Film

Don’t Open That Door! #61: The Aztec Mummy aka La Momia Azteca (1957)

This week on our ongoing field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them: things get spicy south of the border in The Aztec Mummy, known to Telemundo viewers as La Momia Azteca

Alternative titles: Montezuma’s Other Revenge; Hey, Does This Look Infected?

POSITIVES:

*Not all mummies are Egyptian!

*It’s a Mexican movie, so you can brag to your friends about watching a “foreign film”

*Effective photography among Aztec ruins and temples

*Lively soundtrack and quick-cut editing during lab scenes

NEGATIVES:

*Aztecs apparently employed opera singers for their religious ceremonies

*Interpretive dance sequence goes on way too long

*Pace is erratic; some sequences drag

*Bat subplot is weak

SYNOPSIS: Dapper Dr. Alameda wants to use hypnosis to bring forth the past lives of his subjects, but unfortunately his theories are scorned by those stuffed shirts a the Neurophysics Congress down there in Mexico City. There’s nothing to do for it but retreat to his rural getaway and get cracking, which is precisely what he does, along with his posse: the elderly Professor, wimpy layabout Pinacate, and fiesty Senora Flora. (Nice ring to that, eh?) Flor begs to be used as Alameda’s lab animal, and who is he to argue? Next stop: Flor’s past life! Oh and by the way there’s some masked criminal called The Bat running around, shooting police, crawling through windows and generally acting suspicious. He wears a hat and looks something like Jack Black in Nacho Libre, which may or may not be coincidence.

Through the miracle of fast-track hypnosis, Flor is quickly regressed hundreds of years and is soon channeling Xochi, a young woman earmarked for sacrifice to the Aztec god Tezkatlipoka. However, before she gets there, dashing warrior Popaca meets her and gives her a kiss; the punishment is (A) death for her, and (B) eternal mummified soul-wandering shame for him. When Xochi gets the knife, Flor really takes it to heart, so to speak.

But that’s not half as hard as Popaca takes it when he realizes his beloved Xochi’s bones are being disturbed by Alameda and the others, who travel to the tomb intent on finding Xoci’s remains and proving the hypnosis correct. This they do, but they also snatch her golden sacrificial breastplate. Bad idea!This riles up damned-to-eternal-unrest Popaca to the point where he gets up off his eternally unresting backside, and when Alameda returns to the tomb for even more swag, he gets more than he bargained for, in the form of the slowly shuffling, much bandaged title character. And let’s not forget The Bat, who’s out there dogging Alameda’s footsteps in the hope of scoring some treasure of his own. But at least he’s not barging into people’s rooms, carrying them away in the middle of the night. Somebody should call the cops. Oh wait—here they come. Now all we need is a priest.

Best line of (subtitled) narration: “From the few data gathered, it is believed The Bat is a famous scientist that carries out prohibited experiments, as vivisection of animals, inserting parts that don’t belong to them, thus creating monstrous creatures. Society is duly alarmed.” Heck yeah!

What gets put under wraps: An Aztec woman; an Aztec warrior; the same Aztec warrior again; a prospective father-in-law.

What gets saved: NAFTA, for better or worse.

Party game: Play “Past Life.” Each player writes down a historical figure he or she believes s/he could have been in the past. These do not have to be famous people: “a 16th century Lithuanian peasant” is just as acceptable as “Shakespeare.” The answers are collected and read out, and players try to guess who wrote what answer. The player who stumps the most other people wins.

This reminds me of… …sequels Curse of the Aztec Mummy (1957) and Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958), which are, remarkably enough, neither significantly better nor significantly worse than this offering. There is also something called Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964), which I will leave you to discover for yourself.

Somehow their careers survived: Ramon Gay (Dr Almada) had been in piles of Mexican movies, including 1950’s Dona Diabla (English title: The Devil Is a Woman), and would end his career in 1964 with Face of the Screaming Werewolf and Attack of the Mayan Mummy. Rosa Arenas (Flora/Xochi) would reprise her role in the Aztec Mummy sequels Curse of (1958) and Robot vs (1959), along with the other principal actors from this movie. Crox Alvarado (Pinacate) had appeared in 1940’s wonderfully-titled El Fantasma de Medianoche (English title: The Midnight Ghost). Angel Di Stefani (Popoca, the mummy) would reprise his role in the sequels, as well as other features such as Pacto Diabolico (1969), released in the US as Pact With the Devil.

BOTTOM LINE: Dull in spots, but quirky and moody enough to be worth a look.

NEXT TIME: The Blob (1958)

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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System of a Down have exceeded expectations, and they're only halfway done.


System of a Down

Mezmerize

Label: American
US Release Date: 2005-05-17
UK Release Date: 2005-05-16
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The massive popularity of System of a Down remains one of the unlikeliest rock success stories in the past five years. Seriously, how on earth could a band of eccentric Armenian-Americans, equally influenced by classic Los Angeles hardcore, '80s metal, Middle Eastern music, funk, and Frank Zappa become one of the most popular heavy acts in America today? Perhaps it's the way the wildly inventive band balances complex time signatures with moshpit anthems. Or maybe it's the way they offset their often heavy-handed lyrics with devilishly facetious exercises in sophomorism. Or it could be that whatever they're playing, be it a complex, four minute suite, a rampaging aggro rant, or a soaring, majestic ballad, the music has a catchy quality to it that nobody from the increasingly irrelevant nu-metal subgenre has even come close to matching.

Whatever the reason, it's clear that there is a very strong demand for exciting, daring new heavy music, and this band has become a force over a very short time span: their ambitious second album Toxicity debuted at number one on the Billboard album chart, "Chop Suey" and "Aerials" became mainstream rock radio hits, and 2003's Steal This Album!, their fascinating collection of studio left-overs, was also well received. With their diverse influences and gifted musicianship, System of a Down has become the most exciting of rock bands, one whose next musical direction is impossible to predict, and their long-awaited follow-up to Toxicity is one of the year's most highly anticipated releases.

Even though we all expected some surprises from these guys, they've still managed to pull the rug out from under us. The first half of a supposedly intended double album, Mezmerize is the sharpest, most focused release of the band's career so far. At a very taut 36 minutes, releasing half of a double album is a smart move, both financially (the band has a great shot at topping the charts twice in one year), and artistically, as the shorter running time allows listeners to more easily grasp the band's sometimes maddening ambition. And is this album ever crammed with nutty ideas.

In fact, barely one minute into Mezmerize, we're being bombarded by "B.Y.O.B.", the most wickedly original song System of a Down has ever recorded. After the somber intro track "Soldier Side", "B.Y.O.B." bursts out of the gate at a breakneck thrash metal pace, guitarist Daron Malakian delivering lithe riffs, while bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan provide a frenetic, double time rhythm section, before singer Serj Tankian enters, spouting his anti-war rhetoric. Everything goes smoothly, perhaps a little too comfortably, but then from out of nowhere, comes a catchy, devilishly facetious chorus, so heavily influenced by R&B, it's disarming, as Tankian satirizes the ongoing war in Iraq with the breezy line, "Everybody's going to the party have a real good time/Dancing in the desert blowing up the sunshine." The song shifts ingeniously back and forth, from pop melodies to metal blastbeats, culminating in the repeated refrain, "Why don't the presidents fight the war?/Why do they always send the poor?"

The rest of the album, astonishingly, maintains the same pace the rest of the way. "Revenga" shifts from a metal gallop, to insanely fast, Bad Brains style vocal turns, to a melodic, pensive chorus, all in mere seconds. "Radio/Video" has the band setting their sights on another easy and obvious target, today's fame-obsessed culture, but the mood is instantly lightened by accordion-driven breakdowns that sound like ska and polka commingling, which would seem a ludicrous idea, if it didn't work so damn well. The last half of Mezmerize comes to a scintillating close, first on the lovely "Question", a continuation from where "Aerials" left off four years ago, as Tankian waxes philosophic, musing enigmatically, "Do we know/When we fly/When we go/Do we die?" The ferocious "Sad Statue" combines potent metal riffs with thought-provoking lyrics that assess today's America and its youth culture: "Forgiveness is the ultimate sacrifice... We'll all go down in history/With a sad Statue of Liberty/And a generation that didn't agree." Like their fellow Angelenos in Tool, System of a Down love to take shots at Hollywood, and the final two tracks are merciless, first on the goofy celebrity baseball fantasy "Old School Hollywood", and then on the venomous mini-epic "Lost in Hollywood", which comes close to matching the seething misanthropy of Tool's masterful "Ænima".

The main drawbacks of Toxicity were the band's repeated forays into sophomoric, novelty numbers, and while Mezmerize has several tracks with humorous themes, the lighthearted lyrical content is backed up by more nuanced songwriting and musicianship. "Cigaro" is a raucous blast of mosh-inducing chords and tongue-in-cheek attacks on phallocentric bureaucracy ("We're the cruel regulators smoking cigaro, cigaro, cigar"), while the brilliantly titled "This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song" is a fun Zappa-goes-hardcore romp that has fun with nonsensical lines, such as, "Gonnorrhea gorgonzola." "Violent Pornography" teeters on the edge of falling into a lame, We Care a Lot-era Faith No More imitation, but is rescued by a fantastic funk metal stomp, highlighted by more dadaist gibberish ("It's a non stop disco/Bet you it's Nabisco").

Serj Tankian is one of the most gifted vocalists in hard rock today, with the ability to channel the screams of Slayer's Tom Araya, the punk caterwauling of Jello Biafra, the aggressive vocals of Slipknot's Corey Taylor, and the power metal howl of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson (sometimes all in the same song), but on Mezmerize, his singing is much more understated. If Toxicity was Tankian's showcase, Mezmerize is Daron Malakian's coming-out party; not only does he write the bulk of the music, but his virtuosity on lead guitar is second to none. Most notably, Malakian's turns at lead vocals have been greatly increased, his upper-register cries acting as an effective foil for Tankian's more stately tenor, best displayed on "B.Y.O.B.", "Cigaro", and "Lost in Hollywood".

Many will be glad that the band appears to have shed their nu-metal shackles for good. As solid as Toxicity was, it was still firmly rooted in the tuned-down sludge of the nu-metal sound, and on the new record, Malakian's guitar tone is more akin to hardcore stalwarts Converge than, say, Slipknot and Godsmack. Also, the overall mix by Andy Wallace is much cleaner-sounding than the previous record's rather dense sound.

There is no other hard rock band around who can match the audacity, intensity, progressive nature, and accessibility of System of a Down, and with Mezmerize, they've simply topped themselves. Based on this fascinating record, the prospect of another album by this band in just a few months seems too good to be true, especially these days, when rock's biggest acts rarely live up to expectations. Hypnotize can't come soon enough.

9

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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9

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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