Friday, October 31, 2014


Ok, good advertising at least... hey, wait, isn't this movie about ::becomes muffled, taken away::
It's a strange, unlikely and usually joyous thing when a movie that got dumped by fans and critics upon its original release gets (semi) resurrected as a cult movie (whether it's a cult favorite or cult "classic" is up to the viewer), and then it comes time to give the movie another evaluation.  I have scant memory of Halloween III: Season of the Witch - which was produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill (writers of the first two Halloweens) and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (later to helm the TV mini-series of IT) - except the ending, which has the character played by Tom Atkins yelling into a phone to stop the TV showing what is showing, and the screen flashing a pumpkin over and over again.  That had a certain factor to it that made one stop and go 'Whoa' in one's tracks.

Actually, come to think of it, I'm not a hundred percent sure I watched this movie when I was younger, or at least completely.  At the time when I dug into the Halloween movies, and to date myself this was before the return of Jamie Lee Curtis for her very brief re-run in the franchise with H20 and Resurrection, this was the odd film out.

A new heavy-metal band mascot?  Could be...
 The One Without Michael Myers (which, technically, isn't entirely true as he appears on a TV screen showing the original Halloween, hey, if you want an in-joke, go to Carpenter for one sledgehammered in your skull!)  The one that seemed kinda weird and about Halloween masks and stuff.  So, returning to it some 32 years later, and from the perspective of one who loves the first film, likes the second, and the rest of the series can be taken or left as standard slasher fare?  How does it just work as a movie unto itself?

The story of this installment, which according to IMDb trivia was supposed to be the start of Halloween as more of an anthology franchise, concerns a small town where a man comes in to a hospital after being attacked by an unknown assailant in a suit.  He's not quite dead, but another man in a suit (the same one, who can tell) comes into his hospital room and kills him in a gruesome way (fingers through eyeballs, ugh!) and then goes into a car, sets himself on fire and that should probably be that.  But there's no need for this to go to the authorities, heaven's no: the doctor played by Mr. Atkins, joined by the dead man's daughter played by Stacey Nelkin (is it the 80's? check the hair), to venture to the town where the Silver Shamrock Novelties company is being operated and had something to do with this man's murder. 

Don't worry!  This plastic surgery worked wonders for Joan Rivers AND Renee Zellwegger...

There's something odd about this town, and its cameras placed all over the place, and how one or two of the citizens who have their own outspoken ways wind up dead due to mysterious circumstances... well, not that mysterious to the audience anyway.  Pretty quickly it becomes clear this is an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario... or a little of They Live... or a little of that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where it's Halloween and everyone becomes their costumes.  Of course here it's a bit different, and without spoiling too much the whole thrust of the villains' plans is to... well, honor stonehenge's wishes.  Yep, you read that right, it's all about the stonehenge.

Interesting ingredients abound in Halloween III, and Wallace is adept at finding some sinister, creepy and disturbing ways to kill people.  My favorite involves a family who become prey to a mask work by a kid, and it shouldn't be very creative as a death scene but the sheer abundance of 'stuff' that comes to kill the people the family is satisfying as far as a horror movie death goes.  Oh, and lest I forget to tip the hat to Carpenter (and Alan Howarth) on the soundtrack, as the music punctuates things in fun and fantastic ways (in the 'carpet' style that Carpenter has said he likes to lay on his movies, that is for the story to have a footing).

But certain things don't quite make sense throughout the story, some of these can be chalked up to just Bullshit Screenplay Maneuvers (in capital letters, so you don't forget).


For example, Daniel and Ellie (the doctor and the daughter) go to investigate this death and share a motel room, and right away they get together.  Sexually speaking.  This days after this girl's death.  A little... soon much?  This same framework of the Man and Woman (again in caps) being the people who go into this conspiracy involving mind control and robotics and children being killed, is still akin to Body Snatchers, or at least follows that sort of formula, which this wasn't the first or last to homage.  But the quickness which these characters get together is completely unbelievable (yes, the man is now an 'ex' husband, but c'mon).  It doesn't really add much to the story and if anything takes away what is set up, at least through a majority of the direction and Dean Cundy's smooth stedi-cam cinematography and big compositions (not a Carpenter film but a production all the same) as a quasi-realistic setting.

For another example, this man in charge, I think his name is Cocker or Cochran, he's old and has sideburns, again the early 80's, he has his reasons he's doing this.  All of this laid out in careful Villain Exposition by the way, the kind that is relayed to our main character simply because how else would the audience know for God sakes(!)  It seems to involve the ritual of Halloween itself - before the candy and trick R treating of course - but this still seems murky, even with the explanation.  What's the end game here with all of these masks at this precise time?  And seeing the ending, which by itself is a solid terrifying end that, again, apes the Body Snatchers formula of a man yelling to the world "THEY'RE COMING FOR YOU!" seems sillier in this context....

Greater Good Inc.


How can a man call up ALL of the TV stations, like, everywhere?  In 1982 there were fewer TV stations, but how would he get to all of them?  And across the country?  And the entire factory is destroyed by the time Daniel leaves town, why is it still broadcasting the signal?  Did they explain it?  Perhaps it was explained like other things - briefly and in a way to keep the action movie.

On its own terms, Halloween III is not altogether bad.  The filmmaking has some skill and craft - again, with the DP who in the same year lensed The Thing it's hard to muck that up - and I liked the performance of Dan O'Herlihy as the villain, stock as it is.  It's just hard to see the holes not poking out, and to look to other examples of this type of story, better ones, with more (intentional) humor or better acting or a stronger message, and to wonder if it would have been the Old Standard as a Twilight Zone episode.

It has that shape and scope and central aims as far as the 'world going upside down' mode goes, which is fine on paper, and then things like the sexual tryst and a couple of dips with side characters that are presented just to get offed in creative ways distract from what could have been a nifty B movie.  It's almost as if the movie if being pulled in directions of being a quality horror story, with some believable special effects and make-up and production design and being about 'something', in this case about the dangers of conformity, maybe, and... being an exploitation quickie to cash in on the franchise.

A Plague of Formula befell the movie

In the end, it comes out to be... middling.  It's not bad, and it's not very good.  And contrary to one or two critics, it doesn't come off like parody of cliches to me.  Sometimes a mask with a special microchip is just a special mask with a microchip, to quote Freud.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


(NOTE: Alain Resnais died earlier this year.  To me, that still counts.  May he rest in peace, and now let's remember this film):

"Sometimes we have to avoid thinking about the problems life presents. Otherwhise we'd suffocate."

This movie is beautiful, not because it shows a love that can last but because it shows how fleeting love and life and everything is - that, and how good it is to hold on to it. The late Joan Rivers said pretty succinctly once, "life sucks, and if you don't enjoy every good moment, then you're a fool." The characters in Hiroshima mon Amour aren't fools. They've been through hell, and they aren't quite sure how to enjoy the good moments, or if they can. All they have are memories.

It's interesting to note that in this film it's not really so much about the man's memories. We find out he's been in the war, he was fighting in it, but that's it. Maybe Resnais didn't want to stoke those flames of anti-Japanese sentiment (in 1959 it was either still there or had receded perhaps). The real focus here is about the malaise of living in a world where death is all around - that and madness. It's mostly about the woman then, and of course the film was written by a woman, an acclaimed writer (Margeurite Duras), and it's about this woman's memories for the most part mixed in with that of Hiroshima.

The first ten minutes actually is presented mostly like a companion piece to Resnais previous masterpiece, Night & Fog. That film, if you remember (no pun intended), was about the horrors of the holocaust shown in montage. Hiroshima gets the same treatment, and we see mostly the bodies laid to waste, the victims who were left with scars and mutations and radioactive treatment. The narration makes it compelling on an other level as the woman voice says what she saw, and a male voice responds "You saw nothing."

Is this about one experience over another? It can't be the character Emmanuelle Riva plays, right? She is still in Nevers, the French town which has an alliterative touch with a character sometimes saying 'Nevers again'. Is it her, or her in another format? The third person instead of the first? And this comes with editing going between the shots of Hiroshima devastation and the couple in bed, close shots, their skin wet with sweat (this after the very first shot of the skin in ash). If this ten minute sequence doesn't suck you in with its stark poetic touch, the ache for loss and power of witness revealed with then and there, just stop watching the movie.

What most of the movie about isn't quite about Hiroshima, at least up front and center... well, after a certain point. Certainly in the first half Riva's character Elle is in Hiroshima for a reason, as an actress she is in a (good) propaganda movie about "Peace", and most intriguing is how this brings this couple of Elle and the Japanese man she's having an affair with, Lui, closer together as he has to get her out of the way of the "actors" marching along.

There's so much depth with the atmosphere around them that it's touching and so effective how Resnais makes it about this couple. And few things are as effective in movies of this period as Riva as an actress. I'd only known of her from the 2012 movie Amour - and that I knew she was in this movie most famously. She's beautiful in the role, but her beauty isn't that of a "STAR" ala, I dunno, Brardot or even Anna Karina among French stars of the period. Riva is like a woman you might meet on the street, and you could fall in love with and have children with. And behind being a naturally attractive person is an actress who delivers so strong with this character - this character who has this world of pain that she's buried deep.

It's ironic, perhaps most poignantly so then, that the Japanese man doesn't tell his story of war horrors (who knows if he has them, perhaps being Japanese he is too reserved to reveal them), but it's this woman's war story. She mentions at some point madness is like "Intelligence", and that it's hard to explain how it comes or people get it. It's just there. Why does she go so mad? She says she had a love, the ideal one, and then he went off to fight in the war and she went nuts... How so? Perhaps it's said, but it doesn't matter as much as the sensory details of her experience. Being in that cellar. Clawing at the walls. Eating the dry blood. Being THERE with the short-hair and then trying to escape. 

This is aching, evocative cinema of a high order, especially in that mid-section where Liu plies Elle with liquor at a restaurant, and Elle get so far into it that he has to smack her to bring her out of it. He's not even abusive, it's simply that she gets it at that moment (also, the period, sad to say, maybe now he'd do something else). But what makes this even better as a classic tale of love and loss and bewilderment is when Elle walks around Hiroshima in the middle of the night. She knows she can't stay, and Liu does as well (he's married too, his wife somewhere in the hills or something, it's Brief Encounter 2.0 of course). 

But she doesn't want to go. She now has THIS memory to contend with. And he does too. There's so much sadness between them that, if you're right there with the characters, and the way Resnais paints them it's realistic but also poetic in equal measure, which is so hard to pull off it's hard to tell if he did it in the next film, Marienbad, which is also about memory and loss but is more... shallow, perhaps?

This is about the loss of a civilization, but we see in this opening ten minutes, in part in a museum, that life goes on (or it doesn't for those who are already gone or about to die), and yet life and death and madness can happen on an intimate, small scale as well. It's a companion to Brief Encounter, but also to Lost in Translation (like the greater Aunt to it or something) in depicting people trying to find their places in the world. By keeping it as honest as possible, between Riva revealing her characters pain and (at times) happiness and love, and yet by the late Resnais letting Duras bring some dialog that could be confusing for those not keeping up - watch how characters use the word 'you' at times, mostly Elle - it brings it to a whole other level. I love this movie.

GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D (and Being a Battered Godard Spouse)

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and OBEY MY DOG!

In other words: "OH!  I GET IT!"

