Anomalisa (2015)

Anomalisa (2015) movie poster

directors Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
viewed: 06/27/2016

Charlie Kaufman’s brand of bleak, self-loathing misanthropic surrealism takes on new form in Anomalisa, the form of meticulously detailed stop-motion animation.  It’s adapted from a play of Kaufman’s from a decade earlier, a play with a staging equally unique but utterly different from the film.  The key points that remain the same, apparently, are the script itself and the three person cast of David Thewlis as Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa, and Tom Noonan as everybody else in the world.

Michael Stone’s life is so bland and banal that everyone speaks in the exact same voice, from his taxi driver to his wife to his child to his waitress.  That is until he meets Lisa, the one person different in the world.  He falls in love with her, they make love, plan to escape the world,…that is, until her voice starts to take on the tone of everyone else as her words reflect the same mundanity of everyone else, and the robotic nature of humanity is revealed yet again.

Kaufman draws this world view from an actual syndrome, the Fregoli delusion, in which a person perceives all others as a singularity and source of deception.  It’s even the name of the hotel at which Stone stays in his visit to Cincinnati.

I’ve always found Kaufman’s work interesting and often poignant, but also very depressing.  It’s a depressing world view, not one with which I necessarily argue, but depressing nonetheless.

I think it’s somewhat interesting, and I’ll have to look into this, that this is an animated film by a director who is not an animator.  Kaufman shares directorial title with Duke Johnson here, which is more than fair.  The other films that immediately come to mind of this sort are Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Martin Rosen’s Watership Down (1978) and The Plague Dogs (1982).  I’ll have to think on this a bit more.  It’s either quite unusual or perhaps very usual.  Who knows?

The Ward (2010)

 

The Ward (2010) movie poster

director John Carpenter
viewed: 06/26/2016

The Ward may come to be known as horror legend John Carpenter’s final feature film.  Or it may not.  Who knows?  At this point, Carpenter has turned to his music and The Ward may be his last outing in cinema.  He’s only 68, so who knows what the future holds?

It takes place in 1966, in an all female mental ward in Bend, Oregon.  The star of the film is a pre-Johnny Depp Amber Heard.  She’s just burned down a farm house and gets placed in the old facility, only to quickly become beset by spooky happenings and a gnarly old lady ghost thing.  She’s ensconced in a room that belonged to a girl who mysteriously disappeared.

She’s surrounded by thinly drawn inmates who are all a little too pretty, some have more quirks than others, and are slowly getting picked off by the weird evil of the place.

The whole thing pivots on a twist.

Jared Harris provides a slippery presence as the doctor trying to help.

I concur with the majority that this film is no great shakes, but still is some improvement on Carpenter’s last feature film, Ghosts of Mars (2001).  It’s not completely terrible, but if it had been made by any other un-John Carpenter director, it would probably be completely unmemorable.  My biggest gripe was the really terrible editing, seemingly made to keep the pace rolling — again, who knows?

Darling (2015)

Darling (2015) movie poster

director Mickey Keating
viewed: 06/25/2016

Mickey Keating’s throwback psychological horror film is steeped deeply in homage (most notably to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965)), but it also works as a terrific showcase of actor Lauren Ashley Carter, the unnamed “Darling” of Darling.  Carter is the Catherine Deneuve of Darling, a young woman trapped by her own psychosis in a big city, losing her shit, and killing a would-be suitor, though in this case with considerably more gore.

Carter is more than up to the task.  She co-starred in Keating’s Pod (2015) and compels throughout Darling with all the focus on her.  She comes to be caretaker in one of the oldest homes in New York City, one with a slightly sinister past in which her predecessor jumped to her death.  It doesn’t take long for the spiral to begin.

Shot in black-and-white with weird pulsing strobes, Keating’s film is stylish and good-looking.  Some of the shots of New York capture the cold beauty and isolation within the massive city.  While the film plays coy with the issues of psychology versus haunting or possession, really the ultimate short-coming is in Keating’s hewing to homage and shirking creating something utterly new and fresh.  The film winds up limited in this.

Carter is an excellent actress, a true horror fan, indie performer, would-be scream queen.  I’ve read that she’s broke and planning to quit acting and head back to graduate school, which may be the best thing for her personally, but would be a shame for what she could do.  She’s very, very good.

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

Don't Go in the House (1980) movie poster

director Joseph Ellison
 viewed: 06/25/2016

Okay, Don’t Go in the House, but do go and find this movie!

