Red Riding Trilogy (2009)

This is less a review and more an analysis of how we can be a victim to our own processes when consuming media. How do you watch a movie versus longer form entertainment?

But first off, The Red Riding Trilogy are separate, but linked movies taking place in three different years: 1974, 1980, and 1983. Watch them in that order. Each movie concerns a different crime consuming a corrupt English police department. In 1974, three young girls have gone missing. In 1980, there’s a serial killer targeting young women. And in 1983, another young girl disappears echoing the 1974 case.
The real heart of the films aren’t the crimes, but the Yorkshire police and how corruption corrodes and destroys both cases and lives. The specific plot of the first two movies are almost identical, but with some different players. An eager outsider, good, but with a weakness slowly discovers the police department’s corruption, tries to fight but meets a dark end and some one is scapegoated. (And I’ll admit, I didn’t expect the first film to go so dark, but was less surprised the second time around.) The third film, 1983, has many elements of the first two films, but also works to wrap up the many mysteries.
If you’re a fan of the crime drama, fight the system movies, and a grim realism, you should like the movies. They’re not Law and Order procedurals or have the gee-whiz cleverness of a CSI. It’s more like The Wire where systems are king and the rest of the individuals scrabble around for an attempt at dignity or comfort from their own misdeeds.

So here’s where my own compartmentalization in watching the movies came back to bite me. Often, when watching a genre picture, it’s real easy to hang a stereotype onto the different actors. There’s the incompetent henchman, there’s the long suffering wife, there’s the arrogant official, there’s the wide eyed crusader and so on. Lot’s of movies even cast the same types of actors for these kinds of supporting roles. It’s also easier to do when watching a foreign film because there’s fewer recognizable faces. Sean Bean was the only actor I recognized and he was playing a high-profile character, the out-sized businessman who owns the whole town. Admit it, when you watch a movie with an actor whose name you know, you’ll mentally call their character by the actor’s name the whole movie. Adding to the confusion and reinforcing my reliance on types instead of learning their names was the actor’s thick rural English accents that made following the movie part of the ongoing mystery.
All of this lazy movie watching worked fine for the first movie and I was caught up in the plot throughout. Highly enjoyable.
The problem came in the second film when many of the more background characters of the first film were promoted in the police department and into lead roles. By the middle of the second film, the plot became secondary to my figuring out each of the character’s personal relationships to each other. Also, what exactly did they do in the first film and who was involved in what. I was still behind watching the third film even though it was a little more forgiving supplying many flash backs. And by the end, the various character’s resolutions were pretty clear, even if I couldn’t remember if the second lead was even in the other movies.

This is a fault of mine as I was in movie watching mode which often deals with broad strokes and plot and not in TV series or mini-series mode which more often deals with characters and their relationships.

I’d never watch Rubicon like I watched these movies, I tend to pay more attention to TV.

That’s kind of weird, given how much movies claim we should pay more attention as viewers to them and we’re just supposed to watch TV as back ground noise.

The tables have turned. The tables have turned.

(Just tonight I learned that The Red Riding Trilogy aired as a mini-series on BBCTV, maybe I would’ve paid more attention if I knew that.)

One pet peeve, gritty urban dramas, how come in every movie that has an establishing tracking shot of a new desolated, poverty-ridden urban wasteland must we always include a bunch of little urchins pounding away at a burnt-out husk of a car? We get it, the people are so poor, kids are left to their own devious shenanigans. This trilogy did this three times, once a movie. I know, themes and whatnot, but c’mon.
Oh, on the bright side, they did introduce a psychic, make us think she’d be of actual help to the police, then she turns out to be totally wrong. Sweet.
Thematically, she was the emotional sounding board for the flawed lead, as all three movies had one and that was okay.

Also, I’m peeved at my own constant use of the word ‘shenanigans.’

But what’cha gonna do?

