Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Stoker" is Mysterious and Intriguing

Nicole Kidman & Matthew Goode in Stoker
The title family in the movie Stoker (2013) brings new depth to the term dysfunctional. When her beloved father dies in an accident on her 18th birthday, India Stoker is distraught. Tensions grow between India and her emotionally distant mother, Evelyn. Both women are surprised when her Uncle Charlie (who India has never met) comes to pay his respects. Charlie is handsome, good-looking and intelligent. But India is suspicious of him and the true reasons behind his visit. Charlie stays around after the funeral, and sets his sights on Evelyn. When India sees Charlie arguing with their housekeeper, who later disappears, it’s only the beginning of a mysterious and twisted series of events.

As Charlie and Evelyn grow closer, India becomes interested in Whip, a student at her school. Another relative visits, and attempts to warn the women about Charlie, with tragic results. Things aren’t what they seem for any of these characters. Charlie’s motives are far more devious than they appear on the surface, and the complex India may have some secrets of her own. The jumping off point for this intriguing film is the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Shadow of A Doubt (1943). In that tale, Joseph Cotten starred as another Uncle Charlie, who also visited his family, and whose easygoing demeanor hid a darker truth. In fact, this story’s Charlie is named in homage to Cotten’s character in that Hitchcock film. There’s also more than a touch of the movie The Bad Seed (1956) on display in the story here as well.

Mia Wasikowska (who played the title role Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and was also featured in Guillermo Del Toro's Crimson Peak) is very good as India, finding just the right balance between innocence and sensuality. Matthew Goode is excellent as the smooth talking, devious Charlie. And Nicole Kidman is outstanding as Evelyn, who is initially drawn in by Charlie’s charming ways, but later terrified upon learning his true nature. The film is visually striking, with some startling images of beauty and horror, thanks to the fine work of cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. The evocative score is by Clint Mansell, and there’s a great choice of songs used in the background of a couple of key scenes. The screenplay is by actor Wentworth Miller, who's best known for appearing in the TV series Prison BreakThe Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow. The film marked the American debut of Korean director Park Chan-wook, best known for The Vengeance Trilogy.

To say much more about this film would give away too many of its twists and turns. This is a fascinating and mysterious psychological thriller. If there’s any problem with the the movie, it’s that you may find it a little hard to sympathize with any of the characters. But that’s a minor quibble with this eerie, unusual tale. If you’re a fan of the TV series Bates Motel, American Horror Story or Twin Peaks, you’ll probably enjoy this offbeat film. The movie is well worth a look if you've run out of options on your Netflix, Hulu or DVR queues. Stoker is available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital download. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXaanQkzrXU.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Really Lurks Inside Room 237?

Have you ever been deeply enthusiastic about a movie, album or book? Maybe you’ve discussed it over and over with friends or fellow fans? Perhaps you've kept thinking about the true meanings of the images, words or music and endlessly considered its real meanings? Well, you’ve got nothing on the people featured in the film Room 237 (2012). This documentary features a group of Über-fans discussing their theories on the subtext of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 version of Stephen King’s novel The Shining. While the movie wasn’t a huge success on its original release (and King wasn't very happy with Kubrick's version of his novel) the film has gone on to achieve classic status. It's now considered one of the best of it's genre by many fans and critics. But the Kubrick devotees featured in Room 237 think there’s a lot more lurking behind the doors of The Overlook Hotel than Jack Nicholson, ghostly bartenders, corridors of blood and creepy twin girls.

The movie features clips from The Shining and other Kubrick films. It's narrated by these "superfans" and admirers of the director, who remain off camera. They discuss their views and opinions on what they feel are the true themes of the movie. The Kubrick aficionados include Bill Blakemore, Juli Kearns and John Fell Ryan, among others. The theories they put forth about what Kubrick is really discussing beneath the surface include the massacre of Native Americans by the white man, the Holocaust and the possible faking of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Few filmmakers inspire as much intense debate and offbeat interpretations among their fans as Kubrick does, and this group is no exception. It’s fascinating to see what some viewers feel is the true message of this unsettling horror tale. 

To paraphrase one of the Kubrick admirers featured, “Even if my view isn’t what he intended to say with the film, does that make it any less valid?” We all bring our own histories, interests and feelings with us when we watch a movie, see a play, read a book, or listen to an album. My take on a piece of art may be very different from yours, but that doesn’t make it incorrect. While some of these ideas regarding the subtext of The Shining are pretty far out, one thing is for sure: these people are truly passionate about this movie, and Kubrick’s work as a whole. The film’s one drawback is that the same clips are used multiple times to illustrate the theories being discussed.

We’re all fans of something, be it the films of a celebrated director, the performances of an award-winning actor, the work of a beloved author, a specific TV show or film genre, or the music of our favorite bands. Most people don’t espouse theories quite as far out as the ones featured in Room 237, but on some level, we’ve all been deeply affected by our own personal favorites This film celebrates movie fans, movie analysis and movie love, and that’s a good thing. Room 237 was produced by Tim Kirk and directed by Rodney Ascher. It’s currently available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital download & viewing. One final note that may be of interest to fans: In the original novel, the room number used by King was 217; Kubrick changed it to 237 for the film version. Here are links to the film’s trailers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOxukprEwjg & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHE5YUNkssQ.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Noir Alley: TCM Explores the Dark Side

This time out at Eclectic Avenue, I'd like to showcase another piece I wrote for the the excellent arts and entertainment website, Culture Sonar. I've been a member of their staff since February, and it's been a wonderful experience. The site has a truly talented collection of writers who cover all kinds of subjects across the pop culture spectrum. The site is located at http://www.culturesonar.com. Click on the link below to view my story about Noir Alley, the Sunday morning film series on Turner Classic Movies, hosted by Eddie Muller. You can take a look at the other articles I've written for the site by using the search function on the main page, and please do look around and check out some of the fantastic work by my fellow writers! Thanks for reading, and feel free to share!


http://www.culturesonar.com/noir-alley/


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Otis Redding's Unforgettable Soul

This week at Eclectic Avenue, I'd like to showcase another place you can check out my musings on movies, music and television; the excellent arts and entertainment website, Culture Sonar. I've been a member of their staff since February of this year, and it's been a fantastic experience. The site has a very talented collection of writers who cover all kinds of subjects in the pop culture spectrum. Please check out the site at http://www.culturesonar.com. Click on the link below to view one of my stories for the site, a look at the classic Otis Redding album, Otis Blue. Thanks for reading, and look for my other articles, as well as those of my wonderful fellow writers at Culture Sonar. Feel free to share!

http://www.culturesonar.com/otis-blue-album/

Sunday, November 12, 2017

This "Monster" is Delightful and Engaging

Ever have one of those days? Monster Dionysus works for the "cryptobiological containment department" of animal control. He captures mythological and magical creatures along with his partner, Chester, a paper gnome, who’s actually from another dimension. Monster’s bad day starts when he gets a call about a Yeti who’s wreaking havoc in a supermarket - actually the big furry guy is sitting there eating ice cream. Monster rescues Judy, an employee at the store, from the ravenous snow giant, and assumes his job is done. But in A. Lee Martinez’s comic novel, Monster, that's just the beginning of the story. Suddenly, a host of magical creatures are following Judy everywhere. They wreak havoc not only with her life, but with Monster’s as well.

Most humans in Monster’s world forget their encounters with the fantastic as soon as they occur. They have to be reminded about what happened to them; apparently, our little brains can’t handle the idea that magic is real. So Monster has to keep telling Judy about all the supernatural events that surround her. As more and more creatures appear, he has to figure out why Judy seems to be the epicenter of all these fantastic events. Monster also has to deal with the mysterious Lotus, who is going around turning people into cats! It looks like Lotus knows what's really going on, but she isn't telling. And let’s not forget Monster’s girlfriend from hell – who really is from hell. She's pretty angry most of the time, which also complicates matters for our hero.

Monster combines clever dialogue and fantastical situations along with some elements of action and adventure, which makes for an enjoyable, fast-paced read. Martinez' style is reminiscent of Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams. If you're a fan of those authors, I think you'll dig this particular Monster. Martinez maintains a light tone throughout this engaging, well-paced book, and creates some memorable, engaging characters. If you enjoy your fantasy or science-fiction on the lighter side, then Monster is highly recommended. Martinez has written several other excellent books, including a comic horror story entitled Gil’s All Fright Diner, another delightful fantasy titled Divine Misfortune and a sci-fi/hardboiled detective pastiche called The Automatic Detective. You can learn more about his other works here: http://www.aleemartinez.com.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Sherman Brothers: A Musical Legacy

Richard and Robert Sherman created some of the most memorable movie music of the last 50 years, writing songs for films such as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Parent TrapChitty Chitty Bang Bang and Snoopy, Come Home. Their story is told in the illuminating 2009 documentary, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story. It's a unique portrait of two talented, but very different, individuals. The film covers their remarkable journey from their humble beginnings as young songwriters, to their Academy Award winning success with Mary Poppins, and beyond.  Interviews with those who worked with them, including Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and Hayley Mills are interspersed with reminisces by their family and friends.

