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Men in Suits (2013)

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Men in Suits (2013)Starring Doug Jones, Tom Woodruff Jr., Haruo Nakajima, Bob Burns, Brian Steele, Douglas Tait

Directed by Frank H. Woodward


Movie monsters have been a staple of genre films going all the way back to the beginnings of cinema. Many of us carry fond memories of a childhood spent glued to the television set, watching Godzilla (or some other menacing beast) smash through miniature sets much to our unbridled delight. But what many people may forget is that there is a person inside that suit – drowning in sweat, muscles aching with every movement – and he (or she) is responsible for bringing the creatures we hold so dear to life. In some ways, it’s a testament to the actor’s performance that viewers can so easily forget an anthropomorphic beast would be lifeless if not for the performance of that person inside. Thankfully, Men in Suits (2013) has come along to remind fans that not only is there a captain inside that rubber ship, but being that person is a demanding job, one that requires an incredible amount of stamina, strength, and the ability to emote without saying a word. It is an ambitious love letter to a timeless craft, speedily covering decades of ground in a scant 93-minute run time.

There are a number of well-known suit actors interviewed here, including Doug Jones, Tom Woodruff Jr., Brian Steele, Douglas Tait, Bob Burns, Van Snowden, and Haruo Nakajima. One thing all of these actors agree on is that being a suit actor is a demanding job that often doesn’t receive the accolades it deserves. Jones in particular seems to be very passionate regarding the “suit actor vs. screen actor” debate, noting that sometimes he felt like he was “treated like a prop” on set, rather than getting the respect a non-suit actor might have received. Many of the performers also agree that a lean body is best, as suit work is an additive process much like prosthetics, and keeping in shape requires rigorous exercise and incredible stamina. For example, Brian Steele’s costume for “Wink” in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) weighed over 100 lbs., and he was required to perform – at the same peak level – for up to 12 hours a day. You have to be conditioned to endure this kind of abuse because if the suit actor calls it quits, shooting stops. It’s that simple. Steele said he would ride his bike to set every day – a 40 kM trek – to maintain his physical prowess. Jones, too, admits the work can wring you dry, but he also jokes that if he were to drop dead in a rubber suit on a del Toro picture he’d “die a happy man.”

With so many monsters and actors to cover, no one creature is focused on for too long, but the film does devote a sizeable chunk to cinema’s King of the Monsters: Godzilla. Actor Haruo Nakajima, who is still spry at the ripe age of 84, recalls the original suit he wore for Gojira (1954) weighed over 200 lbs. and was so reinforced and stiff he could leave it standing upright once he exited the back. It was not uncommon for a cup of sweat to be drained from the suit at the end of each day. Luckily, for the sequels the suit’s weight was cut by more than half, which allowed for Godzilla to battle Toho’s stable of kaiju more effectively. Nakajima proved so adept at maneuvering (however he could) inside a suit that he went on to be cast as many other top monsters – Varan, Rodan, Baragon – and he was also brought on to the cast of Ultraman so that, while performing, he could train the other suit actors who had little to no experience.

Many of the film’s history lessons are provided by the endless encyclopedia of creature features himself: Bob Burns. He knows this stuff inside and out, schooling viewers on everything from naming all of the top actors who performed in Hollywood’s gorillasploitation movies, to describing his own work as an actor and how the suits he manned were constructed. Of course, he’s got all the goods to show off on camera, too. Numerous film clips are shown to provide context to the pictures discussed, and no single film is too heavily covered. Remember, the goal here is to educate fans on the actors inside the suits. So don’t be surprised when Star Wars only gets a passing mention before the film moves on to other things. If I had any complaint at all here, it would be that the film can be a bit schizophrenic at times, trying to blaze through almost a century of cinematic history. It’s not small feat, and the film largely succeeds at covering the major bases, but the frenzied nature will oftentimes leave you wanting a little more on certain subjects.

Steele mentions that suit actors started to get a little nervous around 1993, when Jurassic Park dominated the marketplace and showed how far computer-generated images had come. It was a bit of a dark period, and even when studios were hiring actors for suit work it was usually for superficial reasons – tall actors, built actors, etc. They weren’t hiring actors who had a history of delivering rich, nuanced performances that the roles called for. Seizing the opportunity, Steele started Creature Boy, essentially a union for suit actors. If a production is looking for a specific type of actor to play a role, they can turn to his company and receive a number of qualified recommendations. As suit technology has improved, many films have reverted to using the tried and true man-in-suit method to have something tangible on-screen. Even the prevalence of motion-capture technology still requires that an actor inhabit the role, which can only means Steele and his contemporaries will be in business as long as they’re still making movies.

Speaking of his contemporaries, the film’s wraparound (and occasional intercuts) have us following actor Douglas Tait as he prepares to don a demonic creature suit for a role in Joe Lynch’s still-unreleased Knights of Badassdom. By allowing viewers to see Tait acting in various stages of his suit’s completion, the film allows for a better understanding of the design and acting process behind his work. Getting an early feel for the suit allows him to determine what muscles he’ll have to focus on building up to make sure his body is up to par (get on those forearms, Doug!). Tait describes his thought process along the way, cluing us in on how advancements in technology have made his job moderately easier… but at the end of the day he’s still sweating his ass off in a 100+lb. suit for hours at a time. The enthusiasm for his craft is infectious, though, rarely showing him without a smile every step of the way. It goes a long way to show that the men inside these suits are the same kids we used to be – only now with a profound appreciation for the work that it requires. After watching Men in Suits, I’d be surprised if anyone else didn’t feel the same.

4 out of 5

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IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

  • Alive in New Light
5.0

Summary

IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

Directed by John Law


I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

  • Film
3.5

Summary

The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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