Wednesday, November 30, 2011


A comely reporter for a late-night news show is trying to make the best of what promises to be a boring night covering the lives of firemen. An emergency call to the station has first responders (with their documentarians in tow) rushing into an apartment complex to aid an infirm old woman whose peculiar behavior has her neighbors fearing the worst. The video camera captures events as they escalate from bad to worse: the woman seems in the throes of a disease that is making her violent; the authorities have quarantined the building; and those trapped inside are dying horribly one by one. And they aren't staying dead.

If anyone is even thinking about making yet another first-person, shot-on-DV film about the zombie apocalypse, they need to take a good, long look at [REC], and be honest about whether or not their project will bring anything new to the table. Though filmmakers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza are treading paths well-worn by low budget horror auteurs, their attention to character details, pacing, and documentary realism bring a bracing freshness and real suspense to what could have been yet another zombie flick. All genre familiarity goes right out the window as [REC]'s long horrible night unfolds, and even a final reel reveal that threatens to undermine the realism of the piece only serves to heighten our anxiety. The thing fucking works.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Chadzilla has posted like four different times about this movie, and who can blame him? Adapting his short story "Trucks", author Stephen King admits to having made a moron movie (and that he was coked up for pretty much the entire shoot)(as you did when making a genre picture in the 80s). But he sells it like a motherfucker in this, one of my favorite movie trailers ever:

Your proprietor makes no bones whatsoever about loving this film. Experienced theatrically during its original run, this movie, the tale of a desperate group of people held hostage at a truck stop by motor vehicles animated by sinister forces, charmed me with its low-key humor and anything-can-happen automotive violence. Even the score by AC/DC (which I was too jaded to admit to liking at the time) has grown on me over time - I dig particularly the ripoff of Herrmann's PSYCHO score that slashes through the film's bloodier moments.

A number of memories tied into screenings of this film also keep it solid in my esteem. For a long while (until last year, actually) it held the distinction of being the last film I saw at a drive-in theatre. Saw it with my grandfather, George Baker, in the summer of '86 at a Salt Lake City drive-in, in fact. George was a big Stephen King fan, and had mentioned that "Trucks" was his favorite King story on a number of occasions. When I told him about MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE he was hot to see it, even as I volunteered, though willing to see it again, that it wasn't what one might call a good movie. It was playing at the bottom half of a double bill, and though we were willing to venture out late, my grandmother guilted us into leaving earlier, on the argument that it would be silly not to see the movie at the top of the bill as well. Never mind that the movie in question was FRIDAY THE 13th PART VI: JASON LIVES - such things didn't matter to her. George was stoic through that film (though I did quietly admire the face-into-metal-sheeting killing), but grandfather and grandson both had themselves a time during MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE.

The movie lingers in my consciousness for a number of reasons, and I suspect it's stronger than I'm giving it credit for (any movie you like isn't a bad movie). When Stacie Ponder solicited her readers for their favorite single horror character over at Final Girl, I vacillated too long for my entry to be counted in her Shocktober event. Every day I tried to come up with a single favorite character I'd come up with a list, and each day different characters vied for supremacy. But one character showed up each time I thought about it, lurking through all of the debate like Richard in KING HENRY VI, and on the basis of that ongoing presence in mind I decided my favorite horror character ever is the Green Goblin truck from this very film. Maybe King was totally coked out for the making of this thing, but dammit, whatever crazy suburb of Ideatown he went to to conceive a bloodthirsty truck with a supervillain face was a worthwhile stop.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


The movie just holds up, though it's not hard to see why it was less than successful. It condenses an awful lot of material into its running time, and brother, if you don't pay heed to the dense exposition of the first few minutes you're gonna be lost.

I remember being amazed by the film when I was younger, though having read the novel in anticipation of the film certainly helped guide me through its complicated politics and galaxy-spanning setting. I'd seen THE ELEPHANT MAN and was even at 13 enough of an auteurist that I was excited about seeing a new David Lynch film.

Returning to the film with fresher eyes (and a greater understanding of what, exactly, a David Lynch film is), it's impossible to dismiss the film, as compromised as it is. Though Lynch would never have final cut on a movie this massive, there are plenty of his tropes and obsessions that ring loud and clear, from the grotesquerie of his villains and their setting (the Harkonnen home planet Geidi Prime looks much like the Philly of ERASERHEAD) to the wide-eyed innocence of its hero (and his journey toward wisdom). The power of Paul's unconscious, rendered in vivid dream sequences that no other director could have realized, and the strength he derives from it may indeed be one of Lynch's most direct on-screen corollaries to his own spirituality. (Though D. reminds me that just about every Lynch film features a protagonist confronting his/her subconscious - I immediately remembered Dale Cooper's dreams in TWIN PEAKS, but was further reminded of Betty's dream world in MULHOLLAND DR., and a mess of other examples come to mind just sitting here.)

And even if the thing is choppier than it should have been, torn as it was between Lynch's desires, those of the di Laurentii, and the demands of the marketplace, there's an emotional throughline that feels as tapped to the Unified Field as anything else Lynch has made. It's not clear in the film why it's important that it rain on Arrakis; that it's powerful and moving when it finally does is undeniable.

Given the vast amount of material shot for this film, one wishes Lynch would return to the project, and reshape what was there to something closer to his intent. But his disappointment with the project as a whole is well-documented, and as tantalizing as the notion is it'd be folly to put too much stock in it. What we have is all we're going to get of that particular film. But Kyle MacLachlan's growing divinity; Kenneth McMillan's goony malevolence; the majesty of the sandworms; the beatific but creepy presence of the prematurely mature Alia Atreides; hell, even the guitars that swell up during Eno's Prophecy theme at key moments are more than enough to make this thing, as it stands, feel complete.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State, Paterno, and Polanski

Like many of my peers, I've been sickened at the details and the fallout of the Penn State football sex scandal. There's a timeline of the charges here, helpfully culled by author CC Finlay from the lengthy but clear (and harrowing/nauseating) Grand Jury Presentment here.

I find myself thinking back to two years ago, when filmmaker Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and facing extradition to California where he would presumably finally be judged for his 1977 offenses against then-13-year-old Samantha Geimer. There was what felt like a deafening roar among those who were grateful that Polanski was finally going to receive proper justice. The fervor felt like that of a lynch mob (though only Jonathan Rosenbaum was brave enough to point this out), as did the outrage prompted by a petition of filmmakers from around the world asking for Polanski's release.

Back in the present, the charges leveled against Penn State athletic officials, including the allegations of a cover-up by many including beloved football coach Joe Paterno, have finally grown too big for Penn State to ignore. After Paterno's dismissal, thousands of outraged Penn State students took to the streets for a violent support of Paterno. There's been some disappointment expressed, but nowhere near the level of outrage expressed over Polanski's crime.

I'm wondering why the multitudes (and there were an awful lot of people) who were howling for Polanski's blood upon his 2009 arrest are not downright apoplectic over both the multiple sex crimes perpetrated within Penn State's athletic facility, as well as the institution-level cover-ups of those crimes. At least from the vantage point of my Facebook account I see scant few of those among the anti-Polanski mob sounding off with any of that fervor regarding the Penn State atrocities. I feel like the media coverage is similarly skewed, with far less bandwidth being used to cover the ongoing Penn State scandal than was used to pillory Polanski.

I'm asking myself if I too am biased - I engage film with the same religious fervor as many Penn State fans (and sports fans in general) engage football, and I've wondered more than once if I'm giving Polanski something of a pass simply because he made CHINATOWN and THE TENANT. And yet comparing the two cases, I can't help but feel like Polanski (who did submit to arrest, serve a court-ordered psych evaluation, and spent several weeks in jail) has held himself more accountable, and comported himself better, than anyone involved in the Penn State scandal.

Which, in and of itself, speaks to the depth of their depravity.


On whosever side you stand in this matter, be you film freak or football fanatic, if you're moved to outrage by anything you've read about this case, be it here or elsewhere, I hope you'll consider contributing time or money to a local charity in support of survivors of sexual assault. The crimes continue, and those affected by them could use your support.

Monday, November 7, 2011


THE BAT WHISPERS, one of my favorite films, is spun from a comedy whodunnit called THE BAT by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart. It offers an expressionistic take on the genre, framing its characters in bizarre architecture and inky shadows (in addition to seeding the character of Batman in the mind of the young Bob Kane). I'd known it was the second take on the material by director Roland West, but his first - a silent film made four years prior - had eluded me.

Happily, last Friday the San Francisco Film Society had a 9:30pm screening of the first film, so I was pleased to finally catch up with it. It is something of a rough draft for the more ambitious and accomplished later film, but it still offers a remarkable (if rougher) visual take on the proceedings. With the dialogue confined to title cards, the mysteries permeating the film are given somewhat scant treatment, but there's enough there to keep the details interesting amid the experiments with light, shadow, and setting. And the shorthand necessitated by the silent film format works to the film's advantage as the Bat is finally captured thanks to a hilarious detail planted in the first reel.

Adding to the event was the musical accompaniment by Bay Area guitarist Ava Mendoza and her drummer Nick Tamburro. There's a healthy amount of silent film/live music pairings here throughout the year, and the music more often than not leans towards a kind of cutesy whimsy. Mendoza and Tamburro were much more daring, and their looping technology and improv energy served West's mise-en-scene beautifully, often electrically. Rather than preserve the film in a kind of amber, their music truly brought the film to life. It was my first encounter with their work - here's hoping it won't be the last.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


D: Why're we the youngest people here?

Me: Because young people aren't being taught that Bresson matters.

D: (pause) Bresson's all that matters.