Wednesday, December 16, 2015

laughing and not being normal [a 2015 mix]



Above is MixtressRae's 2015 mix. It's called "Laughing and Not Being Normal" and it's as autobiographical as any mix filled with someone else's music can be, as much as all our mixes are.

Side A takes one on a journey through a woman's life cycle and her relationship with feminism. First you see her parroting back the sexism internalized from culture ("Lukatar"). Then she begins to notice the needles of pervasive misogyny ("Venus Fly" and "Pedestrian At Best") everywhere around her in our world. She feels empowered ("Bitch Better Have My Money" and "Worth It"). Next, she gets really really angry ("Bride's Speech" and "Kill V. Maim").

Side B (beginning with Lana Del Rey's reading of T.S. Eliot's thoughts on time-present/past/future on "Burnt Norton") displays the truths that follow her transcendence. Here, she moves through the world without fear of repercussions from men. After the extreme emotions have been expunged from her body in Side A, she feels a little hollow ("Iron Moon"). Without religion ("Sprinter") and her former destructive relationships ("Notget") she has to rebuild her soul on her own ("After the Fall"). She emerges victorious ("Butterfly") while never failing to question all her previously held beliefs ("Simple Death").

Hear this mix in its entirety on YouTube, Spotify, or on December 18th on Mixtress Radio which airs from 7-11pm CST (just press play on the little yellow cassette top right of this blog during broadcast time).

I will also make you a mixTAPE (as in 90min Maxell cassette, old school-style) by special request. email me your address and PayPal me a couple bucks for shipping, and I'll send it to you. It really is better on cassette.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Everything happens so much.

So there's this Twitter about a fake horse and the above is the text of one of its tweets. And then there's this article from my favorite music critic Lindsay Zoladz that I just read and am pretty much stealing the idea (and title of the article) from right now...

So, the thing is, and this is not a secret because we are all experiencing the everythingness of everything right now together, everything is just too damn much.

The internet has provided us with access to absolutely everything at any time and it has very much fragmented our attention, and possibly our brains forever. I've spent this week trying to hear ALL the critically-acclaimed music that came out this year so that I can make a complete and accurate mix of my favorite music from 2015. I don't want to hear a song on January 12th of 2016 that came out this year that is the best-song-ever that I didn't know about in 2015.

But as many smart people have pointed out much more eloquently than I ever could, this is impossible. I agree with Zoladz that we should go back to the mentality we had in the baby-days of the internet. Listen to an album you love over and over until you KNOW it, until it is part of your soul. Let that soul-sound lead you to other things like it or other things that remind you of it. Explore a world without time in the natural way that your brain wants to enjoy things.

I've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks reading books. Like checking out physical sheaths of paper housed in hardback covers and reading the paper within. And then checking out more books that are in the same subject. Immersing myself in a world of a subject. I'm not pressuring myself to read the top ten books of 2015 according to someone else. I'm not even reading cover-to-cover if the book doesn't keep that much of my attention. The internet has not even called to me much in this time. I'm reading, I'm taking notes, and I'm being entertained.

It's odd to grow up in this time when we've been able to observe entertainment becoming study and overconsumption. We have started thinking we have to experience all the high-brow bits of culture so that we may be able to pontificate about it. It's boring. Just read what you like. Listen to the music you like, even if you've only listened to one album on repeat for six months. If you're being entertained, you're doing it right.

We're not developing relationships with culture anymore...we're just dipping our toes into everything. I had a New Year's Resolution for this year to fragment my attention less. I think I started to accomplish that, but it's one of those resolutions that I will have to further attempt next year as well.

Maybe my "best of 2015" mix won't be the beast that past years' mixes have been. I've thoroughly LOVED two albums (Grimes' "Artangels" and Chelsea Wolfe's "Abyss") this year and I'll take that over heard-30-albums-once-and-can't-remember-them this year.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

LiveJournal facsimile blog, part 4372

I'm in that weird ennui-space again and it's self-indulgent to write about it, AGAIN, but I will, because I have to. Because if I don't type these words out of my body, I might self-destruct.

I deal with depression. Big deal.

"Nobody likes their jobs, nobody got enough sleep...just suck up, suck up and be nice."

Reverting to lyrics to express my angst? Check.

I deal with anxiety, dyspraxia, autism, migraines. PMDD. Whatever. We are all steeping in mental illness and we all need validation for our pain. Who the fuck cares?

But the fact remains that I am unhappy. I am unhappy with the way things have transpired in my "career" and I don't know what to do about it or where I want to go with it. I don't know how much to care. And I am so sick of caring what people think of me. I'm unraveling, but I won't admit it outside this very public space of admitting it. I'll HATE that I wrote these words tomorrow.

Mostly, I've stopped drinking which I think is why all these things are more salient at the moment. They're rearing their heads for me to figure out how to confront them. Mostly, I've also stopped moving, doing, anything. This is probably a depressive episode. Lots of people have had this same issue, are sharing this same problem right this minute, as I am.

I need to funnel my propensity to daydream and live entirely inside my own head into art. I know I do, but inertia claims me as her loyal subject. This is actually a really big change from yesterday wherein I washed my hair, put on eyeliner, and listened to Chelsea Wolfe all day. Today I barely put on pants and went for a walk.

The worst part about depression (aside from all of it?) is the guilt. I feel guilty that I'm indulging myself...letting myself steep in the stew of my self-loathing. It is crippling, but I'm doing it anyway. I've already stepped onto the Sadness Train. There's no going back now. I just have to wait it out. Wait it out. Listen to music. Take a walk. Watch "The Office". WALLOW.

Wait it out and
ALLOW it to pass...

I wallow quite well, in fact.

At the root of the listlessness is a situation that feels like a lack of control. I've lost control over my job because I've let it all just be as it is, like a river passing by me as I sit on the bank. That's a great way to meditate and it has even worked out really well in life most of the time, but not right now. Right now I am angry and I want to run. My solution last week was to separate myself from it emotionally, and that worked well for me then. But it's not a permanent solution.

Inside my head, when I'm not having nightmares or feeling guilty about work, I am a mythological creature that rules a magical world no one but those I invite can inhabit. The older I get, the less time I spend in my magical world. That stops now. Fuck you and your adult world. I choose oblivion because fantasy has kept me alive for 33 years now. It is my most favorite friend.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Today was.

"Why are you looking for a harmony?
There is harmony in everything."

I've had a very strange day. What started out frantic anxiety soon dissolved into an apathy so pervasive that I almost reveled in it. I felt a blissful calm as I looked upon the world, removed. I could not seem to care about anything at all. Needles of emotion crept back in by evening.

Then I listened to the new Grimes album twice in a row. The lyrics are already up on AZLyrics, so I read them and I felt like myself again...not because of Grimes necessarily, but because I was immersing myself in something that came from creativity and light.

I miss the person I used to be before the library...not that the library made me any kind of way necessarily. It's maybe that adulthood settled into me at the same time that I began there. 

I used to be quite simple. I experienced life in real time and I didn't care what anyone thought about my reactions to it. I am a simple girl, yet I tried to appear complex. Why? Because others do that?

With the term "adult" came anxiety, worry, thinking thinking thinking. Thoughts so plentiful that they crippled me into a state of inaction. I stopped trying to see beyond its mass...and maybe fell asleep. 

That post-storm mist is finally dissipating and I don't like what I've become. I've become this thing that worries and doesn't stim and doesn't live and doesn't move and doesn't dance. My ways of coping have always been my own. Why did I start using conventional methods? 

As a child, I created a structure all by myself that I lived quite happily within. I had it all figured out by age 15. I knew how to regulate myself. I got so lost.

I appear distant and unfriendly when I take care of myself, perhaps even vacant. I am tired of trying to be this congenial creature. I'm more like a Darcy than a Jane. I'm more Gahan than Gore. I'm so tired of being nervous and surrounded by people. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I've been thinking about women in horror...

How we rule as villains. How women are more often protagonists in horror than we are in any other genre of film (besides maybe romantic comedy?)...

Suddenly, I get it. It's right there in front of me, actually. The reason I love horror is because of the presence of women. I like them. I like them a lot. I like looking at them. I like being one. I like the delicious evil they can deliver while wearing the shit out of a vinyl jumpsuit. I used to think it was mostly attraction, but it's power. We have it in horror.

But, we are ONLY allowed to have power within very specific contexts. We are allowed to take this power in horror because this is a space in which we scream and run for our lives. If we succeed in NOT getting raped by overwhelming monsters and fear, we get to live and maybe look like a hero.

Conversely, the villainous women haven't escaped this violence. They've turned it upon their aggressors. Y'all want the dominatrix, but only when she comes with a menu of torture methods YOU can choose from. Y'all want the chick in the leather jacket, but only when she's got the tortured past that makes her receptive to a man that's the minimum amount of nice to her, like maybe he pays for a dinner and doesn't hit her the first time she "talks back". What a MAN.

When I talk about how much I love Drusilla or Akasha or Julie or Carrie, I don't know that in a world of equality I would enjoy the havoc they wreak quite as much. The blood and the telekinetic fire is a catharsis for the injustices suffered daily by the everyday woman. The onscreen vengeance of a man-hating villainous woman is catnip to me in a way that would make a person think I hate men (I don't.), or that I've been wronged by men (I have. I really really have.).

Bad girls aren't, as is commonly thought, who the good girls wish they could be. They are who we wish we didn't have to create in order to cope. The real woman is not the perfect girl-next-door or the bad-whore-down-the-street. She's a flawed and complex person somewhere else on that continuum. We're all open books, but YOU don't know which page to turn to, do you, do you?

We can take up space if we're exceptional, like Sigourney Weaver or Meryl Streep. We can take up space if we're attractive, but this is a transient space that is constantly threatening to close in upon us. Meanwhile, men are allowed to be complex and awful or complex and good, granted big spaces either way, just for the existence of the protuberances between their legs.

Can you imagine a life in which every movement you make is scrutinized? A world wherein a simple act like pulling hair up off your face in public invites comments from strangers? A society in which walking down a street is an invitation of harassment? Can you imagine there NEVER being a time in your life when some man doesn't expect something from you, whether that be kindness, sex, or time? This is the path women tread every goddamned minute we share space with men.

So maybe we want to set you on fire with our minds...just a little. Would you blame us?

We are not virgins and we are not whores because we are not defined by whether or not men have invaded our spaces. We will be taking our spaces back and that's going to look ugly at first. We're going to have to use elbows and knees. Men are going to react with cruelty to take us back down, but I think we're collectively too fed up to go back now.

This is why girl-villains are important, because women have a right to be angry and we have a right to take up space. Men should consider themselves lucky we're getting our aggressions out through fiction. It won't always be this easy for men. For now, we're letting you live.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Top 5 Horror Heroines.

Let's take a moment to honor some women that make my enjoyment of horror movies possible. It's time to give the good girls of horror a standing ovation. These ladies saved the day/the world/themselves from the terrifying situations they faced. Here are my top 5 heroines.

"I'm into survival."
#5 -- Nancy Thompson of "A Nightmare on Elm Street". She woke HERSELF up from nightmares that killed everyone else and defeated that mean old Freddy Krueger without ANY of the men in her life helping her out.

#4 -- Sidney Prescott of "Scream". She's got PTSD and she still snarks and outsmarts the killer.

#3 -- Alice from "Resident Evil". She's stylish, badass, and a woman that employs both an economy of words and actions. I dig that a lot.

#2 -- Ellen Ripley from "Alien". She was against the whole "bring the alien on the ship" thing from the very beginning. She was the only professional in the whole crew and the only one that survives all four movies. Do. NOT. Fuck. With Ripley. or her cat.

"I'm the chosen one...and I CHOOSE to be shopping."
#1 -- Buffy Summers from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Ok, so I didn't watch this movie as part of my horror movie reviews but the movie is technically the beginning of this character and horror is part of the Buffy brand. It counts, I tell you! No one is better than Buffy. She eclipses genre and pop culture medium!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Horror Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) is a meta-analysis of the entire horror genre. It's funny, self-aware, and gruesome. Lots of spoilers ahead as per usual, but this time, if you haven't seen the movie (and you should if you like meta-horror or Joss Whedon) DON'T read on. This movie is best viewed without spoilers.

I was really really super-psyched about this movie when it came out because it is a horror written by Joss Whedon. I knew he would subvert the genre and flip it on its head. He did and this is a really great horror film, but it also disappointed me this time around...just a bit.

We have the traditional horror formula here. Hot dude and hot chick are in a relationship, stoner dude, smart dude, and "virgin" girl protagonist. The film has interesting ways of letting you know that these are out-dated archetypes and if these are the rules, perhaps it's time to break the rules and start over. Buuuuut, they still employ these outdated stereotypes of horror. We still see gross displays of the over-sexed blonde, including her topless. That disappointed me. It's not like you HAVE to have it. They could have shown the reaction to it without showing it, if they wanted to make the point that it's part of the process.

I do like that the movie ultimately threw the gauntlet of horror at you and then blew it up. Like see, we can be done with this formula now, ok? But again, it used the formula to make the movie that thinks the formula should be blown up, sooooo....

I don't know what to think. The meta of horror was done better in "Scream" without showing boobs. The music is pretty good in this film, but the score wasn't even noticeable. Joss has terrible taste in music for the most part though, so that wasn't a surprise. All three of the boy-protagonists are hot, so that's a bonus you don't normally get in horror.

I enjoy that the take-away is supposed to be a big reset button on horror as we know it, but I didn't enjoy it as much this time around as I did the first couple of times watching it.

I would have liked seeing the personalities of the characters a bit more before they were brainwashed. I would have liked this movie a LOT more if they had simply treated the "over-sexed blonde" character with a little more respect. They didn't have to be so overt. We know this character already. Don't hit us over the head with it. AND it was Joss! The film would have benefited from his patented flip-the-gender technique here. We could have seen Hemsworth's character being the oversexed one. Wouldn't that have been nice? He could have been the "whore" archetype! Damn it, why didn't they do that?

Other random notes:
*Joss. Why you gotta always have a big fuck-off snake?
*Sigourney!!! How perfect was that moment when she showed up? No. One. Else. Could have been that character.

If you're a horror aficionado, this movie should be up your alley, because it makes fun of everything you love while still DOING the thing you love. If you want to be genuinely freaked out by your horror, this probably isn't for you. Other than that, pretty great horror film.

Aesthetics: 3

Plot: 4

Characters: 4

Score: 3

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 3

OVERALL: 20.5

Horror Movie Review: The Haunting

"...a house that was born bad."
The Haunting (1963) inspired a lot of haunted house horror. It includes several female characters, passes the Bechdel Test, and even includes a lesbian character. Its imagery is intriguing with composed shots and decadent set-pieces. It included some snarkiness, particularly from the character of the probably-lesbian Theo. There's not really any sexism present here either, which is very surprising for 1963.

The two main female character's relationship to one another is interesting. They yell at each other, share sexual tension and help comfort one another all in the space of a minute effortlessly. There's almost zero passive-aggressiveness between them, besides the shade thrown by Theo frequently. I really like Theo.

Beyond that, I didn't find this movie scary or the main character Nell's psychological downfall particularly intriguing, and I think that's what the film is mostly about. I can see why this film is considered a classic in horror, but I probably won't be watching it again. I had to buy the DVD to see it, and I'll be donating it to the library, so look for it on the shelf to check out in the next month or so if you're interested in seeing it.

Aesthetics: 2.5

Plot: 3

Characters: 3

Score: 2.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 1

OVERALL: 15.5

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Horror Movie Review: Carrie


Carrie (1976 & 2013) is THE horror icon for me. I saw Brian DePalma's version (1976) back in middle school and immediately rechecked it all summer from the library (I guess they allowed multiple renewals back then?) and showed it to my friends one by one. I think they all thought I was as damaged as Carrie White herself for loving this movie so much at the age of 12. That is a little messed up, isn't it? I have seen the original movie probably more times than any other film. I made a Carrie-inspired Barbie back in high school using corn syrup. She was very sticky. All of this is leading up to the fact that I just want to let y'all know that I am very biased when comparing these two movies. I have seen the '70s version like 25 times at least and the new version I've seen only twice. Also, this comparison is for people that have seen both films mostly, because my comparisons are mostly about details within. That said, here's my comparison between these two films.

They both pass the Bechdel Test almost immediately. This film is about the antagonistic relationship women have to one another in our women-fearing culture. The casting and performances from both films are pretty great, but Spacek's Carrie wins for me. Chloe Grace Moretz is an intriguing actress, but she is too pretty to be Carrie and she just doesn't bring the menacing enough for me. I enjoy Julianne Moore's performance as Carrie's mother in the new version. It has a bit more nuance and you feel more sympathy for her. I don't like how controlling Carrie became to her mother in the new version, though I get it. The sympathy Sue still felt for Carrie at the end of the new version seems really unjustified after all the brutal murders Carrie just performed. I don't think Sue would have tried to help her at that point. She would have been too scared.

I enjoy the added scene of Margaret giving birth to Carrie alone, not knowing she was pregnant and almost killing baby Carrie right after she was born. I feel like that's exactly what happened. The newer film serves for me as a retcon for the old film. I will be able to watch the old film now inserting the details from the 2013 version that I liked in my mind, enhancing a movie I've loved for two decades now.

I have a bit of a problem with the casting of Tommy and Sue. They're so vanilla and boring-looking to me. I prefer the original definitely here. I prefer the aesthetics of the '70s much more than the aesthetics of 2013, so I missed the visuals in general from the first one while watching this one. It's a total bonus that we don't have to endure John Travolta in the new version, though. There are a few people of color (two even with names!) in the new version, though, so major points for that!

Ok, let's compare the bloodbaths at the end. The blood is more realistic in the new version, which is one of the only parts of this scene I prefer to the original. The biggest part that bothers me about the new version is Carrie's movements and expressions. In the old version, she is wide-eyed, robotic, and emotionlessly ruthless as she kills. She walks slowly with her arms rigid at her sides. The killing is coming entirely from her mind. No movement is necessary. I think that makes her scarier. In the new version...first of all, they do an instant-replay of the blood hitting Carrie. That is SUPER cheeseball, and I don't like it. Carrie in the new version used her hands a lot, which I could forgive if she held them tightly in a way that makes it feel like she's really causing the damage with them. I don't really believe Moretz's Carrie is a tortured soul, despite what I've seen her go through. She just looks too innocent or something here.

I think the new version trimmed a bit of the fat from the old one in this scene, however. The old version's scene at the prom after Carrie gets hit with the blood is longer than it needs to be. The editing in the new version during this scene is tighter. But, Carrie's ruthlessness once she leaves the prom in the newer version is a bit much. That slow-motion-Chris-going-through-the-windshield thing is where the film really loses me. I think the car-flip in the original is a much better way to show Chris' death. I do love a girl-villain walking away from fire she's caused, however, and both of these films have it. I think the main issue I have with the destruction Carrie causes in the new version is the fact that she's displaying emotion as she does it. She looks like she's cognizant of the terror she's causing and I felt that the wreckage caused by the original Carrie was more like a trance...a blackout of destruction she wakes up from when she goes home to her mother. Carrie in the new version awakes from this trance in the same tub-scene, but she never looked catatonic, so I don't believe it. I like the catatonia of the original Carrie much better. I can't enjoy the killing if she is aware she's doing it and is enjoying it. Not sure what that's about, but there it is. There are some great little moments in the new version's ending but I grew up on the old version, so nothing could ever eclipse it for me.

Most of my criticisms come down to performance. I actually think some aspects of Moretz's Carrie could have been added to Spacek's. Honestly, this remake is quite good and both movies are worth your time if you like female villains in horror. I'd say choose the old version if you like the aesthetics of the '70s and choose the new version if you're into more realistic blood and Julianne Moore and if you REALLY hate John Travolta, because he is at his most annoying in the original.

Carrie (1976)
Carrie (1976) -- 

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 4

Plot: 4

Characters: 3.5

Score: 3.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3

Rewatchability: 5

OVERALL: 23

Carrie (2013)
Carrie (2013) --

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 3.5

Plot: 4

Characters: 3

Score: 2

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 3.5

OVERALL: 19.5

Horor Movie Review: Young Frankenstein

"It...could...WORRRRRK!"
Young Frankenstein (1974) is a perfectly fun parody of the "Frankenstein" movies. It's a good movie to have in the background while you're doing something else. I found that paying close attention to the movie for this review caused me to become restless and bored. It has its very quotable moments (mostly from Madeline Kahn), but it is mostly a fluffy rip-off of "Bride of Frankenstein". I was surprised to find that it's from 1974. I think the comedy feels more '80s to me, so it was ahead of its time.

Without Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn, this movie would have lost me. It's the kind of film that benefits from repetition, but again, as long as you're not paying your FULL attention to it. I think it could have really benefitted from being about 25 minutes shorter.

Here were the only notes I took on this film:

"It...could...work!!"
Love Gene's mascara! What a proper queen, he is.
"Taffeta darling!"
Bechdel Test passed- 1hr and 26min in

This review is making it sound like I don't like the movie. Quite the contrary. It is a very quotable play-while-making-Halloween-crafts-or-putting-on-Halloween-costume movie. It's fun. I love Madeline Kahn so much and Gene Wilder's hair is on FLEEK in this movie!

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 2.5

Plot: 2.5

Characters: 2.5

Score: 2.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 2

Rewatchability: 4

OVERALL: 16

Friday, October 30, 2015

Horror Movie Review: Scream


Scream (1996) is THE horror film of the '90s. Straight-up slasher film with meta-commentary on slasher films built into every crevice and a female protagonist that breaks all the "rules" of horror and still outsmarts the killer. Bonus: it's 1996 so you get the fashion, ambience, and music of 1996!

It passes the Bechdel Test even before two MEN talk to one another. I used to find Sidney's PTSD slightly annoying but now I totally get it and I don't really think she was over the top about it. The women aren't overly sexualized in the film. Even the more sexual Tatum is an attentive friend to Sidney, isn't portrayed as stupid, and doesn't shame Sidney for being shut-down. There are three competent women in this movie and even the opening scene with Drew Barrymore doesn't portray her as being overly stupid for getting killed. There's a lot of victim-blaming in horror, portraying women as stupid and therefore maybe deserving to die, but Craven obviously wanted to subvert that trope in this film. I really really like that. I loved this film way before I called myself a feminist.

Dewey with the ice cream cone: one of the best sight-gags ever in horror.
No people of color, though. Man, where are the people of color in horror?

An interesting flip on the only-virgins-live trope in this film is that not only does Sidney have sex and then live, but immediately after the sex, the smoke seems to clear for her and she starts to put everything together, almost like the sex cleared her head. That sort of makes it sound like she needed the D, but it was really more subtle than that. It was like the sex didn't phase her at all. She didn't look guilty or super in-love as a result of it. She just put her clothes back on and continued with a conversation as if it wasn't a big deal. Having sex for the first time really isn't a big deal, of course, so it was nice to see it portrayed that way in a film. Judging by his boob-grab technique, I'm sure Billy wasn't a great lay either, so she was probably avoiding the "Was it good for you?" question anyway. Ooh, maybe it was like, "I'm sooo over you now that I know I was waiting so long for THAT. Might as well fill the time by accusing you of murder."

Oh, and Matthew Lillard's performance in the last few scenes is just...I won't ever not laugh at that. How did he not get more acting work? I need to see "SLC Punk" again.

I love this movie. It's funny and smart and just a great time. I don't even like slasher-films but this one isn't focused on the maiming of women, so hey, maybe that's why I can like it. Definitely in my top five horror films ever.

Aesthetics: 3.5

Plot: 4.5

Characters: 4.5

Score: 3.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 5

OVERALL: 24.5

Horror Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead (2004) is half slacker-bro film and half zombie parody. The tone feels similar to "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". The best bit of this movie are the opening credits comparing humanity to zombies. You go in knowing this movie is going to be about zombies and you realize that the plague hasn't happened yet when the film begins, though everyone is lumbering, looking at their phones, and shuffling along to work. This film is unique in the fact that the outbreak is only starting to creep in as it begins. The cool part about that is that people aren't noticing it. You're seeing zombies in the background and when the characters see them, they think the zombies are drunk or think nothing at all, which is probably how humanity's reaction to zombies would really happen.

Beyond that, this movie is a pretty typical slacker-bro film wherein the bumbling 30-something protagonist that can't manage to do anything with his life save for playing video games and going to the pub somehow saves the day when the zombies come. The part that makes me forgive this a little is that the zombies are REALLY slow and ineffectual and Shaun isn't really THAT competent at fighting them at all. The reaction to the zombies by the characters seems mostly believable. No real heroics take place except that everyone seems to inherently trust Shaun to be their leader for no real reason other than he is acting like he knows what to do. Which I suppose is kinda believable too.

I didn't plan to watch "Shaun of the Dead" again because it seems that the further into his career he gets, the more Simon Pegg forgets that women exist too. This movie doesn't pass the Bechdel Test until an hour in, which is particularly infuriating because Liz (Shaun's girlfriend) is roommates with a woman and they're in several scenes together before you see them interact. This movie suffers from the my-girlfiend-is-cool-and-competent-but-no-other-women-are trope as well. The roommate Dianne seems like she might be really cool but they don't give her anything to do and then she just anticlimactically runs out into the zombie hoard at one point. No one mourns her. All of the sudden I'm like, "Where's Dianne?" That's how little they paid attention to her demise. Shaun's mother is also very clueless. They give her no personality other than "mother". There is another female character that is the leader of a group identical (with switched genders) to Shaun's but she's mostly there as a sight gag. Another big feminist issue I have with this film is that both Shaun's mother and BFF Ed become zombies by the end. Shaun kills his mother but chooses to keep Ed around, chained in his shed with video games so he can still "sneak off" to hang out with Ed despite his new living-with-girlfriend existence. Why was Ed important enough to keep around, but mom had to be "dealt with"? Also, Liz spent the first part of the film breaking up with Shaun because their lives were stagnant and then after the zombie fiasco she's shown being totally FINE with a stagnant life. Her needs weren't met and she was talked out of even having any anymore. Also, why is no one upset that EVERYONE else died? I know this is supposed to be a comedy, but Shaun had to kill his mother and stepfather and Liz lost her roommate! They wouldn't just be all cozy on the couch talking about tea without any baggage.

There are ZERO people of color in this film. Maybe a stray black zombie, but none of note even. There's also the use of "gay" as "lame" in several jokes. I used to make that joke too in 2004 without knowing any better.

Overall, it's an enjoyable stoner-zombie movie, but I don't think we should trust Simon Pegg anymore. He's a nerd that is fighting for his fellow straight white male nerds, perhaps, but he doesn't create female characters with their own agency/personality and he doesn't care about people of color. His later films are WORSE in all of the slightly annoying aspects (stoner dude humor, slacker types being heroes, women on the periphery, etc) this film presents.

Aesthetics: 3.5

Plot: 2.5

Characters: 2

Score: 3

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 2.5

Rewatchability: 3.5

OVERALL: 17

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Horror Movie Review: The Descent

The Descent (2005) is one of the top 5 scariest horror movies I've ever seen. It combines the adventure/disaster film with creature feature. Most of the fear here is grossness and startle response, but it has both of these factors in amounts that are so far beyond over-the-top that you can't even see the "top" anymore.

Michael and I call this movie "Chicks in a Cave". Six women embark upon a spelunking adventure in a cave that turns out to be crawling with humans that have evolved into creepy blind cave-dwellers. The first 2/3 of the film is just a straight claustrophobic cave adventure. The women are all skilled explorers. They have, and are proficient in the use of, all kinds of spelunking gear. Several of them have distinct personalities, though I would have been a lot happier had there been more diversity in the cast.

That brings me to the issues I have with this movie. Though it obviously passes the Bechdel Test with a cast of six women going on an adventure together, I am disappointed that only one of these women is non-white. The ONE non-white character is also the only one of the bunch that's morally corrupt. In fact, she lies to the group about the cave they are going into. They think they're doing a relatively safe and mapped out caving expedition, but Juno takes them to a cave that's never been explored (she THINKS it hasn't been explored, anyway) without telling them. Six women in a dangerous situation that only one of them consented to and no one knows where they are because they filed a "flight plan" for the location they thought they were going to. To add to the tragedy, Juno was having an affair with Sarah's (main character pictured above) husband before he and Sarah's daughter were killed in an accident with Sarah in the car a year earlier. Once the cave-dweller-creatures start attacking the women, Juno kills several of them with her pickax and it is SUPERbadass but THEN she accidentally puts her pickax through Beth's neck. Instead of Juno apologizing profusely and staying with Beth or helping to end her suffering, she freezes in horror and backs away, abandoning Beth to die slowly and alone. Sarah ends up having to end her life when she comes upon Beth later.

For most of the last third of the movie when the horror starts happening, Sarah and Juno are alone, both separated from the other two surviving women. They're seen becoming ruthless killers separately and alone, though Juno is losing her humanity while Sarah is keeping hers. There are some moments of complete badassery as these two women fight the creatures with their pickaxes, but the film never lets you bask for even a MOMENT in their victories. Everything is just awful for them every step of the way and they are seen becoming savage. These women are smart and competent. I wouldn't even mind Juno's moral-corruptness if she wasn't the ONLY woman of color in the cast. It's ok to not be a good guy, but it just feels icky when almost everyone else is a blond white woman that isn't at ALL corrupt.

I kept getting really distracted by how much PTSD Sarah will have for the rest of her life should she survive this. Her husband and daughter died in front of her in a car accident. One of her best friends was having an affair with her husband, a fact she doesn't discover until sometime in the cave. Most of her friends are killed in this damn cave; one of them SHE had to kill. And then, you know, just the entire cave situation. At the end, Sarah pickaxes Juno in the leg and I think we're supposed to fist-pump at that because bitch stole her man and brought them there without consent. I'd like the stole-my-man part of the plotline to not be there because I want the reason Sarah pickaxes Juno in the leg to be because she brought them to the motherfucking cave, not because of a man.

I wouldn't have wanted to live through this experience. The ending is ambiguous, too. You don't see her get out in the UK version of the film. You're left to assume Sarah is the only living member of the group, but she's still trapped in the cave.

This movie employs the wet=scary equation that the most terrifying horror movies know to use. There is more blood in this movie than any other movie I've ever seen. Like unexplained levels of blood. Like WHY is there so much blood? The imagery is very striking, but there's really no logical explanation for all the blood. I'm all about chicks and blood, though, so I'll let it slide.

In summation, "The Descent" is one of the most terrifying horror movies ever. It is mostly not sexist, but if a remake was done, there should be more diversity in the cast. Oh, and drop the bitch-stole-my-man plot-point.

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 3

Plot: 3

Characters: 3.5

Score: 2.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 2.5

OVERALL: 18

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Horror Movie Reviews: Resident Evil

Resident Evil (2002) is a nearly perfect zombie film. The creation of zombies by science experimentation and corporate control (they got that from "Return of the Living Dead 3", remember?) is plausible and laid out in a pretty logical way in this film. The transition to zombie after being bitten is slow and gradual, which I really like.

There are three people of color in the main cast of 10 and two women. It passes the Bechdel test. Everyone dies except Milla. Milla is hot. The score is done by Marilyn Manson. When I first saw the movie, this gave me hope that Marilyn's music would eventually transition into scores and ambient music. I think this was a logical progression for him, but he hasn't gotten there yet. This score could be considered Manson's last great work, if you ask me. No one did, but that's my two cents. One of the only downsides in this movie save from there being a shortage of women is that all 6 white dudes in this movie were indistinguishable from one another. I seriously could not tell the white dudes apart until the majority of them were picked off. They were like vanilla Backstreet Boys of indiscriminate features. The only eye candy in this film was in the form of Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, and theirs is an excellent candy for eyes, so I'll allow it, though I would have loved to look at a hot boy or two.

Milla's fighting style is mechanical with an economy of moves, which is my favorite fighting style. There's this really great iconic scene at the end with Milla walking down a post-apocalyptic street with a partially shaved head, hospital gown and a giant gun (ahem, "28 Days Later"--you big copy-offer!) and you just know that she's going to be a complete badass for four more films. I can't believe there's that many, but I think I'm going to watch them all now.

Resident Evil is a really very spectacular zombie film. The women, though few they be, have agency and personality. Michelle/Rain isn't treated like a "thing" at all even ONCE after she's bitten early on in the film. Her decision to stay with the group and continue fighting is never questioned, though they all know she could turn at any moment. They treat her as a human, refuse to leave her behind, and don't taunt her for the zombie she will soon become. Milla's character is a person in power that has been taught to fight and trusted with big corporate secrets. She also cares about humanity and is a freaking hero.

The most empowering zombie movie I've ever seen.

Aesthetics: 4

Plot: 4

Characters: 3.5

Score: 4

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 4

OVERALL: 23

Horror Movie Review: Alien


Alien (1979) is one of the first horrors in space. It's truly terrifying mostly because of stupid-decisions-humans. There's android science guy that only cares about studying the creature. There's helpless chick. There's a few complete asshole dudes and one bumbling captain. It's not really a military style crew, however, so I did find their bumbling-ness to be mostly believable reactions as hired space crew members of the future. I assume it's the future, anyway.

A lot of beautiful slow shots in this movie. Sigourney Weaver is the only person with any brains on the entire crew. Seriously, NO character is competent or has any depth whatsoever except Ripley/Sigourney. It passes the Bechdel Test. There are two women on the small crew and 2 (?) people of color. The white dudes die first. There's a bunch of scenes with a cat.

Visual Effects: most of the set pieces and the design of the aliens was done by an artist named HR Giger. His art is grotesque, intricate, and literally FULL of penises, vaginas, rape, etc. Most of Giger's art in the film is more metaphorical-penises and vaginas, but you do have to see wayyyy more of the first dude killed than you'd like. I mean, what is that underwear he's wearing? The visuals in this movie are tamer than the typical Giger-fare, but the alien's head is a penis for Pete's sake! And the eggs have vaginal openings! And there's ejaculate everywhere! Gross. This movie's visuals are really really gross and also mesmerizingly beautiful. "Beautiful and grotesque...and all the rest of that bug stuff."

Also, what's the deal with the ship's computer being called "Mother"? That's a little Freudian-weird, right?

This movie is a legend and I can mostly see why. Sigourney is pretty freaking amazing. She is rational and a problem-solver throughout. She even saves the cat!

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 3

Plot: 2.5

Characters: 2.5

Score: 2.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 2.5

OVERALL: 16.5

Horror Movie Reviews: The Blair Witch Project, Films Original and Sequel LIVE BLOG


The Blair Witch Project (1999) is an original horror film that I have enjoyed since seeing it in the theatre in 1999. If you don't know of its premise, it has been done many MANY times since 1999, but this was the first in the mockumentary horror genre, and it scared the holy hell out of me. The hype and the promotional material leading up to the film was thoughtful and unique. This was one of the first films in which the internet hype really enhanced the movie experience. Full disclosure: When I first saw this film, I was too young and literal to understand that this was a MOCK-umentary and not a straight documentary. I genuinely thought I was watching the lives of these three filmmakers. That added to the horror for sure. People love to mock and downplay this movie's brilliance, but it was a pioneer in horror and I really really love it.

I'm doing this review a little differently because a) I'm running out of time for this project, and b) I think it will be fun to watch and review both very different Blair Witch movies in real time so you can see how my thoughts unfold while watching a film. It will be less thought-out a review than usual, but it should be fun. I've got a French press full of coffee and nothing else on the agenda today. Let's watch some horror!!

******SPOILERS*******

Heather looks so pretty in the beginning. Very mid '90s. I think "28 Days Later" completely copied off this film's camcorder-quality aesthetic. I love a good small-town haunting plotline, and this movie's got it in spades. Black and white graveyard footage!! I think it's possible that the interviews with townspeople are real. Ok, I just looked it up. SOME of the interviews with the townspeople are real and the actors didn't know which, if any, of the townspeople were actors and which were not. The dialogue from the actors in the film is improvised. It all feels so organic and real. It really looks like a student-filmed documentary. It really adds to the creepy. I just paused the movie to read all the Wikipedia on the making of the film because it's fascinating to me. It's really "filmed" by the three actors over the course of eight days. Each day the actors were provided with a general outline of the day's plot-points and locations to travel to on a GPS. So, you're actually watching these people camping together and filming it over the course of about a week. How cool is that? The actors are using their real names in the film. The Wikipedia entry keeps mentioning "the filmmakers" without names. Again, the marketing with every detail is so locked-DOWN, man. This movie is horror catnip for me. Its gritty realness works on me exactly as intended, and I love every minute of it.

Pressing play again. It passes the Bechdel test with Heather's conversation with Mary, the first named townsperson she speaks with for the "documentary".  Also, Heather is in charge. I don't think I'll have any feminist issues with this film, but I don't think anyone of color is in it, either. I'd like Heather Donahue to read horror fiction audiobooks. Must. Resist. Urge. To. Lookitup. I wonder if the "filmmakers" went so far as to make the noises they catch on film. They would have had to have. And the actors knew it was coming, but not when, so some of their stress would have been real. I wonder if the whole map thing was real. If not, did their notes for the day say, "Argue about the damn map all day...all...freaking...day."? I love all the crunchy leaf sounds.

More map arguing. I love it. This is the point when the desperation starts to set in. It seems like they were supposed to camp for two or three nights and now they're lost, so each additional night they're in the woods is unplanned at this point. It would be so terrifying to be lost in the woods with only a map and not knowing where you are on that map. GPS is good. I like modern technology. And I want to go camping now, oddly. The map is officially lost now. Commence-map arguing, level: advanced. Hysterical exhausted laughter is one of my favorite things in the whole world. If it wasn't part of this movie, it would be less believable, even though ALL of it is believable to me. Heather is losing her shit now because Mike just admitted he kicked the map into the creek. This argument feels so real.

I think we're on night four in the woods now. The noises each night get closer and louder. Tonight it sounds like a stampede and children. Is this the night they lose Josh? Heather really makes this movie. She is a true scream queen without any issues of nudity, virginity, or lack of agency. Kudos, Heather Donahue. You're my hero. Josh is still with them. They run from the tent and don't go back until morning. All of Josh's stuff is scattered and/or gone.

Night 5: They've been going in circles despite walking south for days now. They are so frustrated and crazy and stressed which is exactly what would be happening in this situation. They've settled into their roles. Heather is leader. Mike is peacemaker. Josh is antagonist/inconsolable/losing it. The morning after night 5: Josh is gone now. This entry is looong already. Night 6: they hear Josh screaming. My god, this is terrifying. Oh man, the morning after night 6 contains the bundle of Josh's teeth, hair and shirt. The teeth are real teeth donated by a dentist. This movie should have won Oscars. Night 7: the iconic nose-drip scene. They hear Josh screaming for them again. Is this the last night? Yes it is because they found the house. Prepare yourself for a LOOOOOOOT of screaming. Ok then. This movie is only an hour and 17 minutes long. So so so good.

Aesthetics: 4.5

Plot: 4.5

Characters: 4

Score: 4.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 5

OVERALL: 26

Movie Post Script: I just started the whole movie over again to watch the director/producer commentary. It's amazing. They were really out there camping in the woods for a week. The actors were pulled aside and told their character's individual motivations/plots for given time periods. So that moment where Mike reveals he kicked the map into the creek the other actors didn't know that was coming. Brilliant! I guess Josh was really suuuuper antagonistic throughout, which was what made the filmmakers decide to kidnap him instead of their earlier plan to have it be Mike. They wanted to change the dynamic between all of them, which totally works. So all those moment when Heather looks like she's going to strangle Josh were probably pretty real. Fascinating. For the last two days of shooting the actors were given only a PowerBar and an apple to eat each day. Yikes. The director and producer keep mentioning that Heather's shots/framing were accidental, but I don't think they are. Without Donahue, this movie wouldn't be what it was. She did most of the camera-work and most of the great emotional scenes (both the subtle and the really dramatic ones) came from her.

********************************************


Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (2000) is a movie I have seen at least 3 or 4 times. I used to really like it alot, but haven't seen it in many years, since I owned it on VHS probably. This film is drastically different from the original. It's supposed to be a reenactment of events that transpired after the release of the first film. It was not AT ALL well-received by critics. We shall see if it holds up for me.

The score of this film (done by Carter Burwell) is pretty good. It's all sounds of water and rocks banging against each other and shit. A really cool feature of the DVD is that the film's score is on the opposite side of the disc. I wish that had become standard practice for movie soundtracks/scores. There are three main female characters and two dudes in this movie, but no people of color. I identified pretty heavily with two of the women when I initially saw it: the Wiccan and the goth. The Wiccan is a pretty good representation of what Wicca is really about. It's all about nature. Ooh, just passed the Bechdel Test! Next to Buddhism, Wicca is my favorite religion.

Wiccan chick: I believe in nature.
Goth chick: I hate nature.

Man, see my dilemma? Which of these chicks is my spirit animal? Who among us can choose between them? That's the best. As a woman, you hardly ever have two female characters in a movie that you like. I love this first night that they're in the forest. They're all getting drunk and high and bonding. It's awesome. Wait, the third chick is really cool too! She's all philosophical ("Perception IS reality!") and arguing with her boyfriend who is also smart. Cool. According to Wikipedia, the film was conceived as a meditation on the psychological effects of mass hysteria.

I'm twenty minutes into the film and I'm still just as into it as I was when I first saw it. I think this is another case of film critics being totally wrong. The characters all have distinct personalities. Kim (the goth chick) is sort of psychic and sardonic. Erica (the Wiccan) is hypersexual and a bit of a hippy. Jeffrey (the tour director) is probably schizophrenic. Tristen (the writer) is intelligent and believes in the supernatural because of aforementioned "perception is reality" philosophical reasons, i.e. they don't make her into a "dumb" character because she believes the supernatural might be real. Stephen the boy-writer (Tristen's boyfriend) is also smart, but more sentimental as boys tend to be and a non-believer in the supernatural. Their relationship seems plausible with arguments and moments of genuine affection that makes it seem like they've been together for years. Whoa, Tristen has a miscarriage and they actually show her bloody-crotch corduroys.

In contrast to the original, this group gets out of the forest the morning after the first night. They go back to Jeff's house. But...they brought something back with them! Bwa ha haaaaa. Tristen is having nightmares. Kim has marks on her body. Stephen is the realist trying to calm Tristen and get them home. Tristen wants to stay so she can understand what's happening to all of them. They're all having collective hallucinations. They begin to piece together what happened during a collective blackout on the night in the forest when they view the tapes. The scene in the convenient store is an only slightly dramatic version of how people used to treat the gothfolk back in 2000.

There are a few people of color in the movie, but you see them for like two minutes and they end up victims of brutal murder. Events are unfolding kind of like a two-parter episode of X-Files or something. I think they kept the mystery of what is happening pretty well under-wraps. There are so many hallucinations that when the real information trickles in alongside the hallucinations, the viewer knows as little about what's real as the characters. I do call bullshit on when they finally figure out how to view the footage of their missing hours because of all the camera angles. No, wait...this is supposed to be a filmed reenactment of events. Ok, I'll let it pass then. Oh no. Stephen just pushed Tristen off a platform. And they killed those other tourists. All of them were culpable except Tristen. None of them remember killing them. All the evidence suggests that they killed each other and the tourists. I can't forgive Stephen for pushing Tristen off the platform, even if it is as he tells it...that she goaded him into doing it. Still doesn't excuse what he did.

Overall, pretty straightforward psychological horror film. It sort of lost me in the last half hour or so and could have maybe been edited better. I think there should have been more time establishing character development and watching these people slowly unravel and less time unveiling the horror aspects. The actors probably weren't talented enough for that, however. Except Tristen. She gave a pretty nuanced performance. The movie was not great, but enjoyable.

Aesthetics: 3

Plot: 2.5

Characters: 2.5

Score: 3.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 2.5

Rewatchability: 3

OVERALL: 17

Whew. That was the "live blog". I just watched both "Blair Witch"movies AND the commentary for the first one. Fourish hours well-spent, I think.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Horror Movie Review: The Ring


The Ring (2002) is quite simply, a terrifying film. It is based upon "Ringu", a Japanese horror film that I can't even watch again, that's how scary the original version is. It has a meta-ness that makes it even MORE terrifying. For this blog entry, I am going to refrain from spoilers, because if you haven't seen it and you even remotely enjoy horror, I do not want to spoil the experience for you. It's at the library. It's not sexist, at ALL. It passes the Bechdel test. It's not racist, though there could be more people of color. It's just straight scary.

The thing that this movie does right is visceral. To feel fear, one must be connected to all of their senses. One must be overtaken by sights, sounds, intellect and to feeeeel something. This movie has an atmosphere. It is wet and gritty and grimy. Watching it makes you feel cold and soggy, and that makes everything that much more horrifying.

I saw this film when it was still in the theatre and a friend called me afterward whispering, "7 days." "The Ring" is possibly the single horror movie that made me genuinely frightened in a sustained way. The fear lingered in me as a miasma of foreboding for, well, a week at least. The filmmakers had me right where they wanted me. The tactics this film uses to paralyze you with fear turn that fear back onto you. The fear is generalized enough that you don't need a trigger in the world outside the movie to feel scared again once it's over. The MOVIE is the trigger. The MOVIE has inception-ed you. It's not a movie where you see a monster grab someone's ankle as they're getting out of bed and then you're scared to get out of bed at that exact moment your foot hits the floor in real life. You're scared anytime, anywhere. That's the genius of this film. Ugh, and the wetness. I think the wetness enhances it so much more because fall is a cold and wet time of year and that's when one typically watches horror films. Life takes on the eeriness of this visceral horror film.

My one complaint is, "What IS the killer's motivation? I mean, seriously."

Totally recommend, if you like feeling completely creeped the eff out, man.

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 4

Plot: 4

Characters: 3.5

Score: 3.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 4

Rewatchability: 2.5

OVERALL: 21.5

Horror Movie Review: American Psycho

"I have to return some videotapes."
American Psycho (2000) is a movie I have seen many times since I started becoming obsessed with serial killers in my teens. It is probably almost as depraved as Poppy Z Brite's "Exquisite Corpse". When I was 15, depraved was exactly what I was looking for, but my relationship to this movie is a bit more complicated now. I hadn't even planned on watching this movie for my horror reviews, but when I saw it in my movie folder, it seemed so inevitable that I watched it immediately instead of the planned "Resident Evil".

"American Psycho" is a movie about a culture ('80s Wall Street) so self-involved that a man within it can kill "a lot of people" and even confess to it without anyone seeing him for the extreme sociopath he really is, without even his peers being able to tell him apart from all the other rich assholes.

This movie is a masterpiece and it's directed by a woman, Mary Harron. The screenplay was adapted from the book by two women. It won awards. It paved the way for Jeffrey Lindsay's Dexter. But it doesn't pass the Bechdel test, and I'm not sure how to feel about that. The movie straight-up hates women. Women are brutally beaten and murdered by the protagonist and the other men in the movie say things like, "There are no girls with good personalities." I think we're supposed to see that Patrick Batemen isn't really any worse than the asshole-misogynists around him. At least he's upfront about his sociopathy. His peers just talk about raping and murdering women while Bateman really does it. We are supposed to see how depraved and awful these men are. There's a deleted scene on the DVD wherein Reese Witherspoon's character treats Batemen with as much disdain and dismissiveness as most of the men treat the women in this movie and it takes a bit of the bite out of all the girl-hate in this movie, but it was taken out of the final edit.

I am disgusted watching this character, but you're not supposed to relate to or like him at all. It's sort of a feat to have a main character in a movie that you can't like because he has ZERO humanity, you don't care what happens to him, and yet you still like the film. It's possible that without this book-turned-movie, we wouldn't have Dexter Morgan. For that, I will allow "American Psycho" to exist. Some of the sardonic wit and even the constant inner monologue translated into Dexter's storyline later in the decade. Dexter is like if Bateman was likable, not sexist, and had some humanity. Now THAT is a sociopath I can get behind!

Minorities are only in roles of service in this movie, and even then only peripherally.

The music in this film is a fantastic list of '80s hits and underground dance tracks. Bateman also has several scenes wherein he cites facts about '80s pop he likes WHILE he's killing people with various scary tools. It is freaking hilarious to watch someone cut a peer to pieces with a chainsaw while delivering an in-depth analysis of Huey Lewis & The News. I don't care who you are.

Throughout the film, my range of emotions went seamlessly from disgust to smirky I-see-what-you-did-there to ooh-I-love-this-song! back to disgust again. I suspect this was the intention, but I still have problems with the treatment of women and minorities in this film. We could have at least had a scene or two with women in conversation with one another, whether they served as a contrast to the depravity of the men or they were exactly as bad as the men. Either way, the mere presence of women would have softened the blow of how sexist this movie appears.

The ending is very ambiguous, which is infuriating, but also the right choice for the film. At the end, you don't even know if he really killed anyone at all. What? Genius.

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 3.5

Plot: 3.5

Characters: 2

Music: 4.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 1

Rewatchability: 3

OVERALL: 17.5

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Horror Movie Review: 28 Days Later


28 Days Later (2002) is a zombie horror film I remember truly enjoying when I first saw it. It seemed innovative and artsy to my 2002-self. Rewatching it in 2015 turned out to be a disappointment I wasn't expecting. What had seemed innovative in 2002-- mostly the music and that the zombies didn't lumber, they ran -- has been copied to such an extent that it wasn't even enjoyable to me this time around. The music is quite good in this film. I can appreciate some of the aesthetic choices as well, such as the zombies being fast and the film quality being like a handheld camcorder with skewed shots that are made to seem as if they weren't framed by a professional. However, post-apocalyptic films just can't do it for me in my post-2011-tornado-destroyed-my-home/life world. I'm done with films in which the protagonist is waking up from a coma to a ravaged city, at least when it's realistic and hopeless. If it's Milla Jovovich waking up with a buzz cut and weapons, I'm in, but scrawny dudes with no personality in a bleak world? No thanks.

Speaking of scrawny dudes, Cillian Murphy as Jim was a tasteless lump of stale white bread to me. I can't see him as a heroic figure and he wasn't painted with the brushstrokes of any sort of personality. Take away those "dreamy" blue eyes, and this kid's got no charisma whatsoever. Naomi Harris as Selena, on the other hand, enters the film as a magnificent hardass with a ruthless violence to match her cold and emotionless line deliveries. However, her character takes a 180 turn almost the moment she meets Jim, turning into a helpless damsel that nurtures a child and forgets how to defend herself. There's a scene in which a group of men are about to rape her and the aforementioned child and instead of the manic violence you'd expect from the character presented at the beginning of the film, Selena simply gives Hannah enough Valium so that she won't "care" that she's being raped and prepares to just lie there and take it while scrawny Jim somehow comes to save them. What?

Despite the fact that half of the film Selena is clutching Hannah in fear, it passes the Bechdel test with only about three lines spoken between the two female characters. Hannah is a tiny bit of a badass towards the end, but not enough to convey even something as simple as agency. Selena is a woman of color and a biracial romance ensues between her and Jim, so points for diversity I guess. The relationship feels so forced, however. There's zero chemistry between the actors and no real reason for them to be into each other save from apocalyptic scenario levels of attraction, but they don't even really fight side-by-side when Selena is busy being meek and Jim is somehow using his 90-pound self to save her ass every twenty minutes.

So, yeah, I basically didn't like this movie at all this time around. It wasn't even that I was offended by the treatment of women so much as I was simply bored. This is the first of these horror films that has bored me. I was disgusted by "Hellraiser". My skin was crawling in suspense and anger at "The Shining". But I was never bored like I was watching "28 Days Later". It just does not hold up.

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 2

Plot: 3

Characters: 2

Score: 3

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 2.5

Rewatchability: 0

OVERALL: 12.5

Monday, October 12, 2015

Horror Movie Review: Queen of the Damned

Queen of the Damned (2002) is not a great movie, but Aaliyah's performance/image as Akasha, the "queen of the damned" is one of the most perfect bits of casting ever in the whole history of film. She is dark and sultry and very very evil. She is my favorite female villain on film. She is the number one character I try to embody as I walk down the street, for a woman in our patriarchal society must embody a chick of extreme badassness, and you would NEVER mess with Akasha. She can burn you from the inside out with just the flick of her wrist. She can rip out your heart with her bare hands and suck it so dry that it crumbles between her fingers (see below). The scene these gifs are from is my favorite villain-entrance scene ever, and it happens around the 50minute mark in the film. She bellydances into a bar full of vampires, does that heart-sucking thing, incinerates the building and all the vampires in it with her MIND, then walks out triumphantly. It is THE most empowering action/destruction scene ever. The reason she can incinerate vampires with her mind is that she is the original first vampire. She holds within her the source of vampirism, effectively the mother of all vampires. They can't live without her. As I've mentioned before, though Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles have a lot of flaws, her origin story for vampires is the most intriguing to me. The book is the best of the series in my opinion because the entire history of vampires is laid out in great detail within.
The score is pretty great but the soundtrack is mostly awful. The music of Lestat's band is represented by Jonathan Davis' (of Korn) voice and arrangements. It's just not my style and makes the movie seem even cheesier than it is. The casting in the film is hit or miss. In contrast to the PERFECT casting of Aaliyah as Akasha there's the dubious casting of Lestat, Jesse, and Maharat, just to name a few. The details taken from the book are at times right on and at other times questionable. There is an omitted character (Mekare) that is sort of really important to the storyline of the book. There are a couple of rewrites of plot points that don't make sense to me (Marius is NOT Lestat's maker, etc) because they contradict both the book and the first movie. They totally left out Akasha's evil scheme to eradicate all but 10ish percent of the men on earth, which was a big part of her evil and why she needed to be de-throned. As it is in the film version, I didn't really get why she needed to be "dealt with". There are many parts in the movie that don't explain what's happening or convey the emotions felt by the characters well at all, which I think would make the film hard to follow if you hadn't read the book. And if you're going to assume we've read the book, stay true to the book, you know?

This film is really not as bad as I'm making it sound, but it is quite a big disappointment to me because I love the book and so many aspects of the film feel like they're almost right. At times they get the emotions/themes of the book so right, at other times so very very wrong. Aaliyah died just after, or maybe even during, shooting the film. My assumption is that the editing was rushed in order to get it out as soon after her death as possible and I think the film's end result really suffered because of that.

The treatment of women is not great. It does pass the Bechdel test, but barely. In the book, Jesse's relationship with Maharet and the Great Family was a big part of the plot, but this movie makes it all about Lestat. The book is so dense in content, however, that I don't think a movie could ever do it justice unless it was done as a trilogy. I would love to see this movie redone right someday, but without Aaliyah, it will be difficult. What a tragedy to lose her just when she was on her way to becoming a legend. The year of her death came her villain film debut and a spectacular album! RIP, Aaliyah. We needed you so much.  I am very impressed that film made the right decision in casting Akasha as a black woman. It would have been a complete failure had they cast a white woman, because this chick is from ancient Egypt! She's SUPPOSED to be black, and I am pleasantly shocked they did this part right in film for once.

Despite its oceans of disappointments, "Queen of the Damned" is still a campy mostly-good time. 

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 3.5

Plot: 2.5

Characters: 3.0

Score: 3.0

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.0

Rewatchability: 3.5

OVERALL: 18.5

Horror Movie Review: The Cell

How JLo looks in the serial killer's mind.
The Cell (2000) is more of a psychological horror than a traditional one. It's not well regarded, but I cannot comprehend why. The score is phenomenal, the imagery is gorgeous, and the plot is intriguing. Even the DVD special features have depth and a respect for the field of psychology. There's even this unique feature wherein you can watch the film without dialogue hearing only the score. So, here's the gist: we need to find where a serial killer has trapped his next victim who is not dead yet, but the killer is in a coma/catatonic state for which he will likely never recover and there's a time factor. JLo is a psychologist that specializes in a new technology in which she Matrixes herself into the brains of coma patients. The minds of others are represented by complex dream universes of imagery and symbolism. It is just SO. FREAKING. COOL. The symbolism is complex, but believable. During the course of the film we get to see what the serial killer's mind (above) is like, what JLo's mind is like (below), and another patient of hers as well. They are different landscapes according to the psychological structure of each person's mind and again, I just think that's one of the most intriguing ideas presented by any movie ever.
JLo is very Mary in her own mind...but she also kills things with a bow and arrow later.
I think seeing this movie is a bit of a therapy session in and of itself. Thinking of people's minds as landscapes is something that I've done ever since seeing this movie in 2000, and it helps me understand myself and others. Art in general is a landscape of the artist's mind in whatever form that art takes.

As for representation of women and people of color, we do have a bit of that in this movie. It passes the Bechdel test. There is a Latina woman and a black woman as main characters in the film. They are both professionals that are good at their jobs and respected as equals by their coworkers.
There's also many glimpses of this cute puppy throughout the film.
In the scary category, seeing into the mind of a serial killer is really terrifying at times, but I also like that we are meant to sympathize with him. Ultimately, he cannot be saved. It is too late for a person that kills people, but that doesn't mean they haven't had a lot of pain to get them to that point. We get to see what made him become the monster and we're meant to feel empathy, but not as a means to excuse anything he's done.
The killer is a sort of gleeful god in his own mind.
I really enjoyed rewatching this movie from beginning to end. It is a well constructed and thoughtful film. If you like visually and aurally magnificent films and the more psychological aspects of horror, I highly recommend "The Cell". It's not streaming and not at Joplin's library, but if you and I are close, I will totally let you borrow it.

Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 5.0

Plot: 4.0

Characters: 3.5

Score: 4.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 4.0

OVERALL: 24.5

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