Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dream: May 31

I dreamed I had four small spots, in a straight line, on the inside of my forearm. I picked at them, they scabbed over, I picked at them again, as I do. Then one day I noticed tiny, green leaves sprouting from each spot. I gently tugged at them and sizable green seedlings came out of my arm. There was no blood and I don't remember feeling like I was in pain but I don't know if I ever really feel physical pain in my dreams. The people I was with were horrified. They asked if whatever I had was going to come back. Then some other woman, a woman I don't believe I knew, came over and said everything would be fine, the whole process had run its course, but to give her the discarded seedlings (which had turned goopy and kind of purple-ish bloody once I removed them, like biohazard waste) to dispose of, so they wouldn't infect someone else. So I scooped them up and handed them to her. Then I woke up.

I think this can either be interpreted as some sort of allegory about the creative process and the sprouting of new ideas or a warning that I'm going to get some sort of exotic disease because I spend my weekends lying around in my backyard with a dead opossum.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thrum


Here's a thing I made. Got noises on it. Noises that I find pleasing. You might dig it, too. Check it out.

Howl with Me Again

Long overdue update to my website. Because a) I'm finally at a point where I don't wanna spend all my spare time faffing off on my blog about Nick Fallon and b) I'm actually feeling motivated to make stuff again.

Remembering Nick Fallon on the One Year Anniversary of His Death



Loving and missing you today, NF.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

If Blake Berris Were Your Boyfriend

Full disclosure: Though these scenarios have been knocking around in my head, fueling my private fantasies, for months, I totally cribbed the idea for this post from The Toast's series about hypothetical celebrity significant others. While I'm sure they could come up with a much more clever scenario than mine I'm not sure Mr. Berris is well-known enough to show up on their radar. So, once again, I've taken matters into my own hands. My apologies to The Toast and Mr. Berris; I just couldn't stop myself.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd make out all the time, any and everywhere, because oh my God, those lips! How are they even real? And you'd hug a lot (like, a lot) because he's one of those "all in" types who hugs with his whole body and you're like that, too. And your friends would be made uncomfortable by your public displays of affection because they'd be so intimate but you just wouldn't be able to help yourself because, the way your height matches up with his, your head just fits against his shoulder and beneath his chin and it is perfection and you simply wouldn't be able to get enough of it.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd always be running late because he'd always be misplacing his keys. Or his wallet. Or his denim shirt. But you wouldn't be bothered in the slightest because you'd find his enormous capacity for misplacing things oddly endearing and charming. 

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd constantly be doing silly things, like wearing wacky costumes and making up preposterous dance routines, to try and crack him up because he has the biggest, toothiest grin and it melts your heart every time you see it. He's also adorable when he laughs. And he would always be cracking corny jokes himself or doing zany impersonations or making goofy faces and, even though you'd roll your eyes, you'd still laugh because he's totally thirty going on fifty-five, with his dorky sense of humor and his affection for middle-aged romantic comedies, and you love that about him.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend the two of you would get high and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey together at least once a month (maybe twice). You'd pop popcorn but you'd always be trying out different seasoning combinations, like coconut lime or chipotle chocolate or matcha. And, as you watched, you'd have these rambling, passionate exchanges about the Star Child and the Monolith and evolutionary jumps and you'd both wonder why Childhood's End has never gotten the cinematic treatment it so richly deserves and then you'd agree to co-write an adaptation of the novel for the big screen but you'd never actually get around to doing it because it's more your passion project than his and you're far less driven and goal-oriented than he is; you just like to dream big.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend every year on Valentine's Day he'd recreate the "Nick Fallon and the heart-shaped pillow" scene from the February 14th, 2013 episode of Days of Our Lives. Even though it embarrasses him when this scene is referenced in interviews or on social media he knows how much you love it so he'd set aside his ego and play along (provided it stays between the two of you).

