Wednesday, August 29, 2018

BULLET REVIEWS ~ FILMS I'VE RECENTLY SEEN

I've been focusing more on long-form projects like my concordances for Season of the Witch and In The Dust of This Planet, and also catching up on my movie watching lately... hence the paucity of updates at the Daily Dirt Diaspora, Kubrick U, The Mediavore, or anything other than "on this day" segments at the Useless Eater Blog. So I thought I'd throw up some filler content by doing short little bullet reviews of some of the movies that I've seen which I think are worth commenting on, one way or the other. So, in absolute random sequence and in no way related to the order in which I watched them, here are my thoughts on some of the movies, great and small, that I've recently watched! - Jerky

The Childhood of a Leader ~ This is "one of those" movies... the kind that really wowed me, but which I suspect will resonate powerfully with just a few, while the majority fart into their couch cushions and wonder what the hell they just watched. Which is too bad, really, because this is a top-notch thriller with one of the best musical scores of the new millennium, courtesy of Scott Walker, of Walker Brothers fame.

The story is deceptively simple, and rooted in real world history. Following the end of the First World War, an American ambassador, his French speaking wife and their young son are temporarily relocated to Europe to work on the Treaty of Versailles.The film's structure is based on a their son's transgressions, followed by his tantrums at being reprimanded, eventually leading to unexpected aftermath. These transgressions and tantrums become more brutal and disturbing as the film goes on.

If you do start in on this one, please do try to stick with it, because even though it feels as though the film is going to end without revealing anything, there does come a moment of shock revelation as the story veers with self-assurance into speculative fiction territory. One of my favorite films of 2018 so far.
***


The Bar ~ Spain's most prolific and adventurous genre director Alex de la Iglesia strikes again! Unfortunately, this time, the director of such classics as Perdita Durango, Day of the Beast, Accion Mutante, and The Last Circus doesn't have much to work with. Essentially a knock-off of the instant classic Spanish rage virus film [REC], only set in a small corner bar instead of a large, spooky apartment block The Bar swiftly succumbs to the limitations of its setting, not to mention the irrational and occasionally inexplicable decisions Iglesia is forced to have his characters make, simply to keep the plot moving forward. Despite being a fan of Iglesia's work in general, I'd recommend you give this one a miss. Go watch [REC] again, instead, and follow it up with one of Iglesia's better films (like any of the ones I mentioned above). 
***


The Shape of Water ~ As much as I love Guillermo Del Toro, and as much as I enjoyed this humanistic ode to the beauty of the broken ones, this lovingly crafted homage to the hypnotizing make-believe of old Hollywood, this exploration of deeply flawed people at an even more flawed time, the best of them trying and occasionally succeeding to make family and happiness where and however they can... I still couldn't help but think Dunkirk got robbed. And I'm not even a Nolan fan!
***


Thor: Ragnarok ~ A big hit with both critics and casual audiences, I have a feeling that time will not be kind to the third entry in Marvel's Thor cinematic saga, if only because of the decision to turn what should have been a somber, emotionally devastating event -- Ragnarok, the total destruction of Thor's homeworld of Asgard, including the grizzly deaths of numerous beloved friends and fellow warriors -- into a series of sight gags and mediocre jokes.

The formerly noble citizens of Asgard are here reduced to homely, obese, whiny, simple-minded, helpless fools who are in constant need of saving. Contrast this to the unironic celebration of "hotep" wish fulfillment tropes that Wakanda and its citizens embodied only a few months later in Black Panther, and it's not difficult to see how some alt-right bozos might have gotten the impression that there's something more than coincidence behind the joke-ification of Norse mythology, gussied up in Jack Kirby-esque comic book science-fiction flare though it may be, in Ragnarok.

Is it fun? Sure. Director Taika Waititi, who helmed the awesome vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows, does a more than decent job of crafting a cohesive narrative out of the disparate elements he's been given to play with. It was great seeing The Hulk, who's mostly been wasted since the first Avengers flick. And Jeff Goldblum being Jeff Goldblum is always a treat. But I can't help but wonder what could have been.
***


IT ~ Written at the height of horror-meister Stephen King's cocaine habit, the novel IT is mostly remembered for its length, the TV miniseries it spawned (featuring Tim Curry), and one of the most inappropriate endings in contemporary popular literature (a 13-year-old girl pulling a train of 'tweens in a sewer?!). Now that the first part of the cinematic version of IT has turned out to be a surprise late summer blockbuster in 2017 -- and that was without the benefit of Tim Curry's memorable turn as Pennywise the Clown -- maybe it will be remembered for something more. With the arrival of Part 2 next year, we'll know more.

To be honest, I don't really have much to say about this particular flick. I enjoyed it, for whatever that's worth, but it was mostly empty movie calories. The jump scares jumped, the rush scares rushed, there were a few genuinely freaky moments, but it was ultimately all so cliche'd and bound up in shopworn horror tropes that it's hard to get too enthused over the end results. It would probably be a really great movie to play in the background during a Halloween party, though, I'll give it that much.

***


Tommy ~ If you haven't seen Tommy yet, then what the Hell are you waiting for?! Get out there, find a copy and watch the damn thing! it's a goddamn rock opera masterpiece, with one of the most compelling plot lines in the history of prog! The music is great, the guest spots are great, the imagery is great (thanks Ken Russell!), Roger Daltry's performance is great, as are those of Ann Margaret and Oliver Reed... For a long time, this movie suffered a lot of hate, but NO MORE! Let its myriad charms wash over you and know the feeling of liberation that comes with playing pinball when you're deaf, dumb and blind!
***


Mom and Dad ~ Selma Blair and Nick Cage star as a typical, upwardly mobile middle class mom and dad with two kids and an Asian housekeeper. One day, the whole town is inundated with a signal that makes parents fall prey to an overwhelming rage and a need to destroy their own children (and ONLY their own children... other people's kids, they couldn't care less). Works both as gripping horror / black comedy AND as a bracing satire of the increasingly unbridgeable generational divide. Cage and Blair are both superlative, giving it their all for every second they're on the screen. A future classic. But, yeah, trigger warnings galore. 

"MAMMON" A GRAPHIC NOVEL BY MICHAEL HAGUE


With Dark Horse's recent release of renowned fantasy illustrator Michael Hague's millennia-sweeping Decadent/Gothic epic vampire graphic novel Mammon, a new high water mark for illustrated horror has been set, and I imagine it will be a long time before it's bested.

Simultaneously beautiful and brutal, Hague's narrative begins in the early 1920's, following a journalist, Mr Meeks, whose obsession with vampires brings him to the attention of a reclusive, wealthy, Eastern European aristocrat who promises to reveal all he knows about the subject, as long as Meeks agrees to trust him unconditionally. Anxious for adventure, Meeks eventually meets his mysterious benefactor, who goes by the name Mammon.

To reveal more about how Mammon unfolds would rob the reader of the great pleasure of the story's unfolding. Suffice it to say that Meeks soon becomes Mammon's amanuensis/apprentice, and has to reckon with his host's bizarre double-transgression, which includes an absolutely twisted conversion story in which monsters formerly in league with Satan embrace the power of Christ... but on their own, incomprehensibly vile terms.

.So, if you've ever wondered what a full-fledged graphic novel by, say, 19th century Decadent Satanic fin-de-sciecle artist Felicien Rops might have looked like -- put together in a beautiful hardcover package, with the greatest attention paid to aesthetics -- wonder no more. Mammon is a top notch entry in a genre you probably didn't know you needed in your life. Serious horror aficionados owe it to themselves to reckon with this work on both the literary and artistic levels. Hague has produced a masterpiece.

Monday, July 30, 2018

ANDY KINDLER'S STATE OF THE INDUSTRY SET AT JUST FOR LAUGHS 2018!

