Five More Movies Too Scary For Me to Watch Again

(But I Still Like Them)

Here’s a slightly different list from the last one which mostly consisted of movies I didn’t like or didn’t finish, either because they were just bad films, or I had no patience for them. This is a list of movies I actually like. They’re perfectly acceptable and watchable movies where I liked the characters, the plot, and it looks good, but I feel no great urge to watch these again because they were emotionally exhausting, too disturbing, or genuinely too scary, at least they were for me!

Arachnophobia

Stick with me here because there’s a story that goes along with this movie. Yeah, I do have really bad arachnophobia and have had it since I was a little girl. I was the kind of person who used to look for signs of spiders in any new space I walked into. (I have since calmed down about this over the years, though.) The way my memory works I can actually recount the incident that gave me this issue ( but we not gonna talk about that). I can talk about the event that happened to me when I was in college and before this movie was released. I know it happened in that order because after I came home from college was when I saw the trailer, and my Mom would tease me about being scared to watch it. She seemed to enjoy the movie a lot, thought it was pretty funny, and wanted to share this scary movie with me, but I’m one of those (stubborn muth*fck*s is what a friend once called me) who, once she makes it up in her head to NOT do something, I don’t do it!

I was in living in a very nice house one Summer vacation. I was working at the time, but I was also in the house alone because my roommates had all gone home, and I was sitting in my room, lights and TV on, when I saw a tiny little speck near my lamp. It was not a little speck, it was a tiny spider. Yep, I had a spider egg hatch in my bedroom.

To say that I freaked the f*ck out would be an understatement! I was a hot emotional mess for a week! Luckily, I had some of the world’s greatest friends who, once they understood what the hell I was jibbering about, helped me smoke bomb my bedroom (twice) and cleaned and moved all my belongings to another part of the house. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but I was at least able to relax long enough to fall into an exhausted sleep in my own bed after two days of emotional hell. Well, my friends didn’t mock me, kept their smiling to a minimum, and seemed happy to help a damsel in distress.

Mom knew about the spider incident and understood my attitude, but she always encouraged me to move past my fears because if I didn’t at least try they would always control me. (This is from the woman who apparently had some kind of phobia about boats and New York City! What was all that about?!) Eventually, I did agree to sit down and watch it with her, with a bunch of caveats and addendums, like leaving the room if I got too scared, squealing as much as I liked, and covering my eyes if necessary. I got through the first half okay, but covered my eyes and squealed a lot for the last thirty minutes. I didn’t leave the room though, so technically speaking, I did sit through it.

And you know what? It turned out not to be a bad movie although I have not watched it again in the twenty-plus years since then, and I have no plans to watch it again in the future. Personally, I consider sitting through that movie to be one of the bravest moments in all of cinematic history!

The Void

I was not particularly weirded out by the title or the synopsis of this movie. The thumbnail of the movie on Google looked intriguing. So I sat down to watch this with the idea that it would be your typical Lovecraftian pastiche of images culled from his works and got something I wasn’t at all expecting. I more or less understood the film’s plot, and what it was trying to do, but I didn’t expect bizarre nameless cults (although I should have) body horror images (I should have expected that too), and a kind of monster siege, working the night shift sort of film, where everyone dies horribly, except when they don’t stay dead.

It’s easy enough to describe the movie, but any description you give it won’t actually resemble the movie you will be watching, but I’m gonna give it a try. There’s a bunch of people stuck in a hospital on the night shift, only a few of whom are actually medical personnel. The rest are random townsfolk who are trapped in the hospital because some oddly dressed cultists besieged the town and were killing people, so the rest ran to the hospital. There are some weird medical experiments going on in the basement that involve the birth of an infernal creature from a young girl, the opening of Hellish portals, and lots of goo, blood, guts, and some tentacles.

That was as much as I understood, but that doesn’t mean the movie is ineffective. I’ve no great urge to watch it again because it was a genuinely disturbing film whose effect lingers long after it’s over, and I don’t have to watch it again because I clearly remember how uncomfortable I felt while looking at it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because there are movies that do this that I have re-watched, and if that is the kind of mood you’re looking for, then by all means, go for it, and tell me how it worked out for you.

Imma wait over here!

Annihilation

I generally like the works of Alex Garland, someone I didn’t pay any special attention to when his career began with The Beach in 2000. I didn’t even watch The Beach. I dismissed it. But then he came out with 28 Days later and I perked up. There was a new cinematic voice in Horror, and I’ve been present for most of his movies since, like Sunshine, Dredd, and Ex Machina. I sat through most of those without issue, and they were all very good, but in 2018 Garland released Annihilation, based on the book by another of my favorite artists, Jeff Vendermeer. When I heard about the movie I decided to read the three-book series, and I enjoyed them, for the most part.

The movie combines all three books of the series into one long story with yet another Lovecraftian theme. A section of the US has been taken over by something called The Shimmer. Elena’s husband went into The Shimmer, which warps biology, and he disappeared. Except he also came back, alone. Intrigued, she and a team of 4 other women go into The Shimmer to explore its purpose, with each woman having her own agenda. Elena wants to find out what happened to her husband. Each of the women find some thing they weren’t expecting which has a profound effect on the rest of their lives.

There are some genuinely panstshittingly frightening moments in this film, like when Elena and her team are attacked by a mutated bear that screams with the voices of the people it’s killed, but beyond that the movie is just weird, and sad, and yeah, there’s that word again, disturbing. It’s not a bad film. I actually like the film. It’s also not particularly hard to watch because it contains some genuine moments of true beauty. But it is another movie where the mood and flavor of it linger long after it’s over, and I have not been in the headspace to be able to watch it.

I will likely watch this again at some point in the future, because it is an effective, thoughtful, and terrifying film, but not yet.

The Revenant

Honestly, this is a great survival horror film, and if you like those types of films you should by all means watch this, but be prepared to feel as if you’ve been emotionally defenestrated in the aftermath. This movie is exhausting on a physical level, too. I just felt wrung out after watching this.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy the movie is based on the true story of a man (DiCaprio) who was left for dead in the wilderness by his business partner, (Tom Hardy) who, after killing DiCaprio’s son, went back to the nearest town and made the claim on his half of their business dealings, only to have his partner stumble out of the wilderness several weeks later.

For some reason the most distressing movies for me seem to involve bear attacks, although I do not think I have any kind of bear phobia. DiCaprio’s character braves the worst excesses of trying to survive an environment that is inimical to human life, like snow, freezing water, wild animals, lack of food, and angry Indigenous people, just to enact vengeance on his partner.

This movie just slaps the shit out of you emotionally. Well, it did that for me, but your mileage may vary depending on how much energy reserves you possess. This is another excellent film with great acting, cinematography, and a very compelling story that I will probably never watch again. Or if I do, I’m going to need to rest up, eat my vitamins, and do my breathing first.

The Descent

Oh man was this movie hard to watch, and not because of the monsters. I don’t actually have claustrophobia but this movie might give it to you if you don’t. It’s a harrowing film. I was exhausted and saddened after watching it. The most devastating moment isn’t the deaths at the beginning of the film but something that happens midway through it that completely upends the relationships between the rest of the characters.

A team of women friends decide to go caving in a previously unexplored system after the death of the main character’s husband and child in a driving accident the previous year. The team are attacked by a race of terrifying cannibalistic mutants and taken out one by one until there’s only one of them left. There’s plenty of blood and gore, but that’s not what upset me the most, and no spoilers, but it’s about the characters, comes completely out of left field, changes everyone’s dynamic, and therefore their chances of survival.

It’s a very effective film. I don’t often mind when films do the unexpected or throw something at me out of the blue, especially when it’s as well done as it was here. I didn’t choose these movies because I disliked them. I chose them because I liked them. Some of them are great films, but were so emotionally draining I simply don’t have the emotional bandwidth to put myself through them again anytime soon.

Halloween Ends (Halloween Trilogy Review)

(Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers)

Halloween Ends is the last movie in the David Gordon Green trilogy. It streamed on Peacock this past weekend and I have some thoughts.

From the beginning, I’ve always thought of the Halloween franchise (at least the first two films, and a couple of the sequels) as not just an analysis of the continuing (and now, generational) trauma of its Final Girl, Laurie Strode, but as a statement on suburban America itself. I wrote about how and why the suburbs were created in Starring the Landscape: The Suburbs, and how I saw the Halloween films as an indictment of a lifestyle that was formed out of fear of the other (the Blackness/multiculturalism of the cities). White people in the suburbs spent their lives in fear that the evil of the cities would invade their communities, and we can see this in the endless number of “bucolic community” invasion films of the 80s, the rampant rumors that sprang up during the BLM protests of crowds of angry Black people burning and looting suburban neighborhoods, and in the proliferation of guns in those communities because of an unfounded terror of (Black) home invasions.

I think what Halloween and other Slasher films, like Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street, were saying is that evil is created within these communities, that it is not something that can be run from because it is part of the human condition, people carry those seeds with them no matter where they flee, and that sometimes evil isn’t just born in such environments, but will keep returning to haunt them until it is properly dealt with. Such is the case in these films, where every few years, as if in some vicious cycle, Michael Myers, an evil created and nurtured in the suburban community of Haddonfield, arrives to terrorize and destroy the lives of its inhabitants.

Forty years ago Laurie Strode suffered tremendous loss and trauma as all her friends were hunted and killed by Michael Myers and she was terrorized for hours while trying to safeguard the children she was babysitting that night.

In the first movie of this trilogy, the 2018 Halloween, Myers returns to Haddonfield to begin that night’s killing spree and Laurie, suffering from PTSD and paranoia for four decades has been getting ready for him. She knows that he will inevitably come hunting her. She raised her daughter, Karen to be just as paranoid in defending her life, and outfitted her home with traps to capture and kill Michael. The first movie, ignoring all the sequels and remakes in the last forty years, is about Laurie and her family dealing with that long ago trauma, and how the only thing that can help her get past her pain is the cathartic destruction of Michael Myers. This movie and its follower, Halloween Kills, are about survivors and grief.

The second film, Halloween Kills, is a continuation of the first film on that same night, only here it’s about the cyclical trauma Haddonfield itself, the nature of evil, and how that evil is born in communities like it and features many of the characters who survived the 1978 film. This time they decide to fight back too, in support of Laurie, and they hunt Michael through the streets of Haddonfield, which gets most of them killed, and results in the death of an innocent man accused of being him. One sign of the evil within the community is their willingness (out of fear and hatred) to engage in the same behavior that they condemn Michael for, and an innocent man pays the price. Although their fear and hatred of Michael are justified, it is still the resident’s willingness to kill that’s a symptom of the dark underbelly within such communities. This is a plot that also has parallels in The Nightmare on Elm Street series, where the child killer, Freddie Krueger, is the end result of the decision made by their parents to kill the predator who was preying on the children in their community. It’s not the residents of Haddonfield’s motivation that is at issue but their willingness to engage in mob justice that is a sign of the community’s inner darkness.

Halloween Ends is a continuation of the idea that small towns and suburbs harbor and produce evil. I know other people were watching this movie with the idea of clocking the body count, or how long and hard the fight would be between Laurie and Michael, and who would win, but that’s not the focus of this movie, and if that’s what you’re looking for then you may be disappointed. This movie is a bit more philosophical and quieter than some people might like it to be.

The story picks up four years later, and we have come full circle as Laurie while writing her memoir, is still recovering emotionally from the events of Halloween Kills, when Michael returned to Haddonfield and killed nearly three dozen people, along with her daughter Karen. She has decided not to live in the prison of paranoia and anger that ruled her life for so many decades while raising her granddaughter Allyson and mending their relationship.

But, because evil never dies, we find out that Michael has not left Haddonfield at all, and has been living in the sewers while recovering from the damage that was inflicted on him four years ago. His presence is discovered by a bullied young man named Corey whom the townsfolk accused of killing a young boy under his charge on the night of Michael’s rampage. Corey is a volatile and angry young man who isn’t killed by Michael but adopts Michael’s mask and goes on a killing spree of his own in Michael’s stead, such is how evil is passed on to the next generation. He and Allyson develop a relationship that threatens to destroy her and Laurie’s emotional recovery and while trying to protect Allyson from herself and Corey, Laurie eventually interacts with Michael again by the end of the movie.

There’s plenty of killing in the film, just not done by Michael, and the confrontation between Laurie and Michael is relegated to the end of the movie almost as an afterthought since it’s almost a given who will win the fight. Just as in Halloween Kills, where Laurie mostly sat out the plot so the writers could make their point, Michael mostly sits this one out. The theme here isn’t just that evil is born from the town’s secrets, but is actively created by the town’s treatment of people whom they believe have trespassed against conformity, like Corey, or the mentally unstable man the residents hounded to his suicide in the last film after he was wrongly accused of being Myers.

Corey is the much-put-upon town scapegoat. He is bullied by the students at his school because of his reputation as a monster, also by his angry and overbearing mother, and he is responsible for most of the deaths in the movie as he decides, after meeting Michael, (who unexpectedly lets him live), that he is tired of the town’s judgment of him and is going to live down to his reputation. Accompanied by Allyson (who is unaware of what he’s been doing) he goes on a killing spree that includes the town bullies, his parents, and several bystanders before he confronts Laurie, who shoots him. In a last-ditch attempt to sabotage Laurie’s relationship with Allyson, (which has been heavily frayed throughout the movie), he makes it look like Laurie stabbed him when Allyson comes home.

Allyson and Corey form a bond because she finds him attractive and he is able to prey on her fears and disappointments about living in Haddonfield. Something in his darkness speaks to the secrets that she has been withholding from her grandmother, and her reaction to Laurie’s distrust of Corey tells us that she isn’t as healed from the trauma of losing her mother as she seemed. Like Laurie did at the same age, she lost her boyfriend, most of her friends, and most of her family, and she has not dealt with the fallout of so much loss, while Laurie still healing from her own pain, has somewhat neglected Allyson’s, which allowed Corey to twist that trauma into anger at her grandmother.

In the end, it is Laurie who survives their last fight, but Michael’s death (for real this time and from which there is absolutely no coming back) is a cathartic affair for the entire town, who join her in the final destruction of his body. Allyson realizes that part of her healing means leaving Haddonfield, but she is not fleeing from her trauma, as she would have if she had eloped with Corey, but moving towards a possible future where she is not shackled to the town’s secrets, and Laurie expresses her healing by finally opening herself up to having new friends (and a possible relationship with the town sheriff).

Although I didn’t like the direction of this film at first, I am satisfied with this ending, which was a lot more contemplative than I thought it would be, and shows that David Gordon Green had a clear agenda in telling the story in the manner in which he did. It really felt like an end, like Laurie’s nightmare (and that of Haddonfield’s) is finally over, and it puts Halloween Kills, a film I was somewhat disappointed by, in a new light. When watched individually the films do leave something to be desired, but taken as a whole I feel the trilogy was successful in keeping the point of its themes, in ending Haddonfield and Laurie’s story on a positive note, with more than enough gore and killing to satisfy most Slasher film fans.

***Once again, I appear to be in the minority in liking this film. I didn’t love it, but it is a decent conclusion, and taken as a whole, I feel it’s a good trilogy. I’ve also observed that most people (the vast majority of the ones talking about it are white men who only want to see people dying horribly) are not looking at it as one part of a whole and that many of them have completely missed the point of the trilogy entirely. Nobody seems to see this movie the way I did. I feel that it’s a decent standalone movie but it must be taken into account as part of a trilogy and understood in that light since that was how it was filmed. Perhaps when more people go back and watch all three movies in succession they will see what David Gordon Green was trying to do, and be willing to defend his vision.

Nope: The Horror of Spectacle (Pt.1)

DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE AND DON’T WANT SPOILERS.

I’m going to be talking about a lot of details, and give away a number of secrets about the movie that are crucial to its understanding and so cannot be avoided. Trust me, knowing these things before you see the movie will spoil your enjoyment of the film.

Jordan Peele’s Movie Watch List for his actors included two of Spielberg’s biggest films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws. Like Close Encounters, this movie has all the trappings of an alien invasion film, and the characters’ obsession with wanting to understand the alien is echoed in the first half of the movie, while the last half has the adventure feel of Jaws with the characters chasing and being chased by the alien. On the surface, this movie may seem like your typical Summer blockbuster where you have an intrepid team of people setting out to capture or destroy some kind of monster, but Peele has a lot more to say than that.

The Basic Plot

Oj (Otis Junior played by Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (aka Em played by Keke Palmer) are a brother and sister trying to save their father’s horse ranch after he is inadvertently killed by the alien. The Haywood Ranch specializes in training, wrangling, and renting horses for movies, and Oj’s first job was working on the set of The Scorpion King 2. Oj is his father’s direct successor while Em has gone off to Hollywood to make her fortune. She comes back home to help her brother raise money to save the ranch. Oj is the typically strong and silent cowboy type, (heavily coded as autistic to a lot of viewers – more on that later), and Em is his exact opposite, being funny, brash, and massively charming.

Ricky “Jupe” Park, played by Steven Yeun, is the former child star of a series called Gordy’s Home, where he experienced a horrible trauma, and who now owns a theme park next door, called Jupiter’s Claim. Oj has been selling his horses to Jupe to keep the ranch afloat, not knowing that Jupe has been sacrificing those horses to the alien visitor that has taken up residence in the valley for the past several months. After Jupe and his audience are consumed by the alien after his attempt to make money from the spectacle of its feeding, Em and Oj become convinced that the way to save the ranch is to capture the alien on film and sell the photos.

They meet an electronics store employee named Angel (Brandon Perea) who helps them set up cameras at the ranch, but since the ufo (now called UAPs by the US government) produces a field that deadens electrical equipment they are unsuccessful and so decide to call in the director they met on a film set they were fired from at the beginning of the movie named Antlers Holst, (Michael Wincott – he of the extraordinary voice). Antlers owns a crank camera that doesn’t require electricity. After several mishaps, chase scenes, and a few near deaths, Em is successful in capturing the alien on camera and destroying it.

Jean Jacket

This is the name given to the creature by Oj, named after a horse she was supposed to have received training for on her 9th birthday, and which Oj got chosen for instead. Oj names it Jean Jacket as a tribute to Em after she comes up with the plan to capture the alien on film. The alien represents Em’s first animal training exercise.

**Throughout this post, I’m going to use three terms interchangeably, ufo, alien, and the creature, because although we, the audience, still don’t know what it is, it is definitely a living being of some kind. When the movie begins it is shaped like the typical image of a disc-shaped flying saucer. By the middle of the movie, the characters have become aware that while what they are dealing with is still a ufo, it is also a predator that actively hunts other life forms, and by the end, it reveals its true physical form as that of a massive array of drapery with a green aperture-like mouth at its center that sucks up its prey like a vacuum.

The Themes

Spectacle

Let’s start with the film’s opening quote. In the first reference, Peele tells you right up front what the theme of the movie is (which is why I don’t understand some people’s confusion after watching this.) People should know by now that Peele’s movies are not the kind of movies you watch to let the images simply wash over you and hope you reach understanding. They are the kind you must think about and pay close attention to, or you simply won’t understand, and you have to prep yourself for watching the movie this way beforehand. One of the issues with Horror movies, and especially the point being made here, is that people get consumed by the “spectacle” of the horror, and fail to think of the greater themes and repercussions surrounding the absorbing images. The audience members who did this mental preparation walked out of the film with a better understanding and appreciation of what they’d just seen.

The opening quote at the beginning of the movie is from Nahum 3:6: I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle. This refers to two events in the movie, the scene where the alien hovers over the ranch and drops waste matter of blood and metallic trinkets from its victims onto the Haywood’s house, and the ending where it unfurls itself during its pursuit of the two siblings.

The movie’s overarching theme is about how both the viewer and those being viewed are affected by the camera, about how audiences can be (literally) consumed by spectacle even as we consume it, and about the interchangeable nature of seeing a spectacle and being a spectacle. Several times the alien and other animals react to being seen on camera, or by an audience, or by themselves in reflective surfaces, and are startled into violence.

The movie opens by introducing the young Jupe on the set of a TV series called Gordy’s Home. This flashback to Jupe’s tragic past is the key to understanding some of the meanings of the movie. This event is later shown in its entirety, as a chimpanzee named Gordy (which, in the show, had been adopted by a white suburban family) flies into a rage and massacres the cast (all except Jupe and a young girl named Mary Jo) when it is seemingly startled by the release of a bunch of metallic balloons. That Jupe survives this event is important to how he dealt with his survivor’s trauma and the reason for his death.

One aside: Jupe says Gordy’s rampage lasted 6 minutes and 13 seconds. The alien appears every day at 6:13 PM to acquire its sacrifice of flesh from Jupe. Viewers have theorized a number of biblical verses that this could be in reference to, and many of them involve the topic of predators, prey, sacrifice, and how to avoid being such.

The theme of animals that are assumed to be tame or easily controlled, becoming violent, and turning on people are referenced multiple times throughout the movie. In another introductory scene, Oj, while on a film set with one of his horses, keeps trying to warn the cast about how to behave with the animal, only to be ignored (because white people don’t listen to Black people’s warnings of danger), and someone ends up being kicked by it. Like Gordy, the horse is startled by its reflection in an orb-shaped object. The idea of animals rejecting being seen as spectacles continues from there, from Gordy, to the horse, to the alien itself, since the alien only consumes those who stare at it.

These reflections extend to some of the characters too, like Mary Jo, the young girl who, like Jupe, survived Gordy’s rampage on the film set, but with extensive damage to her face. She attends Jupe’s first showing off of the alien while wearing a veil covering her current face, but wearing a t-shirt with the image of her childhood face on it. Like the alien, she is a spectacle who both wants and doesn’t want to be seen by others, and yet she is also a spectator, there to see another creature that does not like being seen.

Oj because of his retiring nature and experience with horses, is one of the first to understand that the alien is like any other predator, that looking it in the “eye” is like a challenge to its dominance that will make it angry. He is one of the few people to survive multiple encounters with it by turning away from the camera-like hole in its underside. Basically, he (and later, Angel) resists being consumed by the spectacle of the thing.

In fact, Oj’s natural tendency to avoid the gaze of others, and not look animals or other people in the eyes, ends up serving him very well, and it is also one of the signifiers of autism, along with his reticence in speaking, and deep focus on his job. When we first meet Oj we see he has his head turned away from the camera and film crew. He has a pattern of rejecting the gaze of others and denying them his own, so it is significant that not only is he the first person to catch that staring at the alien makes it angry, but at the end of the film it is meaningful when he signals to his sister that he will grant the creature his attention. He signals to her both, that he sees her, and that he will see the alien in an effort to trap it with his gaze, buying her the time she needs to capture its image.

Animal Exploitation

Jupe has been sacrificing Oj’s horses to what he thinks is a ufo for at least six months and plans to make money from the creature’s existence by sacrificing a live animal in front of a paying audience. To his horror, Jupe has only moments to realize his hubris in believing that he had tamed it (because he survived Gordy’s massacre unscathed he thinks he has a special power over it) because rather than taking the horse, the alien (like Gordy) becomes enraged at being looked at and consumes Jupe and the audience instead. (They get consumed by the spectacle.)

Jupe dies horribly, in the belly of the monster, while trying to exploit the existence of this creature for entertainment purposes. Just as Gordy was taken from his natural habitat, separated from his species, and raised among humans for their entertainment needs, Jupe hopes to do the same to the alien, and this is tied to his personal trauma because, although he exploits that for monetary gain, you can tell by the look in his eyes that he is not as casual in his feelings about the event as he would have others believe. He is haunted by what happened to him on the set and it has informed his behavior, not just towards his trauma, but his interaction with the alien. He believes his survival of that one event gives him a special ability to tame this new creature. He thinks he has a special connection, like the one he had with Gordy, because he has bribed this thing with Oj’s horses for several months, but the creature has not been tamed, nor has it been trained to come to him because he feeds it. The alien is simply being opportunistic and Jupe’s interactions with the creature only involved him and the alien. When the alien sees there is now an audience it takes the entire group.

Child actor exploitation

That’s not the only connection between Jupe and Gordy. The movie also strongly references the exploitation of child actors. Hollywood has a long history of consuming both the lives of animals and actors and then spitting out whatever is no longer useful, or left over. After Jupe and his audience are consumed by the alien, having consumed too much, it then spits out what it can’t use, (mostly metallic objects like coins, keys, and jewelry), which is how Oj and Em’s father was killed, at the beginning of the movie, when the alien spit out a coin that embedded itself in Otis’ head.

There are also elements of racism in the exploitation of both Jupe and Gordy. One of the nastier stereotypes of Asian men throughout Hollywood’s history is equating Asian men with monkeys. In the sitcom, both Jupe and Gordy are adopted by a white family and both are seen as token comedy relief. The white family acts as if the adoption of a human boy and the adoption of a chimpanzee are equal acts and treat the adoption of Gordy as no different than Jupe’s adoption. The family (and the series) does not respect Gordy as a powerful animal with an animal’s thoughts, and this is part of what causes his rampage. This scene is also a callback to a similar real-life event:

https://allthatsinteresting.com/travis-the-chimp

Oj names the alien Jean Jacket, after a young horse that Em was supposed to be trained on (but didn’t get the chance when her father changed his mind). Jupe named the thing he first thought of as an alien craft, The Viewers. And yes, this is a reference to those of us who came to watch the spectacle of Nope, especially those of us who got so caught in the imagery that we couldn’t understand the meaning of the film, and the voraciousness of an audience that can never be appeased. Jupe spends several months thinking he has pleased The Viewers, and believes he has things well under control, only to find that The Viewers cannot be controlled or appeased.

Symbolism

Mirrors and Reflections

I spoke before in my Symbolism of Film post, that mirrored reflections indicate that a character (or in this case an animal) has a double nature, and reflective objects are a motif seen throughout this movie, from the reflective balloons released in front of Gordy that sends him into a rage, to the metallic SFX orb that is waved in front of the horse which startles it, and the motorcycle helmet of a nosy paparazzi who shows up at the Haywood Ranch and gets eaten because his reflective helmet enrages the alien into consuming him. The creatures in the movie are believed by people to have been “tamed” because they have been trained to interact peacefully with human beings, until they stop doing that, indicating their dual natures of wildness and domesticity. Just because something has been domesticated (the alien, the horses, Gordy) doesn’t mean it will not react if provoked, and this is something that Oj, with his many years of experience in horse training, understands. These animals must still be respected as animals, which is something the film crew on the Gordy’s Home TV set, and Jupe himself did not understand, and many people paid the price for that.

Veils: Obscuration, and Revelation

Outside of the mirrors and reflections, the film has many images of drapery and veiling. Mary Jo (Jupe’s old co-star) covers herself with a veil to keep from being seen by others, and a torn tablecloth hanging between the young Jupe and Gordy is probably what saved Jupe’s life, as it obscured direct eye contact between him and Gordy, and as a result, Gordy doesn’t kill him. The ufo is often obscured by clouds, making it difficult to track.

Angel, Em, and Oj come up with a complicated plan to capture the alien’s image using several cameras mounted around the ranch but when the alien shows up, the cameras all power down, and the one camera that doesn’t is obscured by the presence of a tiny creature resting on the camera’s lens: a praying mantis, an insect which is often accused of looking alien. The Praying Mantis is literally a stand-in for the ufo and is itself a predator known for its large eyes, direct gaze, and a source of both wonder and horror for both its beauty and brutality in hunting prey. In Christian symbolism, the praying mantis is a herald of good luck, and the placement of its “praying hands”, a sign of piety, which meant that angels were watching out for you. Some audience members have theorized that Jean Jacket is actually a biblically accurate Angel, but the Praying Mantis also foreshadows the creature’s final form with its giant translucent wings, that look like drapes.

The alien’s real image remains obscured until its final form which appears to be made out of veils of skin and air, a lot like a jellyfish, but really like nothing ever seen on Earth, although that does not necessarily mean it’s an extraterrestrial. A ufo is what it’s called because that’s what it looks like at first presentation but by the movie’s end it looks not unlike a cross between a Blanket Octopus and a Deepstaria Jellyfish! And it is interesting to note that this creature that flies into a rage when people look directly at it makes a huge spectacle of itself, which would naturally cause people to stare at it.

I mean I stared, so surely I would not have been able to resist looking at it, even knowing it would eat me for doing so, and maybe the point is that spectacle is impossible to resist. The image is literally all-consuming. After all, as the audience, we couldn’t resist being distracted by that little upright shoe, even in the middle of the greater spectacle of Gordy’s rampage.

The Shoe

We get a flashback to what actually occurred on the set when Jupe takes Em into a private room in his home to show her the objects he saved from the show. One of the objects in his collection is a small gray shoe, which can be seen during Gordy’s rampage in the unlikely position of standing, unaided, on its heel. The director wants us to see this shoe. It sits in the center of the action even though its presence is not important to the actual event. There is a lot of speculation about the meaning of the shoe because even during the spectacle of the massacre the shoe is distracting. Many people think it’s a symbol that for Jupe the other shoe has yet to “drop”, and that that other shoe is what Jupe has been waiting for his whole life.

I believe the shoe is a parallel to the scene at the end of the movie where the alien turns out not to be a ufo, so much as a massive alien creature whose final form is both awesome and wondrous yet terrible and terrifying to behold. That inexplicable shoe standing on its end and the final form of the alien are wonders in the midst of horror.

**Incidentally, the song heard in the movie’s trailer is Fingertips Pt. 1 by a young Stevie Wonder, who was renamed “Wonder” by his manager Berry Gordy and hailed as the blind child prodigy, who played a variety of instruments, including the piano and the harmonica.

***Okay, this post has gotten long enough. In the second part of this review let’s talk about the primary characters: Oj, Em, Jupe, and Angel.

Top Favorite Films of 2021

Quite a few hotly anticipated films were released in 2021. Well, they were hotly anticipated by me. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching movies that were off my list of films because I was so busy dealing with my mother’s health issues, which was pretty stressful. (I’m not so much recovering from my Mother’s passing as I am from the sheer emotional stress of trying to keep her alive.)

As a result, I spent a lot of time watching a lot of stress- relieving TV series, standup comedies, or just things that simply weren’t very emotionally taxing. I just didn’t have the bandwidth for much more than that. This also meant that I watched a lot more escapist-type movies, MCU films, or just films without any heavy topics. But these were my favorites of all the movies I got to see.

Keep in mind, that I also tend to like a lot of what I watch because I’m not a professional critic, so don’t have to watch anything I don’t want to, and I tend to gravitate to movies and shows that I think will make me happy, or at the very least, make me think! Unlike professional critics, I don’t have to soldier through a movie that’s not working for me. I can always turn it off and walk away. I never hate-watch anything because life is too short to be subjecting myself to unpleasant movie-watching experiences as a form of fun! I love movies though, and can always find something I liked about most of the things I subject myself to.

And that’s the same aesthetic I carried into the TV series I watched this year. There were a lot of superhero shows, some comedies (a lot of standup), all of the MCU series except Loki, and lots of Youtube.

Spiderman: No Way Home

I do not as a general rule, rank things according to best to worst, or by numbers. My mind simply doesn’t work that way. For me, I either liked a movie, or I didn’t, and it starts with how the movie made me feel. If I didn’t like it, I won’t expend any more energy thinking about it, beyond what went wrong for me. That said, while this isn’t my absolute favorite movie this year, it is extremely high on my list of favorites because:

I went to the theater for the first time since 2019, and the first time without Mom. I took my niece and nephew instead. My nephew is ten and is a huge Spiderman fan, even though he doesn’t read comic books! It was so much fun sitting there speculating about the plot and characters with him, while trying to keep my youngest niece from eating all the popcorn and making herself sick. My oldest niece, The Potato, couldn’t make it.

I rated this movie at the top of my list largely because of the fun factors of going to the theater with my family, and the movie itself. My nephew and I are both huge Spiderman fans, so we were probably gonna like it regardless! And it was pretty neat watching him be excited about the two Spidermen that he wasn’t around to see that first time, as he’s only been alive since the Holland era!

I have a different attitude towards being a comic book/superhero nerd than a lot of other people. I do not engage in gatekeeping because the way I grew up I was wholly and completely alone in these geeky interests. There wasn’t anyone around to be geeky with, so I’m loving this thing where I get to share these interests with my nephew, who is also incredibly knowledgable, for one so young!

Expect to read more of my takes on Spiderman in the coming weeks.

Dune

I absolutely loved this movie, which has so much depth that, like most of Villeneuve’s movies, it’s gonna take a minute (and probably several posts and re-watches) to sort out my thoughts and feelings. If I had to rank this film I would put this at not only my most hotly anticipated film, but the best SciFi movie of the year.

Like Bladerunner 2049, this is a very immersive film, not just visually, but through plot, sound, and character. I’ve watched this multiple times, (it was on HBOMax), and the more I think of it, the more layers I find. Villenueve really did an exceptional job with this film, and I will be discussing this some more when Dune returns to HBOMax at the end of this month.

The Suicide Squad

And this is why it’s so hard for my brain to rank movies. I absolutely loved this film too, and would also count this one as one of the best movies of the year. This movie isn’t half as shallow as people think it is, considering it is a kind of grindhouse/found-family/superhero movie. I mean, if you’re a fan of the show Invincible, or the TV series The Boys, or Preacher, you might like this movie. It’s gory, fun, funny, utterly ridiculous, and has a surprising amount of pathos. I posted about this earlier. I am one of five people who are readily willing to admit that they actually liked the first movie too. I loved the characters mostly, and their interactions, and this movie built on that beautifully, even if I did miss Will Smith.

James Gunn has an incredible knack for taking characters you’re not supposed to like, characters who are villains, and making them nuanced and sympathetic. He even manages to make the final boss, Starro the Conqueror, a sympathetic character! He’s really good at getting you to care about them, and he’s done this in movie, after movie, after movie, from Dawn of the Dead, to Slither, to Guardians of the Galaxy. I trust him as a director, and can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next (probably Guardians of the Galaxy 3).

The Harder They Fall

I spoke briefly about this movie before it was released on Netflix. This movie just has a coolness factor that is simply unparalleled. It’s definitely the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino would’ve loved, except with a lot less use of the N*word. (That’s the difference between having a white director vs a Black one. White directors like Tarantino will throw that word around in the script, with no regard for Black audiences, because they think it’s more important to be edgy. Black directors almost never do this without considering that Black people will be watching it. Not that they don’t use the word, but when they do, it usually serves more purpose.)

That said, the movie’s focus is on style, and feelings, and not so much on truth or facts. Most of the characters in the movie lived in slightly different time periods, and never met each other, but that’s not a drawback, as far as I’m concerned, although some people seemed outraged at the idea. The movie is also a who’s who of Black cinema with Idris Elba, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Zazie Beetz, and my personal favorite (as an actor and a character) Lakeith Stanfield, who is very possibly, one of the coolest Black men to ever be seen in a Western!

The movie doesn’t just have a coolness factor, there are layers, and it pays to know a little bit about the time period in which the film is set, which is that little slice of time just after the Civil War. So much of the history of the West has been thoroughly whitewashed, but basically all the stories you either watched and or read about that only had white characters, well Black, Brown, and Indigenous people were all engaging in the same types of stories. They formed gangs, committed crimes, caught criminals, loved, fought, and died on horseback, too, and we never got any of these stories because a film industry run almost entirely by straight white men wasn’t interested in telling them.

Army of the Dead

For some reason, this movie caught a lot of flack from critics for being dumb, but I enjoyed it because sometimes the term dumb is being used in place of “fun”! That said, this is one of the more fun zombie films ever made. It’s not on the level of Shaun of the Dead, but it was a lot of fun, with a surprising amount of depth of feeling. I wrote about this movie in an earlier review, and I talked about Zack Snyder’s relationship to the film and its characters.

I do wonder why no one ever decided to combine the heist narrative with the zombie apocalypse, and I hope to see more of these kinds of zombie mashups in the future.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

As I said in an earlier post, I wasn’t one of the people clamoring for the release of this movie. I was largely indifferent to the first version, and gave it no more thought after I watched it. There was a lot of the movie that, while watchable, just didn’t impress me much. But the Snyder cut deepened two of my favorite characters, who got short shrift in the theatrical version, and gave me mad respect for an old character that I just wasn’t feeling before: The Flash, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman, and I will always love this movie for that.

It doesn’t hurt that the villain was significantly more impressive, the plot was more coherent, and the action scenes looked excessively cool, especially Wonder Woman’s scenes. I discussed all of this in one of my mini reviews last year.

The Eternals

I generally liked The Eternals. I am a big fan of Chloe Zhao because of Nomadland, and I really “enjoyed” that movie, and I could definitely see her flavor of filmmaking here. It was a very “comfortable”, and “comforting” movie to settle into, because she has a different, quieter, and less “jangly” style of filmmaking than the other MCU films. The sounds, color, characters, all it just felt different.

As I said before, my way “into” a movie is often through its characters. The characters are quirky, or interesting, or sometimes I just see myself in them, and I think that’s why I liked the characters in this movie so much. They’re superpowered characters who just felt like people, and I actually liked all of them. I feel like the characters, and their relationships with one another was the movie’s strongest aspect.

The movie’s weakest aspect was the plot, which feels a bit disjointed at first, but then after a while, it just falls flat. I simply didn’t care about the plot, and I wasn’t invested in it. I will watch it again because the characters are all so likable, and the absolute best part of the film, but the plot didn’t move me at all!

Rurouni Kenshin: The Finale/The Beginning

I have an entire post dedicated to this five-part series of live-action movies, based on the anime. Keep in mind that that post will be only about the films because I never watched any of the anime, or read the manga. There is a lot to be said about this series, which is fun and action packed, and like a lot of Japanese projects has elements of everything: war, romance, martial arts, comedy. Right now, the last two parts of this series is available on Netflix, so check it out before I finish writing my review!

The Green Knight

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this movie. It’s very much a “were you feeling it”, dream sequence style of movie. If you’re not onboard with dream logic, magical plot points, and weird characters, or are simply unfamiliar with the original story of Gawain and the Green Knight, you’re not going to get a lot of mileage out of this movie beyond the visuals. That said, I didn’t get a lot of meaning out of it, although I’m sure it’s in there. I was simply too caught up in just following the story, and the cinematography, which is okay since it takes multiple viewings for me to get to the meaning of something at times, and I have not had the opportunity to re-watch it, since I haven’t rented it again. The movie is definitely haunting me though, so I may have to.

Candyman

A lot of people claimed that this movie was too slow, it didn’t have enough gore or killing in it, (as if that were the only criteria for a Horror movie), and that the plot made no sense, but Candyman is essentially a mashup of a slasher film and a ghost story, and I found it very satisfactory. Yes, it started off slow, but that is entirely in keeping with the narrative of the ghost story, where the foundation has to be set up before we can move on to the actual “haunting” section of the story, and I don’t mind slow-moving Horror.

I was impressed with how much of the original story was integrated into this one, and of course, there might have been some people who were confused about what type of movie this was, because knowing that makes it easier to slot it into a category they can understand. This definitely isn’t a prequel, and it’s not exactly a remake. It’s more of an updated sequel, continuing the story that was set up in the last movie, but with new information (since the Cabrini Green Housing Projects are now extinct), and new characters, and expanding the story to give it a kind of global mythology, and I really liked that.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen turns in a great performance, which is a sort of a reprisal of the role of Helen, in the first film. I’m getting really attached to this actor, because he keeps showing up in everything I want to watch. If you were hoping for more of Tony Todd, then you’ll be disappointed, because this version isn’t really about him, and he doesn’t turn up until the end of the movie. I feel like people’s mileage may vary regarding Horror movies depending on what expectations they bring into it. I’m not quite sure what I expected. I went into this having read the original story by Clive Barker, but only having watched the first movie a couple of times, and not being especially impressed by it.

As I said, this is a quiet, dialogue-heavy film that relies more on producing feelings of dread than gore and body counts, and I was here for it. Is it as good as Get Out, or Us? Maybe not, but I am here for this new wave of Horror movies featuring Black casts and mythologies, from the above named films, and movies like Vampires vs Brooklyn, to TV shows like Lovecraft Country.

Honorable Mentions:

Last Night in Soho

This movie made this list because I’ve always been fascinated by 1960’s London fashion and culture, which this movie captures beautifully. It’s not a great film, but it makes a really good effort at being great, it looks gorgeous, and it’s by one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright. The drawback was that I wasn’t feeling the characters and plot that deeply. I just wasn’t very emotionally engaged with what happened to any of the characters, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t check it out. Its exceptionally stylish, and you may feel about the characters in a way that I didn’t.

Haloween Kills

There has been a lot of criticism of this movie as being stupid, and I feel I need to make the distinction here. The characters in the film are deeply stupid, which is par for the course when it comes to Horror movies, so I’m not sure why people are outraged about it here. The film itself has a point it wants to make, and I feel makes it beautifully. If the first film was about dealing with the aftermath of traumatic events, than this movie is about regret. I spoke about this in a previous post, and I stand by that. This was also the last Horror movie I watched with my Mom, who was, shall I say…unimpressed.

A GAME EFFORT:

These are movies that made a pretty game effort at being my favorites of the year, or at least the most entertaining, but for one reason or another just fell short. Not that I didn’t enjoy them, or that they were bad films, they just didn’t make it into the top ten.

These movies are all still well worth watching, and I watched a lot more movies than the ones on this list, but some movies stick in your memory, and others just don’t.

Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings

This is another movie where the plot fell flat for me, but I absolutely loved the characters and the action. The stand out character for me wasn’t Shang Chi, but his father, Wenwu, played by one of my favorite actors, Tony Leung. I think I may be in love with his heartfelt, soulful facial expressions, and that voice! He’s just dreamy…uhm okay…let move on.

Like I said, the weakest part was the plot. There are a few moments that pulled me right out of the film, or that I simply didn’t like, although the action scenes were very good, until the end of the movie, when all the fighting went on just a little too long, and so was a little bit tiresome. The same problem I ran into while watching Black Panther. It’s about people, until the end, then it’s just a too long action sequence with not enough “people” in it. Contrast that ending with the ending of The Eternals, or even Avengers Endgame, which still had some great character defining moments during the last fight scene.

But I do like Shang Chi, and the movie would’ve been higher on this list, except it got beat out by a couple of other films. It’s a fun, entertaining film, with two of my favorite actors, (Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung), and I’m really looking forward to whatever movie the “almost as likable as Spiderman”, Shang Chi shows up next!

Matrix Resurrections

I tried really hard to like this movie. I loved the action sequences, and one of the two primary characters was played by Jessica Henwick, who I was surprised to see got a lot (and I mean a lot!) of screen time. I loved her character, and Yahya’s version of Morpheus was great, and totally bad ass. I was less than impressed with Neo’s role, but Carrie Ann Moss’ character was good in the quieter, dialogue heavy moments, which I actually liked. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed her first meeting with Neo.

Where the movie fell flat, for me, was its treatment of mental illness, and parts of the plot. As I’ve said before, I’ve had some mental illness and suicide issues in the past, and parts of this movie were less enjoyable for me because they hit just a little too close to home, and kind of broadsided me with no warning. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, it just means it was especially triggering for me. I was very excited to see it, though, and will definitely watch it again, because the action scenes are really cool, and I really enjoyed the ending.

Also, I’m still not invested in Neo and Trinity’s relationship. They either have no chemistry or I’m still just not feeling it. The plot of the movie needs some work, and there were bits of it that felt a little soul-less, although there’s more humor in it than the last movies. I’m a big fan of the Wachowski Sisters, and I enjoyed Sense8, so I’m on board with anything else Lana comes up with in the future.

And Let’s Not Forget:

Black Widow

Once again, the characters were great, and I liked the action, but the plot didn’t impress me much, and I kept wandering off to do something else, while the movie played in the background. The best character in the entire movie, of course, was Yelena, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing her in the Hawkeye TV series. I

I’ve been really impressed by Florence Pugh (Yelena). The last time I saw her was in Midsommar, where she simply tore it up, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where her career goes in the MCU. She is a worthy successor to the old Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson. Interestingly it’s the Yelena version of Black Widow that I’m most familiar from the comic books. I was well aware of the other Black Widow, but indifferent to her, never paying much attention, and I never read any of her adventures. I do remember some stories of Yelena and Hawkeye working together though.

Antlers

This is a pretty solid and gory horror movie that is yet again, about the Wendigo, and I’m here for it. It’s scary enough, but also a little predictable, the plot, and some of the acting didn’t meet my exacting criteria/s, so it didn’t make it very high on my list, but I just watched it, and it seems to be sticking with me, and I guess that’s a good thing. Not as good as Last Night in Soho, but better than Halloween Kills, I think.

Lamb

I really liked this one, but I didn’t love it. It’s about a couple on a sheep farm, who lost their daughter fairly recently, and have not moved on from their grief. When one of their sheep gives birth to a half lamb, half human creature (thanks to a large half man, half ram creature assaulting their flock), they steal it, and raise it as their own. You can guess that things come to a bad end.

I cannot say the movie is “enjoyable” because it’s just too disturbing for that, but it is dreadful, and haunting, and that’s enough to make it onto this list.

5 Haunting Horror Movies You Haven’t Seen…Yet!

I’ve been watching horror movies since I was a little girl ,who was supposed to be asleep at 11 o’clock at night. I went through a period, with my mother, where I think we tried to watch every horror movie that got made between 1980 and 1988, before I went off to college, so I have seen a helluva lot of movies, many of which have been forgotten, unless your’e a serious horror movie fan. I admit, not everything I watched was any good, but I found something interesting in these five movies, which have stayed in my memory even though I haven’t watched some of them in decades.

 

Don’t Look in the Basement (1973)

This move was made back in 1973 so I wouldnt go in expecting it t be enlightened about mental illness. I saw this movie when I was a teenager, and there was just something about it that I found deeply disturbing. Yes, the characters are disturbed, certainly, becasue this is an asylum, but that’s not the reason why this movie has haunted me for years. I suspect its some quality of mood, or lighting, or acting that I found mesmerizing back then.

A young nurse gets a job in a remote asylum for the mentally ill, and has a great deal of difficulty doing her work, as the director of the facility seems as deeply disturbed as her patients. You can probably guess what the twist is long before the plot spirals down into a hot mess of murder and mutilation.

 

 

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

A troupe of method actors and their despotic director head out to Coconut Grove, Florida where, as a prank, they exhume a corpse called Orville and are subsequently horrified when his similarly deceased friends emerge from their graves to play some deadly games of their own. Filmed as America experienced its post-60s comedown, director Bob Clark’s first horror feature began a truly terrifying trilogy that continued with the powerful anti-Vietnam war statement Dead Of Night and climaxed with the classic seasonal (and subsequently re-made) scarefest Black Christmas.

You can definitely tell this movie was filmed on the cheap, but this is also one of the first zombie movies I ever saw, long before ever watched Night of the Living Dead, and of course this is nearly forgotten, except by zombie movie enthusiasts like me. The acting isn’t great, and the special effects aren’t either, but the movie has such a distinctive feel, that I’ve never forgotten it, despite having not watched it in decades.

 

 

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

I haven’t seen this movie in decades but for some reason I still remember the haunted feeling I had watching this. The plot is a little fuzzy, but I think its about a woman who moves out into the country, with her boyfriend, to recover from a nervous breakdown, and encounters strange events, and possibly ghosts and vampires.

The movie is surprisingly well acted for a horror movie from the 70’s, and the cinematography looks gorgeous. The only drawback seems to be that the plot is a bit murky, but I do remember enjoying watching this on late night TV.

 

 

Psychomania (1974)

This is another movie I remember watching as a kid, late one night, when I was supposed to be asleep. I haven’t seen it in decades, but I still remember it pretty well, although it took me some time to find the title. I remember that I started off excited about the movie because, Hey! Zombie Bikers!, but by the end I recall a distinct feeling of melancholy for the bikers, and their inability to die, and at least part of that was due to this song.

I remember thinking something along the lines of how all these characters eventually became pretty jaded by the1974 lifestyle they thought was a form of true freedom, only to be trapped in a kind of hellish living afterlife.

 

 

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

This is another movie I watched late one night, without my mother’s permission, even though she was the one who told me about it! Its more of a mystery than a horror movie, but I’m going to put this here because it does have some onscreen kills. It stars a very young Jodi Foster, who was still riding on her fame from Taxi Driver, I think, which came out the same year.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this, but I think one of my mother’s objections to this movie, is the character is a serial killer ,who genuinely regrets killing people. My guess is that my Mom was opposed to kids killing adults in movies, which is understandable, but it might also have been the pedophilia from one of the characters, which she thought I was too young to be watching.

I wanted to see it because I was under the impression, at about nine years old, that Jodi seemed to be about my age, when she was, in fact, thirteen, at the time. I have observed that little girls often gravitate to movies about other little girls, and I was no different, except I gravitated to horror movies that starred little girls.

I cannot recall if she was alone because she killed her parents, but I do remember her making up various stories for the adults who investigated her situation, as to why she was alone, and killing the ones who got too nosy, as well as a man who was trying to get too cozy with her, if y’all know what I mean.

Haberdasheries and Hemoglobins On Youtube

Today, I have decided to laugh.

Okay, maybe its not all sweetness and light, but I find Youtube amusing and interesting, as I carefully curate the things on my dashboard, to minimize bullshit. Here’s a list of ridiculousness that I stumbled across, and a short list of Youtubers I subscribe to. This is maybe half of them, but its a pretty good snapshot of the subjects that most interest me.

 

Tony Baker Voiceovers

From now on, I’m going to use the word “The Skibbity Pap”,  every time I love smack one of my nieces or nephews on the back of the head. These Tony Baker videos have been around for years, but they’re new to me, and I just love them. Whenever I need a quick pick me up, I just put on one of these, and I’m soon crying for a completely different reason!

Also “skibbity pap” just sounds like the kind of thing that cats would call those love smacks they enjoy giving to anyone, or anything, that wanders into their orbit.

 

 

Two things that are  deeply funny to me, are how the animals love to sing R&B songs to themselves, when they’re alone, and continuing adventures of Rudy, and his dogs.

 

 

The Patriot Act

ASMR: signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterized by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin”. It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control.

This is one of the weirdest/funniest videos on Youtube, as Hasan Minhaj, from Patriot Act, gets in on that whole ASMR experience, by helping you relax while you’re doing your taxes. Watch the whole thing!

 

 

Beau of the Fifth Column

The first time I stumbled across one of Beau’s videos, I did what maybe a lot of people did, and skipped past it, because I really didn’t want to be bothered by yet another opinion video, from a straight white guy, about social issues that didn’t affect him. I’ve had my absolute fill of white men, “objectively” playing devil’s advocate on  social issues.

But his videos kept being recommended to me, so I gave one a try, and was pleasantly surprised by how open and level headed he is. I don’t always agree with the things he says, but he always clearly, and honestly explains what, and why, he believes it, in a way that doesn’t talk down to the viewer, or occlude the issues with erasure and lies.

The titles of the videos are often misleading, but once you start watching, you realize that he is someone who thinks very differently from most people (even me) about a thing.

 

 

 

CinemaWins

I am more than a little tired of this idea, that more than a few people deeply believe, that criticism must be negative. I keep trying to tell people that any opinion, whether its positive or negative, is actually a critique of whatever  you just consumed, because that’s what “criticize” means. Yes, loving something, and stating why, is a perfectly valid critique.

This critic says he originally started this channel as a rebuke to the Cinema Sins Channel, (which I hate). I chose this particular video because I love this movie as much as he does, and for all the same reasons.

 

 

Jesse Dollamore

I knew what I was getting into when I stumbled across Dollamore’s videos, because I started watching him back in the days when he was taking down the low hanging fruit that is Tomimo Laurencias stupid ass. At least part of the reason I like his videos are the incredible insults he levels at trump and his cronies, because they’re almost poetic. Feckless moron, and googly-eyed nitiwt, are what come to mind. I love a good, and well delivered, insult.

 

 

La Guardia Cross

Papa La Guardia says:

New Father Chronicles began in November of 2014 when my daughter Amalah was 1-week-old. I had no idea what I was doing, so I decided to chronicle my journey on YouTube and make fun of myself along the way. Our 2nd daughter, Nayely, was born in April of 2017.

My channel is filled with the silly adventures I have with my girls, infant and toddler interviews, my interpretations of their babble, silly skits, and the things I’ve learned or unlearned as a parent. Sometimes Leah and I mix it up a bit and share some pretty personal moments as well. Why? Well, we’re far from perfect and we’ve learned a lot from our mistakes.

This was one of the first videos I ever saw, and its at least a couple of years old as his baby girls are about three and five now, and I’m not sure where I heard of it, or what I’d watched, that this was recommended to me.

 

 

 

Renegade Cut

Okay, these are just really good reviews, and the critic makes an effort to make his critiques relevant to real world events, like this one about how Black peopel have always been talking about police brutality, which has permeated almost all of our tele-visual arts.

 

 

 

Sir Stevo Timothy

I’m not sure how this video got recommended to me. I thought it was funny, but still  wasn’t quite  sure what to think, when I saw the first one, so I did a little research to figure out who the hell this guy was. it turns out that this character is a parody of a certain type of racist, loud, old, ignorant, Irish uncle. He manages to make the things he says so stupidly ridiculous that you cannot possible take his opinions seriously, and even manages to slip in  some progressive thoughts, if you pay attention.

This video is one of my favorites because no matter how hard he tries, he is simply incapable of ignoring that his passenger is a Black man (from Dublin).

 

I’m probably not supposed to laugh this damn hard at these videos.

 

 

 

The Fish Locker

This video doesn’t seem like it fits anything else on this list, but  its surprisingly soothing to watch this guy combing the rocky beaches of Scotland for seafood, with his wife and son.

This is like ASMR beach combing.

 

 

 

Tkviper

And here are the real ASMR videos of Tkviper just walking the many different streets of Japan, while its raining different types of rain.

 

 

 

Aeon Flux

Does anybody remember these cartons from MTV’s Liquid Television, in the 9os? I remember watching hte hell out of these at the time. I think I still have the full DVD set.

Teeny Tiny Reviews From April

Here’s a incomplete list of movies and shows  I watched in April. For the most part, I liked all of these. I can tell I liked them because I finished watching them. I’m one of those people that feels absolutely no obligation, whatsoever, to finish consuming something I can’t stand. That’s a “young person whose got a lot more years ahead of them” type of thing! I’m also not one of those people who think you can’t have an opinion on something you didn’t finish. I mean, I won’t finish a cup of sour milk, but I can still know I didn’t like it. I feel like it’s the same for books, movies, and shows. I mean, you ain’t got to suffer your way through some shit, to know you’re wading through a pile of shit. You know what you like.

I have been watching tv shows, but most of it’s stuff that already aired, since there’s no new stuff being released right about now.

 

Unnamed Korean Drama

(Close-Knit 2017)

You may notice a trend of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese movies. Yeah, I’ve been watching a lot of those since I can now access Japanese Netflix, thanx to my IPVanish app.

Wel, this one didn’t have the  title in English, so I had to research it. A lot of the shows don’t have English titles, or translations, but I’m really used to figuring out what’s happening in Asian movies, after decades of watching this kind of thing. This one did have translations in English though, so I didn’t have to figure it out too much, otherwise I would have been deeply, and I mean, deeply, confused about this movie.

This is about a little girl who goes to live with her uncle, and his common law wife, after her mother temporarily deserts her. She is often bullied at school, but there’s a little boy, often bullied himself, who keeps trying to reach out to be her friend. Her uncle lives with his transgender girlfriend, and after some initial confusion, she and the little girl start to bond, to the point where the girlfriend considers suing the mother for custody. This movie is the game Japanese director’s attempt to tackle a controversial lgbtq issue in Japan, so it’s a little heavy handed in some places, frustrating in others, and sometimes, it’s just vague, but I’m a sucker for found family stories.

It’s a beautiful story, though,  and I really liked it. The little girl is unwilling to get close to people because she keeps experiencing the instability of being abandoned by her mother, every time her mom gets a new boyfriend. She is also reluctant to get close to her uncles gf, but it isn’t until the two of them bond over knitting, and the gf’s transgender status (she is pre-op) that the girl allows herself to open up to the little boy who’s trying to be her friend. Unfortunately, her friendship with him doesn’t work out, because his mother is deeply transphobic, and makes the girls living arrangements her personal business, to the misfortune of this lovely found  family.

Without the translation, the most confusing part of the movie, are the knitting scenes. We get a backstory on the gf, from when she came out to her mother. Her mother, while initially confused, became deeply supportive of her daughter, going so far as to knit her a pair of tiny breasts. I mention that she is pre-op, because part of the plot is that the gf spends a lot of time knitting penises. When she finishes making exactly 108 of them, she will burn them in effigy, and that will be when she is ready to have her bottom surgery.

She teaches the little girl to knit by making these penises, and that’s how the two of them bond. At one point the gf allows the little girl to squeeze her breasts, because of her intense curiosity about her gender status. She becomes less confused, but the girlfriend’s breasts are still a focal point of their relationship, because the little girl begins associating them with the warmth, comfort, and motherhood she wasn’t getting from her own mother, especially since the gf is the one who cuddles her against those same breasts, when she gets afraid in the middle of the night. The girlfriend becomes a figure of maternal love and stability for her, but even though they have chosen each other, they cannot be together, as mother and daughter, because society will not allow it.

I though this was a beautiful little story, not too emotionally taxing, with an open ending, that was somewhat bittersweet.

 

 

Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Life of Harley Quinn (2020)

I had so much fun watching this movie. Sometimes you really can tell the difference between a movie directed by a man, and one directed by a woman, and that seems to be the case with this movie. The story itself isn’t all that different from what would appear in a film made by a man, but it is definitely a comedy, and the emphasis is on different parts of the story, over others, and the story beats, and pacing, are different, and the tiny details can mean a lot to a female audience. Still, you can sort of tell a woman did this movie, because it feels like most of the kinds of art made by women, in which the relationships between the characters are what’s  of primary importance, and that’s what’s going on in this film.

You’ll hear from a lot of male critics that the movie was bad, but really it’s that the movie is simply made with a different audience in mind, and so there’s an emphasis on different things in the movie, the kinds of things that might not appeal to male viewers. Since personal relationships are of deep importance to women in the real world, movies that emphasize that can be greatly appealing to a female audience, and we don’t consider such movies to be a failure. As women, we may be looking at the film through a different lens.

Another appeal for women is how the women interact, and I think that was this movie’s greatest appeal. The women in the movie aren’t at loggerheads just to have drama. They’re at odds with each other for real reasons, based on the plot, and they’re brought together through the plot, and learn to get along to survive the plot. The biggest problem I had was that the movie isn’t pretty. I’m not used to comic book movies looking like this, expecting a much more anti-septic, and polished, look. It looks kind of dirty and grungy, and the cinematography looks really different than a Christopher Nolan film, or anything in the MCU. Harley definitely lives in Gotham’s armpit, as do all these characters, and it shows.

Funnily enough, my favorite character turned out not to be Dinah Lance, but The Huntress. She was such an delightfully odd character, and showed some aspects of Spectrum behavior, although her uncertainty about her social skills might have had something to do with either her unconventional upbringing, or that she’s a loner, who has never had any friends. I liked Harley, but Huntress turned out to be an unexpected fave.

I really enjoyed this movie, though. It’s the complete opposite of everything in the movie Joker, so if you are any of the many women who hated that movie, then try this one, because it’s a helluva lot more fun. It’s hilarious to point at both these films and even say they are about comic book characters, let alone set in the same DC universe. The story arrangement is a little different than I’m used to, since it’s told from Harley’s point of view. There’s a lot of pausing, and back and forthing, and a couple of side issues, because Harley is a somewhat disjointed storyteller, who is mildly unreliable as a narrator, but she is zany and energetic, and a likable anti-hero, and we can see the faint seeds of the real hero she will eventually become. The movie isn’t deep, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, and I want to talk about it later in more depth, because there are a lot of fun and interesting things to be said about it.

 

 

Joker (2019)

Despite all the controversy surrounding this film, I genuinely liked this movie, as an interesting piece of filmmaking. It’s true, that it’s not an especially deep film, but that isn’t always required to like a film, and so I let that pass. I also didn’t care much for its message about yet another white guy feeling disgruntled about his life, and going on a killing spree. There are far, far, too many of these types of shows, and movies, in pop culture, and this is another one that presents the same theme, and yet, asks no questions about it.

On the other hand, it is a gorgeous looking movie, although I did think it was much too derivative of Martin Scorcese’s early works, Taxi Driver, and King of Comedy. Joachin Phoenix turns in a splendid performance though, and there were moments where I was greatly moved by the pathos and beauty of his character, his acting, and the cinematography. I’m tired of this sort of plot,  but  the director did a superb job of evoking sympathy for this character. Was this an Oscar worthy film, I don’t know, but in my opinion, it was worth watching. And I will probably watch it again, at some point, for the acting, and aesthetics.

 

 

Memories (1995)

This is a 90s animated anthology, from the maker of Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo. It consists of three stories about technology gone wrong, and people’s interactions with it, but I’m only interested in the middles story in particular, Stink Bomb. I thought it was hilarious, and kind of sad. There’s a message in it, but I’m not quite sure what that message is. Nevertheless,I really enjoyed it.

The Big Stink is the middle story, about a down on his luck office worker, who gets infected with a kind of biological warfare gas, that kills anyone within a certain mile radius of him. He, of course, doesn’t know this. All he knows is that people keep dropping dead around him, as at first, he tries to make his way home, and then attempts to outrun whatever is killing the people in his vicinity. For some reason, I found  this part, deeply funny, although if you think about it too long, it’s pretty horrifying. The attempts by the police, and the military, just get more and more outrageous, as they escalate from guns, to tanks, and then to missile strikes, in an effort to stop him from reaching the city. The ending of this one was very satisfying, though.

 

 

Roujin Z

This is one of my favorite little known Katsuhiro Otomo movies. I love the premise of it, which just thoroughly tickles me. It’s got a good strong story, and like his segment in Memories, Stink Bomb, there’s a deeply hilarious idea gliding just underneath the surface story of a rogue robot destroying a large city.

This was the movie that made me think about the different attitudes towards AI between the East and the West, which I am really going to have to have a deeper discussion about. I think I mentioned before that Japanese culture doesn’t have the same type of fears about automata that the US does. If you go by the types of books we write, the movies we make, and the types of discussions we have surrounding technology, then Westerners have some kind of deep atavistic fear of dolls, and robots. We are forever making stories about rebellious, or angry, simulacra that want to destroy their makers, and I want to examine this further.

Roujin Z is about a newly invented, healthcare,  AI robot, that is given custody of an old man with dementia, who thinks the robot is his long dead wife. The robot, which is a kind of mobile care vehicle and bed, begins to take on the persona with which he treats it, and decides  to care for him in the way his wife would have. He expresses an interest in visiting the beach, which is several miles away, and the robot decides that’s a good idea, and sets out. This causes complete chaos, as officials try to stop the robot, without hurting the old man, and the robot knocks down anything and everything in her path, to accomplish her goal, like houses, street posts, and cars. It wasn’t built to be so powerful, but it was built to modify itself to the needs of its patients, and that’s where the problem lies. Remember, the officials have no idea why the robot bed has gone rogue, and keep speculating that it is abducting the old man (which it is, but with good intentions). This is the case of  an AI that isn’t actually malevolent, but as in a lot of Japanese films, creates havoc while doing its job too well, which is an attitude not often seen in American made movies of the same type.

 

Ajin

This is another one of those Manga movies I never read, but I enjoyed this live action version, about a private war between these two immortal mutants, one of whom wants to destroy humanity for experimenting on his kind, and the other trying to protect humanity from him. Or that’s what I got out of the plot, because I watched a version of this that had no English translation. It’s got a lot of the old ultra violence in it though, which I appreciated.

Since there were no subtitles, I didn’t catch any deeper themes in the movie, but I loved the special effects, where their bodies reconstituted after their deaths, and they produce these ghostlike creatures (which look like they’re made of ashes) which battle each other kind of like Pokémon, which was fun.

 

 

Monstrum

If you are a fan of the Kingdom series, and Train to Busan, than you should check this movie out, if you can find it. It’s very much in the same sort of vein as Kingdom, in that it’s an historical monster movie, with gorgeous costumes, clever swordplay, and elements of class warfare. Where Kingdom and it’s cinematic counterpart (Rampart) contain zombies, this one just has a random giant monster.

The movie it most reminded me of was Alien 3, actually, but with more likable characters, and a more streamlined plot.  The king receives some sort of dog like pet, which soon grows to tremendous size and becomes untrainable. The king keeps it locked up in his dungeon, where it’s gone more than a little feral, but some bright soul sets it  free, presumably to destroy their enemies, the creature goes on a rampage through the capitol, and must be stopped by a hero with a bad reputation. It’s not an especially deep film, but it was a really good, straight up, horror movie, with lots of suspense. If you liked Bong Joon Ho’s The Host, then you’ll like this one, too, which is like an historical version of that film. 

 

 

Tokyo Ghoul

This was another movie I watched without subtitles. What I got out of it was this young man who discovers he’s a creature called a ghoul, which feeds on human beings, and he spends most of the movie having tentacle battles with the other ghouls. There are a lot of tentacles in this movie. That’s mostly what I remember. That, and I thought the movie had some truly disgusting scenes, which were, well, mostly just disgusting. It wasn’t particularly scary, or even fun, but it was fascinating in a “The Thing”, kind of way.

There’s a sequel to this movie which I’m debating whether or not I should watch since I didn’t get much out of the first movie beyond “ewwww”.

 

Kipo and the WonderBeasts

I’ve also been watching a lot more stuff that’s fun, stress free, and animated. Kipo definitely fits those criteria. This cartoon was sooo much fun! All the characters, outside of the Wonderbeasts are PoC, one of which is gay, it’s funny, has a lot of adventure, is reasonably intelligent for kids. I’d also like to add just one more thing to make you watch this:

‘ Drum & Bass’ Bees

or Giant Disco Bees, as I like to refer to them.

The story takes place far into some Earthlike future, where most humans are living in underground cities. After a horrible incident, Kipo gets separated from her father, and the rest of her community, and stranded on the surface, where she has to make friends and allies, to help her find her way back underground. It’s also a found family story as we watch these very different characters, with different attitudes and agendas bond, and have adventures.

if like me, things are just too stressful to watch horror movies, or thrillers right now, then series and movies like Kipo are well worth the watch. 

Also Watched:

Penny Dreadful (New show)

What We Do in the Shadows (Second Season is off to a hilarious start.)

Brooklyn 99 Finale (This was a great season! Jake and Amy’s baby is born in the final episode. Holt’s arch-nemesis, Munch, dies. We get a Halloween Heist episode, and we get an episode focusing on Cheddar, and Kevin.)

Schitt’s Creek Final Season (This was such a great show. It’s deeply funny, really sweet, it has great characters and character arcs, and moments of real pathos. It had a beautiful finale, culminating in the wedding of one of the lead characters, to his husband, after two years. It’s not too emotionally taxing, and a lot of fun. One of the most underrated shows on Netflix.)

Thangs I Looked At: Movie Mini Reviews

Here are three films I watched in February. For the record, although I had some mild criticisms, I generally liked them, and  I especially enjoyed the Terminator film, which I wasn’t entirely certain I would, since no one was talking about it.

Terminator: Dark Fate

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I was initially very excited when I saw the trailer for this movie, but ultimately didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters. After that, I didn’t hear much about it. I dont normally get too worked up about films, that I think are going to be popular, bombing at the box office, because there are at least half a dozen reasons I won’t   see it, no mater how excited I am about it. I figured that’s probably much the case with a lot of films that bomb. In other words, films bomb for a whole variety of reasons, that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the film’s quality.

And the quality of this latest entry in the Terminator franchise is very excellent. You should really check it out when you get a chance. I liked it every bit as much as I thought I would, ,and you will remember I was very excited about the trailer. It even did a couple of things I wasn’t expecting as far as plot and characters.

The basic plot sort of parallels the Sarah Connor plot from the first movie, but is much more personal. Dani isn’t the savior of the world, she is the savior of one person in particular, and Sarah comes along for the ride. The Terminator is very interesting, combining both elements of the original T-800, and the Liquid version from T2.

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What was surprising about the movie is how female-centric it was, while touching on a lot of themes. Nearly all the characters are women, and they control the plot points in this movie. Sarah’s character reminded me  of Laurie Strode, from the most recent Halloween movie, in that she is a broken and horribly traumatized woman. I always find it interesting when female characters are deliberately written to be unlikable, and that is  the case here. Sarah is kind of an asshole, who butts heads with everyone. She is mean, and bitter, the sneer never leaves her face, and this is acceptable to the viewer, because she is  definitely hurting, and broken, because of an event that happened after she and John saved the world’s future. The movie is as much about her trauma as it is about saving Dani. It is a heavy movie, with the only comic relief provided by an old school Terminator, played by Schwarzeneggar, as a drapery salesman named Carl, who is married to a woman he doesn’t have sex with, and doesn’t know what he is! Once you  wrap your head around all that, the movie is an action fest every bit as good as Fury Road, only  less zany.

The movie takes place largely in Mexico, and at one point, Dani, and the others must sneak into the US, but get locked up in one of the Border camps, so the movie went there, which was interesting, because I didn’t think it would. While no one says anything outright, the framing of those scenes show strong disapproval of what’s happening there, as the Terminator bursts in and slaughters half the border guards, and steals a helicopter.

The Terminator is played by one of my favorite actors, Gabriel Luna, who I got a kick out of watching in the SHIELD series, as the Ghost Rider. His technology isn’t just a blend of the two styles of Terminator we’ve seen, but so is his demeanor, which is especially chilling, because he seems very, innocuous, normal, and friendly, right up until you die.

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The stand out character for me though was Grace, who is awesome. I’m saving a special place in my personal pantheon for Grace, (as not too many white women, Ellen Ripley and Furiosa being the only two,  manage to get into it), who can definitely carry an action scene. The last time I saw that particular actress, she was playing a replicant, in Bladerunner 2049, and here she is playing another half human character. Grace is much like her name, moving and fighting in exactly the manner you’d expect of a technologically enhanced human being, and some of the most exhilarating scenes, are watching her go toe to toe with the Terminator, and matching him hit for hit. She doesn’t actually defeat him, but she is his equal.

The ending of the movie is bittersweet, but I liked it. I liked the entire film. There are no slow moments. Nothing is wasted, and I liked the love/hate dynamics between the female characters, which felt organic, and not just thrown in for drama’s sake. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should check it out, just to watch Schwarzeneggar’s role as Carl, and here him complain about people’s bad taste in draperies, in his usual  monotone.

 

 

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Despite a couple of hiccups, I genuinely liked this movie. I don’t think it’s as good as the first film, but that one had some  novelty behind it in being Tom Hollands first full length term as Spiderman. This one is okay. Its not great. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near Maguire’s Spiderman 2, but its fun and watchable. The teenagers act like teens ,and the love story between Pete and MJ is really cute. This is funnier than the first film, and a  genuine comedy, until it gets near the end, when things get a bit more serious. As with most comedies your mileage may vary. I thought a few of the jokes landed badly, but mostly of them hit their mark, at least for me.

The most annoying part of the movie however,  is the continuing attachment of Tony Stark to Peter’s storyline. He’s still cleaning up Stark’s messes, even after he’s dead. I suspect that will be going on in the MCU for some time, since one of Tony’s major superpowers was  pissing off powerful creatures and/or people. Probably half the villains in the MCU can be traced back to something Tony said or did to some hapless supplicant, and that is the origin story behind Mysterio.

I also found it annoying that everyone assumes Peter wants to take up Tony Stark’s mantle, and do what he did, only as Spiderman. Just let the child be himself ffs! Why does anyone have to step into Tony’s shoes? On the other hand, the movie does mention (rather roughly) some of the issues that happened in the aftermath of  the Snap and the Return, (in this movie its called the Blip), and how much society was upheaved by both those events. I thought it was an intriguing idea  that the world was just as upset by everyone’s return, after five years, as it was by the trauma of their disappearance.

Well, anyway the movie is still fun, and full of lots of humorous moments, regardless of Tony’s ghost hanging around this movie, and I have watched it a couple of times, since its release. Like the first movie, it doesn’t have a whole lot of depth, until the end, when Peter directly goes up against Mysterio.

I liked this just fine. Its not great. Its not even as good as Homecoming, but it’s a well spent Saturday afternoon or evening.

 

 

 

John Wick 3: Parabellum

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Wow! This movie was a wild ride from start to finish. I don’t even know where to begin, I want to call this a hot ass mess, but that would imply I didn’t like it. In fact, I loved it! But yes, it is a hot ass, but very enjoyable, cray-cray mess. its like a Jason Statham, Fast and Furious movie, only with a real budget, if you catch my meaning.

Like the last movie, it picks up where it left off, with Wick being hunted by the Assassin’s guild which he used to be a member of. He’s got to find some old colleagues to help him stay alive, and they of curse come immediately into danger. One of those old friends, Sofia,  is played by Halle Berry, who owns a couple of  Belgian Mallinois, that she has specifically trained to kick ass, on her command, and that part of the movie is lots of fun to watch. I don’t get to watch Halle kick ass too often, so watching this fifty plus year old Black woman throwing  hands was a real treat.

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Another treat was watching Mark Dacascos chew the scenery, and get some genuinely funny lines, as a major villain who just wants to take John down, and supplant him as the boogeyman of assassins. I hadn’t seen Mark in a while, so it was fun to watch this professional ass-kicker throw down, even if the bald head was kind of jarring.

In the meantime, while John is trying to get his shit together there’s an actual assassins cabal, that oversees the assassin’s guild. Since John was “excommunicated”, he’s gotten help from a few friends, including Lawrence Fishburne, as the King of New York, and all their lives are put in danger, because one of the rules is that if you are a member of the guild in good standing, you have to turn in those who are excommunicated.

So the plot becomes a lot more complex, along with all the stuntwork. The John Wick movies are not especially deep, but they are great fun, even though they’re incredibly violent. Part of the reason people don’t mind the violence, quite so much, is that it’s de-mystified by the extras and behind the scenes videos, that show how are the stuntwork gets done, and watching the behind the scenes videos are just as much fun as watching

The Irishman (Netflix)

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*****Here Be Spoilers****

 

Let’s  get something out of the way first.

Yes, I’m aware of what Scorsese has said about the current crop of superhero movies, and yes, I was offended, until he clarified his statements in a recent Vanity Fair article. I’m glad he did, because I was prepared to stay mad at one of my all-time, favorite directors. Well, I’m not as angry, but he is not wrong. He’s not right though, mostly because I don’t think its fair to compare the two types of movies. They serve very different purposes for their audiences in that one type of film consists of exciting power fantasies (like the first half of the movie Goodfellas), and righting wrongs, and Scorsese’s films seem to be about the consequences of that amount of unchecked power,  and what it actually gets you. Superhero movies make no claims of depth.  They are not dramas, although movies like The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier, and Logan come very close.

The Irishman had a brief theatrical run, of about a week or two, before it settled on Netflix, which is where I viewed it, with a great deal of anticipation. There’s a lot of backstory about why the movie is airing on Netflix, but I’m not covering that here. Like a lot of people, I went into this expecting something similar to Goodfellas, and Casino, since Scorsese seems to have some sort of lock on the depiction of  White men in the mafia life. The movie is definitely about gangsters, and appears to be having some kind of dialogue with the other two films. It would be interesting to watch all three of these movies back to back, to see what they are saying to, and about, each other.

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I loved this movie, and I wasn’t expecting that. Everyone involved is at the top of their game. I didn’t think Scorsese had a lot more to say about the mafia life, that he hadn’t already said, but he does.

Like the other two films in this trilogy, it’s a meditation on crime and regret. I think a lot of people have had a  very wrong takeaway from Scorsese’s movies. Although he seems both fascinated with , and terrified of, this lifestyle, he definitely does not approve. These are the kinds of people he knew growing up, and he seemed to have kept, in the forefront of his mind, that they were not good people, no matter what their claims of nobility, or  how fascinating their lives were.

These films are not a glorification of their lifestyle.  Henry Hill, in the last third of Goodfellas, just flat out states this. Scorsese has never sugarcoated who and what these people are. The violence in these films is always  sudden, and brutal.  Hill spoke on the topic in Goodfellas, but here its just shown. Scorsese always  has  his characters realize, by the end, the horror of the decisions they’ve made. Every participant ends up  dead, or regretful, and there is a an onscreen commentary, on the fate of each one of the character’s introduced, in the film. The bottom line is, if you choose the mobster life, because you have romanticized notions about it, it will end badly.

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I knew a young Italian man, in college, who told me that his father met some people in the life, but he also told me that one of the key things is never to invite them into your life. Don’t ask them for favors, don’t hang out with them in their places, don’t befriend them. They’re like vampires. You have to let them in.

A classic example, is the restaurant owner from Goodfellas, who allows Tommy, and his friends, to frequent his restaurant. Just like Henry did as a child, he thinks its exciting to be associated with these men. He admires the life, and believes he is friends with them, until the time comes for Tommy to pay the massive bill he’s run up on his tab. These guys are just taking advantage of him, but he is still too enamored of their life to see that. In an effort to get Tommy to pay his bill, the restaurant owner goes to Paulie, (Tommy’s boss), and makes Paulie a partner, in exchange for taking care of Tommy’s bill. Paulie takes advantage of him too, until he  goes out of business, as they steal  him blind, eventually the restaurant gets burned down for the insurance. The owner romanticized their lifestyle. He failed to see them as the unprincipled thieves they were. He invited them in, and he lost everything. The same thing goes for the character of Spider, a mirror of the young Henry, who romanticizes their lifestyle, and gets killed by Tommy, for standing up for himself, with not a single tear shed by any of the witnesses.

The Irishman  follows another low grade member of a mafia crew, a hitman named Frank Sheeran, (Robert DeNiro), as he befriends various mobsters, and paints houses (carries out mob hits). Most of the movie is about his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino), and his confession that he killed him, after being assigned to do so by his then bosses, one of which is also a close friend, Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci. The movie is based on a book by Charles Brandt titled “I Heard You Paint Houses?”, which is the line in the movie said by Pacino, when he and Frank first meet over the phone. So once again, you have someone who invites these people into his life. Hoffa knows who, and what, these people are, but he romanticizes the life, and has an outsized sense of his worth to them.

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Right away, the mood and setting are very different than the other two movies, (Goodfellas and Casino), which open with exciting scenes of violence, (and interestingly, with men in cars). This movie is reflective and melancholy. The opening scene is a quiet shot of Frank, in a senior citizen’s home, reminiscing about his past, to his lawyers. The movie is a flashback, but unlike Henry Hill”s story, Frank has no misty-eyed remembrances for the things he’s done. He joined the mob because he was a soldier who needed to do something with his life, after he came back from the war. He didn’t join because he loved the life, or glorified its denizens, and this is probably why he survived, although that’s no consolation, either. He is an old man filled with regret, and we come to have some amount of sympathy for him, although Scorsese never lets us think, for a moment, that he is a good guy. Nor does he show Frank as vicious or evil, for its own sake, although the things he does, are indeed,  vicious, and evil. Scorsese presents him as just a guy, who made the best choices he could, in the circumstances presented to him.

Deniro definitely deserves some form of recognition for his role here, but the two major highlights of the movie, for me, was Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa, and Joe Pesci’s much quieter turn, as Russell Bufalino. You want to be reminded of his role as Tommy in Goodfellas, but this character is wholly unlike him. Bufalino is smarter, and more calculating, with a cool menace that the hotheaded, showboating, Tommy lacked. He and Frank become friends, and get to be quite close, but Frank, (and hence the audience), never forgets the power dynamic between them. Russell is his boss, and should Frank prove to be a threat, or an inconvenience, Russell could have him killed, and it would be just business.

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This was the most interesting part of the movie for me. Y’all know me. I love to watch different types of  characters interact. It’s interesting because movie audiences don’t often get to watch the  process of two grown men, who have been steeped in pride and machismo, their entire lives, put themselves in the vulnerable position of trusting a stranger, while navigating the power and violence of their positions,  to  become friends. You can see them feeling the other out, trying to reach a place of comfort. I found myself totally caught up in the moment. The faint distrust, and the questions they ask of each other, without actually asking them: What do you want from me? Are you a stand up guy? Will you give me straight answers? Can you be trusted?

Frank’s relationship with Hoffa is covered just as deeply. The most  fascinating part, is comparing how trust is shown between Frank and Hoffa, and Frank and Russell. Scorsese doesn’t fall into the trap of having the characters make grand declarations of how much they love and trust each other. There are scenes with Frank and Russell hanging out with each other’s families, or having dinner together. Some scenes with Frank and Hoffa are just them talking in Hoffa’s bedroom, before he goes to sleep. At one point, Hoffa nods off while talking to Frank, he trusts Frank so completely, and Frank just quietly sits there for a while, watching him sleep, and glancing out the window, and that scene is unexpectedly moving. It’s hard to know what Frank is thinking during that scene. The specter of violence hangs over everything he does, and that scene is even more tragic, when you know what happens between them later.

There are not a lot of women in this movie, and none of the men have any moral standing. The moral center of this film is Frank’s daughter, Peggy, (Anna Paquin) who sees her father beat a man on her behalf, when she is a child, and this impacts her relationship with him, for the rest of their lives. She gets probably three lines in the entire movie, but Scorsese sets her up, by giving us long closeups of her face, and her disapproval, and fear, of her father, (and by association, Russell), is apparent. We don’t need a loud, dramatic shouting match between them, to know that she has seen what kind of man he is, and  will never love him. Frank tries to reconcile with her before his death, but she will have none of him.

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Frank doesn’t just regret the things he did when he was younger, but all the familial relationships he let fall by the wayside, while prioritizing his relationships with the men he worked for, all of whom are now dead. He has to pay for his own funeral, buying his own tombstone. There’s no one alive, who would come to his funeral, anyway. The movie ends with Frank, alone in his room. He is the last one left of that old life, and he has nothing to show for it. Once again, Scorsese presents the mobster lifestyle as empty and meaningless. If you don’t die horribly, at the hands of someone you trusted, then you die alone, with no one to care.

There’s a lot of the movie I didn’t talk about, like the cinematography, and music, which are pretty standard for a Scorsese film, with some upbeat sixties songs, the most prominent song being, In the Still of the Night, by The Five Satins, which bookends the movie. There are two opening scenes, one with Frank beginning his story in the nursing home, and the other, the beginning of the story, which features him and Russell, taking a road trip, with their wives. The movie starts out really cute, with the wives fussing with their husbands in the car. Everyone is very comfortable with each other, at first, but as the trip continues, the tension begins to mount, as we overhear increasingly nervous phone calls between Russell, Frank, and Hoffa, finally culminating, in the last third of the movie, in Russell’s order to Frank.

The cinematography is superb ,as usual, but there are a few uncanny valley moments in the film as Deniro, Pesci, and Pacino had to be de-aged in a few of the scenes. The de-aged faces aren’t as emotive as their actual faces, so I kept getting jarred out of the story, by wondering every now and then, how the actors got de-aged for their roles, but this doesn’t happen a lot, and is easily ignored. If you’re not a fan of Scorsese’s mobster films, this still may be worth a look for you, because its very different in tone, but I do have to warn you,  that just like in the other movies, the violence is flat, graphic, and unforgiving. When it comes to acts of violence, Scorsese does not fuck around, or wince. People get beaten and shot, and there’s a harrowing scene where Frank shoots up a restaurant full of people. I have become a lot more squeamish, as I’ve gotten older, and these scenes were hard for even me to watch.

Despite its three hour run time, the movie didn’t make me feel restless at all. I sat through the entire three hours, and never missed them, or a moment of dialogue. The movie simply pulled me right in. It was moving, with moments of sheer horror, and is a testament to Scorsese’s skill as a director, as nothing is explicitly stated by any of the characters, yet its message is loud, and clear. I don’t know if this movie will be nominated for an Oscar. It, and everyone involved, should.

The Irishman is the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Things Are Gonna Be Fun II: Electric Bugaloo

I wrote a version of this post, earlier this year, in which I listed all the movies I was interested in watching, and I just want to offer a sequel to that post, with mini reviews of movies I, did indeed, watch, and one I didn’t get to see, even though I wanted to.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/things-are-gonna-be-fun/

I’ve noticed a pattern of saying I’m not gonna see something, because I wasn’t interested, but later I rent the movie, or watch it on cable, so obviously I’m an unreliable narrator, when it comes to determining which movies I’ll be watching in a given year. So, you can take me at my word, at your own risk. Plus my track record of movie watching has been thrown off by my mom’s insistence that we go see every killer animal movie that gets released! I don’t dislike those types of movies, but I told her she’s messin’ up my movie schedule. (Note: No, she does not care about that, and just finds the whole thing deeply funny.)

Anyway these were the movies I showed some interest for, and ended up actually watching.

Glass

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Unlike a lot of  people, who saw this,  I actually liked this movie. Yes, there was a bit of a twist n the movie, in the sense that things do not play out in any way you think they’re going to play out, but it still did have a satisfying ending. I was interested to see how David Dunn ended up in the asylum with Mr. Glass and The Beast, and I though  the team up between Glass and Beast was interesting to watch. In a lot of ways the story plays out exactly the way such stories work in comic books, and I think the twist really threw a lot of people off, especially if they were expecting the movie to go on that way to the end. About halfway through the movie, there’s  a monkey wrench thrown into the story that changes it to be about something else entirely,  and while I was initially dismayed by the change, it ultimately proved to be satisfying for me.

 

Akita Battle Angel

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I read the manga a few years ago, before the movie was announced, and it was okay, but I found this movie rather disappointing. There are a few elements in it that I liked, but ultimately I didn’t finish the movie, and it was mostly  because of the acting, which is both restrained in some places, and over the top in others. And yeah, I did have a problem with the big eyes. They were distracting, even though big eyes are not distracting in anime. I also loathe sports movies, and about halfway through this movie, this turns into one of those made-up sports movies, that’s supposed to be an analogy for revolution, or something.

Sports movies are absolutely the one genre of movie I will not happily watch. I will watch a cop movie before I sit down to watch a sports movie. On the other hand, I did enjoy the world-building, and the special effects were excellent, but ultimately, those two things were not enough to keep my interest.

 

Captain Marvel

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I liked this movie far more than I thought I would. I wasn’t greatly enthusiastic about it, preferring to see her in Avengers Endgame first, before watching this, but it turned out to be okay. I thought its messaging was a bit ham-handed, but I loved the characters most of all, especially the Rambeaus, and the cat loving Nick Fury, and it was  unexpectedly funny, and deeply emotional in some spots. Is it as good as some of my MCU favorites, that I’ve watched multiple times? Nah. This movie doesn’t even break my top ten, but it also doesn’t land in the bottom ten either. Its a good, solid, competent, middle of the road, action movie, with a feminist message, and some acceptable special effects. If I watch  it again, it will be for the character relationships and action scenes.

 

Shazam

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I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this movie, but it turned out to be a heckuva lot of fun. The ads for it lead you to believe the kids in the movie are kind of obnoxious, and at first the are, but they quickly grow on you, and I started to really like the lead character ,and the movie is actually pretty funny, in a cringey, covering my eyes sort of way.

I’ve always been fascinated by Billy Batson, not because I thought of him as a power fantasy for children, though. Frankly, and this is where being a PoC, and a woman, comes into me having a very different opinion about movies, I was kinda horrified by Billy’s story. This isn’t a whole lot like the TV show I watched as a child. For one thing, Billy Batson is actually a little kid in this, unlike the teenager in the show, and no kid should ever be put in that sort of position. Billy fucks up a lot, and its really frustrating, and mildly upsetting to watch the villain beat his ass because he has the physical/mental sensibilities of a child. I don’t know how to explain it, but Shazam has always struck me as more of a horror story than a fantasy.

On the other hand, despite my anxiety, this movie was a lot of fun, and I liked the other kids in it, because they were really cute, and they all defeat the villain through teamwork, and superpowers, and stuff. Its a good, lightweight, piece of fluff to watch, on some Saturday afternoon, with your nieces and nephews.

 

Hellboy

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Whoo boy! I have a lot to say about this movie, so watch for my post comparing the Del Toro movies with this version, and the graphic novels. I didn’t hate this movie like a lot of people did. In fact this movie may prove to be better liked at some later date, but I didn’t love it either. It had a lot of problems which are outweighed by how incredibly gorgeous it is.

 

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

As I said in the original post, I only know as much about Pokemon as raising my sisters would allow me to know, so I was kind of walking into this clean. I didn’t know that the various Pokemon had personalities and stuff, so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew some of the character names, and I liked the premise, and heard that Ryan Reynolds was doing the voice of Pikachu, who is, naturally, my favorite.This movie was as cute as you think it is. Its a nice, funny, piece of fluff. Its got a couple of dark moments, but is mostly safe to watch with kids, as its not that deep, so you can enjoy it without too much anxiety.

I was mostly distracted by the kind of world in which Pokemon live side by side with people. Where do the Pokemon got to  the bathroom? How do the largest Pokemon navigate through the society, and did the biggest ones I saw belong to anyone, or were they just hanging out in the city? Some of the Pokemon were pretty dangerous, so are there humans who hunt them down and exterminate them when they get out of hand? Or do they lock them in jail, like people?

Well, I had questions!

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John Wick 3: Parabellum

This movie was every bit as wild and crazy as it looks from the trailer. I’ve been watching this franchise, and really the entire thing is ridiculous, with Assassin’s guilds, mobsters, dog attacks. Its kind of unrelenting and you may need to have a rest about halfway through it. This time there’s some type of regulatory organization involved, and its purpose is to weed out everyone who helped John in the first two movies. So, not only is John still being hunted by all the top assassins in the world, (namely Mark Dacascos, who it was nice to see again), his friends are in danger too, and this all  escalated from the killing of John’s dog, left to him by his late wife, by a no-account mobster’s son.

I loved Halle’s character, with her two guard dogs. She talked in interviews about the training for the dogs, and what it was like being on set with them, and that was fascinating. In fact the entire thing is fascinating because the creators have no qualms saying the movies are just stunt showcases, with a loose plot attached to it, and going into detail about how they do everything. Its fun to watch, not just the film itself, but the making of it, as well.

Halle Berry plays a character named Sophia, who owns two Belgian Malinois. She is fifty three years old. This is a very demanding film and most of its stars are older men and women, so that’s interesting.

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Men in Black International

I was ultimately so disappointed in this movie, that I didn’t even finish it. I mean Thor and Valkyrie team up to save the world from aliens but there’s really not much of a plot, the acting was a little lackluster. It wasn’t as funny as the first two movies. it was really just lacking Will Smith.

I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories set in this universe, and Tessa and Chris were really cute, but it really does need to have the imagery and the humor, and with actually funny actors, which is something that started to go wrong in the second film. Tessa and Chris are funny, from time to time, but they are not known for their comedy, and it showed, because the writing simply wasn’t there. Its been diminishing returns on the humor ever since that second film, really, but I  expected a lot from this, because the trailer made it look like fun. The wild enthusiasm I had for several other films, that were released around the same time, wasn’t there, but I thought this would be okay. Ultimately, I’m glad I  didn’t spend money to see this in the theater.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

I missed this one in the theater becasue I was broke around the time this movie got released, but I rented it as soon as the it started streaming ,and I was not disappointed. it has a few slow moments, or moments I didn’t particularly care for, but those moments were not enough to stop me from overall likage. Its not as good as the first film, which had that element of novelty, but its very satisfactory.

I loved a lot of things about it, but mostly it was the relationships between the characters.  I liked the cuteness between Peter ,and MJ. They really did sell the idea of them being awkward teens beginning a romantic relationship. Peter’s friends, and co-stars also get some nice story arcs, too. The action was a lot of fun and didn’t go on interminably long, which is something that always makes me start to squirm, as I get easily  distracted. I’ve watched this about three times since then, and I keep discovering new things ,and its been fun each time.

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I don’t often do sequels to my forthcoming movies posts, but I was going back through some of my older posts, and I saw that I’d watched nearly all the movies in it, and had not given even mini-reviews. so here are some of my  mini-mini-reviews.

Horror Movie Themes: Women Directors And Monster Women

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Women who direct horror movies are few and far between. They are simply not telling stories in significant numbers in the genre for critics to say there’s an overwhelming theme being tackled, but there are enough of them that a pattern is beginning to emerge.

 

Ostensibly, the stories women tell cover the same subjects as male directors,  but there are sometimes subtle differences, and most of that has to do with women’s perspective on the same topics. There is plenty of vengeance, serial killers, and  ultra violence, but where movies with male directors often focus on the spectacle of violence  against women, without questioning it, female directors often make women the total focus of the plot, as both victims and perpetrators. There are also  fewer otherworldly monsters in female directed movies. Often, in such films, the monsters are very  human, and sometimes those monsters are, in fact, the women.

There are exceptionally few horror movies directed by women of color, and the bare handful of movies that were, like Beloved, fall into the category of personal hauntings, that tackle issues that resonate with other women of color. The majority of women horror filmmakers, are White women, and they tend to focus on issues that are of importance to them, and one starts to notice a pattern in the themes of the movies they make.

If White men work out their personal anxieties through the types of horror they create, then so do White women. It is not that women of color cannot relate to these themes, it’s just that for them, such themes may not be a priority, and tend to carry less resonance for them.

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In movies like Carrie by Kimberly Pierce, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, by Ana Lily Amirpour,  and Jennifer’s Body by Karyn Kusama, the theme is not just the Monstrous Feminine, but femaleness itself as monster. There is no coding of femininity as  horrific in these movies. It is a  woman who is a horrible monster, who feeds on men, or  destroys the human body, with a thought, and she is like this, because she is female, as that is an integral part of the horror in the film.

Carrie and Jennifer’s Body  also tackle issues that are of specific relevance to women, like puberty, menstruation,  friendship, and sexual trauma. In female directed films, there is less emphasis on the disruption and restoration of order, or the status quo. Often, their films don’t actually have any resolution, or the emphasis is on the disruption, and restoration, of relationships, or cathartic punishments, instead.

Themes about monstrosity, in such movies, often revolve around body horror, and consumption, as dieting, and the non/consumption of food, and women’s relationships to food, make up the bulk of the personal anxieties in the privileged classes of women who sometimes make these films. In Julia Decournau’s Raw (2016),  a vegetarian girl develops a craving for meat after she undergoes a hazing ritual involving the eating of raw animals. In the 1999 Ravenous,  by the late Antonia Bird, Guy Pierce develops a taste for raw meat after he is nearly killed during the Mexican – American War, and in Jennifer’s Body, a young woman has to save her high school friend, after she realizes her friend has become a flesh eating demon. (There is a lot to unpack, in the movie Jennifer’s Body, which we will discuss later.) Many middle-class, White, Western women have a love/hate , and a fear/disgust, relationship with food, dieting, and  consumption, and we see that play out in these films, as eating, (usually blood and meat), becomes the primary focus of the horror.

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Female directed movies often tend to be more intimate, focusing on the horror of relationships, or the topic of motherhood. What mothers are willing to do for, or sometimes to, their families is the subject of the 2014 movie, The Babadook, where a mother fears she may kill her son, when she is haunted,  and then possessed, after reading about the titular character.

In the anthology XX, many of the stories revolve around the horrific circumstances that can occur when a mother loves her family. Motherhood, already a source of real world anxiety, is a frequent topic in films made by women. In The Box, the themes are also loss, helplessness, and non/consumption, as a woman loses her entire family, when they starve themselves, after her son views the contents of a mysterious box. It is a secret that kills them, and which they refuse to share with her, so that when they are gone, she spends the rest of her life riding the subway, hoping to encounter the man with the box again. The story, Her only Living Son, directly tackles sacrificial motherhood, as a woman sacrifices her life to save her son from his Satanic destiny.

Sex is a huge component of female directed horror movies, but unlike films directed by men, that mostly just feature the spectacle of  women having sex,  or being raped, the focus from women directors is on the danger, and vulnerability of intimacy, and often based on a young woman’s fear of sexual activity, and fear of the loss of innocence, that may be the result. In the film, A Girl Walks Home Alone, a nameless female, Iraqi  vampire hunts men. This movie is groundbreaking, not just because of its setting, and plot, but character. The sexual forwardness of Iraqi women isn’t often featured in film, let alone as a night-stalking blood drinker. The director, Amirpour, is not White, but the themes of consumption, and blood as a euphemism for sex, still find a way into the story.

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Blood plays a huge part in a lot of the stories told by women, from Carrie, to Raw, to Jennifer’s Body, with the theme being  linked to  femininity, fertility, and/or sex. The movie, Carrie, begins and ends with blood. Based on the novel by Stephen King, it chronicles a young woman’s perilous navigation through high school. At the beginning of the story, the onset of her menses signals her introduction to adulthood, and heightens her telekinetic abilities. The story ends with the killing of her entire graduating class, after a bucket of pig’s blood is dumped over her during the school prom, an act which was informed by the opening events of the story, when she has her first period in front of her bullying classmates.

Blood and flesh are especially popular topics of these films, in that many of them contain cannibalism and/or vampirism. In the movie Raw, relationships, and adulthood rites take center stage, as a young woman, who has a contentious relationship with her sister, gets turned into a cannibal after an initial hazing at her sister’s college, that turns out to be an initiation, not just into a sorority, but also adulthood. In Blood and Donuts (1995), a vampire who has just awakened from a long sleep, is introduced to the modern world, via the night shift worker at a local bakery. Over the course of the evening, the young lady figures out who and what he is, and the two of them engage in a push and pull attraction, as he decides whether or not he should prey on her.

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In the 1987 movie, Near dark, a young man is inducted into a nightmare lifestyle, where he has to kill to live, when he meets a pretty blonde girl, at a bar one night. Vampires, since they, like blood, are often a euphemism for sex and adulthood, are the focus of women’s stories, such as Fran Rubel Kazui’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Buffy went on to answer deeper questions about girlhood and monsters, in the TV series, which lasted from 1997 to 2003. In fact, these themes are so prevalent, that they often seem to be having a dialogue with each other, or with movies of the same genre, made by men.

There is a lot of narrative overlap, for example, between Near Dark, Ravenous, and the movie, Afflicted, which cover not just the same themes, but sometimes the same talking points, of the male protagonist’s empathy making them unfit to live the kind of lifestyle that requires killing others. There is also a great deal of narrative overlap in the movies Carrie, Raw, and Ginger Snaps, more films in which menstruation, and flesh eating, are the signals that a young woman has reached full adulthood.

Now let’s talk about Jennifer’s Body.

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Jennifer’s body is a great encapsulation of some of the themes and topics that women address through horror. The themes of friendship, female ally-ship and support, revenge, sexuality,  and patriarchy are part of this narrative.

Jennifer’s Body was released in 2009, written by Diablo Cody, and directed by Karen Kusama. Jennifer Check, as played by Megan Fox, is the high school hot girl. She is the sassy, beautiful, popular, cheerleader, that all the  high school boys lust after. Amanda Seyfried plays Amanda “Needy” Lesnicki,  her quiet, bookish,  best friend, since elementary school. Jennifer gets possessed by a demon, after she is sacrificed to Satan by a local rock band, in exchange for fame.

Already there are themes of the sexuality of women being exploited for male gain. The band, called Low Shoulder, thinks she is a virgin, and their sacrifice was successful, but since she was not actually a virgin, she became possessed instead. After she has killed two young men, Amanda figures out that she is a succubus that is impervious to harm after feeding on her victims. Jennifer attacks Amanda’s boyfriend, who then attacks and eventually kills her. However, bitten by Jennifer, Amanda has now developed some of the Demon Jennifer’s abilities. At the end of the movie, she hunts down  the band Low Shoulder, and kills them.

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Throughout the movie, we are  privy to some of the more interesting conversations that women have when men are not present, and this is something that will only happen in a movie that is written and controlled by women. Not only will there often be more than one woman in a movie, but their relationships and conversations often have more depth. The film is informed by two women in front of the camera as well as the two women behind it. It is the relationship between Amanda and Jennifer that is integral to the plot of the film. If we don’t buy their friendship, we cannot become emotionally invested in their plight, most especially in Amanda’s dilemma at having to kill her best friend.

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/08/206237/jennifers-body-review-defense-female-revenge-movie

Amanda isn’t just killing Jennifer to save the lives of the young men she might feed on, but to save Jennifer. too. I talked in an earlier post about how Horror is basically the disruption of the status quo by the unknown, often the paranormal, and yes, Jennifer as a demon is a disruption of the status quo,  but the status quo, does not necessarily mean “good”. The status quo is Jennifer’s humanity being disregarded  by  men who were willing to  sacrifice her life for their own gain. That Jennifer, and then Amanda, become demons is a necessary disruption, especially as part of the revenge narratives that are also prominent in women’s horror. Not only are revenge narratives common for women directors, they are often very cathartic for the creators and audiences.

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https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/03/carrie-stephen-king-brian-de-palma-horror-films-feminism

Kimberly Pierce’s Carrie, from 2011, is another movie that appears to be having a dialogue with Jennifer’s Body, as it covers many of the same themes, of women’s relationships, both supportive and toxic, and the revenge narrative. Although the story was originally written by Stephen King, and the original movie was directed Brian De Palma, I talked at length about how the mood and emphasis of the film is changed, as Pierce  focuses more on the women’s tangled relationships with each other, rather than on spectacle.

So for female horror directors, there seems to be less emphasis on spectacle (although that’s definitively present becasue these are horror movies), and more focus on symbolism, and the relationships between the characters. For me, this supports my supposition that the type of moves that get made are a reflection of the types of people who make them. If this is true of the Japanese, or British, then its equally true for the White men who run Hollywood, and are the primary creators in the horror genre. So, yes, I think that the types of films being made by White women (as these directors are primarily White) are a reflection of the things that are important to them.

There have not been enough Black and Asian-American filmmakers, in the horror genre, for certain patterns to emerge, but I’m going to give it a try in a follow-up post.

Movie Disease Vectors: Pass It on

I mentioned in an earlier post that one  of the primary staples of the Horror genre is the fear of disease, or loss of bodily autonomy. The Fly is a perfect encapsulation of this theme. The Horror genre also likes to combine the two fears, as in the movie, Slither, and part of the fun of watching such films is figuring out how you would, or could, survive the fate of the film’s characters.

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I was revisiting some commentary I’d left on another website, and  discussing disease vectors. I was specifically discussing zombification, and where and how such a disease would get started. I mentioned a game I was playing called Plague Inc.

I don’t know if any of you have heard of Plague Inc., but it’s a fascinating way of learning how disease works, and the CDC itself approves of the game, and offers suggestions. The objective of the game is to kill  the human race, anything less than that and you lose. You must kill off all humanity. I’ve only won the game once on the easy setting, and trust me, it’s not a triumphant feeling.

Plague Inc. is a strategy title in which you take control of a deadly pathogen and, beginning with patient zero, attempt to spread the plague across the entire world and wipe out the human race — which does its best to adapt and stop you in your tracks at every turn.

You have to factor, not just where the disease begins, but how fast it travels, based on how its victims contract it, how the disease gets spread to different locations, and carefully calculate how fast it works on its victims bodies. You receive points on how effective your disease is, and you can use those points to buy specific attributes it, like new vectors, that can slow it down, or speed it up. If the disease kills its victims too fast, then it dies out before it can infect enough people. If it works on its victims too slowly, then the disease will be cured before it can infect enough people. What you want is a disease that spreads quickly, through as many vectors as possible, while leaving its patients alive just long enough that scientists don’t realize how fatal the disease is.

Horror movies base a lot of their plots off diseases, some of them pretty rare, and some of them entirely  fictional, but they all operate from the same basis. Diseases need to be spread somehow, and just like other living organisms, the virus or bacteria, or whatever the disease is based on, wants to survive and multiply, and can only do that by infecting as many people as possible. Horror movie diseases echo real world versions in that they need to have vectors.

 

28 Days Later (2002)/Train to Busan (2016)/World War Z

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These three movies are too similar in their depictions of zombification not to be compared. The only differences are that in 28 Days Later, the victims are still alive, and slowly starve to death, while in Train to Busan, the victims are the reanimated dead. The diseases are spread very much the same,with humans as the transport vector. and these diseases spread very quickly because the victims are fast, chasing and infecting, more victims.

Much like  Rabies, both diseases are spread through contact with infected saliva, like a bite, or interaction with bodily fluids. The diseases in the movies are spread so fast because the victims are compelled to seek out new hosts, and because it works on the body much faster than any known real life diseases, so its not very realistic in the depictions of the diseases themselves.These diseases work too fast on the bodies of the victims, but the vectors for them are realistic enough.

 

 

World War Z (2013)/The Invasion (2007)

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The vector for the zombification in World War Z is similar to the the one used in The Invasion, which is kind of a slick remake of The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. The vector, in both cases, is humans, but one extra thing these two diseases have in common is how they react to the human body, in that a previous infection of some other disease, can render a person immune to the current one.

I think World War Z got this idea from the science of immunology.h I have it on good authority that that is not how  disease works in real life, and in World War Z,  it is more how predator/prey relationships sometimes work. In the real world, what would happen is one kind of disease suppressing one’s immune system, and  making a person vulnerable to other infections. One of the things that World War Z gets right, however are that boats and planes are two of the vectors for transport of the disease.

In The Invasion, the “disease’, which is really a kind of sentient virus, is passed via bodily fluids. The victims produce a milky saliva that they use to infect more victims, usually by adulterating beverages. This is another disease that spreads quickly, as the first victims are compelled to seek out more.  A person becomes a “podded” after they fall asleep, and a brief period in which the body tries to fight off the infection through other means, like a fever. In 1400’s England, there was a brief epidemic of something called The Sweating Sickness, that could kill a person within hours of infection. The name, and cause, of the diseases is still unknown, but it is similar to The Invasion, in that the victims suffer “night sweats” which coats their body in a gelatinous like “pod”.

Any … form of sensing the presence of infected prey, unless they just kind of know it preternaturally or something, would require methods we’re not currently aware of.

https://www.vulture.com/2013/06/biophysicist-assesses-world-war-z.html

 

The Stand – Stephen King (1978)

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The disease chronicled in The Stand is not fictional. It is very  real. Called the Superflu, it is spread the same way regular colds and flu is spread, with the only difference between it and the regular flu, is  that the Superflu was genetically modified to be a weapon. Scientists hardly needed to make a super version, as there have been several times that the flu has wiped out whole populations of people. There here have been several of these over the past 300 years. The last major Flu pandemic happened in 1918, called the Spanish Flu, it killed some 50 to 100 million people worldwide. Because the flu is easily transmitted,  it is capable of infecting a lot of people, without their knowledge. The description of the Superflu, or as its called in the book, Captain Trips, closely resembles descriptions of The Spanish Flu.

One of the most interesting chapters in King’s novel, chronicles the transmission of the disease from patient zero, to the rest of the population, illustrating the futility in trying to contain it. The disease travels just fast enough, and kills just slow enough, that no one realizes they have been infected, and are able to pass it along to many unknowingly, by touch. Just like the real flu Captain Trips is contagious before they show any symptoms, after which the disease is airborne, in infected droplets from  mucus.The only difference is that Captain Trips had a 100% mortality rate. If you caught it, you died.

The flu is transmitted through droplet, so if you catch it it’s because you have someone else’s spit in you. So if you do think you have the flu, you should wear a mask when you go outside. And if you refuse to get your flu shot, you should also wear a mask. Droplet range is about three feet. People can sneeze as far as 20 feet but about 3 feet is the contagious range.

That’s what made The Stand so scary. People would go through their days coughing and sneezing, thinking they were just suffering from a light head cold. But as they were going throughout their day, they were infecting everyone they had come across. And then a week later they were dead.

https://factandsciencefiction.com/the-flu-stephen-king-the-stand/

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The Black Death (2010)

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The tile of this movie is a reference to the  Bubonic Plague, AKA The Black Plague. In the mid 1300s, the Black Death was responsible for killing a third of Europe’s population, and parts of the Mediterranean and Africa. The disease still exists today, even here in the US. One of the vectors for Bubonic plague are rats, (and other small rodents), which carry the infected fleas, which can carry the disease quickly and quietly into populated areas. One of the other vectors is humanity. People infected with the plague are highly contagious, and can pass it on, much like the flu.

The bacteria that cause plague, Yersinia pestis, maintain their existence in a cycle involving rodents and their fleas. Plague occurs in rural and semi-rural areas of the western United States, primarily in semi-arid upland forests and grasslands where many types of rodent species can be involved. Many types of animals, such as rock squirrels, wood rats, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, mice, voles, and rabbits can be affected by plague. Wild carnivores can become infected by eating other infected animals.

https://www.cdc.gov/plague/transmission/index.html

 

Cabin Fever (2002)

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Just as in The Invasion , this disease can be passed on by human beings coming into contact with the bodily fluids of the infected.  In the movie, several college students come in contact with  water that’s been contaminated by an infected  body. As the disease progresses they begin to bleed profusely, and the skin begins to slough away. The basis for the disease in the movie is called necrotizing fasciitis,, aka Flesh Eating Bacteria. (I caution you to not Google images of this disease, unless you have a strong stomach. For the record,  it looks exactly like the disease in the movie.)

 If you have necrotizing fasciitis you have a life threatening condition that could spread to kill you within hours. Once you have it you can go from swollen calf to death’s door within a period of days.

https://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2003-09/catching-cabin-fever/

 

Pontypool (2009)

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This is a unique and  interesting movie in that the vector of contamination here is speech. The use of certain words must be said and heard in a specific arrangement in English, which creates an infection that takes over the brain, and turns the victim into a living zombie.

The disease in the movie mimics some actual speech disorders, like “spasmodic dysphonia”, the speech disorder most famous for its use in the movie Us by Lupita Nyongo, who got into  some small  trouble for it.

“There are three stages to this virus. The first stage is you might begin to repeat a word. Something gets stuck. And usually it’s words that are terms of endearment like sweetheart or honey. The second stage is your language becomes scrambled and you can’t express yourself properly. The third stage you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out of the situation you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person.”

https://longsworde.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-zombies-of-pontypool-language-as-a-virus/

 

Afflicted (2013)

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The basis for much of the mythology of vampirism is a disease  called Porphyria, a set of several inherited, blood disorders, that result in the body being unable to create hemoglobin. Some of the symptoms of  porphyria are paleness, lethargy, and extreme photsensitivity, all symptoms displayed by the character in the movie. Porphyria, however , is not infectious.

In The Afflicted,  Derek, begins to exhibit all the symptoms of vampirism, after an encounter with a pretty girl at a nightclub. He first exhibits flu like symptoms, before the disease is offset  by the other  symptoms of vamprism,  super strength, and speed. In the movies, vampirism is contagious through contact with saliva, in much the same way as rabies, to which it also bears a similarity. For example, animals with rabies often display “hydrophobia”, an aversion to water, which might have given rise to the belief, that vampires could not abide running water.

The different genetic variations that affect heme production give rise to different clinical presentations of porphyria — including one form that may be responsible for vampire folklore.

https://vector.childrenshospital.org/2017/09/gene-protoporphyria-blood-disorder/

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Rabies is a deadly virus that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected animal. Globally, it kills an estimated 59,000 people each year — that equates to almost one death every 9 minutes. Initial symptoms are only flu-like, but once they appear, rabies is almost always fatal.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321780.php

 

Slither (2006)

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The alien in this movie doesn’t resemble any kind of human disease, but it does resemble the actions of a particular fungus. The cordyceps fungus operates in much the same fashion as the alien in the movie: infect, zombify, repeat. In that way, the creature, also called The Long One,  grows to consume the life of an entire planet. The alien mimics the life cycle of cordyceps by controlling the hosts to infect more hosts, through the use of mobile spores, which look like worms.

The cordyceps fungus also infects an ant or other insect through spores. After the host is infected, it is instructed by the spores to climb to a high point, before more of the spores burst from its body, infecting the rest of the colony. In the movie, after a person is directly infected  by the primary host, their bodies are instructed to feed until they grow to enormous size, after which their bodies burst, releasing the spore-like worms.

After patient zero, Grant Grant, is infected by an initial spore (in the shape of a needle), he is instructed to feed, and impregnate more hosts. The alien takes on the intelligence level of its hosts, although it does have its own  memories, which are shared among its hosts, and  is specifically referenced, in the film, as a “Conscious Disease”.

Exploring Horror Movie Themes

Earlier, I talked about how, since most of the American Horror genre is run by White men, what we’re really getting is a glimpse into the minds of what scares straight, middle class, White men, and the themes they like to visit , and re-visit, over and over. These large scale patterns give us some idea what they consider to be important to have, or even to lose, and their close felt anxieties. Its not that other people don’t feel these anxieties, but these are movies told from a particular Western  male framework, while movies in other cultures  have a different set of tropes and patterns, that are reflective of the anxieties of those people.

Western style Horror movies are often about the loss of control, stability, and/or order, in that a status quo  is established at the beginning of the story, then some “thing” comes along to disrupt that status quo, a loss of control, and/or disorder soon follows, after which control and order is re-established, with the defeat of the disruption. The disruption could be anything from a comet (Night of the Comet) , to the return of a long lost brother, (Hellraiser), to malevolent frogs (Frogs), or zombies (Night of the Living Dead). This is white western men’s greatest fear: the disruption of the natural order from a malevolent other.

There are   few movies in which disorder wins, (The Mist), the status quo is not re-instated, (Dawn of the Dead), or there is the threat of more disorder at some point in the future, (Slither), but that too becomes part of the horror. Disorder often takes the form of “the Other”, usually a  monster, which is really just another version of death, something which is relentless, inevitable, and just like in the real world, deeply personal,  but usually the monster is just representative of change ,and a loss of order.

Here are some of the most common versions and themes about change, death, and disorder, found in Horror movies.

 

Grant Grant: Slither

Loss of Bodily Autonomy

Most of these films fall into the Body Horror category, where a person literally loses control of their body, and/or cannot stop what’s happening to it. In the movie Slither, a town is terrorized by an alien consciousness that proceeds to take over people’s bodies, using them for reproduction, food, and to grow itself. The top three horrors: extraterrestrial rape, being eaten, and the loss of bodily autonomy, are all covered in this movie, which encompasses every body horror film, from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers to The Thing

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Zombies: Train to Busan

Being Eaten

Being eaten is always a popular topic, and is a classic “status quo does not get restored” type of film. In such films, the world has been so horribly overturned, that nothing will ever be normal again, and even those who don’t become flesh eating zombies,  are forever changed. These types of movies are often not about the zombies themselves, but how regular citizens cope with the disruption of civilization.

There’s more to this type of movie than zombies, though, which always includes elements of  “being hunted”,  such as any film where people get eaten by animals (Jaws), aliens (Under the Skin), and yes,  non-zombie people, (Ravenous).

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The Xenomorph: Alien

Women

We can conclude, with the success of this entire series of movies, that men are deeply afraid of women.  The Alien films are an example of what psychologist,  Barbara Creed, called The Monstrous Feminine. One aspect of the Alien films which is not addressed in other monstrous feminine films, like Teeth, and Ginger Snaps, is the treatment of the male characters as non-consenting incubators, by the alien.

http://fourteeneastmag.com/index.php/2019/05/31/celebrating-the-monstrous-feminine-the-legacy-of-alien/

https://www.swantower.com/essays/craft/the-monstrous-feminine/

This type of film, where female bodies are coded as sinful, painful,  and symbols of death, and/or castration for men, are fairly numerous, and include movies like The Exorcist, Hereditary, The Brood, Teeth, Jennifer’s Body, and Ginger Snaps.

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The Pods: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers

Losing Yourself

I wrote about this in an earlier post about Invasion of the Body snatchers, about how the movie isn’t just about conformity, but the loss of one’s unique sense of self. All of the Invasion movie remakes have subtle themes outside of this, but it’s a thread that can be seen throughout all of them. This theme includes any number of movies where a person’s mind is taken over, or controlled, by some outside force, which includes movies like Upgrade, Get Out, Scanners, A Clockwork Orange, and The Manchurian Candidate.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/06/26/invasion-of-the-bodysnatchers-1978-the-loss-of-self/

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Jack: The Shining

Family

That your home could become a source of pain and harm for you is also a very real fear illustrated in countless home invasion films, like Breaking In, Straw Dogs, Don’t Breathe, and The Strangers. But what if the danger doesn’t come from the outside, but is already living with you. What if the call is coming from inside the house?

Two of the biggest family themes in Horror is danger to the family, and danger from the family. The Shining is an example of both. Family is supposed to be the one group of people who  protect and nurture you. The fear that a family member might deliberately seek to cause you harm is what permeates The Shining. Jack engaged in domestic abuse (drinking and violence) long before he encountered the malevolent beings of the Overlook Hotel. The danger was always present. The  family’s isolated conditions, and the spirits in the hotel, just exacerbated it.

The danger from the family has been a common theme since The Shining’s release in 1980, in movies like Hereditary, The Amityville Horror, Hellraiser, and The Babadook.

https://www.playbuzz.com/roreyomalley10/21-things-people-get-completely-wrong-about-domestic-abuse

 

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What if the person who’s supposed to look after you became a threat, one that slowly isolates, intimidates, harms, and ultimately kills you? 

http://msenscene.com/2017/12/19/merry-scary-shining/

 

Seth Brundle: The Fly

Sickness

 

This fear is also closely tied to the fear of loss of bodily autonomy, as these are both fears that what is happening to one’s body is outside of one’s control. In the case of loss of autonomy, the fear is that an outside force controls your body, and is making it do disgusting, or abnormal things, like changing shape, or harming the people you love. In the fear of sickness, the fear is of one’s body going horribly wrong, or the body attacking itself from within, or just changing for some unknown reason.

That is a kind of fear that is seemingly universal. There’s not one person alive whose body has not undergone some change that they couldn’t understand, or which frightened them, starting with puberty, and this is especially true for women, becasue even when you know some change is going to occur, is occurring, the symptoms can still produce a great deal of anxiety.

In The Fly, Seth Brundle’s body starts to undergo changes he doesn’t understand, after an experiment in transporting objects goes horribly wrong. At first its a gift, and he feels wonderful, but we get the full immersion treatment of his emotions as his body begins to deteriorate. We experience his fear when he believes he has some form of cancer or leprosy, sadness when he realizes he is too far gone to ever be saved, the mordant humor of having his body parts drop off, and even that feeling of relief, when he discovers what’s happening to him. Anyone who has ever had a chronic/serious illness can resonate with Seth’s journey. His illness may be fictional, but the emotions evoked are all very real.

 

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 The Grey Widower: The Mist

Arachnophobia

I think this is a special category all its own, and I put this here becasue it happens to be one of my personal phobias. I don’t know what the cause of this particular phobia is, but I have experienced recurrent reinforcement of it over the years. Once when I was in college, I had a spider egg hatch in my bedroom, and I totally freaked the fuck out for three days. Luckily, I had friends who didn’t simply make fun of me, but took great efforts to calm my fears. Its been over twenty five years, and I still don’t think I ever fully recovered from that, judging by the number of times per year I have   bug bombed my house, in order to prevent just such a re-occurence.

Nevertheless, I will still watch movies about this particular phobia, and some of them have even become favorites, like The Mist,  Eight Legged Freaks, and my personal favorite, Big Ass Spider! And yeah, my all-time favorite superhero is indeed Spiderman. Obviously spiders and I have a complicated love/hate relationship.

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A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience extreme, irrational fear about a situation, living creature, place, or object.

When a person has a phobia, they will often shape their lives to avoid what they consider to be dangerous. The imagined threat is greater than any actual threat posed by the cause of terror.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249347.php

Phobias are a really easy theme to make a horror movie from because the fear is already built into the movie. All you have to do is put your audience in a place where the phobia can have free reign. From clowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), to enclosed spaces (Buried), to snakes (Anaconda), all the film maker has to do is introduce the situation with the phobia, and you’ve got a scary movie.

 

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The Monster: It Follows

Growing Old

I talked about this movie’s monster at some length, discussing why the movies theme was about aging, and not necessarily the surface level theme of sexually transmitted disease.

This movie is not just about sexuality and STDs. That’s just a surface-level description, and the one most easily accessed by the viewer. Those  two subjects are merely the vehicles through which the meaning of the story is being imparted. The movie is actually about the existential fear of growing up, growing old, and death.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/it-follows-2014-more-thoughts/

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He Who Kills: Trilogy of Terror

Being Hunted

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This is a theme closely related to being eaten, although being eaten is not always the result of a “hunt” movie. Most of these types of movies involve humans hunting other humans (Race with the Devil), or animals, (Jaws), but this nasty little short from the movie Trilogy of Terror has an altogether different goal, and involves a woman being chased through her home, by an avatar of the hunt, a killer doll called He Who Hunts.

This is also  another example of how some films can have multiple themes, as this is also a  home invasion movie, and we’re not about to get into the racial connotations behind the images of a pretty, urban, White woman being chased by a savage, nonsense chattering, black doll, who eventually possesses her.

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Non Western Film

The H-Man: The H-Men

The Unexpected

One of the other easy themes  featured in Horror movies is when people encounter the unexpected. Trilogy of Terror’s Prey is an example of this, as are movies like, Friday the 13th, Us, and Annihilation.

I debated whether or not to add this movie, for a long time, because this movie still scares the absolute chittering bejeezus out of me. I made the mistake of watching this late one night, a few years ago, and I kept on my room light for at least a week. That should have been a lesson to me, but I tried to watch this movie again, in broad daylight, and couldn’t even get past the opening credits. There is an enduring and deep level of  creepiness about this movie that isn’t like The Blob, where everybody knows something horrible is happening and then they all take steps to remedy the issue.

This is a Japanese horror movie, and it’s a perfect example of what I meant about foreign horror movies having very different goals in their themes beyond the disruption of the natural order. Order and stability are not restored at the end of this movie by the killing of the monster. The goal here seems to be understanding what happened.  In fact, it is posited in the film that what has happened is part of the natural evolution of humanity, which gives it a close thematic resemblance to the 1988 movie Akira.

. In this movie, none of the characters are at all aware that anything untoward is happening until its far too late. I think the creepiness  factor is that the characters are all engaged in their rather sordid, but  mundane, criminal activities, until they unexpectedly encounter one of these blob men, walking around in a room, or office,  which promptly eats them. In some cases, the victims are unaware of its presence, or can see it, but don’t know what it is. And what’s even worse, these creatures are not entirely unaware of what they are, as they actively strategize to kill some, while deliberately skipping others, and may not actually be malevolent.

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The H-Man rates as one of the most genuinely frightening Japanese horror films of the 1950s. When a minor-league drug runner completely vanishes, leaving only his clothes behind, detective Tominaga (Akihiko Hirata) investigates. Along the way, Tominaga makes the acquaintance of scientist Masada (Kenji Sahara), who theorizes that the missing doper was melted into a liquid “H-Man” as a result of being exposed to nuclear radiation. Sure enough, the H-Man soon resurfaces, seeking out victims to “dissolve” so that he can continue to survive. 
 https://www.allmovie.com/movie/the-h-man-v21230#OYzMaYBVpgL7kGcx.99

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Oh hey! Its October, AKA Halloween Month, so expect lots more scary essays and posts for the rest of this month!

 

The Truman Show (1998): Questioning Reality

During the late 90’s there was a spate of existentialist movies, that asked questions about the nature of reality, the self,  and questioned our sense of who we were. Movies like Dark City, The 13th Floor, Pleasantville, The Matrix, Existenz, and yes, The Truman Show, all questioned if the world we lived in was truly real, if we were real, and if nothing is real, does anything we experience matter.

The Truman Show didn’t just question reality. It asked questions about freedom, and self determination, as well. Truman is a man who has been imprisoned in a pleasant middle class, artificial, bubble his entire life, with a pretty blond wife, a non-descript job, one close friend, and a tragic past that’s specifically designed to hold him in place, and keep him from moving forward. His life is comfortable and certain. It is difficult not to see parallels to our own lives in Truman and his circumstances.

Truman has a daily routine. He does the same thing every day, with the same catchphrases, ordering the same food, the same magazines at the newsstand, driving the same route to and from work. Truman is mostly happy with his life, but its not an exciting life, so he fantasizes a lot.

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One of the first images we get of Truman is his childlike fantasy of being an astronaut. Truman longs to do something different, go somewhere else, be someone else, but he is trapped in place, as so many of us are, by our jobs, our circumstances, monetary concerns, our families, and other obligations, that we consider more important than our freedom to do as we please. Like Truman many of us fantasize about being  someone else, someplace else, and for most of us, fantastical visions of riding dragons, or pretending to be a favorite cartoon character, are enough.

Many of us live in comfortable bubbles, occasionally  chafing at our restrictions, and any attempts to break free of those restrictions can get you branded with labels like mentally ill,  mid-life crisis, or hysteria. Your desire to  break free, can often make other people deeply uncomfortable, and can prompt them to deploy tactics that will get you back into your bubble, to be quiet, and complacent, once again.

Truman is a man who has been held in captivity, since he was born, by an avant-garde filmmaker, named  Christof, who adopted him, kept him imprisoned in a fake world, with actors and actresses as friends and family, and put his entire life on live television. Everything in Truman’s life is manufactured, his job isn’t real, his marriage was carefully orchestrated, his best friend is an actor, his father was conveniently killed when he was a child, and he has been socialized with a number of phobias (aqua-phobia) that make it near impossible for him to leave the fake set.  In other words, his world is carefully designed to keep him in place, keep him from questioning it, and keep him from growing, changing , or progressing.

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Many of us live the kinds of lives we are reluctant to leave, it can be difficult for us to grow and move forward because we’ve become used to how our life is. It can be difficult to try new things, or make big changes in our lives, even changes we need to have, because we fear the unknown future. If you’re someone who has a great fear of the unknown, then moving into a future you cannot see, would be very difficult. This is how Truman engages with the world in the first half of his life, until a monkey-wrench called “first love” throws everything he knows into question. He falls in love with a young woman named Sylvia, who wasn’t chosen for him, and she is, rather traumatically, removed from his world. Truman developed such a special longing for her, that she came to represent the one thing in his life he didn’t have, uncertainty, and the unknown.

He begins to question the world he lives in. In other words, he starts to wake up, especially after  he experiences a series of strange events. like seeing his supposedly dead father, chunks of sky falling on his car, a photo of his wife with her fingers crossed behind her back (which indicates that she was lying). Truman attempts to express his nascent suspicions to his wife, mother, and best friend, who only try  to gaslight him, with temporary success. Over time, Truman begins to test his theory, and finally reaches the conclusion that the world he lives in, and the people he knows, is not real.

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Truman only begins to ask the right questions, after he sees the patterns around him, and starts putting those patterns in the correct order. When he sees his dead father on the street, the man is immediately whisked away by a group of strangers. Later that week, there is a radio mix up, where he hears one of the camera men narrating what he is doing. He notices a pattern in the people who cross in front of his house. He notices  patterns and reaches proper conclusions. He begins to see the artificiality.

For example, he suspects that he is being watched, that the people in his world are fake, and  don’t know what to do when he does  unexpected things. So he disrupts his routine in small ways, like walking into a different building, or deciding to accompany his wife (a nurse) to a surgery that was made up in an attempt to explain something he saw earlier that day. By behaving unpredictably, he has introduced uncertainty, and the unknown to the set, which disrupts everyone else’s routine, as well.

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Ironically, many of us suspect that the world we live in is a facade, as we seek to explain the uncertainty of our life, rather than the certainties. This theory was especially popular during the last years of the 20th century, which accounts for the popularity of  films, in which the protagonists question the randomness of their lived experiences. In the Matrix, Neo tells Trinity about a number of events that happened to him when he was unaware he was in the matrix, and asks her what that means. Trinity’s answer is that the matrix cannot tell you who you are. She is in essence telling him that when he lived in the matrix, that he was not his true self.

Since the events that occurred to Neo can be said to have been contrived by computer programs, his reactions to those events were inauthentic, and not evidence of his true self.  Another argument that can be made, however, is that such contrived events are not any different than random events contrived by a god, and if we can accept that our authentic self is in evidence when under the aegis of a mythological figure, than why can we not accept the authenticity of self while under the control of an AI?

One of the reasons that Truman gives for desperately trying to escape Christof’s prison, is that he wants a real life, an authentic life. Christof tries to talk him into staying in his artificial world by telling him that life is no more authentic, in the “real” world, than it is in his fake one. he tells Truman that there is no truth, thereby  illustrating a fundamental misunderstanding of Truman’s motives. Truman is not searching for truth. He is searching for “the real”, which is not the same thing.

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But, as we all must do, if we hope to move forward, to progress in our lives, Truman takes a leap of faith, into the unknown. At some point, if we hope to meet our real selves, we must all walk through a mysterious door, into an uncertain future. Truman has no idea what is on the other side of the door he’s about to walk through, but like Red, from the Shawshank Redemption, he hopes to see Sylvia, and take her hand. He hopes to find himself. He hopes to be happy. He hopes to find love.

He hopes.

And so must we all.

 

Jet Li Unleashed (2005): Surviving Abuse

 

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One of the more unusual martial arts films I’ve  seen, is one which stars Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), and Jet Li. Yeah, I said it. Morgan Freeman starred in a martial arts film. Okay he didn’t do any martial arts, which I definitely would have watched. He was a piano tuner, but that’s okay, because Jet Li engaged in enough rock’em, sock’em for everyone in the movie. This is an unusual movie, not just because of its dissimilar cast, but because it is as much of a drama, as it is an action movie.

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The movie’s first title was Danny the Dog, when it was released overseas in 2004. When it was released in the US, in 2005, it was renamed Unleashed, and received moderate reviews, probably because most people didn’t get to see it, and the ones who did see it didn’t quite know what to make of it. Its not a bad film, but it is a tonally odd movie, that somehow manages to work, and that is entirely due to the acting, and what mindset you bring to it.

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Morgan Freeman, as Sam, is his usual excellent self, and so is Bob Hoskins as an abusive gangster named Bart. Jet Li is Danny the Dog, and  does surprisingly well, as an emotionally stunted and abused young man, They are joined by Kerry Condon, as Danny’s bubbly love interest, Victoria. I actually enjoyed this movie, but then I walked in not really knowing what to expect, even though I had heard of the movie with its previous title.

Bart has been raising Danny, the son of a young woman he exploited and killed, as a beast who wears a metal collar, which, when it’s removed, is Danny’s cue to kill whoever  Bart has pointed his finger, first as one of Bart’s enforcers, and then in  underground fight clubs. Bart styles himself as a kindly uncle, who is just taking care of the helpless Danny, but he is horrifically abusive, treating Danny like an animal, putting him on a leash, making him eat out of dog dishes, and live in a  cage in the basement. He is a cartoonish example of abusive parenting, and clothes himself in virtue, by calling it love.

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One day Danny accidentally stumbles across Sam, fixing a piano in an antique shop, and the blind Sam, is kind and friendly to him, something Danny has never experienced. He becomes fascinated by the piano, and later, asks for one from Bart, but a rival gangster takes Bart out of the equation, via car crash. Danny is injured in the attack, but manages to find his way back to the antique shop where Sam works. Sam takes Danny in, and patches him up.

So thirty minutes into the movie, it turns into a found family story, that’s rather endearing, carried mostly on the strength of the acting. Danny is from a highly abusive, even life threatening, relationship with the man who raised him, while Victoria and Sam have an open, loving, and healthy relationship, with more than enough room to welcome Danny. A significant portion of the film is taken up with montages, and scenes, of Danny discovering the joys of ice cream, kissing, and both familial and romantic love, learning to cook with Sam, and  play the piano with Vic, and just be happy. He starts to regain memories of his mother and begins investigating his origins.

Victoria is also an adopted child, but she had the good luck to be raised by Sam instead of  someone like Bart. Victoria’s biological father died when she was small, and her mother married Sam. After her mother died, Sam became her father, and moved them both to France, so that she could go to music school. Sam’s love for his child, is as it should be, sacrificial, and supportive. They are a  family that prays before each meal, and fully embody the Christian principles of charity and kindness, and become a model for Danny for how a healthy family behaves.

Sam and Victoria are the stellar opposite  of  Bart, and the various flunkies who surround, and obey him, who all witness Danny being treated abusively, and say and do nothing. Bart is a man with many pretensions. He is a user who pretends  at kindness, a gangster with pretensions to class and upbringing, and a bully, who pretends to be a father figure. Thanks to Bart, Danny is emotionally underdeveloped, withdrawn, anxious, and extremely focused on any given task.

The first time Danny wakes up in Sam’s and Victoria’s home, he is frightened and nervous, and hides under the bed. At dinner, he doesn’t know to use a spoon for his soup, and he is still wearing his metal collar. But Sam and Victoria adapt to him as he adapts to them, and are as loving and supportive to him, as they are to each other. They suspect that he comes from a violent situation, and are sensitive about how they treat him, by not asking questions they think would cause traumatic memories ,and they teach him how to live a normal life, as Danny has never been taught to do anything but kill and is completely inured to violence.

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At one point, a fight breaks out in a local store that Sam and Danny frequent, which Danny entirely ignores, saying he was unconcerned because the fight didn’t involve him. This is how well trained Danny is with his collar on. Later, when Victoria reaches to take the collar off, saying its the last vestige of his old life he needs to get rid of, he is terrified that when she does so,  he will attack her, because the only times it was ever removed, he would kill. You can see his adrenaline spike just thinking about it, but he allows her to remove it, and when nothing happens you can see the relief on his face. He trusts himself now, in a way that would not have been possible, earlier in their relationship. As it turns out, he is not the natural born killer Bart trained him to be.

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https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/students/concerns/abuse

When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change and resultant difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one’s own feelings, being easily stressed and acting on that by abusing substances, food, and one’s own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.

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Sam and Victoria model for Danny how a loving relationship between a stepparent and child is supposed to work.When Sam and Victoria have a disagreement, they argue, come to a truce, and then make up. They disagreed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. Contrast that with Danny’s relationship to his evil stepfather  Bart, who gives the orders, and, according to Bart, “the dog obeys!” There can be no disagreement with Bart. When Danny insists that he wants a piano, Bart is angry, manipulative, and cajoling. He screams and/or lies, to Danny, to get what HE wants.

Later, Danny refuses to fight, deciding he doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and Bart becomes increasingly angry and more violent, but is unable to force Danny to do what he wants him to do. Danny sees this powerlessness, and finally connects his mother’s death (which he witnessed as a child) to Bart. He rebels completely and leaves him. This move may or may not be especially cathartic to abuse survivors, but its was certainly good to watch Danny reject Bart. After experiencing so much happiness with Sam and Victoria, he can’t possibly make himself go back to that life.

Bart follows him to his home, with Sam and Victoria, and attempts to kill them, because threatening Danny’s new family is the only leverage he has to make him obey. Danny nearly kills Bart, but is stopped by Sam and Victoria who tell him that he cannot begin his commitment to peace by killing Bart. Bart’s life isn’t saved because Sam and Victoria care about him. Its saved because they love Danny and believe, as he does,  that he should stop killing.

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https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/survivors-child-abuse-remind/

#3. You Are Still Loved, Even When It’s Uncomfortable to Accept Love from Others

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At the end of the movie, Victoria tells Danny  his life was saved by music, and this may be true, but really Danny saves himself, by the choices he makes. Like a lot of abuse survivors, he is presented with the option of staying, as the abuser tries to sweet talk him into coming back, and how everything will better, and the abuser will be a nicer person, who really loves them. Classic abuser speak, basically.

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Danny realizes he actually has choices. He chooses to stop killing and commits to it,  he chooses to leave Bart, and sets the terms of it, and finally chooses not to kill Bart, not because he cares about Bart’s  life, but because he cares about his own. But one of the biggest choices Danny makes is the choice to accept  love and support, which is healing for him. With Sam and Victoria, Danny starts to do things he never contemplated when he was with Bart. He makes plans for his future, sets goals, and claims what he desires.

This is not a completely accurate depiction of surviving child abuse, because this is, after all, an action film, but it makes some interesting points about  it. I’m pretty sure  most of the people who walked into the theater to see this, had no idea this would turn into a movie about surviving domestic abuse, but I found it uplifting and fun to watch. True, not all martial arts movies have this level of  depth, but like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they sometimes have messages, and deal with  serious issues.

 

 

  • Next up on martial arts movies: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and  Colonialism