Hausu

I always discuss important matters with children. Adults can only think about things they understand so everything stays on that boring human level.

—-Nobuhiko Obayashi

House (1977)

I knew I had some time to kill coming up so I decided to download a film from The Criterion Channel onto my tablet and watch it later. After some searching I decided on House – a Japanese horror film from 1977 that was supposed to be one of the weirdest films ever made.

And it was. Somehow this thing was made by Toho (the movie production company of Godzilla fame) in response to the success of Jaws. The two have nothing in common with each other – either in style, subject, or even a shared universe.

House is a trip – a strange, slightly perverse, bloody technicolor work of… if not crazed genius – at least extreme craziness. I would compare it to something else – but there is nothing else to compare it to.

The plot, such as it is, involves seven young Japanese schoolgirls with names that fit their personalities

Gorgeous – the main character – a thing of beauty

Fantasy – her best friend – a flighty girl who means well, but it subject to a lack of reality at most times.

Prof – bespectacled and brainy – the problem solver of the gang

Sweet – bubbly and naive – a bit frightened all the time

Mac – likes to eat and thinks of little else

Melody – a musical prodigy

Kung Fu – her name explains her gift – at one point she kicks her way out of her skirt and spends the rest of the film in her underwear.

These seven friends, after some misadventures, are bundled off for vacation to Gorgeous’ aunt’s house – which, of course is haunted, and very bad things begin to happen.

Fantasy finds Mac’s severed head in a well. The head proceeds to fly up and bite Fantasy on the ass. I told you it was weird.

What makes the film really strange and unexpected is the sweet, innocent and colorful tone which is mostly maintained even through the scenes of horror and bloodshed.

One thing I really liked were the beautiful painted backgrounds. At one point, once they leave a train, the seven girls are shown in front of an obviously painted scene of mountains and clouds. The camera pulls back revealing the painting – but it and the girls are in front of another, different panorama of mountains and clouds – this one also obviously painted.

So, if you want something more than a little different, but still very entertaining, pull up your streaming Criterion Channel and settle in for some House.

My Octopus Teacher

The problem when you’re a crab, you’re now being hunted by a liquid animal. She can pour herself through a tiny little crack.

—- Craig Foster, My Octopus Teacher

Untitled (Sprawling Octopus Man), by Thomas Houseago Nasher Sculpture Center Dallas, Texas

This morning I had to go into work before dawn to supervise a job. When I arrived on site I discovered everything had been delayed an hour and a half (a phone call came in while I was driving and I don’t answer calls in my car). So I had some time to kill.

I have Netflix on my relatively new personal phone and had downloaded a handful of films to watch offline. So I sat there waiting as the sun rose and watched the rest of the Oscar-Winning documentary My Octopus Teacher.

It was really, really good. The photography of the kelp forest was breathtaking. It’s hard to believe that a mollusk could be so captivating. The end of the film is bittersweet – I did not know anything about how an octopus reproduces….

It reminded me of a short, wonderful time in my youth – a middle school teenager living in Panama – on the Atlantic side of what was then the Canal Zone. A friend and I would take the bus out to Fort Sherman, hitchhike to Playa Diablillo and walk down the coast snorkeling and exploring the mangrove forests and coral reef – just like the guy in the movie.

One day we were walking along the exposed coral heads at low tide when something wet hit me in the side of the head. I turned and there was a large octopus mostly out of the water on the coral. He did not like us walking through his ‘hood and was squirting us with jets of water and ink out of his siphon. As we watched him he went through an amazing series of shape and color changes, trying to convince us to leave him alone (although we would never have noticed him – his first color and texture blended in with the coral – if he had not squirted us). We looked at him for a while, then granted his wish and left him alone.

If you are curious, it was right here. There is actually a streetview – this is exactly where I saw the octopus.

The film conveys spectacularly the freedom and the zen-like concentration of swimming with a snorkel in the cornucopia of life that is a coral reef or kelp forest. The ecosystem interacts like a single, enormous creature and when surrounded by that water, you become part of it.

I am so glad that I experienced that and am afraid I will never do so again.

A Hard Day’s Night

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?”
― John Lennon

Music at the Brewery Tour

I was worn out, innervated and wanted to watch something that didn’t take a lot of thought. Cruising through The Criterion Channel’s streaming potpourri, and chose the Beatles’ 1964 chestnut, A Hard Day’s Night.

