Saturday, January 25, 2020


After realizing that my taste in movies has always gravitated toward the dark, the next step is to narrow down what that means. Dark is too broad a term. I love depressing movies. This isn’t to say necessarily movies about depression, or movies dealing with depression. Returning to my fundamental categorization of films broken down into plot, character, dialogue, genre, and setting leaves out tone.
     Dark is an easy label to throw at a movie—even lazy. Depression is a tone. I argue here that my use of this term is based on my connotation of a film…

  1.     with a protagonist played by an actor whose performance is detached: almost no emotion shown (with the exception of emotions like sorrow, sadness, despair, regret, etc…), often with very little dialogue.
  2.       with a protagonist who lacks traditional narrative goals, or if present, goals that are destined to go unattained; typically set at a time when the character has what he or she wants, but is unfulfilled; no happy endings, no life affirming discoveries; although often loss or death as conclusion.
  3.        a slow pace, little action or plot development.
     I’m not talking about depression really so much as I’m talking about the cinematic effect of a feeling of depression.

     So when did the depressing film start? The most obvious answer has to be film noir of the 1940s, but no. Maybe I’m out of touch with the canon, but none of the movies of the genre that I can think of fit the template. The one that comes closest is Night and the City (1950, Jules Dassin). It makes sense that it’s been one of my favorite film noirs because of how depressing its ending is. Night and the City’s fatal tone is crushing in its bleak depiction of how  HARRY FABIAN (a career-best Richard Widmark just kidding I hate this term “career best” it seems like all of the sudden there’s this new trend and it keeps popping up in writings about film it’s so stupid but seriously Widmark is amazing in it) loses all, yet he’s too outgoing, smooth-talking, and passionate to fit my definition.
     It seems the depressing film starts with Jeanne Moreau’s character in La notte (1961, Michelangelo Antonioni). Gorgeously photographed in black and white with a sexy cast of young bougee partygoers and a career best Monica Vitti—sorry, kidding again, but seriously Monica Vitti is intoxicatingly mesmerizing—the film is a classic of decaying decadence. It’s revolutionary in cinema. It feels like nothing that’s come before it, in the sense of how isolated the Moreau character is from everything, and how this in turn isolates us from any conventional identification of narrative development. Yet somehow Antonioni found an even colder tone with Monica Vitti, spectacular as woman-puzzle in the sublime L'eclisse (1962, Antonioni). And dealing with the same subject as La notte there’s also maybe the most colorful, romantic tone of depression in Le mépris (1963, Jean-Luc Godard).
     Anyway, next there’s my favorite movie of all time! No wonder I’ve always loved Au hasard Balthazar (1966, Robert Bresson). Again shot in black and white, the waif beauty Anne Wiazemsky’s career best turn as blank object of suffering anchors the narrative. Her character loves someone who only lives to hurt others. Also there’s the follow up: Mouchette (1966, Bresson), what could be more depressing than the premise of an 11 year old girl killing herself? Jumping ahead, I'll say that melodrama and brutal tragedy aren’t depressing, they’re disturbing. So stuff like Requiem for a Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky) or Precious (2009, Lee Daniels).
     The next phase, our contemporary era of the depressing film, consists of Last Days (2005, Gus Van Sant), L’humanité (1999, Bruno Dumont), Synechdoche, New York (2008, Charlie Kaufman), Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier), and Knight of Cups (2015, Terrence Malick). L’humanité I’d like to give special attention to as being remarkable due to its exceptional portrayal of a police officer who appears unable to experience emotion, yet not in the sense commonly associated with a sociopath. PHARAON is something different, with his childlike curiosity in emotions. Also L’humanité is proof of the tone from the beginning giving the film a constant feeling of something unlike normal movies. So that’s it. There’s the end of my list for now.
     Oh and Che: Part Two (2008, Steven Soderbergh) has to be included because it exemplifies a cohesively depressing tone in contrast to the joyful excitement of Che: Part One. Part Two is about Guevara’s failed Bolivia campaign. And from the beginning it’s as if it’s already apparent that the despair of imminent failure is upon us. I heard somewhere that Malick planned a movie about the Bolivian phase of Che’s life and I’m not sure if this had anything to do with Soderbergh’s film, but it sure is cool to imagine it was.
     Yet another exception however, is the lone character within an ensemble: HELEN (a career best Lara Flynn Boyle) in Happiness (1998, Todd Solondz) or ZOE TRAINER (Lori Singer) in Short Cuts (1993, Robert Altman). Short Cuts is astounding because of how vast it covers the spectrum of human emotions through its ensemble of characters. In a twenty-four hour period, there are the vastly different deaths that bookend the narrative—a woman accidentally responsible for the vehicular manslaughter of a little boy/a man going psycho and responsible for sexual frustration unleashed through the murder of a young girl. But also it’s about how intricately each of these characters are connected to each other. Then there’s the sweet people like say, a career best Madeline Stowe playing a woman naturally beautiful in every aspect, contrasting someone like the career best Chris Penn character who is approaching evil (and gets there).
     But the Zoe character is detached in every sense of my definition. And what’s more enigmatic about the character is in one of the largest ensemble of stars, Lori Singer’s the only one I’ve never heard of before or since. And maybe that’s where this line of investigation has brought me—mystery.

