Thursday, December 31, 2009

This Used To Be The Future, part 1 (50-36)



Andy Khouri has begun a blog-a-thon of sorts, inviting/daring his online friends and acquaintances to, per the graphic above, list, rank, and write about their favo(u)rite songs of the almost-completed decade.

Your proprietor's listening habits are less diverse and hungry than his cinematic ones, so I've opted to write about fifty songs, choosing a maximum of one song from an album (some albums would offer up to five compelling entries and a couple of also-rans for a top 100 list). Herewith is part one of the House of Sparrows' most precious play list, dated twenty-ought-ex.

50. Vagabondage, "Raise Your Glass"

Since this band is/are friends of mine, I’ll put this at the bottom of the list to dodge any complaints of a conflict of interest. Offering inherently singable choruses that are perfect for boozy pub shout-alongs, this song is absolutely timeless, and if there’s any justice it’ll survive its creators for generations.

49. Peaches, "I Feel Cream"

The airy vocals and minimal-disco synth riff make one long for the sexy grit of her earlier work, until the gorgeous rap over the bridge, with another synth swirling up under, shows us that she’s merely shifted gears.

48. Gwen Stefani, "Early Winter"

“Why do you act so stupid?/You know I’m always right” tells us that there are TWO reasons why this breakup’s happening, and the final chorus just nails us. A gorgeously produced and sung pop ballad.

47. Gorillaz, “5/4”

A triumphant, tricky, but danceable riff, with beautifully sarcastic Albarn vocals. And then “SHE TURNED MY DAD ON/SHE MADE ME KILL MYSELF!” just kills me.

46. Sparks, “Let the Monkey Drive”

It’s just good advice.

45. Von Iva, “Do It!

A drums/analog keys/voice trio from San Francisco, staffed entirely by bad girls. Bex’s FAT synth riffs make this one the keeper, with the always-gutsy vocalist Jillian Iva just pelting it out. Makes me proud to live where I do.

44. Loretta Lynn, “Women’s Prison”

I’m still not sure if the glorious instrumental finish is simply Lynn’s resigned heroine’s ascent to heaven, or Jack White and the boys busting into the joint to save her. A killer track either way, as the man used to say.

43. The Fall, “Theme from ‘Sparta F.C.’”

WE HAVE TO PAY FOR EVERYTHING BUT SOME THINGS ARE FOR FREE! (HEY!)
WE LIVE! ON! BLOOD! WE ARE SPARTA F.C.! (HEY!)
ENGLISH CHELSEA FAN THIS IS YOUR LAST GAME (HEY!)
WE’RE NOT GLATASARY WE’RE SPARTA F.C.! (HEY!)

42. Einstuerzende Neubauten, “Sabrina”

Since busting through the scene in 1980 with metal-on-metal schaben, the boys from Berlin have grown a bit quieter with each album. Their 2000 disc, entitled (aptly enough) Silence is Sexy, opens with this nicely slow-burning number, the ambiguous but infectious chorus of which I found myself singing fairly often in my quieter, darker moments.

41. Brian Wilson, “Surf’s Up”

The whole SMiLE reconstruct just pummels you with good spirits, but the last half of this quieter piece, busting out with full-tilt ethereality, is the disc’s most transcendent moment.

40. The Hives, “Hate To Say I Told You So”

As it turns out, rock’n’roll didn’t need saving in 2000 after all, but those monochrome-clad boys from Sweden were so nice to volunteer.

39. Johnny Cash, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

The first four tracks of AMERICAN IV: THE MAN COMES AROUND sound like an enclosed narrative to me, with the title track offering an apocalyptic, scene setting prologue; “Hurt” showing a man undone by his life; “Give My Love To Rose” redeeming him at least in part by a scintilla of his humanity remembered; and then finally this track, which finds him rising the fuck up to take action. Cash’s voice is nearly shot, but dammit, the impulse is still there.

38. Painkiller, “Your Inviolable Freedoms”

Yes, a slightly different lineup assembled for the ambient dark thrash trio during John Zorn’s 50th birthday celebration. But Zorn and Laswell remained tight, the replacement of Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris with Chicago jazz percussionist Hamid Drake opened the band to more fluid expressionism (while sacrificing none of the Painkiller mandated heaviness), and the addition of wild card Mike Patton on vocals and other noises loaned the still-heavy group an out-there, positively psychedelic edge that I hadn’t heard in any Zorn recording. This sixteen-minute jam is the real deal.