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The City of the Living Dead (1980)

Okay, so you’re at a seance. And naturally you go into a deep, deep trance. In this trance, you have a horrible vision of the dead rising out of their graves and the gates of Hell opening up and of the evil, hanged priest lurking behind this whole mess of trouble. The vision is so shocking, so horrifying, you go into convulsions, blow snot and drool out of many orifices…and you die. You die. YOU ARE DEAD!
A few days later, when you wake up from your actual death, you’re trapped in your coffin about to be buried. So, you claw your fingers bloody trying to get out. Lucky for you, some manly retrograde sexist reporter frees you and you tell him the whole weird story–You absolutely must get to Dunwich (what’s up, Lovecraft?) before All Saints Day and rekill the dead priest or the gates of Hell will open, pouring out every horror imaginable. All Saints Day is two days away.
What do you do?
Why, you dawdle around New York for a day and a half and show up literally two hours too late after poking around town and stopping for snacks.
C’mon, doesn’t your OWN DEATH give you a clue that you should hustle it up and stop this oncoming Armageddon?


Last night, Netflix streaming wouldn’t let me watch episode three of The Kingdom, so I opted for some old style ’80’s Italian horror, The City of the Living Deadin high- def. It’s the first of Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. The second film in the trilogy, The Beyond, is my favorite of these two movies and one of the best non-Argento examples of the genre. I haven’t seen the third one, but I’ll certainly search it out.
I’m a sucker for Italian horror movies and their close brethren, the gallos. I love their style, camera use, seriousness, inventive gore and general visceral feel. Yea, they can seem extremely dated and cheesy at times, but unlike many American horror directors of the time, the Italians try and treat their films as art.
Sometimes a dreamlike quality supersedes narrative and resolution. I seem to have a lot of horror-based dreams in the twilight hours of my sleep cycle. I usually don’t mind, I’m generally not the main character in my own dreams, but an involved secondary character. Weird. My dreams are often in the style and even plot of many Italian horror films of the ’80’s. I should probably see a psychiatrist, but at the end of most dreams, I generally feel like I’ve resolved some intangible problem much like a good horror movie.

Okay, some highlights from TCotD: generous eye bleeding like crying, maggot covered undead with real moving maggots on their faces, in fact the principle cast spent two minutes of the film being pelted with live maggots from head to toe with what must have been and insect filled snow blower, plenty of unnecessary cigar chomping, a woman pukes up HER ENTIRE INTESTINAL TRACK—slowly, three people were killed by the undead squeezing their brains out of the back of their head toothpaste tube style, mucho wood paneling, beer signs and ugly perms, an unnecessary and annoying kid, bad art, an unnecessary pervy janitor type, a temple to temple high-powered drilling, and, oh yeah, they were totally too late to stop the gates of Hell from opening. No boobs (boo), 15 dead bodies, Joe Bob gives it three stars.

Thinking about it, here’s a short list of themes or, if I’m in a bad mood, cliches of many Italian horror films of the 70’s and 80’s:

Plodding, throbbing, hypnotic Prog rock (These movies are the only place Prog rock should ever appear)
Weird unexplained animal noises in the back ground (Monkeys in the city?)
Lots of close up shots of eyes
Nobody blinks in the movie, ever
Eyes are ALWAYS the victim of some horrible impaling, I mean, these movies hate and are obsessed with eyes
Super saturated primary colors and lighting that make the colors both bleed onscreen and pop off the screen
Most of the horror is in the daytime
Hot, Italian women, usually wearing some strange Italian couture
Art galleries integrated into the plot or prominently displayed
One C or D-list American actor slumming it in the second lead role. They almost always die. (TCotD had ’70’s character actor Christopher George)
Pulpy, meaty down and dirty, lingering gore
Redubbed English dialogue. That is, they’re speaking English, but the mouth movements still don’t match.
Solid, fluid camera work that aren’t as dependent on editing as American horror movies
And lastly, a dream-like logic that guides and permeates both the characters and the action. While this sometimes leaves me scratching my head, more often than not it leads to surprises and the WTF moments you look for in a good horror movie.

