Monday, March 5, 2018

70s nostalgia and great visuals

I saw a lot of praise for The Love Witch in 2016 and quietly added it to the checklist of movies in my brain under the heading of "I'd watch that but I'm not going to go out of my way for it."

I watched it last week and while I enjoyed it I'm glad that I didn't go to much trouble to see it (it's included in Amazon Prime and all I did was search Prime and then suddenly I was watching a movie.)

If you're into 70s exploitation flicks and witchcraft then oh boy is this the movie for you. It's not a great film, it doesn't have a great plot. But it's impressive for at least two major reasons:

1 - The visuals perfectly nail that dreamy, soft-focus 70s-almost-porno feel and it's beautiful. You have daytime interior shots that feel short and compressed and washed out and cramped contrasted with these beautiful exterior or isolated shots that are fuzzed around the edges and projecting rainbows. It's so pretty, and so well done.

2 - The acting looks like crap at first but when you remember the actors are aiming for that stilted, disconnected style and suddenly it's brilliant. The movie feels like a time capsule when it's really more like time travel.

And that's about all that I can really say for the movie. It does have this nice build of creeping horror and there were some moments when I felt genuinely unsettled, but it wasn't as engaging as I'd imagined from all the hype and I wasn't as invested as I like to be when I'm watching a movie.

If this were the kind of blog that gave stars I'd rate it about a 3 out of five - I probably wouldn't watch it again but I'm not mad that I saw it, and while I was a bit bored occasionally that was made up to me with the really fantastic art direction of the film.

     - Alli

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hey if you've got prime or netflix go watch WWDITS right now

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

I've meant to watch What We Do in the Shadows for years and just hadn't gotten around to it when finally I made the terrible decision to press play on my prime account at 2:45. I meant to just watch until my coffee finished brewing then go to bed, but then it was so great and I just had to watch the whole thing.

Look, I've only ever heard good things about this movie and as it turns out that's because it's a beautiful, perfect, adorable piece of art that I want to protect and cherish and show to everyone I know.

It's the funniest movie that I've watched in years, it's *so* sweet and charming, everyone and everything about the movie is perfect, it's shockingly well done for its very small budget, and the script is just so unbelievably good that I can't handle that it was written by humans.

This movie is PERFECT. It goes on my very short list of perfect movies (Legend, Galaxy Quest, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Last Unicorn, Point Break, Dune - I will not argue these, these movies are great and I love them) and I want to watch it again today. THE SAME DAY. TWICE.

I'm so happy that I saw it and I want you to see it too. I know it's on a few streaming services but this is going into my very limited "I actually own this on a physical disc" collection.


     - Alli

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A pure delight of a horror/comedy

Hey, here's the entire movie I'm about to praise:

Um? It's fucking fantastic?

Kill Me Now is a low-budget horror/comedy flick written by and co-starring Michael Swaim, whose work I know and love best from When Swaim left Cracked he started working on a project called Small Beans, and he shared the film on the Small Beans youtube channel.

I'd heard of the movie waaaaaay back when it was released in 2012 but was never really interested in seeking it out - it fell into my lap once I subscribed to Small Beans and I'm delighted that it did.

Kill Me Now is shockingly witty and wry for a faux teen horror flick - I like backwoods slasher movies like the Evil Dead, I like humorous serial killer stories like Dexter, and I like well done parodies like Airplane! (not like Vampires Suck). Kill Me Now manages to mix in a little bit of all of these and add in some of the best dialogue I've ever found in a teen slasher movie.

Michael Swaim is so friggin funny y'all.

It's not a perfectly made film; the acting is stilted sometimes and the staging and sets have a clear, low-budget look. But that kind of adds to the cheesy "we love Evil Dead and Wes Craven and Horror" feel of the thing.

I'm into it. If you're looking for a laugh at a slasher movie this is a good way to spend your time. You should go watch it, I hope you enjoy it.

     - Alli

Friday, January 26, 2018

Still Swimming Upstream

I am of two minds about The Shape of Water.

On the one hand it's a wonderful example of Del Toro's lovely vision of fairy tales - that they are comforting lies that cover up evil in the world, that they are a potent narcotic lulling people into complacency because they are always the princess in the story and they believe they'll win someday even as they support the system that crushes them, that they are a beautiful trap - a dream we want to reach for that sucks us down under the surface and keeps us from breaking free.

On the other hand I had some issues with the framing of Elisa in the film.

Elisa believes that she is broken because society believes that she is broken - she bonds with the Amphibian because he doesn't see that there's anything "less than" about her. She is whole to him, he is whole to her - even though the rest of the world may see them as wrong they recognize that they are fine, it's society that's wrong.

Which is why I was so bothered by the singing scene where Elisa had her voice. The ending doesn't bother me so much - the world isn't accommodating of them so they go off to live in a world where their muteness or alienness isn't a barrier. In the happiest of endings this is perfect for the social model of disability - the other world they go to accommodates their needs. However some people have, correctly, brought up that Del Toro is essentially saying "these people have no place in this world, they are monsters who have to run away, and we cannot have them here." Which is, you know, pretty shitty.

That is why I found the singing scene so jarring: Elisa is acceptable, beautiful, stunning, admired, looked upon with love and kindness from strangers - but only in a fantasy, and only when she has a voice.

Another thing that I found difficult to approach was the sexual framing of Elisa. Disabled folks are frequently infantalized and desexualized so seeing Elisa as sexual is liberating in one way; she candidly masturbates and is sexually attracted to a river god who is attracted to her - neat! Disabled people like sex too. But Strictland's fetishization of Elisa's mutness is all too real a reminder that disabled women are sexually abused in numbers that are frankly horrific. Which is especially upsetting because Del Toro's focus on Elisa's morning masturbation routine feels voyeuristic and fetishistic in the same way that Strickland acts.

And I'm not saying that was an intentional choice to make the viewer feel uncomfortable with how women are seen as sexual objects - I'm saying that seems to have been somewhat subconscious and for a movie that is concerned with commenting on male violence and xenophobia it's a disconcerting viewpoint. The camera lingers on Elisa's body and observes her orgasms in a way that is meant to feel charming, not creepy, but it comes off very poorly from my perspective.

To be clear, I didn't dislike the movie. I was underwhelmed and disappointed, but still thought that it was a beautiful film with powerful moments (in particular I will say that Elisa forcing people to listen to her was painful and raw-feeling and reaffirming); the music and set decoration and creature creation were all stunning (and I love Doug Jones *so* much). Everyone's acting was a delight. But I feel like it could have been more. I think people who are comparing The Shape of Water to Pan's Labyrinth are making a mistake, and I don't think that The Shape of Water will be remembered in ten years the way that Pan's Labyrinth is now because Pan's Labyrinth had something serious to say and said it, whereas The Shape of Water is a love letter to cinema that is sweet and personal, but ultimately not that important.

     - Alli

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last book of the year - great SciFi

I missed my reading challenge goal by rather a lot this year - I've read 25 of the 75 books I'd initially pledged and I only made it to a full 1/3 of the way because I powered through the last forty pages of this wonderful little scifi collection tonight.

13 Great Stories of Science-Fiction lives up to its title - there are a couple of stinkers in here but what's good is really good, and occasionally existentially haunting in a way that I didn't expect a little pre-moon-landing book of pulp to be.

Also this book was a gift from my friend Dani's mother, so thanks Mrs. Hopkins - I really appreciate ending 2017 on a high note thanks to you.

And now, a quick response to each of the stories in the book:

"The War is Over" by Algis Budrys: Okay, this one fucked me up and if you can find it I highly recommend it, holy shit, I don't want to say more because this story is going to stick with me for a long time and I want you to have the same opportunity for wistful joy.

"The Light" by Poul Anderson: Look, it's weird as fuck to read stories about landing on the moon written before we actually landed on the moon. There's a lot this story gets wrong from a scientific perspective, but from a story perspective it does a fantastic job.

"Compassion Circuit" by John Wyndham: Creepy. Very creepy. But in a good, healthy, Asimov way. A cool story about robots and our eternal fear of them that is surprisingly apt in this era of discussions of uploaded consciousnesses.

"Volpa" by Wyman Guin: Hey what's up I hated this story but I think I was at least supposed to hate its main character but really I hated everything, check out this page from the book:

Moving on.

"Silence, Please!" by Arthur C. Clarke: It's always great to get to read early works from authors who would blow the fuck up later in their careers, especially if it's in little forgotten anthologies. This story is hilarious and silly and a wonderful joke at people who exploit scientists by profiteering off their patents. A+

"Allegory" by William T. Powers - *FANTASTIC* just wonderful, a great little story about bureaucracy, the unwillingness to admit progress, and the social model of sanity.

"Soap Opera" by Alan Nelson: Gosh you know, a lot of the stories in this book are really exceptionally funny. This is one of them. It's absurd and lovely and sweet and snarky and I dig it.

"Shipping Clerk" by William Morrison: Another funny one - this one is also compassionate and weird and gross and larger than it seems like it should be. Good shit, maybe my favorite story in the collection.

"Technological Retreat" by G. C. Edmondson: Funny again, but in a more biting way that's a pretty strong critique of capitalism and humans as a whole.

"The Analogues" by Damon Knight: Fucking Scary. Foreboding. Full of the kind of totalitarian promise that continues to unnerve and upset us.

"Available Data on the Worp Reaction" by Lion Miller: Weird, cute, and kitschy. The language used to describe neurodivergence at the time leaves something to be desired, but I'm also fascinated by the fact that this is a SF story with an autistic protagonist written from a relatively sympathetic standpoint at some time in the 50s.

"The Skills of Xanadu" by Theodore Sturgeon: This story answers the question of "What if Paul Atredies had been a hedonist who defeated the Harkonnens through technology" and that's a spoiler and I don't care. Sturgeon telegraphs that spoiler all the way through and watching it build up is half the fun. A remarkably complete little world for a 20 page story.

"The Machine" by Richard Gehmen: Fucking Hilarious. Also maddeningly familiar in an era of fake news, but tremendously amusing, a great way to round out the collection and the end of my year.

