Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mama (2013)

There was a time early in my horror fandom when I would go out to the theater to see a horror movie just because it was coming out. But then I learned that a new horror movie (especially if you count thrillers) comes out literally every other week, all throughout the year, so now a movie has to capture my attention for me to expend the energy to go out and see it in the theater.

Well, I saw the trailer for Mama, and a rare occasion occurred - it actually looked scary! Plus, I'm fascinated by the subject of feral children - children close to nature, raised free from the indoctrination of modern society - so I thought this would be a great movie to catch.

I have to say that, regretfully, the movie did not live up entirely to my expectations. It was not bad, by any means, but what I was expecting was something original and terrifying. What I got was a movie too dependent on jump scares and on again off again CGI. There were too many cliches, and the plot was far too contrived.

(Why is it that everytime someone decides to explore the woods in this movie, it's just about to get dark? Can't these people plan their wilderness excursions better?)

Anyway, the one saving grace is the young Megan Charpentier, playing the older of the two part-time feral children, who is fantastic in this movie. If she plays her cards right, she could be the next big thing - if she wants to. One other thing I can say about this movie is that it has a satisfying conclusion - which is not at all the same thing as saying it has an entirely happy ending. But it's not too bleak, either.

I wouldn't say to rush out and catch this movie in the theater, but if the premise interests you, it could be worth a rental somewhere down the line.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Even as a fan of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (I, among many, consider it classic slasher canon), I wouldn't normally get excited about yet another modern TCM sequel/remake/what have you. But I saw the trailer for this one, and let me tell you, it looked fun. So I decided to go out and see it. And it was fun. Pretty good for a modern slasher, although you can't compare it to the original generation of slashers. There was a little too much emphasis on the 3D effect of the chainsaw coming "out of" the screen, which I regard as little more than a cheap novelty, but there were some genuinely cool gore effects utilized.

As for the story, this movie serves as a sort of sequel to the original, in an effort to (I presume) reboot the franchise. As such, it does a good job of summarizing the events of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and then taking it in a wild new direction (although I anticipate some people will hate the direction they go). It actually had me guessing for a while what direction they were going, and I was intrigued at how they managed to flip things around - in a nearly convincing fashion - so that we're pretty much rooting for the bad guys, by making the 'good guys' behave so unappealingly. Fascinating.

As for the characters, they're actually pretty cool, you get to like them. But even so, knowing this is a slasher movie, you still don't care much when they get offed. My favorite part of this movie is actually not the gore or any of the traditional horror elements, but the unabashed, oozing sexuality. The main girl wears a cropped top that shows off her immaculate midriff, and the second girl dresses like a hooker - which is a mighty fine thing, if you ask me. And the camera is not at all ashamed of lingering on their assets. Even the black guy gets to shine in his sweaty post-workout topless scene.

There's one thing that bothers me, though. For a movie that so blatantly pushes the sex appeal of its stars, it's conspicuously gun-shy about actual nudity. In the barn, when the one girl makes her 'proposal' of sex to her friend's boyfriend, she strips down while he's distracted. He turns around to see her standing there - in her underwear. Underwear that is no more revealing than the ultra-skimpy clothing she's been wearing throughout the movie. Later, when the main girl is tied up and her shirt ripped to expose her breasts, a seasoned movie-watcher will note that not once do you see a glimpse of nipple - the shirt is almost certainly glued to stay in place.

I think that's one of the things I really liked about Rob Zombie's approach to horror. I'm pretty sure I remember seeing a nipple or two in his remake of Halloween. What's the deal? We can watch a man get sawed in half, his guts oozing all over the place, but a nipple is too much? I mean, I don't get it. I know that people are queasy about mixing sex and violence (and yet, what is a slasher movie all about?). But am I the only person who doesn't think that if I get turned on in a horror movie, I'm going to make the mistake of thinking it was the butcher's knife and not the heroine's ass that got me all hot and horny? It's ridiculous! I don't want to be treated like a baby!

That having been said, this movie was better than most about playing up the sex side of the typical slasher equation, and that counts for something. I'll give you an example of something surprising that I liked. Halfway through the movie, the one girl gets to switch out her midriff-exposing top (now splattered with blood) for a button-down shirt. I was thinking to myself in that scene, dammit, there goes her sexy midriff. But get this, she decides to only button one or two buttons - just enough to cover her bust - so that the bottom of her shirt flies open every time she runs (and this is a horror movie). That got me smiling, I'll tell you what. :-)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hippie Festival Trinity

It has long been my belief that the succession of Monterey, Woodstock, and The Isle of Wight make up a sort of holy trinity of hippie music festivals. The Monterey International Pop Festival kicks off the scene in 1967, the Summer of Love, with an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Woodstock follows in 1969, bringing with it an air of accomplishment and wonder at what the hippie dream is capable of. But by 1970 at The Isle of Wight Festival, the dream has already begun to become bloated, and the sustainability of such festivals (and, perhaps, the hippie dream itself) is falling under doubt. A lot of people select The Rolling Stones' performance at Altamont where a man in the audience is killed as the third piece in the triforce, but I think Isle of Wight better keeps to the theme of grand multi-group multi-day festivals.

And so, the other day I decided to make a three-disc compilation - one disc for each of the festivals - to chronicle my favorite tracks from the Trinity of Hippie Music Festivals!

A. Monterey International Pop Festival, 1967

Monterey was the hardest disc to compile, because I had not only the main setlist from the movie to cull from, but also the just-as-long list of bonus tracks that comes on the DVD. It's a lot of good songs to choose from, and I had to leave some good acts - like Ravi Shankar, whose set was just too long - out for that reason. I rearranged the tracks to put them in the order the bands played at the festival (as far as I know), except that I moved The Mamas & The Papas (who hosted the festival) from the end to the start, because I thought they made a better opening track, and because I think Jimi Hendrix makes a better closer, with his infamous performance of Wild Thing during which he lit his guitar on fire.

1. "Vibrations" (crowd track, girl talks about love-ins)
2. The Mamas & The Papas - California Dreamin'
3. The Association - Along Comes Mary
4. The Animals - Paint It Black
5. Simon & Garfunkel - Sounds of Silence
6. Big Brother & The Holding Company - Ball And Chain
7. Country Joe & The Fish - Section 43
8. Al Kooper - Wake Me, Shake Me
9. Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Driftin' And Driftin'
10. Quicksilver Messenger Service - All I Ever Wanted
11. The Byrds - Hey Joe
12. Jefferson Airplane - Today
13. The Blues Project - Flute Thing
14. Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth
15. The Who - My Generation
16. Jimi Hendrix Experience - Wild Thing

B. Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 1969

Woodstock was the easiest disc for me to compile, possibly because I've done it before. Possibly also because all I had to cull from was the main sequence of tracks from the movie. I kept the tracks in the order of the movie, because it's become such an iconic document of the Woodstock festival - even more so than the other two, on account of Woodstock's [deserving] popularity. I wanted to put in even more of Jimi Hendrix's fantastic set, but I was already approaching the time limit and so The Star-Spangled Banner alone had to suffice. One track I reluctantly had to exclude on account of timing was Sly And The Family Stone's riveting setpiece, I Want To Take You Higher.

1. Richie Havens - Freedom
2. Canned Heat - A Change Is Gonna Come
3. Joan Baez - Joe Hill
4. The Who - Summertime Blues
5. Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends
6. Crosby Stills & Nash - Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
7. Ten Years After - I'm Goin' Home
8. Jefferson Airplane - Uncle Sam's Blues
9. Country Joe - Fixin' To Die Rag
10. Santana - Soul Sacrifice
11. Janis Joplin - Work Me, Lord
12. Jimi Hendrix - Star-Spangled Banner

C. The Isle of Wight Festival, 1970

Isle of Wight was the second easiest of the festivals to compile, mostly because all I had to cull from was the soundtrack (but harder than Woodstock because I hadn't done it before). In this case, though, I rearranged the tracks in the order the bands played at the festival (according to Wikipedia), since their positioning on Message To Love isn't nearly as iconic as Woodstock. I hadn't planned on it from the start, but as I was going through arranging the tracks, it just became obvious that Jimi Hendrix should end up closing each of the three festivals. One thing I like about Isle of Wight that the other two more popular festivals lack is the inclusion of The Doors. Also, this festival includes my favorite track among the three by The Who - the only band other than Jimi Hendrix to appear on all three discs.

1. Taste - Sinner Boy
2. Family - Weaver's Answer
3. Joni Mitchell - Woodstock
4. ELP - Blue Rondo A La Turk/Pictures At An Exhibition
5. Ten Years After - Can't Keep From Cryin'
6. The Doors - When The Music's Over
7. The Who - Naked Eye
8. Free - All Right Now
9. The Moody Blues - Nights In White Satin
10. Jethro Tull - My Sunday Feeling
11. Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Child

Berserk - The Golden Age Arc 1: The Egg of the King (2012)

As a huge Berserk fan, I was eagerly awaiting the "new Berserk anime". For the unfamiliar, Berserk is a dark fantasy manga (Japanese comic) series by Kentaro Miura. It was adapted into an anime (Japanese animation) series once before, but its ending leaves off on a cliffhanger. So for years, fans have been clamoring for an extension of the Berserk anime series to cover the story as it continues in the original manga. Finally, the powers that be decided to animate a new Berserk series.

The only problem is that instead of continuing the story, they decided to start back at the beginning. This is not a surprising move, as, above all else, it will allow for the introduction of certain elements not included in the first anime series that are required for the plot's continuation. Ultimately, I think this series will serve mainly as a [really long] plot summary of all that's happened, to get us to the point where we're ready to show the rest of the story. And if the title credits animation sequence even in this first installment of the movie series is any indication (featuring flashes of characters not present until much later in the series), they do intend to continue the story beyond the end of the Golden Age Arc where the first anime series left off.

But we're left with the question of what purpose does this first installment of the series - the Golden Age Arc - serve if it's already been animated once before to excellent result? And the answer is, not a whole lot beyond setting up what's to come, as I just explained. You can tell they threw lots of money into the animation budget, as the animation quality is very high. However, I actually don't like it, as it tries too hard to be 'photorealistic', which actually puts it over the edge into the uncanny valley. It's just weird to see obviously cartoon-style characters moving ultra-realistically. I prefer to have room for my imagination to fill in the little things. Also you have the camera doing weird things to simulate live action filming (like one point when a drop of blood lands on the lens), which is cool when you're actually filming live action, but here it just emphasizes the artifice of the whole thing.

So I don't really like the animation, as expensive as it must have been. I don't especially like the new voices, any more than the old ones, which have been ingrained into my head as the characters' "right" voices. The music isn't nearly as good as the first series. And because there's less time, the story is jumbled up and progresses too fast without time to savor what's going on. Like the confusing dream sequence that instead of serving as exposition on Guts' history, raises more questions than it answers. And I know this is all a flashback to set up what's to come, but one of the great things about the first series is that it starts out and you know it's a flashback - but it's such a good flashback that it stands on its own. And so the flashback goes on so long, you forget that it's a flashback, except that in the back of your mind you're thinking, this is leading up to something. And damn right, it is, yet it still floors you when it finally gets there.

So I don't have much good to say about this first installment of the "new Berserk anime", except about what looks promised to come. The story covers everything from the beginning of the flashback (minus the present time setup that the manga story and old anime both start with - not giving you any idea really where the story is headed this time, for better or worse) to the part where Griffith tells Charlotte what a true friend is to him, as Guts listens on, after their encounter with Zodd the Immortal. I'm still interested to see how this series handles the second and third installments of The Golden Age Arc (if the snazzy, lifelike animation style is good for anything, it'll be the pivotal love scene and the Eclipse itself, I think). And I'm excited to see the story continue past where the first anime left off. Although, I wish they could have continued the story in the style of the first anime, and I hope the story-telling pace slows down after we get past the parts we've all seen already before.

Oh, and if this is your first exposure to Berserk, by all means, go back and watch the old series first!