Just Visiting: Starman and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya




Inside each hand, a miracle. Starman (1984) and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) both envision the ineffable, of presences that transcend our earthly domain. But both also celebrate the joys allowed to those bound in flesh, of Dutch apple pie and a frolic in the woods. Odd things happen when movies are viewed in quick succession. As I watched Starman and Kaguya, their stories seemed to be the same story. Both features follow an alien lifeform adapting to Earth. In Starman it’s a crash-landed alien anthropologist trekking back to his rendezvous point, while in Kaguya it’s a princess who was discovered inside of a bamboo shoot, and presumed to be a gift of the heavens. There are comic fish-out-of-water segments in adapting to their new environments, as well as doomed romances that spark and snuff out due to the whole long-distance relationship problem (it’s tough when you’re in different galaxies). But they are bittersweet films, ones that make the transcendent visible, only for it to disappear in the end.


Siege Mentality: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)


The violence in Assault on Precinct 13 is a result of simple geometry. Director and writer John Carpenter sets up four narrative lines that collide at a soon-to-be-shut-down police station. Taking advantage of the wide Panavision frame, Carpenter emphasizes horizontals, from long shotgun barrels to threatening gang members strung out across a darkened road like holes in a belt. This nearly wordless group of thugs has the station surrounded, its cowering occupants an uninspiring group of rookie cops, wounded secretaries and wiseass convicts. Enclosed and in the dark, these panicked heroes learn how to turn the space to their advantage, choking off the gang’s freedom of horizontal movement and funneling them into a narrow chamber that evens the odds. Reducing the action film to its basic elements, Assault on Precinct 13 still packs the force of a blunt object to the cranium. The textured transfer on the new Blu-Ray, out today from Shout! Factory, is the ideal way to re-acquaint yourself with its concussive impact.


Seeing Things, or “It’s one damned thing after another!!


I used to love in movies when characters would play the “free association” game. You know the bit… the psychiatrist guy presents to the patient a series of seemingly innocuous, unrelated words for which the patient provides a response. “Safe.” “Baseball.” “Volcano.” “Mother.” “Danger.” “Sherbet.” That bit. I sometimes feel as though my mind plays that game, especially when I’m watching movies. I’ll see a particular visual and then — BANG — something related comes right to mind. [...MORE]

Fear itself: To Kill a Mockingbird’s nightmare legacy

Perhaps due to Elmer Bernstein’s stirring score and to its own final notes of reconciliation and the healing power of love, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) encourages you to forget the horrors that are tucked up into its plot like straight pins left carelessly within the folds of a store-bought shirt. The movie hurts and ultimately it leaves the viewer smarting in ways that are apparent only upon reflection. Even if we were to discount the element of Southern small town prejudice and the ugly courtroom trial that occupies the film’s center, this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee is just plain spooky… and it is my feeling that it has bestowed upon us a legacy of horror that we can see echoed in later American tales of terror. [...MORE]

Frame Up: New Widescreen Films on Blu-Ray

From the multiplicity of locations to place a camera, the director and his collaborators have to settle on one. This decision, born of practical training and on-set instinct, can turn a routine shot into an extraordinary one. Three recent Blu-Ray releases display the talents of the canniest of decision makers: Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1958), John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) and Robert Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977). Preminger and Carpenter are naturals in the CinemaScope sized frame, both alternating between B&W and color to emphasize their images’ deceptive surfaces. Aldrich uses the boxier 1.85 ratio, but chops it up into split-screens which convey a dizzying information overload that accompanies the creeping surveillance state of that film’s USA.


The HorrorDads 2012 Halloween Triple Dip Shockapalooza!

Halloween is fast approaching … where did October go? Well, no time for rhetorical questions, it’s time to get our spook on. With that in mind, I have scrambled the HorrorDads and tasked each to provide us with his idea of an ultimate Halloween triple bill. To impose a sense of order on what might have turned into a maelstrom of free association, I further asked that the three features follow these stipulations:

  1. Choose a “matinee” geared toward the kids.
  2. Follow this with something seasonably appropriate, something classic.
  3. End your evening of chills with something pitched at the horror lifers, the true believers. No punches pulled, no quarter given, fangs bared. [...MORE]

Halloween at the movies!

Being a Halloween nut and a horror movie aficionado, you’ve got to know, gentle reader, that I get a particular thrill (thrill No. 13, in fact) when a scene crops up in a fright film that is actually set on All Hallows Eve. But I warn you now, I am picky. You can’t just drop a tea light into a plastic Jack-o-lantern and think I’ll be your best friend, oh no, no, no. Nor can you throw your art director and his fancy budget in my face and think I’m going to dissolve into a puddle of childlike wonder because you’ve larded the frame with 109 intricately carved pumpkins and 24 vintage cymbal playing clockwork monkeys. Oh, no, no, no. As the Wicked Witch of the West put it so aptly in THE WIZARD OF OZ, “these things have got to be handled delicately.” [...MORE]

Tell me a movie!

I was having lunch in Manhattan last week with my friend Kevin Maher, a writer-director-producer, comedian, and B-movie horror fan, who never misses a Blobfest and was in the envious position this year to be paid to go to Jawsfest. One of a thousand topics shoehorned into a fifty-minute man-date (same length as a therapy session and equally healing!) was the lost art of movie-telling… of one person patiently and thoughtfully relating the entire plot of a movie to another. If you’re over the age of 40, if you have had real life experience with rotary phones and VHS, there’s a good chance you remember a time in your life — maybe on a long car trip or riding bikes in the summer or while doing menial work on the job with a coworker– when somebody told you a movie. All the way through. From fade in to fade out. [...MORE]

The Initiation of Stacie: An Interview with Final Girl Stacie Ponder, Part II: Final Chapter

Last week I sat down with Final Girl blogger-slash-filmmaker-slash-illustrator-slash-slasher aficionado-slash-other-stuff to talk about her cool new slasher movie primer Slashers 101 and the love that dare not speak its name… namely, cheap horror movies. And mid-priced and also expensive ones. Stacie’s got a unique mind and a great way of looking at things and after years of parallel play in the blogosphere it’s been fun to actually talk mano-a-metal-hook with her. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should point out that Stacie kinda sorta interviewed me back in October 2010. Or, really, just asked me one question and then I kept on talking, as is my wont.) We’re wrapping up our thing today, sadly, because all good things must come to an end, especially when you rock freelance. When we left off last Friday, Stacie and I were talking about those particular horror movies in which we were inordinately drawn in by the characterizations and, yes, even touched and/or moved and otherwise poignanted by the plight of various ill-starred dramatis personalities. On that note, and without any further ado or folderol…

RHS: This brings us to the question of empathy, which always seems a bit in short supply with fans of horror movies. One of the things I appreciate about your blog, Final Girl, is that despite the avalanche of wit and wordplay you have a conscience — and you’re not afraid to use it. I was heartened by your review of NECROSIS (2009), which you took to task for capitalizing on the historical Donner Party situation, for fudging the facts in a completely cynical, commercial way in order to weave out of the elements a Grade-G horror movie, which you likened to “making a horror movie about the ghosts of Dachau or the vengeful spirits of the victims of September 11.” That was one of those stand-up-and-applaud WALKING TALL (1973) moments for me, though I actually did neither of those things. But I wanted to.

SP: Argh, that movie! I don’t know what’s worse- the fact that a whole bunch of people thought “Yes! We have no problem using the tragedy at Donner Pass as a cheap plot device!” or the fact that the tragedy at Donner Pass ended up being completely dropped partway through the movie and wholly useless as a cheap plot device. I mean, if you’re going to be tacky and disrespectful, then just do it, you know?  And yeah, I do find it tacky and disrespectful. Taking real-life horror and twisting it into some substandard, lousy ghost movie? I don’t understand. I’ll watch a movie about Jeffrey Dahmer and I’ll watch a movie about John Wayne Gacy, but this DAHMER VS GACY (2011) business, I don’t get it.

RHS: Nor do I, Stacie. Nor. Do. I. [...MORE]

The Top Twelve Genre Films of 2011


As the carcasses of prestige pics get picked over by awards committees and prognosticators, I like to distract myself from this pointless posturing by watching movies featuring actual corpses. After last year’s rundown of genre flicks received a good response, I return to the bloody well again, this time with twelve of my favorite action/horror/exploitation items released in the past year. Sure to be ignored by your local film critics circle, they are works of grim resourcefulness and ingenuity, deserving of more attention. I look forward to your criticisms, insults and recommendations in the comments. My picks are presented in alphabetical order, and if you’re interested in my overall top ten list, it’s posted here.


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