Every year, I look forward to hearing stand up comic Andy Kindler deliver his "State of the Industry" set at Montreal's Just For Laughs comedy festival, wherein he gives a roast-style assessment of what things are like in the world of professional comedy. Thanks to Vulture.com and Soundcloud, you can listen to this year's edition, delivered this past Friday, below.



Saturday, July 28, 2018

SUBLIMINAL DEMON IN NEW TRAILER FOR 'GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS'?


Spotted by Twitter's @EuzebTusk, one spooky-looking motherfucker, who writes: 

Am I the only one who caught this? What is it... Godzuzu?! Also, if it's supposed to be an 'ancient' location, then why does it appear to be taking place deep underground?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

THE TRIAL OF TIM HEIDECKER IS A COMIC MASTERPIECE

Easily the finest moment in American comedy for the year 2017 was the trial of the People of California versus Timothy Richard Heidecker in the matter of 20 cases of second degree murder during the Electric Sun Desert Music Festival. Of course it was midwifed by the mad geniuses of [adult swim].

This is some next level stuff on so many fronts. For an overview of this deep dive/long game semi-improvised comedy project, check out Den of Geek's take. And then, once you've familiarized yourself with the background, enjoy the full trial, right here or on Youtube.


Friday, March 16, 2018

HORRORBABBLE'S READING OF "THE YELLOW WALLPAPER"

One of the greatest tales of terror ever penned, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's early feminist short story The Yellow Wallpaper is one of the most bone-chilling stories you're likely to read. Why not have it read to you by the lovely folks at HorrorBabble?


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

LA-BAS, BY JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS


First published in Satanism-mad Paris, France, in 1891, Joris-Karl Huysmans' La-Bas -- frequently translated into English as Down There or The Damned -- is one of the key texts of the fin-de-sciecle literary movement, and belongs on the reading list of anyone interested in the occult's influence on the arts, and vice versa.  It also happens to be a cracking good read, which accounts for its inclusion in self-styled British occult expert Dennis Wheatley's venerable 70's paperback collection, The Library of the Occult.

La Bas was a huge success upon its release, and to this day remains Huysmans' second most popular work, second only to his popular Decadent masterpiece A Rebours (translated into the English as Against Nature), which itself was one of Oscar Wilde's favorite works, and is also extremely entertaining despite (or because of) all its over-the-top darkness and under-the-bottom cynicism.

I was planning on writing a full review to serve as a primer to La Bas, explaining its structure to any interested readers, but the introduction included in the Wheatley Library edition says so much of what I wanted to convey, I may as well just reproduce it here in its entirety:
The majority of British readers will be annoyed by the first chapter of this book and wonder what on earth it is all about; so a word of explanation is necessary. 
In France, in the latter part of the last century, intellectuals were crazily absorbed in a bitter controversy between two schools of literary thought – the Romantics and the Realists. The idealistic novels of Victor Hugo were representative of the former: the descriptions of kitchen sinks and prostitution in Emile Zola’s works representative of the latter. People even fought duels on the question; and it is about it that the two characters are arguing. 
But be of good cheer, reader. That does not last long. We are soon intrigued by particulars of women being visited nightly by incubuses and priests indulging in sexual perversions. It is, in fact, upon his accounts of Satanism in this book Down There (spiritual Hell) that Joris Karl Huysmans earned his right to a permanent place in the forefront of writers on the occult. 
He was born in Paris in 1848, became one of the first Realist writers then, overcome by morbidity, turned to religion and, after becoming a lay-brother of the Benedictines, died in 1907. 
The book embodies three inter-related subjects.
  1.  The author, Durtal’s, conversations with his friend Doctor des Hermies – mostly held over evening meals up in the tower of St. Sulpice, where their host, Carhaix, is the bell-ringer.
  2.  The history, written by Durtal, of Joan d’Arc’s protector, Gilles de Rais, which gives a very full account of the hideous manner in which the handsome young Marshal of France slaughtered scores of kidnapped children for his sexual gratification; and :—
  3.  Durtal’s affair with Madame Chantelouve. It would be difficult to find a more realistic piece of writing than this last. The man who, having become disgusted by sex has given it up for several years against his will is attracted to this strange, beautiful woman who enjoys him in her dreams but is reluctant to give herself physically; then, under her cold exterior is discovered to be a raging demon of lust.
The author’s preoccupation with Gilles de Rais’s lascivious brutalities begets in him the urge to find out if similar satanic practices are still performed; so he persuades Madame Chantelouve to take him to the house of a notorious renegade priest named Canon Docre. Together they witness there the celebration of a Black Mass, and few finer descriptions of this obscene ritual have ever been written.
So there you go. I recommend it heartily, but watch out! Chapter 11 is insanely brutal and disturbing, as Huysmans refuses to let the reader off the hook when it comes to describing in vivid, grisly detail Gilles de Rais' heart-stopping brutalities against the most innocent of victims. This is an "old book" that retains its power to shock.