I remember when I first saw the Beatles, in about 1963, I was six. They were at the airport in New York, on their first trip – it seemed to be a big thing back then when a band crossed the ocean… I’m not sure why. On the news, I thought they were women. It was a different time.

I did enjoy the film. First, the music, you forget how good the early Beatles were. It still sounds great today.

I saw the movie sometime… maybe a year or so after it came out. What I remembered the most was the character of Paul’s Grandfather. He steals every scene he is in. He is such a clean little old man.

But what really stands out to me is the (more or less) subtle, absurdist humor. The film is really just a bunch of Beatles songs, strung out like a string of pearls, interspersed with little funny bits. The funny bits are strange, though. Today, the film would be full of slapstick and broad humor… but here, everything is a little off.

And a lot of fun.

For example here are a couple more scenes. One, with the brilliant character actress, Anna Quayle, trying to figure out who John Lennon looks like.

Or there’s this extended scene with George Harrison – a comment on fashion and trends – still relevant today.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Altered States

Emily’s quite content to go on with this life. She insists she’s in love with me – whatever that is. What she means is she prefers the senseless pain we inflict on each other to the pain we would otherwise inflict on ourselves. But I’m not afraid of that solitary pain. In fact, if I don’t strip myself of all this clatter and clutter and ridiculous ritual, I shall go out of my fucking mind. Does that answer your question, Arthur?

—–Eddie Jessup, Altered States

Transcendence, on the first night.

RIP William Hurt

I saw last night that the actor William Hurt had passed away. He exploded on the scene in the years right after I graduated from school – and I saw a lot of movies then.

Kiss of the Spider Woman was always special to me… and there was Body Heat, of course… The Big Chill, Gorky Park, Children of a Lesser God…. But for me, the film that I always remembered was Altered States.

A coincidence, I had it queued up; I’m not sure what it was but something made me think of it the other day. So I watched it tonight.

1980 was a different time – the movie is more than a little dated – but I think movies were better then. Altered States is flawed – but it is audacious (a Ken Russell directed visual weird-fest about primitive Mexican Hallucinogens combined with a sensory deprivation tank – what do you expect) and a lot of fun.

Re-watching it after all these years – I forgot how much of an entitled prick William Hurt’s character was. In becoming a beast – he becomes a human being. I also forgot how dead-solid sexy Blair Brown was.

Not a perfect movie – but a fun ride. A nice change from what we have now. I don’t think this could be made today – there is too much money and computer graphics for a film this gritty and strange.

And you have to love a horror film that inspired the end of A-Ha’s Take on Me.

Jojo Rabbit

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

H.O.P. Rabbits, by David Iles

Just a couple days ago I watched a movie and wrote a blog entry about a Nazi WWII movie. It’s just a coincidence that I watched another one so soon – Jojo Rabbit was recommended by a website listing underrated, quirky movies. It was on the internet, so it has to be true.

Jojo Rabbit was made by Taika Waititi – who wisely chose to spend some of his Thor Ragnarok money on an odd film that would never have been financed otherwise.

It’s a comedy/drama about a young boy, an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth in the waning days of the second world war. The boy has trouble fitting in, so he develops an imaginary playmate – Adolph Hitler himself, played as a dim-witted goofball by Taika Waititi himself.

Here’s an early scene that sets the tone and moves the plot forward:

The movie has a real Wes Anderson feel to it – which is fun. There is a lot of star power here and a lot of talent behind the camera – which is fun.

Of course things take a dark turn. Even a friendly, goofy Gestapo is terribly deadly. The boy starts to part from his imaginary best friend (HItler) when he is inspired and confused by a discovery in his attic (no spoilers here – other reviews of this film have too many). There is tragedy and redemption….

And a pretty damn enjoyable underrated, quirky movie.

Conspiracy

“I once spoke to someone who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, and she said to me that there was now nobody left on the face of the earth, either friend or relative, who knew who she was. No one who remembered her girlhood and her early mischief and family lore; no sibling or boon companion who could tease her about that first romance; no lover or pal with whom to reminisce. All her birthdays, exam results, illnesses, friendships, kinships—gone. She went on living, but with a tabula rasa as her diary and calendar and notebook. I think of this every time I hear of the callow ambition to ‘make a new start’ or to be ‘born again’: Do those who talk this way truly wish for the slate to be wiped? Genocide means not just mass killing, to the level of extermination, but mass obliteration to the verge of extinction. You wish to have one more reflection on what it is to have been made the object of a ‘clean’ sweep? Try Vladimir Nabokov’s microcosmic miniature story ‘Signs and Symbols,’ which is about angst and misery in general but also succeeds in placing it in what might be termed a starkly individual perspective. The album of the distraught family contains a faded study of Aunt Rosa, a fussy, angular, wild-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths—until the Germans put her to death, together with all the people she had worried about.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir

Sacrifice III, Lipchitz, Jacques, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

I am not sure what reminded me of the historical WWII movie (not a film, really, it was made for TV) Conspiracy – but I did a search and found it streaming on HBO Max. I had seen a good bit of the short (hour-and-a-half) work before. I had searched it out because I had seen a documentary on and was interested in the life and death of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich – a particular hideous man assassinated by a team sent by the Czech government in exile.