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd get concerned about him when he started replacing his lazy meals with Soylent. And, when he wasn't looking, you'd pitch that stuff and fix him some homemade soup and a sandwich. Because, even though he's a grown man, he still seems like he needs to be mothered (or, if you're being totally honest with yourself, he really just triggers your misplaced maternal instincts). And you'd try to convince him to leave L.A. and find a new home base because he's better than that whole plastic Hollywood scene and if he lived some place like Brooklyn he'd stop fixating on going "post food" and get obsessed with running a small artisanal butcher shop (he does, after all, have that running joke about pigs, so it seems like a natural fit). And that would make both your lives better.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd run his lines with him. You wouldn't even mind when he got agitated and snippy with you because you'd understand that it wasn't about you it was about his devotion to his craft and him being a Virgo and a perfectionist and hyper-critical of himself and exacting when it comes to his work so, despite the fact that you might want to slap him for being a bit of a diva, you'd remain calm and supportive and encouraging because you'd understand that that's what he really needs.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd sit on the deck and drink gin & tonics (heavy on the gin, light on the tonic, lots and lots of lime) together in the sun during the spring and summer months. You'd also hula hoop in the backyard because anyone with a torso that long has just got to be a natural at hula hooping (on rainy days you'd make him stay inside and play Twister with you for the same reason). You'd also have living room dance parties, like, two or three nights a week, minimum. 

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd take regular trips to New York together and he'd never get tired of going to art museums with you. And he'd stand in front of the Rauschenbergs and the Twomblys at the MoMA with you for as long as you wanted. He'd scrutinize them, too, trying to figure out what it is you love so much about the abstract expressionists (cause he's more a Hopper man himself). He'd even hold your hand, squeezing it if he senses that you're getting especially emotional about a particular piece. And he'd agree with you that the subway is one of the best things about the city, because the people watching is so extraordinary.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend he'd never mind staying out late at your friend's house if there was a decent shindig in full swing. And he'd be game for absolutely anything. Cookout? He'd mix drinks and help prep food in the kitchen. Drum circle? Hand him some bongos. Crafting party? He's totally down with that. Oh, and that wonky looking "dog" you sculpted that looks more like an anemic, deformed, prematurely-born lamb? He thinks it's genius. And if you both stayed too late and got too tired and too drunk to drive home he wouldn't feel the least bit self-conscious about crashing on the floor with you, or on the sofa, or in the hammock in the yard. And if everyone wanted to up and go to Waffle House at four in the morning he'd be cool with that, too.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd constantly be borrowing his shirts because his fashion sensibilities are really quite close to yours. And you'd both wear scarves indoors, year round, for reasons that only the two of you would really understand.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend he'd dress up as Paul Sheldon for Halloween, bruised and battered legs, leg braces and all. You'd be his number one fan Annie Wilkes, clad in a denim jumper, carrying a sledgehammer. You'd find someone who would lend you a pig for the evening to complete the ensemble (or, if you've convinced him by this point to move to Brooklyn and become a butcher, you can just use one of your own swine).

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd want to ruffle his hair all the time.You'd fight this urge in public because you'd know how important his 'do is to him and how much care he puts into making his hair look artfully disheveled. But once you got him home alone those tousled locks would belong to you. You'd spend countless evenings sitting on the sofa with him curled up next to you, head in your lap, and you'd run your fingers through his hair for hours on end. 

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend he'd totally get carried away watching TV shows and movies, just like you do. And any time something super emotional or traumatic happened you'd both cry and pat each other's knees and hold hands and try to reassure one another. It would be both cathartic and soothing. And you'd both read the same books so that you could have lengthy discussions about them that would involve lots of ecstatic hand-waving on both your parts to emphasize the most important points.

If Blake Berris were your boyfriend you'd insist on accompanying him to his soap opera and fan club events even though he'd try to dissuade you because he knows how uncomfortable they make you. You'd remain at a distance from the action, a careful observer, not a participant, but you'd watch him like a hawk the entire time. Not because you're jealous or distrustful, you're just protective of your sweet, sensitive fella. Every once in a while, from the center of a teeming throng of fangirls, he would glance in your direction, you'd lock eyes, he'd smile and you would know that your presence there was a comfort to him. And that would make you happy.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Upstream Color

It's an odd sensation, watching a movie and simultaneously thinking that you understand it but you don't really get it; you can follow it but you know you're missing out on all kinds of stuff. That's how I felt when I watched Upstream Color. It's beautiful, it's hypnotic, it's disorienting and unusual. I tried to describe the basic premise to my husband after I watched it and I found that I couldn't compose sentences to convey my thoughts. In fact I really have no idea why I'm writing about it, except that I liked it so much and I'm hoping that, by writing about it, I might be able to better understand why I liked it. Maybe I'll even be able to explain my reasons for liking it to other people.

A woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz), is knocked unconscious by a drug dealer, dragged into an alley and forced to ingest a powerful hallucinogenic larva. Kris is subsequently held captive and subjected to a series of exercises that show that she is not in command of her thoughts, feelings or actions while under the influence of the hallucinogen. She is eventually released but the life she once knew is gone. Everything she made for herself has been taken from her. Even Kris herself seems, at times, to be a wholly different person, or at least one who has been fundamentally altered by her experience. She begins the slow process of reacclimating and building a new life for herself. One day she is approached by a stranger, a man named Jeff (Shane Carruth), who is drawn to her because he has had a similar experience. They become romantically involved but their affection for one another seems both genuine and manufactured, a by-product of their shared experience. Though they are seemingly free they are still affected by the outside influences that initially threw both of their lives into such disarray. 

Or, at least, that was how I interpreted it. I have turned this story over in my head dozens of times since I watched it. I thought about watching it a second time before writing about it but decided I wanted to go ahead and share my initial thoughts before I revisit the story. Because I may come away with an entirely different take on the whole thing after a second viewing. There have been moments throughout the day, as I've tried to decide what I wanted to say about this movie, when I've wondered if I wasn't overthinking it. I'll think I've got it figured but then I'll remember something I'd previously forgotten and think to myself "Hold up; how does that factor into it?" I do know that Upstream Color made an enormous emotional impression upon me and its theme of shared experience and interconnectedness resonated in an especially powerful way. I thought Shane Carruth was excellent as Jeff and, when I realized afterwards that he not only starred in but also wrote, directed and scored the film I was both impressed and moved, because it leant the whole thing an additional patina of intimacy. I thought Amy Seimetz was absolutely astonishing as Kris. Like many of my favorite performances the role demands a tremendous level of versatility because Kris suffers tremendous emotional and psychological upheavals. Seimetz aces the hurdles of the role in a way that is graceful, believable and nuanced. Kris felt very real and I felt very connected to her and her experiences as I was watching.

Upstream Color is an incredibly unique, beautifully rendered movie. I appreciate the initial impression it made upon me but I also look forward to revisiting it and seeing what I take away from additional viewings, because I have a feeling this one still a lot more to offer me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Day the NATAS Broke My Heart

The Daytime Emmy nominations were announced today and, for the second year in a row, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences opted not to nominate Blake Berris for his amazing performance as Nick Fallon on Days of Our Lives. To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement. I was baffled last year when Blake was shut out of the race but to have it happen again this year just feels incomprehensible. I'm perplexed and I'm upset. It sounds arrogant and mildly delusional to say that I'm taking this personally but I'm still so emotionally invested in Nick, and still so in awe of what Blake was able to bring to the role, that it's hard not to feel wounded on a personal level by the back-to-back snubs. 

Blake, for what it's worth, you touched a lot of people (myself included, obviously) with your portrayal of Nick. And I'm so proud of you. It feels kind of weird saying that to someone I don't really know, like it's too personal or something, but I'm saying it anyway because, well, I am proud of you. I'm proud of the character you brought to such vibrant life on Days. I'm proud of the story you told with that character. I'm proud of the chances you took on the show and the extraordinary contribution you made to daytime television. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. If it were up to me you know that you'd get all the awards, today and every day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Honeymoon

Yesterday I watched The Taking of Deborah Logan, a possession flick that received plenty of positive reviews; I went into it expecting something above average and ended up being dissatisfied when the movie fell short of my expectations. I couldn't help but think of Honeymoon, a creepy little story I watched last week and enjoyed immensely. Neither of these movies is doing anything groundbreaking but there's something about Honeymoon that feels so immediate, so passionate and genuine that it's hard not to feel like you're seeing something a bit out of the ordinary. It's so simple and so streamlined but so beautifully, thoughtfully constructed that every moment of it feels necessary and engaging.

