24 July 2014 @ 08:10 pm
Sherlock, Series 3 (2014, UK)  

Yes, this seriously took me seven months to write. Well, in fairness... I wrote like a paragraph or so of my thoughts back in January and then actually started writing the rest of this a few days ago. But I at least thought quite hard about it for half a year.

Series three is so...complicated. I watched it and at first liked it, then hated it, then grew to enjoy it again despite myself. It's clearly a transitional series in a way that series two possibly should have been, but ultimately wasn't. It's hard to say if it's even good or not. But I will, as always, attempt to probe its depths and find out.

'Okay, but what you don't know is that I've brutally murdered thirty-three people for the CIA.' )
27 March 2014 @ 10:06 pm
Holy Motors (2012, FR/DE)  

WATCH THIS FILM. For the love of god, just do it. It's on Netflix and everything. Wonderful surrealism that makes you question everything you're watching, and maybe even reality (and certainly 'reality television'). It's such a fascinating movie. I would love to describe it in great detail, but it's actually quite difficult to do so! There's no plot, really. It's literally a day in the life of Mr. Oscar (portrayed by Denis Lavant), who apparently assumes different roles as different people--in different lives--to entertain faceless masses.

There are no cameras anywhere to be seen, however, which is slightly unnerving...and the people he interacts with are likely the stars in their own numerous shows rather than nameless background characters. He's driven to these roles by his driver, an aging woman who is perhaps his only connection to reality, and she's portrayed by the lovely Édith Scob. His car also functions as his changing room, allowing him to physically adapt to upcoming roles as he's on his way to jump straight into them. Even though the premise seems simple at face value, it's anything but. It's phenomenal and a fascinating look at how humans dream, actualize identity, and interact with one another. It's so pleasant to watch a movie and be reminded of why you love film and just what sort of thoughts film is capable of evoking as a storytelling medium.
22 December 2013 @ 12:34 pm
The Hobbit (2012, UK/NZ/US), Iron Man III (2013, US), Catching Fire (2013, US)  
Just letting out all of my feelings on some 2013 (and okay, late 2012) blockbusters.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, UK/NZ/US)

Could have been so much more, if only it were a little...less. I'll admit that I've probably only read 1/3rd of the Hobbit since I'm lazy. But that's fine, because I honestly needn't have read much further to have been up to speed with the entirety of the first film. Which is pretty weird, since the Hobbit really isn't a fantasy epic. It's a story that could have been told in a single film. Maybe, maaaaybe two, but certainly not three, good lord. I would question what Peter Jackson could possibly be thinking in doing so, but clearly it's 'money'.

It's entertaining, sure. Say what you will of Peter Jackson, but at least it's good for some laughs and has really well coordinated battle sequences. But nonetheless, he's trying to turn the Hobbit into a second LotR run, which just isn't possible given the limitations of the book and its very nature as a children's novel. I honestly haven't even the faintest interest in seeing the rest of the film series and I doubt anything of value will be lost there.

Iron Man III (2013, US)

Actually, IM3 seriously surprised me and exceeded all of my expectations. Despite the fact that I'm not even really into Iron Man as a franchise, I've somehow managed to see all three of its films in theaters under different circumstances.

The first was okay, the second one was probably terrible since I don't remember it at all, and the third, I have to admit, is my favorite and probably the best of the trio. It is wonderfully subversive and manages to not only play on the expectations of the viewers, but also the characters. Most importantly it plays on the values and worldview of Tony, who can't immediately wrap his head around the initial idea of the film's terrorist being, well, a white American.

So many things could have gone wrong with introducing the Mandarin as a villain, but instead of being lazy and appealing to mainstream comic fans who are probably largely okay with the Mandarin's racist origins, it did something quite clever and, frankly, even a little daring. Far different and better than anything I could have predicted, and I think it easily results in one of the best superhero adaptation films I've had the pleasure of seeing.

Catching Fire (2013, US)

Surprisingly okay. I have to admit that I enjoyed this one a little bit more than the first, but it's largely because the second film ramps up the political intrigue of Panem in a way that the first movie couldn't, due to the large part of its plot being wrapped up in the self-contained Games. The second film certainly features that as well--and is frequently as moving--but the showcase is definitely on the social unrest boiling and bubbling up past the tight lid the Capitol has firmly wedged over the poorer districts. Good stuff.
22 July 2013 @ 03:39 pm
Pacific Rim (2013, US)  
Okay, I'll just come right out and say that Pacific Rim is absolutely wonderful. Certainly it's a little light on plot and character development. One might even be tempted to say that it's cheesy or silly, and both of those accusations stand pretty solidly. But it was never made to be a serious film; it's an homage to the Kaiju and Mecha films and series of old, where over-acted cliches and lots of explosions held precedent over cinematic subtlety. It's basically just a fun movie, and it's endlessly fascinating to me that such universally appealing films and film genres were born out of Japan's recovery from nuclear devastation and suffering.

Basically, ignore any criticism about how it's not meaty enough or doesn't give enough of its characters a comprehensive background, et cetera. It's not that sort of film, and if anything, it's better for it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with movies that are primarily just fun to watch and enjoyable to experience, even if you don't leave with a significantly different lease on life or new understanding of the human condition. It's giant robots fighting giant monsters, and that's awesome.

(Also really cool that Mako and Raleigh, despite being very close emotionally and physically, were just good friends. I'm glad, because it could have been very eye-roll inducing and kind of gross otherwise.)

Here are a few links of interest:

Gorgeous Alternate End Titles, and...

The Poster Posse Project for Pacific Rim
27 March 2013 @ 01:18 pm
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970, US)  

Bear with me, this is probably more of an essay than a review. I suppose if you know me--or at the very least, have taken a look at my favorite films listed on Facebook--you're aware of the affection I have for this film. More than affection, really, since it's probably one of my favorite movies of all time and certainly my favorite adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. And why?

It's mystifying, really. I don't necessarily feel that Robert Stephens portrays the best or most complete Holmes, yet he's still my favorite. Holmes has been re-imagined time after time after time, each adaptation giving us different glimpses of his enigmatic character and allowing countless authors to put personal spins on him and his world, all filtered through vastly different cultural lenses. He's been variously portrayed as heroic, antisocial, emotionally distant, endearingly gentlemanly, kind, callous, gallant, misogynistic, and many, many, many other things aside. They're all equally applicable to his character at different times and in various contexts, of course. Yet these ideas about who Sherlock Holmes really is have been consistently toyed with over the years to the point that Holmes has become no longer a simple literary character in his own right, but a cultural myth and something of a trope. The same can be said for Watson, as well.... after all, simply think about what comes to mind when you hear their names. "Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson."

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, maybe? The level-headed detective in a deer-stalker with a pipe and his bumbling but completely reliable assistant, Watson? None of those qualities are strictly canonically accurate representations of the two. People simply love to latch on to certain images and ideas regardless of whether they're wrong or right. All because they ring true to us or are comforting or palatable in some way, and because social norms inform every aspect of our media consumption. And until the 1960s or 1970s, what was palatable and acceptable in a literary hero like Sherlock Holmes were qualities like even-mindedness, a lack of emotional volatility, gentlemanly demeanor, and a straight-laced lifestyle. (Kind of odd given his very distinctly bohemian tendencies in the original publications.)

So while I don't feel that Wilder's Holmes is the best on-screen portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a character, it's still my favorite because, until The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and The Seven Percent Solution and such came along, what I mentioned above was the status quo. What Watchmen did for the comic universe in the 1980s, adaptations like these did for Sherlock Holmes. They changed everything about what we thought Sherlock Holmes could be as a character and cultural icon. They suddenly and un-apologetically introduced as yet unexplored sides to a hero which were viewed as unseemly, politically incorrect, and intolerable. Suddenly, the genius detective was portrayed as having sexual interests, a drug problem, and underlying mental and emotional issues quietly buried under his logical exterior. And these sorts of things were seen at the time as completely unacceptable and even socially irresponsible to portray, at least on the part of Wilder, a famous film maker. Shortly after the movie's release, for example, Films in Review released a scathing indictment of its content: "Some of [the film's] sequences have no purpose other than to suggest Holmes was a sex pervert and his use of narcotics a legitimate relief from boredom. The deliberate utilization of a fictional character of worldwide popularity to promote or condone those two vices is reprehensible."

