Friday, April 13, 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 directed by Stanley Kubrick

2001 is one of the most influential films ever made and will soon get a re-release in 4k for it's 50th anniversary.  It's visuals are striking and 50 years later they still hold up despite being done at time long before digital effects existed. It's non traditional story telling keeps people guessing as to the "true meaning" of certain elements  of the film and the soundtrack, though pretty much all classical music,  has become symbolic of the future we have in outer space. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1991.

The story, though told unconventionally, isn't all that complicated in essence. Extraterrestrials have been promoting human evolution and development since they roamed the plains as primitive apes - prodding them to use use tools ( for violence at first) and take the first steps towards intelligence. This is done trough a totally black and smooth monolith which appears out of nowhere. Jumping thousands of of years later in one of the most iconic jump cuts in film history, a group of scientists on the moon have discovered another monolith, deliberately buried there which emits a signal toward Jupiter. A ship is sent to Jupiter where it discovers another monolith near the planet which opens a star gate, apparently taking the astronaut to wherever the aliens are and returning him... or some version of him maybe back to Earth int he form a "star child" who might represent the next stage in human evolution.

Fair to say, the actual plot of the film is secondary to the effect it has on the viewer and how it changed sci-fi and cinema after it's release. Never before had so much care been taken to realistically show the future in space. Some might say no one has ever put that much car into it again. The effort pays off and everything from the way we see travel to the space station, the moon and beyond is still not only believable but pretty accurate for a movie made before man had even set foot on the moon.

The realistic presentation of technology made a huge impact. Spaceships and alien encounters aside, the character of HAL, a super computer that proves to have  mind of it's own, has become the poster child for tech and artificial intelligence gone wrong. This is unfair to HAL, I would argue, as his actions though severe (I think killing almost the entire crew as they sleep counts as severe) are not totally beyond comprehension. HAL has become emotionally unbalanced because he was told to keep information from the crew, something that leads him to think the crew can not be trusted with such an important mission. The sequel 2010 goes into this in more detail, but the seeds are planted here. When HAL tell the last living crew member "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I am not able to do that", it's terrifying.

To be sure, the film goes into complete mind-fuck mode by the end as the sole survivor disconnects HAL and leave the ship to meet up with the monolith. A mind blowing psychedelic display later, he seems to go through the rest of his life in minutes, and solitude, only to be transformed into the star child which heads back to earth. How someone reacts to all this is dependent on each person's personality and beliefs - and possibly what drugs they took before entering the theatre.

Like most Kubrick films , this one had some people loving it while others hated it with a burning passion. It did quite well on release and became not just a cult classic, but a true classic of modern film. It won an Oscar for best special effects but lost to Planet of the Apes for make-up, leading many to think that it was overlooked in the category because the apes in Kubrick's film were so real, academy members thought they were. The techniques uses in the film are revolutionary. On example is the use of font projection over matte work. This meant that instead of tracing an element and adding it to another piece of film (leading to that black line seen in many effects shot of the period) it used a giant super reflective screen that had an image projected on to it so the camera could film both the foreground action and the affects backdrops at the same time with seamless realism. In fact, even the outdoor shots on the African plains were all done in doors. The designs of everything form the ships to the clothing to the zero gravity toilet hold up to this day. Even though we have now been to the moon, have a space station or two and have sent probes to the other planets - none of that seems as real as some of the stuff we see in this movie.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Movie Wrench is now covering music as well!

Mike Luce has expanded his Movie Wrench blog to cover music too, so is basically just the Wrench now. Check it out, comment sand tell him wha you think!

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Exorcist 1973 directed by William Friedkin

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, the Exorcist is the story of famous actress whose young daughter is possessed by a demon and calls in the aid of a Catholic exorcist to expell the evil force. The story was inspired by a "real" 1949 exorcism story of a young boy that shared some details with Blatty's book and then the film that followed.

The film was a huge success and changed not only horror films but introduced the public to the idea of the blockbuster. It was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture and it scared the living crap out of most of the people who saw it.  Just hearing the theme "tubular bells" was enough to set people on edge after seeing it.

I had read the book before seeing the film and the movie version very closely follows the base material, so I wasn't as unprepared as many to see some of the more shocking moments in the film. Still, some shots to this day are very shocking and unsettling and while some like the infamous pea soup vomit scene have been reproduced in other films and in parody, there remain a few scenes that I've never seen anyone have the nerve to copy.