Honeymoon opens with the wedding reception video confessionals of Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway). They are young, beautiful and absolutely mad about each other. They have chosen to spend their honeymoon at a rustic lakeside cabin owned by Bea's family. It's very early spring, just before the start of tourist season, so the other nearby cabins are empty and the newlyweds have pretty much the entire place to themselves. The only other people who seem to be around are Will, a childhood friend of Bea's from family vacations past and his wife Annie. Will operates a small lakeside diner that his family owns but when Bea and Paul stop in for a bite they are met not with hospitality but with apprehension and hostility. Will seems on edge and Annie seems . . . very unwell. 

But Bea and Paul's odd encounter with Will and Annie is a minor hiccup to the newly married couple, who are content to canoe on the lake, make lots of pancakes and have loads and loads of sex. That is until Bea goes missing in the night and Paul finds her, naked and disoriented, in the middle of the woods. Though she tries to assure her new husband that everything is fine there's just something about Bea that's a little off. She forgets how to perform simple tasks, like making French toast or coffee, and she stumbles over herself in conversation, occasionally struggling to find and properly utilize the most basic, everyday words. She has also abruptly lost all interest in sex with Paul, finding any excuse to put him off when he tries to initiate any kind of serious physical contact with her. Paul's suspicions turn to the already suspicious Will and he begins to fear that the other man may be a threat to both Bea and Annie. But the strange lights that illuminate the darkened forest in the night and the peculiar electrical disturbances in the cabin suggest a more fantastical adversary. 

Honeymoon is a slow burn but, for me, every moment of it worked. Leslie and Treadaway are lovely as Bea and Paul. I believed they were in love and I was heartbroken and terrified for both of them for the better part of the movie. And even though the overall vibe is subtle creepiness the movie definitely delivers some squirm-inducing gore in its final scenes. The sort of body horror stuff that makes me shudder and would make David Cronenberg proud. This is a genuinely effective and unsettling little film. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan

2014's The Taking of Deborah Logan is an above average mediocre film. I can't think of any other way to describe it. There are no fresh ideas and no fresh approaches to the subject matter in this faux documentary possession yarn. There are a handful of moments that are creepy, and one towards the end that genuinely freaked me out, but, for the most part, this movie felt more or less interchangeable with any number of other shaky, hand-held camera, running in the woods flicks. It's worth watching because it's well made and wonderfully acted but I wish it had had just a little more oomph to distinguish it from all the other titles like it.

Deborah Logan is a prim, proper Virginia gentlewoman who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Deborah reluctantly agrees, at the urging of her daughter, Sarah, to allow a film crew to document her struggles with the disease. Deborah is a private woman by nature but the filmmakers are willing to pay her for her contribution and, with the very real threat of her house being repossessed hanging over her head, she's not in a position to turn down their offer.

The Alzheimer's diagnosis, like Mia's drug addiction in the new Evil Dead, is a gimmick. It's a plot device designed to keep the characters from figuring out too quickly that something malevolent has taken hold of Deborah. All her bizarre behavior, the violent outbursts, the sleepwalking episodes where she digs in her backyard in the middle of the night, are attributed to her illness, which her physician surmises is progressing at a much more rapid rate than Deborah and Sarah were originally told that it would. Her doctor ups the dosage on her medication but Deborah's mental and physical state continue to deteriorate. Once Sarah and the film crew realize what's actually happening they must try to stop Deborah from succumbing to the entity that is tormenting her.

