Of all films, I think the one I’ve watched most is this semi-obscure horror comedy named Hausu, a Japanese production from the late 1970s.
Part of the appeal is how inexplicable it feels – it seems to go against everything I know about cinema. Eraserhead pushed the envelope, but Hausu tossed everything aside. It’s simplistic and gaudy, yet there’s this base appeal. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures – there had to be something that mad it work, even if I lacked the words.
I had rented it from Netflix just a month before heading off to college and was mesmerized – one of the first things I did after getting to college was meet up with a couple friends I made over the summer through Facebook, and we watched Hausu in the basement of Allen Hall.
It’s the perfect midnight movie – so colorful and bonkers to appeal to the so-bad-its-good aesthetic, but carrying enough technical weight to actually impress those paying close enough attention. What is it saying? Does it mean anything? It seems indecipherable, a work of pure viscera – but nothing great is that simple. A subtle meaning reveals itself with repeated viewings, much like Mulholland Drive – beneath its excess is commentary on the expectations of young women in Japanese society.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the film people most associate me with – it became a habit to show any new friend this film eventually. I’m infected and this is my virus – something this unique yet so under-watched needed to be spread.
We got in a fight about this movie several months back – you know I hold myself up as some sort of critic, and me saying it was a movie that defied explanation wasn’t enough. You were right – it was an empty answer. I wanted a film I could just enjoy without thinking – but there had to be something. No other film got that pass, so why this one?
The next night, I sat down and wrote everything I loved about the film. The connections became clear; the spectacle of Georges Melies, the conceptual treatment of concepts as found in early Soviet cinema, all mixed with contemporary psychedelia, feminism, and the baffling nature of Japanese advertising – Hausu speaks in several familiar languages, but it’s hard to make the jump from A Trip to the Moon to the late 70s without anything in-between. It’s as if director Obayashi imagined a world where we stuck to Melies’ fantastical sets and conspicuous editing tricks, where we decided to eschew realism entirely. It’s odd among films of the 1970s, but Hausu makes a surprising amount of sense in the context of early cinema.
In the end, while every film has its own method of communication, they are still limited by the overarching language of cinema. Every film, no matter how esoteric, has another film, another movement it can be connected to. No art exists in a vacuum – but a film like Hausu, one that takes so much effort to figure out how it fits, something that can trick us into believing someone made something wholly original over 70 years into the medium? They’re treasures that deserve to be cherished.
Eraserhead was on Netflix and I decided to just turn it on one evening; I knew nothing of the film beyond faint whisperings of its oddness. Most likely, this lack of information is what made it such an effective experience.
Up until that point, most films I had encountered were traditional narratives. They had beginnings and ends, and most of the things between had a logical flow. And that’s how I thought films were supposed to be made – a visual method of telling a story.
Eraserhead worked its way beneath my skin. The opening was inexplicable, and its faint suggestion of plot as we start to follow Henry Spencer quickly unravels. It was more a waking nightmare than a traditional story.
I remember having to pause the film after a certain point – I had been watching with no lights on, my lack of expectations leaving me vulnerable. Where Spirited Away had left me breathless with its beauty, Eraserhead wrapped its hands around my throat. Few films have left me looking for an exit, and unlike the Elephants or Pink Flamingos of the world, I’m not sure how to explain why. There was no explanation for what was happening on screen, but I knew it didn’t feel good.
By leaving me so paralyzed with no easy explanation, one thing became clear – the art of cinema was never about plot. Individual films could be, but it was never a necessity. There was some other force there, something all films carried – I soon started to call it atmosphere. Films consist of hundreds of little pieces coming together for an emotional experience – stories just make those emotions easier to comprehend. I never had to consider this idea until coming in contact with a film that stripped everything digestible away.
The unfortunate part of our education system is it teaches us to appreciate art in a certain way – we are mainly taught through literature, and largely tested through simple memorization. Especially with how popular literary adaptations are, I think we’re subtly taught to read movies in the same way we read books – but by doing so, we ignore the technical and stylistic prose. Just like a good novel has expertly-chosen language, movies have angles and cuts. But so much gets overlooked for the elements that are easier, that I think everyone needs some sort of Eraserhead to wake them up to the truth.
So you can go ahead and be happy with the easy way out – to believe that all these artistic choices are nothing more than a stepping stone to tell stories. You’ve got a good thing there, to believe that the most important merit of art is whether it’s easily digestible, the same familiar stew you have been fed since grade school without question.
