...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Night of the Living Dead

96 min. dir. George Romero Rated R

You may wonder why your zombie of today is so fleet of foot. It may be that his preferred diet—brains, donchaknow!—has become so information-saturated and Ritalin-rich that he feels within him, if feels is the right word, a drive for rapid achievement his parents would be proud of—would be, that is, if he hadn’t just delectated upon their rich and creamy frontal lobes. Back in simpler times (1968, to be precise), when our fair republic glowed with the light of peace and brotherhood, Mr. Romero unleashed Night, the progenitor of a zombie industry that, a la this movie’s tagline, “won’t stay dead.” The monsters here—shot in harrowing black and white in a low-budget, verité style—move in on their victims at a stately if somnolent pace. As is always the case, reaching their goal means the end of humanity, but unlike our current crop of undead whippersnappers, these zombies knew to take their time. (Dress up as your favorite zombie for the Zombie Walk, starting at 10:30; or just go the movie, starting at 11:30 at the Art Theatre. Info: mondocelluloid.com.)//CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published TODAY in the print version of The District.]

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Shining

142 min. Dir. Stanley Kubrick Rated R

Some movies immerse you in their consciousness, flooding your brain then leaving an oily residue of unpleasantness you can’t seem to wipe from your memory. Half of David Lynch has this quality, as do many of the cheap revenge-horror flicks from the ‘70s. And then there’s The Shining. You walk away from it carrying in your mind un-erasable images of The Woman in the Tub, The Twin Girls Hacked To Bits, and Jack’s Face Frozen in Ice. That ice serves as a good metaphor, for much of this story, about a man and his family caretaking a remote (and haunted) mountain hotel for the winter, is glacially paced. Things keep threatening to happen but don’t. Then they do, resolving with the increasing frequency of notes tying up a fugue. A really creepy fugue. (Wednesday—i.e., tonight!—at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published last week in the print edition of The District.]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Serious Man

A scene maybe a third of the way through has the beleaguered protagonist Larry on a lake shore at a picnic, watching his eccentric brother go swimming, sitting next to a woman named Mimi, both of whose legs are in braces. Larry's telling Mimi his troubles and commenting on his brother when Mimi says he should visit Rabbi Marshak and see what he can find out, maybe get some guidance. The tone of the scene, the acting, the dialogue--everything about it--is the most unstylized bit of filmmaking I can recall ever seeing in a Coen Bros. movie. There is a welcome tension in their films that you nevertheless get used to. You come to expect certain strange things to happen--surprise blasts of violence, a behavioral tic moved from the margins to the center of our purview, the repetition of jokes and choice bits of dialogue--all under direction that avoids naturalism, deliberately so, as they comment on here. The audience for their movies is often unsure if they should laugh or cringe, and that's a reason why people enjoy them: to be in that uncertainty. No Country for Old Men certainly had more "natural" acting than other Coen movies, but it was within a total, precision-calibrated framework. The scene in A Serious Man, on the other hand, in its guileless sincereity, seems to come from not only a different movie but a different universe. Mimi, who has clearly had a rough time of it (physically, at least) speaks in hopeful, warm, and encouraging terms, and there's nothing about what she says or how she says it that makes us think we should mock her or distrust her or "read" her in any way than as she has presented herself. We witness for a few minutes the boys playing it straight, and this brief absence of Coens-ian tension makes for a new kind of tension: What are they up to? The moment is as thrilling as anything they've committed to film.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Spy Who Loved Me

