Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The slow turn and BLACK NARCISSUS (93)

I am not a driver. There is a laundry of reasons for this, but it can be best explained by this story: after failing my drivers test four times, I only got my driving license two days before I graduated from college, some five months after my 22nd birthday. Yes, I am not one for a four-wheeled vehicle and the open road.

Yet, even with a limited knowledge of the asphalt rivers that flow through our towns and cities and countrysides, I know I hate one thing:

The slow turn.

You my friends who are eloquent behind the wheel know what I'm talking about, the open road in front of you, an intersection drawing near, and the gentle poke of a interceding cars nose in to the middle. There might be a exaggerated looksie from side to side, as this invader of your future space peruses the distance and time they might have to turn left or right. And then it happens, you barreling along assured that this shining vehicle will turn in front of you with plenty of quickness and you will have just the perfect amount of time not to brake or slow or be forced to quickly change lanes. But this bumbling driver is not a regular driver, yes they might be cruising, but more likely it is speed they fear, and they slowly creep in to the intersection, miles below the speed limit. All at once the line of bullet like cars shooting towards the space beyond this light or sign is skidding to halts, children are screaming, exhaust is pluming in to the atmosphere, and this slow turning sum'bitch just continues along their merry way.

Again, I am not a driver, I am a biker, but the slow turn anger still burns within me.

Are you a slow turner? Check your .mph next time your turn signal is blinking, and if so, please think about changing. It is for the betterment of all.

Black Naricissus (93) is a film, ostenisible about nuns in India. I had no idea about this going in to it. I've taken a sort of "I don't want to know" tact towards the Criterion films of late, and when I flipped this strange flick on and realized it was about women of the cloth, I was worried. Nuns, aside from Whoopi in Sister Act (not a Criterion film) are snooze-worthy most of the time, and a classic British era film about nuns helping to build a convent in the high, high ups of India tapped my boredom-reflex a bit.

I wasn't thinking though that any film in the hands of the English creative duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger has the potential to be beyond interesting, to actually be fascinating, and indeed this nuns-in-India flick sort of knocked me on my ass. The story goes a little something like this: nuns go to India, the winds and barren nature of the Himalayas drives them crazy, a drunken Englishmen woos them, one of them kills a baby, another dresses in all black and obsesses over the sultry Englishmen, another dreams of her past - all in all the Himalayas and it's calvacade of wacky characters turns these ladies of the Lord on to their completely covered asses.

In the essays about the film, there was talk about this film exploring the notion of Britain and WWII. This might be true, but I believe instead it's about the role of religion outside of church and urban settings. Keep the five nuns in a church where they can be watched and groomed and pushed towards the love of Jesus, and nothing goes wrong. Put them to pasture and just about everything falls apart. It is a vast, undulating world of culture and emotion out there, and sometimes, religion just can't stand up.

As I've been wowed by a film about nuns in India, I forever and ever and ever fully recommend any film every by Powell and Pressburger. Without viewing or knowledge, I know this much is clear.

Wednesday: I Know Where I'm Going (94)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Thoughts on 150.

Wow, I've been writing Criterion Quest for one hundred and fifty posts. That breaks down to roughly five months, possibly more, due to an at times crippling lack of ambition. Five months is the longest I've ever consistently created anything on a semi-daily basis, and even though I've stumbled in the last week (one post in six days? is anybody still reading?) I'm swollen with deluded pride.

A few thoughts on hitting 150:

1. I know I've said this in the past, but the chances of me finishing every film in the Criterion catalog before my brain is pudding and my manservant is piloting my shockingly neon speed boat along the coast of Boca Raton as I smoke cigs and swill expensive vodka on my leather seats is, well, to be honest, not very likely. These films aren't, shouldn't be, consumed as background material. These are challenging, brilliant films (for the most part) and finding time in my day, my week, my life, to watch an entire one of them with out dozing off is difficult. It's alright with the advancements in medical technology I'll probably still be peeing without assistance well in to my two hundreds, thus, maybe this delusion of completion could come to fruition.

2. Sometimes I just want to watch shitty movies. I was in Lost Weekend today, waiting for one of the two absolutely awesome, long-hair butt-rock blond fellows to help me find my next movie and actually found myself holding on to the box for The Brothers Grimm. Just holding it in front of my face, staring at Matt Damon and Heath Ledger's profiles, wondering how bad this film really was. I wanted to watch The Brother's Grimm, I actually considered paying for the much maligned Terry Gilliam flick. That's how desperate I am sometimes, festooned with free jazz Japanese gangster flicks and foppish Shakespearean melodrama, I just want to watch Transformers 2, stuff my face with popcorn and not think about a single thing. Standing there, Brothers Grimm in hand, I knew I had to get back to the Quest, my will power is faltering.

