Archive for April, 2013

eXistenZ – David Cronenberg – 1999

Posted in 90's with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

 

David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ is a condemnation of virtual constructs and a diagnosis of the sickness that exists as an organism reproduces their reality in great likeness. Throughout the picture there is a sense that at any given moment your perception can shift. Once reality is compromised in the first place, there is no end to how detached one can become from existence. 

The film begins at a private debut of the new VR game eXistenZ. Certain people are in the first wave of twelve to get out their bio-pod, (more on this later), and plug in. As Allegra Gellar, the game’s programmer, leads the first wave into the game, there is an assassination attempt on her life. This leads her to escape with a security man, Ted Pikel. So far, the film has portrayed the game designers as victimized and on the run.

Pikel digs a bullet out of Gellar’s arm. It is a human tooth. The gun was made of bones and skin and shot teeth. It was completely organic so as to get through security. Here Cronenberg is making a value statement about flesh and bone vs. technology. The strong flesh and bone are the only source of resistance against the impending digital worlds.

She needs someone she can trust to plug into eXistenZ with her to make sure the game isn’t compromised. Pikel needs a bio-port so they stop at a Mechanic shop. Willem Dafoe worships Gellar. She invented a game called Art God in which one plays God the creator/Artist. It changed his life. We are comparing the artist to god, not just as a video game designer, but even begging the question, does not the novelist, painter, filmmaker act as the Art God? Do they determine all parameters of their work? Later in the film Gellar refers to the game as, “Free will disguised in a deterministic reality”. If we can be sold this believably at any point, how can we ever trust the chaos of natural reality? How do we know it isn’t all determined?

Cronenberg is just having a bit of fun casting Jesus as the manipulative mechanic who installs Pikel with a bogus bio-port. He betrays Gellar and Pikel and they escape, only to have their slave-pods blown by the port. What the fuck does this all mean? Slave pods? Yup. Cronenberg straight up calls video game controllers slave pods. Sure, their made of mutant amphibian insides and you plug them into your spine but all they same they are video game controllers. SLAVE PODS. These are the tools of self-enslavement. Plug in and the real world doesn’t have to worry about you till you re-surface.

These fleshy lumps are biological in nature and you plug them into your back. Pikel feels a bit violated when Gellar plugs into him. She licks the plug and fingers the hole in Pikel’s back. This stuff feels incredibly pornographic and inverted. A woman plugs the child of her consciousness into a man. Not only are we reversing penetration, with the woman entering the man, also, the fruit of her labor is going into the man, and he absorbing it into his mind. Cronenberg is detailing and deconstructing the mirage of the birth myth. Here gender is meaningless, here births happen inside your mind and anything is possible.

As I said before, the port blows the pod, the myth of Jesus the Mechanic proving unpalatable, we move on to another bit of casting fun, Ian Holm as a Port Fixer/Engineer. This is ironic because Holm’s most iconic role is that of Ash the betraying Android from Alien. Turns out, in this movie, he’s a good guy, or at least installs a valid port. And now we get to the part of the movie where they finally play eXistenZ.  This stuff is interesting based on the shift at the end. But as it is, the game is virtual and Gellar and Pikel have seeming freedom, but occasionally the game will take over and have them say certain lines to advance the program or give them sexual urges to heighten emotion in game play.

Here a game of cat and mouse begins, Pikel assassinates his contact or does he? The game confuses and confounds the players until they don’t know whom they are playing for, whom the empire or the rebellion is and ultimately Gellar betrays Pikel. And they wake up, players in a game called tRancendEnz.  Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law were just playing a video game. The room applauds. Everyone fills out test cards. The games actual designers confer. They are concerned about a strong anti-gaming theme in the game.

Jude Law and JJL approach the designer and congratulate him for achieving the most effective re-creation of reality. Then they kill him and his assistant. They raise their gun at another player. He raises his hands and asks, “Wait, are we still in the game?”

This is Cronenberg’s point. Once divorced from an accepted upon reality, one can never be sure. Is the film anti-video game? I’d say pretty completely. I’d offer that the film suggests that video games are destined to become perversions of existence and worse if such a thing is possible how do we know we do not live inside of such a perversion. 