I can think of a few more cliches, but I want to see the third film of this trilogy and then see how it compares to Dario Argento and Mario Bava’s work.

Also, enough writing for today.

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The Kingdom (1995) and the RPG Heaven and Earth (2004)

Lars Von Trier can be a real heavy-handed sumnabitch. Movies like Dogville-that bloody anti-Our Town-spend half of it’s running time bludgeoning it’s message at the audience in such a relentless manner that literally every character becomes a martyred symbol by the end. That said, it was an extremely interesting failure. Might as well aim for the bleachers.

So, I’ll generally give a Lars Von Trier movie a chance if I’m in the right mood. I liked his last film Anti-Christ because the dreamy symbolic and dark imagery worked and I’d watch Willem Defoe in just about anything. Yea, the ending was a bit much and lacked subtlety, but, honestly, I give most horror/thriller/dark dramas a pass on ending because I expect to be disappointed. The main selling point in these types of movies is ‘What is the central idea and is it executed well?’

I saw The Kingdom (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108906/) on Netflix streaming and had always wanted to see the mini-series because I’m a sucker for the core set-up: a seemingly normal small town or location that hides dark or supernatural secrets. Blue Velvet, although it doesn’t hold up well, is one of my favorite films. I read Stephen King’s Under the Dome (great idea and 3/4ths of a story with a lame ending, but that’s most of King’s books). There was an American adaptation of The Kingdom with King’s name on it that I saw a little bit of few years ago, but it was a dreary affair. So I was kind of pumped to see the original Danish mini-series. I’ve only seen the first two hours of eight (more later tonight), but I’m liking it and it has me thinking about some other topics I’ll cover in a bit. I love it when a movie I just saw before bed also seeps into my dreams as the tone on last night’s dream could have been an episode of the show.
So, The Kingdom refers to a Danish hospital built on spooky grounds. Much of the show could play as a dark medical comedy about the arrogance and just plain haphazardness of running a modern hospital. The characters already have flaws and mysteries and obsessions that make them at once mildly compelling and empathetic and also deserving of a grizzly end. The main character in the show has to the most arrogant SOB doctor character in the history of the arrogant SOB doctor genre. Love it. (Also learned that the Swedes looks down or at least this guy looks down on the Danes. He would go up to the top of the hospital and loudly scream profanities at his Danish counterparts.) There’s rapid disfunction, a literal crumbling of the institution, secret societies, and even an adorable Down Syndrome duo that serve as a Greek chorus. Of course, there’s some supernatural shenanigans which hopefully will turn down right Cthulhu as the show goes on. On the heavy-handed side, director/writer Lars, himself tuxedoed, would show up at the end in the credits and go on about good and evil and god and the nature of interest in such things. Odd. Anyway, this isn’t really a review as the show got me thinking about a Role Playing Game I ran for seeshells a few years ago.