37. Radiohead, “There There”

Yorke’s never sounded smaller and more urgent to me, surrounded by drums but cutting through. Your conscience.

36. Coldplay, “Lost!”

The organs and drums jump out of the fucking radio, and announce plainly that the band isn’t simply rewriting “Clocks” again. Producer Brian Eno’s keyboard shimmers swell up during the choruses, and Chris Martin’s non-semantic yowling at the end seals the deal.

SHERLOCK HOLMES

For weeks prior to reluctantly seeing it, your proprietor refused to call this anything but TONY STARK, STEAMPUNK DETECTIVE, but actually seeing the thing has turned me around a bit. It's my favorite Guy Ritchie film so far (though having hated all of the films of his that I'd seen, that's not saying much), a beautifully and tastefully designed piece of Hollywood steampunk, and graced with a fine pair of complementary lead performances by Messrs. DowneyJr. and Law. Quite pleasingly, Watson is played as a resourceful, not-unintelligent foil with a life and mind of his own, rather than the doltish idiot played back in the day by Nigel Bruce. There are worse films at the multiplex this holiday season, 'sall your proprietor's sayin'.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

ANNE TRUITT working/NEXT LEVEL

A surprisingly rich bounty of cinema awaits visitors to Washington D.C.'s Hirshhorn Museum - upstairs at the end of a gallery survey of work by the late sculptor Anne Truitt screens ANNE TRUITT working, by filmmaker Jem Cohen. The work captures Truitt working in two milieu, and against a soundtrack of Truitt's ruminations on her work Cohen frames her materials and sculptures in compelling vertical tableau (matching the upward thrust of Truitt's most remarkable sculptures). Each small shot is perfectly chosen, with materials taking on their own independent aesthetic life (jars of paint are labelled with the titles of the work they'll eventually color). I'm not certain how it would function independently, but at the end of the Hirshhorn's retrospective it offers a powerful summing up and expansion of the themes of Truitt's work and life, assimilated and expanded upon by a knowing, simpatico cinematic artist.



Downstairs, in the museum's tiny Black Box space, Phoebe Greenberg's remarkable, award-winning short NEXT LEVEL mesmerized and (in a few cases) sickened its audience, but its powerful and sensual parable of endless consumption was one of the more efficiently devastating short films your proprietor has ever seen. A cadre of aristocrats dine on a sumptuous and endless feast, accompanied by chamber musicians and attended by a corps of waiters, presided over by an ominous and all-knowing maitre d'. The descent of the feast (the exact depths of which must be seen to be believed) offered a knowing mirror to our own worst excesses, and a dire (though never pedantic) warning of their eventual outcome.

As is often the case in our nation's capital, the most compelling cinematic offerings are screening on gallery walls. The one-two punch offered by Cohen and Greenberg is the best double-feature running in D.C. right now, at no admission charge and of a combined running time of half an hour. Art films in many senses, and earnestly recommended by your proprietor.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

AVATAR

A highly random selection of thoughts. Spoilers likely:

--Some are arguing that the film is yet another of that hideous subset of Hollywood film in which a white male protagonist shows up to save a bunch of one-dimensional savages who can't help themselves against an encroaching threat. The movie's flawed, to be sure, but this argument is bullshit for a number of reasons: the natives in question are a rather well-thought out and explicated group, and indeed the hero winds up forsaking his humanity (including his very Whiteness) to pursue his destiny.

--No, the film's politics are unabashedly liberal, and as preachy and overstated as the case may be, it is a rare and pleasant thing to find a big-budget, effects-laden spectacular that has a coherent and humanistic point of view.

--That said, it goes a bit too far in the hippie-direction, with the Na'Vi's rituals clearly idealized human ones, rather than palpably alien ones. (The insipid heal-the-world score by James Horner doesn't help.)

--And though the film is a long one, it rushes through too many things. I'm particularly sad that Michelle Rodriguez winds up as collateral damage; she's a compelling actor when given material as strong as she is, and Cameron just loses sight of her here. All of the material is there to make Trudy Chacon a supporting hero per Han Solo or THE MATRIX's Captain Mifune: we see the beats of her character we never pause long enough to feel them.



In short, however, I enjoyed the experience of the film. Actually, seeing it on the bottom end of a double bill with UP IN THE AIR made for a compelling, two-pronged Hollywood assault on American society, so good times all around.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

all through the House

Your proprietor has been busy with his family this Christmas season, and shoveling the House out from under the snow that hit the East Coast last weekend. Spending time with the folks, watching various seasonal films, including John Carpenter's THE THING (Mom walked out, genuinely scared, about a half hour in) and Desplechin's UN CONTE DE NOEL.


Upon revisiting the latter, your proprietor is convinced that it's a genuine masterpiece, telling a tale of family and Christmas in fresh and revealing ways, creating a film that is unsentimental but moving, human and experimental. Brecht and Welles would have approved.

The street in front of the House was neither plowed nor salted, so our traveling will be tricky, but visits to other relatives await, as does the first white Christmas in recent memory.

Your proprietor and the other denizens of the House of Sparrows wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, and all of the joy and warmth the season represents.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

a wallflower at the Monster Ball

Prior to seeing Lady Gaga's performance at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium a couple of hours ago, I'd been skeptical about her music and her persona. There wasn't much to distinguish (to these ears, anyway) her music from what little else I was hearing from the contemporary pop scene. And as glossy and alluring as her glamperve visual aesthetic was (and is), I felt like she was limiting herself as an artist by fixating on her celebrity as her favorite subject. Though I was unwilling to risk purchasing one of her albums, I curiously and eagerly snagged a ticket (at three times what a CD would have cost) to tonight's performance.

Having experienced the woman's work full-tilt, my main reservation about Lady Gaga hasn't changed. The distorted visions of celebrity and fractured self-portraiture is fascinating, but they lack the emotional heft of, say, Ziggy Stardust (the David Bowie influence on LG has been widely discussed). Though Ziggy was an alien, a stranger in a strange world, he resonated with fans who recognized their own alienation within him. I am utterly convinced that Lady Gaga does adore and love her fans, and that her charitable work on behalf of homeless queer youth is motivated by a strong desire to shed a light on the plight of kids she recognizes as her own people. I honestly believe that if she'd open up and show her audience in her music what she has in common with them, the result would be truly powerful and resonant. But at times her stageself's monologues about her fans seemed narcissistic, an endless commentary on her own celebrity, appreciating their love, but ultimately keeping them at a distance. It is strange to me that her fanbase (all at least a decade younger than your proprietor) who have come of age in the age of information are willing to give so much of themselves to someone who holds them at arm's length.

...

That said.

The Monster Ball is an irresistible spectacle, even to one for whom its message wasn't intended. One tale related from the stage spoke of a critic who'd pigeonholed the singer as a writer of dance music and nothing more. But the tale was redundant in the context of the concert, in which her substantial musical talents were displayed in abundance:

--After several electronic, dance-driven numbers, Gaga sat at a piano for the ballad "Speechless," and the film screens lifted at the climax to reveal a living, breathing band who helped her just nail it.

--A rock-driven middle section reached a pummeling climax with "The Fame," with Gaga taking the stage in a gold Monroe/Pharaoh getup and belting out a commanding and assured rock lead vocal.



--Finally, a downright operatic performance of "Paparazzi" (my favorite of her singles) closed the main set.

I remain unconvinced that Gaga has become (as at least one acquaintance has called her) "the female Bowie". Yet. But I remain positive that there's some truly great work ahead of her, and can not wait to hear her iterations of Tin Machine and/or 1.OUTSIDE. And when (not if)Lady Gaga creates something as powerful and timeless as "Heroes", your proprietor will be delighted, and utterly unsurprised.



(For the record, the centrifuge thing in the actual concert was bigger, spun in all directions, and was a very sexy piece of hardware, indeed.)

(Your proprietor thanks Andrea Wakely for finding the gold image above.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL

1983ish. College student Samantha is looking to get her own place. The ideal apartment is within her reach but out of her price range. Salvation seems to come in the form of an odd but lucrative babysitting gig at a house outside Samantha's college town. After getting a ride from her best friend, and negotiating terms with the quietly bizarre couple who live in the house, Samantha is left alone with her unseen charge.

High above, a lunar eclipse.



Shooting on film and recreating a more-than-convincing 1980s milieu (right down to a pizza parlor whose wares your proprietor could practically TASTE), writer/director/editor Ti West has crafted a meticulously old-school, low-budget horror flick. And yet for all of the intelligent filmmaking and storytelling on display, it doesn't serve any ultimate point. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is happily free of ironic campiness, and also steers clear of genre commentary now familiar in modern grindhouse exercises. In the end, I felt like I'd sat through a genuine, mid-80s horror programmer, of its period but undistinguished. West sticks to his guns right down to the ending, which may have been powerful in 1983 but today is cliched, too-familiar, and predictable. West has succeeded in his goal, no question, but there's nothing personal in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. There's energy and personality, but no soul. Without that investment, I have to wonder why West bothered in the first place.

...

But there's a scene I keep coming back to. It's none of the baby steps taken toward the film's denouement, none of the layers that get peeled away to reveal more of the mystery. It's a scene about halfway through, in which Samantha, installed in the house, bored and (she believes) unwatched, throws on her Walkman (yes, an actual Walkman), and dances through various rooms and hallways to The Fixx's "One Thing Leads To Another." Jocelin Donahue's built a thoroughly relatable, and likable, heroine up to this point, but somehow it's this scene that tips Samantha over into our sympathies. It's a breezily lyrical moment that, unlike similar scenes in other movies, feels necessary, and it lingers long after the film's well-realized but programmatic thrills quickly fade. And the Fixx track sounded just dandy on a theatre sound system.

Reservations notwithstanding, I'm eager to see West's next picture, THE INNKEEPERS, the tale of the last employees remaining at a haunted hotel.

This review tweaked for the Final Girl Film Club, run as always by the awesome and amazing Stacie Ponder.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!


(Reluctant though your proprietor is to recycle old work, the House has been a little dusty of late. It turns out this review, originally written in May 2007, is timely for a number of reasons: in addition to the Yuletide angle, SNDN3-BWO! has just been released for the first time on DVD.)

So an interest in the work of Monte Hellman (cult filmmaker from the 60s and 70s, producer of RESERVOIR DOGS), prompted by his mention in materials relating to GRINDHOUSE (and possibly, in retrospect, his section of the anthology horror film TRAPPED ASHES), sent me to the Chicago Reader website. To my surprise, I find that a) he directed SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!, and b) Jonathan Rosenbaum reviewed it. Rosenbaum gives only scant details (I doubt he watched it), but his note that "at least one Hellman fanatic I know swears by it" was all I needed. I noted that Bill Moseley stars in it.

I immediately called my friend K, whose affection for the work of Mr. Moseley is legendary. K (who can't possibly have expected anyone she knew to ask her out of the blue about this particular movie) tells me yes, I have it and yes, come on over and watch it. So I did and we did.

Ricky Caldwell (played in this chapter by Moseley), the Santa Claus killer from the first two films, lies comatose, undisturbed save for the experiments of a scientist (Richard Beymer) studying ESP. His subject, a blind woman named Laura (Samantha Scully), accidentally rouses Caldwell, who soon escapes the hospital and follows her to her grandmother's house on Christmas Eve.

There's a kernel of a solid slasher story there, setting up a variety of incidents familiar to horror fans (the movies brought to mind along the way are as diverse as FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD and WAIT UNTIL DARK). Happily, Hellman has seized upon the most glorious unspoken rule of low-budget filmmaking: when you have no money, and are unburdened by high expectations, shoot for the fucking moon.

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP is Hellman's most famous film, the story of a trio of drivers racing each other cross-country. But the drivers get distracted constantly along the way, by hitchhikers, by the landscape, by whatever Hellman wanted to film. Though the assignment doesn't seem like a plum one to any filmmaker of an auteuristic bent, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3 is every bit as meandering and discursive - what Dave Kehr wrote of RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND ("almost perversely devoid of action...a study of space, silence, and passing time.") is as true of SN,DN3.

For about a quarter of the time, Hellman plays to tropes of the genre (with a couple of cheerfully sick jokes placed along the way to the denouement in which Final Girl Laura squares off against Caldwell); the rest of the time he's merrily subverting them, in a number of fascinating and funny ways. He mines Scully's psychic abilities and blindness for some beautifully abstract sequences early on, some of them dreams (a stark chase through a white corridor, with Santa Claus popping up in full regalia), some set in reality (as in a beautiful close up of Scully that traps us in Laura's blindness), but all more stark and artful than you'd expect to see in any second-rate slasher. We watch Laura's grandmother baste a turkey for about a full minute. Police detective Robert Culp tears down a highway in hot pursuit of Caldwell, but pulls over to take a leak. Laura Harring begins to strip down for a trademark shower scene, but all we're shown of it is an intimate, sweetly non-prurient moment with her boyfriend (played by Eric Da Re, the third David Lynch actor to appear in this).

