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Movies: 'Stoker' is a Creepy Stalker... But To What End?

Matthew Goode is Creepy/Sexy "Uncle Charlie" in Stoker 


A few years ago Park Chan-wook, the acclaimed genre fabulist from South Korea, made an award winning vampire film called Thirst. With the exception of the Swedish instant classic Let The Right One In, it's the best vampire film of the past 20 years. Second best might not seem like high praise but consider the volume of competition!  

Stoker-poster-214In Thirst, a priest and reluctant vampire, infects a young girl with his addiction and she flips from moody troubled teen to lusty adult trouble-maker. Is she his impressionable victim or his soulmate apprentice? Or is she much harder to pin down? Having raved about Thirst to anyone who would listen and being a shameless Kidmaniac I walked into Stoker with high expectations. Despite the title's nod to Bram Stoker, but I was not expecting an English language pseudo-remake of his earlier vampire feature. There are no literal vampires this time but the central power play relationship and overall bloodlust felt like eery echoes. Even the supernatural powers remain: India (Mia Wasikowska) even begins the film boasting of her preternatural hearing in voiceover while she hunts a defenseless animal in the tall grass. It's like a Terrence Malick sequence with brutality in place of spirituality. India's hearing is so acute she even catches spidery footsteps (So do we since Stoker shares with Thirst masterfully creepy and super detailed sound design.)  

"Don't disturb the family" is a stupid fun tagline for Stoker's ad campaign and poster since the warning is pointless. This family was disturbed long before you bought a ticket.


India lives with her distant mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) in a large creepy house complete with a shadowy black cellar with flickering lights and an enormous old fashioned freezer. Outside of mutual contempt for each other, their only shared hobby appears to be obsessing over the same men. Mother and daughter are both mourning the family patriarch Richard (Dermot Mulroney) who burned to death in his car and they're both enthralled by "Uncle Charlie" (Matthew Goode), his younger brother, who comes for the funeral and stays awhile. If his name doesn't tip you off (Uncle Charlie is a nod to Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt) the direction will. Charlie is not right. Charlie is not good. Charlie's eyes never leave the Stoker women. He's like a stalker who's been handed keys and a guest room instead of the customary restraining order.  


Charlie is played by perfect specimen Matthew Goode, which immediately tips the odds against propriety. (The odd psychosexual screenplay is by another beautiful man, the actor Wentworth Miller from Prison Break). Park Chan-wook and Goode point to Charlie's sinister nature right from the start but the movie is curiously withholding about the hows and whys of this family's strange arms-length-or-further-please distance from one another. One early scene involving Jacki Weaver (who we just saw at the Oscars), another distant relative, is hilariously tense as the camera continually darts and circles around the family at a dining room table where no one appears to be eating, supping only on their distaste for each other. Stoker even plays coy with the "whens" of the shit going down for far longer than you'd expect or might have patience for.

Which is not to say that it doesn't have its thrills. Goode rules the film with those increasingly spooky unblinking eyes, but the entire cast is compelling. While Nicole Kidman fails to make a full character from the vaguely written Evelyn -- the movie forgets about her for too long -- she's such a compelling screen presence that it feels like a gift when the movie hands her a late film monologue just to see her tear into something before the credits roll.

But for such a bloody film (yes, multiple bodies will pile up) it's curiously bloodless, only coming alive in brief kicks… all of them a contradictory mixture of the movie's absurd physical beauty (Production Design Porn alert) and morally repugnant storytelling (is it just me or is Hollywood obsessed with stories in which we the audience are meant to identify with killers instead of fearing them and rooting for their victims to escape?). I won't give away the goods or even the sick character arcs but I will say that I hated the ending. It's not so much a twist as a delayed inevitability given the echoes of Thirst but I was hoping for something more ambiguous and less distasteful. In fact, I might have praised Stoker for its sophisticated horror thrills (one death involving a telephone call is going to give me nightmares from its simplicity) had it ended just one scene earlier on an absolutely killer shot of a long blood-stained trail, a sense memory of dragging a body through a home to show it the door. The moment works beautifully as satire (never outstay your welcome), creepy horror (another dead body?) and satisfying conclusion.