Deborah Logan's strength is its titular protagonist, played by Jill Larson, who gives a performance that is both chilling and heartrending. Anne Ramsay is equally compelling as daughter Sarah, a stressed-out caregiver who is fast approaching her own breaking point. Because I liked these characters so much I was especially disappointed in the tone of the movie's resolution, which felt callous and sensationalistic. I invested emotionally in these women and it was disheartening to see them treated as little more than an afterthought in the movie's abrupt, hackneyed "Gotcha!" ending. I think I wouldn't be nearly as disappointed in this movie if it hadn't shown so much potential. It made me want more from it and, when it didn't deliver, I ended up feeling incredibly unsatisfied. Maybe even more unsatisfied than I have any right to feel.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Campaigning for Blake Berris


A few years back, after he released his film Inland Empire, David Lynch campaigned for the movie's leading lady, Laura Dern, to receive an Oscar nomination. Since he is David Lynch his approach was far from conventional. Lynch wandered around Hollywood with a live cow, periodically parking himself and his bovine companion at popular intersections and sitting next to an enormous banner with the words "For Your Consideration: Laura Dern" emblazoned across an image of the actress's face. Dern's performance was not recognized by the Academy but I was so intrigued and impressed with Lynch's support for her work in the role that I felt compelled to launch my own campaign for Blake Berris (I do not live in Hollywood or own a cow, so I made do with what I had on hand). 

At this point, Berris is considered by many to be the favorite to take home the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the Daytime Emmys broadcast on April 26th. But, first, he has to snag a nomination. He has already garnered a pre-nomination, just like last year, for his exquisite work as Nick Fallon but, one week from tomorrow, the field of contenders will be narrowed from ten to five. While I feel fairly confident that Berris will make the cut it was at this particular stage that he was snubbed by the Academy last year, so it's hard not to feel a little nervous about the March 31st announcement. I know that my peculiar campaign won't influence the way that anybody feels about Berris or his work on Days of Our Lives but I had to give it a shot, regardless. And I'm hoping with all my might that the voters recognize his outstanding contribution to daytime drama this go-around.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Eden Lake

knew very little about Eden Lake before I watched it, other than it was a couple-in-peril yarn and it starred Michael Fassbender, before he blew up stateside and became a Hollywood A-lister. I went in expecting a typical thriller and ended up with much more than I bargained for; the movie is bloody and terrifying but it was the tone of the thing, which is relentlessly bleak and nihilistic, that really took me by surprise. I am almost tempted to watch it again, to see how I might react when I know what to expect, but I'm not sure I can subject myself to such a torturous endurance test a second time around.

Fassbender and Kelly Reilly play Steve and Jenny, a couple who set out for a rustically romantic get-away of camping and swimming at Eden Lake, a picturesque flooded quarry that sits on a patch of beautifully wooded land. Steve wants to spend one last weekend there before the property is transformed into a high-end residential area. The couple's idyl is interrupted, however, when they run afoul of an aggressive group of teenagers, who have come to the quarry for their own very different sort of fun. Steve and Jenny's initial interactions with the youths are unpleasant, though not particularly alarming or out of the ordinary, but the situation eventually escalates, a confrontation ensues and the unlucky couple find themselves targeted, indeed hunted, by a vengeful, bloodthirsty group of young savages. Or, more accurately, one vengeful, bloodthirsty young man and his friends, all of whom are either too weak-willed, indifferent towards or intimidated by their bullying leader to go against his orders.  

Eden Lake, written and directed by James Watkins, is reminiscent of other stories where civilized people find themselves in decidedly uncivilized situations, like Deliverance and Lord of the Flies. I was also reminded, just slightly, of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Summer People," about a couple who stay on at their rental home past the close of the holiday season, and the repercussions they suffer from the disgruntled locals as a result of their decision; while the bulk of the movie is set in the wilderness surrounding the quarry there are a few key scenes set in a nearby tourist town that suggest that the adult population isn't especially enamored of outsiders either. 

Some critics have taken issue with the class distinctions between the locals, who are decidedly working class, and Steve and Jenny, who are bit more well off, and called the movie to task for being classist. And at times it's hard not to take that message away from Eden Lake, that the poorer characters are less humane and more savage than the nice, middle class couple at the center of the story, but I like to think there's more going on than that. As the story progresses all the characters are pushed to their limits and react in extreme, out of the ordinary ways. And while Steve are Jenny are most definitely the victims the teenagers in the story are not a group of young aggressors who decide, at the outset, to spend their weekend terrorizing and hunting a couple of unsuspecting strangers for kicks. Everything just escalates quickly and the alpha teen, Brett, refuses to back down; peer pressure and fear drive a lot of the action in this story.

