Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Road

My review of The Road, John Hillcoat's film of Cormac McCarthy's novel, is up at Cinefantastique Online.

I haven't read McCarthy's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, but plan to soon. I found very horrifying and moving, with wonderful performances and a very effective visual design. This post-apocalyptic world is horrifyingly plausible, and very thought-provoking. It seems that survivalism has been quietly increasing out there, and not long ago I blogged about the phenomenon of "green survivalism" which is a new twist on the old stereotype. Hoarding antibiotics and ammunition has, for some people, been augmented by learning how to grow and preserve food. And if McCarthy's vision of the future is accurate, there will definitely be a need for food preservation, as there won't be a single tree, shrub or blade of grass left, much less any animals. I think this film ought to be required viewing for anyone in a position of power who makes decisions regarding our nuclear, agricultural or military future. But then, I doubt anyone would actually learn anything.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Season of the Witch

This new film starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman and directed by Dominic Sena (Gone in Sixty Seconds) portrays a medieval warrior (Cage) who is given the task of escorting a witch (Claire Foy) through the French countryside to stand trial for causing the spread of the Black Plague.

This trailer gives a taste: flaming pentagrams, leaping wolves, telekinetic acrobatics, and lots of horses! Oh, goody: another evil witchcraft film. At least this one looks like it might have an authentic medieval look. Season of the Witch is slated to open in March 2010.

I'd have preferred an adaptation of James Leo Herlihy's excellent novel of the same title; or even a 90 minute video of Donovan performing his classic song. But no.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rest in Peace, Sergeant Howie

British actor Edward Woodward has passed away at the age of 79. He will be remembered fondly by many pagan film lovers for his excellent portrayal of Sergeant Howie in Robin Hardy's 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man.

My obituary of him appears here. Woodward was a consummate actor of stage, screen and television, as well as an accomplished singer. He wa salso well regarded for his roles in Breaker Morant and The Equalizer. He was also a lusty, powerful Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott (pictured above). But he will always be Sergeant Neil Howie to many of us: repressed, arrogant, condescending, complex, vulnerable, naive, doomed.

It's difficult to estimate the influence of this strange and beautiful film on the contemporary pagan community. Some pagan viewers find it horrifying; some treat it as pure camp and fun. But for many of us, it represents a dreamlike vision of what is possible within a truly Utopian context, albeit an extreme and bloodthirsty one. But I feel sure many who have dreamed of founding pagan schools and pagan villages have had these images and words in their minds: Miss Rose's pedantic lectures on phallic symbols, the impresario Lord Summerisle's ritual orchestrations, the nightly lovemaking in the town green, the gathering of pregnant women in the blossoming orchards, the constant performance of music. I can think of worse models to emulate.

Farewell, Mr. Woodward, and thank you for sharing your gifts. They will be the stuff of many fond memories for many years to come.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Robin Hardy in New York!

Director Robin Hardy will be hosting a Q & A following a screening of 1973's The Wicker Man at 92Y in Tribeca, and will also present a teaser/trailer of the new film, The Wicker Tree! A very exciting event, also with live music by Effi Briest, Silver Summit and Wooden Shjips. More information from the Village Voice online.

Sure wish I could be there! I hope you New Yorkers will let us know how it goes!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ponyo: Pagan? or Pedestrian?

For anyone interested in its possible pagan themes, I regret to inform that Hayao Miyazaki's eagerly-awaited new film PONYO is a huge disappointment. That's not to say the art direction and animation are not first rate as always. But, by combining forces with Disney, Studio Ghibli has produced a film aimed at kids that simply hasn't the depth, heart or magic of Miyazaki's former masterpieces PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY or HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. Even KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE (about the child witch, remember?) has more soul than this.

I have a brief review posted here. I don't go into the underutilized pagan imagery and themes. The fact that Ponyo is a fish born of a mortal man (a wizard no less!) and a sea goddess, who becomes a girl through sheer force of will and her own suggested magical powers, or that Ponyo (it is said) can helo restore the balance of the world through love, are all things which could have been powerful threads in the story. But the details of Ponyo's abilities are almost nonexistent. The reason for the earth's inbalance (maybe to do with all the garbage by the sea shore?) are unexplained. And the relationship between the mortal wizard and the sea goddess (voiced by Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett, no less) is unsatisfyingly vague. Pity. The film is sumptuous to look upon and often thrilling in its fast-paced action. But the ideas and symbolism so clearly aching to be given expression are given a back seat to silly dialogue and juvenile humor. I blame Disney. Hayao, please stick with your own studio next time.

In other movie news: as always Jason at The Wild Hunt has some interesting updates on the WICKER MAN remake, which has been retitled The Wicker Tree. It seems financial difficulties have been addressed and the production is moving ahead. Speed the Day!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Review of Synechdoche, New York

My review of Charlie Kauffman's excellent film SYNECHDOCHE, NEW YORK is up now at Cinefanastique Online. This is my first review for this long-standing magazine devoted to horror cinema. I pitched the idea of SYNECHDOCHE as a horror film, which it was originally meant to be. I'm happy to be published in this fine mag and am glad to see them going strong on the web.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Witches on TV! Again! reports that ABC is developing the John Updike novel (or, more likely, the schlocky film somewhat based on it) for television, with Maggie Friedman of Dawson's Creek as head writer.

My main problem with the film is that, first of all, the main characters were made far more glamorous than their portrayal in the novel. Sukie, Jane and Alexandra were played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher, respectively. This took away from the significant issues of competition and sexual viability these women-approaching-middle-age were feeling. Alex was meant to be considerably overweight, for example, and, in the novel, envied Jane's and Sukie's thinness. The competition among them was so fierce, in fact, that the three witches decide to create a spell to kill a young woman who steals the object of their affection from them (Daryl Van Horne, played with delicious devilry by Jack Nicholson). That's the other very important plot point left out: the decision to perform an act of magic that amounts to murder. The sequel novel, The Widows of Eastwick, begins with the idea that the guilt over this murder (performed fifteen years earlier) is still very much alive in Alexandra, at least (I have only read 22 pages or so).

I am an eager to finish reading it, although I highly doubt a film version will be made about older, unglamorous witches. I always hoped someone else would try this again for the large or small screen and deal with the story in a more faithful and this more interesting way. I think it would work in an arthouse kind of way.

Why can't Hollywood engage a complex, realistic novel in a complex, realistic way?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Satanists on TV!

The previews for next week's new episode of NCIS show an episode dealing with satanism and the occult, complete with one victim who has a huge pentagram tattooed on his back. Because this show is both smart and funny, I hope they'll deal with this topic in a less offensive way than The Mentalist did last week. Check out the controversy over that on the Wild Hunt Blog.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cinefantastique is now online!

Thanks to John Morehead for making me aware of this. I am very excited to be able to access this excellent resource for cinema buffs and academics alike. There is a section of archived articles I am practicaly drooling over!

The classic mag for all things cinema in the realms of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and weird, now lives online here. Make sure you link to it! This magazine has published some wonderful articles over the years, including a lengthy and definitive one on The Wicker Man that can be found in its entirety here--you're welcome.