From April 2016

Immortals a.k.a Greek Mythology on Steak and Eggs

Immortals. 2011. Directed by Tarsem Singh. Screenplay by Charley & Vlas Parlapanides.
Starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, Joseph Morgan, Anne Day-Jones, Greg Bryk, Alan Van Sprang, Peter Stebbings, Daniel Sharman, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz, & Steve Byers. Relativity Media/Virgin Produced/Mark Canton Productions.
Rated 18A. 110 minutes.
Action/Drama/Fantasy

★★★★
POSTER
Tarsem Singh is an interesting director. He has music video sensibilities, which is where he really got his start doing videos for such artists as En Vogue and more important R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and it helps because his films have their own sort of flow. He doesn’t direct like everybody else. And while not all his films are that special, some of his work is undeniably impressive, visually exciting, and with a flair all his own. The Cell grabbed me when when it first came out, around the time I was about 15. It is such a unique and brutal serial killer film, and one of the three movies I can actually stand, as well as enjoy, Jennifer Lopez’s acting skills. The Fall is a beautiful film, a trippy piece of cinema. Then comes Immortals.
This is one hugely underrated action-fantasy mash-up. Whereas stuff like Clash of the Titans never really hits its mark, Immortals has so much to offer. Again, the visual style Singh employs makes this into, as he describes it himself, an action movie steeped in the look of Renaissance paintings. In addition, people like Mickey Rourke, a pre-Superman Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, even a bit of John Hurt, helps the acting rise above standard and stale melodrama you might amongst other similar offerings.
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.00.51 PM
This screenplay is interesting because the writers chose to change pieces where they found themselves able. For instance, Zeus and Poseidon (Luke Evans/Kellan Lutz) are young men instead of the standardized old men we’re used to seeing. They apparently attributed this to the fact, and it is fact, that the Greeks themselves would often adapt certain aspects of the stories re: their Gods to in turn adapt with modern issues and times. So it’s only fitting some things get rearranged. Most of all, despite the stylized look of Immortals I’m glad that they chose to write this not as a modernized, contemporary adaptation. Due to that we’re treated to some amazing locations, many wonderfully designed sets which take you away from merely some desert, to the desert of another plane, a place where Tartarus and other mythical locations exist. Something I admire about Singh is how it’s very clear even as a director he takes great interest in set design, as well as design of the overall production. I’m convinced that’s a sign of a director’s grasp, as lesser directors likely leave that task completely to a production designer without having a hand in it. The style of Singh’s films is singular across them all. Like The Cell with its ability to take us inside the deranged and rotting mind of a serial killer, here Singh transforms the world in front of the lens into a lost place of Greek myth. He and production designer Tom Foden (who has worked with him before several times and other solid films like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and Mark Romanek’s chiller One Hour Photo) really take us away to another realm. These types of films concerning Greek mythology could easily be set simply in regular deserts and other similar landscapes. Instead we’re pulled right into the books and poems which describe Heaven, Tartarus, an Earth where Gods still came and left their mark.
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.17.11 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.32.16 PM
As opposed to 300 with its CGI, Cavill’s physique as the lead, Theseus, is commendable work. He insisted on achieving his chiseled look naturally instead of having it all drawn on in post-production. The entire story behind it is mad, as financing troubles ended up having him effectively build up his body a few times before the money finally went through. Regardless, he also does some proper acting. So that’s really a double threat when it comes to action-oriented actors, which he’s turning out more and more to be; he can act, he can look the part and kick some ass. He does well with the choreographed fight sequences, which show off his athleticism, and in part his theatricality. It’s no wonder he’s gone on to even bigger things, as he has the gait and attitude of a Hollywood leading man.
Further than that, Rourke provides the essential villain that is Hyperion. In actual mythology, Hyperion is a little obscure, and though the film’s plot/story are linked quite a bit to the Titanomachy he also barely appears there at all anyways. So the writers have really come up with using Hyperion as a tabula rasa, where the Titan rebellion is sort of thrown on his shoulders, as he searches out the Epirus Bow to release them and find revenge on the Gods. Rourke is unsettling, even just Hyperion and his men are scary, scarring their faces and smashing the genitals of their recruits, going into battle like complete and utter savages. The ruggedness of Rourke makes for an imposing character in Hyperion, plus he looks absolutely mental with the big helmet on, such a perfect costume design that makes him look like some kind of jackal, or something of the like.
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.35.26 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.48.17 PM
Added to these two lead roles, Evans is great as a young Zeus. He is a serious looking dude to begin with, and here he gives that youthful God a stern, calculating gaze, and fierce intensity that makes him formidable. Playing the oracle Phaedra is Freida Pinto; she is a nice choice, even if her role isn’t as massive as the men. But her feminine power as the oracle, a respected and revered role, is clear by the way she performs and how she makes the character feel. Also, really have to mention Robert Maillet – he plays the Minotaur, who in this version is just a massive, beastly man with a helmet and horns made from barbed wire-like steel wrapped around his head; terrifying. Maillet used to perform in the WWE, before it was WWE, as the wrestler Kurrgan. He does well here with a horrifying character. Honestly, that part actually freaks me out, and I’m a horror veteran. Great to see him here, using his physicality no less.
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.59.54 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.09.17 PM
Lots of action, plenty excitement, a nice ass kicking showdown between Hyperion and Theseus. What more could you want? There are a couple pieces of CGI that I wasn’t big on, as well as some dialogue in parts (Stephen Dorff’s character wasn’t overly well written or at all developed; his acting doesn’t help much either). But overall, Immortals is a 4-star fantasy flick with heavy action, even some nice moments of bloody madness. Cavill, Rourke, and Evans too, they drive the cast, making this more than action fodder with a Greek mythology twist. Straying slightly from the myths and carving their own path, Tarsem Singh and Co. make a fine effort out of this one. Not enough people give this the credit it deserves, which is a shame. Let’s hope after a few missteps Singh does more fantastical work like this and The Cell down the road.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a Dystopian Vision of Not-So-Distant Future

Brazil. 1985. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Screenplay by Gilliam, Charles McKeown, & Tom Stoppard.
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Hicks, Charles McKeown, Derrick O’Connor, Kathryn Pogson, Bryan Pringle, & Shella Reid. Embassy International Pictures.
Rated R. 132 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER
Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘bureaucracy’ as the following: 1) a large group of people who are involved in running a government but who are not elected; 2) a system of government or business that has many complex rules, an administrative policy-making group; 3) government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is the filmic epitome of a not-so-far off future, nearly a dystopian present, where bureaucracy has created such a perfectly tailored society for the upper echelons that they can do just about anything they want, to whomever they please. What Gilliam does so well is expose the saccharine sweet surface of such a society, as a disturbingly rotten core lies further at its core. Since my dad introduced me to them at a early age Monty Python have always been a big influence on me. Partly a reason why when Gilliam made films on his own, they intrigued me immediately. At a young age I also saw his movie The Fisher King, and that had a tremendous impact on me, both due to the whole story and plot, as well as the fact Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams did fantastic jobs in the lead roles.
However, with all the great work he’s done in cinema it is always Brazil to which I return, that always keeps me coming back and wanting more. It’s funny because, as great an actor Jonathan Pryce is, I’ve never considered him a leading man; more a supporting guy, even a character actor at times. Yet here, he is perfect. It’s as if all pistons were pumping, every thing in its right place, and this masterpiece of dystopian film fiction came to us in all its quirky, unabashedly strange glory.
Pic1
The bureaucracy is utterly skewered by this screenplay. And while it’s right there, so open, that doesn’t make it any less funny. An entire system is made out to be incredibly inept through all the different departments, the divisional hierarchy making one hand completely unaware of what the other is doing. What’s so great is that Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard do their own thing, but much of their madness also does feel Kafkaesque at times. From the beginning mix up between Buttle and Tuttle that causes a man to, eventually, lose his life, to the various fuck arounds Sam has to through, there is no shortage of incredibly wild existential grief. One thing I’ve always loved is that the bureaucracy is epitomized in the fact there’s no Orwellian figure at the top, the hierarchy goes nowhere. It’s a perfect little touch. Not only that, there’s a vaguely futuristic, sci-fi element to the entire production, yet the story feels extremely contemporary rather than something being predicted. That truly aids the entire movie, as it feels like this bureaucratic, totalitarian society is just one step away. Especially when you watch it now, as the U.S. Presidential campaign is underway, getting zanier, more dystopian than possibly ever before at times. Even in ’85, Gilliam put this out there at the right time, as people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were running their respective countries and things, though sold in a pretty package, were looking quite bleak underneath the political rhetoric and doublespeak.
Pic2
Spoiler Alert: Do not go on if you haven’t actually finished the film, or else be spoiled.
Ultimate irony, though dreamily, ends with Tuttle (De Niro) eventually being swallowed up by paperwork; the very thing he’d earlier told Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) was a reason why he hated the system nowadays. I love a lot of the imagery like this. Sam goes to help Tuttle only to find nothing in the mound of papers that seemed to be choking him. This entire sequence during the finale is actually something I remember seeing on Showcase, a Canadian channel, years ago. For some reason Brazil was on in the late afternoon, I’d landed on the channel after school. I caught the last few minutes or so right after Tuttle disappears, so out of context it looked like absolute insanity. It was creepy. Years later when I was seventeen or eighteen, I tracked this down and watched the whole thing. Then it went on to be one of my favourite films, ever. But those crazy moments with the casket, the eerie masks, all that stuff, it stuck with me. Because you finally get a look totally beneath the mask of that society. The rotten core is visible, fully. We still see bits of the sweet slip in, only Lowry is hallucinating, off in the Brazil of his mind, as the physical body remains back in the dingy, dark tomb-like auditorium where he’s likely to waste away.
Pic4
The world of Brazil is part camp, part visionary, part horrific. A 5-star bit of dystopian fiction on film. Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python brain comes together with an even more sophisticated sense of satire resulting in one of my picks for best films of all-time. Absolutely on my top list. The acting is terrific, from Jonathan Pryce to the fantastic Ian Holm and equally awesome Robert De Niro everybody pulls their weight, and then some. The set designs, the dream sequences, all of it is just downright perfect. At the same time it’s liable to give you nightmares remembering those creepy fat faced masks. To this day I’ll have a bad dream where those faces show up. Seeing it so randomly on television when I was young it always crept into my brain when least expected. But after actually watching it through, many times and on Criterion at that, Brazil has presented itself as one of the more chilling and daringly accurate visions of a near future that I’ve personally seen onscreen.

Carl Th. Dreyer’s Day of Wrath: An Allegory of Power and the Raw Truth of Religious Cruelties

Day of Wrath. 1943. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Screenplay by Dreyer, Pol Knudsen, & Mogens Skot-Hansen; based on the play Anne Pedersdotter by Hans Wiers-Jenssen.
Starring Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Sigrid Neiiendam, Preben Lerdorff Rye, & Albert Hoeberg. Palladium Productions.
Not Rated. 97 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2
POSTER History allows us to look back on films and compare them to the times in which they’re made. When there’s a war or a big event happening, people don’t necessarily have the chance – not all of them anyways – to step back from it all and admire the artists creating during times of oppression and turmoil. In 1943, Carl Th. Dreyer made Day of Wrath, and though likely intending it to carry a message more contemporary than its plot, audiences didn’t receive so well. Not only is it a slow paced film, the darkness of the witch hunts and the terrible persecution of so many women for supposedly being in league with the devil makes for heavy viewing. All the same, the witches become a direct parallel to the Jewish people being persecuted at the time of filming under Nazi rule. Of course Dreyer himself denies the film is about the Nazis. Yet artistic intent is not everything. As the witches stand in for the Jews, morbidly fitting is the element of fire existing parallel between the two, this film takes on an even more grim tone than already exists. But even without assuming Dreyer uses the witch hunts as a symbolic way of talking about the Nazis, the Holocaust, Day of Wrath is beautiful as it is difficult, and the importance of this film cannot be undone regardless of interpretation. It only helps cement Dreyer as a significantly powerful filmmaker in the history of moving pictures.
Pic1
The cinematography is steady, often using long takes. For an early ’40s film, Day of Wrath draws us into the story and its characters almost simply by forcing us to spend so much time in their space. Many would come to identify this technique with Dreyer as part of his style in subsequent works. Coupled with that, the actors never go into overly melodramatic performance. This is perhaps one of the hallmarks of his directorial style. In a time where overacting was most definitely common, in part due to the expressiveness previously needed in the solely silent picture era, Dreyer’s actors manage to express restraint. Their abilities make the characters much more believable. Instead of feeling like a stage play (based on a play called Anne Pedersdotter by Norwegian playwright Hans Wiers-Jenssen in turn based on the woman of the same name), despite well blocked scenes, the film plays out in a more reality driven fashion. There is certainly melodrama in Dreyer, particularly here. The character of Anne is an embodiment of melodramatic elements, as her personal and sexual stifling comes to represent a whole other aspect than the witch hunt plot element.
The terrifying witch burning early on turns up in a later cult film about similar themes, The Witchfinder General, in a scene with a witch strapped to a ladder then dropped into a fire is all but literally ripped from Dreyer. Much more effective here, in my opinion. Especially considering it was 1943. The editing and the timing of that shot is absolutely incredible. Very impressive work all around.


Above Dreyer’s style or anything else it’s the themes here which drive his film. Shadowy and eerie almost constantly, Day of Wrath gets at the fear and intolerance of a society bent on creating the type of citizens it wants, and not being created as what its citizens want/need. The religious cruelty of the plot is a smothering, suffocating force, which is symbolic of the religiously driven (albeit maniacally so) rhetoric and belief of the Nazi Party during the time this film was made.
At face value, though, we can also interpret Dreyer’s movie as one with aims of examining early feminism. The danger a man faces here is much less corporeal, more of the spirit and to do with shame. Whereas a woman is not only subject to shame, she is also in physical harm’s way, often to a fatal point. And ultimately that burning of witches, as well as the final burning, or expected burning, of Anne herself, is way of denying and literally cauterizing the wounds of the male ego. In those final moments after Anne is betrayed totally by Martin, the hypocrisy of the witch hunt is at its most chauvinistic.
Pic4Pic4
The performance of Lisbeth Movin is a knockout. She gets more intense as the film gets going. There are such affecting looks on her face, as the camera captures her perfectly drenched in shadow, half covered by darkness in the flickers of candles, looking both innocent and sinister at once. One reason why the film works is because she offers up such a dual feeling role that makes Anne epitomize the way witches were perceived. Even the audience at times can’t be sure of her attitude, as Movin keeps people guessing. It is an emotional performance that makes the romantic elements, and the briefly sexual elements, work so well. The long takes Dreyer uses are suited to her, as she lets us become part of the character’s world and allows our eyes a peek into her psychology.
While Vampyr is my favourite of Dreyer’s films, Day of Wrath is a loaded bit of cinema that on the surface explores the jaded days of witch hunts, while plumbing the depths underneath and serving as the direct parallel for Nazi power and the plight of Jewish people during the latter days of World War II. The cinematography and style is what goes on to be known as recognizable Dreyer. Here, it takes the audience into a repressed and quiet space where the intolerance of religion, all the fear it creates boils up into a mess of forbidden love, anger, and so much more.
Dreyer is a titan of cinema. If you’re at all serious about your love of film he is someone that absolutely needs to be explored. So if you dig this, keep digging. He has a lot of wonderful work and showed how possible it was to make engaging, exciting, unique cinema even during the early decades of the industry.

Frank White, Republican Nightmare: Abel Ferrara’s King of New York

King of New York. 1990. Directed by Abel Ferrara. Screenplay by Nicholas St. John.
Starring Christopher Walken, Larry Fishburne, David Caruso, Victor Argo, Wesley Snipes, Janet Julian, Joey Chin, Giancarlo Esposito, & Paul Calderon. Seven Arts/Lions Gate Home Entertainment.
Rated R. 106 minutes.
Drama/Crime

★★★★★
POSTER Abel Ferrara is an all-around exciting, unique filmmaker. He usually goes for subject matter and thematic material most other directors wouldn’t dare touch. Often, he likes to concern himself with the law, both sides of it; sometimes each as corrupt as the other. Mostly, Ferrara explores boundaries. He crosses them, runs to them and sees how close he can get, or how far past he can go without setting the whole film afire. From Ms. 45 to Bad Lieutenant to more fantastical stuff such as The Addiction, his films are incendiary. They’re bound to light people up, causing discussion, argument, all kinds of various angry sentiment from those who find his movies garbage, and equally from those who love his work. Either way, he is a controversial, raw talent whose films never fail to entertain me and manage to probe some of the darker spots beneath our social veneer.
King of New York is almost an answer to the call that came six years later when Hilary Clinton referred to young black folk as super predators. Of course, Ferrara was ahead of the game. But the character of Frank White is like the Conservative-Republican nightmare: a white man out there running the streets, acting like a complete sociopath, murdering, and feeling absolutely nothing for the disaster he causes from one moment to the next. Whereas all those rich white Conservatives are worrying about the supposed young black guys out terrorizing New York City, the real king and the real monster is just like them. And that’s ultimately the message, the nihilistic message, is that while the young black guys are often out there actually taking care of their friends, their neighbourhood, the kids too unfortunate not to get to play a few arcade games, Frank is out just amassing money for the sake of it. He had other options. Instead, Mr. White’s chosen to be a drain on society, and remains a white plague in snappy business suits.
Pic2
An interesting moment is when Frank talks business, re: cocaine, with an associate while standing next to a child in a hospital bed. While a doctor walks past, Frank hushes his tone. But he couldn’t care any less about a developing brain hearing him do a drug deal. It doesn’t even occur to him, his criminal mind, that doing anything drug related, even talk business, is inappropriate for when children are present. Here he is a big shot-type looking flashy in his nice suits, going to fancy parties in nice hotels and so on, yet the way he acts is just like a low life drug peddler selling product out of his house while his kids run around in diapers.
The nihilism of this film is not simply embodied in Frank. It’s also embodied in the police. Specifically, Caruso’s character, Gilley, is adamant he can’t keep on living in a world where White gets to kill and kill and kill with no ultimate legal recourse ever coming down. That’s not admitting Frank has the power. That’s more so them admitting they’ve failed, that their power is not big enough to stop someone like him. So the whole remainder of the film after they’ve made their decisions really becomes extremely dark because there’s no moral line anymore. Gangster movies centered on the gangsters instead of the law usually try to at least draw some kind of sentiment out to help you relate to the characters, no matter how bad they are – Tony Soprano, Henry Hill, among many, many more. However, King of New York shows us there’s an absence of lines in Ferrara’s New York. Nothing at all. Frank often wears a grey suit, and so you can see him sitting in that grey area. That’s where he lives. While the cops are new to this sort of thing, he’s a permanent resident of the grey zone where laws, morals, emotions, none of that matters. Only money, power, fear. And above all else? Bullets. How much you can make the next man bleed, how much money you can take from somebody else, by any means necessary.
The epitome of Frank White: in one scene a masked man gets the jump on Frank in a stairwell, but Frank tosses the woman he’s with (a black woman just so we’ve noted that about equal opportunity Mr. White) at him, letting her take some bullets while he gets a couple rounds off himself. This scene is the very essence of his character.
Pic1
On top of that Ferrara nihilism I’m always trying to figure out what he and writer Nicholas St. John are attempting to say with this film. There’s something – a bunch of somethings – in there about government, socialism, morality, every bit mashed into an excellent and disturbingly delicious crime tale. But the way Frank comes out of jail headlong into recruiting young (black) men into his fold, turning potential muggers on a subway train into his new business associates. Despite some of the cops and their willingness to cross lines in order to finally get Frank, they definitely represent a more proletariat-like group. Gilley even discusses how they make fairly little in relation to how much they risk their lives for the city, versus Frank’s living the high life. And at the same time, Frank does own the means of production in terms of the drug game. Although he still hangs out anywhere, no matter the class. He goes from high society mixers to sitting in a rundown crackhouse with a bunch of people dancing, high as fuck. So while Frank does sort of represent that capitalist enterprise he’s also apart from it, particularly after his indeterminate amount of time in jail. Likely a good stretch. Basically, it’s that class of people Frank is trying to break into with their ballroom parties, their black-and-white events, who represent the top of the food chain. Because though Frank runs the city in a sense, he is a gangster. Pure and simple. His dream is to fund a hospital, but he just can’t manage to outrun himself, or the life he’s chosen to lead. And perhaps that’s the ultimate message, not that there’s this hierarchy of corruption. Rather, Ferrara and St. John give us Frank as an example of those who rise from rags to riches in an underhanded way, the capitalist in his many forms, that eventually burn out rather than fade away. Just like the big capitalist money makers when they go for broke then bankrupt an economy, Frank never admits to anyone else, especially not himself, that he is a monster. Yet he is monstrous.
Pic3
In a film that’s desperately bleak and has its flaws, Christopher Walken is iconic. Even The Notorious B.I.G had to talk about Frank White. That’s because there are all kinds of gangsters in cinema history, from old school Sicilian mobsters, to the Irish mafia, to Armenians, and every other ethnicity/culture possible. As well as the fact there’s a ton of more contemporary gangster stuff, including the now cult-famous Scarface with a whopping central performance out of Pacino. In the midst of great performances and others run of the mill, Walken makes Frank into an otherworldly type gangster. His style is slick, weird. Walke himself is strange, in the best sort of way, and he gives that to Frank. While also allowing him to be fierce. Frank is terrifying at times when you can honestly feel that coldness in his heart breath foggy into the world.
Then there’s the fact he’s a white guy, yet he fits in so connected, so genuine with all his black crew and friends. Meanwhile, he also fits in with the upper class types. He navigates worlds like a specter hovering above everything and everyone. That’s my best instance of providing an example for how the idea of capitalism (& all that other bullshit I mentioned) plays into this movie. Frank is the personification of capitalism, of money and capital, which is the ultimate universal, so that’s how he navigates all the different nooks and crannies of the streets in New York and its upper echelons with the fancy ballroom dancing and the martinis and the Senators. In the end, he finds nothing but death. Whereas Frank started the film getting out of jail and riding in a limo, he experiences the end – his end – in back of a taxi, far from the glamorous life he’d pictured.
Pic4
This is a flawed movie at times, mostly in terms of its pacing. That being said, Abel Ferrara’s King of New York is a 5-star masterpiece. Amazing films don’t have to be perfect to be the greatest. There is no perfect film ever made in the history of cinema, despite there also being a lot of (in my opinion) 5-star works. This has thematic content worth digging into below all the sleaze and the violence and the nihilistic tone. There’s a palpable atmosphere which Ferrara achieves, slick and darkly vibrant. Also, a realism that bleeds through despite the hyperviolent sequences. The talented cast allows for smaller characters to be more than they are on paper, including an excitable role out of Laurence Fishburne, whose charisma is beyond clear here. And finally, Walken achieves one of the best performances out of his catalogue, definitely in the top five.
This is one gangster flick I’ll never, ever forget.

Zodiac: The Dark Reality of an Uncaught Killer

Zodiac. 2007. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, based on the book of the same name by Robert Graysmith.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark, & Elias Koteas.
Phoenix Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated 14A. 157 minutes.
Crime/Drama/History

★★★★★
POSTER In terms of people who’ve been making movies since the ’90s, David Fincher is one of those whom I’d consider as an auteur. He doesn’t necessarily tackle any abstract subjects – perhaps The Game and Fight Club are closest to being abstract – but he definitely has his own style, a look and feel all his own. His hand is on every last portion of the finished film. He’s plain and simple an auteur.
So even Zodiac, which is part procedural and part dramatic thriller, has all the earmarks of his genius on it. Everywhere. Not to mention the loaded cast, right down to spectacular character actors such as John Carroll Lynch filling out the back end. There’s enough intrigue in the Zodiac Killer case from real life to fill out a dozen movies, and it certainly has over the years with actual people like SFPD Inspect Dave Toschi having served as inspiration for other films like Bullitt, as well as both he and the Zodiac inspiring Dirty Harry. What Fincher does, using a solid screenplay from James Vanderbilt and based upon the identically titled book by Robert Graysmith, is create a dark, compelling piece of crime cinema that weaves through the enigma which is the Zodiac Killer case with a slick flow.
Pic1-1
July 4th, 1969: an unknown man shoots two people in Vallejo, California, with only one surviving. A month later, someone calling himself The Zodiac starts writing encrypted letters in a strange code to the San Francisco. Soon, political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts to get interested in the case, as big shot crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) is set to cover the case. At first, Avery thinks Graysmith is foolish. But soon he realizes the young cartoonist may actually know a thing or two.
A couple week laters, a San Francisco taxi driver is killed in Presidio Heights. Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are assigned to the case, and it becomes Toschi’s personal mission to track the sick bastard down. But the Zodiac keeps on killing. And when he threatens school children, other citizens, even Avery directly, things get very serious.
Though we know how the story ends, or has kept going on, the darkness of the Zodiac and his story is all too engaging, as his grip on the city of San Francisco remains a still existent shadow to this day.
Pic1
The Zodiac was a scary genius. Assuming it was intentional, he killed across jurisdictional lines, which in turn landed all the various police departments scrambling trying to keep themselves coordinated. Zodiac‘s screenplay by James Vanderbilt is surprising. He hasn’t really done anything else that I’m personally into, though he has done a ton of successful stuff. This script does a great job of laying everything out and even while it is complex, intricately laying out a bunch of characters and major players in the search for the Zodiac, as well as casting doubt and questions over the identity of the killer himself. A story and plot such as this runs the risk of getting tangled up at some point, but Vanderbilt keeps it well on track. The pacing is solid, the character development is extremely solid and well fleshed out. In particular, the main two characters of Graysmith and Toschi are written to near perfection, as we start to see how they sort of became victims of the Zodiac, in that their lives were dominated and ultimately determined, in a sense, by his crimes and the pursuit. Another thing is that the ending comes at the right time. This is a long film at almost 160 minutes, and it’s never boring. But certain writers might not know how to, or when to, cap things off. Vanderbilt manages to cauterize the story at the appropriate time. As there’s a natural mystery to a case we all (should) know is unsolved to this day, the way the plot finishes is just right.
Pic3
Fincher and Vanderbilt together never glorify the violence. Yes, there’s a slow motion moment near the beginning as two people are shot, and we see much of the violence in a fairly upfront, raw manner. However, Fincher handles it so that there’s no glorification. It is most certainly stylized, just never put on show as violent erotica. I’m a horror fan, but have an appreciate for all film, especially anything that’s well executed, well composed. And Fincher manages not to make a spectacle of The Zodiac. Rather, we get deep into the psychological territory of the crimes getting drawn into long, dark takes that make us feel as if we’re right there with the victims, the near victims, and those hoping to catch the killer. For a movie that’s stylized, it also has a realism to it. Because it’s not played off like some serial killer of the week. The Zodiac is real, frightening, and the mystery of his true identity is played out impeccably via intelligent writing and, as usual, classic directorial choices on behalf of Fincher.
The soundtrack is amazing, everything from Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” to Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Vanilla Fudge, to Three Dog Night, Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher”, and a bunch more. Great period specific soundtrack that helps give authenticity to the era, alongside all the excellent costume and set design, the locations, and so on. Great stuff. In addition, there’s an eerie piano score which comes in now and then to punctuate dark moments: one of my favourites is the terrifying moment an unseen Zodiac tells a woman he’ll throw her baby out the window of his car before he murders her, then everything goes quiet except for a dreadful pounding piano note. Just everything at play comes together in a spooky tapestry to make this an unsettling film disguised as a crime procedural. Combined with the directing, the soundtrack and score, cinematographer Harris Savides (Birth, The Game, Last Days) captures everything in an almost classic sense, as he and Fincher craft things in slick, rich frames to give things a gritty yet pristine look. What another filmmaker might process into mediocre fare Fincher turns into a masterpiece of crime cinema.
Pic4
This movie is built on good performances, solid directing and writing, as well as an interesting, enigmatic story of a real life serial killer. The Zodiac murders will linger on in the collective memory of Americans, particularly those in San Francisco, even the world. Because of the mystery involved, we’re often inclined to wonder exactly how he slipped away. David Fincher’s Zodiac doesn’t so much try and answer that, so much as recreate many of the events surrounding the case. Again, as I mentioned concerning the lead characters, much of this has to do with how it wasn’t only the dead left in The Zodiac’s wake. Toschi, Graysmith, all of them to an extent were sucked into the undertow of his unsolvable case. Maybe it was nobody’s fault, or maybe a big part was because of jurisdictional breakdown between departments and precincts, the stubbornness of cops, the bureaucracy of the law, so many things. Perhaps it was all due to the scary fact The Zodiac was smarter than anybody trying to stop him. Regardless, Fincher’s film is a contemporary classic in the crime genre. Many might expect further focus on the actual serial killing, as a lesser project might try (see: 2005’s The Zodiac starring Justin Chambers and Robin Tunney which actually felt all around like a lesser version of Fincher, or Ulli Lommel’s atrocious Curse of the Zodiac). Instead Fincher gives us little bits and pieces, then fills the rest of the film with a thrilling crime investigation, the odd real life characters involved in the case, and much more. This is definitely one of Fincher’s great films, as they’re all pretty impressive. But if you want a creepy serial killer flick that isn’t full-on horror and focuses more on real life, atmosphere, story, then Zodiac is always a safe bet.

Fear of the Outside World in Tremors

Tremors. 1990. Directed by Ron Underwood. Screenplay by Brent Maddock & S.S. Wilson.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Robert Jayne, Charlotte Stewart, Tony Genaro, Ariana Richards, Richard Marcus, Victor Wong, Sunshine Parker, Michael Dan Wagner, Conrad Bachmann, Bibi Besch, John Goodwin, & John Pappas. Universal Pictures/No Frills Film Production.
Rated 14A. 96 minutes.
Comedy/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★1/2
POSTER I’ve got a fondness for the monster/creature feature sub-genre of horror and science fiction. There are so many classic, old school Hollywood flicks that have iconic monsters. Everything from James Whale’s Frankenstein to Karl Freund’s The Mummy. You can consider Stephen Spielberg’s birth-of-the-summer-blockbuster Jaws a creature feature. There are even lots of solid indie movies to have produced iconic, horrific creatures, such as the recent Mickey Keating alien film Pod, 90s fare like The Relic and Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic (though studio interference butchered the latter).
And for all its faults, 1990’s underground creature flick Tremors is an entertaining addition to the pack. With a memorable VHS cover I remember wanting to see this movie as a kid. I eventually caught it, still too young for horror, on television late at night. While there’s a great deal of humour and campy movie making, there’s still a super creepy aspect to this one. Despite some almost slapstick style acting and cheese Tremors still manages to attain a level of ’90s horror glory, as it ekes out a few laughs, also giving us a nice dose of creature action with a few fun special effects along the way. By no means is it classic, but it is an enjoyable bit of horror wrapped up a science fiction comedy.
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 5.26.31 PM
In the tiny town Perfection at the edge of the desert, two handymen, Earl Bass (Fred Ward) and Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon), are at their wits’ end. They’ve decided to up and get out of there, to try and make lives for themselves somewhere else. Except that when they’re headed out Earl and Valentine find a man named Edgar up stuck in a tower. In fact, Edgar’s dead. He stayed up there for days and dehydrated. Really?
Well turns out, a woman named Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) is in town studying seismology. There have been some serious, strange readings in the ground around Perfection lately.
Big, hungry, and terrifying worms seem to be living underneath Perfection. And now they’re coming up to grab anything they can get their slimy mouths on.
But when the ground isn’t safe, where do you go?
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 5.45.17 PM
That’s the biggest appeal of Tremors in terms of its horror. We feel a fear of anything that can come from the air or underneath us, whether in water or under the ground. Because it’s something inescapable. It’s bad enough if you’re in water, as anything can get you, there’s really nowhere to hide you’d have to just keep on swimming. Until you make it to land. But it’s scarier on land. You either have to climb, die, or fight. So that’s what Earl, Valentine and the rest of the crew find themselves up against. And in a small desert town like Perfection there are even a more limited number of options of where to go than might normally be found. A lot of the tension the screenplay builds up is simply through that isolation. The few residents are forced to do anything they can possibly think of to try and fight these creatures.
If you really want to get deep, the tremors represent the influence and pressure of the outside world. Valentine and Earl are on their way out of Perfection, off to the big city. However, they don’t even make it past the town limits before something pulls them back in. The tremors are an outside influence trying to infiltrate the town. Earl and Valentine realize this, their small town way of life threatened, and they’re pulled back in to defend themselves. Underneath the horror and all the comedy, Tremors is about those who realize they’re more at home, safer with those they’ve known in their little tight knit groups than branching out into a bigger place where they don’t know anyone, where anybody, or anything, can be lurking right below the surface. Ultimately, it’s an agoraphobic film, and if you see it in that light then the film can really take on a different light, making the horror more fun.
On top of all that, the Graboid creatures were created by Amalgamated Dynamics (they’ve done a bunch of other stuff from the recent Harbinger Down which they did independently to other bigger films like Death Becomes Her and David Fincher’s Panic Room). Even if you simply take Tremors for what it is, at a base level, the horror and the effects are still a lot of fun. There are some genuinely nasty bits of effects, especially once some of the Graboids start to get shot/blown up.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Cheesy as the movie can get, both Bacon and Ward are endearing, as well as the fact they’ve got great chemistry together. It’s a perfect old guy-young guy buddy combination, to the point you can almost consider this a buddy comedy horror. Again, there’s some definite stinky cheese here. But it’s the way these two sell it, how they use their charm to make the screenplay work even at its most campy. Bacon, as always, is energetic. Ward, too. They play the small town attitude well and you can really buy that these two have been working together for a while in Perfection – part of me wonders how they ended up as partners, Val probably meeting Earl when he was just a teenager and the two became this almost pair of grifters, roaming around doing anything they could to make a buck, work for this person, that person. So for a movie that has ’90s cheese factor of significant proportions, the screenplay actually drums up a good bit of intrigue for all its simplicity. Carter does a fine job with her role as Rhonda, providing a semi love interest that doesn’t actually come out until right before the final credits (something I dig because love stories are tiring sometimes and clutter up certain plots). She gets the chance to be smart, bad ass, and aids in the overall protection of Perfection. In that way, she’s a productive outside influence as opposed to the monstrous Graboids. The rest of the cast is peppered with nice casting choices, such as Michael Gross and Reba McEntire as an awesomely nutty gun-loving couple that come in handy, even the classic Victor Wong is in there for good measure. For an ensemble cast, this film could’ve done much, much worse.
Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.57.11 AM
As I said, Tremors is by no means a classic. Or is it? No masterpiece, that’s for sure. But it is one of those ’90s movies I’ll never forget. I saw it constantly on the shelf at my local Allan’s Video, it finally came on television late at night. Then I probably saw it another dozen times over the next 26 years, including today while reviewing it. It’s got light hearted comedy, a couple solid little performances for the movie they’re in, as well as the fact those Graboids are creepy, nasty looking things. In a decade that fell off a little compared to the ’80s, re: horror movies, Tremors is a welcomed bit of fluff that hits the spot when you’re looking for a bit of lightweight cinema that crosses comedy, horror, and science fiction in the span of a quick 96 minutes.

High-Rise to the Isolation of Socioeconomic Madness

High-Rise. 2016.Directed by Ben Wheatley. Screenplay by Amy Jump, based on the novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard.
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Peter Ferdinando, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith, Enzo Cilenti, Augustus Prew, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, & Tony Way. Recorded Picture Company/British Film Institute.
Rated 18A. 119 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER
Almost from the opening, High-Rise caught me as impressive. Part of that is because I find J.G. Ballard’s writing beyond thought provoking. The other is because Tom Hiddleston commands an audience’s attention similar to the old school Hollywood leading man. And finally, a large part is due to Ben Wheatley. Ever since I had the chance to see his debut feature Down Terrace there was something worth the attention in his directing. It only got better as he moved through an excellently varied catalogue of films including Kill List, my personal favourite of his Sightseers, A Field of England, as well as some other projects. While each film is vastly different from the other his style is one an auteur. In each of his works there’s an existential question, of some sort, whether that be about family, loyalty, love, work, and much more. Writer Amy Jump has written several of his features, alongside Wheatley. She is also a great writer with an uncanny ability to look into human nature honestly, whose talents are solo here in adapting Ballard. A job she does well.
Together in High-Rise, using Ballard as the foundation and source, Jump and Wheatley explore an earlier view of the future. Yet for all its madness this story is certainly a great analogy for the war of classes in society, at any point. Particularly, though, in a day and age where billionaires are profiting the most, paying the least for their transgressions, as the poor end up footing the societal and economic bill, this is a book and film that holds as much if not more weight than first when Ballard conceived it.
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 3.34.31 PM
Dr. Laing: “The facial mask simply slips off the skull
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 3.05.36 PM
It’s literally dog eat dog now. Or man eat dog. From the beginning, Wheatley shows us the resulting chaos. Similar to how Hitchcock spoke of showing his audience ‘the bomb underneath the table’, and then for the rest of the film letting people sweat it out wondering… when will it go off? So it’s a perfect place to start the journey. Now we’re left to watch as Dr. Laing (Hiddleston) and all the other inhabitants of the towering titular high-rise complex descend into the madness of their isolated, socially divided existence.
One of Ballard’s interests as a novelist lies in the convergence point between society and technology, between human psychology and technical advancements. In Crash, he examined a very physical space of body horror where the human body and the metal of cars meet in a disturbingly erotic nature. High-Rise examines a more psychological and moral space than anything physical. As everyone of all kinds is mashed together in the elaborate complex, which for all its space becomes more claustrophobic over the course of the film, the moral compass of its various residents and their respective concern for fellow people in different social classes begins to spiral. Downward. So in effect, Ballard’s main themes are that the higher we get in terms of technology, often the lower we get in social skills, but more importantly in social and moral empathy.
Laing is completely oblivious to his class privilege. He tells a cashier to keep the change, but she can only reply: “There isnt any.” Brief little bit of Jump’s excellent adaptation. A little later he’s completely humiliated at a fancy costume party where everyone’s dressed in centuries old party clothing. Then thrown out. A great juxtaposition of moments for Laing to experience.
Three big characters in High-Rise have significant names. Royal (Irons) – the main sitting at the top of the throne. Wilder (Evans) – the primitively violent man, arguably the first to fully succumb to the influence of the divided complex. Then there’s Dr. Laing himself, whose name is lifted from psychiatrist R.D. Laing, which connects with his concept of schizophrenia as a type of self-defense mechanism against certain social situations and events. They all play pivotal roles, as the isolation and almost blissfully ignorant nature of high-rise living (a microcosm of social structures) takes its toll in so many intensely brutal ways.
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 3.28.27 PM
Wheatley often works with cinematographer Laurie Rose. In fact, if I’m not mistaken he’s essentially shot all his feature films. His eye for composition, alongside the directorial choices of Wheatley, always serve the best interest of the subject matter. Plus, he captures everything so rich and full that it jumps off the screen. No matter what type of things he’s shooting. From the bigger, more grand scale shots to the close, tight moments, Rose has a wonderfully classic sense of filmmaking. At times he and Wheatley go for experimental sequences, but mostly they craft a beautiful, old school-looking film that’s modern in theme. It’s a story that was written back 1975, likely started a little earlier, so Rose and Wheatley bring this interesting ’70s vibe to their atmosphere and look while exploring the modern themes in that space rather than update it completely to a contemporary setting.
You could easily see some filmmakers shooting this, as well as writing this, in a complete vision of future today. With the trio of Jump, Rose, and Wheatley, the J.G. Ballard adaptation they give us is the one which the author imagined, as a vision of the future in the 1970s. Everything, right down to the set design, is absolutely astonishing.
Then there’s Clint Mansell, whose work many recognize from his various collaborations with Darren Aronofsky among other scores he’s composed. He does fantastic things with a bunch of orchestral pieces, as well as the iconic electronic pieces he’s known for, too. The opening sequence is accompanied by some nicely fitting orchestra. Later, electronic scores pulse us towards the violent finale. Having Mansell a part of this team only makes the film more effective.
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 3.29.36 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-28 at 3.32.53 PM
For me, this is a 5-star cinematic experience. Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump, Laurie Rose, as well as every one of the actors involved, particularly Tom Hiddleston and Luke Evans, each do a perfect job bringing this J.G. Ballard adaptation to the screen. Notably, this was previously deemed ‘unfilmable’ in Hollywood. So take that, big wigs. Wheatley continues an impressive career. He is a visionary director and every bit deserving of his status as an auteur filmmaker. Jump brings her wonderful writing to the table, and along with Rose’s keen eye they’re able to make Ballard palatable, exciting, and every bit as brutally engaging as his original novel. This is available as of this writing today on VOD. But I’ll also be heading out to see it on the big screen as soon as it shows up here. High-Rise is the type of film I’ve seen on VOD, I’ll see in theatre, then be damned sure I’ll buy up on Blu ray. Great cinema, great minds, great actors.

The Shining: Kubrickian Horror v. Stephen King’s Supernatural Evil

The Shining. 1980. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick & Diane Johnson; based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Anne Jackson, & Tony Burton. Warner Bros./Hawk Films/Peregrine/Producers Circle.
Rated R. 146 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★
POSTER1 Let’s get one thing straight: I love this movie. Fanatically.
I’ve also got problems with it.

There are vast differences between the source material of The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. For a man who mostly got close to horror in a psychological sense before this 1980 horror classic, it’s a strange pick for the master director. At the same time, it’s also a good fit. While this is mainly a ghost story, the clinical way in which Kubrick attacks the subject matter and thematic material really brings out the horror of the human drama at its core. Famously, Stephen King has said the movie is “cold” whereas his book was “hot“, and that Kubrick wasn’t capable of telling the story how it was meant to be told.
And in part I agree with Mr. King. Because the book is better. However, I do find Kubrick’s film a slice of terror. Further than that, to me the supernatural element of King’s original novel is still there amongst everything. It’s simply that Kubrick takes that all and envisions it in very human terms. We absolutely see the haunted elements of King here, there’s just a completely different element to this film and how it perceives the story of Jack Torrance’s madness.
If King’s novel is about the supernatural forces of The Overlook Hotel taking its toll on the Torrance family, Kubrick’s film is a ghost story that’s most of all an allegory for personal family troubles, the failure of people to face their problems head on until they all but literally haunt them, as well as the attempts of many to bury the dark secrets of their past like the various murdered souls haunting the halls of The Overlook.
Perhaps a straight adaptation, such as the lesser but still enjoyable TV version King had a hand in, is more enjoyable to some. And though there is a part of me that faults this movie for not going directly at the source material, because there’s some great stuff there that didn’t make this cut, Kubrick most definitely made an impressive horror film that not only contributed to the genre as a whole, it also left an indelible mark on many moviegoers. To this day, I can close my eyes and almost imagine the entire film front to back because of how many hundred times I’ve seen it.
Pic1
One of my biggest beefs is the change to the character of Wendy Torrance. I find Shelley Duvall an intriguing actor, and she gives a knockout performance here. Still, the character bothers me. In the book she is nowhere near as waif-ish and frail as the Wendy which Kubrick and Diane Johnson wrote. And that boggles my mind, really. Because there’s absolutely no reason to change her character into such a “dishrag“, as Mr. King so eloquently puts it whenever asked. What gets me most is that this Wendy does not seem the type to stand up to her husband. She talks of having asked Jack to stop drinking, or else she would leave, and this doesn’t strike me as genuine with this character. She can barely hold steady ground in a conversation with her husband. Let alone confront his violent temper and alcoholism. In fact, the way Kubrick and Johnson have written Wendy is, as King again has noted, fairly misogynistic. There are barely any moments of strength in Wendy, which bothers me. It is so far from the character in King’s novel that it makes no sense. Changing the themes and focusing more on the human drama of alcoholism, the effects it has on a family, the bad decisions of the patriarch looming over his family, so on, all that makes sense to me. An adaptation doesn’t always need to follow copy-for-copy the source material. Many adaptations do well to stray a little. But this character change doesn’t come as genuine, as if Kubrick and Johnson solely wanted to focus on Jack and his son, and so they let everyone else fall to the wayside.
Pic3
The character of Jack remains virtually the same across King and Kubrick’s respective visions. Again, though, I do agree partly with King. I love Nicholson here. He kills the performance, no doubt. I just can’t help imagining the role with someone less Nicholson-like. In that Jack definitely looks a bit off right from the beginning. That signature Nicholson look, the eyebrows, the sly smile, it reeks of insanity too early. This takes away part of the impact, in my opinion. Furthermore, the screenplay as opposed to the novel doesn’t give us a lot of time with Torrance before he’s going mad. He’s very quickly a dick and then soon a real terror in this movie. It’s no less shocking how insane Jack Torrance gets over the course of the film. However, if a lesser known or different-looking actor were given the part it might’ve been an even larger surprise when he goes off the deep end later. Still, I can’t fault Nicholson; that’s all in the casting. For his part, he turns Torrance into a deeply troubled man, one whose intentions are good but whose execution leaves something to be desired. And regardless of Nicholson’s crazyface, he is able to draw us in. Specifically, the scene in the big lodge room where he backs Wendy up the stairs is EPIC. During a theatre class in high school, I recited that whole speech and had great fun. It is a superb, small monologue that Nicholson really nails, allowing us to fall headlong into the madness of Torrance. As the film picks up faster and harder towards the end, Nicholson definitely frightens and his performance will always rank high on any list of spectacular acting from horror movies.
Pic4-1
The macabre beauty of The Shining is part of its everlasting appeal. All of the imagery is so well shot by Kubrick, photographed by John Alcott. Having a horror film captured through the eyes of Kubrick is magical. From the sets and the meticulously composed shots to the score and soundtrack, this film is every bit a classic. Maybe it doesn’t follow all the rules of horror set before it. Maybe it doesn’t follow King exactly. But I’ll be damned if it’s not amazing. And the horror itself is almost vicious. That scene where Jack finds the woman in the bathtub is something that has scarred generations of film fans. Even as a seasoned horror veteran I find that one moment intense and scary. There are moments of dreadful suspense throughout The Shining that, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, still hold me in fear. The elevator of blood is an iconic piece of imagery because it essentially sums up The Overlook, as a hotel completely immersed in blood, so much so it pours down from the floors above. Just the fact they accomplished that shot is enough to make it utterly mental. But over and over, Kubrick manages to derive absolute horrific madness out of his scenes through the way he captures things, right down to editing; the bathtub woman scene is so profoundly shocking because of how it repeats itself like a memory several times as the corpse reaches out after Jack and he backs away. There are so many fine touches which make this a work of horror that stands the test of time.
Pic5
Much as I love The Shining, there are certainly issues. Some can pass off Stanley Kubrick’s mistakes by saying certain things to point to his hidden meanings, the deeper layers. Bullshit. As great as this horror is, as much as its done for the genre overall, there are faults. You can still find a movie incredible while admitting to its mistakes. And I don’t always agree with Stephen King, though here I do and find the book much better. Still, Kubrick’s The Shining is chilling, it is meticulously drawn out with great cinematography, practical special effects, and the eerie sounds sitting below all the engaging, terrifying imagery. Despite its flaws, this is and always will be one of the classic pictures in horror bringing Kubrick and his sensibilities to an unlikely genre.

David Lynch’s Eraserhead: Existential Terror at its Finest (and Most Elusive)

Eraserhead. 1977. Directed & Written by David Lynch.
Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near, V. Phipps-Wilson, Jack Fisk, Jean Lange, Thomas Coulson, John Monez, Darwin Joston, T. Max Graham, Hal Landon Jr., & Jennifer Chambers Lynch. American Film Institute/Libra Films.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Fantasy/Horror

★★★★1/2
POSTER One of my consistently favourite filmmakers is David Lynch. The first of his films I’d ever seen was Lost Highway. Then I moved to Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, and finally went for Eraserhead, his groundbreaking and eternally confusing feature-length debut. This started out as one of those old late ’70s midnight movies, not expected to draw out a huge crowd. Until it did. Today, it’s one of the most talked about debuts of any film director in the history of film, right up there with Citizen Kane. More than that, and especially due to the coy attitude of Lynch, it has remained one of the most inexplicable, hard to pinpoint films ever made. While part of its mystery can sometimes piss me off, mostly it is impressive. Because many artists, film or otherwise, are so eager to let the world know what their art means. In opposition, directors like Lynch, Michael Haneke, Bruno Dumont, they challenge what we see as regular art by often defying any sort of ready made explanation. Not that there aren’t explanations. Likely, someone has guessed the meaning of Eraserhead, only Lynch prefers never to confirm, nor deny, and likes to let his audience determine meaning on their own. But to sit down and try extracting some type of definitive meanings from this movie is futile. Sure, like any great artistic experience there can be parallels, allusions, metaphors, many instances of symbolism. Here, though, Lynch keeps things just weird enough as to elude the easy grasp of definition. And in the process, properly disgusts, disturbs, as well as horrifies us on a physical and existential level all at once.
Pic1Pic1-1
Obviously there are major portions of the film influenced by Lynch, his own personal fear of becoming a father, which also has to do with his daughter having trouble with clubbed feet after she was born. It’s easy to read this angle of Eraserhead. But there’s more than simply the fear of fatherhood. In our main character Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is the overarching existential fear of life, the different phases, the various expectations which come along with it. Particularly when it comes to lower class living. Henry and his wife live in a veritable ghetto of industrialized America where the smokestacks rise up and spew their filth into the air, infecting both the atmosphere and the people surrounding it. So in a way, Lynch’s time in Philadelphia certainly plays a part in the story, and the bits of discernible plotline. The fear of giving birth to a mutant child is both a normal fear of fatherhood, as well as a fear of our external environments bleeding into the internal components of our life. As if all the fear and anxiety and horrible pollution of the outer world is expressed directly in Henry’s monster baby.
Above all, the fear of fatherhood is the fear of creating life. The fear of casting a new life you’ve made into the dark abyss of the modern world. All the terrors of becoming a parent by bringing life into a miserable world are on display; a dreary, filthy, industrially driven world that Lynch pushes forward both with the industrial city visuals, as well as the constant sound design of background sounds rattling and banging, the whistling of the radiator, a non-stop hum of white noise, the sounds of a partner’s teeth grinding in the night, an eye being rubbed as the socket bubbles around at the skin.
Pic2-1
But the imagery concerning parenthood is downright frightening. First we see pups suckling at their mothers teets, the sound of them whining and sucking and trying hard to get at the milk is unnerving, as it’s right out in the open. Then there’s the baby itself, which is like an animal fetus and some sort of alien mixed together. Altogether a foreign object, as many children feel to parents after their birth; they feel unnatural, almost like a screeching little animal. Lynch personifies that sentiment here with a hideous, deformed creature.
And then later, one of the most significant fear of fatherhood images comes to us in the form of Henry’s head falling off, then erasers being mined from his brain. Whereas the pencil is the creator – a.k.a the penis, the organ which creates life – the brain is the eraser, in the sense that the brain is meant to be able to outwit the dick re: any big decisions, such as getting a woman pregnant, for instance. So, in effect, Henry’s eraserhead should have scrubbed clean the decision to have sex with Mary, clearly with reckless disregard, as it eventually led to the birth of a monster.
There are so many striking images in the film, it’s hard to pick one that is the most intriguing. The Man in the Planet by the window, pulling levers; a hideous, ugly god behind the scenes? Pulling levers in his sickly condition, running things below and putting people through the motions of their horrible lives in an industrial, almost toxic environment.
The man-made chickens – everything man made, including children, are bound to be fucked up in this Lynchian version of industrial Hell on Earth. So it’s no surprise there are some genetically modified, bloody chickens in here. As if to symbolize everything born is, at its core, a disgusting thing, from babies to chickens.
Finally, the image of the Lady in the Radiator onstage, singing, dancing, then stepping on the strange sperm-like creatures, maybe fetuses. This one is as striking as it is unsettling. My take is that this represents his inner mind, the voice speaking to him deep down. While she stomps on the strange fetuses, then sings “In Heaven everything is fine” this can be seen as the inner urge in Henry to kill his child; those dark, unmentionable feelings of wanting to shake a screaming child that’s disrupting life, making everything worse. As if in Heaven, the child will be fine. So stomp on it like those fetus things. And of course after dreaming of his head falling off and being mined for erasers, the Lady in the Radiator egging him on, Henry goes and kills the baby after removing its bandages. After Henry tries erasing his failed love life, but is effectively rejected, all his miserable failures are compounded by the laughing baby. He even sees himself as the hideous alien-like monster baby several times, once involving the woman across the hall with whom he imagined escaping the dreariness of his old life. So if he can’t figuratively erase that old life with Mary, the rest of his unhappy existence, he decides to be rid of the monster for good. That way, he also rids himself of the hideous part in him. But in doing so, Henry may just have killed the last remaining light in him, too, which is ultimately signified by the breakdown while he tries to kill it.
Yet after all is said and done, everything is fine for Henry, in Heaven, with the Radiator Lady. Because everything is fine, when you’re dead.
Pic3
Pic4
If there were maybe a few more concrete moments, Eraserhead would be flawless. While I love mystery and elusiveness, sometimes this movie gets frustrating, even as I love it to death, simply because there’s so much defying explanation. It is well filmed, acted with unsettling subtlety. The sound design and the mysterious of the imagery is all beyond compelling. A 4&1/2-star masterpiece of weirdness, that spans both a fantastical aspect, as well as a straight up examination of personal psychological horror. Do not think my explanation nor that of anyone else will get to the bottom of David Lynch’s debut masterpiece. Explanation, at least definitive and sure explanation, is basically futile. This experience is about taking away from it what you will, answering your own questions. Because Lynch only asks them, giving us the contents of his horrified mind in relation to the world around him through cryptic and usually eerie imagery. I’ve sat through this movie many a time and still can’t get a full grasp on it. Part of it makes me frustrated, yes. Most of it makes me happy to have a director and writer out there like Lynch, probing the dark heart of our cinematic minds one picture at a time.

The Path – Season 1, Episode 6: “Breaking and Entering”

Hulu’s The Path
Season 1, Episode 6: “Breaking & Entering”
Directed by Roxann Dawson
Written by Annie Weisman

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Hole” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Refugees” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 8.44.00 PM
Cal (Hugh Dancy) is lying in the hospital, beaten and bloody from the end of last episode. He’s visited by Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), and their relationship, at least on his part, is something more than just friends. When will we see, or hear, more on them? I’d like to know exactly what more of their history is, but for now we get bits and little pieces.
Back on the commune, Cal’s face looking better, Eddie (Aaron Paul) knows something is not quite right with Mr. Roberts. Just a matter of how long the mask takes to crack.
Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 8.44.47 PM
Meanwhile, Hawk (Kyle Allen) is with Ashley (Amy Forsyth) when her family is being evicted from their home. You’d think a nice altruistic group like the Meyerist movement would be inclined to help those like Ashley and her family, even if they’re Ignorant Systemites.
Off goes Eddie with Cal, as the unlikely pair take a trip out to a motel together. At the same time, Sarah’s punishing herself mentally for what Cal went through. All because of what she did for the Ridges. Finally, Hawk shows up asking his mother to help Ashley’s family. This is now a real test of their faith. She agrees to help them, at least for now.
Cal takes Eddie to a rundown room. They’re trying to track down someone who supposedly stole money from one of their chapters in San Diego. Outside on the balcony, hiding, is Alison (Sarah Jones). Narrowly she evades the eyes of Cal, as Eddie’s put in a tough spot. Yikes. I can only imagine what Cal might do to Alison. There’s no telling of what he’s capable, especially after his literal bruises and his bruised ego.

 


Detective Abe Gaines (Rockmund Dunbar) is still struggling with a sick little baby. He does his best to get by. Only his wife is starting to worry about him. Particularly that he’s using their child to get in with the cult.
Over at the Lane place, Sarah is welcoming Ashley’s family. The odd clash of their respective live, their beliefs is incredibly evident. On the table sits a child’s book written by Dr. Steven Meyer. The kids want to use the strange device on their heads, but mom isn’t so keen. Such an awkward, unbelievably odd scene that works well.
Cal is regrouping, trying to “alter our approach” when it comes to Alison. It is so increasingly clear that he is an unstable man. Not just that, he is completely drawn to Sarah. This will only make for further problems. Sarah’s got her own problems because she and Eddie are more at odds now than before. It all piles up. And Cal is getting dangerously close to complete inappropriateness, to stalker-like behaviour with Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell). He’s sending her new beau off to Delaware. Obvious, no? You can see in her eyes Mary knows nothing good is coming of that.

 


Constantly, Eddie is wondering exactly what Cal is up to, and rightfully so. He questions, to Sarah privately, about Cal intended to do if he found who they’d been looking for earlier. “Maybe thats what we do,” says Eddie: “Hurt people. Now that Cals in charge.” His wife is adamant they don’t, yet it’s more clear than ever Eddie’s faith in Meyerism is shaking. Steadily, it declines. There’s only a matter of when that will happen, how it will break.
Sarah finds out from Cal about his and Eddie’s little trip, breaking and entering, as the episode’s title suggests. He of course feigns a bit of leadership, nobility, like it’s some type of heroic gesture. But Sarah says “screw the money” because Alison’s husband is dead, he committed suicide. Ah, even Sarah knows not the truth. So what I’m truly waiting for is her revelation. When she figures out it’s all a lie. Right now, she takes the file of Tessa Armstrong – her estranged sister – while looking for Alison’s file, and makes off without anyone any the wiser.
At a bar, Eddie and Alison meet again. He wants to figure out what’s happening with the $40,000 she stole. It was in her husband’s account when he died, so she took it. Fine. Understood. But Eddie wants more. He wants to get to the bottom of Meyerism, if it’s a good thing for the world, as it’s meant to be perceived by the outside world. Alison says her husband was “good“, and that he did the things they were meant to do. For his part, Eddie urges her to just try and get away. Only she’s bound by duty – she introduced him to the cult in the beginning.
Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.07.47 PM
Alison: “Once you see the first crack you begin to realize its cracked all over
Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.09.42 PM
Dt. Gaines is speaking with Jason Kemp’s parents, who do not have a nice impression of Alison. They blame her, of course, as she brought him into the whole mess. Sad to see such a prominent type of person fall into a preying cult like the Meyerist, and leaving behind a family that loved him. He didn’t come from some broken home. He was lured into his death, essentially.
All the while, Sarah is out sneaking around after her sister. She finds the door open at her apartment and dares to go inside. Funny how she’d earlier been chastising Cal for breaking and entering. Although, the door was open. She moves through the house, looking at photos, looking through the drawers, checking out her sister’s lipstick, perfume, everything. You can tell there’s a part of her that longs for contact, even if she looks down on her sister for not staying with Meyerism. Then the judgemental side of Sarah comes out, seeing her sister’s medicine cabinet filled with prescriptions. A real Tom Cruise type look on Sarah’s face.

 


Awkward times at the Lane house, as grandpa’s smoking “sacred herb“, and Ashley’s family tries hard to keep their mouths shut. So now Sarah’s major concern is that Hawk is going to go off and have to take medication for depression and anxiety, or something similar. She’s really getting psycho about her son.
Sean (Paul James) is pretty suspicious about Mary and Cal. He brings it up, which does not go well, as she admits Cal told her to be with Sean. “I saw you when I looked into the light,” she tells him. But Sean walks out, off to Delaware.
Abe gets a call back from a doctor with whom Jason had been in contact. Apparently Jason needed some drugs, serious ones. Will this lead Abe to the truth about the cult, or is he about to slip in deeper? I worry because of his sick baby. Could easily have him falling headlong into their nonsense.
With Ashley’s grieving mother at the table, Sarah and the others all but attack her. They make clear because she has no faith, that’s why bad things happen. Yikes.

 


The specter of Dr. Meyers looms over Cal, literally, as he has a big picture of the man on his wall. Off in the night goes Cal after peering into his eyes. Where’s he going? Might be more danger. For somebody.
In the morning, Hawk’s clearly not pleased with his family. And up at the pulpit is Cal, preaching down to everybody else, after doing who knows what the night previous. Alongside the Lane family are Ashley and hers. They look on with incredible doubt, as one would. Ashley can’t take it and leaves, followed by Hawk, to the dismay of Sarah. She really can see through their bullshit. Even if Hawk can’t, sucked into the chaos already. But he at least admits: “I dont even know whats real anymore.” He loves her and he doesn’t fully buy into the cult. I hope he’ll break free, and if he tries that they don’t do something terrible to him for trying.

 


Cal: “I dont want want to live for this moment. I want to live forever, in the garden that we are creating, here, together.”
Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.28.53 PM
Up onstage in front of everybody, Cal welcomes some refugee families that the local parish couldn’t accommodate. Everyone is pretty surprised. As am I. So what does this mean? Is it all a front? Because Cal is all a front. He talks and walks a good game, but it’s all a front for something more egotistical, and ultimately something more sinister.
At a little picnic afterwards, Abe tries to get some more information out of Eddie. But poor Eddie can only look around with a cynical eye. Everything is tainted. Because he’s seen that first crack, as Alison mentioned. Now the whole thing is filled with cracks and broken edges and pieces about to crumble apart.
Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.33.35 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.34.09 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.34.51 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.34.58 PM
This episode was incredible. It moved along nicely, introduced some new tension, as well as the fact the editing is phenomenal here. The score is, as always, wonderful, too. Stay with me for the next episode, “Refugees”, which is bound to bring further revelations on our path towards the light.