Saturday, August 23, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
My hesitance in even discussing SAW is that I'm going to come off looking like a horror fan. Let me be quite clear: I'm a novice, and don't do horror movies in the same way that I don't do country music. There's quite a number of country-ish artists that appeal to me--Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Nickel Creek, Ryan Adams--but as a genre, I go for rock and roll. The same is true with horror: there are a few that I appreciate for any number of reasons--because of their pure camp (Friday the 13th), or their social commentary (the George Romero canon), or, in the case of SAW, for its terrifying moral clarity. But at the end of the day, I just don't like being scared all that much. But I guess there are worse things than being a horror fan. Like being a country music fan.
SAW was originally projected as a five-part saga, chronicling the exploits of Jigsaw, a killer whose state purpose was to make people appreciate life. Their sins, much like Dante, revisit them purgatively, as they must enact their sins in order to reclaim that which their sins were corrupting: their lives. It's a fairly simple equation: if one overcomes one's sin through suffering, one lives; should one fear to overcome one's sin, one dies. All I can speak to is the original, viewed last night with The Hamster, without respect to the gore of the subsequent films; the original leaves 90% of things to your imagination. Any violence done is (gratefully) off-camera, though the evidence (entrails or blood) might spring up from the edges of the screen.
Part of my hang-up with the horror genre in general is with the exploitation of fear, or rather, fear's exploitation of us. In Fear: A History of a Political Idea , we find that fear of others, or rather fear of the unknown has driven much of modern political history, causing us to live with a sense of mistrust, and to lean on social collectives with all kinds of suspicion. As such, fear, rather than being a natural gift that guides out of danger, becomes a weapon which is then used against us.
But herein lies the gift of SAW: the fear that Jigsaw generates in his pawns is not an arbitrary fear, but an opportunity for them to excise the very source of their own daily, boring deaths by degrees. In dramatic gestures, voyeuers who poach on other people's lives for a living are made to come to terms with the abuse of their eyes; philanderers are confronted with the manner in which their feet lead them to other beds. And just like Dante, the mode of purgation fits the sin: that which leads them to their death is that very thing that must be undone for their ultimate salvation. In other words, fear is turned against itself. Rather than being an instrument that keeps people afraid to live, a greater fear is unleashed on the people: that they might never live again. And in that, the petty fears which keep people in self-destructive habits and lives are broken.
This greater fear is, in the end, a kind of love: a love of one's life, a love of that which is greater than the slow demons that decay us from the inside out. So, count me in for at least one sequel. Four electrified chains out of five.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
1:01—the first breaths of “ch ch ch ah ah ah” are heard
2:15—there’s no way she’s really playing that guitar. And seriously, what camp is this that they’re able to know so many crap songs in the key of E?
3:38—niiiiiice shorts. Did you borrow those from your girlfriend?
4:26—I’ve never been walked in on like that. That I know of. At least not by someone obviously holding a butcher knife.
5:20—Watch that glass! I’m working here!
7:09—I will own one of those external frame backpacks one day. I swear it.
8:34—I dig Annie’s freckles. And those innocent eyes. And the orange plaid.
9:14—Careful where those hands go, Enos.
11:32—What the h is an “American original”? Blue jeans? The funky chicken?
12:40—KEVIN BACON makes his first appearance. His buddy makes an obvious pass at his girlfriend.
13:54—I kid you not, there’s a picture from when I was 4 years old of my Dad looking just like Steve Christie.
15:25—Just kidding: this is really Jim Yates’ older brother.
18:56—This guy cannot be killed off soon enough. But I must wait until 40:23. Oh, cruel fate.
19:31—The part that freaks me out the most about this movie is the first-person viewpoint. I don’t like that my view is the view of the killer—too much self-identification with evil.
20:41—Annie, your naivite will be your undoing. I still dig your freckles.
24:01—DO NOT LOOK AT THE TOP OF THIS SHOT. You will put your eye out.
25:47—Once I put a dead snake in a counselor’s pillow. It was awesome. He screamed like he was at an N’SYNC concert.
30:10—Ralph, if I find you in the pantry again, I will punch you in your stupid hat.
35:06—Kevin Bacon puts the sensitive guy ploy into action. Listen carefully to your girlfriend’s crazy dream about blood. It may help you in about four minutes.
37:01—I’ve always wished that True Love Waits would realize the genius morality tales that these films are.
37:25—I could go for a bag of chips. I must press on.
38:29—Apparently, guitar playing has improved in twenty years.
42:27—Check that: DARE can join forces with True Love Waits. It’d be awesome. Sex AND drugs equals really bad things.
46:48—This one has the worst death in the film. By. Far. Again, sex kills.
