Monday, February 19, 2018

Fat's HEAVY TUNES of the Year 2017

0. Introductionalizing Maunderings

Rough year, 2017.  Music seemed, through the early months, beside the point and inaccessible somehow.  Nothing new landed, everything just slid off of me for months.  Eventually, though, a perhaps predictable combination managed to crack my stasis: a couple powerful live shows plus the inordinate potency of perfect pop.  After about midyear, I felt open again to the delivery of novelty and pleasure from music.  Better late than never. 
Looking over what meant most to me this year, what I came back to most, I'm struck by, again, how little truly new stuff I adopted, and how much I came back to Big Melodies and Deep Textures.  I assume this was because my soul needed soothing and my life needed joy.  If you're in similar straits, maybe this list will do you some help, as it did me. 

I. List + Links (TD;LR crowd)

II. Fat's Diary Action

I wrote about EMA earlier in the year, declaring her 2011 song "California" the song of the summer 2017 (prematurely, as it would turn out), but it would be difficult to sum up how much time I spent listening to Past Life Martyred Saints and The Future's Void in 2017.  For much of the year, the only things that made sense were EMA's folk-melodies-into-explosions-of-guitar-noise and pretty, clean vocals, mostly saying upsetting things.  (Because I saw Mary Timony playing Helium last night, this makes me want to declare EMA the rightful heir to Timony's guitar-hero-with-dark-lyrics throne, but don't quote me on that yet.)
Past Life is a brilliant collection of overlapping musical and lyrical themes, treated in frequently experimental ways, ranging from extended guitar solos so simple and satisfying you'd swear only Lou Reed could have written them to self-harmonizing rounds; Future's Void is a more polished, narrower exploration of a couple ideas (musically: sadness, electronics, etc.; lyrically, technology, sadness, fame, etc.) that along the way earns a place as the most interesting and sustained engagement with the work of William Gibson I've ever encountered.  I didn't listen to anything more than I listened to these records this year, and I didn't listen to anything better than these records this year. 
A lot of the power of this music comes straight out of EMA's throat: 3Jane shows off her emotional singing beautifully.  Her sense of simple melodies is wonderful: the synth figure in Dead Celebrity is maybe the best example, or her unexpected appropriation of Camptown Races in California, a seriously weird moment that surprises and works every time I hear it.  Appropriation really works for this band: while everything feels forward-looking and even futuristic, there are frequent lyrical references to what's come before, so in a synth/guitar-noise dirge you might get a Bo Diddley callback, or even something like So Blonde would have been the best b-side on Hole's Celebrity Skin, which sounds like a backhanded compliment unless you understand that most times, the b-sides are a band's best, and that Celebrity Skin was, and is, a record without flaw.  Complicated emotions and sounds, the future and the past blending, stuff you can whistle.  Sounds like a good future to me. 
The one that came out last year, Exile in the Outer Ring didn't do much for me.  Then again, neither did either Past Life Martyred Saints or The Future's Void for 6 and 3 years, respectively.  I think I'll catch up with Exile in a couple years, at which point the band will probably be another couple years ahead of me... 

Völur landed in front of me via Twitter, shockingly, when Kim Kelley of Vice's Noisey mentioned them.  Something about the deep doom drones and the no-guitar instrumentation worked for me nearly perfectly all year.  Rocking, yet soothing: very useful in a nerve-jangling year where nothing seemed in-rhythm and everything had the power to annoy.  Indecipherable (German) lyrics helped, too, in a time where everything is far too explicit.  Metal can be a nice place to hide, and Ancestors built a sturdy shelter to rebuild one's stamina.  (A lot of other people really liked the Big Brave record, but I had trouble getting that one to work for me; as always, I'll probably come around to it in like two years.)

