The Lighthouse – Near Perfect Horror

The Lighthouse – Near Perfect Horror

It is New England in the 1890’s. Two lighthouse maintenance officers, Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe) arrive on a remote island for a month long secondment which turns quickly into a nightmarish haunted and very wet situation. Their tenuous grip on reality slips away slowly in what I can only describe as one of the most brilliant and gripping horrors I have seen in a decade.

It is explosively scary and captivatingly beautiful in cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s fierce monochrome, like a daguerreotype of fear. And the performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson have a sledgehammer punch – Pattinson, in particular, just gets better and better. Guardian

Director Robbert Eggers (The Witch) has created something beautiful and maniacal here, deliberately intending to nauseate the audience. This film was shot in a nearly square 1:19:1 aspect ratio, and monochrome, which immediately throws one off. To add to this, most of the scenes are insular and claustrophobic. Their intensity increases incrementally which only adds to the excellence. Their roles are established quickly; Wake plays the stern weathered superior whose duty is to care for the prater Promethean light atop the lighthouse, whose enclosure Winslow is not allowed to enter. Winslow in the other hand is a ‘wickie’, a lower ranking officer who does all the menial tasks, including purifying the water and fending off rude seagulls.

The Lighthouse is itself a tall tale, the kind sailors might have once told over a frothy tankard of ale with a faraway look in their eyes. It is a folk tale deeply rooted in that tradition, soaked to the salty skin with superstition and sinister iconography. And yet… The Lighthouse is an altogether taller tale than most. There are plenty of moments where you’ll have no bloody idea what you’re watching. Other times it feels like an endurance test — like you’ve been stranded on an island in a storm with little chance of rescue. But surrender yourself to its strangeness and you might also find some enchantment in its light. Empire

The development of each character is masterfully portrayed, keeping one on the edge of an ever present precipice. The cinematography is bordering on art, with shots presented bluntly, without needing to resort to descriptive narrative or even words at times. My personal highlight of this movie was the scene where both Wake is talking down to a drunk Winslow, some time after a ship was supposed to come and pick them up for their next assignment. Of course, Winslow decided to beat a seagull to death, and seagulls contain the souls of dead sailors who revolted and created a storm so violent that no ship could reach them. The intensity of the scene and the way the camera looks up at Wake as he is berating Winslow gives us a really stunning perspective on both protagonists but also of the mastery of Dafoe’s acting capacity.

Dafoe’s mercurial movements, his rippling face and spooky smiles, dovetail beautifully, articulating Wake’s moods and adding to the destabilisation. He barks orders, sings a shanty, indulges in sentimentality and turns his yowling mouth into an abyss. NY Times

Overall this film scores a perfect ten for me. This is as much an inner as an outer horror. The direction, acting, cinematography, production and concept were all astonishing and tied together beautifully. The Lighthouse portrays the limits to which the isolated mind can be pushed, and the effects on those who go beyond those limits, making it a perfect film for our isolated times.

How long have we been in lockdown? Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect.

 

 

The Final Cut – Inventive and Moribund Obituary Thriller, 2004

The Final Cut – Inventive and Moribund Obituary Thriller, 2004

Omar Naim’s screenwriting and directorial debut gives us an inventive concept: the Zoe Chip, implanted in rich people’s babies’ brains and developing with them, records every aspect of their lives in glorious technicolour and Dolby Digital sound.  Cutters’ (glorified morticians of sorts) jobs are to take the whole footage of a person’s life and create a promotion reel. Taking advantage of people’s grief to make money is a reprehensible pass time. This moribund and unsettling profession sees Alan Hakman (Robin Williams) as its stalwart champion.

In this chilly sci-fi fantasy, Mr. Williams’s character, Alan Hakman, is the go-to guy for people who demand the ultimate obituary. Alan works as a “cutter,” anthologizing the greatest hits from people’s memories into mini-movies that are marketed as Rememories. His digests of golden oldies splice together the happier, upbeat moments he selects from so-called Zoe Chips, nearly invisible devices implanted in people’s brains at birth that record a lifetime’s experiences. NY Times

Editing anyone’s life story, living or dead, to give a better impression is a disturbing idea. Especially so when relating to profiting from such an activity. But Williams brings his trademark effortless brilliance to the role. He plays it as one would expect any successful mortician to be played, morosely, humbly and consistently. The only times when we see him waver from this placated state is when he is talking to the daughter of a Mr Bannister, a recently deceased lawyer whose family commissioned a final cut for a ReMemory (pseudo-funeral). Bannister was also an embezzler and child molester. Here Williams is nice and friendly, rather than impenetrable and stoic. Of course, one criticism I would have of this picture is that it hints at deeper plot possibilities and then shies away from them. Hakman has seen all of Bannister’s life (somehow pinpointing these two huge moral turning points within seconds of each other). He could have done something to right this wrong but instead used the conversation to elicit information about a childhood friend of his whom he saw when watching her father’s Zoe footage.

Meanwhile, a growing movement of tattooed anti-Zoe activists, in which a former cutter and colleague of Alan’s (Jim Caviezel) has become a leader, wants to steal Bannister’s implant and expose his corporate crimes. Roger Erebert

This brings me neatly to another criticism I have of the film. There are several messy sub plots which distract from the plot and take away any momentum the plot has built up. The bizarre memory from Hakman’s youth where he and a friend walked across a shaky plank and his friend fell off, scarring Hakman for life, was an unnecessary distraction. The idea that from this, Hakman dedicated his life to correcting the wrongs of people’s pasts, somehow absorbing and absolving their sins, while corroding his own soul in a pseudo martyrial fashion is far fetched.

Robin Williams in “The Final Cut”.

There are several other sub plots which add precious little to the film, like the brief romp Hakman has with Delila (Mira Sorvino), an ex girlfriend of a client whose re memory introduced us to Hakman’s profession. There is also a group of protestors led by an anti-Zoe implant cabal who have strange tattoos which are not at all explained.

If you can ignore the numerous unnecessary sub plots and focus instead on the ingenious concept and Williams’ brilliant performance, this will be an enjoyable film for all.

 

Ready Player One – Gamer Paradise

Ready Player One – Gamer Paradise

Usually when father recommends something to me, I will wait 4 months before actioning the recommendation then pass it off as my idea originally. This is a sneaky tactic which does not often hold water but it makes me feel better for being so slow to accept new ideas. One such new fangled idea is this wonderful film, Ready Player One. Directed by Steven Spielberg, this film tells the story of a dystopian future where a virtual reality game world, The Oasis, is the solar plexus of everyone’s lives and indeed livelihoods.

Tye Sheridan is Wade Watts, a lonely teenager living in Columbus, Ohio, which is now a gruesome favela of trailers stacked on top of each other. His only interest is in strapping on the VR headset and entering the alternative universe of the Oasis, as a mythic avatar named Parzival. Here is a limitless fantasyscape of the mind where people can play games and have experiences. Guardian

James Halliday, played by Mark Rylance, is almost deified from the get go. Before his death, he hid three keys throughout the Oasis which, if found, grant the finder a lucky Easter Egg – control of the Oasis. On the journey to the three keys we are subjected to a visual feast, the likes of which Ready Player One’s author, Earnest Cline, must have been immensely pleased with. There are myriad pop culture references. In one of the opening scenes, the race which is the first of the three key challenges, we see the DeLorian, Lara Croft, the A Team Van, a Plymouth Fury, Jurassic Park T-Rex and King Kong. This movie for me is partly a love letter to the 1980’s. It is so filled with movie and pop culture references that I felt dizzied.

A less accomplished director could get bogged down in this, causing the film to be a moving riff on a Where’s Wally? book, but Spielberg strikes the perfect balance. He knows exactly when to pull back to focus on the characters — especially the central relationship between Wade/Parzival and Samantha/Art3mis (Cooke), which gives the film a necessary and touching grounding in reality — and the story. Empire

The real masterful element for me was the dichotomy between reality and the virtual world. We are frequently thrust between both on account of IOI, a despicable organisation who are trying their utmost to win the three challenges and take control of the game for *shock, horror* profit! While on the face of it, the plot is really quite simplistic, this is more than made up for. Surprisingly, if you’ve seen the latest out of Hollywood (think Battleships), the acting is palpable, if not good! The plot is spurned by a burgeoning love between Parzival and Art3mis, whose online and offline interactions are well portrayed.

Spielberg’s visual inventiveness is unflagging. He stumbles only when trying to warm up the tech gadgetry with a personal touch, as when Wade and his friends, known as the High 5, finally connect in a reality that brings fantasy crashing down to earth. Sheridan and Cooke bring genuine romantic longing to their few scenes together. But the live-action segments of the movie are more buzz kill than bracing. Rolling Stone

Overall, what this film lacks in general plot, it more than makes up for in ingenuity and sheer visual brilliance. This is a rollercoaster of references which to lean more towards the 80s movie geek, but has most assuredly got something for everyone. See here for a full list of references used in the film.

 

The Martian – Otherworldly Epic

The Martian – Otherworldly Epic

I think of the reviews I have read, the Guardian (shock, horror) summarises this film most appositely:

Left for dead on the red planet following a scientifically anomalous but narratively necessary windstorm, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon, giving Cast Away-era Tom Hanks a run for his money) must hunker down for the long haul, knowing that any rescue mission is years away. Luckily, he is quite literally “the best botanist on the planet”, and after declaring that he’ll have to “science the shit” out of his Robinson Crusoe situation, he discovers that it is indeed possible to grow potatoes in his own poo. Guardian

In this strange and wonderful isolation time Netflix is our best friend. It pays to watch out for those special movies which come on every now and then in the deluge of vulgarity that Netflix spews out weekly. If you’ve managed to avoid such trite crass as Love is Blind (mocked here wonderfully by two discerning Drag Queens), The Martian offers a serious introspective into true isolation. If you thought the lockdown was bad, imagine not having access to shower facilities for 18 months.

For all of Scott’s visual prowess and Damon’s human centre, the unsung hero might be screenwriter Drew Goddard, lacing the storytelling with wit, energy and an approach to the science that is graspable without being over-simplistic. He also solves the book’s interior-monologue problem. Empire

The aspect of this film which most impressed me was that in spite of essentially being about one person on a deserted planet surviving for roughly one year and seven months, Ridley Scott kept it interesting and engaging throughout. This is no mean feat. Of course, Matt Damon being the star he is helped a great deal. The internal tribulations of the Director of Nasa (Jeff Daniels – Dumb and Dumber), as pitted against the desires of the crew who left Watney behind (lead by Jessica Chastain – IT Chapter 2) make for scintillating viewing. Another actor who knocked it out of the galactic park for me was Donald Glover (Community, writer and singer of This is America). Watch out for his nervous disposition providing a marvellous plot twist when you least expect it.

Matthew has asked me to make a special mention of a Lord of the Rings joke, which is not to be missed. A secret meeting, which decided the fate of Watney was called Project Elrond. Sean Bean, in Lord of the Rings, was appointed to look after the One Ring by Elrond before dying (shock, horror). Sean Bean plays Mitch Henderson, Hermes flight Director in The Martian. To those who, like me, do not find this funny in the slightest, here are some words from Matthew:

This is a direct nod to Lord of the Rings, and is funny because this meeting’s nomenclature is decided by the very actor who dies quite tragically in the former film. Boyo

Also, I would like to draw your attention to Nick Mohammed who plays Tim Grimes in the Martian. See him in the below video having his bottom roundly kicked by two other discerning Drag Queens:

 

Overall, the Martian is an excellent, high concept, high budget experience. This is one of the few films I have watched all the way through without pausing or skipping. This is high praise indeed from someone as impatient as I am. See the trailer below and catch it on Netflix before they take it down in favour of another mind numbing dating show. Whatever will they desecrate next?

 

Circus of Books – a Piece of Queer History

Circus of Books – a Piece of Queer History

This documentary is about the story of a family business which changed queer history for ever. But more specifically, it about an adult store in West Hollywood. Circus of Books takes us through the back stories of various characters involved in the rise and ultimate fall of the store. This includes an in depth look at the Mason family who ran the store as well as the tradespeople who furnished the store with its wares and even an interview with Jeff Stryker, a famous pornographic actor.

It wasn’t until Rachel Mason was a teenager that she discovered that what she had assumed was a quaint book shop her parents owned was in fact a gay porn and adult goods emporium – and that her strait-laced mum and dad were secretly one of the biggest producers of hardcore gay porn in the United States with titles like Rimnastics Gold (“It’s not just fantastic, it’s rimtastic!”) Now, she’s directed a tender, low-key documentary for NetflixCircus Of Books, which tells the story of the titular store’s place at the epicentre of gay LA life, and attempts to untangle her complex family dynamic. NME

But this documentary goes far beyond the realm of smut. Karen Mason’s Jewish faith plays a fairly central role, the AIDS crisis is ongoing in the background, ever present, and the US Government were waging a war on pornography during Circus of Books’ hay day. Together, this 90 minute documentary covers a lot of ground and tells each story with a lot of heart and grit.

Matthew and I particularly enjoyed the apparition of Justin Honard (AKA Alaska Thunderf***), a former worker at the store and current favourite drag queen of ours. Hearing him speak about his time at the store with such fondness was a piece in the puzzle of what this store meant for the queer community. This was a meeting place for minds and other less noble but equally rewarding pursuits. This was a place where queer people could go and be themselves and not be judged by a hostile outside world. What Circus of Books stood for was far more than profit margins. I emplore you to watch this documentary to find out more about what I mean on this point.

Queer life isn’t easy. I use the word queer loosely of course. Many associate this word with sexuality or more specifically; sexual perversion. But I think that the modern queer community built on the success of our predecessors in redefining the word to include many more aspects, if not all aspects. But at the centre of my understanding of the word is the word “Other”. To be queer, for me, is to be “Other”. Queerness is not quite fitting in with the comfortable image of the man on the Clapham Omnibus, to use a legal aphorism. Circus of Books explores Otherness to an extent and highlights the key years in the struggle to normalise Otherness. For that I can only thank it and humbly await Netflix’s next documentary.

 

Extra Ordinary – Novel Black Comedy

Extra Ordinary – Novel Black Comedy

Gifted us by first-time writer-directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, this inventive, wacky black comedy was shocking from start to finish. I must admit I won’t readily call Extra Ordinary a horror film as it lacks the classical and crucial element of fear. This is a comedy at its heart and an extremely special one at that.

Rural Ireland. Sweet-hearted Rose (Maeve Higgins) is a paranormal investigator-turned-driving instructor who blames herself for the death of her dad. When local widower Martin (Barry Ward) asks for help dealing with the abusive ghost of his deceased wife, she soon finds herself in the middle of a Satanic plot involving a washed-up American pop star (Will Forte). Empire

Higgins and Ward make an unlikely pairing but one which really comes off well, so to speak. The concept of this film is extraordinary in itself. The idea that a failed exorcist turned driving instructor, is called to put an end to a Satanic ritual is so outlandish. But on top of that you have sterling acting, wonderful cinematography and splicing in of Rose’s father’s paranormal VHS tapes as plot instruments. See, rose’s father was a paranormal expert and had a successful TV show and sold exorcisms. This wonderful editing ensures, for me, the cult status which Empire Reviews claim this film is destined for.

I’m not entirely sure Will Forte’s Satanist ritual was necessary in the end. This added a layer to the film which took away time from Rose and Martin’s wonderful awkward sexual tension fuelled repartees, especially towards the end when a new character is introduced. However I will say he is clearly the film’s most seasoned actor and plays the part of the washed out one-hit-wonder-30-years-on very well.

Overall, I think Extra Ordinary is flawlessly executed and a must see both in the comedy and ‘horror’ cannons. This will go down as a film which marked a turning point in comedy horror as a genre. I do hope you enjoy it at this trying time.