Romy Shiller

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The Thing (2011):Or, ‘Hmmm’

In Film, review on October 31, 2011 at 7:58 am

It is Halloween and I say le boo to you.

In honor of eeeeek-day, I have chosen to review a film called The Thing (2011).

In England, I’m a horror movie director. In Germany, I’m a filmmaker. In the US, I’m a bum.

John Carpenter

Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

Writers: Eric Heisserer, John W. Campbell Jr. (short story “Who Goes There?”)

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen

How do you compare anything to a John Carpenter film? In my opinion, you can’t – his work stands alone. It takes unbelievable chutzpa to make a prequel to a classic. I even thought “how can I review this film and be fair?” The impulse to create a prequel to The Thing is completely understandable but as a film one must isolate it from the 1982 film. Yes, there is a strong thematic connection and certain elements did invoke the original film like the Norwegian camp, but it also has a different director which means a different aesthetic. If information is the only reason to see a film, I’m tempted to say ‘read a newspaper or a book.’  Look, at the outset you know that you’re not going to get a John Carpenter film – do not expect one that isn’t his. We might look for an homage or respect here – that’s it, die-hards. If I were to do a comparison I’d be in ‘Why bother?’ mode.

I invited 2 people, who had not seen the 1982 film, to see this film with me (‘A’ and ‘B’). Their reactions are below. I was very interested to see if this film could stand on its own.

When Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s planned zombie film called Army of the Dead, was cancelled he became involved in The Thing 2011. Alien and The Thing 1982 are his favorite films. “We’re telling the story of the Norwegian camp that found the Thing before the Kurt Russell group did,” van Heijningen Jr. said

A little while ago I had a brief but gasp-full conversation with John Carpenter about aesthetic on Twitter:

I asked him if his early affinity for John Ford films influences his work (While Ford is known for his Westerns he paid careful attention to aesthetic detail.)

John Carpenter replied – “Somewhat. Not as much as the movies of Howard Hawks.” (Hawks is a brilliant classical filmmaker)

I still cannot believe we talked.

Plot: At an Antarctica research site, the discovery of an alien craft leads to a confrontation between graduate student Kate Lloyd and scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson.

So, this film begins right before the events of the 1982 film and ends with the dog we see at the very beginning of Carpenter’s film. If you want the story-line you can read it here. “In order to not try to compete with Kurt Russell’s portrayal of the 1982 film’s protagonist, R.J. MacReady, the character of Kate Lloyd was designed to have traits in common with the character Ellen Ripley from the Alien film series.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead was asked,

“Your character is sort of an interesting hybrid of a Jamie Lee Curtis-style final girl, and almost an Alien-era Ellen Ripley. How difficult was it to create a female who was tough and resilient but not invulnerable?”

She replied, “That was what was so exciting to me, a realistic portrayal of a woman in danger. We don’t ever see that—at least, not a smart woman or a strong woman. We see sexy girls who are running around screaming in tank tops and they get killed. Or, we see super badass girls who are unrealistically kicking the asses of men twice their size. So it was such a rare thing to read something that was like, “Man, this is how I hope I would react in this situation, and I want to see a woman like this in a movie.” It seems like something I would aspire to, so I was so excited about that-it’s not the type of thing that I get to do very often.”

As I said before I went with ‘A’ and ‘B’ to see this film. Both had not seen John Carpenter’s film. While not critics, they have seen many sci-fi movies. ‘A’ thought it was a barbecue-fest and wanted more insight into the psychology of the creature. She wondered why all that it wanted to do was eat. ‘A’ likened the creature popping out of the chest to Alien but said it was not as good. She also said that like Cowboys and Aliens a relatively small device is used to try to destroy the creature.

‘B’ liked it and thought that the science was credible. He said that it followed a sci-fi formula and talked about the film, The Fly, where the threat is man-made and not alien. He acknowledged that there were a few ‘leaps of faith’ but he liked the reactions of the characters, said the directing and acting were very good.

What to say about this film…  Is it comparable to John Carpenter’s film? Of course not. Is it as good as The Shining, for example? No. It is what I call a junk-food movie. You consume it but it has no nutritional value. It satisfies an initial urge or craving, and then you might crash. Sometimes you feel like puking afterwards, sometimes you’re left with empty calories or an empty experience. It’s all in how you relate to junk-food.  Take it for what it’s worth. Did I like this film? It was what it was. A momentary binge. I might not give you a ‘yes, see it’ or ‘no, stay away’ because there are factors here that go way beyond my opinion and I recognize that.

An interesting dichotomy was set up. Beyond Human vs. Alien you had American vs. Norwegian. This established a rupture in the camp and added layers to the film. Seeing Lars and the dog was satisfying and invoked the 1982 film. It was mildly gory and I found it only mildly frightening. The acting was fine and so was the directing and cinematography. The CGI (computer generated imagery) was plentiful. The writing… not very original. The plot is obviously predictable but it could have been more complex and layered. I think that there are different approaches to back-story. A successful prequel is X-Men: First Class.

