Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Mia Farrow

Mia Farrow is the daughter of actress Maureen O'Sullivan and writer/director John Farrow. She began acting in the late 1950s, but her career truly took off after she starred in the horror film "Rosemary's Baby" (1968). During the 1980s and early 1990s, she was closely associated with writer/director Woody Allen who wrote parts specifically for her in many of his films.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Woody Allen's underappreciated homage to early cinematic thrillers

Shadows and Fog (1991)
Starring: Woody Allen, David Ogden Stiers, Mia Farrow, James Rebhorn, Kathy Bates, Donald Pleasance, Lily Tomlin, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Madonna, and Michael Kirby
Director: Woody Allen
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A serial killer is terrorizing a German city and the citizens have formed a vigilante squad to catch him. After being cajoled to join them, Kleinmann (Allen) soon finds himself wandering the dark and foggy streets alone, dodging the killer (Kirby) and being drawn into the lives of other lonely people wandering the night.

I have a weird relationship with Woody Allen movies. The films most people praise, I find irritating and barely watchable. Meanwhile, his flops and failures, I find immensely entertaining.

Like "Shadows and Fog." It's a film that many viewers find confusing and unsatisfying, and by all accounts it was a total bomb at the box office. Myself, I enjoyed it, because I like the movies that Allen was spoofing/giving homage to--the moody, German silent movies from the earliest decades of the 20th century, such as "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."

Allen and his cinematographer use the black-and-white medium beautifully, using the shadows and fog of the title to their absolute greatest potential. The characters and the world they inhabit also perfectly capture the mood and feeling of a silent-era thriller/horror movie--expect, of course, for Allen's character who wanders through the landscape lost and confused (when he isn't working against his nature and trying to be a heroic gentleman to Mia Farrow's displaced circus performer character. Despite two seemingly strong elements to form a uniting center of the film's plot--Allen's character and the killer on the loose--that center does not exist. Like many of the silent pictures that "Shadows and Fog" draws its inspiration from, the film feels more like a collection of vignettes than a coherent whole.

If the viewer recognizes and appreciates the source material Allen is drawing upon, "Shadows and Fog" is a lot of fun... but I can understand the frustration of those who "aren't in on the joke," so to speak. Those viewers will probably be even more frustrated by the fact that Allen really doesn't bring anything new to the table in that humor or character department that even audiences in 1991 hadn't seen in other films from him. Without seeing the constant wink-and-nods relating to silent movie style and story-telling, this film quite possibly comes across as a meandering, uninspired mess that adds insult to injury with its abrupt ending that leaves almost every single story line unresolved.

I agree with viewers who might find the ending to "Shadows and Fog" weak and unsatisfying. It makes perfect sense within the framework of the film, but I would have liked it to be a bit a punchier than it is. Such a stylish movie that features great performances from every cast member (even Madonna and Woody Allen who I sometimes feel is the worst part of his movies!) should have delivered something that reminded viewers of all those good things rather than making them feel let down.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Dolores O'Riordan passes away

Singer Dolores O'Riordan has died today, at the age of 46. You can read more here.

Best known as the lead singer of The Cranberries, she also released some great solo albums in the early 2000s. She had a remarkable and distinctive voice that will be with us forever. I am saddened by her passing, but grateful for what she has left us.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

'Gyo' is nightmarish but not horrific

Gyo (Viz Media, 2015)
Story and Art: Junji Ito
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

While vacationing in Okinawa, young couple Tadashi and Kaori are set upon by bizarre, murderous fish with legs. Soon, all of Japan is under attack by the mysterious creatures from the sea.

Junji Ito has the honor of having written and drawn some of the very few (perhaps the only?) comics that are scary on the level of the pure written word, movies, and live performances, with "Uzumaki" being his masterwork. While 3-8 page comics stories can sometimes come close to competing with other genres with the level of horror they might inspire in readers, so far no other long-form comics I've come across have managed to do so. That includes "Gyo."

"Gyo" was originally published in serialized form in the Japanese anthology title "Big Comics Spirit" during 2001 and 2002. It was Ito's final excursion into horror before taking a decade-long break from the genre (returning to horror by writing and directing a film adaptation of his most famous series, "Tomie" in 2011, and afterwards to comics). The art is as solid as in any of Ito's prior work--with some scenes being every bit as nightmarishly disturbing as the best found in his "Flesh-Colored Horror" anthology. Unfortunately, that's as far as it goes.

There is nothing in "Gyo" that rises to the level of dread, and outright horror that leaped off page after page. The best we get here is creepy transitioning into disgusting, but no actual horror; "nightmarish" is the best way to describe the events of "Gyo", I think. This may stem from the fact that a character we're supposed to feel sympathy for is so annoyingly, repulsively neurotic that the reader is almost delighted when she suffers her predictable fate. (All I could think about while suffering through her hysterically berating her very patient boyfriend over and over and over was, "The sex must be great"--but I'm not sure he getting much of that, so I don't know where their could possibly have been a relationship between these two main characters.)

Art-wise, "Gyo" is up to the high standards of Ito's other works. The illustrations are crisp, and even the most chaotic, bizarre scenes flow clearly and are easily followed by the reader. Further, his style remains a nice bridge between "manga" and more western-looking art, so even those who claim to hate Japanese comics should be able to enjoy his work. (Just know that there are better examples of it.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Milla Jovovich Quarterly

I've been a huge fan of Milla Jovovich since I first became aware of her, probably in "The Fifth Element." For a while, I was doing "The Milla Jovovich Quarterly" here at Shades of Grey, but I started to run low on interesting black-and-white pictures, so I stopped.

I now resume scheduled Milla Jovovich appearances with a post every year on her birthday! Here's hoping her 41st birthday is a happy one!