It has been almost a week since I watched Eden Lake and I find that I have thought about it several times and my perception of it has shifted slightly. Initially I was overwhelmed by the unapologetic brutality of the film but, the more I mull it over, I think about all the things about it that are worth admiring. The movie is well-made, the setting is gorgeous and creates a nice contrast to the ugly events that unfold. Fassbender and Reilly give compassionate, convincing performances; Reilly, in particular, really gets put through her paces in the later half of the story. Watching Jenny's fight for survival is both engrossing and exhausting. But it's Jack O'Connell's Brett who basically steals the show. He is relentlessly cunning and terrifying but so very compelling. There's not a false note in his performance, which makes it all the more watchable and all the more frightening. And the grim resolution to the story is as memorable as it is heartbreaking. If you've got the constitution for it, this one's worth a watch.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Antiviral

Brandon Cronenberg's directorial debut, Antiviral, is a dark, devastating critique of celebrity culture. It's a science fiction, body horror, black comedy thriller that examines the public's vampiric fascination with famous people and the outrageous lengths that fans will go to in order to connect with the objects of their obsession.

Television broadcasts blasting the latest tabloid exposés of the stars play in the background of Antiviral on seemingly endless loops but within the universe of the movie every single aspect of a celebritiy's being has the potential to be commodified. Muscle cells from the famous are harvested and turned into celebrity steaks and bacon bits so that the masses can cannibalize the public figures that they adore. And the posh Lucas Clinic offers the ultimate means of connection by giving fans the chance to be injected with viruses obtained from their favorite celebrities. In the opening sequence of the movie Syd March, a Lucas Clinic sales rep / technician, makes a persuasive pitch to client Edward Porris, ultimately convincing the young man to be infected with Herpes Simplex obtained from the beautiful, uber-famous Hannah Geist. The scene is horrifying but eerily seductive. What must it be like to be so entranced by a famous figure (or, more accurately, the public image she projects) that you will subject yourself to this kind of suffering in order to experience a physical connection with her? While it seems absurd on one level it is also entirely believable that this is the logical next step for our celebrity-obsessed culture. 

The only character we really get to know in Antiviral is Syd March, the story's amoral antihero. Syd has been smuggling viruses out of the Lucas Clinic, by infecting himself and extrapolating the corrupted matter off-site, and selling them on the black market. But exposing himself to all these illnesses has begun to take its toll on Syd's body. When he infects himself with a mysterious, untreatable disease that Hannah Geist has contracted he unintentionally launches himself into a race against time to find a cure, while trying to avoid becoming a commodity himself. Though the character initially seems shrewd and opportunistic, bucking the system for his own personal gain, it is clear by the end of the movie that his motivations are far more complicated and personal. Syd's rapidly deteriorating physical condition provides most of the movie's gore and, like his father David, Bradon Cronenberg gives good gore. There are some fantastically gruesome moments in Antiviral that are both squirm-inducing and surreally beautiful. And Caleb Landry Jones makes this sometimes inscrutable character's suffering highly compelling to watch.

I will cop to my own obsessive fangirl proclivities. I tend to like what I like in a way that's all-consuming so stories that explore celebrity culture and the public's relationship to it are fascinating to me. And while I like to think I'd draw the line at actually having myself infected with a virus in order to share a famous person's illness I can understand the slavish, delusional devotion that might drive that sort of impulse. While the actual plot of Antiviral is a fairly standard mystery thriller the ideas that drive the story make it especially unique and intriguing. The fact that none of the ideas presented in it seemed all that far-fetched made it even more compelling to me. And the movie's aesthetics are perfectly suited to the subject matter. Interiors are sleek and sterile, immaculate but largely devoid of personal touches, mirroring the flawless but hollow personas that public figures like Hannah Geist project. The film never explores the actual personalities of its celebrity characters. We only see them as the fans see them: they are perfect, near-mythical human beings, cyphers that the ravenous public clamors for because . . . why? Are they disheartened by or disinterested in their own lives? Is it easier to cling to the artifice of an ideal? Antiviral doesn't provide answers to these questions, it simply observes the behavior and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Crazy Bitches

