Remember Jeff Turner, one of the two (!!!) Tiffany stalkers profiled in the new documentary I Think We're Alone Now? Turns out he has a thing for Alyssa Milano as well, and the actress recently filed a restraining order against him after he dropped by her home unexpectedly. Clips from the doc wound up in an Access Hollywood piece about celebrity stalkers.
Today director Sean Donnelly (whom I interviewed about the film in September) and his crew have released a video in which Turner shares his own perspective on the Alyssa kerfuffle. While it's unsettling that he doesn't seem to think he's done anything wrong, I think he ultimately seems harmless -- but then, I wouldn't want him scuttling around in my backyard either:
December 31, 2008
Remember Jeff Turner, one of the two (!!!) Tiffany stalkers profiled in the new documentary I Think We're Alone Now? Turns out he has a thing for Alyssa Milano as well, and the actress recently filed a restraining order against him after he dropped by her home unexpectedly. Clips from the doc wound up in an Access Hollywood piece about celebrity stalkers.
December 30, 2008
Sloane Crosley popped up here months ago to answer questions about horror movies, and since then I've read and thoroughly enjoyed her book of essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake. It was fun to open the Times this morning and see her personal history of alcohol consumption right there on the front page. -- cheers to Sloane, I shall raise an 11 AM highball glass to her health and good fortune. (Except I'm coming down with a cold, so it's full of hot lemon-water...)
Posted by Tom at 10:49 AM
December 29, 2008
Here's the last of MicroHorror's three winners from the 2008 Halloween contest -- coincidentally authored by Oonah V. Joslin, the very first MicroHorror author I featured on this site. May her vision of a possible future serve as a very special New Year's greeting to all our dear readers...
by Oonah V. Joslin
In the depths of the oceanic valleys there still was heat and light.
The heat came from fissures in the Earth’s crust, ever spewing forth lava and bubbling plumes of smoky gaseous fume that tunneled upwards through the long cold night of stilly waters.
The light emanated from creatures that few had ever seen and none had encountered; creatures which lived by their own light and feared no darkness. Electric flashes in the blackness heralded a shoal of swimming LEDs. Sudden white, a whiplash here; darting blue, a flash there; vermillion–changing–pink, a streak at the edge of perception. Neon, yellow, green, darting hither and thither beneath the Great Pacific Gyre.
The Sun that had once blazed no longer ruled the sky. It penetrated dimly mother-of-pearl clouds. Slowly it had carried on its work of photo-degradation upon the surface of the polymers left swirling on the waters and the corpses left strewn upon the land, but it was weak now. No fish surfaced to taste its rays and no animal basked in its radiating glow. The Earth lay under a dead blanket of thickened atmosphere, sick with poisons and all infertile.
Then came the day; that day that was bound to come, when the creatures that lay beneath rose from their ocean beds, close enough to the dark belly of the great petrochemical soup to taste its potential. Vast coils of plastic-coated wires, holographic interfaces, computer circuitry, components still intact within their plastic cases and yet sufficiently exposed for exploitation by those who could jolt them to life. The beings from the deep made their home there among those unnatural weeds and scales, among the flotsam of man’s legacy to Earth.
Gradually they built around them bodies, of indescribable intricacy and size, activated by elements from a trillion different machines and protected by a slurry of polymers, acetates and vinyls. Their glistening bodies shone as they took form and rose clear of their surroundings and they were given life, not from above but from below, from electric ocean depths that man had barely known and from his technological imaginings.
One by one, brand new creatures lurched onto empty continents to seek out the fills they knew must exist there. They towered over the landscape, striding a hundred meters at a time. They ventured forth upon the land of their creators and saw the devastation mankind had wrought. And the Techno-polymorphs saw that it was good.
Posted by Tom at 9:11 AM
December 28, 2008
Lately I keep running across this saying: "There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters." Rather than take this to heart, I've been flirting with mycological destruction lately thanks to two excellent finds.
I've been sampling perfumes like a fiend ever since BPAL started running an ad on my site. It's a little ridiculous -- I work from home and rarely leave the house at all, but I still want to try out all these fragrances on people; as I dig through bottles in search of a blend that will knock the socks off of the cashier at the corner deli, I have to wonder if I've become elderly before my time.
This month I took a gamble on a blend called "Destroying Angel," named for the fatally toxic Amanita mushrooms that looks pretty much identical to plenty of other harmlessly edible fungi; less than half a cap can outright kill you, and since symptoms may not occur for up to a day, early treatment is rarely an option. While BPAL's description of the fragrance ("Papery white notes evoke the grace of this fungi, grounded by thin, crisp soil") didn't sound like something I'd normally wear, my curiosity got the better of me. To my surprise, it turned out to be one of the most beautifully wearable blends I've sampled so far -- rich, earthy, and tempting. And while my friends tend to be merely tolerant of my constant demands to "smell this and tell me what you think," this one inspired a lot of double-takes (the good kind).
Speaking of murderous fungi, I came to an abrupt halt in my local organic store the other day when I caught sight of "Cranberry Cordyceps Tea." What??? The term "cordyceps" has been burned into my brain ever since I saw that chilling segment on Planet Earth where all those insects go terminally insane and grow deadly Alien-esque fungus stalks out of their heads. Now in drink form! Vermont Mushrooms' site describes the product as: "An invigorating combination of organic cordyceps with Vermont maple syrup and Vermont cranberry juice. Cordyceps has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to increase vitality, build endurance and strengthen the spirit." It looks vaguely like a Snapple.
So, I went ahead and bought a bottle, but I'm not brave enough to drink it yet -- this is probably a sign of how lacking I am in vitality, endurance, and spirit. Is there any way out of this vicious cycle that doesn't involve drinking a tasty parasite? Watch this and tell me if you think I should drink it:
Posted by Tom at 7:29 PM
December 26, 2008
A while back I interviewed Nico Muhly about horror movies and his score for the creeptacular 2007 film Joshua; additionally, Muhly's album Mothertongue was one of my favorite albums of 2008. I just glanced at his blog and realized that he composed the score for Stephen Daldry's new movie The Reader, which stars Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes. I've been really curious about this movie... has anyone seen it yet who would care to report?
