Wednesday, 1 April 2020

TO THE CINEMA AND BEYOND...


ANIARA (2018, released in US 2019)
Swedish with English subtitles

Review by Daniel G. Keohane


There is an irony of writing this particular review now, in light of what's happening in the world outside my window. ANIARA (2018, though released in the US in 2019) is a tremendous, relatively low budget Swedish science fiction film. The title means "sad, despairing" but is also the name of the luxury starship leaving an ecologically-ruined Earth. After a three-week journey to Mars, they'll begin a new life as colonists in hopes of preserving the human race.

Early into the trip, a piece of debris punctures the hull and causes critical damage, requiring the crew to jettison its fuel core. No longer having the ability to steer, the Aniara has veered horribly off-course. To get back where they came from, the crew needs to wait for a gravitational object such as a planet to slingshot around. Until that happens, they will continue on their present course and speed. A half-mumbled line explains that by the time anyone can be mobilized for a rescue, they'd be too far gone for help.

Everyone on board is faced with the possibility this may take up to two years. Only the captain, played as a somber, executive type by Arvin Kananian (Syrror TV Series) and crew understand the odds of such a specific set of circumstances required to get them turned around, is astronomical (no pun intended). In fact, it may never happen.

The Aniara is filled with thousands of people who must accept the growing possibility that a large chunk of their natural lives may be spent onboard the ship. ANIARA asks: how would such people react on finding themselves having to remain in a specific place - luxurious and spacious as it might be –with the same people over an extended period of time? To a modern human being, such is horror. 

All of this will sound familiar to people across the globe today, as they hunker in their homes to ride out the virus. As this review is written the situation is still relatively new, almost an adventure. No one is yet starting to smell bad or sob into the wallpaper.

Imagine if this isolation lasted the rest of our lives, with the only alternative a dark, empty vacuum of space waiting just outside the walls of our home? That technically describes Earth, too, but the planet is much bigger than the Aniara, with plenty of places to be alone for as long as one desires.

ANIARA answers this question with honest, sometimes uncomfortable realism. Everything unfolds through the eyes of a woman known as the Mimarobe (played by a relative newcomer to feature films, Emelie Jonsson). She's a quiet, unassuming women in her thirties who runs a device called the Mima, a quasi-sentient machine that taps into a person’s stored memories (theirs or perhaps their ancestors') and allows them to relive the scene as if it's happening in the moment. Often, these are tranquil scenes amid nature. Walks in woods, the seashore, floating in a lake. Moments which in the Earth of this movie are rare if not completely gone. The Mimarobe spends her day helping one or two interested customers lay on the floor and experience these "memories" as a way of coping with the three-week journey to Mars. Hers is a peaceful, if uneventful job, akin to running a 3D motion ride in the mall that gets a few curious customers who have a few extra bucks not yet been spent on the simulated hurricane machine.

When the passengers learn they aren't going to reach Mars, or anywhere else, the Mima becomes wildly popular, being the only way to leave the walls of the massive starship, if only virtually. It becomes so popular the Mimarobe needs more help supporting it. Eventually, even the Mima itself begins to feel stressed out.

I'll stop here. One of the joys of this film is the unexpected, yet natural flow of the plot. ANIARA tells an existential story so don't expect to be all smiley and bubbly when the credits roll. You will, however - or at least I did - walk away very satisfied with your movie-going experience. It's is a beautiful, sad piece of work, much like MELANCHOLIA (2011) – dark and depressing at times, hopeful in ways one might not expect, with a few twists.

What, then, is so beautiful about this film, visually at least? Certainly not the sets, not for long at least. I'll check this after I write this review (post-script: yep I was right), it looks like they cleared out a mall for much of the ship's primary locations. Any Starbucks was kept out of frame, but set designers refrained from doing much else, no futuristic lights or panels for the interior. Even so, this added to the stifling atmosphere as events unfolded. The residential wings looked like hotel floors (many were shot inside large ferries, apparently). 

The Mimarobe (IMDB refers to her as Mimaroben but everyone leaves off the 'n' so I will, too), is quiet and unassuming, and has a major crush on one of the senior crewmembers, a pilot name Isolgal. Isolgal a tough, emotionless woman who shows little to no reciprocation for our hero's affection, but neither does she rebuff them. They dance around their mutual attraction until things get bumpy and they finally come together. Their relationship acts as an emotional anchor for much of the film, a safe harbor as their miniature society slowly goes mad. Until, eventually, it isn't a safe harbor anymore.

Two forces play against each other within the crew's leadership. The first wants to suppress the truth about the direness of the situation, led by the Captain and those within his inner circle. The other is a particular crew member, known as the Astronomer, who's bluntness and drunken mumblings in public fuel rumor that all is not as leadership wants people to think.

Veteran actor Anneli Martini carries this sad, aging Astronomer with isolated, drunken perfection. She's knows the truth about what is going on but honestly could give two farts about keeping it a secret, at least not when she's had three too many drinks at the bar. Her mutterings spread rumors and fear throughout the population. She becomes a compassionate figure eventually because she alone tells the complete truth (aside from the Mimarobe, who spends her time discovering more truths than actually knowing them). Her character is a critical device used to give the viewer a peak behind the curtain, helping one understand what the situation truly is for these people.