One final note, the edition pictured at the top of this post has a gloriously grotesque but still beautiful cover painting by the Belgian Satanic artist Felicien Rops, who has painted some of the more evocative images of surrealist decadence ever committed to canvas.

La Bas has long since passed out of copyright, so all you cheapos out there can download a free online version from this here list, which features copies in every file format you could want.

Monday, January 22, 2018

BLACK MIRROR SEASON 4 ~ BLACK MUSEUM


The final episode of the fourth season of Black Mirror, "Black Museum" is set up to be a sort of  counterpoint to the magnificent "White Christmas" special that aired between the second and third seasons (and which is included as part of season three on Netflix). They're both longer than normal episodes, and both feature multiple storylines, with a wraparound narrative that underpins the final of three tales told. Unfortunately, this is a juxtaposition that does "Black Museum" no favors.

Not that it's a bad episode, or even a mediocre one. It's quite good actually, with only a few minor quibbles (about which more later). It's just that "White Christmas" is so fantastic, it's a bad idea to invite comparisons to it unless you're damn sure you've smashed a home run. And while "Black Museum" has a few intriguing ideas and some deeply disturbing moments, a home run, it isn't. For one thing, it's definitely the preachiest episode of the series, and is sorely lacking in the ambiguity that distinguishes the best Black Mirror episodes.

"Black Museum" revolves around an encounter between Nish, a solitary cross-country traveler, and Rolo Haynes, the owner and manager of the Black Museum, a sort of reliquary for technological artifacts of ill repute. As Rolo guides Nish through the exhibits, he regales her with their lurid backstories, about which he happens to have first-hand knowledge.

There are three stories in all, with the first being the best by far. The fact that it was adapted from a short story by Penn Jillette is surprising, but it certainly helps to explain its descent into extreme perversion. The second story, featuring a married couple's doomed attempt to share a single consciousness, feels like a more tongue-in-cheek replay of the second segment from "White Christmas", and is the weakest of the three. The final, wraparound story goes for broke in terms of cruelty, sadism, injustice and revenge, and ends up falling flat.

If Easter egg hunting is your game, then "Black Museum" offers fan service a-plenty, with callbacks to at least half (and probably more) of Black Mirror's 19 episodes. Aside from that, I'd place this episode squarely in the middle of season four, quality-wise, and it leaves me worried that Brooker and company might be running out of ideas.

Don't get me wrong! I'm still holding out hope for future seasons. But, perhaps an infusion of fresh blood in the form of new writers is called for?

BLACK MIRROR SEASON 4 ~ METALHEAD


In the penultimate episode of the fourth season of Black Mirror, three survivors of an unidentified near future civilizational collapse are scavenging for items to help ease a dying friend's suffering, when they accidentally activate a terrifying, unstoppable, four-legged security drone that is equally adept at problem-solving and improvising as it is at committing brutal, cold-blooded murder.

"Metalhead", the first Black Mirror episode to be shot entirely in black and white, is also the closest the series has come so far to producing an all-out horror movie, with season three's "Playtest" being the only other episode to come close. The episode's genre bona-fides are bolstered by the decision to make extensive use of needle-drops from Penderecki--instantly recognizable from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining--in the score.

Maxine Peake is excellent as Bella, the only character to survive the initial heist-gone-bad, but the real star here is the drone, or "Dog", which ruthlessly hunts Bella down after making short work of her partners, Clarke and Anthony. Its appearance and movements are partially based on robots designed by Boston Dynamics, online videos of which gave Brooker the idea for this episode in the first place.


While the real-world robots in the above video have a certain goofy charm, there's nothing cute about the Dogs in "Metalhead", which seem to have escaped from the deepest, darkest canyon at the bottom of the Uncanny Valley. Imagine if a mad scientist crossed a pit-bull with a giant hissing cockroach, then gave it a 9mm revolver, heat vision, a GPS tracking system, a functional IQ of 200+, no morals, and every tool it needs to interface effectively with every current real world technology, and you begin to get a sense of what poor Bella is up against.

I've seen some reviewers complain about the lack of backstory in "Metalhead"; how we're given no clues as to what happened to make the world such a mess. Personally, I think this works in the episode's favor. Somewhat similarly to "White Bear" from season two, "Metalhead" is more experiential than it is speculative. It takes you for a ride... and what a wild ride it is.

In keeping with its formal approach and minimalist tone, "Metalhead" is also the shortest episode of the entire series, coming in at a tight 38 minutes. Taut and trim, there isn't an ounce of flab on this feral, unforgiving episode, which for me is one of the best of the season, second only to "ArkAngel".

Sunday, January 21, 2018

BLACK MIRROR SEASON 4 ~ HANG THE D.J.


Here's how I think Charlie Brooker came up with the idea for the fourth episode in his Black Mirror anthology series: "Hang the DJ".

One night, he takes his wife out to see Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, and they both enjoy it immensely. Afterward, Brooker starts wondering whether he can tell a similar story, about the ways in which we human beings struggle in our quest to find and be with the best possible life-mate, for his Black Mirror audience. Yes, this is fertile ground indeed, he thinks. But then, he wonders how he might be able to distinguish his story from Lanthimos' film, which has developed a substantial cult of admirers since its release (a cult that includes your humble blogger)? And that's when he hits upon the idea of making his story the fourth season's "San Junipero"... the "feel good" story of the season, in other words.

And that's how "Hang the DJ" was conceived! Or, at least, it might be. I don't know; I'm just guessing here. What I do know, however, is that "Hang the DJ", which has nothing to do with executions or radio presenters, definitely is this season's most light-hearted, uplifting offering.

Amy and Joe are an instantly likable, fashionably interracial couple who are both experiencing their first preordained relationship in The System, which appears to be an extremely thorough and exacting program designed to pair people off with their best possible romantic partner. This all takes place within the confines of a village of lakeside chalets surrounded by an inordinately tall barrier wall that keeps the outside world at bay while participants get to know each other in every sense, including the Biblical. While taking part in The System, participants have access to Coach, a sort of personalized Smart Phone that helps guide them through the process.

Seeing as they are both each other's first coupling, and their time together so short, Amy and Joe decide to forgo sex, a decision they both jokingly confess to regretting in their final moments together. After they depart, both cycle through a variety of relationships of varying duration, including some that go on for months. All the while, Amy and Joe keep bumping into each other at public events, and it's obvious they would both very much like a second chance at being paired up.

Of course, when this wished-for second chance comes to pass, one of them succumbs to temptation and accidentally breaks a rule they didn't even know existed, thereby giving this season its most human, relatable, emotionally resonant moment.

Beautifully acted and handsomely mounted, "Hang the DJ" is that rarest of things: A Black Mirror episode that is also makes for a perfect "Neflix and chill" date-night watch.