Wednesday, October 15, 2008

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL or HOW HENRY FONDA DOUBTS

This past weekend, I went to the Baylor University library and checked out an exercise in cinematic discipline: Twelve Angry Men. It'd been a few years since I'd seen it, but seeing as Sarah did her major project last Spring on the death penalty in Texas, I thought that she might be interested in seeing another generation's exploration of justice and due process.

The whole of the film, minus three minutes, takes place in the confines of the jury room, with full-blown character development, conflict, tension, and redemption happening in a single room over an hour and a half. The film is littered with the A-list of the 1950s: Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Jack Klugman, E. G. Marshall...with Henry Fonda as the fly in the ointment spoiling an otherwise open and closed murder case.


As the film unfolds, Fonda is no advocate against the death penalty, nor is he opposed to sending a guilty man to the electric chair. Rather, he recognizes that the deliberation of life and death is a serious task, and one that must start from the place of the benefit of the doubt. This is perhaps the most refreshing part of the movie, that Fonda has no axe to grind or ideology to defend, but rather the pursuit of the truth, or rather, the illumination of the not-truth: Fonda's concern is to allow doubt to do its de-centering work, and push a quick verdict off its pedestal.

Fonda's mantra throughout the entire movie, "But it's possible!", offering an alternate explanation to seemingly ironclad testimony: maybe the witness didn't lie outright, but rather made strong conjecture. Maybe the noises were inaudible; maybe the lights weren't as bright and our memory not as strong.

And maybe that's okay.

The life of faith works much the same way. In the words of Frederich Beuchner, "If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me." It is the space created by doubt which allows for idols to be shattered, pushing us towards lives of deep dependence, in a slow--but consistent--crawl towards life. If innocence is pushed for too quickly, what we find is not the truth; if innocence is sought too slowly, we grow tired and will settle for any truth at all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MY GRANDMA IS MORE FEROCIOUS THAN MY DOG - AND SHE BITES HARDER, TOO



much more than feeling afraid during horror films, i love to feel tense. over time, i have found the films that exhaust me, that tie me up in knots and clench me tight enough to produce a diamond, far outweigh films that simply nauseate or creep me out. it's just a proven hamsterian fact. and for this reason, and this reason alone, i loved QUARANTINE.

allow me to digress in my review of QUARANTINE to discuss another film for a moment. the original ALIEN is one of my all-time favorite films, sitting right up there in my top ten. ALIEN is also in my top three favorite horror films, even though it is technically considered sci-fi. the thing i love most about ALIEN is the way it starts slowly, even innocently, and then suddenly thrusts into a maddening intensity that never lets up for a single second. even after dozens of ALIEN viewings, i still jump and squeal and clench up my butt cheeks something fiercely musical.

QUARANTINE reminded me of ALIEN in this regard. the tension both films create for their viewers stems from a constant, itching promise that something - who knows what - is lurking around the next corner, and it wants to destroy somebody. the actors know it's there; we know it's there; the music and the movement and the camera work let us know that it's there; nevertheless, nobody knows when it's coming or what it will look like or what it will do when it jumps onto the screen. this causes the characters to move slowly, to tiptoe and peek around each bend. likewise, it caused me to fetally curl up, grip my arm rest, and shield my eyes.

and that right there, my friends, is what i love in a good horror film.

QUARANTINE, in my opinion, can boast three cinematic glories:

one is the ALIEN-like intensity i've already mentioned.

a second is the story. also like ALIEN, the story here is simple. authorities lock a group of people, including a two person news team, in a residential building with zero information concerning the nature or duration of the lock-down. as the pieces begin to fall into place, we learn, along with the characters, that some ridiculously fast-spreading disease has exploded among the resident's of this apartment building, turning its victims into vicious, animalistic cannibals - sorta like romero's zombies on speed. i will not reveal the disease here, but i will say this: it's a totally boss and believable concept for a contagion plot. also like ALIEN, the tension of the film revolves around entrapment in small environments (a space ship and an apartment building) while being hunted by nearly indestructible predators (mommy alien and, well, mommy).

