Quick Takes: Maps to the Stars, Consumed

Maps_to_the_StarsMaps to the Stars (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson, Kiara Glasco, Sarah Gadon
Directed by David Cronenberg

Maps to the Stars is definitely a better film than the disastrously bleak and boring Cosmopolis, but it’s still nowhere near as great or intriguing as most of Cronenberg’s other works. I must admit to generally disliking most films about Hollywood, though, so this one had more working against it than the average film, Cronenberg or otherwise. Mia Wasikowska delivers a great, subtle performance as our odd and mysterious lead, but in terms of story the “big reveal” and the conclusion aren’t as engaging as the character deserves. Julianne Moore stands out as well, but by this point in her career, that’s to be expected. Originally the film was to star Viggo Mortensen (in the John Cusack role) and Rachel Weisz in Moore’s place; with this knowledge, I would’ve instead loved to see Viggo and Julianne together, as I’m not much of a Cusack fan and I don’t see Weisz as being especially suited to this role. In any case, Maps to the Stars is a weird, disappointing movie, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. A few weeks ago, I read about Cronenberg having challenges funding his films these days, and honestly after the one-two punch of Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars, I can kind of understand why the money men are hesitant. But whatever, he’s David Cronenberg! He should be allowed to make whatever he wants, y’know?

consumedConsumed (2014)
by David Cronenberg

fourstar

After recently going through all his films, I had to read Cronenberg’s debut novel. It’s a brilliant piece of work, as good as his best films, without question. A welcome return to body horror that consistently made me uncomfortable (in a good way) and had me squirming and wincing in empathetic pain. To achieve that with a film is impressive, but to do so without a single image is something else entirely! Consumed is a testament to the power of Cronenberg’s craft as a writer and a storyteller, and it in no way feels like a debut novel. It’s the work of a seasoned, visionary artist, and anyone who loves his films should check it out. Consumed is easily my favorite Cronenberg project since eXistenZ. His last couple of films weren’t great, but make no mistake: Cronenberg has definitely still got it! If you’re intrigued by a book that brings together body horror, journalism, 3D printing and cannibalism, then Consumed is for you!

Book Review: Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies (2013)

IMG_0017Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies, Vol. 1 (2013)
by Jean Lukitsh

Published as an E-Book on August 15, 2013

fourstar


I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about martial arts films, but prior to reading Jean Lukitsh’s Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies Vol. 1, I knew absolutely nothing about the birth of Chinese cinema or how deeply embedded the martial arts genre has always been within it. There was always a part of me that imagined the early days of Chinese film were lost to the sands of time; China is not known for their film preservation, and few films from before the 1940s or ’50s seem to be available to someone as far removed from China as I am. So I was surprised and fascinated to find that this book not only contained stories from the silent era, but also included a few links to clips of some surviving films, including this rather impressive fight scene from the 1927 film Romance of the Western Chamber (which, oddly enough, is available on DVD from Netflix or Amazon in its entirety)!

Names like Ren Pengnian or Zhang Shichuan previously meant nothing to me, but the book has enlightened me to their contributions to the formation of martial arts as a genre, and to Chinese cinema overall. Some of the most interesting passages in the book even connect some of the pioneers of Chinese cinema with later greats like Sammo Hung or others. Sammo Hung is well-known as one of the multi-talented filmmakers responsible for the dominant rise of the kung fu film through the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s, but to find out that his grandmother, Chin Tsi-ang (later known as Mama Hung), was one of the genre’s first female stars was mind-blowing. I later looked into her career in more depth and found out that she continued working throughout her life, appearing in tons of classic Shaw and Golden Harvest films as an extra, and one of her final performances can be seen in Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that the martial arts genre began in the silent era. I was under the impression that there were some kung fu and wuxia films sprinkled throughout Chinese film history, but that it wasn’t a fully fledged genre until the mid-’60s when the Shaws kicked off their color productions. In fact, the Shaw Brothers were merely revitalizing an already well-established genre. This becomes plainly apparent in their selection of Temple of the Red Lotus as their first color martial arts film, as it is a remake of the first martial arts smash hit, The Burning of Red Lotus Temple (1928, directed by Zhang Shichuan).

But I don’t want to go into too many specifics and ruin the book’s impact. Fans of classic martial arts films will learn much about their beloved genre in a very quick and easy read. It’s a pretty short book, too, but the amount of information and history packed into it will astound you. I’m definitely going to read it again to help absorb some of the intricacy of the who’s who aspect to the history, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other fans felt the need to do the same.

And the best part is that it’s a steal at only $2.99! If only film school was so affordable. The end of the book teases four future volumes, and since it’s already been over a year since this volume was released, hopefully Vol. 2 isn’t too far off.

Video Book Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films

What’s this? That’s right, I did a video review! I’ve considered doing things like this, as well as appearing on podcasts, for a while now, and this art book presented a perfect opportunity to try out the video review thing. It’s a completely foreign thing for me to do, and surprisingly I recorded it all in one take with no edits! I also did all my own stunts. Paper cuts are a real concern when you’re doing something like this. While I was unable to secure the insurance necessary for the shoot, I threw caution to the wind and shot it anyway! Take that, you bastards in suits!

Anyway…

WATCH as I nervously try to think of what to say next!

SEE as I fumble with turning pages while on-camera!

LISTEN as I go on tangents about CG ruining film and make jokes about apes!

READ what is probably the longest post title you’ll ever see, unless I’m intentionally trying to make one longer!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films was released by Titan Books on July 8, 2014 and it is available now via Amazon and other book retailers! If you’re a fan of the films and are also interesting in filmmaking, definitely consider picking up a copy (preferably by clicking that Amazon box above)!

