Saturday, June 30, 2012

"MANNEQUIN"--When Saints Go Machine

"It's A House of the Haunted"

Danish Electronica group When Saints Go Machine released this video for their single "Mannequin" about a month ago, from their album Konkylie.  The video has been compared to work by the Quay Brothers and Fred Stuhr and Adam Jones's Tool videos, more in feel than in actual aesthetics, since those other works are primarily stop motion animation, while Mia Fremming's film emphasizes 2D drawn environments. She hails from design firm intense studios, which creates some pretty intense work.

All these uncanny works effectively share a layering of labyrinthine spaces that fade off into an unclear vanishing point.  One room opens onto another room, and strange humanoid figures curl and uncurl out of fetal positions, seemingly manipulated by an unseen force. Space is distorted and twisted, often through the use of miniaturized sets or found object debris.  Mannequin's world is is like a never-ending post apocalyptic rabbit hole, occasionally broken up by a piece of barbed wire traversing the frame. The griminess of the setting is palpable, its sharp edges visceral and tactile.

A little dash of steampunk is thrown in for good measure, and there is some homage to the anime Ghost in the Shell series, especially in the film's representations of the female body in relation to technology. Nikolaj Vonsild's plaintive voice will haunt you long after the film's images fade.

Here's a sampling of work by the Quay Brothers, from their most well known film, The Street of Crocodiles (1986). The Brothers try to create an atmosphere that elicits synaesthesia, where sensory perceptions are crossed so that one might taste colors.  Not only are they capable of animating dust, but their use of Polish composer Leszek Jankowski allows one to touch sounds.

I actually think Mannequin has the most in common with their film The Comb (From the Museums of Sleep) (1990).  Really, YouTube cannot do these videos justice.  I would get their complete short works.


I'm not super fond of TOOL musically, but I think that some of their animated work is really impressive.  The video for "Prison Sex," created by Stuhr and Jones, is both unsettling and kind of gorgeous.  The song's lyrics explore child abuse, and one can see those feelings of vulnerability and rage conveyed in the video's powerful imagery.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Gaudi! (two days late)

Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi's vivid architecture always seem like the ideal settings for the films of my dreams.  Their uncanny quality hints at otherworldly experiences and magic.  Gaudi used nature as the main source of inspiration for his built structures, and his masterpieces--Park Guell, Templo de La Sagrada Familia, Casa Battlo--mimic the curves and textures of the natural world.  Doesn't the above image look like the inside of a shell?  I have yet to visit Barcelona, but I long to.  If you're interested, be sure to check out Hiroshi Teshigahara's lyrical and haunting 1985 documentary.  The film is light on narration, but heavy on images, just as this post will be.  Enjoy!

Don't you want to live in a Gaudi Submarine?  I know I would.

**I'm two days late on posting Mr. Gaudi's Birthday tribute (160 years) because I just bought myself an Ipad, and for the last two days I was absolutely glued to the thing like it was some cranky newborn. I did have worries about purchasing this seductive vortex that magnetically sucked away all my time, but I've calmed down now.  This dragon reminded me that I was shirking other things. Rowwwr.  Step away from the gadget, lady!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MURDER by Yang Tzu Ting

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."--Albert Einstein

This quotation provides a good sense of what is in store when a brilliant (and mad) scientist experiments with human cloning.  Murder is Yang Tzu Ting's graduation project from the National Taiwan University of Arts, and stylistically is akin to a graphic novel-in-motion, with bold outlines and starkly contrasted images.  Some of the images also recall Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir (2008).

Thematically, the film deals with some of the same ideas posited in Ridley Scott's Prometheus**--human creation, playing God, what houses the soul--but unpacks these ideas in a more sophisticated manner.  The film also has shades of Fight Club (David Fincher,1999) and The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006), while still being utterly unique and captivating all on its own.

**I just saw Scott's Alien "prequel" yesterday, and while I enjoyed the film for the first 90 minutes, especially the eye candy, one could hear my eyes rolling in the last half hour.  For those of us who hated the series finale of Lost, I couldn't help blaming Damon Lindenhof for the numerous plot holes, cheap spirituality, and inconsistencies with the Alien mythology (from Scott's own previous film)!  Still, the imagery was pretty gorgeous and Giger-esque, and Michael Fassbender played the malevolent android beautifully (while eerily channeling Peter O'Toole).  The film was not scary, and Noomi Rapace is no "Ripley," although I honestly do not think she's at fault.  I blame you-know-who.

