men in a recording studio look dissatisfied
Collaborative Blogging

Berberian Sound Studio, or: The Equestrian Vortex

Another week, another disturbing exploration of the depths of human depravity.  And for once I’m not talking about the election.

The Film:

Berberian Sound Studio

The Premise (I love the Wikipedia summary for this):

British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives at the Berberian film studio in Italy to work on what he believes is a film about horses.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our somewhat surreal film begins as Gilderoy arrives in Italy to work on the sound effects for an Italian movie, The Equestrian Vortex.  After checking in at the recording studio, hejust wants reimbursement for his plane ticket, but fails to get a clear answer about which department handles that.  Worse news is that no one seems to have received a paycheck for months.  He’s even more confused as everyone speaks Italian around him in both reality and in the film he’s working on.

Contrary to what the title leads him to believe, this is not a nice movie about horses, but a horror.  (Can I just say Equestrian Vortex would be a great horror movie that could be the next Sharknado?)  Of course, the director claims it’s not a horror and is extremely offended at the mere suggestion.  But it’s horror.

The director, Santini, is rather easygoing and constantly smiling, hiding something sinister as it turns out.  The man determined to finish the film and put in the work is the producer, who is not an especially charming boss.  Perhaps the only reasonably nice character in all of this is Silvia, one of the actresses.  She does provide several ominous warnings to Gilderoy, who of course ignores them.

a man adjusts a microphone in a recording booth
“Hillary and Obama stole my microphone and took it to Kenya and now it’s broken.”

I still don’t understand what the equestrian vortex is, but the gist of the film is that witches have risen from the grave to torture and kill girls at a riding school.  At one point, the girls find the witches’ decaying bodies in the poultry tunnel, which I don’t understand outside of a slaughterhouse context.

To create the sound effects, there is so much screaming.  So.  Much.  Screaming.  We also see vegetables being dropped, melons chopped, juice blended—it’s not good to be produce in this film.  It’s actually quite fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at film sound effects.  I can’t think of any other movies about movies that focus so much on sound.

a man in a recording studio stands behind a table full of lettuce heads
So many heads of lettuce had to die to make this movie.

The increasingly disturbing plot of the film Gilderoy is working on parallels his frustration and mistreatment.  He very much wants to quit, especially as Santini emphatically declares he hates the exploitation of women in his film but must tell the story.  What a crock.  The highly artistic and intellectual film requires the witches to be stabbed, drowned, and stuck in the vagina with a red hot poker.

There’s also an extremely odd scene in which Santini feeds Gilderoy a grape and tells him to swallow the seed.  Er…?

a man puts his arm around another man in a dimly lit room
Trust me, there’s absolutely no subtext involved with this scene.

Gilderoy becomes very disturbed by screaming/crying sounds he hears at night.  He finds Silvia one night, who warns him about Santini, and reveals that he harassed and sexually assaulted her on set.  Finally fed up, she promises to destroy what he loves most and show him the real meaning of a curse.

It gets more surreal from here, and I don’t want to ruin the plot completely, most of which happens in the last 15 or so minutes of the film anyway.  One of the big questions of this movie is can you create exploitative art without yourself becoming exploitative?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is pretty light on plot, but extremely atmospheric.  There’s a mood of anxiety and confusion that becomes increasingly present as the film goes on, as well as a number of WTF scenes.  As soon as Silvia reveals the director’s harassment, the film begins to make a bit more sense–at least in one interpretation.

There is so much screaming in this film, which is so uncomfortable but which all of our characters become virtually immune to.  The “Silenzio” flashes in red repeatedly during recording, but it also serves as a reminder to the cast and crew to shut up and stop complaining.  This works when thinking about the women harassed in this movie and could more broadly speak to the film industry as a whole.

I am still scratching my head over some of the scenes in this movie (including a short film about the South Downs), and biggest complain is I hoped there was going to be an actual witch and really wanted Silvia to put an actual curse on some dudes.

Would Christa ride this one through an equestrian vortex or smash it like a melon creating a murder sound effect?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

It’s a Hard Knox Life

Another week, another terrible made for TV movie. I’ll be honest, I think Lovestruck: The Musical deserves a boatload of Emmys in comparison to this week’s film (sorry, Christa, but it’s true!). See Christa’s thoughts on this week’s pick here!

The Film:

Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Guys. Read the title. This is a Lifetime original movie about the Amanda Knox trial. For murder. In Italy.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

Since it’s a Lifetime movie based on a true story, we’ve got our news clips, we’ve got our gorgeous Italian countryside, and we’ve got our Hayden Panettiere with brownish hair and a super hipster-y Italian boyfriend.

a young woman stands next to a man who is wearing a large yellow scarf as they face a police officer
I’m wearing this scarf ironically.

The police arrive at the house Amanda shares with three other students after finding her roommate Meredith’s cellphone.

When the police open the door to Amanda/Meredith’s room, they find Meredith’s body on the floor covered with a blanket. As you probably know since this trial was everywhere, Amanda and Raffaele are about to spend years in prison after being implicated for Meredith’s murder.

However, just two months earlier in Seattle, Amanda is a too cheerful barista who is excited to study abroad in Italy. Her family is throwing her a nice normal going away party, and her sister visits after a few weeks. Amanda advises her sister that in Italy “Everything’s illegal and nothing’s forbidden.” Whoa, Amanda.

Around this time, Amanda moves in with the three students, including Meredith, who is super serious and British and studying all the time. Amanda, on the other hand, is busy picking up Italian Steve Jobs. Their first date basically consists of Raffaele sitting next to Amanda after they make sexy eyes for an extended period, Amanda feeding him a chocolate strawberry, and riding a carousel. He does make risotto, though, thus earning major points on the potential boyfriend front. They bond over having divorced parents and being former victims of bullying in school.

a woman gestures to another young woman as they stand next to a stone wall
This was just not the world’s most screen cap-able movie.

