Thursday, July 31, 2008

Auspicious or suspicious?

Papi Gudia arrived on my doorstep today (see also Lovecraft, H.P. - The Thing on the Doorstep).

Will I survive this:



Only time will tell.


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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Commando (1988) - The Bollywood one

The Eighties, age of bad action movies, bad ninja movies and rampant nationalism, or - as in this case - bad Indian nationalist ninja action movies featuring not bad but downright evil dance numbers. This is, of course, something I have always dreamt of.

The film starts innocently enough. A slightly puffy guy (Satish Kaul) takes his little son out on their daily training routine. There are many things a young Indian MAN has to learn, including jumping from a roof into a swimming pool, getting hit by his father in the face and impregnating the ground. Well, the last one could be push-ups, but I doubt it. But a good father won't stop at his son's physical education, he will always try to awaken in his child an appreciation for the important things in live, like never bowing to anyone and being constantly ready to spill one's blood for the motherland (sweet, pure and innocent Mother India).

As it goes, Dad soon proves his commitment by catching a few bullets meant to kill Indira Gandhi in full sight of his wife, who doesn't take too well to her husband's death.

An unspecified number of years later (judging by his face and paunch about forty) Kid Commando has turned into Chander / Chandru (whatever it is the subtitles call him at the moment, always played by Mithun Chakraborty), whose years of diligent beer drinking training have finally paid off. India's biggest arms manufacturer has offered him a job working for them as a commando (or as I would call it: "armed security guard").

Finally, Chand can give his lifeblood for his beloved country (queue Indian national anthem here) and pay for the psychiatric treatment of his ailing mother, who has been driven mad by his father's dead. At first, I wasn't all that sure about the quality of her treatment - putting a woman in a big room with other women and letting her tear her hair doesn't look very expensive or therapeutic to me. In truth most of treatment's cost is based on the price of ballet tickets, as we will learn at the film's ending.

Unfortunately, not all is well at the arms factory. Unknown to its owner Kailashpuri Malhotra (Om Shivpuri) the evil mastermind Mr. Marcelloni (Amrish Puri) uses the factory's products not for the good of holy, pure and incredibly innocent Mother India!

In fact, Marcelloni is paid by "a neighboring country" (oh, what country might that be, pray tell) to destabilize (holy, pure, innocent and motherly) India by playing the Indian Hindus and Moslems against each other. For a project like this, even someone of Marcelloni's stature (and he is not merely great, he is a genius, let him tell you) needs helpers. Besides a training camp full of ninjas, led by Ninja (Danny Dezongpa, who certainly looks swell in his red satin ninja ensemble), he employs Malhotra's partner and the security chief of the factory to steal badly needed weapons for him. He told us he's a genius.

It really isn't surprising nobody has discovered the dastardly plan up to now, when one looks at the subtlety and care the traitors exhibit.

On Chand's first outing as security guard, their chief orders his soldiers to not open fire without his explicit orders, whatever may happen. Would you believe the transport is attacked by terrorists just then? Or that the chief orders his soldiers to lay their weapons down? How could anyone see through this plan?

All would go well for the Evil Ones, if Chand wouldn't discover his talent for patriotic (oh! glorious Mother India!) disobedience and attack the terrorists and their ninja cronies. What follows is one of the better action scenes of Bollywood cinema I have seen, possibly thanks to its close (like a Siamese twin) resemblance to a scene from American Ninja. Now that I mention it, the whole film has quite a few parallels to American Ninja, ignoring the dancing and bigger paunches.

The enemy's advantage in number forces our hero to retreat - fortunately not before demonstrating the real usefulness of a screwdriver - pulling the arms factory's owner's daughter after him. Asha (Mandakini) accompanied the convoy to "see original terrorists", which is as spunky as it is stupid. To my disappointment, Asha's spunkiness shrinks the longer the film goes on.

During their flight, the two rest in the wreck of a hay-transporting plane that also houses a helpless and innocent cobra who is promptly slaughtered by his paunchiness. Oh, and our heroes fall in love.

At some point, the two have crossed the border to another neighboring country, a place peopled by Indians wearing fake eyelids and demonic eyebrows while wearing Japanese sombreros - it's possibly Chindia, or Chinustan. Among those slightly disconcerting people dwells an even stranger creature, Ram Chong (Satish Shah), a fat old dude who thinks Asha & Chand are Asha Bosle and Kishore Kumar. To the sweet sounds of Ennio Morricone he offers to lend them his fabulous red vintage car, if they will just sing a little song for him. Of course they do, not even stopping when their enemies arrive and one of the stranger car chases of my movie nerd career begins. It isn't necessary to stop singing anyway - the old guy's car is outfitted with James Bondian gimmicks like oil spilling nozzles, mechanical boxing gloves and the ability to turn into a flying model car, ahem, I meant outfitted with a parachute of course.

