Friday, December 13, 2013

American Horror Story - S3, E9 (2013)


Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Angela Bassett, Josh Hamilton, Jamie Brewer, Gabourey Sidibe, Kathy Bates; ft. Patti LuPone, Alexander Dreymon
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, terror, drama, witches, magic, voodoo
Scare score:  C-
Rating:  A

Plot overview:  The recently revived Myrtle Snow (Conroy) will do whatever it takes to help out her beloved Delia (Paulson), regardless of what the Coven might sanction.  Faced with a witch hunter (Hamilton) on the loose, tension between the Coven and the vodouists seems to be stronger than ever, but will the assailant bring them even closer?

This is an episode about growth and change, life and death.  There was also a much more clearly established theme of I guess a sort of corporate chauvinism as well as a distinctly marked racial divide.  We were provided with a sort of backstory on li'l Hank, showing us some familiar and perhaps psychological reasons behind his masculine need to prove himself to his father and the company - an apparent semi-cover for the male witch hunters of North America.

Queenie's (Sidibe) education of LaLaurie (Bates) was perhaps the most poignant part of the episode.  Not only were we all faced with important images, but the pairing with music and the naming of wonderful movie titles really put us in Delphine's shoes… or at list it would if she had a body… and made us contemplate the struggle of African Americans, too.  This was really unexpected even though the racial motif has been strong all season.  I thought the end of the episode, played over the strong and moving music, resulted in a beautiful duet of sound and imagery that somehow tied in perfectly with the various subplots of the episode.


Myrtle's whole spiel was really interesting to me, and I totally didn't expect it.  Is she unstable?  Should we be worrying about her?  Or was she merely acting upon a well-deserved revenge?  I guess the Council wasn't doing too much anyway regarding the whole Voodoo situation.  We can only wonder what sort of problems other groups of witches are facing in other cities though.  Then again, how much do we know about witches nation and worldwide?  Are there any?  Are they only localized in the Big Easy?

Delia's gift is gone!  I don't like this!  What will she miss out on now that she cannot see the truth behind everyone she comes into contact with?  Also, I sense a lot of foreshadowing in terms of people expecting her to lead the Coven instead of her mother.

Queenie, Queenie, Queenie, Queenie, Queenie.  What an episode for this girl.  About two months ago I began my countdown for her to get killed off - either that, or I expected her to be the common ground between the witches and the Voodoo folk.  Again, I really thought the exchange between her and Delphine was nice on this episode, in spite of their rocky relationship.  It was obvious that Queenie had been doubting her choice to switch to Voodoo for a little while now, but while she certainly took a bullet for Laveau, she also (unknowingly) took a bullet for the Coven.  But will Hank's death provoke more wrath from the witch hunters?

Woah woah woah, Patti LuPone!  I guess it's not a surprise that this servant of God ended up having a dark side!  And did we just get treated to a free concert?  She might have been acting all sad and closed up after grieving her son, but there was absolutely some Evita behind that single-shot singing scene.

When Marie Laveau showed up on Fiona's (Lange) doorstep, I can't tell you how excited I was.  That is all.

Final critique:  This show really isn't scary at all, but it is compelling.  What's going to happen next in the world of these witches and vodouists following the attack at Cornrow City?  Can't wait until next episode to see where the dark, magical saga takes us.

American Horror Story - S3, E8 (2013)

"The Sacred Taking"

Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, Sara Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Evan Peters, Jamie Brewer, Kathy Bates, Gabourey Sidibe, Angela Bassett; ft. Alexander Dreymon, Patti LuPone, Dennis O'Hare, Danny Huston
TV Rating:  MA LSV
Genre:  television, horror, thriller, drama, witches, magic, Voodoo
Scare score:  C
Rating:  A

Plot overview: The main plot of this action-packed episode revolves around the sickly Fiona (Lange) and her place within (or otherwise out of) the Coven.  Following the betrayal of Queenie (Sidibe), the remaining witches at Miss Robichaux's must put their differences aside and band together in order to combat not only the Voodoo Queen (Bassett) but a masked witch hunter as well. 

This episode struck me in many ways as being very different than previous episodes.  From the get go, camera angles were crazy, and simple plot was delivered in confusing, attention-grabbing ways (dreams, flashbacks, flash forwards), and even the very first scene was strange, dark, and unprovoked by previous actions.

I was such a big fan of this episode because of all the PLOT advancements; it was extremely fulfilling.  There was such beautiful witchcraft involved in this installment that I think others have severely lacked.  Is it so much to ask for a group of witches to provide us with some spells and rituals?  Either way, the Coven is getting a little stronger, characters are realizing the need to trust one another, death isn't even an obstacle, a new Supreme may or may not be rising, our pets' heads are falling off… ah, but I digress. 

Though we're halfway through the season at this point, the scariest thing happening so far has come as no surprise to me (seen here).  I'm talking about the lacking acting skills of some of our young witches, namely Gabourey Sidibe and to a lesser extent Jamie Brewer.   For a while now I've been doubting the static nature of Miss Sidibe, who has remained far inside the realms of her comfort zone: sass and moping.  I was frankly surprised by her first scene and the appalling lack of acting.  Ask a 12-year-old who does school plays to read Queenie's line from under the bridge, and chances are they'll at least do it with more heart. 


Quite a few shocking things happened this episode.  First and foremost we have the Coven's attempt to take the life of their Supreme.  I really enjoyed the inclusion of this ritual, although I didn't really get what the point of the magic was, being that the "push" from Madison (Roberts) and Myrtle (Conroy) seemed strong enough to convince any ill, guilt-ridden witch to want to end it.  I must say I am so thankful that at least Delia (Paulson) now realizes how important her mother is for the safety and preservation of the Coven.  Future crisis averted… for the time being.

Otherwise, a masked witch hunter we can only assume to be Hank Foxx (Josh Hamilton) is making moves against the - until now - unaware ladies at Miss Robichaux's - not to mention their neighbors.  This was a source of two major (and unpredictable) plot points:

(1) The sudden arrival of Misty Day (Rabe) and the recently revived Myrtle Snow at Miss Robichaux's.  While this was certainly a point of tension, it also means the Coven will be a little stronger should it need to actively defend itself. 

(2) All of the drama at the Ramsey household next door.  For the second time this season, we've seen a mother abuse her son - a perhaps less known, less-talked-about type of abuse that certainly must happen behind closed doors somewhere in, if not all over, the world.  I think it is interesting that AHS has chosen this genre of abuse (if only to scare people) because it simultaneously makes viewers more aware.  I also think we can now expect much more out of La LuPone considering what happened right at the end of the episode.  Will she be some evil person now?  Or will she be thankful to the Coven for their help?  I wouldn't even be surprised to see if she is a witch herself that has been hiding from her gifts by turning instead to religion.  Either way, I'm just not sure what the point of the capacity of Misty Day's gift is at this point.  Dead?  No problem.  #fixed.  Although, I think this is the first time we've seen Misty collapse after reviving somebody: what could it mean?

Finally, we can now expect some sort of funny, Adams Family-esque character from Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie following Laveau's (Bassett) gift real special, so Fiona took off the top, took a look inside and it's…. her head in a box.  Call me crazy, but giving away Delphine's head seems like giving up the prisoner all together.  I wonder how magic and physics will come into play here.  Will she still be able to feel pain if her disconnected body is still tortured?  In the case that Laveau keeps sending body parts, it sounds like easy work for Misty Day and her swamp mud. 

Another thought on this whole "war" between witches and vodouists that we're supposed to be expecting.  I realize Laveau has a group of friends who serve doubly as hairstylists and assistants in her Voodoo rituals, but are any of them actually capable of powers?  It seems like Laveau is the one doing all the work.  In which case, what kind of war would it be between a handful of witches and only one Voodoo Queen and her cornrowed friends?  Maybe I'm underestimating Voodoo. 

Final critique:  This episode was one of the best ones we've had in a while, mainly because there was plenty of action and excitement.  Now that the Coven is smart to the work of (presumably) Hank, and now that daughter has accepted mother as an ally, we'll have to see where the increasingly powerful - and increasingly close - witches lead us next.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

  Meir Zarchi
Studios:  Cinemagic Pictures
Starring:  Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann
Tagline:  After it was all over... she waited... then she struck back in a way only a woman can!
MPAA Rating:  X
Genre:  horror, thriller, psychological horror, drama, suspense, revenge
Scare score:  D-
Rating:  C-

Plot overview:  Aspiring writer Jennifer Hill (Keaton) takes a relaxing break from life in New York City in order to spend a peaceful summer working on her first novel upstate.  Little does she expect that her first few days at her rented lakehouse will become the most nightmarish of her life.

If you spend more than a day researching the horror genre, you will most likely read something about this film.  Some fans praise it for its grit and truth while others (including Roger Ebert) disregard it as depressing and disgusting garbage.  Personally, Horror Buff didn't love this film, but not necessarily because of the material it contained.  On the contrary, I disliked this film more because of what it lacked.

I didn't see the appeal to this film.  The sound was awful, the acting was bad, the filming quality was poor, the writing was both predictable and not believable, and then the main action of the movie was just uncomfortable to watch and suffer through.  Before you can judge a film's content, the basic features of sound and cinematography are going to affect your opinion: and in this case of this movie they don't help.  At several points throughout the movie I found myself speaking aloud with lines I hadn't heard yet simply because they were so cliche - although perhaps Jenny's writing was meant to be that way.  

Plot and progression-wise, I just didn't get it.  Girl arrives upstate (cough Connecticut cough), immediately skinny dips in broad daylight, proceeds to write bad literature in a wild hammock, and then some complete strangers decide to abduct and rape her?  Now I'm not saying that there aren't bad people in the world, but four men randomly kidnapping, assaulting, raping, and "killing" a young woman - mind you a published author - simply seemed too random and forced for me.  Obviously "idle hands are the devil's tools" and oftentimes bad things come from boredom, but it seemed to me that Zarchi just wanted to make a sexual/ violent picture along with some feminist social commentary, and that this movie was the result of the easiest way for him to do that.  That easy way being attacking women (physically, sexually) in order to attack men (sexually, socially).

Yes, I side with those who say that this is in fact a feminist movie.  While I mainly sat there bored and uncomfortable while watching this during dinner last night, the end of the movie was when things began to make more sense to me.  No - I didn't find the revenge realistic or practical (I'd like to see an average human hang another human like that), nor did I find her psychological reaction very believable - however, I did think the important message came from when her body changed from being a victim to becoming the weapon.  During her spree of revenge, Jennifer uses her looks, her words, her body, and sex as weapons against the very men who once used her looks and body as excuses to silence her words and take sex against her will.  The fact that the original title of this film was "Day of the Woman" seems much more appropriate to me.  While the main action of this movie is disturbing and perhaps unnecessary, the whole purpose of the movie comes together when Johnny (Tabor) is giving his reasons as to why they raped and beat her in the first place, citing typical and truly base excuses such as "she asked for it" based on her clothing and actions.  Suddenly all the characters came to represent feminists or chauvenists, intelligible or stupid, ignorant people (at least in terms of sexual assault and rape).  The men came to represent the most basic and brute stereotype of 'man,' who takes what he wants by force (and then weasles his way out of responsibility).  As Johnny said, he may be happily married with kids but at the end of the day he's just a man.  When Jennifer regains her senses and carries out her revenge, she emasculates (physically and otherwise) her victims by using her feminine wiles, taking their manhood and their lives in her stride.

Regardless of sociosexual commentary, I thought the movie was just not very good, regardless of taste and vulgarity.  There is an obvious criticism here not only of men and women but of society (violence, possession, anger) in general.  Yet while we watch an innocent woman brutally beat up and violated, the movie's denouement and final commentary still fails to overly attack men and male sexual behavior/ violence.

Final critique:  This movie is not for everybody.  It is certainly a violent movie filled with physical and sexual aggression and a definitive lack of clothing. Like honestly, why was nobody ever wearing clothes?  I don't even want to imagine what denim overalls and no underwear must be like in the summer or ever.  The quality is poor and the overall product is heavily sadistic.  At the same time, I think this movie goes places that other movies are afraid to directly go without being overly gory or entering into torture porn.  I won't watch this again, but I might consider checking out the sequel to see what they change.