So I re-watched it and it was crackerjack. It is the story of the 1942 Wannsee conference, set at a posh estate outside of Berlin. A group of top Nazis meet and develop the monstrous plan to settle the “Jewish Question.” It is based on the only surviving transcript of the meeting and is an awful, yet illuminating record of the thoughts of the butchers involved.

What first struck me was the illustration of Hannah Arendt’s idea of the banality of evil. Despite the apocalyptic subject being discussed, the men are obsessed with jockeying for power, style, and the food being served. It is truly a slice of genocidal bureaucracy.

I watched it with the subtitles on so I could follow the exact language. The way the couched the subjects, the way they pounded on the table, the way they insisted what they were doing was not only legal, but the only moral imperative – was chilling. Absolute, pure evil was disguised and couched in the language of duty. Think about this the next time you watch a Zoom meeting where a disastrous or immoral conclusion is arrived at without anyone talking about what is really going on.

Oh, now I remember what reminded me of this movie…. The algorithm presented me with a YouTube video showing someone that had a tiny, bit part (a radio operator) in the film. I always enjoy spotting a future star with a background part in a film.

I guess it’s inevitable that Loki would be present at the conception of the Holocaust.

What I learned this week, February 18, 2022

Costco, Dallas, Texas

Francis Ford Coppola’s $100 Million Bet

Fifty years after he gave us The Godfather, the iconic director is chasing his grandest project yet—and putting up over $100 million of his own money to prove his best work is still ahead of him.


Do we really live longer than our ancestors?

The answer is not really – it’s all about infant mortality.


Feast of the Brave Taco Truck

Reality Honks Back

About those truckers…


Abandoned Saucer House – Texas

War Of The Worlds

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot – but have had trouble putting into words… here it is described as the Virtuals and the Physicals – two groups about to go to war with each other.


San Francisco homeless man: ‘they pay you to be homeless here’

Giving someone something isn’t the same as helping him.


Corporate Flat Art Proves Big Business Is Infatuated With Ugliness

I had never heard of “Corporate Flat Art” – but now I see it everywhere.


Giant Eye Sculpture, Main Street, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Bored’ museum guard drew eyes onto $1.4M painting

A terrible thing, of course, but I sorta like it with the ballpoint pen eyes.

What I learned this week, December 3, 2021

How we uncancelled Jordan Peterson

Aristotle called man a ‘political animal’. Perhaps he should have said a ‘censorious’ animal. Some people’s urge to shut others up seems to be as strong as the baser drives to eat, drink and copulate. That is why, in the war for free speech, victory is never permanent, though you can sometimes win a local battle or two. Jordan Peterson’s visit to Cambridge this week was such a win.


Why a toaster from 1949 is still smarter than any sold today

My colleague Tom once introduced you to a modern toaster with two seemingly ingenious buttons: one to briefly lift your bread to check its progress, and another to toast it “a bit more.” I respectfully submit you shouldn’t need a button at all.

That’s because in 1948, Sunbeam engineer Ludvik J. Koci invented the perfect toaster, one where the simple act of placing a slice into one of its two slots would result in a delicious piece of toasted bread. No button, no lever, no other input required. Drop bread, get toast.


Sleep
Sleep

The seven types of rest: I spent a week trying them all. Could they help end my exhaustion?

When we feel fatigued most of us focus on sleep problems. But proper relaxation takes many forms. I spent a week exploring what really works


The crowd milling around in the Winspear Opera House, sipping their wine

How to Tell If You’re Oversharing (and How to Stop It)

Being authentic and personable is great! Constantly unloading on everyone around you is not.


A tough choice.

Want to Build Unbeatable Mental Toughness? Here Are 5 Surprisingly Effective Ways

Beating cancer made Yale Law grad Seun Adebiyi rethink his fast-paced life and become an entrepreneur.


