Monday, March 31, 2014

STRANGER BY THE LAKE

So easy to describe this movie: Hitchcock's Fire Island adventure. A film blanc with cumshots. Surface analysis of a movie that, in many ways, is all about surfaces. But this story of a young gay man drawn into murder and obsession during a jaunt to a lakeside cruising spot is all about the depths beneath those surfaces. Dive in.


The whole thing takes place by the titular lake; we infer from conversations that there are restaurants, bedrooms, and a police station nearby, but we only ever see our characters in various states of undress frolicking, chatting, and hooking up in and around the lake, swimming naked, fucking in the forest. The idyllic, dreamy atmosphere is only enhanced by early chat of a silurus, maybe as long as fifteen feet, that lurks beneath the lake's surface.

We follow young Franck as he sunbathes, swims, hangs out, and hooks up, and follow his growing relationships with two men. Henri is a shlubby logger, shy but good-natured, who only ever sits by the lake and chats with anyone who engages him, without any serious interest in sex. And Michel is a gorgeous, experienced swimmer whose clingy boyfriend one night disappears.

Stranger by the Lake moves at a languorous but steady pace, rendering its landscapes and characters beautifully. Writer-director Alain Guiraudie is remarkably direct in depicting the sex lives of his characters. But the sex that many filmmakers build to is where Guiraduie begins. His characters' hidden depths and personalities, their darknesses, courage, obsessions are ultimately what truly fascinate Guiraudie; I don't remember being so artfully absorbed into characters in quite the way Guiraudie pulls off. Such depths does it plumb in its characters that we wind up looking into ourselves.

It is very much a film blanc, its menace lurking not in the shadows but naked in front of our very eyes, illuminated and obscured in the bare sunlight. But when the night finally falls, it falls hard.

Monday, March 24, 2014

KRAFTWERK

Though I'd long had an aversion to concerts that were simply a guy or two on machines, with light show/video accompaniment, I saw Kraftwerk's concert tonight without any real trepidation. My girlfriend summed it up beautifully afterward, saying that yes, it was four guys standing behind keyboards with video playing behind them, but it was likely one of the greatest concerts you would ever have the good fortune to see. Indeed, I'm pretty sure it was the greatest thing I'd seen since Einstein on the Beach.


Performing a set composed mainly of The Mix and (perhaps perversely) two-thirds of Electric Cafe, the quartet powered through an entirely electronic set synced to an impressive 3-D video playing behind them. The shadows of the band members became an integral part of the visuals behind them, and loaned a surprising warmth to the entire concert, with the members seemingly dwarfed by the world created on stage, their work rendered oddly, beautifully tangible.

My familiarity with Kraftwerk's music isn't encyclopedic; indeed, quite a few tracks I knew by name I encountered for the first time. Well-known staples like The Robots and Computer World benefited from a 21st century digital sheen, while other new-to-me tracks became new friends (Neon Lights sounds like Gary Numan's entire career contained in a single, achingly beautiful song; similarly, the update of "Radioactivity" to include references to Fukushima gave it immediate poignancy, a sad portrait of how somethings never change).

There's a feeling that accompanies the technopop of yesterday, a strange nostalgia for a future predicted in its metallic rhythms and analog soundscapes, a future that never happened. Watching Kraftwerk now is to step backwards and forwards; though these are all 20th century songs remade with 21st century digital tech (a neat tension paralleled in the projected video, using state of the art technology to meticulously capture the feel of analog imagery), there's nothing retro about a Kraftwerk show. High-tech spectacle was never less static. And for all of the technology on display, the overall impression--from hearing these simple, gorgeous melodies played huge to the graceful solos executed as the band left one by one during the climactic "Music Non-Stop"--is a palpable, unifying, glorious humanity.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

BYZANTIUM

On the basis of the evidence here, Moira Buffini is my kind of playwright. Like many of my favorite British artists, she rejects the kitchen sink realism so prevalent in that country's cinema and theatre in favor of a more fanciful maximalism. At the same time, she uses genre and fantasist tropes to address and explore contemporary social concerns as diligently as any naturalist. It is no surprise then that Byzantium (adapted by Buffini from her play A Vampire Story) should address gender politics, family relations, the frailty of the body, and our relationship to our history within its story of a mother-daughter pair of vampires on the run from undead elders. What is pleasantly surprising is how entertaining and moving Byzantium turns out to be.


