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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (The good one)

I'll start off by saying this is the 1974 one, no other silly remake or the like. Then I'll say that this is a good film, though it is not a well made film. The cinematography and dialogue are all kind of weird, and when compared to other films, even of the era and the time it just doesn't stand up as well, but the tone of the film, and the way it was made are what contributes to the horror, and what make it such a classic that it can still be watched today and considered good.

So the film starts off by saying it's a true story. The whole film is kind of an attempt to make a film like a documentary, like Blair Witch did so famously in 2001, and as the Coen Brothers said this is what makes the film more realistic, because if people believe it is based off of a true story, they allow for pretty much anything. The story is true in that people were killed, at some point in time, by someone, but all the details and just about everything were changed, so the notice is not one of fact, but one to enhance the fiction.

We have a nice narrator detailing the facts of this "true" account over vague shots of corpses, with flashing in and out to make it unclear. Then we cut to the protagonists of the film, five teenagers who seem fairly normal, if very 70's. After this introduction the crew meets the first psycho of the night, a lovely hitchhiker who upon arriving in their van cuts himself and sets things on fire, this is not appreciated, so they throw him out, though not before he cuts one of the characters, and swears a vague act of revenge in the form of blood on the van.

Then the group heads to the house they were planning to stay at, but the house next door is where the action really starts. Surprisingly one pair of characters is killed off very quickly, with little ceremony, the guy first being smashed in the head, then the girl wandering in to have about the same result. The suddenness of these events is what makes it so surprising, as all deaths in the film, with the notable exception of the leading lady last maybe 10 seconds. This creates the fear, because of the sheer viciousness of the acts which kill these characters, and the speed of them.

The entire film is very dirty, or gritty I guess if you want to go with a more positive word. It is dark, grimy, and has bones almost everyone once the characters reach the house, and doesn't seem to do things too deliberately. It is almost the opposite of a Kubrick or a Hitchcock, or even a Wes Craven horror because of how sudden, grim, and dirty all the actions are, it looks like none of it was planned as opposed to their films where it appears everything was.

The other note about the film is that it is very loud in general, from the sounds of a chainsaw from constant shreaking in the third act, but it's the moments of silence, where all you can hear is the chirping of the crickets or the  beginnings of the music that make it truly effective as a horror. There is nothing really comic here, just a pathetic bunch of crazies doing crazy things. On the whole it is effective in doing what it is trying to do, a new kind of horror which doesn't rely strictly on shocks or gore, but on the whole combination of grime and blood and terror to create this whole experience.

On the whole, it's a bloody good time, though it features surprisingly little blood.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Not a film but a fire

    Fire is a living thing, it is not stagnant, it is never the same. Roaring. Feasting. Never sated in its immense hunger. It is beautiful too, it warms, it provides food, it is the essence of love and hate and all the wonderful terrible emotions that fills up everyday and makes it all worth it.

    Sometimes fire is a cleansing thing, and as the great blaze burned I saw my old life fade away, as a new life wavered indistinctly in the distance. Some beginnings are sad, and all endings are, no matter what they bring. As the fire burned it all just disappeared, the hurt, the fear, the pain. All the good and the bad and it is all gone, only to start anew. But by embracing this new life, I know that in the end it will all be alright.

     That is not how it started though. It started with the biggest fire of all spreading through my apartment, glowing and providing just enough light to wake me up. Expecting a normal day I opened my eyes, and what did I see but my cat floating. Understandably this was not a usual occurrence. I wasn’t scared though, wasn’t frightened, wasn’t even aware really, having just woken thought I was still dreaming, and just kind of took it in stride. Then the realization hit, and it hit hard, that things just weren’t normal anymore, and may never be again.

    Roll right out of bed. Hit the floor with a resounding thump. Look up, and look down right away. There is always the denial, with everything bad that had happened I figured I could just make it go away through disbelief, it wouldn’t affect me until I allowed it to.

    The world doesn’t work that way though, the bad stuff always happens, and despite the refusal to accept the cat floating there 3 feet above the bed it was still there, still taunting. Well Mr. Snuffles wasn’t really taunting me; it was the damned demon floating there, invisible to my eye and unavailable to other senses, but I’m told he just drifted there tauntingly, laughing his evil little laugh.

    Demons are never content to just wait though, especially when they believe they have been spotted in their little proto brains. So he smashed the window. That was when everything donned on me, as those little bits of glass dribbled to the floor, tinking on the hard floors. One odd thing I noticed though was the scented candles I light before I go to sleep were still burning, through the night. The fire was the only nice thing in that place, but for a second I focused on it, oblivious to the rest.

    Then I did what any sensible person would do and ran. Not elegantly, no small steps away, just straight out sprinting with no thought to what else I would do. Luckily I grabbed my phone as I hit the door, and once in the hallway was able to think just a little bit more rationally. I needed help, someone who might know something about all of this. So I called Tim.