47:32—Raincoats plus undergarments. Who writes this stuff?
48:57—Two dollars says this is a cross-dresser. I’m putting money on it here and now.
51:43—I really should be doing reading for the dissertation. My girlfriend will kill me for this. But not as much as someone is about to get it. I won’t say who.
56:34—Those are some serious floodlights, for the annual Midnight Madness archery tournament, I suppose.
1:00:28—No one has died for nearly 12 minutes. Except the phone line!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1:01:22—Note to self: cars DO NOT work when they’re wet.
1:01:33—Note to self: do not make prophetic utterances about ‘tomorrow’ when all your friends have been axed that night.
1:03:48—Note to self: if you see someone holding a butcher knife, walk away.
1:06:22—Why check on a generator that does nothing, at 4 in the morning? It can wait.
1:07:22—Heart rate picks up noticeably. I have trouble breathing.
1:08:14—I really need a glass of water. I am stuck to the couch.
1:09:47—Note to self: decaf coffee attracts bears and serial killers.
1:10:55—I take it back—Bill had a worse death than anyone. Can you imagine an arrow in the eye? At two camps, I taught archery to kids, and I have to say that I was more terrified doing that than pretty much anything I’ve done since. Uncoordinated nine-year-olds with deadly weapons is Friday the 13th, pt. 14.
1:13:58—You’re going to run like hell, that’s what you’re going to do!
1:18:13—why is Jason bald before he died?
1:19:45—I’m also betting that whoever wrote the screenplay for The Shining watched this.
1:20:21—Where has this arsenal been all movie?
1:21:36—CAT FIGHT! You did not steal my man!!
1:25:05—Again, The Shining. And where’d she get the freaking machete? Some cooking show is going to wake up tomorrow PISSED.
1:27:18—I love that Pam has now been attacked with a paddle, a frying pan, and a ball of yarn.
1:27:55—SLOW MO. Correction: THIS is the most gruesome death. And cue the Bruce Banner music.
1:29:58—Wait for it…wait for it…
1:30:17—I knew it was coming, and it still makes me stop breathing.
1:31:40—“Ma’am, we didn’t find any boy.” Yet. I love it--accuracy, with a hint of an overture, that this... story... is.... not... over...... yet.....
Here are my Top 13 Favorite Things about FRIDAY THE 13TH. Enjoy.
13. The Cook: The first victim, I mean, counselor, we see in the film is the Camp Crystal Lake’s cook. Only she never exactly makes it there to do any cooking. Relying on the kindness of strangers to take you places never ends up well in the movies. Fortunately, she gives us an object lesson in the evils of hitchhiking – never get in a jeep that’s being driven by Pamela Voorhees.
12. The Drunken Prophet: Crazy Ralph runs around town telling anyone who will listen about the horrible evils that will befall those who try to reopen Camp Crystal Lake. If you’re new to movies, know this: the crazy guy always ends up being right.
11. The Archery Range: Not only is the archery range the scene of the most ridiculous prank in the movie – shooting an arrow near a female counselor to scare her (yeah, nothing could have gone wrong with that one). It’s also the scene of some of the most creative killin’. Who knew you needed flood lights on an archery range anyway?
10. The Sound Effect: Used minimally in this first installment, the now iconic “Ch-ch-ch-ch” sound effect is extremely ch-ch-chilling here. When I’m camping and it’s pitch black outside, if you creep up behind me and make that noise, get ready to get punched in the nose. ‘Cause I’ll be freaked out. Later in the series, of course, it would be horribly overused. From IMDB: Composer Harry Manfredini has said that contrary to popular belief, the famous "chi chi chi, ha ha ha" in the film's score is actually "ki ki ki, ma ma ma". It is meant to resemble Jason's voice saying "kill kill kill, mom mom mom" in Mrs. Voorhees' mind. It was inspired by the scene in which Mrs. Voorhees seems to be possessed by Jason and chants "Get her mommy....kill her!" Manfredini created the effect by speaking the syllables "Ki" and "Ma" into a microphone running through a delay effect.
9. P.O.V.: No, Ft13th isn’t the first movie to use the slasher POV shot. But it does use it extremely effectively, and everyone else would copy it from here.
8. Kevin Bacon: This movie is totally useful if you’re ever playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and somebody asks you to connect him with Kelly McGillis. ‘Cause she was in GRAND ISLE with Ron Millkie, who played Officer Dorf in FRIDAY THE 13TH. See? Only two steps. Plus, you know that you’re the special one when you’re the only one with a profile picture on the movie’s IMDB page. And he gets an arrow through the neck. From beneath. Awesome.
