Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) directed by Jim Jarmusch


Starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, this is a art film take on vampires. Swinton and Hiddleston are have been a couple for the last few hundred years but are currently living apart. Their characters are named Adam and Eve which I found a little annoying to be honest but there wasn’t much other religious symbolism in the film. John Hurt plays Christopher Marlowe and the script makes it clear that he wrote the Shakespeare plays and Adam was behind some of the world’s most famous poets and musicians while Eve has had her share of relations with famous historical people. This is an element that I find ridiculous in many films with vampires or any long lived characters. They always seem to know or worse, have been famous people throughout their lives. Like in stories of reincarnation, no one is ever a pig farmer, that are always Cleopatra. The unlikeliness of that just irritates me. 

This a Jarmusch film so the story is sort of light on details or structure and instead relies on how interesting you find the people in the story. I do think this works for him and it doesn’t fail him in this film either but it’s the performances of the main actors that keeps you watching. He introduced some elements that took me a while to figure out why they were important, like how the vampires wear gloves when out and about, but not all the time. Adam does seem to mopey at times but is still manages to elicit sympathy. John Hurt and Tilda Swinton are the highlight of any production in my opinion and they don’t disappoint here. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

November (2017) directed by Rainer Sarnet

This black and white Estonian film was kind of sold as a horror story and while there are horror elements, its play much more as fairy tale. The villagers of this town are tricking the devil into deals that lets them put souls and life into devices made from bits and pieces they have lying around and are used to steal things from their neighbours and do chores. They have also been tricking the Black Death from coming into their community. Overload over this is a sort of lover triangle between Liina a farm girl who is also a werewolf, the curse local farm boy Hans and the Baron’s daughter who is a somnambulist who is dangerously close to walking off the roof of the manor nightly. Liina is promised the her father’s older, creepy friend and Hans is in love with the sleep walking girl while Liina pines after Hans. 

The events in this film are, to say the least bizarre but fascinating. The relation of the occult and supernatural to the villagers is handled so casually, not of it is strange to them despite of strange it is to us. As a spoiler warning, like most of the original fairy tales old old, things do do end well.

The two main young actors, despite being cover in crud most of the time are really appealing  and the acting throughout is very good. The place where the film outshine almost all other films I’ve seen in a long time is the cinematography which is just sublime. The effects of the Kraats, the soul infused mechanical creatures, are very well done and integrate naturally into the action and there are some truly beautiful scenes that make this a film like no other you have seen. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Moonage Daydream (2022) directed by Brett Morgen


A lauded documentary about the life of rock start and artist David Bowie and authorized by his estate, this film has some amazing editing and fantastic sound restoration in it. The film mixes early Bowie with later Bowie clips and highlights several interviews he did over the years, gradually moving towards the last years of his life. It has been well received by his fans and won awards at several festivals. 

I do like Bowie, his work was strongly present in my youth and I followed his career right up until his death. I cannot say I like this movie very much overall, however. There is a lot of repetition in the clips they show and graphics. many of the quickly flashing images have little connection to the man or his work and information about his life and art is sparse to say the least both in visually and in the interviews. If anyone has a giant catalog of visuals to draw from it's David Bowie, there should be no need for showing things over and over again no matter how pretty they are. 

I would say fans would be thrilled the effort was made but they won't learn anything much new about their idol. The film doesn't even mentioned he died. If you weren't familiar with him, you would be missing a lot of useful info that might help you decode his public personality and private life. There are endless shots of the back of his head with him walking places. I honestly think the film would be at least cut in ½ is they and the repeated graphics were removed and the information you learn about him would still seem sparse. 

For me, I have yet to see a decent accounting of his life and work.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Documentary: No Straight Lines (2023) directed by VIVIAN KLEIMAN


This documentary follows the start of comics made by openly gay artists to present day. I hadn't heard about it until I was told an old friend, Jennifer Camper, was in it. I also worked in a comic book store fin the 80s so I was familiar with the other artists the history they were telling. 

