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SIFF 2008, Blog #6

Dir. Jennifer Phang
Planet Cinema Program

I wish I could remember why I thought this would be good. Now that I look over the description provided by SIFF, it looks like a movie I would have avoided. It might have been the positive comments left on IMDB that led me astray.

So Half-Life is set in a very near future where global warming has kept increasing, it does not appear to be safe to spend time outside without a respirator, and America is even more politically isolated from the rest of the world than it are today. In this future world, a single mother is raising her son and daughter. She has a boyfriend that is living with the family and they appear to be happy. The kids are another story. Both Tim and Pam are depressed. Tim daydreams about flying and beaches and Pam jumps off of the roof, apparently without causing herself any harm.

There is some family drama. Mom's boyfriend is creepy and due to his creepy, inappropriateness with Pam, she and Tim run away for a night. Pam's best friend is gay and loses his virginity. This upsets his religious parents. But none of the potential drama plays with any emotional authenticity. Actually, for a film that should have been about childhood, Half-Life did not have a single moment that was reminiscent of childhood.

The worst crime this movie commits is being boring. At a certain point, I realized that there was no point and I just waited for it to end. And it took forever. The only high point was that I really liked Sanoe Lake as Pam, but as they didn't give her anything to do but look disaffected, sad and bored, she couldn't save this movie from itself.

Otto: or, Up with Dead People
dir. Bruce LaBruce
Midnight Adrenaline Series

This movie has been described as gay, zombie, porn. Yup, it is all of these things. Because Bruce LaBruce was present to introduce Otto, he added that Otto is in fact a melancholy zombie movie. It is also that, but a joyfully melancholy zombie movie that is both gruesome and pornographic.

It is easy to guess when I really enjoy a movie as those are the times that I cannot seem to help but to search the internet for a good still to include. So yeah, I admit that I had a great time at Otto and not just because there was a scene where a zombie fucks a big, gaping flesh wound. No, I enjoyed Otto because it is a shockingly good movie. It has multiple storylines due to the movie within a movie structure. There's Otto's story of how he came to be the star of Media Yarn's film, Up with Dead People, there is Medea and her fantastic monologues about the zombie as metaphor for the deadening affect of technology and capitalism, Medea's previous film, that she makes Otto watch, which was obviously inspired by Maya Deren's films, the decision to depict Medea's girlfriend as existing in a silent movie, and to top it off, zombies having gay sex.

I expected to enjoy Otto, but I didn't expect that I would actually admire Otto. The acting was perfect for the film. Bruce filmed in Berlin so he used a German cast in this English language film, so the characters all had inexplicable accents, that made sense for the movie. Otto's accent added to his ultimate outsider status. He's a very melancholy gay zombie undergoing existential crisis, or an ultimate outsider among gay zombies. And I would expect Medea to have an accent, although I imagine the character to be American, making her foreign accent is an expression of art.

But what I appreciated most was a scene where Otto stays in the spare room of another cast member, since Medea believes he is homeless. When he is taken to his room, stating simply that zombies don't sleep, he sits on the bed and watches the clock. In this shot, Otto sits expressionless as the time passes, until it is morning. It is an amusing scene, but also quite well done. And there are many scenes like this where Otto is motionless for long stretches and I found that I was watching the screen for any action while the camera remained fixed on the motionless zombie. Between these quiet scenes, the use of jarring industrial music provided by Throbbing Gristle, and the occasional memories of a prior life and a lost boyfriend from when Otto was alive, I found Otto occasionally thought provoking.

However, it was also great fun. There is one scene where Otto is taken home by a gay man. The outcome is a totally blood soaked room, where Otto's date becomes one of the undead to announce, "That was incredible."

Bruce LaBruce stated that he expects that "zombie porno is going to be big. The orifice possibilities are endless." And I suspect that he could be right.


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