Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Julia's Eyes

2010, Guillem Morales -- download

Hey I did a pretty good job keeping up on posting near the actual date of the watching, but then the horrors of life got in the way. So pretend you read this sometime around the date you see it posted under.

Interestingly enough, and unintended, this movie stars the lead actress of the last movie we watched,  The Orphanage, Belén Rueda.  Guillermo del Toro again produced so I am not surprised, if he was happy with her first performance.  And yet again we have a Hitchcockian (sounds rude out loud) thriller with horror elements.

Julia and Sara are identical twins with the same degenerative eye disease.  The movie introduces us to Sara, blind and panicking over an attacker who seems to climb out of the shadows, even to us with eyes. The most disturbing part is that he seems to be scaring her into hanging herself. At the moment of her death, Julia stumbles and cries out, to lead her husband in a rush to Sara's house. Surprisingly, Julia seems to take the death OK but for a desire to investigate why Sara committed suicide. She also doesn't seem to mind staying in Sara's house.

There are two levels to the horror in this movie, one being the man or creature who seems to come out of the shadows to assault Julia and the other is the speedy descent into blindness that Julia suffers. Both contribute to each other but almost live seperately. Taken unto itself, the man with who suffers from not being seen, a more powerful version of what I thought I had in high school, is definitely the most scary element of the movie.  But it is the classic sense of suspense in this movie that is the real horror. I hate to repeat myself but it was very very classic Hitchcock in style leading us from one tense scene to another. And like Hitchcock, just because we get a reveal of one element, it doesn't mean we are done with the suspense and scares.

Julia's Eyes is a wonderful bit of film making but I fear for it's place in the current age. How many people will find the slow suspense with few real scares? It's more about what can happen or what is going to happen than the actual happening? I admit to preferring a bit of the supernatural in my horror, as it lets my imagination run to its own conclusions, but from a film making perspective I do prefer this.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The Orphanage

2007, Juan Antonio Bayona  -- download

It must be obvious by now that I am a fan of Guillermo del Toro and the fact he produced this movie automatically gave me a positive view towards it.  Based on the conversations I have heard from him, his views on what makes a horror movie are much better defined than mine. I wish I had attended the "conversation with..." at the Bell Lightbox, for I could have added more knowledge to that repertoire. Still, this movie gives you so much insight into what horror can be, suspenseful, scary and beautiful all at the same time, much like his own work The Devil's Backbone.

Laura was brought up in an orphanage and was adopted in her adolescence.  Years later she returns to the structure to re-open it as a home for her husband & son, a son also adopted and HIV positive, and as a home for other ill children they will take care of.  Laura is not aware the place changed much after she left and is now haunted by events, memories and at least one vengeful ghost.

Simon is a sensitive child who has two imaginary friends and once he comes to this once-orphanage, starts to gather a few more. These ones are not so nice to Laura.  Maybe because Simon is also a little grumpy due to a faux-social worker revealing his adopted nature & illness to him.  And suddenly Simon disappears, not to be found again.

Waiting is the heart of suspense and the jump at the end is not always necessary.  Laura is searching for Simon and we are not sure he will be found.  She is also digging up the unfortunate past of her orphanage and learning some things that are the heart of horror, deaths and torture and things that make ghosts of children.  Artfully, the movie is not completely about the scare but more about what could be going on and how it affects Laura.  Still that little kid in the sack cloth mask is fucking creepy.

3 short paragraphs: Frailty

2001, Bill Paxton -- netflix

As I was watching Frailty, Bill Paxton's debut directorial effort, I was struck with a nagging sense of deja vu. I'm convinced I've seen it before even though none of the film's story came back to me as it played on (and searching my own vast records of movie reviews, I find no past write up for it). However, the rhythms of the film were entirely predictable, as such there were no surprises.

The plot of the film finds a devoutly religious father (Paxton) believing he's been visited by an angel, who has given him god's will to punish -- and the vision to see -- evil. As he carries out his mission (essentially murdering people whom he believes to be demons), he brings along his two boys, the younger believing fully in his father's quest, the eldest conflicted at best and vehemently against his father's crusade at worst, yet powerless to do anything about it. It's a solid idea for drama, however it's framed in Lifetime movie of the week style as a grown up version of one of the boys (played by Matthiew McConaughey) arrives at an FBI agents office (Powers Booth) and reports that his brother is the "God's Hands killer", a serial murderer on the most wanted list.

It's not the only Lifetime MOTW aspect to the film. Either Paxton shot on video, or it was presented by Netflix in full frame, but in either case it looked cheap. This is also not to mention that Paxton shot the entire feature in soft focus which made it look and feel cheesy. Plus, well, it has Powers Booth. I came out of Frailty (perhaps for a second time) liking the concept of the film but disliking the film for its style and execution.

3 short paragraphs: Get Him To The Greek

2010, Nicholas Stoller

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of my favourite comedies of the past decade, a movie I can watch over and over and not get enough of. It's both a break-up comedy and a romantic comedy, but foremost it's just terrifically funny with great characters (main and supporting) and the setting of Hawaii at its most idyllic. Jason Segel, as writer and star, proved that being an Apatow disciple did not mean being an Apatow clone. From the same director, Get Him To The Greek, two years later, followed two of Sarah Marshall's minor characters into their own film, but in those two years, Greek's leads, Jonah Hill and Russell Brand had kind of proven themselves to be rather one-note actors. Brand's cheeky public persona had become rather annoying, while Hill's droll sarcasm had become tedious. My impulse was, without Segel's involvement, that it wouldn't prove as affecting or hilarious as Sarah Marshall, and could possibly drag the former film down with its mediocrity.

Turns out I had no reason to be concerned. Get Him To The Greek isn't as charming as its predecessor (where Sarah Marshall had a rather large and rich cast of characters filling it out, Greek is largely a two-pony show, which makes its 2 hours seem a little long) but it's still got plenty of charm. Hill is given a much richer character to divest himself in than he ever has before, providing a glimpse of his acting talent displayed later in Moneyball, while Brand's Aldus Snow is the absolute perfect character for him, a larger-than-life rock star constantly at war with his own ego. In the opening sequence alone, which is a mock entertainment tabloid report on the massive failure of Snow's latest record, the film packs in comedy from all angles. There's sharp jabs at pop music (subtle and overt), outrageous sight gags, clever turns of phrase, musical comedy, and more, in equal parts emanating from Stoller's direction and editing and from the performances, Brand specifically.

Upon our introduction to Jonah Hill's Aaron Green at his job as a record company intern, we're also introduced to the film's secret weapon: Sean Coombs. Yes, P. Diddy is this film's secret weapon. He provides a fearless and hilarious performance as the record industry mogul who's a master of the Jedi mind fuck. At a meeting Hill suggests a tenth anniversary show for Aldus Snow's best-selling Greek Theatre performance, and is tasked with getting the drug-addled party monster from London to New York for a Today Show performance, and then from NY to LA for the big show. Naturally the reluctant buddy comedy/road movie formula ensues in grandiose what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong fashion. The film is about 20 minutes too long, but it wins in both comedy and character, providing real depth to Brand's Aldus Snow, making him a surprisingly sympathetic adversary to Hill's in-over-his-head fanboy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days of Horror: We Are the Night

2010, Dennis Gansel -- download

It is a shame that vampire movies are not so much horror movies anymore. It has been a few decades since they were truly scary.  Oh there are a few examples of them as still monsters but unfortunately Anne Rice may have ruined by turning them into romantic doe eyed hipsters. And Twilight's sparkly high schoolers are at an entirely different level of disappointment. I am of the opinion that if they are not going to be ravaging fiends and more socialites then the beast should at least be present.

