Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Call of Chullhu(2005)

Confession: I've never read any of Lovecraft's works. This partly due to laziness, but mostly because after reading the descriptions of what they are about, I get a bit freaked out and lose my nerve. Seriously the thought of ancient monster elder gods slumbering, waiting to be awaken by human idiots that will end up becoming their slave meat puppets is pretty creepy. The movie kind of builds on that idea, if only limiting itself a bit due to its rather short and sweet running time.

Due to being a cool homage/throwback/experiment to silent cinema, the movie thrives largely on pure atmosphere, which is what the early silent horror movies and the Val Lewton films completely feed off of. Since the creators decided to use old school filming techniques, 1920s style acting (lots of lip reading, of course) they really weren't going to utilize more modern aspects such as the jump scare anyways. Which I actually like a great deal, being as these methods resulted in a truly eerie movie.

My only problem with this otherwise fine movie is the running length-its too short. Sure I admire the idea of leaving the audience wanting more, but many things could have been further fleshed out and the ending left me a bit unsatisfied. Yet I highly recommend checking this out, if only to enjoy a slice of cinema long since gone and now completely outdated. 90

Smoking Aces (2007, Joe Carhaun)

As far as action movies go, this one is all right with me, since it contains plenty of action and interesting moments, to say the least. However, for some reason (probably having to do with the director being responsible for a far more intelligent movie previously in “Narc”), the movie also tries to elevate itself beyond the normal stupidity found in the genre. These efforts, for the most part, fail-yet they are noted and lightly appreciated, if only because the movie ends up becoming a big dumb action movie with a surprising ending.

Yes, I enjoyed the usual well-guided and executed mayhem, although there was some weird and out of place moments. Considering the movie’s subject material its cast is way too large, and also full of some well-regarded actors, coupled with a couple lesser-regarded actors/actresses. Standouts include the usually great Ray Liotta, the likable if harmless Ryan Renolds, and Matthew Fox (because of Lost) in a bit role. Jeremy Piven is also among the cast, but he does not do much, while Common felt a bit out of place and Alicia Keyes actually fit her role quiet well.

Having already given us the brilliant 2002 movie “Narc,” this is Joe Carhaun’s second effort, and in comparison to his first effort this is a disappointment, even thought it does manage to sport some really good parts and is highly entertaining. There is also plenty of humor here, but then most action movies are often intentional or unintentionally funny, since the genre itself is often quite silly.

This does not necessarily excuse some of “Smoking Aces” flaws (the ending belongs in a completely different movie, really) but it certainly helped me overlook some of them. Hopefully Carhaun brings us a third effort that is more up to the talent level of “Narc.” Especially since he already displays a decent amount of promise as a director. 71

Fight Club (1999, David Fincher)

What is lost in the discussion about David Fincher’s mind blowing film is that Fincher successfully adapts a book not only about disgruntled youth, but also one that covers terrorist and anarchist beliefs. Without revealing too much, I note that this aspect of the film as being its most interesting. Certainly other films made before and after have criticized and rebuked the vapid idiotic consumerist culture that seems to be the dark and true side of the USA. Yet few have managed to articulate with such frightening, kinetic and member able force that satiric and angry vision.

What makes this work without the whole thing collapsing like a house of cards is Fincher’s steady commitment to the film’s strange focus and vision. Despite appearing to fly off the train tracks, never once does Fight Club appear to come unhinged, cloy, boring or pretentious, feeding off its own imaginary self-importance. This is important if only because the film could have just as easily ended up a bloated piece of self-righteous bullshit. Instead, it manages to transcend ordinary boundaries of Hollywood narrative, successfully utilizing every bit of insanity necessary to make magic and meaning out of the mundane.

Finally the terrorist angle is fascinating because the movie does not condemn terrorism, but instead presents it as a means to wake the masses up; although only one person is shown dying from its results, which indicates that this is more along the lines of eco-terrorism than the Osama and Timothy McVeigh variety. By showing just how many as so easily enraptured and in awe of a message that ends up appealing to almost everyone-the middle class, the working poor, etc-we witness how the half terrorist, half anarchist message so strongly resonates with people. Through the brain washing “Space Monkey” sequences we are also shown the group mentality, and how these people exchange one way of conformity for another, only one that is more loose and demanding less responsibility.

What we have here is not just a condemnation of consumerism and capitalism, but also the celebration of a new kind of revolution that only Karl Marx could have possibly dreamed of. “Our war is a spiritual war,” holds true in this sense, as the characters in the film belief in, instigate and become part of that war. Anyone who dismisses or sees this film as promoting violence or being too shallow in its ideas is either wrong or missing the point.