Advertisements

Werewolf Woman – Rino Di Silvestro – 1976

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

Rino Di Silvestro’s Werewolf Woman is a blood soaked tale of mental illness and feral violence. The film begins with visions of a werewolf woman killing men and eventually being burned at the stake by a grip of men. The film is very casual in it’s portrayal of sex and violence and heightening every titillating situation as much as possible. However, the film always portrays it’s murderous female protagonist as crazy rather than evil, and in doing so, creates a devastating, existential, portrait of a monster.

The film actually has no supernatural elements. The opening sequence is the only one featuring an actual werewolf, and it is revealed to be a dream. Daniela Nesiri sees a photo of an ancestor accused of being a werewolf and begins to have these violent dreams where she is werewolf. Here, the media of a photograph, an article of the past affects the present. An individual witnesses the media and is changed by the interaction.

Her father hires a head shrinker that determines that lycanthropy in his daughter is possible and has been proven. Even though, there is never a transformation scene, the film’s resident physician basically says, if it walks like a werewolf and growls and bites like a werewolf, it’s basically a werewolf at that point. This is an example of action reflecting an individual over physical appearance. Daniela may act look like a princess, but if you rip out people’s throats with your teeth, you may need to be put down.

Daniela spies on her sister and her husband having sex. This scene is very long and voyeuristic. The sexual gratification Daniela is denied manifests in a volatile way. Is her father over protective? Does Daniela have no suitors because she is crazy or is she crazy because she has no suitors? It is revealed that she was raped as a child and fears most men. Yet, she clearly desires them. Out of this frustration, and the connection to the spirit of her ancestor she becomes a destructive force of nature.

Daniela runs into the woods, frustrated her sister is getting plowed and she’s scared of men. Her ghost self tells Daniela the circle is complete and gives her werewolf power. Fabian, the husband follows Daniela into the woods where she rapes him, rips his throat out with her teeth and throws his body into a ravine. At this point, Daniela has disposed of all morality and exists basically as animal drive.

Now crazy from her murder, Daniela becomes locked away in a nut house. She flies off the handle at every individual so they tie her down. In effect, the asylum is keeping her libido in a pressure cooker. Here, the repressed desires only grow in power, waiting for ignition. The flame comes in the form of a nymphomaniac patient who frees Daniela looking for a cheap thrill. What she gets, is killed with a scalpel.

Daniela escapes from the asylum in a daring scene featuring pulse-pounding music by composer Coriolano Gori. After her escape, she sees a couple making love in a barn. She watches them finish, then in a rage kills the woman after the man leaves. Here again we find that the film suggests an insatiable addiction. As if an addict couldn’t even do his favorite drugs even if they were right in front of him. This boiling frustration ends in murder after murder.

As in most euro-sleaze pictures, some ineffectual cops show up to try and piece together the crimes. In this case there isn’t much mystery, they just need to track this menace down and get her off the streets.

The film takes a crazy third act jump here, but as this is a true story, I guess this is what happened. Daniela meets and falls in love with a stunt man. Really. There’s a cute lovey-dovey montage of them doing stunts together. They are in love and it seems Daniela is over her complex. Until one night when Stunt Man is away, some thugs come in and go all Straw Dogs on her. Stunt Man comes in and they kill him. The next day we are treated to a kind of mini-Death Wish film. Daniela kills all three of the rapists, but unfortunately for her gives away her whereabouts in doing so.

The film begins with a woman dancing around a fire. At the end of the film, the cops trap Daniela in ring of fire. The woman is no longer the master of passion, but the passion and flame consumes the woman.

Werewolf Woman is sexy and gory. The women are beautiful and the countrysides are picturesque. The music is atmospheric and weird and the plot is never boring. I recommend this film to fans of werewolves, crazy people, and the ripping out of throats with ones teeth.

Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine – 2013

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

 

Spring Breakers is to hedonistic youth culture what Requiem for a Dream is to drug use. Unlike Requiem, Spring Breakers does not show realistic consequences for its characters actions. It is decidedly fantastical in nature and constantly subverts the viewer’s expectations of a real-world repercussion with the bullshit entitlement perspective of a little hot bitch.