This movie makes no qualms about what they are, beginning with a plane (in flight) of slaughtered passengers and crew drawing to focus on a beautiful woman soaked in blood.  A trio of beautiful female vampires abandon the plane and jump into the airspace above Berlin. Each of them has a distinct look, the quirky looking pixie, the 30s (era if not age) vamp (excuse the pun) and the seasoned serious older one. Why is the older of the vampires always actually visibly older? As a vampire, couldn't she be physically 17 but actually hundreds of years older than the rest?

The trio set themselves up in a Berlin nightclub and a roguish waif Lena is introduced, drawing the attention of the leader Louise via visions of loves lost and maybe reborn?  This is the movie I would have loved twenty years ago when I was completely enthralled with the creatures of the night.  It is about immortality and freedom and savage beastly instincts. Louise has obviously been around for a long time and has a desire to love someone, again. Lena is her chosen one and is drawn into the all female coven of vampires. Nora is the pixie and still obviously having fun with the ever lasting lifestyle but annoyed by her uncontrollable urges. Charlotte, the serious one, is quiet and sensual and displays the sadness of being forever but forever apart.  There are no male vampires; the women have dispensed with them.

This is an adventure movie, an origin story and a love story. It strikes me as a first in an expected series as we have lots of setup but little resolution.  It is definitely a rock n roll vampire story in the classic vein of Lost Boys and Near Dark where the excitement and freedom is balanced between the horror and danger of the lifestyle.  I want to know more of this world and the histories of these women. Are there hidden male vampires? Can vampires really love each other? Do they actually experience reincarnation? What was Nora's story? Were humans mixed up in their world? I am struck that it feels like it could be part of a series of novels like the Nightwatch series.  Perhaps if the movie did well, by european standards, it will have another couple.

We disagree (slightly): Paul

2011, Greg Mottola

(click for David's take)

Unlike David who was expecting not to like this, I was quite ready and eager to enjoy this film based on the talent involved. Written by (and starring) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it's about a couple of British sci-fi geeks who venture across the pond to hit up comic con and do a Winnabego journey cross-country to hit up all the geek landmarks but are shanghaied by an alien, Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) on the run from the government who has kept him captive for the past 60 years.

I don't think there's a show or film that Pegg has had a hand in scripting that I haven't enjoyed, while director Greg Mottola was responsible for Superbad, which is top five in the best teen comedies of the aughts. Pegg and Frost have earned a lot of goodwill from their on-screen pairings in the past (from Spaced to Hot Fuzz), Rogen as an Apatow disciple also has solid cache, while Jason Bateman will perpetually be coasting off Arrested Development's genius. SNL veterans Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have turned in a handful of excellent comedic support roles over the years, not to mention Wiig's undeniable starring turn in Bridesmaids this year. This film is loaded.

Yet, I didn't love it like I had hoped.

Pegg and Frost load the script down with nerdy tropes and geek references, but they're kind of stale, obvious, as if it were a script for a big-budget Big Bang Theory movie. The films geek laughs just didn't work for me. What did work were the character moments, the crisscrossing interactions between Pegg, Frost, Wiig and Paul were all tremendously well developed. Wiig's engagement with Paul over religion was a high point of the film, while Paul's bonding moment with Frost was genuinely touching. This isn't an ignorant alien, but one who has studied both pop culture and human interaction. He may be crass, a little hot-tempered but he's a genius relationship counsellor. I was actually anticipating the little grey alien to be the film's weakness, considering how well-honed Pegg and Frost's bro-mance has become over the years, but it's Paul that is the heart and soul of the film.

The film's weakest aspect is Sigourney Weaver as the head of the agency chasing Paul. It's not the role but Weaver herself. Mercifully she is only given minimum screen time, but Weaver, despite being a wonderfully gifted dramatic actress, is entirely not built for comedy. In every comedic role I've ever seen her in (except maybe Ghostbusters where she's not exactly asked to be funny), it's like she's trying to hard to not be dramatic, and in turn is more hammy than funny in her performance.

The film is a giant homage to the 1980's style of adventure-sci-fi comedy of the Short Circuit and Goonies variety, and it stays true to both the style and rhythms of that generation of filmmaked. Though it came out this year, it feels like a lost film from childhood. It's a shame it's so blue, because it otherwise would be a great film for kids. In fact, I think because it is so blue, it's less appealing overall. There is purpose to the cursing (Wiig's lapsed Christianity provides the funniest example as she ignorantly strings random blue words together), but it's still not precisely necessary.

It's a cute, rather slight comedy, not bad, I just expected more.

3 short paragraphs: Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek, 2010 -- netflix

Just released in theatres this weekend is a sci-fi action film starring Justin Timberlake called In Time wherein the conceit is that all of humanity is given 25 years to live from birth and a biological clock to monitor one's time. Time is the currency and addition time can be earned but also must be spent. It's a clever concept with plenty of potential for social commentary, but it's also a little heavy handed. Never Let Me Go is also about people living on borrowed time but far more subtly so. In this alternate British society there is a breed of cloned individuals, called Donors, who are raised in orphanages with the express purpose of giving any body part or organ required of them once they reach maturity (this is not a spoiler but an integral element of the story early on).

This plot may seem somewhat familiar, as the Michael Bay film "The Island" used the same conceit, but rather than escaping and seeking freedom, Donors are raised and schooled to know that this is their existence and there is nothing more for them. It's rare for a Donor to live to 30, generally expiring after two, but sometimes three or four operations. These are second class-citizens, because they're not citizens at all. They're a different breed of cattle, walking and talking, but by and large society prefers not to think of them as people. They're things.

The film follows Ruth, Kathy and Tommy through three stages of their life, first as pre-teens in a boarding school-like institution, following the ritual of their daily lives and their deepening connection with one another. The next stage finds them at the cottages, a shared house with other Donors located outside of a small English town, Ruth and Tommy quite engaged with one another, but Kathy and Tommy's connection from childhood still plaguing them. The third act reunites the trio years after they've been estranged from one another. Tommy and Ruth are both multiple donors at this stage, while Kathy's been spending her time as Carer (essentially compassionate care to the Donors, seeing them through their final operations). Ruth fosters Kathy and Tommy's connection and facilitates the couple's search for the mythical deferral. Based of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and masterfully adapted by Alex Garland (the Beach, 28 Days Later), director Mark Romanek gets all the details right in developing the society, the characters and their relationships. It's an intriguing and beautiful film, but also depressing as hell.

3 short paragraphs: Moneyball

2011, Bennett Miller -- theatre

I'm not a "sports" guy. I've become a bit of a hockey and tennis fan since meeting my wife, but by and large I don't care much about professional sports (I've always been more of an "and Leisure" kind of guy). I can appreciate the games and the exceptional plays from the highlight reel but I don't spend too much time thinking about it. I'm sure some people say the same about movies, and tv, and comics, and other things I do spend a lot of time thinking about. Of the professional sports, I would have to say that baseball is my least favourite to watch (next to soccer). It's just boring. The last baseball game I attended, I lasted four innings before I ran out of jokes and puns on the players names and lost complete interest in the men standing out on the field. Emphasis on standing. There's a lot of standing in baseball.

Moneyball is a baseball movie, and not just baseball, but statistics too, which is the main reason why I was so hesitant to see it. With Brad Pitt in the cast I knew there must be something to it (he hasn't really made a dumb film choice since the Troy, and he's generally a bankable star for both the mainstream an indie crowds) but it certainly wasn't a priority watch. What was finally the deciding factor was the Aaron Sorkin's participation as on the screenplay. Certainly the guy who made a Facebook movie not only worth watching, but one of the best films of 2010 could make a baseball and math flick palatable.