Crazy Bitches, Jane Clark's follow-up to her harrowing, heartfelt directorial debut, Meth Head, is, as its title suggests, a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. I liked that about it. In fact, I liked everything about this movie. It's advertised as a "horror comedy sex-romp" and it delivers on all those fronts, in charmingly tongue-in-cheek fashion. It's funny, it's creepy and it's sexy. But what I loved most about it was the sharply observed writing and the endearing performances. It's a loving send-up of the slasher genre but it also manages to be a top-notch character study. That's very cool in and of itself but considering how many characters Clark is juggling it's also an incredibly impressive accomplishment.

If you know slashers you know the drill: a group of attractive friends get together for a weekend of rest and relaxation at a reasonably isolated location (in this instance, a ranch) and, one by one, fall prey to a crazed killer. More often than not the victims in these movies are high schoolers or college co-eds but Clark chose to cast older leads for her film. The protagonists in Crazy Bitches are old college sorority sisters (and their one gay male friend) who have been friends for years and treat one another like family; they have a history together, they know each other's faults and weaknesses (and sometimes exploit them for their own advantage or amusement) but there is also lots of love and affection within this tight-knit group. When the killer begins picking them off one by one (in creative ways that reference each woman's vanity) it hurts because, despite the fact that they're a flawed and, yes, rather bitchy bunch, they are also warm and relatable. They feel very real.

I have never acted in my life but I think, if that were my profession, I'd want to work with Jane Clark. She has written a fantastic, nuanced script that develops all of her characters equally and makes them feel fleshed-out and believable. She's got such a great ear for dialogue and the conversations between the characters ring very true. Clark is aided by an eclectic, appealing cast. Samantha Colburn is icily radiant as Taylor; there were flashes of genuine insecurity beneath her uptight exterior that really made me feel for her. Guinevere Turner is wonderfully snarky and sexy as the high-maintenance, very full-of-herself Belinda. I've loved Turner since Go Fish and she is always a treat to watch. I was completely smitten with Liz McGeever's Minnie, the youngest, sweetest, most sincere one of the bunch. McGeever is an absolutely adorable presence in this film. Every time I saw her I couldn't help but smile. And, as usual, I loved watching Blake Berris as Gareth, the libido-driven hillbilly ranch hand. More often than not Berris portrays dark, damaged characters so it was fun to see him provide the comic relief for a change. He's like a charming, dim-witted version of James Dean's Jett Rink. There's enough of an edge to his performance to make you wonder if he's a threat to the women he's trying to bed but, for the most part, he's a guy with more swagger than sense. He looks like he's having a great time and I had a great time watching him.

Cathy DeBuono, Andy Gala, Victoria Profeta, Nayo Wallace and Mary Jane Wells round out the principle cast and they all deliver equally solid performances. John W. McLaughlin is appropriately creepy and effective in a supporting role and Candis Cayne makes a brief but very memorable appearance as well. While the scares and the gore are effective Crazy Bitches is, for the most part, a delightful, engaging movie to watch. I can't wait to see where Jane Clark will go from here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

House of Last Things

The thought that ran, constantly, through my mind for the first half hour or so of Michael Bartlett's House of Last Things was "This is a profoundly strange movie." And while it is, at times, reminiscent of other movies I've never seen anything exactly like it. There's a B-movie, Twilight Zone kind-of vibe that it gives off at first that led me to believe I was simply in for a bit of campy, offbeat fun. So it surprised me when I passed the halfway mark and suddenly realized that the movie had become something darker and more sinister. It's never particularly frightening but, as it progresses, it becomes increasingly unsettling.  