Buffini's script is gorgeously realized by director Neil Jordan, an old hand at adapting vampire literature by female authors. In the opening moments of the movie Jordan effortlessly balances two plotlines, as daughter Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan) gently comforts an old age pensioner she's about to kill, while across town mother Clara (Gemma Arterton) is chased on foot from a neon-lit strip club through a shopping mall skylight to a dingy apartment by a mysterious but dogged pursuer. This kind of parallelism seems to run through the entire movie, and Jordan proves incredibly perceptive of many dualities running through Buffini's story: mother/daughter, past/present, living/undead, female/male, sex/violence. (Many of these seem to land during a stunning early moment in which Eleanor finds herself on a beach, face-to-face with her 19th-century self). The thing flows gorgeously, and the tale of the Webbs' vampiric origins unfolds deftly as their present-day difficulties escalate.

As commonplace as vampires seem to have become, it's no mean feat playing one well. Arterton, perhaps unsurprisingly, plays the now familiar blood-letting, leather-clad, ass-kicking female vampire with sleazy grace, but she's just as strong conveying the weariness of centuries in hiding, and the endless reservoir of love of an undead parent for her child. Ronan is just as strong in a quieter but equally deep role of an undead but ethical blood drinker, her pangs of conscience as strong as her thirst for blood, her need to tell her story sitting hand-in-hand with a longing to simply, finally connect. Buffini's depth & generosity extend to her male characters as well - Sam Riley and Jonny Lee Miller are strong as men who figure prominently in the Webbs' long lives; Daniel Mays and Caleb Henry Jones bring keenly felt (and very different) vulnerabilities to their roles as mortal men in the women's orbit.

Sean Bobbitt (cinematographer for some of last year's finest movies, including The Place Beyond The Pines and 12 Years A Slave) seems to capture an otherworldly luminosity unleashed by the Webbs in the dreary, everyday world they inhabit. I complained a while back that digital photography and presentation undermined the gothic atmosphere so desperately sought by the makers of The Woman in Black; perhaps I'm finally getting used to seeing such tales being told in this medium. Perhaps Bobbitt is simply a great cinematographer. The visual strengths of the movie are matched by its music, as Javier Navarette's score boosts the story with knowing, gentle intensity.

The whole thing feels like one of the best movies I've seen in recent memory. Byzantium finds new life and energy in the vampire story, and, finally, makes a compelling and persuasive case for the vitality of the 21st century horror movie. Long live the Webbs.

Friday, January 31, 2014

THE LORDS OF SALEM

Oh, how I wish I'd seen this thing theatrically. I've long been, not a fan, but certainly an interested observer of Rob Zombie's movie work. I was quite pleased by House of 1000 Corpses, which felt like the id of the grindhouse era unleashed on unsuspecting screens. The follow-up, The Devil's Rejects, left me rather cold, feeling that its relentless sadism was largely unleavened by wit (I said then that I found much to admire in the movie, and nothing to like). His Halloween remake and its sequel were rife with good ideas, strong moods, and more than a few truly harrowing shots, and yet they didn't really cohere.


But what the hell do I know? Zombie has his devotees, some of them close friends whose opinions I respect. And Zombie's movies grew steadily more ambitious, and between that and his clear devotion to genre films, I figured it would be only a matter of time before he made a movie I connected with. After finally seeing The Lords of Salem I felt like he was a lot closer to delivering that film.


And yet the movie's stuck with me since last night (among other things, it seems to have parked the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" in my head for the foreseeable future). Zombie's tale of Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie, of course), a nighttime DJ plunged into a nightmare by a mysterious recording, is rife with atmosphere and slow-burn horror. It feels like the most patient movie Zombie has made, though in retrospect there are plenty of visceral jolts throughout the piece And even though it feels like a more polished and refined Rob Zombie movie, there's still a superabundance of weirdness in pretty much every scene, delivered so gently and directly that at times one struggles to process what one is seeing.