Fight Club is a great, masterful film simply for articulating and visualizing a world where the rich’s nightmare of the working class violently rising up in vast numbers is starkly realized. Considering that the theory of class conflict in today’s modern world is still valid, added in with the lessons of history, it is not too far fetched to imagine our timid version of class conflict blossoming into something far more violent. And ushering in an explosive and apocalyptic wave of change, for better or for worse, with worse being the most likely possibility. 100

Editors Note: This review in no way shape or form condones or supports terrorism. Sure I've heard the phrase "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," but terrorism usually results in the killing of innocent people. Which I believe is morally wrong.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)

Most satires center around comedy. Although human drama is involved, satire is a subgenre of comedy and its purpose is to make you laugh (at times) while making sharp, pointed critiques, usually aimed at certain people and or ideas. "Dr. Strangelove" and "Wag the Dog" take serious material and make it funny (the former though is the far better movie) and squeeze humor out of rather dark, bleak situations, featuring dark humor that is quite sharp and unflinchingly honest.

What's interesting about "American Psycho" is that there is dark comedy, yet in the end it is not a comedy-rather, it exists as a satire of the 1980s that also manages to exist as a slasher horror movie, building upon a subgenre of horror that has a long and illustrious tradition, although some would beg to differ due to endless slasher ripoffs and sequels. This movie is one gigantic rip on the 1980s, presenting the decade as a greedy, selfish, vapid and idiotic consumer driven culture ("American Psycho" and "Fight Club" would be fantastic as a double bill). The capitalistic jungle that Marx feared and opposed exists in the full extreme here, with the movie's main character Patrick Batman and his co-workers being the burogouise predators, who also happen to prey not only on those beneath them, but also upon each other.

The function of Bateman is to go one step further beyond that simple idea, in that his insane homicidal blood lust fueled by his lack of humanity emerges and is showcased often in his high rise penthouse apartment, where he butchers both those on the lower end of the economic ladder and even one of his rich upper class co-workers (with some exceptions-I cannot fully go into further detail without revealing the film's brilliant ending, and mediating upon Batemen's state of reality is full of spoilers). In the 1980s the recession and the rise of the corporate raiders, desperate and eager to climb the social and economic ladder of success, fuels the movie's rather nasty and depressing outlook filtered through Bateman, his employers, and of course his fellow co-workers.

Thus, through the crazed mind and terrible actions of Bateman does the horror/slasher aspect of the movie compliment and carry the film's message and ideas. Although I have yet to read the book, I'm not surprised that upon its release it was highly controversial-as was the movie itself. Not only were both created by women, they also focused upon how easily men can be cruel and harmful to women.

Two women, one the author, the other the director, dive into the mind of a misogynistic, chauvinistic, arrogant bastard, and then brazenly reveals that mindset to the world, which is still quite shocking to many people. Also, those prone to 80s nostalgia were probably furious that their world was painted as such a empty, miserable place in time and history, which is also in regards to the book, published in 1991 at the tail end of the decade.

Now this film is unsatisfying in some aspects, and has its weaknesses, especially since the rest of the cast pales in comparison to Christian Bale, who gives a force full, chilling, complex performance as Batemen-its among the best work he's ever done. William DeFoe is given a pointless role as a detective, while the lovely Reese Witherspoon has the thankless task of playing Bateman's insipid ditzy girlfriend, who does serve a purpose in that until the end she fails to realize he's truly, in her words, "A monster."

The satire at times is less interesting and original than the horror elements (one of the scenes where Bateman goes crazy with a chainsaw is something beyond words, and thanks to this movie I'll never look at "Its Hip to Be Square" the same way ever again) but at the same time even the horror elements wear a bit thin. Although the movie fails short of greatness, its still quite smartly made and very noteworthy. One should see it not only to get a window into the mind of a psychopath, but also to view a satire that ventures outside the safe confines of the comedy genre. 93

Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)

Heavy on atmosphere and cloaked in an air of mystery and art house style, this film is very different from the average horror movie. At its hear though is a French retelling/twisting of previous so called "monster movies." There's something here that engrossed me, and required me to actually engage my brain. Something that all too many horror films do not actually require, although that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The "mad scientist" is the father of a horribly disfigured girl. A prominent plastic surgeon, he blames himself for her mangled face, ruined beyond almost all repair. In desperation, he has his lovely assistant kidnap young women; all in a vein attempts to give his daughter her face back. She has become a monster to a degree, inspiring pity in a handful of lyrical scenes. And yet with the blurry, quick glimpse of the terrible scaring, she frightens and horrifies the viewer. All of this reminds me in a way of Frankenstein's monster and other creatures who were born out of certain horrible experiences, and while also being somewhat sad due to not having the capacity to to live a "normal existence."