House of Last Things is about a music critic, Alan, and his troubled wife, Sarah; the couple's marriage has deteriorated in the the wake of a personal tragedy so they leave their home in Portland and travel to Italy, hoping to mend their broken relationship. Alan hires a young woman named Kelly to house sit while he and Sarah are abroad. Kelly moves into the house and invites her younger brother, Tim, to stay there with her. She does not extend the same invitation to Jesse, her trashy, bullying boyfriend but he ends up crashing there all the same. Jesse gets the bright idea to kidnap a young boy, Adam, so that he and Kelly can collect a fat ransom from the child's parents. The only problem is nobody seems to be looking for Adam and his presence in the house begins to affect a change on Jesse and, to a lesser degree, Kelly and Tim. 

At its core, House of Last Things is a troubled ghost / haunted house yarn but the way the story unfolds feels fresh and unique. Even though they are thousands of miles away Alan and Sarah's experiences in Italy are still informed by the strange events that begin happening in their house. And the lives of the home's caretakers are likewise altered by Alan and Sarah's past tragedy. It's as if all the characters are inextricably linked together because they've all spent time in the house.

This is a peculiar and engaging movie with some strong, enjoyable performances. I only knew Lindsey Haun from her small role on True Blood and I thought she was quite charming as Kelly. There's something very endearing about her presence and that made it easy for me to care about what happened to her character. I was more familiar with RJ Mitte, thanks to his excellent work on Breaking Bad, and I thought he did a very good job here as well. His Tim, like Haun's Kelly, is sympathetic and appealing. Blake Berris has the toughest, but arguably most entertaining, role as Jesse. Berris has proven, on more than one occasion, that he is capable of turning unlikable characters into characters that people can care about but, I'll admit, Jesse was hard to care about initially. He's really a very unpleasant jerk, albeit an incredibly watchable and somewhat charismatic one. But once the house begins to take hold of him it's fascinating to watch the ways in which he transforms. And it's hard not to feel for him as he succumbs to whatever forces are at work around him. 

I have watched House of Last Things twice and I'm still trying to untangle some threads of the story in my brain. It's like assembling a puzzle but finding a handful of leftover pieces afterwards that don't seem to go anywhere. But, maybe, those bits aren't intended to fit, which just lends to the overall disorienting vibe of this quirky little film.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow opens with an informercial for the Arboria Institute: a state-of-the art facility that promises to bring happiness and serenity to sad and troubled individuals. But for a young woman named Elena (Eva Bourne) the institute is not a sanctuary, it is a virtual hell on earth. Elena is more prisoner than patient, confined to a spare cell of a room with only a bed and a panel of television screens. She attends therapy sessions with the enigmatically malevolent Barry Nye (Michael Rogers), who seems to derive some sort of sadistic pleasure from her persistent state of melancholy. The majority of the movie is devoted to the adversarial relationship between these two characters and Elena's ultimate attempt to escape the confines of Arboria. But the plot seems almost secondary, a delivery device for a series of unsettling and arresting visuals.

Beyond the Black Rainbow, written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, was released in 2010 but it is set in 1983. Like Ti West's The House of the Devil it is a modern movie that's meant to look like it was filmed during the era in which it takes place. It is futuristic but in a retro way; it's the future as filmmakers in the early eighties might have envisioned it. Since I grew up in the eighties I not only enjoyed the visual sensibilities of the story but I connected to them on a personal level. There were times when the movie felt like a long-lost episode of Nickelodeon's The Third Eye, a suspense, fantasy, sci-fi anthology series that I absolutely adored as a child. I could almost imagine myself watching Beyond the Black Rainbow as a little girl, equal parts terrified and fascinated. For that reason the movie felt not only nostalgic but eerily familiar. I really dug that about it.

The middle section of Beyond the Black Rainbow delves into Barry's back-story and explains why Elena is so important to him. For me this was the least compelling part of the movie, though I appreciated the story shifting gears mid-stream and going in a direction that I didn't expect it to go. I just think the movie is at its best when it doesn't attempt to provide an explanation for what's happening. There are some especially strong moments, particularly towards the end, that come very close to approximating the disorienting, illogical feeling of being in a nightmare. Stuff like that is more effective when it's left unexplained.

Overall, I found Beyond the Black Rainbow to be engaging, atmospheric and unique. I look forward to revisiting it whenever I get a hankering for a dose of trippy personal nostalgia.