     The Turning (2020, Floria Sigismondi) is way better than I was expecting. And yes, like The Grudge (2020, Nicolas Pesce), I’m excited to love a January release that’s gotten very bad reviews. (I fear the impact of review aggregators.) The Turning possesses a formidable mastery of tone, ultimately that of schizophrenia.
     But to begin with, The Turning is set during the mid-1990s and steeps itself in grunge mythos—namely depression. Then, depression becomes terror. And what’s wonderful is the gradual turning of the screw of it all. For a horror movie, for this horror movie, the unsettling tone is unified by baiting us, the audience, with a mystery that denies us any explanation; with characters whose motives, virtue, or position within the realm of sanity we will never know.

     There’s a plot device in The Turning where the governess (a career best Mackenzie Davis) gets a parcel delivered to her by MRS. GROSE over breakfast, and its contents appear to be a series of 8” x 10” charred negatives. What are they? For me, it’s what makes the film work. (I imagine for others they’re nothing more than a frustrating red herring.) During the film’s climax we find ourselves back in the black plates. Who sent the envelope? The governess says her mother did. But her mother is in an institution. MILES (a career best Finn Wolfhard) says that the reason he was expelled, his explanation for what led him to violence against other students was “they burned the only pictures he had of his dad.” Well, that’s scary. It’s mysterious. And The Turning is a movie that gives me all the answers I need. What ever happened to art?
     Another way the screw is turned is the kids, FLORA and Miles. Flora is alternately adorably precocious or mischievous, stock in trade for Brooklynn Prince—in a career best performance. And the mop-topped grunge-attired Miles is alternately misunderstood or diabolical. Are the children sweet or evil? Are they possessed by QUINT or is this all in the governess’ head?

     Adding to the atmosphere, beyond the gloomy grey overcast wet location, is the film’s score. It would have been really cool to use actual period grunge, or even at least like post grunge Olympia/pdx stuff like Elliot Smith or Sleater-Kinney, but if I’m not mistaken we get modern interpretations of that sound instead. I mean, good enough, I guess.

     So yes, The Turning utilizes a depression element in its schizophrenic tone that I find seldom used successfully within the horror genre. Also, an effect of the tone taking such precedence is how well the film works as a horror movie with so little violence. I mean, what’s there like one violent scene with MS. JESSEL or something? All in all fun, and well put together.


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Fat's 2019 at the Movies

Fat's 2019 at the Movies

Kind of a rough year for movies! After 2018's roundup, which was overstuffed with mediocre (at best) thrillers, I thought I had crafted a firm thought for 2019, a thought to seek out Better Movies. The list below does not visibly reflect that. Nearly 150 movie-like objects over the course of 2019, including coherent seasons of TV (The OA [RIP], etc.), but one would have preferred more better.

In general, I watched too much TV (like everybody) (although Legends of Tomorrow is a really good show), did too much rewatching (not entirely sure I needed to rewatch the entire Resident Evil series), too much rewatching TV (Simpsons and Letterkenny ate too much of my time this year), and so on. We did okay finding decent older movies, though we've had Nashville on the list for like two years now.

Order within categories is mostly chronological in order of seeing it. Best theater experiences: The Favourite, Us, Midsommar, Last Black Man in San Francisco, Parasite and The Lighthouse. Best first watchings of older stuff: Stick It, Fatal Attraction, Short Cuts (maybe: this one really left me cold), Cabaret, Metropolitan, King of Comedy, Candyman and Rosemary's Baby. Also some good home watches of more or less new stuff: Blindspotting, Clouds of Sils Maria, Destroyer, Her Smell (first two-thirds, anyway), and Rolling Thunder Revue were probably the best of these. Special mention in the category of You Will Like This If You Like This Sort of Thing goes to Escape Room, which was better than it had any right to be, and Ready or Not, which stole the thunder from Knives Out for me. Hale County was also great, but probably everybody has seen that already. High Life I need to see again.

I. Good Theater Experiences

The Favourite
The Nightengale
High Life
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Lighthouse

Also somewhere in there I saw Us, but forgot to write it down? Weird year.

II. Decent Theater Experiences

Things to Come
Cold Pursuit
Captain Marvel (San Rafael Century)
47 Meters Down: Uncaged
Ready or Not
Knives Out

Those are all pretty solid! I should go to the movies more. Because only rarely do you see something like ...

III. Kinda Wanted My Money Back Ad Astra

IV. Good New / Newish Home Watches

Night Manager
The Invitation (rewatch)
A Simple Favor
Support the Girls
The Ritual
In Order of Disappearance
Clouds of Sils Maria
The OA (Season 2)
Russian Doll
Private Lives
Fleabag (Season 2)
The Thick of It (Season 1)
The Thick of It (Season 2)
Escape Room
Her Smell
Rolling Thunder Revue
Hale County This Morning This Evening

V. Good New-to-Me Older Watches

Stick It
Fatal Attraction
All the President's Men
Short Cuts
A Man for All Seasons
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC Series)
The Big Easy
Match Point
King of Comedy
Desperately Seeking Susan
Singin' in the Rain
Coming to America
The Pelican Brief
Rosemary's Baby

VI. Some Ways I Passed Some Time

The Old Man and the Gun
Frozen in Love
Woman Walks Ahead
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Super Dark Times
The Kindergarten Teacher
Bad Times at the El Royale
Zodiac (rewatch)
Pretty Woman (rewatch)
The Fundamentals of Caring
The Wife
Empire Records
The Dirty Dozen (rewatch)
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Beach
Avengers: Endgame
Mary Queen of Scots
Final Score
Game of Thrones (Season 8)
The Imitation Game
Song to Song
Resident Evil: Apocalpyse
Fighting with My Family
Resident Evil: Extinction
Beavis & Butt-Head Do America
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: Retribution
J.T. Leroy
Transformers: The Movie
Spring Breakers (rewatch)
Battle of the Sexes (solo plane)
The Lego Movie 2 (solo plane)
Bathtubs over Broadway
Stranger Things (Season 3)
The Tattooed Stranger
Jessica Jones (Season 3)
Triple Frontier
Salute of the Jugger
Mindhunter (Season 1)
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
MST3K: Day the Earth Froze
MST3K: Hobgoblins
Popstar (rewatch)
Get Carter
Batman: Hush
Charlie Says
Point Blank (2018)
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Spider-Man: Far from Home
The Last Jedi (rewatch)
Longshot (plane)
Shazam (plane)
X-Men: Apocalypse (plane)
Juliet Naked
La French
Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie
The Tattooed Stranger (rewatch)
As Above So Below
A Simple Favor (rewatch)
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Super Troopers 2
Hotel Artemis
The Vault
White Christmas
They Live (rewatch)
Letterkenny (Season 7)
Them That Follow
The Kitchen
The Irishman
Bachelorette (rewatch)
Good Boys
Eddie Murphy Delirious
White Reindeer
Double Team

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Pen 15 Club: On the Bic Clic

When a good pen comes around
You must clic it!

—Fat, after Devo

Two things. One: In New Orleans last year, a hotel we stayed in gave me a branded Bic Clic pen. I naturally yoinked it, and over a couple of days used it, and actually loved it. I thought it would make a good promotional item for the podcast, so I ordered a bunch, and if you would like a couple, drop me a line (cfcollision @ google's mail service, dontcha know) and I'll mail you some. They really are good pens.

(Impossible to look at one of these and not pop a bit of a smile. Ah, lil' Bic Clic, you're the inspiration! )

Two: Using both the freebie and one from my big batch, I have come to realize how spectacularly and unequivocally superior Bic's ballpoint pen ink is to Zebra's ink, which I have previously given at least some praise to. There really is no comparison. I sill like my Zebra okay, but the skipping and blobbing is intensely noticeable versus the Bic ink. Accept, I guess, no substitute!

(Check out the new hotness! Logo, slogan, blood-red barrel, shiny-butt clip, need I say more. Need I say more.)

(Ink fight! These are scribblings on your average el cheapo index card, but, I assure you, the results are quite typical and repeatable.)

—Fat, who will never need to buy another pen.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

More Great Urinals (of the Pacific Northwest) (And Toilets, Too!)

For some years now, our own redoubtable Tinzeroes has devoted himself to the documentation of our great land's more notable stand-up pissoirs, as one can review, thus.

Thus it was my foundations were rocked by a care package from a Vancouver-based podcast listener who sent along not only a Canadian-flag pin (which rode my bike bag all through Paris last year) but also some cool records and a couple old free weeklies, which ... contained ... the following: Vanpooper: rating the best (and worst) of Vancouver's public toilets by Michelle Hanley.

(Am I saying that Michelle Hanley has been reading this blog since its inception in 2006? Yes, clearly I am saying that Michelle Hanley has been reading this blog since its inception in 2006.)

Beneath this paragraph are more zoomed-in pictures, in case you want to do deeper into these great toilets. (And beneath the waves, an ocean!)

(Honestly for an airplane bathroom this one doesn't look that bad.)

(Non-flushing chairs in bathrooms always exude a powerful and frightening energy. But I'm heartened to see a place of business with an actual open-to-the-public facility. Living in the East Bay and occasionally visiting San Francisco, I'm more familiar with the brutal and inhumane practice of not allowing customers or others have a clean private place to excrete.)

(False Creek? That's a name that makes me want to know a story! Obligatory link to Expo '86.)

Friday, January 03, 2020

Reflections in a Golden Eye

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003, Quentin Tarantino) generated a treasure hunt for finding the sources of its many references upon its theatrical release; Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku) being the one most applicable to the point I’m about to make. But around this same period I became aware of Takashi Miike, and subsequently sought out as many of his movies as I could find—from boutique dvd boxset releases to illegal bootlegs. Yet adding to both of these occurrences this same period also happened to coincide with a new trend in cinema, the subgenre that gained popularity known as “J-Horror.” I’m saying 2003 was the year I watched more Japanese movies than American.
     It wasn’t long after that it seemed other than Ring (1998, Hideo Nakata), Audition (1999, Takashi Miike) and Ju-On: The Grudge (2002, Takashi Shimizu), there wasn’t really enough quality to support all the hype around J-Horror (or, at least nowhere near as much as 70s Italian horror). But Cure (1997, Kiyoshi Kurosawa), Pulse (2001, Kurosawa), and Dark Water (2002, Nakata) are really good.

     This brings me back to my ongoing introspection about why exactly I love certain “bad” movies. It’s not just to be provocative or offend sensibilities or for gratuitous shock value, as my friends have sometimes accused me of—which is fun I’ll admit—going back to when I wrote my first top ten list and included The Canyons (2013, Paul Schrader). All taste is is expressing your likes and dislikes and being able to support your opinions right? Anyway, I remember a time when I never would have believed that an American remake of a foreign masterpiece could improve upon it or be better. That is, until I found M (1951, Joseph Losey).
     The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski) is my favorite horror movie. And if I were to watch Suspiria right now I’d go for the Guadagnino over the Argento. And Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s newest installment in The Grudge franchise just may be one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen.




     The Grudge (2020, Nicolas Pesce) is a reboot of the American remake franchise with a story that begins with the same traumatic death in the same house in Japan as The Grudge (2004, Takashi Shimizu), yet avoids nearly any mention of any of the secondary characters or events from the previous installments.
     For the rest of this post when I describe The Grudge, I’m referring to the 2020 release. The Grudge succeeds as a reboot for, among other reasons, setting itself apart from its predecessors by being darker. Its tone is sorrowful and established at the outset. Its characters suffer loss. They smoke. They drink. They’re desperate. In an unnamed town, despair engulfs the dramaturgy.

     The atmosphere of The Grudge becomes most apparent at night. This isn’t to say bad things don’t happen during the day, but at night the color is light through a straw filter; and this golden netherworld of nocturnal terror starts with sodium-vapor streetlights, then follows its characters indoors. Furthermore, these scenes invariably isolate the various characters. Alone, they find themselves apart from their loved ones, trapped in darkness and silence.
     And what enhances the proceedings most of all is the film’s cast. Anchored by a lead performance from Andrea Riseborough, who’s legitimately earned her clout in the horror genre after Mandy (2018, Panos Cosmatos), her physical appearance immediately distances the tone of The Grudge from its earlier incarnation. Whereas Sarah Michelle Gellar is probably the perfect balance of cute and sexy, Riseborough’s no make-up/no frills counter is the perfect balance of tough and emotionally-tortured. The ensemble of The Grudge includes: Demián Bechir (always glad to see a Mexican in a horror movie), Jacki Weaver, John Cho, Frankie Faison, William Sadler, and a memorably unnerving Lin Shaye. When’s the last time a really scary horror movie had a cast this good?

     I really love the narrative structuring of The Grudge. Its scares are more subtly placed, and there’s way less exposition. From the start, we move forward while simultaneously going back and tracing the steps that got us to where we are; so, parallel timelines running concurrently. And maybe what I dig most is that The Grudge never bothers with the why any of these murders occurred. That’s what truly made it scary for me. Now in comparison the whole oh that’s why the husband murdered Kayako and Toshio, we can solve the curse from the all the other movies is completely absent. That’s what most impressed me about the modifications in The Grudge, the attention and understanding of the horror genre—specifically, the lack of explanation, of closure, of hope.

     In closing I’ll add that this is the first film in The Grudge franchise to be rated R. And it is way gorier than I’d expected, disturbingly so. Like 80s Fulci gory. This isn’t the kind of stuff normally found in J-Horror. Oh how well executed the scene is with Jacki Weaver’s character wandering aimlessly into the meat section in the supermarket, as flies are heard, seen, the condition of the meat, the bizarre looking man at the counter.

     Is The Grudge too excessive? Yes. I felt gross. It crossed a line. But I like it. There’s another great scene where Frankie Faison’s character attempts to reconcile with the curse, understand it, accept it, find hope, the music swells, uplifts us… then Weaver’s therapist zips up a handbag or suitcase, some piece of luggage, and abruptly this zip violently cuts the sentimental music off short from the soundtrack. Exactly.