3. Again, it's been five months and I'm still under the one hundred mark in terms of the films I've watched. That means, I still have roughly four hundred films to watch before I die. Four hundred films not counting the three to four films they release every two weeks. Four hundred films squeezed in to every tightening cracks of my free time. I can feel wrinkles searing their way in to the spaces next to my eyes already. By the time I complete this Quest, many of you will be married, have children, careers and hernias. I on the other hand will still be here, in some dark cave of a room, eyes wide, the silvery reflection of my laptop playing across my face, slowly picking my way through some new film. Quite honestly, I'm pretty excited.

Tuesday: Black Narcissus (93)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

ONE-A-DAY #1: James Brown - Sings Out Of Sight

Alright, so I'm taking a break from the ceaseless quest of Criterion (I love you sweet Criterion, don't think I'm shunning you, as I will never, ever do that) but I still want to keep talking about things I love, just in shorter more succinct bursts. I do a daily music blog over at the wonderful Sound on the Sound called The Daily Choice, where I pick one band and one song and let my startlingly verbose mind just sort of go to town.

This is not an original idea. I am not the first to do something of this kind, and I claim nothing of the sort. This is just a way that I can give myself a framework to keep me honest, keep me writing, and most excitingly, keep sharing. Not just music either, movies, books, films, art, websites, videos, anything I find that I think is amazing.

I'm always on the look out, and I'm always keen for tips.

I'm giving this a shot for a week, to gauge time and interest and if it just doesn't work, I'll jump pack to Criterion Quest and all the filmic madness that entails. Give me some comments, tell me what you think, tell me you hate it or love it or that it makes your sleep burble with erotic dreams.

You know, whatever.

ONE-A-DAY #1: James Brown - Sings Out Of Sight (LP)

I scooped this album up from Amoeba for 2.99, as I've never owned a James Brown LP, and I've been pretty heavy on the funk/soul side of life in the last few months. I thought I might be grabbing a weak piece of JB love, but instead stumbled upon an absolutely beautiful collection of tracks from the Godfather of Soul. Sure, in the middle it gets a little Copacabana (as all of the great soul artists tended towards in the mid-1960s) but the rest, including a sort of tinny version of "I Got You" crackle with all the James Brown hootenany we've come to expect from the sadly deceased master.

My hips swivelled in ways I couldn't explain yesterday. Alone, in my sunlight room, my hips thrust and shuddered. It was almost dirty.

I don't think this is a rarity of any kind, so please, get on out there and snatch yourself an old beat up copy that hops and jumps on your toy record player. It's really the best way to appreciate it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A bit of a break.

Alright, I'm taking a break. Not from writing this blog, but from watching Criterion films for a bit. Let me explain why:

1. Undertaking a quest to watch over 500 movies over the course of well, my entire lifetime, is a bit of a mind drain. I honestly sit in my room sometimes, hell all the time, and try to piece together a schedule. Not a schedule of upcoming events, or the most productive times to do you know, real work, a schedule of when and where I can fit in my Criterion film watching. I sit and I stare and I think of the times that I might have ten minutes to knock off a couple of minutes of a film, or finish the ending I've been meaning to finish, or just to sit down with Alex and watch one of the movies. It's sort of obsessive, and I'd like to step back from the mental time crunch and just have some free time, as when Criterion films are piled atop your desk there's really no time for freedom.

2. Because of the time crunch and the fact that I'm constantly in fear that I'll die (of old age) before I finish the Criterion Collection (a true possibility) I've sort of barreled through the last handful of movies just to, well, finish them. Thus, I've pushed them in to the corners of my computer screen, had them playing the background as I worked, basically failed to give them the respect and pure viewing experience they all deserved. I feel like their obstacles to overcome, not films to enjoy. And I hate that shit. Thus, I'm taking a break.

3. Turns out, I'm sort of a busy guy. Not a really busy guy, but when I combine my work (three jobs), my social life, and the fact that I absolutely love hanging out with my girlfriend, I don't have a lot of time to just sit around and watch movies. Yet this does not stop me from renting movies at my local amazing video store and the holding on to them for weeks on end as the late fees accrue and my bank account steadily dips. Nope, do it all the time. Am actually sitting three days late on my current film right now and I need to get to a point where I have enough time to watch the film and move on ... which is going to take some finaggling.

