“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)

 

“To the Bone”: somewhat predictable drama about a young woman with anorexia

To the Bone”, written and directed by Marti Noxon, is a tough-to-watch and somewhat gratuitous drama about a young woman with anorexia nervosa.

Ellen (Lilly Collins) is referred to a therapist Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves) to an in-patient facility where, well, there are rules to make sure she eats and gains weight.  That’s not until Bechkam has made an odd remark about the lanugo hair growing on her forearms as she tries to keep warm (as if women shouldn’t have that).  At the dorm-like residence, there are rules.  Bathrooms are locked for thirty minutes after meals (bulimia).  Residents get points that allow them passes.  Sounds like the Army.  Or maybe being an inpatient at NIH in 1962 (when I was 19).  But patients get around it with vomit bags hidden under their bags.

But Ellen starts developing a budding puppy live romance with dance student Luke (young British actor Alex Sharp) who seems far too intact to need to be in a place like this.  He looks fine (he could use some more hair on his legs), and is quite sharp-tongued, with all his little metaphors.

But then, the movie needs to take us through her crash.  A person like this needs to hit bottom to want to live at all.  The film sets up a climax in the California desert where she camps out in a yurt and has a near-death experience with Luke.

The film sets up some camera shots of her back, where she is made to look like skin and bone.  All unpleasant.

Name:  “To the Bone
Director, writer:  Marti Noxon
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play, 2017/8/19
Length:  107
Rating:  R
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM EDT)

“The Transfiguration” of a teen who believes he is a vampire

The Transfiguration”, written and directed by Michael O’Shea, is by no means a glorification of an role model person.  It is by no means the return of a youth, now a grown man, in summer shorts at a church service.  It does not happen on a mountaintop.

No, it is an internal fantasy (maybe schizophrenia) of a character Milo (Eric Ruffin) who believes he is a vampire. He seems to have a compulsion to cut or attack people, and then vomit afterwards. He sees a therapist who says she cannot help him anymore.  The therapy scene rather reminded me of James Holmes seeing his therapist before his 2012 rampage in Colorado.

The use of the same first name as provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos seems to be a total coincidence, even if unfortunate and maybe ironic.  The character here is African-American, which seems to have been a casting choice out of desire for casting diversity. Otherwise it might even come across as pandering to racist stereotypes.

Milo deals with a brother who can no longer protect him (no bird, bro) and develops a relationship with another lost soul, Sofie (Chloe Levine), who is white. He lets her crash at his place, as if he had earned enough social capital to offer such informality.

The mid part of the film presents a gang execution shooting of a white teen that is particularly nasty.

The ending is a non-event, but it reminds me of how Nick Fallon went down on “Days of our Lives”.  I thought that real vampires and their “victims” resurrect and live forever.  Remember Neil Jordan’s “Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1992, Geffen Pictures, Warner Brothers), based on the book by Ann Rice, with the love story between Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise’s immortal characters (it starts with a trick) and Christian Slater.

The film appears to be shot in Queens in NYC.

When I was as undergraduate at GW in the early 1960s, a friend (and teammate on the chess team) wrote his mandatory freshman English term paper on vampires.

As for the real Milo, I wonder if we will see a documentary film of “Dangerous“.  Maybe I’d be interested.

Name:  “The Transfiguration
Director, writer:  Michael O’Shea
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Complimentary Vimeo screener 2017/8/3; DVD available for sale 2017/8/8
Length:  98
Rating:  R
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  press sheet

(Posted: Friday, August 4, 2017 at 11:30 AM)

“Case 39” is indeed a “Bad Seed”

Case 39”, directed by Christian Alvart and written by Ray Wright (apparently submitted by) turns out to be rather exploitive horror built on mental illness.

In Portland OR, social worker Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) visits the home of misbehaving Lilith (Jodelle ferland) for Child Protective Services, and believes she is abused. In the follow-up, the parents try to lock her into an oven (there is feint scene like that in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” (2015).  Lilith is taken into protective custody and the parents are sent to mental institutions.  They used to sau “nothing to be ashamed of” in my own NIH days in 1962.

Emily takes care for Lilith and offers to raise her in her own home.  That soon turns catastrophic. It seems that everyone with anything to do with Lilith develops schizophrenia and winds up fighting phantoms.  There is a scene were therapist Doug (Bradley Cooper) believes he is chased by hornets and commits suicide, but not until we see Bradley’s manly chest.

I’m reminded of some other films, like the classic “Lilith” (1964) where a young Warren Beatty is gradually disrobed by an underage mental patient, as well as “The Bad Seed” (1956).  I also recall Michaelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriske Point”, where Daria Halprin gradually disrobes Mark Frechette.  I saw that film twice, one of the few that I have.

