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Posts tagged ‘cinema’

REFERENCE REVIEW: LANGUAGE OF AMERICAN POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT

Notes on The Language of American Popular Entertainment: A Glossary of Argot, Slang, and Terminology

by Don B. Wilmeth (1981)

If you’re like me and looking for jargon related to popular theatre and Broadway then you are also running into the wrong book. However, despite what this glossary doesn’t include it can be an excellent and thorough reference source for anybody writing or researching 19th and early 20th century American carnival, circus, magic and minstrel shows. Wilmeth’s glossary is not in a sophisticated package. It’s pretty much alphabetical listings of 3200 entries, no cross indexing. I love exploring reference books like this but then always find myself in a mobius when it comes to everyday use, if I knew what word I was looking for I wouldn’t need a glossary. Some categorization might have been a more practical format. Online you can find similar glossaries but entries are fewer, less researched and mostly the sites are weakly designed with limited search tools. Someday all books like this will get e-booked and send us right to what we’re looking for. Until then this is best effort out there in its subject matter. And frankly the subject matter is a fascinating historical record. Again the book is heavy on words related to carnival or circus but it also provides terms from magic, minstrel shows, vaudeville, burlesque, tent shows and Toby shows, medicine shows and pitchmen, early cinema and optical entertainment, fairs, puppetry, pantomime, and wild west shows.

Media Log: 02.19.2012 – PARADISE LOST 3, THE GREY

West Memphis 3, Paradise Lost 3

(cinema) Paradise Lost 3, Purgatory (d. Joel Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011) It’s been 16 years and two sequels since I saw the first Paradise Lost documentary at the Film Forum in New York City. I’m glad the wrongfully accused are set free but I still feel the truth rots a in dark, incarcerated place. I remember that the first documentary, a compelling story of wrong compounded by wrong, was also a frustratingly unthorough piece of journalism. The synopsis is that in 1993 three eight year old boys were murdered and thrown in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teenage boys, to be nicknamed the West Memphis 3, were convicted of the murders under highly questionable investigatory and judicial procedures. The first film fell well short for me in providing a sufficient account of the prosecution’s so called case. A year after seeing the first PL the friend I went to see it with called me up and said, “I heard those documentary guys made it all up to make the teenagers look good. When you hear the whole story they are totally guilty.” Really? What’s your source? None, really. Is there a whole story?  I have always been convinced that the teenagers were railroaded. But after years of sequels, cult-like public outrage, websites, Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp I still have no idea what happened back in 1993. If the WM3 were not murdering cub scouts that night in 1993, where were they? None of these films have ever discussed an alibi. If a documentary is presenting itself as the balanced account of its subject matter and one side of the argument is being left out, there must be a reason. I can’t speculate the reason because facts in this case have always been overshadowed by emotions, self-righteousness on behalf of the WM3 supporters, stubborn obfuscation by law enforcement, and repeated attempts by the filmmakers to offer alternative accusations that frankly are as shoddy and irresponsible as the lousy case against the teenagers. There is another feature documentary ,West Of Memphis, in circulation as well as many tv magazine pieces which may provide more information. I’d like to know if there is more to know about what happened the night those young boys were murdered, and I’d like to know more about what the police actually had on the WM3. In Purgatory the defense has gone to all the trouble of pulling together world renown criminal profilers and DNA experts. Yet the new documentary doesn’t reveal one thing we didn’t already know. These films succeeded in calling attention to injustice perpetrated on the accused and the fact that the real killer will never be brought to justice. The Arkansas court system created an outcome in which the case will never be reopened. The whole story is fascinating and sad, but these movies aren’t very good either. ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Grey(d. Joe Carnahan, 2012) An airplane transporting ruffian oil workers

The Grey. Your enemy or your conscience?

crashes in barren Alaska. The men must try to survive arctic conditions, interpersonal conflicts, and attacks by an aggressive pack of wolves. The wolves are of course metaphor for the organizational behavior of a pack of men on the brink as well as the haunting pasts that brought each man to this frozen Purgatory. The challenge includes lots of tense survival action and man-chewing wolves, but what keeps the film interesting are the metaphysical elements, both in the blurry camerawork and the cryptic storytelling. Is this situation real or are we in the self-exiled imagination of the central character? Not brilliant but  an experience, however harrowing. ๏ ๏ ๏ out of ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… (theatre) West Side Story (RISE theater company at Stadium Performing Arts Center, Woonsocket, RI) I go to a lot of community theater and you might think I am fortunate to live in a place where there are many local companies. One has to approach community theatre with prejudice of lowered expectations. Some of the worst crap in the world gets to Broadway with multi-million dollar underwriting. Under what circumstances can one expect no-budget theatre to be any better? Surprisingly often the risk does pay off in community. I see performers all the time who have dedicated their lives to craft and not to making it big. But “big” took on new meaning for me in seeing this production of WSS when the curtain went up on a cast of teenagers who were mostly all overweight. I’m not kidding. I don’t know anything about casting a play in suburban area where your company may also be completing with a lot of other companies, but surely someone had to realize the absurdity. WSS is as much a dancing show as it is musical as no one wants to see roly-poly people rolling around on the stage floor. I will say that the lead vocals were excellent. But the show itself seemed out of the director’s grasp. The pacing was awkward, the actors were bad, and the choreography was an embarrassment waiting for wincing audience. Whoever you are RISE, you need to set your ambitions lower for now and find material that is appropriate for your acting pool.

Media Log: 01.08.2012, incl CHRONICLE and SMASH

CHRONICLE: CAN ANDREW CRUSH HIS PROBLEMS?

(cinema) Chronicle, d. Josh Trank, 2012. There’s a quote attributed to Will Rogers, a very practical guy: When you find yourself stuck in a hole, stop digging. I offer this aphorism for consideration to the lead character Andrew in Chronicle and to the filmmakers behind Chronicle as well. Andrew, a shy teenager, finds himself part of a trio of boys who discover a strange crystal artifact in an underground cavern. The crystal, for some reason, gives the boys telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds and even figure out how to fly above the clouds. The external benefits of Andrew’s new physical power include making new friends, becoming popular at school and even attracting the interest of girls. But ultimately Andrew’s damaged ego and personal problems at home are more powerful than his abilities his father is an abusive drunk and his mother has a terminal illness. As Andrew’s telekinetic powers strengthen, his emotional self-control weakens. Instead of being a hero, he becomes a menace of violence and destruction. The “chronicle” part of this is that the whole movie is shot in so called “found footage” style. I call it faux-verite. Andrew carries a video camera and his recording of everything that happens is our viewpoint into his rise and fall. There are a lot of movies using faux-verite but experimenting with the form, Chronicle ventures into original territory. I like the special effects work of the suspended objects and flying teenagers. I also like the story in the first two thirds a lot. Is all this really happening to Andrew or are we a voyeur into his fantasy life? Is this an origin story of Andrew as a comic book style hero, or super villain?  There are probably a hundred interesting places Chronicle could have taken us but it doesn’t go to any of them. Instead the story runs out of gas creatively and begins to get boring, even at under 85 minutes. In the desperate feeling last act, Andrew goes on an I-can-destroy-you-all-if-I-chose power binge. The filmmakers have no idea what to do with their own character. So they drag Andrew into a hole of explosions, nihilism, and waste. Unfortunately, Andrew lacks the ability to think of any better solution than to just keep making things worse. In the same manner Chronicle goes from good, to boring, to bad, to worse. I should mention that I saw a strong homoerotic subtext here as Andrew’s fantasy-come-to life seems to be finding a phallic object in a cave and using its secret power to convince attractive, popular boys to runaway with him- just something I was thinking about as I watched this movie go to pieces.  ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Harvey Girls, d. George Sidney, 1946. Not everybody knows who Johnny Mercer was but everybody knows a Johnny Mercer song: “MOON RIVER”, “JEEPERS CREEPERS”, or “YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY.” Mercer wrote lyrics for and recorded hundreds of songs in the Great American Songbook including “ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE”  for the movie musical The Harvey Girls (music: Harry Warren). That song is used in a grand Hollywood production number at the beginning. What happens after that are some less fantastic numbers and a thin story. Judy Garland plays a 19th Century mail order bride from Ohio whose train stops in an old Western American town. Garland takes a job as a Harvey Girl. That’s an ebullient, hard working server in a friendly whistle stop restaurant called Harvey’s. It’s a respectable opportunity for a young, unmarried woman, especially compared to the girls who “entertain” men more provocatively across the street at the local casino and dance hall. A cultural conflict is set up here between the two kinds of girls in town, a conflict repeated in the battle of affections over the same man by both Garland and the leader of the showgirls. There is a longer discussion to be had about how these microcosmic conflicts attempt to play out familiar value themes in musicals: work versus leisure and chastity versus sexual promiscuity. But the case is well summarized at the end when all of the town drunks and gamblers come over to Harvey’s to learn how to waltz. As the town parson says, “For the first time the men in this town chose having a good time over having a wild time.” This movie is a good but not wild time and there are some great, less recognizable Mercer/Warren tunes as well as an amazing tap dance specialty number by Ray Bolger.๏ ๏ ๏outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ … (television) Smash. This show premiered on television after a great deal of marketing and other ballyhoo. It’s premise is to follow the evolution of a fictional Broadway musical and the lives of its creators and performers. So far I don’t quite give it a “smash.” The pilot was more of a “ring” or a “bang” to me. The characters started out kind of flat but they promise to be much more interesting than the nitwit cartoon characters on Glee (Hate it!). I’m impressed with the quality of Smash’s original music by Marc Shaiman, composer/lyricist for musicals like Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. I wonder if they’re going to be able to maintain the quality of that music over the course of a television series. One of the principle character conflicts is going to be the two young singers fighting for the lead role. I thought Megan Hilti, the blonde, was amazing and that Katherine McPhee, the brunette, was just really good. However my unbinding straw poll revealed that there are people who feel completely opposite, that McPhee clobbered Hilti. What did you think? I think Smash could turn out to be a lot of fun to watch. WATCH IT… In my continuing power screening of old Golden Girls episodes I just finished the 3rd season. LARCENY AND OLD LACE (S3, Ep.21) Sophia is dating a retired gangster and finds a wad of money she thinks he robbed from a bank just to impress her. One of the big problems I have with GG is that they enlist a lot of great Hollywood and Broadway actors as guest stars and then never give them anything funny to do, perhaps to contain them in upstaging the regulars. However, this episode features Mickey Rooney as the old crook and he’s in great form. WATCH IT. BTW, Mickey Rooney was older than any of the GG actresses. They’re all dead except for Betty White and Rooney’s still alive. ROSE’S BIG ADVENTURE (S3, Ep.22) Rose has to convince her newly retired boyfriend to do something with his life. Also, the girls hire an old Sicilian architect to remodel their garage. This isn’t a bad episode but neither story line is particularly believable or funny. SKIP IT. MIXED BLESSINGS (S3, Ep. 23) Dorothy forbids her son to marry a woman twice his age. Meanwhile the bride’s family is forbidding the marriage because they are black. It’s a weird pattern to me that the adult children are always flying into Miami to spring shocking news to their Golden Girl mother at the front door. Ever hear of a telephone? And what’s with all the parental forbidding? It’s okay though, the white people come out looking really tolerant in this one. SKIP IT.  MR. TERRIFIC (S3, Ep. 24) Now Rose is dating a television kiddie show super hero named Mr. Terrific. What happened to the good for nothing she was seeing two episodes ago? Through sitcomy circumstance Dorothy gets Mr. Terrific fired from his gig and has to fill in for him on the air. I wanted that situation of comedy to be funnier. Also, I’ve always disliked the character actor Bob Dishy who plays Mr. Terrific. He never fails to irritate. SKIP IT.  MOTHER’S DAY (S3, EP.25) Each GG recalls a memorable Mother’s Day story. Again, the show goes to the lengths of getting the great comedian Alice Ghostley as a guest star and she’s barely in it. But the writing in this episode is pretty touching. WATCH IT.

Media Log: 01.25.2012

Owen "Woody" Wilson with Marion Cotillard

(cinema) Midnight in Paris, d. Woody Allen, 2011. A few years Woody Allen got to old to play himself. Being a septuagenarian and casting himself as the male romantic lead against the likes of Marion Cotillard would seem as unseemly as, well, as Woody Allen’s real life romantic life perhaps. Anyway, the guy playing the Woody Allen character in Midnight in Paris is Owen Wilson and his Allen-esque comic delivery is an adequate replacement. Although, I prefer my neurotic nebbishes a bit more Jewy. With all the attention drawn to this movie, including Academy Award nominations for best picture, director and screenplay, one might draw the conclusion that Woody Allen has returned to making great films. I don’t know about that. The character in the movie is a writer who travels back in time to Paris in the 1920s, meets F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and other artistic heroes of the era. What he learns is that everybody thinks the era before their’s was better. I didn’t find this revelation all that profound. Nor did I think the comedy was consistently side-splitting. There are many intended to be funny scenes that come off completely flat. Midnight in Paris, like Woody Allen himself is likeable but too awkward to love. ๏ ๏ …(television) Alcatraz. Last week I reviewed the new J.J. Abrams vehicle and determined that I would watch one more episode to see if it was going to go with its mysterious premise or go with its boring cop-show gimmick. This week’s episode got no closer to investigating where all these prisoners went for 50 years and I got bored. Alcatraz is closed for me. Skip it…. Golden Girls, AND MAMA MAKES THREE, S3-Ep.20. Sofia is lonely and Dorothy is sorry when her mother starts attending all of Dorothy’s dates with a new beau. Sofia’s obliviousness to the imposition she becomes is inconsistent with her character as is Dorothy’s inability to tell her mother to get lost. But the episode is, overall, really funny. Watch it.

I Handicap The Oscars

You didn’t ask for it, so here are my guesses for Oscar winners based on today’s nominations:

Sup. Actr – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Sup. Actrss – Octavia Spencer (Help)

Actr – Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailr)

Actrss – Viola Davis (Help)

Adapt Screnply – Moneyball

Orig Screnply – Artist

Directr – Hazanavicius (Artist)

Picture – Descendants

Media Log 01.23.12

(cinema) The Innkeepers, d. Ti West, 2011. “Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.” That’s a funny line from this horror movie that is playful in its script without ever degrading to farce and stupidity. It is the lobby level of Innkeepers where the movie works, at least for the first three quarters. Two slacker clerks in a New England hotel kill time on their long shifts by trying to record proof the old place in haunted. Besides the funny banter between the clerks there is the role of the horror movie “last girl” presented here as quirky, nerdy, and on time with her slap stick. You don’t see girl characters like this in any kind of movie except for maybe one with Drew Barrymore. Kelly McGillis also makes a strong appearance as a psychic guest in the hotel who warns the clerks against waking up spirits. Yep, Kelly McGillis was the sex object in Witness and Top Gun back in the 80s who never did anything again except come out of the closet. I don’t know if I can say McGillis is slumming now in indy horror. The cast is the best part of The Innkeepers. The worst part is the proposed ghost story. That fourth quarter is fairly suspenseful, scary and bloody but the back story on why the place is haunted never comes together. ๏ ๏ ½

Media Log: 01.20.2012

(cinema) We Need to Talk About Kevin, d. Lynne Ramsay, 2011. The IMDB entry for this movie says: The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions. I lived in Colorado at the time of the Columbine High School murders and I’ve thought a lot about what life must be like for a parent whose kid has does something so awful. It’s an intriguing script idea but it doesn’t happen to be what Kevin is actually about. The high school mass murders here are a sort of foregone conclusion to the story of a mother who is emotionally terrorized by her son, beginning when he is an infant. This is a unique piece in that the story is told in non-linear flashbacks and the cinematography is experimental. Yet the story to me plays closer in genre to horror than to a psychological drama you might see at the arthouse. I can recommend this movie if it’s only on the multiplex at the mall level. Otherwise we’re looking at something that it is on the edge of camp. Witness the

Ezra Miller as Kevin

scene where the mother tries to explain reproduction to her little boy via the Mama Bear and Papa Bear and the boy interrupts, “Is this about fuckin’?” If it isn’t highbrow horror Kevin is just Mommy Dearest with the abuse roles switched around. Did you want the gays to love your movie like that? ๏๏๏… Afterschool, d. Antonio Campos, 2008. The actor who plays the

Miller in Afterschool

sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin was in this earlier movie where he also plays a disturbed kid but with a bit more subtlety. Ezra Miller is great actor in addition to have grown up to be pretty hot. Anyway, in Afterschool, Miller is a nobody kid at a prep school who accidentally videotapes two popular girls die overdosing on tainted cocaine. As the school goes into damage control trying to shake out all the drugs, Miller starts to act erratically believing he is under surveillance. Surveillance, public image and acts of watching are huge themes in movie. Apparently a lot of people don’t care for the slow pace of the story and static camera scenes. I could write a book on why every shot matters. I think it’s brilliant.๏๏๏๏๏

Addendum: If you want to a see an excellent movie about the psychology behind school shootings I recommend Zero Day, from 2003. Both Afterschool and Zero Day stream on Netflix.

Media Log 01.17.2012

50/50 : Gordon-Levitt/Rogen

(cinema) 50/50, d. Jonathan Levine, 2011. Can you take a movie seriously that starts with the line, “I can’t have cancer, Doc. I recycle”, even if it’s a comedy? What if  it’s a comedy about cancer? The script for 50/50 attempts to straddle a fence between being a wise cracking comedy about a young guy facing death, and an insightful drama about a young guy facing death. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young cancer patient adequately, he isn’t given much to do. When his mother, his best friend and his girlfriend all react in different ways badly to his condition, Cancer Boy comes off a bit blase to me. I don’t think he even looks that sick. But most of the characters in this movie aren’t very convincing. The girlfriend’s shallowness seems forced, all the doctors wouldn’t be so robotically insensitive, the perky new psychologist couldn’t possibly be so badly trained, and don’t tell me the mother would have actually said “I smothered him too much because I loved him.” The problem with 50/50 isn’t with any of the actors or even with trying to milk comedy out of a sad subject. I think Seth Rogen as the funny, knucklehead best friend who has no filter is the best character. But, on the whole, 50/50’s dialogue and characters just aren’t genuine enough for laughs or tears. When Gordon-Levitt’s character finally has an emotional catharsis near the end it’s too much too late… (television) Star Trek DS9, PROGRESS, S1-Ep.14. Major Kira, assigned to evacuate a Bajoran Moon for mining, confronts a stubborn farmer and an ethical dilemma about repeating the abuses perpetrated by the Cardasians on the Bajoran people. To this point in the show I have found Nana Visitor’s performances as Kira to be annoyingly at full volume. For once her over-excitement seems to have collided with a good script. I like Kira in this one and the turmoil she has with hating and having to do what’s right. Brian Keith as the irascible but wise old farmer is great too… The Golden Girls, BLANCHE’S LITTLE GIRL, S3-Ep.14. Blanche’s estranged daughter shows up after three years with a fiance and a lot of pounds heavier. When it turns out the fiance is a mean creep, Blanche is torn between protecting her daughter’s interest and butting into her life. This one is a better comedy episode than it is a drama, especially Sophia’s fat jokes about the daughter. It’s a little weird that the Goldies get so ticked off about the fiance making fat jokes when they were being just as mean.

Media Log: 01.14.2012

(cinema) Drive, d. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011. I just watched Drive for the second time. On closer inspection I figured out that if this movie with the same L.A. crime underworld story had been edited too fast and too furious and amped with a soundtrack of Kidd Rock anthems it would have come off as total trash. As one gangster character who used to produce low-budget films says, “One critic called them [movies] European. I thought they were shit.” For Drive the filmmakers adopted highly stylized and deliberate editing with brilliant, catchy, 1980s sounding synth music are these are the two elements that hide all the flaws in this movie and make it so captivating. As produced, Drive is brilliant in its turns between the actors subtleties and violent action excesses. Drive is the best movie I saw in 2011 and goes on a list of great of great American films. ๏ ๏ ๏ ½… The Mothman Prophesies, d. Mark Pellington, 2002. Richard Gere is a recently widowed reporter who inexplicably wakes up in a West Virginia town four hundred miles from home. He starts encountering townspeople who are having their own paranormal encounters with a moth-like man who whispers warnings of a looming catastrophe. Mothman is a successfully weird and suspenseful thriller that never tries to over-explain its phenomena. We are never told exactly what is going on between life in the town and whatever dimension the Mothman comes from, nor is it resolved why reporter id dragged into it. I like that these mysteries stay in tact. I like that we don’t really know how much of what is transpiring is just shadow of the reporter’s unresolved trauma. Is he imagining everything? Is he Mothman? In the end it’s a well acted drama about the reporter trying to move beyond his tragic past. But this is a false ending as we find out there really is tragedy about to collapse on the town. Apparently the story is adapted from an investigation into a real incident in 1968 where a West Virginia bridge collapsed and killed forty-six people. That part of it may be factual but it didn’t make for a better ending. One other issue with this film is the terrible casting of Laura Linney as the town cop and love interest for Gere. I love Laura Linney in everything else. Would Elizabeth Taylor have made a good Barney Fife just because she was a good  actress? If the movie had got its priorities straightened out it could have been a modern classic.๏ ๏ ๏… (television) Star Trek DS9, THE STORYTELLER. O’Brien and Bashir visit a village of idiotically superstitious Bajorian yokels who think only O’Brien can save their village from the wrath of a giant cloud entity that looks a lot like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. In an equally idiotic subplot, a teenage ambassador, negotiating for the future of her own village, gets the best advice from the only other kids on DS9, Jake Sisco and his Ferengi chum Nog. This episode plays like it was written for and by children. Not the worst of the first seasons episodes, but quite irritating.

Media Log: 01.13.2012

(television) Project Runway All Stars, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. Design a gown that will only be worn to the opera. This is the sort of challenge I watch the show for. Ambitious, fantasy gowns where the designers can show both their modern creativity and nod to formality. It’s a much more interesting challenge to me than make a dress out of only things sold at Radio Shack. The opera episode was great too because the competition was truly all star; there were at least six designs which could have been a winner. But first, the judges definitely got all the losers right. One trend across the competition seemed to be a lack of knowledge about what a night at the opera looks like, manifest in high waisted hoop skirts. She’s going to the opera in 2012, not playing the part of Violetta in La Traviata. In the case of designer Sweet P’s losing gown it was a hoop skirt with a summer free festival color palette. Her girl looked like Violetta smokes hash at a Joni Mitchell concert. At the better end  I liked Rami and Mondo’s designs best and neither of them made the final judging. Some of middle-of-pack finishing gowns may have been deliberately left out of the final. Are the producers keeping the show fresh by holding back their ringers while the also-rans play out their role, which is to be cannon fodder? This may sound cynical but I’m beginning to question the veracity of reality shows… (cinema) Tree Of Life, d. Terrence Malick, 2011. This movie got a lot of attention last year and deservedly for being an amazing achievement. Frankly I’m surprised that something so abstruse and non-plot driven garnered so much attention. The late Andrei Tarkovsky made films that were just as lyrical and ambitious but nobody ever heard of him. Lars Van Trier makes films that are perplexing and unorthodox and nobody goes to see them. Perhaps at least part of the draw into Tree of Life is Brad Pitt and the reputation of the ascetic director. Terrence Malick has only directed five feature films over nearly forty years, most of them great. It turns out the middle-class family depicted in Tree is at least partially autobiographical. These are memories of Malick’s own childhood in a film he’s apparently been making since 1973. It’s highly personal but it’s also universal. In fact Malick depicts both the beginning of the universe and the end of it as bookends around the mundane experiences of his family. I thought the creation of the universe, special effects sequences were amazing (real photography techniques, not CGI). The family stuff I didn’t respond to as strongly. If I can get personal on you, the ontological questions, what is the meaning of suffering, is God responsible stuff didn’t evoke in me the kind of response I think was intended. It just made me think “Look, there’s no God, get over it.” But Tree of Life is an epic poem spoken though film and it’s extraordinary.

MEDIA LOG – 01.10.2012

(cinema) Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, d. Thomas Alfredson, 2011. I’m sure there are people who love this British Cold War cloak and dagger stuff. I’m either too dumb or too impatient to keep up with mysterious plots that turn on a word mumbled over a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a dark room. I might also benefit from an English to English lesson as everything including the title in TTSS requires having foreknowledge of British noir lingo as well as the political context. I’m pretty sure Gary Oldman is great playing the role of soft spoken detective who struggles to contain his outrage, but I miss Robert Mitchum. The ending where Oldman sets a trap to draw out the mole totally confounded me. I watched it twice and I still don’t get it. If anyone can explain it, I come with a degree in media studies and I’m all ears. 2 movie spotlights… Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, d. Guy Ritchie, 2011. The reboot of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead a couple of years ago set out to depict the iconic detective character as uninhibited, amoral, Saturnalian, and manic. If the original Holmes was a little neurotic, the new one is supposed to be bat-shit crazy. That was an update I could live with as Robert Downey was so good and the movie was well produced. There were great effects and modern editing trends but Victorian London was believably dark and pugilistic. The action sequences were an engaging addition to a good detective story. Game of Shadows abandons the detectiving of Holmes and Watson to show them instead as adventure characters. And I find the whole adventure pretty uninteresting. What we get is an endless series of escape sequences from boring villains. Sherlock’s sleuthing acumen has become either quasi-supernatural or silly and defiant of logic. The special effects are impressive, but what Guy Ritchie has done with Holmes is turn the legend and the franchise into a video game. 1 movie spotlight… Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, d. Nicholas Meyer, 1982. Somebody just told me that after Wrath of Khan all the makers of subsequent Star Trek movies felt they had to unfairly compete with Khan, that the series reached its high watermark early. I think a lot of the films are great, especially the last two from Next Generation, Nemesis and Insurrection. Wrath of Khan is great because the characters are familiar enough that the story has time to explore Kirk’s anxieties about reaching middle age. As a character study this is manifest in Kirk being chased around the galaxy by his demons- an old enemy, his illegitimate son, the death of a friend. I hadn’t seen this movie for years and for the first time I picked up on some big holes in the science. Ironically Khan could be the best script in the series but there are better overall post-Khan Star Trek movies. 3 1/2 movie spotlights.

Media Log: 01.07.2012

(cinema) The Help, d. Tate Taylor, 2011. I didn’t know anything about this movie or

from "The Help"

it’s source novel before screening it (In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was under the impression it was a comedy about black people who hire a white maid). I enjoyed it overall but I couldn’t stop thinking the whole thing doesn’t seems inaccurate. The conservatism of the Southern whites seem behind the times of the setting and the black characters are patronizingly simple-minded. The telling of America’s civil rights struggles in the 1960 is territory that has been well covered in better movies. It’s interesting that this story about black domestic help is told mostly from the white character points of view. And while I hate to say it, there is something cloyingly liberal about the depictions of “proud” black people and “good” white people. The movie is well made and well acted but the level of story telling never goes above something you might see on Lifetime. 2 1/2 movie spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Move Along Home.” Quark is forced to participate  in a game with a gang of gamblers who all look like roadies for a Southern rock band. The stakes of the game involve transporting the DS9 senior officers into a holographic maze that is filled with trap doors and dangers. You would like to trip with our characters into this Alice In Wonderland like fantasy game. But the episode fails completely to ever establish a plausible connection between what’s happening in Quark’s game room and what’s happening in the hologram. It all comes off to me as under imagined and lazy. 1 spotlight. “The Nagus.” Quark is put in charge of the Ferengi trade alliance and becomes the target of assassination plots. This is the first episode in the ST universe that gives us some flavor and background of who the Ferengi people are besides cartoonish filchers (and vaguely anti-semitic stereotypes). It’s a fun episode even it is light on sci-fi and drama. 2 1/2 spotlights… Golden Girls, “Charlie’s Buddy.” Rose falls for a con-artist who is pretending to be an old friend of her deceased husband. This a pretty well-balanced episode that handles both its dramatic story and its comedic subplot with some maturity – a quality surprisingly lacking in many episodes of this show. 3 spotlights.

Media Log 1.3.2012

(cinema) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, d. David Fincher, 2011. A character in this movie says that society in Sweden hides behind the shiny veneer of Ikea furniture. Behind the European setting and slick filmmaking lies a silly, and totally predictable story. When you take away the heavy down parkas the mystery is as thin as its undernourished heroine. I liked GWTDT but probably in total only about 60%. 2 and 1/2 spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Captive Pursuit.” The crew rescues the representative of a new species who turns out to be the hunted prey of his bloodsport pursuers from the Gamma Quadrant. Sisco must balance his moral conviction with his responsibilities to uphold the prime directive. Like the best episodes of past Star Trek series, often the right thing to do is not what is best decision. This is a very sophisticated script for the being only the 6th episode. 3 and 1/2 spotlights… The Golden Girls, “Three On A Couch.” Are relations really so frayed around the GG house that they all need to a group therapy hour with a psychiatrist? Not, really. The session is just a flashback device to some recent, disconnected comic incidents, none of which seem important enough to take in for service. A watchable but unmemorable episode. 2 spotlights… (theater) Blood Brothers, screening of 1989 London cast w/Kiki Dee. Music, lyrics and book by Willy Russell. Twin brothers are secretly separated as infants into rich and poor upbringings. Circumstances raises them as best friends but both of them are doomed to a young, violent death. The story is inspired by The Corsican Brothers and the music obviously by A.L. Webber’s popular rock theatricals of the 1980s. I found the play to kind of sputter until finally getting interesting in the last half of the second half. The music to me sounded like the same two songs over and over, alternating between the gloomy one and the peppy one. There are some good elements but overall: skip it.

BSD Movie Log: The Skulls

The Skulls (2000, d. Rob Cohen)

Luke, a working-class, scholarship kid is invited into the secretive, elite, club called The Skulls.  He is easily seduced by the secret society’s power, largess, and promise of  clearing his way into Harvard Law.  When his best friend, a campus paper reporter writing an expose on the The Skulls commits suicide, Luke is suspicious.  He uncovers a conspiracy and battle for power within club.  Luke must decide whether to abide the club’s rules of secrecy, or put his future and his life on the line in exposing the truth.

I feel like a sponge in enjoying all the silly melodrama of The Skulls, from Joshua Jackson’s casting as street punk gone Ivy, to the Provost of Yale University shooting students in the streets of New Haven with impunity, to a US Senator encouraging students to settle their disagreements in a gun duel.  This movie is accidentally ridiculous, but I still wish I could join their little club.

BSD Movie Log: The Curve

The Curve  (1998, d. Dan Rosen)

Two college roommates, Tim, an underachieving playboy and Chris, a scholarship student, determine to capitalize on a school policy that grants a 4.0 grade average to a student if their roommate commits suicide.  The two plot to push a third roommate over a cliff and make it appear as suicide.   When the police investigate, Tim leaves a trail of clues to frame Chris for murder.  Then the roommate they thought they killed shows up alive.  Was the whole thing really plot to kill Chris and fake his suicide?

I have to credit this movie for Matthew Lillard’s standout, Dennis Hopper-esque performance, but that is the extent of my generosity.  With all the twists in the story, characters with secret alliances, and casting Lillard as the lead, you can see that somebody thought The Curve was going to be the next Scream.  But they neglected to provide any likable or believable characters.  They don’t come off to me as clever and cool, just petty.  Save your trash diving for the Jerry Springer show.

BSD Movie Log: Borderland

Borderland (2007, d. Zev Berman)

Three impulsive and illiberal students, awaiting grad school,  take a bro-cation to a tenderloin, Mexican border town. Although  looking for  dope and hookers, they accidentally find themselves the prey of a violent drug order/religious cult.  While one bro is being tortured and strung up by his castanets, the other two come after the well-armed gang with a tire iron and get their gringo culos handed to them.  They should have turned around at El Paso and headed straight back to Stanford.

Based on a true story, Borderland is a case where a better movie is lurking just beneath the one we’re unfortunately watching.  The American douchebags are neither sympathetic characters nor well cast actors.  More interesting to me is the gang of drug-smuggling orphans who kidnap virgin male tourists for their Jim Jones-esque leader.  A guy who performs a sadistic Santeria ritual upon the victim in the belief that such blood sacrifice will render him invisible to narcotics law enforcement.  Now that’s entertainment!

BSD Movie Log: My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine (1981, d. George Mihalka)

After a 20 year moratorium, a small coal mining town plans to relaunch their once traditional Valentine’s Day dance, even though the day is scarred with the memory of  a serial killer who brutally murdered V-Day revelers.  Then real, dissevered human hearts, in heart-shaped candy boxes, start getting delivered to the town’s elders – the same modus operendi of the legend.  Has the Valentine’s murderer come back or has someone else picked up his trademark? A group of young partiers end up in the bowels of the local coal mine, trapped inside with the spiteful Valentine’s Day killer.

I don’t know why this guy came to hate Valentine’s Day so much.  Maybe he thought he was the only one in town who wasn’t getting any.  Anyway, the motivation for all the killing is really secondary to the joy in seeing innocent people cut into pieces, no?  Murder qua murder. My Bloody Valentine isn’t like the high-tech torture porn of today’s horror cinema.  It’s just gory, suspenseful, cheap, idiotic and cool.

BSD Movie Log: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Freddy's Revenge

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, d. Jack Sholder)

Teenage Jesse and his family move into the same house on Elm Street where the teenage girl of the first movie was terrorized in her dreams by the psychotic spector Freddy Krueger.  Now Freddy is haunting Jesse’s dreams and wants to make Jesse his living avatar for murdering people in the living world.

After successful use of the familiar “last surviving girl” motif, the first Nightmare on Elm Street sequel went with a story centered around terrorizing a teenage boy.  Not a bad direction to take, but horror movies are cathartic fantasy and male protagonist victims always come off a little gay.  If they didn’t mean for it all to come off gay here they should have maybe cut the scene where the teenage boy in the gym shower psychokineticly strips his bondage fetishist coach naked and lashes him to death with jump rope.  There are a lot of weird homoerotic scenes if you like that.  Otherwise this is below average material.

BSD Movie Log: Pulse

Pulse (2006, d. Jim Sonzero)

A computer hacker commits suicide and his girlfriend starts looking into a mysterious, mind-controling virus he may have downloaded.  It spreads first among her friends, then across her college campus, until she finds herself one of the last survivors up against  a powerful, malevolent force that is rapidly taking over entire world via the Internet.

Pulse has little character or plot development with its initial LAN of college friends, and then it streams at high bandwidth into a story about the demise of civilization.   It is a concoction of one part 28 Days Later and two parts The Ring, two enormously better and more successful horror movies.  In particular Pulse was a really late dropper in a spate of horror movies inspired by Ring style technophobia.

BSD Movie Log: Fear of the Dark

Fear of the Dark (2002, d. K.C. Bascombe)


A 12 twelve year boy old lives with chronic phobia of dark places.  Is it a psychological disorder, immaturity, desire for attention, or does the boy see really see terrifying things in the dark that can’t be seen in the light?  His torment comes to zenith when one stormy night he and his older teenage brother are at home alone during a blackout.  Evil spirits come from the walls to attack the boy, and big, macho brother starts to see  them too.

This is a horror movie that falls in-between being to0 scary for kids, and too arrested for any adult with an IQ above 80.

IMAX-imum Drama

Hubble 3D (2010, d. Toni Myers)

There isn’t much going on at the movie theater this week so I got dragged kicking and screaming to Hubble 3D which has been hanging around our local IMAX for months.  Pretty neat, I have to admit.

Leonardo DiCaprio narrates this 45 minute doc.  Half of the film follows NASA astronauts on a 2009 space walk mission to repair the storied, giant telescope.  The other half is impressive 3D sequences of distant gallaxies through Hubble’s eye.  The experience is spectacular and I think Hollywood has a lot of catching up to do given some of the recent $15 dollar 2 1/2 D chazerai their bringing out lately.

I do  have a couple of caveats.  First, Hubble in reality takes 2D, black and white pictures and I think the film needs to be more upfront about that.  What we’re watching are “visualizations”, computer painted 3D models rendered from Hubble photography.  Second, at just 45 minutes running time, I found certain details of the Hubble story discounted.  We’re told it will be the final mission to repair Hubble.  Why?  Last, despite all the flux-capacitor type babble about Hubble’s delicate technology I still have no idea what the astronauts were repairing.   I would gladly sit through an additional 15 minutes to find out.  Instead the film’s emphasis is that it’s just really important it get repaired precisely and in a hurry or the mission will be catastrophic failure.  This is what film critic Anthony Lane would call a binding rule of melodrama:  all escapes shall be narrow, no more than the breadth of a hair.  To save oneself and others at one’s leisure, with room to spare, would be an insult to the satisfaction of the moment.  So it is with Hubble 3D that every stuck bolt, every literal turn of a screw balances success and disaster on the head of a pin. Again, what are the consequences?

link to video on the production of Huble 3D images:

link to trailer:

Paranormal Too

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010, d. Tod Williams)

Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” went to #1 on the Billboard charts twice.   His sequel “Let’s Twist, Again” only made it to #8.  Paranormal Activity, from 2009, was derivative of other horror movies using hand-held video and a found-footage conceit, but it was a creative twist.  As for Paranormal Activity 2, I’m sorry, but sequel, prequel… whatever, you don’t get credit for making the same movie twice.

A married couple brings their newborn baby home to their suburban dramatization, and unhealthily video tapes every living moment of their unextraordinary lives.  After the house is curiously vandalised, but not robbed, they install an elaborate security camera system that documents every inch of their  laminate and Oak Express interiors.  So, most of the found-footage from this point on comes via those cameras (which actually helps to address a lot of the “if their so freaked out why do they keep filming it?” criticisms).  What we see, from our fly on the wall view,  is the hour by hour behavior of some evil apparition, a demon in the house,  gradually more and more ornery.  Mostly the demon comes in the form of a crescendo of audience-jarring noises.  At the beginning of the movie we hear a snap.  By the middle is ascends to a crackle.  And finally, near the end, the intense pop!  My question is, if the demon is so pissed off, why doesn’t he just start terrorizing the family at full volume?  Eventually it’s revealed that the demon is after the baby.  Well, he should just ask for it.  Instead we have 90 minutes of the same wondering when something’s going to  happen , the same zombie lady standing around possessed for hours sped-up – all the same spooky tricks used in PA1.  In between there’s the continuation of the vague, cursed family back story that has really nothing to do with what’s happening in front of us.

Paranormal Activity 2 operates on this marinating model to build dramatic impact.  That would be fine if it weren’t the exact same drama building device they used in the first movie.  I don’t dislike Paranormal Activity 2.  I just think my movie dollar should stretch farther.

Patchwork of Horrors Under The Stairs

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club.Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended feature is:

The People Under the Stairs

Between numerous sequels of Nightmare On Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes, horror director Wes Craven came up with this wild, little urban-horror fairytale.  It is a horror movie, but a patchwork of just about everything horrible under the full moon: sadomasochism, poverty, injustice, incest,  slumlords, economic exploitation, OCD, racism, child abuse, castration anxiety, haunted houses, gore, slapstick, violence, and animal cruelty.

Fool, a 13 year old boy, gets involved in a  home robbery with two adult burglars.  Fool is looking for a rumored coin collection, the value of which could prevent his family from being evicted and pay for his mother’s lifesaving cancer surgery.  The coin collection belongs to a wealthy, racist and a bizzare man and woman who are also the family’s landlords.  After breaking into the fortress-like surburban house, the burglars discover that it is full of passageways between the walls, deadly traps, and a vicious guard dog.  Also, the homeowners are holding their teenage daughter captive as well as a dozen or so teenage boys in a cage under the stairs, and their tongues have been cut out.  The homeowners themselves are a nerotic folie a deux, alternately compulsively clean and prone to wanton destruction of their own property; alternately sexually perverse and obsessive about their daughter’s chastity.  Chased by the couple and their flesh eating dog throughout the house and it’s hidden chambers, Fool befriends the teenage girl and her imprisoned, mutilated consorts, and they help him escape with the coins.  His family’s financial crisis solved, Fool makes a deadly decision to return to the house and liberate all of the teen prisoners.

The People Under The Stairs isn’t great horror movie or a great movie period.  But its unique story and the story telling is intriguing.   It has a fairytale quality and a lot of juvenile  humor, yet adult themes.  It has slapstick and farce, but it’s also effectively violent and gross.  The bawdy comedy and gore is definitely intended for a broad theater audience.  However dumb it was, I have to confess it worked on me.  The bad guys lose and the audience wins.

The People Under The Stairs (1991, d. Wes Craven)

Haunted Home

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club.Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended feature is:

Burnt Offerings

The literary antecedents of the haunted house movie go back  to 18th and 19th century gothic novels and the underlying mythological matter probably from further than that.  I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies this month and hadn’t fully realized how frequently the device of the haunted house is used.  Real estate marketing parlance has infected our contemporary culture in the use of  the word home for house, to conflate an ideal with a place.  The idea being that home is about values – family, comfort, safety, legacy – and that a house is the thing that will provide all of that for a negotiated  price.  It doesn’t.  The home/house conflation is a hollow notion.  Maybe that’s why when talking about movies where people find their new place occupied by restless dead people, demons, and unsettled spiritual grudges we prefer not to have the residence of these terrible stories called a haunted home.  The haunted house as depicted in Burnt Offerings I think symbolizes a deep uneasiness with the excepted idea that for every family, house is where the home is; that the values of home can always to be found through accumulation and consumption.

some unseen force tears this family asunder

The family of Burnt Offerings isn’t wealthy.   They are a  middle-class family stumbling across a home that is not too nice for them, but rather too much, too big.   When they assume the role of being able take control of the house, they discover too late that the house is consuming them.   Marian and Ben, with their teenage son and septengenarian aunt in tow rent a neglected and decaying gothic mansion as their summer getaway.  They are told by the off-beat  sister and brother who own the house that the couple can have it all summer for $900.  They only need the couple to provide care for their invalid mother who resides in the attic.   Marian volunteers to be the one who looks after the old woman and set meal trays outside her locked door.  The family moves in, but Marian begins to be obsessed with the photographs and antiques and spends long periods in the old woman’s parlor.  She overreacts when the the boy accidently breaks a crystal bowl and admonishes him not to touch “beautiful things.”  Meanwhile Ben begins to be feel depresssed.  He and Marian stop having sex.  He is haunted by terrifying memories of his mother’s funeral.  He has disabling visions of a old fashioned hearse driven by a creepy, spectral  chauffeur .  Ben’s disorientations lead to a scary incident where he uncontrollably tries to drown his teenage son in the swimming pool.  The aunt, at first animated and full of vigor, quickly declines into lathargy and ill health.  As the family falls to pieces, the aging old house starts to repair itself; the gardens bloom and the shingles and siding literally fall off like old skin to be magically replaced by fresh painted materials underneath.  The house thrives like a destructive parasite on the family’s youth and vitality.  The family is dying physically and emotionally, so that the house can live.  By the time they figure out it’s the  house that’s killing them, they also learn that the house will not allow them to leave.  The dream house becomes a prison and a death trap.

It’s a critique on the idealization of American dream. In trying to live the dream, this family learns that the cost isn’t just $900 for the summer, but the hidden costs of moral and familial values that would make such a dream worth living.  Even if you don’t buy into the critique, Burnt Offerings is still a great horror movie.  The scenes with the ghost hearse and the family trying to escape are all effectively frightening.  But the growing uncertainty in what these formerly nice people are going do to each other, as their inner rage manifests, is the scariest part.

Burnt Offerings (1976, Dan Curtis)



BSD Movie Log: Doomwatch

Doomwatch (1972, d. Peter Sasdy)

A British government scientiss visits a rural, inhabited island to collect soil samples in the wake of an offshore oil spill.  The scientist is greeted with hostility by the locals.  They are attempting to hide an ugly secret.

Doomwatch was a theatrical release derived from a British t.v. adventure series.  The first half is interesting,  atmospheric, and weird.  The second half  is preachy and embarrassing.    This is not a horror movie.  Don’t get sucked in.  You’ll only end up with a lot suck.

What's EATGNU? (or Jeepers Creepers! Its The Gay Bogeyman!)

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club. Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended features are:

Jeeper Creepers (2001)

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

I finally watched both of the  Jeepers Creepers movies for the fist time after seeing a post that including them among The Most Unintentionally Gay Horror Movies [link].  I have to admit both were great, though not because they were unintentionally gay.  In fact, calling Jeepers Creepers unintentionally gay would be like saying the Kennedy assasinations were the result of unfortunate accidental gun discharges.  The serial of these films is most assuredly about a man-eating monster who favors the flavor of men.

In Jeepers Creepers a young brother and sister couple are driving home on break from college on a desolate country road.  Darry is bringing his laundry home to mother, who we are told dotes on him.  Trish is taking time off from her boyfriend to pepper little brother with jibes about his full masculinity and the suggestion that maybe people “know something you don’t.”  They cross paths with a menacing truck driver, who has the vanity license plate BEATNGU.  They witness the guy dumping sheet-wrapped bodies down a drainage pipe.  The kids sneak back to investigate the pipe and Darry daringly crawls in.   At the bottom he uncovers the body of a naked young man who has had his torso dissected and resown.  Further into the cavern Darry finds hundreds of dismembered corpses sewn into the walls like a quilt.  Darry and Trish drive to a roadside diner where they contact the police.  In the meantime, the killer has been tracking the couple.  Darry had used a pair of his dirty underwear, unintentionally died pink in the laundry, to tie down the broken trunk of their car, and this served as an unintentional baiting device.  The killer breaks into the car to enjoyably sniff the laundry and confirm that Darry has something he wants.  A policeman arrives and is escorting the couple’s car home when the patrol car is attacked and the kids get their first good look at The Creeper.  Despite attempting to  disguise himself with a wide brim hat and a tattered black duster, The Creeper is a tall moth-like monster with scales on his skin, and wings.  He is a creature who looks somewhere between Japanese kaiju horror monster Mothra and Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider.  In a demonstration of sadisitc homoeroticism, The Creeper decapitates the male police offficer with a home-forged hachet, and bites the tongue out of the severed head.  Darry and Trish escape to a police station where a local psychic, who has also been following them in her visions, catches up to notify them of what she’s learned from the dreams.   The Creeper, who aparently emerges from dormancy every 23 years for a 23 day feeding period, sniffs out people for specific body parts that he desires and eats.  She also implies that Darry, despite his denial, already knows what the monster wants of him.  I won’t spoil the movie, but suffice it to say that the end is more proof of The Creeper’s specific interest in male bodies and homoerotic voyerism .  I read this as an allusion to the idea of gay men may fetishizing male body parts, that they want to build a fantasy male from the combined parts of different men.

We get another clue what The Creeper has  desire for in the beginning of  Jeepers Creepers 2 when he swoops into a cornfield and flys away with an attractive, toe-headed teenage boy.  Nearby a school bus is  transporting a boys high school basketball team, and a few of their cheer girls, down the same country highway a few days after the incidents of the first Jeepers movie.  Where Jeepers 1 was a stand alone horror story, Jeepers 2 begins more similarly to what I would consider a copycat teen slasher movie: a lost group of teen characters are hunted and methodically killed according to an implicit order of punishment for boorish behavior and/or fornication.  Here, The Creeper disables the school bus on an isolated road and kills all the adult chaparones to enhance a sense of helplessness and  fear on behalf of the teens.  We learned in the first movie that fear emanates some scent The Creeper uses to identify which victims present the most desirable body parts.  In a scene I can only describe as out of the ordinary, The Creeper, while hanging upside down in the bus window points through the crowded alies of the bus at each of the teens he intends to consume, like picking live catch from a restaurant aquarium.  If the implication in the fact that each of his menu selections are male is still unclear, he advertizes his interest in the last boy with a disgusting, erotic sweep of his steaming tounge.  As The Creeper begins to tear apart the bus and pick off his selected male victims, the teens argue over whether they are safer on or off the bus, and whether they should take the doubtful step of dividing themselves into groups as The Creeper’s chosen and unchosen.  Ultimately this debate is of little value as when the kids make a run for it, The Creeper finds his marked boys and wings away with them anyway.  What they fear most is unavoidable.

To my surprise this teen horror movie turns far from the copycat rythm as the teenagers spend much of the time defending themselves not only from the attacks of the monster, but from the prejeudices of their peers.  In the midst of crisis some kids show the character to see the importance of being a team, other fall into patterns of self-preservation and bigotry.  There are unsubtle opinions raised about race, social status, and explicitly in the other boy’s suspicion of the “gay” kid.  The high school sports journalist Izzy, is frequently accused of being gay, “Izzy or isn’t he?”  As in the first Jeepers film, homosexuality left in question is ultimately more important than getting a definitive answer.  Where analysis of teen horror film often proposes a subtext of adolescent anxieties about sex, procreation, and marriage, Jeepers Creepers is a unique mainstream discourse in male anxiety about suppressed homosexual feelings.  If you are a regular boy and a gay monster, after smelling all your peers, selects you, what does that say about you?  Does the monster know something you don’t?  In the story the alleged real gay boy is actually overlooked by the The Creeper and survives to act heroically.  The Creeper is not only an eroticised homosexual killer, he violently demonstrates the terror of a sexual monster within, the fear of what happens to men who are tempted by underlying homosexual desire.

Its worth noting that despite being a different kind of text for a horror movie, the classic feminist critique of an ever present male gaze continues to stare longingly.  It’s just looking in the mirror now.  The Trish character in the first movie and the cheer girls on the bus still have little agency in these stories.   She is now just a bystander as opposed to the obect of male fetishism.  As a selection for the Halloween Movie Club, there are other reasons to like the Jeepers movies besides the feminist critique and the homoerotic text.  Both movies are sharply written, genuinely suspensful, and well acted.

Finally there is public information available about the film director having spent time in jail for child molestation before these movies were ever made.  I think knowing that may be prejudical to first time viewing although it opens the discussion to some other interesting analogies.  I recommend watching the movies before looking deeper into the director’s biography.

Jeepers Creepers (2001, d. Victor Salva)

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003, d. Victor Salva)

Top 25 Horror Movies Ever

More Halloweeny movie thrills.  The Top 25 Horror Movies of All-Time from the IGN blog.  The opinions of that blog are not necessarily those of your humble servant.  And a lot of their choices are just plain wrong.

link:  Top 25 Horror Movies of All-Time – Movies Feature at IGN.

BSD Movie Log: Audrey Rose

Audrey Rose (1977, d. Robert Wise)

A married couple and their daughter, Ivy, find their happy, cosmopolitan life turned tumultuous when a disturbing man attempts to convince them Ivy is his deceased daughter, Audrey Rose, reincarnated.  At about the same time, Ivy starts having terrifying sleepwalking episodes in which she takes on the personality of Audrey Rose, and acts like a lunatic.  The movie is organized as two discreet parts.  The first half follows the family and their uninvited interactions with the strange man.  It’s excellent phychological drama performed by a classy cast.    The second half  is mostly courtroom and hospital drama.  A dozen or so lawyers or doctors walk in and out of professional decisions in regard to Ivy’s welfare that were harder to fathom than the concept of reincarnation.

A post script on the Audrey Rose movie poster.  When I took a closer look at it I wondered if it was designed by somebody who didn’t see the movie.  First, there is a very prominent illustration in the bottom right of a girl walking out of a grave that’s surrounded by flames.  Trust me there no scene like that.  Second, they depicted a weird apparition over Ivy’s face which I take to be the ghost of Audrey Rose.  Although in the movie we only see Audrey Rose as a 5 year old girl at the time her death played by the actrees who played Ivy, or some similar looking child.  Then it occured to me that the apparition is not Audrey Rose at all but actually David Bowie:

Kill More, Talk Less

My Soul To Keep (2010, d. Wes Craven)

The reason I never really followed the Nightmare On Elm Street horror series beyond the first movie was because the concept never attacked  me, so to speak.  I know people enjoy their serial killers, or blood and mayhem but I have to believe in what I’m watching for 93 minutes.  Nightmare, directed by Wes Craven was about a serial killer, Freddy Kreuger, a nine-inched nailed spector who hunts teenage victims in their dreams.   The teenagers are the surviving children of a mob who burned Kreuger to death because he had murdered children (molested in the 2010 remake).  It’s a pretty simple, although supernatural,  slasher concept that was understandably popular and basically repeated for 10 sequels.  I, personally, found it too simple and too separate from my anxiety portfolio to ever be interesting.  Craven has returned now with something called My Soul To Take and comparing the coherency of this new concept makes Nightmare On Elm Street read like “Ulysses.”

Here goes.  A guy who has been mis-diagnosed as schizophrenic, stabbs seven people  to death, stealing their souls, while in unconscious thrall to his evil personality nicknamed “The Riverton Ripper.”  When he is captured and demobilized, the souls within him escape and infiltrate the bodies of seven babies born that same night at Riverton General.  Fast-forward 16 years.  The Riverton Seven, now teenagers, are marking the solemn anniversary of Ripper Day by participating in a ritualized puppet show that is supposed to call The Ripper back for a confrontation.  Among the seven is Bug, the fearful, perhaps schizophrenic, perhaps telepathic, surviving son of The Riverton Ripper (Bug, doesn’t know he’s the son, but everybody else in town does).  Someone wearing the ugly, lifesize Ripper puppet costume, acquires the Ripper’s signature weapon, a fold-out knife with  the word “vengence” engraved, and starts the business of murdering the Riverton Seven one-by-one.  As it appears The Ripper is finally coming for him, Bug goes through a mild metamorphosis and decides to face his fears.  When only Bug and his best friend Alex are left, they accuse each other of carrying the inhabitant soul of The Ripper.  Bug, stopping to explain in great deatail how he traced back Alex’s movements, proves how only Alex can be The Ripper.  He stabs Alex in the abdomen with The Ripper’s knife.  Bug, once the object of everyone’s quiet pity is now a hero for rescuing Riverton from The Ripper, even though everyone The Ripper returned to kill is now dead.

Come to think of it, an ugly, vengeful killer returning from the dead to possess people and murder a circle of impartial teenagers is the same story as A Nightmare On Elm Street!   But what’s most ironic about this convoluted supernatural/natural movie is the amount of time dedicated to having characters try to explain it to the audience.  The murders aren’t very gory and The Ripper’s appearances are never much of a surprise.  Given all of Craven’s experience in depicting bloody murder and horror cinema’s advancements in senseless torture, I find the killings here rather uninspired.  Yet, characters take an inordinate amount of on-screen time explaining what they’re going to do, what they’re doing as they’re doing it, and why they did it.  There is a lot of dialoge but I’m not sure what it’s ever  in service too.  It doesn’t help much in combing out all the tangles over who The Ripper was, who The Ripper is now, and what’s really bugging Bug.    I’m not a fan of violence for violence sake, but this movie would have benefited from not taking itself so damn seriously, telling less, showing more, and hacking up more pre-maritally lustful teenagers.

By the way, My Soul To Take was cynically released as 3D.  There’s not much real 3D in it.  It was a trend-driven afterthought, added to bump the ticket price up by $4 and probably is not the least of  reasons why it flopped at the box office.  Don’t fall for it either.  Any of it.

BSD Movie Log: The Uninvited

The Uninvited (1944, d. Lewis Allen)

A British bachelor and his sister discover that the beautiful gothic seacoast mansion they’ve purchased houses a disruptive ghost story.  To rid the house of it’s spirits, they must help a young woman resolve a murder mystery from her family’s unsavory past.  Combines horror and romance but doesn’t provide enough of either.  Although Ray Milland is always great, and particularly droll.

BSD Movie Log: The Covenant

The Covenant (2006, d. Renny Harlin)

Four young men at a prestigious New England boarding school are scions of a powerful witchcraft legacy.  They are forced into battle with clandestine fifth power long thought to have died.  This movie looks like actors from the Ambercrombie & Fitch catalog were cast to star in a 90 minute Mustang commercial.  But a Mustang commercial has more substance.

BSD Halloween Movie Club: "Let's Scare Jessica To Death"

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club. Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


 

Today’s recommended feature is:

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971, d. John D. Hancock)


When I was a a hyperactive kid in the early 1980’s one of the local tv channels ran a packaged, late-night movie show every Friday called “Shock Theater.”  I can’t imagine what my mother was thinking in allowing me to stay up for it, especially because I was already such a fraidy-cat spaz.  I’ve gone back to some of the movies from that show that I recall really freaking me out.  Some don’t hold up to adult discernment, Let’s Scare Jessica does.

Jessica has just been released from a 6 month stay in a New York City mental hospital.  Her devoted husband, Duncan, cashed in their savings to buy a bucolic farm house and abandon orchard in the hope of building a more tranquil life for Jessica.  Upon arriving at the house, they find Emily, a squatter who says she’s been living in the old house “for a long time.”  Being groovy people, the couple invite Emily to stay on with them.  Not being what she appears to be, Emily begins to discretely terrorize the already nervous Jessica and seduce Duncan.  When Jessica starts to wig-out, and grows unable to separate reality from illusion, Duncan goes to a nearby town to find help.  But the townspeople are hiding a dark secret about Emily and the old farm house. When Duncan doesn’t return, Jessica must fight for her sanity and her life.  Who is Emily?  Is Emily really even there or is Jessica going mad again?

Let’s Scare Jessica is from a period of independent filmmaking in the 60’s and 70’s, between the campy creature features and horror cinema’s exasperating decline into vulgar, repetitive slasher sequels.  In that era, filmmakers combined novel stories of demonic possessions and the occult with stark, European inspired neo-realism.  Let’s scare Jessica is brilliantly stark, moody, non-professionally cast, and actually scary.

BTW, listen for awesome sound effects work in the movie.  Sometimes what you hear is freakier than what you can see.

P.S.  I can’t find any information about “Shock Theater.”  I always that it was put together by the local station in my home town but am told that it may have been a syndicated service.  It was on in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  Let me know if you remember it and what your favorites were.

 



Don't Get Up

Up (2009)

First of all, I don’t care for cartoon movies.  To me cartoons are great at about 6 minutes running time and when the twist ending is that Coyote’s malfunctioning steam roller is revealed to be a product of the Road-Runner Steam Roller Company of Flagstaff, AZ.  That’s all the sophistication I expect.   But, I don’t see many cartoon features.  I remember liking  Beauty and the Beast, but it was really just an animated drag show.  Toy Story?  Shreck?  I’d rather be sentenced to life imprisonment on Its A Small World at Disneyland than sit through either again.  Second, I’ve reached a stage in life where I just don’t want to be confronted with growing old and dying.  And I’d rather be sentenced to an eternity of low impact aerobic classes than identify with a widower.  Still I’d be disingenuous to say I disliked or even was disinterested in the animated feature Up.

An elderly widower delivers his deceased wife’s lifelong wish to live above a beautiful waterfall in Peru.   He embarks on a plan to fly their entire house to South America under hundreds of helium balloons.  Along the way the widower takes on responsibility for a misfit gang of child and animal sidekicks who help to restore his desire for adventure .  What’s missing here are the cloying Tim Rice songs, virginal princesses, out-of-period pop culture references, and distracting celebrity voiceovers.  Thank God for that.

There is a lot of fable formula in the story too, but what I liked about Up is discovering myself  buying into both the post-modern and fantasy elements.  In Up world children can be distant from a divorced parent but also dogs can talk. I’ve heard critics praise Up for its opening act in particular, a kind of pantomime of the wife’s joyful life and peaceful death in a manner that is unique, mature, and genuinely emotional.  I understand why people love that sequence but I could have done without.   It just depressed me.   I’m sure it’s what distinguished Up for people as material worthy of a best picture Oscar nominee.    I personally would prefer the whole thing cut down to under 6 minutes and  blissful assurance that the cartoon is over when a pig says da-dats folks.