All of Muhly's albums -- Mothertongue, Speaks Volumes, Joshua, and The Reader -- are available on iTunes. I like to imagine that in some parallel universe, we're good friends who occasionally take each other out for brunch at some forgotten joint in an unfashionable Manhattan neighborhood where there's no one else dining who's younger than 65.
Posted by Tom at 12:15 PM
December 24, 2008
If you're like me, you chase away holiday blues by watching movies showcasing those drastically less fortunate than yourself. I've spent many years getting myself fully freaked out/bummed out with the movie that rescued Sally Field's career from the Flying Nun quagmire, the 1976 television movie Sybil (obligatory Netflix link), based on a real-life victim of unspeakable parental sexual abuse whose psyche shattered into 16 distinguishable personalities. The acting is stellar, the story is sickening and heartbreaking, and overall the movie has that gritty 1970's New York City slice-of-life thing going for it, a factor which was totally lost on me back when I first used the family VCR to tape this off of Channel 45 back in 1993. All said, the film holds up miraculously well.
For this very special (and very depressing) Trans-Genred, I present to you a medley of moribund Christmas tidings from the second half of Sybil.
A Christmas card for Dr. Wilbur:
"Sorry about the color... Sybil tried for red and green, but it just kept getting purple and she wasn't able to stop it. Do you know what she did? She took the crayon and just scrubbed on the paper, and scrubbed on it like that, and grit her teeth! And then she wadded it up and threw it in the trash can. We rescued it... We tried to make it prettier. You see, Peggy added the red and we smoothed it out, we all tried."
A remembrance of Sybil's happy Christmases past:
"Mama, look what I made for the Christmas tree!"
"Oh... that's just a picture out of a magazine with a piece of tin foil stuck to it."
In which Sybil's isolation from the world makes her depressingly easy to shop for:
"Remind me never to let you take off a bandage!"
"Well if I'm very careful and don't tear the wrapping paper, I can draw on the back of it."
"You can draw on the whole thing -- it's only watercolor paper."
"Oh... Richard! It's the most beautiful paper, thank you!"
Some people get visions of sugar-plums on Christmas eve, others are chased through their nightmares by severed cat-heads:
Posted by Tom at 4:27 PM
December 17, 2008
Christmas came early! After 7 years in production, the Flaming Lips film Christmas On Mars has finally been unveiled, and is now orbiting the earth on DVD. Things are about to get trippy here, so proceed carefully:
1. Go here to watch an intro to the movie featuring Kevin Maher's audio interview with lead singer Wayne Coyne.
2. Exciting, right? Well guess what -- the interview spills over right here into an incredibly in-depth Hermitosis exclusive! So after you've been inoculated by the video, click below and hear from Wayne's own lips about what this movie really is and why we have his mother to thank (or blame) for it!
3. (For info about where you can see Christmas On Mars in theaters, check out Cinema Purgatorio!)
Thanks, Kevin and Wayne! And God bless us, every one... including the Martians.
KM: Christmas On Mars has had some really non-traditional screenings. What's the idea behind, for example, a 7 AM show at an offbeat location?
WC: To me, it sounds like something where if you read it on a poster you'd think, "Oh, that's great!" but then the next second you'd think, "…But I'm not going to get up at 7 AM to watch a dumb movie." I think it's just in the spirit of the Flaming Lips philosophy: anything is possible, let's try new things. When it was suggested that we do a breakfast screening of the movie I thought, "Well there you go, why not? Who else would do that? Steven Spielberg probably isn't going to do that with his new film, but I can do it with mine." I'm not sure if anyone really wanted to show up (or even whether anyone did). But just the idea that we could do that, I thought, why not?
I always encourage the crowd and say, "You've gotta laugh, you've gotta cheer," and that really does make a big difference sometimes, making them feel that they can laugh and be part of the momentum of something like that. I saw it in LA a couple of weeks ago with a crowd of 600 people, and they were pretty drunk, and a lot of them were on some acid – they told me that out loud a couple of times – and it's pretty thrilling I have to say. Seeing it with an audience in the beginning, I have to say I had some anxiety about that, but it's a lot of fun. It's better than I ever thought it could be.
KM: One of the things I love is how homegrown the movie is. How do you think it would have been different if you had a big budget?
WC: The idea that I'm doing it all myself – that I'm in there building all the sets and doing all the grunt-work and everything along with it -- I think that's what gives it that Flaming Lips home-made arty touch to it. In editing it and putting it together, we really felt that even though a lot of it was shot in my backyard, a lot of it looks like it could have a somewhat decent budget to it. I would want to think that, regardless of the budget, I'd have dictated that it would look the same, but I would have never gone into it thinking that I would deserve any money, or that anyone in their right mind who had any money would want to give me a bunch of it to make a movie with.
I think the stress and strain and unanswerable questions would have become too much, I think I would have been defeated or made a horribly unwatchable, uncharming, cheap movie. Sometimes a movie is either good or bad, but then there are the other dimensions of it which make it more interesting. There are some scenes that you can watch in it and think, "That's in a room in Wayne's house!" That might not make it good, but I think in some ways it makes it more interesting to watch.
KM: As far as the distinct low-budget charm goes, I especially liked the grainy black-and-white look. Was there a specific era of film that you were going for?
WC: When I think of Christmas movies, there's a 1950's version of A Christmas Carol that I remember from when I was growing up. I was born in 1961, and watching TV wasn't like it is now, where you can just watch it a hundred times -- you had to wait for these movies to be played on TV, and if you were lucky you could see them every year. So [for Christmas on Mars] there was always this 1940's halfway-destroyed black-and-white version of this otherworldly Christmas scenario. But part of what I liked about it is that the movie looks old but it's set in the future, so there would be a kind of disconnect. Are we seeing something from the past, or are we seeing some artifact that's been discovered in the future?
KM: In Christmas On Mars, you've got an alien who dons a Santa Claus suit. We've seen that before in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Is this an homage?
WC: I have to say I didn't know that movie existed before I started to make this movie, but I think two or three copies have been sent to me since I started making the film from people saying, "Hey, did you know this existed?" I don't know if I've seen all of the film, but I've seen enough of it to know that it's not that bad a movie. I think people look at Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as if it was some horribly unwatchable B-movie, but it's not as bad as you'd think.
KM: You call the movie a "film freak-out." Can you tell us what that means?
WC: We started playing the movie at the beginning of last summer in our giant circus tent with our giant sound system in there, and I didn't want audiences (who were going to be at rock festivals watching the Flaming Lips playing a rock concert) to think, "Why would we want to watch a boring old movie?" I wanted them to know that even though it wasn't a concert, there was more to it than just turning off your mind and being entertained by a screen. I think if you're prepared for there to be some stuff, some intensity besides it just being a story, then you're not so jarred out of the momentum of it.
KM: To me, "freak-out" reads as Mothers of Invention, and the movie reminds me (in a good way) of 200 Motels.
WC: Yeah, I can understand that. I think a lot of younger people wouldn't know of the Frank Zappa connection -- certainly that type of artist who has been given too much freedom (maybe more money than they deserve). "Uh-oh, let's see what they do!"
KM: I saw your movie on DVD, but I would love to get to see it in the theater. The sound is so striking and original -- what were some of your influences on the audio?
WC: I think all rock bands – and I'm speaking purely from experience and from talking to people – I think all rock bands feel like eventually as they mature and they go on in their life, they're going to be invited to do a soundtrack for a movie, and of course it's going to be someone like David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick -- you know, someone who's going to want a really strange otherworldly piece of music for them.
When we went in to do the music for Christmas on Mars, I think we decided that the way we would do the music is that it would tell you an element of the story that really wouldn't be there otherwise. And I think that's really true of all films, the sort of atmosphere and the internal psychological meaning that they can have -- a lot of it is in the music and the sound effects. In the beginning I think lots of times we were actually making music before we would even shoot the film… maybe these two would go together. And that didn't always wind up being true; a lot of the music we started with, we wound up rejecting... In the end we wound up using one theme over and over, and giving it different flavorings as it went through the movie. We were probably listening to things like Bernard Herrmann, who's done things with Hitchcock, and I know he worked with Scorsese on Taxi Driver. We were always going back to like Brian Eno-influenced stuff, and even stuff like Igor Stravinsky, trying to make it seem otherworldly but putting it in context as if it were a foreign film. I think it feels somewhat Eastern European, as if some drug-damaged composer was brought in to do the music for this thing, but he happened to be sort of living on the edge of Siberia or somewhere. And I like that. I like that people could be wondering, "Is this a foreign film? What is this?" If you don't know anything about the Flaming Lips you could stumble upon it somewhere and not really know whether it was made in Oklahoma or shot on Mars.
KM: That brings us to the subtitles. Why does the DVD have the option for Russian subtitles?
WC: Again, as we're free to do whatever we want… Even in the beginning I wanted this idea of there being subtitles whenever people speak. I don't know why, but in the old DVD player that I had, the subtitle switch was always stuck ON -- so whenever you'd put in a DVD, the subtitles would automatically come up. When we were practicing for our Who tribute over the summer, I put in the DVD of Woodstock, and I have to say I never realized what people were saying half the time until I read the subtitles!
The idea that it would come up in Russian adds just another exotic spice or flavoring into this thing. And it does really translate in Russian! I've had several Russian-speaking people come up to me and applaud how correct we were with a lot of the subtitles. I'm glad there's some intrigue. It's just a strange home-made movie and nobody stopped us, so we just did whatever we wanted to do.
KM: What else is the band up to now? You're about to go on tour, is that right?
WC: Well, we've sort of surrendered to this idea that we play every summer. Back in the '90s we'd sort of just pick and choose when we wanted to go out on tour and play, and over the last five or six years we've slowly realized that we play every summer. Our summer usually starts at the beginning of May and goes until the end of October, and I think this year we've decided that we want to make another record before we go out and play, so I in about January or February we'll start. We've already pieced together quite a few things… Then after that we'll go out and play all these strange little nooks and crannies around the civilized world. Probably till we die.
KM: I don't know if you're a John Carpenter fan, but there were elements of Christmas On Mars that reminded me of early John Carpenter, like Dark Star and The Thing. Are you a Carpenter fan?
WC: I am in a sense, I mean, I really do love The Thing, and I hadn't watched it in a long time, and as I watched it in the last couple of years as I was making Christmas on Mars, I saw some similarities to it. I don't know the Dark Star movie too well; I've seen bits of it, and I know that it's based on a kind of hippies-go-to-space kind of trip, but I like it enough to say sure, I'd take that. I don't think my film falls squarely into a Science Fiction sort of thing, just because it's so weird. But I would accept that, sure.
KM: I noticed on the credits that you're given a story credit. Was there a fleshed-out screenplay, or did the actors get to improvise?
WC: Now that I look back at what I thought the story was going to be in the beginning, and at the way that it ended up, I can say yeah -- there's definitely a story there. On the other hand, if you'd caught me three years ago and asked me what it was about, I'd have said, "I don't know, I'm just going to keep working until I've got something that isn't embarrassing to show people." Everybody would ask me as I went if I'd written a screenplay, but since I was the director and the producer and building the sets and writing the dialogue and all that, I never felt the need to really write it. The only person who was going to care was me, and I was the only one that really knew where it was going to go. It was like, "Well, Wayne's making this and he knows what he's doing." They weren't worried about it too much.
As far as improvising, I find that people would rather not improvise if you can give them stuff. They would rather know what to say than have to make something up and be clever and cool on the spot. They want to know that this has some meaning for your story. There were times in the film when people did improvise and I used it, but there was never a time when I walked onto the set and said, "I don't know what's going to happen here, and you're going to just say stuff back and forth." But some of the best lines in the film happen to be just dumb things people said that seemed very natural and also worked for the story.
KM: So... "Take a shit on my dick," was that an ad-lib or did you write that?
WC: I have to say that out of all the actors in the film, I knew that he was like that anyway. His character is based on him in real life; he's a used car salesman who teaches Sunday school, but when you catch him in an unguarded moment, he spews out these wonderful, horrible, poetic sorts of one-cuss-word-connected-to-another original lines. So we'd be taking a break setting up lights between something, and he'd say something like like, "Just take a fucking shit on my dick, man," and I'd be like, "Hold on, wait, we've gotta use that!" I think he had a couple more of that stature. The one I like a lot was something like, "You look like something that crawled out of Godzilla's asshole!"
KM: How did you come up with the visual designs? Did you feel that the alien – speaking of looking like something that came out of Godzilla's asshole – do you feel like the finished alien is what you had in mind?
WC: I wanted to look like me, and yet still be a character, and the same with Steven and Michael – if you like the Flaming Lips, there they are, they're in the film! So I never wanted to put too much makeup or costuming on us and cover us up in that way. I knew I wanted that I wanted the audience to think of my character as being green, but actually just looking sort of like me with some weird antennae and a crazy suit. I didn't really want there to be some strange looking alien -- just a man that arrives in a space bubble. I don't know why. I never thought of it being like a B-movie looking thing. As it went, I sort of hoped that there would be some sense of special effects that would make it look more fantastical than just me in that strange suit. And then as I started to see it in my character, and in the music that plays when my character shows up, I started to think, "It'll be enough." It just looks like me, like I've got some cheap antennae on. The audience – I don't know, maybe they already think I'm some sort of alien from outer space or something.
KM: If you did have this incredible over the top costume it would stick out from the landscape that it's appearing in. I think all the elements work together beautifully.
WC: Yeah, but that's giving me way too much credit. Believe me -- I'd have been the first one to go over the top and not know it. At the beginning I thought I was just making space tunnels so they could walk through them and just get on with the story. But little by little, I realized that I was making it the way I want, I'm dictating where the lights go, and all the little bits of the space station, what they're made of, and even using toys as parts of the space station and stuff. If I had just handed that over to some set designer – well it's not that it wouldn't have been as charming, but it certainly wouldn't have had my fingerprints and my stuff all over it. Once I got about halfway through it, I was glad I was doing it that way. I thought, "Okay, well it's probably a good thing that I'm in there having to make it all up. For better of worse it will reek of my influence."
KM: How did the rest of the band feel about it? Were they able to trust you and follow where you were going with the movie?
WC: Well I think really it was both. It was sort of that adventure of, "Let's go and make this thing!" We do that even when we make our records, no one ever really has a great plan. You have a bunch of plans and you hope they work, and they inevitably don't work, and you just start making it up as you go. I know this never sounds like true justification, but we've made a lot of music videos where we don't really know what we're going to do, and within a couple hours we'll just set something up and do it. I did that a lot with Brad Beasley, the guy who helped me direct the film, and his crew, and so we were used to working in this way. We know we're going to make a film, and we know what it's going to be about, and even though I never had to sit down and convince anyone that I knew what I was doing. I think everybody wanted that – they wanted to be in the middle of this potential catastrophe together. I think we were having as much fun as you can have as you're making something like this.
KM: Can you tell your fans, based on the 7 year experience of making this, the most important thing you've learned from making Christmas on Mars?
WC: For better or worse, I'm an artist who has been given the freedom to follow my obsessions, and maybe that really that's the only thing that you can trust: that you're surrendering to some overriding master that is taking you into this other world.
For people who haven't seen the film, there's a marching band scene, where the marching band has giant female genitals for heads and things like that. If I had to really sit there and tell people what I thought that meant, or justify why it should be in the movie, I wouldn't be able to. But I could always just say, "I don't know what it means, but it's my movie and I like it and that's the way I wanted to make it." If you go into making any sort of personal subjective unique art, if you have to explain to people every ten minutes what it means, and why it's there and why they should believe in it, I don't think you could. I think that most of what I like about the movie, I don't even know why I did it! I just liked it and went about doing it. To me, that's true of all important things in your life, and that's especially true for art. We don't want art being made because it's going to make us look cool or make us a lot of money, or make us famous, we want art to be made because if we don't make it we'll just go crazy. So we make it, and we look crazy for making it, but we know that we would be crazier if we didn't make it.
KM: I really love the intro that you do for the movie, the story of how your mother sort of inspired the movie. Can you give us a sort of Reader's Digest version of that story?
WC: Sure. Inevitably when you make a movie like this, people want to know where these ideas come from, and they come from a million different moments in your life. Hopefully all art is made from some sort of great spattering of influences. But I know for sure that when I was a teenager, my brother and I would stay out until all hours of the night, and we'd come home at two or three o'clock in the morning, and my mother, who claimed that she never slept, would be up on the couch watching movies and catching up on housework from the day or whatever. And we came in one night and she was sobbing, because she'd watched what she thought was a very sad movie. And we said, "What was this movie?" and she didn't know what it was. She didn't remember whether it was set on a ship or a submarine or what, but she described it as a group of some sort of workers were trapped in some sort of unsaveable condition, some catastrophe had happened and they realized they were going to die. And once they realized they sort of accepted that they were going to die, they were visited by some sort of being. And we asked, "Well, what sort of being?" And she didn't know whether it was God or some kind of alien, but they were visited by this entity and they seemed to be made happy with their lives.
It being 1974 or 1975, we just assumed we'd see this movie, that it would come on again sometime and we'd be able to say, "Hey mom, here's that dumb movie that you saw." But then as time went on, all movies became sort of always available, and if it was a good movie, we'd probably have seen it before now. Little by little we concluded that my mother, as she'd done a million times before, probably sat on the couch and started watching a movie, fell asleep, woke up while another movie was playing, and sort of dreamed the middle of it -- connected the first movie, her dream, and another movie, and thought it was all one movie! I think we all have probably done that.
I had gone over this movie and added my own imagination to it for so long that, once I knew that it didn't exist, I was sort of trapped. I was like, "I want to see this movie, I've thought about it forever." I think that pushed me into saying "I'm going to make this movie." Even though her describing it ends up being kind of a vague outline that could have been any movie, I see now how what she described fits in perfectly to Christmas On Mars: that this entity comes, and the entity is me, and I don't know if I'm supposed to be God or some sort of alien from outer space, but these things tie together, and again, I can't really justify it. I just know that it became important for me to say, "I want to see this movie… if no one else wants to see it, I know I do."
Posted by Tom at 11:23 PM
In this regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly reports back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. After spending so much time in the spooky 1970's, I decided to jolt us back to the present day and test Chris's appetite for this 2005 indie hit in which a pedophile's prey also becomes his predator (spoilers ahead!):
In keeping with the hopeful spirit of the season, I'll start by saying that Hard Candy could have been so much worse. A movie with an interesting concept and riveting lead actors is not exactly easy to come by, and even if this production completely loses control of itself by the end, we can be thankful that the people involved were striving for something ambitious. So I'm going to keep up the holiday cheer by giving the film credit for all the parts that scared me.
Like I said, the actors deserve serious praise here. Ellen Page, giving an angsty, too-witty performance that she would later scrub and refine to create Juno, makes a more effective monster than you would think. Even when she's not saying anything worth listening to (and this becomes more frequent as things carry on), she looks intelligent and calculating. Her remorseless conviction unnerved me and created real tension: I never doubted that she intended, and could figure out how, to make her prey hurt in creative ways.
Patrick Wilson seems similarly sure of his own fate, and his best moments come when he is reacting to veiled (and later not-so-veiled) threats. His mounting horror and varied ways of expressing it gave me goosebumps. There's nothing worse than sharing someone's anticipation of something horrible. As the movie crawls toward its forewarned violent emasculation, Wilson writhes, reddens, howls, and contorts, adopting the bristling physicality of a bound animal. Watching gave me deeply unpleasant sympathy pains.
The pacing of the movie's first half is also pretty perfect. We're given just enough time to worry about the helpless teenager before the tables turn, and then it's a long slog to the promised at-home surgery. The only thing worse than having your arm cut off is being told that you're going to have your arm cut off in an hour, and Brian Nelson clearly knew this when he penned the script. My insides were tied in endless knots while I waited for them to just get it over with already.
[Editor's note: My own insides were tied in knots holding back laughter. From the whimpering sounds coming from the seat next to me, you'd think Chris was being led through age-regression child abuse therapy.]
Then Ellen Page cuts Patrick Wilson's balls off and the movie entirely loses its mind. It's as if the choice was made to actively and deliberately avoid continuity, because everything we are told is systematically thrown out the window as we proceed. Those balls? Still attached. The murdered girl from the useless subplot? He did kill her after all. The lumbering suspense? Replaced with knife chases. Witty dialogue? Nah, let's throw in some clumsy exposition. And remember when Sandra Oh made a random cameo with the sole purpose of revealing that the roof is not a safe place to hide? How about we end things with an extended showdown on... yep, the roof.
Clearly, nobody knew what to do after carting out the notion of a tabletop castration. Not that they didn't make the effort; there was so much visible trying going on that my DVD player practically broke a sweat. Sadly, all that trouble was wasted, because the end result is half watchable and half pitiable. To continue an earlier metaphor, it's tough to feel menaced when the dude who cut your arm off is now threatening to drive a staple into your leg. Particularly when it's revealed that he didn't cut your arm off after all. And still he stands there, waving the stapler and screaming as loud as he can.
Essentially, by failing to follow through on its promises, the film neuters itself. The final scenes just dangle there, flaccid. The audience, seeing the story's impotence, no longer feels any sense of danger. I started out feeling genuinely afraid, but got over it once I realized that everyone was shooting blanks.
As an aside, I will say that Tom and I had a blast wondering what would have happened if this movie had fulfilled its B-grade destiny by casting other, less skilled performers. Seriously, imagining just about anyone else saying those lines makes for hilarity. What if this had been a breakout for Miley Cyrus and another Oscar bait from Robin Williams? Or a '90s classic starring Gary Sinise and Alicia Silverstone (with a surprise cameo by Rosie O'Donnell)? It's a fun game, you should play along at home. You pretty much can't go wrong.
[Editor's note: Sean Connery, Chris Crocker, surprise cameo by Zelda Rubinstein]
Posted by Tom at 1:09 PM
December 14, 2008
A few days ago I posted the Carpenters' Space Encounters TV special to MetaFilter after having been given a glimpse of it at a Sci Fi Screening Room event. However, there's one little part of it that I can't seem to stop watching -- it's got me horribly mesmerized. It's a duet in which Karen Carpenter and Suzanne Somers warble "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" wearing matching pastel jumpsuits and granny shawls. First of all, this is a song that you probably shouldn't mess with unless you're Harry Belafonte or Ricky Ricardo (this means you, Grateful Dead and Robert Palmer). Something about affecting Carribean speech patterns for the sheer fun of it raises the hackles of anyone in earshot.
All that aside, one can't watch this without getting hung up on the fact that, of the two women prancing about and extolling the superiority of the female brain, one of them is visibly dying of what we now know as anorexia nervosa, and the other is... well, Suzanne Somers. Did irony ever shake so cruel and tragic a tailfeather? I can't look away...
(For the sake of sharing, while poking around in YouTube looking for these clips, I found this. Apparently someone thought it extremely important to use the Carpenters version of this song as the backdrop for an action sequence from the movie Aeon Flux. Thankfully Charlize Theron and Sophie Okonedo left their shawls at home.)
Posted by Tom at 11:47 AM
December 12, 2008
You know how things always (always!) pop up that ruin your taste for things you already know and love? Like everyone else in New York City, I recently began noticing the Daniel Radcliffe posters plastered all over the city for Equus :
I realized with horror that the new design was the spitting image of a painting I did back in 2000:
Okay, so it's not the most original pose or anything, and while I definitely meant mine to look like its chin is pointing straight up, mostly it looks like someone very pointy-headed seen from behind. But that's not even the part that freaks me out. You have no idea how often I've been asked about the "zebra painting" I have hanging up, by people mistaking the human figure for a vaguely equine head. Seeing Radcliffe's torso truncated by a big velvety snout just confirmed all of those comments -- I literally stood there staring at it until I realized that people would think I was one of those Potter-philes scouring the young actor's body for traces of nipple-hair.
Anyhow, just want to thank a certain anonymous graphic designer (you know who you are) for reminding me that in the worlds of art, literature, and theatre, nothing is original or sacred. Hey, it could have been worse -- Shrek just opened on Broadway too:
Posted by Tom at 5:54 PM
December 11, 2008
Here's the second of MicroHorror's three winners from the 2008 Halloween contest. Every great hero, villain, and abomination deserves an origin story, so I was intrigued to find an old myth in this new guise...
by Lori Titus
I am here and now. I have existed forever.
I have lived so long that it’s come to the point that I cannot even fathom all of my own past. I can tell you this: there was a beginning. When the world was young, so was I.
I may have been alone on the shore when the sea was new. I remember feeling a part of the air and the wind, how the water that cooled me was a new sensation. I was a part of it all, a being that was corporeal, but knew no difference between itself and the outside world.
For decades I was carried on the sea into this confusion that humans call the modern world. Time is nothing.
I will always be.