Monday, June 11, 2012

MAD MEN--"The Phantom"

"Where are the Dragons?" my partner responded after we screened the season finale of Mad Men--"The Phantom."  There were no albino zombies with piercing blue eyes and wrinkled visages either.  And Pete didn't die, although he did get punched in the face again, which is always a very satisfying thing.  The season finale did feel both semi-satisfying (in that it made me eager for the next season) and anti-climactic (no zombie dragons).  Still, the question that burned the most for me: "What is Don thinking while he watches Meghan channeling Anna Karina during her screen test.

I contend that it's actually Don's encounter with Peggy, along with Meghan's "this is all I'm good for" drunken remark that compels Don to take a giant leap into the future, and toward feminism, as this finale implies.  The episode plays a little fast and loose with what's actually happening versus Don's toothache hallucinations.  We've already found out from "Mystery Date" that Don's guilt manifests itself in all sorts of horrible ways, and also that he's really sucks at being ill.  So he keeps seeing his dead brother Adam (who committed suicide through hanging in season 1) popping up around the office, and who repeatedly intones wisdom such as "it's not your tooth that's rotten, Don."  Hello heavy-handed message!

Still, his hallucinations allow for a great visual moment that makes clear where next season is headed. The "boys" are struggling with the Topaz account, and others as well, because they haven't gotten the clue that women are the primary consumers, and SCDP is sadly missing that all important female POV they had with Peggy.  When Don arrives at the office after his heart-to-heart with Meghan (about an audition), he looks in on the bustling workplace, and every room is filled with hardworking MEN.  The camera sweeps through each room, and there's not a woman in sight (except for Dawn, his secretary).  Stan utters, "I'm so bored by this dynamic," and so are we.  Peggy challenged him, Stan respected her, and he was less of a jerk.  Hanging around all these DICKS is not good for him.  Things are going to CHANGE.

I also do not think the composition of the image above is accidental, as the flannel suit brigade flanks their new partner, Joan, who clearly, more than ever, runs the place.  Every scene she's in highlights her competency, and the devil's pact she made with Bert, Roger, and Pete (and Lane quite literally) appears to be paying off.  If one intuits the way Weiner thinks, he's touched on the youthquake, and civil rights, but next season it's the women's movement that will undoubtedly explode.  Weiner is priming us for it.

The most telling signal, though, is that Peggy's back, smoking some Virginia Slims and catching a Casino Royale matinee.  Yay!  Of course she bumps into Don, who comes to realize that it's better to help people and allow them to succeed and move on, than to hold tight to them and hinder their progress.  He's proud of Peggy and he misses her.  She's now yelling at people at her new firm, and going off to far off adventures, like to factories in Richmond.  Yet she's not long for this firm if what she witnesses in the final moments of the episode are any indication.

At the moment, I cannot get Depeche Mode's "Master and Servant" out of my head, especially these lyrics:
You treat me like a dog
Get me down on my knees

We call it master and servant
We call it master and servant

It's a lot like life
This play between the sheets
With you on top and me underneath
Forget all about equality

Let's play master and servant
Let's play master and servant

Sounds a little like Don and Meghan's sex life from earlier in the season.  Well, that sh** won't fly anymore. Don and SCDP are going to have to work to get Peggy back, and she's not going to just passively accept their treating her like crap.  She's destined for much better, and she's strong enough and smart enough to get it.  Go Peggy!  All the guys have been complaining all season about women and their power and wicked ways, yet at every turn, the show's female characters have struggled and fought for every baby step toward success.  If anything, these men, including Don, have stood in their way; but sometimes men learn from their mistakes.

Don learns a valuable lesson from his encounter with Peggy.  Earlier in the episode, he has stomped on Meghan asking him for help in landing a shoe commercial--one which his firm is casting.  He claims that he wants her to get a job because she "is someone's discovery," not "somebody's wife."  While he comes off as fairly reasonable, the real issue here is that he seems to want Meghan to fail, even though he says he doesn't.  To include her in the pool of actresses for the shoe commercial is a small leg up, a slight bit of assistance, and one he's capable of doing with relative ease.  Don just needs to be a little more selfless.

