final reviews

Endings: Nekromantik (1987)

Jörg Buttgereit created this film as a statement about censorship in Germany. When viewed through that lens it doesn’t disappoint, but just about any other perspective will leave you wanting. Plot? Shakey. Character development? Sorta.

To briefly summarize, the film centers on a young street cleaner whose business seems to primarily focus on cleaning up after gruesome car accidents. Luckily for him and his necromaniacal girlfriend this provides access to plenty of corpses. Typically stealing an eyeball here, a heart there, he amasses a collection of body parts in jars in his humble apartment. These play a delightful role in his sex life, but the real prize is a full corpse he manages to sneak back.

Sadly, after a brief period of triad bliss (boy, girl, and corpse, ooh la la) the gal makes a decision and absconds with the mummified fellow. Sorry dude, but how could you possibly compare to the rusty length of pipe installed between Sir. Always Up’s dried out legs?

Naturally this makes our street cleaner upset. Eventually this angst drives him to find another corpse to sport fuck, albeit one that starts his date alive. Once he’s finished there he returns home and we’re left with a wonderful final scene of him masturbating to completion and then some, as he cums buckets of semen and blood from a penis that gives new meaning to “wood”.

The real surprises here come from the subject material, but then in hindsight the escalation of events seems only natural. The twist occurs just a few minutes in as we realize how serious the movie’s title was, and the rest follows suit somewhat predictably. Sooo…low points for offering a surprising ending.

Similarly, we don’t find out what happened with the girlfriend and Sir Always Up. And does our humble street cleaner face any consequences for his murder/rape? Does his job ever notice the missing organs? All of these loose ends detract from the general sense of satisfaction, but on the other hand, cumming blood?! Maybe the sequel (which I haven’t watched yet) will handle the rest. Okay, some points are added back.

Which leaves us with…

Twists: 3
Execution: 2
Satisfaction: 7

Bottom line: Give it a pass unless you’re a big fan of the gore genres, anti-censorship, or, uh, you find corpses sexy.

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Endings: Blow Out (1981)

Nothing more American than a screaming blonde girl

I gained a minor obsession with DePalma after reading Shock Value. This quick read highlighted horror’s changes from the early days of film through the mid-90s. It focused largely on the great auteurs of the 60s-80s, and no list on horror auteurs is complete without mentioning Brian DePalma, window-voyeur extraordinaire.

Enter Blow Out, one of the early string of hits that propelled Brian into the limelight. Blow Out starts as a humble movie sound effects editor, Jack (John Travolta), stumbles across a terrible car accident while recording sounds for future FX work. Without hesitation he jumps into the icy water and rescues Sally (Nancy Allen). Cut to the hospital, and Jack wonders what has brought in scores of ravenous journalists. It turns out the other stiff in the car (already dead when Jack dove down) looked like a strong candidate for POTUS. Jack is sworn to secrecy (the usual lines about the corpse’s family suffering at the knowledge of his affair) and he leaves out the back with a dazed Sally in tow.

With an uneasiness sparked by the pleas for his secrecy Jack starts to notice other irregularities with the story. His tape recording from the eventful night clearly indicates a shot rang out prior to the titular blow out.

From here the relationship betwixt Jack and Sally develops, and DePalma fleshes out (pun intended) their motivations. Simultaneously we see hired gun Burke (John Lithgow) attempting to tie up loose ends…

Thrillers, in particular, call for tightly crafted endings. As writer and director, DePalma exercises maximum creative control over the production, and it shows. Tensions build steadily, plot lines converging towards a magnificent final scene. Specifically, Sally and Jack converge upon Burke (demonstrably a cruel, heartless killer by this point) in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

Our final moments come with literal fireworks, a giant flag, quality screams, and Jack’s slow motion dash to save Sally. It’s difficult to raise the ante, but Travolta’s facial expressions as he exacts revenge/justice upon Burke (with Burke’s own icepick) combine with flashing red and blue lights across Sally’s dead figure, and finally, fireworks in the background as he clutches her lifeless body to his. It might be a bit too strong, in fact, but I don’t mind a bit of cheese every now and then. In fact, I love it!

The epilogue brings a moment of black irony as we hear Sally’s very real scream dubbed into the very B-horror movie we opened with nearly two hours ago. A television news broadcast is conspicuously lacking talk of a the assassination conspiracy, and in the end, Jack is the final victim, alive, but carrying the weight of his knowledge alone; the movie scream guy haunted by the real thing.

Twists: 3 (pretty damn predictable, although Sally’s death was up for debate until the very end)
Execution: 9 (DePalma is a technical master)
Satisfaction: 6 (purposely leaves you a bit empty, good effect, but I’d have preferred a bit more justice)

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Endings: Breathless (1983)

“God, you’re such a fuck-up” says a casual business associate. “Yeah, I know” Jesse (Richard Gere) responds.

Part crime story, part love story, Jesse’s rough ‘n tumble lifestyle was bound to lead to heartache. The trajectory is clear from the first minute of the story — Jessie’s manner tells you everything you need to know with the unfocused gaze, slick smile, and carefree posture.

A character who casually murders a cop then dances and prances alone in the shower an hour later clearly doesn’t consider consequences. Yet the consequences assault him at every turn. For someone who tries to live in the moment he wastes a lot of time correcting past actions.

A few highlights

  • the soundtrack (a diverse selection from Philip Glass to Sam Cooke to King Sunny Ade)
  • Jessie’s obsession, even allegiance, to the ideals embodied by the Silver Surfer, a comic he returns to frequently throughout the flick
  • Monica (Valérie Kaprisky), the French college student swept away by Jesse’s force majeure
  • A cacophony of classic cars

So how’s it all end? Seemingly inevitable tragedy? Redemption, clarity, forgiveness? Luck and a trip to Mexico with no hint of character growth?

How about betrayal? Monica calls the cops in a moment of despair…a glimmer of a chance for escape…but what does escape mean without his lover? Rather than run we’re left with Jesse reaching down for the gun between his feet, freeze frame as he straightens up and aims for the calvary, outgunned, but not outloved.

I love a movie that leaves the ending open to interpretation. Jesse mowed down, suicide by cop would have been sad. But cutting a few seconds short of that leaves you with a sense of love triumphing over all, before the blood washes all other feelings away.

Twists: 2
Execution: 9
Satisfaction: 8

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Endings: Wrath of Man (2021)

Guy Ritchie’s new movie is out. He previously brought us gritty classics like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and…the live-action Aladdin. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t the same as the first two, but this new one, Wrath of Man, certainly is, and whereas there was a sense of lightheartedness in Snatch (for example) this movie has abandoned all hope, ye who enter prepare for pure crime, drama, and lots of killing.

Let’s cut straight to the end. It’s in the post title, after all. Spoilers in 3…2…1…okay I warned you…

Yeah, so…everyone dies. If you’re looking for a movie where the good guy triumphs and the comedic relief character pulls through you’ll likely be disappointed. The protagonist does triumph, to be fair, but he’s hardly a good guy. Any glimmer of a positive message from this steadily dies in the third act, one bullet to the head at a time. Personally I was left feeling a bit dirty, even a bit dismayed. I had really expected a few of the “good guys” or at least “neutral folks” to survive.

But…then I remembered the title. A good ending resonates with the title that introduced you to the work of art, coming full circle. Wrath lives up to its reputation as a deadly sin in this flick, no doubt about it. I’m reminded of how I feel when I’ve been wrathful. There’s this feeling of waking up, a sense of horror growing as I look upon the work of some monster that shares my body.

The end of Wrath of Man left me feeling the same way. A story featuring wrath can end in redemption, given enough time. With Ritchie’s wrenching meditation on wrath our horror steadily grows and grows…and then credits roll. If you want redemption, check out Aladdin.

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Endings: Remembrance of Earth’s Past

Welcome to the “Endings” series of posts. So often a piece of art captivates you from the beginning, only to fizzle out with an ending that isn’t fully developed or satisfying. While reviews for these pieces exist in entirety, I thought I’d have fun just focusing on the endings. Was it satisfying or not? It probably goes without saying, but spoilers will abound here. Read on at your own risk…or pleasure?

Liu Cixin may be the greatest science fiction writer to ever live. He’s certainly the most popular sci-fi writer alive today. Maybe he’s lucky that his target audience is the most populated country in the world (China) but as his works are steadily translated for readers worldwide it seems clear to me that his success is hardly limited to China.

At any rate, after years of hearing his name repeated on the sci-fi forums I finally picked up the work considered by many to be his Magnum Opus: the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. In keeping with the theme I’ll avoid discussing the first 2 books, and instead focus on how things wrapped up in the final book: Death’s End.

Like any monumental science fiction epic the span of this series is staggering. Ignoring the first two books, this final one stretches from the Fall of Constantinople all the way to the end of the universe, billions of years later. Taking a reader that’s already heavily involved with characters and story lines from the first books and then guiding them across billions of years with over a dozen new characters without losing their interest is a most difficult feat. Cixin made it look easy.

Without digging too deeply into the plot let me simply say that I had no complaints here. There are necessarily holes in plot lines as the story hops forward by 50 years, 100 years, etc. I’m sure Wade’s story as the owner of Cheng’s company would be an interesting book on its own, but I’m content letting my imagination fill in the holes with his and others’ stories. As I neared the end of the book I’ll admit I was a bit anxious to hear about one particular character: Luo Ji. Suffice it to say Cixin clearly understood this concern and closed that particular narrative with poignant solemnity.

