Television

Halloween Movie Picks 2016

Halloween Movie Picks 2016

I love Halloween. One of my favorite things to do is to load up on the horror and thriller films. Detailed below are my recommendations currently available on various streaming services. The films here are certainly not mainstream and, by and large, foreign. Let me know if you have seen any of these. Let me know if see any based on my recommendations. I would love to hear your thoughts.

On NETFLIX:

Rabid Dogs: A new French favorite of mine. The ending was so unexpected that the following day I watched it again to see what clues I may have missed. Rabid Dogs has my highest recommendation of all the films on this list. A must watch. There is even a rendition of my favorite Radiohead song “Creep” in the soundtrack.

High Lane: This is a French film and pretty intense. If you can take it…you have been warned…seriously.

Horde: A French zombie film, which I think may have inspired the visual feel of the hit television series, The Walking Dead.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: I thought the vampire genre was done until I saw this Persian language film. I loved the direction and cinematography of this one; a truly unique film.

Dark Was The Night: Mysterious creature thriller starring Kevin Durand from The Strain television series. This has some great moments of suspense.

Odd Thomas: This is much lighter than most of the other films on this list. I loved that it was filmed in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. It stars the late Anton Yelchin of the contemporary Star Trek films.

On HULU:

The Barrens: Is the Jersey Devil real? Stars Stephen Moyer from the True Blood television series.

The Descent: Cave exploration, claustrophobia and something unexpected. Highly recommend this one, but quite intense.

High Tension: Insanely intense French horror film with a surprise ending. Perhaps the most tense of all the films on this list.

Horror Express: A Spanish English language film from the early 1970s that stars Christopher Lee as an archeologist who makes a horrifying discovery. It reminds me of something I would have seen on Chiller Theater via WPIX in New York City.

Psycho Beach Party: The crashing of genres: a spoof of the horror and beach films of the 1960s. This one is a lot of fun.

Them: Another supremely intense French film. This one is based on a true story.

On FILM MOVEMENT:

Wolves in the Snow: A French Canadian film about a woman who kills her husband only to find out that he has ties with the criminal underworld and now they are after her.

Remarkably, Amazon Prime did not have any films I would recommend.

A Middle-Aged Fanboy Reviews Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

My love affair with comics began in the late 1970s with the television series Wonder Woman: it was because of Lynda Carter that I picked up a comic book! I remember the first issue I ever read where Wonder Woman said things like, “Great Hera” and “Merciful Minerva.” This intrigued me because I was learning about Greek mythology in school. I became enamored with all things Greco-Roman and read Wonder Woman to find the connections in the architecture of Paradise Island (I had already looked up the Greek column orders in the encyclopedia) or the Greek Gods and Goddesses the Amazons worshiped (I remember noting an inconsistency with regards to how she would sometimes use the Roman names for Greek Gods and vice-versa).

About one year after I started watching Wonder Woman, the now classic Superman: The Movie came out and it cemented my bond with comic books: I can still recall the joy and excitement I felt watching that film in the Valentine Theater on Fordham Road. I then started to regularly read Action Comics, All Star Squadron, Detective Comics, Justice League, Teen Titans and, of course, Wonder Woman. I also became a life long fan of artists like Jerry Ordway and George Perez.

I stopped reading comics when I started college in 1985 because I couldn’t afford the time or the money. I did, of course, see films and television shows based on my favorite comic book heroes. I started to read comics again because of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and DC’s 2011 reboot of all their titles and characters known as The New 52. Some recommended reading from the New 52 includes the first 24 issues of Batwoman (the artwork of J.H. Williams III is nothing short of thrilling), Earth 2, Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl, Batman (the Court of the Owls story line) and Justice League. Another great read is the graphic novel Superman: Earth One, which clearly had a major influence on 2013’s Man of Steel.

Man of Steel was a good film, but it wasn’t great. I am not sure if it will age as well as the Dark Knight films. I liked the origin story, the portrayal of Krypton and Henry Cavill in the title role, but I agree with critics regarding the over-the-top, Michael Bay destruction of Smallville and Metropolis. Interestingly, this is exactly where Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice starts. (Note: if you have not seen Man of Steel, and intend on seeing Batman v. Superman, you must see the former to understand plot elements of the latter.)

