Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Encounters At The End Of The World

The key word in the title Encounters At The End Of The World is Encounters. For any other filmmaker it would be a word strictly defined to the encounters the film crew had with the landscape and found in Antartica, an almost incomprehensibly harsh and wild environment. And Herzog gets his fair share of that. But for Herzog, that also means encountering the people, he’s fascinated by the landscape but studying the personality that brings someone to the very ends of the Earth and pushes them to go even further is what really drives him, A Machinist who contends that he is descended from the Aztec royal family, a zoologist who has spent so much time with penguins that he is markedly uncomfortable with people; the film easily could have been titled Some Strange People That Werner Herzog Met In Antarctica.  

Because make no mistake, though this is a G-rated movie, mellow enough to show to Grandma and the kids, the personalities Herzog finds at the bottom of the world are every bit as intense as any who have populated his R-Rated Opuses (in one of the best running gags the joke “Everyone who ended up in Antarctica just fell off the real world and slid to the bottom” is told about a half dozen times by different people). The soft spoken, dedicated scientists might not look like Klaus Kinski, but they speak in the same tone of barely suppressed fervor nd have the same farseeing glint in their eyes..

Life in the Antarctic takes on a surreal bent, both for humans and animal. Base workers walk around with buckets strapped to their heads during survival training, in order to simulate a white out. There’s the hulking square compound itself, looking vaguely like a Moon Base found on earth. There’s hallucinatory surroundings, shifting fields of ice. A woman blowing off steam at a bar on the compound fits herself into a suitcase. Underneath sheets of ice so thick that holes have to be dynamited for the diver’s encounters, luminescent beings live that look like illustrations. No other filmmaker has Herzog’s gift for finding images that look as though they should not exist.  He narrates them all in his unflappably calm, clipped Teutonic tones. Still marveling at the strangest of nature with the wonder glazed intensity that he spoke of in The Burden Of Dreams, his awe always tempered ever so slightly be amusement and horror.

If the documentary feels a bit more mellow than Herzog’s usual work, despite some doom saying near the end, it is only because the continent speaks so well for itself. Herzog seems comfortable here, even within the crater of a huge active Volcano, in a way he never did in the lush Rain Forrest of Burden of Dreams, and the other wildernesses he has visited. If it is true that Antarctica attracts a certain type of intense personality, than it is no surprise that Herzog eventually made his way to the ends of the Earth. All that is surprising is that it took him so long to get there. 


Hey guys I know it's been pretty quiet here this month, and er- it's probably going to be pretty quiet here next month too. 

Mostly this is because every moment of spare time I have as a writer has been dedicated to Son Of Danse Macabre.  I'm bearing down hard, we're in the home stretch here, I'm hoping to finish The Modern American Horror chapter by the end of the year. Which will leave only two (2) chapters to go. Check it out if you haven't yet had a chance lately.

I've also taken some time to do some much needed fiction work. Including a piece I'm in the middle of drafting for the ambitious Mr. Jose Cruz's Mad House. If you know Mr. Cruz you know he's one of the most enthusiastic horror bloggers out there, and his new project should be a fun one. So if you've got something creaking in your drawer why not join me in the first issue. Should be fun.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ken Russell R.I.P.

I won't lie and say he was a particular favorite of mine. But there's one less visionary in the world today and that's always a sad thing to consider. One things for sure, there will never be another like him. So long Ken.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Rum Diary

Bruce Robinson’s Withnail And I is one of my favorite films. Period. Maybe in my top five, certainly in my top ten. I’ve never really written about it on Things That Don’t Suck, mostly because its just a tough film to get a handle on. It’s a raucous comedy that for long tracks of its run time isn’t remotely concerned with being funny. It’s the film about the death of an era that doesn’t try and make any grand statements regarding said era. It’s two principles are blitzed for 95% of the run time, but I wouldn’t really call it a drug movie the way say The Big Lebowski or Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Occasionally lyrical, sad, the best film ever made about male friendship and yes hysterically funny (Withnail’s desperate whinge when he realizes that they’ve come to the country sans Asprins never fails to draw a huge belly laugh from me) Withnail And I is one of the very few films that can genuinely said to be it’s own thing.

Likewise the career of Bruce Robinson has always been one of cinema’s great what ifs for me. After Withnail, Robinson made How To Get Ahead In Advertising, a fairly vicious satire on European Corporate culture and then came to America to direct the dismal serial killer film Jennifer 8. The experience infamously broke any desire Robinson had to make not only films within the Hollywood system, but films in any system. Over night he packed up his game, emerging over the next two decades to occasionally have his scripts ruined by others.

Until now… His return to directing was without exaggeration my most anticipated cinematic event of 2011. Just what the hell would he make? Well if we are to use The Rum Diary to judge the type of films that Robinson might have made in those two lost decades (a problematic proposition I acknowledge) then perhaps we can rest a little easier knowing that we lost out of two decades of How To Get Ahead In Advertisings rather than two decades of Withnails. The Rum Diary is a messy, entertaining film that has some real moments but it can’t help but feel like less than what it could have been.

The Rum Diary follows Hunter Thompson stand in Paul Kemp as he lands in Puerto Rico takes up with a paper on its last legs and for the first time finds his way to the dark nexus of power, hubris and insanity that Thompson would make his home for the rest of his career. Depp is uncannily good as Thompson, all the more impressive for convincingly managing to play the character younger than he did in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, despite the near fifteen year break in between the two films.

There are scenes and images here that work incredibly well, Kemp’s eerie discussion with a lobster, a cameo by a certain runny food item that’ll make Withnail fans laugh, a night race through the Puerto Rico back country. They work so well in fact that I didn’t realize how conflicted I felt about the movie until I started writing about it. Despite all the fine moments, there is simply no getting around the fact that The Rum Diary is a movie with a broken spine.

The film almost plays as a super hero origin, with Thompson gaining bits of his persona from each character he interacts with. His hard drugs here, his love of cars there, his rage at societal injustice over there. And there in lies the problem, the film watches Thompson do these things with an awe usually reserved for watching Arthur receive Excalibur from the Lady In The Lake. The film is a hagiography of Thompson (and say what you will about Gilliam’s film but it was never that). All the rough edges smoothed away, the writer presented in The Rum Diary probably wouldn’t have written anything worth reading, let alone make a movie about. On the way home I rented Gonzo, which I had previously dismissed as empty surface hero worship and I feel like I owe the director of that documentary an apology, because compared to The Rum Diary, Gonzo is Raging Bull.

The flat feeling extends in all directions Robinson has assembled a good cast here and they’re all playing broad. Amber Heard, a talented actress with rotten luck (I mean God now she’s in the first Johnny Depp movie to flop in forever) never gets beyond “the girl”. Giovanni Ribsi is a sight gag the entire film (a good one) worst of all is Aaron Eckhart, who is capable of playing this character in a much more interesting way but instead walks around with “THE BAD GUY” Inked on his forehead. 

 Any hope of redemption falls apart when the film follows its ambigious ending with a title card so unthinkingly celebratory I had to suppress my gag reflex. Yes Thompson was a great author who wrote some great things. But his life was not an unqualified triumph, just the opposite. If you wanted to give The Rum Diary an honest ending perhaps you should have gone for, “The beauty of the world, paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dusk. Man delights not me, no, nor women neither, nor women neither."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Quick Message

Faithful readers might know that I love Cleveland. The mistake by the lake is where my family is from, it's my adopted home town, where I've spent some of my best times and where a lot of the people I care about most live. It is also the reason while I will curse a blue streak at the TV every Autumn Sunday until I die. But that is another story.

So it's only fitting that when his estate tried to get together money for a statue of the second greatest writer Cleveland ever produced (Chester Himes is number one with a bullet... or several) That I could only respond with a Hell Yeah. I mean I just love the idea of a statue of Harvey Pekar. Who wouldn't?

Anyway, I've donated, and if you've got any love in your heart for this working class hero and the city he portrayed so well, maybe you can too.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Drive is the sort of film that taps directly into my particular set of cinematic pleasure receptors. All the more satisfying because I had no idea that it would. Up until the moments the opening credits rolled I had no idea that I craved an elliptical, Euro crime thriller, starring Ryan Gosling, with a mile wide romantic streak, and a discordant electro score that sounds like it’d be more comfortable in a David Lynch movie, but voila, apparently I did. Drive is a work of masculine art cinema on par with Le Samourai and Pat Garret And Billy The Kid.

Drive the story of a getaway driver who finds himself betrayed by the people he works for, is of course a story you’ve seen before. Hell, lets face it; you’ve already seen the existential art film approach to this story as well. This is a film that wears its Le Samourai hero worship proudly. All Gosling’s spartan apartment lacks is a grey bird and I’m sure that was just an oversight.

Drive is one of those films where every element works, no matter how unlikely. Ryan Gosling with a mumble that would make James Dean envious and a smile that would melt butter. He has the amazing ability to look equally convincing shyly holding a girl’s hand and crushing a skull. Albert Brooks chilling banality of evil performance all the more effective for the way that it seems barely removed from his usual persona. Carey Mulligan reveals the uncanny ability to make herself look five years older and wearier at will and Bryan Cranston does his Bryan Cranston thing. Perhaps only Ron Perlman is not used to full potential here, but then again Things That Don’t Suck has always held firm to the position that it is difficult to get too much Ron Perlman.

Nicholas Refn shoots Los Angeles the way that Michael Mann used to. Turning it into a doomed megapolis of light and vice. Shooting the ground level unglamorious neighborhoods of The Valley and Echo Park as well as I’ve seen them represented. There is that sense of dislocation to the film that you sometimes get when a European director makes his first film in America. Like Wim Wenders Paris Texas, another film that Drive shares a fair amount of DNA with, Drive takes in its setting and action with a kind of bewildered wonder.  There’s a presence to the film, aided by Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score a low key dread that is not quite like anything I’ve seen in a crime film before. A mixture of fatalism, icy Euro remove and iconic cinematic badassery.

Simply put Drive is a magnetic film, it keeps drawing you back into itself. It’s the little moments that I keep returning to. The way Refn keeps the camera centered on Gosling, so when he reacts to something you have no idea just what he’s reacting to. Or touches like the opening scene where you think you’re getting a humanizing detail about The Driver (Lakers fan) until it is revealed, nope also part of the plan.

Drive is the type of film that energizes me as a cinephile. The sort of film where you see a set of aims accomplished perfectly, with the flair, confidence and rock solid landing of a professional gymnast. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November Sucks


Another October come and gone and I have the sads (sads may or may not be directly related to Hangover I was forced to battle yesterday, which can only be described as Amisian proportions).

But before we get back to our regularly scheduled Not Sucking, here's one last taste of Halloween magic courtesy of our friends at On The Stick. Enjoy