Beyond the plot (who did what and when?) we have powerful themes (why did they do it? why does anyone do anything?) that grow from ripples in a small Earth pond (from the first book) to ripples across galaxies (by the last book). Science fiction has long given us the means to examine ideas that were otherwise too big, controversial, or outright strange for fiction grounded in reality. The translators notes at the start of the book are especially interesting, noting how careful Cixin has been to avoid writing things that would get him locked up by the not-so-forgiving government censors famously scrutinizing all Chinese art. For example, he couldn’t talk about his own government’s war crimes, but the war crimes of Trisolarans? No problem!

A few thematic ideas resonated with me in particular. First, we had the concept of the Dark Forest. This chilling thought experiment suggests that broadcasting electromagnetic signals across the universe ends about as well as walking into a police station and shooting a few bullets indiscriminately in the floor and ceiling. The theory suggests upon discovery of a new species, a sufficiently advanced civilization’s best course of action is to eliminate the newly discovered species before the newcomer’s technology reaches the level of a threat. Considering our own human history of conquest and exploration this idea rings true to me! Luckily, we’ve got another large idea to counter this concern…the size of the universe.

With any good “hard” sci-fi work you’ll find a lot of discussion of the limits of light speed, and this series is no different. Thankfully the universe is huge, and even signals from Earth traveling at their maximum speed (see: light speed) would likely decay greatly by the time they reach another civilization. We’re hopefully okay for now, at least until we figure out how to start using the Sun as a signal amplifier…

Beyond the “dark forest” concept there are many other tasty, imaginative ideas to be found as we wrap up the series. Too many, in fact, for me to discuss in detail. We get glimpses of truly advanced civilizations, an idea of cosmic history stretching from the big bang to the end of the universe. Closer to home we see the worst of humanity…followed by the best! And this brings us to the true ending of endings.

To quickly summarize, in our last chapters we see all of humanity, save two humans and a third brain, destroyed. We’re reminded of the finality of death, the insignificance of humanity compared to our solar system (let alone our galaxy or our universe), and the fragility of life. Up until this point (most of the way through the third book) we’ve watched as generations of humans struggled to survive, seemingly all for naught in the end. I feel Cixin could have ended it there, but instead those few survivors close the tale with a story of hope, joy, and life. Not only do they escape the destruction of humanity by an uncaring, anonymous alien force, but they go on to thrive until the end of the universe. In the end none of us really expects to survive, but we do hope a piece of us continues to exist past our demise. The ending gave us that tiny hope, enough to leave me feeling optimistic despite 99.99999999% of humanity being erased. A small flame in an ocean of darkness buoys us, the ratio of dark to light notwithstanding.

Twists: 9/10
Satisfaction: 10/10

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Endings: White Lines (2020)

Warning: Thar be spoilers ahead argh 🦜

Wow, two posts with my ‘final reviews’ theme. I’m on a roll! Don’t stop me now!

White Lines is a European crime drama that ends up feeling more like a black comedy at times. Admittedly, I even had to go research to confirm that it was actually intended as a pure drama. While this series of posts isn’t meant to be a full review, suffice it to say that once I decided the show was a dark comedy it made a lot more sense to me. I probably just lack the refinement of my European brethren.

At any rate, the series ends with a solid number of plot twists while wrapping up the suspenseful main story of a sister searching for answers around her brother’s sudden disappearance in Ibiza decades ago. (did you hear me pronounce Ibiza the correct way? good) Well…we find out who did it. In a surprise I only anticipated starting in the penultimate episode, it was his best friends. Specifically, in a group for 4 close friends, the two who were recently married took turns killing Axel, while the fourth friend was off his tits on heroin having a lovely homoerotic experience with a literal motherfucker.

Part of me feels like I should stop this review right there…I mean, what a sentence!

But there are other matters to attend to. My favorite part of the series was hands down Boxer. In reviewing his story, appearance (dark, brooding, Spanish rough n’ tumble type), and his purity I’ve made the only reasonable conclusion. Boxer is actually Jesus. I mean, in the final episode we see him tied up (the cross) and water-tortured (this is my blood) all while remaining fiercely loyal and forgiving to the love of his life…who is doing the torturing. Throughout the entire series he’s a calm voice of reason and insight, painted as a working man with real street smarts. Finding out he’s walked away from his life as fixer for the leading crime family on the island was the icing on the cake. His story reminds me of a new rose. We came to his story just as the bud has reached maturity and we get to watch as it opens and achieves its glorious, fragrant final form.

I don’t know if I can speak as well as the rest of the characters. Zoe’s dad…dead. Zoe’s marriage and relationship with her daughter…on the rocks (at best). Marcus…looking to take over the drug business (no lessons learned apparently). Oriol…confesses to murder (dgaf mode achieved). Really not a lot of redemption story lines the way I saw it. I mean sure, you could say the renewal of love between two aging Calaphats was touching, but you’re hard-pressed to find any other redemptive outcome of Zoe’s tornado-like path of destruction through this community.

No complaints though–I wasn’t watching this for the happy ending, and ultimately I found it satisfying, with no major plot line left hanging, and a decent amount of justice meted out.

Twists: 6/10
Satisfaction: 7/10

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