And he does. Though Capote's Bennett Miller provides solid direction and editing as the foundation, the script shines with Sorkin's wit, and well drawn characters. Sure, they're based on real people, and it's all based on a true story, but it takes a bit of mythologizing to turn it from a niche story into something any film goer can care about. Both Pitt and Jonah Hill put in excellent turns, with Pitt's Billy Beane still living in the shadows of his failed pro-ball career, ready to try anything to make a difference. As a duo they act as mentors to one another, as Hill's Peter Brand guides Pitt through his stats-based drafting method and conversely Pitt teaches Hill or two about managing a team and dealing with players. The real gift of the film is in Beane's daughter, played by 12-year-old Kerris Dorsey, who provides Pitt real stakes for succeeding, as well as an enviable father-daughter relationship. It's a charming movie, that generates genuine suspense and excitement, and presents a season of baseball in about 2 hours, which is about right.

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days of Horror: L'arcano Incantatore

1996, Pupi Avati (prolific italian director) -- cinema

This italian horror movie was my birthday gift to myself, having learned about the Guillermo del Toro presentation last month during a viewing of Mimic that he hosted.  I know nothing about the director and only know a few cheesy 60s-70s Italian horror movies. But with Guillermo recommending and hosting the night, I was in.  I have to say that I only slightly got what I expected but it was still worth the night, especially being my first visit to the Bell TIFF Lightbox, quite the venue for those that love film.

Pupi Avati is a renowned Italian director studied by critics and film students. I admit, I am not of that ilk as I don't see movies from the construction point of view but from the enjoyment factor. Oh, I am more of a film snob than the average multiplex watcher but I still see movies for their story, acting and cinematography and rarely study anything to do with their screenwriters, directors or their place in the whole art & business.  Also, Avati is not widely released on DVD in North America and his films tend to stick to the small film fest circuit, so I am not surprised I never heard of him. In his horror films he tends to go for a classic or gothic style with lots of religious overtones.

The movie is set in the 18th century and is about a disgraced seminary student who is sent to be a secretary for a similarly disgraced monsignor.  There are immediate overtones at how making an enemy of the church is not a good thing to do but there are still powerful people you can work with, and these people are most likely dedicated to The Dark One.  So the young man travels into the countryside to live in an old tower filled to the brim with books and an ill monsignor whose face no one has seen. The last secretary died of unknown reasons and most people thought him to be also in alignment with evil.

This movie is all about immersing you in that era, when everyone took superstition as fact and religion overshadowed everything, including science.  The sound style of the movie has constant loud nature sounds that spook and unnerve the young man, as well as us.  This is more about wanting us to be wrapped in his fear than the fear we have being 21st century inhabitants.  Most people would find the atmosphere and slow pace of the movie sleep inducing but I was enthralled, especially by the set of the old tower. It was not about creaks and groans as what else would anyone know in that time and it was definitely not about what could be in the dark, a dark that was ever present without much internal lighting.  The real fear comes from the man's real encounters with Evil, religious evil of a supernatural focus.

Guillermo is very very ecstatic about this movie as he is obviously a man of very esoteric tastes.  He loved the onion like layers of this movie with delight in the religious tones, the layers of lies in the story and of course, the gothic elements. His talk following the movie does lend one to enjoying elements not found in the first viewing so I am very glad I made this one of my list for the month.  But I am still astounded that I had not just seen a movie from the 60s or 70s but one made in 1996.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The Eclipse

2009, Conor McPherson -- download

At this point in the viewing project, I am done justifying whether the movie is "horror or not horror".  You cannot depend on descriptions or IMDB defining.  So, considering we only have a few more days of this, I am not going to worry it. Some will be horror, some will not but all will have something horror related.

 The Eclipse is a ghost story inserted into a short story (from "Table Manners" by Billy Roche) set in Ireland.  Ciarán Hinds plays Michael, a widower in the small Irish town of Cobh, who helps run a yearly literary festival.  He is a somewhat morose man, mourning the loss of his wife as he raises his kids and deals with his aging father in law. Between that and his school shop day job, he chauffeurs around writers and attends the readings and seminars.  This is how he gets mixed up with Aidan Quinn and Iben Hjejle, the latter who wrote stories about a ghost she encountered in her youth.

What I loved about this movie was that it was not an American movie set in Ireland nor a movie meant to attract people to the tourism of Ireland.  It's real Ireland, which along with its quaint old houses and bleak seaside weather, has its fair share of mundanity.  I love how just up the road from the ancient coastal cottage was a house built in the 70s, where they parked Hjejle's Irena during the book event.  Quinn's Nicholas might have been balking at the red wine selection but was still able to get a bottle of Cristal to waste.  Hinds' house has incredible internal wooden shutters instead of blinds but his kid still has to run to the gas bar 24hr convenience store for milk.  It was all so matter of fact.

The ghost story comes in Michael being haunted by the memory of his wife as well as the banshee foretelling the coming death of his father in law.  For someone not familiar with Irish myth, it might slip by but the ghostly visions of a man not yet dead as well as the unnerving screams were one thing to us.  Of course that was confirmed when a revenant attempts to take Michael down below, the sign of a man who has committed suicide. That his wife comes to comfort him in this time made this less a scary story and more a beautiful but the scares were there.  And palpable.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The Divide / Faces in the Crowd

2011, Xavier Gens -- cinema
2011, Julien Magnat -- download

The number one question that has come up during the last 25 days or so has been, "What do you consider horror?"  I thought it would be an easy answer as you can just go to the horror section of a DVD store and based on plot description and box art, there you go -- horror. But ignoring the one decision I made to slice out the torture porn sub-genre of horror (i admit, it's horror, i just didn't want to watch it) I ran into too many "well, it's not quite horror" examples in my viewing.  It's a cop-out to answer, "I don't know but I know it when I see it," so I will answer with a phrase that the movie has to be about the protagonist fearing something and the movie being about the viewer sharing that fearful experience.

Scary things can happen in any movie but if it's not the point of the movie, then it's a thriller. A crime-procedural can have a scary criminal but the movie focuses on the catching of the criminal from the point of view of the cops, it's not a horror. Hell, a movie can have a monster in it but if it's about how the monster is hunted down by the military then it's an adventure movie.  There is even the problem that sometimes all the tropes of the horror movie can be present but it's a comedy. I have to give myself a lot of leeway in this viewing project.  It's my choice.  It's my opinion.

The Divide is a po... actually, it's an apocalyptic thriller (the apocalyptic events HAPPENING right then, so no post-anything) with horror elements.  As the movie begins, we see a mushroom cloud erupt in the distance and suddenly our viewer is dragged away to join a stream of bodies running down the stairs. The building is shaking, people are screaming and panic is heavy. Some of the stream breaks off and continues to the basement and through a heavy metal door. The door is slammed and we have our cast. The apocalypse happens around them with no details provided to us or them.

The movie was mostly improv-ed by the cast and director roughly following an ever evolving script. They knew the gist of the story, all being trapped in a bunker during an event that is destroying the city above them.  But the progression of the story was determined day to day by the people involved. There are horror elements, such as a brief introduction of an outside military force, but for the most part the movie focused on the tense interaction between the characters. Days pass and alliances are made and broken, radiation begins to take it's toll and food becomes a valuable commodity. If anything, the horror was once again seeing how much people are willing to do to each other when things go to shit. Unfortunately, other than the novel way of producing the movie, nothing really new was developed here.

Faces in the Crowd stars Milla Jovovitch as a woman who suffers an injury at the hands of the local "whack-job", a serial killer called the Tear Jerker (i think, it's not really important) and ends up with "face blindness", a condition where she can no longer recognize faces, even those she has known all her life. If she looks away from a person, and then back again, it's as if seeing them for the first time again. The setup is definitely something that could have been horror and some of the scenes of her initial reactions are definitive in their horror structure. But at it's heart, this is a straight forward cop-hunting-serial-killer movie with all the love interests, double-blinds and resolution. Very straight to DVD.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Grave Encounters

2011, The Vicious Brothers -- download

I have said this many times (not here but in earshot of everybody I know) but I cannot stand these ghost hunting shows all over the reality TV stations. The idea that anything being produced, as reality, on TV is laughable to me. How the hell would someone produce a show that has a distinct chance of being completely boring? Thus I believe them to be nothing but fabricated and edited and produced within an inch of their existence.  Thusly, I have always had a fantasy of a movie where the ghost busters do one of these shows and actually encounter the violent, dangerous ghosts we see in all the movies.  And the ghosts kill them.  Yeah, not a nice fantasy.

Grave Encounters is that movie.  It's based on the found footage idea (Blair Witch Project, Troll Hunter) but does not state exactly where the footage was found. It's about a typical cast & crew of a ghost hunting show who are doing their 6th episode.  We are seeing all the footage that was taped, slightly edited for continuity and brevity.  The sources are the main camera man's work, a handy cam and a number of stationary cameras placed during the production.  Everything takes place in the typical abandoned closed-down asylum with the terrible reputation. Our crew is locked in over night to experience and record what haunts this place.

As expected things start out with a few jumps and scares and unexplained events. We see the combination of "to the audience" footage as well as the stuff that would normally be edited or cut, such as the reveal that their psychic is just an actor.  But as things escalated the movie took a fascinating turn -- the power of the asylum is not just with it's haunting but it's ability to change reality. No longer were they stuck inside this scary place till 6am rolled around; the group became trapped in an endless night where exit doors led to looped hallways, stairs ascended to concrete walls and basement tunnels went on for days. As things got less and less explainable and they began to encounter the more and more terrifying, I found myself wrapped up in their fear, as it was evident at all times. Even the lulls were full of that sick stomach feeling of not knowing what is next.  I cannot say I went as far as feeling scared myself but I definitely could feel the fear they were experiencing.

One by one the ghost hunters disappeared or were killed off by the entities and the asylum itself. When we finally end up with one remaining cast member, the host, with his dwindling battery life and all but gone food & water he is beyond fear having... cracked.  He is lost in the asylum's madness, which I guess that is what the asylum wanted all along. I was left wondering, what exactly did the caretaker find when he opened the doors that morning? And what did the producers think when they found literally days worth of footage to watch through.

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The Thing

2011, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. -- cinema

So, this was the prequel to the (1982 John Carpenter) remake of the 1951 The Thing From Another World, based on the 1938 short story Who Goes There from John W Campbell.  I love long histories. Before the movie came out the scuttlebutt changed from praising the choice of it being a prequel (explaining what leads to a helicopter chasing a husky dog) to it becoming more of a remake of the Carpenter film. But while lifting much inspiration from that movie, this was definitely a prequel in story as well as tone.

If you are unaware of the plot of this movie, then I commend you, you will enjoy this version much much more than most people who have seen the others.  This movie really does play for new viewers as the unexpected actions of the thing would be more of a scare if you weren't setup by familiar scenes. This is a monster movie through and through relying on being horrified by the creature, especially done well with the CGI but also with the props.  The dissection scene is particularly gruesome as we see the various biological factors of the monster, from insect to arthropod to tentacles and teeth. Alas it's been 20+ years of similar creatures in movies since so we don't see much to surprise us.

I always wondered what the monster's origin and motivations were. A bit is explored in a completely toss away act where we enter the spaceship in pursuit of the creature. I just had no idea why they felt they had to chase the thing down inside the spaceship. And we have no clue why it would return to that place if it had already frozen solid after leaving the ship. And the motivations are never even touched on, other than a biological imperative to recreate-procreate.  It is intelligent even if we ignore the intelligence it absorbs from the humans it mimics. The fact it never once communicates always has irritated the hell out of me. But doing so would lift it out of horror and into the realm of science fiction and I have done enough genre treading.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The Presence

2010, Tom Provost -- download

Why is it that a movie chooses to take something so beautiful, given another tone of music could be a tourism commercial for the north-west, and make is terrifying via the Hitchcockian music. A leisurely flyby up a lazy river takes us to lakes seemingly untouched by mankind and eventually to a house on an island.  It's an old old old house that must have been very expensive in it's day considering the tight bead board that made up the walls.  As we wander through the house we see a single tenant, a lone man standing strangely.... watching, staring, glooming. And then we meet Mira Sorvino, unaware of him as she goes about her day. She is comfortable in the house, it's oddities and loneliness is hers. The figure just watches her but she is almost completely unaware of him.

The arrival of Mira's boyfriend upsets the balance. Not only is the spooky watcher there but something else is. Can ghosts be haunted? Are the ghosts on different levels from other ghosts?  What allows one ghost interact with someone while another can just watch?  Why are some quiet while others are more malicious?  None of those questions are answered but they are fascinating none the less.  This is no mere ghost story as someone discovers a presence in their midst and reacts to it, but an exploration from the other side of things. It gives us a deeper look into the world of the other side but does little to help us understand it.

The movie does a brilliant job of exploring what an outside force can do to influence you from believing your place of respite and escape can turn into a place of fear and paranoia. I remember as a kid, staying in the country at the old house my great grandfather built. Most nights were beautiful all about the lack of electricity, darkness so thick you could wave at it in front of your face and a silence that permeated. But other nights, your imagination got hold of you and there were spirits in the wood just waiting for you take a wrong turn on the way to the outhouse. The movie does a brilliant job of introducing what can change our mind about what is in the darkness.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The Echo

2008, Yam Laranas (the original Echo as well as some other Filipino horrors) -- download

As I mentioned, Asian horror movies can be hit or miss.  It can be extremely atmospheric and explore aspects of horror we are familiar with, in new ways, or it can just do things that bore us. This one hits all the right notes, but it's connections to Asian styles are tenuous.  Given that it is the remake, by the same director at least, of the Filipino original I wonder if more of the stylistic choices were more drawn from American films than the first.

This is a ghost story, a straight forward haunting by the dead who suffered horribly at the hands of a loved one.  Bobby is fresh out of prison after a long haul for manslaughter. He has no place to go and no family, only the NY apartment left to him by his mother. This must be one of the few previous century tenements that has not been gentrified yet because the apartment is huge and man, is that place grotty. It's ghost story grotty with dust & scratches everywhere, cracked plaster and enough creaky doors & floor boards to satisfy ten ghost stories. Almost immediately Bobby begins to hear things, and occasionally see them, that cannot be there. Some people think he's nuts, some people are also experiencing it and others... well, some others have some unfortunate encounters with the ghosts.

The scares are played well in this movie with the sounds being the primary factor. Of course, there are the usual shapes flitting by in the background and loud bangs, but it's the other sounds attributed to the echoes of the lives the ghosts had, the scraping and yelling through the walls. It's an old building so it really uses the thin walls or ghost question to it's full advantage.  As things escalate things become a little more horrible; angry ghosts are angry at everyone. Sounds translate to visions which translate to contact.

What I liked about this movie is that it touched on the creation factor of the ghosts; people suffer horrible deaths every day but why is the world not filled with ghosts? Some factors tie them to their past life, and in this one it was the fact that the residents watched what happened to the family but did nothing about it. Bobby steps into the role of interference and allows them to resolve things.

Friday, October 21, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Outcast

2010, Colm McCarthy (a bunch of british TV) -- download

Last night we actually turned off a movie, the 2003 Australian zombie flick Undead. I have nothing against the comedy gore horror movies that I have seen come from Australia and New Zealand (Peter Jackson got his start in them) but they have to have something going for them for me to enjoy. This starts out silly, continues to get stupid and never actually reaches entertaining. We gave up after about 20 minutes and moved on.

We moved onto a monster movie from the UK that once again touches on a couple of genres. One thing we are getting from this whole viewing experience is the idea that horror is very subjective and so many movies that call themselves as much may be be weak on the horror or stronger on other themes. Outcast is a fantasy horror about a boy & his mother running from the boy's father. The escape has taken them to a council estate in Scotland where the accents were so thick some of them flabbergasted my Cape Breton roots. The father (James Nesbitt) gathers himself some magical favour and the assistance of a traveler clan and chases the pair down, despite the mother's powerful misdirection magic. Meanwhile a monster is stalking the estate killing people, we knowing it has something to do with the magic afoot but not exactly what.