When they return, Chand is reprimanded heavily for his weapon and women-saving ways, has a fight with one of his commando colleagues (Hemant Birje), who will become his best friend, parties hard, fights more ninjas, destroys fruit wagons during a chase sequence, is framed in most devious ways as evil terrorist spy, escapes from prison, has to sneak into the enemy's base in a neighboring country, has a dance dance party, does the robot, kills more evil people, makes things explode, murders a bunch of weaponless people (who are evil enemies of sweet, loving and innocent Mother India, of course), has the mandatory fight on a cable car, prevents the murder of another Gandhi by Ninja and restores his mother to sanity.

By the love of Michael Dudikoff, that was fun. Sure, Commando's production is slapdash (look at Mithun's training outfit, or look at Mithun, for that matter), its special effects of dubious specialty (it's hard for me to decide what is "better", the hills turned into a mountain range by a few scrawled lines in post production or the brilliant model work that is even more beautiful than that of Ajooba), the soundtrack cobbled together from parts of Once Upon A Time In The West and Star Wars (I  understand, I am a fan too), the editing bad and the acting only done by Amrish Puri. But all these are things I expect, even demand of an 80s Ninja/action film. As long as a movie in the genre features surprisingly competent fights and a ninja called Ninja I am happy as as a loon.

There are lots of other things to admire in Commando, from the interesting inside view into B-movie security measures (tight as a great big hole in a wall, I tell you) to the wish to only steal from the best without false modesty or shame, this film delivers everything someone of my taste could possibly ask warm.


Warm thanks to Todd of Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! for recommending this movie and especially to Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood for granting me her copy of this timeless work of art.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fist of the North Star (1986)

A friendly reviewer on the IMDb has the following to say about Fist of the North Star:"Trust me Manga films don't get any better with this work of art.". I think I have to agree.

Trying to understand what is happening in Fist can be a wee bit difficult, if one, like me, hasn't read a single page of the manga this anime is based on nor watched a single episode of the anime TV show.

The film starts helpfully enough with some explanation of two oppositional forces dominating/directing the universe, who are not allowed to fight each other. On the day they will break this peace, the world will come to an end, but a savior will be born.

Our next info dump explains (with lovingly rendered depictions of melting people) that most of the world and its population has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. The survivors now wander the barren Earth, trying to build a new life for themselves or (even more popular) just kick the shit out of each other. This is the movie's last attempt to explain anything - from here on out I was on my own, so you'll probably just have to trust me. Keep in mind that my explanations of the parts of the plot I did understand are a lot less circumcisious than the movies' own.

Basically, FotNS is the story of three brothers who were trained by their father in the martial arts style of "Hokutu Shinken" (which probably means "make-heads-explode punching") that somehow has something to do with one of those two universal forces mentioned earlier. Of course only one of them can be the designated successor to the school's master. The chosen one is Kenishiro, a man with the most frightening eyebrows anime has to offer and a follower of the classic martial arts way of silly vocalizing, like Bruce and Sonny before him (and I quote: "Haaa.TatatatatatataTA"). Seen from an ethical perspective, the upright and square Ken is a very good choice. His brothers tend to be somewhat evil.

Brother Jagi for example doesn't even eschew the use of guns! Which doesn't help him a lot when Ken kicks his ass (or his head, to be exact) during a brotherly discussion of succession. At least, Jagi is able to keep his head from exploding. This experience doesn't make his love for Ken any bigger, so he uses his incredible subtle fast talking skills to drive Ken's best friend Shin mad with jealousy for Ken's girlfriend Yuria. It must have been a very deep friendship, and Shin's a very stable mind - Jagi needs at least thirty seconds to convince Shin.

The devious plan bears fruit when Shin steals Yuria (who will get used to the experience) and nearly kills Ken by poking his finger a few times into our hero's chest.

Afterwards, Jagi tries to seal the deal by throwing his brother into a canyon and dropping parts of a mountain on him.

Raoh, the last of the brothers is above trifles like that. His slightly more ambitious plan starts with killing his father, assuming the role of the King of All The World, and finally expanding his reign into the heavens themselves. Good luck there Raoh.

An unspecified time later, two anime children (not even the Bomb can stop pink hair) are attacked and nearly killed by basic post-apocalyptic biker-punks. Fortunately the girl, Lynn, is able to send out a telepathic call for help that awakens the not-all-that-dead Ken, who topples a few ruined skyscrapers and lets a few heads explode.

This is the start of Ken's new career, wandering the radioactive wastelands, righting wrongs and yes, causing people to explode, always searching for Shin and his object (and I mean object) of affection.

So this is what happens when you try to pack twenty (I think) volumes of manga into little more than one and a half hour. The uninitiated (like me) watches with bewilderment while badly motivated things happen with overwhelming frequency. Why exactly leads being buried alive for some time to Ken being a badass? If he wasn't so great before, why did he win against Jagi so easily? I get that Lynn is the promised savior, but what exactly does that mean? Why does Raoh postpone the apocalyptic endfight until Lynn is grown up? What difference does that make? Why doesn't Ken look for Shin a little faster? What exactly has the martial arts school to do with the cosmic forces? What does the final scene of the movie mean? Why is the plot as told by the movie even less clear than the plot told by me?

I certainly don't know. What I know is that the film has some entertainment value even without answers to these questions, mainly derived from my unending love for post-apocalyptic fashions and the film's unending love for exploding people.

