Dec 14 2014

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013)

strangecolorRound and round goes the camera of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani in The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, the filmmaking duo’s follow-up to 2009’s acclaimed Amer. The relentless way in which their lens swirls and sways is most apropos, as the team exercises an obsession with circles for the duration of the hypnotic running time. Retinas, glasses, window frames, sink drains — Cattet and Forzani go out of their way to put the orb front and center.

The circle is not the only shape that sticks out. Those paying attention may note the resemblance of one unfortunate character’s head wound to a certain anatomical part limited to humanity’s fairer, better gender: “Hey, doesn’t that gash look just like a …”

Why, yes. Yes, it does. As the thriller’s climax makes clear, the uncanny similarity is no accident. In fact, geometrics stand alongside split screens and RGB saturation as just one of many tricks the writers/directors call upon constantly — too many and too often, as it turns out, as if they do not trust their own talents for storytelling of the most surreal and severe.

strangecolor1Straying a mere step or two from Amer’s thematic touchstones, the French-language Strange Color still relies on such Italian giallo giants as Dario Argento and Mario Bava for laying the visual foundation, but also dives even deeper into the psychosexual territory in which David Lynch has made one hell of a living. In its Gone Girl-gone-WTF setup, a man returns home to find not only his lady love missing, but the authorities’ suspicion falling squarely on himself. Instead of following that thread to a semi-satirical indictment of the mass media, Cattet and Forzani contain their tale to the couple’s apartment building — one in which residents snake underneath wallpaper as if it were skin; in which a black-gloved killer is as commonplace as a leaky pipe; in which orgasms are literally kaleidoscopic.

Before Strange Color unfurls toward a conclusion that’s frustrating only if you expect a work of linear fiction, viewers will understand why Cattet and Forzani chose to tell three stories within Amer’s omnibus framework: because thus far, they haven’t brewed large enough a batch of narrative to sustain to feature-length. But that’s hardly their top-priority; plot takes a backseat — if not a caboose — to their in-perpetuum whims of purposely awkward perspective, still-photo montages and other touches that toe dangerously close to the line of self-parody. Beginning with the title — and ending with it, too, in yet another circular motion — it’s not supposed to make sense; it’s all in the way the filmmakers probe and peek and peck. In other words, the movie can be filed under “style over substance,” but, damn, what style! —Rod Lott

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Dec 13 2014

Reading Material: 5 New Film Books Vying for Your Thanks

roomguideOh hai! Ryan Finnigan’s The Room: The Definitive Guide tears me apart as I try to determine just whom it is for: virgins or sluts? On one hand, much of the Applause trade paperback is geared toward the newbie; on the other, the train wreck of a drama it celebrates is one of those flicks for which the phrase “must be seen to be believed” was coined. And unless you’ve seen Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, you cannot, will not “get it,” making guest Alan Jones’ beat-by-beat plot rehash superfluous on at least two levels. The Guide is most enjoyable in its Q-and-A interviews with the principal players, and most insufferable in its “how to” articles on audience participation and overall indoctrination. Special attention must be given to the colorful, dot-patterned infographics that appear throughout, encapsulating those unmistakable Wiseau vibes in a way that mere words fail.

modernSFfaqAlso from Applause is the latest in its crash-course FAQ series, Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Time Travel, Alien, Robot, and Out-of-This-World Movies Since 1970. Better than James Bond FAQ, author Tom DeMichael’s previous contribution to the franchise, this book pays tribute to the genre’s literary greats (and, um, Stephenie Meyer?!?) before jumping into a thematic trip through contemporary flicks of future visions, galactic travels, ripples in time and robots amok. Readers are likely to have heard of all DeMichael’s choices, if not seen them all, too: Star Wars, Alien, Robocop, E.T., et al. Any disappointment stemming from the trade paperback is not that the contents are heavy with such megabudgeted crowd-pleasers, but that so much of said contents is spent summarizing those movies’ stories, from frame one to fade-out, spoilers be damned. The afterwords to each picture favor information of the trivial kind, whereas the critical might whet more appetites. Recommended to sci-minded kids who aren’t sure what titles to add their Netflix queue, but skippable for any moviegoer old enough to gain admission to R-rated fare.

poeevermoreFresh off a book on Hammer Films’ Psychological Thrillers for McFarland & Company, David Huckvale keeps things eerie with Poe Evermore: The Legacy in Film, Music and Television. Hardly the publisher’s first foray into all things Poe, the paperback serves as proof — not that any was needed — that the works of ol’ Edgar Allan have worked their way into our collective pop-culture consciousness like vines to trees. Taking an alphabetical trip through the master’s complete works, Huckvale discusses both direct adaptations to screen and pervasive influences on other people’s works. While some of the latter could be considered a stretch — one could argue TV’s Six Million Dollar Man probably would have existed Poe or no —  Evermore works best as a reference guide to the continuing omnipresence of the horror and mystery forefather’s ghoulishly Gothic tales, characters and themes.

towerscontrarianI learned much, much more about one of the filmdom’s most notorious B-movie producers from Dave Mann’s Harry Alan Towers: The Transnational Career of a Cinematic Contrarian than from Towers’ own autobiography, Mr. Towers of London, brought out last year by Bear Manor Media. For starters, Mann’s work — published by McFarland — works with nearly 100 more pages; for another, Mann’s all depth vs. Towers’ more surface-skidding approach. It also gives the subject his due in pioneering production methods; the man never met a tax threshold he could not, would not, did not exploit. In fact, it’s suggested that cult director Jess Franco’s now-trademark zooms are a result of Towers’ crank-’em-out insistence. From humble beginnings to Fu Manchu adventures to late-’80s Cannon fodder (including threequels of the mighty Delta Force and American Ninja franchises), each phase of Towers’ career is covered with a scholar’s eye for detail, yet also a willingness to call a spade a spade — and by that, I mean Towers’ shortcomings in quality control: “relentless stichomythia being interspersed with ripe morsels of thickly cut ham.” Cult cineasts will find much of the salty meat ready to carve.

larrycohenFinally, McFarland casts the spotlight on another man whose name is treasured among lovers of B film, in Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker. Now available in a paperback edition updated since the 1996 hardcover, Tony Williams’ work casts a probing, critical eye at the entire career of the underrated underdog — a scrappy, sardonic auteur who brings class to what otherwise may be crap (It’s Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff and so on) and who, on occasional, simultaneously penetrates and tweaks the mainstream with a swift script (Cellular and Phone Booth) of admirable calculation. Containing interviews with the man himself and seemingly no stone unturned (as Cohen’s work in TV and the stage get equal time), the book is a must for the faithful. Ill-advised drinking game: Take a shot every time Williams describes Cohen’s technique as “comic-strip”; you will die. —Rod Lott

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Oct 22 2014

Reading Material: Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween

pumpkincinemaGiven the innocuous title and a cover to nearly match, I assumed Nathaniel Tolle’s Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween would not only have nothing to offer a well-seasoned horror vet, but be an outright embarrassment as well. Those fears were wholly unfounded; this Schiffer Publishing release oozes credibility like its titular gourd does its own guts if left on the porch, exposed to the elements, well into November.

Beyond that cursory, first-impression glance, I had good reason to worry. In his introduction, Tolle lays out his criteria for selecting the 100-plus films he chose for review; among them, “It cannot be mean-spirited or cruel.” Somehow, this self-imposed rule doesn’t defang the contents at all; turn four pages from there and the X-rated Andy Warhol’s Dracula slaps you in the face (with what exactly, I leave to your imagination).

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Oct 12 2014

Reading Material: 6 New Film Books for Fall

bloodedwoodCult cinephiles know Ed Wood also applied his unique stamp of “talent” to two-bit porn mags in the 1960s and ’70s, via short stories; however, the fiction’s scarcity kept fans’ knowledge from extending into experience. That all changes with OR Books’ release of The Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr., a paperback whose exacting design, pulp illustrations and overall packaging belie the quality of the Plan 9 madman’s prose. Never subtle, the guy sure loved his ellipses, exclamation marks and “shock” endings, all evident in these 33 tales, more expertly curated than offerings like “The Whorehouse Horror” and “Breasts of the Chicken” have a right to be. Cheap, dirty and often deviant sex fuels much of the riotous contents, with horror being the primary genre in which Wood banged these things out, and they can be read almost as quickly as they were birthed; one can assume there were no second drafts. After all, at the time of their printing, the stories likely were read (if at all) during masturbators’ refractory periods. You can read them whenever you wish — I won’t judge — but please, just pull the string.

daydeadTo trot out and paraphrase the cliché, you don’t have to be a fan of the Night of the Living Dead trilogy’s third leg in order to enjoy Lee Karr’s The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, but it sure helps. Published by the UK-based Plexus, the full-color trade paperback overcomes a self-congratulatory preface with a detailed account of how the 1985 soldiers-vs.-zombies epic was made: with more butcher scraps than millions. While Karr was not present during the two-month shoot, one wouldn’t know it judging by the wealth of info the day-by-day diary contains, running the gamut from bone-dry minutia to juicy gossip. Much of the latter is devoted to effects legend Tom Savini’s unbridled penile antics; his libido is surpassed only by his ego. Speaking of effects, Greg Nicotero lends further credibility with a foreword, and no spread goes by without some sort of photo or illustration. Personally, I find Dawn of the Dead to be the far superior sequel, but Karr’s love lay with this Day instead. If yours does, too, tear into it sooner than later.

megarevengeMaybe it’s just me, but if you’re going to write a book about movies in which the whole point is characters seeking vengeance, shouldn’t you be able to spell “vengeance”? Sometimes Danny Marianino does, but many others times he doesn’t, and the whole of The Mega Book of Revenge Films — Volume 1: The Big Payback is so every-page-riddled with typos, run-on sentences and other egregious errors that it’s obvious he didn’t select “Check Spelling” on his self-published manuscript. What the man — I can’t quite bring myself to label him a “critic” — lacks in panache, he makes up for in passion, running through a seemingly random selection of payback pictures with a fanboy verve so true and strong, one practically can hear Chris Farley sheepishly end each capsule review with, “That was awesome!” As much as I knock The Mega Book for its rusted coat of grammar and questionable taste (“retarded” is an oft-repeated adjective), I still enjoyed reading it and will buy 2016’s promised Volume 2.

creaturechroniclesLikely because it aims — and succeeds — to be the definitive, end-all-be-all account on its subject, The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy has been given the deluxe treatment from McFarland & Company: a full-fledged, sleeved hardback with glossy, spot-color pages. As if you couldn’t tell by now, Tom Weaver — with co-authors David Schecter and Steve Kronenberg — dives into documenting the history of Universal’s 1954 classic Creature from the Black Lagoon and its two sequels with everything there is to know about the Gill Man. Skip the synopses and instead marvel at such finds as the list of proposed titles for the first film, audience comment-card reactions from its sneak preview, photos of the costume that thankfully didn’t make it to the screen, and more. The authors even spend time detailing every abortive attempt at a remake, the brief life of a Black Lagoon fanzine (courtesy David J. Schow) and flicks spawned in Creature’s wake (Octaman, anyone?). The downside to McFarland’s spruced-up edition is the price tag, but tried-and-true Monster Kids may not mind, given the sheer depth of the writing team’s result.

zombiesonfilmZombies on Film: The Definitive Story of Undead Cinema also strives for authoritative status — it’s right there in the subtitle — but falls short of that. Part of that is because there are too many other great books on this well-worn subject (Glenn Kay’s Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide, in particular), but the bigger, better reason is just the structure of the publisher, Universe: It makes coffee-table books, and Ozzy Inguanzo has constructed a damn fine coffee-table book that just happens to center on movies full of rotting flesh, exposed brains and spilled intestines. That’s not a dismissal of Inguanzo as a writer, either; he’s a fine host to time-machine readers through Hollywood’s long fascination with these invaders from the grave, touching on all the usual suspects (Romero, Raimi, et al) and then some, without quite digging as deep as previous volumes have so well, especially in the realms of the cult and obscure. Zombies on Film is at its strongest when it casts its dangling eye on the fare of foreign shores and the ’80s’ VHS floodgates. No matter where the journey takes you, however, the visuals — heavy on posters and photos reprinted large and in full-color — are the oversized tome’s real selling point.

fangoriacoverFinally, the least likely subject for an art book might be the blood-splattered covers of Fangoria magazine — you know, the ones that repulsed your mother so much, she refused to buy it for you at the grocery store. And yet, just in time for the horror pub’s 35-year anniversary, Cemetery Dance unleashes Fangoria: Cover to Cover, a terrific volume that reproduces every issue’s purposely garish cover, obviously in chronological order and wonderfully granting each a full page. (So what if it’s already out of date?) The book is as much as a history of post-1979 film horror as it is of Fango itself, regrettable cover choices and all — not to mention the occasional typographical use of Comic Sans. Its former editor Anthony Timpone contributes notes for each issue, which are almost as entertaining as Bruce Campbell’s foreword. Fango’s iconic filmstrip adorns so many of the issues, it’s a tad sad to see it retired. Another trend you’ll notice: select titles vying for cover space for three consecutive issues, even if it’s just a two-word teaser. You’d have to be mad to read every word of every cover here … and that would be I. —Rod Lott

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Jul 17 2014

Alex Cross (2012)

alexcrossHaving never seen previous Alex Cross movies (Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider), I cannot comment on their merits. Being otherwise well-acquainted with Morgan Freeman, I’m inclined to believe he serves as a quiet yet commanding centre, lending his power to films that sorely need it (see also: Lucky Number Slevin, Unleashed, Hard Rain … the list goes sadly on).

Having never seen any Tyler Perry films (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, For Colored Girls, many others), I cannot comment on their merits either. I judge Perry solely as an actor, which, based on his Alex Cross performance as replacement Freeman, is akin to swapping Harrison Ford with Taylor Lautner, Sigourney Weaver with Tara Reid, Javier Bardem with a summer squash … you get the idea. In a film riddled with bad, Perry’s casting is the worst offender.

alexcross1Based on the James Patterson crime novels — a series I am familiar with, beyond atrocious in style, plot, and writing ability — Alex Cross re-images the titular character as a young(ish) police detective with the never-proven-but-always-remarked-upon analytical skills of Sherlock Holmes and the never-remarked-upon-but-always-on-display charisma of unflavored ice milk. A maniacal assassin played by a shredded, illegal-MMA-fighting Matthew Fox (the only actor who realizes how awful the movie is, thus the only actor having any fun) has taken to leaving clues in abstract art sketches.

Cue desperate game of overfed-housecat-and-mouse, directed by hack maestro Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) with all the passion of an insomniac with substance-abuse issues. Cohen is unable to wring even the minutest amount of pleasure from all the ridiculousness. The finale [SPOILER], a fistfight betwixt Perry’s doughy teddy bear and Fox’s zero-percent-body-fat hitman, should be at the very least a laugh riot, like pitting John Candy against Jason Statham.

The only true enjoyment comes (inadvertently) from Perry; while most of his scenes battle to out-dull each other, there are times when his performance nears camp classic value. At one point, while Fox taunts him on the phone, Perry literally huffs and puffs with rage. It’s hilarious, and a pointed reminder of Freeman’s unsurpassed ability to project anger through stillness. Freeman is the calm at the eye of a hurricane; Perry, for all his livid wheezing, barely summons up a breeze. —Corey Redekop

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