Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1997)

We’re dumped into the middle of a complex situation in a mechanized future city, where teenage kids are piloting giant robots to fend off invading aliens, or “angels,” then as the show settles into a groove of one angel per episode (each requiring either skill, strategy, or brute force/rage to defeat) it gradually fills in the details – some of them, anyway. Plenty of questions remain: why teenagers? Where do the alien-angels come from, and how are they connected to the apparently partly-biological robots (or “evas”)? Who’s the shadowy organization that runs the shadowy organization that runs the eva program and where did they get their plans and prophecies from? Why do the main characters have a pet penguin? And why is every single character in this show extremely neurotic?

I get that we’re in Japan, so of course there are teenagers piloting giant robots and of course there’s an out-of-place, comic-relief pet penguin. These traditions endure from Voltron to Macross/Robotech to Gundam to American movies like Robot Jox and Pacific Rim. I just played a 2015 Japanese video game in which cool dudes and underdressed sexy ladies pilot giant robots to kill marauding aliens, accompanied by a comic-relief talking potato, so it’s still going strong.

Our heroes:

Things get dark quickly:

The show is obsessed with numbering things (the third child, unit 04, seventh construction phase of tokyo-3, twelfth angel, second branch, code 707), feeling at times like the script was written in Excel. Set in the futuristic time of 2015-2016.

Seele or Nerv or something:

Our tormented lead character is Shinji. He lives with Misato, a hard-drinkin’ penguin-owner who runs mission control along with ex-rival Ritsuko and ex-flame Kaji, or actually I’m not sure what any of their jobs are because I watched the show slowly and missed or forgot some details. Also living with them is super-cocky pilot Asuka, whose whole world falls apart if she can’t be the best at everything. And living on her own is the quiet, often-injured Rei. Everyone has major, major parental and/or love-life issues, the worst of which is that Shinji’s dad Ikari runs the shadowy Eva organization Nerv but has never once spoken to his son with affection, and has a weird offscreen relationship with Rei, who he might be cloning.

Rei-clones:

Ikari-hand:

Then in the final episodes, instead of polishing off the story it dives into the tortured minds of the lead characters for an experimental-film psychoanalysis session. “This is the me that exists in your mind.” Shinji meets the perfect friend who turns out to be the final angel and must be killed by Shinji’s own hands. Asuka’s and Shinji’s moms die repeatedly in flashback. Ikari talks to an eyeball in his disfigured hand. Rei keeps being resurrected. Even the penguin is sent to live with someone else. Finally, Shinji reaches self-acceptance. “It’s okay for me to be here.” I found parts of the final episodes whiny and repetitive, but over the next few days warmed up to the idea of the whole series having been a prolonged Shinji therapy session.


The End of Evangelion (1997)

Then, the movie remakes those last two episodes the way the fans preferred: with mad apocalypse instead of therapy. There are still sexual and parental hangups, petty grievances, inter-agency power struggles, and everyone’s still super lonely and unhappy, but now there’s more sci-fi storyline to go with it. Nine new winged evas are unleashed along with military forces upon our Tokyo base, decimating it. Asuka goes on the biggest homicidal rampage of all time, taking down all the new evas, then Shinji has the biggest crippling self-doubt paralysis of all time, then every other character in the entire series is killed, then Rei becomes a planet-sized god, rapturing and absorbing the souls of all humanity. Unfortunately, the underground control panel nerds stay alive until the very end so they can keep spouting nonsense:

“Ikari has installed a Type 666 firewall on the MAGI’s external feed circuits.”

“Psychograph signal down!”

and my favorite,

“Pilot response approaching infinite zero!”

Said to be one of the best anime series ever… after this and Paranoia Agent I wonder what I should try next. Apparently Death & Rebirth is a skippable movie, condensed from the series and End of Evangelion movie, and there’s a trilogy of remake movies from 2007-2012 from the original creative team, which might be good, but I’ll hold off watching those since Wikipedia says there’s a part four coming. Writer/director Hideaki Anno apparently created the series (particularly the finale) in response to his own battle with depression. He started out as an animator on Nausicaa, also made Cutie Honey (which I enjoyed), some other kid/teen animated shows, and I guess he’s making the next Godzilla movie. Codirector Kazuya Tsurumaki directed the weirdo series FLCL.

Midnight Special (2016, Jeff Nichols)

After Take Shelter, I’ll definitely sign up for another Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon drama about impending doom. This one is maybe more ambitious, definitely more confusingly plotted, and has less well-defined characters and relationships. Shannon and childhood friend Joel Edgerton have kidnapped Shannon’s magic son Alton from a doomsday cult and with help from Shannon’s (ex-?)wife Kirsten Dunst and federal agent Adam Driver they take Alton to fulfill his destiny by ascending to Tomorrowland.

Pretty sure this was meant to evoke the string of psychic-child adventure stories in the late 1970’s: Firestarter (the novel, if not the film) and The Fury. In fact I was so busy trying to remember how Firestarter ends that I may have missed some details about the doomsday cult and why exactly they wanted Alton – or maybe they weren’t even sure of that themselves. If not an instant classic, at least a cool-looking, mysterious movie, full of great acting and shocking moments (I leapt when satellite parts rained down on the gas station). I always appreciate sci-fi stories that show glimpses of larger worlds and deeper mysteries than the film has the time or inclination to explain.

This counted as the kickoff to Cannes Month, since Nichols’ previous movie Mud played Cannes, and his second film of 2016 Loving is about to premiere there. Although I would’ve watched it anyway.

M. D’Angelo:

For some reason, the emotional core of this film seems to have gone missing — I can see where it’s supposed to reside, but the love Alton’s parents feel for him is oddly abstract, perhaps because E.T. seems more human than he does.

I. Vishvenetsky:

The bad guys trace [our heroes’ car] through an insurance bill left on a kitchen counter, because even Midnight Special’s sense of conspiracy is grounded in the commonplace. The only explicitly poetic line the movie allows itself is spoken by the cult’s neckless goon, played by character actor Bill Camp. Sitting in his truck, he says, “I was an electrician, certified in two states. What do I know of these things?” This is the most the viewer will ever learn about him. Midnight Special defines characters through what they can’t understand, contrasting fear of the unknown with faith in it, and flipping the supernatural into a metaphor for the everyday.

From J. Romney’s review intro:

Cinema has rarely felt so much like a son et lumière as it did in a brief period in the early ’80s, when suddenly shafts of light came shooting out of movie images, as if the screen had been slashed. It became a defining image of Steven Spielberg’s films — Close Encounters, E.T., and Poltergeist too, if you want to count that as one of his … In their purest and most glaring form, those shafts of light had something of the quality of angelic revelation about them. Certainly, you suspected that cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau had taken a close look at certain academic religious paintings of the 19th century, or perhaps at Renaissance church sculpture, with their sheaves of marble emulating beams from the divine. At any rate, it came as a shock to get the impression from these films — and with such eye-searing intensity — that cinema was a matter of light streaming directly out of the screen, rather than just bounced off it. The motif was a powerful way of restoring, if not a holy, at least an authentically otherworldly dimension to cinema.

Altered (2006, Eduardo Sanchez)

According to legend, two guys wrote and directed a found-footage horror movie in 1999 that went viral and grossed a zillion dollars… and the two guys were never heard from again. The studio botched a sequel the following year, and the market flooded with more found-footage horrors and Scream-influenced self-conscious horrors and combinations thereof.

But wait, Myrick surfaced in 2007 with a couple generic looking horrors, and Sanchez did likewise with Altered, which I belatedly discovered after enjoying his bicyclist-helmet-cam V/H/S/2 segment. Sure, this is a movie where a bunch of violent rural drunks capture an alien who then escapes and torments them, and one guy is over-secretive and has explanations that never properly make sense, and the alien looks like a green-rubber reptilian thing, but it’s kind of a good movie. The action is confusingly shot, but most of the movie is banter between frightened dudes, which Sanchez and cast are quite good at orchestrating.

L-R: Wyatt, Otis, Duke, Cody

Drunkenly hunting aliens: bulky Duke (Brad Henke of Palahniuk adaptation Choke), beardy Otis (original Blair Witch kid Michael C. Williams) and wild-eyed loose-cannon Cody (Paul McCarthy of Stuck, not this one, and Keyhole, not that one). They bring their captive to the hideout shack of their formerly-alien-abducted friend Wyatt (Adam Kaufman of alien-abduction miniseries Taken) while his girlfriend (Catherine Mangan of Monster) is over, and much backstory is gradually revealed while they argue, lose the alien, tie and tape up the girlfriend (who was only in the movie because somebody belatedly realized before filming that there were no women anywhere) and finally get hunted by their former captive while trying to act like nothing’s up when sheriff James Gammon (Paps in Cabin Boy, the coach in Major League) comes to visit. The alien kills the sheriff, pulls Otis’s guts out (the one scene I’m sure I’ll remember), and finally Wyatt is forced to use his Scanners powers to subdue it.

Woman:

Wyatt vs. Alien scan-off:

Sanchez and cowriter Jamie Nash have a new bigfoot movie called Exists. Cinematographer Steve Yedlin did all the Rian Johnson movies including Looper and possibly an upcoming Star Wars.

SCOTtober double-feature: The Hunger and Alien

Checked out Tony Scott’s The Hunger for the first time in lovely HD, then watched his brother Ridley’s Alien on blu-ray the same night for a SCOTtober double-feature.


The Hunger (1983)

Cool looking movie with Nic Roegian editing – and I noticed this before listening to Tony Scott’s commentary, where he admits to being Roeg-obsessed. Scott worked in commercials, and brings their slick-as-snails visuals to a noirish vampire flick, opening with a Bahuaus video intercut with agitated lab monkeys. If that sounds like something that might not fly with the public, it apparently didn’t.

The eternally-youthful Catherine Deneuve is a centuries-old vampire living with true love David Bowie. Bowie seems like perfect casting for a vampire movie, but something goes wrong and he starts rapidly growing older (it’s perverse to hide Bowie under age-makeup), trying at the last minute to get help from blood specialist Susan Sarandon, and eating a neighbor kid (soap star Beth Ehlers) in a panic.

Aged Bowie:

Master vampire Deneuve is used to this sort of thing, stashes Bowie in the attic with the other aged corpses of former lovers, and begins seducing Sarandon. But Dr. Susan is too self-aware for vampire life, kills herself, and the zombie lovers rise up to destroy Catherine.

No fangs – our vampires use ankh-shaped knives to bleed their victims. A bit too many slow-motion doves flying but mostly the style works in the movie’s favor. Not according to Ebert, who called it “agonizingly bad” but enjoyed the sex scene. Played out-of-competition at Cannes, where Bowie’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence was competing with L’Argent, The King of Comedy and Nostalghia.

Scott later directed two episodes of the 1990’s anthology horror series The Hunger, hosted by Bowie. Enjoyed seeing Dan Hedaya as a cop but I missed Willem Dafoe’s cameo. Sarandon’s lab coworker Rufus Collins had previous vampire-film experience in Warhol’s Batman Dracula, and her other coworker Cliff De Young starred in Pulse and Dr. Giggles. Writer Whitley Streiber explored werewolves in Wolfen and aliens in Communion.


Alien (1979)

Has that Star Trek: The Motion Picture tendency to slowly bask in its models and space effects. The creature puppets weren’t as dodgy-looking as I remember them (though there’s such a bad edit right before Ian Holm’s disembodied head starts talking).

Spaceship control room looks like a sound booth with Christmas lights:

After watching this and Prometheus on blu-ray within a couple months of each other, I don’t get why people think there needs to be more connection between the two – one seems to be referencing the other pretty clearly to me.

There’s this thing:

And this guy:

And dudes who touch things they should not be touching:

And an android who does not appear to have everyone’s best interests at heart (his orders end with “crew expendable”).

You don’t think of Tom Skerritt as being the first-billed star of Alien, but I guess Weaver was an unknown at the time (or they didn’t want to telegraph who will survive from the opening credits). Veronica Cartwright had been in Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake the year before. Harry Dean Stanton doesn’t do much horror but Wise Blood and Fire Walk With Me might count. Yaphet Kotto starred in Larry Cohen’s Bone and lived through Freddy’s Dead. And John Hurt has appeared in Hellboy, Only Lovers Left Alive, and something called The Ghoul.

The Last Ten Minutes vol. 14: First-Person Camera Edition

Men In Black 2 (2002, Barry Sonnenfeld)

Hey, I never saw this, always wanted to, but heard it was bad. Just the thing The Last Ten Minutes was invented for. The two mismatched partners are joined by Rosario Dawson with nuclear jewelry and pursued by Evil Lara Flynn Boyle till she’s eaten by a subway monster. Jones tells Dawson she’s the fifth element, Smith is attacked by shockingly subpar effects. Did you know there was a part 3? Neither did I.

[Rec] 3: Genesis (2012, Paco Plaza)

Previously watched [Rec] 1 and remake-sequel (remaquel?) Quarantine 2. Can’t find [Rec] 2 on netflix because their search is ridiculous, so let’s pick up here. Loving couple is trapped in kitchen by encroaching zombies until loudspeaker bible recitation stops them. Dude has a sword, which actually seems like a smart zombie weapon. Girl is bitten by an elderly fellow (bad hearing, immune to loudspeaker), guy cuts off her arm but he’s stupid and slow, and they both die. From one of the directors of the first one, but not shot first-person, so the title doesn’t make sense anymore. The girl was in Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse (2014, Jaume Balagueró)

Oh, this is from the other director of the first one, and looks a lot worse. Stars Angela from parts 1 & 2. A guy with bad hair helps Angela kill zombie monkeys with a boat motor. Why does the bad guy have a snake-tongue? A boat explodes!

The Interview (2014, Goldberg & Rogen)

Those two guys are trying to escape N. Korea. Cue the loud action scenes. Katy Perry soundtracks the fiery death of President Randall Park (Danny Chung in Veep), then we get an anticlimactic escape from the country. One of the directors wrote for Da Ali G Show.

Horns (2013, Alexandre Aja)

The one where Harry Potter is a demon, from the director of the great Hills Have Eyes Remake. Dang, no horns, Harry must’ve had them cut off already (a la Hellboy?). His brother (Joe Anderson of Across the Universe) is sad, so Harry goes walkies with Max Minghella, and there are guns, and wow, Harry sprouts wings then turns into a full flaming demon and has homicidal maniac Max brutalized by snakes. I think Harry’s dead girlfriend is alive again but I stopped watching because my roomie locked his keys in his car. Is this Wolf Parade over the ending?

The Sacrament (2013, Ti West)

Sorry Ti, but after two-and-a-quarter disappointments you join Aja in Last Ten Minutes purgatory. Joe Swanberg in death cult compound is running from gunmen, everyone is dying, and it’s shot first-person a la [Rec] 1. Isn’t this the same plot as one of the V/H/S/2 segments from the same year, which West and Swanberg were also heavily involved with? Joe semi-rescues AJ Bowen (of every Adam Wingard movie) with the shakiest shaky-cam I’ve ever witnessed. Ends with unnecessary solemn title cards. Boo.

Maniac (2012, Franck Khalfoun)

Fuuuck, this is also shot first-person – and out-of-focus, no less. Co-written by Alexandre Aja. Khalfoun made P2 and acted in Aja’s Haute Tension – they’re as close as the West-Swanberg-Wingard crew. I think Elijah Wood kidnaps Nora Arnezeder then she stabs him with a mannequin arm and runs him over. Then she dies, so he marries a mannequin. Most of these movies are very bad, but this one looks unusually, especially, very very bad.

The Conspiracy (2012, Christopher MacBride)

Grainy first-person pinhole camera with blurred-out faces. Why do all these movies hate cinema? Dude wakes up in the ritual sacrifice room, then is chased through the dark woods while wearing an animal head. Finally a series of talking heads dismiss whatever conspiracy theory the hunted/murdered cameraman presumably uncovered. MacBride has made no other movies and hopefully it’ll stay that way.

Automata (2014, Gabe Ibáñez)

It’s balding trenchcoat dudes with shotguns vs. slow, clunky robots. The robots are talking wise, getting themselves shot, when a fully bald Antonio Banderas arrives. His plan of action is poor but he still kills two guys and the third is dispatched by a Short Circuit lizard. Weird/nice to see a robot-future movie where some of the robots (not the lizard) are actual props, not people or digital effects.

I, Frankenstein (2014, Stuart Beattie)

From the trailer this looked like epic nonsense, but it’s actually more coherent than most of the others I just watched. Bill Nighy! The final battle: Frankenstein Eckhart vs. angels, gargoyles, a merman, lots of fire, men in suits, poor digital effects and Bill Nighy! Meanwhile there’s a bunch of computer progress bars and “access denied” messages. Progress bars are always a great source of tension in movies, eh? A massive Matrix-like chamber full of bodies begins to self-destruct. Eckhart (is he the monster or the doctor?) defeats demon-Nighy, saves some lady from a fiery apocalypse and collapsing castle. Beattie wrote the Pirates of the Carribean movies (and Collateral), his cowriter was an actor in Men In Black 2.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman)

AKA Live.Rinse.Repeat. I didn’t recognise a mustachioed Bill Paxton in charge of the fighting unit which disgraced PR guy Tom Cruise gets sent to. After Tom’s gruesome melty death from the acid blood of a rare alien beast, he gains its power to re-live a day over and over again, retaining memories from previous iterations. So it’s a less romantic Groundhog Day, but instead of the occasional comic death scene, it’s constant death scenes, Cruise having to get every single detail exactly right or else die, often at the hands of lesser aliens, or shot by teammate Emily Blunt (Looper), who built a super-soldier reputation because she once had the same Groundhog Day alien-blood power.

Liman made Swingers and Jumper. Based on a novel, adapted by Chris McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, The Usual Suspects) and the Butterworths (James Brown bio Get On Up).

Tom Cruise face-melt:

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968, Hajime Sato)

This is a completely looney Japanese horror oddball movie released in the Eclipse Shochiku set. It’s cheap, weird and highly entertaining, also atomic-bomb-obsessed and weirdly Vietnam War-referencing, with stock footage edited in at key moments.

The most doomed flight of all time encounters a UFO, receives a bomb threat and hosts a gun-toting hijacker at the same time. Large-faced hijacker Hirofumi has little effect as the plane flies through red skies filled with crazed engine-clogging birds then crashes, killing the pilot and leaving first officer Sugisaka in charge. On the ground, the hijacker runs off and gets possessed by aliens in his forehead (recalling Jeffrey Combs in From Beyond), while the bomb-threat fella hides his bomb and claims he was only kidding.

Potential bomber allowed to roam free:

The gov’t rep gets homicidal:

So the survivors are hiding in the plane from alien vampires who appear to kiss people to death (Yuko Kusunoki of Dodeskaden and Kurahara’s Thirst for Love is next to be captured/possessed) except for psychiatrist Kazuo Kato (Kurosawa’s Ran) who wants to go outside and study the aliens, while government representative Mano (Eizo Kitamura of the Yakuza Papers parts 2 and 3, and Modern Porno Tale: Inherited Sex Mania) proves to be a bigger asshole than the aliens or hijacker, getting people killed in order to save his own skin. Bomber dies blowing a hole in the side of the plane, and American Mrs. Neal (Kathy Horan of Genocide and The Green Slime) comes after the vampire with a rifle and loses. When our hero Sugisaka (with his woman on his arm) finally lights the hijacker on fire, the alien oozes out of his forehead and possesses Rep. Moto’s underling then kisses Moto to death.

Sugisaka and the girl leave the crash site and find out they were about a mile from civilization, but everyone in the city has been killed by aliens – much more efficient aliens than the one attacking the downed plane, I guess. Burned bodies and atomic blasts are invoked in the apocalytic finale.

Sugisaka was Teruo Yoshida, in Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon a few years earlier, must’ve starred in too many horror movies in 1968-69 (including this, Horrors of Malformed Men, Inferno of Torture and The Joy of Torture) because he disappeared from the screen in 1970, and his loyal stewardess was Tomomi Sato of the 1979 Jigoku remake and Blackmail Is My Business.

The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

A movie about nazis being killed off by aliens should’ve been more entertaining – besides a really fantastic smoke-monster effect, this was only pretty good. It tries to be very serious and sets up many conflicts (good alien/bad alien, good nazi/bad nazi, nazis/jews, etc.) then doesn’t do anything wonderful with any of these things.

Trevor: “it fell apart for me when none of the story mattered… mystery invincible guy with glowing eyes walks in and defeats the beast, the worst execution of deus ex machina.”

Smoke Monster, de-smoked:

Okay, Nazis led by Jurgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane in In the Mouth of Madness, and I think Kyle’s dad in Dune) occupy a Romanian town and camp in an empty fortress watched over by a priest (Robert Prosky of Christine and Gremlins 2), who calls in his professor friend Ian McKellen with daughter Alberta Watson (Hedwig/Hansel‘s mom) to translate ancient writings after soldiers keep showing up dead. Prochnow isn’t murdering enough villagers, so the more ruthless Gabriel Byrne (three years before Gothic) is sent to take charge, later shoots Prochnow dead. Smoke Monster heals the formerly-crippled Ian McKellen, says he’s a golem-like Jewish avenger who will crush all nazis if Ian frees him. The priest gets all shitty and tells Ian he can burn in hell (admittedly all the nazis might be stressing him out), meanwhile Mystery Invincible Guy (top-billed Scott Glenn, Jodie Foster’s boss in Silence of the Lambs) has sex with Ian’s daughter until she notices he has no reflection. I think Invincible Guy and the nazis and Smoke Monster all kill each other at the end?

Alberta with sex alien:

Ian under Smoke Monster’s spell:

Second movie I’ve watched this Shocktober where the first death is by exploding head. TV veteran Mann’s second feature, which he has since disowned, based on a story by the guy who wrote Pelts. The actors act as big as possible (apparently Ian McKellen has mellowed with age) and the then-trendy Tangerine Dream soundtrack does the nazi-horror atmosphere no favors. But it’s a startlingly different movie, anyway.

Under The Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)

Whoa.

V. Rizov:

Shots begin as seemingly uninflected observation, then the music creeps in and a whole new emotional tone is set without a single cut or camera movement… I don’t really care what this is About (I suspect it’s stupid), but it really is dazzlingly unexpected throughout. Also, there are jokes! Who said maybe-cosmic statements had to be ponderous?

B. Williams in an excellent article for Cinema Scope:

Glazer has radically deconstructed his infilmable source material and reassembled the few fragments he has retained into a sociologically ambiguous mood piece. What was originally a bonkers and sententious parable about class, labour, and the horrors of the meat industry – run by a race of talking antelope-like beings from another planet – is now essentially an abstract coming-of-age picture.