Southland Tales

You’ve heard the boos from Cannes and the “what the–?s” from reviewers. Even many of those who are well disposed toward writer-director Richard Kelly, some of those who liked–maybe loved–Donnie Darko, have given up on this movie. Well, I liked it.

Tonight Zach and I saw a preview screening of the version that’s now slated for wide release. The audience seemed pretty polarized. Judging by the walkouts, some hated it. Judging by the people who stayed in their seats through the credits, talking passionately, some loved it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it quite a lot, and I enjoyed watching it, which means something kind of different. A lot of little things were extremely funny, and some scenes were just delicious to look at. And it was fun seeing people like Jon Lovitz and Christopher Lambert in utterly unexpected little roles. The sound track is awesome, in a Mobylicious way, and there’s a bizarre scene set to one of my favorite songs–“All These Things That I Have Done” by the Killers–that would alone have been worth the price of admission, if we had paid one. Overall, it’s a weird and perhaps over-ambitious mishmash, but it’s not stupid, and I wasn’t bored.

And there aren’t enough movies about the space-time continuum, anyway.

Oh, and I came to the film with no backstory. I haven’t read the Southland Tales graphic novels, but now I’m going to give them a look.

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival

Last weekend was the annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival here in Portland. (Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!) In recent years the minions of the Old Ones have gathered for this event at what I consider the perfect venue (and not just because it’s close to my house):  the Hollywood Theatre, a shabbily magnificent old-style movie palace, with three screening rooms, one of which is enormous. A winding ramp leads up to the second floor. The ramp is oddly off-kilter, but its non-Euclidean geometry is the perfect introduction to the Mall of Cthulhu on the second floor, where vendors hawk all kinds of good things: books, comix, Miskatonic U. athletic wear, and much, much more. I always treat myself to something during the festival. This year I bought a CD of a 30s-style radio play of At the Mountains of Madness. It was produced by the good folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, who also created the wonderful silent-film-style live-action Call of Cthulhu a year or so ago. I haven’t yet listened to the CD. I’m saving it for the end of this month, when Zach and I may venture into the aeon-blasted peaks surrounding the fabled plateau of forbidden Leng . . . er, drive to Chico to visit Z’s stepmom, then take the long way home on back roads through the Klamath and Siskiyou mountains. We shall strictly avoid any ancient buried cities we happen to find.

Each year the HPL filmfest presents half a dozen or so feature films, old and new, and several blocks of shorts. Some are directly based on Lovecraft’s fiction; others are indirectly Lovecraftian–sometimes very indirectly, but the festival’s organizer, Andrew Migliore, is pretty good at keeping the focus on weird and cosmic horror rather than pure grue. I often find the shorts to be the best of the fest. They are wildly varied in tone and quality, but they always represent wonderful inventiveness and energy. Another reason I like to I catch all the shorts blocks is that at least some of the features are available on DVD. John Carpenter’s The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, frex, were screened this year. So was Larry Fessenden’s new film, The Last Winter, which sounds very promising. I would’ve worked it into my fest schedule had I not learned that it will play at the Hollywood for a regular run in December. There are, however, always features that are difficult, if not impossible, to get on DVD. (I will never forget an amazing, confusing, but very Lovecraftian Italian film I saw at the fest a few years ago; last time I checked it was not yet available in NA format.) A film called Wishbaby had its world premiere at this year’s festival, and one called Chill, based on “Cool Air” had its regional premiere.

Highlights of the weekend, in no particular order:

–A very funny live skit by Chuck and Dexter, a pair of prankish auteurs who have contributed some of the cleverest videos to recent festivals . My favorite short of theirs is “Antiques Road Show: Arkham.”

–A 21-minute short called “Of Darkness” that I thought was brilliant. It was a simple idea, filmed in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with very a simple set and minimal props. It was about half a dozen kids (not professional actors, but amazingly well directed) in a simple, terrifying story about a book that opens and lights that go out.

–“The Masque of Ollock,” an eerie 8-minute animated horror fantasy created by Robert F. Kauffman, based on his book of the same title. The soundtrack was disturbingly cool; I scanned the credits and saw that it was by The Church, which reminded me of how much I liked that band and launched a search through boxes of old CDs when I got home.

—“A Short Film About John Bolton,” a funny-scary parody of a BBC documentary about a British painter; spot-on skewering of a pretentious gallery owner and a clueless interviewer; a nod to “Pickman’s Model.”

Nobody, a 90-minute feature that made its regional premiere, starring Costas Mandylor and George O’Ross (the director, Shawn Linden, was at the fest). It was slow and stately, but deeply atmospheric and filmed in extraordinarily good, lived-in-looking 1950s period detail. It’s a film noir about the fateful intersection of a mobster, an assassin, and a witch on a winter night in some nameless city . . . with structural echoes of Groundhog Day and Memento.

–Two adaptations of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth: Cthulhu, a feature length piece filmed here in the Pacific NW, and “Call,” a 43-minute “long short” made in Scotland. I liked Cthulhu but liked “Call” more–the setting in a Scottish seaside city, with actors speaking their lines in Trainspotting-thick Scots accents, added piquancy.

I was too busy all week, finishing an overdue book about Rodents (couldn’t work in a reference to “The Rats in the Walls,” though), to write this up. As I went to bed last night, I was thinking about the festival and preparing to write about it. Then I had a dream about NEXT year’s HPL film fest. Zach was there (highly unusual–he almost never goes) and so, for some reason, was Sharon Stone (I think she had a bit part in some horror movie that was showing and stopped by to sign autographs or something). A bunch of us were sitting around in what looked like an elementary-school classroom, talking, and she asked, “Who is this Lovecraft and why do you like the stuff?” Everybody started babbling enthusiastically, and after a minute she said, “Maybe I should make a Lovecraft movie. What are his women characters like?” General hilarity ensued. Just then a crane outside the window accidentally drove a long metal bar right through the wall, about 3 inches above Sharon Stone’s head. Everyone sat there stunned for an instant, and then Zach said, “Stuff like that happens all the time in Lovecraft.” I was about to take issue with him and point out that he’s never even read any Lovecraft, but I woke up.

My bad

In my rush to post about that Apollo documentary the other night, I got the movie’s title wrong: It’s In the Shadow of the Moon.

And I allowed my animus toward Ron Howard (except as he appeared in the gloriously horrible Village of the Giants) to lead me into another error. Howard did not direct the film; David Sington did. Howard did produce it, however, and I can’t help but feel I detected the telltale sticky fingerprints of his saccharine sensibility in a few places.

Mea culpa. (Which reminds me–I’m starting up my Latin studies again this month. What larks!)

Shadow of the Moon

We went to a preview of the new documentary Shadow of the Moon this evening. It’s about the Apollo program and consists of NASA footage (some of it new to me, and I’ve watched a LOT of shows about this stuff) interspersed with on-camera comments from some of the Apollo astronauts. It’s a bit reverential here or there, and the director’s (Ron Howard, sigh) choice of quotes to wrap up the final minutes pissed me off somewhat, but those are minor cavils. The footage was amazing, there were funny and touching moments, and it was interesting to see how these Apollo guys have aged, and what they have to say about the experience, looking back.

Mike Collins is the most thoughtful of them, and very funny. I’ve always suspected he was cool.

Fun watching for anyone who, like me, likes to recapture the sense of wonder of the Apollo days.

Multihacking

Ever have the feeling that you’re juggling so many things that you’re not doing any of them as well as you could?

I have, and I’m not liking it so much. Must ponder solutions. I can do that while I organize the back matter for the Rodents book, and order the research material for the two books after that, and finish typing up my Taos notes, and catch up on my correspondence. And while I’m doing that I’ll just watch that episode of Eureka that I taped last night.

A couple of hours of singlemindedness are in store for this evening, however. Zach and I have passes for a preview of Shadow of the Moon, that new documentary about the Apollo astronauts (some of whom got very weird afterward) and the Moon missions. Supposed to have some cool never-before-seen footage, too. Should be lunariffic.