What’s Your Favourite Scary Movie?

The unexpected consequence of watching The Exorcist at age 13 (and being utterly terrified by it) was that the experience somehow inoculated me against future horror movie misery, at least in the various horror movies I’ve had occasion to watch since then. I don’t actively seek them out and haven’t watched many of the classics like Suspiria or even The Shining, but at least I’ve been able to weather lesser stuff like teen slasher flicks or Asian horror movies quite unflappably. My blood pressure still spiked when Sadako made her awful, ungainly stagger out of the television screen in Ringu, and I still jumped when the sloth victim in Se7en moved, but at least none of that stayed with me afterwards.

Mildly emboldened by this, I have usually indulged my occasional inclinations to scare myself whenever they arise, spending hours reading about the Zodiac killer after watching Zodiac, and reading various Scariest Movie Scenes lists for pointers as to which scary movie to watch the next time I feel like watching a scary movie. But then I got married and moved out of my family’s home to an apartment where things frequently go bump in the night due to wind and neighbours, and where I live alone every time Alec goes on a business trip.

Such factors coalesced into a perfect storm of goose-bumps when, after Alec had left for yet another business trip mere hours after we returned from Kyoto, I made the mistake of getting caught up online reading reviews and discussion of The Orphanage (which I’d watched and loved on the flight) in our empty dark home, and ended up terrified of our navy blue, child-height laundry basket which I had earlier placed carelessly at the end of a corridor.

The problem is that, unable to admit from this experience that I am obviously still a total pussy, I haven’t been able to stop this self-sabotage. I’m sorely tempted to finally watch The Shining and read Naomi’s Room and The Haunting of Hill House, and some say Exorcist 3 is hugely underrated and a worthy successor to the first film. But these are really all very bad ideas. I don’t even know why I’m writing this post other than to link back to in future, when I’m frantically typing my last ever blog post while Alec chops down the door with an axe.

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Longest 12 Hours Ever

We watched the 11.35 pm screening of Sweeney Todd last night. My appreciation of the second half of the movie was somewhat affected by a little hungry voice in my head going “pie pie pie pie want pie want pie pie pie pie want want want” continuously. This morning, Alec was running errands nearby and phoned me once he was done to ask what he could buy me for lunch. There was only one answer.

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Annie Are You OK?

Annie Proulx writes at The Guardian about “how her Brokeback Oscar hopes were dashed by Crash”, and is in general a bitter, pontificating, reductionist cow. It’s rather pathetic.

“Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good. And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash – excuse me – Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline.”

Thanks for the newsflash Annie, but I kind of abandoned the idea that award shows like the Oscars or Grammies actually reflected what I thought was good at around the age of fourteen. For your reference, that was also about nine years after I stopped doing kindergarten-level snarks like the one you just did about Crash. Here’s a tip for when you become a big girl – decide whether or not you care about Hollywood’s approval before it hands you a result you don’t like, and maybe then your bitching and whining might be worth something.

“There came an atrocious act from Hustle and Flow, Three 6 Mafia’s violent rendition of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”, a favourite with the audience who knew what it knew and liked. This was a big winner, a bushel of the magic gold-coated gelded godlings going to the rap group.”

This is quite amusing. One, the last sentence is hilariously, Bulwer-Lyttonesquely, bad. Two, the entire excerpt sounds like the sort of statement that would come from, say, someone living a cloistered life behind wrought-iron gates or in a deluxe rest-home, out of touch with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days.

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Braindump

Apologies to those hoping for more substantial content, this will just be a desperate catch-up list of quick notes on blogworthy things that I never found time to write properly about but don’t want to forget.

Books:

  • Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim (David Sedaris): Funnier, sadder, and generally more engaging than Barrel Fever.
  • A Burnt-Out Case (Graham Greene): Greene never disappoints. I don’t think this is an especially famous novel of his, but it is no less perceptive or original than any of his best. It also feels very elegantly structured – not usually something this O’level literature student is able to spot in a novel, but which seemed particularly outstanding in this one.
  • Maus: My Father Bleeds History (Art Spiegelman): Just Book I, I’ll read Book II as soon as the other borrowers in the library let me, and am aware that whatever commentary I attempt here is necessarily incomplete. Not sure if my feeling about the book is shared by others, but it seems to me that although it is ostensibly a fairly straightforward Holocaust story, the true heart of this book lies not in the story itself, but the fact and manner of its telling – by a protagonist to an author, from human speech into stylized illustration, and above all, by a father to a son.