What surprised me was how basic the martial arts scenes are - one hit by Kenishiro usually is the end of a fight, which of course makes Kenny a badass of mythical proportions, but isn't all that interesting to watch.


1990: Bronx Warriors (1982)

In 1990, the New York government has given up on the Bronx. What order there is, is kept by the gangs now controlling the area. The prime force among them are the "Tigers", led by The Ogre (Fred Williamson), properly identifiable through their fashionable way of wearing classic pimp style clothing while driving around in hot rods. Below them on the ladder of success are the "Riders", clad in classic post-apocalyptic biker style, which would be much more convincing if their leader wasn't Trash (Mark Gregory) he of the Hairy Metal mop, the model looks and the negative acting chops. Of course, Trash is our designated hero.

Other pillars of the Bronx community are the "Zombies", name-defyingly sporting a combined roller-skater/hockey theme and the "Scavengers", a bunch of mad people best described as sociopathic and hebephrenic mimes.

The not always harmonious co-existence of these slightly improbable groups ends when Trash saves Ann (Stefania Girolami; daughter of the director and only slightly more talented than Gregory) from the dubious attentions of the Zombies' leader Golan (George Eastman in a very minor role). Little does he know that "his girl" is the heiress of the biggest weapon producing company in the world, whose owners will pay the sadistic cop Hammer (Vic Morrow) a lot of money if he brings them back their living property.

The man goes about it in a unique way - he has a dream you know. A dream of letting the Bronx burn so that he will never be forgotten.

Another post-apocalyptic nonsense-action piece by the great Enzo G. Castellari, The Bronx Warriors (which steals in equal measures from Escape from New York and The Warriors) lacks some of the charms of Warriors of the Wasteland aka The New Barbarians. Dardano Sachetti's script delivers his usual mixture of boredom, weird ideas and disinterest in the basics of time and space, while director of photography Salvati has not as many interesting sights to show as in his work with Lucio Fulci.

This doesn't mean there is nothing of interest to see here: Some of the action scenes are suitably outrageous (although nothing comes even close to Warriors), the gangs of New York are strange enough to be entertaining and the friend of ruined buildings will find many an interesting sight.

It's just a little disappointing that the plot never gets enough traction to make one forget the silliness of the proceedings. The remarkably bad performances our male and female leads deliver do not help the movie at all - whenever Trash opens his mouth one cannot help but wish for his slow and painful death. Or at least for the hitting and bleeding to start again.

But seeing a pimp-tastic Fred Williamson fighting with a cane sword is something I'm glad I didn't miss.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

What is it with Chick tracts and the Mythos?


via Ectoplasmosis.


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All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

Mandy Lane (Amber Hearst) is the walking dream of all boys in her high school. Just about every single one of them finds her angelic virginity (hey, I didn't write the script!) irresistible. She tends to keep her distance from them, though. When she finally agrees to visit a jock party, she takes her slightly nerdy friend Emmet (Michael Welch) with her, who promptly convinces one of her admirers that the best and easiest way to impress Mandy would be to jump to one's death. Which the guy promptly does.

Nine months later, Emmet and Mandy aren't on speaking terms anymore, instead she runs with a somewhat wilder clique of rich idiots, although she still is as pure as the white winter snow.

When the clique goes on a druggy weekend in the country, they are stalked by a shadowy figure who murders them one by one. Oh, who might the killer be?

Mandy Lane is a film that has some problems finding a distributor outside of Germany, a somewhat curious state for an American film made with American money that is really quite nice.

Sure, it is a teen slasher, but a very well-made one. Since the budget didn't allow to cast the typical modern horror movie TV teen idols many mainstream horror titles are plagued with, the script is able to at least touch on a few things modern slashers ignore: the teenage years as wilderness, teenagers are taking drugs (oh noes!) and so on. All of this isn't explored all that deeply, but treated realistically enough to make the (more than solidly acted) characters a lot more deep than one is used in the sub-genre.

Plot and twists should be surprise to no one, I think, but most of it is handled in such a way that knowing what will happen doesn't take away from watching it.

Mandy herself is a very interesting character in her being used so heavily as projection surface for the demands and wishes of other people I have my doubts there is anything like a "real her" there. In this, the film stands very much in the tradition of classic exploitation movies, who never had a problem with treating their female protagonists as objects while at the same time criticizing the objectification of women.

So, subversion is still alive.


Comments on films I watched while I was sick

(so this could probably just be figments of my imagination)


  • Eastern Promises
    I liked David Cronenberg's work more when it was a little more weird. Not much to complain about, actually - great acting, solid script, excellent soundtrack etc etc. But the only moments the film felt actually alive where when Cronenberg could indulge his love for human bodies and what's inside of them. Also fine and Cronenbergian were the tattoos.
  • Boarding Gate
    Olivier Assayas tries his hand on some kind of thriller. It would be a little to cool and understated for my tastes if not for the always wonderful Asia Argento, whose work is never less than intense.


It's the goddamn Batman!

