Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pee Wee (and Kurdistan)

Since we had so much fun with the windows on Halloween, I brought out the construction paper again. Here are some views of the Thanksgiving windows:

The shadows are really convincing, I think...

And here we are enjoying our leafy neighborhood.

Our Thanksgiving mission is to see The Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway. Whether this happens is up to the TKTS fates, whom will invoke the morning of.

To prepare, we rented the original Pee Wee Herman Show - the HBO special from when the show was at the Roxy in L.A. It occurred to me that this was the very first video my family ever rented, when we got our first VCR, and that I hadn't seen it since.

If you want a wave of nostalgia, watch Paul Reubens jump through that puffy jagged door, around 25 years old, and commit every ounce of his energy to a character that few people had yet seen or heard about. You instantly know why he was a hit. It's not just how funny and original he was- it's the energy. He's dancing a comical little ballet, painting each emotion with the full extent of his body. It's infectious, it's full of truth, and you can read it from the back row. The audience almost sounds like they're laughing too much, but they probably couldn't help it.

While I'm here, I need to tell you about a film I saw a few weeks ago: Half Moon. I have to admit, when I picked up the box and saw that it's a festival darling about Kurdish musicians making a bus journey through Iraq to get to a gig, I had certain expectations right away about the style of it, the message, and so on. These assumptions were mostly incorrect. There is a refreshing element of chaos in this film, and it enhances it in every direction- it makes richer the unfolding of the story, it brings mystery and realism at once to the experience, and it binds closer the characters who must negotiate it. I doubt that you will guess how this film ends. You might guess some of the events, but the way they happen, and the way it will make you feel- you won't anticipate it, and you'll want to talk about it later.

Jamie brought up some excellent points about Half Moon:
1. The bus is awesome. It has wood benches. And it's painted with images that mean something to the characters but not so much to us- one of many ways that the film reminds us we're only peeking in on these people's lives and we're not allowed to (nor could we) know everything about them.

2. We love Kako, the bus driver. His character is so big, and dominates so much of the first act, that we assumed the film would center on him. He becomes less essential as the film continues and we began to miss him.

3. Even though the story takes us across cold mountains, Half Moon has a warm feeling, coming from the cozy bus, from the family huddled together inside it, and from the personalities of the characters- watching Kako placate his angry wife was the moment I knew I loved this. You might say that this film gives you a Thanksgiving feeling. It's about strength in family and in togetherness. Have some hot apple crisp handy, as we did.

Thanks, Jamie, for finding this clip. We see here the old musician walking into a village of exiled Iraqi female singers. The woman of his dreams lives there- she has a voice with no equal, he is convinced- and he needs her for the performance. Notice the ominous cloud eclipse (best since Bonnie and Clyde).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween!

First of all, check out our lovely window treatment...

...and the resulting shadows in the room.

And now, a look

On Halloween of 2002 I wheeled a clunky tv many blocks through Fort Greene so I could watch The Exorcist with Jamie, my future wife. It was the one-year anniversary of our first meeting. We probably made beans and things from the French grocery and had a floor picnic with wine. (There wasn't much furniture.)

A few years later, in Philadelphia, we began our annual tradition of a Halloween film festival. The first was modest- Repulsion, Halloween, and Vertigo- but it established a rule that the films do not necessarily have to be considered horror films- anything macabre, or suspenseful, or dark in some way is good for the mix. The Picture of Dorian Gray, for example, has excellent horror elements, but might not be found on the same shelf as Sleepaway Camp at your video store. Or "thrillers" like the original Stepford Wives or Alien, which really should be called horror. Or Batman Returns, which will just make you want to put on a costume.

