Saturday, September 24, 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015)
I've liked this series of movies, but it was time to end it. It's not an incredibly satisfying conclusion, and I found that explicitly seeing the computer-generated paranormal stuff this time worked against the handmade feel of the earlier films. It felt more fantastic and less immediate. I know there are always people who whine about needing everything shown and explained and blah boring blah, but I don't think it added much to the overall effect, and maybe detracted from it a little. It was never a great series of films, and it went on a little too long, but explaining the whole thing just takes all of the life out of it. **1/2

A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS (2015)
Short documentary about an 18 year-old girl who survived an honor killing in Pakistan, when her father and uncle shot in the face and dumped her in the river after she married someone they didn't approve of. It's a pretty bleak look at a culture that condones honor killing; much of the film's immediacy comes from the dilemma she faces, that if she forgives her attempted murderers for what they did--something her village pressures her to do--the charges against them can be dropped and they can avoid prosecution. It's a vital documentary, but it's so harrowing. I found myself getting angry at the way human beings can be trapped by a culture that they themselves create, and then act as though they're powerless to stop doing things like, say, killing their own daughters for dishonoring the family. I'll never forget looking at her father in his jail cell, blaming his daughter, his daughter's husband, and his religion for everything that was happening, rather than himself. ****

SINISTER (2012)
Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves his family into a home where an unsolved murder took place. In the attic, he discovers a series of super 8 films that show other gruesome murders, always of suburban families in their homes. What happens after is equal parts nonsensical and predictable, but the film really creates a creepy mood that caught me up in the whole thing (and made it weirdly fun to watch). Directed by Scott Derrickson; I enjoyed the overall atmosphere and creepiness more than his Deliver Us from Evil, which makes me more excited for Doctor Strange. ***

WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)
Fascinating, haunting film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and scripted by Kobo Abe from his novel. A teacher visiting sand dunes, collecting insects, stays too late and accepts an offer to spend the night at the home of a woman who lives at the bottom of a steep dune. She works all night digging up sand for the men of the area to collect; we're not immediately told why. In the morning, when he tries to leave, the man finds he is trapped. It's a slow burn, but it sets up a harrowing, illogical, but beautiful film about... well, what is it about? It's gorgeous-looking film, using the rich texture of the endless sand to create almost a tactile sense. There's a sexuality that is palpable. The man rebels against his captivity, but the woman has accepted hers. In the dune, there is just eating, working, and surviving. There's not enough information given to us to understand why things are happening. They just happen, and the woman accepts it and the man tries to fight against it. In its way, it's one of the best allegories I've seen in a film for the illogic of life itself. I was reading something that said the theme of the film is really man's desire to escape society, but I don't agree with that. I think it's about man's attempt to control his environment, the futility of that, and the way simply creating something can make you feel bigger than merely existing. But it's also about how, when the veneer of civilization is stripped away, it's very hard to hold on to your sense of self and all the things that are supposed to make you more than just a very intelligent animal. The man hopes to find an insect that will get his name into an entomology field guide as a form of immortality. In the end, he just wants to impress someone with his method for drawing water from the ground. In between, he is broken and rebuilt into something else. It's a masterpiece. ****

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Song of the Week: "Madness"

10 days ago, ska pioneer Prince Buster (born Cecil Bustamente Campbell in Kingston) died at the age of 78. Like a lot of white boys my age, I first heard of Prince Buster because I was a fan of Madness (one of my favorite bands ever), who were so influenced by the Prince's pioneering fusion of calypso and jazz (ska was a precursor to reggae, although people often report it the other way) that their first single, "The Prince," was a tribute to him, and they covered a few of his songs (including this one). The Specials were also influenced by Prince Buster. Apparently he had had a few strokes over the past seven years, and died after suffering heart complications. It makes me sad because his music is so fun and so laid back, and this song just makes me feel really relaxed and froody. I'm going to try to just rock steady today, Prince. Thanks for helping create this sound.