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Movie Review: Bass Ackwards

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Bass Ackwards is about a road trip to find oneself.

This is a low-budget, independent film from 2010, written, produced and starring Linas Phillips. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

This was on a disk I borrowed from a neighbor and would never have asked for it. Because of this I almost didn’t watch it. It starts out slow and seems a depressing tale of a guy who is lost, drifting, doesn’t know what to do with his life, lives on people’s couches and generally is failing at trying to have a relationship with a woman who is married. From what I can tell he never gets farther than chatting with her and playing cards. Up until this point I was pretty bored with the meandering, going nowhere life. Then the woman’s husband/boyfriend follows her and tries to beat up Linas. It’s ineffectual, involving two guys who aren’t very physical or macho, rolling about and batting at each other. Linas doesn’t even know why the guy is after him.

After he goes to work on a farm, where he finds some old VW bus that’s been shortened. Without money or purpose he decides to travel east and maybe see his parents. He still entertains a dream that the woman will join him, but the viewer knows that won’t happen. Thus begins another road trip movie.

I found this started slow, depressing, dreary. The cinematography is pretty straight forward, the colors a little subdued. Once Linas gets going on his road trip the tale picks up. The true gems are the people he finds along the way. The small cast, Paul Lazar, Jim Fletcher and Davie-Blue, are also co-writers, along with Sean Porter.

Linas avoids getting beaten, barely, by a yokel who’s woman he was hitting on. Then he meets some guy who just kind of coerces Linas to let him sleep in the van. At first you think he might be a drug addict or nuts and maybe he is a bit. He meets a mechanic who first yanks his chain, then opens up to him. Through these encounters and a few others, Linas begins to find himself. The people come across as real, and have more depth than you think they would at first.

These encounters are the true heart of the movie and make it worth watching. So while the pace is as meandering as the road trip itself, and there is flatness to the beginning, the film builds on its humanity. This is no startling revelation, nor sudden change of fortune. It’s a tale of what life is often like; it continues on, like a gentle curve in the road, sometimes revealing vistas, sometimes potholes, and slowly you see Linas climbing out of stasis and finding a path.  I’ll give this 6.5 gallons of gas out of 10.

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Movie Review: Immortals

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Henry Cavill’s Theseus is competently acted but the plot lacks. Nice man muscles though.

I actually had no clue what this 2011 film was about when I got it. I thought Immortals might be about superheroes and in a way it is, the superheroes of old. It is a tale of Theseus; you know, the guy who battled the Minotaur and did other heroic deeds. In the ancient world of Greece you had your gods, your demi-gods and your heroes. As time, history and mythology progressed, some heroes became demi-gods. And when you have thousands of years of history and mythology the stories get a little muddied.

So I was willing to accept a lot of fantastic elements and let some of the costuming (of the gods) be historically inaccurate. But let’s look at the costuming because it’s often a bugaboo for me. Since this is placed in ancient Greece, it’s at least pseudo historical. How pseudo?  A lot.

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I was okay with this interpretation of the Minotaur though the tale strays pretty far afield after this.

Theseus’s people live in a narrow cliffside area, but there are no trees, no grass, no chickens and what looks like no way down the very high, sheer cliffs to fish. So what do they do there? Is this the town center, missing any semblance of commerce, or a temple? Who knows but the people are dressed in weird baggy homespun robes of indiscriminate shape with odd woven cape things on some of them. Theseus himself doesn’t seem to be doing much but hacking ineffectually at a dead tree on a rocky shore. But at least he has a nice impression of leather armor/breastplate though if he’s not a warrior I’m not sure why he has one or how a man of his age doesn’t seem to be part of the army or working a little harder at surviving.

I can give the bundles of fabric to emulate peasantish clothing, I could even forgive that he has some leather armor but then we get to the sibyls in the sibylline monastery. First, monastery? Really? The Greeks had temples with priests and priestess. Monasteries came about with Christianity. And since we’re dealing with pseudo history, the “monastery” is some ugly rectangular edifice with no windows, and reminiscent of Mordor once the Heraklion forces move in.  But back to the sibyls who look like they’re wearing semi sheer red and black chitons or peplos (the rectangular garment we associate with Greece). Underneath, lo and behold, they’re wearing lovely red skirts with corset/bodice tops. Yep, that’s as far from ancient Greece as I am.

The worst case of crabs I’ve ever seen. The Immortals

The Heraklion forces are lead by the ruthless Hyperion (don’t get me started on the names), played by Mickey Rourke. I have to tell you it’s hard to take the really bad man seriously when he’s wearing a crab claw on his head. I kid you not. Of all the bad guy helms that could be made, I guess we can give this one points for originality but it is ludicrous beyond belief. The silly hats and headdresses don’t stop there. Enter the gods, dressed all in gold, plastic gold armor from what I can tell, and a nice gold corset top for Athena (no Aphrodite here; after all it’s about war). They’re all wearing bizarre headdresses that I can’t figure out until I hear Poseidon’s name and figure out he’s got shells on his ears in gold filigree. And the guy I took to be Apollo with giant rays of gold coming off of his hat (there’s too much air space for it to be a helmet) turns out to be Ares, god of war. The helmets that the Olympian gods don when they have to battle the Titans are nothing Greek at all and in fact pretty similar to the Titan helmets. Strangely the gods wear helmets but Theseus doesn’t in battle. Why why why do the dumb heroes and villains fight without their helmets unless they have no brains (or the directors don’t).

