Setbacks of “The Witch”

Critics lauded it. Audiences seemed bored by it. Disconnects happen, but this case has a few scapegoats. Trailers have been selling us non-existent films with their dirty lies for years. Here, they may have sold audiences an exciting horror film with mass appeal instead of the niche film it truly was.  Between its critical acclaim, audience assumptions, and a trailer that could be seen as deceptive, there was no real way for this film to win everyone over.

Editing alone can make or break a film or turn one film into another. Editing turned a deliberate, slow moving film into a fast paced, jump scare horror film thanks to the trailers. Combine that with the positive critical reception heaped on this film and audiences went in with high expectations for a film that they were never going to see. Disappointed horror fans left the theater feeling cheated and rightfully so.

Categorization of this film is another hurdle. Although this was marketed as pure horror, “The Witch” is more complex than that. It is horror, but equal parts period drama, character study and psychological horror. That alone might not make it niche, but the language of the film alone does.

When a person walks into a theater to see a foreign horror film, they go in with expectation that not only will they have to read subtitles, but they may need to see it more than once to get the full effect. The mere prospect of subtitles weeds out certain film-goers that may find it too tedious. I don’t feel this way, but I can understand why an individual would not want to read while they’re trying to be scared. This film would have benefited from subtitles as it is spoken in 17th century English instead of contemporary English. It’s not a language we hear on a daily basis, let alone understand well. When people speak, they don’t always enunciate which is a serious detriment when the language you’re hearing is unfamiliar. Details are lost and vital information about the narrative or the characters goes unrecognized.

Pacing is the last issue. “The Witch” is a slow burn horror film. That alone places it in a subcategory that would leave audiences expecting an exciting film disappointed and bored. People prefer either “Alien” or “Aliens”. Both are acknowledged as incredible films but the different approaches to pacing appeal to different people. Even that comparison isn’t quite accurate as this film never reaches the frenetic energy of “Alien’s” second half. Instead, Approach “The Witch” as you would an art installation instead of a roller coaster. Do not expect the tension to reach a true fever pitch as one would expect in the genre. Like everything in this film, it’s climax is subtle and subdued.

This film has so much going for it including beautiful cinematography, an arresting story, top notch performances from both the veteran and child actors tapped for it. The best thing is how carefully director Robert Eggers has crafted the atmosphere of dread and paranoia. The fact remains that this is fundamentally a niche film within the genre. Although I highly recommend this film, I do so with stipulations. Be prepared for what kind of film this is and above all else, watch it with subtitles. Perhaps this will be another case of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and this film will get more respect from audiences and become a cult classic later.

 

Koma – 2004

Thinking of transitioning to a new space. This is the first post of what I hope will be a more focused space. And, y’know no month long hiatuses…

theafrozombie

In the most auspicious year of 2004, when “Dawn of the Dead” was remade, Nelly and Tim McGraw thought a duet was a good idea and George W. Bush was elected in the U.S. while Jean-Bernard Aristide was overthrown in Haiti, the Chinese film “Koma” was released. Weird times. We were holding onto the late 90s fashion in the worst way. Sadly, the film looks just like its decade and it was downright distracting inducing more giggles than were probably warranted. Shockingly, that’s not the real issue with this movie.

This is an example of film as entertainment as opposed to literature. It’s a fun popcorn flick to enjoy on a Friday night with friends and junk food. The setup is fairly straightforward with the familiar urban legend of the tourist waking up in a tub of ice missing valuable internal organs. The story unfolded with the protagonist and antagonist…

View original post 221 more words

Shopaholic Confessional #3: Binge

via Pixar

My name is Poindexter McQueen. I am a raging shopaholic and I have not shopped for five days. Last week was a bad week. I fell off the wagon is spectacular fashion (pardon the pun) and I am wholly repentant. The funny thing is, $300.00 later, I feel far better than I should. Ease off the judgement face. It’s not quite what you think.

It was a binge; a long one. Online shopping is at its most alluring when you’re done. From the safety of my bedroom with only the computer screen for illumination, there was no one to witness me buy. No one to silently judge me for trying to fix bad feelings with magnetized plastic.  Between work troubles and budding health issues, it was bound to spill over. The coincidental death and destruction of not one but two pairs of both exquisite and exquisitely cheap sunglasses was the straw that broke the camels back. Out came the credit card.

It’s never one thing. It’s always many. Above is most of what I bought and absolutely none of it was on sale. Places like Pinterest, H&M and Forever 21 make it so easy to self-medicate. Just visiting the website makes me feel compelled to buy. As though the minimalist setup on the H&M site will somehow rub off if I buy something from them or the numb weightless feeling from Forever 21 will stay if I buy something. Obviously, none of this is true, but that’s doesn’t help my will power. Polyvore chirping that “Items you’ve saved are on sale” is another unhealthy distraction. How am I supposed to be a fake minimalist if everything is blaring “BUY FROM US” all the time?

Here’s how I know capsule wardrobing and the idea of wardrobe minimalism got to me: I returned more than half of what I bought. There was no rationalizing or bargaining. None of that, “oh I’ll just tailor it,” nonsense. If I needed it, I kept it. There was never a “Maybe I’ll like it better later” or “It’s good for right now.” None of it. Back into the package they went never to be seen by me again. Last year, that never would have happened. All of the items fit my “perfect minimalist wardrobe” ideal, but still, back they went. Except for the sunglasses. I have two pairs of shitty sunglasses that I can’t fix. These gems are staying. The cami fits perfectly and is so delightfully loose that it’s already been worn twice. The Reformation tee hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s made of linen so as long as the fit is right, it stays too. My current black tee is beat to hell and has warped in such a way that can only be expected from high street cotton jersey.

I fell off the wagon, but got back on. What was required was obtained and frivolous things were returned. A free at-home-spa-day helped to soften the blow and now my nails have adorable little dots on them and my toenails look stylishly frostbitten. Minimalism as a concept is still a tricky idea I haven’t quite figured it out yet but I cannot say it hasn’t helped. There are lessons to be learned from it. It may be a trendy lifestyle, but it is not without merit. But, I’m non-committal. So, I’ll just take what I like and leave the bulk to more disciplined people than myself. Thus far though, I’ll say the experiment was worth the attempt and my finances (and closet) continue to thank me. Pardon me while I go and delete the Polyvore app…

Sequels: “The Conjuring,” “Sinister” and “Insidious”

It’s an unspoken rule that successful horror films must be followed by sequels, particularly when the budgets are low. Such sequels tend to be rushed affairs that find themselves relegated to the “subpar” categories. Sequels have been announced to three horror films I either count among my favorites or hold in high esteem. Each reaction started with, “Sure I guess, but…” We all know where this is going.

“…I trust them.”
The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist promises to bring the gang back including Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren,  Patrick Wilson as her husband Ed Warren and director James Wan. That information alone has me sold as they’ve proven a more than trustworthy team both on the last film and on Insidious (Wan and Wilson) which we’ll get to in a bit. The exception to the dream team is the notable absence of original writers. Wikipedia notes the script has been rewritten by David Leslie Johnson (Orphan 2009, Red Riding Hood 2011 & The Walking Dead season 2) and Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5 2011, The Thing 2011, Hours 2013). Hopefully, the ill conceived Annabelle is the subpar sequel in this franchise and this is a worthy followup.

“…eh.”
Sinister was a 2012 film I didn’t expect much from as I was scrolling through the Netflix suggestions and was pleasantly surprised by. The title and premise didn’t sound particularly familiar and even YouTubing the trailers didn’t jog my memory. Ethan Hawke was convincing as a true crime author who moves his unsuspecting family into a house where a family was murdered. Father of the Year. Upon a visit to the attic, he comes across a number of family snuff films which are about as heinous as they sound. The film itself begins with grainy footage of one of these films which sets the tone for the entire film. That opening sequence was particularly jarring and the sound design for the film juggled EDM distortions and real world Super 8 film sounds surprisingly well to make this universe sound real.

