“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: “Lobster” director plays again on our unspoken fantasies to build horror

The Killing of a Sacred Deer” opens with a beating heart, encased in a chest cracked open like “The Lobster” (May 22, 2016).  Then we see a surgeon take off his gloves and dispose of them.  We see his sleek hands (a line later used a few times in the script written with Efthymis Flippou), and that at least his forearms are still softly haired, as if the ultimate future of infection control were not yet in place.

I’m introducing the latest quirky horror comedy (or satire) from Yorgos Lanthimos, and it has a plot concept that feints of ephebophilia, and then plays on male fetish obsessions that have been frankly significant in my own life to build a plot and a rather horrific and tragic climax.

The music score, with Schubert, Bach, and especially Lygeti, underlines the urgency for the characters, but maybe it could have added Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs of the Death of Children”).

Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is the heart surgeon and cardiologist in a Cincinnati hospital. (The city looks sharp in the film, especially in multiple scenes across the Ohio river from Covington, KY.)  In his past, he once lost a patient at age 46 apparently during some routine bypass surgery. That deceased patient’s verbal teenage son, Martin (Barry Keoghan) starts showing up in Murphy’s life, mostly by self-invitation.

Murphy has built an impressive family in his palatial home, with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and gender fluid son Bob (Sonny Suljic) and teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). At first, the daughter teases Martin about his lack of body hair (some teens would normally have more) and Martin pretends to be ill and shows up at Murphy’s office for a physical. There is a scene with a stress test, with eight leads, where Martin asks what would happen if he were hairy, and Murphy admits he would have to be chest-shaved, and that it could take a little while to grow back.  Murphy even gets into mention of “hormones” (reminding me of my own Ft. Eustis days). Martin even asks to see Murphy’s chest.  There’s also, as I recall, an odd line about replacing a grabby metal wristwatch with leather. Martin acts as if he believed the world had some sort of fascist conspiracy to eliminate less desirable men (like the Nazis did) as if this could be eroticized. For a little while, the film has you wondering if indeed Murphy is falling into an illegal relationship with the teen boy.

But at midpoint, the film takes a surprising twist. Bob, and then Kim, develop a kind of guillain- barre syndrome, with intermittent and then persistent leg paralysis, when medical tests can find nothing wrong. In a particularly arresting scene Martin threatens Murphy by suggesting that he (Martin) is causing the syndrome with some supernatural curse.

I’m not sure that the conclusion, which involves some vengeful violence against Martin and then a lottery to find the “deer” is necessarily all that convincing.  Some critics will say that Stephen gets his wish, to play god again. That’s a problem with setting up an erotic premise like this:  it is hard to find somewhere to go.

Wiki picture of downtown Cincinnati.  My visits: 1992, 2012.

Wiki picture of a Holter Monitor on a young adult male, underscoring Martin’s concerns.

Picture: Mt Vernon, Ohio, 2012, my trip.

Somehow the title and tone of this film reminds me of “The Killing of Sister George” (1968, Palomar, dir. Robert Aldrich, with Beryl Reid.) I;m also reminded of Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal) with Steve Carell as hapless.

Name: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director, writer:  Yorgos Lanthimos, wr with Efthymis Flippou
Released:  2017/10/27
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/29 fair crowd
Length:  116
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24, Film4, Hanway
Link:  distributor

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at 8:30 PN EDT)

 

“The Girl on the Train”: stalking, voyeurism and fantasy turn into an old-fashioned potboiler

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Name: The Girl on the Train
Director, writer:  Tate Taylor, novel by Paula Hawkins
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/10/7, mid afternoon, light attendance
Length 112
Rating R
Companies: Dreamworks, Universal
Link: official

The Girl on the Train”, directed by Tate Taylor, adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson from the novel by Paula Hawkins, heavily promoted in previews and television ads, seemed tantalizing to me at first because it seemed to focus on fantasy.  A girl Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides a Hudson River commuter train every day and becomes fascinated with a woman, and her apparent marriage or life, in a home a few addresses away from her old place.