In this case, I have to note that the film doesn't completely sustain the rich, built up atmosphere. Although the musical score, which reminds me of the score for Little Shop of Horrors(1960) sounds like a demonic carnival, does work despite what some otherwise say. It works because by the final frame, we have witnessed something truly bizarre. There is of course also thoughts on beauty and how society prizes beauty to the point where it becomes vanity, but I thought that was rather obvious and not as important.

Besides all this, "Eyes" is a clear example of how horror can contribute to cinematic art, that the genre is much more than gore and random violence. For that alone it deserves to be noted, perhaps even celebrated. Although it falls short of greatness, this is a film that stands a very good chance of cracking my ever evolving Horror Top 50. 90

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Watchmen (2009)

“Who watches the Watchmen?”-A question scribbled in graffiti on a crumbling wall in a dying city. One that begs answering, and perhaps lies at the heart of both the graphic novel and its very good film adaptation. While I don’t feel either source material truly has the answer (its all subject to debate anyways), each explores the matter and other issues raised at hand in their own ways. The novel is more successful, but the film also does a fine job of bring such a complex multi-themed source material to life.

What is most notable about the movie is the stunning and striking visuals. They are magnificent and vivid, brought to life by both CGI and expert set design, and they are the movie’s strongest assets. In many ways the film’s director, Zach Snyder, perfectly captures the look and feel of the book’s illustrations. One of my favorite moments showcased on screen is a dream sequence that is both beautiful and terrifying, expertly capturing blind undying love in the face of nuclear destruction.

Despite many pointed criticisms aimed at the acting, there is nothing wrong with the movie’s cast. Even though Malin Aikmen and Matthew Goode are the weakest links, they are still fairly solid and properly bring their characters to life-despite the fact that Aikman was weak in the serious dramatic scenes featuring Laurie, and Goode made Ozy/Vedrt seem too much like a smarmy Bond villain. As Rousarch, Jackie Earle Haley had the best part of the entire bunch, and executed it with relish and great skill. Another standout aside from Bill Crudup’s spot on performance as Dr. Manhattan is Patrick Wilson, who captured Night Owl II’s brooding, impotent and weary personality in a way that speaks to his talent as an actor. I expect to see great things from him in the future.

Overall, this movie mostly captures the “Big Picture” elements of the graphic novel, and does have a decent amount of detail, but it does kind of falter in transferring some of the book’s more complex ideas to the screen. I cannot fully fault Snyder for not doing so though, since its remarkable that he managed to adapt the book at all, while keeping the whole thing at a reasonable length, overcoming the danger of a bloated mess. Although I do look forward eagerly to the longer director’s cut, which will also feature “The Black Freighter” and “Tales From Under the Hood.”

If anything, Snyder should be applauded for daring to bring this sweeping work of fiction to the big screen. His ambition, and unwillingness to change anything to make the movie “More modern,” which would have ruined the movie overall, results in a really good movie. One that actually stands to be remembered as one of the best comic book/superhero movies of the decade. 90

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Creating and sub-staining tension and suspense is often necessary to the success of a movie. In this movie’s case, however, its white-knuckle tension emerges after a slow buildup that goes on for about a third of the whole movie. This approach works, if only to set up the movie’s characters of course. But if we didn’t care about these people, then the perils they end up facing later on would feel a bit trivial.

Four men, all French, are seen wasting away in a crumbling South American town that they can not escape from, due to a serious lack of funds needed to obtain passports. In desperation, they take a job, which can actually be considered more of a suicide mission than anything else, really. That job entails transporting liquid nitro through treacherous terrain in two separate and top-heavy trucks. Aside from their desire to be able to travel to a much happier destination, they are also motivated by greed as well as courage (at least in the beginning-then fear naturally sets in), and of course having no other alternative.

The trials and tribulations they face seem rather outrageous, yet they are executed in a way that makes you wonder how the group will survive, or if they will even live to reach the end of their hazardous journey. The middle of the film quickly becomes just that, multiple exercises in getting into, and then finding a way out of, high levels of danger.

My complaint about the ending dragging on, and the final scene being too easy to predict and see coming, this is a top notch thriller in addition to being a great drama as well. Onscreen we have a presentation of how to capture onscreen in a perfect fashion what drives people to engage in fool hardy and dangerous enterprises. 95