Thursday, May 28, 2009

American Monster

Off the wall

Over the years a few especially treasured movie posters made it on my wall, the poster to American Monster (‘German’ title for Q-The Winged Serpent) is one of them.

"It's name is Quetzalcoatl... just call it 'Q'... that's all you have time to say before it tears you apart."

is only in its stupidity a remarkable tagline, and true, the movie will never make it in a Hall of Fame based on its cleverness, but I adore it no less. It’s funny, quirky, shot on a budget … in short, it’s the perfect kind of movie for me.

The poster itself is an obvious play on the famous King Kong end sequence:
A Blond woman captive for the monster? Check!
Aircraft attacking the Monster? Check!
A Landmark building? Check!

On a side note: The girl the Monster holds in it’s claw on the US poster, didn’t make it on the German poster. Mayhap they thought that to be to much for a rated Sixteen movie? *snicker*

Drag me to Hell

A double helping 'o Sam Raimi

Spontaneous association:
Whoever came up with that poster remembered Pleasure Planet
That title was written to fit the The Evil Dead poster

Unfair juxtaposition:
Two times Sam Raimi,
One a deserved classic in horror history with a non descript title
The other a classic title to a…

The Pleasure Planet accusation might be unfair, it is a common motive throughout horror history, this picture of a beautiful woman getting ‘dragged to hell’, so the influence can stem from any number of illustrations, the named one was just the one most ready on my mind because, I’ll admit, I think that motive to be sizzling hot.
And calling Drag me to Hell practically bland is not only pre- but immature in this case, I’ll admit now and here that it was only done for the sake of playing a joke on the two posters/titles.

I have actually a lot of trust in Raimi when it comes to horror movies, The Evil Dead, once I managed to get over my prejudices against it, which were illogically based on the huge success it had, proved to be a remarkable movie shot on a shoe string budget.
The following sequel, while unnecessary seeing how it is the same story with a higher budget, is a genuinely funny horror comedy and The Gift proved again that Raimi is a talented director that can really scare you.

Now, if Drag me to Hell should really be advertised with the words “From the Director of Spider-Man” is debatable, opinions on the quality of those movies vary. Personally I’d say Raimi wanted to make something for a young audience, for the twelve year olds that buy and read Spider-Man, not for the forty something collectors that still buy Spider-Man but long since stopped to care about the stories, and in that he succeeded; once we accept the premise we get wonderful popcorn-munchers driven by a talented group of actors.

As Inspirations go, not sure who begat whom here:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I always felt that these two movies are in a way closely related to each other, both examining the same topic if from very different angles. And they do have a lot in common, with both Henson and Craven maturity shows as danger in their respective dream worlds.
Both worlds are controlled by a ‘Dream Master’, but that master is in the end himself controlled by the dreamer who can grant him power or take it away, so both Sarah, crossing the Labyrinth of adolescence, and Nancy, fighting her parents sins, learn in the end.

The pivotal exchange between Sarah and the Goblin King, would not sound amiss in A Nightmare on Elm Street:

Sarah: “Generous? What have you done that was generous?”
Jareth: “Everything!
Everything that you wanted, I have done. You asked the child to be taken, I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I altered time. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you. I am exhausted from living up to your expectations, is that not generous?

I ask for so little, just let me rule you and you can have everything that you want ”

That is the truth of their nature, both Jareth’s and Freddy’s.
Like true Kings they have no power over us ‘cept for that which we are willing to grant them.
And so it’s no coincidence that Nancy’s final confrontation mirrors in a way Sarah’s from years ago:

Nancy: “I know you’re there Freddy.”
Freddy: “You think you was gonna get away from me?”
Nancy: “I know you too well now Freddy (…) It’s too late Krueger. I know the secret now. This is just a dream, you’re not alive (…) I take back every bit of energy I gave you.”