The film opens with a match lighting a burner on an old gas stove, framed so that the title appears to the right.  From this first image, the pyromania of Donny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi) flickers onscreen.  When we first see Donny, a maintenance man in an incineration facility, he’s staring at burning coals and just as quick, watches helplessly as a co-worker catches on fire from a blast.

Donny’s dark secrets are soon released when he finds his elderly mother dead at home, he snaps, reflecting on childhood abuse, builds himself a home incinerator, and starts abducting beautiful young women to douse with gasoline and shoot with a flame thrower.  There is more than a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) about this momma’s boy, his big dark house, and his impulse to kill.  Only filter it through 1970’s New Jersey, pepper with disco, and send it up in flames.

An independently produced horror film, Joseph Ellison’s Don’t Go in the House has earned notoriety as a British “video nasty”, but unlike a lot of its nasty brethren, this film features excellent low-budget cinematography, some nice location shooting that captures the era of its time, and some shockingly effective FX.  When Kathy (the very beautiful Johanna Brushay) becomes Donny’s first victim, the first shot of her going up in flames is really freaky and realistic.  A second shot back, it’s easy to see how it was done (super-imposition, in part) but it’s powerful and effective.  I also give credit to the grisly blackened corpses, too, excellent make-up work.

I was genuinely surprised how good this film was.

Being There (1979)

Being There (1979) movie poster

director Hal Ashby
viewed: 06/22/2016

Before Forrest Gump (1994) showed how an American imbecile could fail upwards and reflect back on his nation, there was Chance the gardener, a.k.a. Chauncey Gardiner of Being There.  Chauncey’s journey isn’t as epic and historical, but does find him in the portals of power, with a nearly endless future.  And where Gump represented an America appreciating their no nonsense dummy as hero, director Hal Ashby refracts a more wry and critical image of those who cannot tell an idiot from a genius.

It’s Peter Sellers in one of his last roles and one that contrasts significantly with many other for which he is known.  His Chauncey is understated and subtle most of the time, creating that placid surface upon which the other characters can project and interpret.

Sellers didn’t win an Oscar for his performance, but Melvyn Douglas, who plays an elderly and ailing business man did.  Shirley MacLaine is his much younger wife, who discovers Chauncey when her chauffeur accidentally hits him with her car.

The social criticism ripples throughout, touching on race, class, and the structures of power and government in the United States, but it isn’t all-out scathing.  Chauncey’s simplicity and honesty engender true feelings of friendship, especially in Douglas’s Ben Rand.  That a simple-minded white man can move from the confines of the only home he’s ever known (he’s never ridden in a car before) to the cusp of being primed as a presidential candidate by the old boy power brokers, it’s not such an odd metaphor when his last act is to walk on water.

I’d never seen Being There before but I’ve been working through Hal Ashby’s films.  Of the ones I’ve seen now, they are dramatically different in visual style and settings and yet perhaps appreciated best in their subtleties.  One other point of interest for me was Chauncey’s love of television.  The shows and the commercials he watches is a real throwback to my childhood, a strange time capsule within a fine film.

The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)

The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) movie poster

director Jon Hall
viewed: 06/22/2016

My wheelhouse is probably a lot different from most people’s wheelhouse because the 1965 The Beach Girls and the Monster is squarely in mine.  Somehow I’d lived most of my life before seeing the wonderful The Horror of Party Beach (1964) which amused and entertained me way more than I could have conceived.  But lo and behold, there is yet another cheap-o Gill-Man knock-off-cum-beach-party movie!  And it’s got a pretty killer surf rock soundtrack.

Sadly, The Beach Girls and the Monster is no The Horror of Party Beach, though the monster is charmingly silly.  Spoiler alert: the monster isn’t even a monster, it’s a guy in a suit (and that is part of the story).  When your monster isn’t a monster, you lose some serious cred in my book (or wheelhouse).

Interestingly, this film was made for AIP-TV like the Larry Buchanan knock-offs, which kind of explains its cheapness, brevity, and lack of originality.

But dammit, I love those beach monster movies.

 

The Whip and the Body (1963)

The Whip and the Body (1963) movie poster

director Mario Bava
viewed: 06/20/2016

Technicolor Bava.

This movie is fucking gorgeous.

I found this oddly-shaped .gif of the most amazing shot in the film.  I don’t really make my own .gifs or screen-captures.  Nothing could truly do it justice.

tumblr_n4jrkajIr21qdlvg6o8_500

 

I don’t even want to say anything more about it.

Fucking gorgeous Technicolor Bava.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) Red Vic movie poster

director Werner Herzog
viewed: 06/19/2016

How do you solve an enigma like Kaspar Hauser?  Werner Herzog’s interpretation of the real life story of the roughly 16 year old foundling is to hew as closely to the “facts” as possible.  Those facts have been in question since the very discovery of the German boy in 1828.  Herzog ignores the haters and follows Hauser’s claim to have been held captive in a close cellar chained to the floor with little or no human interaction until a somewhat sudden release.  Entering the world for the first time with very few words and limited knowledge, Hauser is for Herzog a human blank slate.

Bruno S., the mentally ill street musician that Herzog discovered from a television documentary, plays the teen despite the fact that he is a middle-aged man.  Bruno S.’s unique performance is exactly what Herzog intended, as is the cognitive dissonance of trying to interpret man as child, or man as man-child?

Herzog disputes none of Hauser’s claims, plays them as they were known, and turns Hauser into the figure of the individual, placed into even the reasonable arms of society, is somewhat a bird in a cage (many surround him in his own prison home) somewhat a fish out of water.  Though one might think him a fish for whom no water exists.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser might be an apt name for a typical biographical narrative about the boy, but Herzog’s original German title, Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle, Every Man for Himself and God Against All is both more apt and far more Herzogian.

Queen of the Damned (2002)

Queen of the Damned (2002) movie poster

director Michael Rymer
viewed: 06/18/2016

That Queen of the Damned is a pretty awful movie, well, that seems common knowledge, as is the fact that at this point in time, it’s most compelling element is star Aaliyah who died in a plane crash before the film was even released.  Her mere existence on film, capturing her as a living being, was already a thing when the film went into general release in 2002.

That this was Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat’s second cinematic incarnation, and still last to date, that possibly is important to her readership.  This film is all millennial grunge and goth way up the yin-yang, aching, aching, aching.  Everyone is so SEXY, and I mean that in the objective sense: they are meant to be very sexy, they think they are very sexy, probably to someone they in fact ARE sexy.

Rice’s notion of turning the retro-gothic modern vampire into a rockstar might well have been innovative on the page in the time it was published.  I can’t speak to that exactly as I’ve never read her books (only seen the movies).  And I’m even having a hard time placing myself in 2002 in the context of this film’s initial release, so what I speak for is the now, the present of 2016: this stuff is silly, dated, and cheesy.

It’s hard not to offer some semblance of appreciation, though, for sexy vampires, since Stephanie (Twilight) Meyer turned them into chaste yearners who shine in the sun.  It’s kind of refreshing to return (if still campy and passe) to the sexy hedonist vampires who lust and love and are moody about their eternity.

But yeah, this movie is awful.  The special effects are cheap and stylized, even for 2002.  They’re bad enough to single out for commentary.  And so I have.

I guess if you want your sexy vampires you’ve still got True Blood, or at least can visit it.  But for my money, I like my sexy vampires straight out of Jim Jarmusch.  Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) has only continued to grow in my thoughts.  That’s where my current sensibility resides.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

The Conjuring 2 (2016) movie poster

director James Wan
viewed: 06/15/2016 at Regal Manchester Stadium 16, Fresno, CA

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are back as real-life demonologists wife and husband Lorraine and Ed Warren, this time checking out one of Britain’s most notorious cases of the supernatural.  Like The Conjuring (2013), this is brought to us by director James Wan and is lifted from the case files of the Warrens, who in all sincerity believe in the events that they witnessed and documented.

But The Conjuring 2 is just not as good as its forebear.

Farmiga and Wilson are good, but Wan seems to lean on tired and unsurprising horror tropes, relying on musical set-ups (whinnying violins for tension, crash booms for jump-scares).  And then there is the demon itself, Valak, a gothed-out figure in a nun’s habit that looks like something from the back of a 1990’s CD.

This is all fleshed-out from real-life events, and I think that might be part of the problem.  As far as I know, no one has ever been killed by a ghost or a demon, so you know that nobody is going to die.  That’s not to say that there isn’t an interesting story at the core here.  As I noted about the story that led to the film A Haunting in Connecticut (2009) (a non-Warren-related story of a family experiencing paranormal events), the real stories of these families who experienced such wild things are often families in crisis, with perhaps a far more interesting and disturbing reality behind the strange tales that terrorized them.  But if you take the horror at face-value, that demons or poltergeists are real, as these films typically do, you wind up with a story of scary weirdness, in which no one dies, and you’re left questioning the facts and believability.

The rest of the group I saw this with I think thought it was better than I did.