Yesterday, I found an email by the (delightfully named) band Mary Shelley Overdrive in my inbox, providing a download link to Hideous Sexy, their new EP of covers, ranging from Blue Öyster Cult to Devo.

If you are into the garagey style of rock (and you should be, at least from time to time), it'll be a treat.


Download it here.


I'm probably never going to play it,

but damn, Age of Conan just cracks me up. First the "shrinking breast size" bug, then the heavy interest in Succubus nipples, now this - lends new dimensions to the word "mature".


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Monday, July 21, 2008

Curse of the Doll People (1961)

Four conscience-deficient men visit Haiti to learn more about Voodoo - watch rites they aren't allowed to see, steal the idol of a local god, this kind of thing. As if stealing religious icons wasn't stupid enough, the four also let themselves be cursed by the voodoo high priest.

At least, this is what they tell the guest of a dinner party, among them our heroine Dr. Karina without a surname (Elvira Quintana) and her fiancé Dr. Armando Valdes (Ramon Gay), as if stealing and being cursed was the most normal thing in the world. Since of the four seems to be a gangster boss and that seems to be not worthy of comment for anyone, it probably is.

The only one who takes the curse seriously is Karina, who is a doctor and therefore a scientist, but seems to know too much about voodoo to exclude its effectiveness - and as the first of the men soon finds out, is absolutely right with her doubts.

Karina's armchair detection work takes some time, but after the second death (if you can call someone dead who is still moving after his heart has stopped - a strange fact the movie soon ignores completely), she deduces the murders are performed by living, moving dolls, controlled by a sorcerer.

This will teach me looking down on the work of a director after just two films. Benito Alazraki (of Spiritism & Santo contra los Zombies infamy) directs a mostly old-fashioned but effective Mexican horror film of the classier variant, with some very fine usage of shadows and light, successful pacing and a script strong enough to survive a Gordon K. Murray dub without losing every bit of sense.

The killer dolls are created in a simple but surprisingly effective way: dwarfs wearing cheap, stiff masks that have immobile features looking just enough like the faces of their earlier victims to be quite disconcerting, especially with the added ingredient of some very artificial looking body language of their actors. Let's face it - these guys are just creepy.

That the role of the "scientist who understands the supernatural" (think Peter Cushing as Van Helsing) is played by a woman was a pleasant surprise. Even more surprising to me was that the movie didn't stop letting Karina be an intelligent, independent woman - the last strike against evil is hers. (Well, there is one scene I consider pretty out of character for the woman we had seen up to then, but this is Mexico in the early 60s).

I can't find very much to dislike about the film, apart from the dub and the usual muddle-headedness about Voodoo it is a perfectly fine example of its type.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Frontier(s) (2007)

The "torture porn" wave in modern horror has left me mostly more disinterested than shocked and more bored than disinterested. The unique inability of the sub-genre to draw at least somewhat human characters makes the effect films like Hostel and Saw have on me predictably minor. And really, how shallow is a character when I don't even flinch when he's eviscerated?

So I didn't go into Frontier(s) with much hope when I read about it being compared to Hostel and the inevitable Haute Tension. I will spare you the deserved rant about the latter, let's just say that I hate it.

Frontier(s) is about a group of young people from the banlieues who, after having robbed a nice sum of money, are on the run from the police. To make matters worse, the banlieues themselves are in a state of de facto civil war thanks to the election of an extreme right-wing president.

But the local chaos is helpful if you want to get on your way into a more liberal country like Holland, so the gang and the pregnant sister of one/ex-girlfriend of another member Yasmine (Karina Testa), who is our designated heroine, leave Paris. On their way to freedom they make the fatal error of stopping in a country inn for the night.

As is so often the case, the inn is run by a band of inbred cannibalistic Nazis, whose belief in pure bloodlines through inbreeding and adoption of kidnapped women is interesting, to say the least.

And, well, you know how the rest of the story will go.

To my delight, the way Frontier(s) realizes its often told tale is a little different. Sure, we get the strange glossy ugliness and predominance of brown tones t-porn is known for, but we also are introduced to victims who are actual human beings we don't want to see die as they do, a very believable heroine and a surprisingly thoughtful script.

What, you say a band of raving maniacs won't build a unified front? They'll rip each other apart as fast and as easily as they do strangers?

Most interesting to me though, is the tonal difference between this and Hostel. Where the American film is a (pseudo-)realistic version of an urban myth, the French film goes the way of a dark and slightly surreal fairy tale adapted into an opera, not so much interested in the gross-out (although we see more than enough of that, thank you) as in the weird and disturbing. In this way, Frontier(s) feels a little like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


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Saturday, July 19, 2008

A short review of Doomsday (2008)


Ajooba (1991)

The oriental state of Bahrujistan has it all: Barren landscapes, brownish towns, a virtuous Sultan (Shammi Kapoor) and Amrish Puri as the prime minister. It is of course possible that the prime minister has something to do with the high mortality rate of potential heirs to the throne, but really, who could mistrust such an honest face?

The newest heir seems to be doing just fine, anyway, thanks to to the intervention of a bunch of gods (I suppose) we'll never see again.