But it is only in Labyrinth that we find the key to understand what happens at the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street:
Sir Lancelot/Hoggle: “And remember, fair maiden, should you need us (…) for any reason at all…”
Sarah: “I don’t know why, but every now and again in my life for no reason at all I need you. All of you.”

Sarah accepted that life is not always fair and that we need our little escapes, our day-dreams, even though they will change and some of them we will have to let go eventually, we will always dream to the very end. And with this realisation she restitutes the Goblin King to old power, restores his land and reign. But as she has matured, as she has learned to take responsibility for her own actions and to endure life’s seeming unfairness he doesn’t sway any power over her anymore. Nancy on the other hand, makes a foolish demand when she sets out to gain control over her own life again:

Nancy: “I want my mother and friends again.”

While her ordeals may have been teaching her to fight, she didn’t not gain maturity, she refuses to accept the irrevocable nature of death, taking another futile escape, and thus she restores Freddy’s power, gives him power over her again…

We may not be controlled by our dreams.
We may not be the rightful bearers of our parents sins.

But they do affect us no less.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Spirit

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Hollywood?

Every so often Hollywood comes up with news that make you want to exclaim “Oh John Ringo, no!”
When I first read that they* had acquired the rights to a The Spirit movie I didn’t instantly expect it to possibly become one of those “John Ringo” moments, quite contrary actually because hadn’t Russell Mulcahy proven that despite being known for the opposite Hollywood is capable of treating original material with some respect?

Mulcahy’s The Shadow, a movie based on a pre-war supernatural crime fighter who was very probably one of the fathers for later vigilantes as The Batman, might have been critically panned, but I dare say that they weren’t doing the movie’s intentions justice by that.
The actors give a great performance, playing out even the most ridiculous turn of events with a straight faced sincerity, and the direction shows often more interest in the look and in setting the stage for the next big action sequence, in short the movie is a broad grinned homage to pre-war serials and pulp magazines, and as such it works formidable.
The Shadow, as it should be the case, has no agenda beyond entertainment.

Founded in that I allowed myself to grow carefully excited about the upcoming The Spirit movie. After all, Will Eisner’s comic was a time honoured classic that not even Hollywood would dare to mistreat, right?
Oh so wrong!
As the release drew near the inevitable bad news followed close on its heel, of all the possible names to be associated with project they had to give it to the least likely person of ‘em all: Frank Miller! “Oh John Ringo, no!”

Why now, I hear you ask, is Frank Miller, father of comic masterpiece "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, considered to be such a bad choice?
Two words: Sin City.

Not only has Frank Miller no movie experience to speak of, he comes from a completely different field than Will Eisner did. Other than Miller's creations Eisner's Spirit is no hard-boiled detective, not a disillusioned by the world misanthrope that wages a loosing war against rising crime in a heartless world as Millers characters are that dwell in Sin City, a town constantly wrapped in shadow, the red of spilled blood being the only colour left they are able to see; Miller is a son to the tradition of Mickey Spillane.
Eisner was a deeply humanistic writer and his Spirit is just a ordinary man behind a mask, and not violence, not a unsatisfied hunger for justice in a in dog eat dog world, but a appeal on human decency is what drives him. He’s most human, fallible, a man that makes mistakes and has to rely on friends and family; he counters the ideal of the lone-wolf hero figure that needs, and trusts, nobody besides himself.
So Frank Miller trying his hands on a Will Eisner creation?
That makes about as much sense as if, in a reverse of roles, somebody had asked Mother Theresa to direct the next Rambo movie, “Oh John Ringo, no!”

My choice?
If I had to give The Spirit to somebody to turn into a movie, I would choose a person that not only has some pre-existing experience with movie making to show but also has proven himself with an aptitude to work in Eisner’s spirit: Bruce Timm, would come to mind.

Let us cast a last parting glance at the teaser poster for The Spirit:
And man stands crowded in by giant letters on top of a building looking down.
Shall the giant letters signify the city’s confining, opressive nature?
Is he looking down at a city that besieges him?
Or is the artist intention to show us a Spirit that towers above “his city”, a looming guardian that rules with terror, a dark knight?

Whatever his intention here might have been, when we compare his artwork with a photograph done by Annie Leibovitz** for Vanity Fair, we come to the conclusion that it is not the vision that was to ambitious, it was the artist no being cut out for the work that led to failure; in that it is more than fitting for the movie.

* they being the faceless Hollywood bosses that care for very little beyond marketability.
** Yes, the same evil woman that lured innocent, underage Miley Cyrus into doing a topless shot.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lesbian Vampire Killers

Perfect poster!
A whack stupid title and a thumbs up for nudity motive to go along with it. Love that!

Sure the movie that is advertised here will have a tough time competing with its own ad for brilliance in spoofing the ol' Jess Franco mentality.

But the idea of Lesbian Vampires is older than Jess Franco, although nobody else ever managed to get as synonymous with captalising on that image than he did, we can see it hinted in the old Hammer movies where the female victim of the Vampire is invariably relesed from her confining Victorian nature to become a sexually independt woman, a Vamp in every sense of the word.

And even the three sisters in Dracula, and Mina no less, already ring the tune that a females emancipation only truly begins once she's striven off her earthly, societal bounds.

Exploring Lesbianism seems thus to become the ultimate image of female freedom.

So, is Vampire fiction with its open exploration of human sexuality at its core a well hidden root source for female emancipation?

Not likely, no. After all this sexual freedom is one bought at great expesnses and in the end they are still bound to man, to the Vampire that created them and to overthrow that eternal symbol of male oppression they would need to kill the count himself; societal death may bring sexual freedom, but true freedom it seems can only be gained thru the death of those that aspire to be masters over others.

There's another motive around that seems, in its less inspired execution, more interested in copying the common hordes of Vampire romance book covers. Simply thriving on the standard Blood is Sex trope this is showcasing a, at best, yawn inducing take on popular culture imagery. How it makes me long back to Jess Franco's decade and movie posterart like the one for Vampyres (1974) with its unmistakable fun loving, lesbian vampire couple.

A question if I may:
Does anybody else remember the movie Meat Market with its not very subtle but no less fun homage to the Jess Franco classic Vampiros Lesbos?

Thursday, May 21, 2009


In Space no one can hear you scream...

...they might not be able to hear you scream in space, but boy I sure tried anyway. I’ve been fascinated with Alien ever since I saw the teaser for that movie as a child and it scared me like hell.

And ever since I had my first glimpse at that poster I wondered: what is it this Alien egg is floating above and what hideous terror is hiding underneath that leathery shell? I still do wonder, about the ground part that is, beats me what it is supposed to be.

I always, or rather until I watched the movie, thought that Alien would be taking place on Earth and used to have dreams about amorphous alien beings that can take any shape or form, sliding down dark alleys … in short, I expected the movie to be more like Roger Corman’s Mutant or the alien in Campbell’s Who goes there?

Naturally, the first time I watched that movie all the sexual innuendos where totally lost on me (although I never had a doubt about Giger being some kind of sexual pervert after looking at some of his non-alien work) and that’s part of the fun of returning on board the Nostromo every so often, I find that there is always something to pick up on that I missed or didn’t put as much weight on, that and Alien is a prime example of cost effective movie making.

The other parts I enjoyed more or less, but non of ‘em to the degree of the original; there’s something about that first scare you never forget, something you secretly cherish just as much as the first kiss. Aliens (fitting artwork that sets the correct mood for the change in direction, the follow up posters where just deviations of the original, that did their job but don’t strike me as anything exceptional) did a great job at mostly retaining the feel of the original and yet going for something different, Alien III played a back to the roots tune that is marred by some odd FX but offers interesting characters and lays the ground for Ripley’s drastic change in Alien Resurrection a movie which I mostly adore for its off beat atmosphere.

On a last note:
AvP and AvP II manage a strange feat, one is entertaining but spoiled by a too bland poster motive and the other offers a entertaining poster motive but nothing beyond that, wanna take bets what AvP III would have brought?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Big in Japan

I never understood Asian movie posters, and I do not only mean not being able to read them but to understand the reasoning behind the motive. As a kid I did feel oddly fascinated by the artworks for the Godzilla Movies and the numerous Kung-Fu movies bought by movie retailers in that time, with barely a week that passed without a new movie of either genre.

But Asians seem to look at art in a completely different way than we do, their posters are oddly vibrant, graciously filled with random looking, to a westerners eye, put on pieces of text. Posters that seldom seem to do much justice to the movie they advertise.
Actually the style is point on correct for the Godzilla movies and here it is rather our western versions that do not fit the movies quirky style. The Godzilla vs. Kong poster which is not that far removed in its imagery from modern WWF show-fighting brings out the core of what these movies are about: A clash of titans, modern myths of gods and monsters told with a wink of the eye. And in that context the comic style text cluttering up the poster makes some sense.

Still, is it that Asians are so used to the cramped environment they live in which urges them to equally cramp in the images they use?
There sure is no direct need that leads them to obliterate images, bury them under text up to a point where it becomes a secondary asset. Certainly they must have more text economic ways available to them, ways to prevent such abundant use of text blocks as seen on Man from Agaki Mountains for example. What works for Godzilla, even enhances the imagery there, looks as disservice here, with the exception of some of the more harebrained Kung-Fu movies.

And why would I open this with a image of the Japanese version of the poster for Bridget Jones’s Diary?
Because it illustrates another interesting point, as often as Asian mentality may clash with our western perception of how something should look (Supermarket Fighter? *gasp*), there are instances when even the western eye has to acknowledge the superior fittingness of the Asian bubble gum coloured pop-culture.
I wonder, does this motive for Bridget Jones look as comical to Asian eyes as it does to mine?

A movie poster should achieve two things, in my humble opinion:
It has to catch the viewers eye and create a positive interest in him (or her)
It should ideally set the right mood for the movie we are about to watch.
The Japanese Bridget Jones artwork matched both of them, the Supermarket Fighter meets one at best and that barely makes me want to see the movie.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I confess that I’m no fan of Tarantino’s work, and most likely will never be. I could spend hours on end listening to his devout followers and still would not get how anybody can possibly see anything else in the quarter pounder with cheese dialogue from Pulp Fiction than a desperate attempt to stretch movie length and the same we encounter again in Kill Bill vol.1 when Uma Thurman gives a quarter hour closing monologue, apparently trying to talk to death a helpless victim in the trunk of her car (after that fails she does a patch-up job of it trying to bash her into oblivion), a sequence graciously interspersed with Hospital scenes and of which only the last two minutes are of any importance to the movie.
Understandably low are my expectations regarding his upcoming Inglourious Basterds.

Despite my personal misgivings I have to bow before the clever executed artwork for movies like the mentioned Pulp Fiction and now Inglourious Basterds.
One a stylish recreation of classic Pulp magazine titles, showing far more creativity than director Tarantino will probably ever manage in one of his movies, the others showcasing characters that could easily be ripped from the pages of same shown pulp publication. Especially Diane Krüger reminds us here vividly of the old dime novel inspired noir heroes for whom the appearance of the elegantly dressed lady always spoke of coming trouble. What else instantly caught my eye is the semblance between the showcased teaser poster for Inglourious Basterds and the artwork for Mutant Chronicles a coincidence, possibly; a subconscious drawing on same cultural roots, more likely.

When we look beyond the obvious pulpish nature, we see a much more contemporary influence at work: Computer Game art. More and more artists in the visual fields draw, consciously or not, on this ready symbolism ingrained into the computer generation. But where Mutant Chronicles contents itself with recreating a image known from countless ego-shooters with elements of the horror genre, Inglourious Basterds tackles its topic with more cleverness, combining the baseball bat image that has long since become a ready symbol for mindless, often right-wing oriented, violence and turns into what can almost be read as a anti-fascism statement. The true cleverness of this laying in the marketability to both sides, mindless right-wingers, to dumb to see beyond the mere appearance of two of their favoured fetish items, and those opposing them alike.

That is how advertising is done!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Star Trek

The trouble with prequels

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this comic-con teaser poster for the upcoming new Star Trek generation.
On one side I like the play on sixties pop-art, on the other I’m sceptical about this new team which mars my enjoyment of the design.

Well now, to the title.
Sci-Fi in general and Sci-Fi movies in specific have always suffered from a major problem which no amount of FX can overcome, no matter how dedicated. No matter how well plotted your story and how carefully executed your movie is, in the end it will always be a visible product of its time.
This is not always as readily apparent in novels where the author has the advantage of playing things vague, so that a 60’s Spaceship will appear no different to the minds eye of the reader than a spaceships from the two-thousands for example, but even here the use of phrases or a better understanding of advanced physics will eventually give you away.

Kids in Space *giggle*

With movies and other visual arts we will always be able to roughly date them by a first glance simply because all Sci-Fi décor & clothing is invariably at the best of times a extrapolation of current culture and at worst a simple derivation. In Star Trek with its more realistic setting this is naturally more obvious than in, say, Star Wars which leans more towards fantasy, and still it applies there, too, nonetheless.

Now Star Trek has to fight a second problem, the fact that it started out as a small TV-Show of which some of the ‘technical advances’ used within must have looked already dated for its own time (due to typical budget reasons), and so one must simply wonder:

What happened in that Universe for humankind to drop so suddenly from the high-tech used in academy years to the comparative dark-age technic used later in the field?

Can I just say "butt-ugly"?
Star Wars has a galactic war, tyranny and following on its heel public upheaval it can blame. What was it for James T. Kirk and his crew?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Picture perfect moment

If I had to select but one picture to represent twilight it would be this one.
Simply because it gives, in my not so humble opinion, the best representation of the relationship between Edward and Bella:
He, looming, blatantly intruding her private space and generally exerting a control-nature, cutting her off against the outer world. She, giving in, all to readily submitting and letting herself be cut-off.

It is a long standing argument if the Bella & Edward relationship is a abusive one, it certainly does show the markings for one. But it is a realistic set-up, too; we do often see this phenomenon of divorced children actively seeking a controlling partner, one that takes command over them. Viewed in that light it is natural for Bella to fall for someone like Edward.

This part from eclipse (third book in the twilight saga), which would have any self-respecting woman ditch him without a moments hesitation, tells us all we need to know about Edward’s character and thus tells us all about Bella:
(Edward confronts Jacob, whom Bella hit after he force kissed her)

“…if you ever bring her back damaged again – and I don’t care whose fault it is;
I don’t care if she merely trips, or if a meteor falls out of the sky and hits
her in the head – if you return her to me in less than the perfect condition
that I left her in, you will be running with three legs.”

How many times do we get to see in movies these typical ‘Hollywood-rooms’ that practically scream out to us: Nobody ever lived here!
No Reservations is a notable exception from that rule, not in that it wouldn’t feature this typical movie trope, but in that it here for once serves a valid point. This is not some Hollywood decorators futile attempt at creating something that looks art-noveau, here the room shows what the character hides from us and herself. It’s the emptiness of her living quarters that betrays the fact to us that she’s not living, she’s only functioning. The rooms décor, or lack of, becomes a central metaphor for the character:

Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a character who has build out her own prison, she regulated her life to a standstill which shows in the sterile rooms she dwells in. It’s not before her life gets shaken up and the perfect order broken that she begins to live.

This view of her lost in the emptiness of that corridor is the sole key we need to understand her character.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Commemorating Star Wars day

May the 4th be with you!

Let’s rewind some thirty+ years.