So Wilder gave us a different Holmes, a deviation from the slightly distant crime-fighting gentleman of good repute we've been culturally conditioned to associate with the character. In the film, Holmes is bitingly sarcastic and witty (sometimes caustically so), fends off boredom with drug use, and is amusingly camp. He's also at the peak of his detective career and his burgeoning fame is becoming more and more of an annoyance to him. Amusingly enough, one of the initial scenes includes him walking into 221-B decked out in deerstalker and inverness cape, frustrated that he's been expected to wear them in public to match the apparent description Watson has given of him in his tales published in the Strand. Watson, of course, blames the illustrator.

(It's clear that Wilder loved the material and was fascinated with the original publications, because only someone who really cares a good deal for their media of choice can so boldly take the mick out of it and turn it into a humorous, twisted shadow of the original in a way that's well-crafted, funny, and intelligent to both die-hard Holmesians and casual moviegoers.)

So we can immediately tell that we're being treated to an adaptation unlike any previous...this Holmes acts as a frequent mouthpiece for Wilder's observations and criticisms of the Sherlock Holmes series and how it's been received at large by the public. There's an incredible layer of metatextuality that pervades the entire film and one never knows just what to expect from the sparkling, hilariously funny script. (Trust that there are several laugh-out-loud moments.) The film itself is split into two different parts: the first deals with Holmes' attempt to extricate himself from a difficult situation with a Russian ballerina, who desires for him, as a man of great intelligence, to father her child. Holmes immediately refuses on the pretense of being involved in a gay relationship with Watson in what has got to be one of the most humorous, awkward half hours in a Sherlock Holmes adaptation to date (complete with a little throw-back to Some Like It Hot).

WATSON: "You may think this is funny, but we're in the same boat! We must take desperate measures....we must stop this talk! Maybe if we got married--"

HOLMES: "...then they'd really talk!"

Brilliant! The film then takes a different turn in its second part when, one evening, Holmes and Watson are very suddenly saddled with the enigmatic and beautiful Gabrielle Valladon. She is initially dumped off at their place by a cabbie and appears to suffer from amnesia. Further prodding reveals that she was coming to London to pursue the trail of her missing husband, Emile Valladon, who worked as an engineer and was involved with the British government. She intended to consult Holmes and Watson for help in unraveling his disappearance before being ambushed--as they all assume--by people trying to keep her nose out of whatever business in which her husband was involved. So the three of them, with Holmes disguised as Madame Valladon's husband, are lead on a bit of a whirlwind adventure to a castle in Scotland to discover the truth behind Emile's disappearance...and a few other odd mysteries, as well, all seemingly tied to Sherlock's coolly diplomatic brother. (Mycroft. Charmingly played by a young Christopher Lee.)

I should note that the film wholly markets itself as revealing some of Holmes' most humiliating or otherwise unmentionable cases, and this one is no exception. Holmes is deceived at every turn until the very end, and instead of being hurt or feeling a great personal loss of some sort, he actually seems to take great solace in his own defeat. Which must make his feelings towards Madame Valladon rather complicated... much of the film deals either directly with or has an underlying commentary on Holmes' supposed misogyny and distrust of women, much of which stems from supposed romantic or sexual encounters earlier in his life. Or so we think; after all, Wilder apparently regretted not making it more abundantly clear that Holmes' general outsiders' melancholy was a product of his actively suppressed homosexuality. It's entirely possible from Holmes' tone in his retelling of these experiences that they never really happened. Apparently some portions of the film which were removed from the final cut addressed these topics more explicitly. It's unfortunate that it's a lesser known film of Wilder's and that it was treated so shoddily by the industry... the final version of the film is only a fraction of Wilder's original creation, which originally included further stories, some of which were set in Holmes' younger years at university or involved other cases. Some of these bits and pieces have been restored and included on recent DVD releases, fortunately, but some will probably never resurface and are lost to time. But the final version released to tape/DVD is interesting enough as is, and pretty self-contained, even if it leaves you thirsting for more.

...I could also go on a bit about how Sherlock's faults as a fully-realized modern-day Holmes adaptation can be traced back to how heavily Gatiss and Moffat both borrow from Wilder's film, which has very 60s-70s aesthetics and politics, but that would take literally forever. So I'll just make note of this: the relationship between Mycroft and Sherlock in Sherlock, and really Mycroft's entire character in the series, is a direct call-out to Christopher Lee's run as Mycroft in The Private Life. Which is pretty cool.

For more fun reading on similar, check out these:

1971 Film Quarterly Review, on JSTOR

Michael Wood's 'Scentless Murder', on the London Review of Books (review of 'Conversations with Wilder' by Cameron Crowe)
24 February 2013 @ 02:41 pm
Korea (1995, IE), Silent Things (2011, UK), Dead Bodies (2003, IE)  
Korea (1995, IE)

A bit of a hard find and novelty because of its limited release... if I recall correctly Korea was initially aired as a TV movie in Ireland and has fallen rather into obscurity over the years. (You can actually purchase it online, but only if you're located in Ireland, which is a bit of a bummer.) It is a somber film, in a word. Not only is it the story of a young man (Eamon) and his bitter father (Doyle), but it's also a study in the economic and social development of Ireland into a modern nation and a commentary on the horrors and futility of war. (In this case, the Korean war...but with numerous references made to the Irish Republic's war waged for its independence, as well.) Among other things, Eamon has to frustratingly deal with his romantic inclinations towards Una, the daughter of a local government agent whom his father hates. He and his father make their living by fishing eels from the local lake, and Mr. Moran, the agent Eamon's father so despises, was just the bearer of bad news that they'd have to stop private fishing operations on the lake for reasons related to tourism development or similar. This would naturally deprive them of their only livelihood. Of course, Eamon also has to consider his desires to potentially leave his small town and attend University and the looming presence of a war he could become involved in, so he's really in an incredibly unfortunate situation right at the cusp of his entrance to adulthood.

To make matters worse, his father is so paranoid and desperate to cling to the only way of living he's ever known that he's willing to send his only son off to war to be killed. Quite literally. He doesn't particularly care for anything related to glamour or the prestige of having a soldier for a son. The war is going on with America and Ireland has little stake in it. What Doyle is after is the $10,000 stipend that the US government pays to Irish families if they send their sons to fight overseas for the U.S. military and wind up killed in action. (Which is, disturbingly, the outcome Doyle is expressly hoping for.) So needless to say, it's an incredibly sad film in many, many different ways. It's interesting to see a young Andrew Scott's portrayal of the poor, resigned Eamon struggling to find happiness and understanding among several hopeless situations, but it's a powerful performance all around from everyone involved.

Silent Things (2011, UK)

A captivating short film starring Andrew Scott and Andrew Scott's Scary Levels of Acting Talent (and other people, of course, like Georgia Groome and Antonia Campbell Hughes). It's unfair to put the spotlight solely on Andrew Scott, because his performance as an autistic man, while moving and subtle and never at all condescending, works perfectly in tandem with the roles of Groome and Hughes as part of an engaging whole. No weak links here. You can view the entire short film online here:

Dead Bodies (2003, IE)

Another slightly older movie starring Andrew Scott as Tommy, a supremely unlucky slacker who winds up inadvertently responsible for his unpleasant, controlling ex-girlfriend's death. (Well, or so the audience thinks.) Like anyone else would be, he's completely rattled by the discovery of her body in his empty flat and makes hasty plans to bury her...only to find that he wasn't the first person to have that idea, since she ends up right on top of another skeleton in the woods at the edge of town. In a darkly amusing twist of fate, the police end up exhuming both bodies, and Tommy finds himself in a world of trouble and political intrigue far beyond anything he could have ever imagined. I'll stop there since it's more interesting to see the twists and turns the film makes, so I want to avoid giving anything too major away. There's a rather surprising twist right near the end and you'll be happy you saved yourself for it. Now go forth and watch, it's available on Netflix.

I'd also recommend that anyone and everyone give a listen to the BBC's 2009 radio adaptation of Vonnegut's classic The Slaughterhouse Five. Absolutely stunning, immersive rendition of the book. Interesting choice of Andrew Scott for Billy Pilgrim, but hey, he works it. Give it a listen here: I spent one evening with it while waiting for a meatloaf to cook, and it was time well spent on a lovingly, well-crafted piece of radio drama. (No, I won't ever get over Andrew Scott. Ever. And once I finally get around to watching The Scapegoat, The Town, and Blackout, I simply cannot be contained or silenced.)
23 February 2013 @ 05:44 pm
The Hunger Games (2012, US), Winter's Bone (2010, US)  
The Hunger Games (2012, US)

I have mixed feelings...true, it's as good of a film adaptation that one could want from the books, and some aspects of it are even better. But some are worse, on the flip side, and it's a wash as to how this stacks up.

Jennifer Lawrence is a brilliant actress, but without the book's inner narrative and perspective, her characterization as the aloof, hardened Katniss seems less reserved and more...stunted. It's just one of those things inherently going to be a bit lost in the translation from book to film, given the necessary switch in delivery for a wider audience. On the other hand, the film's immediate need to shift to a more omniscient view of the Hunger Games events allows for some interesting insights and developments we could never have been privy to in the novel, like the interactions between President Snow and Seneca Crane and the behind-the-scenes workings of the games themselves. Those are the sorts of changes I generally look forward to and appreciate in book-to-movie productions. The added live commentary from Flickermann also added a punch and further cemented the novel as being largely critical of mass media excess and consumption of violence and the loss of human identity and value inherent in such.

--which of course makes it all the more hilariously ironic that it's a major blockbuster hit which millions of people--including myself--crowded into movie theaters to see while decked to the brim with popcorn buckets and fountain drinks. Also, I'm still a bit salty about the fact that Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch are distinctly not very Southern/Appalachian sounding, while the supporting cast from District 13 is. I don't understand why a little bit of representation from the region the District was meant to have its origins in and typify would have been a bad thing in mainstream blockbuster film adaptations. Just goes to show that classism is alive and well in our country. (Also worth mentioning the terribly racist casting call.)

(All that said, it isn't a bad film by any means. In fact, I'm very much looking forward to how Catching Fire will be handled given its very brassy themes of political upheaval and social revolution that the first book only tantalizingly hinted at. I'm guessing either "magnificently" or "terribly" with little room in between.)

Winter's Bone (2010, US)

...Winter's Bone, however, is very much the opposite, earnestly portraying a somewhat secluded, poverty-ridden community in the rural Ozarks with no apologies and no attempt to placate people in America who are apparently offended by the "stupid" accents of my countrymen. The plot is pretty simple; Ree Dolly is a poor high school girl living with her catatonic mother and younger brother and sister. Her father, a man locally notorious as a meth dealer (albeit a respectable one), has gone missing and is presumed dead. Ree's father used their only real thing of value--their house--as part of his bond, and with his court date fast approaching the county has no choice but to evict Ree and the others and seize his property if he doesn't show. Ree sets off on a nigh-solitary journey to find her father, never faltering in her belief that he wouldn't have simply abandoned her family to get out of a court hearing.

Fortunately for her and her family's good name, she's right; the sad truth of that fact leads Ree down some dark roads and across the paths of dangerous people beholden to a system of honor and secrecy rarely seen or spoken of in modern American culture, and she doesn't come out unscathed. The film is basically a well-acted, considerately filmed look into the lives of Americans the rest of the U.S. seems to have forgotten, whether intentionally or not...and it's refreshing to see such dark, gritty subject matter handled so well, considering that my background isn't so far removed from hers. I think almost all working-class and poverty-straddling people of the rural South can relate, at least a bit.
23 February 2013 @ 03:17 pm
XXY (2007, AR/ES/FR)  

If I had to describe it in a single word I would probably go with "atmospheric", and the cinematography is pretty phenomenal and definitely makes good use of the South American coastline it's set on. It's very interesting that the main character, Alex, chooses not to have reconstructive surgery after all despite the pressure put on them by their mother. (Alex's father, a marine biologist, is largely in the dark about these plans and is portrayed a bit more sympathetically.)

Honestly, I thought the frequent outside focus on Alex's family members and their feelings would be off-putting given how much unneeded "development" is dedicated to the people who are related to intersex and trans people in most films concerning them, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much agency Alex ended up having in the end. Very strong character statement and narrative choice, having an intersex person make that sort of decision for themselves despite the outside pressures to conform one way or the other within social gender binaries. (Especially since part of the film also deals with the existence and input of other intersex people forced to undergo GRS against their own desires.)

Also of interest, at least to me: the very influential 1990 documentary on New York City ball culture (which was largely comprised of drag queens, trans women, and other queer people of color), Paris Is Burning, is apparently all on youtube. See it in its entirety here:
23 February 2013 @ 03:02 pm
Withnail and I (1987, UK), Beautiful Thing (2003, UK), Attack the Block! (2011, UK)  
Withnail and I (1987, UK)

Bit bleak, but amusing in a campy sort of way. It's clearly a classic of cult film for a reason, although it was certainly a weird send-off for the 1960s. Interestingly, Paul McGann went on to play the eighth Doctor, which I had no clue about until I looked at his recording history because I have terrible facial recognition. Have to admit that I'm also fascinated with the Camberwall Carrot.

Beautiful Thing (2003, UK)

Really weird indie LGBT flick (well, 'G') set in a lower-class tower block. I was a bit curious as to what the plot would entail being that it described itself as a "kitchen sink drama" on the blurb, but it was a nice, refreshing little movie that dealt pretty realistically with issues of working class familial abuse and different attitudes towards queer relationships. Very slice-of-life, as there was really no conclusion to the plot. (Not that it really needed one.)

Attack the Block! (2011, UK)

Similar to "Beautiful Thing" in its portrayal of the lower class of English citizens, which is pretty intriguing. It's something that's either really glossed over in films or envisioned as the "real" Britain, stateside, both of which are hardly good or comprehensive assessments of the entirety of English society, let alone the rest of the UK. It was generally really cool to see an interesting science fiction film set in a Tower Block with a largely black cast. It's also a solid alien-fighting movie on its own but with a fascinating and sorely needed twist on the usual. It very tantalizingly hints at the different home lives of each young gang member, and even though it doesn't deliver a lot of background, it isn't really needed. A definite case of "less is more", since you can infer all you need to know about how these young kids wound up in such trying situations as drug pushing or street violence from a select few shots. It manages to make pretty bold statements about class and race in England while simultaneously being a thrilling, scary invasion movie. Which is awesome.
15 August 2012 @ 01:43 am
Third Star (2010, UK), Wreckers (2011, UK)  
Third Star (2010, UK)

"Third Star" is the emotionally taxing journey of three friends as they accompany the cancer-eaten James (Cumberbatch) on one last bonding trip to Barafundle Bay, the beautiful shoreline that James longs to see before his supposed period of bed rest. These four fundamentally damaged characters with enough friendship baggage to fill a few airline carriers aren't going this entire way just for kicks. James, who is pain-stricken and so barely functional that he needs assistance just to stand up long enough to urinate, has a deeply personal reason for visiting this place. He didn't exactly buy a return ticket for himself, you see. He asks quite a lot of his very good friends in the end, and maybe more than they were ever willing to really give... They ultimately do help him find relief from his shell of a lifestyle, and you get the sense that this is the event that finally cements their remaining bonds and helps them to put away whatever petty issues they feuded with each other over during the course of their last trip together. It feels more or less like watching a film already in progress, so it's hard to relate to them for most of the movie, generally until the very end when things only just start coming together a bit.

I had a similar problem with Wreckers, so maybe it was an off year for Cummerbund. I enjoyed both of them well enough--and both are very well acted by all major players--but they have their unique flaws.