7. The Final Girl: The tradition of The Final Girl (or TFG as I’ll call her from now on) is cemented in Ft13th lore. In just about any horror franchise, really. But there is, almost always, one girl, and one girl only, that makes it out at the end. Alice Hardy, played by Adrienne King, is TFG in this one. It’s her that fights Pamela Voorhees to the death and it’s her that’s attacked by Jason at the end. Usually, TFG is the virtuous one – the one that stays away from the vices that ultimately kill the others. Alice, however, indulges just a little. She’s one of the baddest TFGs in memory. Too bad she’s a wuss. Which leads us to:
6. Self-Defense: The culmination of Ft13th is the uber-chick fight between Alice and Pamela Voorhees in which Alice masters the art of knocking someone down, assuming that person is dead, leaving the scene, and then having to do it all over again. And again. And again. It’s actually absurd how many times it happens. It a good thing that it was in the script for Alice to win, or Pamela would have destroyed her. Yes, she was one of the baddest TFGs, but she was also a weenie. (Fun fact: Sally Field auditioned for the role of Alice – she would have been way tougher)
5. Tom Savini: The special effects wizard that has created the grim and gore in Romero’s zombie flicks did the same for this one. The effects here were cutting edge at the time and used, get this, no CGI! It’s a miracle. The aforementioned arrow through the neck of Kevin Bacon is the highlight. Another fun fact from IMDB: The scene with the snake was not in the script and was an idea from Savini after an experience in his own cabin during filming. The snake in the scene was real, including its on-screen death. PETA would not be happy.
4. The Budget: Ft13th cost about $500 grand to make. It grossed $37 million. Amazing what a fresh idea (which it was at the time) can do. Hollywood? Paying attention?
3. The Villain: Betsy Palmer is Pamela Voorhees, mother of Jason, subject of Drew Barrymore’s death at the beginning of SCREAM. She looks so innocent when she shows up at the camp, so willing to help poor Alice. Then she turns the evil on and she’s downright freaky. I started to wonder at one point what she had been doing in the intervening years between the first killings and the reopening of Camp CL. With that sweater and those slacks… who knows? You can bet it was frightening, whatever it was. Realtor, maybe?
2. The End: It’s impossible to view the movie now without knowing that the end is coming. You wait, and wait, and wait for Jason to come flying up out of the water and pull Alice in. But, man, to watch that scene with a clean slate again would be utterly awesome. It is so unexpected, so anti-slasher movie, so completely surprising, that I wish it were possible to get scared like that again. That is what sets this film apart from the competition. The ending. Hands down the best part of the movie – maybe the best part of any slasher movie ever.
1. The Legacy: I almost didn’t include the mask in the above picture, because there is no mask in this one. The mask doesn’t show up until much later, but it’s such an icon of the industry that it’s hard to get around it. It is the single most recognizable image in horror movies. More than Michael Myers’ mask, more than Freddy’s fingers. The Jason hockey mask is legendary. The legacy of this movie is so pervasive that only one other slasher movie trumps it – HALLOWEEN (and I’m not sure it counts as a slasher movie, but whatever). This movie made a whole generation of us afraid of the dark. And the woods at night? I still have trouble going there.
FRIDAY THE 13TH gets 5 Crazy Ralphs out of 5.
Welcome Camp Crystal Lake Counselors!
I am very excited to announce the re-opening of Camp Crystal Lake - where, as a former counselor once said right before taking a hatchet to the nasal cavity in the ladies' bath-house, "THE RAIN TURNS TO BLOOD AND WASHES AWAY IN LITTLE RIVERS." As many of you may already know, Camp Crystal Lake has seen its fair share of homicides in the past. However, we refuse to let a little thing like machete weilding revenge-freaks stop us from having our best summer yet. We here at Camp Crystal Lake are certain that Summer 1981 will be a summer you will never forget.... if you survive it.
Speaking of survival, after reviewing the 95 minute tape of the 1980 Camp Crystal Lake summer camping season, camp leadership has diligently put together a few notes that should be of interest and assistance to you as you join our team. In this newsletter, you will receive information on how to survive the summer with all your limbs attached, as well as a small checklist of supplies necessary for your job and enjoyment here at Camp Crystal Lake.
However, before we go any further, let's all extend a warm Camp Blood welcome to our new resident Prophet of Doom: Ralph! Past leadership tried to keep this wonderful and insightful man away from Camp Crystal Lake. Not anymore. New leadership decided to hire Ralph as a full-time staff member. Ralph's primary job is to ride around camp grounds on his little blue bicycle and keep all the kiddies nervous. You'll probably hear Ralph spouting out apocalyptic murmurings about "death wishes" and "curses." We think this is Ralph's charm. As everyone knows, kids love a good ghost story. We figured: why save the ghost stories for the campfire? Besides, with Ralph convincing the kids that "death wishes" loom around every corner, we think discipline and order will be somewhat simpler than in times past. Here's to Ralph - the original Camp Blood doomsayer!