The first thing to tell you when it comes to Jean-Luc Godard's latest film - which, at 83 years old, could be his last, and by the title it wouldn't be a surprise if it was - is that it's impossible to summarize.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  Sort of.  Here is what it says when you look at the summary on the website Metacritic for the title:

"The idea is simple: A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly. A dog strays between town and country. The seasons pass. The man and woman meet again. The dog finds itself between them. The other is in one, the one is in the other and they are three. The former husband shatters everything. A second film begins: the same as the first, and yet not. From the human race we pass to metaphor. This ends in barking and a baby's cries. In the meantime, we will have seen people talking of the demise of the dollar, of truth in mathematics and of the death of a robin."

That's not a summary.  That's a poem.  Indeed I think this actually came from Godard himself, not another writer trying to figure out the movie.  Do these things happen?  Should you care?  

Remember this is a shot about... Mao! 

I don't want to make this sound like I am coming in cold on this one, far far from it.  I've seen almost all of Godard's features, loved a good few of them (not counting the ones that are so obscure they are probably locked away in the crawl space of his house after their first screenings), and as the last surviving member of the Cashiers du Cinema/Nouvelle Vague band, he has his great works and good ones and fair ones and... the incomprehensible pieces of pretentious malarkey, which Goodbye to Language leans more to the latter.  

But like any spouse to an artist that keeps getting knocked around and can't quite seem to know when to stop saying 'please, I'll be good, I'll stick around', I keep coming back.  Why in God's name?  Because sometimes through all the Film Socalismes and King Lears and Hail Marys and In Praise of Love and JLG/JLGs, there are times he just gets on fire as far as pushing the envelope of cinema as a form and language while keeping it INTERESTING (that's the key word).  

Goodbye to Language is... a lot of things.  That's a key question, which I'm sure Godard-heads would like to know: is it interesting?  Um... in a couple of parts.  Here's something to know; there is a couple here, as the summary points to.  And they have conversations.  And are naked.  For most of the film.  They don't fuck so much as skulk around, get undressed, get dressed, watch each other poop (well, the girl watches the man poop, I'm dead serious - if you've ever wanted to see a filmmaker literally crapping in front of his audience, this is an analogy that's too hard not to point out), and talk about the usual stuff that "characters" in Godard movies in the last twenty years talk about, which are a lot of things and nothing.  

It's a lot of babble.  There's lines like "I hate characters" (which is why I put "characters" in quotes) and "I am here to tell you no.  And to die."  There's also a scene shot in a car at night where the people on screen say things that just made me so befuddled that I only wince that I didn't have a pen to write it all down.  There are some seemingly provocative things said like, get this, Hitler was the start of terrorism... and uh, oh, here's a dog.  No, literally, Godard puts his own dog on screen for many chunks of the film.  And while it's shot in 3D, which I'll get to in a moment, it's not exactly the crisp and clear 3D we see in big blockbusters of the day.  

"I can write a thousand words about this picture, I just don't want to." - Bart Simpson, film critic

Frankly, it looks like home movies.  You may want to joke that a lot of Godard's films since the mid 80's have seemed like home movies, but this isn't being semantically cute (though Godard loves to do that), it's basically: "hey, boy, let's go out in this field, here we go!" and that's a movie. 

I actually liked the idea more when I first heard about 'Language' many months back, when it sounded like a film from the dog's point of view.  It may very well be from the dog's point of view for a lot of it, but fuck if I can tell!  It's the kind of experience, in general, even at 70 minutes - which is pretty paltry for a theatrically released effort run-time, good or bad movie - that makes me feel dumb.  Why don't I get what these people are saying?  It almost makes me question if I "got" things like Notre Musique (which I actually remember enjoying, his film from 2004) and portions of Histories du Cinema.  If you were to look at the critical appraisals online, they'll admit it's hard to find anything that really strings this couple and/or dog on screen together into a cohesive narrative, but they love it anyway.  

I WISH I could love it, or even respond positively.  But I left the theater punch-drunk, like I got fucked up with dopamine.  Part of this is because of the 3D.  It's a bold experiment, I'll give it that: use the two-camera 3D process on stuff that isn't particularly epic (unless you're someone that gets a hard-on for shots of leaves on trees and water and ships cruising to nothing), and he also dares to mess with the audience in a way which sounds radical and even fun - on paper.  What he does is a few times in the film, he shoots something with one of the cameras in one direction, and leaves the other camera in the same spot.  In other words, when you watch it through your glasses you see one thing in one eye and another thing in the other.  So two actors in a scene, one of them moves, and you get to see both actors... one with each eye.  

I ended up taking off my glasses after the first time made me sea-sick, like 'Holy shit, what the hell was THAT' level.  It's difficult enough to have a 3D movie with subtitles, and then the derangement of the inter-titles, which are also in 3D.  Perhaps this will be something that will be in a lot of movies in the future, kind of like Peter Jackson's experiments with 48 FPS and James Cameron's alleged plans to shoot Avatar sequels in 120 fps.  I wanted to laugh, at first, with the definite head-fucking.  But it felt like being fucked in the ass, visually speaking.

This isn't to say Godard can't shoot some beautiful stuff, also far from it.  This is what's kept me going through several of the later-period work, just by how he gets compositions that any painter would be jealous of.  If there's any issue here, however, the cinematography isn't consistent.  The stuff with the dog is mostly, again, shot like it was on a camcorder in the early 90's.  Maybe it was.  Other shots were likely done on crisper digital DSLR cameras (for the large part of the 3D, like with the naked people), and of course this ALL could be by Godard's design.  No, not could.  It is.  

The technical side of the picture isn't quite as frustrating as what he puts into it, all of the philosophical, poetic, didactic, semantic, existential ramblings-on, which all makes Goodbye to Language so... slippery, not even episodic but like little post-it notes that go flying one minute to another.  If there had been a stronger foundation to grab a hold of with the couple at the center - again, this is where a little extra run-time would have been useful - his film would have been flawed but a success in having a through-line to hang his ideas and notions on.  But he doesn't.  I can't tell you if these actors are any good - the main ones or any of the side char, sorry, 'people' who pop up, and like in other Godard works they pop up just to look at and flip at books (Dostoyevsky gets name-dropped here) or write things down, and at one point there's.... a scene with people in 18th century clothing.  

Actually, that wasn't too bad.  There was a sense of play and fun in that moment that was lacking through a lot of the rest of the movie.  

I just... I started with Godard when I was swimming deep into the art-house cinema pool of the BIG auteurs of the period (Bunuel, Bergman, Truffaut, Pasolini, Kurosawa, Ozu, the list goes on and on), and Godard always stood out as being one of the weirdest, the most daring, the most IN-LOVE of cinema but also poetry, classical music, existentialism, and a kind of fatalism/dark-side that permeated the best of his 1960's and into the 70's work of any of the heavy-hitters.  He was, and sometimes is, inspirational in ways some of the Hall-of-Famers weren't.  

This made finding his work at a certain point, probably when he hit his 40's and 50's, to lose any sense of narrative and becoming completely experimental, disappointing.  He never stopped trying to be daring, but after a while, as with, oh, I don't know, Tim Burton to throw out a big example, you can see the old dog turning the old tricks so many times.  

That, or, to quote the scene from Shawshank Redemption: "Why are you so obtuse?" "What did you call me?" "Obtuse. Is it deliberate?"  My mind has been battered by this man so much and yet I continue to return, hoping for a fix from this spouse-cum-drug-dealer of movies, and it's here, with what may be one of his final films, that it's much too much.  Yes, even at 70 minutes.

Goodbye to Language 3D is baffling and frustrating, and that's what the filmmaker intended, probably.  That, or it's completely clear and like music and I just can't stand what this dude is dishing out, or make heads/tails of.  There may be some deep things here... other times, frankly, there was a sense of 'The Emperor has a big middle finger where clothes should be'.  

Or, perhaps, I should stand up for myself and not let my Filmmaker beat me around.  Cue Tina Turner...