Monday, March 28, 2011

Wrong Subtitles: Church Story

Monday, March 21, 2011

Enter The Void

I went into Enter The Void, in pretty much ideal circumstances. I'd seen the trailer, but only once and long enough ago that I couldn't remember anything except that Gaspar might be using his flying disembodied Koyaanisqatsi-cam from Irréversible and that it was essentially a story told from the first-person perspective. As far as the plot was concerned, I could have been going to see Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up stretched out over two and a half hours.

What I wouldn't have guessed going in was that having spent a good portion of my college years dabbling in psychedelics, having read the DMT-related hypotheses of Jeremy Narby and Rick Strassman, and even reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead would turn out to be useful in understanding the film as well.

Strassman's hypothesis, which the movie touches on in the brief amount of vocal exposition we're given, is that the hallucinogen DMT which some studies show exists endogenously in mammals, not only exists in the pineal gland of the human brain, but is also released in great quantities at the onset of death (and possibly at birth). This is used to explain why users of synthesized DMT report experiences very much like near-death experiences, and why it is that when in a near-death experience, subjects generally do not feel panicked but are instead incredibly calm.

The scientific evidence supporting that hypothesis seems to boil down to the presence of an enzyme that's specifically used to break down DMT that's found throughout the body. There's nothing else that implicates any specific concentration of the chemical actually being in the pineal gland or anywhere else. So the idea's not exactly on firm scientific ground, but it is interesting enough to make a make a movie about... especially with Noé's having his character fill his brain with DMT manually before death as a way to avoid leaning too heavily on needing this strange hypothesis to actually be true.

Enter The Void opens by dropping us into Oscar's (Nathaniel Brown) perspective in what seems like a fairly ordinary night as a means of introducing us to the two main characters, Oscar and his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta). Linda leaves almost immediately and Oscar pulls out his DMT pipe to introduce himself and the audience to what exactly a DMT trip looks like from his perspective.

At this point it must be said that the effects studio, BUF, did a great job at rendering these strangely organic, yet geometrically crystalline looking hallucinations that are so hard to accurately portray in film or anything else for that matter. The ones shown in this film are among the best I've seen.

The fact that this feat must have presumably been pulled off by artists who hadn't all started their shifts with an early morning cup of ayahuasca makes it even more impressive. As Jason Shankel put it in his piece for io9, "Oscar's DMT trip is rendered so realistically that watching it while high would just be a waste of drugs."

After a couple of minutes of seeing Oscar in screensaver mode, his phone rings and takes his attention away from the visuals. As it turns out, he's got to go down to a place called The Void to drop off some drugs with his primary client. His friend Alex (Cyril Roy) stops by just before he leaves, so he comes along with Oscar to give us one of the movie's most direct exposition sequences. After explaining a bit about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oscar heads into the club and gets himself killed while hiding out in a Japanese squat-toilet.

It's here, with the death of our protagonist, that the movie really begins.

As he lies on the floor dying, Oscar begins experiencing overwhelming hallucinations along with time dilation. Alex had touched upon time-dilation earlier when he mentioned that when on something like a DMT trip, to us that what seems like hours may in reality only be occurring over a matter of seconds or minutes. Some films like Spun or Requiem for a Dream make attempts at showing what a time-compression experience might look like by dropping frames and speeding up the film speed. Noé gives us a time-dilation experience by showing us 2 hours of hallucinations which take place in the final moments of Oscar's brain's life.

The idea that the entire movie really is as simple as that seems to elude some people, who insist it's a first-person account of a reincarnation process or just a story about ghost incest or something. But no, it isn't, and it doesn't have to be to be satisfying. This is one of the very few times when at the end of the movie you can realize that the whole thing was essentially a dream and that's actually appropriate rather than just being a lazy and enraging plot device.

One interesting thing to notice as you go through the story is that, as a result of his experience being generated by his brain, the experiences' strangeness varies inversely to the freshness and familiarity of the memories they're based on. Those that nvolve the very familar and recent, such as the "post-death" experiences in the bathroom where he dies, are all very realistic and clear. Those that involve things from more distant memories begin to look a little stylized and hazy. Those involving places he's never been are completely generated by his mind and are often based only on tiny scaps of known information and are therefore almost entirely left up to Oscar's creativity. The love-hotel he visits towards the end of the film is in a place he only knows from seeing an artist friend's dayglo, blacklight-illuminated model, so this is all especially clear there.

The experiences Oscar has seem to bifurcate and begin following seperate paths at some point. He follows his sister's reaction and how her life might unfold from the very beginning, but eventually Oscar begins reliving memories and traveling back through the lives of he and his sister as well. This leads to a potentially confusing ending where the backward and forward paths almost overlap and come to an end. At the love-hotel Oscar sees Linda having sex with his friend Alex. If we've learned anything from the flying disembodied camera by this point it's that it flies into any holes it finds, so of course it ends up shooting into Linda's glowing vagina.

By this point we've travelled back through many of Oscar's early memories of his parents and his childhood, one of which was seeing his parents have sex, so this sparks another memory in which we see a very basic birth memory, followed by an infant Oscar with his parents at their home. This memory is very hazy, and the mother's face is especially blurred out, so this progression isn't obvious to someone looking for a reincarnation angle. What they're likely to have seen was ghost-Oscar shooting into Linda's vagina, followed by him being born again and deposited in a new baby belonging to his sister. If it isn't enough that his sister had just had an abortion and probably wouldn't have loaded a new egg in the chamber just yet anyway, Noé has directly refuted any possibility of something like that being intended by those scenes, stating "It's not Oscar's sister, it's Oscar's mother..." and "It's not the story of someone who dies, flies and is reincarnated, it's the story of someone who is stoned when he gets shot and who has an intonation of his own dream."

There's lots of talk about there being pretty heavy incest themes throughout the movie, and that's kind of understandable (I am using Oscar shooting into his sister's vagina as a segway after all). If Oscar is just seeing what his brain wants to show him, why does end up traveling around watching his sister at work (she's a stripper), after work (perhaps a prostitute?), and in her free time (having sex again) the way he does? This suspicion isn't exactly discouraged when we see how comfortable Linda is being nude around Alex and how she seems to prefer staying that way most of the time... but I don't really think any of that actually has anything to do with incest.

At the most direct, maybe Noé doesn't do anything to really disqualify the idea as a way to leave it open in order to provoke people's reactions to incest taboos. But Oscar relives his recent memories of his sister, along with their relationship as children and teenagers and he never really shows any sexual interest in her at all. So while I admit that Noé does have a tendency to use everything available to make his audience feel uncomfortable, in the end I really think it's just that Oscar and Linda have a relationship that doesn't include some of the taboos that many people's relationships with their siblings do. I get a little of that myself, having a younger sister that I can talk directly and honestly with about sex or other such taboo topics if they come up. That alone seems to sometimes be enough to make other people's skin crawl. Some people had a hard time seeing how I could ever hang out at her place when she dated an old friend of mine for a while... but those sorts of social taboos just aren't things that bother me. If she was the sort to spend most of her life naked, then if someone saw one of those conversations about sex or porn or something I'd probably find myself under the same sort of scrutiny as Oscar.

One of the biggest things that shows that theirs is a nonsexual relationship is just how childlike it is. Oscar and Linda are seen in flashback-type memories over and over, so we see how their close relationship was and is maintained as they grow up. After the early death of their parents, they attach to one another and become even closer. Later when we see Linda as an adult, she's often acting so much like a child when alone with Oscar that any potentially sexual situations still seem innocent because Linda appears to have regressed to a sexually-naive and taboo-ignorant child.

They show this over and over, sometimes almost literally.

As for giving this movie a real review, there's little to be said aside from heaping praise on Noé for making a two and a half hour self-indulgent art film that's somehow not only still watchable (impressive in itself) but also completely enthralling. The watching experience isn't exactly always comfortable , but you still can't ever look away.

If at any point you break from it's spell for a moment,
you'll feel yourself making this face.

Gaspar Noé's films seem to generally keep out of the mainstream due to their experimental and potentially offensive themes, but Enter The Void is perhaps his most accessible and maybe even his most pleasant, so make sure you don't pass over this one. It's available for streaming on Netflix so there's really no excuse to not see it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


RoboGeisha is a collaboration between Noboru Iguchi and special effects man Yoshihiro Nishimura (i.e., the director of Tokyo Gore Police and co-director of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl).

With a team like that you sort of know what to expect going into this one... but as with their other titles, knowing the sorts of things you can expect does not mean that everything you're about to see isn't still going to be completely mind-blowing.

The story opens by introducing us to Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi) and her older sister Kikue (Hitome Hasebe, Battle Royale II).

Kikue is a an ambitious geisha while Yoshie is her supposedly "uglier" younger sister who is basically just a servant in the house where Kikue works. Kikue is hoping to impress the young head of Kageno Steel, but as it turns out he actually prefers Yoshie... So of course the conflict between the sisters just escalates rapidly from this point on.

Both girls eventually end up at the young guy's rural home, which is where he's apparently been essentially kidnapping and brainwashing young girls into a personal army of cyborg ninja geisha assassins.

The girls begin training there and competing for success as assassins. This quickly leads to both of them getting mechanical enhancements of their own and it's here that things really take a turn for the wacky.

Exhibit 1: Killer socks

Exhibit 2: Breast-cannons

And, last but not least,
Exhibit 3: Ass-shurikens.

Apparently Iguchi was asked to tone down the violence and gore a bit for this one, so the weapons are a bit more ridiculous and cartoony than usual, and all blood effects are done in CGI. CGI blood almost never looks good... or even remotely passable... and this case is certainly no different, but then the silly cartoon blood is not exactly pulling you out of an otherwise believably realistic scenario, so it bothered me less than I expected it to.

Yoshie eventually emerges as the top "clockwork cortesan" and at this point decides to abandon the robogeishas in order to stop the evil steel corporation and save Japan from them.

With a name like Yoshie, this understandably has to happen by way of a Mario Kart battle.

The final showdown, the climax of the movie's absurdity, is a battle between Tank-Yoshie and a robotic building with an atomic bomb necklace, during which blood spurts from destroyed bystander-buildings in a way that it absolutely should have been doing in monster movies since the very beginning.

If you're a fan of the sort of surreal absurdist gore that's come from Noburu Iguchi in the past, you're likely to enjoy RoboGeisha. Even if you've been hesitant to see the more extreme things like Tokyo Gore Police, this is a pretty tame introduction to his style. While the premise does start to stretch a bit thin at times, overall I still really had a lot of fun with this one.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Galaxy of Terror

Galaxy of Terror is one of Roger Corman's many sci-fi efforts, and one that most often seems to be summed up (and passed by) as simply an Alien rip-off. While that's a reputation that might be earned, it's also an oversimplification that sort of misses the point. Galaxy of Terror is superficially like Alien, but only to the extent that Carnosaur is superficially like Jurassic Park. On first glance it might just look like a shittier version, but it's actually an interesting reinterpretation that's been passed through Corman's lens of exploitation and turned into something really unique.

A Jurassic Park clone would've been terrible if the only difference was that Corman replaced the dinosaurs with a silly looking sock puppet, but when you add things like mutant chickens, laughable decapitations, and women giving birth to giant dino-eggs, you have a viewing experience that's altogether different.

Similarly, if Corman had just copied Alien, but used a rubbery-looking monster and dropped H. R. Giger's biomechanical xenomorph stylings for cardboard corridors, that wouldn't be interesting at all. But what we have here includes such things as Joanie from Happy Days in a tentacle head-crushing scene, gratuitous use of exploding lasers, and a bestiality-rape scene starring a giant maggot.

Just in case your interest isn't piqued already, you'll also find the credits scattered with names like:

Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street)

Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses)

Ray Walston (Of Mice and Men)

and even James Cameron, working as second-unit director and production designer shortly before his directorial and screenwriting debut, Piranha II: The Spawning.

The story has our crew on a rescue mission to a crashed space station. They're supposed to be looking for survivors, which is strange considering that anytime they see anything unexpected they all panic and shoot it with lasers.

Pretty soon, Private Cos (Jack Blessing) splits off the group to check a dark corridor on his own. He is quickly dispatched by a very strange creature that we can only see a little of, but which apparently has one of each sort of limb imaginable. We see a tentacle, a couple of different kinds of crab pincer-like things, a hooked claw, etc.

Alluma (Erin Moran), the crew's resident psychic, senses some sort of distress signal coming from a spooky pyramid nearby, so the rest of the crew heads that way.

The crew splits into two groups, both ascending the pyramid from different angles. Commander Ilvar starts acting strange, then stops his group to go explore a hole...

and is immediately devoured by space-leeches.
( Video )

The commander's death leads the busty blonde, Dameia (Taaffe O'Connell), to announce "Ugh... I hate worms."

This turns out to be pretty much her only character development, in part because it's foreshadowing her own end. From here on, that's pretty much how most of the characters are treated.

Next up, Quuhod (Sid Haig) breaks his crystalline Krull blades while using them to prop open a giant door and, when offered a laser gun like everyone else, replies "I live and die by the crystals!" Of course immediately afterwards, Quuhod's left alone to guard the door. His crystal blade reconstitutes itself, but then breaks again when he picks it up. This sends a large shard into his arm, which then starts working it's way upward towards his torso.

( Video )

Quuhod quickly concludes that his best bet is to cut off the arm altogether, so he does just that. Unfortunately for him, it falls to the ground next to his other blade, which it immediate tosses into his chest to kill him.

By this point Dameia has decided to go back to the door to check on Quuhod. When she arrives, she finds his body, and while burning it with spacefire startles herself by nearly stepping on his disembodied arm which is now covered in spacemaggots (just in case we'd already forgotten her thoughts on "worms").

She starts lasering that arm into ash too, along with the maggots, only she ends up missing one.

It limps off and retreats to plan its revenge.

Dameia, rather than returning to her group at this point, wonders further away on her own, so we know she can't have long left. What we don't know is that the maggot is back already, and this time it's a giant rape caterpillar.

She wonders back into the doorway and basically just backs into the thing. In a matter of seconds it's managed to rip off and/or dissolve her clothing. The worm has its way with her for quite a while, then leaves her on the floor covered in rapeworm slime.

( Video )

Afterwards we jump back to Ranger (Robert Englund). Strangely enough, while exploring alone he runs into an evil version of himself.

Here we get to see a young, pre-Nightmare Englund developing his trademark sneer.

He eventually realizes that evil Robert Englund is actually a nightmarish character in his own head that's feeding off his fears and only has power as long as he's afraid of him.

Wait... what?

Meanwhile, a few surviving crew members get offed quickly to start wrapping things up. One is killed by this ridiculous thing:

Then Alluma (who's claustrophobic) finds herself having to squeeze into a small, increasingly shrinking tunnel. Just when you might start thinking that's she's going to be crushed or something like that, the tunnel comes alive with tentacles.

After the rape-caterpillar, this is where I assumed we were headed...

The scene ends up staying pretty tame up until the last moments though, when a couple of tentacles wrap around her head and crush it.

( Video )

Cabren (Edward Albert) and Ranger have now both figured out that it's their own fears which are manifesting as the means to their ends. Kore (Ray Walston) appears inside the pyramid with them now and reveals himself to be a "Planet Master." Cabren follows him, and then learns that the pyramid is used as a test to choose Planet Masters by finding those who can conquer their fears. Cabren, having done that, now has to fight all the pyramid critters... while doing a lot of flips apparently. Afterwards, he's faced with space-zombie versions of all his dead crew-mates.

Most look like they're in horrible zombie makeup,
but of course Dameia's just slippery and naked again.

Cabren manages to get rid of them all somehow. I'm really not sure how, he tosses a few of them around, then gets tossed around himself... then he takes a nap.

When he wakes up he only has to fight off Alluma. Once he does, he then kills Kore and finds that he'll become Planet Master himself now. So... by winning he's now stuck managing a barren planet forever.

At this point we fade to credits. No one cared what happened to Robert Englund apparently.

Galaxy of Terror is certainly an odd little film. It starts with a pretty straightforward space mission sci-fi setup, but then includes weird supernatural and fantasy elements. It explores all sorts of sideplots, some of which are dead-ends, without ever seeming like it's dragging on too long. It just keeps the strangeness coming at a rate that eliminates any possibilities of getting bored. Somehow it even takes 5 minutes to invent the plot of Nightmare on Elm Street and actually has Robert Englund play the part.

The practical effects alternate between being bad but amusing, and just being legitimately good. Nothing ever really looks so absurd that it totally takes you out of the story.

Also, where else can you see Joanie from Happy Days cutting her tentacle-porn career short with an accidental head explosion?

Corman's filmography is pretty daunting... and full of plenty of duds, but as far as I'm concerned, Galaxy of Terror is not one to miss.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Search Engine Craziness: Chipettes

chipettes costume pattern

The only thing better than seeing strange overtly sexual Google keywords in my stats is seeing the extremely tame family-friendly ones. I really love the thought of someone searching for tips on their kids' Halloween arts & crafts project costume... only to end up at a page about Doom Asylum where they got to see Kristin Davis get her face cut in half by a surgical saw.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Half Moon

Time to settle in to watch that movie named after a phase of the moon, filled with slow breathy dialogue, and starring a muscular werewolf named Jacob... No, not that one... This one's called Half Moon and is seems to be an elaborate ruse to gauge whether the success of the Twilight stories was completely due to every aspect of those stories aside from the vampires.

Judging from the title, tagline, and everything else about this movie, it might be tempting to believe that it is going to be a movie about werewolves... but it really is much more literally "Twilight without the vampires" in that there's only one sequence featuring a werewolf that only lasts a couple of minutes, while the rest is two characters quietly talking about things that an audience will not find interesting.

Half Moon is the story of Rose (Tori Black), a woman with an ordinary job albeit with a boss that engages in what most would consider "sexual harassment."

So she's a sad prostitute... or at least one of her two personalities is a sad prostitute. Strangely enough, Rose seems to be composed of one part Tori Black-styled real person, and one part ghetto-caricature.

Ghetto-Rose seems pretty much resigned to her life and accepting of the way things are in her world. Tori-Rose doesn't seem nearly as satisfied and seems much more worried about the threat posed by her dangerous pimp.

Ghetto-Rose also uses a ridiculous accent that I'd really rather blame on Tori Black trying a little too hard, except that I've unfortunately actually heard a few people use it. So maybe it's a perfect rendition of what she was going for, it's hard to say.

What people who use that accent don't usually do though is switch between using it and not, over and over... sometimes in mid-sentence. Also, when that person is talking to someone who looks like the spawn of Colin Farrell and Javier Bardem and asks him "What's wrong with the way I talk?" he will never respond the way he does in Half Moon, which is "Well, you don't have an accent."

Pictured: A deaf man.

After having received important advice from her pimp such as "Listen... If I call you, make sure you answer the phone on the first ring... unless you got a dick in your mouth," Rose hits the street.

She quickly meets up with a friend, holds her bag while she pees in an alley and gets herself arrested, then answers the woman's phone when her john, Jacob, jingles her phone. Contrary to her pimp-rules, Rose decides to head off to meet the guy herself in his motel.

For what seems like at least the middle third of the movie, Rose and Jacob sit across from each other and exchange strange, mostly uninteresting dialogue about such erotic topics as Pete Rose, themselves as children, and the Tom & Jerry cartoons. Apparently though, those are exactly the things that get Rose worked up into a sexual frenzy, as she leaps up at the end and starts giving him a lapdance...

...that he's not into at all.

He was really connecting to Rose when they were talking and now that she's acting like she's at work again it seems to ruin it for him. He fixes that by having sex with her.

Regardless of how the rest of the movie went, I kind of expected the inevitable sex scene to be pretty natural looking considering it's in the hands of an award-winning professional. It actually kind of starts out that way, but it immediately gets pretty strange.

First of all, while they're writhing nondescriptly, they start taking turns reaching out with their right hands and squeezing each other's left breast.

That's followed by Jacob gradually slipping off the side of her until it looks like he's nearly perpendicular to her and almost off the bed... while she just lays on her back and keeps wiggling up and down like nothing's changed. It's really bizarre.

When that's all over, Rose goes into his bathroom and finds a bag with things like rope, duct tape, and a gun in it. She thinks she has found his "rape kit," so now that most of the movie is over we've hit our first real story conflict.

Pictured: Conflict

Pictured: Conflict (personality #2)

There's a struggle, Jacob gets sedated, the pimp comes over, and Jacob ends up tied to a chair. I found it pretty amusing that the pimp was doing such a horrible job at tying up the guy, but Tori Black seemed to know exactly how to properly tie a person up to a piece of furniture. She worked quickly and neatly and was done almost immediately. In the next shot the pimp's rope has fallen off already and is just draped over Jacob's torso but Tori's is still going strong. I have to be honest, I'd never really considered all the secondary skills a porn star could bring to the set like that until I saw that scene.

At this point we're just a few minutes from the credits and the werewolf-angle is introduced to the story. It's apparently very important that Jacob get to his werewolf-doctor (veterinarian?) before the moon turns him into a monster. Rose is quickly convinced and unties him, but then the pimp comes back, sees that happening and beats up Rose for a while.

While he was busy with that, Jacob was doing this:

A werewolf movie with a transformation sequence that makes the Toxic Avenger's transformation look cutting-edge is just not prioritizing properly.

The werewolf stiffly lumbers a step or two towards the pimp...

and clumsily high-fives his hand off before turning to Rose.

The scene fades out, then back in. The doctor has arrived now and is now treating Rose with his special anti-werewolf medicine.

From what I saw, anti-werewolf medicine involves dropping brown M&M's into Kool-Aid that's mixed in the cut-off bottom of a plastic water bottle. As you might imagine, that sort of anti-werewolf medicine is bullshit, so we're left with a shot of Rose back on the street, presumably looking for a victim to prostitute herself to, then eat... or maybe not. It's never too clear what the werewolf does to it's victims in this movie. There's a long intro scene where we see someone who's apparently the last girl to spend the night with our werewolf and there's not really any indication that he did anything to her at all.

Except maybe give her the ability to sleep through the
sound of someone vacuuming in the morning.

That girl is Tori Black's fellow Penthouse-pet, Shawna Lenee by the way. I believe the casting was done by L.A. Direct Models, so pretty much everyone in the movie is from the porn industry.

In the end, nothing is really resolved, nothing really even happens, but we're treated to one last shot of the moon.

I haven't mentioned the moon shots until now, but we see them between every major scene transition basically. In what may be the most puzzling thing about this movie, they created a ridiculous CGI cityscape and glowing moon rather than just pointing the camera up.

One thing you probably can't help but noting is that that's also not a "half moon." I don't believe that phrase is ever even said in the movie. As far as I can tell the movie is in no way related to the title.

I might not have held the bad CGI skyline against a film like this, except for one thing. In a werewolf movie that's only really made interesting because of its cast of pornstars, we're presented with more shots of that silly moon than we are of the werewolf or the pornstars. I really can't imagine what niche audience that prioritization might have been meant for, but I'm guessing that this film isn't going to make it to them.

Tori Black does about as well as I'd expected in her role. She's doesn't really have the acting abilities to pull off most emotional extremes gracefully, but when she's not in a ridiculous character and is acting like a regular person her real personality pops out long enough to charm you completely. If you ignore the strange little performance hiccups when she unnecessarily ventures outside of her range and into some weird extremes, you'll find that she does actually make for a believable and genuinely likable character... something which I can hardly ever say about actresses filling the generic role of pretty-girl-protagonist in even the larger-budget horror movies.

This movie was advertised as Tori Black's breakout mainstream role, and that's probably the reason most people will see it. If you were interested with seeing her in a mainstream role though, you'll probably find that you still are after seeing this movie, because that's not really what this is. This is just what happens when a pornstar directs a porn movie and leaves out all the sex.

I'll leave you with this screen capture of the beginning of the credits. Yes, they start with a misspelled word... and that pretty much sums up the whole movie. It's made by a guy who didn't care enough to bother proofreading.

In the credits we also see that Tori Black gets the Executive Producer credit too. According to Jason Toler, Tori "agreed to co finance part of the budget of the film on the condition that ... she be repaid her investment from the gross receipts when the film received distribution." Judging by her Twitter feed she's now owed quite a lot of money and hasn't been repaid for this little masterpiece.

If you're interested in picking this up on DVD, you can head to Breaking Glass Pictures and enter the code "halfmoon" at checkout for a $7 discount.