Heaven and Earth(http://www.abstractnova.com/heavenearth.php) had a real compelling mystery at it’s center that I won’t spoil here, but the tone of the game made me want to run it and adapt it to my own style and write some plots and characters to fill in the mystery. The game centered around my favorite place, a small Kansas college town chock-a-block with weirdness and secrets. Every character had a secret. The RPG book gave some supernatural explanations for most of the secrets, but also supplied realistic reasons for the strangeness. My idea to expand the core book was to actually have some of the secrets be mundane and some supernatural and to be like an onion so that mundane mysteries would lead to other other-worldly secrets and vice-versa. I wrote about 50 NPC’s. Most characters only knew a tiny part of the big mystery and some believed the wrong thing about it or only a part of it, some were skeptical about some of it, but not other parts. Some were oblivious and most concealed something. Heck, some characters were ghosts who were credulous about some explanations. Anyway, I wanted to make a sandbox for the player character to go anywhere, soak it in and find mysteries everywhere. The game failed a bit because it didn’t always present a strong compelling course of action for seeshells’ characters. Basically, there was almost too much to do and I had her create a bunch of different characters to knock around town with. But I would like to use this place to solve on of the mysteries seeshells stumbled upon to show how you can use a character in the weird town genre to open up a wider story. (An aside, I was attracted The Kingdom because it was a mini-series so there was more room for multiple explanations and multi-layered mysteries. The same for the too-short ABC show Happytown which at least resolved it’s central mystery without resorting to cheap left-field supernatural explanations. Maybe it would have it it dragged on a few seasons. BTW, boo to Lost for it’s cheap non-explanation spiritual ending. Ang-ry.)
So, one of seeshells’ characters was staying at a Bed and Breakfast run by the sweet widow of an ex-mayor. The widow had a bulldog she was extremely attached to. Seeshells’ inquisitive character soon deduced that the bulldog was really the spirit or reincarnation of the widow’s husband. That’s pretty simple, mystery solved, right? Well, the widow did believe the dog was her husband, she did the satanic ritual to ensoul the dog in her basement. But why did she do it? What the widow didn’t know was the mayor wasn’t dead, the circumstances around his ‘death’ opened up a new mystery as also the whereabouts of the mayor. But there were people using supernatural forces (or being used by them) to control the dog to get the widow to carry out their bidding for their own strange ends. And down the rabbit hole we go.

I guess what I’m getting at is that most movies are too cut and dry in their telling of supernatural stories. It’s almost always the big bad ghostie pulling all the strings at the end of the day. It’s never ever a natural explanation if the supernatural is hinted at in the beginning. The only place that happens is Scooby Doo and then the reverse is true, wouldn’t you love it if a ghost DID gobble up Shaggy in just one episode? Mini-series offer the hope of the onion.
Man, I hate that recent rash of the skeptical/supernatural movie. (Only can think of Signs, but there’s also that movie with Hillary Swank and some river of blood) You know the plot, a skeptic who used to be a believer but lost faith because of the death of a child or wife now is a full time debunker of supernatural hoo-haw. In the first scene, he does expose a fraud, but then has a case too good to pass up. For half the movie, weirdness and disbelief abound until, something so bizarre happens (usually involving the ghost of a small girl), and the skeptic loses someone close to them. It’s only through coming around to full-on belief and eventual self-sacrifice is the big bad supernatural averted. And of course, no one believes him and everything is reset X-Files style.
Blech.

I hope The Kingdom doesn’t end that way and the douche bag doctor is just eaten by Cthulhu.

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Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) and Mother (2009)

These two Korean movies (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0269743 and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1216496/) were written and directed by the same person. And while very different, both films remind me of American movies of the 1970’s. More on that in a bit.

In a week, I hope to turn this blog into a daily review exercise for my to flex and build some writing muscles. I’ve been in constant consume mode for about two years now. Direct TV, Netflix streaming, a bourgeoning board game addiction, some mild anti-depressants, emusic, a not at all challenging job and basically an acceptance of who I am and what I believe have all led to a lessening creative output. And honestly, I’m okay with this. I enjoy consuming other people ideas, sifting through to find the truth and just letting things be. I no longer feel the need to pursue or justify any kind of ideology or agenda. Also, a need to write and create often stem from an obsession and I’ve been pretty obsession-free. General happiness and letting go of the uncontrollable can crush success. So, hoo-ray to my lack of success.

So, after failing to write for obsessive and even negative reasons, I wanted to get back to writing as a method for refinement. This blog is an exercise in refining why I like what I like and all of the semi-related topics the popular and not-so-popular culture are in relation into what makes up an interested or even negative response in my tastes. Huh? Basically, after developing a philosophy, I’m now interested in exploring and defending my likes and dislikes.

I do hope along the way, you’ll find some new interesting movie or game to play or what ever.

Yea, originally, this blog was going to be a game a day blog. A new board game played and reviewed every day. But, seven games played (with Seeshells) and reviewed would become a real grind. Funny thing is, I think we have enough games to go a whole year without repeating a game. Like I said, a board game addiction. I decided to scale that back to three games a week and fill the other four days with movies from Netfix streaming. I do like Netflix streaming, it’s a bargain. I may also do comic and music reviews as well.

This starts in ernest next week, the day after my 44th birthday and hopefully runs a year. (Hint, old man birthday a-comin’) If I like it, I may go another year with just movies. Technically, I received my new iPad for this birthday and each post will be written on my new-ish Apple girlfriend.

So, next week….
For now, a warm-up.

I’ve been watching a lot of Korean movies. The ones I’ve seen, including film The Chaser and the two titular flicks, remind me of ’70’s American movies. After Watergate, movies got darker and institutions started to fail on film. South Korea, as a country on film, seems to be going through much of the same growing pains. The populace is highly suspicious, distrustful, flawed, and uninterested in building community or improving their neighborhoods. It’s strange, all of the locations are crumbling and cramped, but the people themselves seemed to be dressed well to off-set their poverty. Individual over society. And they highly distrust every institution. The social services, police, church, academia and the politicians are either extremely incompetent or blandly corrupt. It’s just the way of life the young assistant professor has to bribe his boss to get a better job. Rumors abound everywhere, but conspiracies don’t exist. I like this because I’ve always thought conspiracies to be a uniquely American obsession and even have a positive side because it implies that the conspirators must be super competent, hard-working and ingenious to pull off their complex Machevellian plans.
That said, in these Korean movies, every one is angling for some personal gain with little regard for laws. They only cross the line at either the abhorrent or extremely, personally unethical. In all three of these movies, a bad guy is the good guy, the protagonist. He or she does some pretty bad things, sometimes not even for the best reasons, but only wins through personal sacrifice. And, in something and American movie wouldn’t do, another no-so-innocent, but unlucky person takes the fall for the protagonist’s crimes. There’s quite a bit of noir and dark absurdist comedy there. The lines aren’t drawn as heavy as they are in American or even western films. That’s not to say there isn’t any fairness doled out to the characters, there is, it’s just of the bittersweet variety.

As you can tell, I haven’t gone into story or even really classified what the two films are. Since I’m recommending them, I don’t want to spoil. And as far as the type of movie each of these films are, I think at once, they could be interpreted as both dark comedy or drama or thriller or farce. Tonally, I was thrown for a loop and I mean that in a good way. I didn’t see the end of Mother coming, but on reflection, man I should have. Tonally, tricks were played and like the best noir, the clues were all there. I should’ve seen it.

And that’s an awesome thing.

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Revanche (2008) Review

A quick word about why, why am I writing short, loose random reviews. A few years ago when I became a full-on skeptic, I felt I kind of had to re-evaluate my ethics and standards. I felt I needed solid reasons for my positions and beliefs. Because it’s what every one else believes isn’t a solid enough reason. Every one used to believe the earth was flat. I wanted to believe as many true things and as few false things as I am aware of. This lead to developing systems for evaluating information and determining it’s validity. It’s nowhere near perfect because emotions and subconscious leaps can be a real bitch to weed out.
Now that I feel solid about where I stand belief-wise, I’ve felt the need to explore why I like what I like and don’t like what I don’t like. Movies—and coming soon, games—seem like a nice tangential way to codify and examine what strikes me. This blog will probably be poorly editing and not researched. I used to do a lot of that and for these purposes, slow and methodical will kill my willingness to write. I’m old enough to no longer feel the need to impress or even strive for perfection. Just doing it is always more important. That said, I hope to write about movies I mostly like and how they strike me. I do like a lot of horrible horror movies and may write about that as well because there’s usually some diamonds in the pile of manure. I probably won’t write about mainstream movies because they’re almost always just plain boring. Good can still be boring.
Enough jibber-jabber…