But lurking out there somewhere is an Eldritch work, something that will open your eyes to ideas that had gone unseen but can never be unseen again. Find it, embrace it, for every work you’ve loved before will have new meaning. You’ll learn that every frame, every cut is pulsing with life – or maybe they aren’t, and maybe those old favorites won’t be favorites much longer.
After all, it doesn’t take a hundred people to come together to simply tell a story.
One of the first things we did after Mom introduced us was watch Jurassic Park together. I’m not sure why you chose this particular movie, you just like watching movies. The walls of your house are lined with posters, and you attend so-called ‘classes’ at the local art theater any week you can.
Until you entered my life, movies were this minor thing for me – I liked cartoons, but even then, I was happy enough to turn on Cartoon Network. My attention span was short and movies felt so long.
One day you introduced me to IMDB, and I decided to check out the top 250 list. I hadn’t heard of most of the movies, and I mainly sought out the animated films. I had seen most, besides a few from Japan. The one that stood out was Spirited Away – I remembered seeing it at the video store, and I was surprised to see it all the way in the top 50. It seemed like something worth checking out.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of that first watch – it felt like nothing was going to be the same again. Truthfully, several films might have triggered that revelation, but Spirited Away got there first.
There’s that sequence where Chihiro takes the train, and she looks ahead as her face is reflected in the window. It’s this quiet moment that says so much – of growing up in a scary new world. The entire film carries this air of joyous melancholy – the innocence of childhood shed and replaced by the confidence of a knowing maturity.
I sat in awe at the closing shot – Chihiro staring longingly at the entrance to that other world, both haunted and vitalized by her experience. So much can be said in a glance. It moved me almost to tears – for the first time, it felt like I had found something truly beautiful in this world.
When we returned the video to the store, I immediately picked up Fantasia and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I had something to drive me – if Spirited Away could make me feel so alive, there had to be others.
My whole life, I’ve been chasing the high of that first time. Very few works have touched me as much – the pieces falling into place the second time through Mulholland Drive, the two women’s faces spliced together near the end of Persona, that final question and responding scream as the third season of Twin Peaks closed out – and they all spoke more to horror than love. But I don’t need that gentle beauty Spirited Away blanketed me in – cinema itself has left me in awe.
I’m so grateful you’ve been a part of my life. Whether or not it was your goal, you helped me find my driving force. I spent my childhood chasing after this idea of a father figure, and you gave me more than I had imagined possible. Even though my goals sometimes feel impossible, you’ve always encouraged me to chase them. I always seem to credit finding Spirited Away as my entry point into the art of cinema – but really, it was you.
I just hope someday I have the strength to say these things to you directly. That you helped shape me into the person I am today, that I’m thankful I have you. I love you like I imagine a child loves their father – because that’s what you are to me.
One of your biggest regrets of my childhood was teaching me how to rewind.
I was a child of the Disney Renaissance, and The Lion King had taken up a permanent residence on our home TV. There are few memories from those early years, for our capacity to remember forms a bit later in life, but my first viewing several years later was like finding a text already coursing through my bloodstream.
It’s funny, how much you associated me with that film. You mentioned it a lot as I grew up, perhaps one of the few solid memories you have of me as a child in the outside world before being hauled off to prison. This gentle teasing, of something I would have never known without your little reminders – it brought a strange sense of warmth, a bright spot in a childhood marred by your actions.
The Lion King has been my eternal film, one so ingrained in my memories that I’m not sure what to make of it – how much did it shape how I interpret everything that followed? It’s the backbone to my understanding of film. I can track my connection with it over time, the way it ebbed and flowed – it carries a certain oddness, a bit unorthodox for a Disney film. With each new viewing, I would either be taken in by its strange magic or underwhelmed with how it compared to my memories. It has never quite solidified.
It was a bit difficult to find the film again for that first revisit – to be honest, I’ve doubted your tale of my ceaseless observation since we didn’t seem to own a copy. I wanted to buy it but the dreaded Disney Vault kept it out of my grasp. Eventually, a friend of mine rented it and we sat on the floor of his bedroom to watch. The pure nostalgia overtook me – I remember being glad I was sitting further back from the television than my friend, leaving him unaware that I started crying at Mufasa’s death.
It’s strange, how easily that scene can choke me up even as a memory.
It’s only natural that, when I decided to attempt making long-form video essays, this was the first film I tackled. To be honest, I wish I did a better job – and it didn’t help I was at the time unaware of Youtube’s copyright bot and had to keep editing the video until it went through, leaving it messier than I intended. But hey – first attempts can be messy. The important thing is to keep powering through until everything comes together.
I really should make more…
This film might not have had the biggest impact on how I view cinema as an art form, but I’ve loved seeing how my perception of it evolves as my view of cinema changes. Is it too simplistic, or is there charm in that simplicity? Is the narrative structure a bit off, or is being a bit off what makes it stand out among the largely formulaic Disney canon?
Whatever new take I find, I always find comfort in knowing it’s there – a childhood blanket I now wear proudly as a cape.
It would be nice to live in a world where a beat-by-beat remake of a relatively recent foreign film wasn’t seen as a viable pursuit – what a world it would be if people would simply go out and see the original. Though I can’t entirely blame them here, for I had never heard of the original until now (nor did I hear of this film until planning my weekly theater visit, but that’s another matter entirely).
Cold Pursuit follows Nelson Coxman (Liam Neeson) as he seeks out bloody revenge for the suspicious death of his son, soon finding himself caught up in a turf war between Trevor Calcote (Tom Bateman) and White Bull (Tom Jackson), two rival drug lords. Dozens of lackeys enter and exit the picture quicker than you can count, making small marks before violent deaths.
Cold Pursuit doesn’t feel extraneous purely due to its status as a remake – nearly every element is familiar. The film feels lifted straight from the 90s, echoing the darkly cynical humor of Tarantino and the Coen Brothers and their usual convoluted mess of characters. And while the snow drenched setting simply makes sense for a Norwegian film, the unfortunate fact is that moving this same narrative to America sets this movie up to be compared to the far better Fargo.
The element most miss while attempting to mimic Tarantino is that he carries a certain wit that justifies his violence; there’s a contrast between the mundanity of his conversations and the violence that soon follows. There’s no subtlety here – the villains are either total cartoons or bland stereotypes.
Trevor “Viking” Calcote is simply an awful villain, which makes a plot driven by revenge against him hard to invest in. His personality seems to consist of nothing but negative traits; he’s a controlling father, abusive, kills indiscriminately. There’s no attempt at humanization, laughable but not in the way most comedies are striving for. Tom Bateman goes completely over-the-top in the role – it feels as if the whole character was an attempt at some sort of meta-commentary on revenge flick villains, but he’s so laughable and surface-level that it doesn’t suggest anything but poor writing.
Liam Neeson does a passable job as Nels, but I never felt invested in his character arc. We know some facts of his life – recent “Citizen of the Year” recipient, snowplow driver, quiet life on the edge of a resort town. But his actual connections are underutilized – the son dies right at the beginning and his wife leaves soon after (Laura Dern serving in the wasted role). He’s the archetypal man with nothing to lose – and therefore nothing for us as an audience to care about.
The most intriguing element lacks the weight it needs. The seemingly endless henchmen get their own minor plots before being unceremoniously killed off, and if the movie just honed in more on a few, there could have been something there. Instead, everything is a cheap joke – a secret gay love affair here, a disgusting hotel habit there. Cold Pursuit has ideations of being an ensemble piece but every character is either flat or absurd.
Cold Pursuit wants to be a satire of the traditional Liam Neeson-style revenge flick, but its humor is too juvenile and its actual conflict too bare-bones to succeed. It’s a mess of violence without meaning – it almost seems to forget what the string of killing is about after a certain point. Revenge served cold does not imply burying it so far back in the freezer that even the audience forgets why it’s there.
2 Stars Out of 5
The original Lego Movie was a surprise success, mixing together a popular but plot-less brand of toys and several pop culture references to somehow create a film about creativity among conformity. It worked at a level above its initial premise – no one quite expected it to be as effective as it turned out.
A problem with sequels is that they are sometimes simply more of the same, which can be especially problematic in a franchise that started with a film about rebelling against the status quo. The Lego Movie had to prove itself in a world where toy-based properties are rightfully questioned – it’s important to draw the line between an artistic production and glorified advertising. Now that the franchise has secured its place, The Second Part appears happy to fall into a now-familiar groove.
The premise is fairly straightforward, with a few necessary twists and turns – the world of the first movie is met with cataclysm after the daughter of the human family is allowed access to the Legos. Emmet, voiced by Chris Pratt, must rescue his kidnapped friends from alien invaders. During his journey, he meets Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), who teaches Emmet a few new ways to interact with the world beyond simply creating. Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), one of the kidnapped citizens, tries to fend off the invaders while watching her friends fall easily under their spell – the obviously evil Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) is delightfully charming in how blatant her manipulations are. Where the first film had order, the second carries chaos.
Though the film is a bit too familiar, the style holds up well enough to make this a worthwhile viewing. Scenes have a smooth flow and it playfully jumps in and out of various visual styles. There’s always something to catch the eye, though rarely the mind. There are plenty of decent jokes to go around, but nothing coheres to make an overall memorable experience – this is more a collection of fun moments than a centralized narrative force.
There’s an issue with the movie feeling too on-the-nose, from its humor to the narrative structure. The pop culture references tend toward the obvious, such as Rex Dangervest’s backstory simply being an amalgamation of every other Chris Pratt role. This particular joke seems to exist largely to draw our attention to the fact that Rex shares a voice with the protagonist – which, again, is a detail treated a little too obviously. The film is also dotted with live action shots that keep reestablishing that, yes, this whole affair is representative of a brother and sister fighting over toys. The messages are simplistic; siblings should learn to understand each other, and also sometimes things aren’t awesome.
Despite its poor handling of some big picture matters, The Lego Movie 2 succeeds at its individual moments. Rex offers up a good foil, his cartoonish edginess playing against Emmet’s infallible optimism. The best the film has to offer comes largely through Queen Watevra, a playfully meta character that is also connected to most of the musical numbers. The music throughout is incredibly fun, from the obvious villain song “Not Evil” to the aptly titled “Catchy Song” and the necessary “Everything’s Not Awesome.”
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is perhaps best compared to the over-produced pop songs it evokes – it’s designed to convey a certain light, accessible image, to be easily consumed by whoever comes in contact. These works don’t intrinsically lack value, but great art challenges to some capacity. The original film had the concept of originality to give it a necessary edge – the sequel doesn’t have a clear purpose beyond being a follow-up to a box office smash.
In the end, I kept finding myself comparing this film to another sequel starring Chris Pratt – much like the second Guardians of the Galaxy, this second Lego Movie simply feels like more of the same. The originals were both films I truly enjoyed and wanted to see more of, and I can be happy with what I ended up getting. But to make a great sequel, you can’t simply repeat but must also build upon the foundation – and of all franchises, shouldn’t Lego be aware of the need to build?
3 Stars Out of 5
But I can’t stay inside, because out in that foreboding world, you exist.
I’ve met you many times before. You come in many different shapes, and when you’re present, I would walk on thin ice to have you in my arms.
I’m afraid of weather, vague outside threats, rejection – but I find you in the hearts of many, and it makes the world seem that much safer.
Right now, you live in a dear friend of mine. We speak your name to each other, though there’s something muted about it – he says your name to someone else with more force. You can carry many meanings, sometimes romantic and sometimes platonic. He and I say the latter but are both aware I crave the former, too. You are almost a threat – the last time we discussed you in your naked wholeness, he spoke of fears. That to invoke you meant making promises he doesn’t feel prepared for, that this other guy came with less expectations. I never felt like I wanted too much – but I’ve always gotten the sense that I’m never aware how much I demand.
That you can drive us so, it’s only natural you likewise spark terror.
But even as that desire hangs over me, I’m so thankful to have you in the form he and I do share. To have someone worth going outside to see, to speak of my fears and desires, it’s a beautiful thing. I just wish you could quiet down sometimes, or maybe you could someday embed some of your power inside my own heart – but then I’d again have nothing to seek out in this scary world.
Even if I never get what I currently find myself wanting, I know you’re always there. I may not know where to find you at a specific moment, but I’m as sure of you as I am of life itself.
Even when you leave, I trust you to return. You’re a blessing and a curse, but I’ll give you that positive tilt – you’re the reason life is worth living.
I reached out a few weeks back and apologized for seeming to disappear for several months. I’ve been so depressed this past year that I kind of shut down, ultimately neglecting most of my social connections.
I mentioned that I always felt unwanted because no one invites me – I always end up doing the inviting. I figured people would reach out, especially after what I was going through, but the burden of contact always fell back on me.
You mentioned you never invite me because you assume I’d say no – I’d want to remain in my own safe place. Am I such a hermit people simply skip over offering me a chance to get out? How did I end up like this?
