Beginners Review (dir. Mike Mills)

I noticed that Lisa had posted a quick review about this, but I saw it recently and have been wanting to review it because it was something I connected with and really wanted to share my opinion.

I honestly cannot think of another film I have seen this year that I found as charming and heartfelt as ‘Beginners’ which stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a middle aged man who has just lost his father Hal to lung cancer. Oliver reveals to us, through narration, that after the death of his mother a few years back his father came out, having been gay throughout the 40 plus years of his marriage. Oliver’s life following his father’s passing is a lonely one that often leads to him talking to Arthur, his father’s dog. One night at a party he meets a beautiful actress named Anna. The two hit it off quickly and the rest of the film follows the development of their relationship, set among flashbacks of Oliver’s parents and his father’s new life as a gay man in the years before his death. Through these memories we get a better understanding, as to why Oliver has been alone, and why his time with Anna may be short lived; he has had 4 relationships in the past, but left them all. The result is a film about being open and honest, and finding love and happiness through from it.

This idea of being honest was difficult for Oliver because of his parents. Their hollow marriage cast a shadow on his view of love. Wanting to avoid what they had created, this constant uncertainty and sadness caused him to think love was doomed and so he would break relationships off in fear of what he thought was their inevitable conclusion.

Luckily Oliver is able to find inspiration in his father who was able to be open and honest in the final months of his life. Through the memories of Hal, Oliver is able to take those steps towards true joy. One reason being that when he found out his father was gay it finally dawned on him why his parents’ marriage seemed so empty. It wasn’t genuine and so not a good example of how things really are. Which brings up another important theme, that being change and starting over.

The title ‘Beginners’ refers to both Oliver and Hal being at the beginning of their new respective lives. Anna points out towards the end of the film, after reading a funny but sweet personal ad Hal had made, that Oliver’s father “Didn’t give up”. Even facing death, in his 70’s, Hal wanted to be happy and be himself by embracing his sexuality. It is in remembering these moments, seeing how happy his father was, that Oliver is able to look forward in a positive light, with a new perspective on love and an understanding of why his mother was always so sad. Oliver too has a new beginning and like Hal can now be open and embrace his love for Anna.

What held this whole story together for me were the characters, and more importantly the chemistry between them. I felt the dynamic between Anna and Oliver, the feelings and time they shared was incredibly sweet. Upon first seeing him Anna instantly recognized Oliver’s sadness. She too felt alone, having spent most of the past few years going from one hotel room to another. It is the sort of relationship in which the one thing that makes the love between them so poignant is that they can save each other, filling the voids in each other’s hearts. This makes it harder to watch as Oliver’s misconceptions on love cause a divide between them. At the beginner Oliver worries, like he did in his previous relationships, where this one is heading. He fears Anna will become his mother, unhappy and bitter. But when Oliver does change, and get her back, the result is an incredibly sweet ending.

All of this is done with a collection of small, genuine and heartfelt moments that build upon one another to form something much greater. On top of that were three wonderful performances. Christopher Plummer was so lovable as Hal, and clearly had a lot of fun with the character. Melanie Laurent was mesmerizing and sweet, she is so beautiful and easy to fall for. Ewan McGregor was also fantastic, and the real stand out here, carrying a great deal of pain adding depth to his performance in a way I’ve rarely seen him do. The structure and visual devices also worked incredibly well, helping to give it a unique feel. I really loved the use of photographs, montages to the 50’s and how it handled the history of the gay rights movement. The music was also lovely and fit the tone perfectly. It is a score that I’ve listened to a few times since watching the film.

Honestly, it had me smiling from start to finish. It just had this emotional resonance that clicked for me in a way that can hardly be explained. I ended up watching it two nights in a row just because I loved it so much the first time and I just wanted to watch the characters again soon after. It saddens me that so few people seemed to have seen it. I can easily say that ‘Beginners’ is a charming, smart, funny, sentimental and quirky film, one of my new favorites and I loved every single moment of it.

Chuck Hogan & Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain bring gruesome Vampires back

The vampires of The Strain appear to be the next step of the Reapers, Del Toro introduced in Blade II. These creatures far removed from the handsome angst filled vampires of True Blood, Twilight, etc and more in the line with the apex predators that caused nightmares.

Below is the breakdown of the hemophagic corpses (via the wiki page)
Vampire Biology
The vector for vampirism is a capillary worm, which, once introduced into the human host’s bloodstream (either through a vampire’s feeding or direct invasion by the worm through a wound or orifice), introduces an incurable and fast-acting virus. By manipulating the host’s genes, the virus causes a human to undergo numerous radical physical changes.

Vampire Physicality
The first and most distinct vampire adaptation is the development of a long, retractile proboscis beneath the host’s tongue, which is able to extend up to six feet from the mouth. This “stinger” is both the vampire’s feeding and reproductive mechanism, shooting forth to latch onto human prey’s throat or thigh, both draining the victim’s blood for nutrition and infecting the human with capillary worms. The vampire’s jaw is set at a lower hinge than a human, the mouth gaping like a snake’s when the stinger is deployed. As the structure of the stinger is actually modified tissue from the human lungs and throat, vampires are incapable of physical speech.

A vampire’s physical appearance is governed mainly by the host body shedding those human traits that are obsolete to its new life cycle. Hair and fingernails are gradually lost, while the external nose and ears atrophy, leaving a fully matured vampire’s skin as smooth and featureless as marble. The vampire’s complexion is extremely pale between feedings, but appears a flushed red after a recent blood-meal. Eye coloration is a black pupil surrounded by a red sclera, with a white nictitating membrane sliding across for protection. The middle fingers of both hands grow and strengthen, and a thick talon develops in place of the lost fingernail. As vampire reproduction is achieved through viral infection of hosts and not through any sexual mechanism, the human genitalia also atrophy, leaving a mature vampire with no discernible gender.

The digestive and circulatory systems of a vampire are simplified and fused, the vampire’s interior organs most resembling a series of connected sacs. Nutrition from a blood feeding is transported throughout this system via a thick, viscous white fluid that forms the vampire equivalent of blood. The capillary worms are present in this fluid, swimming throughout the circulatory system and often visible beneath the vampire’s thin skin. Like rodents, a vampire is unable to vomit, its suction-based digestive process functioning only one way. All bodily waste is excreted from a single rectal orifice in the form of a pungent ammonia-based spray; a vampire will excrete for the entire duration of a feeding, purging old food as it consumes new blood.

The vampire’s body temperature runs extremely high, at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and a human is able to feel their ambient heat from several feet away.

Many of the physical changes from human to vampire occur gradually following the initial worm infection, and are accompanied by great pain. A newly “turned” human will lie in a state of suspended animation for an entire day, rising the next night as a nascent vampire. The stinger is present for the vampire’s first foray, in order to facilitate feeding, but other traits (hairlessness, talons on the mid-digit, lack of distinct internal organs) will develop within the first seven nights following infection. The vampire’s mental state will also be confused at first, and its movements will be clumsy and awkward. As it matures, however, the vampire will become supremely agile, able to leap great distances and climb sheer surfaces with the aid of its talons. Full maturity, physically and mentally, occurs within the first thirty nights.


In spite of the vampire’s morbid biology stripping legend of most of its romance, the most famously admired trait of the undead remains intact: immortality. Unless slain by violence or sunlight, a vampire’s parasitic body structure will neither fade nor weaken with the passage of time, giving them an effectively endless “life”-span. Even in those cases where the host body is damaged beyond repair, a vampire of sufficient power can transfer their consciousness (via a torrential capillary worm transfer) from one human form to another.

Vampire Senses
The sensory apparatus of the vampire is highly adapted for their nocturnal life cycle. Color vision is replaced with the ability to sense heat signatures, and the world is perceived in a monochrome brightened by sources of warmth (such as human prey). Hearing is greatly enhanced, in spite of the loss of external ears.

The vampires’ greatest sensory asset, however, is the “hive mind” that all new vampires share with the Ancient that propagated them. Each vampire, through some undefined telepathic link, is able to send and receive thought and sensory information to and from their Ancient progenitor. In this manner, the Ancient vampires direct the actions of their individual spawn through mental communication, regardless of distance. Perhaps akin to its radiation shielding properties, the element lead has the effect of blocking this mental connection.

In spite of their biological inability to speak, vampires can communicate with humans through telepathy, transmitting thoughts directly into a person’s internal monologue. Those vampires seeking to pose as human can train themselves to move their lips in a pantomime of speech, but the actual communication is still via thought-transference.

An Ancient vampire is also able to use this telepathic ability as a weapon; known as the “murmur”, this mental shock-wave has the ability to completely overwhelm the minds of surrounding human beings, rendering them unconscious.

Vampires also experience an overwhelming compulsion to infect family members and those they cared about as humans (their “dear ones”). They possess a unique ability to locate such targets, this sense being likened to a pigeon’s homing instinct.

Vampire Weaknesses
Many of the traditional vampire “weaknesses” of common folklore remain effective, although their potency is explained in terms of specific effects on vampire biology.

Sunlight is the vampire’s ultimate destroyer, specifically ultraviolet light in the UVC range. This is due to the germicidal properties of the wavelength, as it breaks down the virus-laden tissues of the vampire’s body. A localized source of UVC light, such as a fluorescent lamp, can be used to repel a vampire, much as a burning torch can repel an animal. Complete exposure, either to direct sunlight or a powerful UVC source, will result in complete desiccation of the vampire’s body, leaving behind nothing but ashes.

Silver, whether in the form of a metal weapon or even a fine chemical mist, can also wound or kill a vampire. Much like sunlight, this is due to the disinfecting properties of the element damaging the vampire’s viral biology. While conventional weapons (lead bullets, steel blades) can cause physical damage, they will not repel a vampire. Silver causes vampires both debilitating pain and a certain amount of fear, and binding a vampire in silver will completely incapacitate them.

Severing the spinal column through any method is another effective way to destroy a vampire. While the vampire’s simplified internal organ structure makes them difficult to harm with attacks to the body, decapitation will result in the vampire’s death.

Although there appears to be no biological imperative behind it, vampires cannot cross running water. This is alluded to as having something to do with the origin of the Ancients, but no further explanation is given. This aversion to water can be overcome, however, if the vampire is assisted (or “invited”) by a human.

Traditional religious protections against vampires, such as a crucifix or holy water, display no practical effect. The prevalence of this lore is explained as having been the product of Bram Stoker’s “fevered Irish imagination”.

Garlic, another common folk defense, has no noticeable use in repelling vampires.

Silver-backed mirrors, while they will not harm a vampire, will reveal their presence. While vampires do indeed cast a reflection, it is blurred and distorted, akin to an image vibrating at an impossible speed. Modern chrome-backed mirrors, however, will not have this effect, and the vampire will appear normally in such a looking-glass.



Images courtesy of Dark Horse Comics

6 Trailers To Celebrate Our Winning Season

Welcome to the latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation trailers.  This week, we have six trailers that feature everything from a killer to Santa Claus to a pithy tagline to a mean, bad killing machine to Dennis Quaid. 

1) Gorp (1980)

“Sorry, it’s too shocking!”  I could do with a little less close-ups of moving mouths but  this trailer seems oddly appropriate for a film called Gorp.  Keep an eye out for a young Dennis Quaid.

2) Our Winning Season (1978)

“And I’ll never forget that chicken race…”  This trailer has an oddly somber feel to it, considering that it appears to be advertising a silly high school movie.  Continue to keep an eye out for a young Dennis Quaid.

3) Black Shampoo (1976)

“He’s mean…he’s bad…he’s a killing machine!”  To the best of my knowledge, Dennis Quaid is not in this film.

4) Detroit 9000 (1973)

This is one of those films that I own on DVD but I have yet to actually sit down and watch.  Quentin Tarantino loves this film but I have to admit that I’m having a hard time forgiving Detroit for those obnoxious “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler commercials.  

5) I Come In Peace (1990)

“…you go in pieces!”  Jeff loves this trailer (though I suspect he mostly just loves that tagline) and I’m including it for him. 🙂

6) Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

And finally: welcome to the Christmas season, everyone!