The Empty Balcony: High-Rise

High-Rise, director Ben Wheatley’s and screenwriter Amy Jump’s adaption of the novel by J.G. Ballard, sure looks good. The photography is a slick imitation of cinema from the 1960s and ’70s. Cinematographer Laurie Rose muted the palette somewhat. It’s not the type of desaturation made popular for a short time by Saving Private Ryan, but more resembles natural color decay. The blues have been turned down, making the overall color temperature quite warm. Whether this was a stylistic choice only, I cannot say, but a great deal of the mood of this film is established by the way it was shot. It flirts with clinical precision, but falls short, mostly because it’s easy on the eyes. So, like I wrote, High-Rise looks good, but I had a hard time figuring out what was happening on screen. Eventually, I had to set any frustrations aside and just go along for the ride. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: High-Rise”

The Empty Balcony: The One I Love

When The One I Love was getting set for release, its star, Elisabeth Moss, was making the rounds of the talk show circuit. I caught one of her appearances, I forget which show, and she was cagey about the plot. She was concerned about giving away the big spoiler in the film. The trailer, having gone through the hands of a marketing department, does everything short of spoiling the big reveal. In the trailer, a troubled couple, Ethan and Sophie (Mark Duplass and Moss), take a weekend retreat to one of those gorgeous houses that so many dream of, and only a few have. There’s a guesthouse on property, and something weird is going on inside. Throughout the trailer, the idea that something is going on inside that house is pounded home again and again and again. Okay, we get it! There’s a unique plot twist ahead and you don’t want to tell us potential viewers what it is, but calling so much attention to it makes you seem desperate for viewers. I hate the trailer for this movie. It crows at the audience like a child on a diving board, calling out for mom or dad to watch the sick cannonball they’re about to do. Just jump in the pool, kid. Mommy is having a grownup conversation. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: The One I Love”

October Horrorshow: Oculus

Of late I have been becoming more and more worried that stories hold no more surprises for me. Books, film, television shows, video games...no matter the delivery method, at some point during the story everything seems so familiar that it can feel as if plot and dialogue are being sprung from my own mind and brought to mediocre life before me. After decades on this earth, it seems that there is nothing new to behold. Rather, it’s the same stories told over and over again, just with new packaging. In fact, this observation of mine is nothing new. Even the bible has something to say. In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, there is this: “All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new’? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us.” Man, if a two-thousand year old bible verse laments lack of originality, what hope do I have in watching horror movies? Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Oculus”

Schwarzenegger Month: Total Recall

Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t in any movie released in the year following Twins. I would like to think that he had receded into isolation, that he took the time for some introspection, some reflection on just what it meant to be an action star in the 1980s. Explosions. Big guns. Massive body counts. He was a master of everything that made action flicks great, and just about all of it was discarded in Twins. I hope he found new purpose, a new center, in his life. But very probably, he was enjoying the new house all that Twins money bought him. Seriously, that movie was a smash hit. And so was his next film, Total Recall, which was released in 1990. Continue readingSchwarzenegger Month: Total Recall”

The Empty Balcony: Wake in Fright

I can get the heart of this review out of the way quickly. Wake in Fright is the best movie I have seen in at least the last couple of years. Directed by Ted Kotcheff and written by Evan Jones, Wake in Fright has an interesting history. From 1971, it was close to being a lost film for a long time, with the only known copy in existence of such poor quality that it was unfit for transfer to home media. Twenty years ago, Anthony Buckley, who edited the original film, began to search for an intact copy. After much effort, he succeeded. A restoration was finally undertaken in 2009, and the film was released to the general public once again. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Wake in Fright”

The Empty Balcony: Kill List

Kill List, Ben Wheatley’s intense film from 2011, is impossible to classify. After having seen it, it continues to exist in my memory as an attack on convention, and an attack on my innate need to shove a film into this or that genre. It would be easy to just write that the film is a British crime drama, but nothing about this film is easy. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Kill List”

The Empty Balcony: Source Code

Written by Ben Ripley and directed by Duncan Jones, Source Code is a modern terrorism thriller that has an interesting premise. Using technology, a government agency has developed a method of melding a person’s consciousness with the last eight minutes in the life of a dead man. In this case, the dead man is a victim of a terrorist attack on a train that happened that very morning. For those eight minutes, the film’s protagonist, Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), experiences all the sights and sounds the victim did while aboard the train, but this isn’t a replay of recorded events. Colter can move around and interact with the environment, exploring places that were hidden from the view of his deceased avatar, strike up new conversations, etc., all in an effort to find out what happened aboard that train. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Source Code”

Film in the Tubes: The Herbivore

The contributors to Wikipedia define outsider art as art “created outside the boundaries of official culture.” They also define folk art as “generally produced by people who have little or no academic artistic training, nor a desire to emulate ‘fine art’.” Internet filmmaker James Rolfe has gained attention for his in-character video reviews of retro videogames, and also for his film reviews. Before he was a viral star, Rolfe made over a hundred short films, starting at an early age. These films are strictly low-rent, mostly made on his parents’ home video camera. As such, they mostly show the over-active imagination of a hyperactive child. Some of them are purely playtime — Rolfe hanging out with friends and convincing them to whirl around plastic swords while he tapes. But, in 1997, he hit gold. Continue readingFilm in the Tubes: The Herbivore”

October Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Thing

Last week saw a unique event in film. Four John Carpenter films landed in Brooklyn as part of a mini-retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The featured films were Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, They Live, and Escape from New York. All unique films from a unique filmmaker. B-movie schlock artist or perennially misunderstood genius, depending upon who’s doing the watching, Carpenter is a knowledgeable director who draws on his education, talents, and the best aspects of low-grade cinema to craft films that are unmistakably his. As soon as the opening credits roll, one enters Carpenter’s world. Viewer hears music (usually) from Carpenter’s own synthesizer, and the credits themselves are all the same white serif font on a black background, no matter which of his films is playing. Anamorphic lens effects and dark lighting cross among his works. Finally there is the thematic distrust of authority as a conceptual continuity throughout. All of this makes Carpenter’s films easily recognizable to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of his oeuvre. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Thing”

The Empty Balcony: The Matrix

Science fiction is not only the province where the wonder of our imaginations resides, it is also where nagging fear for the safety of mankind finds a home. The best science fiction stretches human timelines to the unbelievable. Also, it reminds us of what is possible. Because we can imagine it, it follows that eventually, it will be done. Some time in the future we will gaze upward at foreign skies with unfamiliar constellations, Sol but one of the infinite dots twinkling in a new sky. We will wander so far from our home for so long it will become legend, rumored to have once been an unthinkable place where thousands of generations could only dream of seizing the stars, when light years were vast and distance still had meaning. It’s possible. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: The Matrix”