The film is slowly paced, but keeps the tension up from start to finish. It uses almost but not quite subliminal imagery superimposed over background elements to add to the nightmare quality of what is happening. The make effects stand the test of time, even the head turning 360 degrees scenes hold up and the soundscape of the film is really haunting. I have to say while the movie is known for it's shocking violence and gore, it's the more subtle, quieter moments that stay with you. They compliment the more over the top moments and make this a more psychological horror piece than a gore film. All the technical aspects are enhanced by the case, everyone  - Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Max von Sydow - give performances that draw you into the supernatural story in a way lesser actors never could.

The version I just saw was the "version you've never seen" DVD and it had several added scenes including the bloody version of the "spider walk" scene which you would think would  look like comic relief in a movie made this long ago... but it's pretty damn bizarre and scary even today.

It's hard to remember that before this movie practically no one had ever heard of an exorcism. After it was released, there were exorcisms galore, not just in other films but in real life. Suddenly demon possession was in all the papers and the Catholic church had it's hands full with all the new cases being brought before them.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Dramatic Readings: Leave Britney Alone!

Based on the Chris Crocker's dramatic internet rant. Another in the Charles Webster Billingsworth the 3rd series of dramatic performances.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Twin Peaks - the Return 2017 by David Lynch

It's hard to criticize the work of David Lynch under the best of circumstances. His mix of genres, notable film noir and surrealism is unique in the creative world. He takes chances and for that at least, the new season of Twin Peaks, 25 years after the last one, is something to watch, appreciate but not really to understand.

In many ways this is a followup to his film "Fire Come Walk with Me" over the TV show as he seems to be following the ideas presented in that film. He doesn't forget the TV show, not by a long shot and there is plenty (maybe too much) fan service in this Showtime special event series. He is David Lynch and could have avoided following up on our favourites from the past, but instead goes full in and because of that his affection for the material shows through and his desire to include the fates of actors who died in real life over the preceding ¼ century is truly touching.

The story of this new series explore the identities of doppelgäners, the most notable is that of agent Dale Cooper who is trying to return to the corporale world while his evil twin is loose and causing violence and havoc. There is a third version of Copper, Dougie Jones who we spend the most time with, who has the real Cooper trapped inside him. This show has entire episodes of just flat out bizarre imagery and odd story lines and goes in and out of colour and black and white, traversing dimensions and timelines. It does this without any exposition to explain any of it. You are truly on your own but Lynch has enough "real" plot to keep you going if you just get completely lost in the more out there segments.

Overall this is a worthy successor to Lynch's maybe best known work and Showtime should be commended  for (eventually) giving him free reign over it. It's not without its flaws though. I don't buy the relationship between Cooper and Diane who we finally meet in the flesh and some of the returning characters don't add much to the new story. Some of those nostalgic bits are the most heartwarming so it's difficult to argue they shouldn't be included. Dale Cooper is not the same person we saw in the original which makes sense, but he is a sombre much less fun version of himself. All those quirks about the Dali lama and his free form investigating techniques are gone which is a shame. This lacks much of the humour that helped us through the horror of the shows first 2 seasons.

The series ends in a way which I'm sure is exactly at Lynch intended, but as an audience member, it falls short of satisfying. Maybe after 25 years of suffering, I feel the residents of Twin Peaks merited something a little more upbeat. I was happy to see this on air and happier to see it was done without compromise but I doubt I'll got back to it like I do the first 2 seasons.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wonder Woman 2017 directed by Patty Jenkins

I know this film has been out awhile and a lot has been said about it but I'll put in my 2 cents anyway.
(Spoilers will follow.)

In a nutshell, it's a pretty awesome super hero film and Patty Jenkins' direction has a lot to do with it, Gal Gaddot is so good you might almost forget Linda Carter in the role. Almost.  A woman superhero, a woman at the helm, two things Hollywood has been pretty stupid about over the years, stating no one will buy women in those roles. Screw you, Hollywood this film made a mint and Warner's more male oriented super heroes outings can't hold a candle to this film in any way.

I have seen it twice, second time in French and I liked it better for some reason in French. Go figure.  More likely I was able to see more of what was good in it. My first viewing, I really hated the ending... another giant battle between what amounts to gods on earth. Like every almost super hero film it before it. I still think it was the low point of a great movie but not bad.

