Friday, November 1, 2019

MEDIA DIARY ~ FILMS, OCT 31, 2019

Yes, I know, these should all be horror films in honor of Halloween, right? Well, screw that, man. Just because I mostly watch horror movies, that doesn't mean I don't watch other kinds of movies, too. So now, without further ado, here are my bullet and bullet-ish reviews for a bunch of movies from a bunch of different eras, in a bunch of different genres, just as a way for me to remind myself that I've seen them. Let's go!


HORROR NOIRE ~ This 2019 documentary is currently only available to see on the excellent horror-themed specialty streaming service Shudder.com, which I hereby recommend to one and all. Shudder is currently offering a free trial offer, and the monthly fee is ridiculously affordable, so why not give it a try? Especially considering the quality of some of their exclusive offerings, of which Horror Noire, as I mentioned above, is one. 

Basically, this doc covers the arc of Black people’s portrayal and participation in horror film and fandom. The filmmakers and their many interview subjects (an impressive roster of talents indeed) guide us through every period, starting at the beginning of film history, when slavery was still within living memory for millions of Americans and the only Black people you would ever see on film were white people in Blackface. We then move through the days when Blacks were seen as either monstrous or as comic relief, through the earliest DIY days of an emerging Black cinema, past the first inklings of social awareness and into the revolutionary spirit of the Civil Rights era, which brings us to the single most pivotal moment in all of Black Horror cinema: George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead

That’s when things really get complicated… and truly interesting. As you can imagine, this film tells a story that is heartbreaking, enraging, thought-provoking, and ultimately inspirational and cautiously optimistic, culminating as it does with the paradigm-shattering Oscar-winning Jordan Peele film Get Out. A great documentary, and essential viewing for fans of horror, as well as students of Black cinema and art in general.


THE INFLUENCE ~ Although it trods upon familiar territory, this 2019 Spanish language offering—based on a novel by Ramsey Campbell, one of the world’s greatest living horror writers—the acting and production values are sufficiently good, and the scares sufficiently creepy and earned, that The Influence qualifies as elevated genre fare. And while it’s true that the story (which veers significantly far afield of the source novel) shares much with the basic plot of the 2017 masterpiece, Hereditary, which is a comparison that does The Influence no favors at all… there's still enough dread and suspense to keep even the most casual horror fan's attention throughout. The addition of a few really good, high quality freak-out scenes—and some subliminal elements destined to set your short hairs on end—make this an excellent choice for the Halloween season. Speaking of which, why don't we go ahead and just change the name of October to Halloween already?!


DOLOMITE IS MY NAME ~ My expectations were running high when I saw the first previews for Eddie Murphy’s supposed “comeback” film, especially when I learned that it was going to be a biopic of legendary Blaxploitation sensation Rudy Ray Moore, aka Dolomite. I first fell in love with Eddie Murphy, as so many of my generation did, on Saturday Night Live, and I’ve continued to be an admirer, even through the years when, let’s face it, Eddie became sort of a parody of himself. I mean, everybody knows how cringe “Party All the Time” was, but how many among you have heard “Love’s All Right”? I have, because I’m a glutton for punishment. 

Dolomite Is My Name, however, surpassed my expectations. It's funny, yes, with some truly inspired moments of true-to-life lunacy. But more importantly, it’s a beautiful, lovingly put together biopic that manages to focus on the tenderness, humanity, and sense of family, to the point where it shines brightly through the onslaught of misogynistic patter, cartoon violence and raunch that dominated the whole Dolomite act. 

Also, I admit to coming pretty close to tearing up when I saw that the movie was "Lovingly Dedicated to Charlie Murphy (1959-2017)", particularly as, at multiple times throughout my first viewing, I found myself thinking “Darkness would have loved this!” Dolomite Is My Name is a must-see for any Eddie Murphy fan, past or present, as well as anyone looking for just a really good movie in general.


MIDSOMMAR ~ Jesus Fucking Nailholes, is Midsommar ever good! The second film by Ari Aster, after his magnificent debut film Hereditary, is an absolute, unmitigated masterpiece. An instant classic. A glorious cinematic achievement on pretty much every conceivable level, right down to the sound design. Not only does Midsommar live up to the ridiculously high standard set by Aster’s first film... it exceeds them.

Once again, Aster provides a sophisticated philosophical meditation on the concepts of grief and loss, wrapped up in the garb of a highbrow "folk horror" film in the vein of The Wicker Man.  After a family tragedy, Dani accepts a halfhearted invitation by her boyfriend Christian to join him and his friends on a trip to Sweden, where they've been invited to attend a remote midsummer festival by their Swedish friend Pele. Christian has been meaning to end his relationship with Dani for a while now, but feels that he can’t, due to the massive loss she’s just suffered. 

So, it’s off to Sweden they go, with Christian’s fellow Anthropology PhD candidate Josh, their ne’er do well buddy Mark, and Pele, who originally hails from the village where the festival is taking place. The weirdness begins pretty much upon arrival, with free-flowing psychedelics, bizarre living arrangements, strange food, customs and traditions that serve to keep everyone at least slightly off balance for the duration. 

And that’s all you’re getting out of me. Just understand that no true horror connoisseur may skip this film and still consider themselves as such. Your future status as a genre know-it-all depends entirely upon your having seen, and grappled with, the monumental high-water mark that is Midsommar.


CAST A DEADLY SPELL ~ We’re going all the way back to 1991 for this ripe slice of cheezy noir! I’ve long wanted to see this movie, even if only because it stars Fred Ward as a hard boiled detective named H.P. Lovecraft, and it takes place in a late 1940’s world where humans co-exist with monsters and demons, and the use of magic, spells, potions and trinkets has become the norm. I suppose that makes Cast a Deadly Spell the cinematic ancestor of that Will Smith movie on Netflix, Bright

Try not to hold that against it though, because while Cast a Deadly Spell never takes itself too seriously, it holds back on the slapstick just enough to make the stakes actually feel like they count for something. That’s probably due in large part to the uniformly excellent cast, from Ward on down to the femme fatale, played by a so-young-it-hurts Julianne Moore, and Lovecraft’s dual nemeses, played by the always awesome genre stalwarts Clancy Brown and David Warner. 

The plot revolves around a stolen copy of the Necronomicon, and Yog-Sothoth makes an appearance, and other than the protagonist’s name, that’s about the full extent of the Lovecraft elements at play here. Still, it’s a really fun movie, which makes you wonder why it never got a DVD or Blu Ray release (only VHS so far, with one of the ugliest boxes you’ve ever laid eyes on). 

You can read more about the movie at Dan Stout's blog, if you’re interested. And if you know how to use torrents, Cast a Deadly Spell pops up semi-regularly at most of the preferred spots… but you’re gonna have to dig for it, like I did. 


ENEMY ~ The first time I watched Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 film Enemy, I did not like it. Like, at all. It seemed to me like a sort of anti-Dead Ringers, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing two characters that were, for all intents and purposes, barely differentiated (as opposed to the incredible dual performances Jeremy Irons gave in Chronenberg’s aforementioned film). 

Upon recently revisiting Enemy, I believe that, this time, I caught the method in the madness. I was also far more impressed by all the wonderful grace notes, including the incredible score, the deliberate pacing and floating camera work, the ingenious use of Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider sculpture as a motif representing… misogyny, perhaps? Or the ever-looming potential, the ever-creeping approach, of totalitarian tendencies in the Modernist remnant of our post-modern world? Both? 

As a Torontonian, I also really admired Villeneuve’s sense of both space and place, the way he shows us mostly empty public spaces—parking lots, parks, apartment lobbies—surrounded by the distant humming ribbons of highways packed bumper-to-bumper with omnipresent traffic. The looming beige and eggshell concrete. I can see how this film would make a really excellent companion piece to another Cronenberg film: Crash. Like Cronenberg did in that film, Villneuve really captures this city to a T. Very much recommended!


BLUE VELVET ~ I haven’t watched Blue Velvet since when it first came out on VHS, which I suspect was 1987. I didn’t much care for it at the time, but that’s probably because it flew way over my head. 

In the years since, I’ve become a great admirer of David Lynch’s work, both in film and on TV. This includes going back and reviewing his films, from Eraserhead, through Elephant Man and Dune, to Wild at Heart, then Lost Highway, that whole Twin Peaks thing, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. And yet, I’ve always managed to avoid going back to Blue Velvet. I think I might have been afraid of it, to be perfectly honest. 

Well, I recently set that wrong to rights, sitting down with Blue Velvet for the first time in decades and giving it my full, undivided attention. And guess what? It’s fucking great. And even though it still isn’t at the top of my list of personal favorites of his work, I can still see how it earned its reputation. 

Blue Velvet is really something different and distinct from anything that was being produced back then, walking a fine line between standard neo-noir and WTF?-level batshit insanity. If you haven’t seen it recently, and especially if you’ve never seen it, I urge you to pay Lumberton a visit and really see where, in a great many ways, the whole David Lynch Americana thing kicked off in earnest. 


BLUE MY MIND ~ Slow-moving, heavy-handed Swiss (I think) “coming of age” movie from 2017 that once again uses the metaphor of mermaids to signify a girl going through puberty. But that doesn’t explain why she keeps eating Mom’s goldfish! I mean, they’re cheap as chips, girl! Go buy your own! 

Anyway, I guess I sat through the whole thing without fast-forwarding, which I suppose says something for it. But I’m becoming less and less tolerant of kitchen sink type family dramas that gussy themselves up as tales of the supernatural or the otherworldly, just in the hopes of attracting the pre-existing audience for such fare. You can always tell when those elements are just tacked on, or when the filmmakers’ hearts aren’t really into it, and this film comes perilously close to being a case in point. 

Also, everyone involved in this deserves a hard spanking for that title alone. I mean, Blue My Mind?! Come the fuck on. The lead actress was pretty good, though.

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