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That could be a fascinating mystery of upward affiliation.  But soon we learn of a web of troubled, basically unadmirable characters and entanglements.  The movie is told largely in flashbacks of Rebecca, but also in two other female characters, so there is a question of the cleanliness of the “omniscient observer”.

We learn of her alcoholism, which led to her being fired from a public relations job in New York, which she pretends she has anyway. We also learn of her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux), who kicked her out to live in her old mansion with a new bride, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Soon there’s a convenient plot coincidence: Anna works as a nanny for Megan (Haley Bennett) in the mystery house; Megan is married to Scott (Luke Evans).

The movie seems like it should be an exploration of voyeurism and stalking, maybe unwelcome flirting. But soon Megan is missing, and a detective (Allison Janey) is asking Rebecca questions and warning her to stop the stalking. Psychologically, this sounds like familiar territory.

Pretty soon we’re back into potboiler mystery territory (remember “Gone Girl”) and the trouble is to many of the other characters are, at best, examples of narcissistic personality disorder (especially Tom)  There’s a line about an unwanted pregnancy: “Get rid of it!”  Tom wants heterosexual mating without the baggage of propagating his genes like a real alpha male.

The film is shot up close, in traditional 1.85:1, with the trains making for a Hitchcock-like background.

The book, and movie, appeal for a mass audience by presenting aggressive, sexually self-serving characters and steamy fantasies of romance, although the film is no match for “Body Heat” (1980).  It’s possible to make mystery about sexual or erotic fantasy more subtle, which I’ve tried to do in my own screenplays – and I run into the problem that I need to present how the other characters (not just “me”) got there.

(Published: Friday, October 7, 2016 at 7:30 PM EDT)

“The Selfishness of Others” by Kristin Dombek, an “essay” on the moral aspects of narcissism

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Author: Kristin Dombek
Title, Subtitle: The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism
publication date 2016
ISBN ISBN 978-0-86547-823-7
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York; 150 pages, endnotes, seven chapters
Link: author


I saw the little book “The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism”, by Kristin Dombek, on display in bookshelves near the check-in desk at the Ace Hotel in New York City, on 29th St, ironically about six blocks where an explosion in Chelsea would happen later that day (and two blocks from where another device would be discovered).  I ordered it from Amazon.  At 138 pages, it is still just an “essay”.

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The book is quite abstract, and seems to be a philosophical discussion of narcissistic personality disorder in a year when Donald Trump is running for president. The last two pages of the book propose a new DSM clinical definition of “Narciphobia” as if it were a form of narcissism itself.

The book as seven short chapters, and starts out with a description of a young woman’s wanting to close down an entire street in Atlanta for her debutance or wedding party.  There are some references to Tara, the lost culture of the old South, as if Scarlet O’Hara had been the ultimate narcissist.

In the third chapter, “The Bad Boyfriend”, she seems to venture into philosophical homophobia.  She recounts Freud’s account of male homosexuality as a mirror (metaphor) where the man loves only what he would like to see himself as (and that fantasy has to be met perfectly, no flaws allowed).  That brings back my own days at NIH in 1962 (“How do you see yourself??”) – another way of putting George Gilder’s idea of “upward affiliation” (articulated in the 1986 book “Men and Marriage”).  Or perhaps we recall David Skinner’s 1999 essay in the Weekly Standard, “Notes on the Hairless Man” (see July 28 movie review for link).   I can recall Skinner’s getting into Marky Mark’s idea of “creativity”.  Finally, though, Dombek becomes appropriately suspicious of Freud himself. But not until (on p. 38) she proposed “When e grow up, we forfeit part of this early childhood narcissism – impoverishing our oceanic, boundless self-absorption in order to care and be cared about. Genuinely loving parents teach their children that it is safe to make this trade.”  It was Philip Longman, in the 2004 book “The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It”, who wrote that a lot of people are too “self-absorbed” to beget children. Indeed. Bombek sometimes comes back with the refrain that experiencing straight love is a moral imperative.

Later, in a chapter on “The Millennial” (p. 70) she describes narcissism as an artificially “self-sufficient femininity”, and odd take on Rosenfels’s polarities.  (I also wonder about whether “acceptance” is supposed to be a sub-component of “Love” from Reid Ewing’s own Twitter feed.)  Then, she gets into a most interesting and disturbing paradox in Millennial life:  no group has been so self-absorbed, but no group is so willing to pimp out sociability and self-indulgent “go-fund-me” onto others.

“The Murderer” as a narcissist needs no explanation, but for “The Artist” she retells the Greek parable of Narcissus and Echo.   All these modern romance websites “invite you to be in the center of the world. Stuck in time, assessing the moral status of others, until love is gone.” Indeed, she notes in “The World”, a third of us freelance ourselves alone on the Internet – the “alone together” phenomenon.  Finally, on p. 135, she says “The selfishness of others is the feeling of your dependence revealed, as their gaze turns away; Your independence (is) laid bare as a myth.”

(Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 2:30 PM EDT)

“The List”: a “black” romantic comedy about the perils of upward affiliation in relationships

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Name: The List
Director, writer:  Brandon Sonnier
Released:  2007
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length 92
Rating R
Companies: RossWWMedia, Warner Independent Pictures
Link: Black Film Festival

The List” (alternatively titled “I’m Perfect”), from 2006 and directed by Brandon Sonnier, at first sounds like genre “indie” black romantic comedy (rather like Tyler Perry), but in fact it broaches a “morally” important topic:  what happens when we approach romantic or intimate relationships expecting the other partner to be “perfect” enough?  Call this the “upward affiliation” problem (a term coined in the 1980s by conservative writer George Gilder). https://www.doaskdotellnotes.com/?p=511

The plot is heterosexual, and some reviewers have noted that this story would work regardless of the race of any character.   In more recent years, in fact, casting diversity has started to become a “political” flashpoint in Hollywood. http://billsmediareviews.com/?p=1908

The story presents a young ad executive Lewis (Wayne Brady) who has a peculiar intellectual way of processing everything.  As a manager, he makes lists of goals.  For romantic partners, he makes lists of desired attributes.   Lew proposes to the perfect lady on his own reality television show, and she says “No” to the Big Question.  In fact, the lady retaliates by showing how far Lew falls from perfection himself. But Lew will not be deterred from using his “list” technique.  He soon has his eyes on Cecile, played by Sydney Tamiia Poiter (daughter of the actor Sidney Poitier, as from “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, both 1967).  He will experience his own battle of head vs. heart.

The film gradually gets back into his ad business, which involves casting and filming commercials in Los Angeles – somewhat away from the actual entertainment film business.

The “upward affiliation” problem can drag on the resilience of a population.  If people are too picky about whom they will bond with (enough to marry and raise children), or not willing to stay in an intimate relationship during physical adversity, a people becomes more vulnerable to adverse externalitie and even enemies.

The idea of a personal “list” has another implementation: one can have a private “list” of persons he or she thinks the most of or would fantasize getting intimate with, and “to hell” with everyone else.  Although, in my own short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is,” the ocelot doesn’t have clay feet after all.

(Published: Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016 at 9 PM EDT)

Dating and relationship apps: how do they help people find and keep romantic partners?

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“Dating Apps / Relationship Apps: A New Direction”, by Happy Couple, CEO Julien Robert

The landscape of online dating and dating apps has come a long way since the first site went live over two decades ago. It’s quaint to think that people used to find dates and mates through jobs. Or friends. Or chance encounters in bars.

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Today, there are thousands of dating apps on the market ranging from the general to the specific – dating sites for mature singles, farmers, and even vegetarians. Whether gay, straight, bi, trans or into open relationships, people can virtually meet dozens of potentially compatible matches with just a few keystrokes and without ever leaving their living rooms.

But what about after they’ve met someone? For years, there weren’t any apps designed to make sure those online matches went smoothly or that helped determine that the match was, in fact, a good match at all.

The most exciting development in the dating app arena are their companion pieces – apps designed to speed up the getting-to-know-you process so users can find out more quickly if they’re well-matched, and if they’re not, what they can do about it. Call it the Angie’s List Effect. Broken dishwasher? Find a plumber with Angie’s List. Broken relationship? Fix it with the help of an app.