Just about all of the actors in the movie have at least one little moment. Even Carlos Palomino's truck driver is given a couple of minutes to rant at Caldwell about why he hates Christmas - so distracted is he by his Yuletide ire that he doesn't notice that Caldwell's brain is visible through a glass jar. Hellman's generosity extends to Moseley, always an actor who gives his all to the most insane roles. He largely plays Caldwell as a blank slate - a truly alien shot has him hitchhiking in front of a road sign wearing nothing but a hospital gown and brain jar. But he has a beautifully crystalline moment sitting at a dinner table, given a Christmas dinner, a glimmer of some long-dead warmth playing on his face.

How the hell did this movie get made? It feels like a prank waiting to happen - that some Z-movie producer put it together, demanding enough gore to put in a trailer and not caring about the rest, leaving it to the director to fill the remaining running time however he saw fit (and being blissfully unaware of that director's playful, existential tendencies). From what I've read, Hellman's pretty modest about any kind of auteurism ("...any thoughts about doing something different were for our own personal satisfaction. We never thought that anybody would ever notice," he says of RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND and THE SHOOTING), but there's so much crazy stuff going on in SN,DN3 that it can't be by accident. There are just enough moments in the thing to fill a solid slasher trailer - the rest is downright visionary, absurd, empty, hilarious, painful, wonderful. It jibes with what little I knew about Hellman's work, and makes me hungry for more.

(Many, many thanks to K.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

lips of a murderer



For some reason the eyes and mouth of Chad Lowe make your proprietor suspect that he's secretly a serial killer.

quiet here, yes

Your proprietor was dismayed to hear over the weekend that porn auteur David Aaron Clark had died. Though I'd never met him, we had a few friends in common, and he was a mainstay in certain pervy art circles in San Francisco through the late 90s. Since moving to Los Angeles he'd become an award-winning director of erotic films, most recently PURE, a heavily fetishized, L.A.-transplanted take on the story of Sada Abe.

He was the kind of person you assumed would always be around, making his distinctive work. His passing leaves a void.



(photo by Michael Manning.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

THE EYE

Never saw the remake, never will. But this promo image amuses the HELL out of your proprietor.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ALIEN: RESURRECTION

Your proprietor loves this fucking movie, and doesn't care who knows it. Go ahead and tell your buddy Joss I said so. Here are ten reasons why.

--Each of the films in the series has its own identity: A:R is just as solid an arthouse fantasia as ALIEN was a horror film, ALIENS an action film, and ALIEN3 an AIDS allegory.

--A murky and violent sexuality runs through the whole series - maybe it took a French director (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) to inject a level of knowing kink, in a story in which the aliens' nemesis finally matches their predatory sexuality.



--Speaking of which, the sheer physicality Sigourney Weaver brings to the cloned, aliened-up Ripley is simply awesome. Too few actors get the chance to be as all-out HOT as Weaver is in just the basketball scene.

--Brad Dourif gives great mad scientist.

--A dream team of actors give their all as the crew of the Betty, including captain Michael Wincott, staff lunkhead Ron Perlman (not someone with whom you want to fuck, but you have to love his grammar), and engineer Dominique Pinon. Winona Ryder does what the script calls for her to do as well, so leave her alone.

--The aliens have NEVER looked better, nor has any photographer lingered on them as seductively as Darius Khondji. If Helmut Newton teamed with HR Giger to make an Aliens movie, I doubt it would have looked much different.

--The scene where Pinon quietly, patiently builds a shotgun from his wheelchair as certain death draws near.

--The nightmarish underwater chase scene - Weaver was terrified of doing it, and claims that she let Ripley take over to get the job done.

--The gooey and spectacular revenge the guy gets even as an alien is bursting from his chest. Magnificent.

--The heartbreaking look on the hybrid's face when it realizes that Mommy has betrayed it.

Perhaps in response to the austerity of the previous film (which has its own rewards), ALIEN: RESURRECTION is filled with quirky moments (and many more creatures). The ALIEN series offers a strong model of franchise filmmaking, allowing gifted filmmakers to offer their own unique slant on the conflict between one woman and a rapacious race of predators, and if one gets beyond a need to place one entry over the others, there's plenty within ALIEN: RESURRECTION that allows it to stand confidently among the films that preceded it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

THE BOX

In 1976, a suburban Virginia couple in somewhat dire financial crisis are given an apparatus by a mysterious and mutilated stranger. If they push the button on the apparatus, they will be given one million dollars, and someone unknown to them will die.



Your proprietor was skeptical about this, a two-hour adaptation of a short story by Richard Matheson, courtesy DONNIE DARKO/SOUTHLAND TALES director Richard Kelly. Though it is a minor film, it's a solid yarn, pleasantly (and, given the Matheson connection, perhaps unsurprisingly) TWILIGHT ZONE-ish in tone. Kelly has filled out the feature's final two-thirds with an escalating, fantastic plot and many mysterious incidents, but each one is explained effectively (unlike the sprawling SOUTHLAND TALES mythology, the story's well-contained here). Cameron Diaz is solid as the suburban wife/mother/teacher, and one imagines that her involvement helped get the thing made, but the movie belongs to Frank Langella, who brings gravitas and vulnerability to the crucial role of Steward. I'm not sure there's as evocative and ultimately moving a character on screen these days.

As your proprietor is not in the business of spoiler-dealing (and there's plenty to give away here), I do encourage you to see this thing for yourself. For all of the conspiratorial metaphysics, there's an old-school morality tale being told in THE BOX, delivered in a style and with a grace that Shyamalan's few remaining fans would appreciate.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

MUSASHI: DREAM OF THE LAST SAMURAI




A fanciful animated documentary (possibly the first anime documentary, though your proprietor hesitates to presume), MUSASHI: THE DREAM OF THE LAST SAMURAI offers an animated recreation of some of the key battles in the history of Musashi Miyamoto, one of Japan's most renowned and influential swordsmen.

Though directed by Mizuho Nishibuko, the auteur to whom this film is being credited is writer Mamoru Oshii, writer/director of the GHOST IN THE SHELL films and various other anime and live-action projects. Though Oshii had said that he wanted this film to be unlike any other, it's limited by some of his choices. Musashi's various accomplishments are given strong context within military and Japanese history, but the cute on-screen narrators (an SD historian and his clumsy but well-meaning female assistant) often distract from the material at hand (an interesting choice, given the excision of the comic relief from Oshii's GHOST IN THE SHELL adaptation).

Throughout the film I was put in mind of Peter Greenaway's REMBRANDT'S J'ACCUSE, a visually-loaded documentary outlining various clues to the criminal conspiracy captured in Rembrandt's famous painting The Nightwatch. Oshii's film traverses its terrain in ways very similar to Greenaway's: both filmmakers use similar strong visual tactics and effective dramatization to explore their subjects. It's curious that the tone of Greenaway's film is more strident than Oshii's, considering the patriotic agenda of the latter. Both films are open-ended, but Oshii's film stops practically in mid-sentence - it reminds us that Musashi's swordsmanship was a deciding factor in a 20th century battle, but offers no detail on which battle.

MUSASHI does offer some intriguing historical analysis of its subject. Better still, unsurprisingly, are its powerfully-depicted action scenes, including Musashi's storied battle with Sasaki Kojiro on Ganryu Island. I'd be intrigued to see Oshii launch another anime documentary - perhaps it will finish the job that this film, alas, only starts.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU




Eleven love stories shot in New York, each by a different filmmaker and none following the same arc. The intersection of different lives, of souls on their way to their respective destinies, feels absolutely true to the spirit of New York, and every connection (be it brief or lifelong) feels like a miracle. Just as miraculous is some of the talent and artistry on display, with foreign filmmakers working effectively in non-native English and Hollywood artists riding the challenge to new heights (I never thought I'd love something directed by Brett Ratner, but his prom night segment is a warm and sexy gem; similarly, Shia LeBoeuf is downright luminous as a gentle valet seeing to the needs of a retired diva).

The film is a vast improvement over the more varied but less consistent PARIS, JE T'AIME. Though clear favorites emerged in that film, the individual episodes of NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU are best experienced in one another's contexts. I found something wonderful in every segment, and I wish I could share the movie with all of you. I can hardly wait for SHANGHAI, I LOVE YOU.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY




You've heard about it by now (if you haven't seen it), the much-hyped, $15000, one-set, four-character horror movie that rolled out from a modest number of midnight college screenings to become a grassroots (supported by Paramount) success. I haven't heard the backlash, but I know it's coming. And anyone who goes all nuts for this film is likely to be looked at as a tool of the marketing of the thing, which is what happens when a studio throws its support on a movie. Not behind it, but on it. And I can see that point, but I'm going to go past it and suggest that whether or not the movie lives up to the hype is immaterial. Because nothing does.

What I will say is this: This movie fucking scared me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

humbug, indeed.

So a couple of weeks ago your proprietor, having arrived early for a movie at a multiplex, found himself in front of one of those pre-show Hollywood commercial blocks offering a look behind the scenes of forthcoming movies. So it was with some dread that I got a gander at some of the footage from Robert Zemeckis' forthcoming CGI realization of Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The footage included Jim Carrey (in the gosh-darned-nice mode that I don't think we've seen him in since he was plugging THE MAJESTIC a few years back) talking about playing all of the lead roles, and how this lushly-achieved production was going to give life to an ultimate vision of the Dickens tale, how it would be exactly the story that Dickens wrote.

Now I'm not against smart retellings of classics, and even understand and laud the deployment of a multifaceted talent as Carrey as Scrooge and the various ghosts. But I have to say that my immediate thought was that Dickens would probably be startled to see that he had written Scrooge getting hit in the groin. Just a throwaway notion that I let go...

...until I saw an actual trailer for the movie in which, sure enough, Scrooge is flown all over London, and finds himself sliding crotch-first through a rack of icicles.

Though I'm normally averse to seeing the word Disney over the title of whatever property they've assimilated, I laud them for the truth in advertising in calling the film DISNEY'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Because clearly it sure as hell ain't Dickens'.

No links or pics in this post because I don't want to promote the film. Frankly, come Friday, it'll be damn near unavoidable anyway.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

still Halloween, barely.

Your Proprietor realizes that it's a bit remiss of an ostensibly horror-slanted blog to almost go post-free on Halloween. I beg your indulgence, and promise that there's more to come in November, some of it on topic, some of it way off. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the vibe of the evening (the House doesn't really have a view, per se), and wishing you all the spookiest that the holiday has to offer.

To Collinsport with me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Last Douchebag on Earth

Your proprietor had been looking forward to tonight's screening at the Clay Theatre - two films starring Vincent Price: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. The latter film in particular was a bit of a prize, since the last time we'd seen that name on a San Francisco marquee the film print had been lost in transit, by a shipping company I decline to name.

So I was pleased to see local impresario and curator August Ragone get another shot at screening it. I wasn't looking forward to THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, which had been aired on late night television numerous times and hadn't captured my interest, but whatever.



TLMOE remains a low-budget oddity, marked by low production values and very uneven acting, but seen theatrically, in its proper Cinemascope ratio, it does become more than I had expected, with some fine moments of Price at his most despairing and two or three genuine chills as Price, the final survivor of a plague that has turned the human race into feral vampires, struggles to preserve a life he's no longer sure is worth living.

The film wasn't the problem. The audience, comprised mainly of hipsters or others who should Just Fucking Know Better, were the problem: snorting audibly at the admittedly hackneyed dialogue, not turning their cell phones off in advance of the movie, coming in mid-movie and kicking the seats in front of them. I switched my seat several times during the film, each time confronted by a different latecomer who sat near me, unengaged, giggling at (not with, crucially, but at) the film.

Those who know the film may note a weird commonality between the struggles of Price and the proprietor, being a lone man struggling to avoid aberrant behavior until he's no longer sure what he's fighting for or why. When at the film's end (SPOILERS, obviously) Price is finally killed by a society of half-human survivors, the message is rendered clearly and painfully: Price is the monster, having annihilated several members of this new race who are only trying to survive.

Thus chided by the film I was trying so earnestly to give a chance, I left the theatre as soon as it had finished. Not sure if I'll ever get another shot at LIGEIA projected, but I live in hope. I have returned to the House of Sparrows to enjoy a brownie and a glass of milk, and watch tonight's EASTWICK in lieu of this elusive film.

That said: If you've snorted at a movie through its running time, you don't get to pat yourself on the back by applauding at the end.

Let that be the epitaph of your proprietor, The Last Douchebag On Earth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the fourth post

An inauspicious number, some say. Mindful of superstition your proprietor is, so why not confront the spell by jamming it?

Here's Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On short 444-444-4444.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SLAUGHTER HIGH

Your proprietor took up the assignment* to watch and discuss SLAUGHTER HIGH with a certain bemusement; my own high school reunion is happening this coming weekend, and so the timing was somewhat amusing. What warnings would the film have for my own real-life situation? What could I learn from SLAUGHTER HIGH that I could apply to my return to my own high school environs, and the people therein?

The answer to both questions is: Nothing at all.


