What’s New on the Site
“Pirates” Sails into Familiar Waters with Predictably Mixed Results
What We’ve Been Reading
Clint’s Reading List
Persona – Ingmar Bergman
What the holy hell did I read? Persona is one of my favorite films of all time, a precursor to David Lynch that uses imagery and thematics to provide an artistic experience rather than a film. Dealing with the ideas of sexuality, motherhood, and identity are things that lie under the fabric of a lot of modern scripts, but what Bergman did here was write up a tone piece. The structure is not that of a script or a screenplay at all but rather a series of images and dialogue in the form of ideas. It is difficult to describe without being able to offer everyone an experience of it, but I highly recommend checking this one out. I found a copy on Amazon for relatively cheap and it’s worth picking up.
Kwaidan – L. Hearn
I read the short stories, that’s right. Hearn’s collection stems from a love for Japanese culture and when he moved for inspiration he wound up living to the end of his days on the Japanese coast. Hearn has managed to capture something that manages to capture the meaning of the title (it means ghost stories) and does not ever feel drawn out or excessive. In fact one of the stories, Oshidori, is particularly heartbreaking as it involves understanding the method and meaning behind taboo and the consequences for violating even the smallest, silliest seeming ones. Hearn’s short biography is included in most releases of this collection and it adds a lot to the feel of each story, his love for and understanding of Japanese culture clear in the writing.
Hey, Wait! – Jason
This is the first graphic novel from a cartoonist simply known as “Jason”. Famous for books like The Left Bank Gang, a story about famous writers pulling off a heist, and You Can’t Get Them From Here. In this first novel he cements his style, using anthropomorphic animals and Universal Horror Monsters as characters and minimal visuals, with hand-drawn art that is to die for. The story is in two part – the first about two young friends that experience a tragedy and the second is about how one of them deals with said tragedy. I knew absolutely nothing about this going in and was absolutely blown away at how real it felt, how affecting the minimal and childish-esque art came off in regards to the subject matter. I was only a little familiar with Jason before reading this but he is now very much on my list of writers to follow.
Christopher’s Reading List
Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson is something of a phenomenon in some fantasy circles, pumping out novels at an alarming rate, all of pretty high quality. I’d heard about him for some time now but wasn’t sure where to jump in. I started with Steelheart, the first in a YA series entitle, “The Reckoners”. Steelheart takes place in a world where an object appears in Earth’s atmosphere and soon grants superpowers to certain people. However, this power quickly corrupts its hosts and the people with abilities begin to lord over those without, living as deities and controlling entire cities with their might. It’s a breezy read with a lot of fun twists and turns, and some pretty great action pieces. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series before turning to Sanderson’s headier work.
What We’ve Been Watching
Underworld: Blood Wars – I had a guy from work tell me about this one and I had to watch it. I was a teenager when the first couple of movies in this franchise dropped and young, hormonal Clint was really into Kate Beckinsale (still am as a matter of fact) so I’ve kept up with the franchise. This one…I laughed through about half of it. Some of the scenes are just so ridiculous, a guy leaps out of the water and slices a werewolf in half lengthwise, it’s just nuts. I will say that there are some decent filmmaking things involved here. The cast all commits to the bit completely, wholly aware that what they’re doing is crazy. All of them embrace it, most over-act together, and our three leads (Charles Dance, Kate Beckinsale, and even Theo James) go for more of a quiet and underspoken show, but it works for…well, two-thirds of them. Theo James isn’t great, but he’s there. He’s better here than in the Divergent franchise so that’s good. Anna Foerster is getting her directorial debut here, having previously worked as a cinematographer on films like Independence Day, Pitch Black, and Alien: Resurrection. She has a decent eye for scene setup and staging, though I wish her use of lighting was better. Still, for what it was the film shows that she has promise and might become a decent action director.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – After getting through the new film, I thought I’d revisit my favorite in the series. This second feature is lesser than the first one but it managed to have more of an impact on me. A lot of that is because of Bill Nighy’s performance as villain Davy Jones. Despite not appearing till nearly halfway through the runtime, the character manages to be eerie and manic in his appearance and remains the most menacing part of the whole thing. He’s frightening in his dedication to the bit and makes the startling makeup work for him. Johnny Depp, however, is at the beginning of his boredom with the franchise and his excessive overacting is beginning to show. The character of Jack Sparrow is moved from a companion to a lead and it has mixed results for me, with some of it being great and some of it being grating. Outside of him the cast still does a great job, and the set pieces remain gorgeous. This was when the franchise was still fun, before it went overboard.
Alien: Covenant – I went for round two on this one and enjoyed the heck out of it again. I have issues with Crudup’s character, and the thing with Shaw was a travesty, but outside of that I’m fascinated with what Scott is doing here. He’s giving the fans what they want in the xenomorph, but you can clearly see that he wants to focus more on artificial intelligence, religious metaphors, and David as a character. I’m all for that, I think it’s fascinating. Outside of that I’m very much stuck on the score of the film. The original theme from Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score is used, but it comes back in more than one way. While there are parts of the film that incorporate it bluntly what Kurzel has done is scatter it under a layering of thumping hearts, a beating that overshadows the sound as it tries to burst forth like the Neomorphs in the film. It’s under the skin, a dangerous thing that we’re all aware of, and it is inevitable that it will come bursting forth.
The Omen – I hadn’t seen this in years and I’ve now got a real appreciation for it. When you’re 12 and you see it things don’t always click and I was definitely too young to know a lot of the names here. As an adult, however, I am familiar with Gregory Peck enough to be excited at seeing him (also to be disturbed by just how much he and Tim Dalton look alike). Two other names, however, got me just as psyched – Patrick Troughton and David Warner. The former portrayed the 2nd Doctor on the “it’ll run on and off forever” series Doctor Who, which I adore. The latter is an actor from, well, a little bit of everything. He’s been in numerous Star Trek projects, dramatic adaptations of literature, and things like this. It was exciting to see these three, who have become favorites of mine, all get together to make a movie about murdering a child (as macabre as it sounds…the kid is the Antichrist so please cut them some slack). Another star of this film is Jerry Goldsmith, who would go on a couple of years after this to score the sci-fi classic Alien and is also renowned for his musical accompaniments to The Planet of the Apes (original film), Patton, The Boys from Brazil, Poltergeist, Total Recall, and The Mummy (1999 version) to name just a small amount of the incredible work he has done. In The Omen he does perhaps his most recognizable work, with Latin choral music being stuck into the fabric of horror films ever since.
The Third Man – Holy shit. That’s…probably one of the only things one can say about this film. I’d heard about it from noir fanboys, from Criterion fanboys, and from classic film fans and teachers for a long time. None of the hype did it justice. This is by far the best thing I have seen in quite awhile, and surprise Orson Welles is the best kind of Orson Welles because it makes things the best you’ve seen in awhile. The twists and turns, surrounding writer Holly Martins’ investigation of the death of his friend Harry Lime, are unpredictable and harrowing through every minute. Deep blacks and greys add to this as well, similarly to things like Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon. This is probably one of the better noir films I’ve seen because of the performances of Welles and Joseph Cotton, who plays Holly Martins. Adding a different layer to this cast is the wildly complicated Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt, a woman trying to survive post-war Russian ex-patriotism. Valli is a veteran of Hitchcock and was also a star in Suspiria (which I’m seeing later this year at a local Halloween screening). Here she keeps her loyalties shaded with each scene. This is on Netflix and it is an absolute must-watch for…well, everyone. See it. Seriously. Why are you still here? Go now.
Time After Time – H.G. Wells is chasing Jack the Ripper to the 70’s after the latter stole his time machine. Need I say more? Malcolm McDowell and David Warner completely own this film, having tons of fun just embracing the characters and making this a friends story. They’re Professor X and Magneto, the violent man vs. the romantic progressive and this is such a ridiculous analogy but it really is close. I think the film works on charisma alone, the leads bringing enough weight to the whole thing that they carry it beyond its silly idea base and pushing it forward into something that’s actually great and fun. It’s a small little film, but it carries a lot on its shoulders and works really well with what we’ve got.
Wild Strawberries – I really have developed a love for Ingmar Bergman. I saw The Seventh Seal when I was in college and…well, at the time it felt like one of those things you see to say you saw it. After that I wrote Bergman off because I’d seen the knight play chess with Death so I was good. Within the last couple of years I stumbled across The Magician on Hulu and fell in love with it. From there I tracked down The Seventh Seal again and picked up Persona as well (which I consider to be one of the greatest films ever made). Today, however, I found one of the most touching films from the director – Wild Strawberries. I’m a sucker for the old man/young kids routine and I’ve become familiar with Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” so things like this really resonate with me. Isak Borg is a professor who is reaching the end of his life. He’s raised a crappy kid, he’s lost his wife, and he’s rather cold and alone. This is the beginning of a road trip that will come to involve his daughter-in-law, three hitchhiking kids who adore him, and an angry couple who dislike each other. The interactions bring up memories of Isak’s younger days and force him to take a hard look at his life. As the film comes full circle, we watch Borg (played by Victor Sjöström) come to terms and even grow. This film is also notable because surprise Max Von Sydow is an awesome thing, and I had no idea he was in this.
A Night Out – Chaplin is someone I’m tertiarily familiar with but don’t really go for a lot of the time (in fact I do very little comedy in general…I should look into that) but this week I was really feeling something funny so I chose this. I can honestly say that the collection of short films I found are some of the goofiest, most entertaining things I’ve seen in awhile. This film follows the caricature he created on a drunken night about town, from slap-fights and dessert to the face all the way to being tossed from a hotel after picking his own lock. All the while it is the sheer audacity of Chaplin’s performance that makes this funny, with the timing and and physical comedy taking all precidence (silent films tend to go that way). It opened a door for me and while I’ve seen some Chaplin before I can honestly say that I haven’t gone too far into his body of work. This has prompted me to explore further and see what I’ve been missing.
The Great Dictator – I had not seen this since I was a little kid and since I was on a Chaplin kick I thought…well, why not? Tossed it on and sat back. I was not expecting what I got. The film is silly, hilarious even, and Chaplin is barely masking the fact that he’s still playing his signature character (The Tramp). Meanwhile he is pulling triple duty as he is also playing Hynkel and directing the film. His dictator is hilarious, goofy, silly, and ridiculous. He is also aggressive, easily influenced, easily agitated, and not all that bright. The ending, though, is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen on film. After all the fun, the slapstick, the not-so-gentle poking at fascism and the suppression of free speech and the ability to exist just because of your heritage, Chaplin takes a hard left turn. As his character, the Jewish Barber, is mistaken for the Dictator and taken to a rally to speak. Here, the man leaves the character and makes a heartfelt plea to not only Hitler, but to humanity in general. He begs and pleads for reasonable discourse, for common decency, and for kindness. He begs for man to care about each other and cites the Bible for this. His heartfelt plea was reportedly seen by Hitler before the United States entered the war. Very little that I have seen hits so hard or manages to come back around and be so poignant nearly 80 years later. Chaplin was a master of words, despite being mostly known as a silent film actor, and this might be his magnum opus.
The Kid – Continuing with my Charlie Chaplin craziness, I let my niece pick this one out of a list of four. She chose this one and laughed her but off the whole time while I was having my emotional heartstrings tugged instead. Chaplin continues his role of “The Tramp” in this 1921 film about a man who finds an abandoned baby and adopts him. Now know…there’s no legal paperwork involved, no real understanding of how this will work out, so this broke guy finds a baby and just decides to keep him because there’s a note that says to love the child if you find it. He raises the boy to the age of 5 and has him run grifts with him, breaking windows so Chaplin can sell them cheap glass he’s found as replacements, dodging the police, and eating like kings (seriously, that stack of pancakes was stunning). The film takes several turns that I didn’t expect, knowing nothing of the film when I went into it. Bits of the story are truly heartwarming and others are truly heartbreaking, but it is ultimately a film of its time and remains a fun, great silent picture. After getting over the hurdle of no dialog my niece actually wound up loving it and so did I, one of the best silent films I’ve seen so far.
Kwaidan – This was great. To those who are unfamiliar, a writer named L. Hearn moved to Japan from America and eventually wrote the book Kwaidan: Ghost Stories that collected a Westerner’s version of Japanese folk mythology. The film is an adaptation of 2 of the stories in the collection and they are gorgeously rendered. The film contains 4 short films, rendering it an anthology series, that are shot as stunning pieces of visual and audible aesthetics that are masterful. The film was shot with almost no sound work, allowing ADR and post-production to take over, and it shows. Within the film the design reminds me of David Lynch (good sound design always does) as it is nigh-on perfect. In the film the story of Hoichi the Earless we get beautiful set-work and ADR songs, which tell the stories of warring clans, and it is contrasted with the stories of haunting that really push how much they were beloved and feared in this time. This might be the best horror film I’ve seen in quite awhile because of how deliberate, how paced each story is. In particular Hoichi the Earless, the longest short in the film, is methodical and near-perfect in how it plays out. Very worth checking out.
War Machine – War Machine is the latest from Netflix’s original film line-up, and it has a pretty star-studded cast. Unfortunately, the film suffers from some pretty serious aimlessness, both in plot and in tone. There are moments of good drama, or clever satire, but it never quite feels cohesive.
Heat: Director’s Definitive Edition – What could be argued as one of Michael Mann’s greatest works was just re-released on Blu-ray and 4k under what’s being touted as the “Director’s Definitive Edition”. The newest release is a remaster of previous releases that looks and sounds just as good as ever, and comes with a serious wealth of impressive extras including Director’s commentary, an hour-long documentary on the making of the film, and a couple lengthy panel Q&As. It almost goes without saying that the film itself is incredible and an all-time favorite of mine, with bar-setting action pieces and performances from Pacino and Deniro at the heights of their powers.
What We’re Listening to
Friends – White Lies
I found this band shortly before their second album dropped in January of 2011. That album, Ritual, is one of my favorites from that era and from the 2010’s so far. Now, in the last couple of months, they dropped their fourth and I had no idea it was even coming. What they’ve delivered this time may be their best yet, a collection of 10 songs (and 4 bonus tracks) that weave their electronic sound and band jams together like never before, and Harry McVeigh’s Depeche Mode-esque vocals blend seamlessly. In particular standout songs like “Friends”, “Take it Out on Me”, and “Don’t Want to Feel It All” are wonderful tracks that show off just how far the band has come, the maturity they’ve reached. They could not have done this kind of work back when they were younger, putting out songs like “Farewell to the Fairgrounds” or “To Lose My Life” that were outstanding bits of independent music but somewhere along the way they developed into more. It started with the album in 2011 and has just grown till here. Oddly enough, this new album is available on cassette that also comes with a fake credit card (contains the download code) and has a booklet full of mazes, photos, lyrics, and other little things. I haven’t picked this up yet but I want to and I think it could be a ridiculously fun little bit of fun for fans of the band.
Oceania – The Smashing Pumpkins
Back in 2009 Billy Corgan started out on an epic new vision for the band. He was going to write a 44-song album and release it all for free, with physical formats coming later for fans and collectors. The project, based on the Fool’s Journey in the Tarot deck, was called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. The band made it twelve songs (roughly a quarter of the way) into the project before bailing on it and releasing a full album as a part of the larger album to ease the tension. From this was born Oceania, probably their best album since Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The album opens in a symphonic, cosmic overture and just hammers forward from there. It’s a beautiful album that shows Corgan more focused than he has been in years, snarling over thundering guitars and acoustic melodies like “The Celestials” or “Glissandra”. The structure of the album also flows perfectly, I hadn’t heard anything this well-thought-out from the band in over a decade. An absolutely wonderful album that was followed by…well, an absolutely wonderful album in Monuments to an Elegy. The 44-song project is incomplete but it’s worth it to have gotten this album, gorgeous and weird.