Brian Miller of the Village Voice says, “John Carpenter should approve of this reasonably respectful and tough-minded prequel to his 1982 The Thing.” Respect is good because frankly, even John Carpenter must acknowledge, that’s all you can hope for.

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You Never Know: A Memoir – Chapter 3: Hurry Up And Wait

In book on October 22, 2011 at 11:20 am

Available at all Amazon stores online

Sickness shows us what we are.

Latin Proverb

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

The Dalai Lama

Rain! whose soft architectural hands have power to cut stones, and chisel to shapes of grandeur the very mountains.

Henry Ward Beecher

I tell people that this is a life lesson. What have I learned? I have found out that I am much more resilient than I thought. When we are confronted by adversity, we really see what we are made up of. It is like a mirror held up to whom we really are. I think that “mirror” can be many different situations. We may think we know ourselves, but what a reality check. For me, it was very sudden, unexpected and completely unpremeditated. My initial reaction and continuing positivism constantly surprises me. If I think about it, I imagine I should be way more negative. But I have few, if any, regrets and I feel that my life has been quite interesting. I suppose that this is a part of it. People say I count my blessings. I guess I do.

I have also heard that I am afforded a second chance. Perhaps this is what I was supposed to experience during my lifetime. I feel like I had to grow up, to do certain things, to be able to express myself in certain ways – I had to be ready. What I do not think is understood is that this feels like an evolution to me. I have to put all I studied regarding “the body” into practice. What I learned is a kind of reflection of my present situation. For some reason, I make a relationship.

I now get the chance to look at my own internalized ideas about “the body.” I know that many people would simply focus on their disabilities, so I am pleased I do this. There is a shift in my non-academic perspective on beauty, for instance. The way I look now has been a substantial issue for me. That this is one of my challenges feels synchronous and unbelievable.

My attitude seems very strange to many people around me, but I continue despite formidable opposition. I could be like most people expect – but I am simply not depressed or distraught about my condition. Many people see themselves in me. They gauge my reactions on how they would deal with a similar situation. This is understandable but not applicable. In the past, I rarely ever did what anyone expected me to do.

This is not about denial; it is about acceptance. Acceptance for me does not preclude change. It is more about blending realities, weaving the idea of identity. Fluctuation and adaptation are important qualities. I truly view this entire experience as adding to my life. There are some things I cannot do now, but what an opportunity to experience and learn new stuff. The way I see it, most people don’t ever go through this. This experience means a lot to me. In many ways, I choose to see it as a positive over a negative. There are other things I could have experienced, but maybe I did not need to. I am not sure that I could have learned as much from anything else.

By writing this book, I have had the unique opportunity to reflect upon my life so far. To say my life has been very interesting doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. I am so glad that I can see this, although as it was happening, I didn’t recognize how special it was at all. I have heard that when you are dying, you “review” your life. I feel like I am “reviewing” sans death. There are some things I would change if I could. I know there are some horrible experiences that have happened to others that I wish would vanish, for instance, racism, homophobia, rape, incest, child abuse, etc. These have absolutely impacted on my life. On the whole, I feel incredibly fortunate. My life could be very ordinary, which would be fine, but in fact it is extraordinary. If this were a work of fiction, I’m not sure I would believe it. If my life were a narrative, well, I would appear larger than life. Believe me, this is a weird kind of recognition. I am not special; however my divergences have led to some fascinating experiences and lessons. These I would not trade for anything.

I never felt slim enough or beautiful enough. What a wake-up call, what a friggin’ realization! I know these are issues that many women struggle with, but what a major lesson for me. I used to be good friends with a model. Talk about always feeling like you just do not measure up. She would never make me feel inadequate overtly, but what a standard. Not because of her, I felt fat and ugly most of the time. I still deal with feelings of inadequacy. It is a huge paradox because I was in an industry (performance) that valued looks. She was also married to a model. Getting together with them was so full of meaning. What a stunning family they were to me. Of course, they also had a “gorgeous” baby. Oy. I used to be an actor, so I did have a version of what I looked like beyond my perspective. You do not need to act in order to know what your “reflection” is. I still held on to the belief that I was less than acceptable physically.

Even though I had lovers and people were attracted to me, it was difficult to accept that I was all right. And I knew better on several levels, yet this was incredibly challenging for me. A friend once told me to avoid beauty magazines because of my issues with body image. I knew they airbrushed everything, including bodies to make them even thinner, but they were so compelling. Even if it is all ideology, it’s a bugger.

On the one hand, I deal with certain body images and issues that most women have to deal with, like beauty, weight and aging. (Some men, too, of course, but that is a different book. I once wrote an article that dealt with men as sex objects entitled “I Should Have Smelled Him, Obviously”[1] Now I would write about the detriment of viewing men as objects. In this age of “metrosexuality,” this would be very possible. At the time, I wanted access to the “gaze.” I wanted access to objectification.) Many of these issues are tied into images in magazines. I strongly believe these aspects reflect the era we live in. There is also ideology, but even this shifts with time. Could it be that the body and time are linked?