Later, Meredith and Amanda have a minor fight b/c Amanda is apparently a slob. This is going to come back to haunt Amanda, along with her strange/apparently indecent behavior in the wake of the murder: PDAs with her boyfriend, doing cartwheels while at the police station, and going lingerie shopping. Also it’s not great to have the nickname “Foxy Knoxy” when the police are investigating a possible rape and murder.

people gathered in a courthouse all stand and face the judges underneath a large dome depicting figures that represent justice
This is the most beautiful court house I’ve ever seen, though.

Okay, I’m going to skip to the end because seriously, the rest of the movie just goes through virtually every detail of the trial that you can read about in a Newsweek article or…Wikipedia.

For whatever bullshit reason, Amanda receives a 26-year sentence, while Raffaele gets 25.

And, as we know, the conviction goes through all kinds of legal mumbo jumbo before the two are acquitted.

The Critique:

Honestly, it’s really hard to be sarcastic about this movie. I was expecting it to be way more melodramatic or at least involve a crazy conspiracy theory. But noooooooooooooo, Lifetime decided to stick to the facts for once, which makes it really difficult to snark about without being a total asshole.

I did get a bit emotional at the end, but I attribute that to recently binge-watching season 2 of Broadchurch, which is just a sucker punch for the soul. (Coincidentally, Sucker Punch for the Soul was the less successful follow-up series to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.)

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I expect more of you, Lifetime. Or possibly less?

Either way, check out Christa’s post here!

Book Reviews

Book Review: Church of Marvels

I don’t usually do book reviews (bad librarian) because if I don’t like a book, I don’t finish it, while if I LOVE a book, I find it difficult to be snarky. Snark-less is not a status I’m particularly comfortable with; however, I’m willing to power through it so I can tell you how much I love love LOVE Leslie Parry’s Church of Marvels. (But please note that since this is Leslie Parry’s first novel, I’m basically obligated to despise her at least a little bit.)

cover art for the book Church of Marvels

Just last month you could have quoted me as saying “The novel is dead” (you can seriously start throwing rocks at me any time and I won’t blame you at all; I got a huge eye roll from my mom for those words of wisdom). I need novels to be engaging, the characters believable, and the prose beautiful. I’m not opposed to genre fiction, but soooooooooooo much of it seems to be writers plugging different names into the same plot (this conversation between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro is the most perfect article about genre I’ve ever read: http://www.newstatesman.com/2015/05/neil-gaiman-kazuo-ishiguro-interview-literature-genre-machines-can-toil-they-can-t-imagine). Anyway, my point is, I’m looking for a long-term commitment with a novel. I want to think about it for a long time after I’ve read it, what it means, which were my favorite parts. This book? Check, check, and check.

I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as possible, so I’ll keep plot details brief. There are three intersecting stories: that of Odile, a former carny trying to find her twin sister after losing almost everything in a fire; Sylvan, a night-soiler searching for the origins of a baby he finds while shoveling shit (really); and Alphie, a woman locked in an asylum because of her overbearing Italian mother-in-law. The only complaint I have with these three characters is that Sylvan is at times way too nice/likeable to be believed, but maybe that’s just my cynicism speaking.

The secondary characters are excellent. I DARE you to tell me you wouldn’t be terrified if you met the Signora in a dark alley. Though she is dead before the book begins, the mother of Odile and her sister Belle, Friendship Willingbird Church, is in the running for biggest badass in literature (also best name). Case in point:

“My mother was fearsome and beautiful, the impresario of the sideshow; she brought me and my sister up on sawdust, greasepaint, and applause. Her name—known throughout the music halls and traveling tent shows of America—was Friendship Willingbird Church. She was born to a clan of miners in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but ran away from home when her older brother was killed at Antietam. She cut off her hair, joined the infantry, and saw her first battle at the age of fourteen. In the tent at night, she buried her face in the gunnysack pillow and wept bitterly thinking of him, hungry for revenge.”

There are more plot twists than you can shake a stick at. This is basically the modern, feminist version of Dickens; I kept thinking of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, though that’s not really a perfect comparison. One of the characters collects teeth. TEETH. That’s straight-up a page out of Miss Havisham’s book. At a certain point, you’ll get to a major plot twist and everything will make so much more sense.   There were several plot twists which made me re-read the paragraph multiple times because I was thinking, “Fuck, does that mean what I think it means? Wait, really? How did I miss that???”

Most of the novel takes place in the seedy underbelly of turn-of-the-century NYC (thank CHRIST b/c I’m really tired of hearing about rich people, Downton Abbey), but all of it is described with completely lovely prose. There is a brothel located at the end of a giant whale skeleton. And consider how beautiful this description of tigers being burned ALIVE is:

“The tigers were the first living things she saw. They were galloping down toward the shore, their great legs springing through the sand, cloaks of flame rising from their backs. She waited for them to howl, but they were silent. She didn’t even hear the sound of waves breaking over their bodies as they thrashed blindly into the sea.”

It’s seriously been AT LEAST a year since I’ve read a book I liked this much, the last one I can recall being Octavia Butler’s Kindred (don’t talk to me about Fledgling, though). There’s some fantastic exploration of identity and disguises and healing. But you don’t have to take my word for it…because this novel speaks for itself:

“His early life, he thought, was like the slow flip of photographs: the images were too sparse and sporadic to make any sense together, but each was so vivid that whenever one flickered to his mind, he was startled by its intensity. How could certain visions like these remain so luminous, and yet he had no recollection at all of what had come before or after?”

Please read this book so I can freak out (further) about it.