This year's series was prodigious and perhaps the best yet. Here now are our Halloween movie adventures of 2010:

Drag Me To Hell
Easily one of the best films of 2009. This was our second time. Sam Raimi has a strong identity as a filmmaker, but you wouldn't know it if you'd only seen Spiderman. Compare him to Tim Burton, a stylist who mostly succeeded in bringing his own ideas into the mainstream. Evil Dead fans wonder why Raimi's ideas should be less adaptable- where in his current work can we find a trace of that horror/comedy blend that launched his career in the first place? As if in reply, Drag Me To Hell reminds us that he's still here and he can still blow our minds if he wants to.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space
This will make you nostalgic for HBO in the 80's (along with Innerspace and Overboard. Hey, that itself sounds like a good film series idea...) Deserves every ounce of its cult status. I really admire the creativity of the premise, as well as the fascinating special effects. (My neighbor informs me that the film was made by brothers who had worked as special effects artists.) Jamie has good memories of watching it along side her sister when they were... probably too young even for this. Adrienne remains a devoted fan and owns the film. I loved seeing the chamber inside the spaceship before and after it got filled with cotton candy pods. And, of course, the shadow puppet scene. That would be legitimately cool in any movie.

Children of the Corn
What walks behind the rows? What the hell was it? We saw this one with the neighbors, who are well-versed horror fans. Not the best selection of the year. Despite a couple of good scares, it seemed to have unrealized potential- especially the supernatural element that came out of nowhere at the end.
By the way, when you google "children of the corn image" this is what comes up:

Return of t
he Living Dead
Now this is what I'm talking about- this movie has everything! What a riot of horror ideas crammed into one busy plot! The opening sequence is the best part, though- it builds to the precipitating incident in a gradual and often oblique way that seems to presage Tarantino's entire career. There are of course zombie films in every flavor, but I'll bet this is the most playful and delightfully wacky of the lot.

Let Me In
Powerful from beginning to end. The emotional complexity of the film is more than I even want to deconstruct. I'll just call it brilliant and let it live as a raw experience. We saw this one at the spooky throwback "Entertainment Cinemas" at Fresh Pond, under a full moon, part of a most excellent Friday night date.

The Worst Witch
We usually find a place on the program for this gem. Inflatable skeletons, pink pentagrams and hopeless green-screen special effects with no irony in sight. I dress as Tim Curry's character and sing and dance along. We treated the neighbors to this spectacle (some dancing, too) and they were surprisingly appreciative. What I realized this time around is that I love the attention to detail - when the girls are in potion class, there's a poster behind them with formulae explained in pictures; in the hallway, there's a sign with a broom crossed out (no flying in the hallways).

The House of the Devil
After The Worst Witch, the consensus was that someone needed to die, brutally, in the next feature. A search through Netflix brought us to The House of the Devil. This, in spite of the excellence of Let Me In, wins first prize in our little festival.

As we watched the opening minutes of The House of the Devil, it began to sink in that I was watching a scary movie- an actually scary movie, Hitchcock scary, Kubrick scary. Nothing scary at all had happened so far in the film, but still... there was a hushed yet unmistakable skill in how those first moments were handled, and when you see that, you think, if we're in the hands of craftsmen who can do that, what else can they do?

As it turns out, it seems that they could probably do anything. This is one of the most suspenseful and intelligent horror movies I have ever seen. The plot is simplicity itself- it's the delivery, which mounts the terror so patiently, not playing a single note that hasn't been earned, that is so exquisite. Even in a group of people joking and laughing all the way through it, the tension was almost unbearable.

Finally, Jamie and I made our way to Kendall Square for a matinee of Kuroneko, a 60's Japanese ghost story (samurai and such), perhaps not as masterful as Ugetsu but worth checking out. Kuroneko means "black cat," and apparently the Mexican title of the film is El Grito del Sexo, which Google translates for me as "The Scream of Sex." Now that is a good movie title. Why don't we have movies like that in the American multiplexes? Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star in... The Scream of Sex.

When a character named Raiko showed up and told a story about how he'd slain a demon, Jamie started jumping up and down- she'd recently read the legend to which the film was referring. No fair, I want to be told something I know about. It's exciting, right?