There was a barometer that I wanted access to – to how I wanted to look. It didn’t matter that it was fake. I believe that is why there is a fascination with Barbie®. Many of us have heard of that woman who had several surgeries to look like her. Cindy Jackson[2] has these quotes on her Web site: “The new and improved Cindy Jackson: A bombshell who wasn’t born that way… she lived a real-life Cinderella story.” (Joan Rivers); “No one knows more about cosmetic surgery – from both sides of the scalpel. She’s living proof of her unique expertise.” (The Times); “A trailblazing pioneer, she did the first and original Extreme Makeover 15 years before the hit TV series. In another 15 years, they’ll be doing what Cindy Jackson is doing now.” (no author attributed).

I do believe an unreal standard exists. The unreachable can be incredibly alluring. A temptation to achieve the unattainable exists. Someone I know very well used to be bulimic. We can take things to the extreme. This is understandable.

I recently heard that some guy found me beautiful. I have such a hard time believing that. Some part of me knows I am fine, but some part is messed up for sure. I don’t think more introspection will change that. I mean, I am aware of my problem, but this is a big challenge for me. There exists so much pressure in this area.

Then I have to consider that I am a disabled woman, along with all the preconceptions that go along with the term “disabled.” I know in this sense that I am a bit of a warrior. I call what I am experiencing “disability drag” and, because I have a permanent shunt in my head to drain excess fluid from my brain, I call this “cyborg drag.” In many ways, I embrace my “otherness.”

I thought I always knew that the physical was a manifestation of our culture. That is, what we imagine we look like is predicated by social convention. (Notions of beauty and ugliness have changed drastically throughout history.) Now I have to live as a disabled woman. This is very difficult indeed. I feel like I am judged on what I look like now more than ever. I find I am even harsh with myself. Gaining a bit of weight seems more detrimental to some than being physically disabled. Shocking but true. These days, some people prefer to have partners with “meat on their bones.” In old days, gaining weight was a sign of health and beauty. I was going to say that I hope people learn from this. But everyone follows their own path, right? Maybe that’s the lesson. Who knows?

I have heard “if only you were as before.” Heck yeah, but I am not; and if I stay this way, I still figure I have lots to offer. Sure I look different, but if that is the measure of my worth, that would suck. I do not buy into that. No matter how difficult my issues about body image are, I have a hard time believing that.

I have learned, as a result of my current situation that it’s okay to ask for help. Patience and having to learn to slow down have become very important. I can’t stand waiting for anything or anyone. This is definitely a lesson for me. Patience is such a big deal now. I am no longer on my own schedule. I find I have to wait a lot. This really bothers me. So does dependency. To be dependant on others for help now is so hard for me. You do what you have to, I guess. I may not like it, and I would do things differently if I could.

Health can mean so many different things to me. On the one hand, I am very healthy. I do not have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a heart condition or diabetes. I do not eat fried or fatty foods or red meat. On the other hand, I had this brain problem that changed my life. So health, to me, is completely relative. I ride a stationary bike now, primarily for cardiovascular exercise. I listen to music at the same time. It affords me pleasure as well as a “healthy” activity. The process of getting into the seat is quite the ordeal. I also require straps for my left hand to hold the handlebar and left foot to stay on the peddle. There is exercise before the exercise. I need supervision for now, which means I am never alone when I do this.

I have become incredibly adept at blocking out what bothers me. As you can imagine, there is little privacy now. It has become necessary for me to hold onto privacy as much as possible. This can take a lot of energy, but what’s the alternative? I don’t think people around me realize how taxing this can be. It might seem like a small or simple thing, but it does require focus. Maybe I am more modest than I thought. If I were a nudist, for example, I imagine part of this would be easier for me. I am far from a prude, but I feel what is personal is personal. In a major way, I have had to revise and reprioritize what matters to me. I would not ordinarily think about these things, but my life is not the usual now. I now consider what I used to take for granted. Thinking about stuff is a bonus for me; however, the practical implications are always present.

Before the first surgery, I really wanted to wash my hair, but during an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) they stuck green tabs on my skull. I didn’t want them to fall off. They were beginning to slip down. I mentioned this to the doctors and anyone who would listen, but was told it didn’t matter. They were going to use these tabs as markers in relation to a camera to align my head during the surgery. I felt like the Bride of Frankenstein. They were not painful, but they did prevent me from doing certain things, like washing my long hair. I took a shower the morning of the surgery, I made an effort not to wet an IV that was attached to me, and was very careful not to wet my head at all. Later on, my mother told me that she and a nurse washed and cut my hair. The first surgeon would not shave my head, but they did later on. They had to shave the left side of my skull to insert the permanent shunt in my head. I had very short hair for a while, which I do not remember.

I was also very skinny apparently. When I was in rehab, much later on, my friend Jennifer commented on this and said I was “slippery like an eel.” A mysterious and beautiful woman, Jen has very long (to her waist), dark hair and is a fabulous theatre director. She created Theatre Asylum, an innovative endeavour, and I used to be on its Board of Directors. Jen rediscovered her Jewish heritage and introduced me to the Minsk synagogue in Kensington Market, Toronto. I have never met anyone so creative and imaginative. She is an adventurer of the heart and spirit.