This was a tale of celtic magic and mythos. We were amazed at how much we recognized in the plot elements as spells are cast in blood and tattoos, as well in the interactions between Nesbitt and the traveler factions. It became very apparent that these were not just the average gypsy style travelers of the british isles but descendants from faery and the whole tale was mixed up in the old blood. When it was revealed the boy was a troll and his father stalked him seeking to hang onto his own human skin via the sacrifice of blood relation, we were none too surprised. With the interwoven star-crossed love between lost girl and the boy of bad blood, it was a wonderful tale of magic and monsters.


2010, Quentin Dupieux - Netflix

The Netflix description for this film is as follows:
Quentin Dupieux directs this inventive twist on low-rent revenge flicks, which follows a car tire named Robert that rolls through the desert Southwest using its strange psychic powers to blow up birds, bunnies, human beings and more. But when Robert spies a gorgeous woman motoring down the highway, he decides to follow her and take a chance on love.
Given that description, I went into viewing it thinking it was going some exceptionally weird, stop-motion animated student project.  Turns out, it's plenty weird but it's quite a bit more straightforward than I had presupposed, and far less painful (moreover downright enjoyable) than it should conceivably have been.

Watching the opening credits, listing Canal + as one of its backers, and seeing Mr. Oizo contributed to the film's score (with Justice's Gaspar Augé), I realized this was that film I literally just heard about last week when GAK played excerpts of the soundtrack Exploding Head Movies episode 85 (a decidedly apt connection).  Also Quentin Dupieux = Mr. Oizo.

If you were plugged into the turn of the millennium electronica scene, you know who Mr. Oizo is, and even if you weren't you may recall his single "Flat Beat" or Dupieux's Henson-created muppet Flat Eric who appeared in multiple Levis commercials for a time.

Given this connection, suddenly Rubber made a lot more sense.  A film about a semi-aware, discarded tire who has telekinetic powers, and vengefully explodes anyone or anything that might slight it seems like it should be the concept for a music video.  I wondered how exactly it would extend to near-feature length (82 minutes), and Depieux does this through the device of meta commentary.

The film has an A-story -- that of the tire (named "Robert" in the credits) -- and a B-story about the audience, which is a group of around a dozen people observing "the film", but in person, standing afar in the desert, watching with binoculars the events that we see close up on camera.

While the observers, and their wrangler, The Accountant (Jack Plotnick), are aware that they're observing a story, only one character in "the film" is also aware that it is a film.  Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) advises the observers (and the audience directly) that this film is an homage to the concept of "no reason".  Why do the events of this film happen?  No reason.  They just do.  (This is actually the weakest part of the film, as it seems to be attempting heady, art-student film commentary, but it's actually kind of ridiculing that type of conversation, it's just hard to tell either way at first).

The intersection of "the film" and "the observers" keeps criss-crossing throughout the film, as the observers impact how both "the film" and the film turn out.  It's not completely logical, but it's not illogical either.  It won't be for everyone, but if you have the right mindset, it's really quite entertaining.

It's not a horror film, though it has very minor aspects of that (mainly this crude, vindictive little tire), and it's not an outright comedy, so don't expect either.  It reminded me in parts of Wall-E and Six String Samurai, but the meta context throws those comparisons off drastically.  Depieux has a gifted eye for composition and much of the delight of the film is the manner in which he frames and shoots the picture, giving this innocuous rubber tire life (and I can hazard a guess as to how exactly the tire was "animated", but it's still a bit of a marvel to behold nonetheless). Ultimately it's just bizarro cinema, fitting quite comfortably in with say Guy Maddin or David Lynch, though not nearly as quirky as the former or remotely dark as the latter.

If you've read this far, you'll know whether this appeals to you... for no reason at all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Triangle

2009, Christopher Smith (a few horror movies and Black Death, the most recent Sean Bean death scene) -- download

It's a slasher horror movie!  It's a time travel movie! It made my head hurt.  Yeah, I love time travel movies or movies about time loops or things that make me think about the ramifications of time travel.

So, we have a shell shocked young lady, Jess, get onboard a yacht owned by a friend. She along with a few more of his friends set off on (a 3 hour tour) a day trip off the coast of Florida.  OK, let me interrupt this plot description with a rant.  This is an Australian movie. Why is it set in Florida? Why are they trying so hard to make the movie an American movie? Because it's set in the Bermuda triangle? Maybe that was in the script but it's not in the movie as the only thing three sided in this movie is the yacht's name. You could surmise that the electrical storm that sweeps over them is their entrance into the Bermuda Triangle but its not like the movie leads you there. It annoys me that they people had to put on American accents and pretend that wasn't the Australian coast.  Oh well, off the coast of Florida they encounter a speedy storm that swamps their boat.

Soon after they float across the path of the grottiest cruise ship I have seen.  As they approach, sitting on the hull of their overturned yacht, they seen someone peering down from the rail.  But the person runs off without a word or a wave or a tossed rope.  Luckily the mooring steps are nearby and our castaways climb aboard.  An eerie exploration finds the ship completely empty but Jess starts seeing things out of the corner of her eyes and chases after.  It's not long before people start dying around her.

It's also not long before she bumps into what is really going on, running into another version of all her dead friends and then... of herself. The most chilling reveal is finding about a score of bodies on a foredeck, all the same girl all dead in a similar manner.  The latest version is crawling away and as the life leaves her body, Jess realizes that as the last person dies the swamped yacht arrives again. She was the face peering down on them upon arrival. This has all happened before and again and again and again.  She knows that the only way to get off will be to kill off everyone, so the yacht appears again, and she can wave it off.  At least THAT version will escape and she can get back to her son.

Do these things ever go as planned?  No, she is tossed overboard and ends washed up on the shoreline.  Very quickly she discovers it is indeed Florida and weirdly, on foot, makes her way back home.  The time loop starts before she even left.  This is where it gets even weirder and my head began to hurt for as the movie comes to a close we realize the shell shocked girl we saw earlier was actually from an earlier iteration of the loop having already gone through the storm and the cruise ship and the killings.

Loopity loop but where did it begin?  The paradox is so thick you can smell it as there does not appear to ever have been a beginning. But SOME version of Jess must have started the journey before looping back to kill off her earlier/later self.  I haven't wrapped my head around it yet but give me a few more days to scratch.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl

2009, Yoshihiro Nishimura -- download

What can be said about this genre of absurdist Japanese horror-comedy?  It is all about being gory, offensive, outrageous and over the top.  That the genre chooses some classic monster ideas this time is just the structure. But really, that is no more ludicrous than the sexploitation movies of America which attached any sub-genre to the chance to show lots of bared breasts and horny men.

The movie starts with the standard melodramatic monologue of a male character bemoaning the circumstances that got him into this situation as he leads a wounded girl along a seaside road. Immediately they are set upon by three stitched together girls of the gothic lolita variety and Vampire Girl reveals herself.  The short battle is beyond silly as she first strips the flesh from one frankie lolita with her teeth in a method that reminds one of peeling apples.  She makes similar work of the other two, stacking their clacking skulls in a pile. Offensive scene one?  Vampire Girl can generate weapons from her blood and with a long arm spike, impales one frankie in the manner that many Japanese horror anime do; and then twists and turns gleefully until the spike pops out the top of her head. Three dead frankenstein chicks and one blood soaked vampire chick.

The movie then flashes back to the story that led to this battle. It pulls out all the usual anime/manga plot elements of high school kids, the new transfer student, jealous girlfriends and over enthusiastic school clubs.  There is some amusing commentary in referencing the cutter club that have competitions of wrist slashing. Offensive scene two? The school ganguro girls, that are said to use makeup techniques that smack of blackface, are beyond the suggestion of it and are definitely trying to be black.  And in the most offensive stereotypes you can come up with.  The Japanese must be jaded about severed limbs and spurting blood every ten seconds to add this to the movie, just to shock us.