So Amrish starts a little palace revolution, starting with the disposal of a friendly magician (Saeed Jaffrey) who knows of his evil ways and is all to willing to explain the source of his magical powers to someone he himself calls a devil anyway. Amrish is as grateful as one would expect, steals the wise man's amulet and throws him into the deepest, darkest dungeon. Afterwards he attacks the royal family's escape boat on the flying carpet he also stole from the magician, seemingly killing them all, but actually doing his worst job ever.

The baby heir is rescued by a helpful dolphin (whom the grown-up boy will call his mother) and adopted by a smith who starts to train the boy early to become a bad-ass-by-way-of-a-terrible costume revolutionary, who will be known as Ajooba (Amitabh Bachchan). Besides his superior fighting skills (like catching flying arrows and throwing them back at his enemies with deadly force; also, compelling his enemies to never shoot more than two arrows at once), Ajooba also develops the ability to always appear where his name is spoken and make us listen to his cheesy synthesizer theme whenever he heroically rides to the rescue.

On the way to the Happy End, our extremely heroic hero and his cross-dressing side-kick Hassan (Rishi Kapoor) will rescue old, blind women who certainly won't turn out to be someone's mother, rescue amnesiac saints gifted with healing powers who certainly won't turn out to be someone's father, fall in love with Amrish's daughter (Hassan) or the magician's daughter (Ajooba), shrink to the rescue, ride a flying boat, go all King Arthur on us, get rescued by a giant crab and fight an authentic Bollywood kaiju. I have probably missed a few things here, but you get the gist, I think.

But, as awesome as all that may sound, a part of the film is marred by Shashi Kapoor's (or his Russian co-director's Gennadi Vasilyev's) problems with setting scenes up properly. The first hour of the film is just puzzling - important characters aren't set up, but just appear somehow sometime (Ajooba has to wait quite some time until he gets a little more character than "absurdly costumed guy on white horse"), sensible ways of transition are eschewed for, well no transitions, and so on. The later two thirds of the film are a lot better though, at least I wasn't in doubt anymore that there was a professional editor available.

The mad ideas that didn't want to stop anymore also did a lot to alleviate my irritation. Still, some directorial decisions just bug me. Why use boring brown and gray locations when you could have color-coordinated sets? Why film many scenes in such a way that everything has to look so incredibly cheap and tacky?

Less irritating and a lot more fun are Ajooba's very special effects. Seldom, if ever has the screen seen less detailed models than in the flying carpet sequences which really let you appreciate the good old Thief of Baghdad. Let's not start talking about the kaiju or the giant crab, creatures of singular and beautiful ineptness that nearly made me weep for joy.

Finally, the acting...There are in fact actors on screen, some of which sometimes decide to do some acting, but even Amitabh (who at least is able to wear his costume with some kind of dignity) is overshadowed by the greatness of Amrish Puri's bug-eyed stare and his repeated utterance of my new catch-phrase "Praised be the devil!". I even have a theory to explain this performance - after his many years as the evilest of the evil of Indian evilness, Amrish Puri set out on a journey to the west to find new ways of being, well, evil. Sadly, his quest was cut short by an unscrupulous German film merchant who sold him Bela Lugosi's collected poverty row films as the apotheosis of Western evilness acting. Amrish Puri, being kind-hearted and perhaps a little naive in the ways of evil German film merchants, of course believed him and used Ajooba to do his best to rise up to Bela's challenge. We all should love him for that.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Book report: Robert Aickman, Powers of Darkness

Robert Aickman's position in the world of fantastic literature is a strange one - on the one hand he was heavily influential on authors like Neil Gaiman, on the other his work has the tendency to be very much out of print most of the time. The second hand availability of the books is spotty, what is available tends to be somewhat overpriced.

Nonetheless I was able to acquire my first collection of some of his "strange stories", as he called them, and am positively enthusiastic. What we have here is the work of an author with a very British voice, sometimes deceptively stiff sounding, in truth precise, often highly ironic, but still graced with the ability to somehow and puzzlingly use his distancing style for full emotional effect.

"Strange Stories" really is the best phrase to describe these pieces - they are at once absolutely realistic in their characterizations and the tangibility of the details of the world they describe and utterly puzzling and unpredictable in their use of the fantastic.

Based on this book, I can't recommend Aickman's work highly enough. And it's just gotten easier to get hold of his work. "Faber Finds", Faber & Faber's new print-on-demand imprint has three of Aickman's collections in its program, for a reasonable price.

For further explorations of Aickman and his work, this site is a fine starting point.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Okkervil River's The Stand-Ins

just leaked, and who could a resist the temptation after the brilliant The Stage Names? The new album is perhaps a little less brilliant, but still wonderful.

The band's output of the last years shows musicians growing and changing in organic but still surprising ways.

The band has reached a level of tightness that pulls Will Sheff's lyrics, which would dominate most music, so close it would seem preposterous to single them out as special.

Okkervil River itself has become special.


Re-watching Escape From New York

John Carpenter's Escape From New York (1981) has been one of my favorite movies seen I first saw it on German cable TV about twenty years ago.

There wouldn't be much sense in reviewing it - me using six hundred words to squee "I love it, I love it" looks like a waste of perfectly good blog space to me.