Films:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Sorry for the blasphemy, but as someone who last read the books when I was 12, and therefore has no specific memory of them beyond an abstract aura of wittiness and a couple of ubiquitous email taglines, I found this thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Sideways: We didn’t rush to watch it in the cinema because it seemed like the sort of movie you could enjoy just as well on DVD, and it is. Despite its incredible acclaim I’m really struggling to come up with anything strongly positive to say about it. It felt like a slow car ride through pleasant but unremarkable countryside inhabited by people you care very little about. You don’t object to the journey, but you’d just as happily never take it again. Case in point: I can’t fault Paul Giamatti’s acting here, but despite playing a character far more likable than in his previous “loser” outing, something about American Splendor made me root for Harvey Pekar, and something about Sideways made me stop caring about Miles.
  • Downfall: The best film I have seen so far this year, and one of the top five of my life. Can you even imagine a similar film being made in Japan? [Very tangentially, the broader political/societal culture which gives fruition to films (among other manifestations) like this is one reason I think Germany is a great nation, and its disappointing contrast in Japan is one reason I have never been able to admire or embrace Japanese culture the way many of my peers seem to do.]

Events:

  • Poetic Licence: I love poetry on paper, but poetry readings much less, so I have to admit the only reason I went to this was that Yish had free tickets. Well, shame on me for my rock-bottom expectations, because this was one of the best poetry events I’ve ever been to. The team behind this should be very proud that they took on something quite ambitious – 46 poems to dramatize! – and did a pretty good job for most of them, finding and expressing the latent drama of the poems without compromising the primacy of their words. Yish gave an impromptu performance of Loud Poem to the cast afterwards, which was fun. The only part of the evening I didn’t enjoy was when Eleanor introduced me to Ivan Heng and, tongue-tied and star-struck, I stammered, “Hi…I’m a big fan…” AND NOTHING MORE.
  • Neil Gaiman in Singapore: My boobs came between me and Neil Gaiman on the Monday and Tuesday of his visit to Singapore (I’d had the surgery on Monday), but goddamit I wasn’t going to let them spoil my fun on Wednesday! (Yes, one can define queueing for 5 hours for two signatures as “fun” if the signatures in question are from Neil Gaiman.) By the time I got to the front, Neil was obviously pretty tired, so I didn’t get anything as elaborate as the Coraline rat I got the last time, but at least I got “Sweet dreams” on the last panel of The Sound Of Her Wings and eyes drawn in the skull on Neil’s “goodbye” message (just after the last page of The Wake). I mumbled something stupid about having had surgery two days before, but just having to come see him anyway. He stopped signing my book, and looked up at me. “And you’ve been waiting in this huge queue all this while?” “Um, yeah.” “You really shouldn’t have, but thank you so very much,” as he reached out and squeezed my hand. And just like that, five hours in line paled before thirty seconds of very genuine warmth from a man who, by the end of the night, had signed for a thousand people.

Batman Begins: Fear And Loathing In Gotham City

In my imagination, the jokey outtakes from Batman Begins would feature Christian Bale hamming up that typical actor’s query: “What’s my motivation??”

As Michael Chabon makes clear in The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, his literary homage to comic books, the key to a great comic superhero isn’t the costume, the name or even the powers, but the why – why does he do what he does in the way that he does it? Come up with an answer which is more interesting than the vagaries of “fighting crime” and “upholding justice”, and you might just create a legend.

In Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan explores “the why” and gives us what all the other Batman movies couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Apart from weirdness in the start where Bruce Wayne is apparently young and restless in a country full of Asiatics who all speak English like David Carradine, an annoying Michael Caine as Alfred whose accent wobbles Thatcher-like between posh and decidedly un, and the fact that I personally find Christian Bale bloody ugly and wish he’d keep his bat mask on all the time, I think Nolan succeeds spectacularly. In these dark cultural days for UCL alumni when Coldplay rule album charts, it’s nice to have a fellow alumnus actually doing something you’re proud to be associated with, albeit incredibly indirectly. (Ricky Gervais, Antony Gormley and Gandhi, I’m totally proud of y’all too!)

So, “Batman” is cobbled together from Bruce Wayne’s childhood fears, residual guilt from his parents’ deaths, advice from mysterious mentor Henri Ducard to “become what you fear most”, his view that Gotham’s criminals need to fear a symbol rather than just a man, and finally, the relative ease of making good bat-shaped ninja stars as compared to, say, wombat-shaped ones. Wombatman’s ninja stars would suck, though I guess he’d probably sell more Happy Meals. I’d buy a Wombatman Happy Meal.

But I digress. At the risk of sounding a bit high-school film class, I’ll say I think the theme of fear is well developed and explored in this film, and at the risk of sounding like a pretentious fuck I’ll also say I liked the modern allegory of the ploy to destroy Gotham by creating artificial and irrational fear in its populace. Cillian Murphy is great as Scarecrow, and the trippy sequences where he induces terror and dons his mask look soooo Dave McKean. Also, he’s dead sexy, and can lock me up and play scary mask games with me any time.

Although I’m only tangentially familiar with the Batman/DC Comics universe (through the bits of it that appear in Sandman), one thing which stood out for me was how much Batman Begins felt like reading a good graphic novel – meticulously intelligent, plot-driven yet dense with interesting ideas, and visually transporting. All in all, it is a stunning example of how once in a while, movie adaptations don’t end up raping their comic book originals in the ass.

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No One Will Watch The Watchmen / Mute Miyazaki

Random surfing led me to the following nuggets of information at Sci Fi Wire:

  • The Watchmen movie isn’t happening any more. Oh well. As I wrote a while ago (in response to a comment telling me that a Watchmen movie was in the works), I had my doubts about how well they could adapt it. I’m still not going to stop compiling my dream cast list when bored on the bus though. Recently, Dennis Hopper came to mind as The Comedian.

  • The person making an English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle had to do so without any input from original director Hayao Miyazaki. Upon sending a long list of his questions to Japan he was warned that Miyazaki probably wouldn’t answer, and true enough, he didn’t.

    “We didn’t add anything that wasn’t there in the film. So, of course, we are faithful to the dialogue that’s there. But in the end, you just kind of have to trust your own instincts on a lot of things, and that’s apparently what Miyazaki [who did not respond to Docter’s questions] expects from us.”

    I don’t know if the English dub of Spirited Away was done the same way, but if it was then I guess that might be one reason people don’t tend to be that satisfied with it. And unlike Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle is pretty damn incoherent to begin with. It seems a curious way to do things to me – certainly an interesting experiment in film interpretation, but not the best way of producing the only version of Howl’s Moving Castle most casual English-speaking viewers will ever see.

Burning (Rhetorical) Questions, I Have

  • Why, if you are on your way to arrest a Sith Lord, do you only bring 2 other Jedi Masters, who appear totally unprepared for violent resistance?
  • Why, if you are attempting to sneak into the heart of a planet that the enemy has taken hostage and surprise the enemy general in his lair, do you choose a huge multi-coloured lizard which regularly emits high-pitched squeals as your stealth vehicle?
  • Why, if you use state-of-the-art computer graphics to populate and landscape entire planets and orchestrate massive outer space battles, can you not airbrush the volcano off Ewan MacGregor’s forehead?

But you know, these are better burning rhetorical questions than I had for Attack Of The Clones. Those were:

  • Why?
  • WHY?
  • WHYYYYYYY???!!!!!
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All Your Merchandising Base Are Belong To Us

Here are some Revenge Of The Sith products I think someone should make.

  • Chia Kenobi: Adaptable to Chia ZZ Top or Chia Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart if you get tired of Star Wars hype.
  • Cabbage Patch Padme: Am I the only one who thinks that the most awe-inspiring special effect in the movie was how ugly they managed to make Natalie Portman?
  • General Grievous photo holder: Holds 4 Kodak moments.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers Hallmark cards: For all true romantics, now with exclusive Anakin/Padme dialogue not featured in the final cut of the movie: “You hang up.” “No, you hang up.” “You!” “You!” (Nausea not included.)
  • Darth Gyrater: Responds to shitty film-making with swivelling “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” action.
  • SimSellout: How much merchandising opportunities can you spot and exploit in one Star Wars movie? Only the shameless survive.

[I actually enjoyed the film quite a lot, it’s just that for me taking the piss out of Star Wars is a big part of the fun of Star Wars.]

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The Dude Abides In Streatham

The Guardian reports from The Dude Abides, an annual festival for London fans of The Big Lebowski (held in Streatham Megabowl, Matt!):

“Alongside myriad versions of The Dude (lank hair, woolly cardigan, shorts) there was every interpretation of the film’s significant scenes you could think of: three men in red Lycra catsuits were wielding giant scissors, re-enacting a nightmare The Dude has about having his testicles chopped off by nihilists; the wheelchair-user Jeffrey Lebowski mentions having his legs blown away by “some Chinaman in Korea” – a Chinaman turned up clutching two severed legs.”

I salute the Chinaman. London needs more cool Chinamen.

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