But the ending ruined it for me. I left Stoker feeling only queasy, which I suppose is a testament to its strength as a horror film. But to what end? I prefer bloody movies with cathartic undercurrents (Carrie), sneaky subversiveness (Let the Right One In), gut-wrenching morality (Thirst), or the sheer buoyancy of great thrills (Silence of the Lambs) none of which Stoker left me with despite its meticulous beauty and fine acting. Later that night, I came home and thought about the boxes of mystery swag from Stoker's PR team that keep arriving. At first I thought they were cute but now they're just creeping me out.  I am suddenly thankful that Park chan-wook is out there making pictures rather than killing people. I'm not suggesting that this globally renowned director is a latent serial killer but IF HE IS his films are veritably perfect kill trophies, fetishized imagined mementos from the lives he could have snuffed out instead of picking up a movie camera.


P.S. If art/horror isn't your thing, are you still catching up with Oscar? Last Sunday was quite a night, eh? 

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

Posted Mar. 2,2013 at 6:17 PM EST by in Film, Nathaniel Rogers, Wentworth Miller | Permalink | Comments (10)

NOM's Days Of Future Past


With basically every major tech company coming out against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, the National Organization for Marriage will soon have no choice but to spread their homophobic word via carrier pigeons, a mode of communication fitting for their early-20th century-inspired hate.

[Image from March 4 Marriage's Facebook page.]

Posted Mar. 2,2013 at 4:40 PM EST by in Apple, DOMA, Facebook, Gay Marriage, News, NOM | Permalink | Comments (29)

News: Scott Fujita, Female Todd Akin, Sink Hole 'Abnormal Sexual Oriented'

1NewsIcon "The evolution of the nation's 'first gay president'"

Fujita1NewsIcon Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita thinks most NFL players will have no problem with an out and proud teammate. "I would argue that the overwhelming majority would be fine with having a teammate who was gay... Once a guy comes out, yeah, it'll be very newsworthy. It'll be a huge, huge breakthrough and then it'll be another one and another one and another one. Then it'll be just another guy in the locker room."

1NewsIcon But there are still plenty of hurdles for gay athletes to overcome.

1NewsIcon The ACLU had no choice but to defend a Connecticut student's right to wear an anti-gay t-shirt. Said ACLU CT legal director Sandra Staub, "The First Amendment was written to protect unpopular speech, which is naturally the kind of speech that will always need protection. The ACLU has fought hard for same-sex marriage and we couldn't agree with Seth less on that issue, but he is absolutely correct about his right to express his opinion."

1NewsIcon Outgoing California GOP chairman Tom Del Beccaro predicts his party will be debating the "difficult issue" of marriage equality for years to come.

1NewsIcon Meanwhile, Celeste Greig, head of the California Republican Assembly, said rape victims don't typically get pregnant because "it's an act of violence, because the body is traumatized." She's the female Todd Akin!

1NewsIcon A handy breakdown of where Illinois lawmakers stand on marriage equality.

Princecover1NewsIcon The artist still known as Prince performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and will soon be coming to a city near you!

1NewsIcon Dalmatian puppies go gaga for peanut butter.

1NewsIcon Jennifer Lawrence is spending her post-Oscar time setting up dates for Silver Linings Playbook costar Bradley Cooper.

1NewsIcon Justin Bieber had "the worst birthday ever" after his Circus-themed party devolved into a fracas.

1NewsIcon Great news from PR: "The advance of gay rights across the United States is spreading into Puerto Rico, making the island a relatively gay-friendly outpost in a Caribbean region where sodomy laws and harassment of gays are still common. The governing Popular Democratic Party is pushing a bill through the legislature that would outlaw discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, a step taken by about half of U.S. states. Another bill would extend a domestic violence law to gay couples."

1NewsIcon A Virginia spa admits to booting a transgender woman because they have a policy against "any abnormal sexual behaviors and orientation." "It is our policy not to accept any kinds of abnormal sexual oriented customers to our facility such as homosexuals, or transgender," Spa World in Centreville said in a statement. "We strongly enforce this policy for the safety and the comfort for (sic.) our customers, and also to promote a healthy reputation for our business.... Also, for the safety and the comfort for young children at Spa World, we strongly forbid any abnormal sexual behaviors and orientation in our facility." Virginia laws allow this to go on.