It’s always been this empty cycle – I convince myself I bother people and stop contacting them as much, and then they don’t contact me because they’re used to me being the one to reach out. Then I start believing I was right, that I am a bother, and they’ll be happier without me. I have lost so many friends through simple silence.
Am I a colder person than I realize? I want to belong. I want to feel like people enjoy spending time with me. What signals do I keep sending that suggest I don’t want to be included?
I might as well stay inside. At least I can’t be disappointed if I shut everyone else out.
I decided to swing by Taco Bell on the way home – I was having to rush to therapy after work and needed something quick to eat. Unfortunately, the building sitting a bit off campus meant none of the sidewalks had been cleared.
I’ve always been terrified of ice. Back in Mt. Zion, one of the houses on the way to the bus stop had left their hose running for nearly a year. I was always curious why – didn’t that cost a ton of money? Did no one notice? Their driveway and the street was always covered in water. Winter that year must have come in with some heavy snow, skipping all the other nasty stuff. The walk was easy, but with that layer of snow I completely forgot about the hose. I fell hard – thankfully, my school had the tendency to overload us with homework and a stack of books softened the fall.
I wasn’t so lucky the week before my trip to Taco Bell – I was rushing to clear the car before heading out to catch Green Book and The Kid Who Would Be King for my two-movie-reviews-a-week goal. While stepping back inside, I fell hard on my back. I still ache a week and a half later, and considering the feeling, I might have done something to my tailbone. I just laid on the ground for a bit, afraid to get hurt again.
When I got safely to Taco Bell, I was paranoid enough that I called and asked you to pick me up. You jabbed at me – it was only two blocks from our house. But you came to my rescue anyway.
We got back home and I froze outside the car. The passenger side was covered in ice, and I asked if I could simply pass my food over the railing of our porch. If I did fall, I wanted to make sure my hands were at least free. You said sure, but then I realized any slight movement made me feel like I would lose my balance. Even one step to the railing seemed impossible.
So I panicked. I began crying hysterically. I don’t know what got me so scared to break down like that. You saw my tears and rushed down, placed by food on the ledge and took my hand. I felt so powerless, needing my ex-husband to guide me to safety.
After all that trouble to get food, I didn’t eat for fifteen minutes. I was so shaken I messaged my therapist and asked to reschedule, terrified of having to go back out there on the ice. I had so many plans for the evening, but I simply sat there paralyzed at my computer.
Can I please never go outside again?
While walking the half mile home from the bus stop, you sped by and pointed a gun at me.
I’m not sure who you were – not that I’ve forgotten. You were several years older, I recognized you from the halls but never learned your name. I’m sure I could dig out an old year book and find you – but I’d rather live without you.
A few friends were with you, though I never saw their faces. The only clear image I got was you in the passenger seat, window rolled down as your arm rested on the door, gun in your hand. I’m not even sure if the gun was real or not.
Why were you following me of all people?
You turned around at the end of the street and came back. I wasn’t sure what to do; I had just moved to my step-dad’s place, didn’t know the neighbors. Did I sneak into backyards and explain what was happening if someone caught me lurking?
You drove by a fourth time and I noticed a chunk of the road that had broken off through wear. I stopped and looked ahead.
You must have turned off of a side road and left. This was some stupid game for bored high school boys in a small town; intimidate some kid you didn’t know just because there was nothing better to do.
Am I wrong for wishing you turned back one last time, just so I could throw that slab of street through your windshield? Even my weak throw would have done some real damage with the speed you were going. Maybe I could have even lobbed it through the passenger window, bust open your ugly face.
I don’t like to have violent thoughts, but I had never felt more willing to hurt someone in that moment. I never told anyone what happened – I had reported lighter encounters to the principal’s office and been asked for proof, and why would they believe something like this? Maybe that’s why I wanted to hurt you – that would be proof something happened. I wanted to be believed.
Maybe I would have tossed that chunk and you would have retaliated with an actual shot. We could have both lost so much that day, and we were nothing to each other.
Looking back, I probably should have reported this. Even if you did nothing that day, who knows what you were capable of – I can’t imagine you got better with age. Who have you actually hurt by this point?
I think that’s the worst thing you’ve left me with – this feeling that I couldn’t do anything to bring punishment upon you. You gave me all the warning signs of a psychopath in a world where I felt powerless to speak up. No one was around to help, either as you drove by or in the places that were supposed to be safe.
How did anyone convince me to go outside?