eldritchhobbit: (Default)

I just finished watching the 2015 documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai by Oscar-winning director Steven Okazaki (streaming on Netflix). It’s very, very much worth watching. Two thumbs up.

I’m a fan of both Toshiro Mifune’s and Akira Kurosawa’s – I’ve just pulled Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, and Yojimbo from my DVD collection for rewatching – and I got a lot out of this film. But even if you’re unfamiliar with this incomparable, iconic actor, I’d recommend the documentary. It’s very accessible, and it provides great context. Without Mifune, there would have been no Magnificent Seven, no Clint Eastwood as a Man with No Name, no Star Wars.

As you may know, Mifune was George Lucas’s first choice to portray Obi-Wan Kenobi. As much as I dearly love Alec Guinness, I still ask myself, “What if?”

eldritchhobbit: (SW/Qui-Gon/What You Cannot)

I’ve been thinking about indie documentaries related to Star Wars – that is, documentaries above and beyond those “making of” and “behind the scenes” documentaries available with various versions of the DVDs, my favorite of which is Empire of Dreams from 2004, or channel-specific televised specials, such as ESPN's Star Wars: Evolution of a Lightsaber Duel from 2015, which my students love – that I find enjoyable/useful.

Here are the ones that come to mind:

* Looking for Leia (in production, Kickstarter in progress)

* Elstree 1979 (in production)

* The Prequels Strike Back: A Fan’s Journey (2016)

* Elstree 1976 (2015)

* I Am Your Father (2015)

* Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys (2014)

* The People vs. George Lucas (2010)

* A Galaxy Far, Far Away (2001) 

Any recommendations for others? Thanks! 

eldritchhobbit: (Rogue One/Baze smiling)
Hi, everybody! I’m now seventeen films into my viewing of all of Jiang Wen’s remarkable works. I have five more lined up before I decide what to do about those that don’t have subtitles. The themes of history, memory, and agency in many of these movies speak to me in a powerful way. The films he directed are genuine, meaningful works of art, and so are many in which he starred. So be warned (ha!): there will (soon!) be a post breaking down, commenting on, and ranking/recommending his films.

I’m also doing some reading on his works, too. And speaking about texts on Jiang Wen, if you’re interested in him and and his perspective, you definitely should check out everything posted under the “#Books on Baze” tag here. Must reads!



On a somewhat related note, I’ve also managed since first watching Rogue One to see ten or so Donnie Yen films, and I’m sure there are more of those to come, as well – so, yes, that’s probably another forthcoming post. (Two words: Ip Man.)

On a more loosely-related note, if you have the chance to see the brilliant Genghis Khan exhibit at Charlotte’s Discovery Place, do so! It’s wonderful and it’s leaving very soon. I had the good fortune of catching it just after finishing John Keay’s China: A History, so that was excellent timing.



Currently I’m reading Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion that Opened the West by William Hogeland, which I’ll be reviewing for Reason.

It’s finals time in university land, so if I’m quiet, just know that I’m grading. And grading. And then grading some more!
eldritchhobbit: (SW/WildHair Old Luke)
Here's the trailer.

Here are the behind the scenes photos.

And here's the poster:




"I only know one truth: it's time for the Jedi to end." - Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi

How long is it until December?
eldritchhobbit: (Rogue One/Baze smiling)
... Body in Question: Image and Illusion in Two Chinese Films by Director Jiang Wen is a wonderful resource. I thought I'd share my mini-review here. I'm still working on my post with a breakdown/review of his films, FYI.

Body in Question offers extremely useful insights for unpacking renowned Chinese filmmaker Jiang Wen’s subversive and celebrated films In the Heat of the Sun and Devils on the Doorstep (especially considering that the author met with Jiang Wen “to confirm the views expressed” in the book) and also understanding/appreciating Jiang’s larger vision and process as a filmmaker. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in political, banned/censored, independent, and/or Chinese film -- or, for that matter, anyone interested in 20th century political/social history.

For students of Jiang Wen's work, this is a "must read."



Under the cut, a few passages of note. )
eldritchhobbit: (Frankenstein)
This past summer marks the 200th anniversary of the infamous Year without a Summer, during which the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland served as the setting of a historic literary meeting of the minds. Two of the remarkable products of that gathering (which included Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later to become Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori) were the novel Frankenstein, the pioneering work of modern science fiction, and the short story "The Vampyre" by John Polidori, the first great prose work of vampire fiction.