Justicekennedy1NewsIcon Shifting public opinion may very well sway Justices Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts toward marriage equality, especially the more moderate Kennedy: "Throughout his long career, Kennedy has been willing to make major changes in the law on issues including the death penalty, gun rights and gay rights... But before signing on to major changes — abolishing the death penalty for young murderers, for example — he has wanted to feel comfortable that the change was in line with public opinion and the trend in the law."

1NewsIcon The Florida sinkhole that swallowed a man continues to grow.

Posted Mar. 2,2013 at 3:41 PM EST by in ACLU, Barack Obama, Bradley Cooper, Discrimination, Illinois, Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Bieber, News, Puerto Rico, Sports, Supreme Court, Virginia | Permalink | Comments (14)

Tracy Thorne-Begland Sworn In As Virginia's First Openly Gay Judge: VIDEO


Tracy Thorne-Begland did the seemingly impossible yesterday. After overcoming Republican opposition in Virginia's House of Delegates, the former Navy pilot was sworn in as the state's first openly gay judge. His husband and their two children were on hand to celebrate Thorne-Begland's new place on the General District Court.

Speaking after the investiture, Thorne-Begland and Michael celebrated with a kiss, which is most definitely another first for Virginia: a judge kissing his same-sex partner in the Richmond City Council.

Watch video of local CBS affiliate WTVR's report AFTER THE JUMP.

Sorry it's so small. The original can be viewed here

Posted Mar. 2,2013 at 2:33 PM EST by in News, Tracy Thorne-Begland, Virginia | Permalink | Comments (7)

Madonna To Honor Anderson Cooper At GLAAD Media Awards

MadgecooperMadonna will be in the house at 24th annual GLAAD Media Awards March 16th, when the queen of pop will present journalist Anderson Cooper with the Vito Russo Award for his tireless work toward full equality.

GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said in a statement, "By sharing his own experiences as a gay man, Anderson has reminded millions of Americans that LGBT people are part of their everyday lives and an integral part of our cultural fabric. He continues to raise the bar and set a new standard for journalists everywhere, and I'm proud to call him a friend."

Despite all his wonderful work, Cooper may very well be upstaged by Madonna, who has been fighting discrimination, ignorance and hate for years and whose presence will GLAAD, Cooper and hosts Lara Spencer, Josh Elliott, and Sam Champion get their point across. If anyone can make people pay attention, it's Madonna. She takes no prisoners.

"From speaking out against bullying to raising support for marriage equality, Madonna has always been one of our community's strongest allies. We are honored to have her stand with GLAAD and Anderson Cooper," said Graddick.

Cooper will receive his award on March 16 in New York City.

Posted Mar. 2,2013 at 1:53 PM EST by in Anderson Cooper, Gay Media, GLAAD, Madonna, News | Permalink | Comments (41)

Former Baseball Player Wants Gay Players To Spare His Feelings


In an op-ed that suggests he hasn't given much thought to the meaning of the words "discrimination," "prejudice," or "ignorance," former Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Mark Knudson (seen in this trading card, which can be made larger for more effect) argues that gay sportsmen should stay in the closet to spare homophobes the horror of being uncomfortable. 

KNUDSONNo one has said that gays should not be allowed to play in the NFL. What has been said is that having a gay teammate would make some players uncomfortable. That's about their feelings. Feelings aren't right or wrong; they're just feelings. It’s telling someone their feelings are wrong that’s the real wrong.

So what's being debated here is not actual discrimination, but rather hurt feelings. Just because [retired out football player Esera Tuaolo] felt uncomfortable about his homosexuality inside a machismo-filled, heterosexual-dominated locker room does not mean he was denied any opportunities. In fact, he endured emotionally and has profited handsomely by taking full advantage of his talents and opportunities.

It's also important to consider that the heterosexual players involved have feelings, too, and they’'e no more or less valid than the feelings of those in the gay community. It's amazing how many people feel free to criticize and tell athletes how they are supposed to feel, as if that’s anyone else's right.

And here I thought the right-wing's "thought police" argument had been retired. And that Kenny Powers was just a fictional caricature from Eastbound & Down.

In all seriousness, though, this is not a surprising sentiment from a former baseball player: of all the major sports, it's America's pastime that remains the most opposed to marriage equality.

(Incredibly well-timed cartoon via The New Yorker.)

Posted Mar. 2,2013 at 12:19 PM EST by in Baseball, News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (52)


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