indeed, what of the film was delusion, and whose, is an issue which is left tantalisingly ambiguous.

The seductive elements are also at work both on the characters and the audiences. I won't say much, but keep in mind that the fanservice elements of the combat fantasies are there to appeal to the audience in the same way that the erotic dancing it represents is meant to appeal to the viewers, presenting a (rather self-effacing on Snyder's part) critique of geek culture, and rightly so, given that culture's recent, seismic expansion, thanks in part to Snyder and his contemporaries. Thus, the sucker punch of the title isn't just the tactic favoured by the girls in their escape, it's a philosophy which ultimately shapes the entire narrative structure.

The nuts and bolts of the film impressed me too. Emily Browning makes an underwhelming lead as Baby Doll, but one which admittedly grows in strength substantially as the film goes on. Jena Malone, unrecognisable from Donnie Darko, where I last saw her, makes Rocket a crowd favourite, and Abbie Cornish makes a startlingly compelling Sweet Pea. Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie shows off how her prowess as a dancer translates to great action sequences (She steals the scene in the trench warfare fantasy). Oscar Isaac makes for a great primary antagonist; it is Jon Hamm, however, who somehow becomes the only redeemable male character, despite ultimately being the threat at the heart of the movie as the "High Roller". The score is great, with mashups and covers of classic songs, with a notable emphasis on songs about dreams. As I mentioned earlier, a great cover of The Stooges' Search and Destroy was a personal favourite for me. The editing is sharp and well-judged, and the video quality is superb.

One thing to mention, however, is that this is a VERY DARK movie. How it got a 12 is beyond me. Indeed, to achieve this, several vital scenes had to be cut (particularly to get it past the MPAA), so it might be a good idea to wait for the Director's Cut home release, as it will almost certainly be the better version.

So yeah, not for everyone, ideal for the geeks in your life, much smarter than it at first seems, still great fun. I had a great night at the cinema with it, and you may well do too.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Personal post: An old memory came up...

When I was eight, I was bitten by a dog.

I loved animals so much when I was a kid. I wanted to be a vet more than anything in the world. My mum worked a few shifts at an animal shelter run by the RSPCA, just as a volunteering thing, and after she picked me up from school, she'd take me over there so I could play with the animals. They were mostly ex-pets the old owners just didn't have the time for, so they were perfectly fine, and it was like having a dozen pets of all different kinds: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, sometimes lizards. They had someone to play with them, the staff could go and do other things, and I even helped out taking care of some of the sick ones. I loved it, and it wasn't just about the play. I didn't get why people wouldn't want these animals. They took a little more care than they were willing to give, but they were beautiful animals, loving and full of life and personality. I felt proud that I was there for them, and I loved them so much that I was happy to be their friend.

Then, one summer night, they brought in an old dog they'd rescued from an abusive household. The kids would beat it up, the parents would ignore or not feed it. Once or twice, the kids would shave it, and there were still tufts of hair longer than the other parts and deep cuts in its skin. There were even a few burns. It had been through a lot. It was tranquil enough around the adults - repeated beatings had taught it not to tangle with anything as large as them - but I went bounding up to it, arm outstretched, ready to love it like I loved all the others, and it bit down deep into my arm. Its teeth tore through an artery and I was rushed to hospital.

Days spent in the bed after the operation. I spent the whole time wondering why it bit me. I realised that it was only chance, blind luck, that that dog had had that family, that its life was ruined. It wasn't a bad dog to start with; it was made that way by a whim of fate. There was no meaning behind it's life; it was bought as a puppy, abused for years, and now it was going to be put down because it bit a child in what it thought was self-defence, and none of it was anyone's fault. None of it had purpose. There was no agency on its part. Our lives, and our course down them, are simply the products of a dice roll. For an eight-year old child, the realisation that lurking behind my fragile little world of order and happiness was a universe of writhing chaos and cruelty was painful, but not so much as the knowledge that I would never love animals again the way I did. The chance that the dog would be bought by that family, abused, abandoned, and exposed to me was enough to ruin one of the first things I ever really loved. I was a victim of chaos. I found other loves; writing, film, music, science. Eventually I found Kari. But it never felt stable. It never felt like the good things in my life, the things that made me happy, could sustain against a cold, malicious outside and an aloof, uncaring universe.

Last night, I slept with Kari in my arms, pressed tight against me, but I still had a nightmare about that damn dog.