"If you think you're free, there's no escape possible" - Ram Dass

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Angels of Death Summer Viewing List: The Badass Brunette Edition


It's summertime here in the East Coast and if you're a Nordic in genes and temperament it's not your favorite season--in fact it's loathsome: too muggy, humid, sweaty and everyone frolicking about without a care in the world, mocking you and your Swedish allergy medicine depression. That means lots of time staying home and watching old horror movies on TV, the AC blasting, for that special chill cool horror causes. And cool horror means cool women, and if you love dark long flowing hair then you want brunettes, ideally with guns and sharp swords, slightly biker-tough. Blondes are the cornerstone of horror, but your Nordic mom is blonde, and you can't abide seeing a girl who looks like your mom when she was 29 and you were three years old and constantly struggling to get her attention, which to your three year-old emotional state is more precious than gold. Right? And then she comes at you like a wurdalak to drink your blood. You kneel at the base of her bed screaming and crying in terror, and she finally wakes fully up and you realize she was just moaning from having to deal with your three-year old's nightmare nonsense. (True story!) Nothing in my life has measured up to the fear of that three year-old nightmare moment. All the rest of our lives, mom and I used to joke about it, that is... by day. At night I fantasized only of being able to sleep safely in bed with them, as I must have done as a very young infant at least once, because though I don't remember actually sleeping there I do remember the destitute misery I felt being "weened" as the saying goes (though not breast-fed) and how utterly alone and exposed to all the whispering shadows and super quiet darkness of my bedroom.

I was in a room by myself, having to pee really bad, and holding it in because I was afraid to get up and go the bathroom or to move a muscle as if the ghost witch monster hovering around the hall and my bed would see me. My mom was a mix of Doris Day, Bibi Andersson and Janet Leigh, and they've effectively split up for different parts of my psychic projection -- Doris I have a kind of hatred for, that aspect of mother one must reject and avoid when hitting latent puberty; Anderson, the sensual anima with far-away eyes and Nordic beauty, whose attention I still crave and lack; and Leigh, the vulnerable deer-in-the-headlights, stirring the responsibility one feels when made 'the man of the house' before they actually become men.

I remember when I was around six she gave me a dime to play a YMC fair numbers wheel, and the pitchman made it seem like we were guaranteed to win, I nagged for that dime, he cajoled (no one was at the stand but us), I put the dime on a number --it lost. He kind of smiled coldly and we left and my mom seemed really upset, like she'd been taken for a ride; I spent years trying to live it down, late at night, feeling guilty as hell about that dime. That's the Leigh, the guilt. Her life is the dime, down the Bates' drain.


Knowing this you can imagine that I was sooo looking forward to Swedish director Nicholas Windig Refn's NEON DEMON; but then I read April Wolfe's review in the Voice. I can't even seem to think about it now without starting to shake in rage --that dime all over again. If you're like me, you'd like to know that cowering victimhood and lurid sexual abuse are not gonna crop up in horror movies you're watching for genuine creepiness rather than blunt force trauma, especially if for no reason other than some belabored twist 'social message point' like the victim girl who considers herself a hero for not having the rapist thrashed or at least killed after he walks on a rape kit technicality. To get our blood quickening, directors use every trick until we leave the film or HBO show feeling like we too have been violated, all sharpened up like James Woods at the Videodrome counter chopped up with Russell Crowe in LA Confidential. 

So rather than get livid (which would just raise my heat index, the opposite of why we're here) let's talk brunettes, the cool women who don't need to deal with these sorts of traumas in order to win my affection. I see them completely as other - more associated with my dark-haird father, surely, and therefore strong, affectionate and kind of a partying badass. Endangered? Sure, but not at a chained mercy of a misogynist cokehead rewrite by the rich kid Illuminati-pledge producer who has to let us know the scope of his decade-long atrocities and snuff operations, as if just ordinary brutalizing wouldn't get us fired up... I do mean you, Dave.

9.  Arly Jover, Natasha Gregson Wagner 
VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS 
Dir. Tommy Lee Wallce (2002)
***
More than just a name-only sequel, this is directed by VAMPIRE's original director, John Carpenter's number one apostle, Tommy Lee Wallace and it carries more than a shard of the great man's style (which makes it Hawksian twice removed). The big change here is that the main villainous vamp is the super sexy (but in a sleek lithe dancer way, not a softcore bimbo way), lightning fast, super strong and mentally unstoppable. Named Una (Arly Jover), she dreams of one day being able to walk in daylight without catching fire and therefore trying to arrange a bizarre priest-crucifying ceremony that will create the change. Slinking around so fast among the blood bags, she is invisible to the naked eye, zipping through packed cafes like a breeze, giving playful licks to the neck of lovely Natsha Gregson Wagner, seducing the claustrophobic on-loan black vampire slayer (Darius McCarey) and scaring James Wood's replacement in the Vatican vamp slaying business, Jon Bon Jovi (who's great), and his priest acolyte. They only get to see her if she pauses over her prey long enough that she becomes visible. It's a very cogent and interesting use of that 'faster speed' concept.



This semi-sequel to Carpenter's film is way less misogynist and a lot more fun, to me anyway, than the original, especially with the addition of Jovi as the lead baddie, and Jover's lithe dancer's body perfectly sheathed in a lovely grey lame wrap dress (high fashion meets the mummy, the perfect blend). She doesn't get many lines nor need them but the way, once slowed into view, she moves back and forth like a swaying cobra, turning herself on by tuning into the beating hearts of her impending victims, is a real turn-on, and not in a sleazy way. I was rooting for her every step, as well as digging the cute love story between shoot-first ask-questions-never Jovi and "I'm bit but I got pills"- HIV analogy-trundling naif Natasha Gregosn Wagner. And is that future Mexican film star Diego Luna (Et tu mama tambien) as the local kid who signs on with a note from his parents? It is, and even with his weird face and strange manner the kid has undeniable screen charisma; you don't know why but you can smell impending stardom all over him. Blood never lies.  Wagner is a perfect vampire here and in...

10. Natasha Gregson Wagner
MODERN VAMPIRES  (1998) 
Dir. Richard Elfman
***1/2

From VAMPIRE'S KISS, THE ADDICTION and NADJA in the east, and NEAR DARK and VAMPIRES in the west, the 90s was a high time for hipster vampires working blood as an addiction/heroin/schizophrenia substitute and this little honey of a made-for-cable horror has a lot of that vibe. Following vamp Caper Van Diem (showing a real relish for this kind of morale-free bloodthirsty killer romantic--he should do more) as he cruises back into LA, earning the ire of Dracula, who's held a grudge against him for reasons made clear later (he bit Van Helsing's sick son, and set the wheels of vampire hunting in motion). 

With the director's brother, the great Danny Elfman, delivering one of his better scores of vocalizing and vamping (ala his work on Burton's Ed Wood and Mars Attacks), all of which does some lovely fusing with wild panther noises when newbie vamp Natasha Gregson Wagner--strutting and looking hot as Hell even in tawdry leather shorts--strikes at her johns and bloodies their cars and nearby alleys. Hot but sufficiently ferocious not to seem chintzy, bruises that seem real - with her shock of (dyed - hence makes the list) blonde hair, cartwheeling drunk into trash piles, Wagner's vamp is the hottest mess vamp of the 90s.

What's so great is that these vamps are portrayed as nice cool folks to party with, but they don't waste their time hunting deer for blood like the Twilight crowd. They go for the jugulars of human beings with cheerful disregard for their screaming and pleading. Seeing naked bound humans terrorized and bled at the local vamp club presented as mere background to the dialogue and typical club exposition is wondrously refreshing after so many films where newbie vamps are meant to recoil in horror from their impending thirst, the way someone might stop eating meat after visiting a slaughterhouse. 

And damn right you'll be IMDB-ing the name this movie's screenwriter Matthew Bright after this, and once you do and realize he also wrote FREEWAY  and DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT, then suddenly you're hooked. Who is this guy and why isn't he revered to this day as the blood slicked intersection of Jack Hill and Paul Schrader? Not sure. He fell off the map a little bit after this and devolved into druggy dysfunction biopics like BUNDY, which is a drag. As far as made-for-late-night-cable schlock goes, this film is a frickin quasi-gold nougat and yet I'd never have known about it if not for Quiet Cool puttin' me wise when I saw it reviewed alongside my beloved late night favorite Dark.  Like me, Bright has a yen for truly dangerous women--the type who don't need to wait to be assaulted by them to kill men. I can sense Bright shares too my hatred of the Stanley Kramer self-inflicted preachy morality of films where newbie vamps suffer tortures of thirst rather than bite some random pedestrian cuz it would be wrong or something (like Near Dark, Lost Boys, Interview with a Vampire)- Dude we're adults, why not have him kill a bunch of people and then feel guilty about it later, like I used to feel thinking about how an evergreen tree was dying right in front of me on Xmas, to provide some 'merriment' and me wondering when I would adore the tree enough that its slaughter, cut off at the knee so to speak, would be 'worth it' (like the hunter who eats and uses 'every part' of the animals he kills). Rod Steiger (at his hammiest) makes a sociopathic Van Helsing. Udo Kier, Craig Ferguson, Kim Cattrall, and Natalya Andreychenko as the upscale vampires. And there's three great black actor comics as a gaggle of Crips Van Helsing hires to help him raid nests. Armed and extremely dangerous while at the same full of cool in-the-moment stoner wit, they're like Half-Baked and How High mixed with Menace II Society and Colors as vampire hunters, and if that don't sound badass, what's wrong with you? 

See also: Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida
KISS OF THE DAMNED
(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes
***
Bearded screenwriter Paolo's (Milo Ventimiglio) smoldering eyes meet those of the alluring but stand-offish Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) at the local video store: movies, connection! But they can only hook up if he chains her to her bed, cuz turned on she grows fangs and glowing eyes. After an impressively short bout of initial disbelief, Paolo's just too turned-on to not unchain her, biting and incumbent vampirism be damned. Hey, it's like when you're so in love you don't bother with a condom. I dig it. This movie gets that, and if vampire heterosexual love seems played out, Paolo and Djuna are so good together, so model-perfect without being smug or arch about it, that it's hard not to swoon. With its impeccable color schemes, all the better to perfectly bring out La Baume's gorgeous red hair and pale skin, the occasional bouts of vivid sex, Steven Hufsteter's mellotron slink and electric Morricone score evoking the Franco-Rollin oeuvre better than either ever managed. this retro-lyrical vampire love story would be a hard thing to fuck up, and this impressive debut from the daughter of John Cassavetes is far from fucked-up. It almost doesn't even matter if it goes so very not far from merely being a romantic fantasy for people too mature for Edward Cullen but not yet old enough for the actual grave. 

In that sense too I like it worlds better than the similarly stylized and better-reviewed Duke of Burgundy which is burdened by a fundamental bad casting decision (to use ordinary looking actresses in frumpy middle age or thereabouts rather than gorgeous clothes horses--an interesting idea but it doesn't work for the Eurosleaze genre - if you're going to do Petra von Kant or Warhol-style aging divas they at least need to be histrionic--as there's nothing else going on to hold our attention, especially in HD). Here the delicately low-key romantic chemistry of La Baume and Ventimiglio intoxicates so much because they're both so beautiful on their own and together transcend mere window dressing or smolder. The result is sublime cinema crack cocaine for the eye, so when Djuna's wild child vamp sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up, needing a place to crash after laying waste to the clubs of Amsterdam, we recoil in frustration like we're Gene Tierney cockblocked by apple-cheeked cherubs in Leave Her to Heaven... or sleepers woken too early on a rainy mellow weekend. What kid of a famous filmmaker has ever made us feel that inclusive intoxication, aside from Sofia Coppola, once? 


12. Alison Elliott as the reincarnation spectra of Irish druid generations
THE ETERNAL 
(1998) Dir. Michael Almereyda
***1/2

If Eugene O'Neill adapted Bram Stoker's "Jewel of the Seven Stars" and set it in modern, swinging times with the help of Hemingway and Lew Landers, I think we'd have the ETERNAL. I found this gem by being into Almereyda's black and white vampire hipster film NADJA and learning he made this one afterwards...Starting in NYC and ending up on a windswept Irish shore, it's about reincarnation and a mummified druid priestess dug out of the peat moss by Christopher Walken and kept down in the basement of the ancestral homestead. Noting her body's been preserved by all the tannin in the peat, Walken's pretty enthralled by his discovery--an ancestor of his family... and therefore Alison's (Alison Eliot) who's been having migraine black-outs and drinking and goes to the homestead in Ireland almost as if called by some unseen force, her fun-loving husband (Jared Harris) and ginger son in tow.

One of the unique subtexts at work here is an undercurrent of pro-drunken anger --as still sick and suffering from episodes of passing out on stairs, Nora regularly has drinks taken out of her hands by fellow drunk husband Jim who says "none for us, we're quitting" and makes a big show of enjoying life without it all while nipping from a flask unseen. That kind of balderdash makes me want to wretch! The way the drinks pass her wide eyes by, or the way she works hard to seem deadpan when getting offered some whiskey down in the basement once Jim's upstairs with the ginger kid --it's the kind of stuff only drunks like myself probably feel so keenly, and non-drunk directors don't even seem to notice as keenly as others when adapting O'Neill's works. Very few playwrights capture the way every offered drink, every vulnerable liquor bottle, warms the alcoholic's blood like a siren call, and every 'no thanks' on their behalf freezes the blood like a gut punch they're not allowed to wince from, lest they prove just how valid their family's concerns are.  (more)

FURTHER BRANCHING:
See also: Michael Almereyda's previous hipster/30s horror deconstruct, NADJA (Elina Löwensohn)
See also: Hammer's adaptation of Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB  (Valerie Leon, above) 
See also: Virginia Christine in: CURSE OF THE MUMMY (1942) 


 2-3. Lili Taylor + Catherine Zeta Jones
THE HAUNTING
(2001) - Dir Jan de Bont
 **1/2

Whenever I feel a close sisterly affinity with an actress I check when and where she was born - sure enough, like me Lili Taylor is a Pisces born in 1967 Illinois. Like me, she's an introverted mirrorer - meaning she can reflect, distort, match and amplify other people when in close one-on-one encounters, we love one or two at a time, but we start to lose ourselves the larger the group. We can't reflect everyone after all - and so we begin to vanish, or freeze, get a panic attack trying to process all the voices. Give us time alone with a cool chick reflector like Catherine Zeta Jones, though, like an awesome sexy feedback machine. For example there's the dialogue, clunky, in their initial meeting- Jones bragging about her Prada Milan boots and so forth but she delivers the lines with a cheeky delight in the place "this is so twisted, Susan Foster Kane meets the Addams Family,"

An Aires born 1969 in Wales, Jones has a twin sign reflector skill herself. She's never been outshone in any film - always able to at least match her co-star/s, as if a radiance reflector herself. Put two reflectors together like Jones and Taylor in the first chunk of Haunting- and there's instant lesbian affinity that overwhelms Taylor (in the mousy caretaker role) and delights Jones who in turn is fascinated by Taylor's instant crush on her, but quickly moves on once the rest of the guests arrive. Most hilariously is the way, for example, Taylor echoes the ominous words of the uptight housekeeper ("we lock the gates after dark") while giving Jones a sly grin. If only it was just the two of them, running through the house in all its giddy overdressed splendor (funhouse rooms with mirrors and revolving floors, etc), secret panels, living griffins, imprisoned souls, et al. Haunting would be a total classic. But then comes the boys--Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson--in career lows apiece, as if realizing the film's already been stolen by these two raven-haired demonesses, they decide to just wreck it with their smarmy banality.

Jones toys with Owen, bemusedly, partially to get under Taylor's skin, partially out of habit, but always good-naturedly (girls who want guys to stop hitting on them without losing them as friends should study her deflector skill), and eventually Owen drops the "my smile is so disarming" confident smugness and starts to accept his position as a little brother figure.


All Liam can do on contrast is feeble exposition ("a sleep study - that's why we're here.") No shit.
His grasp off how to act in green screen CGI Whoville is as off as it was in the same year's PHANTOM MENACE!

As I've written, I prefer this film to the original Haunting - I know its' heresy but I'm sorry - Russ Tamblyn's little Bronx gremlin face and one-track greed dialogue and hipster "don't give me any of that supernatural jazz" is wearying, as is the smug puns, strained exposition ("that's the easiest way to dismiss the supernatural, by pleading insanity or accusing others of it"), diatribes, and shrill shouting of the script--Julie Harris snapping at everyone and they patronizing her so relentlessly it's hard to tell if they're right and she needs psychiatric care or their provoking her deliberately for some sadistic effect. Further: the lighting is too bright (the famous loud knock scene with the two girls in bed is as light as if it's the middle of the afternoon), the gingerbread trim too bed and breakfast homey. Compare Harris' dowdy provincialism to say, Deborah Kerr's 'unhinged Poppins' in The Innocents and you're reminded that while some Brit actresses lend oomph, warmth and gusto to even their spinster roles, others just drain the life out of everything but their own androgynous Emily Dickinson on Lithium depth. No all it has going for it is goddess Claire Bloom - when she's wearing that pendant and black sweater I feel my soul waken from its elder god slumber. When Harris calls her "nature's mistake" implying her lesbian tendencies, I lose all sympathy. That never happens with Taylor, even if the film goes way off the rails around her.


Also check Taylor in THE ADDICTION (1991) my favorite of hers and of Abel Ferrara's- with perfect fusion between her off-the-cuff whispery thrilled aliveness, Ferrara's druggy downtown cool, and screenwriter Nicholas St. John's doctoral thesis in philosophy while on heroin stream-of-consciousness and the Village at the height of its rock sticker-layered post-punk decadence even as NYU was working like methadone. I was living on 15th and 7th and used to walk past all these spots, hungover or drunk out of my mind, and lemmie tell ya, it was really like that - all the black tailgate partying on the weekends, and so froth - Rastas sellin' ganja (maybe), used record and clothing stores every half-step, awesome. All gone now... god damn it all.



4. Rose McGowan
PLANET TERROR
(2007) - Dir. Robert Rodriguez
****

Now that I've had the chance to see the Hateful Eight three or four times, it's become apparent to me just how much that film belongs to Samuel Jackson--how he 'owns' it and centers it and gets the bulk of dialogue. Similarly, seeing PLANET TERROR seven or more times it becomes apparent just how much Rose McGowan's movie this is - how even surrounded by heavy hitters (Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Freddy Rodriguez)  she OWNS it, gets the most lines and screen time and range, changes the most, and most goes for broke, delivering a wide-ranging tough as nails 'it's go-go not cry-cry' moxy, becoming a comedian, dealing with losing her leg and becoming all she can be all over one long crazy night, spilling gallons of infected blood while running (with one leg and no crutches) a gamut of regular loss of hope (her crying one-legged striptease for a repugnant Quentin) and onwards. 

Part of what makes the film work is its moral twilight where none are good or evil without some part of the other (for example, Marley Shelton plays a terrible mother and wife, but one of the intrepid hero survivors; Brolin is at least a 'great 70s dad' and good doctor ["we're gonna have to take the arm, Joe"] while also being Shelton's murderously jealous husband), Biehn for example focuses on arresting El Wray ("are you a 'wrecker,' Wray?") rather than focusing on the town going to shit all around him, etc. Only Wray himself and Cherry (McGowan), the least respectable on paper (rap sheet on one; go-go dancer the other) are truly the knight-errants. Repeat viewings reveal McGowan's journey is one shared by every college graduate with no prospects - how to make use of your list of seemingly useless talents to find a life purpose, all while the clock is ticking and opportunity windows are close closing. Sometime the less options there are the bigger the yet uncreated role you were meant to fill, and that is what real heroism is all about. Funny that her and Wray's motto is 'two against the world,' when they're the most unselfish ones of their group, and therefore truly their sisters' keeper and the finders of los gringos. 

See also: Rose McGowan in
 PHANTOMS
(1991)  **1/2

I suppose most people would think of Charmed or Scream  when they think of Rose McGowan (1), but me? I think of Planet Terror and this. I don't love it but I sure can watch it a lot. It's got several things I like and nothing I don't: strong, cute women with guns walking down a deserted snowy street flanked on all sides by mountains; a lowering of the line of the chains that separate walks of life and law, so the civilians, the military, cops, crooks, drunks etc. unite against a common foe; a cool monster; and a comforting faith in authority figure. It doesn't waste time with tedious small town Americana details (the way a Stephen King miniseries would), so no kids and old folks and checker games and moseying along familiar set-ups and corn pone cliches and no feel-bad Kramer-esque liberalism of the 'we're the evil aliens' soap boxing, like Day the Earth Stood Still, Man from Planet X, etc. I love its shades of Carpenter's Thing, and Prince of Darkness  (and that its set over one long night). And I relate to being all freaked out when a sibling or bestie lures you to their bohunk town for the holidays, finding out it's full of weird evil creatures and errant electricity. I like the ominous pipe groans, the readiness of the girls to cowboy up at the sheriff's office. 


Most of all I like Acidemic favorite Rose McGowan the heroine and some cute chick named Joanna Going as her sisters, Ben Affleck is pleasingly nondescript as the sheriff; with Nicky Katt and Schreiber as the deputies the town takes on a pleasing Actors' Studio patina. like the only person in the whole cast who seems believably from the Rocky Mountain area is Bo Hopkins, stealing a scene with O'Toole in a private plane (when he thinks he's being arrested rather than recruited). Affleck's too young and his hair's too slick and short to be believable as a sheriff, and he and his deputies' disintegrating vibe mirrors Romero's The Crazies. Schreiber with his serial killer glasses and Michael Keaton-style gum chewing is pretty terrifying as the weirdness of the situation throws him into a manic tailspin  So sure, it's not perfect. As I say, sometimes being "not bad" is good enough. Like Underworld, this is one of those times. 



4. Melanie Scorfano
WYNONNA EARP
(SyFy series)
***

Sharknado is the kind of movie Syfy premieres, but they also import cool shows from Canada, where strong female leads remind us that not every country is as repressed and sexist as us. I was a fan of Lost Girl for awhile but it got annoying when Bo started getting all self-righteous and refusing to kill people and suck up their souls. Wynona Earp is comfortable with killing in cold blood, and I like that. I'm also a fan of the star Melanie Scorfano, playing an accursed direct descendent of Wyatt Earp, whose past enemies, whom he hung all in a row, are back to haunt his ancestors, and she has an ornate demon killing gun to help her finally undo the curse. Wynonna's sister Waverly tends bar at the local watering hole and has a lesbian relationship with a cute cop, so there's lots of drinking, casual sex, occasionally on-point Black Hills-ish South Dakota country accents, and the kickass Scrofano could be the cooler little sister of Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. Some of the menfolk don't have a full grasp on their twangs, but the main bad guy (Bobo) is at least cool in a Hitchcockian sort of way, even forging a strange bond with Waverly, etc. and there's females in traditionally male roles (like the blacksmith) and so the intersection of newer progressive values and old school western traditions making it all very nice and wry. It's not quite at the totally awesome stage like, say, The Magicians first season was, but it's damned good Canadian, without an ounce of cloying sedimentary sweetness, but plenty of sisterhood, drinking, and weird curses, hellfire, and best of all, Scrofano playing Wynonna with a two-fisted but very womanly gusto (rather than girly soft butch) that's way beyond most American actresses. If any place is stuck in the past, it's surely Hollywood not Calgary.


6. Famke Janssen - WITCH!
HANSEL+GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
(2012) - Dir Tommy Wirkola 
**1/2
Since I have distant ancestors hung as witches in Salem I'm still sensitive on this issue (that's a joke, how could I possibly remember them - 300 years is a long time, even the ancestral curses have worn off) but you can't call a film misogynist for using the words 'witch' and 'hunters' back to back, though when this first came out I certainly did try, and if there's any unsettling aura of gynocide in this semi steampunk past it's only in dickweed Peter Stormare and his good ole boy constabulary, who try to get rapey with our Gemma Arterton (sister witch hunter) and get smashed up real troll-wise instead. Still we learn not to budge jooks by the clubbers as there's a good witch too (Phila Vitala) and the bad ones are led by the great Famke Janssen, fast proving herself to be such a welcome beauty that perhaps the entire world is as smitten with her as poor Logan in X-Men (and me, and anyone who every loved the John Byrne/Chris Claremont era of 70s-80s X-Men comics --though alas she's played as a youth by a badly miscast Thrones star). We'd follow her off a cliff and director Wirkola (who gave us Dead Sno 2 after this) pulls no punches; it's got so many strong females that if it is misogynist it's also a tribute to the inner resilience of womankind. See also Famke's great work in Lord of Illusions, The Faculty, and fuckin' love you, Famke.

See also by Wirkola:

 Ingrid Haas, and the lovely Jocelyn DeBoer
9. DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD
"Dod Sno" (2014) Dir. Tommy Wirkola
***1/2
The Bride of Frankenstein of Nazi zombie pictures, it starts in the climax of the last one: Martin (Vegar Hoel), the final boy of the last film now has the the dreaded Colonel Herzog's (Ørjan Gamst) arm sewed onto him, and can raise the dead with it. So he resurrects a bunch of Russian POWs executed by the Nazis and buried in a mass grave 70 years ago (but frozen in the Norwegian mountains), to go up against Herzog's crew. He also gets three American nerds, 'the Zombie Squad' --to fly in to help him: Martin Starr (Party Down, Burning Love), Ingrid Haas, and the lovely Jocelyn DeBoer (above center) as a Star Wars nerd, the type who can have her pick of any man at the San Diego comic-con but probably doesn't even realize it, which makes her just the hotter. So I fuckin' love her man. And everyone plays it dead straight, as nature, science and Nordic tradition demands. Miss it at your own risk. It's in English (not dubbed): the actors speak it, very well but creating an odd juxtaposition if you watch this back-to-back with the Norwegian language first film).

