Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Spooky Things #2: Victor Sjostrom's PHANTOM CARRIAGE

Within a few years of its release in 1921, Victor Sjostrom’s The Phantom Carriage was considered a masterpiece of the cinema, alongside such canonical stalwarts as The Gold Rush, Battleship Potemkin, and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Charlie Chaplin thought The Phantom Carriage was the greatest film ever made. However, as the silent era ended and Carriage’s eye-popping-for-the-time special effects became outmoded, Sjostrom’s film fell out of favor and was soon regarded as more of a relic than a milestone. Fortunately, back in 2011, the Criterion Collection deigned to release a Bluray of The Phantom Carriage.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Spooky Things #1: M.R. James "The Mezzotint"

Well it's Halloween season. And - why not?! - let me go ahead and use that time to inch my way back into the blogosphere.

I'm officially done as the movie reviewer over at GreenCine. Everything I've written for them now routes to one of those "404 Not Found!" singularities. 'Twas a nice gig whilst I had it. As time allows, I will slowly port over everything I've written for them (published and otherwise) to this site.

But never mind that. For this month - October 2017 - I will go ahead and force myself to do daily check-ins. All of those check-ins will be somehow horror/spook/ghost/ghoul/ghast/goblin/hobgoblin/witch/etc.-related. What a devil of a time we will all have, my faithful readers!

Monday, June 1, 2015

It's the 2015 WHITE ELEPHANT BLOGATHON, people!

By now, you all know the drill: film bloggers the world over have submitted their favorite (or, if they're particularly sinister, least favorite) film oddities to me. Those films have gone into a hat and been randomly assigned back to the members of the the film blogletariat.

There were a lot more "hey, you should check out this weird, overlooked idiosyncratic work" submissions this year (as opposed to the usual, "ha ha ha! watch this garbage, dumdum!" selections). So I'm looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Links to all of the submissions will appear here throughout the day, in order of when they post, with some stragglers rolling in later this week. Enjoy (and thanks again to all who participated):

- Bill Ryan introduces the concept of "The Cinema of Cars Pulling Up in Front of Houses" in his review of Griffin Dunne's FIERCE PEOPLE

- Glenn Kenny tackles another work by White Elephant's favorite auteur, Ken Russell; this time the focus is on the "alcoholic bender"-inspired aesthetics of Russell's LISZTOMANIA

- Michael May discusses Joel Hopkins' JUMP TOMORROW, a film featuring everyone's favorite TV On The Radio personality, Tunde Adebimpe

- David Blakeslee jumps on the Enterprise and revisits Robert Wise's STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE

- Kirk Michael arises to have a look at Jim Jarmusch's DEAD MAN

- Roderick Heath has a go at Bertrand Blier's HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?

- Stacia Jones goes out of her tree with CLIFFORD

- Dennis Cozzalio gets behind Charles Burnett's GLASS SHIELD

- Don Marks would rather hang than watch HIGH STRUNG again

- Patrick Miller opens up John Cromwell's CAGED

- Andrew Bemis ambles his way through Robert Downey Sr.'s TWO TONS OF TURQUOISE TO TAOS TONIGHT

- Craig Lindsey AKA Uncle Crizzle AKA Tavis Not-So-Smiley AKA Etc. confronts the 3RD WORLD COPS

- Craig Phillips fiddles while PARIS IS BURNING

- Christianne Benedict takes a VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

- Even though his entry was late, Josh Ralske is NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET in all of our hearts



Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Moment of Rosi

Yesterday saw the passing of Francesco Rosi, who made (among many others) the excellent CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI, SALVATORE GIULIANO, and HANDS OVER THE CITY. Rosi leaves behind an impressive (and underseen) body of work that is an interesting marriage of neorealism and New Wave sensibilities. I hope his passing renews interest in his work.

Below is an appreciation I wrote of his 1965 bullfighting saga, THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (which contains an unfortunate STAR WARS analogy but please look past that).

