New House, Same Ghosts (True Detective Season 2, Episode 1)

If Season 1 of True Detective is a tunnel, twisting into a grim story, then Season 2 is a doorway that locks behind you. It’s abrupt, solid, violent, and it causes panic. Things seem familiar: abusive, brass-knuckle-bearing cops (Colin Farrell as Detective Ray Velcoloro), definitive statements about Who We Are, and a posed corpse. Should you keep going? Or, for fear of the unknown and wasted time, do you go back? This season doesn’t so much ask the question as snarls it angrily, gnashing its boozy foaming teeth. Come on in, but be warned: nothing is the same the second time.

In the world of Season 2, no one has the option of going back. All the main characters have already succumbed well before the first episode to their inner struggles. They already wear their demons like a coat of armor, protection against a nasty world that threatens to devour them. If they aren’t drunk, they’re speeding down the highway in the dark. If they aren’t ordering hits on incendiary writers, they’re beating up a bully’s father in front of him. The only thing that feels good is destruction. While last season had characters whose lives were blown apart by the story, this season’s players are already scattered pieces of a long-smoldering bomb site, struggling to make it to another episode. 

Judging by the mostly-scathing reviews of the pilot episode, the anger is contagious. Critics and viewers are disappointed, they think this season is stereotypical, albeit darker-than-your-average, cop drama. They’re right in some ways: going from 2 main characters to 4 has left no room for the philosophical ramblings of last season. The pilot is crammed with so much information about the characters, there seems to be a long way to go for nothing new. What’s left? Grime, death, and atmosphere. Combined with an ominously beautiful score, The Promise of Creepy Visuals is what I’ll be watching for. One look at our victim’s house features the most odd & fascinating image in the entire pilot: a life-size, disturbingly realistic sculpture, floating in a pool, of a dead and naked woman bathing in milk. Shut the door behind me, I’m in.

Under the Skin

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            With each catch of her prey, Laura [Scarlett Johansson] becomes increasingly undressed. The first is easy – she simply unzips her shirt and looks back, coyly. By her last catch, she is completely naked as her prey follows, so hypnotized they don’t even notice as they are swallowed into the glassy black floor. Under the floor they turn into bubbly balloons, bursting when their skin is soggy enough into a bloody slurry Laura’s alien character uses for a mysterious, secret purpose. These scenes are a visual wonder, and almost impossible to describe. Like the movie, they have to be experienced.

            Under the Skin explores the two sides of humanity in stages – the confidence of getting what you want, then the nervousness and hesitation of not knowing what you want or how to get it. Initially, and confidently, Laura does familiar dull things to catch a man: driving around endlessly, the pointless game of flirting, searching for a mate that fits your standards and also finds you attractive. Laura’s expressionless alien fits right in – she is strikingly beautiful, but stomps around as if in a determined sleepwalk. She never is attached to anyone nor does anyone feel attached to her. Is her experience really all that different from being human? Laura glides through Scotland soundlessly in her van, inviting men who fit her standards [single, alone, and not freaked out by her van] back to her run-down, isolated house. In this house is her web – the reflective black floor that no one questions.

            After she hypnotizes Tim, a facially disfigured man [and the only one ever to be suspicious of her], back to her house, she starts to see herself differently. This begins the movie’s exploration of insecurity. As she sees a fly trying in vain to get out through a closed door, she makes a connection – the men are just her flies. To be human is to make connections. Examining her face in a mirror, it is the first time she has had a visible emotion – pity. Confused by her rather obvious beauty and Tim’s difference from it, she starts to change from the outside in. This brings out a need in her to explore her humanity, and her skin. She watches people instead of hunting them. Overwhelmed in the city, Laura stumbles through rocky forest just to experience the rain, the fear of slipping, footsteps finally hesitant.

            Watching, for once empathizing, with the human version of Laura, I became nervous for her. What about all the bad feelings, and experiences, that can come with living? After all, Laura isn’t the type of alien with superpowers, just a really creepy death-pool. Being human opens her up to pain. Laura finds herself hunted, and quickly becomes scared and weary of this human experiment. She peels off her defining trait – her skin.

            What is underneath, I must leave to you. While the pacing and length of Under the Skin will test most viewers’ patience, its’ beauty is far worth it. It soaks in the feelings of Laura’s brief existence – good, bad, mesmerizing, melancholy, and visually stunning. One’s beauty does not determine how isolated, how alien they may feel inside. Life is nothing without the feelings, as scary and painful as they can be. Take those away, and you have nothing but a hunt and a cage – the betrayal of the skin.

Lessons of What Not To Do In A Mass Shooting (Lesson of the Evil, 2012)

have shotgun, will look intense

have shotgun, will stare-down

Lesson of the Evil [2012, by Takashi Miike] is a deliciously taut, bloody film that follows a handsome, charismatic high school English teacher named Hasumi. Hasumi also happens to be a psychopathic killer [Example of what constitutes a psychopath: while killing a fellow heartless bastard, Hasumi says “You like to kill for pleasure? I don’t”]. After some dabbling in forced suicides, faked suicides, and straight-up homicide, Hasumi winds up at night with a shotgun in his school. Just his luck, there is a class of about thirty students setting up a “House of Horrors” [the irony isn’t exactly subtle] in the school overnight. With one adult to supervise [what world are they living in? JAPAN? ANSWER ME], locked doors, and a cleverly blocked cell phone signal, the massacre scene plays out half as a thriller, half as a dark, dark comedy. To wit:

– When involved in a mass, unexpected killing in a locked building, (especially if you already have the advantage of dead bodies on you) PLAY DEAD. Don’t scream, don’t run, and don’t do something as ridiculously pointless as whine “BUT WHY?” to the killer. He’s already decided this is happening. Attempts at empathy will be shot in the foot, head, and anywhere else visible.

– Don’t keep mentioning said killers’ name over and over in protest or acknowledgement. This forces him to confront how many people now know he’s a killer, and will only prove to make him angrier [and it won’t help you, at all. You’ll still die].

– NEVER kiss/make out with/have sex with your high school teacher. Besides the disgusting moral lines crossed, he just might! Kill you later because you already know he is into the crossing of moral lines [and why is he asking what message boards you can get into? RUN, BITCH, RUUUN].

– If you’re gonna hide from a killer outside, close the goddamn window! Billowing curtains are the hugest red arrow in any horror film.

– If you know too much, shut up. Or only talk in the woods, which is apparently the only place in the world that can’t be bugged.

– If the killer asks “is that you?” While you’re dying, even if he sounds nice, KEEP DYING. FOR FUCKS SAKE DON’T ANSWER HIM

Lastly, and Most Importantly, if someone is too handsome, kind, intelligent, outgoing, & just generally way too knowledgeable to be believed…..don’t believe him. Rat out that bitch. Particularly if their theme song is “Mack the Knife” (and they whistle it. Creepily. While working out naked. As one is wont to do).

yuck

Coming Up, Recent News, etc.

next up: Only God Forgives [or as I like to call it, Only A Mother Could Love This Movie]. They beat the life out of his acting. Emotionless the entire film. Waste of a Gosling

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lately i’ve been watching a lot of Teen Wolf, because of the amazing Dessert Stand-Offs:

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that is while i’m not sobbing over The Killing [fuck me if that wasn’t the hardest episode of anything to watch EVER]:

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also the new greatest show happens to be Orange Is The New Black [an all-female cast that’s flawless? WHAAAAA – yeah, us ladies knew this was a long time comin]:

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Holy Crap! [Holy Motors]

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In the beginning of Holy Motors, director/writer Leos Carax wakes up in a dark room, lights a cigarette [because he is French, duh], and extends a finger to open a lock with a now-whirring mechanical finger. Pushing the door that has appeared in his forest wallpaper, he arrives in a movie theater balcony, looking down upon theatergoers. He faces a whirring blank screen, seemingly empty film stock waiting to be filled with a story. The people are waiting to be entertained. They will get their wish and then some, waddling out of the theater, heads bloated with so many different stories at once, sparks flying in their brains, asking verbatim: “…What the fuck just happened?”

The theater is Carax’s mind, nothing more, and what the fuck just happened is an extremely entertaining, well-written, amazingly-performed peek inside his head, uncut. It’s what I wish Enter the Void had been after learning Void director Gaspar Noe had been inspired to make the film by watching another film on magic mushrooms. Holy Motors is some kind of insane, nicotine-soaked trip, which makes the ubiquitous white limos feel perfect – if you’re going to go insane, do it in style; Do it like the French!

Holy Motors follows the performer Oscar for one day at his job. Oscar is a middle-aged Frenchman who, once you see him, will agree that he looks impeccably French – not conventionally attractive, short, bald, with pock-marked skin. His face, however, is so compelling, how he looks becomes unimportant. Everything about him, you will see, is compelling – it is his job. He drives around in a limo all day, shuffling in and out of different costumes, eating different foods, feeling different moods depending on the job he is assigned. On paper it seems like a fairly simple job – you are randomly assigned a character to play, in real life, and it is up to you and you alone to make that character a hundred percent believable to normal people who happen to be observing. You do the makeup, the hair, the really disgusting dirty, overgrown toenails should that happen, [and it does] to be necessary. If you have to make yourself look ten years older, you had better know how to do that, while driving in the back of a limo with a portable stage wardrobe. If you have to bite someone’s fingers off to appear weirder, you do it. And if you have to kill someone, you do it – just watch out for when they get back up, excuse themselves because “they will be late for another appointment”, and shuffle out of the room covered in blood.

The refusal to explain anything, to leave storylines dangling infinitely in our heads, is a big part of why I loved watching this film. Usually this, combined with multiple storylines, is a horrible strategy that leads to frustration [Crash, anyone?]. Usually films don’t dare to go this insane in front of our very eyes, because we can’t handle it. Somehow, someway, Leos Carax has done the impossible and made a film about the illusion of film, with no apology, and made it entertaining, bizarre, impressive, confusing, and electric. Dennis Lavant, who plays Oscar, is the one constant throughout the film, and also delivers one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. He literally plays every type of character fluidly, believably – father, lover, benefactor, banker, musician, monster, killer [a few times over], and best of all – insane sewer freak. Going into any more depth about the film would simply be saying too much. Expect anything and do yourself a favor by not taking it too seriously – just enjoy the trip.