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Tag Archives: thriller

Zarathustra (2011): Also Sprach Niemand

Brad Phillips, Zarathustra (Brad Phillips, 2011)

zarathustra

Somewhere in the back of beyond… photo credit: my copy

This feels like about half a story. There’s a fine line between revealing just enough to get your point across and not doing do, and getting to just the right side of that line is often tricky. Here, however, it might have been easier than usual. Zarathustra, for example, aside from the title only crops up in the last sentence. And, assuming the reference is to Nietzsche’s book rather then the founder of Zoroastrianism, which aspect of the book is being referenced here? It could be at least three, possibly a half-dozen, but none of them really quite fit. It rather goes without saying that for readers who are not polymaths, references to Zarathstra and Shemhamphorasch may end up going straight over their heads. Therein lies the paradox: those who get the references are far more likely to call the author out on the story’s shortcomings. * ½

Hunting Season (2011): Tease Me, Freeze Me

Selena Kitt and Blake Crouch, Hunting Season (Excessica, 2011)

huntingseason.jpg

This will not be a truly free country until we have the unfettered right to arm bears. photo credit: goodreads

Erotica author Selena Kitt and thriller author Blake Crouch might seem an odd pairing for a collaboration. But hey, look at how many non-noise acts Merzbow’s done collaborations with. (If you haven’t heard his new one with Boris, Gensho, it’s even better than Rock Dream, the collaboration that introduced Boris to millions of noise kids and Merzbow to the wider world.) Sometimes you put two things that don’t seem like they’d go together well in the same dish, and magic happens. “Hunting Season” is quite a nice goat’s head stew, especially given that both authors rein in their normal genre tendencies and write what is, essentially, a contemporary romance novel that happens to be boiled down into eight thousand words, give or take. One of the things that does, where romance novel conventions are concerned, is dispense with the “you thought…” “wait, you thought…” silliness in the space of about a paragraph, when I’ve read books where it can go up to fifty pages. That alone is a refreshing enough shot of adrenalin for romance readers to pick this one up. Crouch does slip in a thriller angle, as ridiculous as it is, and Kitt seals the deal on it with the story’s Big Twist(TM), but in general, I only got impressions of which author was writing which bit, and that is a solid complement to both.

I enjoy both Crouch and Kitt as solo authors, so I went into this one pretty much knowing I was going to enjoy it. If you’re not familiar with one or both, you may want to check out their solo works first (my recommended starting points are Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed for Kitt and Desert Places for Crouch), but if you like those, you’ll want to pick this one up. *** ½

Zoo (1993): So Far, So Good

Otsuichi, Zoo (Haikasoru, 1993)

otsuichi-zoo-novel

Don’t feed the animals. photo credit: cdon.se

I first encountered the work of Hirotaka Adachi, who writes under the pen name Otsuichi (I have no idea if this is what he meant choosing it, but amusingly, one of the possible translations of his pen name is “first second”), when I saw the screen adaptation of his novel Goth a couple of years ago. While the movie was problematic, it was interesting, and I decided I’d try to hunt down some of his writing. The first thing I picked up was Zoo. And boy, can this guy write. (And boy, can that other guy translate.)

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The Revenant (2015): And On the Third Day He Rose Again, In Accordance with the Scriptures

Leonardo DiCaprio stares determinedly out of the movie's poster.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

For a while there, it seemed like Leonardo DiCaprio had lapsed back in time to the days when studios kept actors at their beck and call; if it wasn’t a Martin Scorsese picture, DiCaprio was nowhere to be found. He also seems to have overcome whatever malaise affected him after Titanic was such a smash, and has gotten back to the Leo we saw in films such as The Basketball Diaries and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. Then, on the other hand, there’s Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu blasted out of the gate with Love’s a Bitch fifteen years ago, and a fine thing it was. Then something happened. I’m not sure what, exactly, but the closest I can come to it is that he became a director of concept; his films were, while still somewhat enjoyable (with one notable exception that will be mentioned in passing later), more about The Grand Scheme of Things than they were about character. So here we are with The Revenant, and for those who don’t like to read below the fold, I’ll tell you that this is Iñárritu’s best movie in fifteen years, and for much the same reasons that made Love’s a Bitch such a good watch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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White Dog (1982): Sundown Town

White Dog (Samuel Fuller, 1982)

An artist's rendition of the snarling title creature adorns the DVD cover.

Never bite the hand that bleeds you.
photo credit: subscene.com

There a number of directors who have become canonical over the years whose films I have simply never gotten. Woody Allen. Mario Bava. Sam Fuller. Every time I dig into a Fuller movie I try and see what it is that sets him apart, and every time I fail. My most recent attempt was with the 1982 racism melodrama White Dog, and I think that perhaps I’ve figured out what the canon sees in him. I still didn’t get to the “all that and a bag of racists” point with this one, but it’s starting to make sense. The thing about Sam Fuller’s strain of melodrama, if I’m right in my hypothesizing, is that in movies like Shock Corridor and Pickup on South Street, both of which left me kind of cold, Fuller was doing that gig first; Douglas Sirk and Grace Metalious and Russ Meyer and all that lot would come after and hone the genre, so that when Fuller returned to the fold in the eighties, he not only had his own base to work from, he had everyone else’s, too. And I think that, more than anything, may be what impressed me about White Dog: Fuller wasn’t afraid to build on the work of others, rather than focusing obsessively upon his own corpus.

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The Evictors (1979): Court Is Now in Session

The Evictors (Charles B. Pierce, 1979)

A dark figure carries a dead body away from a house on the movie poster.

We get ’em out the old-fashioned way!
photo credit: dailygrindhouse.com

There are a whole lot of directors at work in America today who should be sat down—with as much force as necessary—and made to watch The Evictors, which is an excellent example of how to make a stylish, effective thriller on a basement budget. But since that’s not going to happen, I can distill what they need to learn from this movie into a single sentence: look backward, not forward. Look, if you dare, at the plague of Asylum pictures and Syfy Original Movies and all that sort of dreck, and one thing you will likely notice is that everyone’s waving around CGI like it’s a brand-new toy they can’t get enough of. It’s a very loud, flashy toy, and it annoys the hell out of mom and dad five minutes after the box is opened. Now watch the opening sequence of The Evictors, which is filmed in sepia-tone; the sequence takes place in the thirties, and Pierce was going for that kind of look. It’s very well-shot, it’s obviously out of place, and it does what it sets out to do. If this movie was made in 2013, that sequence would probably be CGIed to death, and the movie would be the worse for it. This is not to say that The Evictors is a perfect film, not by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it is, it is a very good one.

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After the Dark (2013): Before the Robots

After the Dark (John Huddles, 2013)

The cast stand in the foreground, a mushroom cloud behind them, on the movie poster.

The Day After.
photo credit: movies.yahoo.com

After the Dark (also released under the title The Philosophers), John Huddles’ first film in a decade and a half, starts out with an intriguing, sobering, and rather terrifying premise. Zimit (Exorcist: The Beginning‘s James D’Arcy) is a philosophy teacher at an Indonesian school containing some of the world’s best and brightest students. It’s the last day of his class’ senior year, and he’s not going to let them go without one last exercise. There are twenty students in the class, and Zimit makes twenty-one. A nuclear disaster has occurred, and they are within range of a bunker that can sustain ten people for one year, enough time for the radiation level on the planet to subside enough for it to become habitable again. Given a random distribution of talents (the students pick slips of paper from a box describing their professions), an exercise in pragmatism: who gets to go into the bunker? Who lives and who dies?

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