* * *

Francesco Rosi’s THE MOMENT OF TRUTH is a blood-soaked poem observing (if not totally celebrating) the gory pageantry of the bullfighting circuit.

The film begins with an extended, dialogue-less trek through a religious festival in a Spanish city. Onlookers line the street while Catholic acolytes in Klan-like capirotes lumber through clouds of incense, holding grotesque statues of Jesus and the Virgin. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Driven Through The Field

"As I was plodding along the River Fuji, I saw a small child, hardly three years of age, crying pitifully on the bank, obviously abandoned by his parents. They must have thought the child was unable to ride through the stormy waters of life which run as wild as the rapid river itself, and that he was destined to have a life even shorter than that of the morning dew. The child looked to me as fragile as the leaves of bush-clover that scatter at the slightest stir of the autumn wind, and it was so pitiful that I gave him what little food I had with me.

The ancient poet
Who pitied monkeys for their cries,
What would he say, 
if he saw
This child crying in the autumn wind?

How is it indeed that this child has been reduced to this state of utter misery? Is it because of his mother who ignored him, or because of his father who abandoned him? Alas, it seems to me that this child's undeserved suffering has been caused by something far greater and more massive -- by what one might call the irresistible will of heaven. If it is so, child, you must raise your voice to heaven, and I must pass on, leaving you behind."

- Matsuo Basho, The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


(Note: this for a fiction writing competition I participated in and only serves obligations related to it. Posts should resume here in the fall. It's been a very busy summer. Cheers.)

“Of course they melted,” Sean Pratchett thought to himself. “What was I thinking?” 

The last of the runners made their way across the finish line, the heavy salt air absorbing the sound of the pok-pok-pok of their thin-soled shoes slapping against the asphalt. 

Nearly six hours had passed while Sean sat in the canvas folding chair he’d borrowed from one of the race administrators. Six hours of scanning the thousands of runners as they broke through their miles of monotony, finally finding rest under the creaking redwoods of Carmel. 

While he sat, the Whitman’s Sampler box had balanced on his lap. The heat from his body had slowly turned the contents into a gritty, sticky ooze which now seeped onto his worn khaki Capri pants, leaving a faint brown square.

“Another failure?” His mind hesitated. Surely he’d missed her. He wouldn’t have missed her, right? She would be twenty-two now. The last time she had seen him, she had been a mere ten years old. But he had a good idea of what she looked like now.

Through access to free library computers and myriad pseudonymous email and social media accounts, he’d been able to superficially piece together her progress through adolescence, young adulthood, and college. His amateur sleuthing had brought him here.

“Lorelei Anne Pratchett will be celebrating her recent graduation with honors by running the Big Sur Marathon,” the alumni bulletin had read. “After that, Pratchett hopes to study for her Master’s at...” 

He’d forgotten the rest because it involved high-minded aspirations in far-flung places. Pride in accomplishment – his own or his daughter’s – had never been a vice he’d grappled with.

“Another failure,” Sean concluded, dropping the withering chocolates into one of the temporary trash barrels. “How could I have ever worked up the nerve to give them to her anyway?”

The late April morning had started with a vibrant, tickly energy on the fierce headwind. The drum circle had beat loud and the local arts coalition had assembled a group of shaggy folks to enact a twisting, arrhythmic dance at the outer fringe of the finish line, past the reporters’ trucks and near the patron-choked cafes and restaurants. The dancers sang blessings to the emergent victors, hanging medals around necks. When the medals ran out, daisy chains were employed. When these disappeared, hugs were freely given. When the dancers’ cosmic mission took them elsewhere – either beach or bed or brunch – the straggling runners were left to the devices of friends and family.

The crowd’s applause was softer and more obligatory now, coming in faint clusters delivered by spectators cradling their phones between their ears and shoulders. All but twenty-six of the runners were accounted for.

Sean stretched and shook out his limbs, his mind beginning to wander to practical concerns: where he’d sleep tonight and who with (a few of the lady dancers had been favorable); how to score a little hash for the road and, speaking of that, how he’d get back to Los Angeles in time for work Monday. He lit a cigarette. 