So I'm just going to list some of the details that made me especially happy this time:

  • Parts of the music sound like further reduced E.S.G.!
  • The relative disinterest the film takes in Snake's little gladiatorial match, which fits its anti-hero's poise perfectly. (And is exactly the thing some of Carpenter's later macho-fests like Vampires are missing)!
  • The pure joy of having just about every single role cast with a b-movie hero(ine)!
  • An ending that still says "Fuck you!" as beautifully as a perfect punk single!

Darling of the Day: "Snake Plissken!? I heard you were dead!"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chocolate (2008)

Zin (Ammara Siripong) is the lover of a Thai gangster boss (whose name I don't think anybody ever mentions), but also one of his enforcers. When she meets the yakuza Masashi (Hiroshi Abe), the man instantly falls in love with her, or with her scars to be precise.

She doesn't resist his charm very long and the two start an affair. It doesn't take much time for Evil Bad Guy to find out what is happening. He shows himself to be one of the more lenient of his ilk and just throws Zin out of the gang and forces Masashi to leave Thailand forever.

I doubt that he would be so nice if he knew that Zin was pregnant. Her daughter Zen (soon to be played by future action star Yanin "JeeJa" Vismitananda) isn't completely healthy though. The girl suffers from some form of autism.

Zin tries to keep in contact with Masashi, but when Evil Bad Guy and his transvestite main henchie find out about this terrible transgression, they cut off one of her toes.

A few years later, Zin isn't only missing a toe, she is also dying of cancer. Since Thailand doesn't have public healthcare, she is in desperate need of money. Her only income comes from public performances her daughter and her friend Mooma (whom Zin quasi-adopted) make, showing off one of those near-superhuman skills the movies taught me to expect from autistic people - an ability to catch without looking everything that is thrown in her direction.

Alas, they aren't making enough money to keep everyone alive, so when the kids find a list of people who owe Zin money, they promptly try to collect it.

Of course Zin's debtors are all gangsters and assorted low-life and not willing to give their money to the next kid who asks for it. At this point, Zen's second special talent comes in handy. An uncanny ability to imitate other people's movements in combination with a steady diet of Tony Jaa and Bruce Lee movies have made her a very competent fighter.

So, the money fetching business works out well for them, until Evil Bad Guy and his underlings take an interest. After all, he "adopted" Zin's money when he threw her out, and the thrashed tough guys are his tough guys.


Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-Bak) strikes again, this time with the avowed goal to make JeeJa Thailand's next big action star export after Tony Jaa. I'm all for it. The last years haven't been kind to women in genre films, who have again mostly been relegated to being victims and eye candy for male viewers, a step in the wrong direction that cries out to be corrected again. JeeJaa looks like an excellent candidate for this kind of project: Her martial arts skills are very convincing and her acting is surprisingly good. If Dustin Hoffman can get an Oscar for the dreaded Rain Man I see no reason why she can't get one for Chocolate.

A talented and charismatic actress alone does not a good film make, of course. Pinkaew has learned from the flaws of his earlier movies, it seems. The plot isn't something to write home about, but it's solid and works well in holding the action together. And directing action scenes has never been one of Pinkaew's problems. He's not doing much new with his "ouch, that must have hurt" style of action, but what he does is very effective and rousing - particularly since his direction style affords us the luxury to actually see what is happening in the action scenes, something that often gets lost through all the jump-cutting and fast-forwarding modern martial arts movies are prone to.

How much you will like Chocolate is based on a single, simple question: how much do you like to see a young woman kicking the crap out of people? And really, what's not to like about that?


Monday, July 14, 2008

A few thoughts about the Silent Hill movie

When Silent Hill came out in 2006, many critics (even some of those who actually understand genre films) were exceedingly underwhelmed by it. I never understood exactly why, but re-watching it gave me some ideas:

  • It's a videogame movie, and because videogames are unworthy and juvenile, a movie derived from a videogame cannot be good.
  • Many people are still unprepared to embrace artificiality in films. A film like this, which is dominated by a very conscious artificiality in set design, camera work and acting (although I admit some of the actors could just not be all that great) is something not everyone can appreciate.
  • Silent Hill's plot is so loose it is basically not a plot at all. But in the context of a movie about a woman entering a place that is an extended metaphor for her subconscious, plot shouldn't be (and can't be) handled in a traditional way.
  • The film has no interest in its few male characters. The male-lead sub-plot is its greatest weakness. That is of course perfectly all right with me.
  • Characterization is handled in a weird way, less by the actors emoting (which they do anyway), or their reactions to the things they see, but by the way these things relate to them, a little like in Argento's Inferno.
  • Not everyone is a Silent Hill fanboy like me.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Long Weekend (1978)

The marriage of Marcia (Briony Behets) and Peter (John Hargreaves) is more or less over since a botched abortion nearly killed her. It was only the complications that led to Peter's discovery of his wives' pregnancy or that he wasn't the child's father. You shouldn't have too much compassion with him, though. He seems to be all asshole all the time, so I wasn't all that surprised his wife cheated on him. Still, Peter seems interested in saving the marriage (or murdering Marcia - the film makes some very clever allusions to his unconscious wish to do so). What could be a better way to do this than to go camping on a beach in the Outback, miles from any other human being? Especially when one keeps in mind that Marcia hates the outdoors.

