Моя маленькая “My Little One” by Polina Agureyeva

From what I have been able to glean, Polina Agureyeva is the singer. The song is “My Little One” from the Russian film “A Long Goodbye” by Sergei Ursuliak.

This song is beautiful and so moving. It’s not classical guitar, but that doesn’t take away one iota from the moment. I’ve been humming this song for a couple of days now!

This song has hooked me. I want to see this film.

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No Country for Old Men (book and novel review)

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy is a very good novel that, by all rights, should have been great.No Country for Old Men

It tells the story of a drug deal gone bad and how fate impacts different lives, and ends up shattering them. Written in a minimalist style with no quotation marks, commas or apostrophes, this literary quirk of McCarthy’s presents the story in raw and bold power. The violence of the novel isn’t symbolic or splatterpunk, it’s everyday real violence: unexpected and sudden and leaves you shivering and vulnerable.

The writing is laconic and powerful in its simplicity, as this passage relates:

“When he woke it was almost dark. He rose and went to the window and pushed back the old lace curtain. Lights in the street. Long reefs of dull red cloud racked over the darkening western horizon. Roofs in a low and squalid skyline. He put the pistol in his belt and pulled his shirt outside his trousers to cover it and went out and down the hallway in his sockfeet.”

I am a huge Cormac McCarthy fan. I think Blood Meridian is one of the best American novels out there. It’s easily in my top five.

I also like this novel a lot. There’sone thing that keeps me from giving it five stars, and it’s the thing that kept me from giving the film five stars. It has to do with the malevolent psychopath: Chigurh.

He is in effect little more than a Terminator, albeit in this case a biological one and not robot. He’s an unstoppable cipher (which is fine) but at the end of the novel he disappears leaving the reader with no resolution. This is done on purpose by McCarthy and therein lies the problem.

It’s transparent. It’s so obviously literary gamemanship that we see right through it. Chigurh’s disappearance loses its full power and leaves the novel (and the film) feeling broken and unfinished.

On the other hand, in Blood Meridian, the ending again is similar. There is no neat little bow to tie things up, and in Meridian we are  abandoned. But McCarthy pulls it off with more aplomb and skill in that novel than he does with Country.

Don’t get me wrong. I still like this novel and I still like the film. I think McCarthy is damn amazing. It just does not reach the level of Blood Meridian.

Then again, no one should expect it to. No-Country-For-Old-Men-m01

Island of Lost Souls (1933) – Censored Horror with Sex and Atmospheric Bestiality

The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of my favorite novels by H.G. Wells. Published in 1896 it has deep philosophical elements whichThe garish movie poster for Island of Lost Souls Wells faces head on. It is arguably one of his least known, but best written, scientific romances.

In 1933 the novel was adapted to film by Paramount Pictures. It starred Charles Laughton as Moreau and he brings that character alive in a creepy and memorable way with his soft spoken voice and oily manner. Bela Lugosi has a small but pivotal role as one of the Beastmen called The Sayer of the Law:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?

The film has many layers to it. It’s not a simple and straightforward story. Moreau sets himself up as God. He claims he knows what it feels like to be God. There are implied Gnostic principles at work here as well because Moreau dresses in white but he has the countenance of the Devil. I don’t know if that’s intentional, but I suspect it was. It’s too obvious to have been a mistake.

Laughton is unforgettable as the evil Dr. MoreauThe Sayer of the Law stands for man caught between Heaven and Hell. Purgatory if you will. The House of Pain, where Moreau engages in his horrific experiments to transform beasts into men using plastic surgery, ray baths, and blood transfusions, is an obvious stand-in for Hell.

The stage is set. Enter a shipwrecked man, Edward Parker, played by Richard Arlen. Moreau, in the role of God, has not only made men from beasts, he has made a woman from a panther by the name of Lota. Kathleen Burke plays Lota and she does a phenomenal job. Moreau throws Parker and Lota together because he wants to know if she is a real woman or not. As Moreau explains, Lota is too afraid of him to accurately judge her sexuality so Parker is perfect in this role. He can awaken Lota’s sexuality if it exists. (Parker has a girlfriend back on the mainland who later comes looking for him.)

But you get the main  idea. Moreau is God. He has made a woman for an unblemished “Adam” who accidentally stumbled into his horrific Garden of Eden.

He wants them to mate. Be fruitful and multiply.

There are many unsettling undercurrents to this film which got it banned three times in Great Britain and has made it one of the best pre-code films that exist today. There is obvious bestiality (the romance between Lota and Parker) and cruel vivisection and lots of irreverent talk how God must stand aside (or be shoved aside) for the coming dominance of Man. Throw in some steamy pre-code half-dressed jungle sexuality and innuendo, along with intense torture and mindless brutality — and this film becomes more powerful today than when it was released.

I love pre-code films for exactly this reason. They were willing to take dangerous subjects and leave no stone unturned. But Another iconic image from the film in which we see the juxtaposition between Man and Beast. Is Man at his basic level only a beast? That's what Wells argues. for all this it is Lota, the Panther Woman, that make this film endure today. She is the  character all the other players revolve around. The look she brings to the screen is iconic and there are subtle touches of the Flapper about her as created by Coco Chanel: she is thin and boyish, her breasts are bound tightly to her body, yet her sexuality is raw and powerful and she wants to experiment and flout the rigid laws which restrain her. That’s straight out of Flapper philosophy, btw.

Wells did not like this film. He felt it glossed over the philosophies he talked about in the book. I don’t disagree. But when I watch this film I watch it as a film. When I read the novel I read it as a novel. They are apples and oranges. That’s not to say films made from novels don’t get it wrong. They often do. But in this case the film pays homage to the philosophies Wells put forth while challenging basic human sexuality which Wells did not.

I guess what I’m saying is in this case, both book and movie complement each other. That doesn’t always happen, but in this case it does.

The final five minutes of this film are unforgettable. It is very, very intense. You cannot look away. Especially during the demise of Moreau when the Men he has created decide Hey, let’s do it, let’s murder God.

I am not going to spoil it for you more than that. You will have to watch it for yourself if you think you can stand it.

If you like atmospheric horror with underpinnings of raw sexuality then you are going to like Island of Lost Souls a lot. The use of light and shadow is wonderful in this movie. The makeup is as good as anything you see today. These don’t look like people in cheap masks. They look like real Beastmen. The sets are lush and gorgeous and reek with dripping evil. It’s a great horror film and a superb example why pre-code films are so powerful even today. Give it a peek. You should watch this film if you like horror and science fiction.

Kathleen Burke plays Lota the Panther Woman who experiments with her new sexuality.

SWTOR: Casual fun with glowbats in the classic mythos of Star Wars

I am enjoying Star Wars: The Old Republic quite a lot. I have been looking for an MMO since I quit Eve Online a while back, and bailed on World of Warcraft after the disastrous Cataclysm expansion. I think I have found my MMO at last.

I am a casual gamer. Period. I can’t and I don’t devote hours everyday to game play. I’m a writer and a publisher so gaming has a back seat. No problem. But finding an enjoyable game I can return to when I have a few free hours is a nice change. For the record, I do not like the mythos of Star Wars. In point of fact I absolutely despise it. I think Lucas is a hack and he proved it in his ridiculous and ill-fated attempt to channel Joseph Campbell’s hero mythology with his Star Wars arc.

