Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Horror Fail!

So the horror movie challenge is totally off the rails now. The movies seem to be drifting further away from horror all of the time. I'm mostly just chasing my own interests, which often lead to oddities that can easily be classified as horror, but I'm not feeling well and have become too weak to resist the charms of Tom Hardy and Gael Garcia Bernal. Actually traditional horror films hold very little interest, but I greatly enjoy psychological horror and thrillers so I couldn't stay away from Dot the I once it was described as an erotic thriller. Erotic + Gael Garcia Bernal + Tom Hardy + flamenco dancing; oh my.

Well, it was romantic and a little twisted and a bit sexy, but sadly, not horrific and mildly disappointing. And I don't care! The love triangle that develops at the first of Dot the I is hot and when the triangle is revealed to be a fraud, created as part of an emotional snuff film that Carmen has unknowingly found herself at the center of, the film suffers from implausibility, but remains sexy and fun with a little dash of evil.

And since my boyfriend, Tom Hardy, was just barely in Dot the I, I had to watch Bronson, based on Brittan's "most violent prisoner". And again, I don't think it could be called horror, even with all of the promise of excessive violence. And it delivers plenty of bare-knuckle fist fights, orchestrated by Bronson, who never has a fighting chance against multiple prison guards in riot gear, armed with clubs. Bronson is a captivating character study about a flamboyantly and gleefully violent man who appears to thrive in the theater of correctional institutionalization.

Bronson also emphasizes why there is so much enthusiasm over Tom Hardy. Sure, he was incredibly hot in Inception, but in Bronson, he shows such charisma and brings a completely implausible character to life and even makes Bronson's violent episodes seem logical and not a symptom of madness. This is a fascinating piece of work that while being highly stylized is based on documented facts. Now I would like to see another film, a documentary about this Charlie Bronson exploring how the British legal system can explain keeping him locked up indefinitely, in complete isolation, when he has only been sentenced to 7 years.

So the horror challenge has been derailed by too many fascinating films that are peripheral to the horror genre. But I'm doing my best to get back in there with the frights, splatter, and gore.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Delving into 1970s horror

I had planned on going a little further back into the history of cinema, but this group of films are all from the 1970s.

Patrick is an Australian movie that was prominently featured in the Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood. In my effort to watch all of the films referenced in Kill Bill, vol. 1, I had overlooked Patrick. It was stunning to see just how much the hospital scenes had borrowed from this rather obscure film. But in actuality, while one can see echos of KBv1, Patrick is a very different film.

Patrick opens with him electrocuting his mother, i.e. toaster + bathtub. After this opening, the rest of the film is centered on Kathy, the nurse who cares for Patrick. He has been in a coma since the accident and stares straight ahead. She is told he is brain dead, but becomes convinced that he is communicating with her using telekinesis. While this is far from the best piece of horror cinema I've seen, it is a fascinating one. And Patrick is a bit unsettling, the way he just stares, unblinking.

Next, I watched the George Romero vampire movie, Martin. Martin isn't exactly the stereotypical vampire movie. In fact, it questions whether Martin is a vampire at all, but a serial killer. His techniques have much in common with those used by Dexter, except that Martin sedates his female victims so that he can have sex with them, before killing them. It is only Martin's uncle who seems convinced of a family curse and screams Nosteratu at Martin repeatedly.

Then finally there was Blood Freak. I had to see this after I heard it was about a giant turkey monster, but this 1972 student movie is a true oddity. At times, Blood Freak threatened to become Refer Madness, but once the plot brings the characters to the laboratory at the turkey ranch, Blood Freak gets downright freaky or at least silly. This is a terrible and misguided film that is rather light on turkey monsters and gives a few too many speeches on the dangers of marijuana and the importance of finding christ, but is also short. And who can forget about a movie about a giant blood thirsty turkey monster?

October Horror Movie Challenge Total, 13.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jigoku or The Sinner's of Hell

From Blogger

The horror movie challenge has been derailed, but this isn't really a surprise. I often don't have the time to watch one movie/day and the weekends have been rather busy lately. Now I have several work related meetings to prep for that I anticipate with further dip into my free time. Gone are those days when I had very little to do at my day job and no friends to spend time with when not at work and I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm surprised at the number of movies I have managed to see by day 14.