A new film dealing with the story behind the stories (A Storm in the Stars, starring Elle Fanning as Mary, Douglas Booth as Percy, Bel Powley as Claire, Tom Sturridge as Byron, and Ben Hardy as Polidori) is scheduled for 2017. But you don't have to wait until next year to see a movie about the events of 1816.


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My Favorite: The Trippy One
Gothic (1986)
This has perhaps the best and most convincing cast of the three, with the late, great Natasha Richardson as Mary, Julian Sands as Percy, Myriam Cyr as Claire, Gabriel Byrne as Byron (I can't unsee this), and Timothy Spall as Polidori. It isn't for everyone, though. The more you know about what happened when the gang got together (such as Percy's drug-induced freak-outs and dreams), what inspired them (one part, for example, reenacts the scene from Fuseli's The Nightmare, as you can see in the above photo), and what ultimately happened to them (such as the nature of Percy's death), the more this will seem like a well-informed and evocative montage rather than a series of very trippy hallucination sequences. Mary's naive intelligence, Percy's eccentricity, and Byron's, um, Byron-ness aren't the easiest things to capture, and this film does the most successful job of it I've seen, while recognizing the complicated sexual dynamics of the group. It holds up as a psychological horror film in its own right.

Also Highly Recommended: The Dramatic One
Haunted Summer (1988)
This has a solid and subtle cast, with Alice "Borg Queen" Krige as Mary, Eric Stoltz as Percy, Laura Dern as Claire, Philip Anglim as Byron, and Alex Winter as Polidori. No complaints. This is a less fantastic, more intimate portrait of the Villa Diodati gathering. Gothic never loses the sense that these individuals were larger than life, half real and half legend; Haunted Summer moves more toward humanizing these brilliant and troubled souls. As this review notes, "Ivan Passer directs this beautifully photographed literary drama based on Anne Edward’s 1972 novel. In a very fluid and dreamlike way, Haunted Summer explores some of the dangers and a few of the exhilarations of living in an ivory tower world of art. Krige steals the film with her deft and nimble portrait of the woman who would eventually write Frankenstein."

Meh: *Shrugs*
Rowing with the Wind (1988)
This film was miscast, with Lizzy McInnerny as Mary, Valentine Pelka as Percy, Elizabeth Hurley as Claire, Hugh Grant as Byron (yeah, I know, right?), and José Luis Gómez as Polidori. As one review on Rotten Tomatoes puts it, this is a work of "music, scenery, girls getting out of bathtubs..." My favorite comment there is this one: "I give it a couple points for the giraffe." Speaks volumes, doesn't it? This film does have a few moments, but on the whole it's jumbled, unsure of what it wants to accomplish, a far cry from the other two.


"And there, ladies and gentlemen, on the other side of the lake we have the famous Villa Diodati where Lord Byron, greatest living English poet, resides in exile. Romantic, scholar, duelist, best-selling author of Childe Harold, he was forced to leave his native land after many scandals including incest and adultery with Lady Caroline Lamb. 'Mad, bad and dangerous to know,' she called him.... Bedroom, top right."
- Tour Guide, Gothic
eldritchhobbit: (Re-Animator/Weird)
It's film time! Every year about this time I think about good Halloween films (not necessarily horror movies, and definitely not lame slasher pictures, but suspenseful, atmospheric films that put a chill up the spine) that are "off the beaten path" -- that is, films that are independent, foreign, direct to DVD or VOD, or somehow under promoted, and thus might easily slip under the proverbial radar. Not the classics. Not the usual suspects.

I've already made a separate post this season with recommendations of Anton Yelchin's Halloween-friendly films, so I won't repeat those here.

Also, I'm not including Stranger Things (2016), as it was hardly under the radar and it's not a film, but if you haven't seen this wonderful series, you should put it at the top of your "To Do" list this Halloween. Consider it required viewing, people!

Now I have a few new recommendations to add to my list, based on this past year's viewing. (We accessed nearly all of these via Netflix or Amazon streaming.) Here they are in chronological order.



Last Night (1998): (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] penfold_x for the rec!) In Toronto, a group of friends and family prepares for the fast-approaching end of the world. This apocalyptic film starts out like a dark comedy but ends much more like a serious drama. It won three Genie Awards, including a Best Actress for Sandra Oh, and I see why. She really shines here, and her last scene is stuck in my head. If you like to ponder how you would spend your very last -- and the world's very last -- night, try this.

Color Out of Space (2010): This is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" set in Germany. We thought this was amazing. Beautiful visual storytelling. Even if you're not one for subtitled films, do give this a try, especially if you know and appreciate the source material.