In the distance, a tall female form limped with the help of one of the race’s volunteer EMTs. Lorelei, if he wasn’t mistaken. A few steps forward revealed he wasn’t. The sudden realization made his palms go limp and wet.

When he occasionally admitted to having had a family, whether in a mess of drunken warm feeling or because of some official document, the admission would shock and scare him. Thinking about it too long was like staring into the flame of a welding torch. He feared blindness from prolonged exposure.

Her gait was unbalanced, weakened. There was in it the same cautious shuffle he remembered from two decades ago, when she’d navigated the living room carpet for the first time. In her wincing – audible now as she closed the distance between them – he heard strains of the slow rising wail that signified a nightmare, the one that meant he or Ruth would be sprinting down the hall to murmur reassurances. It’s all just a dream, dear.

Sean’s mind flickered to the nightmare that hadn’t been a dream: Too many drinks, too few people looking out for him. A minivan in his headlights arriving way too fast. The realization that he’d crossed the double yellow lines occurring to him way too late. A family of five dead. A sentence served. A family of three lost.

“They’re better off without me,” he would say when asked about it, adopting a benevolent wistfulness. “They’re happy now. Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.”

Sean’s friends knew him as the wry one, the one who could deliver the gallows punch lines. They didn't know about Lorelei or the minivan. He didn't remain friends with the ones who found out. 

“Demons took me for a test drive but they decided they’d keep shopping around,” was his favorite woe-is-me, delivered in the gentle mocking tone he’d affected for so long that he couldn't remember his original melody anymore.

She was limping mere yards away from him now. Their eyes met without the flash of recognition he’d been terrified of. She was beautiful, even in her pallid distress. She limped past, the EMT murmuring reassurances. “You’ll be fine,” Sean heard him say. “You’re lucky though.”

Sean remembered reading about hyponatremia, the potentially deadly state of overhydration that affects some runners. Too little salt in their blood. He wondered if this had happened to her. He thought of his own bland, watered-down life and then felt – for an ecstatic moment that was instantly gone – a moment of pride. She’d run. She’d tried. She was here. She’d be fine.

“God is awful yet kind,” he said to himself, realizing that it wasn't his own thought. It was from a book or a movie or song or something he’d encountered long ago. He began walking south with half a mind to stick out his thumb, allowing the headwind to propel him homeward.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Ninth Annual White Elephant Film Blogathon

And we're off! I'll be updating the roster below throughout the day and then add some closing thoughts. [UPDATE 6/2/14: thoughts have been closed, pull quotes have been added. See below.]

Since I'm hosting this year, I'm going to delay posting my own entry until tomorrow so as not to steal the thunder of the other contributors. Speaking of which:

- Anna Maurya keeps on moving with Francis Ford Coppola's TWIXT!
"... strange small town called Swann Valley, the kind of place that gets its own narrated introduction by Tom Waits (no really!)."

- Jason Alley pays a visit to FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION!
"The first scene in the movie to make me sit up and go 'Whoa, what the hell IS THIS?' involves a door, a shard of glass, the color blue, and some very dramatic makeup..."

- Dennis Cozzalio hangs with the BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH!
"But then there’s a murderous deputy with a hairbrush mustache that would put Wilford Brimley to shame, the wild-eyed local Grand Wizard, who just happens to be the town district attorney—his post-raid speech to the faithful must have had Charles Laughton frantically trying to reach his lawyers from beyond the grave— and various uniformed and sheeted minions of terror who exist mainly to get blown up real good."

- Paul Clark makes THE PERFECT GETAWAY!
"They're the kind of couple one sometimes meets while traveling- almost oppressively friendly, somewhat clingy, full of tales and prone to showing off."

- Heather Seebach keeps an eye on THE BABY
"What follows is a battle between Ann and the Wadsworth family for custody of Baby. By battle, I don't mean courtroom drama but a ridiculous sequence of events involving a swinging 70s party (for a toddler) and an attempted kidnapping/murder, followed by actual kidnapping and murder."
- Stacia Kissick Jones endures THE DUNWICH HORROR!
"'What if we decided to really dig deep into the whole courtship part of Rosemary’s Baby, and also include some almost nudity?' is what someone surely said at some point during pre-production."

- Christianne Benedict heralds the RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES!
"Oh, yeah. George Clooney. He's in this. I wonder if he still puts it on his CV, not that George Clooney needs a CV anymore." 

- David Blakeslee sheds a little POST TENEBRAS LUX!
"... an artist has every reason to expect that his heartfelt expressions will be written off as trivial wankery if he persists in hewing so close to his personal experience as the source of his material. That’s especially true if he has yet to give the general public little reason to be curious about his autobiography."

- Bill Ryan's entry is rated WebC-17 for FULL FRONTAL Soderbergh!
"The fact that she has control over the situation after having been debased is made plausible by Duchovny not being ostentatious with his character's guilt, and by McCormack not screaming her throat raw.  She's suddenly the disappointed adult."

- Jamie Grijalba plays the TRIANGLE (a video review)!

- Michael May has a eur-EEGAH moment!
"I've pretty much continued to foist terrible films on other people (this year it was 1981's TARZAN THE APE MAN starring Bo Derek), but I'll probably change that next year. EEEGAH has taught me a lesson."

- Kenji Fujishima whips up a batch of SATAN'S BREW!
"It’s as if Fassbinder, for this one shining moment, decided to throw everything that was occupying his mind against a wall, just to see what resulted."

- Don Marks... uh... he... uh... TARZAN THE APE MAN!
"... insipid, excruciatingly drawn out does-he/she-like-me romance notable primarily for the occasional appearance of Bo Derek's breasts..."

- Kevin Cecil stalks the BLACKFACE KILLER!
"The guy may not have money, but at least he’s got ideas."

- Andrew Bemis finally opens his eyes and voraciously demands light with a howl of rage (RED LIGHTS)!
"... an ending that can't decide between Elmer Gantry-esque cynicism or wide-eyed Shyamalan-ian wonder."
- Craig Phillips wonders about THE NEW KIDS!
"... one of the most entertaining and memorably sleazy group of cretinous bullies you'll find in any high school movie ever, with several lummoxes, a slow chubby kid, at least one creep, and the picked-on little brother (it's never entirely clear which if any of these kids are related, but they seem inbred even if not with each other)."
- All the way from Down Under, Roderick Heath witnesses an AMERICATHON!
"There is perhaps no form of bad film more troubling than the bad comedy. ... When someone makes a bad horror film or scifi film, the viewer has the privilege of enjoying the disparity between intent and result—they can laugh at it. Whereas bad comedy is bad precisely because you cannot laugh at it. This failure inspires instead a sense of personal desperation."

- Josh Bell goes UNDERGROUND with some ACES!
"... manages to be both sexist and racist, in addition to completely nonsensical ... This is the kind of movie that features two different fast-motion montages set to 'wacky' fiddle music."
- Craig Lindsey takes a spin with a GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE
"... a must for anyone who ever wanted to see Faithfull in her willowy, lip-pursing heyday ..."

- Patrick Miller feels an AFTERSHOCK!
"... just tedious enough to keep it from being compellingly inept ..."

- Steven Carlson smells THE GLOVE: LETHAL TERMINATOR!
"... during the fight with the butcher, there’s about a thirty-second period where we’re left to stare at Saxon’s ass as he lays on the ground because I presume nobody thought to get the scene from another angle."

- Recently published author Adam Nayman is one heck of a HELLROLLER!
"I don’t know what movies it could be usefully compared to, but I wouldn’t want to see them in any case... this isn't just a 'low' movie; it's positively subterranean ..."

- Josh Ralske CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC! He really can't, you guys!
"If the point of the White Elephant Blogathon is to stymie your fellow critics, I lose and you win, chooser of CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC."