Rewatching some barely-remembered Carpenter movies this month, and this one turned out much better than The Fog. Science vs. Satan as priest Donald Pleasence unlocks an ancient chamber with a swirling green portal inside, and calls in a team of professors (who bring along their grad students) to attempt to halt the apocalypse. We know that’s at stake since they all have the same night visions (“you are receiving this broadcast as a dream”). As the church starts to attract worms, insects, and dirty weirdo humans seemingly led by Alice Cooper, the teams inside get to work analyzing and translating.

When the ancient texts of mysterious origin say that Jesus was a humanoid alien, evil is a real physical substance, and the son of satan is locked in the chamber, lifelong priest Pleasence is quick to discount all Christianity and believe this new thing. The green chamber shoots foul liquid at Meg-Ryanish Susan, who becomes evil and starts to kill people or drive them outside using plagues of beetles. Translator Lisa also gets juiced, oh no, then Kelly with a cross-shaped bruise absorbs the remaining liquid and becomes very evil indeed, looking for a mirror through which she can pull Satan into the world. Pleasence and student Catherine team up to stop this, but Cath falls through the mirror, in one of Carpenter’s most astounding scenes. Apocalypse not averted, now the dream transmissions show a possessed Cath standing menacingly in the “Saint Godard” church doorway.

Great music, of course. Our university group includes Victor Wong and Dennis Dun, both of Big Trouble in Little China. Doomed redhead Cath is Lisa Blount of Dead & Buried and Radioactive Dreams, her sad mustache boyfriend is Jameson Parker of White Dog. The first girl to get juiced is Anne Marie Howard of identical twin thriller Twinsanity, the girl who becomes very evil is Susan Blanchard of Russkies, and the Black Guy Who Does Not Die First is Jessie Lawrence Ferguson of Darkman.

Maybe unwise to watch two Stephen King movies in a week, but what’s wise about SHOCKtober? This movie is famous for its incredibly bleak ending (survivors are mercy-killed before discovering army is defeating monsters), the main change from the book, which is incredibly bleak in a different way (humanity loses).

Man vs. Tentacle:

Thomas Jane (lately of Shane Black’s Predator) is a poster artist working on a Dark Tower cover, going into town with his son and prickly neighbor Andre Braugher (of a Salem’s Lot remake), becoming trapped in a grocery store by the mist and its monsters. But the thing with The Mist isn’t the monsters, it’s everyone in town who hates each other suddenly getting trapped in a confined space and unloading their baggage. Got a real TV movie feeling despite all the pedigrees. Darabont’s still in gee-whiz period-piece mode in a modern setting, and all the theatrical on-the-nose dialogue doesn’t help. Performances are still a leg up on Langoliers (as are the digital effects, but that’s a very low bar).

Woman vs. Insect:

Little Billy followed this up with The Dark Knight, then a starring role in Joe Dante’s The Hole, not bad. Laurie Holden (Pyewacket) is the teacher who takes care of the kid while TJ works on becoming the hero of the story. Store Manager Robert Treveiler (the Richard Chamberlain Night of the Hunter remake) tries pulling rank, townie William Sadler (running the trifecta after Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption) tries to out-tough-guy TJ. Hard to keep track of every character as they quickly fall to bugs or suicide or murder, but the beardy hick dude who aggressively follows whatever’s the worst idea going around is veteran of terrible sci-fi/westerns Buck Taylor (Cowboys & Aliens, Wild Wild West, Timestalkers). There’s only one gun and Toby Jones claims to be a crack shot, so in a rare display of good sense, the group hands it over. He’ll eventually use it to kill Marcia Gay Harden, who starts raving about the apocalypse and demanding sacrifices. It’s cool that TJ recognizes early on that loud Christians are dangerous, though the movie’s overall theme seems to be having no faith in humanity.

Wasn’t kidding about the Dark Tower cover:

In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.

Michael Brooke for Criterion:

Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).


Les Temps Morts (1965)

I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.


Les Escargots (1966)

A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.

Tying this up before part four comes out. Neo’s in limbo, aptly represented as a train station, having passed out using his matrix-powers in the real world. Morpheus and Trinity and the Oracle’s protector Seraph (Collin Chou with WKW glasses) visit Lambert for some interminable dialogue, cutting a deal to rescue him. But the dummies should’ve known not to trust a character named Bane, who gets reverse-matrixed, possessed by Agent Smith, and blinds Neo with a power cable (he can still see).

Movie is about 60% boring, and keeps trying to make us care about new characters, particularly the enthusiastic young Clayton Watson, a Neo fan who steps up during the climactic battle. But the Wachowskis are also good at creating touching human moments on the flimsiest of background and evidence. Carrie-Anne dies in a crash, and Neo gets the central AI to agree to reset the world if Neo can defeat the now thousands of Agent Smiths, which he does by simply absorbing them then exploding.

In 2003 we watched this, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucked. In 2021, I am a serious auteurist cinephile who understands the unique artistry of the Wachowskis, rewatching with a corrected mindset, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucks. The action certainly moves like a twice-as-big upgrade to the original, but the digital effects and music picks say otherwise.

Keanu dreams an extreme-bullet-time moto-leather-splosion intro, then he’s back with Larry, who always uses three words when one would suffice. Jada Pinkett Smith is a bigwig in a red coat. Humans live in caves, led by Harry Lennix, and worship Neo and Morpheus. Neo has hot sex with Trinity, then has to battle Oracle’s agent Serif before he’s allowed to visit her – those two are said to be programs, not human. At this point, Neo battles a playground full of Agent Smiths, who have been duplicating themselves.

There are too many new characters, and it’s very talky, but somehow Lambert Wilson and his wife Monica Bellucci are important – she opens a secret door behind a bookcase and shoots a guard with a silver bullet, then the albino twins turn into medusa-haired ghosts. The crazy car chase with the twins is just as crazy as I remember it, and Neo isn’t even there. This is all a quest to save the Keymaster, who all but admits he’s an NPC. Keymaster leads Neo to The Architect, who is of course a genteel bearded white man (c’mon Wachowskis). GW Bush appears when he says the phrase “varying grotesqueries.” “It was all another system of control” is very Adam Curtis. There’s talk of performing a full system reset, saving a few people after Zion is destroyed, but we’re distracted by the death and resurrection of Trinity. Chad Stahelski and Leigh Whannel both in the credits.

My WFH setup:

What I do at work:

Think I like this more now than I did when it came out. It was Phantom Menace Spring, and I wasn’t sure I enjoyed big-budget sci-fi spectacle anymore. Now I’m older and stupider, with fewer pretensions and hang-ups, and prefer a good flashy story over nonsense like this.

Opening noir scene is great. The Matrix 4 trailer is pounding white rabbit references into our heads, and I see those were present from the beginning. Neo’s side gig is selling $2k minidiscs to cyberpunks, and in straight life he’s Thomas Anderson… Thom Andersen… is that anything? It’s a verbose movie, and there’s a religious feel to the dialogue after he meets Trinity at a White Zombie nightclub. Forgot that it’s AI tech using humans as batteries, not aliens. The reflections in this are so good – in glasses, doorknobs, etc.

We know the five leads (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Agent Smith, and turncoat Joe Pantoliano), who else was on the team? The main guy in the ship is Tank: Marcus “son of Tommy” Chong, of a Mario Van Peebles movie. His brother Dozer (killed with a cheesy energy weapon) is Anthony Ray Parker, of Dead Air, a movie about a radio DJ on the air during a zombie invasion, from the year after Pontypool. Very blonde badass Switch was Belinda McClory. Apoc, I dunno who he is, I’m just upset it wasn’t spelled Epoch. Matt “Mouse” Doran died almost immediately but has the most impressive filmography, in a Lucas and a Malick, also a gangster Macbeth. The Oracle was Gloria Foster, who did respectable work throughout the 60’s. And Keanu’s stunt double went on to direct John Wick.

In a dismal grey-brown postapocalypse, Denzel hunts and cooks a cat, robs a corpse then relaxes to listen to his zune. Even babies wear sun goggles in town, the sun deadlier than ever since the nuclear event punched holes in the atmosphere. Local warlord Gary Oldman wants a bible to help control the populace and spread his influence, but passer-through Denzel has the only surviving copy, and is an unnaturally badass fighter, so a showdown ensues. Denzel and Mila Kunis leave town down the fury road, but Gary’s caravan catches up, and more showdowns ensue. The action’s not bad – an early slaughter, backlit under a bridge, puts a reminiscent scene from Resident Evil 6 to shame.

Most importantly, we are in Tom Waits Mode, and he appears in this movie as “the engineer,” aka he runs a barter shop across the street from Oldman’s saloon. He makes an uneasy deal to charge Denzel’s zune, then reappears at the end to open the lock on the bible, revealing that it’s in braille and D escapes to the Children of Men hope island with the entire book memorized. Waits is less pivotal here than in Seven Psychopaths, is mostly around to look cool.

Rare, cool wasteland-set movie, a whole methodically-posed headfuck art-feature a half decade before Marienbad. Vague reverb-affected announcements echo on the soundtrack as a truck drives over gravel and desert. I’m happy to see there are still flocks of birds after the German apocalypse. Driver drags passenger’s luggage to an abandoned-looking town where he finds a kid among drum-and-bass soundtrack jazz. The man loses his shit, pulls a gun on the kid (covered in ants) for not speaking, the woman spills her drink on purpose. Everything from the editing to the focus and music and sound takes turns messing with your head.

A monologue about Sisyphus as the moody driver lies under the truck covered in oil. I can’t tell if the movie is a time loop or if we spent some time in a flashback. Eventually the man finds a cute girl and shoots her dead – biggest surprise is when the cops show up and bust him, in what I’d assumed was a lawless wasteland. After the Goalie, I programmed an accidental double-feature of German stories of motiveless murder.

The credits claim participation by Hans Richter (according to a Richter interview, not true) and commentary by Albert Camus. Played Locarno ’55 alongside a couple of Jiri Trnka features and a Karel Zeman, a lot of nazi movies, and the latest prestige dramas from the US, UK, Germany and France

Vogel’s descriptions are off to a shaky start. “In a desolate, destroyed landscape – bearing now irrelevant traces of technological society – a man and a boy try to find their way under a
fierce sun.” There’s cars, oil, money and cops, all still relevant, and the boy isn’t trying to find his way anyplace.


More of Vogel’s Subversives…

Blue Moses (1962, Stan Brakhage)

Melies motion/edit tricks in a flickering cave. Sync sound! Clean dialogue, no music/fx, of a rich-voiced Wellesian actor, or maybe Charlton Hestonian per the film title. He seems to be riffing in a field, unsure what to say, Brakhage holding still on the actor but going into jitter-mode whenever the camera looks away at the scenery. The actor goes through a range of looks, sometimes wearing so much makeup he looks like a cartoon. Repetition of the credits (drawn in chalk on the rocks). In the last section the actor’s words and a projector beam with Stan’s shadow draw our attention to the filmmaking process. I’m out of the habit of watching Brakhage films – this is from the Dog Star Man years and is very good. Actor Robert Benson, a fellow Colorado resident, had also appeared in Desistfilm.


Canyon (1970, Jon Jost)

Full-day time-lapse looking over the Grand Canyon… shooting a few seconds at a time, lap dissolving the segments. I’d only seen narrative(ish) work by Jost, wasn’t aware of the shorts. Silent, so I played El Ten Eleven’s “Growing Shorter,” which worked great.

Mouseover to move the sun:
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Thought it’d be fun to watch an apocalypse movie during an actual apocalypse, but it was not. Early scenes set up a couple families with typical problems (Jimmy’s girl Ruth tells him she’s knocked up) while global news stories play out casually on background televisions and title cards ominously tell us the population of Sheffield. Then – nuclear war!

Jimmy likes birds, and his brother dies in the blast along with the finches. The families are separated and never reunite in the chaos. The movie flashes forward in regular intervals, family members dying of illness and starvation, finally ten years later, Ruth blind and ravaged by fallout. In other news, the producers bought the rights to Johnny B. Goode, and they’re damn sure gonna play it.