Marie happens to be visiting them, and she returns from a hair salon appointment to find Meghan still wallowing in bed at noon.  Does she offer her daughter comfort?  Nah.  Marie would rather see her daughter fail in order to manage her own crippling disappointments.  Yes, not everyone should be a parent.  Then, Marie takes off for a quickie with Roger at his hotel, leaving Meghan to get good and falling-down drunk, offering herself to Don when he arrives, only to be rejected and told to sleep it off.  When Marie returns, Don chides her for leaving her daughter like this, but she points out his own guilt in the matter.  Is Don going to support Meghan and her dreams, or participate in her failure?  Call me a mush-head, but I think he realizes that he wants to help Meghan, not lose her, or worse, destroy her (shades of Betty)?

The commercial looks utterly lame, but Don makes the right move, even though Weiner shows him in a bar moments later, being hit on by a couple of young hotties that ask him, rather stupidly, if "he's alone."  The implication is "will he or won't he" go back to his philandering ways, a la Roger Stirling, because Don has released the stranglehold he had on his young wife.  Please.  I don't think Don's going to go back to square one and negate all the things he's learned in this, and past seasons.

Even Roger's learned some lessons, and I'm delighted that he decides to embark on another LSD trip solo, rather than drag Marie along on such a journey.  I was really worried that those two would mess with some drugs and one of them would think that they could "fly," and that "falling man" imagery would finally come to fruition.  Whew.  Glad that didn't happen.

Then there are those characters that NEVER learn from their mistakes.  I'm looking at you, Pete Campbell.  My head's still reeling around the cockamamie narrative gyrations at work that got Beth and Pete back into bed again.  Does Beth really "spread her legs for the first chump she can find," because Pete is certainly the KING of chumps, and I cannot figure out what she might remotely see in him other than someone who conveniently showed up, twice.  When she leaves him at the hotel, it's pretty clear that she's not expecting him to show up at Bellevue claiming he's her brother.

That whole "electroshock" narrative turn also left me pretty flummoxed, although I was actually rather embarrassingly moved by Pete's story regarding his cheating "friend."  Then I thought, "Excellent.  He's going to check himself in, get himself some electroshock, and come out of it as a decent person, like that crappy Harrison Ford movie where he's shot in the head, and afterward becomes a nice guy, rather than a cheating jerk!"  Hey, Rory/Beth was pretty convincing about how electroshock could chase the gloom away, and save her from the "dark place."  Thankfully, it chased away all memories of Pete as well.  Heh.

When Pete gets into it with Beth's Hubby, Howard, on the commuter train, the conductor gives Pete an out, but instead of taking it, Pete provokes the guy into punching Pete in the face as well!  My favorite moment of the screening was when my partner intoned "He really is such a jerk.  I'm glad people keep hitting him."  Me too, honey, me too.  Trudy is a saint, wrongly assuming that Pete's constantly getting into auto accidents rather than provoking people into bashing him in the face.  She decides that it would be best for Pete to get an apartment in the city.  NOOOOOOO!  Poor Tammi won't be seeing her Daddy anymore, because Pete definitely thinks he deserves a different life than he has.  On second thought, lucky you, Tammi.  No more Pete.

We're left with Don looking so cool it hurts, and that's just not a high enough bar anymore.  Where be Dragons?  Or Zombies?  Have my expectations become impossibly high for this show, or any show for that matter.

Maybe I'm interested in watching something more like this:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

MAD MEN--"Commissions and Fees"

Why does Jared Harris have to suffer so much?.  He gets shot by Lili Taylor in I Shot Andy Warhol (Mary Harron, 1996) and Harris is masterful at conveying Warhol's asexuality and stunted social skills.  A few weeks ago, Leonard Nemoy sacrificed him brutally during the Fringe finale, basically turning him into a pile of ash. Now on Mad Men's "Commissions and Fees," he's asked to resign by Don, pushing him over the edge into suicide land.  Poor Lane.  I wish it was Pete.

Mad Men's season finale airs tomorrow night, and I hope it ends with a bang, because the penultimate episode was pretty "Meh."  True, since Peggy's departure I am finding it hard to care about almost everyone else, but Lane's "embezzling" storyline came off as both inexplicable and contrived.  This guy dated a Black playboy bunny, appreciated Joan as a working woman central to SCDP, and punched Pete Campbell in the face!  His ignoble departure lacks dignity, pathos, and sense.

I was also not particularly blown away by Don's new cutthroat attitude toward acquiring new clients at the firm.  I read his aggressive meeting with Ed Baxter at Dow Chemical as a symptom of his insecure worry that Joan's night with Herb was what landed them Jaguar, rather than his brilliant creative pitch.  Sure, Don's no longer laying around on his office couch, mooning over his young wife, but he is still struggling to figure out his place at SCDP.  With Peggy gone and Ginsberg nipping at his heels, he has to prove that he's still "got it."  Then, after wiping the blood from his fangs following that meeting, he and Roger return to find Lane hanging from his office door.  Hello guilt. Will there be repercussions from these two events in the finale?  Who knows--they both seemed out-of-place to me.

Thankfully, the episode did have some poignant moments, and finally gave Betty her due, as the former Mrs. Draper is able to put aside her roiling bitterness toward Meghan and Don and share a moment of closeness with her troubled tween daughter, Sally.  "At the Codfish Ball" gave a sense of Sally's liminal state--not quite a young girl, not quite a teenager either.  Yet she's desperately wanting to grow up, even if every step is downright painful.

One of the things I like about Mad Men is that Sally and Meghan are genuinely fond of each other, and share some nice moments.  Betty may, at times, use Sally as a pawn or wedge between Meghan and Don, but Meghan refuses to play those kinds of games.  If the Gilmore Girls is our parenting model, Meghan's the fun Lorelei to Betty's cold and rigid Emily.  Yet Meghan's NOT a mother, and that difference can sometimes become all to clear.

Two weeks ago, Meghan was teaching Sally how to cry on cue (c'mon, admit it, didn't you try her technique out afterward)?  Now she's letting her order coffee at Balthazar, or some late 60s facsimile.  While Sally mimics sophistication, she still must pour most of the sugar dispenser into her coffee to make it possible to swallow.  If we're wielding heavy-handed metaphors, a woman's life can be bitter indeed.  Sally gets her first taste of that acute bitterness when she starts to menstruate while on a "date" at the Natural History Museum with her friend, Glenn (who puts the kibosh on any girlfriend possibilities by telling Sally that he thinks of her as a sister).  As I proclaimed loudly, while watching, to no one in particular, "Get used to it, honey.  Your going to be going through this kind of fun for another FORTY years." Yay.

Betty tells her much the same thing, but in a surprisingly gentle way, revealing that she actually does not have a heart made of stone. Betty's rampant envy of Meghan is smartly tempered by Sally's needing her at this crucial moment.  She's never going to be nominated for "mother of the year," but Betty does finally move beyond the simplistic evil-mother representation that has characterized her for so much of this season (as well as seasons passed).  I still have hope for her character's growth, and now that January Jones's pregnancy is history, I hope we will spend more "quality time" with Betty next season.

Not so much Pete.  Now that Mad Men has killed off a main character, I believe that there is absolutely NO CHANCE that they'll get rid of Pete as well.  Grrrr.  Come back Peggy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


There's a real art to making a gorgeous, pulse-pumping, thrill-inducing movie trailer.  In fact, trailers have changed quite a bit in the last decade, as Michael Berthal points out in "The Movie Trailer Revolution" on  In fact, the trailer that really has had me jones-ing for the big screen theatrical experience over the last couple of months has undeniably been the one for Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012), which opens this Friday in the U.S., but has been released globally to decidedly mixed reviews.  Whatever. Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender!?  I'd see that bunch in ANYTHING, and this film might be a prequel to Ridley Scott's genius film Alien (1979)!  I'm hoping to see it Monday, when the rest of the world is at work (although I cannot see in 3D, so that's a bit of a bummer).

Seems I'm not the only one who thinks that the Prometheus trailer is super-awesome.  Thank you Travis Betz!