Film/TV

You are currently browsing the archive for the Film/TV category.

film-prettything1

Director Osgood Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter was one of my favorite horror movies of the past couple years: an extremely quiet, extremely tense little maybe-supernatural horror movie with an almost exclusively female cast. Thematically and artistically it seemed to end up standing in the shadow of The Witch (far and away the horror movie of the last, oh, five years at least, for me): I watched them within a month or so of each other, and Blackcoat immediately appealed to me as being the The Witch‘s little sister. They share the theme of female alienation being answered by the supernatural, and they share, shall we say, manifestations. But Blackcoat is smaller, sparer, and in a way, weirder and more personal-feeling, even if it does employ a few more conventional horror tropes. (I think it’s difficult for The Witch to feel as immediately personal – despite the fact that it’s a deeply humane narrative – due to the distancing effect of its historical setting.)

Lo, did I lose my shit when the existence of Perkins’ I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, a Netflix original movie, was brought to my attention. (Thank you, S.) First of all, THAT TITLE. Secondly, its trailer suggested, again, an extremely quiet, slow, weird film with a predominantly female cast. Yes.

The outlines of the plot are as follows: a present-day hospice nurse, Lily, arrives at the beautiful, historic Massachusetts house of an elderly horror novelist, Iris Blum. Prim, nervous Lily is lonely and scares easily; Iris has dementia and only addresses Lily as “Polly,” when she is responsive. From day one, Lily is troubled by small disturbances: knocking sounds, disarranged objects. As her months with Iris pass, it’s eventually suggested that one of Iris’ novels, The Woman in the Walls, was narrated to her personally – by the ghost of Polly, the 19th-century bride for whom the house was constructed, and who disappeared on her wedding day.

All of these conventional Gothic elements are conveyed, stylistically and structurally, in ways that push hard against conventionality, and are used in the service of exploring a rich interweaving of themes: isolation, time as nonlinear, the inevitability of death, and communal experience of female trauma.

The movie has a looping, drifting, intensely hushed aesthetic; elliptical is an easy word for it. Lily narrates from the beginning, for example, with unsettling authority, that “I am twenty-eight years old; I will never be twenty-nine.” In other words, this is a ghost story within a ghost story, the story of a second death nested within a first.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,

Date read: 11.30.10
Read: Online, via Nerve
Reviewer: Emera

Secretary - James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal

The 2002 film Secretary stars the incomparable Maggie Gyllenhaal as an emotionally fragile young woman who enters into a sadomasochistic relationship with her lizard-eyed, hypercontrolled lawyer boss (James Spader): two very unhappy people who find that they are each other’s complements, emotionally and sexually. After seeing the movie twice, and both times loving its tenderness, quirky humor, rich visuals, and slinking soundtrack, I finally read the Mary Gaitskill short story (click to read) on which it was based.

Predictably, the movie and story are utterly different beasts, with the film departing from the story’s restless, sickly unhappiness. Gaitskill called the film adaptation the “Pretty Woman” version, which is apt, but doesn’t, I think, negate the film’s sensitivity and sweetness. In the film, the secretary (Lee) and lawyer (Mr. Grey) find a genuine connection, with Lee eventually emerging as the one with the strength to dictate the terms of their relationship.

In Gaitskill’s story it’s pretty clear that the (nameless, sleazily charismatic) lawyer is using the secretary (Debby in the story) for his own gratification because he knows she’ll let him get away with it. Yes, some part of her does enjoy it – after her last encounter with the lawyer, she remarks impassively (and hilariously), “I didn’t feel embarrassed. I wanted to get that dumb paralegal out of the office so I could come back to the bathroom and masturbate.” But the undertones of her identification with the humiliation that she experiences are much more troubling, and by the end of it, she returns home to be soundlessly reabsorbed into her dysfunctional family, who, given their “intuition for misery,” ask no questions.

Apart from the entirely divergent emotional experience, what struck me most on reading the story is how successful the film was in capturing Gaitskill’s written style. Debby’s narration is flattened, almost child-like, but interspersed with bursts of ungainly, oddly vivid imagery: “There were no other houses or stores around it, just a parking lot and some taut fir trees that looked like they’d been brushed.” “He clapped his short, hard-packed little hands together and made a loud noise.” And my favorite – “A finger of nausea poked my stomach.” Gyllenhaal’s Lee, with her wise-child face, shabby graceless suburbanity, and propensity for awkward remarks and fits of snorting laughter, recreates the experience perfectly, particularly when juxtaposed with the plush, hushed interior of Mr. Grey’s office. I expect most audiences will prefer the transformative love story that follows in the film, but Gaitskill’s original is stylistically memorable, bitterly intelligent, and draws lingeringly unsettling character portraits in a few terse pages.

Go to:

Mary Gaitskill: bio and works reviewed

Tags: , , ,

In which Christopher Lee is amazing

I’ve always wanted to see the 1973 drama/thriller/sorta-horror classic The Wicker Man, and it ended up being a rollickingly fun watch for last week’s summer solstice.

In the film, straight-laced Sergeant Howie is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison on Summer Isle, a remote Scottish island, only to find that not only does every villager on the island deny any knowledge of Rowan Morrison, but that his visit coincides with the island’s highly enthusiastic and – to the devoutly Christian Howie – unwholesome May Day preparations. Cue an increasingly frenzied search by the valiant but humorless Howie, a collision of equally blind faiths, and more references to to Celtic folklore and fertility symbolism than you can shake a Maypole at. There’s an inn named the Green Man; a sweet shop stocked with pastries and chocolates in the shape of women, leaping hares, and what look like rams’ heads; lots of nubile gamboling in graveyards and stone circles; a lush estate encircled by phallic topiaries… Oh, and Christopher Lee as the island’s erudite neo-pagan lord, who enjoys nothing so much as wearing a kilt and soliloquizing about the joys of the animal world while intercut with footage of glistening snails intertwining and set over a soundtrack of hypnotically pulsating drums and recorder.

Christopher Lee, plus kilt

No, I didn’t have too much fun watching this movie, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , , ,

Date Read: 12.27.08
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

A look at the life of Benjamin Button who was born old and died young.

Review

I have never been a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, my only experience having been The Great Gatsby. I feel horrible saying that I didn’t enjoy it in the least bit, although it certainly stands to argue that if I revisited it now with a slightly more mature eye, I would probably quite like it. Being the incredibly anal purist I am, after learning about the upcoming release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in theaters, I headed over to my local BN to read the short story first. I wasn’t blown away by the story, but it was so quaint, indirectly emotional, and beautiful that I ended up spending $13 on the somewhat overpriced newest edition with full-color illustrations.

100_3340

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: ,

Date Read: 11.26.08
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Short version: Dexter S1.
Long version: Dexter, a serial killer of serial killers, works in the Miami Metro Police as a blood spatter analyst alongside with his foster sister Deb. We learn that Dexter was taken from a violent crime scene and raised by a cop. Upon learning that Dexter was prone to murderous intentions, his dad taught him the art of killing. Suddenly, a new wave of killings crop up and are accredited to the “Ice Truck Killer” and Dexter recognizes that these killings are somehow a message to himself. Using his skills as a killer and resources at the police department, Dexter helps track down the killer while trying to keep those that matter to him safe.

Review

Unfortunately, I have to say this is exactly what I expected. I watched two seasons of Dexter before picking up one of the novels (much to my shame), partly due to the horrible things I had heard about the books. Unsurprisingly, the writing was entirely mediocre, unsophisticated, and wholly disappointing.

dexter-s1-dexter-killing

Naturally, I couldn’t help but compare Darkly Dreaming Dexter to the TV series. The novel is told from Dexter’s point of view, and really does try hard to achieve the same dark, cynical, wry atmosphere that the TV adaptation manages to accomplish so well… but just falls short. The pacing of the book was alright, as in there was always some action each chapter to propel the story forward. I feel like I’m really at a loss for what else to say about the novel. It was just unremarkable (again, comparison to the TV series). There are some minor plot differences between the novel and show, except for the ending; however, I don’t really care because I’m not reading anymore books.

dexter-in-blood-lab

At the least, reading Darkly Dreaming Dexter has made me appreciate the TV adaptation immensely. You really begin to gain an understanding of the skill involved in developing Dexter’s character for the screen, piecing together the soundtrack and film style for that perfect cynical criminal atmosphere, and the screenplay is just impeccable. The TV show has really come a long way from the novel and certainly shaped a masterpiece from raw materials.

Go To:

Jeff Lindsay

Tags: ,

Date Read: 1.30.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

This humorous, 2003 Eisner Award winning one-shot is the story of an unlikely superhero, Screwn-on Head, who researches an occult myth at the behest of Abraham Lincoln. Apparently, an evil zombie named Emperor Zombie has stolen important ancient tomes that could lead to the destruction of the earth. The cast of this comic also includes Mr. Groin, Screw-on Head’s manservant, and Patience, Screw-on Head’s old vampire lover.

the-amazing-screw-on-head-opening-sequence

I actually first watched the TV pilot adapted from this comic written and developed by Mike Mignola (best known for Hellboy) and Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies). After holding out for about a month to find a copy of The Amazing Screw-on Head, I gave up and attained a much more accessible copy of the TV pilot. Later, I finally found a copy on eBay (cursed OOP’s).

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , , ,

Date Read: 6.13.09

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

Oskar is an alienated twelve-year-old living in a decaying Swedish suburb in the 1980’s. He is brutally bullied at school, and fantasizes often about striking back at his tormentors, keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles about murders as his inspiration. Two new neighbors move into Oskar’s apartment complex: one an older man, and one, apparently his daughter, an androgynous girl named Eli who smells terrible, walks barefoot in the snow, and only comes out at night, but is nonetheless befriended by Oskar.

If you know anything about vampires, you can imagine where this is going. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, translated by Ebba Segerberg) was a bestseller in Sweden when it was published in 2004, and gained further international attention when the 2008 Swedish-language film adaptation (IMDB) won a number of awards and became a surprise hit. I’m not sure now if I heard about the movie or the book first, but unusually for me, I ended up watching the movie first, and read the book shortly after. I enjoyed both immensely, but for slightly different reasons in each case. Given that, I thought I’d do a combined film and book review. Please note that mild spoilers follow.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,