Immortals, Greek gods, Athena, Ares, movies

Ares looks back to measure Athena’s crown and see if it’s bigger than his. As a historical note, the ancient Greeks did not wear crowns.

Oh and the Titans, well they’re held in Mount Tartarus for all time, just chained up together in a box (it’s more cruel you know) so they can wait and wait. They’re shown as identical and when unleashed there are more of them than we saw. And let’s not forget that the Titans were 12 gods before the Olympians came along, and 6 of them were women. We see mindless cloned killing machines that Zeus ends up burying by pulling down gigantic statues, placed inside a mountain that nobody goes to. Why didn’t they do this first? And the gods, well they are so super fast that each of them can kill five Titans in the literal blink of an eye, but somehow the Titans still get the better of them and kill them all including some nondescript Olympian army dudes. No more Poseidon or Ares or Athena? Theseus doesn’t save the day except to kill Hyperion before he succumbs (but is saved to the heavens by Zeus).

The sets have their share of CGI, a bit too much and too obvious I think, but the biggest problem with the movie is that it’s a mishmash and doesn’t know what it wants to be. If you’re going to take one of the many varieties of a myth and do your own interpretation, that’s fine but this has the feel of someone with ADHD on too much caffeine, from the disjointed imagery and costumes to the storyline. I didn’t mind that the Minotaur is a very large man wearing a metal made bull helmet but when Theseus chops off his head in the mausoleum where he puts his dead mother,  he feels the need to carry it outside with him. The crypt suddenly becomes the labyrinth though he had no trouble walking into it and there is no Ariadne to give him a ball of twine but his own bloody or wet footprints. Once outside and seeing his friends about to be killed he tosses the head over the cliff and uses the Epirus bow.

Now we come to it, the item that Hyperion seeks and that Theseus finds. Okay, there is no mythological Epirus bow though there was a town of Epirus and Greeks like many cultures had archery. But the bow (very modern in looks) might have been tied to Apollo but they leave that out. And it’s a weak plot device and doesn’t add a lot. The sibyl Phaedra who has been trained as a prophetess gives up her virginity and pretty much the first sight of Theseus. At least in the myths they do have him married to Phaedra for a while.

The acting is competent with such names as Henry Cavill (Theseus, The Tudors), Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans (Zeus, Three Musketeers), Freida Pinto (Phaedra, Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Dorff (Stavros, Public Enemies) and John Hurt. But you can only do so much when the storyline dips and drops all over. When Poseidon causes a seismic wave of watery doom, the heroes get off the ship that is destroyed with their enemies, not to mention that we don’t see the rest of the decimation of a seaside coast for miles around. But hey, gods are capricious. Personally, I think I know why the gods meddled with Theseus even if Zeus threatened them with death if they interfered with the free will of humans. (Since when did Greek gods worry about morals?) They were probably so bored with the storyline that they had to spice it up with the action shots. After all, enough special effects will carry a story that should just sink to its watery doom. I’m afraid I can only give this a generous 5 Olympian statues out of 10. Originally I gave a 6 but that’s too generous by far. Addendum: I just saw Wrath of the Titans and it was even worse. I could only give it 2 crumbling statues. Directors, just don’t use existing myths/legends if you’re going to mangle them so badly.

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Hunky Zeus coddles Theseus but bans the other gods from doing so.

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Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

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Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings from the 1970s used rotoscope animation .

I like good animations, and Dreamworks as well as some of the Japanese anime can rank at the top. Recently I went through a binge of animation films. Shark Tale and the Monster House weren’t very good, the first being a bad excuse for a cliched plot and fish that acted and moved more like humans than fish. Monster House had some hackneyed stereotypes, iffy reactions and a bizarre plot that didn’t quite suspend my disbelief, even though it was a cartoon. On the other hand, Howl’s Moving Castle was a delight and a wonder.

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The British Wallace and Gromit claymations tend to be shorts, but Flushed Away, done by the same artists is a full length film.

When I was a kid animations were the flat and wooden two-dimensional characters, and at best the rotoscoped movements used in the earlier feature length films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With computerization and complex graphics, the world of animation opened up. That doesn’t mean every three-dimensional claymation such as Wallace and Gromit is great because it uses new and/or different techniques (though claymation isn’t that new either). What really makes any animated film is the story and the characterization. It’s one reason Wallace and Gromit were so funny; the characters look goofy and get into all sorts of madcap adventures based on their wacky inventions.

The 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It isn’t really a forerunner of new techniques but went on to be one of the most successful animes ever. It uses painted backdrops and the standard two dimensional style in characters, with shading. The style is classic Japanese with the cartoonish eyes and antics, to some degree. But the movements are far more fluid and the images are beautiful. On top of that, the imagination in Howl’s is fantastic. The moving castle is this weird house on legs, part alive, part machine, part home. It’s rambling, chaotic and magical and opens on different times and places.

Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones, Miyazaki, anime, film entertainment

Howl’s Moving Castle was nominated for several Academy Awards.

Sophie is a shy young woman who accidentally runs into Howl and is saved but subsequently is cursed by the Witch of the Wastes. Turned into an old woman she leaves the life she knows and ends up at Howl’s castle, bringing discipline and order to the chaos. Howl, like many wizards, has a reputation of being scary and self-serving but he is also extremely vain and there is a reason for this. The castle slowly gathers a host of characters including an asthmatic dog, a devoted scarecrow, the Witch of the Wastes and the castle’s denizens, Calcifer the fire elemental who keeps the house alive,  and Markl the apprentice.

I can’t say much is predictable in this delightful film except for the inevitable romance. It is a tale of discovering one’s self, confidence, heroics, and fear. And it is a tale of war and peace, Miyazaki’s own pacifist twist on the wizard’s involvement. I loved this film so much that I’ll be watching it again next week. I would give this movie 9.5 out of 10 on the wizard scale and it’s worth watching for the beautiful scenery alone. If you like anime, it’s one of the best.

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Howl’s castle moves so that his source of power cannot be discovered.

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What I’ve Learned About Bad Guys in Fantasy Movies

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Lord of the Rings had epic bad guys. These one are just minions but you get the idea. Evil ain’t pretty.

Hollywood is built on cliches, recognizable tropes that audiences can identify to guide them through a story and conflict. But it seems that Hollywood has been feeding so long off of this pap that even the most obvious plots are dumbed down in dialogue and in imagery. Audiences aren’t that stupid (I hope) and it’s good when we have a challenge. What if the bad guy looks like you or me? Well, sometimes we want the villains to be petty, small minded, ugly and obviously a dick. Then we can cheer all the harder.

I find that in a lot of these movies they develop the hero’s role and character into three dimensions, but the villain will often be a cardboard cutout and very two-dimensional. Some of these get so trite that I throw up my hands in frustration. It’s not just medieval fantasy movies that have this issue. Modern and SF movies have the same problem, with often too easy to hate monsters. Star Wars, which could fall into a fantasy in space in many ways, like Lord of the Rings had a much more epic and sweeping tale. The bad guys have some depth but still evil is ugly and corrupts and corrodes them so that even their very forms are distorted.

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Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars follows the classical bad guy stereotype.

I’m not saying it’s bad to use these tropes…sometime, but it’s good to see some variance on the stereotypes. Perhaps that’s what’s so interesting about The Game of Thrones; the bad guys are so very human and sometimes pretty. So, with no further ado, here’s a list of what I’ve learned about bad guys in the fantasy movies.

  • If the evil overlord wears a helmet, it will usually have a skull, horns,  glowering eye slits, or other death’s head funnery. It will obviously emulate evil.
  • The destined hero will be the only survivor when his village is massacred and he tortured by the bad guy. Somehow his value is much greater, even if there is a prophecy that says he’ll kill Mr. Bad.
  • A village of farmers, with nothing much of value will be overrun and completely destroyed, with the villains taking neither slaves nor food. So, what, they just get drunk and want to commit anarchy?
  • Evil voices will be low, gravelly and guttural. Just imagine how sinister it would be to have a high-pitched nasally whine coming at you while you’re tied in the torture chamber.
  • The villain’s color spectrum does not include blue, green, yellow, orange or purple. It would be pretty scary to see a villain in pink and orange.
  • Their evil is so potent that they will reduce the land to cinders and ash, even though the minions still need to be fed, but perhaps they feed on people.
  • If you can see their eyes, they’ll be black pits or glowy red.
  • Evil overlords will inevitably fail but not before they maim a lot of people and scourge the land.

    movies, bad guys, heroes, villains, evil overlords, Wolfhound, pets

    Wolfhound is a movie out of Europe and slightly better in the medieval fantasy style.

Wolfhound, a movie out of Europe, was more interesting than most though it followed some of the tropes. The hero has a pet bat for a sidekick. That was different. Still, he is the only survivor of his village, a lone wolf, and not particularly trusted or liked at first. But he is noble in his valor and as the tale progresses he gets his revenge and more. Not badly done but look for the usual bad guy stereotypes.

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Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

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The Cabin in the Woods, a horror pastiche that maybe tops all such stories.

I had the opportunity the other night to see Drew Goddard‘s and Joss Whedon’s latest, The Cabin in the Woods. Whedon has a cult following as a screenwriter, from such TV shows as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel series, as well as Firefly. While I never warmed to Firefly (though I liked the film Serenity well enough) I was re-introduced to TV watching with Buffy. I hadn’t watched TV in years, except for a show here or there. Mostly I thought it was banal at best and idiotic most of the time, catering to the lowest common denominator with tired and cliché dialogue. Married with Children epitomized the wretchedness of TV for me and I just stayed away.

The process of helping a client (who became a friend) lay out her novel involved watching an episode of Buffy afterwards. I was stunned. Here were characters that changed, dialogue that was unpredictable and a plot that was dark and delectable. I was hooked. Whedon’s fame was justifiable for original writing and well-fleshed characters. And while Buffy could have been staked and slain itself before that final denouement, half-baked season came along, even that didn’t detract from the fact it was one of the best storylines on TV I had ever seen. I have since met HBO and found other stories that show the bravado of today’s scriptwriting when writers are allowed to blossom.

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Kristen Connolly fights back the zombies out to kill them.

Goddard has his own cult following for his writing of the Alias and Lost TV series. Likewise, Alias became far too convoluted with plots and intrigues within intrigues, and Lost got wackier to what I thought was an ending that didn’t really work. Still, they were compelling stories with complex characters both likable and detestable at times. Lost‘s way of going forward with the present story while revealing more and more past history of the characters gave it interesting layers.

With The Cabin in the Woods all I knew was that Joss Whedon wrote it and that it was based on those tried and true horror genre films; you know the ones. The creepy basements, the unknown in the wild, the strange occurrences, the glimpses out of the corner of the eye. In fact, I thought it was going to be a play off of that pseudo reality styled film, The Blair Witch Project, where you never see the horror. If you don’t want spoilers before you see this film, you might want to stop now, because horrors you see aplenty. I called this the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink film.

I think this is the ending Joss always wanted for Buffy or Angel but didn’t quite get. You couldn’t squish another monster into this film. Indeed, they all burst forth, for the weekend in the woods is not what these people bargained for but it’s even more bizarre than anyone could have feared, because there is a whole network of technicians and masterminds at work helping orchestrate these college students’ downfalls. But of course, it doesn’t go smoothly for anyone; you could say it doesn’t go well for the monsters either.

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Fran Kranz, Chris Helmsworth (of Thor fame) and Anna Hutchison enter the treasure trove beneath the cabin’s floors, the beginning of all their problems.

The main characters are manipulated right from the beginning, with interspersed images of these guys in a bunker watching them and initiating protocols so that you’re saying WTF? A slow reveal gives more and more information, until the last tidbit is unveiled. Overall, this isn’t built up with the total dark suspense music that leads to a shocking reveal of the bad guy. Every time it looks kind of intense, something alleviates the buildup. So when the creepy looking backwoods fella at the decrepit gas station (with lots of furs and dead skinned things) calls the guys in the bunker, he delivers an Armageddon brimstone and fire soliloquy. The bunker guys listen intently until creepy guy says, “Do you have me on speaker phone?” He continues with the prophecies of doom once assured it’s turned off while the other guys break down in hysterics.

Basically every horror movie cliché is turned on its ass or twisted into something new. Almost. With the plethora of creepy critters to choose from Whedon and Goddard’s immediate antagonists are…zombies. Yep. But maybe that’s the point. This movie, if nothing else, is a pastiche of and an homage to horror movies and every bizarro monster ever imagined that sucks, occupies, eats and terrorizes humans. A true horror story is one where the protagonist fights and tries to prevail against the odds and evil, but ultimately is overcome. This movie fills it to the max without hope of redemption, survival or a sequel. Throughout the film a dark vein of humor is threaded, sometimes lighter, but in the end, when everything ends you still have to laugh.

Is this because Whedon and Goddard were worried about it being too bleak or that they really are paying tribute to the genre of horror? To me, it seems the latter. The movie was worthy, with some very fun characters and unexpected outcomes. It had enough twists that there is literally no dull moment, and in this case overcoming evil isn’t such a good thing. I’d give it an 8 skulls out of 10 on the monster movie meter.

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Movie Review: The Woman

I’m not a big gore and horror film watcher, which you might find surprising because I write a lot of darkly disturbing fiction. But I find often in movies, they’re going for the shock factor and splatter more gore than an abattoir. They’re disgusting but not necessarily penetrating, nor disturbing because of the story they tell. Maybe this is why zombies have become so popular. You can heap on the gore, entrails and gnashing of human flesh without much conscience. After all, they’re just undead, mindless animals and the real world has horrors greater than a shambling (or even fast running) zombie.

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Pollyanna McIntosh stars in the disturbing movie, The Woman

When I watched The Woman directed by Lucky McKee, written by horror writer Jack Ketchum, and McKee, I didn’t even know it was horror. I’d borrowed some movies from my neighbor and was just clicking through the unfamiliar ones. Right away I’m thrust into a situation that’s not what I’d call your every day world. Sure it looks like it. Streams, woods and sun filtered through the leaves. Except there’s a filthy feral woman, in tattered rags. These rags cover the essentials and she carries a knife so you know she’s been around civilization at some point.

The official site has the following description of the film: Family man and lawyer Christoper Cleek (Sean Bridgers) must do what he can to protect his family when he comes into contact with a feral woman (Pollyana McIntosh) living in the woods near his isolated country home. Through a series of harrowing encounters Cleek and his family quickly discover there is more to this woman than anyone would suspect and that sometimes the devil wears a handsome face.

This is actually an intentionally misleading write-up. I’ll be giving spoilers so if you want to watch this without prejudice skip to the last paragraph. From the beginning you see this very smiley family man but there is something wrong with the family. At the jarring switch from feral country scene to garden party you see a girl who ignores the boys flirting with her and looks back at another man. You see a man whose subservient wife gets him his drinks. His wife seems timid, his daughter cowed. But you don’t know the situation yet. As the story progresses you get the sense that there is something extremely wrong, yet Cleek seems a reasonable guy who loves his three children, who helps people out and believes in democratic decision making in his family. That is, until they disagree with him. When he goes hunting he finds the feral woman and decides to bag her.