See also with Famke
11. THE FACULTY 
(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez
***
This movie came and went in theaters and is easy to overlook, awash as Netflix is in dumped-to-video teen horror films. But I saw this in the theater, and dug the romance between Famke Janssen and the drug-dealing high school brooder Josh Hartnett; there's also a new girl in school (Laura Harris), a mysterious outbreak of body-snatcher's style teacher takeover, and the best use of getting called into the principal's office as a cause for terror ever, and a keenly-felt amount of dread and frustration with parents that just tear apart your room looking for drugs when you make strange claims about alien takeovers. The all-star cast includes John Stewart as the science teacher, Terminator 2's Robert Patrick as the gym coach, Famke Jannsen as an English teacher, Selma Hayek as the nurse, Bebe Neuwirth and Piper Laurie as vice principals, all jumping at the chance to work with Roberto Rodriguez and Scream writer Kevin Williamson (this time he keeps the film references in check, focusing instead on sci fi novel sources) The younger cast includes Clea Duvall is the Aly Sheedy-style outcast (in case you didn't make the Breakfast Club connection), Josh Hartnett as the drug dealer, and Jordana Brewster as a bitchy school newspaper reporter cheerleader bemused by photographer Elija Wood's infatuation with her. To make sure we get Kevin Williamson self-reflexive intertextuality, Duvall explains that Finney's Body Snatchers was a rip-off of Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, and Wood theorizes aliens promoted these themes so that no one would believe it when they happened for real, ala Bruce Rux, etc.)

It all might seem kind of self-consciously satirical, but the attempts of the new student (Laura Harris) to connect are pretty touchingly rendered, her existential loneliness the closest thing to a genuine high school emotion. Oh yeah, aside from stoner crank dealer Josh Hartnett, hottie nerd teacher Famke Janssen, nerdo Baggins, there's Usher! A memorable Marilyn Manson "We Don't Need No Education" runs under the uber-violent football game, connecting the cosmic dread of death with the fascist-pagan ceremonial barbarism of small town high school football. Best of all is how fast the heroes fall prey to the alien take-over: their romances flare up and fade before they get tiresome and it all moves inexorably onwards through to a brief but satisfying running time. Roberto Rodriguez's direction is tight, as it often is when he's not trying to make an auteur statement. This baby came and went in the Kevin Williamson post-Scream gold rush (i.e. I know What You Did Last Summer), by 1999, Blair Witch Project and Sixth Sense had taken over. That's show biz. Sooner or later every form and genre is absorbed and replaced by a possessive alien.

See also w/ Gemma Arterton:

8. Gemma Arterton
BYZANTIUM
(2013) Dir Neil Jordan
***
Irish director Neil Jordan loves cinema, beautiful girls, cinematic violence and the tawdry vice-ridden tourist traps of the UK seaside --he does them all well and here swirl them together like frosting on the existential women's picture (ala Suzuki not Cukor) yoked sublimely to the Anne Rice-readymade tale of a 200+ year old vampire and her equally ageless daughter (Saoirse Ronan). The film has a rare style: so sure and gorgeous it seems--like the daughter unfixed to any one century--out to ensnare the hearts of the real life Edgar Allen Poe, his child wife/cousin, the Bronte sisters, and 15 year-old Twilight fans all in the same razor-studded wire net. Ferocious Gemma Arterton is Carmilla (!), we see her tossed by an uncaring officer into a brothel back in the 1700s, later following him off to the remote Irish coast island (Hy-Brasil?) where anyone who enters a certain cave and bathes in bats or whatever is imbued with immortal vampirism - a secret kept by an all-male Illuminati-style brotherhood who don't want any girls mucking it up, to the point they've had hit teams on her trail since the day she was turned. By 2013 she's still making her way by turning tricks, drinking her johns, as it were, if they get too bold. Saoirse on the other hand plays angel of mercy by only drinking-killing old folks who are 'ready' to go and who all seem to recognize her as come at last. She's kind of a drip, a bit like Edwina's daughter in Absolutely Fabulous, while Arterton is a force of nature. Though hundreds of years old, she's still just as daft as the day she was bit, and it's odd hearing a working class Brit accent on such a creature but it fits the way her voracious brio for her work, the affection for the gentle, lonely clients of her ancient trade and her rabid relish in tearing the bad ones apart, especially if they impugn her mothering skill or threaten her daughter. If it somehow doesn't ultimately seem to add up, say anything new, and you can see the events and resolutions a mile off, that doesn't mean Jordan's as sure of foot as few others, drawing on his experience with merging vivid working class grunginess, historical costume bodice ripping, fairy tale dream poetics, and poetry with sexual tolerance and forgiveness.

Anitra Ford and Joy Bang
MESSIAH OF EVIL
(1973) ****
You can argue the rest of the film is merely a very cool quiet Lovecraft of the Living Dead-style melt down with some very cool wall paintings but you can't compare the strange bond between the two girlfriend's of the sleepy-eyed aesthete (Michael Greer) who joins bewildered daughter of missing artist Royal Dano, Arletty (Marianna Hill) in her quest to unravel the weird Shadow over Innsmouth-style events of the small seaside town. Though the three are all apparently lovers there's never much sexual chemistry betwixt them or anywhere in the film, but there's a drowsy affection and almost wordless connection that's way more interesting and rarely seen. You get the sense these three people have done quite a bit of driving together, seen some crazy shit, and--maybe a month or so ago--were deeply enthralled with each other, vibing on a communal three-way artistic road trip odyssey groove that could be a whole different movie (i.e. Pick-Up) but an odyssey that's now coming to its end as organically as it started. Tired from a lot of sex and drugs and monkey grooming, caught up in the rhythm of the sea outside the windows, they're still close but Anitra Ford, for one (never hotter or cooler dressed with that gorgeous contrast of long, willowy trunk and crazy hot mess of hair) and her associate, cute little Joy Bang (whom you can imagine they picked up hitch hiking or something initially, but has been way more than a third wheel on their aimless odyssey), are both getting restless and ready to disappear into the night/ Ford gets mildly perturbed when Greer loses all interest in her as Arletty rolls into his sights, and so leaves her man and woman behind to go wander into the night. Her confident slow vanishing into the quiet abyss of night is chillingly poetic.... Bang follows awhile later to go to the movies, and is more the unconscious popcorn smacker, but she's young and tender, and for the hungry locals she's a perfect snack before the main feature. In short, though I only got this disc a few years ago, I've already seen it at least six times. So should you.



65. Anna D'Annunzio as Barbara
 STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS
(2013) Dir Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
***1/2

Hélène Cattet et Bruno Forlani, of the Darionioni Nuovo take Argento and smash him into a thousand mirror shards for this hyper-surreal Freudian mind-meld. Granted their unique looping style will no doubt prove irritating after about twenty minutes to people who don't know SUSPIRIA and INFERNO like the black of their gloves, and who don't swoon at gorgeous mazes of art nouveau architecture and Jungian psychosexual mythic color-coded resonance. The plot concerns Dan (Klaus Tange), very French ex-porn star middle-aged executive types, returning home to his apartment after a long business trip to find his wife missing and only a series of bizarre clues as to where she disappeared to, centering around a strange Lynchain hatbox. Apparently she's either dead or in bed somewhere inside the massive byzantine, super strange building they live in. As we gawk in awe and wonder what parts of this amazing edifice are sets and which actual building interiors, we-- irregardless of the sensual dangers behind every wall--long to move in forever. Strange clues whispered through vents; elderly neighbors with haunting story flashbacks that don't ever return to the present; eyes peering through ceiling holes and vice versa. A gendarme detective drops by now and again to help Dan knock on doors but no one he's met before is the same person who answers this time so of course Dan looks guiltier than ever. Going up to the roof for a cigarette he meets Barbara (Anna D'Annunzio) and we just know he's found some dark dangerous anima void, the type of girl a man meets only in rare and strange dreams where she hides or waits within rooms within locked rooms and only by sheerest chance do we ever actually meet her face to face (mine used to look just like Marcia Brady). She's so hot yet dangerous that death and desire, agony and ecstasy orbit and merge into her aura as time stands whirlpool maelstrom still. How she manages to convey this with little more than a black satin shirt, open collar and long dark hair, dark red lipstick is beyond me, but just meeting her causes a blood chilling sensation in both us and Dan that's like a razor blade dipped in ice water before being run down our backs. A sublime and terrifying anima, we get the feeling that we'll never find her again or escape her bedroom vortex except on her own lethal mutilating terms, that she may be the one who sliced up our wife (presuming she's dead) and going to bed with her will be a fatal mistake we'd be a fool not to make. A harbinger of slashing, glass-eating, and multicolored gem fingernail gashing of vividly photographed sweet pain and unbearable pleasure, intoxicating agony, nonexistent time, harrowing enough to make Hellraiser's Pinhead use his safe word. Rewind forever, Dan, and learn nothing. 

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