Zombie is as much a child of genre movies and media as Tarantino, but Zombie's figured out how to use those inspirations beyond just slavishly quoting them. The Lords of Salem is a cocktail of influences from 70s Hammer horror (the witchcraft movies especially), Stanley Kubrick (from whom Zombie's assimilated much about manipulating cinematic space - check out the hallways of Heidi's apartment building and how Zombie maps her psyche with it), and Ken Russell (a clear and direct influence on the often mannered grotesquerie throughout, and especially the explosive and downright festive parade of blasphemy that climaxes the thing). And yet in addition to the visual quotes of those who came before (and his generous casting of those actors they worked with), Zombie's assimilated some of their boldness. Zombie's figured out that there's more to pushing the envelope than more tits, more blood, louder music, more violence; he's also figured out that there's more to Kubrick than just creepy atmosphere and one-point perspective. As the malevolence around and within Heidi grows in power it seems to take over the movie, which abandons narrative and, indeed, reality. Suddenly we're not watching a horror movie. Just as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey became an otherworldly object not unlike the monoliths that drive its story, so does The Lords of Salem become something dark, mysterious, and finally magical.


The movie is by no means perfect; I can think of a half dozen actors I would rather have played Heidi (Zombie's ready to collaborate with a lead actor who'll challenge him). But it's a huge step forward. You could call it a more mature film than he's made, and not just because the soundtrack includes Mozart's Requiem alongside the Velvet Underground. I'm sad that some of his fans have rejected it (perhaps they feel it would have been more radical to simply resurrect the Firefly clan for yet another bout of psychobilly mayhem), but others more invested in his work than I are also calling The Lords of Salem their favorite Rob Zombie movie. I said earlier that it was a step closer to a Rob Zombie movie that I could connect with, but obviously that I even wrote this makes it clear that this is, in fact, that movie. I'd always been curious to see the next Rob Zombie movie; now I can't wait for it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013

Pros: After two plus years, and a difficult, Shire-scouring move-in process, I'm back in my previously burned out, fully refurbished digs. A radical change in the menu at the dayjob means a bunch of new challenges and, happily, a lot of writing about film. My piece on the resurrection of William Friedkin's Sorcerer gets a delighted response from the director himself on Twitter (thanks, Brian). The woman I love. Welcome visits from parents. Reading Lovecraft on stage, wearing only a veil of machine fog. Hitting the stage with three fine actors, none of whom I'd worked with before, in my "Queen of the Nile" adaptation for the Dark Room's tenth edition of Twilight Zone: Live. A slew of fine contemporary movies laying waste to the notion that cinema is dead. A robust (though embattled) rep scene in San Francisco showing great stuff in all formats. New audience members appearing at these venues and realizing what they have.

Cons: My new home a battleground (in a blogpost, at least) in an ongoing war. That war of course the dot-com fronted gentrification that is making San Francisco blander and unaffordable. Expanded editorial duties at the dayjob distract from other writing outlets, including, I'm sad to say, the House of Sparrows. Getting older and being too exhausted or otherwise engaged to do stuff. Too many friends dealing with too much shit. Republican intransigence/inability to campaign on issues. Democratic gutlessness/inability to turn GOP weakness to their advantage. The deaths of too many cinematic titans, including but not limited to Ebert, Hinds, O'Toole, Fontaine, Walker, etc. etc. fucking etc.


Movies that stuck: The Place Behind The Pines, Mai Morire, The Search for Emak Bakia, Something In The Air, Viola, The Hunt, Frances Ha, The World's End, 12 Years A Slave, The Great Beauty

Movies that stunk: Trance, The Counselor

Movies that deserved better: (recognition) The Last Stand, The Lone Ranger; (better distribution) Byzantium, which I didn't get to see; (ANY distribution) Me & You, Bertolucci's intimate and lovely coming-of-age tale that should've played beyond US festivals.