From my perspective, because of how I feel about the original mythos, I cannot review this game without looking at the movies. As for them, the only one I can watch without puking is The Empire Strikes Back and that’s Lucas wasn't always a hack writer and director. He did make the excellent SF movie THX 1138.for a very good reason: it was written by Leigh Brackett, a real science fiction writer. Lucas views SF as background furniture for his story. He has no real love and appreciation for the history and canon of classic SF. It’s just a cartoon backdrop to him. Okay, I give him credit for the movie THX 1138.  But that was when he was young and hungry and his creativity was at an all time high. Star Wars? At the core it’s about a mass murderer (Darth Vader) who apologizes in the last reel and that makes everything all right and magically transforms him into a sympathetic character who finds final redemption and forgiveness.Think about that a moment. Try getting that story published in Analog or Asimov’s or any top flight SF magazine today. Hell, try getting that story published in the bad old days of SF pulp. Even worse, it’s a perverse parody (if not a downright misunderstanding) of what Joseph Campbell’s work in comparative mythology was all about.

So there’s that. But, what about the game itself? It is Star Wars after all and our characters run around with glowbats and operate within the trappings of the classic mythos with the force and Sith and whatnot. Well, as a game it’s quite entertaining. Are there problems with the game? Yes, there are. I see video artifacts sometimes, and one or two of the quests I have come across are definitely bugged. But I have not experienced any game breaking bugs so far. I do very little PVP other than the battle zones so I can’t speak for those servers. I hear there are ability timing issues and global cooldown problems. I haven’t experienced them but that’s not to say they don’t exist.  But it does appear Bioware is involved and engaged and working to correct the biggest problems with the game. They released a big patch yesterday with more content and fixes to come. They’re not ignoring the game and problems inherent within the game like Age of Conan did.

WOW has been around a long time in terms of MMOs. It’s pretty polished. Therefore, since SWTOR is only about a month old I discount the angst and tears and pearl clutching from whiners and self-indulgent WOW fanbois on the Star Wars forum. One suspects they would be unhappy with everything less than instant gratification anyway. If you just go by the forums you might think the game was a broken, buggy mess. It’s not. There are problems. They are being addressed by Bioware.

Then again maybe I am a little more forgiving because I used to play Age of Conan and Star Trek: Online. And those games are still a buggy mess.

Speaking for myself I bought a six-month subscription to this game because of my style of casual play. I wasn’t the only one. This game has already sold over a million units. It’s had a very fast start. But a six-month sub will give me enough time to level my toon and maybe start one or two more. As a writer I do love the story-driven arc of the leveling process. I think it’s very well done and it would be hard for me to ever go back to WOW and read quest text. And this coming from me, someone who always said the WOW quest text was very well written.

Finally, as far as comparisons go,  SWTOR never promised to be a WOW-killer or anything of the kind. To be fair the only thing that can kill WOW is Blizzard. Just like the only thing that can kill SWTOR is Bioware. But SWTOR is engaging and fun without being too serious like Eve Online. It’s darn near perfect for the casual gamer. If you want hardcore SF gaming, play Eve Online. I still plan to return to Eve now that they’ve brought back ship spinning. But I may wait until I get my new computer, it will make the transition that much easier.

All I have left to say about SWTOR is if someone like me who has never liked the Star Wars mythos can find something enjoyable in this game, then maybe you, too, should give it a look. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and have a lot of fun swinging your glowbat and busting heads.

I’m on Soresu server and the name of my Jedi Consular Sage is Gaella. Come find me and we’ll do a quest line together and kill some Sith.  🙂

Enjoyable game so far, good story line.

Edit: Sorry about many of the grammatical errors in this review. I am having problem with my vision today. As close friends of mine know, the Lasik surgery I had some years back did more harm than good, and there have been recurring problems from time to time. Thanks for your patience and understanding. –KMH

Ikiru: Making Death Relevant by Kurosawa

This film examines a fundamentally human question we all wrestle with from time to time. Is the universe a dark and cold place, or do our actions have lasting, and permanent, consequences?  Kurosawa doesn’t answer the question because it’s fundamentally unanswerable. As most human questions are. But his characters speak and react as if they can somehow find the answer.

Still, one of the best films I’ve ever seen. The writing is great and the dialog superb. It follows a government bureaucrat who wants to accomplishing one worthwhile thing in life before he dies. I really loved it. A moving and contemplative film that takes a hard and unforgiving look at human nature.

Simply loved it.

Pandora’s Box (1922): Iconic Flapper Louise Brooks as Man-Eating Vamp

I wanted to like this film. And there is a lot to like about it. It is directed by G.W. Pabst, a German director, and it stars American actress Louise Brooks.Louise Brooks was always an iconic flapper

You may not know who Louise Brooks is, but if you see her picture you will be immediately familiar with her startling for its day but now iconic flapper look. Like I said, there is a lot to like about the film, including the participants, the direction (which is amazing) and the incredible use of light and shadow and dramatic imagery. But the film falls apart on the story. It’s pretty maudlin and unbelievable, even for Hollywood, even for the silent film era — and those are its good points.

This is a famous silent film and deservedly so. I can see why. The direction and images, again, are second to none. But the story of a woman who uses her sexuality to get what she wants, and then meets a Jack the Ripper kind of killer in London later on, pales. It could have been a much better story, I think, but whoever wrote it just phoned in the dramatic elements and left everything else to chance.  Pabst, being something of a genius, did the best he could with such third-rate material.

Anyway, that’s how it seemed to me. Sorry, but even though this is a very famous silent film, and Louise Brooks is exceptional, and the direction of Pabst is first-rate, I can’t recommend it at all. Oh, for the record, the music soundtrack blows chunks, too. It often doesn’t match what’s happening on screen. Too bad.

I really wanted to like this one.

Why the Zombie Genre needs to be Re-animated from Splatter-Chomp to Mysticism

I mentioned this earlier and want to examine it in more detail. As good as it was, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead has done more to limit the zombie genre than any other movie or book I can think of.

Here’s why that’s not a good thing.

Prior to this zombies were never about eating people. And they sure as heck were never about eating brains.  But here’s the problem with Romero’s film. It took what was once a genre filled with mystique and made it into splatter-chomp. And now that it’s splatter-chomp there was nowhere else for it go go except over-hyped splatter-chomp cum Apocalypse. Served with brains on the side. And it wasn’t long before the genre slid into slapstick and parody. Now we have zombies no one can take seriously a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

That’s what faces us today.

It’s too bad, really, because zombies had so much going for them prior to Romero’s film. Take Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie which I reviewed. That was an awesome film. So was Val Lewton’s uber-supreme I Walked with a Zombie which uses Jane Eyre as source material.


Val Lewton’s take on Jane Eyre…with zombies, voodoo, pathos, and Gothic imagery

These movies and others like them portrayed zombies for what they were supposed to be: living people (and sometimes dead, you couldn’t always tell) transformed into the unliving. Usually to serve as slaves or to make them pay for some horrible crime. But there was always something poignant about the zombie and its plight in these movies. There’s nothing poignant about the modern flesh eating zombie. He’s one-dimensional.

Yes, yes, I’m a zombie snob. That’s already been established.

Now, zombies didn’t start off that way. I concede that. Romero’s film was both horrifying and artistic with a steady dose of nihilism. He was making a deep statement about the world he saw and he just happened to use zombies to get his artistic point across. But lesser filmmakers, and writers, only saw the cannibalism and ran with that single idea.

Now we’re left with zombies eating brains and there’s nowhere else for them to go. It’s a literary cul-de-sac in my opinion.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. But isn’t it also cool to examine the deep mystery, the Gothic imagery combined with Caribbean mysticism of zombiedom, rather than turning zombies into simple-minded fast food consumers?

Zombies as they are now portrayed are no longer frightening or horrific. They’re gross. But they’re not scary.

So in my opinion the zombie genre is in bad straits. I hope someone comes along and reboots it with an eye toward reviving its mystical past. If they can reboot Star Trek and Spider-Man they should be able to reboot this. Anyway, I hope so, ‘cuz I kinda like zombies. The old time zombies. The mystical zombies. The scary zombies.

So. Until this happens, where can you go to read good, memorable zombie stories that are old school? Look no further than Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie. This was a black and white comic published in the Seventies and it still rocks. It’s what zombies used to be about. It’s sexy and violent and Simon Garth, the zombie in question, is definitely old school. The only carp I have is it’s written in second person, a forced literary affectation I have always despised because it calls too much attention to itself. But the stunning artwork and layered characterization overcomes that limitation.

If, like me, you like the old time zombies, then please check out this collection. I think you’ll like it a lot.

Philosophy, Death, and a Virgin Murder: Three Superb Films You Must Watch

My Dinner With Andre

This is one of the best movies about philosophy ever filmed.  Even if you don’t like philosophy you’re going to like this film.  It’s about two friends in a French restaurant.   One is the Everyman and the other is Knowledge and they both learn from each other.  Nothing but dialogue here and it’s very well written.  Anyone who wants to learn how to write good dialogue would be well advised to study the rhythms of words and sentences in this film.  Awesome.

 

 

The Seventh Seal

A knight (Max Von Sydow) returns from the crusades doubting God and plays a game of chess with Death.  Visually stunning and beautifully crafted this film draws you right in and never lets you go.  Please, if you’ve never seen this movie get hold of a copy.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

The Virgin Spring

Another Swedish film with Max Von Sydow.  I don’t want to give too much away about this story set in medieval times.  A young woman is raped.  Violence and retribution and sacrifice ensue.  There is a scene of violence towards the end which elicited an “Oh, my God!” exclamation from me.  That’s not easy to do, my friend.  But this film did it.  And as you watch you wonder, “So what’s with the title?  What’s the virgin spring?”  And then you see it and again you think with unbelievable wonder, “Oh. My. God.”

Haxan (1922): Superb Horror and Dark Fantasy Painted in Silence

If you haven’t seen this phenomenal silent film then by all means do. It’s a Swedish film about witchcraft and the frenzied denials and condemnations that surrounded it during the Middle Ages, and up until the present. Well, 1922, anyway, which is when this film was made.

The visuals of Haxan are astounding, on a par with any CGI magic you see today. These pics only represent a fraction of what is in the film. It’s an absolutely gorgeous piece of art and seriously, if you haven’t seen it, try. You will not be disappointed.


White Zombie (1932) – Old Fashioned Love and Death Sprinkled with Haitian Magic

White Zombie (1932) is a classic Pre-Code film starring Bela Lugosi. Though it was roundly panned at its release it has, over the Definitely Pre-Code clothing here!intervening decades, become a seminal horror film as regards subject matter, direction, and artistic photography.

To be sure the acting is a heavy handed and creaky, not to mention the squeaky musical soundtrack. But you don’t watch this film for the acting or the soundtrack. You watch it because 1.) it’s Pre-Code which means there’s a lot of sex and dangerous subject matter, and, 2.) it’s a story about zombies when zombies were cool.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) notwithstanding, I have never been a huge fan of flesh eating zombies. I view many of those stories as one-dimensional. It’s as if the same Knock-Knock joke is being told over and over again. Under those circumstances we all want to chomp on brains if only to escape the endless repetition of rotting corpses chasing ambulatory shish-ka-bobs around a shattered city .

Now, to be fair, Romero didn’Madge Bellamy was a big silent film star before she made White Zombie. She will always be known for this film.t always do this, even in films where he always did this. Then again he was an authentic genius and a phenomenal filmmaker. But much of zombie filmdom after him is derivative — and it reads and looks that way. It’s weak because it is dependent upon itself and has no need of a good background story and characterization. The storylines for these stories all start off with the same premise: there was an Apocalypse, and zombies eat brains.

You can phone that in while waiting in line at a coffee shop. And much of it reads and looks that way. Look, flesh eating zombies jumped the shark with the publication of  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith in 2009. I mean, seriously, it doesn’t even work as parody anymore. And, no, I don’t care that there’s a zombie series on TV that is popular right now. So what. This is America. Mediocrity always plays big here. My point is you’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing new there at all. Not one damn thing.

Okay, so I’m a zombie snob. You found me out. Sue me.

Bela Lugosi made White Zombie after his success as Dracula. Here he is as the sugar cane mill owner, Murder Legendre.But zombies didn’t always dig into skulls after brains. They have an ancient origin, ostensibly tracing religious roots all the way back to ancient Egypt. But the dark supernatural Vodoun magic that was the strongest foundation of zombie lore comes directly from Haiti via Africa. It is this lore that White Zombie explores.

As I said at the top this is not a perfect film. Hell, as a film it’s not very good. I’d be the first to concede that point. But the directors Victor and Edward Halperin made a visually stunning feast. I cannot get over the incredible graveyards built into the sides of hills, the silhouettes moving along the horizon, the mystic shots, the play of light and shadow on stone and faces, the oblique camera angles. There’s a lot of experimentation here, it seems, and it works rather well because it lends atmosphere and layers that not only make the film memorable, it has made the film endure for over 80 years.

I don’t want to spoil the film by giving away too much of the plot. Suffice to say a young couple plans to get married in Haiti, there’s a man who wants the woman for himself, and he approached a mad sugarcane mill owner (Bela Lugosi) who has the name of Murder Legendre. That name alone turns this into a classic.This film was shot in eleven days. Even so some of the camera angles are absolutely stunning.

Lugosi tells the heartbroken young man he can have the love of his life if he makes her a zombie. (That right there, with all its sexual implications, would never make this film see the light of day during the Hays Code era.)  The lovestruck young man agrees, the bride “dies” during her wedding service…and off we go.

Hoo boy, and what a ride it is. I cannot get over how well-crafted some of these shots are. Many of the backgrounds were reused from other horror films like Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein.

If you have never seen this film I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Especially if you like horror. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well the film holds up. It may even spur you on to write a different type of zombie horror story other than what we see so often nowadays.

One last cool aspect about this film? The heavy metal band White Zombie took its name from this movie. Rob Zombie, who founded the band, has always had a deep love and respect for classic horror. As a bona-fide zombie snob myself, I always found it rather awesome that Mr. Zombie would elevate the original film to a height it deserved.

I do want you to see this film. I think you will like it.  🙂

Monster House: Fun Horror Animation with Kids You Can Believe In

Horror, more than any other genre, has the ability to manifest its power in many different forms. This stems first and foremost fromSuperb animation and a loving attention to the writing and characterization in Monster House the fact horror is primarily an emotional and visceral genre, whereas science fiction, say, might have more of a cerebral background.

Because this is true for horror we often find stories that work on many different levels: poignant, evocative, and fundamentally human.  When these stories find their way to film, and when everything clicks from characterization to script, we have a real gem on our hands.