Alright, let's talk about keeping the blood in your esophagus as opposed to pouring down the front of your shirt. Again, after reviewing the 1980 camp tapes, we noted a few sure-fire activities that will get you killed (and a few that will not) at Camp Crystal Lake. You may find this list rather surprising.
-- Making out/heavy petting on the second floor of the lodge, even/especially after singing gospel songs with an acoustic guitar, will get you killed.
-- Hitchhiking on outer camp roads will get you killed. (Unless you hitch a ride with Enos. However, Enos will definitely grab your ass to help you in the truck - so, you know, make your choice.)
-- Checking the generator alone at night will get you killed.
-- Mucking about the archery range in your pajamas at night in the rain will get you killed. Which is sad: Brenda, the archer, despite her side-of-the-head ponytail, was smoking.
-- Putting on a kettle of water for decaf coffee brewed from cheap flavor crystals will not get you killed, but it will probably get killed bodies thrown in the window behind you.
-- Screwing in a cabin, surprisingly, will not get you killed.
-- Floating on your bunk in the afterglow of screwing in a cabin will get you killed.
-- Badly impersonating starlets of yesteryear's cinematic screens in the ladies' bathhouse in your underwear after screwing in a cabin will get you killed.
--Smoking "grass" and playing strip Monopoly in the counselors lounge at night will not get you killed. It also will not get you screwed in a cabin later.
--Wearing khaki pants that do not accentuate your positives in anyway possible, along with a hideous silk-ish blouse, will definitely get you chased by a killer. As it should.
--Walking in the woods alone at night will get you killed.
--Swimming in the lake near the boat dock will not get you killed (at least, not this year), but taking a boat out into the middle of the lake will probably awaken dead people stuck on the bottom. We prefer to leave them there.
--Trying to kill the girl in the bad khakis and silkish blouse will definitely get you killed - even though she seems nice enough.
Following this simple list of hints should keep you alive for at least the first 24 hours at camp. If you survive a full day, you will be given a raise, any leftover grass from dead co-counselors, and a chance to rewrite the Staying Alive At Camp Blood Field Manual.
As promised, here is a checklist of things that you will need to bring to Camp Crystal Lake:
-- personal toiletries
-- inappropriately short shorts (for the men - WTF?)
-- a dimebag of grass
-- extra internal organs, just in case a few of yours get spilled
-- swim gear
Camp Crystal Lake will provide Monopoly boards and a plethora of randomly strewn about machetes. We keep the machetes around because Alice found a black snake in her cabin last year. Also, while the machetes will probably be used at some point to kill you, they also may save your life. Official Camp policy states: if you think you are being killed, you probably are; so, behead first, ask questions later.
Alright, we hope this has been helpful for each of you. Like we said, bad weather, ominous prophecies of doom, and the occassional homicide will not stop us from having a great year at Camp Crystal Lake. Feel free to call with questions, but not concerns. And, again, on behalf of all of us here at Camp Crystal Lake - welcome to camp!
-Steve Christy, Jr. / Sr. Camp Director
Monday, August 11, 2008
Saturday, August 9, 2008
The hamster very capably covered this one already. He dissected the relationship of American horror movie remakes to their Japanese/Korean ancestors, and he did it with style. He so rightly skewered American movie audiences and their short attention spans. So why do this movie again if the hamster did such a good job? Because, quite frankly, this movie is so good that it deserves two reviews.
I’m gonna try to do this with minimal spoilers, but that may be difficult, so be forewarned.
The movie opens with a young girl in an asylum/sanitarium. Not an unfamiliar way to open a horror movie. The next thing we see is the young girl and her sister coming home to their father and stepmother, who live in an idyllic lakeside country house. The two sisters spend a few quiet minutes on the dock, dangling their feet in the lake, enjoying some peace and quiet. Then they are summoned back inside the house. The peace and quiet is over.
What follows is two hours of life for the girls under their wicked stepmother and impotent father. We get beatings, children locked in wardrobes (sort of a horrible anti-Narnia experience), rotting fish in the refrigerator, apparent epileptic seizures, ghosts, and much, much more. To get in to the plot in any kind of depth would do a disservice to anyone who would watch this. Could you describe the plot of MEMENTO without giving much away? How about THE SIXTH SENSE? It’s the same thing with A TALE OF TWO SISTERS.