Soon after the news breaks about their predicament, what seems a throwaway scene is, in fact, the pivotal moment of ANIARA and the essence of what the film is about. A middle-aged passenger wails in the throes of a panic attack. Once the guards subdue him, the Mimarobe scolds the man, reminding him how much harsher life on Mars would have been than their life here on this luxury vessel would ever be. If they spent the rest of their lives here, wouldn't it still be far better than the hardships of their original destination? Ironically, the passenger doesn't understand a word of Swedish, only German. A crewmember offers to translate her words, but the Mimarobe sadly shakes her head and says no. 
It's a crucial scene because it is so true. They are going to be fine, living off current supplies then eventually food made from plankton farmed and harvested in a large hydroponics section. Compared to where they were going, they have it made. And yet… and yet.


When we lose the luxury of choice, when life around us is out of our control no matter how comfortable and safe, we will rebel. Over time everyone may go mad without the freedom to choose, except for those with enough inner peace already. These people, in the end, are the ones to rescue everyone else.

Written and directed by Hugo Lija and Pella Kagerman, who before this film worked primarily on short films, ANIARA is based on a famous 1956 Swedish poem by that country's Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson. It's a fascinating work (and very long). Translated from the original Swedish, it isn't always an easy read. I see vividly where the overall mix of claustrophobia and eternal wonder comes from in the film. ANIARA captures with a loving touch the yearning, craving emotion of the epic poem, which itself reads like the ramblings of  madman. I know, that doesn't make a lot of sense, but neither does the human mind if you think about how you think about, well, anything. Interestingly, the Mima is a major character in Martinson's epic work, a sentient AI which reveals past memories of the dreamer, but here the Mima is picking up other thoughts, other images from something out there, far, far off. At least, I think so. This aspect isn't part of the film, except for the eventual worship of the "machine" its ability to bring peace in their emotional chaos. When tragedy happens, you know it's coming but I'll refrain from talking about it here, the worship becomes even more devoted and cultish.

On that note, ANIARA is rated R, mostly for nudity and sexual situations (I'd say language as well but, it's in Swedish), so a heads up if you plan to sit down and watch it with young kids or your grandmother. Not to worry, this is a movie that thrives on stark realism, so these scenes aren't filled with models. This is another aspect that makes the viewer identify well with the film: the people are real, lumpy and awkward like the rest of us. And, now and then, they're also naked and moaning. 

Special effects are minimal, mostly miniatures, primarily in the beginning and the occasional external shot of the ship. When used, the scenes are rendered well and add to the wonder and terror of being catapulted forever into the deep recesses of space. The music, composed by Alexander Berg is a subtle, sad thread woven throughout the movie, coming to the forefront only occasionally. I'm surprised he has no other credits to his name.

At one point the Astronomer illustrates for the Mimarobe the vastness of the space they all find themselves surrounded by (this interchange, in a slightly altered form, is also part of the poem). She points to a bubble embedded near the bottom of her drinking glass. If the glass is outer space, the bubble is Aniara. All air bubbles eventually move through glass, just very slowly. Compared to their surroundings, they appears to not move at all. The Aniara is hurtling through space at dizzying speeds (sixty-four kilometers per second). Compared to the vast distances between where it came from, and whatever lies before it (the constellation Lyra, in this case), it seems not to be moving at all.

There are, in fact, two ANIARA films. This one, and a more avante garde version from 1960, directed by Arne Arnborn. This earlier version, also Swedish, is an opera performed by the Sveriges Radio production company. Someday, perhaps, I’ll have a chance to see it (not available anywhere I can find). 

Finally, though ANIARA is a Swedish-language film, to borrow the words of recent Oscar winner Bong Joon-Ho, don't let a few words at the bottom of the screen come between you and this amazing, if saturnine, experience. You're trapped at home for a while, anyway, and need something to pass the time (sans the children). Why not choose something to keep you from thinking about the void of space outside your own windows? 


ANIARA gets four stars for its intensity and passion. And, these days, it is all the more timely with its message.

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Daniel G. Keohane is the Stoker-nominated author of Solomon’s Grave, Margaret’s Ark and Plague of Darkness, as well as Nightmare in Greasepaint (with LL Soares) and Destroyer of Worlds under the name G. Daniel Gunn. A founding member of the New England Horror Writers, he's had dozens of short stories published in such venues as Cemetery Dance Magazine, Apex Digest, Borderlands 6, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and more, and is co-editor of the anthologies Wicked Tales, Wicked Witches and Wicked Haunted. His ever-growing family lives in Massachusetts. More information on his ongoing (and upcoming) work you can visit www.dankeohane.com.



Friday, 27 March 2020

BURNING FINGERS WRAPPED IN GOLD



Review by LL Soares

THE HUNT sure has had a difficult birth. Originally scheduled to come out on September 27, 2019, its release was canceled in the wake of shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. Also, at that time, there was a sudden whirlwind of controversy by people who hadn’t seen the movie, but who thought the trailer gave them enough information to judge it. People started to rant against the rumored “elites vs. deplorables” plot, with even our president tweeting an angry comment about it.

Then, after things had quieted down, Universal decided to release it after all, on March 13, 2020. The advertising this time around even leaned into the controversy, showing that the people involved didn’t take themselves too seriously (the original ad campaign in 2019 was much more serious).  It was the last movie I saw in a real movie theater, and there were about six people in the audience. A few days later, people were urged to self-isolate because of COVID-19, the encroaching coronavirus, and even less people went to the movies, until, inevitably, theaters just closed down in most cities. So even though it did finally get released, the timing was bad again, and that clearly affected the box office. Since the nation has gone into isolation mode, the movie is now available for rental at places like Amazon Prime and iTunes.