I have this pet theory about punk that says that what punk really is is consuming art made mostly by your friends.  Magazines, music, other performances, whatever.  Anyway, my friend Dan is in a lot of bands, like Wolf Parade and, for me, especially, like Operators.  I liked the Operators records I heard, had them in rotation all over the place.  Then I had some computer work to do and threw on some YouTubes of live sets, at which point I graduated to loving Operators.  Great textures and phenomenal urgency inhabiting beautifully structured songs—what's NOT to love? 
Hard to pick a favorite, but probably my choice for The Single is True, with its amazingly layered synths and unstoppable chorus.  Also if you can line up a friend who makes music you love and is willing to text with you about D&D, I highly recommend you do so. 
  • Swans

If you have a chance to see Swans live, see Swans live.  Resets the heart and mind. 
A surprisingly emotionally intense show was Magnetic Fields performing some of the 50 Song Memoir project.  The night of, "Me and Fred and Dave and Ted" provided the most life and lift—something about the humor directed at dark times vibed with me.  The few times I've tried to go back and click with the album, different bits have enveloped me, but never the same one twice, I don't think.  It may be that the album is a live show, different each time and only approachable on its own terms.  It also may be that I'm high? 

While EMA by a kilometer or two provided all my songs of the year, my song of the summer was, same as everybody's, Cardi B's stunning hypnotic manifesto.  Shame it had possibly the worst, most inept/inane video in recent memory, but even that could hardly tarnish the undeniable all-conquering compulsion of this single. 

Somewhere in the year, we saw the Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile tour.  The second-best songs were the ones from the albums they'd made before their collaboration.  The best songs were a Belly cover and "Elvis Presley Blues" which I had never heard before, and which I instantly fell in love with, and which I was taught later that night was a Gillian Welch song from a decade-plus ago, and which I now think is one of the greatest songs anybody's ever written. 

Another year-end list, another Future of the Left appearance, ho hum.  But in all seriousness, this live album was ridiculously good, bringing everything you want in a live document: a tight, excellent performance, just enough slop or mistake or equipment failure to remind you it was live, actually funny banter, and pre-show music that made at least me laugh.  The song here was new to me, somehow, and for long stretches of autumn, the anvil-dropping-onto-concrete riff and shouty bits made a lot of car rides significantly more tolerable. 

Voivod's Dimension Hatröss, is, as you know, the best record ever made.  But sometimes a person wants to listen to something the same as something they've heard before, but new.  That's where Vektor comes in: the same great pre-major-label Voivod taste you crave, but with new songs you haven't heard before!  Absolute shredders, incredibly technically proficient, but rarely boringly so. 
Terminal Redux is maybe a little bit too long, and maybe a little bit too samey, but my three-song edit, featuring all the songs with clean singing (first song, second-to-last song, last song) has put frothy joy into my soul each time I've tried it.  And, because metal, those three songs? add up to a half-hour of music.  Value for money.

I can't really remember why I decided to revisit Alice Cooper.  But after marching through Spotify for a few concerted days in the fall, I realized a couple things.  First, Alice Cooper's best record is probably Billion Dollar Babies, which came like 5 albums and 7 years into their career.  That was a different, better time; bands don't get the support they need to grow into themselves anymore.  Second, the record you want to own is the very early Greatest Hits compilation, particularly side 2.  Third, "Hello Hooray" is his (/their?) best song, and the single best exponent of a truly HEAVY TUNE that links itself to the Beatles, which all of these dudes love beyond belief, that I've ever encountered.  (No matter what the press kit for Black Sabbath's last album said.)  Anyway, it doesn't really rock all that hard, and it's always on the light side of heavy, but if you're not interested in big Broadway melodies, what are you doing listening to metal in the first place!?
If that doesn't sell you, my pal dB described Alice Cooper as "David Bowie's ugly cousin", so. 
  • Yes

Yes, it's more Yes.  What can I say?  I read Dave Weigel's book The Show That Never Ends, and all it did was make me like Yes, and Jon Anderson's basically down-to-Earth (if a little bit stoned), hopeful lyrics, and legitimately beautiful melodies even more.  Plus Chris Squire's bass playing just makes me laugh, particularly in the songs where everybody gets their own solo, which he happily solos underneath, and then he gets his own, which he solos over, but like twice as hard. 
It's what I turn to at work, when I need a little boost.  What's a bigger recommendation than that? 