If I could touch you, I would, because it’s been so long since I have…
When was the last time that I did? It’s hard to remember. But you’re a human man; my touch may kill you.
What name did they give me? I know they called me Mara. I sang songs. I drew men to me. How perfect they were for all of their imperfection.
How their eyes light up when they see me. Upon that moment, I am their ideal, full of life and irresistible; I am what they have waited for all their lives, the thing that they cannot resist. No two men ever see the same woman when they see me.
But they will all tell you that I am the most beautiful woman that they have ever seen.
How many of them dived into the depths for me? How they kissed with abandon, as I pulled them down into the water, sucking the last breath of their lungs into my mouth?
In those moments, the last of their lives, I drew in all of their essence: their life, their need, their pain. To take this is the depth of ecstasy. They give, and their vision of me flows away as does the last of their spirit.
My soft arms turn cold and hard, made of bones and not the softness of skin. My long hair tangles them into a mass of dead seaweed.
My song is the first of the sea, the last of the sea, what all men that sailed in ancient times grew wise enough to fear.
I am Siren.
Posted by Tom at 3:26 PM
December 10, 2008
A while back I interviewed artist Nick Hooker about his intoxicatingly morbid video for Grace Jones' new single. Well, now concept artwork for Grace Jones' new album Hurricane is on the loose, and suddenly everything about the "Corporate Cannibal" video has become very clear -- Jones is literally a hot mess of beautiful chocolate.
Not that I think that's what Hooker had in mind when he first liquified her, but it's so deliciously apt that I can hardly contain my excitement (or my hunger). And trust me when I say that you do NOT want to piss off these Oompah Loompahs:
Posted by Tom at 2:37 PM
December 7, 2008
You may remember my interview with magician Matthew Holtzclaw several months ago. Turns out he was featured in a panel on stage magic at this fall's New Yorker Festival! Take a look at the video for some really interesting professional commentary on magic from some excellent performers -- or if you have one of those Saturday morning cartoon attention spans, just skip ahead to 25:00 and enjoy the most awesome eight minutes of your day thanks t0 Holtzclaw's brilliant performance of a classic magic trick. Bravo, Matt!
Posted by Tom at 11:05 AM
December 5, 2008
Having run across Sandow Birk's update of Dante's Divine Comedy (packed with wonderfully apocalyptic illustrations), I was extremely intrigued to discover that the first cantica has been adapted to film, via incredibly trippy puppetry and the vocal talents of Dermot Mulroney and James Cromwell (trailer here).
Birk is an artist who's no stranger to projects of incredible scope or acerbic social commentary (see In Smog and Thunder, an account of a fictitious war arising between Los Angeles and San Francisco). I'm grateful to him for setting aside a few moments while traveling to answer a some questions about the past, present, and future of his Divine Comedy.
TB: I'm curious about your religious background and how that affected (or evolved during) the work.
SB: I'm not a religious person. I was drawn to Dante at first by Gustav Dore's fantastic engravings from the 1800s, but once I had picked up The Divine Comedy I was sucked in by the complexity of the poem, by the beauty of the writing, by the glimpse into the mind of a medieval scholar and his view of the world, by the importance of the work in world history, and by the epic-ness of the project. I am amazed and continually fascinated by Dante's poem for an endless number of reasons. After spending a year reading the poem and reading about the poem, I began to see that it -- the poem and the illustrations by Dore (and by others through history) -- could be the starting point for making a new project that speaks about our times, our world, our society, and also that comments on Dante's work and Dante's view of the world at the same time.
TB: Illustrating this work is sort of artistic Holy Grail, like making a Tarot deck. I seem to recall that William Blake died before he could finish his illustrations for Inferno. Do you feel like you've cleared some great hurdle in your artistic life?
SB: I never saw my project as "illustrating" Dante. That's been done many times over the centuries by artists much more adept than I am. And I don't think illustrating Dante is necessary, or the way I want to spend my time and my efforts. What I set out to do from the beginning was to use Dante's poem as a way to do a project that speaks about our times and our society in a meaningful way. I think the books do that in some ways -- in more thoughtful and critical ways that play off the text and the poem, and the film does it in a different way, a funnier, more satirical and more political way. The two are very different projects and they were conceived and done separately.
In answer to your other point about a hurdle, I would say that the project has been the "deepest," most complex, most thoughtful project I've done to date, and it was exhausting. I worked on the books for four years non-stop, and I think during those four years every book I read was either by Dante or about Dante. It was a lot of work, to say the least.
TB: I was impressed by the puppetry in the film and how many sequences really felt like animation because of how smoothly all the elements combined. Do you consider it in any way to be an animated work?
SB: I don't think its "animation" in the true sense of the word or in what people think of as animated films. The film is actually a live, filmed puppet show. There were no computer effects done at all. That was something we planned at the beginning -- if it couldn't be done with paper, tape, wire, string and some paperclips, it wasn't in the movie.
TB: Are there films in the works for Purgatorio and Paradiso as well?
SB: The film project was entirely exhausting and expensive (not in terms of the film world, but in terms of a bunch of artists trying to make a movie on their own). The whole team of us who made the film were worn out after it was done, but enough time has gone by since then that we're starting to think about another film project. Of course I'd love to make another Dante film. There's the idea of doing Purgatorio and Paradiso as one film, so that we'd then have the two-part trilogy, which is funny. But at this point there's not much more than some thoughts about a new project. We're all keen, but we don't have any money, same as usual.TB: You've spent so much time creatively orbiting this subject, working in so many different roles and examining it from all sides. The same could be said of In Smog and Thunder. How do you know when it's time to move on to the next thing, and how do you know when you've alighted onto something that's going to wind up absorbing years of your time and effort? Have there been false starts and endings along the way, with these or other projects?SB: Over the course of my career it seems the projects keep getting larger and more grandiose, which is part planned and part not planned. I've had an arc where I've intentionally tried to expand the scope of my projects -- for example, my earlier paintings were about gang wars in my neighborhood and surfing in Los Angeles; "Smog" was about California as a state, as was the prison project. Dante has been more universal and international in intent. As I get more successful its also been easier to get more collaborations going (which I like) and to get them funded as well. So the two work out well together.That said, not every idea becomes a big project, but once I get an idea that interests me I tend to investigate and work on it more and more and the ideas tend to grow. The "Smog" project, for example, kept growing and growing into other media (sculpture, drawing, audio tours, film, etc.) That project ended when I felt I had done enough and basically got sort of sick of it.The Dante project had a built-in ending when we had ended all of the cantos and the three books. It wasn't until later that the film idea and project came about. But even Dante started with the smaller idea of just doing something based on "Inferno" and grew into the entire Divine Comedy.So yeah, there are false starts and starts that go much further than I could have ever imagined when I take the first steps. But I try to simply find projects and topics that are interesting to me, that are relevant to our times, and that I hope have something intelligent and meaningful to say about our lives and our society. If I can do that, and if I can get people to see it when its done -- that's what I set out to do being an artist.
