Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hello Goodbye

So I read The Crow for the first time in like 2003 and there's a line in it that turns out to be a lyric from a song by Robyn Hitchcock that goes "It's a Raymond Chandler evening at the end of someone's day, and I'm standing in my pocket and slowly turning grey."

I didn't know what that meant at the time and to be honest I still don't know what it means but I've got a better feeling for it now since I've read a Raymond Chandler book for the first time.

I'll start out by saying that I liked it. I read The Long Goodbye and it's a fine book. It's a fun mystery and it's sordid and smoggy and feels like Los Angeles and that's a vibe I can get behind.

I could do without the racism that pops up occasionally and smacks me in the face.

And that's really my main criticism of the thing. I liked the book, I enjoyed the story, Raymond Chandler had an unbearably brilliant way with metaphors. And there's some racism that totally snaps me out of the mood and makes me not want to read it for a while.

You know when I'm reading Huckleberry Finn I expect racism. Racism is a big part of that story and seeing Huck and Jim face the racists around them doesn't surprise me and destroy what I was feeling because the point of the story is to criticize racism.

But when I'm reading Raymond Chandler I'm expecting sleazy Los Angeles and dramatic people and Marlowe being a cool cucumber in a hot desert, so when I'm suddenly reading his thoughts about big black men chasing white women I've got to take a step back.

Again, it was a good book. I liked it. There were lots of good things about it.

But this was something that I was in no way expecting that made it frustrating to continue reading.

I will probably read more Raymond Chandler but I guess I'll be doing so with something of a cautious eye.

     - Alli

Many Monsters

Pete Von Sholley is an excellent storyboard artist who has worked on dozens of films and TV shows. And he loves monsters. He also happens to be a customer at my job so I had the uniquely lovely opportunity to discuss monsters with him and of course jumped at the chance to contribute to the kickstarter for his latest book, Pete Von Sholly's History of Monsters.

The book went to print late last year and I've only just now had the chance to sit down and read it. It starts with a few pages describing the monsters you'll see on the art plates in the rest of the book and then it's off to the races with the art.

There are 21 plates in the book featuring hundreds of monsters from the dawn of human myth up until the monster movies of the last few years.

While I do appreciate the earlier plates and their exploration of what different monster myths might have looked like it's the later plates from the 60s on that really tickle my fancy - a lot of which is simply down to the fact that I get to have fun recognizing monsters. There's something delightful about seeing fifty monsters on a page and getting a little jolt each time you recognize a particular set of fangs or a pattern of mangy fur.

I really appreciate some of the more unusual choices as well - one of the later plates features a monster from the movie Evolution. That movie wasn't particularly popular and that monster was only on screen for a couple of minutes so it's great to see this extremely creepy but frequently forgotten face among images of cenobites and predators.

If you're a monster geek I'd say picking up the book is well worth it - it's a great collection from someone who has had a major hand in bringing many monsters to life.

     - Alli

Creeping in Castle Rock

Is Gwendy's Button Box the first Castle Rock story in the Kingiverse that's co-written? I'm not sure and at the moment I don't want to google it, but the novella is a creepy little tale by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar that I both enjoyed and was horrified by, which is the best that can be expected when you're dealing with King.

The story is uncomfortable in that it makes you feel the weight of responsibility put on our titular Gwendy, and as she grows familiar with the eponymous button box so do we - it's an object of obsession and control and we become nervous about its use and fate.

The book is short, which places it in a good position relative to some of the other Castle Rock stories. I think the novella format is perfectly suited to our jaunts to the creepy little town. The Body and Sundog are stronger works than Cujo, certainly.

It may well be that Castle Rock is such a known quantity (though not monstrous like Derry) that we don't need to get to know the setting - all you have to understand is that the story takes place in the sleepy little village and you already know the history of misery behind the place.

Bad things have happened here but it is not a bad place.

Anyway Gwendy herself is fantastic and I'm always happily horrifed when we get a visit from the dark man. I never know what Flagg is up to but I can rest assured that nothing good is going to come of it.

Which is exactly what happened here and why I'd recommend picking up the book to see what's going on for yourself.

     - Alli

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