Vampire Girl wants pretty boy but his gothic lolita girlfriend denies her. Meanwhile the lolita's science teacher dad is doing Dr. Frankenstein experiments in the basement in kabuki costume (???) with his evil naughty nurse. I have no idea why the introduction of these characters looks like the combination of a music video and a game show, but it did.  Due to a crossing of the stars, vampire blood is found and introduced to Dr. Frank's experiments giving him his first animated flesh success.  And then his daughter dies in a confrontation with Vampire Girl. He is ecstatic as she gives him the perfect body to work on.

Yeah, you can guess where it goes. More deaths, gothic lolitas turned into frankie lolitas and battle scene after battle scene mixed with ridiculous melodrama of pretty boy being yearned after by his pretty exchange student vampire girlfriend. Its all intentional but I admit I had to pull most laughs out and just spent most of the time shaking my head.  They went all the way for the absurd just doing whatever took their fancy.  It was worth the watch to be introduced to  this genre but its not like I will be seeking out any more.

3 paragraphs on: The Brothers Solomon

2007, Bob Odenkirk -- Netflix

I knew The Brothers Solomon bombed at the box office but I wasn't aware how badly it did so until I read Nathin Rabin's My Year of Flops - Will Forte Edition - at the Onion AV Club last week.  Rabin cites the website BoxOfficeMojo  where it's revealed that the film took in barely over a million internationally.  I don't tend to give the mass movie going audience much credit but when a film bombs, and bombs as bad as this one did, there's usually a reason.  With The Brothers Solomon, the main reason for its lack of even moderate financial success was, as I see it, two fold...  Firstly, there's a lack of recognizable stars (in 2007, Lee Majors would have been the biggest name on roster, and he was in a coma the entire film).  Secondly, the stars of the film, SNL's Will Forte and Kristen Wiig, Arrested Development's Will Arnett, and its director Bob Odenkirk were hardly known, except by comedy geeks, and the film, promoted as a Ferrelly Brothers-style film to appeal as broadly to the masses had the comedy geeks turning up their noses.

But the thing is, it's pretty funny.  A lot funnier than I was expecting, and I think a lot more amusing than most audiences would expect, although it is a particular style of subtle absurdism that, when not played in a grandiose manner by a Jack Black, Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell, doesn't resonate strongly with the plebs.  Forte and Arnett play two brothers, raised and homeschooled in isolation, now living together in a big city trying to find love.  When their father slips into a coma, his last words something about having a grandchild, the brothers make it their goal to have themselves a baby so that their father will have something to live for.  Of course, this could have played out like a romantic comedy of sorts, with the brothers looking desperately for love, but it takes a different route when Kristen Wiig enters as the surrogate mother (and Chi McBride as her suffering boyfriend) and nurtures the socially inept Brothers into somewhat less socially inept adults.

It is a film constructed out of broad strokes but fills those strokes in with a good sense of character and heart but takes every advantage of exploiting the characters eccentricities for humour, and while I keep using the term "absurd", there's a logic to what these characters do, for these characters.  For example, the diaper changing sequence is a particular piece of absurd cinematic gold, but what occurs seem exactly like something these characters would do.  There's a well defined relationship between John and Dean, something missing from the comparable (and lesser, in my opinion) Step Brothers, (and I'm not certain of the timing but there's a tangible similarity between the Solomon brothers and the Venture Brothers).   Ultimately, when it was over, I kind of wanted to watch it again, perhaps to see if, once over my shock, whether it was as funny as it seems.

3 Short Paragraphs: Fall 2011 (pt 8)

And then there was a refreshing breeze in the stink that dominated the fall season, with Jonathan Demme directing the first episode of A Gifted Man.  Patrick Wilson, who we (we as in me) last saw in the astral projection horror movie of Insidious, is the asshole doctor. You know the House type, someone who is so brilliant that he is in high demand but has no bedside manner. Except he really isn't an asshole, he's just extremely driven and a little lifted from the everyman. And wealthy and wants for nothing. His (ghostly) ex-wife appears to him to remind him of what really is important.  The episode was just so skillfully crafted, but I doubt it could carry the momentum for an entire series unless they chose a slow, steady arc of his redemption.  I hesitate to watch any more episodes for fear of disappointment.

Last year, or earlier this year by download standards, the best thing I watched was the american adaptation of The Killing. It focused on the hard subject of how a family reacts when their teenage girl is murdered and also on the investigation around her death. It was that narrow focus that made the series, as it will in Homeland, about the return of an american POW and the investigation (by only one CIA agent, it seems) into whether he was "turned". Even ignoring the incredible cast, it's completely compelling where we know a little more each episode but are still completely unsure whether the full plot (against the US of A, not story plot) is there or not. Of course, I will watch Damian Lewis in anything but really, this show belongs to Claire Danes as the CIA agent who is not just obsessed with her investigation but actually may be suffering a psychotic break, if the pills her sister proscribes for her tell anything.

Finally, there is one I am not sure I will be able to watch again but damn I was thinking about it after seeing the first episode. Boss is the story of a Chicago mayor who is diagnosed with a disease that makes Alzheimer's pale in comparison.  It will be a long haul but it will strip all dignity from this powerful man. And then the episode proceeds to show us exactly how powerful & dark he is and how we might not actually mind seeing him destroyed. He is an evil evil politician but a ... necessary one? Kelsey Grammar plays the man cool, coldly intelligent but on the edge of losing it all. I might have to download in bursts as I feel that watching the man steadily will leave me unsteady.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The Walking Dead S2E1

I will preamble this with the fact that I have an unreasonable fear of zombies.  I love the genre but if anything was going to illicit that nightmare reaction to a monster, where you are always running away but being tripped and knowing eventually you will be eaten, then it would be from zombies. It's something about the relentless nature of them, the fact that they are generally everywhere (by the time the story starts) and they are constantly self producing.  My brain ignores the fact that the classic zombie is dumb, slow and easily killed.

The Walking Dead is possibly the greatest franchise in the zombie industry and I am talking about the comic book series, not the TV show.  It took the classic idea of a road story and added a horror survival element. Of course, like most of these stories it is not so much about the monsters it involves but about the people, the loss of humanity and the change of morals when the tissues that connect modern society are taken away. People fight the zombies, survive the zombies and eventually persevere but then another human comes along and fucks the thing up.

The first season was compelling and pretty faithful to the comic but for the ludicrous ending in Atlanta so I was very glad the story picks up again on the road.  This is an introduction episode yet again, placing our band in one of the common tropes of zombie fiction -- the highway of abandoned cars.  The line of cars is both an obstacle and a department store, providing tons of raw materials for survival -- but you have to get through. Oh, and there is usually a large number of the dead lingering from the death of the traffic. The only thing that annoyed me about this setup, beyond Lori's asinine "I don't know how I feel about this" comment, was how many dead dead there were. Why didn't these people who died in their cars just get up and walk away?  No obvious head wounds but we can just leave it to the never completely explained phenomena of when-you-walk-when-you-don't.  The episode plays off the tropes very well even adding in something fresh with the migrating "herd" of walkers.

This was a good opening episode for the season despite the lack of show runner Frank Darabont.  I hope the new heads know to keep Robert Kirkman writing on most episodes, allowing him to exercise some new plot elements into the show while keeping the strongest plot lines from the comics.  And here's to hoping that the money men don't get their way in having the zombies as occasional side characters or "off screen" antagonists.  Sure, it is about people but without the actual icky dead it's going to fall flat.

I Disagree: John Carpenter's The Thing

Forget the new "remake/prequel" that's out right now, because there's no reason for it.  John Carpenter's original is a masterpiece and still as intense and potent as ever.  Recently I learned that my wife had never seen the film, so we rectified that as soon as it was possible.  She might leave a comment and mention what she thought of it.