Now I have an MRI of my brain every year as part of a neurology checkup. This consists of a dye-injected IV inserted into my hand for contrast purposes. I do not look forward to this, to say the least. Things could be much worse, but this is quite uncomfortable. It is a major pain in the ass. Additionally, there is always the possibility that the tumour has returned. Can you say stress? Knowledge is good, but what a way to get it.

When I became conscious, my close friend Daniel P., who is dark, extremely handsome, a brilliant human being and very spiritual – if there is such a thing as soul-love, I have it for him – brought me a beautiful orchid that lasted an uncommonly long time in the hospital. Now I notice that flowers in general last a very long time around me. Many people have observed this – I do not question it. This is kind of eerie, I suppose; it is certainly economical – I love flowers. A total stranger once gave me a flower at a shopping centre. I put it in a vase and it lasted so long one of my physiotherapists, who visits me at home, mentioned something to that effect. I just thought it was pretty. It also reminded me how very kind strangers can be. My parents’ friends Sunny and Lenny, whom I love dearly, sent me gorgeous flowers in a vase with a floral design around the top. They sent me many stunning items, but I have to say I adore the vase. It is completely fantastic to me.

In the Spring of 2005 I went to the Tulip Festival in Ottawa, where I took photos for the first time since I left Toronto. My objective, even though we were in the capital and there were the Parliament Buildings to see, was to go to this festival. I mean, wow, a whole festival devoted to flowers – my favourite kind – tulips. It was a veritable sea of tulips. Colours were grouped together. There was a host of colours. I felt like I must have gone to heaven. I found it really spectacular and I was thrilled to be there. My computer is now surrounded by pictures of tulips. Some I took, some my dad took. They might be inanimate, but they remind me of when I was there and how awesome they are.

[1]  Fab Magazine, No. 195, August 1-14, 2002, pp. 118-120.

[2]  See <http://www.cindyjackson.com&gt;

You Never Know – Chapter 2: Sure

In book on October 16, 2011 at 11:45 am

Available at all Amazon stores online: http://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=romy+shiller&x=0&y=0

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.

Maya Angelou

 

The tumour was pretty big and it was located in the fourth ventricle. That is, it was in the back of the head, near the brain stem. It is officially called a “choroid plexus papilloma.” I had some decidedly bad symptoms: I think of them as “events.” First (and one time only), I could not see half of my face in a mirror and my hearing was wonky. Then, a few weeks before the first surgery, I threw up. I spent the entire day in bed, which I never do, thinking I had a migraine headache or sinus infection. Sure.

Right before the first surgery, I went to Montreal, where I grew up. I saw my brothers, Warren and Doug, my brother Doug’s wife, Sonya, and my long-time friend, Joy. I used to imagine I would return to Montreal to live. My fantasy included having a loft on the Lachine Canal, which is on the water, right near the Atwater Market, full of fresh flowers – a place I absolutely adore. That is where I had had brunch with the gang. Even though I was not feeling well, I did eat some good food. I took sinus medication at the restaurant thinking it might help or at least alleviate my symptoms. We took a picture on a bridge over the Lachine Canal. It is now by my bed and I look at it every day.

I made the decision to wait until I got back to Toronto to see a doctor. I called my family doctor, but she was away, so I spoke to the doctor on call. I described my symptoms and told her I thought it was a migraine. She said that what I was describing did not sound like that and I should go to an emergency room. This call and decision changed my life. I immediately called my boss to let her know I might not be in at work the next day. Little did I know I would never be back. She offered to drive me to the hospital, but I declined. That was so thoughtful and generous; however, I decided to walk there alone.

In addition to the tumour, or because of it, I had hydrocephalus, so they put me on cortisone to stop the brain from swelling. The fluid that goes from your spine to “bathe” the brain was not circulating properly. Surgery was the only option.

My general practitioner came to visit me in the hospital before and after the coma. I always really liked her and was immensely glad to see her. I heard that she had been very upset at my condition, but she was fine around me. Incredibly professional, I thought.

I remember her telling me that her own family, like mine, had a hard time gaining access to a hospital to see her ill dad because of the raging SARS epidemic. It made the experience of access quite universal for me. In addition, I was completely unaware of everyone’s difficulty in this matter.

SARS was such a big thing in Toronto. Everybody I knew was terrified of getting it. There was a big demand for face masks. Ill persons were suspect. Contact with others was limited. One woman at work quarantined herself for ten days because she might have been exposed to the virus. I thought this was very prudent of her. I completely understand the hospital’s reticence to let people in. They would not know who was infected with the virus or who was bringing it into the hospital. There were special stations set up where people could sanitize their hands without water. This lasted for a considerable length of time.