Monster House
is such a movie.  In fact this is one damned cute movie.  The script is not only well-written, it’s highly intelligent and at no time condescends to the viewer.  That’s something we don’t see everyday from the formulaic schlock normally churned out from Tinseltown.

I mean, come on, let’s face it.  With dialog like this from a little girl: “If that’s its teeth, and the carpet is its tongue, then that (a chandelier) is its uvula.”

With the riposte from the little boy: “Oh, you mean it’s a girl house….!”

And other gems like semi-precious stones: “Good luck with puberty!” and, “I’m sorry about your house.  I mean your wife.  I mean, your housewife.”

The characters, especially the three computer generated children, are fantastically drawn and lovingly created. These are true three-dimensional characters in every sense of the word.  Like I said, everything clicks in this movie and it’s a real treat.  From the beginning we believe these children are alive.  What’s more, we are willing to risk an emotional investment in their spooky escapades…and we are not disappointed in the outcome.Haunted houses, cute kids, and great writing make this movie a winner.

Horror doesn’t always work.  When it misses the mark it’s achingly bad to watch (or read).  But when it does work, especially in an intelligent and unforgettable movie like this one — chock full of delicious in-jokes — it can’t be dismissed.

If you ever get a chance, please, give this worthwhile movie a peek.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Gunfight at the OK Corral – A Retrospective in Three Movies

On this date in 1881, around 3.00 pm, a gunfight occurred which lasted less than thirty seconds. Oh, and for the record, it never happened in the OK Corral but on Fremont Street. Well, that’s history for you, always getting in the way with facts and verifiable evidence.

I mean, who wants to read about a gunfight on Fremont Street? So we will bow to pressure and call it the OK CMy Darling Clementine by John Fordorral.

Anyway, this gunfight has become the subject of books, movies, and innumerable stories. But it’s the treatment by Hollywood I want to concentrate on today, and three movies in particular. I want to look at how they helped shape our consciousness, our perspective, and our ideas of what happened and why, regarding this infamous gunfight.

The first movie I want to discuss is My Darling Clementine by John Ford. Ford was a master at romanticizing the Old West, and this movie is no exception. There are many good points about the movie. It looks good for one, but we are talking about John Ford so I expect it to look good from a visual perspective. In fact, I admit it’s downright beautiful. Unfortunately, the dialog and the storyline is little more than corn. The gunfight is okay, but has no relation to any historical event with which we are familiar, and for which we have  ample evidence and eye-witness account.

However, the best partVictor Mature as Doc Holliday about My Darling Clementine is Victor Mature’s masterful portrayal of Doc Holliday. Now in case y0u are not familiar with Victor Mature, he is a big, brawny, beefy man who exudes power and confidence on screen. You might think such a man would be a poor choice to play Doc Holliday, who was in actuality was a thin, skeletal man dying of tuberculosis. Yet, Mature brings deep pathos and vulnerability to the character, even when he has to deliver some very embarrassing lines. Outwardly, he looks nothing like Doc Holliday. He doesn’t even sport a mustache. But the inner turmoil of  a man facing a death sentence, and how it affects his relationships with the people around him, is very powerful indeed. It’s a nice job.

This is not my favorite OK Corral film, but if you haven’t seen it I think you will like it. Pay attention to Mature when he is on screen. He really is amazing and along with the visuals, he’s the best thing about this film.

The second film is Tombstone and it’s popular and beloved by western fans and movie fans alike. Personally, I can’t stand this film. I hate everything about it from the opening scene where Wyatt Earp (played by a mugging Kurt Russell) stoIconic (albeit incorrect) image from Tombstone ps a man who is whipping his horse (because the script must establish Russell as the good guy)  down to the horrific final shot where Earp and Josephine Marcus  are dancing in falling snow under lamplight after she reveals to Wyatt there is no need to worry about money because her family is rich.

It’s vomit inducing. Not to mention historically incorrect. It is a movie that reveals everything that’s ever been wrong with Hollywood and how it has portrayed the Old West as a cartoon. I will give it a pass on one point, however. The shot of the four lawmen walking down the street dressed in long black coats is iconic — though again inaccurate. Actually, the lawmen wore mackinaws that day. But those long black coats have become so indelibly fixed in the American consciousness I suppose it would be movie sacrilege to remove them. So I tend to give it a pass on that detail alone, as I do other films about the gunfight.

As you may have guessed by now I truly hate this film with a deep passion. I should do a separate post on why it fails so miserably on so many levels, and has actually harmed the western genre because it slams so many cliches down our throats. I know I am in the minority here. It wouldn’t be the first time. I know a lot of people absolutely love this film. But it’s pure, unadulterated Hollywood candy. Hell, even Ford did better than this, and I’m not a fan of his work to romanticize the west, either.

But, as wretched as Tombstone is, it’s not all bad. The gunfight is pretty good, I’ll give you that. Powers Booth is, well, Powers Booth, Sam Elliot is believable as Virgil Earp though he probably brings too much sexuality and moralizing to the film. But more importantly Val Kilmer delivers a superb, and memorable, performance as Doc Holliday.

Much like My Darling Clementine I don’t view Tombstone as anything more than Hollywood corn dressed up in cliche and trope. But Kilmer saves the film for me. If it were not for his amazing performance I would never watch this film again upon pain of death. But it’s worth it to watch Kilmer on screen as long as you ignore the rest of the sugarcorn this movie brings to the table.

The final film, and my personal favorite, is Wyatt Earp. Kevin Costner delivers a believable performance as a cold, uncaring, self-absorbed and determined Wyatt Earp. This is much in line with the historical figure. Other elements of the story also ring true. The gunfight is representative of historical fact, and the dialog and behavior of the surrounding characters lend extra support. When we watch the events unfolding in Wyatt Earp we can suspend belief and imagine it might have actually happened this way. In the other two movies I have described, we are never able to forget we are only watching something that has been packaged and sanitized for consumption.

I know Wyatt Earp isn’t as popular as Tombstone, and I know why. Tombstone is more fun, more joyous, more in line with what we ordinarily see coming from HoCostner's Wyatt Earp -- probably the most historically accurate portrayal of the gunfight and culture of that time.llywood. Therefore it is in a comfort zone that reinforces myth and stereotype which has taken root in American culture.

Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, is a little more gritty, and has a documentary feel. That’s probably why I prefer it, even though I am no fan of Costner. But, like the other two films, Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday is the one to watch and study here. He brings a dark, brooding violence to Holliday that seems to be missing, or at least not fully interpreted, by the other two films. His performance rounds out a strong and believable cast. When I watch this film I am more inclined to believe I am watching history. The other films are entertaining on a popcorn level, but that’s all they are.

From looking at these three films I am sure you have noticed a common thread. It’s Doc Holliday. In all three films the actors portraying this broken and violent man did a tremendous job. I think that’s important, because a film about the OK Corral almost has to have a believable Doc Holliday or it would totally collapse.

This is not unusual with film, and stories on film. In a completely unrelated genre the film Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein would collapse if the creation scenes of the monsters were not believable. Sometimes, a single scene is like a linchpin for an entire movie.

In movies about the gunfight at the OK Corral that linchpin is, and always will be, Doc Holliday. He is larger than life, he is tragic, he is a character we can understand and sympathize with, even if we don’t get on board with his reckless violence and focused pursuit of death.

All three movies are flawed. Neither one is perfect. Each has their own strengths. But all three have one thing in common: excellent portrayals of Doc Holliday and the inner demons that made him tick, and kill.

For a western writer working in the genre, that right there is worth the price of admission.

October is my favorite month mostly cuz there are werewolves.

October is my favorite month of the year.  Not only does it have my second favorite holiday, I also like the raw nip in the night air, the Harvest Moon casting its blue glare over a quiet landscape,  the lonely stars glimmering above stubbled corn stalks, the bare limbs of trees hanging like fingers of grey slate in the night sky.

Oh, and it’s great werewolf weather.

But there’s other cool things, too.  This is the month TCM and AMC show all those great old Universal monster movies: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf-Man, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, etc.  Man, I LOVE those old movies.  Mostly because I discovered them when I was 12 or 13 (thus proving the old adage the Golden Age of SF and Fantasy is twelve going on thirteen years old) when we were living in Illinois.  Many of you may not remember, but back then (before cable, even!) there were local horror movie hosts who showed old monster movies on Saturday nights and tried to sell you commercial siding during the commercials.  I remember some guy who talked to a skull, another guy in cape and cloak who called himself Seymour of the Night, and a half-dressed babe lounging around an fake moonscape.  I can’t remember her name, but I was thirteen and she was half-dressed and therefore super hot.  Of course, this was way before Elvira of the Dark who resurrected the idea of these late night hosted monster movies,  and quite successfully, too.  (It helped that she was also hot. And did I mention she was hot?)

And then, when I was younger,  there are those Halloweens where I dressed as a ghost with a skeleton mask and spooked the neighborhood.  Ah, the good old days when all you had to do was dress up and knock on a door to get candy instead of putting on an entire production.  And we didn’t just get candy.  We got cookies, candy apples, popcorn balls, all kinds of home baked stuff and not just lame chocolate bars that taste like wax. And you kids get off my lawn!

Yup, I love me some October.

 

 

“Never Turn Your Back on a Clown”

The Devil’s Rejects (2005) is the sequel to Rob Zombie’s excellent horror film House of 1000 Corpses which I reviewed earlier.  Except it’s less of a sequeThe Fireflys are back for more fun and games....l than an entirely different film altogether.  All the old gang is reprised: Sid Haig as the clown head of the psychotic Firefly family, Sherri Moon Zombie as his blood-thirsty daughter Baby,  and everyone else.  The actor who played the grandfather in the original film died before production so Zombie dedicated this film to him.  A nice touch.

The film opens with the cops surrounding the Fireflys’ secluded home. Seems the local law enforcement has finally figured out where all those missing people went and who is responsible.  In a violent shootout the Fireflys escape but Mother Firefly is captured by the Sheriff; his brother fell victim to the family’s predations.

The remaining members of the family go on a shooting and kidnapping spree.  At first you’re thinking, “This is no different from any other pyschos-on-the-loose-who-kill-and-torture film.”  Seen it a dozen times, right?  Hell, it’s even derivative of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.  Yawn.

But I want you to stick with this film.You see, Zombie, who wrote and directed The Devil’s Rejects, knows what he’s doing.  He knows you’ve seen this setup b"Never turn your back on a clown."efore.  When he switches gears on you (and he will) you will realize he’s telling you, “Okay, this is how these films used to be made…but I’m changing the formula.”

My God, does he ever.

The Fireflys drive to Father Firefly’s half-brother who runs a whore house in the desert.  Meanwhile, the obsessed Sheriff hires two bounty hunters to find the family.  He then goes to interrogate Mother Firefly, but loses it and guts her with a hunting knife in an act that suggests sexual intercourse.  As the life goes out of her ecstatic eyes he kisses her blood-stained lips.

As you may have guessed there’s no Good vs. Evil in this film. It’s Evil vs. Evil.  And no one looks good; Zombie shoots and blocks the scenes so the light is always harsh; people’s faces are revealed as corrugations and lines which delineate their inner demons.  No one, even the hapless victims of which there are many, escape this harsh exposure under Zombie’s camera.

In a mesmeriziThe Devil's Rejects directed by Rob Zombieng sequence shot with music and no sound the bounty hunters invade the whore house and capture the Fireflys.  The Sheriff drives them in a convertible back to their home.  He will exact his revenge there.  He ties them to chairs and nail-guns photographs of their victims to their chests.  There is  a crucifixion scene.  Finally, he douses the place with kerosene and lights it up, but not without releasing Baby and telling her to run for her life.  He wants to hunt her down.

Outside Baby ducks into a cattle chute, following the metal railings into the dark.  The Sheriff comes after her wielding an axe.  We are reminded of the scene in the original film where Baby was chasing the teenager in the bunny suit before she stabbed her victim and licked her knife under the full moon.  The Sheriff pauses, a smile on his face, and remarks, “I smell rabbit.”

Baby is now flat out running.  Time to slow her up.  He pulls his sidearm and fires.  The round goes through her calf.  “I bet that hurt,” he tells her.  “I could hear the bone shatter.”

But he wants to show Baby that Karmic payback can be a real bitch so he pIt's all about family....uts the axe aside and begins to beat her with a thick leather strap.  Baby is clawing and squirming on the hard desert floor in a vain attempt to get away.  The Sheriff asks her if she likes being a victim, likes being tortured by a sadist.  Hey, this is Baby we’re talking about.  You’re damn right she does.

But the Sheriff has made a mortal mistake.  He forgot to check his six when in the presence of a Firefly.  Baby’s brother, Tiny, an eight-foot shambling freak, saves her life.  Whaddya know, that axe came in handy after all.

Tiny saves the Father and Brother Otis from the fire.  They tell him they will be back to get him.  Tiny nods and, with his deformed body silhouetted against the orange conflagration, he shambles inside the burning house to die.

The Fireflys escape only to come upon a police roadblock the next day while “Free Bird” plays in the background.  The final assault begins.  Again reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde but with Zombie’s own surrealistic touch added to the mix.  The credits roll scored by “Seed of Memory” by Terry Reid while we are shown sweeping camera moves that fly along the road and arc above the scrub-covered hills as if in a vain attempt to escape the carnage. When the screen goes black we say softly to ourselves, “Wow.”

Rob Zombie has without a doubt become the preeminent director of the horror and violence genre with these two films.  His use of music for the soundtrack is nothing less than phenomenal.  He is not only willing to take chances with both material and artistry, but to demand this is the direction horror must turn if it wants to survive, even evolve, as a genre.  Don’t miss this one.

Ginger Snaps: Not the Cookie, the Werewolf

I like werewolf movies.  No, let me rephrase that.  I like good werewolf movies.  My favorite is The Wolfman (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr.  And from a writerly perspective it gives me a tickle to know the writer of that film, Curt Siodmak, made most of thGinger and Brigittee werewolf tropes out of whole cloth.  But they’re as accepted today as any legend.  And it’s hard to pass up a late night showing on TCM with Chaney’s tour de force  performance in Frankensteim Meets the Wofman (1943).  That final scene of the dam breaking and flooding Frankenstein’s lab while the fur flies is one of the best in the genre.  Not to mention the fact Maria Ouspenskaya appears in both films; she’s always a treat to watch with her heavy accent and sorrowful, brooding manner.  Great fun.

But some years back I came across a trilogy that I immediately fell in love with, and, boy, are they great.

It’s the Ginger Snaps trilogy.  Never heard of it?  I’m not surprised.  They were indies shot in Canada which gives them a different feel both in tone and emotional texture than the slickly produced cartoonish efforts we see out of Hollywood.

The first movie, Ginger Snaps, dwells on two sisters who decide that if one of them dies the other will kill herself.  There’s the usual teenage angst and sexual awakening you would expect to see in a film about  a 16 and 15 year old sisters.  But Ginger Snaps ties those deep and powerful emotions into a stWhat's a girl to do when she has to hide her werewolf tail from the kids at school?ylish reworking of the werewolf mythos.   So when Ginger gets the bite, her sister, Brigitte, must do everything she can to protect her.  It’s a stylish film with a look and dialogue that really pushes the limits both in context and what we thought we knew about werewolves.  And you won’t need a silver bullet to whack one, because as Brigitte observes, a big knife will do since “they aren’t superheroes.”  Classic.

Of course, things start going downhill fast for the sisters.  Dogs start disappearing.  Ginger suddenly has a huge craving for meat.  When a tail appears she and Brigitte have to duct-tape it to her leg.  Well, no one ever said being a wolf-girl was easy.

The second movie is called Ginger Snaps: Unleashed.  Here’s where the trilogy takes a very unexpected turn.  Ordinarily, there would just be much more blood-spattering and chomping in a sequel like this.  Not so with the Ginger movies.  Now Brigitte is in an insane asylum, waiting for the curse to take hold of her while she wrestles with a horrific decision she had to make in the original film.  This movie dwells more on the psychological aspect of wolfdom than the usual crunching of bone by the light of a silvery moon.  Oh, and there’s a male werewolf out there who  wants to mate with Brigitte if she would just hurry up and let the transformation take its natural course.

Just when you think you’re safe, the thirThe faimily that howls together stays together. d movie, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning is actually a prequel to the other two.  Better yet, you aren’t sure if this is a parallel universe, an alternate history, or the beginning of an eternal curse involving these two young women.  Maybe it’s all three.  It doesn’t matter because the sisters are together again in 19th Century Canada in the dead of winter and they’ve come upon a fort while packs of hungry wolves roam the frozen countryside.  Hang on tight to a friend when you watch this one because it’s a doozy.

The Ginger Snaps movies.   You should check them out even if you’re not a werewolf fan.  It’s great story arc filled with pathos and sharp humor and biting (pun intended) dialogue. Enjoy!

House of 1000 Corpses (A Review)

Horror is a visceral medium.Howdy Folks! You like blood? Violence? Freaks of nature? Well then, come on down to Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Mad-Men.

When it comes to movies, horror can be very visceral indeed.  I love the old Universal monsters, mainly for personal reasons.  They are my favorite.  When it comes to other horror movies I lean towards surrealism like the excellent Suspiria by Dario Argento.

But there are other movies that, after you see them, change you in some way — and not always for the better.   I Spit on Your Grave is such a movie, along with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and The Hills Have Eyes.  Though a slick mainstream movie, I would place The Exorcist in that same category.

House of 1000 Corpses is another one.

This is a movie written and directed by Rob Zombie.  There’s a ton of in-jokes and black humor sprinkled throughout this film like lost spatters of black blood topped with glittering candy sprinkles.  The comedy is dark, very dark.  But, there’s fun here, too. The main characters are named Captain Spaulding, Otis Driftwood and Rufus Firefly.  All names from Groucho Marx characters.  Plus, Karen Black plays the matriarch of the Firefly family with outright verve and gusto. Hell, that’s a selling point right there.

Zombie wanted this to be an homage to the horror films of the ’70s.   He originally wanted to make the film with the same equipment and technology available to directors at that time, but money and creative pressure got in his way.  There’s still a lot here to entertain.  And, despite the body count and the buckets of gore, this film is very entertaining. Quick cuts of old black and white horror movie hosts and off screen monologues by principle characters a la Natural Born Killers keeps us confused and riveted.  Judicious use of sound, color, and a fantastic music track make the experience memorable and upsetting.

The movie starts with four teenagers are on a road trip across America writing about weird places tourists might want to visit.  In a shithole town in the Deep South they learn of a local legend called Dr. Satan.  In the interim they stumble across a family of freaks.  Oh, and it’s Hallowe’en Eve. So far it’s your normal horror-type movie fare, right?  Wrong.

Dead wrong.Baby plays with a friend under a full moon.

From the candlelit dinner, to the tortured cheerleaders upstairs, to the ersatz floor show, we are on a mind-numbing roller coaster ride…and it gets more claustrophobic with each twist and turn.  The police show up.  They’re whacked by the freaks, and one of the deputies is killed in what has to be the longest suspenseful pause in moviedom as the action reverts to slow motion, the camera flies away in the sky, yet  we cannot turn from what we know is going to happen.   It is the distance which Zombie forces us to watch, not the murder itself, that is the true horror.

But what of our four young friends?  Well, it doesn’t look good.  One of the male characters is asked by Baby to guess who her favorite movie actress is. Oh, and she’s holding a straight razor in case he gets the answer wrong.   He guesses Marilyn Monroe.  Nope, it’s Bette Davis.  Fitting she would choose such a notorious man-eater. Baby commences to scalp the young lad while she giggles.

I’m just saying that’s not something you see everyday.

The other poor fellow, well, let’s just say  “Fish Boy” and leave it alone.  The two girls are then dressed in bunny suits, along with our scalped friend, and taken outside on Halloween night for more fun and frivolity.  Teenagers dressed as bunnies on a night when they are to be tortured and murdered.  That’s not something you see everyday, either.

One of the girls runs.  She’s chased down by Baby and stabbed.  Baby licks her knife under the light of a full moon. The other two are thrown in a casket and lowered into a well.  The tortured victims from the past who are living down there reach out of the black water and drag them out, but one girl escapes.  She finds a tunnel and, still wearing her bunny suit, goes deeper into the black earth.

Shades of Alice in Wonderland…except what she’s found is a labyrinth of 1000 corpses, past victims of the Firefly family. She loses her bunny suit and stumbles into the lair of Dr. Satan.  Wow, he’s not a legend after all, who would have guessed?  But he’s deeply involved in an “experiment.”  She escapes his axe-wielding associate, crawls out into the daylight and a car comes down a dirt road to pick her up.

The denouement is typical, and most horror movies would end the shenanigans right there and call it a day.  But Zombie isn’t done with us quite yet.  Our heroine awakens —  only to find herself strapped to Dr. Satan’s table, ready to be his next “experiment.”  The final thirty seconds when she awakens and realizes where she is just might be the scariest thirty seconds I’ve eIt's a familly thing....ver witnessed in any horror film.  We don’t see anything, just her face and the whine of machinery, but that’s enough.

This movie weathered a lot of controversy when it was released in 2003.  Much of it came from young adults who think Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer were the only models available for horror movies.  But this isn’t the cartoonish efforts of serial movies like Friday the 13th and the one-liner ridden and outlandish Nightmare on Elm Streets.  Rob Zombie knows what horror, real horror, is about.  Yes, there is black comedy and there is camp in House of 1000 Corpses, but there’s film-making as well. Zombie isn’t phoning it in.  This movie wasn’t written by a tube worm, as evidenced by the deliciously black comedic elements of naming people after Groucho Marx  characters and having teenagers abused whilst wearing cute bunny suits.  Horror, on any level, rarely gets better than that.