When the couple (after much bickering and screaming - you better get used to it) finally makes camp at their destination, strange things start to happen. Animals -even dead ones - are acting weird and aggressive, even the trees and elementary forces like fire and decay seem to become ever more malevolent.

Marcia gets the message quickly, but Peter doesn't feel anything strange for quite some time. When he finally agrees, it is already to late for them. Nature itself turns against them.

And the second eco-horror film for me in a row, only much more subtle than Fessenden's Wendigo.

Long Weekend is a mood and character piece that kept me on my toes most of its running time. From the first frame on, director/producer Colin Eggleston uses intelligent camera work and the alienness of nature to imbalance the viewer. At first it's not clear if the couple will just go on and kill each other without any supernatural agency. One could argue that nature, after being misused by both to work off their aggressions, just acts out what it has learned from them, but the feeling of a kind of abstract evil that pervades the movie speaks of different things. I felt very much reminded of Algernon Blackwood's excellent story "The Willows".

The atmosphere of Long Weekend is incredible - we don't see that many strange occurrences at all. Most of the film's effect is based on the things the viewer brings with her or imagines, its qualities are more felt than seen.

Of course something that is basically a two person piece without a lot of action wouldn't work without good acting. Both leads turn their roles into believable, breathing persons, who might be thoroughly unsympathetic to some. I personally dislike to see people suffer, even if they are highly imperfect.

I'm not sure if it is correct to call this "eco-horror". There are moments in the film when nature reacts directly to attacks on its integrity, sure, but those reactions are in a style a petty tyrant would enjoy, and not of the nobleness the more respectful films of the sub-genre would show.

As a lover of horror films of the Seventies, I also highly approve of the ironic and consequent ending.


What the hell!?

Who'd have thunk

Your result for The Attachment Style Test...

The Exile

54% Anxiety Over Abandonment and 56% Avoidance Of Intimacy

You are uncomfortable getting close to others. You want emotionally close relationships, but you find it difficult to trust others completely. You feel that people don't fully understand you, and to be honest you're not certain you fully understand yourself. You never wanted it to happen, but now you're an outcast and you're resigned to your fate. They think you're not good enough? Well, you figure, maybe that's true. You don't need them, anyway.

Fictional character with whom you might identify: Elphaba (Wicked), Smeagol/Gollum (The Lord of the Rings)

Smeagol.jpg Elphaba.jpg

Other Attachment Types:
Secure: The Unicorn | The Cuddleslut | The Free Agent
Preoccupied: The Cling Wrap | The Squid | The Insect
Fearful: The Doormat | The Leper | The Exile
Dismissing: The Hermit | The Stone | The Player
Confused: The Waffler

Take The Attachment Style Test at HelloQuizzy

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I have now tried thrice to watch Beast of the Yellow Night, an Eddie Romero film (which usually stands for fun, if not necessarily for quality).

Thrice, I have fallen asleep during its first fifteen minutes. It's obvious the film can't be that boring, so the only logical conclusion is that it is cursed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Middleman

I've already alienated everyone I know in real life with my justified and probably slightly irritating love for this, the only comedy TV show I like in years, so why not alienate the Internet too? What else can a poor nerd/geek/b-movie lover do? I mean, episode one had machine gun toting apes. Episode three features a bad-tempered kung fu master played by Marc Dacascos and a horde of luchadores. Next week: Zombies. The dialogue is of the machine gun fast, silly and funny sort. It's as if it was written for me.



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If someone is interested in the latest unpleasantness in the SF scene,

she would do best to read Tobias Buckell's blogs about it here and here. He is right, you know?

The second link also leads us to a nauseating thread in the Asimov's forum, where David Truesdale (he of the bad reading comprehension and the insane ranting in the unpleasantness directly before this one) has to tell us many interesting things about "Feminazis" and "socialists" (since when is that an insult, anyway?). Things that really lets me ask myself when does someone reach the point where even certain SF magazines don't want one as columnists anymore.

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Dear "professional" American movie reviewers,

could you please kindly stop to conflate bad American remakes of Asian movies and their far superior originals?

It's perfectly alright if you prefer your home brewed pap to more interesting things, but don't judge the quality of these by the quality of your pap.

And by the way, the original Pulse is not about your wireless connection. It's about your loneliness and alienation.


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Thursday, July 10, 2008

In short: Spiritism (1962)

Benito Alazraki, director of one of my least favorite Santo movies, strikes again.

What starts out as hardly watchable warning against the evils of Spiritualism (which of course leads directly to Satan presenting one with Pandora's Box) ends as ineffective version of W.W.Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw.