Please, no offense with the term bitch, for this article the word means dangerously entitled young woman.

See, hot little bitches think the world owes them something, just because they are used to getting what they want in a general sense. So in this story, these girls are constantly taking from the world what they want and the worst that ever happens is they get winged or sent on a bus home.

Early in the film, Korine gives us two ciphers with which to decode the film. The first of these is a moment in a dorm hallway where he has all the girls standing on their hands upside-down in the frame. This is, textually, a lack of uprightness. The girls are inverted and thusly their world view.

Secondly, before three of the girls rob a chicken shack, we see them trying to attain a car. They steal one from a professor. But, after the robbery, they burn the car. Huh? You don’t burn a car in the woods if you had zero cars to begin with? How would you return to town? Here, Korine is saying, this is what a hot little bitch would wish would happen, not how the world really works. The rest of the film is littered with moments like this.

When arrested at a cocaine party, Alien (Angel), doesn’t come and bail you out. When Pink Hair is drinking tequila and beer bonging it with those guys, in real life that scene ends in rape, but not in hot little bitch fantasy. Alien doesn’t let Faith go back on a bus. He’s a bad man and in the bad world that doesn’t go down like that. After the “gun in mouth” scene it’s an absolute fantasy that this guy doesn’t pistol-whip these kids and throw them away. During a drive by a girl is hurt in such a small way, anyone would say, Jesus, in real life she’d be dead!

That’s really the key to understanding this film. It’s a hot little bitch fantasy in which the BALLR with the guns and money knows how to play Britney Spears on the piano. He doesn’t want to rape you. He wants to serve you. Nothing can go wrong because you make the rules. Spring Break Forever.

Spring Break Forever. It is repeated throughout the picture and reflects the lack of consequence inherent in the hot little bitch worldview. I’m young; I make the rules because I have just discovered my sexual power. Spring Break is a potent metaphor for the valueless nature of current youth culture.

Let’s talk Faith. Faith’s character is the product of balanced writing and without her the film could be seen as incredibly single handed in its portrayal of these young women. But, this arc seems like something we have to get through. The only truly great scene with her character is one of those unbelievable fantasy moments. A terrifying Franco holds Faith’s face in his hand and ultimately decides to let her go. Selena Gomez is perfect in this moment, and seems truly frightened. Then she gets on the bus home.

Tensions rise, (sort of), after Alien takes the girls to a strip club and his ex-mentor makes beef with him. This thin plot thread sees the film through to its blood soaked and neon fueled ending.

The gun in mouth scene is the crown jewel of the picture, a moment so rich and subversive that it could only be delivered by the hand of a master. Two of the girls put guns into Alien’s mouth, and one is certain this scene will end badly. But Franco starts sucking on the pistols, completing the role reversal. These women are in charge. He tells them after, “I just sucked yall’s dicks. I think ya’ll are my mothafuckin’ soul-mates.” Only in hot little bitch world does that happen. In any other movie, or in real fucking life, that thug grabs those gals and exerts himself. But not here, here, Alien exists to fuel the girl’s appetite for chaos. He is the American dream of money and fun and no consequences come to life. He is the evidence that their philosophy bears fruit.

So they rob tourists and their fantasy boyfriend plays a sweet Britney Spears song. They don matching pink masks like super-heroes, taking what they can from helpless tourists. They are just visiting Spring Break. These girls live in Spring Break Forever. Their super-power is invulnerability from reprisal.

By the end of the film, the girls and Alien plan an attack on Arch’s compound. The girls keep chiding Alien for being scared. Again, the gender roles are inverted, the armed man is full of trepidation, and the girls are fearless.  They take neon-lit speedboat across the bay and walk down a hellish pink pier. The first guard appears and shoots Alien in the head. He immediately falls and dies on the pier. This man, their self-made Angel, who lived and died for them, is a victim of these girls.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. These two remaining gals, with two guns kill over a dozen guards and the mobster. They indiscreetly steal his bright orange Lamborghini to make their escape.