Disclosure: Titan Books provided me with a review copy of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films.

Magazine Review: Full Moon Presents Delirium #1 (Feb/Mar 2014)

delirium-issue01-cover-emailThe last couple of years have been a great time to be a Full Moon fan. There have been many new films, and a lot of them have been great bursts of genre fun. There was also the debut of Full Moon Streaming, a Netflix-like venture that I was initially skeptical of, but after subscribing I can attest to its excellence and wealth of great content that extends throughout the entire Full Moon universe and beyond. And now Full Moon brings its fans yet another great new addition to its arsenal: Delirium magazine, edited by current Fangoria editor Chris Alexander.

Simply put, if you’re a Full Moon fan that likes a good horror mag (and who doesn’t), Delirium is a great magazine. But if you’re still on the fence about purchasing an issue or subscribing, you probably want more concrete details as to why it’s so great. First off, the printing itself is superb. This is a high-quality, full-color magazine printed on excellent quality paper with a thick card stock cover. If you were so inclined, these luscious pictures would be worthy of cutting out and placing on your bedroom wall or other such place of honor.

This reminds me of a time back when I was a young, budding horror fan. My friend used to bring his Fangorias to school and we’d cut out the best photos from them and tape them to our desks. Who knows why our 6th grade teacher allowed us to do this with gruesome images from various ’80s & ’90s horror films, but whatever, she let it slide and it will always be a treasured memory. Looking through Delirium brought back that surge of flipping through a horror mag, reminding me of the power that a simple printed picture used to contain. The availability of information and photos through the Internet has largely killed this periodical medium, but in my opinion it’s still worth saving and Delirium does a great job at that.

Continue reading Magazine Review: Full Moon Presents Delirium #1 (Feb/Mar 2014) →

Book Review: Snowpiercer, Vol. 2: The Explorers (1999/2000)

SnowPiercer_2Snowpiercer Vol. 2: The Explorers [Le Transperceneige: L’arpenteur] (1999)
Snowpiercer Vol. 3: The Crossing [Le Transperceneige: La traversée] (2000)
First published in English by Titan Comics, 2014 (in a single volume)

Written by Benjamin Legrand

Art by Jean-Marc Rochette

Expectations: Moderate.


The end of the first Snowpiercer volume is quite definitive. There’s seemingly little room for a sequel, and even less need for one. But this ending — like a lot of the book — does leave quite a few unanswered questions, so I went into Vol. 2 hoping for some better understanding of these threads. I can’t say that Vol. 2 really does that, though, as it actually just introduces its own share of unanswered questions.

The grand point, I suppose, is that these little mysteries of life are rarely explained and never will be. It is a part of life to wonder and to continue on with what knowledge we have. It is also a natural part of humanity to question and challenge authority, so the story is always informed by the central question: Would you prefer pleasant, placating lies meant to control and influence you, or the hard, honest truth? Like similarly themed stories (Dark City, The Matrix, countless Woody Allen films), it all comes down to whether an individual is happier believing in fantasy or knowing reality.

Continue reading Book Review: Snowpiercer, Vol. 2: The Explorers (1999/2000) →

Book Review: Snowpiercer, Vol. 1: The Escape (1984)

SnowPiercer_1Snowpiercer Vol. 1: The Escape [Le Transperceneige: L’échappe] (1984)
First published in serial form in À Suivre, 1982
First published in English by Titan Comics, 2014

Written by Jacques Lob

Art by Jean-Marc Rochette

Expectations: High.


Snowpiercer is a graphic novel that is just coming to prominence in the West. It has recently been translated and published in English for the first time by Titan Comics, in anticipation of Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film version that will hit the States at some point in 2014. The film is Bong’s English-language debut, as approximately 80% of the film was shot in English, with notable American stars — Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, etc. — filling out many of the roles. So with that in mind I dove head-first into the unique and desolate vision of the future that Snowpiercer provides.

The title refers to the unique setting of the comic, a 1001-car train which never stops. At some indiscriminate point in the book’s past, there was a cataclysm that caused the Earth’s climate to be completely and irrecoverably damaged, sending our world into a neverending, harsh winter too cold for humans to survive. What remains of human civilization is aboard the Snowpiercer, but even in these dire times social classes and economic inequality segment the population. Those in the tail cars are cramped together and left without food to eat or even windows to provide light; they are prisoners of a rolling ghetto (to use one of the book’s terms). Meanwhile, those in the cars closer to the engine live in luxury.

Continue reading Book Review: Snowpiercer, Vol. 1: The Escape (1984) →

Book Review: The Siege at Trencher’s Farm (1969)

The Siege at Trencher’s Farm (1969)
by Gordon Williams
Re-published by Titan Books August 16, 2011

Filmed as Straw Dogs by Sam Peckinpah in 1971
and remade as Straw Dogs by Rod Lurie (opening Sept 16, 2011)


Lately my reading has been slacking. Books take me months to get through, as I fall asleep mere seconds after picking them up. When I sat down to read The Siege at Trencher’s Farm, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get through it in time to post this review. To my surprise I read the book in a couple of sittings and my eyes never drooped once, in fact, each chapter excited me to soldier on to the next as the sunlight dwindled and day turned to night.

George & Louise Magruder, along with their daughter Karen, move to Louise’s native England, in hopes that George can get some peace and quiet to finish his book. This isn’t a permanent move, it’s something more akin to an extended vacation, so they rent a farmhouse in the quaint village of Dando, where outsiders are not taken to kindly. Tensions run high from the beginning between the townsfolk and the newcomers, but also between the family members, with everything ultimately coming together in a feverish climax of stunning violence.

Continue reading Book Review: The Siege at Trencher’s Farm (1969) →

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