So, after all the controversy and problems getting released and reaching an audience, the big question is, is THE HUNT any good?

Well, let’s see, shall we?


The plot is yet another variation on the classic THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, originally a 1924 short story by Richard Connell, which became a classic film in 1932 starring Joel McCrea, along with Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray (who would both be appearing together in KING KONG In 1933). The story is a big game hunter decides to hunt humans when some unlucky people get shipwrecked on his island. There have been dozens of movies using this plot since.

In THE HUNT, a group of everyday people are drugged and flown to an isolated area, where they wake up, muzzled, in the middle of a field. When they start to gather around a large crate, they find a key to open the muzzles, and a stockpile of guns and weapons. It isn’t long before they start needing those weapons, as a sniper starts picking them off.
Some people die right away. There isn’t a lot of time to think or plan your next move. But there are some resilient people among the captured, and they start thinking of ways to stay alive. The ones who last longer include Crystal (Betty Gilpin), who had done a stretch in the military, stationed in Afghanistan; angry vlogger and conspiracy theorist Gary (Ethan Suplee); a hunter named Don (Wayne Duvall); a wannabe gangsta called Vanilla Nice in the credits (country singer Sturgill Simpson), and some other faces that might be familiar to you, including Ike Barinholtz and Emma Roberts.

The hunters are rich, politically correct assholes, including Glenn Howerton (Dennis from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA), Amy Madigan, Reed Birney, and Hilary Swank.
The thing is, despite the storyline, this movie is first and foremost a satire of the political divides that are separating us right now in the good ol’ USA. Both the hunters and the hunted get funny lines here and there, and the poking-fun-at is pretty much equal opportunity. If anything, the so-called “deplorables” come off better than the “elites.” Especially since the elites are the bad guys.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect walking into this one, but I sure wasn’t going to let the media decide my opinion before I even got to see it. For what it was, I thought it was very watchable, it had a few interesting plot twists, and I laughed more than a couple of times.
It’s directed by Craig Zobel, who previously gave us the disturbing film COMPLIANCE (2013), based on a true story, about a guy who called a fast food joint claiming to be a police officer, and some of the awful stuff he got the management to do when he accused an employee of a crime. Starring Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker, it was mostly overlooked when it came out (although it really deserves a look). Zobel also gave us Z FOR ZACHARIAH (2015), as well as directing episodes of the shows THE LEFTOVERS, WESTWORLD, and AMERICAN GODS.


The script is by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, who actually may be familiar to you. Lindelof was one of the creators and writers of the show LOST (2004 – 2010), and together with Cuse has given us the HBO shows THE LEFTOVERS (2014 -2017) and the recent (terrific) miniseries of WATCHMEN (2019). Both of these guys are formidable storytellers. And while THE HUNT isn’t exactly among their best work, there are enough of their touches here to make for an entertaining film.

The cast is good, led by an especially capable Betty Gilpin as Crystal. You might have seen Gilpin before in several good series, including NURSE JACKIE, MASTERS OF SEX, ELEMENTARY, and the recent Netflix series about women wrestlers, GLOW.  This is Gilpin’s first leading role in a feature film, and she’s strong and charismatic in it, and it’s too bad that the movie has had such a troubled history. She deserves a bigger career.

I enjoyed this one. But you have to watch it for what it is: a satire with lots of over-the-top violence, and some twists and turns to keep your attention. Some of the violence, especially a fight scene toward the end, are well-choreographed.

This isn’t Masterpiece Theater. But then again, it never claimed to be.



© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares
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ROSEMARY’S BABY is all grown up and reviewing movies!

L.L. Soares was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, two days before Halloween. When he’s not watching and writing about movies, he’s a Bram Stoker Award-winning writer, whose work includes the novels Life Rage, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hard, and Buried in Blue Clay; the short story collection In Sickness (with his wife and fellow writer Laura Cooney); and the novellas Green Tsunami (also with Laura Cooney) and Breaking Eggs (with Kurt Newton). His short fiction has appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies.

He lives in the Boston area with his wife and an iguana named Pippi Greenstockings, who fetches his slippers (sometimes).

His montly column here at FILM HORDE is called “Burning Fingers Wrapped in Gold” because…why not?
To keep up on his endeavors, go to LLSOARES.COM.


Thursday, 12 March 2020

BURNING FINGERS WRAPPED IN GOLD


by L.L. Soares


Introduction: Farewell, Dark Universe

I grew up a huge fan of Universal horror movies. In fact, the first movie I remember seeing as a kid that really affected me and made me a horror fan for life was the original 1931 FRANKENSTEIN.

In the 1970s, old horror movies were a big deal on late-night TV (and Saturday afternoons), and if you were a fan of the genre, chances are you clocked a lot of time sitting in front of that glowing box. In the days before VHS, weekly shows—many with horror movie “hosts” —showed both classic and not-so-classic films throughout the weekend. Everything from 1930s films to 1950s sci-fi to Hammer films and Japanese Godzilla movies.  It was a good time to be a student of the horror film. For me, nothing beat the original Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 40s.

Ever since Marvel started having so much success with their movies—all taking place in a shared universe—other studios have been trying to find ways to cash in. From the DC superheroes (the most obvious competition) to less-than-obvious franchises. The key being to connect the movies in some way.

Universal, looking to make big dollars off their properties, has tried to launch a connected monster movie universe for awhile now. It probably began in recent times with VAN HELSING in 2004, where Hugh Jackman played the titular vampire slayer, battling classic monsters like Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Shuler Hensley). The thing was, it was horrible, and flopped at the box office. So they tried again in 2010 with a remake of THE WOLFMAN, starring Benecio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. This one was more faithful to the Universal original, 1941’s THE WOLF MAN, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. Del Toro even played the same character Chaney did, Lawrence Talbot, cursed with lycanthropy. I actually enjoyed this one a lot, but again, it failed to become a hit. So Universal put their plans on hold again.

When the Marvel superhero movies started to make astronomical profits, Universal got the idea of making their monsters into something more akin to superheroes, so they started over with DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), which retold the story of the most famous vampire as a superhero origin tale. I hated it. Luckily, it was another failure. But Universal wasn’t going to give up. They rethought the superhero parallel and came up with a new spin, something called “The Dark Universe” (made in the image of the Marvel Comics Universe, obviously). They would reboot the monsters in big-budget spectacles with a connecting tissue —the Prodigium, a secret agency led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), which went around trying to gather monsters, much like Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. went around gathering superheroes to form THE AVENGERS.

The thing is, the new big-budget MUMMY had very little in common with the 1932 Universal classic starring Boris Karloff, instead becoming a blockbuster-sized action movie with Tom Cruise as the main character, and he wasn’t even the mummy; he was some sort of rogue Army sergeant who becomes involved in the resurrection of magical mummy Ahmanet (Sophia Boutela). It had more in common with the awful, Indiana Jones-wannabe THE MUMMY (1999) starring Brendan Fraser than the real thing from the 1930s. I admit to completely HATING this one; it was the worst attempt at reviving the franchise since VAN HELSING, and the mummy was completely upstaged by action-mode Cruise. I actually liked Boutela as the mummy, but she’s wasted for the most part, and the Crowe/Jekyll character and his secret society are a waste of time.

Luckily, this one bombed at the box office, too. Putting an end to the whole “Dark Universe” fiasco.

Which brings us to present day and the new film version of THE INVISIBLE MAN, inspired by another classic Universal monster movie, THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), starring Claude Rains in bandages (when he isn’t just a disembodied voice). I loved the original film, like all of Universal’s early horror flicks of the 30s, it’s a wonderful mix of chills, atmosphere, and spirited performance (by the 40s, the tropes started to get a bit stale, which means the 1941 WOLF MAN was probably the last great monster movie that Universal put out, unless you jump to 1954 when Universal struck gold again (briefly) with THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.

Universal gave up on the Dark Universe, but these were still properties that had some life left in them, that had name recognition and had to potential to bring in the big bucks. Horror movies normally did very well at the box office. So why not try a completely different take on it? Universal partnered up with BLUMHOUSE PICTURES, which has been mining cinema gold with low-budget horror movies like the SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchises, and hired director Leigh Whannell who wrote the original SAW (2004) and the INSIDIOUS series for Blumhouse. He finally became a director with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015), and it didn’t hurt that his next film as director would be the wildly enjoyable UPGRADE (2018).



And now, on to THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Which all brings us up to date with what Universal’s been up to now, and the new version of THE INVISIBLE MAN. What’s different about this one, and what makes it work, is that it has a completely different take on the concept.

As fans of the 1933 version, based on the book by H.G. Wells, know, it’s about a Dr. Jack Griffin, a scientist who takes a serum who makes him invisible, but in the process he also goes insane. This was the American film debut of actor Claude Rains, who was previously in the British film BUILD THY HOUSE (1920). Rains would go on to become a major Hollywood star in films such as HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941), THE WOLF MAN (1941, where he played Sir John Talbot, the father of Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot), NOW, VOYAGER (1942), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943), and as Mr. Dryden in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). But we only see Rains briefly in his Hollywood debut. For the majority of the film he’s either wrapped in bandages or invisible completely (just lending his voice). Gloria Stuart (of THE OLD DARK HOUSE, 1932 and TITANIC, 1997) is his love interest, Flora Cranley  With some nice dark humor throughout, it’s mainly about Griffin and his degeneration into madness, exacerbated by the fact that he doesn’t know how to make himself visible again.

In Leigh Whannell’s new version, the focus is not on the scientist, here called Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, of 2010’s FASTER, and the Netflix series, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, 2018-2020), but on the woman he shares his life with, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss of MAD MEN, 2007 – 2015, and THE HANDMAID’S TALE, 2017 - Present). Right away, it’s clear that Cecelia is a prisoner in her own home (a stark, uncomfortable place with lots of glass), as she slips out of bed and grabs a hidden bag, to flee the premises. This version of Griffin is a cruel, controlling man who wants to completely dominate those in his life. It turns out the house is also far from civilization (it’s situated on a cliff overlooking the sea) and Cecelia gets to main road, surrounded by forest. It looks to be in the middle of nowhere.

Her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer, from the series LOVE CHILD, 2014-2017) drives by and picks her up, according to plan, to whisk her away. Because Griffin knows where Emily lives, Cecelia is brought to the home of Emily’s boyfriend, a police officer named James Lanier (Aldis Hodge, also in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, 2015, and the recent CLEMENCY, 2019). Also living there is James’ teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid, also in A WRINKLE IN TIME, 2018, and the new HBO series, EUPHORIA), who is about to choose a college.

After living pretty much as a prisoner in Lanier’s house (she’s afraid to ever go outside, and is sure Griffin will find her), relief comes in the form of an obituary. Adrian Griffin has killed himself.  Not long afterwards, Griffin’s brother, Tom (Michael Dorman, of DAYBREAKERS, 2009, and KILLER ELITE, 2011) contacts her, to tell her that she has inherited a huge amount of money from Adrian’s estate, but she has to play by certain rules (she can’t get arrested for a crime or be admitted to a mental hospital).

Then the games begin.

Someone is stalking Cecelia. Someone who she can’t see. Is it Adrian, who had the money and resources to fake his own death, or is it someone else with an axe to grind?
This time, the invisible man is not the main character, and he is not the product of a serum that induces madness (the invisibility is more high-tech this time around, which I found pretty cool).

Whannell does a great job ratcheting up the tension. And you know this is a great movie when you’re tense even in scenes where no one is there (even though we suspect someone is watching her). There’s some gore (the preferred method of murder in this film is the slitting of throats), but most of the tension and the reason why the movie is so effective, is the performance of Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia. She’s terrific here, as she takes Cecelia from being a broken woman who has escaped from her tormentor, to rebuilding her confidence, to have it all torn down again, and then rebuilding herself yet again for a final confrontation. Moss has proven herself in several movies and TV shows as an actress to be reckoned with, and this movie provides her with a terrific showcase for her talent.

The supporting cast is also very good, especially Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid as the Laniers, who take Cecelia in and make her one of the family, until things start getting very strange, and eventually, violent.

I think that fact that Whannell was able to take a familiar horror concept and do something completely different with it is a stroke of brilliance, and a much more exciting direction for Universal’s classic monsters to go in.

The classic monsters aren’t superheroes like the Avengers. They’re not action heroes like Tom Cruise in THE MUMMY. They’re horrific (and sometimes sympathetic) beings who deserve to be as scary now as they were in their heyday. And if the plan is to make these monster scary again, then THE INVISIBLE MAN is an excellent first step.

Go see this one. It deserves to succeed where all of Universal’s past attempts at making their classic monsters relevant again have failed.


© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

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ROSEMARY’S BABY is all grown up and reviewing movies!


L.L. Soares was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, two days before Halloween. When he’s not watching and writing about movies, he’s a Bram Stoker Award-winning writer, whose work includes the novels Life Rage, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hard, and Buried in Blue Clay; the short story collection In Sickness (with his wife and fellow writer Laura Cooney); and the novellas Green Tsunami (also with Laura Cooney) and Breaking Eggs (with Kurt Newton). His short fiction has appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies.

He lives in the Boston area with his wife and an iguana named Pippi Greenstockings, who fetches his slippers (sometimes).

His montly column here at FILM HORDE is called “Burning Fingers Wrapped in Gold” because…why not?
To keep up on his endeavors, go to LLSOARES.COM.


Monday, 9 March 2020

STREAM AND STREAM AGAIN: THE MAD DOCUMENTARIES OF MADS BRUGGER


by Jenny Orosel

If you're unfamiliar with Mads Brugger, imagine if Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock each grew some balls, had a love child with Sacha Baron Cohen, and studied humor with Penn Jilette. Then you'd start to understand the insanity which Mads Brugger approaches documentary filmmaking.

Brugger is a Danish journalist/filmmaker who burst onto the scene with THE RED CHAPEL (2009). It started as a four-part miniseries in Denmark and was later edited to feature length. Mads teams with two teenage Danish comedians who had been adopted from South Korea as infants: Simon, your average slacker and Jacob who has severe cerebral palsy and refers to himself as a "spastic" Under the guise of "cultural exchange" they hatch a plan to travel to North Korea and perform a traditional Danish comedy act, culminating in a performance of Oasis' "Wonderwall". Most normal, sane people would stop and say, "You know what? This is a horrible idea. Let's not do this." These are not normal people.

The first hurdle they face is that every second of footage they film has to be approved by the government to make sure nothing negative is said about the nation or its Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. The second hurdle is Mrs. Pak, the guide assigned to accompany them during every waking moment. They are never out of her guidance and sight, always making sure they show the proper reverence to Dear Leader. The men must choose their words carefully because any speech outside of adoration for the North Korean Republic is punishable. Because of Jacob's severe disability, though, the censors can't understand what he is saying. This is good because when he realizes people like him are killed at birth and he's the only disabled person in North Korea, Jacob loses it and can not utter the proper adoration. Repeatedly he chastizes Brugger for not only getting them into the situation but playing along with the North Korean's insanity. He's the voice for the audience who wondered what the hell they were thinking.

Eventually the censors get to their act, removing all humor from the comedy sketches. This is the least of their problem as Brugger and the boys try and keep it together long enough to make it home in one piece and perhaps still get their chance to sing "Wonderwall".


Brugger returned to gonzo documentaries with THE AMBASSADOR (2011). This time he examines the world of Diplomatic Brokerage. For a price, anyone can buy a diplomatic position inside cash-strapped African nations. With that position comes diplomatic privilege, immunity, and unofficial access to the continent's vast blood diamond mines. Brugger dons a fake name and buys a position as a Liberain consul to the Central African Republic. We follow him as he gets his papers, sets up a matchbox factory as a front, and courts diamond miners.