Thanks for reading, happy new year, and I'll catch you in 2018.

     - Alli

December is for Star Wars

Look, we're all stoked when we get to see a new Star Wars move but sometimes I'm a little sick of the hype.

The Last Jedi is far from the worst film in the series, but I will happily and loudly disagree with anyone who says it's the best. The parts of it that I liked I like more than I like most of the rest of the series, the parts of it that I disliked are more irksome to me than the worst of the prequels.

TLJ needed a heavier hand with the editing - there are about three main stories happening all at the same time and while I know it's typical to bounce between mains in a Star Wars movie at least most of the time all of the stories are doing something that matters. That's not the case here, and unfortunately it seems like only one of the stories really makes a difference in-universe. It fucking sucks that the Leia storyline and the Finn storyline are the least interesting and least impactful.

There's also some shitty writing going on here. I feel like with a couple of relatively simple changes the film could have felt a lot more whole and complete.

Spoilers here:

Admiral Ackbar's death is pointless and meaningless and the audience isn't given a chance to feel it or care about it. You know what would be a really easy way to fix this? Skip Laura Dern's character and fill that role with Admiral Ackbar. There's no need to waste time (in an already extremely long movie) with characterization on a one-and-done character while denying a legacy character the death both he and the audience deserve when you've got it right fucking there. It would make more sense for Ackbar to butt heads with Poe, for Ackbar to sacrifice himself for the remains of the resistance, for Ackbar to survive the bridge exposion and still die - it would give us a moment of real tragedy  instead of the blank "wait, did Ackbar just die" moment followed by the vast hollow depths of my inability to give a shit about Holdo's death (because I don't know her, I don't know her history, I don't respect her because all I've seen her do up until this point is fuckin drive into the goddamned nether when for real IF THE HYPERSPACE TRACKER IS ONLY ENABLED ON THE SUPREMACY SHIP THEN WHY DID THEY WAIT FOR SO MUCH OF THE RESISTANCE TO GET SHOT DOWN AND DEPLETE FUEL IN THAT RUN TO CRAIT MOTERHFUCKERS ADMIRAL ACKBAR COULD HAVE DIED A HERO TAKING OUT THE SUPREMACY AFTER ALL CREW HAD BEEN MOVED TO VESSELS THAT STILL HAD FUNCTIONAL WEAPONS AND SOME TRAVEL ABILITY YOU JACKHOLES. WHY DID YOU SAVE THAT FOR YOUR BIG END MOVE AND LET MOST OF YOUR FORCES DIE IN A LONG AND POINTLESS SLOG THROUGH SPACE INSTEAD OF SENDING ONE FUCKIN PILOT THROUGH THE FUCKIN SUPREMACY AT LIGHTSPEED WHILE EVERYONE ELSE STILL HAD THE ABILITY TO GET AWAY GODDAMNIT).

Anyway, I feel like the film could have used a couple more treatments.

Kylo and Rey's force bond, their fight in Snoke's throne room, his betrayal of her, Leia's first onscreen use of the force, Poe's love for BB8, Rose's sister (though not her fucking ridiculous bomber), DJ, and everything having to do with Luke was fantastic and I loved it.

Finn and Rose were wasted in this film, though Finn's role in the fight on Crait and Rose's freeing of the animal on that incredibly boring gambling planet were very nice.

Again, a couple more treatments or a heavier hand with editing and I feel like this would have been a fucking amazing Star Wars movie. As it is, it's flawed and I enjoy large parts of it but other large parts of it are just frustrating.

     - Alli

Highway to Hell's Angels

Even though it seems that he always felt bad about himself reading Hunter S. Thompson is a good way to make you feel bad about yourself. Or good about yourself. It depends.

I spent August and September working my way through The Proud Highway, a collection of Thompson's letters from his young adulthood. It makes me feel awful about myself because 17-year-old Thompson had found a style of expression that I can't even begin to emulate (in terms of hilarity, originality, maturity, and cynicism) as a person almost twice that age. It makes me feel great about myself because I may not be as witty as Thompson but at least I've never ended up stranded in Puerto Rico burning bridges of friendship as I leave my abandoned belongings with someone unwise enough to be generous with me.

Thompson had a turbulent, exciting, patently ridiculous life and reading his letters really gets to the heart of that in a way that his essays and novels don't. He was chaotic and mean and ballsy, he's easy to loathe and easy to admire in his writing.

I can't recommend this collection to everyone - there's a fair helping of racism that is difficult to look beyond and is upsetting to experience through his eyes. But if you're looking for a novel way to explore language or play with pacing then reading some Thompson would not be amiss.

There are two further volumes of Thompson's letters that I want to read someday, and reading this book made me want to give Hell's Angels a second pass (these letters lead up to the publication of that book and I want to read it with fresh insight into Thompson's perspective while writing it). I think I'll always enjoy reading Thompson's work, but there's always an edge of mania that galls and there's usually too much bitterness or outright hatred for me to approve of, but the words can be transcendent. 

     - Alli