TB: What are you working on in the meantime?
SB: I've finished a big project of a series of 15 huge woodblock prints and a series of paintings all about the war in Iraq. Entitled "The Depravities of War", the show has been traveling to various cities. It was shown in Washington DC at the Katzen Art Center this fall and its on its way to Heidleberg, Germany in Februrary and to Chicago in March next year. There is a book about the project which is published by HuiPress, who are the publishers of the prints as well.As for my next projects, I'm working on a big one for fall 2009: an ongoing four year project (so far) based on the Koran. It should open simultaneously on both coasts: at PPOW Gallery in New York City in Sept. 2009 and at Catharine Clark Gallery in SF in Sept. as well. I'm going to continue working on it all year.
Posted by Tom at 11:00 AM
December 4, 2008
This is my third installment in a series about films that owe far more to the horror genre than you'd ever imagine, and I finally worked up the energy to tackle one of my favorite films of all time, a 1977 Robert Altman picture that somehow managed to capture two hot actresses who would both become horror icons: Sissy Spacek fresh off the set of Carrie, and a willowy Shelley Duvall just before she landed a lead role in Kubrick's The Shining. Oddly, thematic elements of both movies persist throughout this one.
If that was all 3 Women had to offer horror fans, it would still be plenty. It's just the beginning, however! As petty weirdnesses begin to pile up (and identities begin to unravel) Spacek and Duvall wage a primordial battle for dominance that threatens to capsize reality itself -- think Single White Female meets Mulholland Drive. Supposedly based on Altman's dreams, 3 Women (obligatory Netflix link) was filmed in sequence with little or no script; it's a mind-shreddingly compulsive movie-watching experience that leaches into your brainstem and camps out there for weeks afterward. Care for a glimpse?
Millie Lammoreaux is perfect. She loves irises. She loves flowers, and candlelight. She knows surefire ways to win a man in one night, and every other valuable nugget you can pick out of McCall's and the Neiman Marcus catalog. Her car isn't just mustard yellow, it's French mustard -- and she has the best parking spot at her swinging singles apartment complex, which unfortunately is somewhere in the desolate, not-so-swinging California desert. Even so, everything she says and does is infused with that special Millie Lammoreax sparkle, announcing her unique presence to the world. Hello, World! Despite her confidence and tenacity, however, there is no one on Earth who's as universally ignored and unloved as Millie Lammoreaux. Her unconscious awareness of this writhes just below the surface -- with every step she teeters on the edge of a howling abyss of total irrelevance and meaninglessness.
No one needs to come out and actually say all of this; Altman manages to sum up his awkward heroine's cosmic undone-ness for us in an ingeniously malicious visual gag that recurs throughout the entire film:
Duvall was apparently instrumental in the devising of her character, deciding with relish which topics Millie would prattle on about while everyone does their damned best to pretend she doesn't exist. Far from distracting from the performance, the fact that we know the actress is in on the joke only salts the wound -- it's as if Duvall has tapped into some cosmic vital essence of pure tragedy and administers it to us via a sugared time-release capsule. In fact, she invokes a figure so epically tragic that it baffles the brain's urge -- need, even -- to see the seams in her performance; you just can't invent pathetic that pathetic, it insists.
Anyhow, Millie's in a jam now that her roommate has left her in the lurch, but the only person who answers her ad is Pinky Rose (Spacek), the drab new girl at work who looks and acts like she just fell off the back of a covered wagon, or maybe a UFO. She's Millie's cosmic opposite -- she never says or does anything right, and seems almost sociopathically unselfconscious. Perhaps most damning of all, she absolutely adores Millie on sight, and wants to be just like her. A lot of the movie's delightful awkwardness stems from Millie gratefully lapping up Pinky's praise (perhaps the only attention anyone's ever paid her), then grimacing as she faces reminders that this odd girl's proximity will surely comment poorly on Millie's own ability to win friends and influence people.
Okay, I won't lie -- I threw this photo in just so you could marvel at Millie's huge white panties, shining flatteringly through her sexy yellow negligee even at twenty paces.
Anyhow, the third of the titular women is Willie, the owner of the Purple Sage Apartments and the local bar (Millie's "hangout"). Willie spends most of her minimal screen-time painting murals in stony, wild-eyed silence and being fantastically pregnant. Just about every surface she comes into contact with becomes plastered with barbaric sci-fi demon people, which are summarily ignored by all. I mean, it was the '70s, after all -- I'm sure this shit was everywhere back then.
Gleefully moving into Millie's blindingly yellow apartment at the Purple Sage, Pinky soon turns out to be not only the kind of mousy little sneak who will read your locked diary, but the kind who will read it out loud. (You may also want to keep an eye on your Social Security card, your car keys, and your bathrobe.)
In case you haven't picked up on it so far, the '70s camp value here registers through the roof. Again, though -- this is actually very carefully crafted crypto-camp, honed to a knife's edge. You'll cringe and laugh when Millie (who is "famous for her dinner parties") returns from the grocery store with wine ("Tickle Pink" and "Lemon Satin"), pigs-in-a-blanket, Sociables with Cheez-Wiz, and canned chocolate pudding that she tops with off-brand spray whip, but Altman cherishes these details so lovingly that instead of laughing from a distance, the viewer is drawn deeper into the mind of the movie. What can it all mean?
Similarly, in nearly any other movie Pinky's mishap with the cocktail sauce would be ham-handed foreshadowing of the worst kind, but since practically every sentence or camera angle in 3 Women hints at some conspiracy or impending unimaginable doom (like when Pinky meets "Dirty Gertie," a necrotic doll that spits on her and then howls with animatronic laughter), details like a gruesome-looking dress stain wind up playing as startlingly benign, just one more gap in a ragged puzzle with no edge-pieces.