A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is a film that wraps itself in mystery and horror – but not the sort of horror that we, as American audiences, have come to understand. This is not the horror of boogeymen or slashers or gigantic monsters. The things that go bump in the night in this movie are the truly horrible things. This is the stuff of generational secrets, of buried terror that is rightly straining to the surface.
Ji-woon Kim dexterously directs A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. He weaves this story in such a way that there is, on one hand, constant doubt in the viewer’s mind as to what it real and what isn’t, while on the other hand, he so rigidly and lovingly establishes the story that, upon multiple viewings, the entire picture becomes clear. Also, a quick note about the young lead, Su-jeong Lim, who plays a multi-faceted Soo-mi. She carries the film on her back as well as any actress (or actor, for that matter) that I’ve yet seen. This is the kind of work that garners awards.
This is a movie that requires much from the viewer. It’s as much work as it is entertainment. There are no pat explanations for what transpires, only more and more questions. I found myself wishing that I was watching with another person so I could discuss it in depth. It creates an experience that continues long after the movie’s over. It’s a film that needs more than just two hours of your life. I felt the same way after this as I did in college as an English major after reading Stephen Crane or John Irving. Fortunately then, I was able to sit around a classroom and discuss for hours on end (and get college credit – what a racket).
I don’t have any trouble saying that this is the best horror film that I’ve seen in a long time. For me, it ranks with the greats – THE OMEN, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE WICKER MAN. It’s a difficult movie to do justice in a short review – it deserves a thesis. It certainly deserves a watch. I recommend you do so. A TALE OF TWO SISTERS gets five bloody floorboards out of five.
After over twenty posts, it's high time that an appearance is made by one of my favorite actors: John Cusack, and discussion of the "Cusack canon". Now, let me limit for a moment what I consider the "Cusack canon", and then perhaps this rating will make a bit more sense. John Cusack has had a long and illustrious career in Hollywood, appearing in over 50 films, but has never had that one giant, breakthrough role to catapult him into the upper echelons of Hollywood. Instead, he's made his career on being the outsider character, the unlikely hero who the average guy can resonate with. People admire a Christian Bale or, from Cusack's own generation, a Charlie Sheen or Emilio Estevez, but they like John Cusack.
And so, when I speak of the "Cusack Canon", I'm talking about the Cusack movies in which Cusack is Cusack, the ones where he gives soliloquies to the camera and pontificates about the meaning of life. There have been four of these films: Say Anything, Better off Dead, High Fidelity, and Gross Pointe Blank. Not to take anything away from Being John Malkovich or Bullets over Broadway, which are great turns by him in their own right, but these are outside the pale. These films have four criterion that unite them: 1) the turn of pontification to the camera, 2) a scene where he talks philosophically to his lady love in elemental duress (rain, snow, gunfire), 3) the girl is just out reach, and 4) an exorcism of some high-school version of himself must be performed before attaining said girl. They're variations on the same character, but at the same time, they're the characters that I feel the most identification with, as in these roles, Cusack blurs the line between actor and audience and imparts direct wisdom, invoking true response from the watcher.
In re-watching High Fidelity last night with Sarah, who had never seen it before, I was struck with how narcissistic his character really is. It's one of his darker characters--still funny, still one people can relate to--but dark, morose. He's not the hero you can feel sorry for: his romantic problems are self-induced, and he's prone to double-standards for himself and his girlfriend. But his honesty and deep probing of the grey matter of life make for an engaging character. Unlike the hapless Lloyd Dobbler, who can't seem to catch a break, Rob Gordon makes his own breaks and decisively choses which breaks to not take; Lloyd is ready to climb the mountain for his lady, while Rob is done with mountain climbing and ready to mine through the thing instead of climbing over it.
Sarah remarked in watching it that the film doesn't follow the normal rising action-resolution-denouement of film: there are multiple crises for Rob, with multiple dance steps, as Rob moves from marginally committed to fully committed. But this is part of the genius of this movie--it's about a real relationship, which never move on the Meg Ryan pattern of A to B to C. The relational world is one of a constantly shifting alphabet, where A is sometimes followed by L, and preceded by V; sometimes, you're stuck at C for months, only to zing forward to Q and quickly back to M. Some people live whole lives at R. And thus, I could totally relate to this back and forth, stutter step version of a relationship, in which the guy is trying to get his act together, only to be sabotaged by his own worst version of himself.
The scene in the bar where he talks to Laura about the difference between a fantasy relationship and a real one is worth the whole film; it may be his best scene in any of the four films. I'm not at all a fan of the girlfriend in this one--Minnie Driver in Gross Pointe is by far the best--but the insertion of Jack Black as the CD snob sidekick is more than enough to boot this one into the #3 slot of the 4. For a time, I had it last, but in re-evaluation, the philosophical musings and Jack Black's shenanigans move it ahead of Better off Dead, which is good, but not good enough for #3.
Four used Clash records out of five.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
I am breaking ground here at THitPB in two ways. 1) We have never before reviewed a movie this old (1964); and 2) this is our first spaghetti western. If you don't know what a spaghetti western is, let me drop some knowledge on you (don't worry, it doesn't hurt).
In the '60s and '70s, a sort of sub-genre of western was developed. Italian filmmakers would shoot their westerns in Spain (which resembled the American west) with Spanish casts and crews - save a marketable American or two, thus alloweing for massive cost savings. And the food was better. Out of these spaghetti westerns, we got a few icons: Sergio Leone, Ennio Morricone, and, of course, Clint Eastwood. This film is the first of the Eastwood "Fistful of" trilogy and is followed by FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.
The film is stark. The landscapes are barren. The characters are simple. There's not a lot of ambiguity here. No major moral conundrums to be solved. It's simply about a man (Eastwood) who rides into a corrupt town, plays all the bad guys against each other, and rides off into the sunset at the end. Oh, and everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) dies (except Clint). Seriously, there's a way higher body count in this than in any Freddy/Jason/Adam Sandler movie out there. And it's Clint doin' most of the killin' (every verb ends in "in'" in these movies).
It's really completely great. You can see the beginnings of the man who would be Bill Munny in UNFORGIVEN. You can see every western cliche on parade, from exploding piles of gunpowder to the art of the quick draw to the handsome stranger to the hangman's noose. It's a bit slow in places, but it's a western. I've got the two other parts of the trilogy in my Blockbuster queue, so I'll report on those in the future, but I highly recommend the first. I give FISTFUL OF DOLLARS three and a half exploding barrels out of five.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
WHAT THE HAMSTER LOOKS FOR IN A FILM:
1) REACTION - i like big reactions to art. i like to be blown away. even more important than my own opinion of the message or the piece itself, i value huge internal reactions. the films that really stand out to me are the ones that force themselves inside and set off some kind of explosion - be that joyous or disturbing or inspiring.
2) MEMORABLE - give me mashpotatoes and gravy, people - give me films that stick to the ribs for days on end. i love films that make me squirm or laugh or gag in my mouth three days after the viewing. if i'm done dealing with a film by the next day, it was never worth my time in the first place.
3) STORY - if there ain't no story, there ain't no reason to stay here. stories trump gimmicks. good stories trump our definitions of genres and categories of art.
4) TALENT - i love films that allow all parts - cast and crew and writers and directors - to shine in their roles. i'm inspired and moved by people doing what they do best.
that's them right there: the four characteristics of a five star rated film. and these characteristics apply to all films - campy numbers from the 80s, asian horror remakes, high brow artsy cinema, summer blockbusters, the evolution of jason vorhees. all films pass by this panel of four judges to receive my awarded level of approval.
and so, with all that said, i believe FUNNY GAMES meets the highest caliber of film. i mean, wow and double-wow. this film demands enormous reactions from its audience. for the life of me, i cannot imagine anyone enjoying FUNNY GAMES, which may be the filmmaker's point. this film is not meant to entertain audiences; it's purpose is to preach harsh messages to people who are no longer easily moved. brutally and intensely sadistic, the violence in this film achieves a level of psychological torment that makes the physicality of eli roth's films look like the dr. phil show. on par with the great social commentary of george romero's zombie flicks, FUNNY GAMES tackles issues of our modern society such as abundance of wealth, loss of morality, fascination with violent exhibitionism in media, sexual deviance, lack of faith in God, and the inability to separate reality from entertainment. and while many films today strive to make these points or preach these messages, many get caught up in the mixing of metaphors, overcomplication of artsiness, or gratuitous torture-scenes. FUNNY GAMES cuts the crap that gets in the way. FUNNY GAMES addresses these issues through a simple story that never feels forced or relenting. offering no room to breathe, every message is painfully large and overally graphic. the images and sounds of this film promise to ball up in the pit of your stomach for weeks on end.
the performances in this film are beyond superb. i have loved tim roth since the first time i saw PULP FICTION. this guy is one of the most underrated names in hollywood, and his performance in this is just brilliant. likewise, naomi watts may have finally won me over. i've never been too keen on the naomi watts. i've always felt that she overacts or pushes the point a bit too hard. however, in this film, the overacting pays off. roth and watts' combined ability to communicate and hold high levels of intensity throughout the entirety of this film is a testament to their genius. where are the awards, i ask you? this film belongs to its two stars.