I unequivocally love The Thing, and will defend it vehemently against wrong-headed statements against it... as such, instead of a review about how much I love it, I present a special "Graig and His Wife's Cousin Disagree", in which I argue with my wife's cousin about the film and it's ending (*this took place before I rewatched it recently:

from RL
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 7:59 AM
subject John carpenters THe Thing

Watched it last night....great movie....with quite possibly one of the worst endings ever to a movie? Is there a worse "wrap it up" ending to a movie? What a larry letdown to a great film that had me pretty hooked.

One of Kurt Russell's better films.

from Graig 
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 9:51 AM 
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing 

What do you mean "worse ending"? What was wrong with the ending? 
I'm sometimes blind to the flaws in things (no pun intended) I love, and I love The Thing, but the ending I thought was very poetic, with Kurt and Keith sacrificing themselves to absolutely ensure that the virus/alien/whatever thingie doesn't get back to civilization.So, with specifics, what did you not like about the ending? 

And worse endings? How about the last 30 minutes of nearly every Spielberg film from the past 15 years (AI, Minority Report, War of the Worlds), or the last acts of Mission to Mars, Event Horizon, Sphere... 

from RL
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing

Again, great film, I couldn't sleep last night so I turned it on at 1 and watched it all the way through.

Kurt Russell walking out into the snow, not sure where the black guy guy shows up, makes up some bullshit excuse for leaving his post, we're not sure if he's been infected or not, and they just sit down and start drinking...fade to black...what!?!?!? That looks like I just wrote the screenplay and finished it because I had to run to the bathroom to take a dump.

There is no way Kurt doesn't smoke that guy, or at least is a little more inquisitive about it after everyone else is dead and he just blew up the entire base.
- "where did you go!?"
- " I left my post, after I was instructed to stay on guard, because I saw the Quaker Oates man"
- "ah, is my J&B"

from Graig
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing

Well, you see, you're just a racist :P
What makes you think Keith David wasn't off starring in a whole other (non-existent-because-black-men-who-weren't-Eddie-Murphy-didn't-get-their-own-films-in-the-early-80's) movie fighting his own battle against mutating alien creature things, then at the end of his movie he's walking towards the torched base station to find Kurt Russel just sitting there. Either man could kill the other, but neither is sure, and both are far too exhausted to push it any further.

Or, even just look at it this way, if either one of them was a mutated alien Thing, they realize at this point that there's no future for either of them, no survival anyway. Both men and/or Things are eventually going to freeze. If they're human, they'll die. If they're a thing they'll hibernate until they're found again, if they ever are.

It's what they call the "ambiguous ending", it's designed to make you think a little more about what's going on, rather than spelling it all out for you, which I imagine at 3am the last thing you want to do is think about it more.

from Graig
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 12:09 PM
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing

Heh, speaking of, the AV Club has a column on "Favourite Unhappy Ending" which includes....

from RL
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 12:31 PM
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing

I don't need John carpenter of all people to make me think, horror movies aren't usually stumpers. Cheap ending to a good movie that probably went over it's 2 million dollar budget in 1980something. Studio probably said to him back then "whoa john, youre already pushing 1.5 hrs". When you've killed everything else living, you don't get too tired to off one more person. Does John McLain get too tired to kill hans? Does maverick get too tired to be a wingman? Rubbish

Can't check the link, but I wouldn't even consider it unhappy. Old yeller is unhappy. Two guys inevitably freezing to death because they are stranded outside in -60 weather in Antarctica after they blew their shelter up? #nottoobright

from RL
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 12:36 PM
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing

Speaking of racist, I did enjoy kurt's undertone of grouping the Swede's and norwegians together

from Graig
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 1:24 PM
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing

So ignoring the fact that MacReady didn't kill "people" but "Things" impersonating people, and how he was tired, wary and unsure whether Childs was, in fact, a "Thing"... what *should* have been the ending, the ending that would have satisfied you?
(an honest question, I want to know what kind of ending would have given you closure)

A trip to IMDB yielded the below about alternate endings, which should tell you that the ending was intended and not just last minute (if the studio didn't want to spend more money they wouldn't have made him shoot extra scenes)

Is there an alternate ending?

Yes, two alternate endings were shot, although only one has been seen. The first is a shot of the camp the next day, burned to the ground with billows of smoke rising into the air. In the distance we see a dog running away from the camp. The dog stops and turns, looks at the camp, then continues to run again. The second ending is mentioned on the DVD but has never been used. It showed MacReady in an office with evidence that he has just taken and passed a blood test. This sequence was shot for safety because of the downbeat ending, but was never shown to audiences, not even in test screenings.

There is also a lengthy "Who was infected at the end" analysis on IMDB which is as inconclusive as the movie intended it to be, but may provide some closure for you?

Also, to back-up that Carpenter is generally very thoughtful about the endings to his films (or was, at least), see the attached which runs through analysis of many of Carpenter's films' endings:

from RL
date Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 1:38 PM
subject Re: John carpenters THe Thing

My problem wasn't the way it ended being left open, it was the fact the "coloured" guy showing up as though he went to go buy some smokes from the store and came back for a drink with Kurt, and he accepted it. Maybe I am a racist and don't trust black people, but that wouldn't sit right with me ;)


At this point I was getting a little to heated for a friendly conversation, and pulled myself out of it.  I went home, watched the film again and soaked in the ending, this conversation, flat out, explaining the situation:

Childs: Temperature's up all over the camp. Won't last long though.
MacReady: Neither will we.
Childs: How will we make it?
MacReady: Maybe we shouldn't.
Childs: If you're worried about me...
MacReady: If we've got any surprises for each other, I don't think either one of us is in much shape to do anything about it.

Not all that ambiguous.  Plus, Mac just survived a big TNT explosion, while Childs is still sporting the flamethrower, so despite my wife's cousin's protestation that Mac should have offed Childs, he so totally didn't have the upper hand to do so.  Plus, how do we know that Mac isn't infected or a replicant.... dun dun dunnnn.

3 short paragraphs: The A-Team

2010, Joe Carnahan - Netflix

There's a scene in the big-budget cinematic remake of the beloved (and knowingly campy) 80's TV series where Face, Murdoch, Hannibal and B.A. are inside a tank which has just dropped out of the belly of plane, and are using the tank's cannon to square off against a pair of drone fighter planes (they have to be drones so that they can bloodlessly shoot them out of the sky, don'tchaknow).  I saw a brief, 4-second clip of this scene in the trailer back in early 2010 and decided then and there this film was going to be beyond absurd (into the stupid range) and that I wasn't going to have any part of it.

As the year since the film has passed, I've softened on that stance, mainly due to kind, if not necessarily favorable reviews.  Let's face it, absurd, over-the-top action rarely makes for great cinema, but it can make for good entertainment.  The A-Team, it turns out, is good entertainment.

The film provides an origin story for the team and then sets them on their way as criminals and outcasts.  The film turns what is many action films' weaknesses -- namely the implausibility of the action sequences or events leading up to them -- into a strength as Hannibal imparts a weirdly meditative belief in fate (those plans don't come together on brains alone, it takes luck too) onto Face, as he mentors him in plan making and execution.  Liam Neeson couldn't be more perfect for the role of Hannibal just as Bradley Cooper's piercing blue eyes eliminate any question he's a faceman.  District 9's Sharlto Copely needs to be in more films and I was pleasantly surprised by UFC fighter Quinton Jackson's Mr. T homage (though he's definitely no Mr. T), while also giving the softer side of B.A. some credibility.  It's a great ensemble with delightful chemistry rounded out with Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel in supporting roles, and a script that was far more engaging, filled with plenty of deception and double-crosses, than it had any right to be. Even that tank sequence felt right in context and had a punchline to the end of it making it worthwhile, ridiculously absurd though it is.

3 short paragraphs: I Love You Phillip Morris

2009, Glenn Ficarra & John Requa -- Netflix

There was a small rumbling last year about how good Jim Carrey was in this film, although I can't remember the source, so it was probably from somewhere that still considers Carrey to be that Ace Ventura rubberfaced funnyman rather than the capable actor from Eternal Sunshine or Man in the Moon. He's effective here in a light comedy/drama/gay romance but it's not his strongest role because it's not the strongest film.

This is not to denigrate the film, which is actually rather enjoyable, it's just a little fluffier than I think it could have been. The premise is a keen one though, with Carey playing Steven Russell, a police officer/father/husband who gets into a serious car accident, decides to embrace his homosexuality, and goes on a crime/grifting spree where he gets arrested, goes to jail, busts out, gets arrested, goes back to jail, meets the love of his life in Phillip Morris (Ewen MacGregor), gets freed, poses as Morris' lawyer, frees him, cons his way into a job as CFO of a large company, embezzles, gets arrested again (as does Morris), and fakes his own death. Russell is portrayed as a compulsive criminal without malice, but unable to stop lying, even to the man he loves. The romantic angle of the film is soft and sweet, perhaps too much so, although Carrey and MacGregor seem committed to the characters and their relationship.

The execution of the cons and Russell's general audacity are highly entertaining and more the focus of the film. The outline of the film is actually based on a real-life person, and it's surprising how few of the beats are fabricated for entertainment value.... Oddly, I don't really have much else to say about the film. It's cute.

Further reading:
The Guardian interview with Steven Jay Russell
The Great Escapee - Esquire

Monday, October 17, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Red State

2011, Kevin Smith (yeah, that kevin smith) -- download

Damn damn damn, I am a bit annoyed at the extremely lenient application of word Horror that some people use.  This movie was not, even in the furthest stretch, a horror movie.  The even further stretch might connect it to that thin line of torture porn that I refused to include in this project.  Oh well, c'est la vie.  Movie watched, no harm no foul.

This is a movie about a wackjob religious cult that is also doing a Waco style isolation on a walled compound.  They hassle the residents of a small town protesting everything the same way Westboro does. We are introduced to them via a classroom discussion that refers to them as nuckin' futs.  And then almost immediately we are connected to them via a trio of horny teenagers who want to do something internet raunchy with an older woman. Unfortunately the woman is a daughter of the church and the whole charade was to draw sinners to the church.  And the sinners are systematically murdered in front of the congregation. The capture and terrorizing of the kids is the only element of horror in the whole bloody movie.

It quickly devolves into a Waco style government vs wackjobs standoff with guns ablazing.  Honestly, despite incredible cinematography and typical Kevin Smith dialogue (which i adore) it really just felt like a high budget movie of the week.  There was no draw into the story of cult vs government agents. In fact there seemed to be no real direction to the plot, just the standoff and subsequent resolution.  Its a movie where you can really enjoy the execution of the elements but not enjoy the whole.  The whole was lacking in the long payoff.

I just wish the movie had followed through on it's attempt at a headspin.  There is a misdirect that I really wished had not been just a misdirect.  Stop reading now if you don't want to know where the movie takes a tangential turn. You see, just when we think the whole standoff is going to end up in one massive clusterfuck, the trumpets sound -- literally.  There are massive trumpets sounding that almost deafen the agents around the compound.  The nuckin' futs think it is the Rapture and all come out, guns dropped and completely gleeful that there time has come.  We almost believe them; the agents almost believe them. But no, alas, it was not to be. In a closing scene the agent in charge of the affair (John Goodman) explains how the hippies living on the farm next to the compound were fucking with the cult, hoping to just mess with their little minds. No Rapture and no real close for the movie but that the cult gets to go to jail.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: Fall 2011 (pt 7)

And then there are those sessions where I regret choosing to complete this session of watching all the 2011 fall premieres.  There is some really bad TV out there but most is just painfully mediocre.  Take Hart of Dixie where we have a smart and pretty doctor from NYC who finds her life not going exactly as planned.  She ends up in the Alabama town where an older doctor has been trying to convince her to move since her graduation from med school. I find it very hard to take this character seriously as a doctor should be intelligent enough to not wear fashion clothing in a swamp. The only thing that made me smile was the ex-football player, now mayor, who refers to himself in the third person and has a pet gator named Burt Reynolds.

Then there was Ringer and I admit, I have the weak spot for Buffy and I like watching the rich people do rich things.  This one has her as twins, one rich & powerful and the other a down & out drug user on the run from the mob.  When rich sister commits suicide, the other steps into her life. How the heck does she expect to pull that off??  She knows nothing about her sister's fucked up (but wealthy!) life. Of course, she will begin to realize that her sister's perfect life was not so perfect and have to buy her way out of it. It wasn't horrible but WTF with all the soap opera level green screen work?!?!

And then there is a show I wanted to just turn off.  You know that character that Kevin Dillon plays in Entourage? You know how he is trying to break into acting and ends up with all these terrible roles?  Well imagine this show as the sitcom THAT character is saddled with. Other than Dave Foley's antics as the boss, nothing about this show made me even grin let alone laugh. It just stank stink stunk, making me regret this stream of watching. Oh yeah, it was called How to Be a Gentleman.

31 Days of Horror: Acacia

2003, Ki-hyeong Park (whispering corridors) -- download

Years ago at Fantasia Fest, the renowned horror & specfic film festival in Montreal, we saw his first movie Whispering Corridors.  We loved its spookiness and the chance to see how other cultures explore suspense and terror. We more enjoyed watching the elder Korean ladies sitting near us who shrieked and jumped at every scare tactic.  I will say I grinned with glee when they actually tossed popcorn in the air and one particularly starting scene.

Asian horror is a mixed bag affair. It explores elements of a culture that may not be as prevalent or even exist in our own but at the same time, they may not even have the same weight in ours. There are scares and styles that were not present in our own western horror, but with the popularity of The Grudge and the Ring movies, they have started appearing here and there. What I do like about all asian horror I have seen is that the sense of suspense is often more important than any real scare. Long scenes drawn out by grating music or discordant sounds can build up a stress where none should exist.  The jump is coming but the build up is more important.

Acacia is definitely an exploration of something not completely apparent in our culture. On the outside, it is a bad seed movie, where a young couple suspecting they cannot conceive, adopt a young boy who shows signs of being an art prodigy.  His reserved nature is expected but not his fascination with the acacia tree in their yard. The family seems to bond well with the boy but there is always the stress of him and that tree.  There is also the mother in law who thinks the whole adoption was a mistake. Adoption carries some small stigma in our culture but there seemed to have been an entirely different problem here. It is almost as if adopting shames the family.

But things begin to go really bad when the wife gets pregnant and suddenly there is a new baby in the family's life. At this point, you would think that the cute but unnerving little boy would start being a danger to the child. But no, he is nothing but an average kid who is being presented with the new feelings of being second fiddle. The actual tension seems to grow from the family truly changing directions in their own feelings for him. And thus begins the theme of the movie -- guilt, and how it affects people.

But always that tree.

In the end there is a murder and a cover up and the supernatural release comes from the tree being the tool of revenge. The tree kills off grandpa with ants and puts the mother in law in the hospital with a .. poisonous whiff of blossoms?  As things escalate we find that the family is tearing themselves apart, from the guilt of accidentally murdering the young boy and burying him beneath the tree.

It didn't do much for me.  It left me feeling flat. The kid was not really a bad seed at all and the supernatural elements of the story were more of an afterthought if not really there at all.  There was no real history as to why the kid was weird other than someone telling him his birth mother had become a tree. There were some fantastic scenes of suspense and fantastical horror but they were always imaginary. In the end we just have a story of some not so nice people killing the kid they probably shouldn't have adopted.