Thus, for a week or so, I'm still going to be writing, but this blog might have nothing to do with film. I'm going to talk about books and music and writing and whatever else pops in to my head in a format I've been curious about trying out.

Hope you'll stick around to check it out.

See you tomorrow!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The context of a city and FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (92)

I've been living in San Francisco for two and a half months now and I'm slowly, oh so slowly, starting to feel like I actually live here. I've never really moved to a city I've had so little contact with before. I lived in Portland, briefly, but I'd spent weekend upon weekend there learning the layout, the neighborhoods, the "scene" so when I got there everything was already established in my head.

San Francisco on the other hand is a placed I've moved to with almost no concept of these things. I moved here on a beautiful, amazing whim, and have been, in a wonderful way, forced to to discover the workings of the city on my own. Or to some degree on my own, my knowledge of the city has been filtered through Alex's knowledge of the city, as she's been my most constant companion, and to many degrees my guide in the city, giving me spots to eat at, or ideas of things to do.

What I find the strangest about this sort of move is that with no context I really have no preconceptions of the area. I walk around in this city as if every neighborhood is the same, each and all blank slates that I'm just discovering. I was thinking this morning about my recent trip to the courthouse, going over in my head why I didn't bike there, and then thinking to myself that maybe locking up my bike outside the courthouse might be a dangerous thing for the little yellow fellow. But, I have no idea. The area of the city in which the courthouse is, because I haven't been here long enough to really grasp the areas of the city deemed "dangerous" by the population at large, is just as any other is, a spot of buildings and streets filled with people.

It's honestly, really refreshing. I'm actually being given the chance to create my own biases. Where in Seattle, I grew up knowing which areas were "cool" or "dangerous" or "ghetto" or what not, here, I've got nothing. Everything's new and I don't have to hurdle my own mental roadblocks to appreciate or accept anything.

Just a thought.

I'm tired of 1950s horror films. Perhaps I've always been tired of them and this recent one-two punch of Criterion sponsored '50s horror schlock has dredged those feelings up to the surface. Not to say that watching brain-stemmed monsters hanging from trees, flying in to broken windows and devouring people's spinal cords wasn't entertaining, I'm just sick of innocuous dialogue and the sort of lightness these sort of films embody.

And I'm not saying that I don't love horror movies and all their gory tomfoolery. No no, it's a favorite genre of mine, I just like my blood-soaked massacres with a little more vim and vigor.

Fiend Without A Face (92) was certainly interesting, but I just sort of blanked out on the last forty minutes. Looking up from whatever else I might've been doing to chuckle at an old man getting brain-sucked by a mental vampire cerebellum complete with antennae eyes and gruesome sticker things. After the realization that film was about nuclear fear, and the Commies, and all that good natured 50s paranoia, I just sort of fell in to a bored stupor while watching the film. Maybe it's the fact that films like Sisters (89) and Kwaidan (90) set the bar exceptionally high for smart, innovative horror, and these films just come across as tasteless blobs of sugar.

Regardless, I'm happy to be moving on.

Friday: Black Narcissus (93)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A few descriptions and FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (92)

I'm a little blank today. I don't know why, but I've got really almost no observations or absolutely fascinating gems of wisdom to force in to your computer screen. I just feel a little standard this morning/afternoon.

Luckily for me this city is full of the strange and amazing and I thought I might just jot down a few of the people and things I've been privy to around town.

- I was at the ballpark last night for my first Giants game and the woman in front of us absolutely hated Alex and I. She had children, and a husband, and I guess on occasion the combination of Alex and I can be a bit crass or a bit inappropriate for children under the age of ten or so, but this woman glared at us as if we were hitting her children when she was in the bathroom. Okay, so I did spill a bit of beer on her child's seat (I swiped at it with my bare hand), and Alex, once a little tipsy and riled, was voicing a few less friendly observations ("It's the highlights in her hair that really do it for me"), but this woman was staring us down like some sort of demon spawn.

- Baseball games are strange when you're an adult and you're attending a baseball game involving two teams you could care less about. The magic of the ballpark isn't as present as when you're a kid. You're not staying up past your bedtime, the snacks aren't free (in truth they're ridiculously overpriced) and you notice the small things (empty seats, trashy people, etc.) that sort of wear at the magical feeling you had when you were a kid. Sure, it's still enjoyable to venture out to the park and watch a couple of pitchers duel. I still got excited when homeruns were hit, but the most exciting part of the night for me was just hanging out with Alex. We just sat there and chattered about whatever (almost none of it related to baseball), and the game sort of just slipped on by. The other thing you realize about baseball when you're living in an uber-liberal city like San Francisco is that it's a conservative sport. The people crowding the stands, throwing back beers, hooting and hollering were people I never see in San Francisco. I don't know what woodworks they hide in, but they are out in force at a baseball game and I was a bit shocked by it. Maybe it's just getting older, maybe all the finite details just start to pop out in everything.