125 min. | Dir. Lewis Gilbert | Rated PG

Thirty-two years ago, the country suffered from massive economic uncertainty, tension with the Middle East, years of exhaustingly ugly politics, the aftermath of a seemingly pointless war, and a populace wracked by self-doubt. The producers of this movie knew exactly what people enduring such malaise needed: exotic locales; vehicles hurtling off cliffs; explosions, gadgets, and babes galore; disco; stilted, expository dialogue; shark tanks; jokes with punchlines broad as the desert horizon; a gigantic, oceanic villain's lair rising, Kraken-life, from the briny deep to eat unsuspecting submarines. And a henchman with metal teeth who bites people to death. (His name is Jaws.) Snooty know-it-alls will say Sean Connery was the real James Bond, or that Daniel Craig—in his broody, unsmiling seriousness—has returned the character to relevance. These same people like to slag Roger Moore’s 007 as a mere frivolity. My advice to you is to ignore the popinjays and head over to the Cinemark Wednesday for a sublimely frivolous evening. When it comes to having fun in bad times, the ‘00s could learn a thing or two from the ‘70s. (July 15th at the Cinemark 14) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published July in The District.]

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Haunting

112 min. | Dir. Robert Wise | NR

After West Side Story and before The Sound of Music, Robert Wise directed this beautifully shot (in black and white) horror movie, based on a Shirley Jackson novel. A paranormal investigator (Richard Johnson) pays a visit to the mansion called “Hill House” in order to determine if ghosts really exist there. He is accompanied by the heir to the house (Russ Tamblyn, father of poet/actress/local hero Amber), along with a pair of “sensitives,” one played by Julie Harris, in full-on space cadet mode. Like Rosemary’s Baby and The Blair Witch Project, the film uses suggestion to create an atmosphere at once claustrophobic and deeply uncanny. This really is a story where “things go bump in the night,” often at high volume, though one brief, nearly silent scene near the end is the scariest thing in the movie. If the resolution of the film’s loose ends risks banality, it doesn’t erase the effectiveness of the filmmaking that came before it. Instead, it affirms one of the main reasons we go to horror movies: We often prefer mystery to the truth. [Friday through Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

(Published in the current print edition of The District.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Sonny Sharrock

[Thanks, Jay!]

Monday, October 5, 2009

Word of the Day [2]

'Be slow at first in permitting your passionate beliefs to surface; they will be pummeled on the surface of someone else's thought.' ('green shoots' in forces of imagination)

- Barbara Guest (via Sarah G.)

Word of the Day

My parents were awesome.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

House on Haunted Hill

75 min. | Dir. William Castle | NR

There are few better ways to prepare for Halloween than by spending time with Vincent "Thriller" Price, who stars in this gleefully ridiculous movie, directed by huckster auteur William Castle, a filmmaker who used to drive from town to town and rig up the theatres showing his movies for a truly interactive experience. For The Tingler he wired selected seats to electrically jolt moviegoers at key “boo!” moments. This movie, Haunted Hill, featured a climax where a skeleton came toward the camera and then magically burst through the screen to fly over the audience’s heads1. (Don’t expect the Bay to reproduce this effect: it requires destroying the screen.) Vincent Price plays a mad millionaire with a bombshell of an unfaithful wife (his fourth!), who invites assorted broadly drawn characters to a party at the titular house, promising $10,000 to each guest who makes it through the night without fleeing, or getting murdered. They arrive to the party in hearses. What else do you want from a movie? (Saturday through Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.) //CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published in the current print edition of The District.]

1. I wrote a poem called "Halloween" that includes this particular episode from cinema history.

Purple Rain

111 min. | dir. Albert Magnoli | Rated R

In the 80s, when Prince was a major commercial force, someone decided he should star in the movies. It’s an old story, as any Elvis or 50 Cent fan can tell you: The young man who electrifies the stage when before the mic becomes dull as toast in front of the camera. Prince at least maintains some of his mystique in this picture, the best of those he made, by keeping relatively quiet and letting his entertainingly loquacious co-star Morris Day do most of the (jive) talking. While it’s not a great movie, it’s got great music and loads of period detail for nostalgia trippers or anyone else wanting to know what the movies thought Minneapolis during the Reagan Years looked like. As for the plot, like most musicals, there’s not much to tell: Prince stars as The Kid, an aspiring musician competing with his past and a rival for success in life and love—you know, the American Dream. (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.) //CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published in The District, August 2009]