A long time ago, in a far away cinema…
A younger George Lucas lured us into a trap, hooking us on a drug called Star Wars.
Relive before your minds eye the exciting adventures of times gone by, when men were still men, Princesses still had to be rescued from the hands of evil by fortune hunters with a mercenary head and a mercenary heart.

But let’s also commemorate the annual Star Wars day with a few question:

  • Why did Leia “Slave to Jabba” Organa never award a Medal to Han “I can imagine a lot” Solo’s Co-Pilot “Walking Carpet” Chewbacca?
  • How comes that Darth “I am your father” Vader didn’t know he had a daughter?
  • And why didn’t he recognize same said daughter when he tortured her?
  • Why didn’t Emperor “Call me Sidious, child” Palpatine recognize Leia for what she is, a Jedi off-spring? As adopted daughter to the Senator of Alderan she must have met him at least once?
  • What do Space-Mollusks dwell on?

And with that I concede the stage to:
Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Demolition Man

Demolition Man

I do not intend to talk about how bad that artwork is! Really, calling it bland doesn’t even begin to describe it.
No, what's on my mind today is a review
for Demolition Man I encountered while sorting through old issues of

Demolition Man claims to portray the dangers of a futuristic society that is "too politically correct." […] But this is not the film's worst failing. Far more pernicious is the implication, in director Marco Brambilla's words, that a "balance" must "be struck between the violent extreme represented by the era that the Spartan character comes from [and] the overly politically correct extreme of the future..." Excuse me, but is he implying that a peaceful future necessarily needs a little violence in order to strike the proper "balance"? That film certainly seems to imply as much. […] Many films try to use violence to express an anti-violence message; this is one of the few which seems determinedly pro-violence. -Steve Biodrowski.

One can’t help but wonder what personal issues the reviewer has with the movie, but more I do wonder what same reviewer would have to say about a movie like Clockwork Orange then, which closing sentiment seems to be much the one he saw put forward in Demolition Man:
The individual once bereft of it’s capacity for acts of violence falls inevitably victim to the very same society it former threatened when he, now utterly powerless, encounters one of his former victims. Society, will always prey on the weak.

Or so, at least, Clockwork Orange seems to claim.

Just as an general FYI: Demolition Man doesn’t claim anything, it’s a satiric exaggeration of two divergent cultural streams that could be observed during the time the movie was made. I dare say that accusing Demolition Man of a pro-violence stance is about as true as accusing Pleasantville of encouraging immoral behaviour would be.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Last House on the Left

Last house on the left

One has to admire the deceiving simplicity of that title.

Last house… end of the road, placed on a border. A place that still offers communal safety and yet already shows signs of separation. It’s the last house …on the left, it’s not only placed on an outskirts but on the sinister side. This place is only one step removed from the fragile barrier that divides us from total anarchy and barbarism. A line too easily traversed into that feared dark zone where people freely succumb to their most vile, inhuman urges. A zone we know to begin not beyond the borders of town but within its outskirts where the dregs of society gathers.
It’s the very mother to the don’t go alone places.

The title is a clever capitalization on a common fear, the fear of drifting away from communal safety, sliding down on the social ladder, forced by poverty into more unpleasant neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods where, we know that from watching Hollywood movies, the people live that shun society (not the other way around). People which prey upon those that dare to still hold on to a blue eyed believe of human dignity.
There’s a unspoken genius to that title.
It manages to summarize the whole movie into one single line. A single line of deceptive innocence ringing up a deep-set fear in us we can almost touch upon, almost, but not quite.

The title holds a elegance which the movie dearly misses.
But the title’s promise of elegance in execution is readily dispelled by the posters motive that speaks of stark terror and victimization, at that we can’t blame the director. At least with the original, the not very inspired looking artwork for the remake makes you wonder if they not had the poster for a very different house on mind: House on the Cemetery holds a closer, but much more ‘inviting’ looking, semblance.