The film begins with the humiliation of a clueless teenage nerd named Marty. Lured into a locker room by the promise of a cherry-busting encounter with cool-girl Carol, Marty is instead captured on film being given a swirlie by, presumably, all of the school’s in-crowd (half of whom were filling film crew positions, a technical detail that your reporter appreciated). Marty tries to collect himself by doing some extra-curricular work in the school’s chemistry lab; he’s subjected to yet another prank that disfigures him.

Five years later the kids are invited to a reunion back at the old school, which they find in disrepair and slated for demolition. They find themselves trapped within, and stalked by a murderous madman wearing a letter jacket and a jester’s mask. Is their stalker a grudge-driven Marty, or something worse?

SLAUGHTER HIGH’s a compelling mess, initially drawing its characters VERY broadly, pursing comedy without wit and horror without suspense. The casting of Caroline Munro as Carol doesn’t help: veteran that she is and as fine as she looks, she’s clearly NOT the late-teens, early-20s the role calls for, and led your proprietor to initially wonder if Marty was being seduced by a school faculty member (most of the cast, like Munro, are British, and some of the American accents are...inconsistent). Post-high school we find that Carol’s an in-demand actress, negotiating a role with a sleazy producer. We know he’s sleazy because he has a PIECES one-sheet on his office wall. You remember:



Nice little in-joke there, as PIECES producer/co-writer Dick Randall was a producer on this film as well. The game-for-anything-but-thinking-nothing-through joie de vivre that made PIECES so winning eventually manifests in SLAUGHTER HIGH. As stupid as the first half often is, it does wear down one’s resistance – there’s a childish gag at about the film’s midpoint involving a funnel, and if you laugh at it (I did), you’re set for the film’s second half.

There’s a remarkable tonal shift that happens here: as Marty’s classmates get picked off, the film becomes more serious (even Harry Manfredini’s score, which had been a VERY 80s cheap synth pastiche, becomes more shaded and interesting here). Slasher fans will be pleased by the creative and varied kills used to dispatch the various characters. By the time we get to Carol’s inevitable one-on-one showdown with the killer the film’s built genuine suspense. And it doesn’t resolve as predictably as one might have expected.

Your humble scribe’s not one to enjoy movies ironically; I’m not a fan of the so-bad-it’s-good! kind of thinking. So I’m pleasingly perplexed by a film like SLAUGHTER HIGH. It’s not the work of competent auteurs, and the points it scores all feel like accidents. And yet in spite of itself it DOES score points: it’s less predictable than a more polished movie would have been, and the thing’s never boring.

I watched the film in the Lost Collection edition from Lionsgate, which offers an unrated, extended cut (yay!) in 5.1 digital audio (yay!) and in fullscreen ratio (boo!), the absurdity of which is totally in keeping with the movie. As is the optional Trivia Track, which picks the damnedest times to ask the viewer trivia questions or offer factoids about the various methods of murder deployed onscreen.

Though I’m not basking in the glow of a brilliant new discovery, I am pleased to have experienced SLAUGHTER HIGH in the run-up both to my own high school reunion and to Halloween. I can’t imagine any of my own classmates will stalk us wearing a jester’s mask; should this actually prove to be the case, I’ll be sure to write about it here. Assuming I survive, of course.

* = This review written for Final Girl’s October Film Club, run, as always, by the brilliant and beautiful Stacie Ponder.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A dispatch from the East Coast

Some people get emailed photos of cats and children. This is the kind of picture that comes to the House of Sparrows.



The sender is the gentleman on the left in this picture, New York's Bryan Enk. Enk's an old friend and occasional collaborator of your proprietor. Halloween sees the latest and (Enk threatens) final installment of his Sinister Six film series, SINISTER SIX MUST BE DESTROYED! (exclamation point mine) - if you're in lower Manhattan on October 31 or November 1, the House recommends the screening, which features twelve short horror films by some fine filmmaking talent.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I bid you welcome....

Even your host isn't sure where this doorway leads.

Good Evening. My name is David Robson, and this is the House of Sparrows.

Though I blog elsewhere on other things (both professionally and personally), I'm opening the House here to give my thoughts on horror and fantasy film their own venue. This said, other topics will no doubt be covered, from live events in San Francsico to the kickass episode of Dark Shadows I just watched.

I'm still building the House and discovering/developing its voice, but I hope you'll feel comfortable enough to join me in the House's various rooms, and share your thoughts and comments with me.

In the meantime, I got a grimoire that tells me that today's a lucky day for spellcasting (and that Fridays are ideal for spells relating to arts, entertainment, and love). The House of Sparrows is open. Welcome.