Ugh. Glad this season is nearly at an end. I miss when I could actually enjoy the holidays, when they weren’t just oppressive, depressive, stress filled weeks of gloom and frustration. Flippin’ retail, man. Flippin’ awful consumers. I’m all for commerce, but the holiday season is sickening. Like human swine pushing each other out of the way for more space at the trough, where they’re sucking down foul smelling bits of waste. Anyway, the week was made better by a bunch of new movies. I’ve been trying to cram in a bunch of 2013 films as we get down to the wire for writing the Dorkies.
The Prowler: “If you were just a dame, it’d be different.” Van Heflyn plays a failed sports star who became a cop for all the wrong reasons. When he latches on to a bored housewife, the force of his persistent personality on her. And it’s probably no surprise that things start getting ugly fast. Heflyn is repugnant. He should get together with Ann Savage from Detour. The movie itself isn’t all that great. But it’s fun to watch such an awful monster try to get one over on the world.
Stoker: After the death of her father, a strange girl must deal with a distant mother and a sinister uncle. Family secrets slowly creep out. Things get weirder and weirder, as relationships become more tangled. And then murder. The film is extremely kinky and strange. It’s beautifully shot and drips with a kind of Gothic eroticism. I can’t say I loved the movie, but I definitely found myself enjoying watching it. It’s like Poe writing a Noir.
Blancanieves: This silent, black & white take on Snow White is a worthy attempt, though I don’t think a particular success. There are some great bits, and I like some of the ending. But it’s too often too modern, in spite of its early 20th century setting. And, to be honest, the first hour is kind of bloated. Still, there is charm, and it isn’t a bad movie. I think it could have been much better, though.
Sapphire & Steel: When I first tried this show, I wasn’t especially enamored of it, but for some reason kept watching, and came to really like it. The atmosphere is kind of amazing; the surreal mystery and existential danger, with time and space being cracked in unfathomable ways. I would love to try to recapture some of the gut-level weirdness this show managed to maintain. Each story keeps you guessing, not just about where things will go, but even about where they’ve already been. Really something. And what an ending. Holy crap.
Computer Chess: “It could be Sanskrit, it could be Pig Latin.” Set in the dorky world of a 1980s computer programmer chess tournament, this awkward slice of low budget comedy is very, very odd. I suspect that much of the film is at least in part adlib, which definitely adds to the discomfort level, but I don’t know if it adds to the plot or characters all that much. Man, things get so danged creepy and awkward as the film goes on. Swingers are creepy, man.
Getaway: Wow, this is some low-budget, shot in Eastern Europe garbage. Cheap looking, boring, irritating, and ultimately dumb. The ‘twist’ ending is f’ing stupid. This along with The Purge, puts Ethan Hawke in two of the worst films of 2013. I’ve never been a fan, but dang man. What happened? And Selena Gomez? Some people have it. And then there’s Selena Gomez. I’ve now seen entirely too much of her attempts to act. Enough.
Alice in Wonderland: Disney’s take on the classic surreal children’s novel is kind of definitive Disney. It has some really good moments and some technical mastery, but is ultimately a bit soulless and bland. Alice wanders around, dealing with Warner Bros. cartoon type odd situations, where I guess she learns some lessons…sort of. I feel about this movie sort of what I feel about the 1939 Wizard of Oz. While taken on its own, it’s a heck of an achievement, but being familiar with the source material, I can’t help but be disappointed that more of the essential nature of the work didn’t make the translation.
Her: This subject is something I’ve read a good deal about. Emerging A.I., our relationships with them, the possibilities and pitfalls of romantic love with non-human intelligences, etc. And Her does get into some of the less obvious, less ‘Hollywood’ areas of it. And it creates a very buyable near-future world where this relationship becomes possible and very relatable. It also manages to go in directions that kept me guessing for much of the film, which was itself sort of surprising. That said, I didn’t love the movie. I think part of what never quite worked for me might be what works for other people. At its heart, it’s a movie about a guy and his difficulties with love. OK. That’s fine. But while it did deal with some of the issues of human-A.I. love, it didn’t explore them to the depths I’d have liked. The social aspects, the ramifications, etc. Still, it felt more ‘adult’ than a lot of films about robots and A.I. Less sensationalistic, and much less anti-tech than I expect from this sort of film. And it’s well acted and well shot. The movie looks beautiful. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it.
The Future (Il Futuro): “At the beginning, we’re all good. And at some point, we all turn bad.” The beginning of this movie reminded me of Rust and Bone, and other such depressing slice of European life movies. You’ve got despondent young people, an emotionally confusing (and confused) young woman with an uncomfortable relationship with sex, thuggish petty criminals. You know, all that Euro stuff that’s considered so ‘real’ and ‘not Hollywood,’ but is just as cliché as anything churned out by the US studios. Not my favorite genre of film (Euro-Depression). However, once Rutger Hauer appears as a former body builder and actor in schlocky 60s beefcake action movies, the film got my attention. Hauer is typically excellent, playing a sad, former champion. As he and the young woman, played by Manuela Martelli, begin their relationship, we see deeper levels of each. She unravels his demon haunted past while he wakes her up to the wonder and possibilities of life. Had the film not featured the whole drug dealing, weight-lifting thug subplot, and focused instead entirely on the Martelli-Hauer relationship, I think it would have been a better film, and I’d certainly have been more interested. I don’t know that Martelli is a great actress (like most European actresses, she spends most of her time staring and looking sullen), but she and Hauer are excellent together and their scenes raise the movie several notches.
Tomb of Torture: Yes, more like Tomb of Boring. Perhaps not my most clever of reviews, but bloody true. This movie looks pretty good. The set design is nice and it’s shot competently, if not masterfully. But it’s just so, amazing, completely, excruciatingly boring. Even the Italians have done this kind of wannabe Edgar Alan Poe monster movie better elsewhere. To say nothing of Corman and the like who could make a more interesting horror movie with a super 8 and fifty dollars. Skip it.
John Dies at the End: “Apparently, it’s Eyes Wide Shut World.” Scott Pilgrim VS. The Naked Lunch. Fear and Loathing in Las White Castle. This hipster vision of a drug fueled break in timespace has elements of William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, and H.P. Lovecraft. Unfortunately, it’s got a couple extra doses of Chris Hardwick and the MTV’s Wild ‘n Out. There’s definitely a lot of things in the film I enjoyed, but at no point did it ever feel as authentically weird as the authors it was obviously harkening back to. I never quite connected; never quite bought into the weird world. I’d be curious to see a follow-up to the film. I liked it enough to say that. But I can’t sing its praises. And really, I spent a lot of the film thinking about how much I'd like to punch in the smug faces of the two leads. They're extremely unlikable in that jock/cockbag high school cool kid sort of way, with their constantly ironic tone and bored contemptuous expressions.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Occasionally very funny, this sequel to one of my favorite modern comedies just doesn’t have the magic. It’s not bad. There are a bunch of really good bits. But there are too many moments that just call back to the first one, and few of those are particularly good. Everyone does a fine job and there are some good humorous shocks. However, it seems like this is another sequel from 2013 that misses the boat. Not as bad as Die Hard, Star Trek, Monsters Inc., or Machete, by any means. But it doesn’t thrill.
I found myself really digging M.I.A. this week, too. Her album Kala has an old school Rap sound, mixed with some cool world beats. The whole thing trips off my Cyberpunk love. I imagine the sounds of the under-dome being something like this.
And that was it. I’m still scanning through various roleplaying game books to get ready for trying to run a game in the near future. We set a date for the first meeting, near the end of January. There are so many great games, and so little time. I have a dozen or more that I’d love to run, and most of them I’d especially love to run as long term campaigns. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.