Kleiman does a good job with her interviews and where they go. She lets them slip away from being a strict history of gay comics to , smartly, keeping a lot of conversation about what else was going on at the time to put it all in context. There are a lot of women artists involved as well which was a pleasant surprise as I knew of more lesbian arts than gay ones in the field a the time and it was nice to see them represented  in force. I had to take a break about ⅔ through and was surprised there was no mention of Eric Orner (another old friend), his Ethan Green comic nor his graphic novel about politician Barney Frank. Seemed really good fit but who knows what got in the way. As a filmmaker myself, I realize you can't talk to everyone and some people just won't talk to you in the time you need them too. Near the very end, however,  I saw a piece of artwork that showed his characters (including Boston's the Hat Sisters) so he was represented just not highlighted. 

This is a good modern look back at the early innovators that brought gay subject matter into the comic book world.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965) directed by Noriaki Yuasa


Oddly this is personal film for me. I used to watched Creature Double Feature on UHF TV with my mother and this was her favourite monster.. it wears ridiculous and Gamera was "the friend of the children".As my mother died recently, it seem a homage to her to cover this here. 

Gamera was a direct response to Godzilla. Made by a rival studio it was pretty much a ripoff of the king of the monsters. No one wanted to direct it so they gave it to a failed director who was just happy to get hired again and to everyone's surprise it was a big hit! It led to a long series of films with Gamera some more serious than others but all of them fairly bizarre. Many of the films are pretty violent for children's films and many don't seem to make the slightest attempt to make sense. 

Regardless of your memory of Gamera, the Giant monster, this movie is a lot more random and ridiculous than you remember. The fact that there is a giant turtle the shoots fire from its leg holes when they are retreated into it's body and flies around is just the start of it. Why is he the friend of children? He save a kid in this movie. The kid love turtles but how Gamera would know that is never explained. Gamera must of killed 100s of kids on one of many rampages in the movie as well. The scientists come up with a a plan to get rid of Gamera, a "Z" plan... I guess because it's the last chance and last letter of the alphabet? They lure him in to a trap which consists of using fire to get him to stand on a platform which closes a huge container over him and sends him to Mars... I guess he will be Mars's problem from then on. How this thing was built and implements in what must have been a couple days at best is also not explained. In the end, it doesn't really work as the next movie starts with an asteroid hitting the spaceship, freeing the giant monster and he head immediately back to earth! 

Gamera was along running joke between my mom and I and as dumb as it is it will always have a place in my heart. My spouse watched it with me, he had never seen it and oddly enough found it fun! 

I made my own poster for the film not long ago. If I can get some money together I want to make a t-shirt from it. Miss you mom. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

The three little pigs - the swine crisis.... horrifying children short


So my 3 year old nephew was obsessed with watching cartoons of the 3 little pigs over the holiday. Most were dreadfully animated, I mean just terrible and some were weird tie ins to other shows where other children's characters would be inserted into the story. This was... something else. 

The story is told with live actors in really creepy looking masks. The wolf is sort of interesting but the pigs look terrifying. Many versions take liberties with the original tale, you can only tell the same story so many times and most will avoid the wolf in the pot at the end, choosing to have him cartoonishly shoot into the air like a rocket instead of being cooked. I have NEVER seen a version where one pig is pothead who burns his own straw house down while another is an alcoholic who has WW1 flashbacks. A super sexy Red Riding Hood shows up at the end.

Effort went into this and some people talk about how nostalgic this was to them. It's not poorly done it's just wildly inappropriate for kids and seriously... WTF? 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Interview with the Vampire (season one) 2022 created by Rolin Jones

 I have been a fan of the Ann Rice book since it was released in 1976 and I still have my original paperback copy. The back cover had models portraying the main characters in a formal portrait and that image of them stuck with me and became how I visualized them. There were followup books, though the first of them "The Vampire Lestat" took awhile to come out the rest were written much quicker and soon Rice had several series of supernatural series covering all sorts of occult subjects, with varying degrees of success in my opinion. A film version of "Vampire" was released in 1984 and while it had some lovely cinematography and a well know, good-looking cast it was TERRIBLE. Miscast and, apparently due to the objections of Tom Cruise, it erased all the gayness which made the book so fascinating when it was released. Cruise tried to make his version of Lestat the highlight of the film and Will credit him for making a huge effort in the role. However taking away the character's queerness took away the character and all that effort was not enough to save the project. 