III. Conclusatory Thinkery

Not a bad music year: more diversity than I'd've expected from a year of frank comfort-seeking.  Beyond that, I got nothing.  Technology-wise, I still loathe Spotify, but have found something it seems to me to be good for: creating playlists that replicate experiences I had, live shows, albums that aren't easily available to me anymore, etc. 
Anyways, I bought everything on this list, other than the Operators live show, wich I stole off of YouTube, and the Gillian Welch / Magnetic Fields / Cardi B, which I just stream a lot, and Yes, which I own some of but mostly just Pandora at work. 
I saw Less Art this year, and really had a great time at the show.  The record I returned to a couple times, but it really demands a certain volume-in-the-open-air listening experience I don't enjoy as often as I should, being a headphone weenie, mostly.  Also, too, I demand that they appropriate the old SS Decontrol song "How Much Art Can You Take?" and make a t-shirt reading "How Much Less Art Can You Take?".  If you really think about it, it works on multiple levels. 

IV. Previously in Years in HEAVY TUNES

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

As my father cautioned, do not eat pork, or you'll be eating the undead.

From The Book of Madness and Cures - Regina O'Melveny

My more recent-ish book-selection habits have led me to some stuff way weirder than anything I read when I was actively trying to read weird stuff.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top Ten Movies of 2017

1.   Bodied (2017, Joseph Kahn)
2.   The Beguiled (2017, Sofia Coppola)
3.   Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017, Luc Besson)
4.   Slack Bay (2016, Bruno Dumont)
5.   Wonder Wheel (2017, Woody Allen)
6.   Song to Song (2017, Terrence Malick)
7.   Suburbicon (2017, George Clooney)
8.   Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott)
9.   Detroit (2017, Kathryn Bigelow)
10.  Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)

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An Air of Quiet Death

When I was 20 and living at the Dustbin in Portland Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) was my favorite movie. But now that I'm so much older my PTA tastes have changed a lot. There Will Be Blood (2007, Anderson) is so much different from Anderson's early work, and so is The Master (2012, Anderson). These two richly characterized period pieces historically entrenched in twentieth century American industrialism remain profoundly dark and perfectly executed, to say nothing of the effects Jonny Greenwood's scores have had enhancing their viewings.

Phantom Thread (2017, Anderson) is a nuanced atypical love story brilliantly adorned in high fashion costumes and emotionally underscored ceaselessly by Jonny Greenwood's classically elegant music.

Daniel Day Lewis as REYNOLDS WOODCOCK is the movie. Phantom Thread feels like the final entry in a trilogy that could encompass There Will Be Blood and The Master, about dark obsession centered around a male central protagonist. And what could be as abysmally dark as oil, Scientology, and love, respectively?

Phantom Thread is a flawed film though, unlike There Will Be Blood and The Master. While Phantom Thread is magnificent in its rapturous May-December propulsion into the development of a romantic fantasy made reality by two relatable archetypal yet highly neurotic adults, there is little more that the film offers.

And while the film's beautifully and effectively realized core is provocative and truthful, the film's third act is uneven and falls miserably short. But hey, doesn't all romantic love? Another big problem with Phantom Thread is its cinematography. While there is no director of photography credited, Paul Thomas Anderson himself serves in this capacity. And the results are ravishing in some shots, but more often amateurish. So many scenes look like a bad student film because of spill. It's like he has something against flags. Or, in other words, it appears that many shots were filmed without using traditional photographic tools to block light by unwanted sources from contaminating the exposure. Maybe Anderson likes this effect? It's bewildering.

I must give praise to the craftsmanship and elegance of this intimate world along with the trio of characters who inhabit it. Phantom Thread possesses an exceptional command of portraying and pathologizing the intricacies of the elusive apparition that is true love.

Evidently Phantom Thread lacks the staggering tragedy that befalls the antiheroes of There Will Be Blood and The Master, yet suffering from poor cinematography and a stupid plot device supporting its third act, maybe said tragedy is exemplified through subtext? PTA being the victim? Now this is what makes for interesting art.

And I will say the vignette with BARBARA ROSE as an emotionally overwhelmed socialite stands out as a high point keeping me on the edge of my seat while generating such a surprisingly unexpected type of empathy, mixed with laughter, shame, identification and sorrow.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wonder Wheel Is the Closest Woody Allen's come to Nailing Ingmar Bergman

There's a poster of Face to Face (1976, Ingmar Bergman) at the Bleecker St cinema in Annie Hall (1977, Woody Allen); Interiors (1978, Allen) is Woody Allen blatantly trying to imitate Bergman's cold claustrophobic theatre with South Hampton filling in for Fårö; in Manhattan (1979, Allen) the Diane Keaton character offends the Allen character by making an offhanded comment that Bergman is overrated; Another Woman (1988, Allen) borrows its plot directly from Wild Strawberries (1957, Bergman) and was shot by Bergman's DP, Sven Nykvist—who also shot Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Allen) and Celebrity (1998, Allen). But these are just a few coincidences.

Wonder Wheel (2017, Allen) is a period theatrical domestic melodrama about the failed attempts of finding happiness that a handful of characters, whose paths cross on Coney Island, inevitably confront.

Wonder Wheel is uncharacteristically stylized for Allen. From Vittorio Storaro, the lighting is expressionistic, with key moments that burn characters in the glow of fiery sunsets and transition into cold blue darkness before our eyes, underlining the sense of hope departing. The production design by Santo Loquasto adds to the unnatural quality of staging on a constructed set with its forced perspective amusement park backdrop forever contrasting the foreground interior depression of the dysfunctional homelife.

GINNY'S (Winslet) sex headaches, alcoholism, and neurotic lapses into detachment are mirrored by her son's obsession with starting fires and hate of school. Wonder Wheel may be as colorful as Thor: Ragnarok visually, but emotionally it's as dark as oblivion—a fitting contrasting companion piece to the nostalgic warmth of last year's Café Society (2016, Allen).

Jim Belushi is a delightful choice, Juno Temple gives life to CAROLINA, and it'd be a waste of time to say anymore about how well the acting comes off. To say as much would be redundant because it's always been Woody Allen's greatest talent. And along with Crimes and Misdemeanors and Melinda and Melinda (2004, Allen), Wonder Wheel's ending provides no respite, intentionally and profoundly ripping our hearts out with its embodiment of nihilistic existential malaise as the wheel keeps turning. Also the staging of Winslet in the foreground staring off into space is undoubtedly lifted from similar shots of Liv Ullman in Persona (1966, Bergman) and Cries & Whispers (1972, Bergman).

Finally a depressing movie this year!

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

MCU Stands for Medium Close Up Not Marvel Cinematic Universe

I have one sibling, my brother. He's three years younger than me. There have been times when I had wished I could banish him from this universe. But I also love him more than anyone else.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Taika Waititi) is a comicbook comedy serial with traditional morals about family and maybe Jews? Pardon me if I am being condescending or trite by saying this, but I don't watch a lot of comicbook movies. And Thor: Ragnarok is the first Marvel movie I've seen in a theatre since Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi). For the most part my sole criteria for judging the quality of movies centers on rewatchability. However, an exception to this has occurred here due to viewing format. In an age of HD 65" LED screens having become commonplace in households, I had started to blur the line between theatre and home viewing, with the exception of 70mm's glorious resurgence; man The Hateful Eight (2015, Quentin Tarantino) righteously made clear that watching a movie on a home TV is a paltry substitute for the one and only true big screen. And even though I don't have any desire to rewatch Thor: Ragnarok, the experience I had seeing it in IMAX instantly captivated me and took me back to my youth and the excitement of seeing a movie larger than life. Also, I didn't go to one of those lame theatre-chain IMAX screens, I saw Thor: Ragnarok here in Austin at the Bob Bullock museum across the street from UT; at six stories high and 84' wide it's the biggest screen in Texas.

Still enduring as my favorite thing about the Thor series is the brother relationship between THOR and LOKI. The chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston is immensely true to life and enjoyable for me as a lens through which I'm able to remember how important my brother has been to my life. And not to get too weird or sentimental, but my only remaining family is my dad, my brother and I, and we just shared a Thanksgiving dinner a couple of days ago which was amazing. So, I also wanna add that Anthony Hopkins as ODIN their dad is surprisingly top-notch for a comicbook movie. Old man Hopkins is awesome white-bearded and serving as an exposition device full of class and wisdom, just like my old man.

But there's also Cate Blanchett. Some villains are just outright obnoxious at how one-dimensional their appetite for evil is to endure, but Blanchett's performance is fun to watch because she's so theatrical and somehow still likeable throughout the whole affair. And she's the sexiest I've ever seen her with black hair, tons of black eye-makeup and skin tight costumes out of Barbarella.

Yet the biggest treat for me was Mark Mothersbaugh's 80s New Wave Devo meets Daft Punk 8bit videogame synthpop kid high on sugar dance beats score throughout.

But now back to the plot. The setting of the junk planet feels too much like Idiocracy (2006, Mike Judge), especially with the gladiator arena looking identical to the staging of battles against BEEF SUPREME. Although I am able to overlook the similarities because these Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are obviously made for idiots. Why not? That's where the money is. At the screening I attended there were actually three 15 year old boys who decided to sit a few seats down for me and being that close to them was excruciating. Nothing in Thor: Ragnarok felt like it possessed pristine literary inspiration, but it can't and shouldn't. It felt like a comicbook. Crap. Something to kill time. And every once in a while I now understand the value of that in one's cinematic diet. Thor: Ragnarok was big, fun, funny, and had a tender family bonding core that to me was worth far more than the price of admission and 2 hours of my time I traded for it. It's also maybe the most colorful movie ever.

And while somehow it may have been the most enjoyable 2 hours I spent in a theatre for all of 2017, I am sure I will never ever feel like watching Thor: Ragnarok again. Some movies should only be viewed on the big screen. There's still a part of me that mourns the invention of the TV set. Also it's best that I don't say anything about watching movies on computers or smartphones, or this could get ugly.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Visceral, Ugly Beauty

Everyone I know who likes modern foreign arthouse films likes Yorgos Lanthimos. I'm embarrassed to say that I do not. It's like it negates my taste. I wanted to like Dogtooth (2009, Yorgos Lanthimos) and The Lobster (2015, Lanthimos), but they did little for me. I feel the same shame for not being crazy about, say Michael Haneke. In my defense though, why don't more of these people's conversations praise Bruno Dumont, huh? That's what I'd like to know.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, Lanthimos) is a conceptual narrative involving a 16 year old named MARTIN (Barry Keoghan) who morally scrutinizes a surgeon (Colin Farrell) about ethics. Martin makes the movie unbearable. He's like an arthouse JIGSAW from the Saw franchise. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is nowhere near as frustrating and impossible as Knock Knock (2015, Eli Roth), but I was reminded of the use of a stifling claustrophobia brought on by the inescapable suffering enacted by a young, lower-class psychopath torturing an affluent career-man. And the spaghetti scene triggers a coded link to Gummo (1997, Harmony Korine) that disgustingly portrays white trash as people who completely lack table manners.

The film plays out like The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick) formally due to wide-angle Steadicam tracking shots following or leading characters through long corridors, slow zooms, and an off putting continual use of cacophonous Ligeti. The dialogue is always delivered monotonously and feels distractingly stylized, unlike Rainer Werner Fassbinder's films, where the same technique achieves an enjoyably Brechtian detachment.

However, I did find the mystery in The Killing of a Sacred Deer intriguing and in no way gratuitous.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars

Todd Haynes has now directed 7 period features and Mildred Pierce (2011), thus maintaining my assertion that he is the only filmmaker who hasn't set any of his work in the present.

Wonderstruck (2017, Todd Haynes) is a PG rated period YA mystery that plays out concurrently through 2 separate narratives.

The first narrative takes place in Gunflint, MI beginning in 1977 and centers on BEN (Oakes Fegley), a boy in search of answers about his family; while the second starts in Hoboken, NJ in 1927 featuring ROSE (Millicent Simmonds) and her voyage to find out more about her family.