I'm wishing you nothing but the best in the coming year. With the move out of the way my deck is clear, and I'm ready to jump in and engage. Join me.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

RUMBLE FISH

Stewart Copeland's music gets into my system first. He makes the first sound on Peter Gabriel's SO: a single hi-hit ticking and splashing, heralding the "Red Rain" that opens the album so devastatingly. Over the course of the summer of 1986, SO changes my life completely. A couple of months later in Utah, watching my first episode of THE EQUALIZER on CBS, Copeland's name again, this time as composer of the formidable and energizing score of that series. The next day, a record/tape store at the Crossroads mall yields a cut-out tape of his score for RUMBLE FISH, I movie I recalled but had never gotten to see. The tape engages me immediately, and though Copeland's acoustic/electric soundscape for Hinton & Coppola's Tulsa is light years away from the electronic urban hellscape he composed for THE EQUALIZER, it remains in heavy rotation in the coming years. Any musical instrument in my possession has some of Copeland's motifs played on it; my old manual typewriter is integrated into the mutt percussion set-up taking up more space in my basement room.

I catch up with the movie belatedly, on video, a couple of years later. As foreign as it is initially, with its time-lapsed clouds billowing over its young, going-nowhere, gang-fighting protagonists, it too engages me immediately. An only child, I view the story of brothers Rusty James (Matt Dillon, uncannily channeling my friend James) and the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Roarke, just as uncannily embodying Sean) from some distance, but from that vantage appreciate the care taken in its characters, its music, its look, and its other sounds. Coppola's mission had always been to make an art movie for the kids: my own eyes were opening to experimental/avant-garde music, film and art, and so I was squarely in Coppola's target demographic. The kids in John Hughes' movies talked like we imagined we would, at our best, but something about Coppola's movie felt more honest, more real to me. I don't see in black and white, there were few fog machines present in my world, and my family's suburban home was far from any noisy factory setting. And yet RUMBLE FISH looked and felt like the world in which I lived.

It was until well after I moved to San Francisco, in the heart of Coppola territory, that I finally saw the movie on film for the first time. Tulsa breathes on film, the ghostly clouds and fog taking on an ethereal life, Rusty James seen as larger-than-life as he aspires to be, his stupidity and vulnerability rendered crystal clear. The Motorcycle Boy, too, appears vast and wise, as regal as the characters regard him ("royalty in exile", as one character puts it), but we see to his weariness, his uneasiness in his own skin. Coppola swings for the fences in stylizing the thing, and it still looks and feels quite unlike any youth-targeted movie I've ever seen (not to say that it's the only such film with avant-garde ambitions; Phil Joanou worked similar magic mining an ordinary high school for otherworldy atmosphere in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH). Set in a curious otherworld that resembles an earlier decade (but set, according to Coppola, in the near future), the thing remains timeless.

And to be quite honest I'm not sure why its hold on me remains. I've outgrown other movies of my youth, or enjoy some of them without nearly the stake that I had in them back then. Maybe the distance between me and the story remains, allowing me to look at it objectively still now, and find new things. Maybe, estranged as I am from James and Sean (with no chance to reconcile with the latter, may he rest in peace), I value the movie for bringing them back. Maybe I value it for bringing ME back. Or maybe, just maybe, it's as great a movie as I know, as I feel, it is.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October, Day 31 - DUSK

(Please note: the following is the concluding chapter in an ongoing story begun last Halloween. If you would like to start at the beginning, and I hope you will, the first chapter in the story can be found here. Each chapter ends with a link to the next one, so you can click-through and read the whole thing, if so inclined. Please enjoy. And Happy Halloween!)



Bigbaddrac's Twitter feed.

DUSK (De Santos, 12) Another negligible YA fantasy fuckfest, elevated only by Peyton's performance as Come-On-That-HAS-To-Be-Dracula

SamGFan's Twitter feed.

and that OLD guy as Lord Darkbloom was TOTALLY WRONG. HE DIES IN THE BOOK. WTF #dusk

Bigbaddrac's Twitter feed.

@SamGFan that OLD guy is what they call an Actor. Nothing you'd know about.

SamGFan's Twitter feed.

@Bigbaddrac whatever. He's WRONG. HE WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE. #dusk

Bigbaddrac's Twitter feed.

@SamGFan the future sucks because of you.

Internet Movie DataBase.

Box Office Milestone: "Dusk" Crossing $200 Million Domestically

28 October 2012 12:30 PM, PDT | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The teen horror romance sensation Dusk isn't going dark anytime soon. Despite some fan controversy about liberties taken with Stacy Lao's best-selling novel, the first movie in what is already slated to be the next YA fantasy franchise remains strong at the box office. Stars Samantha Gillenwater and Travis Sibley have already signed on for the follow-up, The Ocean at Night. No word if the second film will continue to rewrite (with Lao's blessing) the fan-favorite epic and resurrect horror legend Matthew Peyton for another go as Hamilton Darkbloom, whose relationship with Gillenwater's heroine Devona Bradshaw is less combative (though no less intense) in the movie than in Lao's original novel. Photos: Horror Crit

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Toni Blackthorn's blog, The Bay of Angels.

You know what, screw it. I don't care what any of you whiny whippersnappers say: My word is final on this.

Just 'cause you're all invested in your favorite book and wanna be all whiny 'cause the movie's all different and wah wah wah, shut up. You got two things I never got when I was your age.

1) You got Matthew Peyton in a new vampire movie. That you got to see on the big screen. (It's in a goddamn digiprint, sure, but it's better than nothing.)

and

2) You got Matthew Peyton in a new vampire movie playing effin' Dracula. Yeah yeah, I know he's Hamilton Darbloom and why didn't he die cuz he dies in the book and shut up. We here at the Bay of Angels (all one of me) have gone all Zapruder movie on this, and we've sat thru Dusk more times than we care to admit for ten minutes of Peyton. And in those ten minutes, Peyton's playing DRA-GOOOOOO-LLYA. THE EVIDENCE:

--The ring. Lord Darkbloom's got some fairly fancy and modern threads in this (and give'em credit, Peyton looks...downright smokin' in some shots) but if you look at his left hand HE'S WEARING DRACULA'S ONYX RING. They never zoom on it like OMG HE'S WEARING THE RING HE'S DRACULA, maybe cuz the director credits us with some attention to detail, or some intelligence. Hell, maybe it's just fanservice, but dammit, that's the ring.

--The speech. Darkbloom rolls his aaarrrrrs just a leetle bit, like Dracula. And no dammit, that is not 'cause Peyton's got no range. I've seen him play Brit, American, French, Latin (oooh, that was a bad one), and all other kinds of accents. Plus he studied that stuff, and as recently as last year, in the British movie CONSUL executed what I'm told is a flawless Eastern European accent. So yes, that's Dracula's accent what Lord Darkbloom be talkin' wid, and it's not the only one Peyton's got. It's a choice, I tell you.

--The triad connection. Okay, it's a little thin, but Darkbloom talking about that skirmish with the triads in the 90s had to be a reference to FIFTY GUNS AGAINST DRACULA. But wait, you say, that was in the book, so point to you, sonny. Maybe.

--The tenderness. Darkbloom's affection for Devona has a faint hint of the chemistry we saw between Peyton and Jenna Clark back in THE RED RED BLOOD OF DRACULA. There's a whiff of respect in that chemistry - in the book Darkbloom's got no time for Devona, but movie Darkbloom (who, remember is DRACULA), maybe a bit more progressive since RED RED BLOOD, less inclined from that experience to write off a tough young sista jumping into the vampire game. If you bookfans actually want Darkbloom to be the one-note shallow jerk that I hear he is in the book, then you're welcome to him, but Peyton's giving you something better.

But the final piece of evidence is exactly what you've been bitching about since a month before the damn thing even opened. Yes, Darkbloom/Dracula doesn't die. And we know that Peyton asked not to be killed in the movie, and there's a very simple reason for that. And no, you cynical bitches, it's not because he's washed up and wants to stay in the damn franchise. What you see in DUSK, when Devona leaves the chamber and that goooooorgeous last shot of Peyton on the throne, smiling all mysterious and not dying, is a new wrinkle, a new moment, a shift in film history, or at least a key moment, an affirmation of one of the greatest partnerships in horror movie history. And honestly, the third time I saw the movie it finally clicked with me, and I sat in my seat and I cried and cried and cried.

The reason Darkbloom/Dracula/Peyton doesn't get killed in Dusk...is because nobody kills Peyton's Dracula but TED EFFING AFFELDT.

I rest, your honors.


Matthew Peyton's Diary covering the dates and events in question has not been published.