So what do we have? One hopeless nobody who, despite her tireless effort, is so utterly irrelevant that she could totally vanish without anyone noticing, and another hopeless nobody who covets the tiny niche that the other has dug out in the world. Millie and Pinky are like twins in utero -- they each crave the constant presence of an Other... but they also both want to be Millie. Even Millie's name, Lammoreaux, points to this paradox; it's French for "The Lovers," a sly reference to the Tarot card often claimed to be associated with Gemini, or "the twins." Will one "twin" consume the other? Will either survive?
The answer to each of those questions: "...Yes and no."
Following what can only be described as a sort of miscarriage, Pinky rebirths herself as the new Millie; it's merely a minor annoyance to her that the old Millie is still dithering about on the sidelines. Of course it's a far greater problem for Duvall's character, who must finally confront that her existence no longer matters to a single living soul. She's now completely subservient to Millie: The Sequel (whose ascension has resulted in a very Carrie makeover and more male attention than her predecessor ever dreamed of).
The final act of this movie takes all of these elements blends them into a horrible hallucinogenic smoothie of primal despair. There may or may not be a murder. There may or may not be a complete schizoid break. The three women may or may become a perfect familial unit. It's hard to say -- words become useless as bleak moments disappear into each other like Russian nesting dolls.
Can we even call this an ending? As the final scene quietly dribbles away, it becomes tempting to dismiss the whole mess as a bunch of meaningless events happening to meaningless people. This, however, is the very nature of the film's Great Work -- its characters' desperate search for meaning and justification in a cruel void; the blind, animal viciousness of the unconscious mind, as it either perceives a usurper or strives to usurp. And of course, the only way to be sure of what you've seen is to consent to going back for seconds, watching in amusement and amazement and wondering, "How in the world did this happen?"
One of the best ways to resolve this question is to avoid asking it. As much as I crave opportunities to watch or discuss 3 Women, perhaps you really shouldn't watch it at all... ever. The fact that Altman and his gals playfully and knowingly lobbed this malignant thing into our world knowing doesn't require you to risk contact with sticky cultural thought-viruses by actually returning the serve -- feel free to let this one sail by and land out of bounds. It's too late for me, however; you can tell from reading this how far gone my condition is, and I assure you it's quite contagious. If you're wise, you'll back away slowly and forget what you've read -- if you must indulge, however, be sure to quarantine yourself for a significant time afterward, lest your friends never forgive you for contaminating them. Eventually, this movie will make beasts, infants, and invalids of us all.
Posted by Tom at 7:06 PM
December 1, 2008
The winners of MicroHorror's 2008 Halloween contest have been announced! I plan to feature each of them here, one at a time, but I figured I'd start with the one that most capably triggered my delusional parasitosis...
by Gail Sosinsky Wickman
The door to the Wisconsin hunting cabin shuddered as the buck threw himself against the weathered gray boards.
“Hurry up,” Harvey yelled as his brothers dragged the heavy pine table across the floor. They upended it and shoved it against the door, then dragged one of the bunks over to brace it.
“I’d have sworn I hit that thing,” Mike said, panting.
“You did,” Bob said, wiping sweat. “Right through the rib cage. I saw lung blood on the snow. No mistaking that red.”
“That thing should be dead,” Mike said.
Harvey peered through the window, glad it wasn’t any bigger than a manhole, but thinking of ways to plug it anyway. “I think it is,” he said.
“Don’t give me that rural superstition crap,” Mike said, hiding behind his suburban house and his engineering degree like he always did when he was scared.
A banshee howl echoed through the clearing, and instinctively, Harvey grabbed an end table and covered the opening. Two thumps hit, followed by more screams and hissing.
“What the hell is that?” Bob asked as he threw his shoulder behind the table.
“That tomcat you warmed up on this morning,” Harvey said. “Both halves.”
“Here,” Mike said, returning from the junk drawer with a hammer, an assortment of nails and a couple of spikes they used to climb trees. It took a bit, but they secured the window.
“I’ve heard of this,” Bob said, nursing the thumb that had gotten in the way of the hammer.
“You thinking of Minong?” Harvey asked.
“Drop the spook stories,” Mike said. “It’s just some new form of rabies, not some revenge of the hunted.”
“It’s not hunting,” Harvey said. “Road kill, meat markets. The guy at the pet cemetery still won’t talk.”
“So why haven’t I heard of it?”
“Because it’s not logical and it’s not happening in a city,” Bob said.
“Just the day of the full moon, right?” Harvey rubbed his hands together. “We can last that.”
A second thud joined the first at the front door, followed by the crash of the chopping block and the bug light.
“Must be the doe from yesterday,” Bob said. “How’n hell’d she get out of the tree?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Harvey said. “We’d better make sure it’s clean in here, though.”
Mike grumbled, but he helped build the fire, and systematically, they burned every piece of meat in the refrigerator, every bite of jerky and the contents of two cans of steak and potato soup. A cracking noise above the mantle drew their attention. Grandpa Andy’s stuffed musky gnashed its teeth and struggled to free itself from its mounting board. The fish, a bearskin rug and a beaver pelt decorating the wall fed the flames, gagging them with the stench of burned fur.
“Damn, if it’s not like killing the old man all over again.” Bob wiped a tear that might have been from smoke.
“Now what?” Mike asked.
“Grab something to eat and wait it out,” Harvey said.
“They’re not going to take the ax and chop through the wall?”
“They’re just animals, Mike.” Bob shook his head. “It’s not like they get any smarter.”
It was almost cozy, sitting around the fire, eating beans out of cans–always careful to flick the bacon into the fire. After they broke out the schnapps, dozing came naturally. It was Mike’s gasps that woke them.
“It’s the wool shirt,” Bob said and pushed out of the chair, only to fall as his leather boots sliced his calves, severing his tendons. Harvey’s fingers flew to his tightening belt. The pressure on his gut grew, as did a steady whine in his ears, so loud he couldn’t hear Mike’s breathing anymore.
“No,” Bob forced out between moans.
Harvey looked up. A black cloud hung in the air, squeezing around the ill-fitted door. The mosquitoes had found a way out of the bug light’s catch tray. They descended, well-practiced in the taking of blood.
Posted by Tom at 2:03 PM