Chapel, Thanksgiving Square, Dallas, Texas

How to Be Thankful For Your Life by Changing Just One Word

You don’t “have” to. You “get” to.


Here’s Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand (And Three Ways To Fix It)

I used to be able to understand 99% of the dialogue in Hollywood films. But over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed that percentage has dropped significantly — and it’s not due to hearing loss on my end. It’s gotten to the point where I find myself occasionally not being able to parse entire lines of dialogue when I see a movie in a theater, and when I watch things at home, I’ve defaulted to turning the subtitles on to make sure I don’t miss anything crucial to the plot.


Robinson Crusoe on Mars

“It is never too late to be wise.”
― Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

(click to enlarge) Mural, Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

Let’s see, the movie came out in 1964… but I would have seen it on an Army base (which one? probably Fort Leavenworth) which are second-run theaters (back then, a movie cost a quarter) so I would have seen it a year or two later. I would have been eight or nine years old. And yet I remember it like it was yesterday.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars is streaming on the Criterion Channel and I had nothing better to do, apparently, than to waste a precious afternoon of perfect weather re-watching it… after all these decades.

Despite the bilious title, it isn’t a bad movie at all. Adam West has a small, pre-Batman, part (spoiler – he dies near the beginning). The special effects are economical but practical, the flying saucers cool looking (they look like the aliens from the original War of the Worlds– which was made a decade earlier).

Spaceship, Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
Spaceships, War of the Worlds (1953)

Oh, no wonder. Here is the answer from IMDB:

The Martian spacecraft are leftovers from The War of the Worlds (1953). Director Byron Haskin was involved in both projects, although George Pal is often given sole credit for the earlier classic.

I remember thinking that they looked the same in 1966 or whenever. War of the Worlds was on TV and had made quite a splash we me and my diminutive friends. But there was no internet then and I couldn’t find out for sure.

Dune

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune


Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, Nick in 1996
Nick in 2001 (we need to go back and get a shot now)

I read Frank Herbert’s classic novel, Dune, in college, in Kansas, in the Dorm – maybe 1975 – about ten years after it was published. I liked it… though I can’t really say I understood it completely. I was reading a lot… I was young… I had a sense that there was a lot going on under the surface that I couldn’t really comprehend.

Then, in Dallas, in 1984, I went to the theater and saw the David Lynch film. I was a fan of Lynch (Eraserhead, The Elephant Man) at the time and actually liked the film a lot. There was so much hate for it at the time. It wasn’t flawless but it was a unique vision – and that is rare. The film actually helped me understand the world of Arrakis better and it inspired me to re-read the source. Dune is definitely a book that benefits from a second reading.

Then right after the turn of the millennium there were the two television mini-series which covered the first three books, somehow. Again, not the best, but a game attempt. I barely remember them, except that my kids – nine and ten years old – watched them and actually liked them better than I did.

And now, 2021, forty-six years after I read the novel, we have Denis Villeneuve and his film.

Again, I was (am) a huge fan of the director (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) and have been hyped up for the film for years – the Covid delay was tough to take. But patience is rewarded, sometimes.

I had big plans of going to the theater and seeing it on the big silver screen – but I have picked up a bad habit of hanging around the house during the pandemic – something I need to work on breaking – something I should have used the film as an aid to breaking – but I didn’t have anyone to go with… so I ended up closing off the living room, scooting the recliner close to the screen, turning up the sound system, and streaming the thing at home.

(don’t worry – no spoilers)

It was very good – as good as I expected, better than I feared (and fear is the mind-killer), worse than I hoped. The only criticism is a bit of slow pace the last quarter. The best part – visuals, sound, acting – all top notch.

The first Dune film was interesting because it was, at the heart, a David Lynch film – with all his personal demons leaking out of the screen. I didn’t realize how much an impression the Lynch Dune made on me, but I could feel echoes of the earlier work all over this one. It is, of course, only half the story, and there is plenty of story for two films (I almost wonder if it should have been a modern cable R-rated mini-series) and it definitely benefits from not having the rushed pace of the earlier one-film version.

The new Dune also shows the mark of its director. There is a unique visual vocabulary – it reminds me of Arrival (especially the shape and motion of the space ships) more than Dune 2049. Denis Villeneuve does have the chops to handle the visuals, the complex political science-fiction landscape, and even the larger-than-life personalities – a lot of balls to keep in the air, but he pulls it off.

Now, how long do I have to wait for the next one? I will definitely go see that one in a theater (if such a thing still exists).

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune