Friday, January 24, 2014

24 EXPOSURES: SWANBERG'S SEXY FORAY INTO CRIME DRAMA

"I'm sure there are photos of flowers out there that would blow my mind, but you know, I just haven't seen 'em." -Billy

It feels like every "indie darling" in the last few years have had Joe Swanberg's name attached to it in some way, shape, or form.  The prolific demi-god of "mumblecore" movies, Swanberg's films are commonly adventures into the world of low-budget dramas showcasing relationships, technology, filmmaking, and love.  Films like DRINKING BUDDIES, HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY, and his Sundance hit HAPPY CHRISTMAS would paint Swanberg to be the filmmaker both critics and hipsters would recommend to their pals.

However, with things like his V/H/S segment (The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger), AUTOEROTIC (co-directed with Adam Wingard), and 24 EXPOSURES, it's proven that Swanberg is capable of creating a wide variety of films without ever losing the signature Swanberg touch.  If filmographies were ice cream, Swanberg would be Baskin Robin's 31 flavors.

Wingard personifying the stuff he reblogs on tumblr.
 Swanberg's filmmaking style generates a product very reminiscent of the "slice of life" theatre movements.  His films feel authentic, look natural, and sound completely unrehearsed.  Well, in the case of that last description, it's true.  24 EXPOSURES focuses on Billy (Adam Wingard), a fetish photographer specializing as corpse/crime scene style photography.  Think the death photo project from the Fitzgerald sisters in GINGER SNAPS and you've got an idea of what Billy tries to make sexy.  He lives with his collaborator girlfriend Alex (Caroline White) who has a penchant for picking out models that look like that could be her sisters, and if the model is willing, instigating threeomes.  It seems as if his life of shoot, fuck, repeat is working out well, until a depressed homicide detective named Michael Bamfeaux (Simon Barrett) shows up to ask about the murder of one of his models.

Another addition to the "Making it really hard to find pictures of these two individually," file.

The film plays with the idea of voyeurism, and it's clearly reflected in the filming style.  We see the photos of Billy and Michael's real crime photos and it's really difficult to distinguish which is which.  It forces us to ask a lot of questions regarding artist's integrity, artist's motivation, and the intent of artists working in non-traditional formats. Watching this film feels like intruding into the world of an artist and spying on the downward spiral of a depressed man trained on how to use a gun.  Of all of Swanberg's films, this was one of the more interesting to watch.  It's unsettling and feels like what the Investigation Discovery crime dramatizations want to be when they grow up.  If you came looking for flannel and kitschy situations, you came to the wrong movie.

At least this white van has windows, amirite?



Despite being about a murder, the film focuses on the Swanberg standard of personal relationships.  The way that the lives of these people intertwine and interact are complex, interesting, and perhaps all too familiar...which is exactly how it's supposed to be.  Perhaps the naysayers of Swanberg's films are uncomfortable because his characters are a little too identifiable.  Considering it's another leap into the realm of "directors as actors" style of Swanberg films, the acting isn't great.  When Wingard and Barrett are on screen together, the chemistry spikes up and their performances really shine, but that should be expected coming from the two filmmaking partners.  The story feels very true to life, which may lead this film to very polarizing opinions.  It doesn't feel like a movie, it feels like real life. Sorry, but there's really no escapism in this one. There isn't a cinematic gut-punch, but the film didn't feel unsatisfying.  I may be in the minority when giving this film a thumbs up, but I found 24 EXPOSURES to be a crime drama pretty unique to itself.  Swanberg himself admits in his cameo that this sort of story is "the sort of thing that happens in real life and doesn't make for compelling, commerical books."  It may not be your cup of tea, but I enjoyed my serving.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

WOMEN OF THE WEEK: VERA AND TAISSA FARMIGA

Taissa (L) and Vera (R) Farmiga
Despite the 22 year age difference, sisters Vera and Taissa Farmiga have a lot more in common than just genetic coding.  The beautiful and talented Farmiga sisters are also slowly becoming two of the most well-known faces in horror.  Vera Farmiga is known for her roles in ORPHAN, THE CONJURING, and currently plays Norma Bates on the PSYCHO inspired TV series, BATES MOTEL.  Following close behind is little sister Taissa Farmiga, the breakout star of AMERICAN HORROR STORY and the upcoming film MINDSCAPE.