the reality of this film is magnified by exceptionally long camera shots. there are moments, because of the length of single shots, when this film feels more like live theatre than cinema. perhaps this is one reason the messages of the film ring solidly as opposed to skipping like a broken record. i have never encountered a film that felt this real, that felt so much like pure perverse voyeurism. it's one thing to create a violent message; it's a completely other thing to invite the audience into its delivery. i think this is the place where many audience members will bail out. it's hard to feel that intimate with another person's terror. however, it is that proximity to the action and to the fear that sets this psychological thriller apart from its predecessors. FUNNY GAMES plays in a league all its own, one that it alone created and that will be emulated in many films to come.
there is nothing beautiful, redeeming or hopeful about this film; yet, i actually walked away feeling like there was something very important about FUNNY GAMES - or, at least, about my own viewing of it. do not consider this review a recommendation. in fact, i do NOT recommend this film (except maybe to john barber). however, i must give FUNNY GAMES 5 busted eggs out of 5. this film achieved everything it set out to achieve... and maybe a little more.
Monday, August 4, 2008
hearing that i had cancer was not actually the hard part. no, the hard part came in the voices of people that visited the hospital, that called to see how i was doing, that checked if i needed anything. there's not much a cancer patient can do strapped to IV poles in a hospital bed. i relied on God and family and friends to keep life in my bones, but i also leaned heavily on entertainment to keep me sane. and people knew this. so when people came and asked, kevin, are there any books you'd like to read or films you'd like to see, i gained the impression that what they were really saying was, cause, you know, you don't have many books or films left, so you may want to consider the significance of the last ones.
for the record: i watched TERMINATOR 2 about thirty-seven times during my 15 months on chemotherapy and always felt pretty good about arnold's farewell thumbs-up melting down into the lava of my last cinematic experience on earth. thirty-seven times over, i felt good about it.
this is the life-experience i brought last night to my viewing of STRANGER THAN FICTION. since i'm, like, the last person on earth to see this film, i will skip over a review and jump straight into my own interaction with it.
first let me say that, being a person who felt the weight of impending death at a young age, i have a special interest in art that explores our perceptions of death. this may be one reason i love horror films - all these people engaging death on various levels is very interesting to me. maybe a bit depraved, but interesting nonetheless. then, over to the side, there is this small camp of films, usually quite artsy numbers, about some poor bloke living a saltine cracker existence met by some twist of fate or romance that turns his life into instant tiramasu. for the most part, i hate these films. nine times out of ten they are pop-psychology bull-ka-ka-scented carpe diem dispensers written by the same drips who think really smart pigs equal instant hilarity in family films. or, even worse to me, in an effort to achieve highbrow art status, the questions and emotions of mortality become utterly lost in a barage of colors and sounds and stimulation which manipulate viewers into thinking they have travelled somewhere great and profound when they have really only experienced a whole bunch of business.
STRANGER THAN FICTION stands out as the one in ten exception. i loved this film. i freaking loved this film. and i think the thing i loved about this film (besides the fact that emma thompson is so dedgum amazing) is the simplicity of the story. here's this boring IRS guy, harold crick, perfectly played by will farrell, who has no idea his life is boring. he thinks he's living. he thinks he's got it under control. and then a voice enters his life. and this voice brings other voices into his life. and harold needs these voices as much as these voices need him.
i love that we never see harold crick doing huge things to change his life. there's no musical montage that shows harold crick in some melodramatic mid-life crisis that we're suppose to feel good about because there's good music behind it. instead, we see harold make small choices and take small chances that are reciprocated by voices that need harold. and we see harold resolve to the life written for him. harold addresses the things in his life that he can change; the things he cannot change, he meets with couragous acceptance. this is how life is well-lived. life does not work in musical feel-good montages: it works in small things adding up to big things. it works in simplicity. it works in knowing what is in our power, what is not, and living with the correct energy in both fields. and while that may sound boring - it's the truth. it's what the narrator calls us to behind the scenes. it's what all those little bald headed kids in all those musically-montaged telethon-mercials had to learn in real life at a very young age. it's that tiny little piece of wristwatch that can save our lives.
STRANGER THAN FICTION earned itself a spot in my top ten favorite films of all time. i give this one 5 queen latifahs out of 5.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Every week, Best Buy runs some ridiculous DVD specials, which usually involve a Ben Stiller movie, something with "Super" in the title, and any number of B-grade slasher flicks. I flip through the Sunday ads, usually when I'm in Shreveport, so that Dad can stay up on his DVD purchases. This is how this exchange usually goes:
"Hey Dad, did you see the Best Buy ads? Anything you can't live without?"
"Nah, didn't really see anything that great in there."
(to myself) "I am so buying five of these this week."