While this specific niche in the market is still developing, Happy Couple is a standout. Launched on Valentine’s Day of 2016, Happy Couple is a well-designed, spunky quiz game where users guess their partner’s answers to questions about communication, sex, emotions, responsibilities, recreation and their partner’s background and favorite things. Think the Newlywed Game, only without those primitive cards those TV game players had to ink up with giant markers and hold over their heads.

Instead, in this simple game, just five questions are delivered each day and game players answer them any time they want – in line for lunch at the food truck, on hold listening to Muzak, during a coffee break at work.

The two halves of the couple work as a team and get points for matches which result in reaching new levels and being rewarded with a choice of challenges designed to enhance the relationship. The most intriguing element to Happy Couple is that the game is not only geared to heterosexual couples, but to gay and lesbian couples and even those self-described as “other.”  Additionally, the questions and the daily relationship tips are tailored specifically to the players depending on if they are dating, living together, married or are in some other “it’s complicated” relationship.

This goes way beyond the scope of competing dating apps that are therapy apps aiming to fix what’s wrong. Instead, this is a true relationship game that has the couple – the game’s player – really interact.

There are a few glitches – it can be slow at times and some new features such as a between-couples competition has yet to launch – but these don’t detract from the experience. And the conversations the app generates turns out to be the true value behind the fun experience.

ABOUT HAPPY COUPLE: Happy Couple is an innovative app designed to broaden and deepen couples’ relationships, whether just a few weeks along or after 25 years of marriage. Founded by CEO, Julien Robert; Dr. Lonnie Barbach, head of content; Arnaud Le Mérour, CMO; and Erin Johnson, art director — the dynamic team with French and U.S. roots has developed a fun, witty, informational technology offering that is transforming the way couples look at their connection and affinity. For more information, visit: happycouple.co.

(Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2016, at 10:15 AM EDT.  It was submitted to me through Public Relations firm Beyond Fifteen.)

 

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”: they need to be careful about “What Women Want”

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Name: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Director, writer:  Jake Szymanski
Released:  2016/7
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/7/27, fair audience
Length 100
Rating R
Companies: 20th Century Fox (when will Fox convert the trademark to “21st Century?”)
Link: official site

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” (Jake Szymanski) is indeed silly, and must have been tedious to write (Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien).

The plot is that the two “bro’s” played by Zac Efron and Adam Devine, are so reckless that their father wants them to find specific dates for a big wedding of the sister in Hawaii.

So, they advertise on Craigslist (low tech). They get responses written on their Facebook timelines.  They get transgender people and regular gay men among the respondents, until real women show up in what looks like an “I Hate Speed-dating” scenario (that’s the name of another script I have seen).

But the real curiosity about this film is the male leads. Zachary David Alexander Efron is, at 28, at his physical summer solstice. He’s solid, well bulked up, with the “right amount” of chest hair.  Efron, remember, played the teen “Troy Bolton” in all of Disney’s “High School Musical” and even Cameron Bale in WB’s TV series “Summerland” about how a single woman raises her sister’s kids on the west coast after a family auto accident in the Midwest. Efron was an AP student in high school while doing these early acting gigs.  He was the sort of person you wanted to have in class when you (or I) worked as a substitute teacher.

But Adam Devine is something else.  He looks a little puffy.  Despite the trailers (and the pics which duplicate Zac with his chest painted in water colors) Adam never goes shirtless, even in a scene of simulated intercourse.  Is that because he’s recovering from a silly ad for AllState where he becomes a “man-o-lantern”, like Steve Carell had in “The Forty Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal)  (an implicit nod to David Skinner’s 1999 essay in the “conservative” Weekly Standard, “Notes on the Hairless Man“, with all the speculation about  men and family, like “we cannot erase general notions of manliness from popular culture and expect today’s boys to become tomorrow’s protectors and providers”). Or is this about “What Women Want” (2000, Paramount), with Mel Gibson, featuring depilatory strips to accelerate going bald in the legs.

Needless to say, the Hawaii scenery is lush, most of all in the aerialized buggy scenes.

Wikipedia attribution link for 3-D map of Oahu under CCSA 3.0 by Marin Adamiker.

(Published: Thursday, July 28, 2016, at 1 PM EDT)