Extraordinary Tales (2013): Several of my students recommended this to me, and I'm grateful that they did! This is an anthology film comprised of five different animated adaptations of Poe's stories, namely "The Fall of the House of Usher" narrated by Christopher Lee, "The Tell-Tale Heart" narrated by Bela Lugosi, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" narrated by Julian Sands, "The Pit and the Pendulum" narrated by Guillermo del Toro, and "The Masque of the Red Death" -- my favorite -- which is eerily and beautifully silent. Despite uneven narration quality, due to the age of some of the audio recordings, this is terrific fun for Poe fans.

These Final Hours (2013): Wow, this one unexpectedly blew us away. A meteor has collided with Earth in the North Atlantic, and that leaves about twelve hours before the final global firestorm reaches Western Australia. In Perth, bad boy James leaves his pregnant girlfriend to try to drown his fear at "the party to end all parties," but his life abruptly changes when he comes across a young girl being attacked. This is a delicate and powerful story of character growth and redemption in the face of the biggest horror of all: the end of all things. Highly recommended.

Cruel and Unusual (2014): This was another film that surprised us. It focuses on a man condemned for killing his wife. He finds himself in a mysterious institution where he is sentenced to relive her death for eternity, along with others similarly sentenced. It's a dark and affecting work of psychological horror.

Killer Legends (2014): This documentary traces four urban legends (or are they?) back to their origins: The Hookman, The Candyman, The BabySitter and the Man Upstairs, and The Killer Clown. I found it to be fascinating, both in the real crimes it examines and the *lack* of crimes it exposes (such as the prevalent but unfounded rumors of Halloween candy poisoned or tampered with that I remember from my youth). A few sequences aren't for the squeamish.

Amnesiac (2015): This tells the story of a man who wakes up in bed suffering from memory loss after being in an accident, only to begin to suspect that his caretaker, who claims to be his wife, may not be his real wife and may not have his best interests at heart. Wes Bentley won me over as the bewildered protagonist, and good heavens, Kate Bosworth as the "wife" really brought the chills. Stylish, understated, and slow-burn spooky.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2015): Between you and me, this is the scariest film I've seen in ages. I'm sure the twists are common knowledge by now, but just in case they aren't, I won't say anything except this is absolutely ideal for the Halloween season -- or anytime you want your brain turned inside out and goosebumps on your skin. Hats off to John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr. for bringing the tense, claustrophobic script to vivid life. You need to see this!

Estranged (2015): January is forced to return home after six years traveling abroad, because a near-fatal accident has left her temporarily wheelchair bound and depleted of her long-term memory. At the mercy of those who claim to be her loved ones, isolated from outside help, she tries to discover the truth about her past and her present. This is smarter and more complex than we expected it to be, very Gothic in tone and execution.

Krampus (2015): This irreverent horror film, in which a boy who is having a bad Christmas accidentally summons an old-world Christmas demon to wreak havoc, is not for everyone, but if you're like me, and you'd trade Christmas for Halloween any day of the week, it's a lot of fun. Think of it as the evil Mirror Universe version of It's A Wonderful Life.

The Reconstruction of William Zero (2015): A geneticist who wakes up from an accident with only fragments of his memory must relearn who he is from his twin brother. But the deeper he digs, the more he realizes that he may be wrong about who he thinks he is -- and who he thinks his twin is. Variety review compared this sad tale of human cloning and human frailty to a story by H.G. Wells, and that sounds about right. It's not a perfect film, but it's a good example of thoughtful indie science fiction.

They Look Like People (2015): The longer we watched this indie psychological thriller, the more we liked it. It builds and builds and builds. It stars MacLeod Andrews as a man who believes that humanity is being secretly taken over by evil creatures (think of a slow and simmering episode of The X-Files in which Mulder or Scully never manage to arrive on the scene), and it won a special jury award at the Slamdance Film Festival.

The Visit (2015): This is a found footage horror film written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. I know that Shyamalan can be hit or miss, but this was much more of a hit. A brother and sister are sent for their vacation to visit their grandparents, which is a gesture of reconciliation, as the family has been estranged. While there, the siblings become increasingly frightened by their grandparents' disturbing behavior. The kids are compelling, and their isolation is palpable. The twist, when it comes, it terrific.

The Witch (2015): This film is like watching a colonial American nightmare come to life (which is not for everyone, but definitely was for me). The production team worked extensively with English and American texts and museums, and they consulted with experts on seventeenth-century English agriculture as well to bring early reports and imaginative depictions of witchcraft alive in a gritty, realistic setting. I've read some of the texts that inspired the film, such as those referenced in and created by the witch trials, and I was transported and enthralled by this dark and disturbing work. It rations its moments of gruesomeness for absolute impact and relies heavily on suggestion, underscoring the choking paranoia and claustrophobia of the Puritan existence. Not for those faint of heart or short of attention span.

The Boy (2016): Although it has its moments of predictability, on the whole this one satisfies. Greta is a young American woman who escapes an abusive relationship by getting a temporary job as a nanny for a British family. When she arrives at the parents' home, they introduce her to their son, Brahms. Brahms is a porcelain doll who is treated like the living child he replaced after the real Brahms' childhood tragedy. Things get really weird from there in a mostly satisfying "this is how you go crazy" kind of way. Not perfect, but worth seeing.

The Forest (2016): Natalie Dormer stars as twins in this supernatural thriller about one sister searching for the other, who is presumably lost in Japan's Aokigahara Forest. My husband and I are on the same page about films about 95% of the time, but this is the one on which our opinions diverged this year. He found this to be trite and mostly short on substance. I was looking mostly for the chilling atmosphere of the so-called Suicide Forest and the acute sense of vulnerability that comes with being alone in an emergency in a foreign country, so I didn't mind the movie's (over)reliance on this, and I found the ending twist related to the twins' backstory to be effective. Your mileage may vary.

Sacrifice (2016): If Rupert Graves is in it, then I watch it, no exceptions. That's just how I roll. He stars opposite Radha Mitchell here in an adaptation of the novel Sacrifice by Sharon Bolton. Set in the Shetland Islands, this horror film fits in the Wicker Man category of ancient rites surviving intact in remote locales, and it effectively captures a nightmarish scenario: men using women to have sons and then, according to their old traditions, yielding them up as a kind of human sacrifice. Mitchell and Graves relocate to the Shetlands, where Mitchell's character unearths a "bog body" of a woman who had recently given birth and then been murdered in a ritualistic fashion. Mitchell and Joanne Crawford, portraying a local police sergeant, drive the investigation to bring justice to this woman, and in the process find their own lives at risk. The film has its flaws, but it's refreshing to see a genuinely spooky film with a genuinely feminist bent, and all of the leads are compelling in their roles. The scenic locations provide atmospheric settings for the eerie goings-on.

The Veil (2016): Twenty-five years after members of Heaven's Veil, a religious cult, commit suicide, a documentary filmmaker contacts the sole survivor to film a work about what really happened. A Fangoria review describes the premise as the idea "that Jim Jones could have been right," and that pretty much sums it up. The film doesn't quite live up to such an ambitious premise, but the whole "investigating the cult after the fact" aspect, on site and with found footage, is so downright disturbing that this supernatural thriller still works well enough in the goosebumps department. Or to put it another way, the film radiates a sense of wrongness -- in part, no doubt, because it skirts so closely around tragic real-life events -- that it sticks with you.

They're Watching (2016): This is a film in the blood-soaked horror comedy oeuvre, which is not usually the way I roll, but I found this more palatable than most. The crew of an American home improvement TV show goes to Moldova to film a segment about an American woman who is transforming a run-down, isolated dwelling into an artist's haven, only to discover that the locals consider her (not without reason!) to be a witch. This isn't going to win any awards, but it doesn't take itself too seriously, and its parody aspects are on point.

Here are some of my other Halloween-related film recommendations from recent years. )

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Okay, you're turn: what under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path, Halloween-friendly films do you recommend?
eldritchhobbit: (Trek Reboot/Chekov)
I'm still broken up about the loss of Anton Yelchin. Art, when it's done well, transcends its time and the artificial boundaries we place between each other, and it helps us reflect on our humanity in the long term. Yelchin was one of those rare artists whose restraint, subtlety, and fierce intelligence made his performances stand apart and speak volumes. (Remember that at the age of twelve he not only held his own opposite but also stole many scenes away from Anthony Hopkins in the adaptation of Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis in 2001.) He died just weeks before he was scheduled to direct his first film (which he also wrote), and beyond feeling very badly for his family and friends in their loss (which I certainly do), I feel sorry for all of us, because I can't help thinking that the world might have had the pleasure of enjoying another fifty years or more of his talent if tragedy hadn't struck.

But this post is meant to be a celebration, so let's get on with it.

If I had to recommend a starting place for a Yelchin movie marathon, I'd have to go with Rudderless (2014), which may in fact be as close to a perfect film as I've seen in the last decade or more. This marks William H. Macy's directorial debut, and it showcases Yelchin's acting, singing, and skill with several musical instruments. But while it's a dark drama in many ways, I wouldn't exactly call it Halloween viewing. Ditto for the dark-but-not-Halloween-dark Fierce People (2005), which is a "must see" for Yelchin's performance. And regardless of one's opinion of the reboot idea as a concept (I know this is up for debate in certain circles), I don't see how anyone could fail to be won over by his interpretation of Ensign Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek reboot films (2009-2016), but that series is not exactly Halloween viewing, either. Yelchin also shines in several thrillers, perhaps the most intense of which -- yes, even more intense than Green Room (2015) to me -- is Broken Horses (2015). Not quite Halloween-esque, but getting much warmer.

(Note: His voice work in Guillermo del Toro's Trollhunters promises to be list-worthy, so be watching for that this December.)


fright-night-movie.jpg


So here is my list of the most Halloween-friendly Anton Yelchin films, ranked in ascending order of recommendation. I hope you watch, enjoy, and celebrate.

#5 Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
This moody, impressionistic, highly visual film (what else do you expect from Jim Jarmusch?) follows Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, vampires and lovers who share a long history but now live half a world apart. Really it's a study of entropy, as everything eventually falls apart, and the spookiest character by far is the crumbling ruin-in-progress of Detroit, which serves as the backdrop for much of the film. Shakespeare aficionados may or may not like the film's argument about the Bard's identity. Yelchin portrays practically the only human character in the movie and connects with viewers in a poignant and subtle way the other characters do not, and he shares some crucial scenes with Hiddleston, in particular. I couldn't take parts of it too terribly seriously -- especially because Hiddleston's character is like a vampiric Forrest Gump who apparently knew everyone who was ever interesting anywhere and anytime throughout history -- but certain scenes were dark magic, and I'm glad I watched it.

#4 Burying the Ex (2014)
This is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the horror genre. Yelchin's character works at a horror shop called Bloody Mary's, and his new love interest works at a Halloween-themed ice cream parlor called I Scream, and if only his deceased ex-girlfriend weren't undead and more than a little territorial, the hero and heroine could share real romance. The movie makes nods to everything from the original The Twilight Zone series to Shaun of the Dead, and if you're going to have a make-out scene in a film, this is how to do it: that is, in a graveyard at an open-air showing of Night of the Living Dead. Yes, that's my aesthetic exactly. It's crass and bawdy and the easily offended will be, but it's also exuberantly self-indulgent in its embrace of genre. If you watch it, be sure to note all the details of each set: the posters on the wall, the items on the shelves, etc. Jolly Halloween goodness.

#3 Fright Night (2011)
This is a horror-heavy reinterpretation of a humor-heavy camp film, and if you take its origins into account, you can have quite a good time with this movie. In many ways it is much smarter and more stylish than the original. Colin Farrell is Jerry Dandridge, the vampire who just moved into the neighborhood; David Tennant is Peter Vincent, the over-the-top Vegas showman and self-styled vampire expert; and Yelchin is Charley Brewster, the teenager who has to step up, step in, and save his town from evil almost single-handedly. Some very good actors (including Toni Collette as Charley's mother) had some very good fun making this movie, and the cat-and-mouse back-and-forth between Farrell and Yelchin, in particular, is simply delicious to watch.

#2 Odd Thomas (2013)
No warnings or caveats here: I recommend this to everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed this charming film about Odd Thomas (an absolutely perfectly cast Yelchin), an unimposing and self-effacing young Everyman who just happens to be psychic. ("I see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it.") It's based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, which I readily admit I haven't read (please don't throw rotten tomatoes... or, you know, anything else), but I understand from those who have that the movie stays quite true to the dry wit and unexpected poignancy of the book. Odd Thomas heroically helps both the living and the lingering dead, and this film has it all: horror, mystery, action, romance, humor, heartbreak, and hope. I don't see how you can go wrong with this kind-hearted gem.

#1 The Driftless Area (2015)
Wow. Just wow. This film is based on the "neo-noir" novel of the same name by Tom Drury (which I have read, thank you very much), and it's dreamlike and haunting and very powerful. Yelchin and Zooey Deschanel lead a remarkable, pitch-perfect cast (including John Hawkes, Alia Shawkat, Aubrey Plaza, Frank Langella, and Ciarán Hinds) in unfolding a narrative that's part coming-of-age tale, part love story, part mystery and revenge saga and murder drama, and part study of life in a small town. The real heart of The Driftless Area is the question of whether we simply drift along and let life happen to us (as it often seems) or if there is meaning and quite possibly destiny involved in our stories and choices, as well. I put it on this list because it's also a ghost story of the most literal (and also the most figurative) kind. True confession: I found both the film and the book to be gutting, personally, but in the best possible way. This is the sort of art I was talking about above, and Yelchin's quietly intense and invested performance is one of its highlights and revelations. This isn't a jump-in-your-seat kind of Halloween spine-tingler; instead it's the kind of film that insists you connect the dots and work on it (during and after the viewing), but if you're looking for haunting, well, this is it.

Here is the trailer.



(Note: The above is also the subject of my latest "Looking Back into Genre History" segment on the StarShipSofa podcast, which is available here.)
eldritchhobbit: (Phantom/Old School)
Tropical Mary of MoviePilot.com poses an interesting question: "What was the first horror movie ever made?"

The answer hinges on whether or not we count the 17-second silent film The Execution of Mary Stuart from 1895 (directed by Alfred Clark and produced by Thomas Edison) as horror or historical drama.



Here is Tropical Mary's argument: "A fundamental aspect of a horror is shock value and its ability to terrify the audience. A modern audience's opinion on what is scary has changed drastically in 120 years, and though it was based on an historical event, the Clark film was not made to be a documentary or a simple re-enactment. At a time when motion pictures themselves were a wondrous new invention (without sound or music), watching a woman being beheaded, regardless of our modern day propensity for of blood and gore, it would have been horrific to an audience in 1895."

What do you think?



If you don't buy the idea that The Execution of Mary Stuart is the first horror movie, then your best bet for the honor would be the three-minute, eighteen-second Le Manoir de Diable (The House of the Devil) by Georges Méliès in 1896.

eldritchhobbit: (Lovecraftian)


Would you like to see three creepy Lovecraftian short films? Please check out the Indiegogo page for The Dark and The Deep. I'm delighted to be a consultant on this project, and I hope you'll take a look!

Update: Tremendous thanks to everyone who has contributed thus far! The original goal has been met, and now there's a fun stretch goal added. It's very much within reach.

It's "A Cry for HELP"!

eldritchhobbit: (TFA/BB-8)
My latest "Looking Back on Genre History" segment is up today on StarShipSofa's Episode 440. I discuss the two classic (and non-Star Wars) films director Rian Johnson has named as significant inspirations for Star Wars Episode VIII. (Fear not: there are no Star Wars spoilers/speculations in the segment.)

If you listen, I hope you enjoy!

eldritchhobbit: (Dark City)
It's film time! Every year about this time I think about good Halloween films (not necessarily horror movies, and definitely not lame slasher pictures, but suspenseful, atmospheric films that put a chill up the spine) that are "off the beaten path" -- that is, films that are independent, foreign, direct to DVD or VOD, or somehow under promoted, and thus might easily slip under the proverbial radar. Not the classics. Not the usual suspects.

Today I have a few new recommendations to add to the list, based on this past year's viewing. (We accessed all of these via Netflix.) Here they are, in reverse chronological order.




  • Stonehearst Asylum (2014) Based on a tale by Edgar Allan Poe and starring Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, and Kate Beckinsale... need I say more? In the words of Film Journal International, "While the film lacks the macabre humor of the original story, it does an excellent job of conveying the creeping horror of Victorian medicine." Delicious.

  • As Above, So Below (2014) I know I'm in the minority here, but I really loved this film. A trip by urban explorers into the Parisian catacombs becomes a journey of alchemical transformation. Okay, this had me at "Parisian catacombs," but I was delightfully surprised by characters actually being smart in a crisis, having meaningful backstories, and seeking redemption along the way.

  • Housebound (2014) This New Zealand horror comedy about a woman under house arrest in what may be a haunted house was a morbidly pleasant trip, alternately wacky and spooky.

  • Cut Bank (2014) This small-town murder thriller may err on the predictable side, but outstanding performances by the likes of Bruce Dern, John Malkovich, Billy Bob Thornton, and Liam Hemsworth make it memorable.

  • The House at the End of Time (2013) This Venezuelan horror-suspense film is a must see. I don't want to spoil it in any way. This may be my favorite pick this year. You want to see this. You do.

  • After (2012) When two bus crash survivors awake to discover that they are the only people left in their town, they work together to unravel the truth behind the strange events. A bit saccharine, but worth seeing.

  • Citadel (2012) I'm still not sure what I think about this Irish psychological horror film, but months later I'm still thinking about it, so that's noteworthy in itself. I'm now horrified of high rises for an all new reason.

  • The Brøken (2008) This understated doppleganger film plays out much like a modern-day Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Quiet and disturbing, and I mean that in a good way.

  • Wicked Little Things (2006) This is a film about the Appalachian children who died in a mine coming back to haunt the mine-owner's descendants. It's exactly what it says on the tin, no real surprises. What sets this apart is beautifully atmospheric shots of the woods and a spectacular sense of place. Visually memorable.

  • Breaking Dawn (2004) No, this is not that Breaking Dawn. This is cerebral little film that rewards careful watching. Dawn is a young medical student is charged with uncovering the murder of a mental patient's mother. Or is she? Well crafted and satisfying. And spooky.

    Here are some of my other Halloween-related film recommendations from recent years. )

    Your mileage, of course, may vary.

    Okay, you're turn: what under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path, Halloween-friendly films do you recommend?
  • eldritchhobbit: (Dark City)
    It's film time! Every year about this time I think about good Halloween films (not necessarily horror movies, and definitely not lame slasher pictures, but suspenseful, atmospheric films that put a chill up the spine) that are "off the beaten path" -- that is, films that are independent, foreign, direct to DVD or VOD, or somehow under promoted, and thus might easily slip under the proverbial radar. Not the classics. Not the usual suspects.

    Today I have quite a few new recommendations to add to the list, based on this past year's viewing. (We accessed all of these via Netflix.) Here they are, in reverse chronological order.

    Oculus movie poster How I Live Now film Jug Face


  • Oculus (2014): We watched this for Longmire's Katee Sackhoff and Doctor Who's Karen Gillan. We ended up agreeing it was one of our favorite movies of the year. A young woman is convinced that an antique mirror is responsible for the death and misfortune her family has suffered. This is beautifully crafted horror.

  • Alien Abduction (2014): This is the film I mentioned in my post about the Brown Mountain Lights. It's a found-footage film done right, with scenes that reminded us of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Signs, The Blair Witch Project, and The X-Files. Its restraint in showing very little of the aliens is a strength. Be sure to watch through the credits!

  • Europa Report (2013): For my money, this is the best science fiction film of the last year. Gravity can't begin to compare. This recounts the fictional story of the first crewed mission to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Despite a disastrous technical failure that loses all communications with Earth mission control and a series of dangerous crises, the international crew continues their mission to Europa and encounters a baffling mystery. All SF fans must see this.

  • The Happy House (2013): It's the bed and breakfast you always dreaded - and that's on a good day. This is not a good day. This quirky, clever serial-killer comedy works unexpectedly well thanks to its dark, restrained script and compelling characters.

  • Haunter (2013): This Canadian film is about teenager stuck in a time loop that is not quite the same with each revolution. She must uncover the truth, but her actions have consequences for herself and others. This one really surprised us (in a good way). Shiver inducing and well worth watching.

  • How I Live Now (2013): Ably adapted from the award-winning novel by Meg Rosoff (which I really liked), this dreamlike film follows fifteen-year-old American Daisy, who is sent to stay with cousins on a remote farm in the United Kingdom just before the outbreak of a fictional third world war. I don't know why this haunting apocalyptic work didn't receive more attention, because it deserved it.

  • Jug Face (2013): This wins the original premise award. There's no way to describe the film that doesn't sound bizarre, but it's unexpectedly compelling. A teen girl who is pregnant with her brother's child tries to escape from a backwoods community, only to discover that her people have determined that she must sacrifice herself to a creature in a pit. (Be warned about the subject of miscarriage.)

  • The Numbers Station (2013): This is a British-American action thriller about a burned-out CIA black ops agent (John Cusack) assigned to protect the code operator at a secret American numbers station somewhere in the British countryside. I suspect the poor reception this received is because it's more quiet, melancholy, and introspective than the run-of-the-mill action-mystery. Of course, that's why we liked it.

  • Extracted (2012): This thought-provoking indie SF film considers a scientist whose consciousness becomes trapped in the mind of a convict who volunteered to be a part of an experimental procedure. This is another cerebral tale well worth seeing.

  • Last Kind Words (2012): Brad Dourif movies are always a part of Halloween, or at least they should be. Seventeen-year-old Eli has just moved with his family deep into the backwoods of Kentucky to work on the isolated farm of a local recluse. Inexplicably drawn into the strange forest that lies beyond the farm, Eli encounters the beautiful, sweet, and mysterious Amanda, seemingly the perfect girl. But with the discovery of decaying bodies hanging from the trees, he realizes that the forest - and Amanda - are harboring some very dark secrets. If a horror film can be called lovely, it's this one.

  • The Wall (2012): This elegant Austrian-German film haunted me for a good long while. A woman visits with friends at their hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps. Left alone while her friends walk to a nearby village, the woman soon discovers she is cut off from all human contact by a mysterious invisible wall. With her friends' loyal dog Lynx as her companion, she lives the next three years in isolation looking after her animals. Understated and affecting.

  • Ghost from the Machine (2010): After his parents die, Cody, an inventor, becomes obsessed with finding a way to contact them once again. Tom, a local scientist who lost his wife, becomes interested in the project and helps Cody. Together, they discover that Cody's invention can cause ghosts momentarily to reappear as flesh and blood. What follows is a dark and moving study of human nature.

  • Below (2002): This World War II-era horror film makes great use of the claustrophobia of submarines to create a chilling mood. Very atmospheric. If you like Star Trek's Bruce Greenwood (and who doesn't?), you'll want to see this.


  • Here are some of my Halloween-related film recommendations from recent years. )

    Your mileage, of course, may vary.

    Okay, you're turn: what under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path, Halloween-friendly films do you recommend?
    eldritchhobbit: (A is for Amy)
    Ever since [livejournal.com profile] marthawells turned me on to the brilliance that is The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, I've been a Larry Blamire fan. Now there's a Kickstarter to fund The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us. People, this must happen. It really must.

    tumblr_n8pk5mf8w81ra01abo1_500


    The Farmer: Stay on this road here, past Dead Man's Curve, you'll come to an old fence, called The Devil's Fence. From there, go on foot 'til you come to a valley known as The Cathedral Of Lost Soap. Smack in the center is what they call Forgetful Milkman's Quadrangle. Stay right on The Path Of Staring Skulls, and you come to a place called Death Clearing. Cabin's right there. Can't miss it.
    - The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
    eldritchhobbit: (Sherlock/NRK parody murder by death)
    Good news! "Sherlock Returns for One-Off Special AND Series 4."

    And here are a couple of other nifty things that may be of interest. (Thanks to Michael!)

    - Living with Frankenstein, a web series: "Frankenstein’s Monster (aka Frank) is alive and living in Los Angeles with Mary Shelley, P.B. Shelley, and Lord Byron. In this dark comedy the Monster is not a fictional character. P.B. Shelley created Frank, and Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein to chronicle actual events." Check it out here and here.

    - Finding Hogwarts: This is a documentary film about seven Harry Potter fans and their journey to find Hogwarts, as well as the stories and shared experiences they had as they followed Harry until the very end. More details are here.



    Last but not least, happy birthday to [livejournal.com profile] lynn_maudlin, and happy early birthday wishes to [livejournal.com profile] morningapproach, [livejournal.com profile] gods_lil_rocker, [livejournal.com profile] splix, [livejournal.com profile] divadiane1, [livejournal.com profile] markbourne, [livejournal.com profile] sunshinedew, [livejournal.com profile] ithildyn, [livejournal.com profile] melissagay, [livejournal.com profile] faramirgirl, [livejournal.com profile] agentxpndble, [livejournal.com profile] arymetore, [livejournal.com profile] caster121, [livejournal.com profile] syrcleoftrees, [livejournal.com profile] ghislainem70, and [livejournal.com profile] johnjosephadams. May you all enjoy many happy returns of the day!
    eldritchhobbit: (Star Wars/Mock)
    Right. So the cast of Star Wars VII has been announced. Beyond the welcome familiar faces are some interesting names. I wonder in particular what the presence of Andy Serkis suggests. After all, he's made himself synonymous with pioneering CGI-assisted performances.

    We also know the following:
    * Several names were conspicuously absent from the announced list.
    * The Expanded Universe has been Jossed. (TBH, we've known that was coming for some time.) The existing (now non-canonical) EU stories will be labeled "Legends."
    * More casting news is to come.

    Your thoughts on the news?

    To quote Wash from Serenity, "Do we care? Are we caring about that?"

    starwarscastvii


    Some reactions:
    * From DenofGeek: "Some Thoughts on the Star Wars Episode VII Casting."
    * From EW: "22 Immediate Reactions to the Star Wars Casting Announcement."
    * From HitFix: "Gender Politics and the Casting of Star Wars."
    * from io9: "Hey Star Wars - Where the Hell Are the Women?"
    eldritchhobbit: (Phantom/Old School)
    Happy birthday to Lon Chaney (1 April, 1883 – 26 August, 1930), The Man of a Thousand Faces!



    "He was someone who acted out our psyches. He somehow got into the shadows inside our bodies; he was able to nail down some of our secret fears and put them on-screen." - Ray Bradbury about Lon Chaney

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