Wonder Woman has some amazing scenes. The island scenes introducing us to the world work really well and the scene where Wonder Woman steps into no man's land, as only a woman can, takes the film from 5 to 100 in terms of emotional impact. Action packed, yes, but Gaddot takes us from uncertain fish out of water Diana Prince to saviour of an entire town and has us cheering for her. The problem I had with the ending is I wanted more of this sort of action... Wonder Woman in WW1, taking on the bad guys bringing them to justice. They could have have kept the poison gas plot, Steve Trevor's death, basically everything but the gods fighting part and had a movie that really showed the horrors of war and found a way to challenge our heroine without the typical evil also having to be a super being trope - it could have been her against a much more real version of evil. It's not bad, as I said but disappointing because this movie deserved better.  It could have been just as fantastic and action packed, but the stakes would have meant more.

You can't really understate how good Gaddot is in this role. Her presence is capable and seems very real. I'd see just about anything else she does after this.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Daimajin, Return of Daimajin, and Wrath of Daimajin 1966 by Daiei Film

The Daimajin Trilogy is an odd little side step in the world of giant monster movies. All three were released the same year and all three have pretty similar plots. Daimajin is a giant statue possessed by a spirit owlet's say... justice.  He is usually called into action by the members of the deposed family or a religious figure, though not always and once his wrath is set in motion, he will not stop until peace has returned to the region. 

In the first film he is called to rid the people an evil warlord who sends his men to destroy the statue, but when they hammer a giant spike into its forehead, it bleeds, comes to life and returns the spike to the terrible warlord by impaling him with it. Revenge was not enough it seems and the monster continues destroying everything in site until the hero, a woman named Kozasa, cries on it's feet - causing the spirit to leave the statues which crumbles into rubble.

The second film is much the same, but Daimajin nows live sin the middle of a lake. Another evil warlord, who takes no chances this time and blows the statue to bits, has taken over the peaceful land.  Despite this, the spirit is summoned and rids the kingdom of the warlords forces and the warlord himself.

In the third outing, the statue is now on top on a mountain instead of the side of one. This time the common people call on his aid and he once again destroys the evil warlord and anyone associated with him. He also becomes a sort of "friend of the children" AKA Gamera the giant turtle series which was also done by Daiei Film. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

In the Future with Nostro-dumbass! 2018 directed by Vincent-louis Apruzzese

This is a remake of sorts. In 2010, I made a couple shorts using this character and dialog recorded by Michael Z. Keamy with a very primitive 3D puppet using Cinema 4D. It did win a small prize in a festival but I wasn't super happy with it overall so I've decided to re-do it, redesign the character and set and re-edit the sound into a shorter snappier and I hope, funnier piece.

For more information about making it:
Behemoth blog page

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Dream Boat 2017 directed by Tristan Ferland Milewski

Dream Boat is a 92 minute documentary following, more or less, five guys from different countries on a yearly all male gay cruise. It is composed of little audio vignettes and conversions of the vacationers impressions and feelings as they navigate though the myriad of parties, activities and 1000s of other guests - waxing poetic about their lives outside the bubble of the cruise ship and what they hope to get from this experience.

The cinematography, editing, sound - all the technical stuff are very, very good. It's obvious the film has a budget, but not big enough one to include the actual music played on the ship (which is  financially prohibitive these days) but to be honest I prefer the music made for the film, it's less distracting and gives a mood over a greatest hits list.

I feel less kindly towards the content we are shown. Slow films that move a their own pace are something I really appreciate, and I like that the filmmaker avoided the quick cutting party, music video look that would have been a given in most documentaries about gay men on a party boat.  However... this film would still be lacking enough real content if it was ½ it's current length. So many butt and crotch shots, so many beautiful drone shots of the boat from above, so many people just milling about in slow motion and so little actual information transmitted to the viewer.

It's hard to know what story or stories this doc is trying to tell. To be fair to the people interviewed, I think pretty much all of them had interesting stories to tell but we never got to hear more than the most superficial read of who these people are. The meandering pace and constant b-roll filler of party goers completely obscures anything we might get to find out about the cast.  Seriously, a 45 minute cut of this movie would be a huge improvement but I suspect still unsatisfying.

The elements of interest are present. Guys from very gay hostile countries, guys who have been serious hard times in their relationship,  he handicapped older man with his partner finding ways to participate in the activities - any one of these stories could be worth hearing about. Instead we hear far too much complaining about "gay culture" from them when practically everyone we see in the background is having a great time. I want to believe there was a lot more said in the interviews than the banal, lazy "all gay men want is..." statements that show lack of self reflection more than tell anything profound or true.

In the end, what could have been eye opening, is just eye candy. Did we really need to see someone getting a blowjob in public? I was left thinking the subjects were looking less for love and acceptance as they claimed but for attention.

Monday, February 12, 2018