However, that's not the whole story. This fascinating film is also an in-depth examination of the relationship between the two brothers. Like many great songwriting partnerships, it’s the differences in their personalities and styles that helped make their collaboration so successful. But it’s those same qualities that caused friction between the siblings. Outside of their days working in the studio, the Shermans didn't really spend much time together, despite the fact that their families lived about six blocks from each other. The film (produced and directed by the duo’s sons, Gregory B. Sherman and Jeff Sherman) tries to get to the heart of this complicated relationship, and provide some answers, as well as some closure, regarding the brothers’ personal history.

This is also a story about the incredible songs created by this this amazing duo. There are clips from many of the movies and stage productions that the Shermans worked on, along with commentary by contemporary artists, actors and directors, including Ben Stiller, singer-songwriter Randy Newman, and Pixar’s John Lasseter, who discuss the lasting impact of their unforgettable music. A significant portion of the film also covers their close relationship with Walt Disney, and their years working at that studio on various projects. This allows us a peek inside that magical place where so many iconic films were created. If you’re a fan of the movies mentioned above, or are interested in a thoughtful examination of the creative process, and how it informs and affects the relationship of the artists doing the work, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story is highly recommended. The film is available on DVD, and also for digital viewing on Amazon. Here's a link to the trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny9bcJijkzU.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Kiss of the Damned: Art House Horror

Kiss of the Damned (2012) is an offbeat vampire movie from Writer-Director Xan Cassavettes. It recalls previous stylish  horror films like Blood & Roses (1960) and The Hunger (1983). It’s the story of Djuna, a vampiress who lives a lonely existence. In this offbeat tale, vampires are part of society, but live in secret and drink synthesized blood substitutes. They no longer hunt humans. Djuna falls in love with Paolo, a screenwriter, after initially spurning his advances. She soon turns him into one of the undead, so they can be together forever. They move through the night-time world of their fellow vampires, who now moonlight as actresses, writers and other normal members of society. They're determined to live their lives among humans without raising suspicions about themselves, or revealing their existence.

Then Djuna's unstable sister Mimi (who’s also a vampire, but doesn't play by the rules) shows up, and things go awry. The sexy, headstrong and reckless Mimi starts feeding on humans and causing strife between Djuna and Paolo. She becomes a threat not only to her sister and Paolo, but the well-ordered hierarchy of the undead. Djuna appeals to the vampire elite, but no one sees the depth of the problem posed by the violent, manipulative Mimi, who has some dark plans of her own. But is there a little streak of Mimi’s wildness and chaos in Djuna? What happened to Paolo’s agent, who disappears after his visit to their home? Before the story's over, the main characters learns a little bit about the dark side that lurks just beneath the surface of us all. Whether you're human or a supernatural being, if you live on the dark side long enough, it can consume you. After all, we all have the ability to become monsters, don't we?

Kiss of the Damned is really more of a mood piece than a straight ahead horror film. It has a very European flavor. The movie is well directed by Cassavettes, the daughter of actor-director John Cassavettes and actress Gena Rowlands, and the sister of director Nick Cassavettes. This compelling “art-house” vampire film has a great visual style, with excellent cinematography by Tobias Datum and an evocative score by Steven Hufsteter. Milo Ventimiglia is very good as Paolo, who gets caught up in the battle of wills between the two sisters. Ventimiglia also appeared in the sci-fi series Heroes and the film Rocky Balboa, and is now best known for his role in the current television series This Is Us. Joséphine de La Baume as Djuna and especially Roxanne Mesquida as Mimi offer fine support in their roles. The slow pace of the story may turn off some viewers, but it’s worth watching if you’re a fan of slightly different takes on vampire tales such as the films mentioned above, or other entries like A Girl Walks Home At Night (2014) or Let The Right One In (2008). Please note this is an R-rated film, not fit for family viewing. Kiss of The Damned is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and also for digital viewing and download on Amazon. Here’s a link to the trailer for the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5koqxkYQTpw.