Here, the audience member, preferably a hot little 21 year old gal, is thinking, I’d never have gotten out alive. Nothing in this film was real. This is all a fantasy. The final shot of the film pays off the thematic established early in the film. As a pink masked heroine kisses the dead Alien on the pier, the camera inverts as she rises and walks down the pier into the darkness. Again these women are inverted, upside-down. As the camera turns over it is a warning to the viewers, these kids are out there, and they hope to remake the world with their values. We are not upright.

 

Manhattan Baby – Lucio Fulci – 1982

Posted in 80's with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

 

Lucio Fulci’s Manhattan Baby is a metaphysical horror film, which almost suggests pre-historical significance. A girl on a dig with her father, Dr. Hacker, an archeologist is given a 40,000-year-old amulet from Fulci standby, old, blind, disappearing woman. Throughout the film the totem begins to exude power over the girl allowing her and her young brother egress into another dimension.

As with all Fulci films, Manhattan Baby drips with atmosphere, and even though the music is a rehash of The Beyond, I like to think of the films as related. The amulet serves as one of the Seven Doors of Death. Though the film has much in common with Hooper’s Poltergeist, the films were released the same year, and honestly, the plot of this film is much cooler, though they made it for what seems like pennies.

The camera zooms and turns in typical Fulci fashion, constantly revealing as much information as possible before the cut. The cinematography by Guglielmo Mancori is solid but Fulci’s frequent collaborator Sergio Salvati is missed and his atmospheric work might have pushed the overall quality of the film up a notch or two. As it is, the film is filled with stark contrast and musty offices. Some of the shots are stunning such as the “Slithering Snake Cam”, and the high shot in Egypt where the old woman gives the child the amulet and disappears.

Christopher Connelly was likely cast because he looked much like Harrison Ford and Raiders of the Lost Ark had hit big a year earlier. The opening stuff in Egypt is some of the coolest stuff in the film. The locations are amazing and Fulci milks this stuff for all it is worth. Before long, Dr. Hacker descends into a newly discovered tomb and wild blue lasers strike him in the eye and make him blind. I’m going to dig a little deep here, but the text seems to read to me that the secrets of pre-history are blinding to man. This happens at the same time or right after his daughter has received the amulet. So not only are the secrets of pre-history blinding to academics and scientists, but corruptive to youth.

Flash forward to New York. Hacker must wear bandages over his eyes but a doctor tells him that in time he will heal. His daughter keeps the amulet a secret from her family but shares it with her brother and her babysitter Jamie Lee. Jamie Lee is obviously a reference to Jamie Lee Curtis who plays a babysitter in Halloween.

Pretty soon, all kinds of strange things happen. Dr. Hacker’s eyesight is returned through evil force and a mystic named Mercato is approached to help the Hacker family find out what is happening to them. The psychic phenomena are not limited to strange photographs and eye healings. There is one super racist scene where a black man in an elevator is attacked from the ether. He tries to pull the doors open, only losing his fingernails in super gory Fulci style. Eventually the floor falls out and the man plummets to his death. But here’s the deal. This character has no context. We never see him before or after this scene. He’s just here to die. Seriously. It’s pretty fucked up.

Eventually, Mercato is able to successfully suck the evil force from out of the little girl and into his soul, imprisoning the beast. So long as he retains the amulet he will trap the force in his body. But the evil has other plans. In a scene that can only be called an homage to both Psycho and The Birds, Mercato’s collection of stuffed birds come to life and attack him in the film’s goriest scene, with repeated shots of birds pulling bloody flesh from Mercato’s throat. It is a glorious scene, staged with absolute glee and surreal abandon.

The stinger at the end is an absolute classic, informing horror endings as diverse as Hellraiser and The Fallen. We return one last time to Egypt and a blind woman again bequeaths the amulet to a new little girl. These ancient evils can do the most damage through an innocent it seems. The cycle begins again. These ancient pre-historical entities may be shuffled about or prolonged, but they are destined to reveal their power eventually.

Manhattan Baby suffers greatly from it’s lack of budget, but the plot itself is not unlike many possessed child films. It frequently reminded me of James Wan’s Insidious, a fairly Fulci-esque Poltergeist rip. Turns out Fulci made his own possessed child story, but Sachetti and Briganti’s screenplay keeps the content fresh and unique. While other films may be like Manhattan Baby, Manhattan Baby is like no other. Recommended for fans of pre-history, child-possession, evil amulets, Egyptologists and fans of the maestro, Lucio Fulci.

 

 

The Passion Of The Christ – Mel Gibson – 2004

Posted in 00's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

 

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ might well be subtitled a visual essay in suffering. The first two thirds of the film actually have some narrative thrust, and offer some surreal, incredibly frightening depictions of evil. The final third of the picture, however, is filled with scenes that have not only been done and redone throughout the history of cinema, but it also lacks the strange affectations that make the first hour and a half so fascinating.

It is my intent not to examine this film from a historical perspective or even a theological one, but basically a narrative deconstruction where we examine exactly what is or isn’t in the film. The film is controversial for a number of reasons, and a woman reportedly had a heart-attack viewing the film and later died in the hospital. The violence in the film is as bloody as money can buy and the film has, to its’ detriment, a fairly anti-Semitic bent.

The film begins with Jesus in the garden. The music and colors clearly evoke horror. This man is terrified. A crazy, androgynous, Satan creature confronts him, and Jesus flees. This whole scene is blue and black and it’s a damn creepy scene.

We see Judas being paid thirty pieces of silver. Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel said they shot the film above 27 frames per second, giving many moments a true looking slow motion. When they actually slow the footage down, it’s downright breathtaking to look at. Caiphas gives Judas the silver and Judas leaves with some cops.

Jesus rouses Peter and gives him some shit. “You couldn’t stay awake?” The soldiers arrive and a fight ensues after Judas betrays Christ with a kiss. Peter cuts off a soldiers’ ear and Jesus puts it back on. Jesus tells Peter to drop the sword, for those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. His acolytes make good their escape but Jesus is arrested and put in chains. Really, he doesn’t even try to get away.

The next scene is much maligned for being one of the most anti-Jew scenes but I find it to be as anti-cop as anti-Jew. There are plenty of other scenes to be mad at later. Anyway, the cops kick the shit out of Jesus on top of a bridge. They knock him over the bridge and he falls just short of the ground, his chains catching on the bridge. If anything, this scene realistically shows what many cops do, which is needlessly beat detainees. 

At the bottom of the hollow is Judas, seeing again his betrayed master. Jesus is ratcheted back up into the night and before the terrified Judas can walk away the blackness behind him reveals a snarling demonic visage that torments him into retreat. This is precisely the type of visual detail that I actually like about this film. It’s a look into the mind of a wildly insane individual who has enough intelligence and clout to make a visionary film like this. This demon and the crazy Satan are compelling genre devices that make the film satisfying on an absurd and terrifying level.

Why are these things there? I’m guessing Gibson believes in evil personified. We are meant to take every note of this film literally, and if that is true, these crazy supernatural beings and events place the film in the realm of Horror-Fantasy. R-Rated horror fantasy is fairly small grouping of films, and this is certainly one of the more interesting of the bunch.

Back to the story. Christ is at the temple and Caiphas tries to get everyone to explain what crimes Jesus has committed. After many allegations Caiphas says that these people are under Jesus’ spell. Only after Jesus has declared himself the son of God does Caiphas rip his robe and call him a blasphemer.

I have to note here, to Gibson’s small credit, a Priest in the temple does call the kangaroo court out as a travesty but he is quickly escorted away. So there was one Jew who spoke out against the goings on. One. The rest of the crowd is ghoulishly played as over the top villains from a cartoon. One really wonders why these guys even give a crap about Jesus, you wouldn’t know from the movie why their even mad at him, but boy do they hate him.

Meanwhile, demon-faced children chase Judas out of town. They bite him and yell that he is cursed. These strange scenes culminate with the kids chasing him down a hill and then disappearing. He kneels beneath a tree where a rotting donkey lies and he sees Satan before him. He takes the rope from the ass and hangs himself. This scene is masterful and would easily be a standout scene in any horror film. Here, Mel Gibson asserts again that this film is designed to evoke terror and polarize. His mastery of technique clashes beautifully with the strange and controversial nature of the material.

Because it’s against Jewish law to condemn a man to death, the second act of the film is kind of a dog and pony show where they go around showing Jesus to Pilate, Herod, then Pilate again who ultimately orders the man scourged.

No one wants to condemn the man, cause he’s really just this harmless sect leader who basically teaches we should treat each other with kindness. No one in any position of real power sees him as any threat at all. But, even when Pilate asks Jesus what he should do, Jesus tells him, “You have no power over me, save that which is given from above.” It’s not like Jesus wants to escape. He wants to be this example for the world. He so truly believes in what he’s doing that he’s willing to overcome and endure anything to prove his point. Sound like anyone you know? Like maybe the guy making the film?

The film does portray Jesus as pretty radical and his cryptic messages mystify Pilate. He thinks a brutal punishment will quell the sour hearts of the rabble in his district. (There is a scene with Pilate and his wife where he tells here that Caesar has threatened his neck if there are any more uprisings.) So, he’s protecting his own butt, so sayeth this film.

The scourging is pretty much the high-water mark for the film, (high-blood mark?). It is probably the most brutal sequence of torture I have ever scene in a film and the Roman soldiers tasked with hurting Jesus are portrayed with every-bit as much snarling goof-ball horror show villain as the Jewish priests. These guys are mad-dogs but the performance is pure melodrama.

Satan shows up again, this time carrying and an old man baby. Yeah, what is it? Perhaps Satan carries a proxy for man, youth and old age wrapped in one body, a representation of what Christ is suffering for. If Satan retains this creature, man will arrest his development and regress in to sinful iniquity. Mel Gibson, what a nut.

This sequence, though never boring, and perhaps even effective at the desired goal of portraying the insane suffering Mel Gibson sees in his head, has a two-fold effect. 1. It puts Mel Gibson up there with Lucio Fulci and Peter Jackson when it comes to gore, no question. 2. Nothing in the movie will be as intense or hit with as emotional resonance after this scene. A big problem, cause you still have forty minutes left.

After Jesus is beaten the mob demands Christ’s crucifixion. Pilate washes his hands. And here, the film grinds to a crawl. The viewer has just been subjected to what is arguably the most intense and bloody scene of suffering in the history of cinema and now we’re supposed to watch this guy walk up a hill for twenty minutes. It’s agonizing, and not in the way it is supposed to be, it’s just, nothing happening for twenty minutes, sure he falls and a guy helps him and a lady brings him water, but man is it slow.

Once atop the hill, we move again through the motions so many films have covered before, with only a few small remnants of Gibson’s signature. I especially like the moment where the crow pecks at the hysterical criminal being crucified along with Jesus, and the “God’s Teardrop” shot is pretty novel even if it totally pulls you out of the story.

But that’s one of the big problems with this movie as a story. It expects the viewer to know many things without contextualizing anything. Several times in the film we flash back to familiar Bible scenes, but a non-Christian might not really understand these scenes. We flash back to the last supper and Palm Sunday, there’s even a completely queer scene where Gibson attests that Jesus invented the tall table! These scenes are weak attempt at characterization that pulls you out of the mostly engaging melodrama of the story. The film would be stronger without them.

The film is beautifully designed and photographed. The sets and costumes are top-notch. The mostly immersive style and decision to use Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic keep the viewer glued to the scene, well, until the third act.

Jesus is given little to do but take a beating and his brown CG eyes weirded me out for most of the movie. It looks strange. They couldn’t have gotten a Jewish actor? I’m joking, but seriously Mel, you suck, but you are an amazing artist.

I think the film is an amazing, passionately made project that echoes both the vision and neurosis of it’s creator. Essentially the text of the film suggests it is greater to sacrifice your all than to compromise your values. Only briefly in the beginning does Jesus discuss taking this on so others don’t have to. That doesn’t seem like a core value of the film. The film is more an adamant statement against compromise. It is also a declaration that there is manifest evil in the world, with unknowable supernatural power.

For a movie to be those things is a pretty wild thing, and yet this film is that. It works decently as a narrative until the final third, and the text is full of wild and strange devices that often work as titillating pieces of genre fodder and according to the box office galvanizing religious ideology.

Is this film dangerous? Is fine art dangerous? Yes. I don’t agree with all the ideas or values presented in this film, but I have a hard time not seeing it as a masterful effort.

Happy Easter.

%d bloggers like this: