Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Rest of September’s Movies

[For no reason other than that I think it is beautiful, I am posting a recent cover of The New Yorker above. I don’t know who the artist is; I think I’ve seen and liked their work before. I really appreciate how this mystery illustrator captures and slightly caricaturizes the female form. Also, the women they draw always have a chic style and sturdy confidence. Call me a weirdo, but I’d like to think that these ladies could carry on a good conversation, too. These are smart chicks, dude, and they’re not afraid to show it!]

[So what are the rest of these images clogging up the words? Just weird images from reality: no movie or TV stills—nor any illustrations! Just images showing how damn weird reality can be!
These were gathered as part of the rough draft of a Prezi I created for a class I’m taking—but never used for that project (which actually changed multiple times before achiebving its current form). The images were to show how difficult it might be for an alien to explain what it would be seeing when it visited Earth. How do you describe a Gojira Xmas tree? Cosplay? Graffiti? The working title of that piece was, “You Are the Martain.”]

Back to the cover: look at it closely. Look again: She’s not wearing a dress or slip—she’s naked, and that’s the way her tattoo has been inked! What an awesome idea! And I love her hair…
I probably don’t want to know who the artist is, because I’m probably hoping that illustrations like this are actually self-portraits—and I don’t want to have my fantasies shattered; I only have a few left…

Autumn is here, and I think I’m going to look forward to wearing sweaters, zip-up hoodies and heavier jackets as the temperature goes down. Just to change style a little bit; switch out some shirts, take the sweaters out of their storage bins, find my cold weather hats, and so on…

Additionally, I’ve been procrastinating too much—often The Imp of the Perverse makes me do something I regret—nothing major, mind you, just stupid little things. But these add up when you’re on a schedule.

I’m trying to plan ahead: Lots of stuff needs to get done going forward.
Can I be vaguer?
I don’t wanna burden you.
But October looks like it’s going to be exciting for many reasons—but especially with what’s going on at The Spectacle!
I’ve started programming again—that stopped while I was on my Educational Death Trip—and in addition to THE CURSE OF GHOUL FRIDAY, at MIDNIGHT on HALLOWEEN—oh, baby!—
I’m bringing back the hippy-horror flick THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED, rare 42nd Street style ’70s sleaze!

BTW, I’m a liar. I don’t list everything I’ve seen: only the stuff I’ve seen all of. If I only see 15 minutes of a movie, that’s not seeing it—and neither is seeing only 50 minutes of a movie. Do you get what I’m saying? It’s not fair to criticize something that I haven’t seen all of…even if it takes multiple viewings like it did when I tried to watch Patton.
For example, this past weekend, I was working the Friday midnight shift at The Spectacle—we were showing William Girdler’s rarely screened (not available on DVD, I thinkThree on a Meathook (1973)—which has an awesome title, I gotta say!

Despite its incredible title, Three on a Meathook was a bit of a snooze—lots of padding!—and I kept myself busy, only paying scant attention to the movie.
Now, I’ve seen this flick essentially, and know that I’m not ever going to watch it again, but I’d rather not claim to “review” it, y’know? I didn’t give the movie any respect—I went outside for some chips, I surfed the net, and so on.
I saw it the way I “see” some things when they’re on in the background as I do the dishes. Only if I go back and watch those sequences earnestly, will I consider it “seen” for reviewing purposes.

Movies for the rest of September
(Already reviewed for Septmber were the disappointing Open Grave, and new fave The Purge: Anarchy)

Design is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli (2012; Kathy Brew & Roberto Guerra) Wow, this couple designed EVERYTHING! They’re the ones who brought Helvetica typeface (get it?) into the American design arena, and all New Yorkers should know about these folks: The Vignellis are the designers of the MTA’s maps and signage. Every time you go into the subway, you are surrounded by their work!
Right now I cannot remember all of the products (furniture, dinnerware, books, etc.) that the Vignellis designed—there are SO many—but as you watch this documentary, you will be routinely amazed at their volume of well-known material. You will know their stuff. The Vignellis are like the secret designers of America, and this is a great documentary that not only covers their career, but thoughtfully explores art and philosophy, as well. Very recommended; in fact, I should probably watch it again to learn from it. If I was teaching a class, this would be a film I’d assign—because it can cover multiple curriculums: English (especially creative writing), history, sociology and of course, art.

I Am Divine (2013; Jeffery Schwarz) Fun doc about the late John Waters star—what a career! Who knew she’d done so much?
Not necessarily “essential” cinema, but worth watching if you’re a fan of Waters’ films and books (like I am); this doc made me want to see Pink Flamingos again. Lots of funny and funky stories and gossip about Divine and her pals. Mentions that John Waters is the one who named her, but neglects to note that he got the name from a character in a Jean Genet story.
However, I loved that one of the interviewees makes the distinction between “hippies” and “freaks”—that Divine, Waters et al were freaks, who did whatever the fuck (they were pleasure seekers), as opposed to Zen fascist hippies that always had some sort of agenda that needed to be followed (pleasure deniers). It’s an important difference, and one that I was glad to be reminded of, as there are lots of things from the late-1960s/early-1970s that I like, but have nothing to do with the hippies, as far as I’m concerned, but would definitely fall into the “freak” zone, like Waters’ films or The Wild Angels or Two Lane Blacktop or The Stooges or Head.

Under the Skin (2013; Jonathan Glazer) WOW! This is a damn good film—and probably the best, most artistic yet serious “alien invasion” film ever.

Ten years after the release of his excellent (although critically savaged) Birth, neo-Kubrickian Glazer returns with an incredible post-modern/minimalist film worthy of being on the shelf next to Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (an alien trying to comprehend our utterly strange and pathological world)—
If Michel Haneke shot a remake of Roger Corman’s 1957 Not of This Earth using the techniques from hidden camera TV shows, you’d have Under the Skin.

Scarlett Johansson is an alien—we’re never sure if she’s an extraterrestrial or an ultraterrestrial (is she from Mars, or another dimension? We’re not told, and it really doesn’t matter)—but she’s here to lure men into a trap where they are…absorbed…and the red, gooey fluids left are “beamed” to…elsewhere.
(Which, if you’ll remember is essentially the plot of the aforementioned Not of This Earth—which also inspired a great Angry Samoans song—an alien has come to Earth to send clean human blood back to his radiation-infected homeworld: It’s a good flick, with a somber and melancholy tone, much better than the snobs would have you think.)

Under the Skin is presented through her eyes, so there are many scenes where “nothing” happens, and the ADHD crowd will hate this movie. But if you are patient, it’s wonderful, disturbing viewing, aided by an incredible sound design—and the film eventually goes to some very unexpected places.

But I think the film would be even better if trimmed by 10-15 minutes; I think some of its potential impact is weakened by the length of some, more interstitial scenes. Its leisurely, but very focused pace at the beginning is important: we are experiencing our world through this alien’s sense of sight and hearing—too bad there’s no more Smell-O-Vision, because it would have been perfect for this movie—and we are taking the time to examine these new surroundings, just as she would be.

I wish I’d seen it in a theater: the film is beautifully shot and designed—with a brilliant audio track that is multilayered and intense, almost overwhelming at times, then incredibly subtle at others.

It helped knowing that this was an “alien invasion” flick—it gave me a point of reference; otherwise its inexplicable mysteriousness might have been overwhelming at first.

And our lead actress deserves praise: it’s basically a one-woman show, and she carries it off well.
After being in a blockbuster series like The Avengers, maybe she’s trying to wash stardom out of her hair—but ScarJo is fearless in this film, and is to be commended for being so.

I am so glad I saw Under the Skin finally, and cannot recommend it enough.

Bad Words (2013; Jason Bateman) Wonderfully dark and unsentimental (except a little bit at the end), this is a very smart movie about an unrepentant asshole. There’s no other way to describe Guy Trilby (played well by director Bateman), and in fact, many characters in the film call Guy “asshole” a lot.

Bateman’s Trilby—for secret reasons—has entered the national spelling bee, exploiting a loophole in the system to get there. Luckily, he’s got some kind of photographic memory because he aces it every time he’s up. Bateman’s very, very angry about something, and he’s going to embarrass the national spelling bee as revenge.

Along the way, Bateman becomes a friend/mentor/bad influence to a supergenius little Indian boy who’s very lonely. This is where the movie skirts with sentimentality, but luckily errs on the side of Bateman making the kid a little worse, than the kid making Bateman’s “asshole” a “better” person. The supporting characters are all eccentric, and the intelligence of the humor, while often rolling around in the gutter, is very high. This is a movie about a spelling bee, after all.

This movie deserves its “R”-rating, from the language to sexual situations (“Don’t look at me!” a sex partner keeps yelling at Bateman, making the situation even weirder) to a general atmosphere of “wrong, so wrong” (especially some of the ways Trilby gets into, and severely messes with, the heads of his competitors—all of whom are young kids!).

A comedy I really enjoyed.

The Best of Lost & Found Film Club at The Spectacle (September 26, 2014)rare 16mm filmsfor one night onlyfrom film school, advertising, motivational and law enforcement—training films and other business-related material that was supposed to stay ‘in-house’; not for public consumption. Mindblowing secret information! Beautiful prints, too!

Not of This Earth (1957; Roger Corman; written by Charles Griffith & Mark Hanna) I screened again this after seeing Under the Skin, and MAN, my assessment was right! The 2013 movie is a remake of this 1957 B-movie—both of these movies are about a lonely alien who’s been killing humans for their blood and sending it into space!