Wreckers (2011, UK)

What an eerie film. Hard to believe what kinds of darkness and putrid, hidden depths that people all have within themselves. You don't really come out feeling all too sorry for any of the characters, because they're all very maladjusted and have their own personal problems that clearly need sorting out before they're allowed to interact with anyone, let alone each other. Long story short, David (Cumberbatch) and his wife Dawn (played by Claire Foy) buy a house out in the country of David's old village to refurbish and turn into a home for themselves. They're both young and unsuccessfully trying for a child, clearly quite hopeful for their future...but then David's brother comes along to stay with them after military service and fucks everything up three ways til Sunday with his presence. He strains things between the couple and him being around ultimately brings up a lot of stuff that probably should have remained buried in the past. Or he else helps to create new conflicts. For everyone, neighbors and friends included. Even him leaving doesn't solve much, as somewhere within this madness Dawn cheats on David with one of his friends and ends up fathering his friend's child. (David doesn't seem to care all that much, mostly because he's impotent and really really wants a kid.)

The impression I got from the final few moments of the film may not be what happened--it's left intentionally vague, so viewers can really make up their own minds--but it would appear that David kills his own brother for impregnating his wife, only to later find, after taking a close look at his friend versus the child he's raising as his own, that his brother probably wasn't guilty after all. Oops, that's a bit awkward.

It's admittedly really hard to feel anything for the characters. Not just because they all have some clearly fucked up issues, but also because the movie didn't tell us quite enough about them (and their pasts, which were rather temptingly hinted at) for me to care very much about their development. It's not that I don't enjoy movies that leave pieces missing, even big ones. In fact, movies like that are better, generally speaking. They keep you coming back, even if more is never meant to be delivered. But there has to be an inherent balance between the sparsely supplied backgrounds and the current events happening as a result of them. We simply aren't given enough information on why certain characters--namely David and his brother--act the way that they do to really find it fascinating to see how their backgrounds factor into their current or future actions. Sometimes a background context isn't necessary for a good and interesting character, but in a movie heavily reliant on the idea of inescapable pasts and the forces coming back to dredge them up, it really would have helped. It may have been superbly and delicately acted, but sometimes even a good cast can't help a weak narrative. The overall point of the film seems to be that you should never marry any character portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, because he rarely plays someone not creepy. And if it seems like he's not creepy, then just wait a bit, because he's probably hiding something.
24 July 2012 @ 01:01 am
The Legend of Korra, Book One: Air (2012, US)  

(This is largely concerning the last episode, so beware of spoilers.)

Okay, I'll get this out of the way and say that you're not allowed to disagree with the fact that the best part of the episode was Tarrlok's murder-suicide. A little heavy for a children's show, hm? I hated how the reveal of Amon was rushed and predictable, but one of my favorite tropes ever is You Can't Go Home Again in its metaphorical sense, so I can forgive this a little. Tarrlok knew that there would be no turning back or true redemption for either of them. Amon/Noatak, on the other hand...well, let's be honest, if he was delusional enough to believe that he and his brother would ever be able to forge a functional relationship again after the events of their childhood and their respective downfalls in Republic City...I'm not sure that Tarrlok made the wrong call.

It's just annoying, because the relationship between these two (and Amon's growth in the interim) could have been so much more deeply developed than it was. Instead it was rushed in at the last minute with nearly no prior hints that would have made it a believable development at all. It was okay, but it could have been way, way, way better. And to be quite honest, the entire situation was a cop-out. When Amon was able to walk off Tarrlok's blood-bending a few episodes ago I immediately called that he was a blood-bender, himself, and was thus impervious. Which is...disappointing, plot-wise. Why did Amon have to be a bender? Sure, it's fascinating that Amon found so much injustice in the act of bending that he was willing to use his own gifts to rob others of theirs, but it would have been ultimately faaaaar more compelling if he were just a normal non-bending man with his own baggage. There's nothing all that scary about a masterful water/blood-bender being able to take down other benders. The reason that he was so frightening all along is precisely because we were under the impression that he didn't have any special abilities outside of chi-blocking. Which is not to say that his backstory as Noatak wasn't decent, but it would have been more interesting if a) he were a non-bender with his given backstory instead, and b) we actually had any amount of time devoted to explaining why, after running away from his tribe, he became invested enough in his anti-bending pursuits to form a social movement around them. Or, you know, devoted to explaining anything deeper about Amon and his feelings or goals.

And I will be sorely disappointed if Amon's reveal and death are the symbolic ends of the social conflicts in Republic City between benders and non-benders. That would be just the biggest load of bullshit. He was a charismatic leader, sure, but he didn't just drum up the sympathy of non-benders out of nowhere. It's clear that there was a growing discontent among citizens and I would hate to see that just unrealistically fade away. I want to see the reactions of non-bending Equalists now that Amon has been revealed as a bender and now that they have no single, unifying authority figure for their movement. Will they get a new one? How will they promote their cause without his image? Will Amon's reveal actually ignite even more civil unrest? Realistically, it should. (Don't even get me started on how the Equalists in general were portrayed; there were a few choice moments of moral ambiguity on both sides of that battle, but ultimately, the movement was not shown as being as morally nuanced as it could and should have been.)

Oh, and just let me say a bit about Korra's practically non-existent character growth as the Avatar. She still wasn't really able to tap into her spiritual side after all this time, and yet she was able to pull airbending entirely out of nowhere just as Mako was conveniently threatened...? (And as others have said, she didn't even apply any of the airbending or spiritually centering techniques Tenzin mentored her in when she was finally able to airbend. She just went straight for physically over-powering attacks yet again...just with air, and not earth/water/fire.) She was still making as many stupid mistakes and being as physically domineering in this episode as she was in episode one. Hell, her relationship with the more fluid, spiritual side of airbending pretty much began and just as quickly ended when she starting applying Tenzin's teachings in her pro-bending match...that one time. Oh, and she sort of meditated once. Almost. Kinda. Honestly, with her suddenly learning how to airbend (while ignoring all principles of the discipline) and going Avatar state and just restoring all the bending with her magic touch... why did this season even happen at all, speaking in terms of narrative? We're now almost exactly where we started at the beginning, save for some really forced, underdeveloped, and annoying relationship drama between the main four characters.

Outside of a few predictable acts of kindness towards Korra, we're never even under the impression that Mako has incredibly deep feelings for her, nor her for him. What the hell is that? I must have missed the part where this rather large and emotional relationship growth took place, because it sure wasn't demonstrated very strongly to us as viewers over the course of this entire season. Look, writers, it's always better to show rather than tell. Even outside of that frankly unbelievable romantic development, they're about as exciting as off-white paint together. At least Bolin had a personality, even if he's been reduced to a sad one-note comic relief character.

Which really makes me feel sorry for Asami. What is she, Candide? She went kind of over and beyond for this group of people and she was ultimately repaid with absolutely nothing. So now she has neither a supportive boyfriend nor a father (or any familial relationship, for that matter). I hope she honestly gets what she rightfully deserves during the next season. I'm definitely impressed that she's had a strong enough moral compass this entire time to continue hanging out with these total nitwits given their willingness to trample all over her feelings despite the kindness and help she's extended to them all the while. I was entirely expecting her to be an Equalist plant or have a "going to the dark side" moment, and at this point, I couldn't blame her. (Even though I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't happen.) I hope Iroh comes back and sweeps her off her feet and lavishes her with badass love and affectionAsami sweeps Iroh off his feet when he comes back, because at least one pretty-boy fire-bender in this series has got to have some decency and taste, and it's clearly not going to be Mako any time this century.

So, pros and cons for the series in general? Well, it was entertaining and pretty and there were some damn good episodes with amazing pacing and fight scenes and pitch-perfect plot developments. Things just went nowhere kind of fast soon after Tarrlok's episodes. Which is terribly unfortunate, because they laid the foundation for what could have been some truly stellar material. Bolin, Mako, and Korra are still pretty much one-dimensional characters at this point. The writers have given Korra in particular an easy way out of any meaningful development with her magical ability to airbend, reach the Avatar state, recover her own other bending forms, and restore bending to, just because she felt down about everything and liked Mako. (Shit, if things had been that easy for Aang, the entire show could have been wrapped up in a few episodes.)

At the very least, her getting her other bending powers back could have waited until next season, opening a small window for some actual character development and a spiritual journey for her. Also, there was too much annoying relationship drama. And the big reveal involving Amon and Tarrlok could have been about fifty times better if it wasn't shoehorned right there in the end for shock twist value. There are plot-holes about a mile wide concerning Amon's motivations and powers which will probably never be explained. (Why could he blood-bend and rearrange the energy flow to the bending centers of the brain but Katara, master water-bender, couldn't do the reverse using the same technique? How and why did he rise to power and lead the Equalist movement? Etc etc. What were his actual reasons for doing so in the first place, instead of the ridiculously simple, bullshit non-explanation his brother gave?)

Overall, it was a fun ride, I guess. Some episodes were immensely well-made and intriguing, but they kind of dropped the ball right at the end, honestly. The huge build-up to what was sure to be an epic and mind-blowing finale was probably what made everything even more stale. It's clear that Bryke could have done so much better and just...didn't. Are they taking writing classes with Steven Moffat, or what? Because all of them seem to be very, very good at writing passable, engaging material up until the last fucking second of a show. Is this contagious? Will it spread to the writers of other shows I follow, too?

And it's pretty sad when the most interesting characters are the adults, all of whom had very limited screen-time compared to Team Korra. Tarrlok, Amon, Tenzin, Lin...all of them, despite the iffiness between Tarrlok and Amon during the final, had more nuanced and fascinating portrayals than the main cast. Even Asami was impressively developed compared to Mako, Bolin, and Korra, and that's genuinely sad when you think of how much more they could have done with her as a character. I think Bumi was more interesting than half of them, and his sole appearance just involved him screaming incoherently. Hopefully season two will improve on this one a lot, especially since more writers will be at the helm. There are a ton of issues they can thoughtfully tackle and I hope they're up to the task and have enough sense to pace things as they should be paced within their own time constraints.
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Current Mood: blah
15 April 2012 @ 12:31 am
Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975, UK/US), Great Mouse Detective (1986, US)  
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975, UK/US)

Opinions have always seemed to be a little divided on it among Holmes aficionados. Why, I’m not sure. You have a little bit of everything in this film. It’s “A Scandal in Bohemia”, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”, “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”, and “The Final Problem” gone terribly, horribly camp. Also wrong. Very wrong. It’s a weird movie, and also rather anachronistic in the same fashion as Blazing Saddles, which never fails to amuse me for some reason. I won’t lie and say that the film is on par with Saddles, because it isn’t... As much as I love Gene Wilder, directing is not his strong suit, so don’t go into this one expecting a classic on par with Brooks’ films. (Given the casting of Gene Wilder, Arty Feldman, and Madeline Kahn, you would really assume it to be a Brooks film in the first place.) But it’s still quite funny and contains some seriously choice lines and gags that I would love to see reproduced in other works derivative of Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother has a bit of a misleading title, and probably purposefully so. Most fans of ACD’s stories would assume it to be a film about Mycroft, but even though there’s an amusing throwaway line concerning him in the film, he makes no appearance at all. The star of the show is Sigerson, Sherlock Holmes’ other smarter brother. (Trust me when I say that his position as such is by his own estimation. He even brilliantly refers to his own brother as “Sheer-Luck”.) Even Sherlock himself makes a few appearances in the film. He's there in the beginning to hand off a seemingly unrelated case to his brother via Orville Sacker, a clerk for Scotland Yard, but generally only pops up incognito when Sigerson is in need of “gentle guidance”. Guidance concerning the (actually quite important) case and, scarily, the well-being of Sigerson’s own clients. It makes you feel that Sigerson is really the second fiddle in his own stardom, but that's probably for the best. He is certainly intelligent in some ways (as only a Holmes can be), but he's kind of bumbling and endlessly bitter towards his older brother, which hinders him in others. He frequently lacks the absolutely mind-boggling eye for detail that Sherlock possesses; one of the best recurring gags involves him mistaking his large, male messenger for a woman from the sound of his footsteps outside the door to his flat.

So the plot itself is rather a mish-mash of ACD’s stories. The big case involves Jenny Hill, aka Bessie Bellewood, who was probably meant as something of a call-out to Irene Adler. She isn't exactly brilliant, though, and you get the impression that she only ever gets anything over on Sigerson because he's equally as ignorant half the time. But she is a rather saucy opera singer who finds herself in a scandalous relationship involving political intrigue, which sort of runs her right into the path of Moriarty and his underlings. So it's up to Sigerson to secure the top secret plans that she mistakenly pawns off to a big-time blackmailer in cahoots with the notorious professor. Sigerson and Orville make a team easily more bizarre than any Sherlock and Watson duo, and it’s frankly hilarious that they manage to get themselves into so many odd situations. Overall, it's an incredibly fun, weird film. And longtime Holmes fans will also appreciate the appearance of Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock.

The Great Mouse Detective (1986, US)

Speaking of things to do with Sherlock Holmes, I recently saw "The Great Mouse Detective" again. Despite the fact that I have an apparently inhuman tolerance for Disney magic, I really do like the movie. My memories of it from childhood were murky at best, but if any of you were subjected to the splendors/horrors of the Disney channel in the early-to-mid 1990s, you probably remember constantly being barraged with irrelevant or quirky information about the making of various films during commercial breaks. I didn’t mind the info bits on the Great Mouse Detective because they always dealt with the final battle scene in Big Ben. Which was, by the way, the first use of computer generated imagery in a 2D animated film. Or so they said. The Black Cauldron has that unique distinction in reality, but it’s not surprising to me at all that Disney would like to pretend that the film never even happened. The whirling gears of Big Ben have always been a striking image to me, however, and the battle scene between Basil and Rattigan is easily one of my favorite cinematic moments in an animated film. It’s just very well put together, especially coupled with the film’s score.

(Anyone watching "The Great Mouse Detective" for the first time would probably be inclined to believe that the titular character is just Sherlock Holmes in mouse form, but they’d be slightly off. No, Sherlock Holmes actually exists in human form in this universe. Basil of Baker Street, the film’s namesake, is actually, Basil. He lives beneath 221B and is remarkably similar to Holmes, like a rodent counterpart. One imagines that he is the end result of chemical run-off from a science experiment gone wrong upstairs, but this theory is out the window when you realize that there’s honestly no logical explanation for how Dawson could exist as such.)

Nevertheless, Basil has a cute little dressing gown and his own chemistry set and everything. And even a violin! It really is just adorable, like always. Dawson isn’t portrayed as being quite as capable as some other Watsons, but at least he isn't a fumbling, ineffectual buffoon meant to showcase his Holmesian counterpart’s massive intellect and perceptive skills. The two actually made a nice cuddly little team, and the film ends on a note suggesting that this story, despite being based on “The Final Problem” (sort of), is their “A Study in Scarlet”. Actually, with Rattigan out of the way, it makes me wonder just how exciting they’ll find London at all… he was sort of the master criminal. I guess these two are doomed to an adorable eternity finding lost mouse-sized rings and naval treaties written on tiny receipt slips or something.
24 March 2012 @ 01:37 am
Sherlock, Series 2 (2012, UK)  
Oh yeah, nearly forgot about this. My far too elaborate thoughts on series two of Sherlock!

If I'd told an average fan of Sherlock what to expect from the second series, I very much doubt my words would be taken with a grain of salt smaller than the state of Alaska. Sherlock slipping John a roofie and being beaten with a riding crop? Chemical minefields, genetically altered rabbits, erotic ring tones, tea parties with Jim, drug-induced floating beds, awkward Christmas parties? It all sounds just a bit too far-fetched to be true, like the sort of Sherlock episodes you'd dream up after accidentally taking too much of a new allergy medication. But they are what they are. Before I start talking about any episode in particular, I have to mention the filmography. The filmography is phenomenal in series two. Series one was beautiful, but series two is on a whole other playing field. It's a visual feast, at the risk of sounding too cliché. That's about the most unquestionably, entirely positive thing I can say about it.

cut to spare you from what's turned into a PhD dissertation )

ETA: I had previously written the first review without having seen The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes...truthfully kind of silly on my part, because I've totally had it sitting around in my collection for about a billion years now. Either way, I'd highly suggest that anyone watching Belgravia read both ASIB and watch Billy Wilder's film before jumping into the episode. Now having seen the film it makes me wish I had its overall context fresh in my mind when watching Sherlock, because it's clear that Moffat and Gatiss heavily intended Belgravia to be an homage to the movie, and honestly not much short of a modern-day remake with embellishments on. It certainly changed the way I felt about how Moffat handled Irene, just a tad.

To be honest, I'm not sure if Wilder or Moffat did the best service to their respective female lead, but at least Moffat didn't fridge Irene. I'm not saying it's better that Sherlock ended up saving her, of course. They're really two inferior outcomes out of multiple available, but having knowledge of Private Life honestly makes watching Belgravia fifty times more interesting and much less grating when you realize that it's a tweaked version of an extant Holmes film and not just something Moffat flew off the handle and created to satisfy some weird de-powered damsel fantasy of his. And honestly...if you want to know the truth? Adaptation wise, he did a pretty good job. He managed to weave both the stories from Wilder's film and the original serial short pretty well together, all things considered. There are dual storylines borrowing from both sources and having this background knowledge really brings the episode together in a way that's just not readily apparent to casual viewers or people with even just a background knowledge of ACD canon.

That's not to say that the episode was without flaw, but I'm willing to be a little, tiny bit more generous with my praise now that it's clear to me what sort of thematic influences he was working with. I usually can't stand Moffat, but objectively speaking, he wrote an episode I have to give him at least some props for. So, here it is, maybe the last time I'll ever do this: props to you, Moff. Don't blow it next series. Please.
06 March 2012 @ 11:01 pm
Surviving Life (2010, CZ)  
When you read a story by an author and it really resonates with you, it's like having someone transcend time and place and touch your hand. (Or so that one saying goes.) The filmography of Jan Svankmajer has that sort of effect on me. When I saw his short films in my mid-to-late-ish teens, about seven or eight years ago, it felt as though I was watching something from my dreams. I should take a moment to say that I've always had a special relationship with my dreams and the dream state. My dreams are always incredibly vivid and frequently give me insight into an understanding and logic buried within myself, which in turn helps me make a lot of sense of my own identity, desires, and thoughts, even if the dreams themselves are typically nonsensical or horrifying on a surface level. Dreams and nightmares are still a bit beyond the realm of human understanding, but I'm not convinced this is a bad thing or something that needs to be improved upon. Because sometimes what we need to see the most is on an entirely different level of comprehension far beyond and not beholden to human-imposed order... So, this will hardly be the last post I write on Svankmajer's work. I could probably write a wealth of reviews simply on early-to-mid 20th century stop motion animation, especially the sort that seemed to take root in Eastern Europe, which has always endlessly fascinated me.

Essentially, Surviving Life concerns Eugene. Eugene is a pretty lackluster guy in a lackluster marriage working away at a lackluster job, but the fantastic dream which acts as a lead-in to his whole story suddenly changes everything about his existence. Eugene is no longer content with his middling life among the waking and resorts to a number of methods to keep revisiting the world--and woman--of his literal dreams. As Eugene seemingly slides in and out of rapid sleep states it becomes harder and harder to discern just where his dream world ends and reality begins. Of course, this only adds to the intrigue. Is Eugene's obsession with his dream spilling over and affecting his mental state in reality, you wonder, or is reality even as "real" as it seemed to us initially? It's quite hard to tell when watching a film produced by Jan Svankmajer; the universe seems to follow its own rules despite otherwise appealing to "normalcy", which is just part of his usual style as a creator. There is little normal about Eugene's waking life when filtered through his own mental projections, really. That's to say nothing of his dream world, which doesn't even seem to be confined to his own subconscious, as evidenced by his wife's ability to tap into it later in the film.

So Eugene eventually enlists the help of a psychoanalyst to help guide him through his dream exploration. She's quite insistent on assigning her own importance to the events of Eugene's dreams rather than allowing Eugene to come to his own personal conclusions about them. Much of the film deals with Jungian and Freudian interpretations of Eugene's dreams, and perhaps rightly so. Their works, if flawed, are fascinating and make for interesting lenses through which dreams can be examined. I wrote many a Freudian interpretation of classic literature and both Jungian and Freudian psychological analyses across my college career, and even if I'm inclined to think that they were both wrong about a number of things in their own unique ways, there is no denying that both of them rocked the foundations of modern psychotherapy. And modern surrealism, it would seem, as so many surrealist works lift pages from both of their personal tomes. Svankmajer's film quite humorously deals with the idea of both men seeing how their respective theories would be utilized in the modern day.

The rather shocking, absurd ending to the movie is what I would refer to as being "darkly funny" when taken as a critique of how ridiculous the claims of Freud and Jung, and psychoanalysts in general, frequently are. So the entire film seems to be a rather elaborate and biting jab at the modus operandi of psychoanalysis. It's a darkly subversive satire in its approach to the field, and Freudian psychology in particular. Throughout much of the film you find yourself thinking that there are pieces missing... why was Eugene turned over to foster care if his father walked out on his mother? Why does he have such negative memories of learning to swim? At first it seems to hint that Eugene has created this alternate reality using the extant pieces of his own conscious memories. The old lady with the pram whom he continually passes in the streets is the superego-cum-God of his dreams, the red outfit that his mother once wore (and which he rediscovers when going through her old things) is the same one his own dream lover first appears to him in... And the initial source of external stress in his dream world seems to be the purchase of a lotto ticket, which he's constantly being badgered into by his wife in the waking realm. But as the various bits and pieces of Eugene's past--or perhaps his unwillingness to revisit it--reveal, there is definitely something much more deeper and strongly rooted going on in Eugene's subconscious adventures. Or is there?

Some people have suggested that perhaps everything is not quite as it (doesn't) seem, and that Eugene's own therapist has planted the seeds of Oedipal discontent, warping his own awareness. Either way is entirely possible. But everything in his dreams holds some greater significance which ties into his incredibly horrifying personal life narrative and all of these seemingly minor details come around full circle. The audience should well have figured something out by the time the big reveal is made in the last few minutes of the film. Hearing of the actual events which spurred Eugene's psychological journey is doubly enjoyable because the majority of the audience has doubtlessly sussed out most of Eugene's issues. The violent origin story of his scars in particular suddenly forces everything to fall into place, including his foggy, repressed memories of his mother and her swimming lessons and his subconscious desire to become his child-self's father after the untimely death of his own.

As it appears on the surface, anyway. Because nothing in this movie, as I think should be clear, is as it seems. It can really be interpreted in a number of ways. The movie progresses quite logically despite its numerous deviations into a middle ground where dream and reality are blurred, though, which makes it probably the most "normal" or accessible of Svankmajer's films. People who are turned off by his haunting, off-the-wall surreality in his short films or previous feature length endeavors might enjoy this one a bit more. It's still unsettling and fantastic in a very Svankmajer way, but it's not as polarizing as his normal fare. It would a good introduction to his works, with the promise that others are yet stranger and more fantastical.
Current Mood: blank
02 March 2012 @ 12:15 am
Marquis (1989, BE/FR)  
“My one and only noble point may be found in my bodily appendage, whom I will consult democratically as he is rather whimsical.”

Occasionally you watch something that’s just entirely unlike anything else you’ve ever seen, and if you were put to task with describing it to another person, you’d find a difficult time thinking of something with which you could compare it. Marquis is like that for me and probably everyone else who’s seen it. When I attempted to describe it to my partner, their reaction was more or less thus: “So…you watched sadomasochistic furry porn with muppets?” And I couldn’t even say anything in response, because…well, I kind of had. But it's actually good! Really!