Again, Brugger uses his unique sense of absurdism to find the humor in the most dire of circumstances. One can't help but laugh at the number of times someone utters "Don't film this" at the beginning of a scene. He pushes to see just how far he, as a white European male, can take his privilege, between demanding pygmy assistants and getting a room full of Africans to drink "Hitler's champagne" and sing its praises. And, like THE RED CHAPEL, beneath the humor is the undercurrent of dire circumstances: a couple people he secretly filmed end up dead. The international papers needed to get away with everything he does take too long to come though. He's crossed, double crossed, and even fears for his own safety--all onscreen for us to witness.


The next film, COLD CASE HAMMARSKJOLD, took seven years to make. Originally it was an examination of conspiracy theories. He partnered with Swedish investigator Goren Bjorkdahl to reexamine the death of United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in the early 70s. Officially deemed an accident, conspiracy theorists insist the Secretary was the victim of an assassination.

"This could be either the world's biggest murder mystery or the world's most idiotic conspiracy theory. If the latter is the case, I am very sorry." --Mads Brugger

When he started making this documentary, Brugger thought it would be a look at crazy paranoid delusions. If there was a case ripe for such theories it was Hammarskjold's. He was a huge proponent for the decolonization of Africa and pushed for those nations to have sovereignty. Many powerful people and other countries did not share his view. Still, it was a shoddy airplane taking off from a rural African airport. For them to crash was not unhead of, nor shocking.

It didn't take long to realize something was off about Hammarskjold's case. Reports of the accident were missing entire pages. Evidence was either tampered with or simply gone. Unreleased information showed Hammarskjold's body was found with an ace of spaces tucked into his collar. Brugger and Bjorkdahl followed various rabbit holes, some of which led nowhere, some of which led to people who refused to cooperate. Others led to deeper rabbit holes, including a secret mercenary group made up of white supremacists who performed human experimentation and possibly mass murder.

Brugger's trademark self-deprecating humor drops when he realizes just how deep the evil and hatred run. These were not the silly conspiracy theories he planned on filming. This was not the movie he planned on making, and he's brutally honest about that fact. It is the movie he ended up with, and one that got the Hammarskjold case reopened after being closed for decades.

There are so many factors that make Mads Brugger documentaries as fascinating as they are. The fact he can insert himself into these insanely dangerous situations and come out (at least physically) unscathed is absolutely amazing. But that's not all. He has an honesty about himself that is rare among today's documentarians. If he makes a mistake, he points it out and leaves it in the final product. If the movie doesn't go in the direction he planned, he's up front. These are not vanity films meant to make him look good. First and foremost they tell a story. If it makes him look great, or makes him look like a fool, he lets the movie be what it needs to be, wounded ego and all.

I don't know what topic Brugger will tackle next, or even if he's working on one as I type this. I do know I look forward to whatever it will be.


WHERE TO WATCH THESE MOVIES:

THE RED CHAPEL can be streamed for free with ads on Vudu or for rent on Amazon
THE AMBASSADOR can be watched on Tubi and Vudu free with ads, or rental on various platforms.
COLD CASE HAMMARSKJOLD can be watched free with ads on Hulu.

All three films are available to purchase on DVD.

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Jenny Orosel is the author of a number of stories and articles, some of which have actually been published. Her work has seen homes in anthologies by Cemetery Dance, Crossroads Press, and others. She also wrote about movies for Cinema Knife Fight. Jenny currently lives just north of Dallas with her husband, daughter, three cats, a dog, and an angry hedgehog.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

2019: The Year in Film Books


by Nick Cato

2019 saw the release of some exceptional film books, from first time writers as well as seasoned vets. When I researched this article I was blown away by just how many film-related books were published last year, some which have been added to my ever growing To Be Read pile. Among my favorites were:



THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by Mallory O'Meara (Hanover Square Press, 368 pages)

I've been a horror/monster film fanatic since I was about 5 years old (that'd be 1973), and naturally I read FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine since about the same time as well as any books I could get my hands on, and not once can I recall reading anything about Milicent Patrick, the woman this book is about. She designed the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and wasn't credited for it. First time author O'Meara heard about her and became fascinated. When I read the synopsis of this book, I did, too.

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON paints a picture of a woman way ahead of her time. An incredibly talented artist (she drew some amazing portraits alongside designing monsters) and a humble person even in the face of blatant sexism, she still had her issues just like any one of us (she wasn't as skilled at picking men as she was an artist, and later on dealt with some severe depression). Yet she had a strong work ethic, and in one of my favorite sections, went on a tour to promote CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and appeared on many TV and radio shows, giving both herself and the film a huge publicity boost (and causing the head of the Universal make up department to become jealous, and, ultimately, end Milicent's career at Universal).

On a side note: I've read every issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS from about 1974-5 until it's final issue in 1983, and O'Meara states there was a story about Milicent in a 1978 issue! Of course I was 10 at the time, but I'm now on a hunt to track this back issue down.

While there is much here written from a place of passion/opinion, fans of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON can easily overlook some debut author quirks as they do not want to miss this: it not only offers some great insights into the production of the classic film, it doubles as a strong feminist statement that's perfect for the #metoo generation.