A while back, I did some research on this (or a similar sanitizing product) for a public relations firm. I looked at 2,000 years of hand washing history. To say I learned something is an understatement. I carry my new knowledge with me everywhere. Did you know that many adults and babies died from simple germs on their hands before hand washing was readily available? In any case, it gave a broader meaning to what the hospital was doing.

A surgeon said I had fluid and swelling near the brain stem post-surgery. Also, there was a mysterious white substance released that nobody has been able to identify to this day. The doctors initially said that I would recover from the surgery. No one expected me to go into a coma. I was supposed to feel like someone hit the back of my head with a baseball bat and I was going to walk like a “drunken sailor” for a while. Yup. Now I feel “drunk” all of the time. Imagine how that feels. Unfortunately, I cannot stop drinking to fix this. Again, this is something I have no control over.

The brain tumour was unique from the get-go. Usually only young children get this type of tumour, and here I was, not a young child but an adult. It was 2003 when I walked into the hospital. I have not walked since.

I asked the doctors tons of questions about my impending surgery and condition. I did not question whether I would have the surgery. I was fully aware that I really needed it and I am more than grateful to most of the doctors who I believe saved my life. I would have appreciated knowing what “dysarthria” is, a voice and speech impediment that I now have. I really like knowledge; I prefer to be in the loop. Naturally, I did not know the term “dysarthria” and condition or I would have asked about it. I think patients need to know more about what might happen. Now I am all for optimism – pessimism really bugs me – but I do like to know the “what ifs.” Unfortunately, these never came my way. Not that it would have changed anything, but I would have liked to know. There are some people who prefer to remain in the dark. I am not one of those people. A friend once asked me if I would want to be told if I was being cheated on. It would be unpleasant (to say the least), but I would rather know. Knowledge works for me.

I had what I consider five initial surgeries. The first, eight hour most humongous one was to remove the tumour and check it for cancer. The second was a drain replacement, after which I do not remember anything until after the coma, except for my dreams. The third was an emergency to correct some bleeding in my brain. Then I had another drain replacement. During the fifth, my drain was replaced with a permanent shunt.

My initial surgery was postponed for two days. I did not want to get too hungry, because they would not let me eat before the planned surgery, so I asked my brothers to get me spaghetti and a strawberry milkshake from a restaurant I used to frequent quite a bit. I also thought that maybe this would be my last supper. In a way, it was: I had a feeding tube for eleven months, there are some things I will not eat now and I am not the same physically.

The morning of the surgery, I did ballet steps. I find it ironic that I cannot walk now. My balance and coordination are so off. I was also in great shape. I went to the gym a minimum three times per week. I did the Stairmaster® – I called it the stair mistress – for 45 minutes and I swam. I also took a multivitamin and a vitamin C supplement every day. In many ways, I guess my body was prepared for surgery.

Let the Right One In

In Film, review on October 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm

A little girl is sugar and spice and everything nice – especially when she’s taking a nap.

~Author Unknown

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Novel and screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist
In the cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl.

Let the Right One In or Låt den Rätte Komma In is a 2008 critical favourite from Sweden which uber-grossed me out. I usually like my vampires campy, cartoony and unreal. I think that I am freaked by the notion of child vampires. Eeeeesh. Yeah, it was too real for me but fabulous.

Plot: Oscar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire.

Oskar is a loner, gets bullied, has body issues and learns Morse-Code. Eli is mysterious, teaches Oskar to stand up for himself and triumphantly figures out a Rubik’s Cube. I think they are a great match. They communicate in Morse-Code through an adjoining apartment wall. Very romantic and practical. The idea of a secret language is intriguing. The way that they communicate has to be different because their being together is different – amazing!

Grade school can be a prison to many so here we have a way to combat terror with terror. The fact that Eli is a vampire almost feels incidental but this fact allows her to protect Oskar. In an interview Leandersson said, “The most important, I think, is to tell their parents and teachers. Fight and never listen to what the mob says. They only feel more powerful. The mob are really nothing, they are just cowardly and afraid inside. But you have to talk to your parents. You need support and assistance.”

The pool scene at the end proves that Eli wants to protect Oskar. Despite some very grown-up themes there is a sweet, innocent quality to their relationship. Maybe that’s what creeped me out – innocence combined with gore. The writer, John Ajvide Lindqvist said, “Children are something that we want to take care of and protect, and they are not supposed to be put through anything nasty. But when they are, it becomes so much more unpleasant.”
The film does not focus on how Eli was made, when she was made, how old she is, or on her relationship with her guardian – who lives with her and who kills for her. The issue of pedophilia is omitted in the film but exists in the novel. The film is about ‘the now’ and focuses on the relationship between Eli and Oskar.

The novel presents Eli as an androgynous boy, castrated centuries before by a sadistic vampire nobleman. The film handles the issue of Eli’s gender more ambiguously: a brief scene in which Eli changes into a dress offers a glimpse of a suggestive scar but no explicit elaboration. A female actress plays Eli’s character, but Eli tries to tell Oskar “I’m not a girl” when Oskar asks that Eli be his girlfriend.

The ambiguous nature of sexuality is not dealt with in the film but it is extremely suggestive.