I mean, it's charming, in its way. You must trust me when I say that Marquis is the sort of production that would never have seen the light of day in a country like the United States, but luckily for everyone France and Belgium were on top of this gem of an idea. (I’m only being slightly sarcastic.) The characters are essentially muppet-like, and each of them is portrayed as a humanoid animal. The actors themselves simply wear masks, so the characters all have the normal features of humans aside from heads and attached tails and other such details. It’s all very metaphorical and referential to the essential nature of the characters, as well, with De Sade being portrayed as a dog, his skeevy jail guard Ambert as a rat, the greedy Pigonou as a...well, pig, and so on and so forth.

But the fact that everyone in this universe is a bipedal beast is hardly the most unusual feature. No, that distinction would go to the existence of the Marquis’ penis as a primary character with a mind of its own. It’s a literal war of base needs versus intellectual stimulation for poor De Sade. All he desires is to write his prose and lewd stories, but his annoying appendage (named “Colin”) frequently derails his plans with demands of his own. He’s quite a mercurial character, at times acting as an active force in Marquis’ troubles because of his biological needs and at other times acting as a limiting one. (Turns out that Colin has standards which the Marquis lacks when it comes to sexual encounters. At one point Colin refuses to erect himself, so the Marquis has no choice but to fuck Ambert with a lobster tail. Yep. A dog man ass-fucking a rat man with a lobster tail because his cock refuses to function. It's just that type of movie.)

The film is something of an historical piece, as well, taking place in 18th century France while the flames of revolution are all a-stir. De Sade has been imprisoned within the Bastille for acts of blasphemy; but he isn’t alone, as he has various encounters with Dom Pompero, the conspiring camel-headed priest, Justine, the bovine woman imprisoned for (truthfully) insisting that the King sexually assaulted and impregnated her, and Lupino and Pigonou, both of whom are behind bars for more political reasons. The revolutionaries are involved in a scheme to bust Lupino out, but things in the film get very dicey when the goals and lives of the characters criss-cross. Everything comes to a very bloody head when a final jailbreak is masterminded and De Sade manages his escape. In a weirdly symbolic gesture demonstrating the divide between the body and the spirit, De Sade also bids adieu to Colin, who goes off to engage himself in bigger, better, and more hideously depraved acts than ever before, I suppose. An ending any less bizarre would have been a pretty big let-down.
09 February 2012 @ 11:28 pm
Sea Wall (2012, UK), Chasing Cotards (2010, US/UK)  
Sea Wall (2012, UK)

There's no music. No special effects. No transitions or complex camera work. In a nutshell, that's what makes Sea Wall deviant from film standard and superior in quality to same. It's really great. After all, if you can't have a moving and believable performance without those things, what do you have at all, really? Not much. Chasing Cotards is a different animal altogether, but the emotion portrayed within its very short and silent ten minutes is also powerfully affecting.

The two films are remarkably similar in many ways. Both of them star Andrew Scott, obviously. Both of them approach the rather heavy topics of loss and give us a glimpse into the grieving process with which the characters, Alex and Hart, respectively struggle. And both do this in ways that rely on words totally, completely unsaid by the characters. In fact, the real major difference between Sea Wall and Chasing Cotards seems to be how the production values are approached by each team. Sea Wall is gorgeous in its simplicity and lack of embellishments, and Chasing Cotards is gorgeous in its...well, gorgeousness. And it's an approach that works for both in equal strength, surprisingly. Both are films clearly produced with care and a whole lot of skill. Too much skill, maybe, if such a thing exists. Let's be honest, Andrew Scott's pores ooze so much talent everywhere that he's probably voided his own security deposit as an actor.

The really beautiful thing about both films is that, as previously mentioned, you don't need to have these powerful interactions or expressions spelled out for you. Scott portrays both Hart and Alex in such a way that leaves you with a rich understanding of how the two of them function and how they hold themselves together. Rich enough in Sea Wall in particular that anything less than silence would be superfluous sometimes. When watching an actor, my personal criteria for greatness iiiis...well, how much can this performer say in as few words as possible? Good actors can say a lot with few words, after all, but great actors can say a lot with none. As it happens, Scott can eke out a few spoken epics per facial expression.

It seems like a strange comparison to draw between the two, yes, when one considers that Chasing Cotards is entirely free of any dialogue and that Sea Wall is more or less a film of an extended vocal narrative. But you'll understand what I'm getting at when you watch the latter. At one point Alex attempts to share with everyone what "the cruelest thing he ever did to another person" was. And even though he starts, there's this complete and total void, because he never actually tells us what it is. And yet it's something that everyone watching knows. Everyone knows exactly what his cruelest words were without being told. It's an incredibly unusual moment for viewers. And how entertaining is it to watch an actor so well-versed in his craft that one needn't have him even complete a sentence to understand how his character would respond, and why? When you're watching Sea Wall your mind goes to a place where Andrew Scott no longer exists as an actor. There's just Alex and his story.

"Sea Wall" is essentially the experience of watching a relatively average man pull memories from his head like bits of string. And god, is it mesmerizing. Alex leaps around from story to story; sometimes he'll talk about how weepy he is when watching ER. Or scuba-diving, visits to the market, and the spiritual head-to-head he repeatedly had with his father-in-law. In one particularly entertaining aside he tells us about the time he was literally the polar opposite of Daniel Craig. (I'm twelve and the word "coccyx" still makes me chuckle a little.) But you really begin to feel for Alex. Sort of like he's this guy you knew back in school and just happened to catch up with again after several years. And you can tell that he's hiding something very deep and very personal. By the time I got to the real sucker-punch reveal I was so entirely engrossed in Scott's performance that I momentarily forgot to breathe as he described what all viewers probably knew was coming. It's like the emotional equivalent of looking down the steep hill of a rollercoaster drop.

Hearing him express his grief and emptiness in such a closely-guarded, broken way was literally one of the most tragic pieces of film I've ever sat through. It's very easy to see why Alex is in as many pieces as he is after that half-hour of dialogue, and it's a real feat considering that we started off knowing nothing about his life, nothing about his motivations, and nothing about his struggles and personal void. Mark Gatiss once said that Andrew Scott has an incredible talent for making it seem as though his eyes are windows to something dead and empty, and when watching Sea Wall and Chasing Cotards it's possible to see that in action. Very chilling, really. Whether Scott is portraying a complex Sherlock villain with a talent for masking human emotion or a believable everyman working his way through a loss that destroyed something very important in the pit of his being, it's there, and it's both frightening and utterly moving.

Chasing Cotards (2010, US/UK)

Chasing Cotards is emotionally difficult to process in a similar way. Rather than being personally clued in to the tragedy of Hart's life, however, we first meet him completely removed and in the throes of angst as he struggles with the death of his wife. It's an easy film to find depressing if one's ever had to deal with the loss of someone special. Hart can scarcely force himself to sort through mail, clean, or eat. "Futility" is one of those states of being in which Andrew Scott can nail a performance. Hart's essentially holding himself under house arrest with only the company of a haunting piece of artwork. (The content of which, naturally, couldn't be any more tragic if it tried.) Things get very curious with the introduction of a mirror, the shifting patterns of his wallpaper... but I'll leave my review at that. We get the impression as viewers that we're privy to something a little too personal, and it's sure to make a number of people feel uncomfortable with just how close to home it hits in its portrayal of grief. Which is probably a good thing. The stunning quality of the film is obviously something I have to mention, too. It's absolutely hauntingly beautiful and it very much lives up to its advertised status via Stephen Fry as the "biggest short film of all time." It's hard to go into more detail with Chasing Cotards due to its shorter length and lack of reliance on a communicated narrative, but both films are worthy of a watch. The $12.50 or so you can spend to own/rent both of them is one of the best deals out there relative to the quality of the products, believe me. These are the sorts of film projects that need to be supported and encouraged, and every cent they earn is money well spent by someone out there who will surely be weepy within the hour.

