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[ a f waddell at g mail dot com ]
Zen and the Art of Zen
I highly recommend Zen, an offering of PBS's Masterpiece Contemporary series, which originally aired in 2011. Based upon the late Michael Dibdin's novel, three ninety-minute episodes were created.
Get past the initial "Mr. Cool" physical persona of its protagonist, the excellent actor Rufus Sewell - and dig the witty, understated dialog and delivery; the excellent cast; the delicious locations; the whole damn vibe.
Ironically, Sewell found a perfect role for himself in Aurelio Zen: PBS soon however had a change of management and the series went poof into the Strata of Lost Entertainment Excellence at least the show is in good company. It's our loss that there were no more episodes (in a spooky way the third episode ended with a perfect moment). "Vendetta", "Cabal" and "Ratking" are available on DVD, likely headed to becoming an overpriced cult item. Enjoy.
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Don't Go Into The House
I consider this film to be a modern classic of psychological horror. Much is left to the imagination, obviously a tact that should be used more often.
The Legend of Hell House is a twist on a classic plot: a house that is the scene of repetitive evil acts including murder.
Matheson's script (based upon his novel) is literate and sharp. His knowledge of science comes across in a fascinating way.
Great performances by a veritable ensemble cast. However, I'm biased. I tend to love British film. Great tension between characters. A few erotic scenes as well. Many scares! The first time I saw this film, it really got to me. I almost jumped out of my chair.
Several mediums and scientists are hired to investigate the Bellasco house, which is located in the English countryside. The house has been closed for years; the team gathers there for a week during the Christmas season. The Roddy McDowall character previously survived an encounter with the house. His investigative cohorts are however skeptical of his experiences in the house; they cannot begin to imagine the power of malignant spirits within.
The tension builds slowly as the characters fight, regarding what investigatory route to take. Mediums communicate with an entity. The credibility of a parapsychologist is questioned.
My suspension of disbelief kicked right in. The house fights back. Who, if anyone, will survive?
You will not be able to predict the psychologically driven, quirky ending - nor will you be able to predict many scenes prior.
I caught CSI in syndication, having originally missed it in prime time. I'm absolutely hooked on it. A Helgenberger fan since China Beach and a Petersen fan since Manhunter, the show is a breath of fresh air in its intelligent, quirky characters that defy stereotype. I'm re-discovering the wonderful character actor Paul Guilfoyle Jorja Fox and Robert David Hall have also become faves. Melinda Clarke does a compellingly psychological take on BDSM as Lady Heather (a writers' play on trendy names? The Heather-ization/Jason-ification Effect?). Grissom witticisms are to die for I especially enjoy his philosophical quips and summaries at episode-end. (A consideration: actual CSI squads likely aren't this witty.) A comment on set design: the LV morgue cannot be realistic I'm thinking. Its clean lines, tinted glass, dimmed lighting and bright multi-color orbs and jars on back-lit glass shelving might be atypical. But I like it. I just may re-decorate in smoked glass and bright orbs and mount coroners' tools on the walls.
Also Recommended: BFI TV Classics CSI: Crime Scene Investigation by Steven Cohan
Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)
It's A Dirty Job . . .
In the comedy/horror film based upon the Italian comic strip, Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is the guardian of Buffalora cemetery and is responsible for disposing of "The Returners", those pesky dead who return seven days after being buried. Francesco is a busy man; I'd love to read his Day Planner (or Night Planner).
The film is artistically shot, wickedly funny, satirical, full of visual puns; erotic, violent and graphic. Not for all tastes. Very well done, though I have one gripe: some of the zombie make-up/special effects were very poor quality, out of sync with the overall excellence of the film.
Overall, a stunning film.
The Pleasure of Spalding
I can't remember which I saw first, Terrors of Pleasure or Swimming to Cambodia. It was the late nineteen-eighties. At the time I was taping a lot from cable. Believe me, I could easily monopolize every VCR in the house with my taping schedule. It must have been a compulsion.
At that time I was taping everything in SLP mode, not exactly producing the best picture quality. Today I envision a certain videotape in the bottom of a cardboard box, perhaps in the dark depths of a closet: my handwritten video label displaying multi-colored inks, the tiny script faded and almost illegible, boasting perhaps six hours of cable comedy shows. Towards the end of the disintegrated tape is Spalding Gray's Terrors of Pleasure. (I now have a quality copy, what a find!)
Spalding had not a few brilliant collaborations, including this monologue directed by Thomas Schlamme. It must qualify as his 'lightest' monologue. It's one of my favorites --- especially if I need 'lightness' at a given time. I could easily relate to Spalding's desire to buy rural property --- and his desire to have a porch with a barbecue grill on it! I loved the telling of his 'drunken evening strolls' through Krumville. Yes! The sounds of the woods breathing around him . . . the bears thrashing . . . the psychopaths coming . . .
I thought that the direction and editing were brilliant. As Spalding quoted characters' dialog, he voiced over them in the film clips. And who were these interesting character actors: who portrayed Johnny Delfrado, the florist from Queens; the perky/weird Jehovah's Witness ladies; various small-town handy-men and contractors bearing bad news? No credits are listed!
It however all starts with the written word, and Spalding provided a lot to work with: his lyricism and depth, his lightness and darkness, the extraordinary and the mundane, told in a most honest, unassuming, humorous fashion.
Now, excuse me, I have this wonderful Harry Belafonte tune in my head . . . "House built on weak foundation will not stand oh no oh no . . ."
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
You've Got Red on You
"You've got red on you" is a clever bit of repeated dialog, and harbinger of things to come. 'The living dead': look closer for an analogy. Protagonist Shaun seems to exist in a dead world. As he rides the bus to work, we become aware of the masses of soul-dead people slogging to work. If Shaun's a loser, he's about to become a hero. Will he get the girl? Again?
Brilliant dialog, slapstick, and satire stylize this quirky comedy/horror flick. The editing is brilliant: flowing yet abrupt scene changes keep us on edge along with the somewhat startling soundtrack. In the beginning of the film look for background scenes as characters manifest the onset of zombie metamorphoses. Note: film has shown us that zombies move extremely slowly, that they're not very bright and seem to be food-centric. Therein lie methods for coping with them.
I admit it: the so-called comedy/horror genre has long been a guilty pleasure of mine: An American Werewolf in London . . . Cast A Deadly Spell . . . Cemetery Man. Kudos to the excellent writers, director and cast! Brits Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are now on my radar.
Frankenweenie http://imdb.com/title/tt0087291/ Cast a Deadly Spell http://imdb.com/title/tt0101550/ Popcorn http://imdb.com/title/tt0102690/
The reviews originally intrigued me, and I'd naively waited for the title to show up on Blockbuster Video shelves. NADA.
Hollywood Video later had it for rent. BRIEFLY! Would I ever get the chance to pop it in and press play?
I recently taped the drama Safe from the Independent Film Channel.
Safe's analogies work for me: toxicity: emotional, physical, environmental. Director Todd Haynes subtly addresses issues though nearly satirizes them, while playing to the imaginative paranoid in us.
The politics of physical and psychological states: you are what you eat. You made yourself sick.The obsession with diets and exercise: have a problem? It must be your diet! The fruit diet will no doubt cure your ills. Unhappy? Sweating and endorphins will make you happy HAPPY and forever banish those bad moods!
The typically brilliant and luminous Julianne Moore portrays young upper-class wife and stepmother Carol White, whose mysterious yet very real physical symptoms threaten her stability and her marriage. "24"'s Xander Berkeley is perfectly understated as Greg, Carol's increasingly bewildered, business-executive husband.
Is Carol environmentally ill, or suffering the toxicity of repressed emotion and an unfulfilled life? Or both?
The haunting score ominously builds and adds to the tension. Peppered throughout the film are images and references to our indeed toxic world: new furniture, cleaning supplies, auto exhaust, dry cleaning chemicals, permanent wave solution. As insomniac Carol walks her property at night, we hear helicopters: a clear reference to California's spraying of the pesticide Malathion.Yellow roses wetly shimmer . . . with dew or pesticide?
Who can help Carol? The medical profession? Her MD typically refers her to a psychiatrist, the first route for female patients whose symptomatology does not fit the mold (no pun intended).
Lifespring meets The Juice Man: the concept of modern day cults is well-handled. Imagine if you will a charismatically-led cult that psychologically plays you and empties your wallet as your unnamed and mysterious illness or syndrome is treated at its remote desert location. (Sounds like a thriller, the more I think about it)
The ending scene is brilliant: would Carol indeed become ultimately 'safe'?
Safe is definitely worth a viewing --- and another for its subtleties. There is a lot to get. And be in the proper mood when you press play.
I recently saw my first Todd Solondz film, Welcome To The Dollhouse. What a dark ride!
This week it took a couple of evenings for me to get through Happiness. There was a lot to get. Goodness gracious! (As my dear Grandmother might say, who, incidentally, is not a candidate for viewing THIS one!)
I'd read the reviews for Happiness in 1998; I'd had a typically positive Psychic Movie Reviewer moment. This indie sounded unique. I waited for Happiness - sniffle - to appear upon my friendly video store shelves, but saw nada. I imagine that the store probably had like two copies maybe, displayed briefly upon a bottom shelf someplace. I forgot about the existence of this film, until recently. And I recently heard that a certain video chain had allegedly pulled Happiness from its shelves due to customer complaints.
Disturbing yet intriguing, this film pulled me along, the matrix of character interaction becoming increasingly more intricate and strange. Definitely not for all tastes!
The subject of child sexual abuse is handled matter of factly, yet chillingly and effectively. As with the domestic/sexual abuse of women, the problem of child sexual abuse is obviously one that crosses lines of class, social status, and profession. Happiness acknowledges this fact, in the character of family man/psychiatrist Bill Maplewood.
Loneliness, rage, sexual repression/obsession, disintegrating marriages, sadly sophisticated children, relationships built upon artifice, this film has it all. It's Prozac Cinema at its best: try to be on an even keel when pressing 'play'.
Spouses, parents and children seem to be communicating across a void.
After viewing Happiness for the second time, I realized that the entire soundtrack intentionally consisted of melodramatic, and/or ultra perky canned music: a perfectly ironical compliment and contrast in style with the strong, harsh, quirky film scenes.
Presentation: director Solondz sets up the viewer for traditional father/son talk scenes, via mood and pseudo canned music: giving the subject matter and dialogue all the more impact. WHAT did he just say? Ward and Beaver Cleaver never behaved this way.
Got 134 minutes and a desire to see something darkly different? Rent Happiness. Or buy it.
Kurt & Courtney (1998)
Broomfield Is Underrated
As a hopeless britfreak/anglophile, I am a fan of documentarian Nick Broomfield. However, I have only seen three of his films. For some reason, the majority of his films don't seem to be available for rent.
I enjoyed Kurt & Courtney. The film's hype seemed to laughably imply that 'Courtney did it'!in regards to Kurt's demise. Okay, she does have a slight anger management problem, but that's beside the point.
The implication seemed to be that she hired someone to off Kurt. But, the film goes off in other directions, and outshines the sensationalistic hype.
The low key Broomfield gently and intelligently guides his subjects; they let down their guard; they humorously reveal themselves and their versions of the truth.
At times, Broomfield's films make one feel like a rubbernecker perusing a car accident; like a TV viewer watching America's Most Shocking Videos; sometimes we just cannot help ourselves.
Kurt's tragic life and personal demons are revealed, as are Courtney's. Family, friends, and people in the Seattle grunge music scene are interviewed. A murder plot of sorts is investigated. Courtney's antagonism towards mainstream media is explored.
I found Kurt & Courtney to be fascinating and entertaining.
The Corndog Man (1999)
"Triple K Marine!"
Alternately Titled: Would You Buy A Boat From This Man?
I was browsing in Blockbuster earlier this year and bought a copy of The Corndog Man. I saw the title and had a flashback to a review I'd read. Part Psychic Movie Reviewer, part compulsive reader of reviews, I knew that this one would be a winner. Plus it was marked down to $6.99 . . . a steal!
I highly recommend this film, which was a winner at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.
First of all, let me say that the late character actor Noble Willingham has been on my radar for years. An all American type physically: The Marlboro Man meets That Squarejawed Guy Who Does Pain Relief Commercials. He is almost unrecognizable now, and totally believable as Southern racist boat salesman Ace Barker. He is compellingly, depressingly real in this role.
As good old boy Ace Barker plies his trade selling boats at Triple K Marine, the harassing phone calls and stalking begin. Ace becomes quite exasperated as he monitors for sales calls, only to be repeatedly confronted by a seemingly unbalanced young man who claims to be his son.
The Corndog Man takes Southern stereotypes to a new level. ACTING! I hope.
Filmed on location near Charleston SC, it is an atmospheric film with a bluesy soundtrack. Oppressively small-town conspiratorial --- could this be an omen for visitors: simply stay on I-95 and drive.
An unpredictable tale of harassment, revenge, desperation, and old secrets, The Corndog Man reminds us that what goes around, comes around. Watch your back. Watch your front. Watch your future. Watch your past. Change it if possible.
Got 83 minutes, and a desire to see something different? Shock and confuse the movie clerk by asking for this one.
Potentially disturbing . . . not recommended for all tastes!