Browsing through the half-off Criterion collection at Barnes and Noble, I made a mental note of many of the titles also playing on Netflix streaming. One hook of this movie blog is that every movie reviewed can be streamed on Netflix or through a Roku box. Another is my commitment to shoddiness. Wait, that’s not a …
Revanche (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1173745/) is an Austrian film released through Criterion on DVD. I’d seen it mentioned in a few of the movie sites I peruse, so why not.
I’m not going to say much about the plot because I want you to see it. At first I thought It’d be one of those Eastern European slice of life pictures about how hard and crappy life can be. You know the type, people eat a real thin soup and stare out windows into a rainy, cruel world a lot. The unhappy couple in the film is a down on his luck brothel handyman and enforcer and his secret Polish girl friend. They have sex and make plans a lot. Pretty typical stuff.
Then the BIG mistake happens, that defining event that sets the rest of the film in motion. Although the event is different than what would happen in a dramatic American movie; it’s still fairly standard stuff, albeit well constructed and filmed.
It’s the remaining two-thirds that movie builds a slow and steady tension. Call it the Fargo Gambit, if you see a wood chipper in the first act, someone’s going to get shredded in the third. The handy man chops a lot of wood. A lot of wood. At first it’s slightly boring, then builds into a foreboding omen. You know the next scene, he’ll be at that lathe and dread it.
More so, the limited split narrative muddies the audience’s sympathies and creates some opportunities for some interesting confrontations.
American movies have trained us for certain beats, especially in dramas and thrillers. You see a clue out in the open, you know it’s just a matter of time before the wrong character will see it and set-up a confrontation.
I like this movie because it knows what my expectations are and doesn’t pay them off like a thousand other movies would in the genre. Plus, the pay-off isn’t a cheat, that trick or ‘mind blowing’ ending that an American would pull to make itself edgy. I’m thinking of the American remake of the French thriller The Vanishing. The French version had an unexpected ending that, upon later reflection, was an extension of the movies themes of obsession and lurking evil. The American remake was fairly faithful to the French version and even had the same ending. Sadly the ending came a full half-hour before the movie actually ended. The last half hour was tacked on to undo the themes of the French version and make everything all better, using every trope in the book. U-G-H.
And I was thinking about a fictional American remake of Revanche while the credits were rolling and that bullshit third act of this imaginary remake just made me angry. That’s how much I liked the ending, I was already pissed about someone fucking it up.

Oh, and the characters in Revanche were complex and well-acted in a low-key, non-glamourous way and blah, blah, blah and so on.

Plus, the lead looks like the actor who played Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs and is Monk’s boss on TV. So,my crappy American version is already half cast.

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Retribution (2006) review

Netflix Streaming has really changed the way I watch movies. Before I used to do a little research on a movie and try to find the weirdest and best little movies to watch.
With streaming, I’m now actively searching for films I know nothing about. If the movie is useless or unwatchable, I can move on after 10 minutes or so. The payoff, of course, is when I find a riveting film I knew nothing about. Last week it was the Swedish film, Perfectly Happy, and this week it’s the J-horror film, Retribution. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0843302/



Like most J-horror a raven-haired pale ghost is involved, but the set-up and tone is pure noir. A detective soon realizes he may have committed the murder he’s investigating, but doesn’t know how or why he did it or even who the victim is. Then, similar murders start piling up and, of course, everything goes strange.
Unlike most films in the genre, the film making is mostly realistic. The dreams are played straight and the setting is post-industrial between the decay of Japan’s better days and the building up of a future that obviously will never really arrive. I like films that seem to take place entirely on the edge of town, no matter how far you go. Yea, the fantastical and blurry happens at the edge of the screen, the drives are needlessly green screened and the red-dressed succubus is often mirrored or partially blocked, but the forefront is drab and persistently downbeat to highlight the psychological over the supernatural.
Also, most of the movie takes place in the day time which is different than most of the muddy and too dark offerings of the genre.
Plot-wise, I saw a lot of the payoff coming, but the movie had enough going on tonally to keep me unsure of the outcomes.

Overall, hoo-ray! The movie has the effect of a slight nyquill overdose or a thick-headed day and that’s a good thing.

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