lastly, QUARANTINE's production is pure genius. shot entirely on handheld camera by a lead character, the film's narrative is told in first person and real time. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT tried to do something similar a decade ago. more recently, george romero gave first person film narration a shot with his piss-poor 2008 release, DIARY OF THE DEAD. both films failed miserably at creating the remotest level of tension, let alone offering real scares to completely unconvinced audiences. this is where QUARANTINE trumps it's predecessors. whereas BLAIR WITCH only made me feel car sick in the theatre, QUARANTINE made me feel car sick and scared witless. whereas romero's DIARY melodramatically resembled mtv's the real world via to-the-camera confessionals, QUARANTINE remains relentlessly taut between brief, panicked journalistic updates and the coming onslaught of cannibalistic granny creatures. also, and i cannot for the life of me figure out how they did this, some camera shots in QUARANTINE go for at least ten minutes. i've rarely seen single camera shots last this long while containing this much constant, vicious action. absolutely brilliant.

so, for my overall verdict, i'm scoring QUARANTINE in two categories. i give the theatre experience of QUARANTINE 5 ferocious grannies out of 5. there is no way QUARANTINE could work half as effectively on dvd - even a really boss dvd system. this is must-must-must see in the theatre. however, i give QUARANTINE, as a film, 4 gnawed esophaguses out of 5. as much as i loved viewing the film in the theatre, i am not sure this is something i could return to repeatedly. QUARANTINE works better as a unique and refreshing cinematic experience than as a top shelf flick.

with that said, i'm considering seeing it again in the theatre. it's just that fun.

The Friday the 13th Movie That's Not a Friday the 13th Movie


Here's the deal. Take away the first couple of minutes (which is a recap of Part II), and the silliness of the final minute or so, and this isn't a Friday the 13th movie. There is no Jason mythology. There is no Camp Crystal Lake. There is a kinda deformed guy killing people. It's really like they had a script for a generic horror movie, bookended it with footage of Part II, and called it a Jason movie. This movie existed for one reason, and one reason only. To do 3-D effects. Part III was (like all Part IIIs in the 80s) filmed in 3-D. In this case, it means lots of eyeballs popping out at the audience, and a random yo-yo. Lame. At least Jaws 3-D had the freaking shark coming out of the screen. Yes there are some scenes at the end where the lumbering Jason's arms are flailing toward the screen, but it's about as scary as the opening credits of the movie - which are Superman-style 3-D text that look totally out of place in a Friday the 13th movie.

Can you tell I don't like this movie?

There is one a crazy Ralph wanna-be. He's got an eye (which is supposed to be Paul's, I guess). And he's sleeping in the middle of the street.

There are two stoners, who wear no shoes and die lame deaths. (I'm glad that you wouldn't actually fry like a catfish if you were pushed up against a fusebox)

There are three bikers who serve no purpose, other than jacking up the body count and stealing the gas from the van so that Final Girl would run out at the end (although, to be fair, it's nice to see an actual reason why the car wouldn't run, rather than the usual).

The one contribution this movie makes is the hockey mask. The hockey mask, which was introduced strictly as a plot device, somehow survived and became the icon of the series. Here, it exists only so that he can pull it off and show his face to the Final Girl (you can't dramatically show your face to the girl that you assaulted two years ago if you don't have something on your face to dramatically remove).

Anyway, the mythology picks back up in Part IV... And, we get Corey Feldman! So we got that going for us.

One crappy Pamela Voorhees jumping out of the water out of 5.

Monday, October 13, 2008

STAYING ALIVE AT CAMP BLOOD NEWSLETTER vol. 3






These rules especially apply to anyone nekkid, showering, screwing, or generally still alive at Camp Blood. But especially for the nekkid people. This guy can spot a shower scene an entire lake away. However, after reviewing the security tapes, we're not complaining.

Honestly, here's the crap that's throwing us off from this past Summer at Camp Blood:

- Shelly. Who invited that kid?
- The punk rockers. WTF? This is the country. This is redneck land, not some backstreet British Sex-Pistols club.
- Chris - the final girl. How you gonna knock a 7 foot 300 pound already-dead serial killer in the back of the head with a rotten two-by-four and then run off? Chris, you give white people in horror films a very bad name! Did you learn nothing from Ginny in part 2? We gave you that tape for a reason! Kick in the jimmy, then run. Kick in the jimmy, then run. And run until you find the killer's dead mother's baby blue sweater. We told you this, Chris. Now you've set white girls back in horror films for at least a decade. Filth. And after all that Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigorney Weaver have done for you, and you go acting like that running and falling white trick in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE! shame.
- When did Camp Blood get a barn? Is that an Extreme Home Makeover addition? Was Ty Pennington here? Did he use a sledge hammer with his shirt off? Did anyone get any pictures? I'm just asking.

Alright, alright. Enough already. Listen, Camp Blood is on hiatus for the time being. Like I said, go skate somewhere or something. Wear a lot of hair spray and eye liner - boys included. It's 1982, people. Live it up with all your clothes on somewhere. Camp Blood will reopen soon enough as a party ground for wayward drunken teenagers. At least Crispin Glover has scheduled a dance performance here soon enough. We have him - and him alone - to look forward to. He's the best thing we got going until part 6.

- Ginny

Saturday, October 4, 2008

PROM NIGHT II - The Paycheck


It's time we discussed on THinPB a phenomenon that's all too common these days in Hollywood. DeNiro is famous for it. Al Pacino has been a victim quite a lot these past few years, and somehow, Jack Nicholson has been immune. I speak, of course, of that happening known as The Paycheck Movie. The Paycheck Movie was made famous by DeNiro and his less than Oscar-worthy performances in dreck like THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE. It's the reason we get movies like RIGHTEOUS KILL (with both DeNiro and Pacino, incidentally) which scored a massive 36 on Metacritic. It's the phenomenon in which a real-deal, bankable actor or actress allows him or herself to appear in a film that has zero chance of being anything other than putrid. Perhaps the conversation goes like this:

Name-brand actor: "I want to make an artistic film about carpet salesmen in 18th Century France - I've got a great script. It's got Best Picture written all over it!"

Studio: "Of course, of course, we'll get right on it. We will gladly make your film. Of course, in return, you will make three films of our choosing - starting with a Michael Bay vehicle."

Name-brand actor: "Ok devil, I will make this deal with you. But if I hear the words Jerry and Bruckheimer, I'm out of here..."

Studio: "Umm... that brings us to film #2."

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I know that Idris Elba is not DeNiro or Pacino, but he is a burgeoning star. He was brilliant in "The Wire" and he's had some fantastic performances in good movies like 28 WEEKS LATER, THE GOSPEL, and AMERICAN GANGSTER. That's why it's particularly depressing that he made PROM NIGHT, a remake of a 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Neilson vehicle that's become somewhat of a minor cult classic. This updated version, suffice it to say, is no classic at all. Take out the middle three letters from that word, and you;ll have a clue as to the value of this film.

A quick synopsis: Brittany Snow plays Donna Keppel, a high school student who, three years previous, watched her mother murdered in front of her by her (Donna's) former teacher, who had become obsessed with her. The teacher (played in complete monotone by Jonathan Schaech) gets sent away for life to a loony bin. Meanwhile, Donna overcomes her issues and becomes a somewhat normal teenager. When she, her friends, and their dates all get ready for prom night, Donna's adoptive parents encourage the activity. Little do they know that crazy teacher guy has escaped and is coming for Donna. Enter Idris Elba, as the detective who put CTG away in the first place, and now puts his life on the line to save Donna. Typical teenie-horror antics ensue, the body count grows to about 10, and Idris saves Donna. The end.

So a message to Idris Elba: Come on, Idris. You are awesome. They talked about you being the first black James Bond, for cryin' out loud! You were in the greatest TV show of all time (and your character had the best name - Stringer Bell). You have had a string of great films. STOP DOING PROM NIGHT! Please. I understand that it's a paycheck - and probably a very nice one. I understand that you need to feed your family. But come on. PROM NIGHT? Come on. For the love of your fans, come on. You're better than this. Brittany Snow isn't, but you are.
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By the way, the movie was stupid. Don't watch it. 1 and a half paychecks out of 5.