The DVD has extras on the makeup for the horror film, which involved putting gel on the arms of an actress and setting her on fire. (“Turn up the Heat on the Chill Factor”).  Other extras include “Inside the Hornet’s Nest” and “File Under Evil, Inside the 39”.

The film was distributed by Paramount Vantage.  Paramount (like Warner Brothers) abandoned separately branding most of its independent films a few years ago.

Portland OR skyline (Wiki).  Indoor scenes were shot in British Columbia.

Name:  “Case 39
Director, writer:  Christian Alvart (DGC)
Released:  2009
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/7/30
Length:  109
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount Vantage
Link:  Official

(Posted: Monday, July 31, 2017 at 12:30 AM EDT

“Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”: thorough history of gay psychological culture (2nd edition)

I received by mail a review copy, an “Advance Uncorrected Gallery”, of the second edition of the book “Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”, by psychiatrist Loren A. Olson, MD, with a Foreword by Jack Drescher, MD The first edition had been published in 2011, with Karen Levy, by the InGroup Press. The new edition is due from Oak Lane Press on April 1, 2017.  The review copy was supplied by FSB Associates.

The book is monumental in its coverage of the cultural, moral, and particularly psychological history of “the gay community” and particularly of the value of gay men born in earlier generations. The author was born in 1943, the same year as me, even before the “Baby Boomers”. So, like me, he is a “Traditionalist”.

The book at first focuses particularly on gay men who have married and had children, and then “come out” in mid-life or later (and move out from “living straight”, often leading to divorce and custody issues). Olson introduces the acronym MSM, “men who have sex with men”, as not always synonymous with “homosexual” or “gay”.

Olson covers he vitriolic anti-gay societal attitudes immediately after WWII, that loosened in the late 1960s, leading to Stonewall. He notes that earlier generations had accepted homosexual men without naming them as such. But in the early 20th Century, the idea of eugenics became somewhat popular, along with the idea that sexuality (even to the point of considering masturbation and fantasy) should be completely dedicated to create and raising “better” future generations. We can certainly connect that with fascism. Olson presents McCarthyism (in line with the hypocritical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) as a “conflation of cowardice, homosexuality, and treason” in an era of pinko-phobia (my own take). He also relates this to his own upbringing in Nebraska (he practices in Iowa), where his mother implied that a boy who couldn’t manually start a lawn mower was a sissy. He traces the gradual change in attitudes up through the 1990s (living through the AIDS epidemic) and mentions the 1982 movie “Making Love”, as dramatizing the issue of a married man’s coming out.

Olson covers the issue of intergenerational gay relationships. He shows surprising candor in discussing the body image problem for gay men (sometimes it becomes “body fascism”), but maintains that a certain subset of young adult gay men are attracted to older men, even when overweight, bald, and hairy. The term “chubby chasers” gets mentioned. He describes the physiology of male sexual arousal, and relates it to age: young men have the greatest testosterone levels from about age 15 to about 30, with some variations; after about 35 or 40, most men drop off slowly. He does discuss the opportunism of pharma on this. He notes that men who come out later in life, after marriage, would not have experienced being “in the market” when their bodies were likely to be perceived by some people as the most “desirable”. He notes that agism has more effect on women and gay men than on straight men (even after divorce); men tend to care more about the visual satisfaction that their partners provide than women do, but then again, not always.

He also discusses the moral and legal issues concerning illegal relations between some men and underage teens. He distinguished between pedophilia and pederasty, but he might well have introduced “ephebophilia”. Since this book is in final revision, he might have the opportunity to discuss the “fall” of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos over the latter’s reported videos on this matter (my further comments).

The last two chapters do discuss briefly recent advances in gay history: the end of “don’t ask don’t tell”, and the Supreme Court victories in gay marriage. He also discusses hate crimes from enemies who remain, especially the horror of the attack on the Pulse disco in Orlando. He also mentions the arson at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973 (film review Feb. 16).

He also discusses the needs of gay seniors, often living alone, with widely varying degrees of independence and health. Many were prudent enough three decades ago never to become infected with HIV. He notes that never married gay men and women, especially, as they get older, are more likely to wind up taking care of other relatives, out of filial piety. He does provide some discussion of genetics, epigenetics, and gender expression and sexuality. A gene that makes a male brain predisposed to more sexual interest in other men would reduce births fathered by homosexual men, but might increase childbirth from women with the gene, and therefore result in a net gain in population.

He also has an interesting mathematical definition of self-esteem,, as a reciprocal of the difference between the ideal self and actual self.

My own take needs to be mentioned. As I have written before, I “came out” a second time, in 1973, after a listless but interesting period of heterosexual dating without sex. In my novel, “Angel’s Borther”. I introduce a 40-year old man, still at the end of his biological summer, married with children, with a day job as a history teacher but also as a covert intelligence agent, who is suddenly sent to the site of Auschwitz where he meets a mysterious, precocious male college student with whom he falls in love. Previously, he has avoided homosexual activity (partly out of “public health”) except for some “rite of passage” sessions when in college, which he feels need some sort of culmination.