Her skin is like porcelain.
Taissa Farmiga is the youngest of the seven Farmiga children.  Although she had absolutely no interest in acting, she made her on screen debut in 2011 playing the younger version of her sister Vera in the film HIGHER GROUND, which was also Vera Farmiga's directorial debut.  It was after attending the Sundance Film Festival that Taissa decided that she loved acting and wanted to pursue a career.  Shortly after, Taissa Farmiga burst into the homes of millions with her role as Violet Harmon on the first season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY: MURDER HOUSE.  Her portrayal of the angsty teen in a Romeo & Juliet-esque love story with Tate (Evan Peters), a ghost, quickly made her a fan favorite.  The love story between Violet and Tate (Violate to all you shippers out there) became the favorite storyline of the season, and she overwhelmingly became one of the most "giffed" characters on the series.  Although she did not resurface for AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM, she's back on the third season AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN as the "black widow" witch, Zoe Benson.  This season also marks the return of "Violate" with the budding love story between Zoe Benson and Frankenboy Kyle Spencer, again portrayed by Evan Peters.  AHS: COVEN has only two more episodes in the season, but Taissa Farmiga has really shown that she can hold her own as an actress, and I hope that the 19-year-old is opened up to new work.  Later this year, Taissa's film MINDSCAPE will premiere in Spain, a film about a man with the ability to enter peoples' memories who takes on the case of a brilliant, troubled sixteen-year-old girl to determine whether she is a sociopath or a victim of trauma.  Taissa Farmiga will play the "troubled sixteen-year-old girl" and I cannot wait to see how she performs.

Vera Farmiga with her trademark smile.
In comparison, the second oldest of the Farmiga siblings has been acting for many, many years.  The Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Emmy award winning actress has an incredible resume of performances.  Known for her work in crime films, and dramas, Vera Farmiga has recently become somewhat of a familiar face for the horror fan.  In 2007, Vera Farmiga dabbled in horror for the first time playing the mother of a sadistic boy in the film JOSHUA.  Two years later, she stepped in the familiar shoes by playing the adoptive mother of a deranged young "girl" in ORPHANORPHAN was given a wider release than JOSHUA, and this performance put Vera Farmiga on the map in the world of genre filmmaking.  Recently, Vera Farmiga blew audiences away with a stunning performance as the real-life Lorraine Warren in THE CONJURING.  However, she's currently continuing to terrify and woo audiences everywhere as the iconic Norma Bates on A&E's BATES MOTEL.  With the exception of flashbacks and PSYCHO IV, BATES MOTEL is the first time we've ever had an in-depth look at Norman's loving mother.  Vera Farmiga has locked herself a place in horror history by personifying the woman who inspired the insanity of one of the most iconic killers in all of cinematic history.

D'awwww.

The Farmiga sisters have taken our genre by storm and portrayed characters that will live on for a very long time.  Way to rule.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WHY SIMON BARRETT'S DICK IS BIGGER THAN YOU REALIZE: AN ANALYSIS OF HIS PROGRESSIVE TREATMENT OF THE SEXES

Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett: Important
Historically, horror films are known for showcasing gratuitous female nudity, and the seemingly unnecessary instances of topless women are frequently some of the biggest complaints people have against the genre.  As social justice becomes more prevalent and the feminist movement gains more spotlight than ever before, it would appear that equal representation of the sexes is starting to become a priority for those in the media.

With Women In Horror Month a little over two weeks away, I've been really starting to put on my "gender equality" hat and giving a more analytical eye to the films I love most.  After re-watching V/H/S/2, I realized something that completely flew past my radar on its initial view.  Simon Barrett's dick is way bigger than we realize.

V/H/S/2 opens with a couple doing the dirty in a hotel room.  Immediately we're given a shot of some perfectly shaped breasts with nipples that would make Tony Moss from SHOWGIRLS proud.  My immediate thought was "Awesome, the sequel is going to be just as misogynist as the original."  Then, something happened that came straight out of left field.  Simon Barrett's character stood up in front of an open window, and we were given a view of full frontal male nudity.  Perhaps it's because I'm so desensitized to nudity in general after years of watching movies, but the fact I saw a wiener didn't even register the first time I watched the film.  However, upon the second viewing it actually took me a second to realize I hadn't just seen nudity, I had seen MALE nudity.

I found this picture on the gay equivalent of Mr. Skin. That exists, by the way.


In terms of nudity represented by the genders in horror films, women have got the men beat by a devastating landslide.  I can list off horror movies where I've seen female nudity without a second thought, but I have to genuinely concentrate to recall films that showcase male nudity.  I don't know if it's because men are way more insecure about their sexual organs or if women are just so used to being objectified that finding a woman to take her top off is a lot easier, but women are way more likely to be presented nude in a horror film than a man.  This brings me back to Simon Barrett's penis, and why it might be one of the most important things to happen to the horror genre in recent memory.

Right now, Simon Barrett is becoming a household name in the horror world.  Thanks to penning films like YOU'RE NEXT, he and Adam Wingard seem to be turning into the indie directors that busted out and took over the world.  Their status as the household names of indie horror are precisely why showing Barrett's package is so important.  Simon Barrett is a writer, and a damn good one at that. The things that writers write are done specifically and intentionally.  One of the biggest names in horror screenwriting specifically wrote for there to be a nude male on camera.  More importantly, he wrote that the often implied (but rarely shown) parts of the male anatomy were to be front and center.  It's important to note that Simon Barrett directed this piece as well as starred in it.  That's possibly what is the most spectacular about the whole situation.  This isn't the member of some actor who is getting paid to do what a director tells him to do, this is a writer/director performing a role that requires male nudity and doing it deliberately.  We're constantly demanding equality of the genders, and allowing for the potential sexualization of a character that has a Y chromosome is a sign of the progression of equality in horror films.

Still from Eric England's CONTRACTED


This isn't the only time Simon Barrett's penis has been a beacon of equality.  Recently, Eric England's film CONTRACTED showcased an out-of-focus Barrett as a man that gave a girl an STD that caused maggots to fall out of her vagina and ruined her life.  Barrett willingly made his sexual organs the villain in a horror movie.  His character in CONTRACTED resembles the faceless killers of famous slashers, but also closely resembles the often-faceless men of pornography.  In many instances in pornographic films, men are nothing more than a torso or a lower region and their value in the film is entirely dictated by their penis and what is has to offer.  Simon Barrett's character is the personification of the male objectification in pornography where we care less about the face and personality of the male, and more on their physical gusto.  By blurring the focus on Simon Barrett's face, he becomes the everyman that PSAs and Sexual Education classes have warned countless students about.  Depicting his weapon as a penis is exactly what the root core of slasher films embody.  The phallic imagery is now exactly that.  He penetrated his victim and she suffers as severely as anything a knife could provide on Halloween night.  At least here, lust is the motivation behind the crime (you do know it's illegal to have sex with someone if you knowingly have an STD, right?)  What does this have to do with equality?  In every other horror film, horror fans tend to gravitate towards the villain.  We root for Freddy to slice up teenagers and we scream with laughter when Jason makes a pinata out of sleeping bags filled with people.  By making the villain literally a body part, this puts the focus where every horror film should be...on the victim.  Simon Barrett willingly put himself in a position where he was nothing more than a body part, and that speaks absolute volumes about his character and his intentions.

Simon Barrett, Sharni Vinson, & Adam Wingard
This leads me to revisit a point I made earlier this year about Barrett and Wingard's film YOU'RE NEXT.  (Seriously, I analyzed every single female character in that damn movie.)  Although the justification for the lead character Erin's knowledge on how to survive a home invasion was a little disappointing for my taste, it doesn't change the fact that Barrett and Wingard wrote a film that contained a game-changing female character.  To quote the previously linked article:
"Erin is a female fighting a bunch of male animals with incredibly phallic weapons.  In the Animal Kingdom, the alpha male is always seen as a dominant and physically aggressive creature while the alpha female is important for breeding purposes. Erin completely changes the game. While her male animal attackers are shooting arrows at her (reminiscent of the way animals "mark their territory" and determine things to be off-limits to other animals) or trying to insert overly long phallic machetes (hurray for wiener imagery) into her body.  99.99% of the time, female horror victims express pains in sounds that resemble an orgasm.  Erin expresses pain with barbaric wails or subdued sounds of pain, never once does she sound post-coital. This simple action shows that Erin is a woman that is not defined by the male sexuality, but secure in her own identity."
This is the sort of female character being written by a man who uses his penis in responsible representations in horror. The horror genre is home to a man that challenges the representation of the genders in horror movies with the work of Simon Barrett, and it is encouraged by the directorial work of Adam Wingard.  What Barrett writes down could easily be manipulated in an opposite direction by Wingard as a director, but he and Barrett clearly share the same mindset and a great amount of their work is very encouraging of gender equality.  Again, no film is perfect but seeing these two produce films that are making waves outside of just the world of indie horror is very, very important. 

Do you know how hard it is to find pictures of him without Wingard? Damn, Google Images. Step up your game.

Look, I'm not saying Simon Barrett is some feminist God, but whether he realized it or not, the decisions Simon Barrett has made with his genitalia in regards to horror films were much bigger than any of us could have anticipated.  What I hope, is that this ushers in is an era of gender equality in horror through sexuality.  That men can be seen and embraced for their sexuality, and that people realize a penis can be just as titillating as, well, a pair of tits.  I also hope that this will de-mistify and promote a healthier body image than what pornography usually depicts with its representation of men.  The other thing to consider is that by embracing male nudity, it's also an inclusion of all people that enjoy male nudity.  Heterosexual females as well as homosexual males; two groups that heterosexual males can admit have been marginalized (put away your fedora, damn it.).  There's a chance that all of these decisions were merely coincidental and I just spent way more time than I'd ever admit trying to psychoanalyze a penis, but what I hope to address is the growing problem that there are more and more fans clammering for the same treatment for male nudity in contemporary cinema...and the fact Barrett is willing to treat the genders of his characters equally, starting with himself.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A GUINEVERE TURNER APPRECIATION POST

Women in horror month is only nineteen days away, but it's never too early to shine some light on a woman that has made wonderful contributions to the genre we love dearly.  Whenever the topic of "women in horror" comes about, people are usually quick to mention that AMERICAN PSYCHO was directed by Mary Harron.  Perhaps it is due to the seemingly universal praise given to Christian Bale's most iconic performance, (suck it Batvoice) but everyone is constantly bringing up Mary Harron, Mary Harron, Mary Harron, like she's CANDYMAN around Women in Horror Month.  If AMERICAN PSYCHO is such a strong testament to the fact women CAN make good horror films, where is the love for Guinevere Turner?

Guinevere Turner is an actress and screenwriter.  While my personal favorite of her work lies with THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, she's also the co-author of the screenplay for AMERICAN PSYCHO.  I understand that Mary Harron also directed the film, so it's a lot easier to slap a writer/director title on her, but that's devaluing Guinevere Turner's contributions and giving AMERICAN PSYCHO the HALLOWEEN treatment.  What I mean by "HALLOWEEN" treatment is how people often fail to mention Debra Hill co-wrote the screenplay because John Carpenter co-wrote and also directed.  I'm not trying to downplay the incredible work done from Carpenter or Harron, but it's important to know that they weren't working alone.

Guinevere Turner is a frequent collaborator with Mary Harron but also has some wonderful credits to her name.  The film that put her name on the map was GO FISH, an LGBT film she co-wrote and starred in.  Filmmaker Kevin Smith enjoyed the film so much that one of its scenes became one of the inspirations for what is arguably considered his best film, CHASING AMY
This scene is an in-joke as Turner IS openly a lesbian and actually did attend Sarah Lawrence.

Turner's most well-known script work is undoubtedly AMERICAN PSYCHO and she even has a cameo as the "I'm not a lesbian!" girl.  Considering she helped write the script and assisted to craft one of the most incredible horror films of the 2000s, why isn't she given her fair credit?  Perhaps it's because people are just uneducated to the fact Mary Harron didn't write the film alone, or perhaps her reputation has been so severely tarnished by the film BLOODRAYNE. Oh, Uwe Boll...I still can't believe people gave you money.  Don't get me wrong, BLOODRAYNE is an absolute travesty of a film, and I can understand why people wouldn't want to associate the screenwriter of that garbage pile with the glory that is AMERICAN PSYCHO, but here's the thing...BLOODRAYNE is not reflective of Guinevere Turner.  Her recent participation with the documentary TALES FROM THE SCRIPT (available on Netflix instant watch) shed some light to what really happened with that screenplay.


When this scene played on my screen, my jaw immediately dropped.  Not only was it mindblowing to hear how Uwe Boll absolutely butchered her script, but the fact Turner was willing to go on record to talk about what really happened was incredibly inspiring.  All too often, women in this industry are told to play nice or keep their mouths shut and here was Turner completely calling Uwe Boll for what he was, and speaking out about the injustices that occur to screenwriters after the script has left their hands.

Guinevere Turner is responsible for one of the best horror films of all time, and some very influential pieces outside of the genre.  Here's to you, Guinevere Turner.  May the movie gods bestow upon you a hundred million dollars to create whatever next comes out of your mind.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

THE TOP 15 HORROR CHARACTER DESIGNS OF 2013

The ever increasing presence of computer generated imagery in horror films may make a bloody blow-out much cheaper, but its overall appeal on the eye cannot hold a candle to the practical effects and man-made monster suits.  2013 was an interesting year for horror, and a lot of its excitement comes from the characters the films produced.  This was a year where I saw a lot of Halloween costumes come from movies released in the months previous, which truly showcased the cultural impact of these films to the horror community.  To celebrate these creature/monster/character designs, I've compiled a photographic list of my personal favorites.  Some of these characters are masked, some are makeup designs, and some are just plan creatures.  Again, this isn't an attempt to be a definitive list, these are just the character designs that stuck with me long after the viewing was completed.

15) EVIL DEAD
Deadites are an iconic creature so giving new life to them without blatantly ripping off the original design was going to be a difficult task.  Combining the rage infested eyes of modern zombie films and the over the top gore of the original, these new deadites were a perfect fit.
14) JOHN DIES AT THE END
This film had a multitude of different and unique character designs, but I have a thing for weird masks. I found these faces to be very interesting to look at and added to the strange feeling of the overall film.
13) THE CONJURING
Considering the original Annabelle doll was a Raggedy Ann toy and this was a James Wan film, I knew were were going to be given a doll or puppet created of 100% nightmare fuel.  The unsung character of the entire film, the Annabelle doll is one of the scariest inanimate objects I've seen in recent memory.
12) YOU'RE NEXT
When this film make it's theatrical debut, you couldn't go to any pre-screenings without seeing these animal masks.  A sought after item of memorabilia, the animals have become modern masked horror icons.
11) THE LORDS OF SALEM
God, I couldn't escape this makeup design this year. There are at least five different makeup tutorials on youtube and I saw a handful of people rock this look for Halloween (I'm looking at you, Killer Kalyn).  Dia De Los Muertos meets Rob Zombie, this was a look that plastered ads and blogs everywhere. 
10) STITCHES
I've seen plenty of clown makeup designs over the year, but they tend to either attempt to emulate Pennywise the Clown (of Stephen King's IT) or look like some demented clown out of a cheap suburban haunted house.  STITCHES has a clown with a combination of low-rent birthday clown (which he is) and decay from years of being buried (which he was).  The perfect combination for a killer clown.
09) INSIDIOUS 2
The design of a ghost hasn't really changed much from the earliest days of ghost films, but there was something really special about the abusive mother ghost in this flick.  Taking the classic 'pale look, dark features' of traditional ghosts and giving her a haunting beauty a la Joan Crawford, this design made Danielle Bisutti terrifying and unrecognizable. 
08)CONTRACTED
Makeup in illness films truly become a character of their own.  The thing is, illness makeup can look like garbage very, very easily.  The makeup design for this film looked definitely ill (instead of possessed or rotting or zombified) but without looking like any specific illness.  Emphasizing on the detail of the work instead of a POW! IN YOUR FACE style of design, this mysterious STD gives an intriguing look to the character.
07) AMERICAN MARY
Oh, Beatress.  This was a look that could have very easily worn the actress, but Tristan Risk owned this character design and made it her own.  I was very impressed with the plastic look of the living Betty Boop, and the attention to detail of making a woman look like an actual cartoon character was on point.  In comparison to the "Ruby Real Girl" character, Beatress didn't look like the typical 'overly plastic-Jocelyn Wildenstein' character, she really looked like Betty Boop.
06) EASTER CASKET
Dustin Mills is no stranger to horror puppetry, but his Peter Cottontail design for his blasphemous EASTER CASKET is the right combination of cute and creepy.  A bunny puppet with human teeth and weird-ass googly eyes, Mills truly shows that a budget does not dictate creativity.
05) MANBORG
Astron 6 is infamous for their over-the-top characterizations, but MANBORG may be their strongest flick, yet. Showcasing the impressive skills of Steven Kostanski, there are masks, stop motion, prosthetics, and, amazing costumes a plenty.  Every single character, regardless of how secondary they may be, is fun to look at.
04) BAD MILO!
LOOK AT HIM! HE'S SO CREEPY AND CUTE AND I LOVE HIM SO MUCH AND I WANT ONE LIKE I WANT A MOGWAI AND OMG. That's my analysis. You're welcome.
03) FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY
Resembling the nightmares of a gothic, steam-punk mad scientist, the creatures of this film are absolutely breathtaking.  Regardless of how loose the actual story may be, these monsters are mindblowing.  The fx team deserves all of the awards imaginable, because these creatures look like something that could only exist on paper...and they gave them life.
02) BIO-COP
Faux trailer, shmo trailer.  Astron 6 made a character in a short film so memorable, it now has its own action figure. The immortal melting cop of biological waste has an incredible look and gave me one of the best first-watch experiences of my life.

 01) UNDER THE BED
The monster under the bed has been a creature haunting humanity for generations.  Steven C. Miller's film finally gave that monster a face outside of eyes glowing or an outstretched arm, and gave us a reason to want mom and dad to check under the bed before sleep.  When the monster finally showed its face, it caught me off guard how terrifying it actually is.  I was immediately shot back to the nights of my childhood where I watched one too many horror movies (that I probably shouldn't have seen before bedtime) and resorted to hiding under my covers in the hopes that the monster wouldn't be able to see me.  Gross skin, huge stature, creepy eyes, mutated facial features, and a mouth that could eat us alive...the creature in UNDER THE BED took all of the traditional childhood fears of a monster and gave us the epitome of our collective nightmares.
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