They are frozen in time in many ways. A very interesting mirror to this aspect is the setting. The film is set in the winter – there is ice everywhere. This setting enables loads of information. For instance, when we first meet Eli, she is not wearing a coat, outside, in winter.

Director Tomas Alfredson said, “I’ve been doing film and television for twenty years and this is the first time I’ve gotten into the horror business, and the true horror for me as a filmmaker was to create this supernatural story in this very naturalistic and everyday environment. For me, the key into this film was to omit as much as possible of the graphic details concerning the most fantastic details of vampirism, and in the opposite cases where we do show it, I wanted it to be as dull, dry and skimpy as possible.”

Mission accomplished.

The contrast of red blood on white snow is stunning. A body of one of Eli’s murder victims is frozen in ice. A group on a skating outing discovers him. The darkness and cold reflects Eli’s state of being. When one of her victims is accidentally ‘turned’ and bursts into flames – we understand that sunshine and warmth is death for vampires. There is starkness to the setting, cold isolation. Brrrr.

Vampires have an established literary and filmic tradition. Vampire-horror is a secure genre. Most of us know that vampires live on blood, hate sunlight and need a verbal invitation to go inside a dwelling. This film assumes we know all of that but is unique in showing us what happens to a vampire who ‘goes in’ uninvited.

You know, I reviewed Twilight: Eclipse. Even though both films are about vampires the comparison ends there. Also, an American version of Let the Right One In called Let Me In (2010) has been made. Of course I’ll see it, with an open-mind, but I really want to say, “why bother?”

I used to be addicted to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series on TV. I’d still be a huge fan because of how it sends up teenage experience and how it camps up the mystical. It is more like reading a comic book than this film which simulates real life. In my Twilight: Eclipse review I say, “The vampire metaphor for alienation, isolation, eternal youth and beauty continues to fascinate me.” This film reinforces that sentiment.

There is a feline theme here. Usually, when cats are extremely happy they make a rumbling/purring sound. However this sound is associated with Eli whenever she is agitated or acting vampire-esque. The woman she accidentally ‘turns’ is viciously attacked by many cats. Eli is hissed at and growled at by a cat in a store. When Eli tells Oskar that she is not a girl, there is a lot more meaning than gender here. She is far from human and cats may sense this.

Critic, Peter Howell says, “The more you think about this movie, the more it seeps into the darkest corners of your mind, as all great horror must.”

This was probably the best film I’ve seen in years. Gross, real, and very, very good.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online

Never Let Me Go

In Film, review on October 11, 2011 at 8:52 am

Warning – Spoilers ahead.

Director: Mark Romanek
Writers: Kazuo Ishiguro (novel), Alex Garland (screenplay)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield

Cloning, wow. Who would have thought? There should be a list of people who can and cannot clone themselves. – Ted Danson

So interesting. Science-Fiction set in our recent past. No UFOs or time-travel just cloning and ethics. No action sequences, no explosions, no decapitations or anyone lost in space. I liked that it was unique. This film stayed with me long after the closing credits rolled.

Never Let Me Go is based on a novel by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. The title comes from a song on an American cassette tape called Songs After Dark by fictional singer Judy Bridgewater.

Plot: As children, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, spend their childhood at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they grow into young adults, they find that they have to come to terms with the strength of the love they feel for each other, while preparing themselves for the haunting reality that awaits themIMDb

The boarding school is called Hailsham and there is an emphasis on keeping the kids very healthy – initially we are not told the reason. They are taught anatomy – that’s it. We find out that they are all ‘donors’ – cloned for one purpose only, to donate their organs. As an adult, Kathy works as a “carer,” someone who cares for donors as their organs are extracted, leading to ultimate “completion” (death.) When she is scheduled to donate her organs, she stops ‘caring.’

Ruth and Kathy are best friends. Kathy is in love with Tommy from a very young age but Ruth usurps him as they get older. Garland says,”Ruth is sexually powerful and voracious and Kathy is not, and that’s actually why she has Tommy, that she has that power available to her, because Tommy loves Kathy. But it’s Ruth’s forwardness that allows her to interject between the two, and in film that kind of nuance is possible… (Moviefone) Before Ruth “completes” she informs Kathy and Tommy that they should have always been together.

Kathy and Tommy go to the defunct school’s art gallery curator in hopes of getting a few years together – a donor extension. Tommy believes that their artwork speaks a truth from their souls. Their love is genuine. They are informed that the artwork was to establish IF they had souls.

As it stands today, “many countries have legally prohibited human cloning or are in the process of doing so, and various institutions, including the United Nations and the European Parliament, are calling for a worldwide ban on all forms of human cloning. “ Source

The people that I saw the film with were astonished that Kathy and Tommy did not run away. I feel that Kathy and Tommy had a whole other belief-system, a different reality. It might be satisfying to have a happy ending or closure but that was not what this film was about. “Romanek said he’s often asked why the young characters don’t rebel against the circumstances they’re forced into. He says he thinks the alternative, to stay and accept your lot — is far more interesting.”

The film elicited a great discussion about ethics and frankly, these days, that’s rare.

A Telluride Reviewer, Peter Sciretta says, “The film is emotionally powerful, a haunting meditation about love, death, humanity and acceptance. The performances are all top notch — fantastic performances across the board, but Carey Mulligan is center stage. Mulligan deserves a nomination, which if it happens, would be the second year in a row. The film is emotionally powerful, a haunting meditation about love, death, humanity and acceptance. The performances are all top notch — fantastic performances across the board, but Carey Mulligan is center stage. Mulligan deserves a nomination, which if it happens, would be the second year in a row.”

This film makes you think. The acting, directing, cinematography and editing were great. This is a very worthwhile film to see.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse or Yup

In Film, review on October 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm
My idea of Hell is to be young again.

Marge Piercy

I saw Twilight: Eclipse. It is the 3rd installment of the The Twilight Saga based on the books (‘Twilight is a series of four vampire-based fantasy romance novels by American author Stephenie Meyer. It charts a period in the life of Isabella “Bella” Swan, a teenage girl who moves to Forks, Washington, and falls in love with a 104-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen… Thus far, the first three books have been made into a series of motion pictures by Summit Entertainment; the film adaptation of Twilight was released in 2008 and the second, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, was released on November 20, 2009. The third film, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, was released June 30, 2010.’ Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia)

I am fascinated by youth-culture and the Twilight series is a part of tween and teenage life. Vampires are my thing.

In the film a character is missing, a flyer is circulated, and his date of birth was on it – 1990. In 1990 I was doing my Master’s Degree! I am far from aged but born in 1990?

As the raging hormones around me screamed, I realized this isn’t Kansas anymore. Despite my research rationalizations, I felt old.

Ok, the film – Bella, Edward and Jacob – a real love triangle complete with jealousy, depth and emotion. I believe that the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series on television was a billion and a half times better but this was watchable and I did kind of feel like a voyeur/visitor. I like the send-ups in Buffy, the horror of high school. Eclipse may have had vampires and humans who transform into wolves, the mystical, but it was a strait forward story and provided a glimpse into the minds of the teen fans. The vampire metaphor for alienation, isolation, eternal youth and beauty continues to fascinate me. Metaphors for transformation are very necessary as teens’ bodies change and as they move into adulthood. It can be extremely complex to tell a tale of teen metamorphosis so setting it in the mystical is a way to deal with that.

Conventional, utopian versions of high school make me ill. Disney’s High School Musical films are true horror to me – creepy, eerie, strange etc. (see my article POP goes the TEEN) The uber-scrumptious Zac Efron is the only eye-candy that makes those films worth watching.

The plot: ‘The vampire Victoria (James’ mate from Twilight) has created an army of “newborn” vampires to battle the Cullen family and murder Bella for revenge. Meanwhile, Bella is compelled to choose between her relationship with Edward and her friendship with Jacob. Edward’s vampire family and Jacob’s werewolf pack join forces to successfully destroy Victoria and her vampire army.’ (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) You know, the usual…

This film deals with sexuality or the lack thereof. In ‘POP goes the TEEN’ I say, “In the popular high school film Twilight (2008) the lead characters are in love but do not get it on because he is a vampire and is scared he might kill her. I am sensing a disturbing trend.”

You probably need to be familiar with the main characters – I highly doubt that this film would stand on its own. I think that being involved in teen culture also helps. I can see why most teens like all Twilights – a lot. Their pain, frustration and angst is represented. This film is not about grownups but about them. I think that the film’s slim merit lies in that.

Bibliography
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Creator: Joss Whedon. Mutant Enemy 1997-2003.

High School Musica
l. Director: Kenny Ortega. Disney Channel. 2006.

Shiller, Romy. ‘POP goes the TEEN.’

The Internet Movie Database.
Accessed July 2, 2010.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Director: David Slade. Summit Entertainment. 2010.

Twilight. Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Goldcrest Pictures. 2008.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia
Accessed July 2, 2010.

Wisdom Quotes
Accessed July 2, 2010.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.

Inception: The Real

In Film, review on October 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm
You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

George Bernard Shaw

I adore ‘reality films’ (such as Dark City, Groundhog Day, Bladerunner, The Matrix etc.) So when Christopher Nolan’s Inception came out, I was psyched.

I was in a coma for 5 months and my dream life was my reality. My book You Never Know: A Memoir uses many of the dreams as a theme and I was very interested to see how dream-life manifested in this film. Nolan’s take on Batman (The Dark Knight) was innovative – marvelous. He set the bar high.

Not bound by the laws of physics, the subconscious is a fertile landscape where anything is possible. My own experience where I lived a life of warped dimensions makes me a biased expert.

Inception takes dreaming to a whole other level and it had very little to do with my own occurrence but of course, there were commonalities: “In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a single idea within one’s mind can be the most dangerous weapon or the most valuable asset.” (IMDB) My cup of tea for sure.

My 5-month coma was filled with a lush landscape of hyper-colourful dreams in distorted dimensions. This was my life. In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I let my dreams speak about alternate realities: I had brain surgery in a thick green forest, the intensive care unit turned into a rustic country cabin with hospital beds, there was a thin, dark canal just outside etc. In my book Who Knew? I say that I still might be in a coma.

I also say; “People wonder what it is like to lose time. Essentially time froze for me; I was in suspended animation.

In the uber-cheesy film Mammoth, this discussion takes place:

Agent Powers: [Your grandfather is] frozen; all of his vitals are normal, a kind of suspended animation.

Jack Abernathy: Well, The Empire Strikes Back was always his favorite movie! [referring to Han Solo being frozen in said film].

Think about when you are asleep—time becomes meaningless. It is only when we are conscious that we realize that time has passed. The Leonardo DiCaprio character, ‘Cobb,’ in Inception basically says the same thing. It was validating for me to hear this articulated on screen.

My friends and family were worried that I might have Locked-In Syndrome; they thought that maybe I could not indicate that I was aware. I have no recollection of anyone or anything. I was in my own capsule of reality, with just vivid dreams, most of which were set in nature, like forests and beaches. There was a narrow lake and a country cabin that substituted for a hospital.

Now this is going to flip out people around me because I have never mentioned it before now. I do not know if I am still in a coma. In You Never Know, I say I expect to wake up in an institution. I mean it. I choose to believe this is reality, but I am open to the possibility that it might not be. One might wonder how it is possible to live with uncertainty. Look, my worldview is far from the norm anyway. My ideas of reality are strange and bizarre to most people.

In Inception, Mal, (played by Marion Cotillard) questions her reality which leads to an extreme reaction. I don’t care if mine is real or not. In the film, I think that the reactions the various characters have to the dream-world speaks volumes. I personally think that attaching oneself to the apparent ‘real’ is doomed.

In Again, I described that quantum physics is considered weird, but I ascribe to these theories. Like “faith,” much of my reality is not based in proof or facts. I do not feel confused or disassociated in any way from my surroundings. Because my life has always been spectacular, the reality of my present almost unreal, circumstances do not faze me one bit.

I was watching the American television series Life on Mars, in which essentially a cop is hit by a car in 2008 and wakes up in 1973. He often says that he thinks he is in a coma. Reality—what a concept.” (pp. 38, 58)

While now my reality is fairly conventional and obeys physical laws it is, as always, fantastical. In You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “I sometimes expect to wake up in a medical institution. Like in that Buffy episode, I do at times think that I am in an institution somewhere and I am dreaming all of this.

In The X-Files they say, “Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.” At times, all of this really does feel like a dream. The reality of having survived brain surgery and a lengthy coma is truly full of meaning to me. The resulting hardships seem benign in comparison.” (p. 128)

Inception might be a ‘mashup’ of other films (Live For Films’ review) but the emphasis on alternate realities works my buzz. The person I went to the film with said that the layers of various styles made the film dream-like. Interesting. It was Bournesque with dashes of Bond and of course The Matrix.

I like that an action-thriller explored alternate realities. You just don’t see that. In my opinion Nolan did a good job. I mean, if you’re going to pilfer from other films this one does it credibly.

I appreciated the idea of a constructed world vis a vis an actual architect. As usual Ellen Page is wonderful here.

The uncertainty if the world is real is very familiar to me.

Bibliography

Bladerunner. Dir. Ridley Scott. The Ladd Company. 1983.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television series. Creator: Joss Whedon. 20th Century Fox Television.

Dark City. Dir. Alex Proyas. Mystery Clock Cinema. 1998 (USA).

Groundhog Day. Dir. Harold Ramis. Columbia Pictures Corporation. 1993.

Inception. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2010.

Life on Mars, the television series. Creators: Mathew Graham, Tony Jordan, and Ashley Pharoah. Kudos Film and Television. 2008–present.

Live For Films “Inception: Review – A disappointing mix of many other films.” Accessed July 19, 2010.

Mammoth. Dir. Tim Cox. Castel Film Romania. 2006.

Shiller, Romy. Again. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2009.

——————-. Who Knew? Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2010.

——————-. You Never Know: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2008.

The Matrix. Dirs. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski. Perfs. Keanu . Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving. Groucho II Film Partnership1999.

The Dark Knight. Dir. Christopher Nolan Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2008.

The Empire Strikes Back. Dir. Irvin Kershner. Lucasfilm. 1980.

The Internet Movie Database.

Thinkexist.com. Accessed July 15, 2010.

The X-Files, the television series. Creator: Chris Carter. 20th Century Fox Television. September 10, 1993 – May 19, 2002.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.

Romy Shiller is a 3rd Wave Feminist according to the book Third Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts it in a Box by the head of women’s studies at South-Carolina U.

Montreal Comiccon: A commentary with pictures

In Film, TV on October 2, 2011 at 10:54 am

Please see:

Montreal Comiccon: A commentary

with pictures

http://www.liveforfilms.com/2011/10/02/montreal-comiccon-a-commentary-with-pictures/