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Seeing as it was the weekend before Hallowe’en, and we had a bunch of coupons for free or half-price movies from our local purveyor of movie rentals that are due to expire end of the month, we had ourselves a horror flick bash.

First thing you have to realise is that I’m a sucker for women who kick ass, especially when they’re kicking zombie ass, vampire ass, or other assorted nasty creepy ghoulie and ghostie ass. Even if they’re doing so in completely inappropriate clothing or high heels. As long as the obligatory sidekick goat-boys* don’t take up too much screen time, I can deal with chainmail/leather/spandex bikinis and non-sensible shoes.

So that mostly explains my choices of Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, in which Mila Jovovich kicks mutant zombie ass and soulless corporate mercenary butt all over the place, assisted by assorted goat-boys and, in the second movie, the equally kick-ass Sienna Guillory. I also enjoyed the implicit criticism of global capitalism.

Rise: Blood Hunter casts Lucy Liu as a reporter whose investigations of strange doings in the Goth scene lead to her gruesome transformation to a vampire and her quest to hunt down and kill the family of vampires responsible for her death. Liu kicks vampire ass superlatively. For the record, Michael Chicklis, who co-stars as an alcoholic cop searching for the same gang of blood-suckers for reasons of his own, may be Liu’s sidekick, but he is more than a goat-boy. This film got mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it a lot. I admit to a particular weakness for watching vampires try to be ethical about blood-sucking while they kick butt. I also admit to a weakness for Lucy Liu.

28 Weeks Later picks up some months after 28 days Later left off. England is almost completely depopulated, and the zombies, er, Rage Virus victims have all died of hunger. The rebuilding of London has commenced, with the assistance of the U.S. Army. Refugees from the continent are being repatriated. The countryside is being scoured for the few survivors. But unbeknownst to the reconstruction teams, the virus is still lurking…

'Ware serious spoilers, including how the movie ends )

The last flick of the weekend was 1408. A stylish ghost story about belief and self-delusion, with a bravura performance by John Cusack as a debunker of ghost stories who is writing a book about haunted hotel rooms, and insists on staying the night in Room 1408 at The Dolphin Hotel, where more than 50 people have died over the years from a variety of causes, and it is implied that even more have gone mad. The movie was visually very creepy, emotionally powerful in parts, but faded toward the end. The conclusion, I thought, wasn’t quite “big” enough to justify the intensity and complexity of what had gone before. My favourite part was actually the build-up, in which hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson tries to persuade Cusack’s character not to stay in the room by recounting all of the horrors that have happened there, part of which is a wonderful set-up for Jackson, well-known for playing action heroes with a bit of a twist, to explain why he avoids Room 1408 unless it’s that time of the month. I admit to a weakness for Samuel L. Jackson.

And that, Gentle Reader, was how I spent my weekend.

* I call ‘em goat-boys because they almost always seem to be sporting about a day and a half’s worth of unshaven facial hair, which gives them the appearance of being young goats. Also add puns on goatees, goat’s head soup, devil-may-care attitudes, and goatish behaviour as you wish.

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I’ve been watching movies on DVD lately, because I am on vacation and have the time. A few of the one’s I’ve watched have been, I think, worth commenting on.

Stranger than Fiction: This was not only funny – which I expected – but highly thought-provoking (which I had thought it might be but wasn’t too sure, given the state of much North American cinema today). It’s an exploration of the relationship between art and life, the creator and the created. Of power and responsibility. Of ethics and aesthetics, and the long debate over which should take precedence. Of predestination and free will. It’s narrative and metanarrative and discussion of the relationship between the two all at once. It’s also a touching love story with some truly side-splitting comedic moments that ends up delivering a profound and serious message.

Twilight Samurai: A beautiful film set in the period of transition between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Meiji restoration – the end of feudal Japan and consequently the end of the traditional samurai. The main protagonist is Seibei, a very junior retainer to the head of his clan, a widower trying to support his dying mother and two young daughters on the minimal income of a samurai at the bottom of his social class. There is little fighting (though what there is, is wonderfully choreographed) but much examination of the winding down of a way of life. Seibei is called the Twilight samurai by his associates, because he always goes home in the evenings to take care of his family rather than going out drinking with them, but he is also living in the twilight of the samurai way of life, trying to uphold traditional ideas of honour in a time where the codes of social conduct he has learned to revere are unravelling. The focus of the film is his developing relationship with Tomoe – a childhood playmate who has fled an abusive relationship with a powerful samurai of his clan – and his struggle to be true to his sense of what is right as the world he knows crumbles around him.

Keeping Mum: This is a delightfully dark British comedy about family values gone very wrong, with deadly hilarious results. It’s hard to review without giving away the crucial plot twists, but the plot centres on the family of a sincere but oblivious country vicar (Rowan Atkinson in an uncharacteristically underplayed role) who pays more attentions to his sermons than his family. His wife is lonely, bored and spending way too much time with her obnoxious American golf pro, his daughter is rebellious and determined to find a partner who is everything her father is not, his son is being harassed by the school bullies, and his new housekeeper (the brilliant Maggie Smith) has some very unconventional approaches to taking care of problems. And that’s just the set-up.

The Curse of the Golden Flower: Some reviewers have dismissed this film as visually stunning but ultimately “hollow spectacle.” I must disagree. It is true, I think, that the film is not the gorgeous action genre film that viewers of House of the Flying Daggers might have been expecting. To be sure, there are some delightful fight sequences, but this is not an action film. Rather, it has to me a similar feel and power to that of the great familial/dynastic tragedies of Sophocles – with themes and conceits that are Confucian (given my limited understanding of Confucianism) rather than Hellenic.

It is set during the end of the Tang dynasty, during the rule of a fictional emperor. The turmoil, corruption and reversals of the proper relationships between husband and wife, father and son, mother and child, brother and sister are a microcosm of the confusion, corruption and rebellion consonant with the disintegration of a great dynasty. The chorus of palace officials sounding out the hours counts down the destruction of a royal family as surely as the passing of months and years leads toward the fall of an empire. At its heart, the movie seems a profoundly moral tale – the relationships and rituals that would otherwise lead humans to harmonious living, with all members of the family/society in their proper places and giving to each other the proper respect and duty, have been corrupted, and all is disharmony, leading to destruction.

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I am listening to one of the funniest CDs I've ever heard. If you are a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, if you enjoyed The Carol of the Old Ones, then go immediately to the website of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society and feast upon the musical pleasures awaiting you there.

My copy of A Shoggoth on the Roof just arrived, and I am listening to such marvelous songs as "Tentacles" (to the music of "Tradition")...

Who day and night must slumber in R'lyeh,
Wave his tentacles, having nasty dreams?
And who has the right, as master of R'lyeh,
To drive humanity insane?
Cthullu! Cthullu! Tentacles!

To say nothing of "Shoggoth Prayer" ...

May Cthullu come to collect you,
May He bring you madness and pain.
Rising from the sea,
To drive humanity insane.
May you be like Dagon and Hydra
May you finally live 'neath the waves.
Kill humanity
And speed them to their charnel graves.

And the Society has recorded two CDs of solstice music, too. Just the thing to give your family next holiday season.

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Well, it didn't get any Academy Award nominations, but the other night I saw a really good movie: Saving Face. I understand it made somewhat of a name for itself at the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals, and deservedly so.

The focal characters are Wil, a single, Chinese-American woman who is a doctor and a closeted lesbian and her mother, a widow who has lived her life exclusively within the Chinese community. The film revolves around their relationships with each other, and with the members of their family and community - including an aspiring dancer, Vivien, who seems determined to get Wil out of the closet and into her life.

Delightful story with several quite unexpected plot developments, well acted, with several relative newcomers and the divine Joan Chen playing the part of Wil's mother, with powerful but subtle direction from Alice Wu, who also wrote the script. And lots of fun.

September 2017

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