Time for another round of me talking about stuff I’ve read, watched, etc.
I talked about this on Friday, but only briefly, and it deserves a deeper look. The movie starts–literally the opening narration–by telling you what’s going on, which is a weird choice; I think it’s kind of effective, but not fully. Anyway, the opening narration more or less tells you that aliens who can control reality are conducting experiments on humans, which as openings go is a pretty high-stakes whammy. The next thing we see is a man waking up with essentially no memory; people remember him, but he doesn’t remember anything. he stumbles through an incredible neo-noir city, trying to figure out who he is, what’s going on, and why there was a dead hooker in the room where he woke up. Is he a killer? Is he innocent? As a thriller the story was ineffective for me–he’s being chased by the cops, and the aliens, and a weird little doctor guy, but he had somehow gained the aliens’ power to control reality and this let him off the hook too easily in too many situations. As a mind-bender it worked a little better, but only partly because I already knew about the aliens. I can’t help but think the story would have worked better if it hadn’t given away its biggest mystery in the opening sentence. Yet there were still plenty of other mysteries (where his memory went, why can’t we leave the city, etc.) that were appropriately mind-bending, and I was pleased enough. The main recommendation for the movie comes from its visuals: the SF noir skyline was cool enough already, but in a magnificent scene in the middle it changes and warps, buildings growing up from nowhere like curled flowers, rooms shrinking or growing, facades changing, and it’s awesome. And of course there’s the scene I mentioned before, where the characters break through the wall and learn the truth about the city. I just wish the story had been a little stronger.
Another noir, this time with no SF elements. This is an older movie–Jack Nicholson’s first major starring role, in fact, and watching it you can see why he became such a big star, because he’s absolutely perfect. Nicholson, playing a private detective named Jake Gittes, is in every single scene, giving the expansive story a surprisingly claustrophobic feel–you don’t know anything unless he knows it, and sometimes this bond becomes so close (and the acting so good) that you know exactly what he’s thinking even though he never says it out loud. The crime being investigated is both massive (a plot to steal the water rights for all of Los Angeles) and personal (a mysterious woman, first assumed to be peripheral, who eventually ends up at the heart of a stunningly tragic story). The classic noir style is very dark, stemming from its origins in black and white, but I loved the bright yellows and the washed out heat that permeates every scene–LA’s in the middle of a drought, and no one has enough water until suddenly, without cause or explanation, a torrent will roar out of the darkness, startling or slamming or even killing someone. “Worst drought in our history and the director of the water department drowns,” says the coroner. “Only in LA.”
Rot & Ruin
This is not a movie but a book–a YA zombie novel by Jonathan Maberry, a fantastic horror writer who is tangentially responsible for helping me find my agent. It’s based on a short story he wrote called “The Family Business,” which he’s since expanded into a novel which I snagged a preview copy of at BEA. The story takes place 15 years after the zombie apocalypse, when civilization has more or less stabilized and humankind is struggling to build a new life in the everpresent shadow of undeath. All of the zombie tropes are here, but what impressed me the most was the style itself–Maberry claims to be selling us a horror novel, and it is, but under the surface it’s pure Western, and I have to admire that kind of audacity. It didn’t end as abysmally as I wanted it too (about 3/4 of the way in I thought of the most deliciously horrible ending), but that’s probably a good thing, and as a YA adventure that forces you to think about zombies in an entirely new way it was a blast to read. If you’ve never read Maberry, do yourself a favor and pick one up ASAP; the man’s amazingly readable, with fastpaced stories and characters you can’t help but like, seasoned with just enough horror to really spice things up. Rot & Ruin comes out in a few months, so keep your eyes open.
I talk about old movies all the time, but somehow talking about a two-year old music video seems more egregious. Anyway. “Going On” is a Gnarls Barkley song, nominated for a grammy, and the video is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. It’s the story of several kids in Jamaica who have discovered, of all things, a door to another world, and their journey to travel through it is both simple and somehow profound, plus it has ingenious costume design and some absolutely incredible dancing. I especially love the use of text and titles; the ending uses the text to create some poignant and perfect.
Into the West
An Irish movie about two little boys, their useless father, and a horse that may or may not be magic, and may or may not have an agenda of its own. Their mother died several years ago, just precisely long enough for the youngest boy to have no memory of her. They lived as Travelers at the time, Irish gypsies, but their father couldn’t bear the loss and took them to a wretched tenement complex in Dublin. The horse arrives like a whirlwind, hellbent on tearing the family out of its stifling, drunken complacency and back into the real world, leading the children on a journey that starts hilarious and becomes increasingly more meaningful as it goes on. At last it leads them to a grave by the sea, and the younger boy asks his brother one of the most heartbreaking questions I’ve ever heard in a movie: “Why is my birthday on that stone?” Into the West has one of the best brother stories, one of the best father stories, and one of the best supernatural redemption stories you’ll ever see, all in one place.