While one could think he wants to help and humanize her his first thought is to keep her captive and of

The Woman, horror, abuse,

Zach Rand as the emotionally broken Brian Cleek

course chain her, hand and foot. Well, we’ve been shown she is an animal and will kill anything to survive…anything. But never is there any thought to calling some city service to help this injured and degenerate being. Cleek’s methods of cleaning her are already brutal, cold and suspect and when his wife questions keeping her he casually backhands her. Intimations of incest are also evident and his son shows a cauterised emotional state that reflects the father’s ideals. There are dogs locked away in the barn, never let out and a growing sense that even the son is damaged.

The males become obsessed with the feral woman. She’s beaten, tortured and raped, and she is unrepentantly hostile. Pollyanna McIntosh’s portrayal is stunning. She is so animalistic that the best acted zombie cannot compare. But she is a thinking intelligent if wild human in this film Her acting was all the more stunning because the actor/model is stunning in real life.

The movie slowly, horrifically spirals into more nastiness, with reveals of just how deep the depravity really goes. The depravity isn’t the feral woman, it is of course the smiling, reasonable Cleek who is really a subjugator of women, a rapist, and more depraved than a beast could ever be. The movie ends with mayhem, murder and some gore. One reviewer said they would have liked it bloodier but I think this made it more realistic.

There were a few things that didn’t ring quite true for me. The feral woman has bangs and if she was cutting her own hair with a knife they should have been more jagged. Otherwise McIntosh is more than convincing as uncivilized. Sean Bridgers as the father is convincing except possibly at the end when a few lines rang as untrue. The concerned school teacher is naively trying to help in the disastrous situation and when she is victimized I felt she gave in too easily and did not fight back when it was her life about to end.

Overall, this was a truly disturbing film that piled one horror on another. There is a comeuppance at the end for those who are the perpetrators and those too weak to stand up to them. This movie caused some outbursts and outrage at the Sundance Festival. But then, that is the sign of a horror film doing what it should. Often they’re filled with gratuitous violence and gore, and far too many women always the victims. The Woman turned the tables on that trope though it starts out that way. It definitely makes you think and shudder.  Yes, there was a bit of gratuitous violence and blood but actually fairly restrained. I’d give it seven blood splats out of ten.

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Movie Review: The Train Wreck of “I’m Still Here”

I got to see the preview of I’m Still Here last night, another in a long list of reality, documentary, “real life” stories on film. So it’s shot with a handheld video and is grainy and old looking, as well as bad to incomprehensible sound quality in parts. Just like Blair Witch Project and all those other made-to-be-real stories. But it’s a documentary, sort of. Joaquin Phoenix, the star, or anti-star, of this documentary was filmed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck. Now in a way it’s unfortunate that Affleck let the cat out of the bag so early that in fact this is a mockumentary and not really Phoenix’s plummet into eccentric weirdoness. We sincerely hope–though stars going crazy, or doing too many drugs or booze is an old story and Phoenix seems to have had his brush with this in the past.

Joaquin as crazed hip-hop wannabe (from x17online.com)

In some ways, this reminded me of the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which had grainy handheld images by a novice videographer, for part of it. But let’s look at I’m Still Here as if it were being filmed as a true documentary. First, if Casey Affleck was revealed as the director at the beginning we then have to wonder, why does an actor with money and names at his disposal decide to use the lowest level of technology available to make this film about his brother-in-law? Only because it will look more like reality, but already I’m suspicious because it’s not some no name Joe and at least the filming should be a little more even, and the framing and sound better. That’s my first raspberry to the film.

Let’s not forget that for Affleck’s directorial debut it does keep production values and costs pretty minimal, and producing a film can be very very expensive. Not to mention paying those high price actors of which Joaquin Phoenix is one. But hey, he’s in on it and he’s Affleck’s brother-in-law and we know the Affleck boys are talented. So let’s do this badass hoax.

Phoenix, as always, is such a consummate actor that he’s believable as the tripped out, pot-smoking, coke-snorting, beer-drinking crazoid who wants to give up acting and become a hip-hop artist. However…through this increasing train wreck of two years, Joaquin gets fuzzier with a big untrimmed beard, uncombed hair, massive sunglasses held together by duct tape, sometimes a torn toque or shirt on his head and generally a slovenly appearance that radiates negative sex appeal. I kept wondering if they put a fat suit on him but it looks too real as he gains weight. Now there are many actors who have put on weight, starved themselves or gotten buff to play a role and I don’t doubt that Phoenix would do this.

However, I find it unbelievable that anyone who actually cared for the man, including presumably his brother-in-law and a sister somewhere (or the brief cameo of his father) would let a man slide for so long without wanting to stage an intervention, and that Affleck would put that in the video. Phoenix is crazed,  he’s drugged, he mumbles, he rants and is basically so fucked up that he’s unappealing to anyone but the sycophants/aids/assistants who are paid to follow and help him. But no one, not publicist nor marketing people nor agents ever say, “What the hell? You need serious help.” They just let him ride and let him slide, and that to me is unbelievable and missing from this mockumentary, hence making it a noticeable fake documentary.

As for the film itself, well there are funny moments because Joaquin is so crazed and the way he dresses so bad (because we know he’s a famous star) that you just have to laugh. His home doesn’t look anything like what a star would live in and seems half unpacked with his assistants living in bare bedrooms with no pictures on the wall and only a single size bed (also unbelievable–no one can love him that much). So yeah we laugh at his crazy looniness and at the lame-ass attempts at hip-hop, which, because the sound is never mastered in any way is hard to hear at times.

But those amusing moments don’t warrant a nearly two-hour film. It’s slow and drags and whereas Exit Through the Gift Shop moved along, had tension, humor, drama and a good story on several levels, I’m Still Here falls flat. So flat in fact that I kept trying to see what time it was when I wasn’t closing my eyes. An hour would have been long enough to document this style of train wreck life, whether real or not. Some judicious cutting would have helped.

If Casey Affleck hadn’t revealed that it was a mockumentary so quickly I’m sure that the critics would debate its veracity for months, (and more people would see the film) but probably Joaquin Phoenix is truly worried that people will believe it and that his movie career will plummet. Plus, he’s gotta get back in shape now. But like the phoenix Joaquin is named after, I’m sure this star will rise higher and that the only truly good thing in this film was the caliber of his acting.  As for Casey Affleck’s directing, well, with the right money and people in the right place, I know I could do as well if not better. I’d only give this film four stars out of ten. Watching my cat groom itself is about on par for the excitement in this film.

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Movie Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy's art

On the weekend I went to see a movie with a friend, and it’s not the type of movie I normally would see. Usually, I like my escapist mind candy. I see a lot of speculative (SF and fantasy) movies because it’s what I mostly write. I like a good drama; once in a while a good comedy. I don’t tend to go to horror/thriller movies, slapstick humor, chick flicks or documentaries. With documentaries I guess I feel I want to just enjoy a world of make-believe, of fiction, and not have my emotions tossed all over the place. Or I believe they’ll be boring.

So I wasn’t expecting much when I heard we were going to see a movie about graffiti artists, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The movie started out with this guy Thierry Guetta and his obsession with filming everything in sight. There was a little interview/statement at first by some guy in a black hoody whose face was hidden and his voice disguised. The shots are like old home movies, bad angles, out of focus, insipid color. I didn’t think much of the first ten minutes, but then the brilliance of the movie started to unfold.

Now I come from an art background and I know there is graffiti art, those jagged large letters on walls all but unreadable, yet of a discernible style. There are wall murals but they look to be done by artists hired by the establishment. There are some pictures or posters. And there is the slogan graffiti, like the one on the little bathroom in Grandview Park, painted with a simplistic landscape and some crows, but some anti-everything anarchist defaced the art by painting “F**k the pigs!” and “Kill the pigs!” Not particularly intelligent, deep or new and nothing to do with the most recent protest (on upgrading the park facilities) which was when it was painted.

What I had no clue about was the depth of graffiti art, or street art, where people devote their spare time and money to making images and posting them, usually illegally. How this relates to Thierry the obsessive videographer is that when he is visiting family in France his cousin makes these plastic tiles and sticks them up on walls and underpasses, and they, like his name, are all about Space Invader. Street artists have aliases (probably to protect them from police and being fined) and become known for their particular style. They will print 10-20-foot tall images and then paste them to sides of buildings. What I did notice of all the artists shown was that they use blank walls and never deface public art. They might paint over a previous artist’s work if it’s old and known as a graffiti wall.

The better artists have a good style and may also have a message to get across. Thierry in his obsession began filming his cousin and was then filming numerous street artists, in a way documenting a transitory art form that had not yet been captured for history or memory’s sake. One of the most notorious  and political street artists was in Britain and goes by the name of Banksy. As Thierry finally meets Banksy, Banksy tells him it’s time to get this documentary out there for everyone to see this impermanent form of art. But what they don’t know is that Thierry has thousands of cassettes and he’s never looked at any of them or cataloged them in any order. What results is an unwatchable 1.5 hour film.

What is evident through this film is that it’s a bit of a biography of Thierry, a documentary of street art, a commentary on art and value, a look at culture and a very complex, multi-layered piece. Along the way it’s obvious that Banksy and others stepped in to take some of Thierry’s footage and make something truly historic. And street art starts to move into the big LA and British galleries, being auctioned off and worth big money. Banksy tells Thierry to go home and make some art. But what he didn’t realize was how powerful Thierry’s obsession was.

Thierry goes from filming to wanting to be a street artist too. Banksy gives Thierry a quote: “He’s a force of nature and I don’t mean that in a good way.” (paraphrased) Thierry isn’t just doing a bit of street art; he’s doing a lot. Plus he mortgages his house, sells his business and mounts a truly monumental show. In essence, he makes himself an artist almost overnight. And the thing is, this guy isn’t the trendy artist, nor an anti-culture rebel icon. He’s very provincial, sort of an innocent, and not very eloquent, and yet, he has something. This film also is about what is art and can someone create art without going through the long steps of training and gaining notoriety.

The brilliance of this documentary is subtle and so multi-layered that I’m still thinking about it. And yes, it highlights the elusive Banksy, who remains mysterious, but then it looks like, in the end, that he produced the movie. And Banksy, well, he’s subversive, he’s political, he’s talented and really quite brilliant (I hope his head doesn’t swell too much should he read this.) I’ve included one of his images here, which says a lot , and his website from where I found this piece. You can also find out when the film is being viewed in your city. http://www.banksy.co.uk/index.html

Exit Through the Gift Shop is so ingenuous that it’s worth seeing, whether you like documentaries or not, or are interested in culture, art, history, politics or people. And this is a subtly funny film too. I know that when I go for walks from now on, I’ll be looking at graffiti with a different eye. I don’t know how big the street art movement is in Vancouver but I can say that the best of it is truly a form of unique art worthy of appreciation. I would give this film five stars.

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Movie Review: Zombieland

Finding an interesting movie in the month or so before holiday season releases can be a bit of a challenge. I saw 9 a week ago and being the science fictional gal I am, when fellow writer Rhea Rose wanted to see a movie, we got it down to Where the Wild Things Are and Zombieland. For whatever reason, I decided that I’d rather see Zombieland.

We went to Silver City in Coquitlam, one of the most stupidly designed theaters, as parking lots go. It’s like a maze and some rows blocked so you have to backtrack or cross over the road that cars enter from, to get to the other side. This inefficient design takes up space that could have been used for parking. Let me tell you, if you had to run over zombies, you’d never get up enough speed and they’d take you down for sure. So stay out of badly designed movie parking lots.

Now the movie, which has a brilliant opener, with the narrator, who we don’t know quite yet, and slo-mo pastiches of people turning zombie and chomping on their friends and family. First there was mad cow, then mad people, then mad zombie, and so it began, spreading across the country and maybe the world. But for this movie it is in the ole U.S. of A and there is no saving the country because it’s too late (so much for flu preparedness). In fact, so destroyed by zombies is it that there are few people left alive and one is our narrator, a young, geeky college guy with few social skills and a lot of neurosis, including irritable bowel syndrome (probably from those pizza and Mountain Dew he lives  on.) He is known as Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), an unlikely survivor of the zombie apocalypse, partly because of his fastidious rules, (always wear a seatbelt, check the back seat, double tap, etc.) which are often demonstrated in other zombie encountering clashes.

He meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a lean, mean, zombie killing machine who has two goals in a world depleted of humanity: to kill zombies and find a Twinkie, which, he says, has an expiration date despite popular belief.  Tallahassee names Columbus and then two others they meet, the femme fatale Wichita (Emma Stone) and her little sister,  Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Why they have these names and don’t just say I’m Sarah, I’m Fred, is never explained. I mean, it’s not like they have to hide their identities in a world lacking humans, law and order. But that’s just one of the many thin patches on this barely held-together plot. Columbus is looking for…who knows but he’s like every person, trying to stay alive, despite the odds. Wichita and Little Rock are trying to get to the West Coast to the mythical Playland, which is supposed to be free of zombies.

Who told these people about this zombie free land? After all, there’s no one left to spread a rumor. Not that the zombies would encourage the meat to get away. Oh and the zombies. Well they are the most wholesome zombies I’ve ever seen. By wholesome I mean they seem to have all their limbs and haven’t been chawed apart, except for that initial chomp. But then as the zombie virus spreads it seems they all get bruised looking eyes, blood and gore on their faces and they spit blackish or green gorp from their mouths, which might be blood or rotting guts or who knows. Now these zombies aren’t the shambling creatures of other movies. They’re fast and can run (the fatties went first, says Columbus. Rule #1 is cardio.) and they seem to think to a degree, like wily animals, being able to smash in windows. But at other times they shamble, heads askew, wrists limp, legs at odd angles. I’m not sure why.

The zombies are also attracted to bright lights and sound and of course they want fresh meat. But with so few bodies around (a lack of extras or money for special effects), I wonder how it’s much of a problem to avoid them. And what do they eat if they’ve eaten all of the living? Well, one scene shows a zombie chomping on her “manwich” and drinking the marrow from his bones. If that’s the case, it seems that when all of the humans were gone and only zombies were left they’d turn on each other, but instead there are numbers of them waiting to congregate on our unsuspecting heroes.

When there are cars and keys  and homes with food, plus stores abounding, why is it that Little Rock and Wichita have to steal a car from Columbus and Tallahassee? If they’ve survived this long, they should be able to figure out how to get a free car, not to mention,outwitting mindless zombies would be harder than two men. So this unlikely plot thread throws our four nuts together. Columbus has feelings for Wichita which she rejects at first, but Tallahassee is older and weird. And Columbus really has no choice, if Wichita is the last woman alive (her sister being too young). Boy meets girl with a tag along “uncle” and sister in a land of zombies. Hmmm.

SPOILER ALERT. There is a gratuitous Bill Murray scene, which has the least well-planned out skit of the movie. Another rule: don’t dress up as a zombie if you’re not and try to scare people used to shooting zombies. All I can figure is that either Bill Murray put money behind this movie or they asked to use his house and he said sure, but I get a cameo. Of course, he is a legendary comic too.

This plot was very very thin, to the point that we came out of the movie going errr, where was the plot, but it was funny. And that’s just it. The one liners and the hilarious skits are timed very well and the actors all hold their own. Overall it’s a vehicle for Harrelson and we agreed he actually looked pretty good all buffed up. The unlikely teamup of the anal-retentive geek and the hard-edged badass work well and the pacing is good for this rather short movie. How long can you stretch out a zombie-chasing-human story anyways? I would give this a 6 out of 10 for the lameass zombies and gore, and the lacklustre plot, but the humor and the comedy hold this together and had us laughing out loud. So I’ll give it a 7  6.5 because of the good acting and the funny skits along the way to who knows where. The motto could be, family is who you pick.

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Weird Tales’ 85 Weirdest

I’m never up to speed when I’m reading and sometimes read magazines a long time after publication. This was the case with last year’s Weird Tales. I’ve found these magazines are easier to deal with while working out so I’m reading many after the fact. Weird TalesMarch/April 2008 issue listed 85 of the weirdest storytellers in the last 85 years, celebrating the magazine’s (of course) 85th anniversary. That means they started in 1923. Imagine how the world and the concept of fantasy and the weird has changed in that time. It’s a lifetime.

This list of storytellers covers everything from writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists to entertainers. I found that I knew most of the names on the list (that has a short paragraph or two of description) and started thinking about who wasn’t on the list that I would have added. Of course the magazine went with who they thought should fit in there, plus recommendations from the readers. Their list has these names (the first list those I know and the second, those I hadn’t heard of):

  • Douglas Adams, Charles Addams, Laurie Anderson, J.G. Ballard, Nick Bantock, Clive Barker, Art Bell, Bjork, David Bowie, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, Tim Burton, Kate Bush, Octavia Butler, Angela Carter, Nick Cave, Lon Chaney Sr., Cirque du Soleil, Joel and Ethan Coen, Alice Cooper, David Cronenberg, R. Crumb, Roald Dahl, Salvador Dali, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Steve Ditko, Harlan Ellison, M.C. Escher, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam, Edward Gorey, Gunther von Hagens, Jim  Henson, Robert E. Howard (the one I don’t agree should be on this list), Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, Frida Kahlo, Andy Kaufman, Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Madeleine L’Engle, Gary Larson, Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, David Lynch, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dave McKean, Michael Moorcock (not so sure he’s that weird either but loved his Elric books), Alan Moore, Catherine Moore & Henry Kuttner, Grant Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Mervyn Peake, Penn & Teller, Bill Plympton, Thomas Pynchon, Anne Rice, Rod Serling, Dr. Seuss, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Clark Ashton Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Rev. Ivan Stang, Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Waits, Alice Walker, Andy Warhol, John Waters, Roger Waters, Wim Wenders, Thornton Wilder, Robert Anton Wilson, Warren Zevon.
  • (now the ones I didn’t know) Art Bell, Margaret Brundage, Virgil Finlay, Charels Fort, Rand and Robyn Miller, Chuck Shepherd, Osamu Tezuka, Kool Keith Thornton, Kara Walker, Sylvia Townsend Warner.

That’s it. Only a few I didn’t know and most of those illustrators/painters but not all. But then Weird Tales set up a tab on their website www.weirdtalesmagazine.com called Share Your Weird, where people could list other names they thought should have been on the list. As I read through the initial list I agreed with most but found a few that I thought were weird enough to be on there as well. Reading through other people’s comments, there are many more weird artists out there than the 85 slots and people made good ponts. In fact they could probably have done 85 weird filmmakers, 85 weird comic artist/writers, 85 weird fiction writers, etc.

Here are a few that I would have added, not just because of their impact on me but on a genre (in no particular order):

  • China Mieville–his bugheaded women in Perdido Street Station is weird enough, not to mention the cactus people. But then maybe he’s not old enough. Interestingly, of the living artists in the list of 85, no one is under the age of 40.
  • Federico Fellini–moviemaker who was doing bizarre films of ancient Greece and Rome, of love and of fools way before the more recent films (Amarcord, Satyricon, 8 1/2)
  • Peter Greenaway–filmmaker who must have been influenced by Fellini as well as by impressionist painters of the 18th century. His films often have scenes with dead animals, still lives with bugs, and great symbolism which I love. Definitely on the weird side. (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Prospero’s Books, The Pillow Book, The Draughtsmen Contract, 8 1/2 Women [the Fellini influence])
  • Gahan Wilson–weird and creepy cartoonist where his people often looked like they were in pain or melting.
  • Jean Cocteau–Long before Wenders, Kubrick, Cronenberg, Greenaway, or Fellini, there was Cocteau doing silent films in black and white. His Beauty and the Beast La Belle et la Bête  was erotic and sensual before people talked of such things. The line of sconces, arms holding torches, set some of the stage for weird but arty films to come.
  • Brian Eno–his full name alone is weird (Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno). This avant garde musician started with Roxy Music and has been producer on some of the bands you know today (Coldplay, U2, Talking Heads). His own work of eclectically weird songs and sonic landscapes, such as “Music for Airports” puts him as king of weird in the musical world.
  • They Might Be Giants–their lyrics alone are equal to the imagery in China Mieville’s books. How to make hit tunes from nonsequitirs and have them make sense–that’s these guys.

I’m sure I could come up with more weird. Oddly enough there are no poets in the mix in either the magazine or my list. I would need to actually do more research because there is plenty weird. Lewis Carroll is before the 85 years of weird but Jabberwocky would be on that list. It would be interesting now, to do a list of 50 weird poets though some people might think that all poetry is weird. And to Weird Tales, it was an interesting issue and well worth reading a year past the publishing date. That’s what I love about fiction magazines: they’re often timeless. And here’s to at least another 85 years of weird tales.

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