Wonderstruck is the first time Haynes has directed someone else's script. And while it may not feel entirely like a Todd Haynes film, it is entrenched in his personal style. Rose's story is filmed by Ed Lachman in black and white (Eastman Double-X 5222) and Millicent Simmonds steals the movie. (I didn't even know they still manufactured black and white film anymore.) Rose's film-within-a-film is my favorite part. It's legitimately a silent movie. And it's important to consider the time it takes place, 1927; the year The Jazz Singer was released by Warners; the first year of sound movies. The silent movie is also (along with the rest of the film) superbly scored by Carter Burwell and remains true to the era, complete with emotional underscoring and stingers supplied by an organ. It's as fun and moving as the black and white B-movie aesthetic Haynes went all out in recreating in the "Horror" thread from Poison (1991, Haynes). And it has Juliane Moore.

Wonderstruck feels slight at times, but as the mystery is revealed there is a device that goes all the way back to Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988, Haynes) that is used to tie everything together, which made me realize just how intricate and subtle Todd Haynes, who graduated in semiotics from Brown, carefully crafted this sweet, beautiful, innocent film that happens to be his most mature work to date.

With all the dark, arty, ugly, sensual, violent elements I typically enjoy in cinema, Wonderstruck has instantly become vital to me as an instance of possessing all of the complexity, angst, and familial turmoil, with impactful images and sound that I would never have expected to find in a kids movie.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

In Defense of Suburbicon (and Other Poorly Received Movies)

Among friends and colleagues there have been a few films that I've gotten flack for speaking highly of. And while I'll be the first to admit I can tend to resort to superlative praise maybe a little too often, it's exemplary of my taste in cinema--and taste is personal, subjective, and should be modified by the individual communicating it. Usually I know whether I'll love or hate a movie before I see it. Usually. I also believe in broadening one's sensibilities and trying out movies you may not expect to fit into the typical characteristics of your liking just to see what happens.

For several reasons I consider 2012 the date that marks my coming of age as having acquired a mature critical voice when speaking about movies. Examples of titles that fall into the category of which I am here attempting to describe include:
  • The Canyons (2013, Paul Schrader) 
  • The Counsellor (2013, Ridley Scott)
  • Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014, Scott)

Suburbicon (2017, George Clooney) is a period neo-noir that achieves pitch-perfection with its somber tone. (I intentionally chose to leave out adjectives like comedic, existential, and satirical because after calling it a film noir, those terms are redundant.)

Firstly, I'll start with my gripes concerning audience expectations and reactions. The critical climate around Suburbicon begins with people not realizing what a film noir is. Coincidentally, I've been reading Jim Thompson novels recently, and after last Saturday night when I visited the theatre to watch Suburbicon, I delved back into one to fall asleep to and found George Clooney to have nailed the genre aspects of his film.

Viewers who complain that Suburbicon is slow are failing to appreciate Clooney's stark crafting of a tone that expertly builds the suspense this genre piece exceeds in. Viewers who complain that Suburbicon misses the mark of what makes Coen Bros.' movies work so well are failing to understand that Clooney never implied that he was attempting to execute a style that pays homage to the Coens, and why should he?

I love that Clooney minimized his camera's movement to set his look apart from the Coens. And while I think perennial Coens' composer Carter Burwell is the most talented (intentional superlative praise) composer for contemporary films, to the degree that his melodies remain in my memory, hauntingly, relentlessly, they attain such prominence that comparatively I find Alexandre Desplat's original music for Suburbicon crucial to preserving the period feel and suburban setting of the diegesis, which works better because again, it points to a somber, emotionally dark void.

No, really, as I sat in the theatre one of my first thoughts through the first act was, "I love how serious this feels." So much is restrained: the camera, the music, the pacing. Whatever happened to less is more? To quote Bresson:
"Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence."
In defense of detractors who complain about Suburbicon's political misfires or irrelevance of the black family, THE MAYERS, it seems to be a case of a lack of placing the first-person point of view that the narrative establishes. The boy is trying to make sense of people, family, adults, and America; the black neighbors are just another ingredient in the mix. Suburbicon is primarily a hard-boiled crime tale so the sleazy townsfolk's oppressive conduct fits in with the stock characters the genre supplies.

Okay to take a break from my harangue, Suburbicon was shot on 35mm by Robert Elswit, ASC and the camera dept was led by gaffer Ian Kincaid along with key grip Chris Centrella. Ian and Chris are Robert Richardson's team and really nice guys in person. Suburbicon's look also benefits from playing out mostly in masters while when going into traditional coverage the subject is in profile or directly facing the lens, which is unusual, and looks great. Also classically adhering to the tenets of Hollywood noir of the 40s, Clooney frames graphic images like shadows defining the action or a struggle that plays out from a POV under the bed limited to black leather oxfords and bullets.

And yes, Suburbicon works as a superb comedy. It's different, that's for sure, but since when is that a bad thing? Matt Damon as GARDNER isn't as zany as he was in The Informant! (2009, Steven Soderbergh) or as over the top as typical Coen's protags when indulging in screwball, but this is another instance of just the right balance that cumulate in making Suburbicon work.

Maybe the reason I'm so defensive about all of this is because I'm still surprised initially when people in summation describe my taste in movies as "dark." Although I'm learning to accept it. After all, darkness isn't such a bad thing.


Saturday, October 14, 2017


I love the slasher genre of movies. I have watched a lot. Historically the genre took place between 1978-1986. For me it starts with Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) and ends when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, Tobe Hooper) decided to be a comedy. Okay also, I'm not saying that makes Chainsaw 2 a bad movie by the way, I love Bill Moseley as CHOP TOP, so many great one liners he has: "Dog will hunt," and "Naaaam flashback," spring to mind. Ironically the main reason I love slashers though is because they are really fun.

I've wondered why everyone says Black Christmas (1974, Bob Clark) is the first slasher, mainly because Blood and Black Lace (1964, Mario Bava) is about a masked killer murdering several beautiful young women in a fashion house. Why isn't that the first slasher? I've learned that it's probably because Black Christmas added the final girl device, and takes place on a holiday. Good enough for me. But since none of this is official, I still call Halloween the first slasher because of the final girl + masked killer + takes place on a holiday formula, but adds nudity and graphic violence, (with a cool synthesizer score).

To switch topics, Jason Blum's Blumhouse production co. has had a really good 2017 for horror movies, partnering with Universal releasing Split (2016, M. Night Shyamalan) and Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele).

And since it's October and I watch a lot of horror movies when this time of year comes around I couldn't resist going to the theatre yesterday on Friday the 13th.

Happy Death Day (2017, Christopher Landon) is a fun PG-13 post-slasher with a Hollywood life-affirming message built in. That title works.

I just wanted to report that I had a good time and found the whole endeavor emotionally effective. Happy Death Day takes place on a college campus and involves the insolent, witty teen milieu found in Heathers, Clueless, and Mean Girls, but in a sorority. From the first frames, as the poster tips off, the Universal logo resets itself several times to set the tone.

The craftsmanship of the narrative is well done and reminded me of my favorite teen genre-defying movie Detention (2011, Joseph Kahn) in ways; there's even a girl killed in a way as spectacularly designed as the murder of TAYLOR FISHER. And I have no complaints about the lack of explicit scenes of violence. Coincidentally I rewatched Blood and Black Lace the night before and was surprised at how little was actually shown on screen when its murders occurred. So what we get is Groundhog Day as a springboard into a deliriously exhaustive tale of final girl TREE on a mission to figure out how to escape her catastrophic time loop.

And lucky for me I resisted looking at my watch out of curiosity to know when it would end, because I got sucked in and was genuinely surprised at the development of the narrative. Another great thing about Happy Death Day is how many different places it goes and how fast, if that makes sense. I feel like most traditional movies often take place in only a few locations, during the span of a short period. Or at worst there are those 12 Angry Men types--mostly all in one place in near real time has never struck me as an impressive innovation. Happy Death Day covers a ton of ground and like at ADHD speed. And for me that's one of my favorite novelties found in some newer movies. Although it still doesn't hold a candle to Detention in this regard.

Happy Death Day isn't a masterpiece or anything. But it never sucked, and I took away a lot from its ambitious re-envisioning of the slasher. As far as it fits into the post-slasher canon, it's not as dark as Scream (1996, Wes Craven), but the Booji Boy-looking masked killer gave me some jumps.

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