Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Vivarium: open-ended psychological horror

Greetings, commies!

If you are in a mood for a psychological sci-fi horror flick, consider Vivarium. Imagine if David Lynch and Rod Serling co-authored a plot. Jesse Eisenberg is the king of beta-males, and the role of a subdued suburban newlywed fits him perfectly. The quest for domestic bliss leads Gemma and Tom into a circle of hell. 


A young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses.

My thoughts

I see many viewers complaining about the 'lack of resolution'. This is a subtle, thought-provoking psychological horror piece, not a superhero flick where the good guys cross the T's and dot the I's in the end. This movie is comparable to David Lynch's works. Anyone with imagination and ability to think abstractly will find plenty to analyze and contemplate after watching it. Those who complain that the movie leaves too many unanswered questions - God forbid - should get themselves some buttery popcorn and watch the next Marvel blockbuster.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Berberian Sound Studio - a study in atmosphere development

Greetings, commies!

If you are up for a moody, artsy psychological pseudo-horror flick without jump scares or teen scream queens in tank tops, consider Berberian Sound Studio.

This movie does a great job of setting intriguing atmosphere, but ... there is no real plot. Or maybe the plot is so subtle, you don't notice it. It's not really a film in its own right but rather a study in light and sound. There is a lot of implicit horror - tell, don't show. It's what you don't see that is more terrifying than what you see. Despite the many Giallo references, the film has a strong Lynch-esque tone. The protagonist, stuck in a claustrophobic sound studio, begins doubting his own sanity. I wonder if the lack of resolution was due to the director's fatigue / lack of funds and imagination, or if it was intended. If you are a film student, you should watch this movie not for the plot but for various tone-setting techniques. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Ao, the Last Neanderthal - an inter-species adventure romance

Greetings, commies!

Ao, the Last Neanderthal is a one of a kind speculative anthropological film set 30,000 BC in prehistoric Europe. When his clan, including his wife and baby girl NĂ©a, are massacred, Ao, a desperate Neanderthal, decides to leave the North country where he has been living for the South where he was born. His aim is to join his twin brother, from whom he was separated when he was nine. On his long and adventurous way home, he meets Aki, a Homo sapiens woman.

My thoughts

The movie is based on an actual novel that I hope to read some day. Hopefully it will be translated into English. Given how little is known about the psychology/physiology of Neanderthals, this is a highly, highly speculative piece of historical ... no, more like prehistorical fiction. The author of the novel takes certain genetic and anthropological differences pairing a Neanderthal male with a Cro Magnon female. It's yet to be determined if those alliances took place and if they led to viable progeny. I think the split between the actual articulated speech and the internal speech worked well. You have characters, both Neanderthal and Cro Magnon, spout incoherent beastly sounds at each other, but then you hear their internal voices that bridge the genetic and cognitive differences between the species. Despite the overt violence, the spirit of the film is strangely life-affirming, almost naively so, if you don't look beyond the first layer of the happy ending. It's a happy ending - but an ending nevertheless, for a whole chapter of human evolution.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Othello-san - a challenge to Western thinking

Greetings, commies,
I imagine, in light of recent events, some of you have been watching various Othello adaptations. Here is a powerful short film about a young African American actor trying to establish himself in Japan - pigeon-holing himself into the token role of the Moor of Venice. There is so much talk about black-white relations, it was a breath of fresh air to see a different racial dynamic. 

My thoughts
I wrote a perfectly respectful, reasonable review, and it wasn't posted the first time around on Amazon. Not sure who is policing these reviews. Anyway, take two. 

This kind of movie should be shown in American acting schools. It touches upon the concept of American - and Western in general - hubris. It's not about an African American student going to Japan. It's about a Westerner going to an Asian country. I must say, I was not convinced when the young actor talking about being cast as a thug or a slave. He is too refined to be typecast in those roles. Though I have no trouble believing that many talented African American actors are held back from achieving their full dramatic potential by being pigeonholed into those token roles.  All and all, it's 20 minutes well spent. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

"A Senseless Act of Beauty" - it's "Island of Dr. Moreau" meets "Avatar"

Greetings, commies!
There seems to be so much discussion around race, colonialism and privilege lately, and not all discussion as civil. Understandably, those are pretty hot and sensitive topics. Imagine exploring them in a sci-fi novel! Now would be a perfect time to visit John B. Roseman's "A Senseless Act of Beauty". It's so much more than just another space opera! Rosenman is known for his eloquent, multi-layered, philosophical sci-fi. 

Aaron Okonkwo, a Nigerian scientist, travels with a crew in the 24th century to evaluate Viridis, which proves to be a beautiful and fabulous world. There, Aaron discovers a strange, alien species and amazing machines and technology left in a vast underground complex by a mysterious race called the Creators.

Aaron soon falls under the irresistible, seductive spell of Nightsong, a green alien female with ominous and bewitching powers. However, an even greater danger rises. He will be forced to fight for the planet’s survival against a ruthless invasion of many ships to conquer and enslave the planet – just as Africa itself was once enslaved. Aaron knows it’s A Senseless Act of Beauty to try to reclaim his ancient warrior heritage and fight back against such overwhelming odds, but he knows he must try.

My thoughts:
John B. Rosenman demonstrates once again that originality lies in the clever combination of familiar topics and images. He likes to take an archetype and twist it a little to fill it with new meaning. In his philosophical space travel sci-fi novel "A Senseless Act of Beauty" the readers will her echoes of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and the movie "Avatar". The concept of experimenting with nature and the ethical implications of this practice is at the core of the works by such sci-fi icons as H.G. Wells. On one hand, our instinct tells us "don't mess with nature". On the other hand, science would not progress if not for a few daring maniacs who were willing to push the boundaries, not fearing judgment from their colleagues and contemporaries. "A Senseless Act of Beauty" opens on earth in a scientific facility in Nigeria. Aaron, on of a scientist, takes a leisurely hike with a human-enhanced male monkey. The hike nearly costs Aaron his life, for he discovers that his companion has murderous tendencies. The intricate experiment came with hidden dangers. The experience piques his curiosity and sets him on the path of interstellar colonization and interspecies sexual affairs. The line between human and animal/alien is very fine. What happens when you cross it? 

It is refreshing that the main character, a conqueror and a colonist, is not the so frequently demonized white man. Aaron is African - and privileged. His color is of little significance on the new planet. I commend the author on raising certain ethical and philosophical questions without passing judgment. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Fall of Eagles - a must see for political science students

Greetings, commies!

If you have any history buffs or aspiring political science majors in your family, this amazing box set is for you! Fall of Eagles examines the demise of several European empires condensed to 13 episodes.

Series summary
In the latter half of the 19th century, three ruling houses dominated Europe: the Hapsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Romanovs of Russia and Hohenzollerns of Germany. Centuries of despotism, a continued lack of social reform and the advent of the devastating First World War caused the vultures of revolution to start circling. This 13-part epic drama features an all-star cast including Patrick Stewart, Gemma Jones, John Rhys-Davies, Gayle Hunnicutt and more!

My thoughts
This brilliantly cast and acted BBC gem is an absolute must-see for every political science and history student. A very discerning examination of "what went wrong". The series breaks down the toxic and complex chemical formula that had resulted in WWI and ultimately the demise of several European empires. The dialogues are rich, lush and profound. Your jaws will drop. Of course, it's BBC, so the content is not dumbed down or made more palatable for wider masses. In my humble opinion, the highlight is Patrick Stewart's rendition of Lenin. It's amusing to hear the Bolshevik leader speak with a cultured British accent. Here is your chance to be the proverbial fly on the wall and hear the conversations that determined the fate of Europe. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

"Simple Prayers" by Michael Golding - a medieval sitcom

Hello, commies!
Another oldie but goody. I read this novel the old fashioned way: actually picked up a paperback at Waldenbooks (does that name ring a bell?) At any rate, if you want to add another gem to your pandemic list, consider Michael Golding's Simple Prayers

The novel, even though it is sat in Medieval Europe, is structured very much like a sitcom. There are stereotypical characters that one may expect from a sitcom: the town stud (Gianluca), the town geek (Albertino), the fat girl (Ermenegilda), the mysterious hottie (Miriam), the mandatory abusive single mom (Valentina) and the freaky child (Piarina). The interaction between the characters is very generic and stylized. You can predict right away who will fall in love with whom. What you can not predict is the horrible outcome of the novel. The plot takes a sudden turn, and the small town idyll falls apart.

I have no idea why the book critics called it "delightful". "Delightful" is not the word that comes to mind when you think about plague wiping out a whole village. There is nothing life-affirming in this book. If the reader expects a happy ending, he/she will feel deceived in the end. The book does not end with a wedding. It ends with a mass funeral.