Jigoku (1960) was a little slow and completely dumbfounding, but as illustrated in the above still, it looked amazing. Having just been to Never Let Me Go, a film that director Romanek admits to basing the look on classic Japanese cinema, I was pleasantly surprised to have stumbled upon another film shot in a similar perspective that that used by Ozu. These early Japanese films are shot from a low angle and I hadn't picked up on that, but then it became so obvious why this point of view is so different from Western cinema. The Japanese sit upon the floor and thus, they must instinctively see the world from this lower view point. The other element concerning the look of Jigoku was it comes across as a bit of an exploitation film, or pinku film, but also took much care in setting up very cinematographic shots. So while the journey this film takes feels a little long, there is plenty to look at along the way and the film was instructive about the nature of Japanese horror.

My first question was about hell. As explained in the film, Buddhist does have hell which is graphically depicted in Japanese hell scrolls. Japanese hell sounds pretty complex, with multiple levels and it ruled by deities of Japanese folklore that predates the arrival of Buddhism, but what was really surprising was the belief that eternal entrappment in a place of suffering is not punishment for evil deeds committed in life. I couldn't figure out why Shiro Shimizu was in hell. Sure, Shiro was in the car when Tamura* ran over the yakuza man and he was also in the same car accident that killed his girlfriend, but it was odd that he ended up in hell. So apparently, hell can happen to anyone, even the moral and good people. Who knew?

Probably, listening to the commentaries that accompanied the Criterion edition was the most fascinating and informative part of this experience. The film was in fact based upon some specific hell scrolls and I greatly enjoyed listening to the actors and other filmmakers discuss the film. Kiyoshi Kurasawa pointed out some interesting differences between Western and Japanese horror, like in Japanese horror is more based on just the existence of spirits. The evil, scary figures in Japanese horror don't actually do anything to the protagonists. The horror is more about atmosphere. Anyway, interesting observation.

Last night's movie wasn't horror, but a survey of Oz-sploitation pictures, Not Quite Hollywood. I hadn't intended to watch the whole thing, but it was rather intriguing and potentially helpful for choosing horror movies. I've seen very little genre cinema from Australia, so it was nothing but informative. Just from the small selection of Australian cinema I have seen, I knew that it tended towards extremely quirky and sometimes downright silly, but I've never stumbled upon the outrageous films discussed in NQH. What was most amazing was the car genre. Now that I know how car chases and crashes have been filmed in Australia, I'll never be able to watch Mad Max again without wincing and wondering how many broken bones resulted in every shot.

Tally: 10

* For Nate, Tamura may be derived from the verb tamuke, meaning to make an offering to a deity/spirit or to make a tribute for someone about to depart. And Shiro, from shiroi (white) apparently directly translates to "good guy".

From Blogger


Monday, October 11, 2010

Never Let Me Go

From Blogger


Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, Never Let Me Go, is among the most emotionally powerful books I've ever read. Never Let Me Go is set in a boarding school, where the children are special. As they are being instructed to create art and take care of their bodies, they are told only the bare minimum about life, especially their purpose in life. Unlike regular people, the children at Hailsham have a very specific purpose. Their future is determined for them and set in stone, but the children don't really understand what this means.

In the novel, this premise is slowly revealed only with the discoveries of three friends, Kathy H, Tommy, and Ruth as they grow up in this unusual world. Never Let Me Go is science fiction, but not at it's emotional core. The heart of the story in within Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth and is in fact the most epically tragic love story I have ever read. Knowing that the soul of this story isn't about the alternate present day reality of the United Kingdom, but the betrayals and love between three friends, I could not imagine a major motion picture based on this story. This is a subtle and romantic story, who's setting elevates it to a devastatingly tragic tale. How could such emotions possibly be evoked by a film?

But it is easy for forget about those films that stay in my heart for days, weeks and sometimes years later. Maybe not in exactly the way that Never Let Me Go has, but my attraction to Japanese cinema is because of a knack for telling a profoundly moving and personal drama. I have to take these films in small doses, but Ozu's Tokyo Story and Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs are incredible for just how moving they are while being beautiful. So it shouldn't really be a surprise to learn that Mark Romanek decided to draw influence from the films of Ozu and Naruse. And the result is breathtaking.
From Blogger


In Romanek's film, the love story and relationship dynamics between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy remain intact, but the visual nature of cinema allows other aspects present in the novel to over shadow the romance. Actually seeing the children at Hailsham trade the only currently they know, large plastic tokens, for items they regard as treasures, but are in fact junk was powerful. And seeing the interaction between the students with the people who live outside Hailsham was heartbreaking as they looked down on the students with pity or disgust. Never Let Me Go transcends the romance genre into a study of class and caste systems. We see how the world views these characters, not as people. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy's only value is the organs they incubate, but they are sheltered from the reality of their social status; kept away from society not for their protection, as they were told as children, but so society isn't reminded of why humans live longer and healthier then in past generations. It is easier to ignore ethical questions, when a new class of humanity can be created and deemed to be not human, but special.

