Tuesday, September 18

Streamathon - Urban Legends & Folklore


Streamathon - Urban Legends & Folklore






September 2018
Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of NetflixHuluAmazon Prime VideoMubiFilmStruckShudder and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder


It’s less than a week away from The Coda Presents: CANDYMAN at The Filmbar in Downtown Phoenix, AZ. This is kind of a big deal for us over here at The Coda, so I decided that in honor of the occasion, we could all get in the mood with some selections to watch at home in fevered anticipation of the momentous event. The screening is dangerously close to selling out so if you haven’t yet, click the link above and get your tickets…. Like, right now… Then come back and watch these movies with me. 

The Stream


CROPSEY (2010)
Directed by Joshua Zeman & Barbara Brancaccio – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu & Shudder

The legend of Cropsey comes from Staten Island, NY. He was born out of the real-life terror of missing children and an abandoned mental institution in the middle of the woods. As a fictional legend, it pretty much writes itself. And that’s what is covered in the first fifteen minutes or so of this documentary. Then, luckily it is morphed into the true crime story of Andre Rand, the island’s most likely embodiment of the urban legend. It covers his trial and sentencing with a healthy balance of skepticism and realism, always connecting it to the larger-than-life story that terrified the community for decades.

Side note: Director Zeman’s follow up film, KILLER LEGENDS (2014) is also available to stream on Hulu. It is an anthology of other urban legends involving murderers, some of which have been immortalized in other films on this list. It’s not bad, but you don’t get even as much information about the stories he covers as you would from Wikipedia, so I didn’t think it was good enough for my list.



INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS (20044)
Directed by Zak Penn – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

This movie is kind of a weird one for me to watch, specifically because of Zak Penn. I’ve never been much of a fan of Penn’s work. He does a lot of script doctoring on some big blockbuster films. I’ve always sort of thought of him as the type that comes in and revamps a story to dumb it down and make it more palatable for mass consumption. This is odd because for this movie, which he directed and co-wrote, he seems to be playing an archetypical version of himself that I’ve always suspected that he sort of actually is. It’s that type of self-deprecating portrayal that works well for me. And of course, there’s Werner Herzog who co-wrote and co-starred with him to provide the type of integral weight that steers the narrative perfectly. 



KURONEKO (1968)
Directed by Kaneto Shindō – Streaming on FilmStruck

In Japanese culture, a bakeneko is basically a ghost-cat. This folklore dates back hundreds of years and it’s pretty creepy. Now, imagine that tale being used to tell a medieval rape revenge story. Shindō’s 1968 film does just that. It’s shot beautifully in low light black-and-white with a hauntingly moody score. This one’s is really all about tone. I won’t say too much about it. Just be forewarned, the opening scene always seem to catch me off guard with how vile and disturbing it is.



THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921)
Directed by Victor Sjöström   – Streaming on FilmStruck

In case you didn’t know, if you are a very sinful person and you happen to be the last person to die in any given year, your sentence is to spend the following year driving all those unfortunate souls to their final resting place in the “Phantom Carriage.” At least that is legend explored in this 97-year-old Swedish film. It is an adaptation of the novel, “Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!” by Selma Lagerlöf that was actually intended as a sort of public service to warn people of the dangers of tuberculosis. She incorporated the fable of Ankou, a hodgepodge of different European depictions of Death from the Dark-Ages. From a technical standpoint, this film was far ahead of its time. It’s not the first time that double-exposure had been done. But it was never done with a technique this complex and time consuming before. The results were captivating to audiences of the time. The special effects gave the illusion that characters were semi-transparent and at times, occupying two spaces at once. To have captured these images with hand-cranked cameras is quite an impressive feat.



THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

It’s unfortunate that the original 1976 flick is not available to stream from anywhere. On a whim, I decided to watch this one out of sheer curiosity. I was more than pleasantly surprised. 2014 was at the tail end of the classic horror remake surge that has mostly worn out its welcome. I think this film unfortunately suffered from that fatigue and as a result was underseen. But I dig it quite a bit and if you skipped it due to its unfortunate timing, I would suggest you catch up with this. The killer in this legend is very unique among movie monsters. He is purely human. Although vicious, there is not even an inkling of supernatural ability in him. This is even more true in this updated version of the story. He has speaking parts here. Which as I recall, differs from the original. And it's not some scary distorted 'Jigsaw' type voice. He speaks in a regional accent. I found this to keep him and his legend grounded in a version of reality that rarely exists in works like this.