This is to say, simply, that my dad and I have different tastes in movies. Occasionally, they coincide, though for different reasons, but mostly, our common taste rest on any number of action flicks and the Mad Max trilogy. This past week, as I began this ritual, I came across a title that I hadn't seen in years, and had to have: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. For five dollars, I took home a movie that I couldn't watch in the theater at the time of its release, and is totally excellent.
George Carlin's role is lesser than I remember it being, and the princesses were relative mutes, but Bill and Ted were great. And by great, I mean, as goofy as southern California kids could be while racing through time in time to finish their history reports.
I won't recount all of the moments of this film: we can name them by heart--So-crates, Mr. The Kid, Bill's Oedipal complex, the scene where Joan of Ark takes over the aerobics class in the mall. My personal favorite moment is the actual history report where the various figures talk about the glories of San Diemas--seriously, I got a little choked up when Bill and Ted chest bumped across the stage.
I want to briefly focus on one moment in the film, to ask why Keanu Reeves went to Hollywood and Alex Winter disappeared. This movie was the captstone for Winter; Reeves went on to do the Matrix films and, inexplicably, two different movies opposite Sandra Bullock. Speaking of disappearing...but I digress. At the end of the movie, when Rufus brings back the princesses, saving them from the clutches of the royal ugly dudes, who winds up with the girl from Better off Dead? Keanu Reeves. Who winds up with the no-name actress? Alex Winter.
A sign of things to come that Keanu winds up with the girl who shared a ski adventure with John Cusack? I think so. Chalk this logic up to my affinity for the everyman antics of Cusack, or maybe the fact that Winter's next project was the box-office bomb Freaked, while Reeves' picks after Bill and Ted were Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. I'll stick with the Cusack magic.
To be sure, it's lost a step with time, and the acting's not that great. But what dude hasn't wanted rock and roll dreams, to believe that if he doesn't play rock and roll as best he can, the future will be utter chaos? Three and a half Ziggy Piggy bowls out of five.
Friday, August 1, 2008
THE FIVE POINTS OF FAMILY COMEDY (with apologies to John Calvin)
1. Pigs are funny.
2. Women are smarter than men.
3. Fathers are incapable of doing anything right.
4. Parents have unlimited vacation time.
5. Seriously, pigs are funny (especially if they're smart pigs).
Let me start by saying that I didn't go looking for this one. Sam had his annual birthday sleepover last weekend, and he wanted a movie to watch (which is fine by me, because if you push enough popcorn and Sprite in front of ten nine-year-olds, they'll get reasonably quiet for an hour and a half). So we were in Blockbuster debating which fine feature film to get.
A parental aside: you always have to be careful which movies you rent when other people's kids are coming over. You never know when they'll have some rule about not watching perfectly appropriate things - after all, we don't want a repeat of Sam's fifth birthday ("No, Mr. Barber I don't want my kindergartner watching a chainsaw movie." Whiner.)
Anyway, so COLLEGE ROAD TRIP is rated G, which is a rare thing these days. And it puts me above reproach. Unless the parents have taste.
COLLEGE ROAD TRIP faithfully follows all five of the above rules in the context of this plot: Martin Lawrence is an over-protective father who wants his daughter to go to Northwestern for college. Raven-Symone has her sights set on Georgetown Law. So dad and daughter take a trip across America to check out both schools. Along the way, there are many hilarious hijinks. Oh, and I forgot to tell this part - Raven's brother, a precocious little genius who has a pig (also a genius) for a pet, stow away. Oh yeah, and the pig beats the precocious genius at chess. And Donny Osmond is there.
Is it horrible? No. Is it offensive? No. Although, I do object to the father-as-idiot archetype that's so pervasive. I don't object because I'm not an idiot - certainly I am. But I know many fathers who are not idiots. Maybe a movie about one of them once in awhile might not be so bad, eh?
The crime of movies like this one is one of banality. Oh, I harbored no anticipation that there would be anything new or fresh here. I guess I'm just a little spoiled after seeing WALL-E. Family movies don't have to be awful. They really don't. They can be decent. Indeed, no one is asking for every family film to be a Pixar gem. But a little freshness wouldn't hurt. Maybe I'm being the "things were better when I was a kid guy," but they were! Films like THE GOONIES, FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, and ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN were unique. Now, for a family movie to be really good, it has to come from a great book (HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE RINGS, NARNIA, etc). So the author does all of the heavy lifting. The studios, when asked for something original, give us COLLEGE ROAD TRIP.
Here's the encouraging part. WALL-E has made just over $200 million bucks worldwide. COLLEGE ROAD TRIP made $46 mil. So there's a silver lining. People aren't as stupid as we think. Except me - I paid to rent this one.
CRT gets one and a half Osmond twins out of five. Rant over.