This is all expertly communicated in the film in a way that flowed over me echoing the book, but also breathing a different, new life into the characters that reains tragically short and completely beyond their control.

From Blogger


The American

Sometimes, it is almost as if American culture is so distasteful and alienating that sometimes, I dream of exodus. As I spend an inordinate amount of time alone, it is easy to forget just how at odds my own point of view is with the culture as a whole, but occassionally, something happens which makes it difficult to ignore. Major elections are the biggest reminder of just how divergent my values are, but occasionally a memorial day screening of a George Clooney movie does the trick.



I went to The American knowing little about the film, other than it was directed by Anton Corbijn who made the stunningly stark and beautiful Ian Curtis biopic, Control. I was immediately struck by the quiet of the picture. The opening scene perfectly set the tone for the following acts, with Jack (Clooney) walking with a lover in a perfectly silent, snow covered landscape, until violence suddenly erupts, leaving Clooney's character alone to travel to a place to lay low. This quiet continues throughout the film, allowing the audience to watch and speculate as to who Jack (or is it Edward?) is and what exactly he is involved in that has him hunted by "the Swedes".

After the initial flurry of action, Jack receives instructions via payphone, and is given a location where he is instructed not to make friends with the locals while he waits for his next assignment. Thus, the majority of the film is set in a picturesque Italian town where Jack spends his time doing pull-ups, resting, and watching. The American is not a film where the plot is advanced with dialog or with long stretches of exposition. It instead unfolds through quiet observations of Jack's actions during this working vacation, where Jack never drops his guard, except perhaps during meals shared with the local priest and during his visits to a local brothel. And because the setting is serene, Jack is alone, and the action is minimal, the audience like Jack searches for clues as to when another violent outbust will occur, because as soon as Jack makes this assignment his least, genre dictates that he will not live to see this last mission finished.

I found the meditative nature of this character study to be completely absorbing. First George Clooney is charismatic and thus easy to watch even when he is doing very little. And the calm quiet of The American's atmosphere only added suspense to this cinematic waiting game. But while I was gnawing off my hands, the tension would suddenly be broken by the sounds of audience unrest. Yes, the audience I was watching The American with was bored. The were audible sighs and grumbles throughout the film. And I haven't any clue why they were so bored, as I was completely sucked in for the duration.

Since then, I have read that despite topping the box office on opening weekend, people were not pleased with what they saw. And I couldn't help but wonder what proportion of cinema that I greatly enjoy is generally disliked. These thoughts are unsettling as they contradict my belief that if a movie is good, most people will enjoy it and the reason that more don't love the same films I do, is because they haven't seen them. Even in my own experiences, this ideology doesn't hold up, otherwise Citizen Kane would be my favorite film and it is not. So while I recognize that everyone responds differently to good cinema, I still believe that most can agree on whether a movie is good. But wow, was that notion shattered at The American.

I did greatly enjoy The American, there were issues with the film. And one particularly odd plot point, considering that Corbijn is a photographer. The notion that any hit man would have a little, tribal butterfly tattoo struck me as false. Not only that, but the aesthetic was wrong, so I was irritated at not giving Clooney a better fake tattoo. And my odd reaction is not about a man having a butterfly tattoo, but more about it being a little, lower neck butterfly tattoo. I really with Carbijn had written the butterfly theme differently, like having his cover job entomology and then he could have borrowed the kind of imagery seen in The Woman of the Dunes.


Horror?

From Blogger

I apparently have no clue what a horror movie is. Or at least, when the challenge rolls around and I take the leap and attempt to watch 31 horror movies, I suddenly feel as if I have no idea what that means. There are times when it is obvious that a movie is horror; Friday the 13th, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Once I dive into the challenge, I begin to question whether the movies I'm seeing really count.

This year, I've seen Buried, Carrie, Clean, Shaven, Nosferatu (1922), Scanners, Sisters, and I sell the Dead. Nate protested Sisters, saying DePalma's movie about a pair of disturbed Siamese twins isn't a horror movie. And he has a point, but how is one supposed to choose movies without having seen them before to really know whether they are horror? Especially since I'm only using the challenge to catch up on movies that I should see because they are classics and to re-watch a few others that need to be revisited. But picking the movies is real bitch because the line between suspense, thriller and horror is very blurry indeed.

So, I'm going back to gut feelings on movies. When I read a synopsis and it mentions dead bodies, asylums, being buried alive, human experimentation, serial killers, ghosts, vampires, were-wolves, or other supernatural beings, I'm going to count it as horror and just keep going. I'm spending too much time trying to qualify movies as horror when I should just be watching them.

Of last week's group of films, Sisters was my favorite. It was faced paced murder mystery that leads to the fractured psyche of a pair of Siamese Twins played by Margo Kidder. I'm also pleased to have finally seen Nosferatu as it was a visually intriguing movie. Vampires have changed a bit since 1922. And I expected I Sell the Dead to be bad and only wanted to see it because I adore Ron Pearlman, but I didn't expect this horror/comedy to be so boring.

Tally: 7

Sunday, October 03, 2010

3 days and three movies in

Day 3, of the October Horror Movie Challenge and already, it's time to change strategies. Apparently, when I pick a horror movie, I can REALLY pick them. I think it is safe to say that if we keep going, Nate and I will have PTSD by the end of the week.

So far the tally is 3 films, 2 first viewings.

We started today with Carrie (1976), which we both had seen previously, but not for many years. I hadn't remembered the lascivious male gaze or the overt misogyny. But this might be the elements that gives the film a surprisingly authentic depiction of High school experience. there were plenty of times when I would have loved to have gotten rid of the entire school in a giant ball of fire.

But the movie that neither of us had seen before was Clean, Shaven. This film caught my attention three years ago, when I attempted to complete the challenge, but never managed to get my hands on it during October. So I rented it this October and between it and Buried, I don't think Nate is going to play October Horror Challenge with me anymore. Clean, Shaven was a difficult film to watch.

Peter Winter (Peter Greene) is searching for his daughter, which is difficult to focus on when everything is a distraction. The sound design of Clean, Shaven attempts to recreate the experience of schizophrenia. Peter is constantly overwhelmed by noise, the humming of power lines, radio static, every sound seems jarring and agonizing. And in this world, Peter wants to find his daughter, but he also seems to hear voices and suffers from delusions about a transmitter in his head.

Clean, Shaven was also a murder mystery while being a study of a man with a severe mental illness. It was really quite fascinating as a murder mystery, since the narrative is primarily through Peter's eyes, making it nearly impossible to discern whether a crime has even been committed. This is a very complex film that would probably benefit from repeat viewings, but I personally don't have the stomach to revisit it. There are some seriously grizzly scenes of self-harm and the sound design was agonizingly intense.

So next on the agenda would be some films that fall into the horror genre, but are a little less horrific. It is time for a reminder of just how much fun horror movies can be.

From Blogger


The Social Network

Don't you hate it when a film really says something and makes you want to talk about it, but you never can find just the right words to do so. A month ago, I saw The Social Network at an advance screening and have been thinking about just how brilliant the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of facebook is done. I knew that I needed to see the film again in order to really collect my thoughts, since it was severely underlit and the pace was so quick that it was difficult to reconstruct the sequence of events after.

But now that The Social Network has opened, the professionals have been busily writing amazing things. I think Jim Emerson has succeeded in seeing the same film I did in the same way. I totally saw that The Social Network is a film about class and privilege in college as well as a character study of someone who is ultimately unlikable. And I gravitate toward these prickly people.

Jim Emerson: The Social Network: Communicating in code

Saturday, October 02, 2010

It's that time again



I've only attempted the October Horror Movie Challenge once and didn't quite complete it. I believe I came in at 29 films, with most of them being new to me and all of them were feature films. I'm already off to a late start, since Friday, I had planned to see Buried after work which just didn't work out, due to long work day and nasty headaches.

But on day 2, I finally went to my first horror movie of October. There were some questions as to whether Buried is horror. According to IMDB.com, it is not, but I couldn't imagine that any movie that is set in a coffin already buried in the earth wouldn't qualify for the October challenge. So, I drug Nate out to Buried today, when he actually was in the mood for a romantic comedy.

And I'm pleased I did. I was very curious about how this movie could even be made, but it worked and was quite an intense study of fear and claustrophobia. Buried was a very dark movie as the camera never strays from the interior of the buried coffin with the frightened Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) inside. There is absolutely no relief from the darkness or the confines of the pine box for the duration of the film and the experience was surprisingly unnerving.

Paul Conroy (Reynolds) discovers he is entombed after regaining consciousness after his convoy was attacked by insurgents in Iraq. It is not until his captor calls a cell phone, that was left in the coffin, that Paul discovers that he has a tool that might allow for his rescue. I cannot help but to be impressed at what the filmmakers did with such a simple premise and the limitations of the setting. Somehow, Buried manages to be engaging, have a definite narrative, maintain tension and even manages critique of the Iraq occupation.

Not a bad start to the Horror Movie Challenge and I now have no hesitation at calling Buried and horror movie. We will both be avoiding confined spaces for a while and I'm already not looking forward to returning to my basement dungeon of the laboratory on Monday.