The opening moments of Batman v. Superman recounts Superman’s battle with Zod from the street level. These scenes are quite haunting and bring some much-needed humanity to those over-the-top battle scenes from Man of Steel while effectively setting up the animosity that Batman harbors toward Superman for most of the film. What follows is a relatively action-free hour that explores the film’s central theme: can absolute power (Superman) be trusted? Director Zak Snyder also lightly touches on other themes like media manipulation, money in politics and journalistic responsibility.

Snyder excels with the superhero, comic book come-to-life imagery (as he brilliantly did with Watchmen). He clearly took images and ideas from the pages of the comics that those who don’t read comics may not recognize (see below). However, he does it at the expense of the film’s pacing. There are also too many plot elements and plot holes, which CinemaSins is going to have a real feast with. Some of the biggest plot holes stem from character motivation. I also think it was a mistake to reveal the Doomsday character in the trailers; his reveal in the film would have been a great moment for the collective audience experience.

batmancomparision

From the film and from the graphic novel, Damian: Son of Batman

supermancomparision

From the film and from the graphic novel, Superman: Earth One

Casting was outstanding. Ben Affleck does an excellent job playing Bruce Wayne and Batman. Affleck’s physique in this film is impressive–he is a walking wall of muscle! Also, watching him use all of the Batman gadgets was a lot of fun. Gal Gadot, who plays Diana Prince / Wonder Woman is a revelation—even when she is not in costume as Wonder Woman, she commands your attention! I overheard a lot of chatter from fellow audience members afterward and everyone loved her portrayal. One of my favorite moments in the film was when Wonder Woman used her golden lasso—it beautifully glowed as it does in the comics! I am really looking forward to the Wonder Woman film next year!

gal-gadot-wonder-woman-lasso-batman-vs-superman

Batman v. Superman is fantastic visually and the action scenes are engaging, but overall the film is not as thoughtful as it could have been. For the upcoming Justice League films, Snyder needs to reel in the action a bit and give the audience more credit for being able to think. After all, Comic book fans are quite thoughtful and imaginative.

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I wore my George Perez, Wonder Woman t-shirt to see Batman v. Superman!

The season six cast of Glee.

Why Glee Matters

Glee was a musical television series that focused on the fictitious McKinley High School glee club, the New Directions. It was conceived in 2005 by Ian Brennan as a film and produced from 2009 to 2015 by prolific television producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (Nip / Tuck, American Horror Story). I started brainstorming this blog entry on the same day that Leonard Nimoy passed away and realized that Glee actually has a lot in common with Star Trek. While Star Trek used science fiction to explore humanity, Glee used music.

One of the most common complaints about the show was that the cast “butchered” great songs. I agree with this, in part, but do not blame the cast; I blame the way they were recorded, with that oddly canned and sternly cleaned-up sound. However, if you watch Glee: The Concert Movie (2011), where the cast sings live, you will hear some really terrific vocals (perhaps it was too expensive to record them live as they acted). Glee excelled at introducing young people to the great songs from rock, pop, R&B, Soul and Broadway songbooks. The show also had some really stellar production numbers and choreography that included impressive re-stagings of Funny Girl and West Side Story.

Star Trek is noted for its progressive, civil rights era viewpoints and one of television’s first multiracial casts. Similarly, Glee should be noted for the way in which marginalized people and groups were given visibility and a voice. Glee portrayed characters with Down syndrome, OCD disorders, obesity and individuals who identified as LGBTQ. Glee also explored various important social issues like bullying, spirituality, racism, race relations, gay marriage and the quality of American education. Andrew Nietor, a former colleague of mine, who is now an immigration attorney, once wrote in his blog:

“When the choice is compassion vs. hatred, compassion will always win. It is also the side favored by history.”

Glee chose compassion and that is why, like Star Trek,  it will be favored by history.

http://www.fox.com/glee

A Xenophobic Troglodyte Hates Fútbol

I normally wouldn’t devote much thought, let alone an entire blog entry, to a xenophobic troglodyte like Ann Coulter, but was inspired after watching the World Cup yesterday. This is a response to her shoddily written article about Fútbol (soccer) that created quite a stir on social media last week.

Before I address Coulter’s article, I would like to infuse some media literacy and survey her mindset.

Coulter knows her audience (market). She operates much like Fox “News”, appealing to a certain narrow-minded and largely intolerant demographic. Interestingly, most Fox “News” viewers do not realize (or simply ignore) that the same company broadcasting television series like Glee also owns Fox “News” (not exactly congruent as both appeal to difference audiences). Then there is the foreign ownership: Rupert Murdock is not American and the second-largest holder of voting stock in the company is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal (yes, a brown skinned Arab owns stock in Fox “News”). Some may say that MSNBC is the Progressive equivalent, but there are noticeable differences. First of all, MSNBC has at least one conservative voice (Joe Scarborough). Second, whenever you watch an MSNBC program, they provide substantiation: watch a segment of Rachel Maddow and she isn’t merely speaking, she provides sources (often using visuals). Coulter and Fox “News” just tell their audience what they want to hear; they are essentially pushing a product. This mindset creates an assortment of perils, the most notable being the loss of apt discourse. What we have now are Conservatives who immediately reject any idea (like climate change) that bears any semblance to something progressive or scientific (often referred to as ‘elite’) regardless of how sound or how much evidence has been provided.

————

As I was watching Brazil play against Chile, in between the infinite cycle of big company logos being flashed on the field monitors, I took notice of a message that conveyed #stopracism. Coulter came to mind because I remember reading one headline regarding how she grumbled about the game being foreign. Out of morbid curiosity I read her article.

Scattered like a shipwreck on a beach, the article manages to take bizarre pot shots at the metric system, soccer moms, girl soccer players and Michael Jackson. Here are several points I have extracted from the wreckage.

  • “You can’t use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here’s a great idea: Let’s create a game where you’re not allowed to use them!”
    Not using your hands in sports takes great coordination and brainpower. You have to move and kick the ball while maintaining balance and strategizing where on the field you are going to kick it.

What is so wrong with Americans liking Fútbol (soccer)?

Could it be that some Americans watching the 2014 World Cup may want to start exploring how Brazil became energy independent (https://law.wustl.edu/WUGSLR/Issues/Volume7_2/Potter.pdf )? I have seen solar companies advertised on those field monitors (http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/socialresponsibility/environmental.html ).

Is it because too many brown people are playing?

Is it because it can inspire thoughts of understanding and tolerance?

Or is it because FIFA stands against discrimination and makes it known:

Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion. (http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/socialresponsibility/antiracism/index.html )

no to racism

Interestingly, if you watch the games on Spanish-language television, many of sponsors convey the above sentiments (not so on American television).

In a country like the United States, where you have a handful of small minded puritanical holy rollers picking narrow-minded textbooks for children (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/21/how-texas-inflicts-bad-textbooks-on-us/ ), the last thing Americans need is to have an even lesser understanding of the world. I am truly embarrassed whenever I read anything discussing America’s lack of knowledge regarding geography and basic social studies.

Coulter notes American Football’s ratings as if she had been hired by the NFL (http://www.npr.org/2014/01/18/263767372/the-nfl-big-business-with-big-tax-breaks) to stomp out any potential competition. Is it so hard for both sports to co-exist? In Coulter’s narrow view it is. She seems to have little sense that there’s an enormous, complex world beyond our borders.  She seems to think that the universe consists of the United States and then everyone else—and that everyone else should be stomped on.

“If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.”

I am pretty sure that Coulter’s readers do not know that American Football came from the European sport called Rugby (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/550852/football )? And Rugby has roots in similar ancient games found in Ancient Greece and China (http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/history/the-game/origins.html ).

Like most things in modern America, it started somewhere else. Coulter, suffocate with that thought the next time you order French fries or a slice of pizza.

Ann Coulter, Circa 1980

Ann Coulter, circa 1980. Years before she got that boozy, party girl look that she has been sporting since the 1990’s and is too old to pull off in 2014.

 

The Architecture of American Horror Story.

Last year someone recommended that I take a look at the hit television series, Modern Family.  While I found the one episode I viewed amusing, I was severely underwhelmed with the production of the show — the sets were generic with no real feeling for architecture and place. It looked as if one could take the characters of Modern Family and drop them into Wisteria Lane (Desperate Housewives) without anyone noticing. The homes in both those shows look like a real estate staging.

Visuals should play a large part in the visual story-telling mediums of television and film. Authenticity is vital. One of my favorite childhood shows was Little House on the Prairie, but I can recall questioning why Walnut Grove was so desert dusty like a Western (from what I had learned in school up to that time, Minnesota was supposed to be greener). Friends, a show I never liked, further annoyed me with the bogus, vanilla depiction of 1990’s New York City (they didn’t even film the corny opening credits in New York City!) In contrast to Friends and Little House is Breaking Bad, which had a very deep feeling for time and place: New Mexico was one of the stars of the show (every time I saw the Sandia Mountains, I smiled)! The same is true of American Horror Story.

American Horror Story follows a distinct set of characters and settings each year with a repertory cast that includes Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson and Frances Conroy in dissimilar roles. While each season has presented very different stories, outstanding architecture (and production) is ubiquitous.

The first season, titled American Horror Story: Murder House, follows the story of a nearly broken family that moves into a home haunted by individuals who died there, often in very brutal ways. The exterior of the “murder house” is a real Collegiate Gothic-style mansion built in Los Angeles by Architect Alfred Rosenheim in 1908. Collegiate Gothic stems from Gothic Revival, an architectural style inspired by medieval Gothic architecture.  Gothic Revival was a heavily used building style during the 1800’s because of its moral overtones for academic and religious buildings.

Filming for the interiors were done on a sound stage with near accurate re-creations of the real interior. Real or re-creation, what a visual feast for the eyes: the sumptuous Stickley (or Greene and Greene) inspired interior, accented with Tiffany windows and fixtures.  The distinct sprawling staircase was a Crafts movement masterpiece. Not unlike the Enterprise from Star Trek, the “murder house” is a star of the show, integral to telling the story. The gorgeous house stands in bleak contrast to the horrible experiences of the people who once lived there and the awful things they did, which were hardly academic, religious or even harmonious with the concept of home.

The second season, titled American Horror Story: Asylum, takes place in the 1960’s and follows the stories of patients in an asylum for the criminally insane. I must note that I found this visual portrayal of the 1960’s to be more accurate than Mad Men (another favorite show of mine). The most glaring visual inaccuracy in Mad Men is the contemporary hanging ceilings in the offices. Here is an example of a hanging ceiling from the 1960’s: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000S1oPAPSQ.Y8/s/880/704/Petro-Philadelphia-1960s-Office.jpg. Because Mad Men employs low angle shots so often, one can’t help but notice those flawed ceilings.

Exterior filming for Asylum was completed at the Orange County courthouse in California, a Romanesque style building. Interiors were created on a soundstage.  Unlike the ‘murder house’, the ‘asylum’ was not as prominent a star except for one aspect, the stairs. Complex, slightly disjointed, reaching upward toward a skylight that was always dark, the stairs formed an amphitheatre of sorts. I couldn’t help but recall Dante’s Inferno where paradise has the shape of an amphitheater with an endless series of stairs: “..it is by such stairs/that we must take our leave of so much evil.” In Asylum, the opposite is true. Instead of ascending to heaven, one actually ascends to hell. Unlike Murder House, setting and story were congruent.

The most recent season, titled American Horror Story: Coven, follows the clash between witches and voodoo practitioners. Set and filmed in New Orleans, Coven beautifully depicts French Creole architecture while paying homage to female power as depicted in classic cinema.

French Creole architecture borrows traditions from France, the Caribbean, and Africa—-places that are part of the storyline of Coven at various points.  French Creole architecture heavily employed the use of decorative wrought iron. Wrought iron is tough and beautiful, much like the characters of Coven. The nearly colorless, but finely appointed, witch mansion complements the distinct fashions of each character. Watching the final episode of Coven, I realized that each incarnation of the series shared one common visual architectural motif: stairs.

The stairs in Murder House are where Ben takes his life, a major turning point in the story. Promotional ads for Asylum and Coven both prominently feature stairs (see picture below). The stairs in the Coven witch mansion are reminiscent of those seen in the Joan Crawford classic, Queen Bee (also set in the South). Queen Bee is a story about a family dominated by ruthless and strong women — not unlike the characters of Coven.Image

Stairs are a principal and practical part of architecture that stand with a sense of purpose: in the same way that water gives and takes life, stairs can bring us up and plunge us down. Is American Horror Story bringing us up or plunging us down? The last shot of Coven is of the new supreme standing glowingly on those Queen Bee stairs. She is the new, modern supreme—one who encourages witches to come out of hiding and stand together in community. Hiding fosters fear, while visibility gives strength.  Note that she was only able to become supreme and achieve this new age  after the old witches, who were filled with hatred and stuck in their old ways of thinking, were eliminated one way or another. Perhaps this is the central theme of American Horror Story: we can only bring ourselves up when we let go of the things, like fear and hatred, that plunge us down.