Although the mythology behind the story and the ending left it open ended and ripe for sequels, based on the trailer, I’m not optimistic. A good trailer can give you hope for a film, but a lackluster trailer just makes you ask, “Why?” But, if they can coax back the sound design department from the original film and opt to develop the characters they’ll already be going in strong. Sinister has already provided the setup so the exposition will probably focus more on the new family we’re to see obliterated by its children in what will surely be the most creatively, barbaric of methods. The thing is, according to writer C.Robert Cargill, the idea for this sprouted from a nightmare. It doesn’t get much scarier than that. Here’s to hoping they can catch lightning in a bottle again.

“…do we have to?”
Look, I enjoyed Insidious as much as everyone else did, but that does not excuse Insidious 2 nor justify Insidious 3. Insidious creeped me out more than it had any right to considering the campy special effects of the last act. Insidious 2 had a handful of creepy scenes (“Grandma, there’s someone standing behind you”), but ultimately more campy than anything. There’s a market for those, but it was a little underwhelming after the potent first film. Hauntings and astro projection are decent plot devices, but this film is more of a prequel to the original film detailing some original incident involving secondary character, Elise. A previous interaction with her and Patrick Wilson’s character Josh Lambert when he was a child is detailed in Insidious 2 and implied in Insidious so, do we really need a story about Elise’s career outside of the Lambert Family? That being said, it would be nice to see Leigh Whannell’s directorial debut.

James Wan and Leigh Whannell have had me as a fan since Saw. The stories they present do make good franchises, but Saw went on far longer than it should have for a full seven films. I’d rather not see Insidious and The Conjuring be treated the same way. If someone pays for my ticket to Insidious 3, I’ll go to the movies to see it. Otherwise, I may wait for Netflix. As far as Sinister goes, when it comes on premium cable or HBO, I’ll be at my mom’s house or on HBONow immediately to see it. The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist is the only one of this round of sequels I will freely donate ticket money to seeing. Horror films are always a gamble, but sequels are like playing Roulette with a “system.” There’s just no real way to tell what will happen.

Hamlet at the Wilma Theater

They say you never forget your first time. Mine was at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, the setting Denmark and the prince portrayed by a Black woman. Shakespeare, although beautiful on the page, is only truly understood when spoken from the human mouth. Although the words may be the same, unconventional casting and set design can provide accessibility to a story has been told for 400 years.  As someone who does not look for herself reflected in film or literature as the exercise has proven futile, it was heartening to see someone that looked like me portraying that most famous of Danish princes.

Directed by Blanka Zizka, this production sought to present Hamlet within a non-specific time. On its own, the set seems out of place with graffiti covering the walls, with a multi-lever platform as the primary set piece and wood chips for the lowest level of the set’s flooring. The strange choice of flooring was utilized not merely as a floor, but as a prop utilized as a means of scene transition by sprinkling particles from above, swords were planted in it, it was used by the actors as a weapon and even shoveled by the gravedigger. Handguns are utilized in conjunction with swords and rapiers. The costumes are paramilitary, minimalist pieces of no specific period in extreme colors of either creamy whites and gray or somber black and navy. They display old fashioned references with modern cuts, yet as individual pieces, they could be seen on a hipster in Fishtown right now.

At the heart of the unconventional setup is the title character, Hamlet, here portrayed by English actress Zainab Jah. As a petite, black woman endowed with a slightly raspy voice and sporting a TWA, Jah presents the antithesis of the white male image for which this character is usually portrayed. There was a conscious effort to enhance her androgyny instead of attempting to create a man. Being much shorter in stature than her cast mates could support the interpretation that this Hamlet is closer to sixteen during the course of the play and not the older man of thirty to thirty-five as is generally portrayed. With high riding boots, fitted pants and a loose shirt with strategically placed zippers along the top of the sleeve (to lend a disheveled appearance when necessary), Jah’s Hamlet appears a neutral, but still melancholy vessel. Her race is almost explained away with the ghost played by a Black actor, yet not entirely as her uncle is portrayed by a white actor. It is as unimportant to the story as her “true” sex is.

The one real criticism I came away with was Ophelia’s choreography. Elaborate dance moves accompanied her monologues perhaps to emphasize her already tenuous grasp on reality and display her gradual decent into depression and madness before meeting a tragic fate.  Although a great deal of artistic license was taken with this production already, dance moves along with her speeches seemed unnecessary and gratuitous.

Since my own personal history with Shakespeare involves the texts, the films (and yes CliffNotes because after all, it was high school), my pallet is rather limited. Given what I have seen and been introduced to, this modern imagining does have a specific vision. One not so 1990s specific as Romeo + Juliet, yet not nearly as lush as Kenneth Branagh’s 19th century set pieces in Hamlet, but still a specific vision. Film is a wonderful medium for Shakespeare, but does not hold a candle to a live human voice speaking it in front of you, particularly when you can finally see someone that looks like you on the stage.

featured image: author’s own

“I Saw the Devil” (2010)

Let’s be clear. This film is a not a detective story, but a character study about what seeking revenge can do to you. The audience will meet the villain fairly quickly and will be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time with him and his bloody proclivities. The murderer you may recognize as Min-Sik Choi from the disappointing Lucy (2014) & the universally lauded Oldboy (2003) and our protagonist as Byung Hun Lee of Red 2 (2003), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and was cast as the T-1000 in Terminator Genisys (why are we making another one) set to be released sometime this year. Both deliver particularly compelling performances as the serial killer and the special agent tracking him down. Although the Netflix description warns us that this is a film in which a secret service agent’s fiancé is murdered propelling him on a quest for vengeance, it still doesn’t prepare for how emotionally exhausting the experience will be.

The opening scene is a sublime honey trap.  It’s perfectly set up to make the audience fall in love with this sweet unassuming couple. Soo-hyun (Lee) even hides in the bathroom to sing to her on the phone while his fiancé waits for a tow truck. Amidst all this cute boolovin and falling snow, the predator appears all I could do what scream at the screen. They had gotten me. Two minutes in, I supported their love and was looking through their wedding registries.  Although I knew a frightful death was coming, it didn’t take the sting off when the brutality began.

They were registered at Nordstrom if you must know.

Here, our hero takes the kind of revenge every onscreen victim’s family only dreams of whereas ordinarily, they’re relegated to a blubbering footnote while we are shown the gory details of the investigation.  Soo-huyn seeks to inflict all the pain and terror that Kyung-Chul inflicted on his victims, but it slowly takes its toll. It’s understood what pain and misery this decision will bring to Soo-huyn and his family, but he’s dealing with a truly hideous villain: a serial rapist/murderer who also dismembers the young girls and women he abducts. Now despite Dr. Lecter’s propensity for cannibalism, he’s a villain whose elegant and genteel ways ensure that if you met him at a dinner party, you’d understand why people liked him. Choi’s Kyung-chul on the other hand, is as distasteful as it gets. There is nothing personable or remotely human about him that can convince the viewer that a person would want to speak to him, let alone get into a car with him.  Every time the character appeared, I immediately felt as though I needed a bath.

Spring cleaning?

Each scene is shot and lit, beautifully. Even now, it seems distasteful to apply this word to a film with such disturbing subject matter, but it is true. Despite gory displays of viscera, torture and dismemberment, your eyes want to linger on the shots that are clearly set up with such care and precision. Hell, it would be rude not to. Despite a -really- rather long film at 2 hours 21 minutes, it doesn’t precisely feel long. One particularly disturbing scene involves a continuous 360 degree shot  complete with arterial spray and lots of stabbing.