Time has been kind to Corpses.  More than a decade has mellowed the original criticism it received, and Zombie made a sequel, The Devil’s Rejects, which continued the bloody antics of the Firefly family.  The latter movie even made money and garnered much critical acclaim.

If you’re looking for something different, a horror film that breaks the mold, and if you want to feel the walls close in on you, rent House of 1000 Corpses.

Then turn out the lights and hang onto a friend.

Sunrise – 1927 (A Review)

I love silent film. I’m not a huge fan of movies per se, but I do love film.  I have seen one several times which I would like tSunrise - A Song of Two Humanso recommend for you. It is F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.

This is a silent film from 1927 with a great score.  It’s the only film I know in which an entire category was invented so it could win an Oscar that year. It’s an Expressionist film, but it’s not Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Expressionism, even though the characters are named The Man, The Wife, The Woman from the City, and they hail from places like The Farm and City.  Very fundamental. But the use of light and shadow, and Murnau’s interest in light as a character in the film, is fantastic. Murnau also directed the original Nosferatu, another silent film you should definitely watch should you get the chance.

But back to Sunrise.  Of course, the woman from the city is a typical man-eating Vamp who smokes cigarettes and likes showing the outline of her legs through her black dress.  She has mesmerized The Man and while they are making love on the shore of the water by moonlight she talks him into drowning his wife and making it look like an accident.  He is tormented. We see scenes of him wrestling with his conscience as ghostly images of The Woman from the City embraces and kisses him.  He decides to go through with the murder.

Everything in this film works, even, I suspect, quite by accident. In one scene, as The Man and The Wife are in a boat headed across the water and come to tie up at a pier, we see a black swirl of water behind her. It’s a spooky metaphor for the danger she’s in, and I’m quite certain it’s real and not a special effect.

Janet Gaynor plays The Wife. Rarely have I ever seen anyone as fragile and innately vulnerable as she appears on screen. She is perfect for the role, as is Margaret Livingston who plays the Vamp.
Torment and love in Murnau's Sunrise
I don’t want to say much else about the plot. I don’t want to spoil it for you. But the search on the water by lamplight (an incredible achievement considering the technology back then) has been copied in a ton of films since.  And for good reason: it’s freaking AWESOME. The play of light on water, the light and shadow on the faces…Wow.

I highly recommend this film. As a writer this film also fascinates me because the story is simple, but Murnau brings layers of complexity to it.

If you ever get the chance I urge you to see it.  You may find your outlook on life changes a little.

It’s that good, and that powerful.


 

Metropolis (1927) as SF Atavism and Cautionary Tale – A Review

I suppose if you push me I will admit I prefer silent films to any other format. I mean, if that’s the choice you give me. ThThe grinding social furnace of Metropolis consumes humanity....ere are a lot of reasons for this. Mostly, I think, because so many silent films were incredibly groundbreaking in so many areas including writing, direction, artistic quality, and method of acting. You can watch the growth take place right before your eyes. Despite the intervening years since their creation and release, silent films continue to resonate even today.

Metropolis is one example of such a film.

I don’t know how many times I have watched this movie. Every time I see it I notice something new. I am not a huge fan of German expressionism, although I do like it. But Metropolis appears as if it combines story and art on such a high level of genius it is no surprise that it’s considered to be Fritz Lang’s magnum opus.

One of the best parts about the film is how it looks so believable. I think the closest any modern day science fiction film has come to making me truly believe in the futuristic background and culture is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. But Metropolis did it first. It may even be the best interpretation of a futuristic society bar none. I think this might be due in part to the temporal distance involved. We know the names and biographies of the actors in Metropolis, but they have no real connection to our lives in any tangible cultural sense. Whereas when I watch Blade Runner I can’t help but think “Hey, that’s Harrison Ford up there.”Maria as Babylon Whore

Of course, I know some of the names of the characters in Metropolis. But they aren’t culturally tied to me, so I think that gives them a sort of freedom and makes the film itself a tabula rasa for anyone else who comes to it for the first time. When we watch any film, no matter what it is, we always bring our past experiences with us and draw upon them to help us understand what we are seeing, and process it. This is why going to movies, and reading, and attending operas and ballets and other forms of entertainment endure. They demand that we draw upon our past experience in order to interpret them. There is not only a social connection being made but a psychological one, too. I think as human beings we like that process. We understand it, or at the very least feel comfortable with it.

We know Harrison Ford, at least through his modern day work. Most of us like him. We don’t know Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Frolich and others who appear in Metropolis. That distance lends itself to an even deeper commitment of our suspension of disbelief, I think. What I mean is, the characters themselves don’t lurch us out of the film and back into reality because they are, for the most part, completely unknown to us. We come to them somewhat empty and unformed and let them help us fill in the tapestry of tMaria as human avatarhe film-going experience.

From the decimal clocks to the mechanistic and dehumanizing social stratification, Metropolis presents myriad and multi-layered facets. As a writer this fascinates me as well. Fritz Lang is juggling a lot of crystal balls with this movie, and he keeps them in the air and moving in an intricate pattern. It’s an incredible artistic accomplishment given the breadth of the work.

The art direction for Metropolis set the bar. It is phenomenal. Even when you consider the sense-shattering impact of German expressionism, there are so many elements to Metropolis, so much packed into every scene without either the story or the look of the film becoming top heavy, that it just melds together as one entity. As for story, which as a writer I tend to concentrate on above all else, it works, too. Oh, the basic qualities of the story are a bit long in the tooth: a social and economic clash between two distinct classes, blah blah blah. But even old stories gain new life when they are peopled by actors who interpret their characters as three-dimensional beings. I find the actors did an admirable job of this in Metropolis. We’ve seen the basic story before. We have not seen this interpretation before, I don’t think. At least, not played out like this.

Of course, of all the cast, it is Maria, played by Brigitte Helm, who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. From her transformation from Christ-like figure to robot, she is right on target and completely steals the movie. Her image continues to endure right down to today.

Watching the evil Maria Robot I also get the impression a lot of background work went into developing that character. Watch how Maria moves and interacts with the other actors. Watch her facial expressions, her gestures, the small moments she brings to the screen. It is like nothing I have ever seen in any other science fiction film — ever.

Today, when we see robots on the silver screen, they either move in some mechanistic stop-and-go action, or like any other ordinary human being so they can hide among us. Think C-3PO from Star Wars to Number Six in the Battlestar Galactica remake as separate ends of the knowable spectrum. But Helm’s interpretation of Maria is the only truly inhuman robot I think I have ever seen. She moves and acts and gestures like something completely and totally alien to our experience. It is an amazing feat, and it is downright creepy.

To be sure Metropolis is not a perfect film. The philosophy “The mediation between head and hands must be the heart” becomes repetitious and I can’t help but wonder if we are not losing something in the translation from the original German which accounts for its awkwardness. There are also the usual filmatic standardizations and slogging character development that we have to suffer through upon occasion.

But for the most part this film rocks. One of the best parts is fans and collectors are always finding new snippets excised from the original film stock. So over the years they have built and patched the film into the original shape Lang meant it to be viewed in.

I like Metropolis. As someone who works in genre I can’t deny the impact the film has had upon science fiction. As someone who loves film, I can’t deny the impact it has had upon the industry as a whole. It’s just amazing to me how a film can reach higher than itself and become almost atavistic to genre. As if all that has passed since its release must by necessity narrow down to the nexus of its existence and draw creative sustenance.

I think Metropolis does that, at least on a small level, if not large. It reaches beyond itself and becomes something greater, not just in flim but as it relates to knowable human experience. In the process, we are swept along and bounced from crest to wave.

Metropolis is a fascinating ride through the fabric of imagination and culture. Anyway, that was, and continues to be, my experience when I watch this film. If you ever get to watch it, I hope you like it, too. 🙂

Here she comes....

Maria robot as atavistic symbol for progress and humanity

Tangled – Animated Hair Fetish by Disney (movie review)

The story of Rapunzel is one of my favorite Grimms’ fairy tale. The original story and many of its variations are quite dark. In the original story the prince calls for Rapunzel to let down her hair and sees her on the sly. One day she lets slip that her dress is getting too tight around her waist. (She’s pregnant.) Gothel, the woman who kidnapped Rapunzel, traps the prince when he returns. He falls from the tower and lands in thorns, either blinding him or killing him outright depending on which cultural interpretation you read.

Now I don’t expect Disney to tell a story like that. It is Disney after all and the lost princess must remain virginal – while at the same time having an unusually close relationship with the animals around her. And, yes, the guy she loves in Tangled undergoes a life-changing (literally!) experience in the end. But for all that, I didn’t like this movie as much. And I wanted to like it because as a writer I see a lot of potential in the basic story of Rapunzel. Rapunzel empowered

First, this movie came apart for me at the level of the story. There were good parts to it, but overall the story didn’t do it for me. I liked many elements but once again I felt as if I was watching another formulaic effort from Disney. Captured/lonely princess. Check. Evil grandmother/stepmother. Check. Funny and helpful animals. Check.  Handsome single man comes into her life. Check. Beautiful background and story boardinng. Check. But there has to be more than that. We’ve seen all this before. There has to be a story that grabs us. We’re not all eleven year old girls, Disney. Come on. Get out of the rut.

Perfect example. In the beginning of the movie Rapunzel’s mother is ill and needs a magic plant to heal her so Rapunzel can be born. But in the original fairy tale the mother needs lettuce (sometimes it’s parsley) and the king makes a deal with Gothel in which he hands over the baby to save the life of the queen. Now that’s pretty dark right there. Even if he is motivated by saving the life of his queen, and must be forced to make that choice, Disney doesn’t tell it that way. In this retelling, Gothel steals the baby from its crib. We lose whole subterranean plots and motivations in this one move. Gothel kidnaps the baby because she’s evil and greedy. It’s Disney. Of course she is evil and greedy.

Finally, for the prince, in which this case it’s a lovable thief, well, he serves the same function as all other love interests in Disney animated films. He’s a plot point. Albeit a funny one in this case, and one in which Disney worked to flesh out — but still a plot point. After all, Rapunzel has to eventually give her virginity to somebody, and it’s not going to be that chameleon that rides her shoulder or Maximus the palace horse. Thus, we have the prince/thief/substitute-male figure who comes into her life in order to round out the story.

As far as the character of Rapunzel herself, I did like her a lot. She went through the motions we expect her to and we’re on her side. The sight gags of her doing things with her hair were funny and the running gag with the frying pan was cute. We like her and we want her to win her freedom and her love in the end. But the story that surrounds her doesn’t click. It’s not the story that allows her to find true happiness, it’s Disney that makes it come true. Just like always. And so the movie loses a lot of its impact right there because we are never frightened for Rapunzel. Come to think of it, we are never frightened by any Disney movies anymore. Which was not always the case. Disney used to have a reputation of showing some fairly dark things on screen. Or at least stories that demanded, and gave, emotional investment and experience.

We don’t get that at all with Tangled.

Part of the problem, I think, is the animation. Sometimes it is absolutely gorgeous…and sometimes we are taken aback by how bad it looks and the jerks and stopRapunzel gets tangled in Tangleds between scenes. To be sure there are many nice scenes (from an artistic perspective) in this film. The scene where the dam bursts, the dance in the market square, the flight of the paper lanterns all stand out. The clothing and texture of trees and stone and water are phenomenal. But the characters themselves…well, sometimes they look kind of rubbery. Like walking dolls made out of wax. I was disappointed in that. If you’re going to go the limit to make clothing have proper texture, and move correctly upon the frame, then why not make the skin and shading on the characters more realistic as well?

The music was another big let down. None of the songs were memorable. Even Rapunzel’s healing song doesn’t stick with you, and that song, more than any other, ties the arc of the film together. Most of the humor works and some falls flat. But that’s Disney and that’s their trademark and they’re not going to let it go no matter how much we groan. At least we see some effort at background and characterization for many of the secondary characters. That helps round out many of the other flaws.

Not surprisingly, the one character that really stands out (and takes the stage away from Rapunzel when they’re together) is Gothel. This is where Disney shines.  If there’s one thing Disney knows it’s “evil stepmother” and how to represent her as a multi-facted and three-dimensional character who is cruel, cunning, and manipulative. As much as I like Rapunzel, and the idea of story potential about Rapunzel, as a professional writer I am here to tell you that a story about Gothel is much more interesting. But, once again, we are limited by Disney and the parameters they set up for every film they make. We will never see a story about Gothel, or Rapunzel for that matter, the way it should be told from Disney. It’s not what they do.

As I said earlier I really wanted to like this film. But there’s too much missing or awkward about it, or worse yet, formulaic. Tangled was billed as the 50th animated film by Disney. In all that time they have made groundbreaking strides in the technical department. But the story of Tangled is like every other Lonely Princess story we’ve seen from Disney and that, more than anything else, is why I can’t recommend it.

Gothel shows off her deep seated hair fetish

The Vanishing American (1925) movie review

The Vanishing American is a silent film from 1925 that explores the tragic plight of Native Americans trapped by history and fate, and who ultimately become crushed into non-existence by the grinding wheels of racism and modernity. The source material is the novel by the same name written by Zane Grey. The film was good enough I am thinking of maybe running down the novel and giving it a read.

For a film of its time The Vanishing American is uncompromising on all fronts. It pulls no punches whatsoever. If you can look past the fact the main character of Nophaie is played by the white Richard Dix (a not uncommon occurrence, sadly, even today) the film and the story are strong enough to make a real impact.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but the film looks at the Native American down through history up through WWI. We see how Nophaie and his people are abused by government and institutional racism. But the film makes a stand here, too. It does not portray the Native Americans as “strong, silent and noble savages” which itself is diluted racism. No, it shows them as human beings who are oppressed by more human beings. The film doesn’t preach, though to be sure there is a message here — and a strong one.

For me the power of this film, like I said, comes from the harsh light that shines on the institutional racism. At one point an Army sergeant watches Nophaie and his people march off to take part in a war that has gripped the world. He says they are “pitiful and magnificent” for going off to fight a “white man’s war.” Nophaie hopes by taking part in fighting for a country that has usurped his own culture, he will gain political and social favor and win a white woman’s love. When he returns, he must face the ugly truth. Meanwhile, the white woman he has fallen in love with has waited patiently for his return. She loves him in return.  But, since this is a film from 1925 there is no completion of their love. Nophaie dies in a tragic accident during a clash between his people and the Indian agents of the reservation.

The Vanishing American is not a perfect film about racism. Nor is it meant to be. But the voice it lends and the dignity it gives to the story and the human hearts involved in this story cannot be denied. I definitely recommend this film, especially for western writers and people who love a good human story. Its pretty strong, and worth the time.

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