Now we have TV series based on the same material and I was not too hopeful how it would come out. I knew in advance they had changed the time period and were going to play quite a bit with the original storyline of a book I simply LOVE. Louis de Pointe du Lac is now a rich black brothel owner, not a white plantation owner and the story has shifted about 100 years later than the novel. The original story still exists in it's original form by way of this being a second meeting of the now old, dying of Parkinson's journalist (Eric Bogosian) once again meeting with Louis who wants to redo the interview after admitting he wasn't entirely honest the first time around. He provides evidence of his current version with diaries and newspaper clipping etc to show his good faith and also to give us, the viewer, more insight into other characters in their own words. 

As the interview progresses, the familiar story is presented in different ways and some elements are changed completely. Louis has a servant (Assad Zaman) who arises the suspicion in the journalist that even this new interview might be given by an unreliable narrator - and he is not wrong. 

I don't want to spoil things as this series is absolutely fantastic and gives us the tone and feeling of the book while at the same time letting it be its own thing. It adds to the book, a rare thing, and does not shy away for the queer elements (not at all) and introduces new ones like Louis having to deal with racial and sexual prejudices which really adds to the character in ways I wouldn't not have predicted. Jacob Anderson IS Louis, the pouty, miserable vampire of the books but with much more context. And my goodness is he beautiful both physically and as an actor in the role. Sam Reid grew on me as Lestat and his wrath and mental instability is terrifying. His French accent is a little off for me so it took me longer to buy him as Lestat but he really succeeded in getting me on board. Bailley Bass is Claudia, the young girl who is made a vampire to complete their little vampire family. In the show she is not a 5 year old but a teenager and Bass runs away with the adolescent rebellion as only a vampire stuck forever in a teenager's body can. Being transformed so young, killing and living as a supernatural creature is all she knows and that makes her more dangerous than maybe Lestat and Louis could have anticipated. 

This series has been beyond good and doesn't seem to have a huge backlash some other reboots or followup properties have in recent years. Some of that is the quality of the show nullifies the dumb internet bigotry and some might be is has slipped in under the radar just enough to have avoided the attention of Russian trolls. Hard to say. There is some what I would call light nudity and sexuality but there is some pretty nasty violence... I mean several times during the season I was really taken aback by it. It isn't without purpose, however. Everything in this show seems to have purpose and leads somewhere interesting. The second season can't come soon enough. 

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Man Who Fell to Earth (2022) created by Jenny Lumet & Alex Kurtzman

 I will have to state I was pretty much against this TV series from the announcement. It seemed a bad idea and to remake the Nicolas Roeg film starring David Bowie was a fool's errand. Luckily it's done cleverly enough with some nods to the film but allows itself to become it's own thing. 

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a new alien coming to Earth find Jerome Newton, David Bowie's character from the film and basically discover what the fuck happened to the guy sent to get water to save their planet 45 years ago. Lots of fish out of water stuff the first few episodes which is amusing enough and also some new world building never even hinted at in the movie. We see much more of the alien planet and that culture and over 10 episodes we get a better idea why they have chosen earth. Some of it is hand waving nonsense but works on a symbolic level and a lot of time is spent more on the machinations of the CIA, Jerome Newton and the new spaceman who has named himself Faraday.  Naomie Harris plays a scientist who has given up on her career after a terrible radiation accident that was her fault but she is the only person on Earth who can interpret the alien tech to help Faraday complete his mission. Kate Mulgrew plays a ruthless CIA agent and Bill Nighy takes over the Bowie role. 

I don't want to spoil much but it's safe to safe the story gets complex and is pretty engaging and while they keep away from trying to be anything like the Roeg film (a very good call), each episode is named after a Bowie song and in the episodes Bowie lyrics are woven into the dialog which is interesting as an idea but often seemed forced to me. 

Visually well filmed and effects that work and look great but don't overwhelm the story or call too much attention to themselves. Too many of the characters are damaged, some to the point it would be impossible for them to work in a Walmart, never mind be CIA agents. The two leads work well but some of the others are really hard to relate to. Too much attention is paid to their flaws and not to who they are so it's hard to know what we are supposed to feel about them. This doesn't keep the series from building and twisting in ways they are entertaining and engaging, though. Despite the title and sure material it stays pretty grounded in its storyline and while not a classic like the movie it stands enough on it's own that I would say to give it a try. 

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) written and directed by Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi is an odd choice for a Marvel Universe superstar but this and his last Thor film has elevated the series with its quirky humour and fun. 

Following a lead from the comics this film has Thor discovering that his ex girlfriend is now also a Thor and the two awkwardly rekindle their romance. As in the comic, she has been diagnosed with cancer and each time she uses the mighty hammer it hastens here death. Natalie Portman reprises the role, having skipped the second film and is pretty damn good. So is everyone else and I had to be told that Gorr the God Butcher, the piece's villain, was Christian bale. I had no idea. 

As light and action packed as this movie is, it stands out to me for a reason we often don't see in this ginormous blockbusters. Whenever a serious or emotionally poignant scene comes up there is always a quip to knock it out of the film and be forgotten about. Not this time. Waititi does not skimp on the feelings or hide them when talking about the cancer. It's not overdone or thrown in to make yu cry but it does ground the film like no other marvel spectacular and it's all the better for it. 

Funny, touching where it needs to be and full of fun performances makes me look forward to the third. 

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Northman (2022) Directed by Robert Eggers


In his third full length film, Eggers was given a substantial budget, over twice his other films, and it shows. It's lovely to look at and meticulously constructed, like his other films. Having more money seems to have added a commercial element I can't quite put my finger on that was absent in previous efforts. The story is fairly cliché, young prince survives the betrayal and murder of his father and swears revenge on the traitor - becoming a savage warrior in the process. He has brought back actors from previous films and added some higher end ones, all of which are great in their roles and obviously wanted to work with him. Ethan Hawke is maybe the weakest in his role as king but when the weakest role is still fantastic, you can't complain. Alexandre Skaesgârd is intense with his body language, psychical presence and wears his anger well throughout as the revenge seeking prince. Bjork has a small role that suits her well, particularly her voice and Nicole Kidman takes on what could have been a forgettable character and gives her life. 

The film was a commercial failure at the box office but I see it having a long life in video  and streaming for years to come and I will buy the BluRaye. Eggers does use original languages but not exclusively so most of the film is in English. The other languages didn't need subtitles to understand what was happening. He is a stickler for original language so the English throughout was unexpected. There was nudity in the film and some sex but nothing terribly explicit. In fact, some of the nudity took me out of the film because while it wasn't exactly "the guy is naked but there is vase in front of his junk" censorship, it wasn't NOT that either. there is a en epic naked sword fight in a volcano that was maybe cropped a little too carefully to hide things which, for me at least, always brings attention to the director hiding something and it's more distracting than seeing a penis briefly. Woman don't get to be quite as modest. It is pretty violent in parts but I wouldn't say any of it is out of place for the story and Eggers does not shy away from things like rape is happening - but he doesn't make it selling point as others might have and I really appreciated that. 

There is some debate on whether or not this is a fantasy film. Maybe. There are fantastical elements but most of them can be easily dismissed as the character's fantasy or the mythic interpretation melting with the real event. I liked an ambiguity and the myth making mixing with the action. 

Not my favourite from Robert Eggers but three great films out of three is a pretty good record! I don't think he is chomping at the bit for more large budgets and frankly he doesn't need them. More frankly, I don't think many films needs the enormous money poured into them.