Action, psychological thriller, torture porn and pure horror sound like too many genres to play well within the context of one film. It’s a slippery slope, but with the help of careful editing, compelling performances and beautiful direction by Ji-woon Kim, “I Saw the Devil” works.  I highly recommend watching this film, but mentally prepare yourself before doing so.  This film is a relentless, exhausting odyssey into one tormented mind and a mentally ill one.  With so many body parts removed and a particularly disturbing performance from Min-Sik Choi, you may want to turn off the TV afterward and try something more wholesome like playing with a puppy or calling your mom.

featured image via: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Saw_the_Devil

M. Night is trying it again with “The Visit”

Apparently, M. Night Shaymalan wants to fuck up your memories of Nana and Pop-Pop’s house now too.  I just don’t know if I trust him to do it.  “Signs” (2002) was fantastic and “The Sixth Sense” (1999) emotionally destroyed me in a way that only a truly good film can.  However,subsequent post-Sixth-Sense releases (with the exception of Unbreakable which I still haven’t seen for some reason) have left me wanting for good reason but part of that could be my fault.

Suspense is where Shyamalan excels and thus, what I expect to see from him.  Even releases like “The Happening” (2008) and “The Village” (2004) started off strong and really lost steam in the second halves.  “The Village” in particular didn’t really lose me until the last 15 minutes or so.  However, no one can excuse his endeavors into full fledged action like “After Earth” (2013) and “The Last Airbender”.  For the record, I’ve tried to watch both and turned them off.  Some movies are so bad they’re enjoyable, but these couldn’t even be that.

But after “The Sixth Sense” delivered in every aspect, perhaps it’s unfair to hold him to that level of expectation for the rest of his career which is precisely what I’m doing.  “The Sixth Sense” is considered a horror film classic despite only being 16 years old now.  For Shayamalan’s third time directing, the film still appears ageless and takes you from frightening to heartfelt and back again.  It’s mythology akin to Australia’s “The Babadook” (2014) in although we know where we are, the story itself could be transplanted to virtually any time and place with limited changes and still be relevant. Three years later, “Signs” attempted to replicate that mythological formula and succeeded in universal acclaim, despite being not nearly as pristine as its successor.  Twice, he brought suspense and horror back to the masses, but perhaps it’s time to take it to a smaller, niche market instead of aiming for global box-office draws.

There’s a chance that smaller budgets and straightforward suspense/horror setups could bring regular, renewed success.  This film could be fun and well directed, but the words “found footage” and IMDb’s currently listing it as a “horror/comedy” worry me.  There are legitimately funny moments in his films, but it could skew too much comedy and not enough horror. The thing is I feel like he could do it. With the focus on story and pacing, if anybody could make it effective, I feel he could.  M. Night Shyamalan succeeds in producing stories with enough bite to get me to watch them, so I’ll commit.  But he’s already going in with the specter of “The Happening” hanging over him and the ghosts of “The Sixth Sense” behind him. Nah, it’s cool.  I’ll see it in theaters. I’ll go if someone else buys my ticket. I will watch it…when it’s released on Netflix.

featured image courtesy of IMBb & Wikipedia

Black Lives Matter

Rekia Boyd. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. The list is a mile long.

These people and the incidents surrounding them matter.

Horror films. New albums. Streaming services. Gifs.

These things, not so much.

It’s a conscious decision not to write about real issues. There’s a sense of respect and dignity that those topics deserve that I struggle with. But it’s more than simply that. If i wrote about the things that truly matter in this world, it would by turns, terrify and sadden me to the point of immobility. Just a quick scroll through my Twitter timeline or my Tumblr feed confirms dignity and respect for your humanity are not acknowledged by our fellow man as they should be. Uniforms are not necessarily an indication of help.  Even the innocent should regard them with extreme caution.

The one saving grace about these senseless tragedies is that people are still angry. People are still standing. People are still screaming at the top of their lungs and those screams will be heard. The people are screaming and now, but it is not just conjecture, hearsay and anger that we the people have. It is video. There are images. We can show that Black people and minorities have been and are deliberately targeted. Even in the age of photoshop, it’s hard to argue with video.

Yet even now, the powers-that-be like to feign ignorance. It’s as though, they’d like us not to believe our own us and simply trust that their way is necessary for “peace” to continue in our land. It’s as though they forget that the land we walk on was not forged from peace. It was taken. It was bled for. And it was kept by blood, sweat and bullets.

Ours is a young republic. It is merely a teenager. It’s bloody history colors it’s every move and violent upheaval is only natural. But, those mistakes and poor handling of situations must be acknowledged and dealt with, not ignored and allowed to fester and continue to breed more ills.

The people scream because it is not acknowledged. They scream because even if it is, justice is not served. They scream because children belong playing in the sun and not in coffins. They scream because those same children should be playing with their parents, not attending their funerals. They scream because they are shown the courts do not seek to punish the crimes. They scream because that is enough.

But now the screams come with video proof and the screamers have social media platforms. We see you and now so does everyone else. This is not my wheelhouse, but this “incidents” keep happening. I’d rather be watching a film about a fictional monster, not reading about the ones in uniform tasked with “keeping us safe.” It’s safer inside a celluloid terror because, eventually it will end.  Someone always pays and the monster usually dies.  The violent deaths above weren’t perpetrated by the boogie man, they were by real humans able to hide behind the law.  I’ll go back to “Ringu” now but before I do, please know that although I willingly exist in a cloud of sometimes morbid yet often trivial distractions, I too have seen the video and I do hear the real screams.

Tidal for 30 days

Testing out my trial for Tidal was pretty straightforward.  The layout of the web version looks just like Spotify, but I suppose that was bound to happen.  It’s a nice service with exclusive content, but strictly pay for play platform with no free option like what Spotify and Pandora offer.  Honestly, it yielded the expected results.  But, why are they trying to make me care about Beyonce making more money?

The Twitter marketing seemed off from the jump, but it’s this constant touting of Tidal as a revolution that screams particularly foul.  The truth is, it’s another streaming service with it’s own unique assets, but another service nonetheless.  What’s more off-putting is when the artists you place on the stage to present this are established and already very well off pillars of the music community.  Beyonce, Kanye West, Madonna and Nicki Minaj need more of my money?  Whereas I understand putting your big names behind the business to reach a wider audience, if you’re approach is your streaming service puts more money in the hands of the “starving artists,” shouldn’t you put the starving ones out in front or nah?

At the end of the day, it’s still a trick pivot to somehow bypass the larger problem: labels.   Spotify claims that they’ve “paid more than two billion dollars to labels, publishers and collecting societies for distribution to songwriters and recording artists.”  Okay, so how is Tidal going to make it rain on artists like they say they will?

“How Sway???”

More money to the label is meant to equal more money to the artist.  It seems this fight for monetary compensation for the artists, while is admirable in theory, seems to be directed at the wrong people.  It’s not the streaming services that are the problem, but the labels.  It’s one of those universally understood truths that the labels will inherently take as much as humanly possible.  I admit, I forgot about the label’s roll in music streaming services.  After all, who owns the rights to these catalogs and who’s permission is ultimately required to license this music? Oh, that’s right.

If only this had been marketed better.  Put the little unknown artists that you should know out first, and made the known millionaires who are selling out world tours silent or quieter supporters.  This service should have been about music snobbery and exclusive content.  Turn the public into discerning snobs by touting Tidal as providing a better quality of sound.  Educate listeners on “quality” sound so that Bob Johnson from apartment 2B who hasn’t bought a CD since 2001 can feel like he’s a sonic connoisseur because he listens to Tidal with its CD quality lossless files and you pedestrians are missing out.  Tidal should have been about creating fake music snobs, not trying to get consumers to spend more on a streaming service they already don’t pay for just because artists deserve their money too.

The service is fine enough, but nobody is really going to leave free services just because it puts more money into funding Madonna’s personal trainer.  By all means, put more money into the hands of these struggling Indie artists.  God knows they could use it.  But, don’t use Alicia Keys and Daft Punk to sell the idea that a revolution is necessary and on the horizon via Tidal.   Besides, it seems more and more that if there is a “revolution,” it should be aimed at the labels, not the streaming services.

*one day, I’ll post things on time instead of letting them fester in my drafts. One day…