Just a few thoughts.

These 1950s horror films are kind of a riot. Where The Blob (91) was a sort of gee-shucks poke at middle America, Fiend Without A Face (92) is a full-forced attack on Communism and brainwashing and the fear of the Red Tide creeping over the good people over the United States as well as the threat of the proliferation of nuclear power. The titular Fiend Without A Face is a unknown entity, a sort of crawling, shuffling, invisible beast that slips around in the dark, killing those when they least expect it. A military base in the podunk Winthrop wilds is the setting for most of the film, as the non-existent creature starts dining on local and GIs alike.

What's interesting is the subtext. This is the time in America where everyone was scared of there neighbors and Russia and Cuba dropping bombs on us. Nobody trusted anybody, everyone built nuclear-proof shelters in their backyard, the radio released dire news of an upcoming strike on US soil seemingly weekly. The Fiend Without A Face embodies these fears, this unseen force that penetrates our military forces, killing without warning. The military base in the film is of course testing nuclear weapons in an attempt to protect the states, and the townsfolk turn against it, blaming them for the deaths and the downturn in their cows milk. The fiend is the Russians, and the seeping, silent death that comes with a nuclear attack. Nobody can predict it, or plan for it, not even the strong-jawed, fast-talking might of the military.

People were scared in the 1950s and thus Arthur Crabtree, the director of the film, plays against these fears.

I'm halfway through, and I'll give a little wrap-up on the film tomorrow.

Wednesday: Fiend Without A Face (92)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Six days on, one day off and THE BLOB (91)

Seemingly this is how things work:

1. I hate my job. I work in a fancy mall where ferries putt-putt bedraggled masses of wealthy tourists from the Midwest and beyond to-and-fro. Sometimes actual San Franciscans enter this pointed building, but this are the type wearing suits, talking shop about numbers and developing countries, the type who wear North Face and full spandex bike outfits and debate the amount of pounds lost in the last few days. It is a horrible place of endless lines and Disneyland coffee machines and it has over the two months I've worked their slowly worn away at my body and soul. Two weeks ago I decided I needed to find a new job.

2. Alex and I decide to eat lunch at a small, delicious Italian restaurant near our house where a friend of mine makes coffee. It is delicious and the neighborhood is small, but up-and-coming, and there's a real sense of community in the area. I am pleased enough that our food is delicious and I get to spend an afternoon with my lady friend.

3. On the way out I inquire to the small, wiry, spunky waitress if my buddy is working. He is not, but perhaps in compensation she instead offers me a job in the coffee shop. I stutter, exhausted and sort of shocked at the way life work and except.

4. For the next two weeks I will work six days in a row, then fumble through a pseudo-day off, and then jump back in to another grueling stretch of six days. But after that, after that, the hellish world of the Ferry Terminal will be a thing of the past. I might not head down that a way for a long long while.

And that's how life works I guess, you think of something you want, and it suddenly appears in the form of a tiny little restaurant in Dogpatch. You should try it.

The Blob (91) ended up like so many of those cheeky 1950s horror films you've seen bits of on television and what not. Sure it starts out with a big rolly jelly bean of a creature killing old people and rolling it's soggy self down the streets of small-town America. And sure, there's that classic dispute between the young and the old, because don't we all know the young can't be trusted and the old are bastions of wisdom. And there's good-natured police and mistrusting other police and again that slimy ball of ooze killing things left and right.

Sure, that's how they always start.

But in the end, just like the rest, the young and the old join together to find a handful of fire extinguishers and put that gooey beast down for good. Sure there's a near death, and a child with a cap gun, and a squishy mess in a movie theatre, but c'mon 1950s, can't you just get a little bit more creative with the whole "old and young come together to save the day" thing. I want gang wars in the street, and King Blob ruling small town America from a chocolate throne atop a hill. Not this gee-shucks, don't you know darn it crap.

Mark this one off as a piffle. A tiny gust of perfumed air that I will not be revisiting.

Tuesday: Fiend Without A Face (92)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What to say and THE BLOB (91).

I staring off in to space right now at a bro-y coffee shop near my house, my brain still a little clogged with mucus, surrounded by equally disconnected laptop zombies, and I can't think of a single interesting thing to start this blog with. It's just one of those days.