     Everyone has that friend who’s a little weird, a little bit out of the ordinary who likes to do his own thing. For me that was Tim, and he was the one who had the biggest chance of knowing anything about floating cats. Ring ring. Ring ring. Why won’t he just pick up the damn phone…
    “Good day, and why might a person like you be calling at this time, shouldn’t you be in bed?” Always the joker Tim can rarely get a straight hello out, though when times get serious like this he turns on a switch, and becomes super competent.

    “Well I would be but something came up, something really weird, look can you just meet me at my apartment or something, I don’t want to leave just right now.” I stuttered this out, and I’m sure it didn’t make much sense, but like a good friend I knew Tim would come.

    “Okay, yeah, I can come by though I don’t see what could be so urgent as to get you out of bed. See you soon.” And so I made my stupidest decision of the day, to bring someone else into something which should have been just mine. By the end of the day far too many people were hurt and all because I couldn’t deal with things by myself, one of my perpetual problems.

    After a time he arrived, it didn’t look like he was too worried though, as he casually strolled up cool as a polar bear in the arctic. With trembling fingers I unlocked the door, with an unknown fate on the other side. But then there was nothing. No cat, no floating, we searched for minutes but all we could find was the broken window.

    “Are you sure your cat didn’t just jump? It’s a distinct possibility after living with you for so many years.” Always the jokes, can’t he ever be serious?

    “No, it had to be something, I mean I know I was tired but I’m sure I would remember if it was something so normal, and how could a cat break the window anyway I’m not sure even I could break it.” Even as I said it I was less and less sure, I mean you don’t really want to believe in supernatural, or just plain weird stuff, so rational explanations always triumph over the others.

    “Sure, look I know you’re riled up but how bout I take you out, for coffee or something, something to wake you up and maybe get your head on just a little bit straighter.” So I got changed and we went out, heading to a nice little place just a block away from my apartment.

     Sleepy Joe’s it was called, or it used to be, now it’s not really called anything. But then it was a thriving place of business, mainly to the late risers like me, needing that extra jump to get out to a job they hated.

    All the people passing by, they had a normal day in their normal lives, but I had an experience that would fundamentally change me, even if I didn’t know it yet. There was Francis, I’d met him once before, he once bought a bunch of roses for a date, I guess it didn’t go so well. There’s Anna, she lives just down the level from me, I sometimes see her as she leaves the building, she has 3 kids with no father. Then there’s Tim, always a great friend, and in the end he’s dead.
    Dead just like everyone else there in the shop. Just as we were sitting down is when it decided to strike. The demon from before was back and all for no reason.

    The whole world exploded. Fire, the tool of evil and destruction, erasing knowledge, disposing of evidence, and ridding lives. He made sure that there was an escape path for me, though not for Tim, or anyone else. I tried damn it, I tried. I reached into the fire and pulled out nothing but burns, there was no saving the rest of them, not in that perpetual inferno. It wasn’t cowardly to run, it was the only option, but survivor’s guilt just gnaws at you, it burns you, and can almost destroy you.

    As the flames engulfed the building I stood there dumbfounded, confused, alone, and terrified of what might happen next. The fire looked beautiful then, ignoring the smells and the sounds that sought to disrupt it. It danced, and it weaved, and it lived. There was the screaming though, disrupting the perfect harmony of crackling. It was easier to just hear the crackling, and just ignore all the rest, all the burning and all the pain.
    I stood there for what seemed like hours, though it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes if that. I watched those effervescent flames flee and fly. Then I was saved, by one of the few true knights left in the world, saved from the hell that my life had become. Saved by blood and sword. One moment there was no one, and then suddenly there was a man, a knight.

    “Come now good lady, we must take you away from this place.” He said caringly. He was so gentle compared to most of his size, towering over me and not helped at all by the well worn suit of armor he wore. He also had an enormous blade which he wielded with outstanding grace, wiping some dark liquid off and stowing it with one clean swish. And then he carried me off my feat after defeating the evil monster, just as every little girl’s dream.

    I barely noticed the city we walked past, everything blurred and indistinct, unimportant. I don’t even know where we went, the only thing I noticed before I collapsed into such a nice sleep were the little fires, the candles. I dreamed a dream of a normal life, nothing special just life. That would be nice. But that’s just not for me, everything fades away into red and orange and yellow destruction. The nightmares are always hard, but it’ll get better, just like everything else.

    “You are awake, good. How did you sleep?” Themis sat by a fire, cooking something indistinct.

    “Um fine, where are we exactly, who are you? I don’t mean to sound rude but you just came out of nowhere and I mean I just don’t know anymore.” I mumbled off at this point and looked around; we were in a dank grey room, with the only light from the fire and a few candles by the door.

    “For your first question, you are in my home. A simple living, but suited to my needs. We are down in the industrial district, in an abandoned factory.” He had the slightest accent, probably European, but I couldn’t tell from where. “As for who I am, I am Themis Dios, Knight of the Cross, though I suppose I’m not really officially their knight anymore. I have some food if you would like it.” So many more questions arise, things can just never as simple as I’d like. But first things first, I accept the food and enjoy the first food I’d had for…

    “How long have I been sleeping for?” I asked.

    “You have been asleep for a few hours. Sometimes traumatic events can cause the mind to shut down.” He seemed concerned. “Now that you’ve woken up we can discuss what has happened.”

    “I… I just don’t understand why. He’s dead and they’re all dead and everyone is gone and the fire burned so bright but all the screaming and the pain and they all just… went away.” I trailed off at the end because it hit me, everything at once like a freight train. When most people cry it’s not like the movies, no single tear for a fallen friend or comrade, it’s a torrent, unstoppable and wild.

    He was so kind, this man, he waited, for how long I don’t know but he waited until I was done and only once I was done did he tell me everything. “What happened to you is simply one of the cruel machinations of life; there is nothing you could have done.” He spoke slow, and deliberate, placing a great deal of importance on every word. “What you see, what you taste, what you hear is all less than it could be. Beyond your perception lies all that which is the purest evil, and all that is the purest good. I speak of the Fae, the world of the faeries.”

    “Fairies, but that doesn’t make any sense, aren’t fairies little people with wings who help,” I asked “like in the movies?”

    “The movies tell an idyllic story of good and evil and the eventual triumph of man. In the end this may be true, but for you, for now, that is not the way the world works.” Again he spoke slowly, as if talking to a child. “What attacked you was a hell-beast from the Fae, essentially a demon.” It was all so unbelievable, but at the time I had nothing to do but accept it as truth. “I killed it, or as close as one can come in this world, but it will be back, though it will have forgotten you, and moved on to some new pursuit. They love tormenting, demons, and when they slip through the mortal cracks they destroy and will not let up like what has been done to you.”

    “So what you’re saying, all that has happened to me, it was all a joke?” It was impossible, it couldn’t be like this. “It was all just some demon fucking with me? Well that is just great, just amazing, he won’t even remember what he did to me, what he did to my friend, to those people?”

    “Becoming angry will not help, it will only make you upset. I understand that what happened is behind comprehension, almost unexplainable by what you know.” Themis said in a comforting voice, but it didn’t help. I tried to calm down, to rationalize everything that happened, but it didn’t help. I just broke down again. By the time I was back to reality the candles had burned almost a quarter of the way down.

“To help you understand, to make some sense of this unbelievable occurance I present the Libris Fae, a copy of the book that contains almost everything we know about their world.” It was an enormous leather bound book, larger than any I had seen before. The writing on the cover looked ancient, and I was almost afraid of touching it, for fear it might fall apart. “To start with you may be wondering why I can see the demons, the faeries. In my years as a knight we were trained to see more than others, to see through the lies cast upon us by Satan.”

“Um earlier you said you used to be a knight, what happened?” It might be a sensitive topic, but at that point I needed some concrete facts to cement me into this new world.

“We had… disagreements about the way things were run. When a new leader is chosen it is typically the knight with the most experience, not the most charismatic, new changes in the order caused me to leave, forcibly.” Themis stated rather bluntly. “But back to the issue at hand, we need to start with the basics. Parallel to this world is the Fae, the land of the faeries. In that world there are all the beings of imagination, from demons to your typical movie faeries to unknowable evils, even for the knights. All these elements form a place of chaos, unchartable and insane to all but the most deranged minds.”

“The important thing is that you know. You know what has happened, and you know why, in some respects. Now I must leave a choice up to you. With all of this information, what do you do. Do you live as you had, live with your friends and family knowing what is out there, what could happen at any moment, or do you seek to do something about it?” I’ve never done anything special, anything bigger than my own life. I lived a good life, I lived happily, is it possible that existence will never come back?

I left him then, I went back home, back to normality. I went to work. I talked to friends. They consoled me. In the end though I was just sleep walking through life, and everything had become so much less real than it should have been. Looking back on the events of that day I knew that in the end I would have to do something. I stared up at the ceiling, Mr. Snuffles had still not been found, probably eaten by the god forsaken demon. The ceiling hadn’t changed, the bed hadn’t changed, the room, the building, the street, the world hadn’t changed, but I had. And I had to do something about it.

It just wasn't fair. My life had changed completely, everything that I thought I knew was now different, all because of some stupid little demon that shouldn't even be real. It just wasn't fair. It suffered nothing, it died and came back, but Tim can't do that, no person can do that. Maybe I could make him pay, maybe we could find him, me and this new knight named Themis, find him and deliver final justice to him, justice for Tim, and for my cat, and for all the people that I never really knew.

I saw everything as it was for once, and that was something fundamentally different from the way things used to be. I used to accept all the normality of life, contrast it with the occasional incidental weirdness but with Tim gone, with what I had learned, there seemed to be little other option than to opt out, to exit life and pretend that I was never there. No one would really miss me, would they? I mean they might cry, but they'd get over it, they'd just believe me to be crazy, burned down my apartment for no reason, but I'd know, and that is what is important in the end.

I begin the ritual, slowly lighting the candles, one by one. There are dozens of them, I always liked the natural light they provided, different to the artificial light that people insist on now. My store too, always lit with natural light, no false light, only the real stuff. Once the final candle is lit I'm ready, looking over everything I have, and everything that I'll lose if I go through with this, and realize it is all really nothing, nothing to lose, but everything to gain in a new life.

Is it ironic to pull the fire alarm to save people from the fire you are about to start? It would all be an accident, just some stupid person leaving their candles out, knocked over, burning the whole place down. The firemen will put it out , only my apartment will be burned. Burning cleansing fire. When everything is gone then all that is left is me. I will have now way to go back, won’t be afraid of the future because it is all that I have, I will be forced to embrace a new life.

As I walk out of the old and into the new I know I'll be safe, that this is my story, and that once I figure out the new strange world I will be able to get my vengeance. I arrive at the factory, he knows I’ll be there. Walking in he is ready to greet me, to welcome me into my new life, a life so different from the past but also so similar. The world had not changed, but I had.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No Country For Old Men

This is actually probably my favorite film of the decade, so pardon me if it's a bit biased After watching NCFOM for the umpteenth time I finally realized what it was about. It wasn't just about death, or the senseless violence that has become so prevalent in society, no the main issue explored in the film is the generation gap. Out with the old, in with the new, sometimes in the most violent way possible.

First a brief summary, a Vietnam vet but otherwise everyman finds some money, this money belongs to Mexican gangsters who pursue him throughout Texas. The main antagonist here is the kindly fellow on the right, Anton Chigurh. Following this chase is an old sheriff, just one day from retirement, who surprisingly doesn't get killed. With the conclusion the film is almost an anti-movie, with the main character murdered off screen, the villain getting away essentially scot free, and the narrator just getting tired of it all, and quitting.

This is all related to the initial theme, that of the difference between the generations. One scene near the end seems almost like a non-sequitur when taken out of context, where the sheriff goes to a retired lawman's house and hears a story about his uncle getting executed on a porch in the early 1900s. This scene actually clearly shows to the sheriff that violence has always been around, and that nostalgia for days past will not help with today. The old days were not as good as we have come to believe. But this is tangential to the main point; for society to function the new must replace the old.

Throughout the film the old are slowly killed off, or give up on contributing to society. The two youngish characters who are killed where Vietnam veterans, and had thus experienced much more hardship than a typical person of their age, so were mentally old/tired. When the sheriff discusses his problem, Anton Chigurh, and the protagonist's death with another sheriff they have what may be considered a cliche rant about kids these days, with people with "green hair walking down main street." They realize that their time has come, especially the narrator sheriff, who decides that is is time to retire, and though the title is not dropped, it is heavily implied. Once the old have gone it is time for the new generation to come and show what they can do.

During the film there are only two sequences with kids, both featuring them coming into a scene of immense violence, and their different reactions. The first is a group of teens coming back from drinking in Mexico, and encountering the protagonist injured from a shootout. One of them can not accept this, and keeps repeating "Were you in a car accident?" much to the annoyance of his friends, who demand money in exchange for helping the protagonist. The inherent greed shows that the generation to come, and since this was set in the 80s they would be in their 30s now, can be intensely greedy, leeching off the troubles of others and exploiting the disadvantaged. This could easily be a comment about the current political and economical situation, and was extremely topical in the time it was produced, 2007.

This stands at a contrast to the second group of kids. Anton Chigurh has just been in a car accident, and two kids come up on their bikes, offering help. When asked for a shirt one of them gives it freely, and even declines payment when it is offered. The Coen's seek to show that there is hope for for this next generation, and that not everyone is the same, some offer the selfless charity that is also necessary for society to function. The film is about the new replacing the old, as well as the assurance that though there are bad people in this new generation there should be no fear, as that is the way it has always been. There has always been violence, and there has always been selfish people exploiting others, just as there has always been human charity and those who will pursue what is right despite it not being easy.

In the end there will always be those selfish and evil people, just as there will always be selfless and good people, and the constant struggle between generations is on a whole unnecessary, because just as each generation has its changes it on a whole is always the same.