Dullness, preachiness and a dub by K. Gordon Murray make boring what should be creepy in an old-fashioned way. At least the twenty minutes feature a crawling hand (the film's monkey's paw), but that late in the movie only a full grown zombie apocalypse could have made it a decent way to waste a part of one's life on.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wendigo (2001)

Therapist Kim (Patricia Clarkson), her husband commercial photographer George (Jake Weber) and their son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan) make a weekend trip to the (snowy and cold part of the) country. On the way to their home for the weekend, they run over a deer and meet the local Deliverance extras who were hunting it, among them Otis (John Speredakos), whose unprovoked hostility and anger disturb the family even more than the dead animal.

When they finally arrive at their destination, they find a bullet hole in one of the building's walls. Not troubling at all. Miles doesn't sleep well the following night. His sleep is disturbed by dreams of violence and a dread that something terrible will happen.

The next day, the family makes a few purchases in the nearest town. While nobody is looking, a Native American (Lloyd Oxendine) tells Miles (and us) the myth of the Wendigo, an angry spirit dominated by uncontrollable hunger and violent anger. When the boy agrees to the stranger's question if he believes in ghosts, the man gives him a figurine representing the Wendigo and disappears. Later happenings will make quite clear that he is a spirit himself, if not the Wendigo.

Later that day, George takes Miles sledding, only to fall from the sled, shot.

Ah, Larry Fessenden, how I respect you. Ah, Larry Fessenden, how irritating your films can be. In a world where most horror films don't even try to be more than the same old, same old, only with a little more gore and increasingly less talented actors, Fessenden represents a more independent mentality. Sure, you will find clichés like The Native American Spirit and The Evil Hick, but Fessenden doesn't tell cliché stories.

The visuals and the storytelling of Wendigo owe more to the traditions of independent drama than to usual horror fare, the interest of the film lies primarily in the family and their relationships with each other. The supernatural is secondary and mostly used as a metaphor. But this is exactly where the film's problems start. Fessenden doesn't seem to trust his viewers to grasp the meaning of his (not very complicated) metaphors nor the (quite obvious) themes of his movie. So he is spelling them out as loudly and directly as possible, nearly ruining the second third of Wendigo by the incessant repetition of things I had already understood the first time. Do we really need to hear parts of the Elder's monologue about the Wendigo three times, especially when three very capable actors make this completely unnecessary?

Which leads us directly to the film's second problem. Fessenden seems to trust his actors as little as he does his audience and seems to actively undermine their work, again by spelling out what their acting makes clear enough. The worst offender is the moment when the dying George tries to tell his family indirectly how much he loves them. Intercut by Fessenden with the smiling face of a baby, just in case somebody has a very bad sense of hearing, I suppose.

So, why do I still recommend the film? Because, even as heavily flawed as Wendigo is, it's a film that shows deep commitment by the people making it, a sense of urgency I can't help but respect. And Fessenden can be a very good director when he is not trying to clobber us with heavy-handedness. Here is someone with a clear and concentrated sense of style who can and does achieve moments of great creepiness as well as moments of great tenderness.

Add this to the very good acting and a surprisingly ambiguous ending (no clear morals in this film, to my surprise) and you may not have a film that gels as good as I would like, but at least something well worth watching.



Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whale sex?

If you ask me (and whom else can you ask on my blog), Vertical is the best/most interesting manga publisher in America today.

Case in point: Their honorable project to bring us Osamu Tezuka's complete Black Jack (Doctor-for-hire).

They even provide a sample chapter on their website. It's -as far as I know- one of the less outrageous ones, but I am not going to complain about free stuff.


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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is there nothing holy anymore?


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Guild Wars and me

The unthinkable has happened. With Guild Wars I have found an MMORPG I actually like. Given my hatred of most things World of Warcraft or Eve (the two MMOs I had actually tried before Guild Wars) this comes as quite a surprise for me.

Since I am very, very late to the GW party, just let me count the ways the game ignores, deconstructs or subverts just about everything I have always hated about its genre.

Firstly, the MMO-typical mass of idiots and other people you wouldn't want to meet in real life, even less while trying to have fun is absent from most of the game by judicious use of instancing. The only real public places are the city hubs and the PvP areas. The greater part of the game is played either with people whom you have partied up with or with decently capable NPCs.

This leads directly into the second point, much more immersive wilderness and dungeons, without those goddamn queues of people waiting for boss monsters to spawn, which usually are a real immersion breaker for me. If I want to stand in a queue, I've got a supermarket just around the corner.

Thirdly I was surprised to find an MMO that wants to tell a story and actually knows how to do it. I'm not very far in at the moment, but even quite early in the game I have found actual writing and NPCs who feel a little deeper than that dwarf around the corner who just wants 300 goblin lungs (for his breakfast, I suppose). Most of the sidequests tend a to be about killing something or other, but they are decently integrated into the plot. You always have a reason to do what you do.

Fourthly: There is no grinding! I repeat: No grinding!

Fifthly: The skill and attribute systems reward diversity. You can't ruin a character's build, because everything is reconfigurable in the next hub. The most interesting in-game rewards are in the form of new skills.

Sixthly: Even PvP play is fun and has a certain air of friendliness surrounding it, a little like baseball, again thanks to the use of instancing and a highly regulated environment that doesn't allow people to act like asshats.

Seventhly: No monthly fees.


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