Perhaps I could attempt to scrounge something from this sort of booze-soaked brain of mine, really dig deep to enlighten you with some sort of golden nugget from this hallowed brain pan. But, I'm not going to do that.

I'm going to speculate a bit on The Blob (91) and call this a short one.

It's a strange jump for Criterion to move from Kwaidan (90), the sort of end-all-and-be-all of 1960s Japanese horror films to The Blob (91), easily one of the more American films made in the pleat-pants death throes of the 1950s. Where Kwaidan (90) is nearly a think piece, a quiet, spooky, immaculately pieced together bit of psychological horror, The Blob (90) is a small, dumb, gee shucks wedge of Americana that just doesn't exist anymore. It's a drastic change, but there's something really interesting about seeing what a few thousand miles and decade can do to the way we perceive horror.

A few thoughts on The Blob (91):

Steve McQueen is in this film. Yes, that Steve McQueen. The crease-faced hero of films like Papillion and The Getaway and Bullitt, a sort of defining male icon in Hollywood for many years. And in this film he plays a slump shouldered, honest to goodness, American youth who just can't make those darn adults believe him. McQueen had been in a handful of television shows before this, and one movie, but this was one of his first starring roles, and it's an absolute shock that in the constricting land of 1950s Hollywood he was ever able to find a way out of that role.

- This film, as it was marketed, was less a horror film and more a film about teen angst and rebelling against your parents. It's awesome, Steve McQueen and his sweetheart (whatever her doe-eyed name might be) keep telling parents that there's this rolling jellybean of death picking off the townsfolk, and they keep failing to listen and the barbeque bag that is The Blob continues to kill people, old people that is. Lesson to you old-timers: believe the children or face death by a gelatinous mass.

- I'm enjoying the shit out of this old, stupid little film. Criterion, my faith in you grows with each day. I will build you an alter, a gigantic alter that features stacks of your film glued together with, er, super glue, and there will be a frilly liner made of shaved troll hair in a variety of neon colors. I will stand in front of this alter and I will scream out loud each day the name of my favorite Criterion films and hopefully you, sweet Criterion Gods, will look down on me and smile ... and give me free shit.

Friday: The Blob (91)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Headaches, for various reasons, and KWAIDAN (90)

As you may have noticed, I've been a bit slow on the blog-kick lately, this hot on the heels of a inner-proclamation that yes, I'd be kicking this here Criterion Quest blog in to high gear. Well, for once, for sweet-toothed once, I have excuses, body-related excuses! And for you, those:

- I've been sick the last few days. Not a sniffle, nasal blockage, spot-of-a-headache sort of jaunt either, no siree, this has been, at least to my knowledge, some sort of real deal fever-wracked-lying-in-bed-sweaty-as-a-clam-on-meth flu-type battle. Honestly, I spent all of Monday evening, and most of Tuesday morning in a fitful, almost hallucinogenic bout of sickness. I was too weak to lift an arm, let alone type a blog, and though I was wracked with regret, I chose sweaty slumber over blogging.

- I've given up, temporarily caffeine. Yes, the sweet liquid that has driven me, and at most times my income for so long is temporarily being expunged from my body. I've been trying to keep a diary of the various stages of symptoms and withdrawals and such and such, but all I can really attest to in terms of these things so far is a pretty steady headache (at one point on Saturday my face seriously felt like an exploding light bulb) and the fact that exactly one day after quitting the delightful amphetamine, my body was invaded by flu-like aliens. Why am I doing this? Good question. Something about finding out just what it feels like to be deprived of something I've consumed so much of in the last three or four years of my life. I don't want a crutch, be it cigarettes, be it religion, be it booze or caffeine, so lets see what happens when I jettison in to the great abyss. Maybe, maybe I just want to test my willpower.

Thus, headaches abound, fevered, dry-lipped headaches, and the aching need for something that'll speed me up just a bit. So please, excuse a bit of lag.

The Japanese really scoot my clouds, filmically speaking that is. The way they look at the medium, and the way, perhaps, they just look at the basics of life is so much different, so much calmer and with more introspection. This is readily apparent in the beautiful, foursome of "horror" stories that is Kwaidan (90).

Each of these stories, seemingly based on a color or a season even, follows a haunted character. But in Japan you aren't haunted by ghosts in sheets with eye holes chopped out. Oh no, you're haunted by memories, by regrets, by history, and by the dark spaces that lurk in your own brain. In Kwaidan (90) you don't have startling musical cues, and grotesquely make-upped gore-hounds, oh no, you have slow silence and some of the creepiest sound effects to ever grace this Earth. I was lying in bed, or sitting at my kitchen table, or squeezed next to Alex's fully functioning new sewing machine, just shivering with fearful delight as a branch cracked, or a blast of mist rolled down a set of stone stairs. These are stories about the things that haunt all of us, whisked back in to an era of traditional Japan many of us know nothing about. There's samurais and monks and long-haired spinsters, mixed with impetuous princesses and funny-hatted lords all tangled in creepy snow, and giant eyes, and a trio of unkillable samurais that might just drive you mad. Fantastic.

Most intriguing about the Japanese take on the ghost-tale is that these "ghosts" aren't feared as much as their accepted as a real part of life. Yes, to protect one's self, often times you must take certain measures to ward these ghostly beings away, but, not because these beasts are inherently trying to harm you. They're just a part of the world like anything else, and we must move along with them with as much patience as we do anything else. It's an interesting way of viewing it.

What struck me as amazing is that this beautiful, quiet, at times even simple piece of film was, when filmed, the most expensive Japanese movie ever made. If you'd given that sort of money, today, to a horror director, you'd have three-second edits, explosive light flares and a big-eyed child scribbling circles on wax paper.

And yes, the long haired, shrieking female horror of modern day J-horror, has basis in historical Japanese horror films. That I will admit.

Thursday: The Blob (91)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's In Store #6!

Jesus, I guess a combination of a low-key weekend, and an insatiable need to devour film like some slimy beast from the sea-floor, has me already heading in to my next block of Criterion films. I'll say this about the last five or so films: there was at least a few tiny square pads of acid pressed against the soft-tissue of a Criterion film-pickers tongue while the selection process was going on, as those films were cuh-cuh-razy in the best way possible.

This block we've got a handful of wacked out Japanese spook-tales, a classic horror film from the 1950s, and two films from one of my favorite British directoring duos -- sounds delightful to me.

So allow me to introduce ...

#90 Kwaidan dir. Masaki Koyabashi

I'll be honest, I've already watched this film, and it sort of blew my mind. It's four Japanese folktales from the samurai days and each one is a spectral gust of creepiness across your brain pan. None of them are jump start music-blast scary like your typical modern creepster, but they'll get in deep, next to the basal ganglia and the deep limbic system, nestle there, and pop up when you're all alone, tucked beneath your icy cold sheets.

#91 The Blob dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth

Again with the honesty: I've already watched thirty minutes of this film. This is your sort of typical creature feature from the poodle skirt days of the late-50s. There's fine-tuned chassis, Steve McQueen's sexily wrinkled mug, stilted dialogue, friendly "officers" and a globular space creature in all it's barbeque-in-a-ziploc majesty.

#92 Fiend Without A Face dir. Arthur Crabtree

I will only repost what the good folk at Criterion wrote for their synopsis, hell, I'll only copy and glue the first line: "A scientist’s thoughts materialize as an army of invisible brain-shaped monsters (complete with spinal-cord tails!) who terrorize an American military base in this nightmarish chiller." Hah hah, hooooo-weeee, sounds like a blast.

#93 Black Narcissus dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

This film has two things going for it: one, the cover has, for whatever reason, a nun adorned with what looks to be synthetic dove wings. And two, that it's directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, two absolute giants of the film world. I've no idea what this film is about, and I'm deigning not to find out, but color me pickled with strange anticipation.

#94 I Know Where I'm Going! dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Again, more Pressburger, more Powell, and as an added bonus we've got Wendy Hiller (from a classic favorite of mine Pygmalion (85)) playing, well, er, a female character that may or may not have things happen to her in some sort of narrative way. This one takes place in the windy isles of Scotland, and on these foggy juts, there's a romance-a-brewing.

I don't know if it's a renewed fervor for the film medium or just that this batch of movies showcases an era and style of movie I'm durn keen on, but this batch, this glorious gleaming pile, peeks my interest in an uncanny way.

Wednesday: Kwaidan (90)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A few more thoughts on UP and the beautiful horror that is SISTERS (89)

I'm ashamed of my Up review from yesterday. I was tired and feeling rushed and I just sort of spat out a load of words that only barely touched on both the quality of that amazing film and my thoughts on it. Thus, I'm going to do a little bullet point touch-up to see if I can save my own intellectual keister with you, my most beloved and toughest critics.

- For a long while Disney, and most modern day animation studios, were given a lot of shit about the way they rarely featured characters of different ethnic backgrounds and when they did, they usually added certain characteristics to the animation that made them look, well, white. It was annoying, and it was an unattractive trait, and a lot of people stopped giving Disney the time of day because of it (and a plethora of other reasons). Russell, the enthusiastic scout boy in the film, is a perfect example of how Pixar is changing this. Russell's character, I believe, is Japanese, but the film never makes any blatant point about it. It isn't something that effects his character, or that's discussed in a lesson-learning sort of way. Nope, Russell, and his ethnic background, are just a part of the tapestry of the film. We look at the film and we see everyone not as racial stereotypes, but instead just as characters in an amazing film. Russell is just a kid like every other kid, racial background be damned, and the way Pixar represents him is really quite nice.

- I said this yesterday, but Up is a fantastic film. Heart-warming, HILARIOUS, and breath-taking in the skill used to create it, I implore you with all of my animation-loving heart to get out there and see it on a big screen, 3-D or not. Hell, bring a kid, or your lover, or your family, everyone and anyone will enjoy this film. Unless their heart is a chunky piece of coal, and well, nobody likes a card carrying grinch.

You know what movie you, you mature adult, should see and not bring any child under the age of 16 that you aren't trying to subversively corrupt is Brian DePalma's twisted conjoined twin thriller Sisters (89). This film is 70s horror at its most psychological, the tale of a murder and a cover-up and the very, very fucked up people who play a part in it.

DePalma is a fascinating director for me. He's famous for The Untouchables and Carrie (and rightly so), to most people, and for and the string of awful films he's shat in to cinemas in the last five years or so (The Black Dahlia and so forth) but in the 1970s DePalma was an on-the-fringe innovator of horror films. He made movies outside the grasp of the studios, that played with camera techniques to better exemplify the twisted psychological studies he loved. Sisters (89) is a prime example of this, as the main character in the film, Danielle (Margot Kidder, the future Lois Lane) is a formerly conjoined twin, split from her sister, Dominique, and as mentally unstable as one might be. When Dominique murders a lover of Danielles, a deliriously twisted version of A Tell-Tale Heart begins, with a nosy neighbor/columnist seeking answers, and everyone trying to hide something from everyone else. It's creepy and sick and Seventies in the most enjoyable way.

The director uses a variety of editing effects (split-screen, films-within-films, 8mm black and white) to showcase the world these people exist in, and I couldn't have enjoyed them more. There's a body-hiding scene that's split-screened with the nosy neighbor (Jennifer Salt in all her mulleted-glory) and the police zoning in on the apartment that had my skin crawling. Hell, the terrifying last hour and a half of this film had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up and my t-rex like arms wrapped around my girlfriend.

This is a great flick, a delightful slab of gory, psych-horror from the 1970s that has me scrambling to my Netflix queue to find a few more gems like this.

Friday: Kwaidan (90)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


This is probably going to be a short review as I have almost nothing but positive things to say about Up, don't fault me for an inability to shower things with praise. That said, Up, as I'd read many times before actually seeing the film, is one of the best animated films I've ever laid eyes upon. I thought Wall*E was one of the best animated films I've ever seen, thought that The Incredibles (still my favorite Pixar) film was the best animated film I'd ever seen. And certainly couldn't think of a better pair of films than the companies one-two punch of Toy Story 1 and 2.

Thus, claiming that Up is one of the best animated films I've ever seen is quite a hefty compliment. The film, as you've probably heard by now, is about an old man, Carl (Ed Asner) literally shuffling in to the end of his life, mourning a wife he's lost and a sense of adventure that's faded like pictures on the wall. When his house, "Elle", as he refers to it, is going to be put up on the market, Carl flips out, assaults an innocent man with his tennis cane, and has one day to pack his belongings before being shipped off to an old person home. Carl, intrepid former-adventurer that he is, instead rigs his house with balloons and floats the whole damn thing away, finally pursuing the adventure he's always yearned.

Unfortunately, he drags a ten year old Adventure Scout with him, runs in to an old hero turned bad guy, befriends a rainbow bird and talking dog (both of these characters brilliant in there simplicity and humor), and well, I won't say any more. What I will say is this, the film is touching and funny and literally crackles with adventure. There's a sense of silliness and wonder and the bizarre that doesn't punch you in the face, but is rather just accepted from the beginning. Films about houses that float away on balloons and sails made of quilts don't do it for you? Well, don't watch this film. This is a film about the adventurer inside all of us, that little person who makes you want to swing out over the water on a fraying rope swing when you're younger, but seems, as this movie claims, to get pushed to the side as we get older.

At the end of the film, I was happy, I was a little sad, and most of all I was excited, as Up seems to say that you can be an adventurer your entire life. You don't have to say goodbye to the dreams of floating houses and giant birds, those things are all there, you just have to find them.

I also wanted to write a quick word on the usage of 3-D in the film. I've never seen any of the new wave of non-cheesy films using the technology and was actually shocked by two things:

1. 3-D kind of makes me nauseous. There's a lot of blurriness and a lot of strange movements and vaster plains and I sort of felt sick.

2. It's really amazing what they're doing with it, but I still found myself wanting a crisper image. Something more clear and sharper, but alas, at least I got to see mountains jump off the screen.

I just finished watching Sisters (89) and can't wait to write about it.

Thursday: Sisters (89)

Monday, June 1, 2009

A few things I hate about customer service and IVAN THE TERRIBLE PT. 2 (88)

I work in a place filled with customers, tourists at that and I've taken note of some of my least favorite types and thought I might share:

1. The money thrower - these are the folk who note that you're reaching your hand out in the age old method of taking money directly from someone's hand, a sort of slight touch that reminds both customer and worker that, yes, we're both humans. They stare you straight in the eye, watch for that final moment where you're just about to take their money ... and then throw it, coins and all, on to the surface in front of them and you. Thanks a lot bumfuck, now I have to scrounge your dirty quarters off the ground.

2. The French (specifically the old French) - this has happened twice now: a mob of geriatric Frenchies storm in to the space I work, find the first person who seems to be working and just start yelling out orders without rhyme or reason ("Cappucino", "Espresso", "Espresso", "Cappucino") flailing about and generally causing confusion. This would be bad enough, but instead this belligerent French folk then proceed to muscle their way in front of everyone, pointing fat fingers and haranguing the baristas about their drinks. Followed, and this has happened twice now, pointing to their wrist watches as if their time is more important than anyone elses. Both times I've had to retreat in to the back area, turn towards the wall and just seeth in anger.

3. The Old - I'm an agist, I'll admit it. I'm just waiting for my parents to start babbling so I can ship 'em off to the retirement home, but at my place of employment I just can't avoid them. They're confused, they, much like the French, jab fat fingers and demand ridiculous things. They pay in pennies and are angry when I won't give them free samples of things we can't sample. I know, they're old and thus prime for respect and adoration, but, I don't buy it. You're old, you've lived more life, act like it. Rent a nurse if you want some one to change your diaper.

4. Penny Pinchers - these are the people who wait in line for fifteen minutes, are angry about said line, throw me dirty looks, and then when asked to pay, spend twenty-two minutes picking through their change purses trying to get the exact change of a two dollar cup of coffee. Their reasoning? Most often times, so they won't have to tip. I will put you on a boat with the old people and the French and the change throwers and I will ship you to Monster Island where a giant vermicious kinid will eat you. And I will laugh and laugh and laugh, and the whole world will cheer, "Hurrah! Noah! Hurrah!" And I will buy a gold grill and smile while drinking champagne.

Well, that's how I see it at least.

Ivan The Terrible Pt. 2 (88) in magical bullet points that I jotted down while watching the film:

- Rise and fall of Ivan - when I wrote this note I thought this second film was more about the fall of Ivan, but more so it's about how corrupt and disgusting the power base of Russia was then and now. Sure, Ivan is a total loon for the entire film and ends it by killing a child, but he's victorious in the end, so I retract my note.

- Empty titles (echoing voice) - there was a scene with a huge room and Ivan bellowing out some new title, I imagined it signified how empty these positions of power ... or that Ivan lived in one spooky castle.

- Ivan is nuts - this is true, in the course of two movies, he goes from well trimmed Tsar, to fu manchu sporting wack job. It's probably the extended time he spends with his wife's corpse in the first film, that always throws people over the edge. Nonetheless, Ivan wasn't exactly the holder of all his marbles by the end of his life.

- Russians = big eyes - I don't know if Eisenstein cast this film by measuring people's eyeballs but damn if malnutrition and war didn't effect the gigantic size of the Ruskie's peepers. Stalin, though you ruined a country, you certainly had a mighty fine selection of eyes.

- Trippy, clusterfuck - by the time Ivan is intoxicating his young ward and the entire film has turned in to a red-washed banquet born from the Devil's womb, all I could think was these two words. If I was on mushrooms, this would've been the point when I threw up. A lot.

Turns out, I kind of liked the Ivans (88). They aren't films I'm watching on a yearly basis, but I certainly didn't mind their bizarreness in any way. If you're feeling somewhat film-venturous, I say give this a chance.

If not, stay far far away.

Tuesday: Sisters (89)