Sarah Polley uses a deeply personal story–the rumors surrounding her own lineage and conception–to explore how people choose to frame the narratives of their lives. Stories We Tell looks at different layers of connection to the parenthood rumors. It starts with Polley, the child at the center of the story. Then it jumps to her immediate family–father, brothers, and sister. Then it extends to her mother’s coworkers, friends, and acquaintances at the time of Sarah’s birth. The film quickly shifts focus spinning on individual discoveries, leading to a new round of questions for the people who shift in and out of the inner circle of the real history of Sarah’s birth.
Stories We Tell is a documentary, albeit a very experimental one. For all of the traditional tools used (interviews, reenactments, voice overs, etc.), the structure is pure thriller. We’re dragged down the ever shifting sands of memory until Polley herself starts to lose track of the narrative. It evolves in such an organic (well, as organic as a thriller filled with misdirection and hidden secrets can be) way that the final moments are all the more revelatory. It doesn’t even matter that the mystery is solved by the halfway point; the initial search for truth was never the real point of the documentary.
It is unsettling to watch this story unfold. Everyone is so sure of their position, so positive that they know exactly what happened, that you begin to doubt everything you’ve been told. Polley constantly sets you up for surprises and failures. The biggest trick is declaring that this film’s real focus is on the identity of her father.
What happens when CBS decides they can produce an adult-targeted after school special about pedophiles and male gaze? A laugh a minute horror film that’s meant to be shocking and disturbing.
Are You Alone in the House?
The new edition of Foreign Chops is up. This one is a tribute to one of my favorite film cultures, South Korea. Very few people participated, but the result was actually 16 posts covering 18 completely different South Korean films. I’ve never had a Foreign Chops without crossover before. That’s really cool. People who didn’t participate now have a very wide range of material to dig through and use as a tool to motivate them to see more Korean films.
Foreign Chops #17: South Korea
Forget everything you thought you knew about Room 237. Yes, technically it is a documentary that features fan theories about the true meaning of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. That’s the misdirection in the magic show. It’s really a real life horror film about film criticism, obsession, and twisting your perception of reality to come to terms with your pop culture idols not being everything you thought they were. I strongly encourage you to watch the film on Netflix when you get a chance. It’s really good. I actually think I should have given it a 5/5 at Man, I Love Films but I hesitated. If I hesitate before assigning a score, I grade down every time. So it’s a 4/5 there and possibly a 9/10 for our purposes at Sketchy Details.
Horror Thursday: Room 237
Yesterday was a bit of a mess, but I did manage to get Horror Thursday up eventually.
Last week was even worse. The servers ate my original review of Donovan’s Brain that focused on expectations versus reality in 1950s B-Movies trying to be hard-hitting melodramas.
This week, the angle is quite different on my second review of the same mad scientist features. What do medical ethics and fame have to do with a low budget black and white horror starring an Oscar nominee and a former First Lady? Read the full review to find out.
I’m terrified of Takashi Miike’s next film project. I’m a big fan of his style and know that if anyone can make this particular story work, it’s Miike, but it’s really disturbing.
Production on the film adaptation of the manga Kamisama no Iutoori, aka As God Says, begins next June. Japanese horror split in two very different trends after Battle Royale and Ringu became so successful one after the other. It’s not the totality of J-horror, but it is a pair of clear subgenres that began to dominate the field. On one side is the supernatural horror with pale wet ghosts destroying anything they encounter. On the other side is huge body count features often centered on young people thrown into games where people are guaranteed to die. As God Says is the latter style.
In broad strokes, a group of high school students are tossed into a bizarre game where most of them will die. A daruma doll arrives claiming he speaks for God and begins blowing up heads in the protagonist’s classroom. It’s actually a play on red light, green light, where if you’re caught moving at the wrong time, you die. The games only get more twisted and violent from there. I don’t want to say there is a wonderful fan translation of the manga online if you want to see what’s up, but it’s a little too early in the life of the series to hope for officially licensed English translations any time soon.
I think I’m being put out of a job. The Film School Thesis Statement Generator is a cheeky look at academic film criticism. It pulls very broad critical concepts pulled from title keywords and randomly pairs them with basic film elements. Add in academic doublespeak and you wind up with profound looking statements that boil down to really simple things.
Through the fluid identification of the viewer, Otto; Or, Up with Dead People conforms to pre-Oedipal guilt.
Since someone watching the film can connect to some changing aspect of the story, Otto; Or, Up with Dead People falls in line with an ambiguous sense of guilt created by general society.
Test it out for yourself. It’s fun.
I think I enjoyed writing the review more than I enjoyed watching the film. I so rarely get to discuss Lovecraft’s earlier, less-heralded work that I turned a so-so horror into a launching pad for Lovecraftian goodness.
Horror Thursday: Brain Dead
Blue is the Warmest Color is a quiet character study and romance unlocked by its title alone. Adele, a high school student focusing on literature, tries to fit in by dating the boy everyone knows she’s perfect for. She feels nothing from the relationship and winds up meeting Emma, a university fine arts student, at a lesbian bar. Emma’s bright blue hair catches her interest and helps her begin to form a sense of identity.
The color blue is important to the film. It really is a subtle device reflecting Adele’s self actualization. In the beginning of the film, when Adele is just following whatever her friends and family expect her to do, there is very little blue on the screen. The first memorable appearance of blue is a cross, Romeo & Juliet style, where Adele and Emma’s eyes meet while crossing the street and pass without incident. A bit more blue begins to fill Adele’s life as the thought of the beautiful stranger with blue hair sends her into sensory overload. The color blue grows and fades in shade (light blue is tepid, cyan is vivid, navy is overwhelming) and vibrancy to reflect Adele’s mental state and feeling of independence.
It really is quite remarkable how that kind of detail can set the tone for a film. By the time her high school friends realize Adele is a lesbian, you can’t avoid blue on the screen. Everyone is wearing dark wash jeans and vibrant scarves and hats. The sky is practically glowing and even the lockers in the school seem to transform. The dialogue is so simultaneously slice of life and driven by references to very specific philosophers, writers, and artists that the color conceit really opens up the text.
Nicholas Winding Refn has a mission. As a writer and director, he wants to take the subject matter of action films and raise it to high art. It’s a really interesting cinematic philosophy so far removed from anything else happening in mainstream or arthouse filmmaking that it’s going to be totally hit or miss in its impact. The flaws are perhaps the most endearing parts of films like Bronson and Drive.
Only God Forgives does not have much of a story. It’s a spiraling revenge fantasy where every action has a more extreme reaction. Billy and Julian are American brothers living in Thailand. They run a kickboxing gym as a front for a drug smuggling operation. One night, Billy decides he wants to find an underage prostitute and winds up murdering her. Chang, a high ranking police officer, decides to let the girl’s father have his way with Billy before punishing the father for letting his daughters enter the sex trade. Billy and Julian’s mother arrives from America to claim Julian’s body and revenge for his murder.
There are no real levels in Only God Forgives. It’s a visual experiment in slowing down a typical (if a bit darker) action/thriller and telling the story solely through mood and physical business. The nuance of the story is lost to the overwhelming visual and audio design. It’s like Refn is playing with the alienation effect, forcing the audience to realize they are watching a totally manufactured story in every frame and refusing any semblance of emotional connection to the characters onscreen.
You ever see two films and think there’s no way the similarities are coincidental? We’re not talking the shot for shot remake of Psycho from Gus Van Sant here. We’re talking about films that were made in response to other films.
This week on Slipstream: The Pulp Culture Vlog, I propose that a modern Academy Award-winning fantasy classic pulls more than just a little inspiration from a radical Czech New Wave Surrealist fantasy from the 1970s. The latter already inspired one of my favorite dark fantasy/horror films of all time; whose to say that a film buff like the director of the former wouldn’t have embraced the structure and story of the same film for his own purposes.
Watch the video, then click on through to like, comment, share, and subscribe to Sketchy Details @YouTube.
This week on Horror Thursday, we’re looking at a slasher film from Kenta Fukasaku, the screenwriter of Battle Royale and the writer/director of Battle Royale II: Requiem. He brings his eye for brutality and realistic teenage behavior to someone else’s totally ridiculous story and almost make magic happen. Almost. A meta-text on slasher films paying tribute to everything from Psycho to Scream that starts to take itself too seriously, which in itself is a commentary on oh so serious slasher films that commit to ridiculous twists just to have a twist. It’s like Inception, only it all boils down to a school dance. So, you know, not at all like Inception.
Horror Thursday: Black Rat
I love researching things. It’s not a joke. There is no punchline. I take great joy in finding something I don’t know and learning everything I can about it.
This really applies to the horror genre. I love checking out other people’s lists of the best horror, in general or by some sub-genre or time frame. Sometimes, it’s entirely predictable. Other times, I learn about something brand new and that excites me. I mean, I sat through a 90 minute or two hour panel (can’t remember which) at ConnectiCon all about foreign horror films and had to talk to the panelists because they introduced me to two films I never heard of before; we traded notes on their existing country focuses and I even gave them some hot tips for making South Korea its own stand alone category in future presentations.
Season 4 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and all around fantastic entertainer Sharon Needles put together her Top 13 horror films for the Chiller channel in time for Halloween and it’s a riot. Sharon’s character is beautiful, spooky, and stupid, so her in character reasoning for liking some of these films is pretty shocking (from its intentional stupidity). For example, she lists the US remake of Funny Games (a solid film in its own rights, though I prefer the acting in the original) because “[she doesn't] like other countries.” It’s a joke, people. Sharon knows her horror and it’s worth digging through her list because of its fantastic focus on some of the most under-appreciated modern horror films.
This month at the LAMB, we’re looking at the amazing cinema coming out of South Korea. This is the home of Mother, I Saw the Devil, and The Red Shoes series among many other great films.
You have to be a member of The LAMB to participate in Foreign Chops. All the details are on the announcement page.
Announcing Foreign Chops #17: South Korea