Tag: movies

Look, everybody, it’s ME!  I’m back.  Okay enough about my blog hiatus.

I’ve been watching vampire movies, and that calls for a post. Helloooooo!!! This year I actually quit watching The Originals and The Vampire Diaries (still love those shows, but who has time?). Of course that didn’t stop me, and I ended up watching Only Lovers Left Alive, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and What We Do In The Shadows this very month! Oh – I also watched Vampire Academy, but…that one was mostly while I was folding laundry and doing the dishes and meh – other than Claire Foy, a bit of a letdown.

I have to rank Only Lovers Left Alive at the next-to-bottom of this vamp-pile, because despite Tilda and Tom, the film was booooooring and way too in love with itself. Get over your own perceived hipness, Jim Jarmusch. I love Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, too. Some haunting lonesome forlorn cinematography of rundown nighttime Detroit, but otherwise blahhhh, big effing deal that your vampires can dig on science and poetry. Spooky action at a distance? You’re not impressing me.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – YES. Not just because we’re talking Persian vampires, not just because it’s got some of the creeeeeeeepiest vampire stalking scenes ever, not just because black and white arty done right –  but because it’s beautifully shot, it’s got a Westside Story gritty glam romance to it, and hey….the awesomeness that is Mozhan Marnò. You can see her in this movie gem on Netflix streaming!

And then there’s What We Do In The Shadows. I didn’t realize until I saw this movie that I wanted a hilarious vampire film. I do! I so do. I don’t think I ever want to see a serious vampire anything ever again. How does it get better than Jemaine Clement as Vladislav the Poker saying “I’m going for a look that I call Dead but Delicious.” Yaahaaahahaaha.

Pretty much everything is outrageously funny in What We Do In The Shadows. Everything. I was giggling and snort-laughing the whole time. Have you ever had roommates? Were they vampires? I guarantee even if you’ve had regular human roommates you will find something to identify with here. And laugh your ass off. And then…slowly…realize you’re watching a reality TV show that’s more human than most.

Wait – I didn’t answer my original question. Vampires – why bother? I don’t know, it’s up to you, what you do in the shadows. “Just leave me to do my dark bidding on the internet.”  “What are you bidding on?”  “I’m bidding on a table.” HAaaaa! Let’s put the dead back in deadpan!

Photo By Screenshot from “Internet Archive” of the movie Dracula (1958) http://www.archive.org/details/HorrorOfDracula-Trailer, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11740931

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I grew up watching both good (Alien) and bad (Mausoleum, anybody?) horror movies.  And reading horror novels – King, Koontz, McCammon, Barker – the big dawgs.  As I’ve matured (Ahem…I really have….matured.  I swear), I am still as picky as I was in my youth.  I can’t handle torture-porn slasher movies, but I do like to be scared shitless for weeks after seeing a well-done frightmare (Insidious I’m thanking you…but not your sequel).

Why do I watch horror movies?  They’re better than caffeine if you need to stay wide awake all night because you’re writing a novel or trying to finish some bookkeeping projects.

And also, because horror done right – whether it’s a gothic ghost story or a full-on terrorfest – sure is cathartic.  I like my horror best served with side dishes of humor, smart n’ feisty heroines, jump-scares and twisty plots.

Here’s a list of the top scary movies I’ve seen in the past year, all streaming on Netflix.  If you don’t have Netflix you can usually watch on Amazon Instant pretty cheap – just click the pics.

Housebound  The reason I wrote this blog post.  Never have I laughed out loud so hard and been so wigged out at the same time.   Best line:  “You can’t punch ectoplasm in the face!”  Thank you, New Zealand!





Tucker and Dale vs Evil   Outrageous.




Hellraiser  This one was a rewatch – because of course I saw it immediately when it came out in the 80’s.  Still great, still gross.




Pontypool  Here’s a prime example of indie budget horror that hits all the right crazy buttons – a virus that transforms people into imploding gibberish-talkers, and it’s transmitted by human speech.  Where else should a spectacle like that unfold, but at a small Canadian radio station in the dead of winter?



The Machine  I’m putting this in the horror bucket because even though it’s sci fi, the mood and tension had me bouncing off the walls.  Caity Lotz deserves more leading roles.




Banshee Chapter   I was totally surprised by how much I liked this X-Filesy extra-dimensional beings paranoia-fest.  And I was completely freaked out.  The washed-up guru character played by Ted Levine is worth the whole movie.




Oculus   Absolutely riveting ghost-busty first half, with smart, obsessive Karen Gillan getting ready to avenge her dead parents and defeat a malevolent mirror.  The second half descended into predictability, but watch it anyway.




Absentia   Another low budget indie horror film that deserves to be seen.  A pedestrian tunnel in a suburban neighborhood becomes a portal for doom.  Unsettling and almost too real for comfort; highly original.




Grabbers  As I said, I like a splash of humor in my horror.  What could be better than a bar full of drunk Irish fighting off tentacly sea monsters?  F’ing brilliant.  And Richard Coyle.  Yes, please.




The House at the End of Time  One of the best supernatural thrillers I’ve seen.  This Venezuelan ghost story does everything right, taking what seems like a conventional haunted house tale and recrafting it into a spooky mystery that’s also a poignant family drama with a twist ending and a tribute to motherhood.




The Innkeepers/The House of the Devil   People either love filmmaker Ti West or ignore him.  He’s never let me down.  Ti one on and enjoy a double feature.




The Returned  I’m referring here to the film, not the also-excellent French television series.  Here’s a classic example of how a “zombie” movie both utilizes and transcends tropes to come up with a suspenseful and meaningful story.  Also – it stars everyone’s favorite werewolf (or at least, mine) from Lost Girl, Kris Holden-Ried.  AND Shawn Doyle.  What!?  I know.  2 fer 1.




Spooky Trees Photo from Unsplash

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Usually I find out about good movies because I read reviews or follow certain actors and directors.  I’m an IMDb freak and a Netflix subscriber, which is a dangerous combination.  This time, a good friend heard about last year’s Kundo: Age of the Rampant, and that started me on a research expedition into South Korean cinema – especially horror (The Host is excellent K-horror that all connoisseurs of the broader genre should have seen by now) and the flicks affectionately termed “kimchi westerns” or “Easterns” – of which Kundo is a prime example.

It might be obvious at this point in my blog history that I’m not a fan of romcoms or teary dramas (exception: historical dramas like The Imitation Game).  I prefer scifi, thrillers, action, adventure, you get the idea.  I live on the edge.  Of my couch.  I’m not a hardcore afficionado of martial arts films, but I’ve seen a Kurosawa or two, and of course Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  I’ve even seen 47 Ronin (but if you’re looking for a good Keanu movie and you’ve already seen The Matrix 100 times, skip 47 Ronin.  Even with the superlative Rinko Kikuchi, skip 47 RoninCheck out John Wick instead).  I enjoy a spaghetti western occasionally.  But there’s something about a mashup of Korean swordplay, Tarantino, and Sergio Leone that makes a gal’s eyes light up as she googles Kundo and starts skimming farflung movie reviews.  Sweet, it’s on Netflix.

And oh man, what a great way to spend two hours of recharge-time.  A blockbuster in Korea, Kundo draws on the country’s history, specifically the Joseon Dynasty (circa 1862), infamous for its government corruption and poverty.  Roving gangs of bandits known as “kundo” wreaked havoc Robin Hood-style to return food and money to peasants tricked into indentured servitude by sleazy officials.  The movie unfolds in five acts like a Shakespearean tragedy, which indeed it is, but not without wicked swordfights, a balls-out, thundering hooves Morricone-style soundtrack, a kickass lady warrior who shoots a bow while carrying a baby on her back, and the obligatory (yet no less awesome) bamboo forest training montage.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the movie’s delightful parade of period-style hats.  Cheers to the costume designer, big time.

Occasionally Kundo slows down for dramatic character development, but that’s a good thing.  The acting is top-notch, and these scenes are necessary – they make the ending more poignant.  The nobleman villain Jo-Yoon is no cardboard demon, likewise the rebel hero Dochi, a “lower-class” butcher with his gigantic meat cleavers turned mêlée weapons, is a twitchy hothead (literally).  Both have their reasons for who they become.  And everybody talks like a street kid (“Look at this douche” is definitely my favorite subtitled one-liner).  I’m not going to give up plot details – it’s better to let this film unfold.  I really want a sequel.  In the meantime, I might have to check out The Good, The Bad and The Weird.


Bamboo photo by “PădureDeBambus” by Țetcu Mircea Rareș – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


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This is the opening weekend for the film The Imitation Game, a biopic thriller about computer scientist Alan Turing and how he and the Bletchley Park team cracked the German Enigma machine and helped the Allies win World War II.  I learned of Alan Turing my first year in college, back in 1992. We discussed the Turing Test in my Psychology 101 class, and I was riveted by his marvelous idea for testing the humanness of artificial intelligence in such an elegant way.  No machine has ever passed the Turing Test – at least, not by a huge margin.   For now, we’re all still the only human humans we know.  Whatever that means.  All I know is I can’t ever contemplate robots and the singularity and intelligence without thinking about Alan Turing.  And I can’t think about Alan Turing without feeling sad, and wondering what good is our humanity, our languages, our love, when we can be so cruel, even to heroes like him.  Anyway I wrote a poem about the man back in 1992.  It’s not Wordsworth, but I thought I’d post it here in memorium.  Fangirling out big time for Alan Turing!

Chess Game

I’m calling out to you, Alan Turing –

When does creation begin?

I wake to consciousness

from angry, muddled dreams.

Where is darkness

when we turn on the lights?

I’m talking to something

beyond the wall,

asking questions which have human answers,

breaking the code

in a race to win – what?

What is it we are beating

at its own game?

This is the clicking of a keyboard I hear

and not a voice.

This is the alien rattle of Morse

across the wires of wartime.

And is this you, Alan?

More machine than man,

or more human than many?

In the mystical night,

my brain is lightning,

humming, electric, alive.

I travel unconfined, unharnessed.

There is no touring that I cannot test.

There is no off, only rest.

I find you, Alan,

midst love and wakefulness,

lamenting our destructions.


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Let’s compare two revenge films that, at first perusal, couldn’t be more different.

John Wick‘s title character is a hired killer, the best in the biz: a cool, wealthy, consummate professional.  Compare him to Blue Ruin‘s Dwight: hangdog, homeless, and hapless.  Both are men of few words, though, and both have a single-minded purpose: vengeance.  [Beware spoilers to follow.]

John Wick, as it’s related in the film, is not just the boogeyman, but the man you send to kill the boogeyman.  Dwight, in comparison, is an average guy chasing his own terrifying boogeyman, someone who’s just been released from prison after serving a term for the murder of Dwight’s parents.   Dwight has been waiting years for revenge – he seems to have given up all other hope and any semblance of engagement in life; sporting a Duck Dynasty beard, he lives in his car and dumpster-dives for food.  John Wick, by contrast, retired from an apparently infamous career as a hitman when he met his beloved wife, but now her death from an unnamed illness serves to disconnect him from life, too.  Her posthumous gift to him of an adorable beagle puppy named Daisy seems to offer Wick a way back to the moral world.

But we’re watching films about revenge here.  The minute Dwight finds out his parents’ murderer has been released, his life gains dark meaning and purpose.  And when a cocky Russian mobster’s son and his goons break into Wick’s house, beat him senseless and kill Daisy, John Wick comes out of retirement.

The parallels between these two movies are fascinating.  John Wick’s car, a gorgeous gunmetal gray ’69 Mustang, is the impetous for everything awful that happens.  Compare it to Dwight’s rusted heap of a Pontiac Bonneville, the faded blue ruin of the title, pocked with bulletholes and just about Dwight’s only ‘valuable’ possession.  Both men lose their vehicles along the road to retribution.

Consider how these two gentlemen go about their pursuits.  How Dwight has to break into a house to take a shower and shave off his beachbum beard, how he steals a gun only to be unable to bust off its trigger lock, how he slumps in his stolen khakis.  John Wick, by contrast, breaks into his own house’s cement floor with a sledgehammer to unbury his cache of guns, grenades and hitman miscellany, then dresses himself to the GQ max in a smokin’ hot black suit and tie.  Somewhere in an attic there’s an aging portrait of Keanu Reeves, because he’s looking damn good at 50.

Yet because of Dwight’s incompetence and in spite of Wick’s skills, things go totally sideways for both of them.  Dwight does indeed find his target and makes a messy end of him with a fillet knife, but he’s forced to abandon the Pontiac at the bloody crime scene, and then the hunter becomes the hunted.  John Wick, on the other hand, is an urban killing machine who ends up needing all his skills to achieve payback.  His gunfights – and there are many – are like brutal ballet.  It seems that nothing will stop him – not an army of thugs, not a sexy female assassin, not running out of bullets.  Good thing Wick has connections: elite membership in a luxurious, gangsters-only hotel, a crew of discreet cleaners to mop up the bodies, a comrade in arms with a sniper rifle, and Ian McShane (enough said).  Dwight, by contrast, has a high school buddy with a gun rack and a compound in the woods.

I never thought either of these anti-heroes would survive, and I believe they were both ready to die.  You know the old adage: if you seek revenge, dig two graves.  Both men are injured badly in the course of events, but of course John has access to a private doctor, no questions asked, and Dwight fails in his attempt to stitch his own wound and ends up fainting in a hospital waiting room.  What stays with me – and why I bothered to put all this in writing – is that I can’t decide which movie was more violent, and which movie’s depiction of violence was the more justified.  John Wick is hands-down one of the most unflinchingly violent films I’ve ever seen.  I lost count of how many bad guys got shot in the head at close range, sometimes several in rapid succession.  It’s not the goriest film I’ve seen, though, but maybe that’s more unsettling because the majority of the deaths are so ruthlessly efficient and breathtakingly choreographed.

I asked myself repeatedly why I cared about John Wick’s fate.  He’s a merciless killer, but if I’ve got my facts straight he only kills bad guys, he refrains from killing a bad woman, and there are no innocent bystanders killed because of him.  Do I sympathize with him because he’s moral?  He’s…not.  Is it because he’s handsome and stylish?  He is.  Is it because the bad guys killed his sweet little dog?  Maybe yeah.

I asked myself why I cared about Dwight’s fate.  He’s tortured, pathetic, and inept, but he’s also sad and lost.  He ends up killing the wrong man and endangering his sister’s family.  Do I like him?  I think it’s more that I pity him.  Is he moral?  He…is.  Do I like him because he looks like he could use a hug?  Yeah.  Do I empathize with him because the bad guy killed his parents?  Not as much as I empathize with John Wick over the death of Daisy.  And wow…what does that mean?  I know what Daisy means to John, and I had to witness to the death of that innocent dog.  I don’t see the death of Dwight’s parents – I only see the sad ruin that remains: Dwight.

What it comes down to for me is that John Wick is entertainment – it’s a sleek thrill ride artfully composed – not surprisingly – by two stuntmen.  But Blue Ruin is as close to reality as fiction can get.  With its talented cast of unknowns and its Kickstarter budget, Blue Ruin is grim and unflinching and brilliant.  Maybe that’s why if I had to rewatch one of these films, I’d choose to watch John Wick again.  I don’t have the guts for Blue Ruin twice.

I keep wondering what might have happened if Dwight had simply hired John Wick.  But then, Dwight couldn’t afford John Wick.

photo credit: Shawn Hoke via photopin cc

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