This is less of a remake and more a reboot/meta-sequel. It’s not retelling the original story. Rather, it incorporates the town’s history and tradition with both the actual murders that took place in 1946 as well as the original film that was released in 1976. This is interesting as a plot in itself but even more exciting in how it allowed post-modern stylistic choices in editing and narrative. For example, after one kill scene, the camera pans the aftermath of the location revealing at the end of the shot that we are actually watching a behind-the-scenes take from the original movie.

Secondly, cinematography is paramount in genre films, especially action and horror. This one’s camerawork is excellent. Cinematographer Michael Goi utilizes smaller lightweight cameras to get a lot of great P.O.V. and various rig shots that respect the spatial relationship of the characters and settings. And the color palette is gorgeous as well as reverent for both the setting and the original Charles B. Pierce film. The ending of this is both unfortunate and disappointing. It’s discombobulated and even a bit anticlimactic. But alas, I’m not one to throw the slasher baby out with the bloody bathwater. It deserves to be seen. 



THE TAG-ALONG (2015)
Directed by Cheng Wei-Hao – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

This is Taiwan’s most profitable horror film of all time. Its titular character is the manifestation of a relatively new urban legend commonly referred to as, ‘the little girl in red’. As far as I can tell, it all started in 1998 when a family went hiking in the Taichung mountains. They documented their trip on a camcorder and were shocked later, to see what looks like a creepy little girl that no one remembered following them on the trail. When the family experienced an unexpected death, the legend took off. More sightings and disturbing anecdotes would abound in the years to follow.

I’m sure that the popularity of the legend itself helped this film immensely at the box office. That being said, I still think the atmosphere is eerie and well put together. I could be the thousandth person to complain about the bad CGI but I always tend to be forgiving of that stuff in favor of empathetic characters and good tension building. 



WILLOW CREEK (2013)
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

This film has problems, but I still defend it. I don’t think that it needed to spend as much time as it did meandering around the first act and a half. But then, if you have the patience, you get to the tent scene. It’s a long single static shot that lasts around twenty minutes and leads into the climax. This shot, dimly lit inside a tent, gets underneath your fingernails as it exploits you most anxious empathy. The final act brings it home and makes this piece well worthwhile.

Friday, September 14

The Predator Review



The Predator

Dir: Shane Black

Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, and Jacob Tremblay


Make a list of the action film staples of the 1980’s and it won’t take long to arrive at director John McTiernan’s science fiction adventure movie “Predator” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s a highlight in the explosive catalog of Schwarzenegger who is partly responsible for influencing the prototype for the modern action film that audiences are familiar with.


Shane Black, the writer behind the “Lethal Weapon” franchise and most recently “The Nice Guys”, returns to the franchise he had an early acting role in back in 1987. However, this time Mr. Black is the director of “The Predator”, an entertaining, overstuffed, and brainless film determined to achieve the highest amount of fan service possible. 





A military operation involving a drug cartel in Mexico is disrupted by a crashing unidentified flying object. The cartel members and military soldiers are slaughtered brutally by a cloaking alien hunter. A sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is the only survivor of the attack. Before a group of scientists from a program called Stargazer can assess the scene, McKenna takes the mask and a weapon off the Predator and sends it away for evidence of the encounter. McKenna is eventually arrested and interrogated, he is placed in custody with a ragtag group of military soldiers who are forced into action when the Predator escapes.


Shane Black is a talented writer who imbues his scripts with humor, quirk, and interesting characters. “The Predator” thrives on these qualities throughout the film. It emulates the catchy team aspect from the original film with a group of military tough guys but here adding some genuinely funny moments from the cast and a female character played by Olivia Munn who can hold her own just fine amidst all the testosterone. In the first major action scene in the film Mr. Black pitch perfectly catches the tone of the original films.


Replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger is actor Boyd Holbrook who, minus the muscles and accent, does a decent job of playing the hero here. Olivia Munn is provided a thankless role, though it does offer a few moments for her to flex her toughness. The standout performances belong to Keegan-Michael Key and Trevante Rhodes who banter and bicker with a mile-a-minute tempo that simply provokes some of the best laughs of the film. 





There are some really fun moments and setups throughout, like when the film blatantly salutes the first two films with a series of clever one-liners and when the Predator is simply left to unleash chaotic attacks. Unfortunately, “The Predator” feels lopsided as it tries t0 balance too many things. The mix of humor and action works in some aspects and in other places it feels out of place. The narrative introduces a few interesting choices connected to the mythology of the otherworldly sport hunters but it also feels stuffed with ideas that never payoff the way they should. You can feel the film working every angle for a sequel. 


Amidst all that is going on with Predator dogs, a character with Tourette’s Syndrome (Thomas Jane), biological modification, a genius young boy (Jacob Tremblay), and Sterling K. Brown playing a scientist with more swagger and coolness than he should have, “The Predator” is definitely a messy premise but thrives to provide entertainment and action first and foremost. 


Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00


Sunday, September 9

Random Cinematic Year in Review - 1956


A Random Cinematic Year In Review




Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use letterboxd.com to determine the actual release year.

1956

March 12, 1956, 19 U.S. Senators and 80 U.S. Representatives from Southern states signed a document called the Declaration of Constitutional Principals. It would be more commonly known as the “Southern Manifesto”. It was drafted as a legal opposition and act of protest the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown vs The Board of Education that made forced racial segregation of schools illegal. This was the original racist ‘dog whistle’. It promoted racist ideals in practice, but defended them in a legal scholarly manner, attesting the SCOTUS decision had overreached and violated states’ rights to self-govern rather than the outdated and easily debunked myth of white supremacy. It was the 1950’s version of ‘all lives matter.’

Make no mistake, these congressmen were all white supremacists. They had spent their time in government supporting all types of Jim Crow laws. They were just smart enough to understand that they needed to begin framing their argument in a way that may be more palatable to white northerners that integrated their public schools years before Brown vs Education. The Declaration claimed that this decision:

“…is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.”

“States’ rights” became one of the long standing strategic banners that conservatives would use for decades to attempt to exploit the racial divide and disenfranchise the African American population. 25 years later in an anonymous interview, Republican strategist Lee Atwater would admit:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, "N***er, n***er, n***er." By 1968, you can't say "n***er" -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded ,that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me -- because obviously sitting around saying. "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than "N***er, n***er.""







This fight would continue in congress and in the court of public opinion for the coming decades with varying levels of success. But to its credit, the Supreme Court never overturned its decision on Brown. As I'm writing this, I am switching back and forth between the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh and Eminem's new album, "Kamikaze". This may be putting me in a slightly odd headspace. I might be feeling a bit extra salty right now. But I wanted to take this as an oppurtunity to highlight the massive importance of the people that sit in lifetime appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is an extremely conservative pick that would like nothing more than to turn back the progress that this country has made over the past five decades. His past is being hidden from he public as well as those we send to vet him and his refusal to give any substantive answers adds even more shrouds of secrecy. These are indeed troubling times. 


NOTABLE FILMS


THE BAD SEED (Directed by Mervyn Leroy)


This one goes a lot darker than what you should be expecting from 1956. I was expecting something more in the creepy vein of Wolf Rilla’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (’60). What you get instead explores themes that are both psychologically stressful and macabre. The development of the keeps everything grounded in reality; which serves to make the evil child element so much more disturbing than what you would typically get from a straight sci-fi or horror film. 


THE WRONG MAN / THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)


I don’t think either of this two deserve to be in the lexicon as Hitchcock’s great masterpieces. But, they’re really good and he was able to release them both in the same year. THE WRONG MAN is a paranoid exploration of Hitchcock’s own phobia of police officers. It also makes you wish that he had worked with Henry Fonda more than just once.

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is a remake of Hitch’s own British film with Peter Lorre from 1934. In all honesty, I actually prefer the original. That being said, this one is one of the many from his best collaborator, Jimmy Stewart. This is no less paranoid than any of his other films and it contains some great set pieces. What’s sets this one apart from other works that focus on this type of fear is that our subjects are never allowed to show the hysteria that they are feeling. This is a great twist on Hitchcock’s “bomb under the table”. In this case, our two protagonists must maintain the appearance of the two casual diners with full knowledge of the ticking bomb.



GIANT (Directed by George Stevens)


I think of this more of a performance piece than anything else. It’s an epic story that is told through the faces of Rock Hudson, James Dean and the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor. It’s unfortunate that this is remember primarily because it is one of only three feature roles for James Dean who died before this film was even released. I only say this because it tends to overshadow the work that Taylor was doing here. She was a larger-than-life personality and this role never even attempts to hold her back. And this type of character, even among Hollywood’s most popular leading women, was a rarity in this decade.


THE THICK-WALLED ROOM (Directed by Masaki Kobayashi)


I would implore people to watch more films that take place during and around WW2 from different countries. As Americans, we are given a very narrow view of this period of history. This film takes place in the immediate aftermath, in a prison run by the American occupiers for Japanese soldiers accused of war crimes. Kobayashi takes to task both the prosecutors of the said crimes as well as the Japanese government that seemed all too comfortable with allowing the rank-and-file soldiers to take the blame for their atrocities. As a result, this film was considered too controversial for consumption and it was shelved for four years before it could be released. 


BABY DOLL (Directed by Elia Kazan)


Sassy Tennessee Williams dialogue pours over as much sexual tension that a Mississippi cotton gin can take. The constant bickering between Karl Malden and Carol Baker as the titular character will likely grate upon your soul. Luckily, Eli Wallach is doing brilliant work here. His performance is perfect. The first time I watched this, I really thought that it was the only thing that this film had going for it. I found all the other characters to be annoying. Upon revisiting, I still think they’re annoying, but not unsympathetically. I must be getting more forgiving as I get older. 


EARLY SPRING (Directed by Yasujirō Ozu)


Ozu films have a very specific poetry to them. His overarching themes are often dictated in how he lingers. Establishing shots are a little longer. And where other filmmakers would cut seconds after the subject’s dialogue is over and they leave the set, Ozu stays just a bit longer, just watching the backdrop tell pieces of its own completely unrelated stories. These things beautifully undercut the significance of the various melodramatic plot lines he focuses on. Just in case the characters had any delusions of grandeur. In one scene near the beginning, two office employees are watching the mass of employees file into work in the morning. One marvels, “340,000 office workers…” To which the other replies, “So, I’m only 1/340,000th…”


A MAN ESCAPED (Directed By Robert Bresson)


Last month, we took a look at Bresson’s swan song, L’ARGENT (’83). This is from much earlier in his amazing forty-year long career. Although, he has never been my favorite of the French New Wave directors, Bresson probably exemplifies the style of the movement better than any other auteur. This is thrilling procedural showcasing the minimalist elegance that fans of foreign classic cinema would study for years.


THE KILLING (Directed by Stanley Kubrick)


In 1956, the cinematic world didn’t yet know what the name Kubrick would mean to it. This is his first great film and the more familiar you are with the rest of his filmography, the better it is. It serves as a precursor of much greater masterpieces and gives us more than a glimpse of the master craftsman at work. I love the ensemble cast lead by Sterling Hayden’s antihero ‘one last job’ character. I love the dolly tracking shots that this piece is riddled with. And I even love the hard-boiled narration that segues between its scenes. If you are just starting your journey into cenefilia, this is a great way to start studying Kubrick.  


INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Directed by Don Siegal)


The Second Red Scare fueled by years of McCarthyism was finally beginning to wind down in 1956. Public sentiment had already largely turned against these witch hunts and the mid-1950’s saw several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that would essentially put the nail in the coffin of the blacklisting. Senator McCarthy would be dead the following year.

This little horror flick served as the perfect metaphor for the fear felt during the height of the investigations. To some, the pod people, indistinguishable from your closest friends and neighbors, represented a subversive faction that was attempting to undermine traditional American values… But to others, like those who were blacklisted, the threat represented their industry colleagues like studio heads, Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner or directors like the previously mentioned Elia Kazan and actors like Robert Taylor or even the president of the Screen Actors Guild, self-described liberal Democrat, Ronald Reagan. These were their contemporaries, coworkers and fellow artists who, only a few years prior had blazed the trail against convention to create the American film industry. Now, be it out of self-preservation or genuine political conviction, they named names behind closed doors and in open Senate hearings, depriving many of their ability to make a living. “Body Snatchers” works even without this level of metatextuality but I will always maintain that art is created through the societal lens and historical context will serve to inform and elevate pieces like this one.