This is one of the flicks that Corman made a poster for first, then after getting financing, he would have a script written—check out the poster! Nothing to do with the movie—except maybe the screaming woman.

The film starts well, with a post-makeout-session bobbysoxer getting zapped by a gruesome stranger in a black suit, and then we’re into the titles:
Corman's title sequences in his early films are always mood pieces, showing Corman’s preference towards modern or avant-garde art. Not of This Earth is no exception, with skulls dissolving into other strange and frightful forms.

Regarding technique: Corman borrows some lighting and camera-angles from Fritz Lang’s Hollywood noir films to good use, making the police station look more ominous and the alien’s basement more eerie. Design-wise, the alien’s tools have that delightfully low-tech 1950s idea of super-science, which now feels all that more alien and ominous. Without a lot of buttons or knobs, how does that gizmo work?

At about 67 minutes, Not of This Earth could qualify as a longer Outer Limits episode—Paul Birch is an extraterrestrial Man in Black sent to Earth as an advance scout from the planet Davanna. From what we learn, Davanna is some sort of fascist super-state that has subjugated dozens of worlds, turning their populations into slaves and “cattle.” But the years of radioactive wars have poisoned their world and their blood is weak. Without new blood, his blood “will turn to dust and I will die!” the alien vampire tells a hypnotized physician—it sounds like he has a case of the Andromeda Strain!

Davanna needs to find out if Earth is suitable to conquer and colonize.

The funny thing, this evil alien (he does kill a lot of people) is quite sympathetic. He’s really quite pathetic most of the time—he looks like a very square and boring businessman (he’s the antithesis of ScarJo), and surrounding him with a cast of beatniks and hepcats helps reinforce the “stranger in strange land” vibe.
Like their parents, he cannot understand what these jive talkers are saying, and Corman injects some sick humor into many scenes, most notably Dick Miller’ cameo as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman (with an incredible DA haircut!) who runs afoul of Birch’s bloodsucking needs.

The alien may be on a planet covered in food, but he’s really alone, and sad.
So much so, that when a refuge from the iron hand of Davanna shows up, rather than turn her in, he agrees to hide her and “feed” her fresh blood. Unfortunately, he doesn’t read the bottle and infuses the runaway with rabid dog blood—poisoning her fatally.

With a good ability for suspension of disbelief, a viewer can notice that Not of This Earth is also a metaphor of what could happen to us (whether “us” means “Americans” or “Humans”) if we exploit, exploit, exploit everything around us.

The Davannans did this, and are paying a terrible price. Maybe this alien wasn’t from outer space; maybe Davanna is the future…
(And if that’s possible here, why not with Under the Skin? ScarJo could be from a dreadfully polluted future—her “true” self looks like she’s made out of a mixture of oily polymers and ground-up coal—and she needs “clean” food…from the past?)

Earthquake (1974; Mark Robson) Albert Whitlock’s brilliant old school effects save this soap opera disaster movie—courtesy of library roulette.
I watched this A) because I love seeing a city destroyed via old school special effects; and B) I’m in the process of rereading Rudy Wurlitzer’s novel Quake.
It’s funny how cheaply made the movie is; entirely shot on the Universal backlot—not even any establishing shots around Los Angeles. Honestly, it might as well been “Anytown, U.S.A.” for all the local color it provided.
One thing I realized while watching Earthquake is how come American special effects men can photograph miniatures better than the Japanese: we tend to film our miniatures outdoors—less claustrophobic, and an infinite background—unlike a studio wall, you cannot focus on a sky. Also, putting them in “reality” makes the miniatures feel more “real.”

Books read in the rest of September
(I’m not counting the VOLUME of material I’m reading for grad school; lots of print-outs, articles from journals; and different chapters from books, but not the whole thing—although there are some that I want to go back to later and finish reading…)

Baba Yaga by Ernest Small and Blair Lent (1966) A favorite children’s book of mine that I had thought lost to the sands of time but found again thanks to Amazon.
The illustrations look like woodcuts—
A simplistic tale, but what the hell—it’s for kids, right?
Sometimes the witch is good, sometimes bad—?
Weirdness abounds: a house that runs around the forest on giant chicken legs (for some reason I used to think the house was made out of skulls—but I guess I’m confusing that with Bo Diddley’s song, “Who Do You Love.”)
A little boy who’s a hedgehog and rides a trained rooster.
The witch flies through the sky in a giant mortar and pestle, searching for the mysterious black sunflower.
Wonderful stuff!

1 comment:

  1. Not to rub it in, Ivan, but seeing "Under the Skin" in the theater WAS an experience. The soundtrack alone- with those squeeling violins when she 'absorbs' someone in her black layer- were deafening and added to the otherwordly feel of the entire film. One of my faves of the year still.