(You can purchase both films through and
03 February 2012 @ 11:09 pm
ハウス [HOUSE] (1977, JP), EMOTION (1966, JP)  

ハウス [HOUSE] (1977, JP)

If you know film surrealism, wherever you are, you probably know Nobuhiko Obayashi. This is thanks in part to a more recent revival of interest in the (very) old director's experimental and psychedelic film work in the western world, but Obayashi's work has been consistently well known in his home country of Japan. HOUSE is probably his most famous film venture. Funnily enough, despite being something of a staple in experimental and surrealistic horror, it was not well received by critics when it initially aired in Japan. I guess it's not hard to see why. After all, it's hokey, silly, completely nonsensical, and has some of the weirdest and lowest budget special effects...uh, full stop. Which is exactly why it's such fun! You'll certainly find yourself wondering--probably several times--just what you're looking at when you watch it for the first time.

The plot is a bit absurd and not very scary at face value. Gorgeous, the film's protagonist, is angry with her father for his engagement to a new woman. Instead of vacationing with the two, she and a handful of friends go out to the countryside to stay with her deceased mother's sister in her large, stately home. Being a horror movie, you can easily guess that things go very, very wrong once they arrive. Turns out that Gorgeous' aunt isn't very accommodating to any of them, and things quickly turn into a bloodbath. The girls are killed off in the most bizarre of ways...trampled by futons, eaten by carnivorous pianos, drowned in torrents of blood, strangled by phones, possessed... Really, their deaths are the most entertaining, magical parts of the film, as they're always accompanied by endless flashing lights, stop-motion animations, and action-packed, hyper-violent imagery. It's like watching a slasher film on LSD, only the house is doing the killing. There's also a more macabre war-themed undercurrent pulsing through the film's thematic veins, which is sadly inspired by Obayashi's own heart-breaking experiences in WWII. It certainly gives everything a heavier tone when you realize what he's been through and will certainly make you applaud his ability to spin personal tragedy into the camp background of a psychedelic summer horror flick.

EMOTION (1966, JP)

Another interesting feature on the HOUSE DVD is the shorter experimental film Emotion, one of Obayashi's earlier works and one of the founding Japanese ventures into experimental cinema. It's a little less linear in nature than HOUSE, so it's harder to follow. It's really beholden to its own progressive logic, but you can easily see where HOUSE gets its camp, mind-bending film legacy from. Emi is the main character in Emotion, and the film follows her exploits as she moves from the sea to the city and meets someone "just like her", the introspective Sari. A strange sequence of events follows for Emi, involving love affairs with a Dracula-type figure and Sari's mother, all culminating in a lust-driven suicide and her eventual return to the sea. Much like HOUSE, the plot here is not the point. Just get some good drugs and enjoy the ride.
07 December 2011 @ 06:33 am
Sherlock, Series 1 (2010, UK)  

Curious? Watch for yourself: Masterpost of Sherlock download links, including online streaming.

Save the unaired pilot episode for last. Trust me; it's a special feature on the DVD for a reason.

I said that I'd eventually use this thing to house reviews of things what I watch and enjoy (or even fail to enjoy), so I thought it would be appropriate to start things off with Sherlock, being that it's eaten away at a substantial amount of my free time over the past several months. And it's also getting pretty close to the air date of the second series. (Even closer if you consider and indeed are hoping for the possibility of a "Scandal in Belgravia" bootleg leak by early December. Not that I am or anything. Of course not, that would be very morally questionable. Very.)

Here we go... )

Current Mood: good
30 November 2011 @ 11:14 pm
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986, US)  
I decided to give Henry a watch over Thanksgiving with my family, which in retrospect was really not the best choice of films post-dinner. I wasn't to know this in advance, of course, since I actually knew precious little about it save for the obvious fact that it concerned the actual serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. It kind of put us off the turkey. The opening scenes alone, showcasing a number of Henry's gruesome murders and his own "shopping spree" in a mall parking lot for victims, were more than enough to disquiet all of us for a long while.

The film is quite gritty and realistic. It spares no effort to romanticize the gruesome murders and make them particularly cinematic, which gives you the disturbing feeling that you're actually watching as someone is killed rather than viewing an acted recreation of a homicide. The low budget film style really only adds to the experience. In a time period swamped with monster movies and fantasy horror, Henry really set itself apart, and instantly ran into trouble with ratings boards internationally for its trouble. The film is actually a relatively inexpensive exercise in criminal horror, dealing with a slightly fictionalized account of Henry Lee Lucas' life as a vagrant serial killer. The story revolves around what passes for his daily life with Otis and Otis' sister, Becky, once she moves in with the two of them temporarily. In this adaptation, Otis (based on Ottis Toole, the real Lucas' accomplice) is someone Henry met in prison. A believable enough circumstance given that they're both fairly horrible.

In fact, one is equally (if not more) disgusted with the behavior of Otis. Henry is a chilling man in the film, and his cold exterior and complete lack of regard for human life is rather...clinical in nature. You have the feeling that he's honestly not capable of feeling human emotion in the way that most other people can, and while this is unnerving and horrifying, Otis' behavior seems equally as shocking in contrast because he isn't like Henry at all. He's an absolutely disgusting man, but he is shown to feel things. He truly well gets off on what he's doing with Henry and finds it titillating to watch their personally recorded tape of a multiple homicide they committed together against an unsuspecting family in their own living room. Henry is just robotic and utterly detached. Killing for him seems to be about as emotionally provocative as waiting for his turn with a bank teller. When Henry gives Otis lectures on how to properly murder other humans without being caught or suspected by the police, he sounds about as mentally and emotionally "there" as a boring economics professor would. Which is to say not at all. It certainly leaves you feeling quite cold inside to think that people like either of them exist and are out there, sometimes motivated by nothing at all to just wantonly steal away the life of another person and cause suffering. They're two very different people who are utterly terrifying for seemingly polar reasons. Things get dicey later on in the film between the two, however, when Henry walks in on Otis sexually assaulting and attempting to strangle his own sister. Henry ends up killing Otis, so he and Becky flee the city.

Henry's willingness to let Becky accompany him on his drive out of town and future fugitive lifestyle leads one to briefly wonder about him. He seems to like her, and he essentially killed her brother for sexually assaulting her in his absence. (They even dispose of his body together in what has got to be one of the most gruesome film moments of all time.) Is Henry really that detached from other human beings after all...? Will the presence of Becky in his life actually change something fundamental about his behavior? Well, the answer to that is a resounding "you're watching a film about a serial killer, dumbass." Whatever happened to her is certainly a mystery, but most people who are alive can't fit themselves into suitcases that small.
28 June 2010 @ 12:49 am
Titicut Follies (1967, US)  

Download: Titicut Follies (1967) [Temporary for one week]

Brief background: The film's producer, Frederick Wiseman, was given permission to film for about the span of a month at the Bridgewater State Prison for the Criminally Insane, which is located in Massachusetts. What he recorded was pretty shocking, but it wasn't uncommon for the time period, sadly. The male inmates were mocked, shamed, abused, and otherwise dehumanized by the guards and doctors at the Bridgewater facility. The documentary was a cinematic masterpiece, for sure, but it was also a harrowing tale that followed the lives of some of the country's most vulnerable citizens, forgotten and squeezed outside of public eye and mind. The Massachusetts state government was a bit displeased with its release, obviously, and succeeded in having the film banned nationally and swept under the rug for nearly 30 years due to its 'privacy violations'.

It's actually the only film that's ever been banned in America for reasons other than conflicts with obscenity laws or national security. The ban was lifted in 1992, but curiously enough, the only available copies of the movie meant for a public audience were lent specifically to people within the educational system for a sum of five hundred dollars. It was not until recently that a somewhat affordable DVD was released. The movie still remains almost completely unheard of, but it doesn't have to be that way. This is a truly important film for anyone to watch regardless of their tastes or interests. So, that said, please do.

Warnings: Contains nudity, strong language, and disturbing scenes. The format is .flv, so VLC Media Player may be needed to view the files.