TEEN MOVIE HELL by Mike "McBeardo" McPadden (Bazillion Points, 360 pages)

McPadden, author of 2014's humongous tome HEAVY METAL MOVIES, returns with another epic batch of film reviews, this time examining teen sex comedies, focusing primarily on offerings from the 70s and 80s but with plenty of extras thrown in. While McBeardo is (obviously) a fan of the subgenre, some of the best reviews feature our author when irked: case in point is his rant against FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF(1986), a film I enjoyed but doubt I ever will again. Examined from the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, this review will make you laugh as much as piss you off, and I laughed my ass off over the author's look at SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989), a lame vehicle which attempted to convert Tony Danza from TV star to major movie star (spoiler alert: it didn't).

If you're a fan of this stuff, keep a pen and paper (or your cellphone notepad app) handy as you'll surely be making a list of films to see you've never heard of. I have about 18 I'm currently hunting for.

A lot of film review books are easy to skim through, but McPadden's wit and humor keeps every review entertaining and I even enjoyed reading about the films I don't plan on seeing (which, to be fair, wasn't many). As if the 350+ reviews weren't enough, TEEN MOVIE HELL also features outstanding bonus chapters and reviews by some of the best film commentators in the business, and a great little piece by the God of teen movie geeks, Eddie Deezen. Bazillion Points has also done a beautiful job with the layout, which features poster reproductions throughout and an 8-page full color section right smack in the center.

TEEN MOVIE HELL, like HEAVY METAL MOVIES, is one of those books you'll surely be revisiting, so play it safe and grab two copies in case you spill beer (or worse) all over the first.



FEAR by Dario Argento (translated by Alan Jones) (Fab Press, 288 pages)

Originally released in 2014, Argento expert Alan Jones delivers the English translation of this much sought after autobiography. While I'm currently about halfway through, I think Jones does a fine enough job conveying Argento's style of describing the most minute thing as if he were writing a poem. Even the first page is a sample of the director's colorful writing style, and fans will be happy to know Argento really gets into his influences and what made him shoot certain iconic (and not to iconic) scenes the way he did. I found Argento's attention to writing and pre-planning to be beyond obsessive, but I guess that's a trait of all great filmmakers.

If you're a film book geek like me, Fab Press has produced one of the most beautiful books of the year (I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the limited edition), but even the standard hardcover is miles ahead of anything else out there. I'm hopeful the second half will be as entertaining and informative as the first.




HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE HER: THE MAKING OF CHRISTINE by Lee Gambin (BearManor Media, 320 pages)

Another title I've been slowly picking at, not because it's not good (in fact I'm finding it excellent), but because I'm not the biggest fan of the film. However, I am a big fan of the author (his 2012 MASSACRED BY MOTHER NATURE is an essential look at "nature-run-amok" films), and here he brings his A-game. There are some informative interviews with not only John Carpenter but stars Alexandra Paul and Keith Gordon, plus other members of the cast and crew. Gambin also digs quite deep into most scenes, analyzing and highlighting subtext and symbolism, perhaps too deep at times, although fans of the film should be pleased.

I'm assuming King as well as Christine fans will eat this up, but me? I'm finding it inspiring as Gambin is giving me a new interest in a film I always thought was at best okay. That, folks, is strong writing.



THE BIZARRO ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM VOLUME 1 by John Skipp and Heather Drain (2019 Fungasm Press / 416 pages)

Here's one I'd been waiting on for a couple years (in fact you can hear an interview I did with the authors back in August of 2017 right here: Bizarro Encyclopedia Interview). The first half of this lively tome is set up like a video store, listing countless titles the authors consider to be "Bizarro Films," and if you don't know what a Bizarro Film is, don't fret as the authors will school you in their introductions.

Then the bulk of the book features heavily entertaining looks at everything from AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL to CAFE FLESH to THE LOVE WITCH and the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (because let's face it ... no book on bizarre films would be complete without them). There are some surprise choices as well as selections fans would expect, then everything is capped off with 4 informative appendixes and John Skipp's heart warming tribute to George Romero.

This is one of those books you'll be going back to again and again, and I'm hoping Volume 2 comes soon.



LOOKING FORWARD TO:



Also released in 2019 was MASKS IN HORROR CINEMA: EYES WITHOUT FACES, the latest from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who, over the past few years has become my absolute favorite film commentator. This one is a tad expensive but I'm hoping at least the eBook drops in price. From the synopsis: "Why has the mask been such an enduring generic motif in horror cinema? This book explores its transformative potential historically across myriad cultures, particularly in relation to its ritual and mythmaking capacities, and its intersection with power, ideology and identity. All of these factors have a direct impact on mask-centric horror cinema: meanings, values and rituals associated with masks evolve and are updated in horror cinema to reflect new contexts, rendering the mask a persistent, meaningful and dynamic aspect of the genre’s iconography."

If you still haven't read Nicholas' commentaries on MS. 45 or the original SUSPIRIA (2017 Wallflower Press, 2015 Auteur), treat yourself ASAP, and look for her on Twitter to read her often posted reviews.


OTHER 2019 FILM BOOKS OF INTEREST:







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NICK CATO is the author of one novel, seven novellas, and two short story collections. His debut film book, SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, is available from Headpress Publishing now and will be everywhere else 8/1/20. Two more film books are currently in the works, as well as his second novel. Visit him on all the usual sites.


Tuesday, 3 March 2020

HOW TO WRITE LIKE ...


HOW TO WRITE LIKE… MARTIN MCDONAGH

by Shannon Giglio


The other night, I attended opening night of previews for Martin McDonagh’s HANGMEN on Broadway. Being a huge fan of McDonagh’s films (IN BRUGES, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI), I was very excited to see one of his plays, since theater is really his forte (whether he likes it or not – that’s where his biggest body of work began and resides, though he claims to be more of a film guy himself). Not being much of a theater fan, I thought this play might change my outlook on the whole Broadway experience. It did not, but I did like this work a lot. It had the McDonagh trademarks I love, and there was one scene where I didn’t know whether I was watching live action or film, which made for an interesting few minutes.

McDonagh is someone I think of as a writer’s writer. He loves language, words, what is said and what remains unsaid. He can take the bleakest, most awful situation and find in it light and humanity and maybe even a tasteless joke that we feel bad for laughing at but can’t help ourselves in the moment. His style is one that I strive to emulate in my own work, if I have to emulate anyone (and I’m off to a good start because a producer, reading one of my books a few years ago, named McDonagh as one of my influences before I even knew who the guy was).


So, how can you write like Martin McDonagh?

     1) Quit your meaningless day job and write seven plays in nine months. Yes, he did that. He quit school at 16 and spent his time watching TV and films and reading books in order to fuel his own writing. He was a huge fan of Harold Pinter and David Mamet, and he watched soap operas every afternoon. He eventually got some office job, but quit in his early 20s, embarking upon a complete writing bender, cranking out all these plays, which would lead to all but one of them being produced in London, and would eventually win him the Most Promising Playwright Prize at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards (bonus: at the ceremony, he got drunk and told Sean Connery to fuck off)

     2) Throw out your computer. Write longhand, in a spiral notebook. Okay, keep the computer for your re-write – but just one. McDonagh claims that typing up his script in Final Draft serves as his whole rewriting process. He types up what’s in his notebook, maybe adds a few notes, and calls it done.

     3) Listen to The Clash and The Pogues. McDonagh says he learned to be skeptical of authority and to convey the sentiment inherent in his Irish heritage set to a new tune, thanks to some early punk music. He said, about the Pogues, in a 2006 interview for The New Yorker: “Even while they were trying to destroy the crap side of Irish folk, they still had brilliant lyrics, brilliant tunes, and a love of music,” McDonagh said. “Maybe not consciously, I was beginning to get the same idea: taking the parts you love and destroying the parts you hate.” (Much of his subject matter is politically motivated, delving into age-old English/Irish subjects that Americans like me will never fully understand, but his film set in rural America made good use of this “punk” sensibility as well.)

     4) Talk shit. This is about being real with dialogue. We are all inappropriate sometimes in our conversations – throw it into your dialogue. It’s real-life. When people argue, they say some stupid shit. Don’t leave that out. McDonagh reportedly listens to voices in his head and writes like he is taking dictation from real conversations where people argue about things like potato chips.

     5) Go heavy on the empathy, even if you have to fake it. McDonagh says, every character sees themselves as the star of their own story. He talks about Peter Dinklage’s character in THREE BILLBOARDS, asking himself what that guy might do when he goes home every night. Does he think about Mildred? Who knows? But he’s not just a carboard cutout, or a background character in his own life. Every character you write lives a full life, bringing something to the story that evokes empathy, if not a shred of sympathy, even if they are the shittiest, most sadistic character in your story. No one is pure villain or 100% hero. There have to be moments when you glimpse something decent, something life-affirming even in the most twisted character. That's where the real art lies.” I think that’s the greatest lesson of all. McDonagh: “I've learned not to be such a show-off and to have a bit more empathy with humanity. Or at least to fake that.” It works

     6) Write like you want someone to kill you for it. McDonagh wrote a play called THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE, which several prominent theaters in London refused to stage because they were deemed offensive and “politically insensitive.” McDonagh claims that he wrote the play, a commentary on Irish-nationalist terrorism, in an effort to test the limits of storytelling. From The New Yorker: “I was trying to write a play that would get me killed,” McDonagh said. “I had no real fear that I would be, because the paramilitaries never bothered with playwrights anyway, but if they were going to start I wanted to write something that would put me top of the list.” This is, of course, extreme, and being extreme is really the best way to get noticed, but if you don’t want to take it to that level, at least be passionate about whatever you’re writing about, zombies or vampires or talking mac and cheese or whatever. (Don’t write about zombies.)

So, if you’re a writer, wanting to tell stories in a Martin McDonagh manner, try the above tips. Maybe throw in a midget. Oh, and also, forget that Hemingway advice and don’t write drunk: “I never, ever drink while writing. Never have from the start, and I'm happy that I never have to.” Happy writing!


If you’re in New York, you can catch HANGMEN at the Golden Theater from now through July 18th, 2020. Also, keep an eye out for more news about Martin McDonagh’s newly announced film, THE BANSHEES OF INISHEER.


Next time: How to Write Like…Wes Anderson

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Shannon Giglio has a Master’s in film production from Emerson College, has worked for Ridley Scott, Dick Clark Productions, and CBS. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, and is the author of SHORT BUS HERO, IDOLS & CONS, and REVIVAL HOUSE. Watch for the forthcoming ANTICHRIST SUPERTASTER.