Mentioned In the book:

Met Life’s Study “Out and Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian and Gay Baby Boomers” (link)   (2006) And sequel “Still Out, Still Aging” (link) (2010).

Author: Loren A. Olson, MD
Title, Subtitle: Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight
publication date 2017/4/1, second edition (first ed. 2011)
ISBN 978-0-9979614-3
Publication: Oak Lane Press, Des Moines, IA; 286 pages, paper, 9 roman; Foreword, Preface, Introduction, 12 Chapters, Endnotes, indexed
Link: Publisher, author

(Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“A Cure for Wellness”: a bloated road horror satire about health nuts

A Cure for Wellness” (directed and written by Gore Verbinski with Justin Haythe) is another road horror film, but also a rather bloated (146 minutes) black comedy-type satire, with just average looks.

The film opens in a brokerage room filled with screens at night, and a stock trader has a heart attack and keels over. He’ll be replaced, but he’s apparently the only really sick one in the movie.

The movie shifts a boardroom (Trump style) after young trader Lockhart (Dane DeHann) is called upstairs. He is threatened with an SEC investigation (with a joke I know comes from Milo Yiannopoulos), and I thought about a moment in R, Foster Winans’s book “Trading Secrets”. But then the Trump-like chairman offers him an out: to find his old boss, Pembroke (Harry Groener) vacationing at a mysterious spa in Switzerland.

Lockhart goes, and I have to say that for Gothic horror the sets in this movie are just average. The film is shot in normal aspect 1.85:1, allowing simpler setups of the indoor scenes. The geography of this mile-high resort is rather hard to figure out – even if you’re supposed to compare it to the hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining”. Lockhart at first finds the staff protective, and odd; but when his driver hits a deer on an errand to town, Lockhart breaks a leg and winds up a patient in the spa.

It’s not clear why they are here, but in time the bowels of the place are gradually revealed, with people inside floatation pods like in the movie “Altered States”. The doctors also have raised a school of eels to torment the patients.

There’s a homoerotic scene about an hour in, where Lockhart gets the first flotation treatment. His body looks immature and smooth, the kind that David Skinner wrote about in 1999 in the essay “Notes on the Hairless Man” in National Review.  But Lockhart is charismatic, and hardly fodder for a rich person’s cult.

The music score has a lot of Mozart and Beethoven in the background (like the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony 2).

Structurally, the story resembles “The Ocelot the Way He Is“, the last “chapter” of my DADT-III book, in which the protagonist is invited by a charismatic young friend to visit a mysterious ashram while a terror attack happens at home.

20th Century Fox did not use ifs Alfred Newman fanfare to open the movie, unusual to this studio usually very jealous of its trademark. Fox did a “fake news” campaign to advertise the movie (ABC story).

Name:  “A Cure for Wellness”
Director, writer:  Gore Verbinski
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/2/19, afternoon, small audience
Length:  146
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Regency, Baselberg (German production)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST)

“Hello, I Am David”, biography of eccentric pianist David Helfgott, complements “Shine”

img30931

Name: “Hello, I Am David”
Director, writer:  Cosima Lange
Released:  2015
Format:  video
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant, 2016/9/11
Length 97
Rating NA   (language: German)
Companies:  

Beleza Film, Piffl Medien

Link: David’s

 

 

(Also, “Shine”, below)

Hello, I Am David” (2015) is a documentary, interview-style biography of Australian-born pianist David Helfgott (born, 1947), directed by Cosima Lange.

The documentary is structured around his playing passages from several classical compositions, most notably Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto in D Minor.  There are scenes that conclude with Helgott playing each of the first two movements alone (which would not happen in a real concert) and the movie ends with the “big tune” conclusion of the Finale.  Other music includes Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata in F Minor, and Bach’s Italian Concerto.  Oh, it begins wirh Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”.

Helfgott has a very showy performance style, almost as if he were playing Gershwin.  He tends to take virtuoso pieces fast.

Through interviewing other performers (often in German), conductors, friends, and second wife Gillian, we learn the history of his mental illness as a young man.  It has been called “schizoaffective disorder”.  After treatment, he lost a lot of his performance skill, which he had to recover gradually. Yet, he seems “versatile”.  He fathered four children by a first wife, and is a good swimmer.

Much of his illness may be related to his father’s resistance to his studying piano in the US, even though his father had introduced him to music.

Helfgott’s life was dramatized in the 1996 film “Shine”, directed by Scott Hicks (Fine Line Features), where Geoffrey Rush plays him as an adult.  The documentary mentions the difficulty in casting his part. The earlier movie had mentioned the family’s history with the Holocaust and the fear that David’s leaving would break the family.

(Published: Sunday, September 11, 2016, 8 PM EDT)