Saturday, October 29, 2011

This is Halloween: Directors #2

I already got John Carpenter out of the way and, for my money, he's the most important of the elite horror directors. However, there's a couple more who do the genre justice (or did at least).

George Romero: 

As much as I hate his more recent films (post Land of the Dead) and the stupid zombie-fad we're stuck in, Romero deserves to be mentioned amongst the higher echelon of horror directors for what he's accomplished in the past.

I feel as though I hardly need to mention Dawn of the Dead because pretty much everyone accepts it as the zombie film. Night of the Living Dead was a good start, but Dawn is just phenomenal. It's creepy, it's intelligent and it gets better with every viewing.

I'm also fairly partial to Day of the Dead, which seems to have picked up a bit more respect since its release. The zombies here are less the focal point than the unsettling human drama playing out between the survivors. If Dawn is a depiction of mid-apocalypse, then Day is the first true post-apocalyptic film in Romero's series. Remnants of the human race are trapped underground, coming into conflict with each other more than the undead. I get the sense when I'm watching it that the actors haven't slept in days and it makes for a very tense, engaging film.

As much as I enjoy these two zombie flicks, I wouldn't have felt Romero worthy of this list if they were his only accomplishments. What really elevates Romero for me is his 1976 take on the vampire - Martin.

  The film tells the story of a young man who believes himself to be an ancient vampire. Romero presents a very good "is he or isn't he?" narrative,offering evidence for both possibilities - the alternative being that he's just crazy. Either way, he still stalks and subdues victims and ultimately drinks there blood. Martin is a tragic and twisted antagonist and his story, set against the backdrop of a failing industrial town in Pennsylvania, results in one of the better vampire films ever made. (Lofty as that praise might seem, 99% of movies about vampires, werewolves, zombies and miscellaneous ghouls are downright terrible).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This is Halloween: Directors #1

With Halloween so close, I wanted to take a look at my favorite horror directors. The men (sorry, but are there any great female horror directors?) who've given so much to the genre that's given so much to pop-culture Halloween.

1. John Carpenter:

Carpenter gets first billing for a number of reasons. a) He directed the best slasher-horror film, featuring the best horror franchise antagonist of all time, on a relatively tight budget. b) He directed what I would call the greatest horror film of all time The Thing. c) he's done some decent stuff along the way.

I realize that I've made some pretty bold claims, but I stick by them. Halloween is the best slasher of all time. It's legit scary. Its theme, which has become such a big part of the holiday itself, makes it even creepier still. Michael Myers is a far more respectable villain than other franchisers like Freddy or Jason. Frankly, neither of those characters were ever featured in a film half so good as the original Halloween.

The great things about him are numerous. His introduction - yeah, the one with the dead-eyed kid in the clown costume brandishing a butcher's knife - is excellent. Just going off the 1st film - we don't have a clue what drives this maniac. He doesn't talk, he's slow and calculated, rarely getting over-excited, he's unstoppable by conventional means though, by all accounts, he's very much a human being (and how about that Shatner mask!?). And he's got Dr. Loomis to boot, who works as something of a hype-man, constantly talking about what a bad mutherfucker Michael is and why we should all be very afraid.

Carpenter severed his directorial involvement with the franchise after the first film and despite the many opportunities there have been to capitalize on what he delivered, none have come even close. He reportedly wanted to do a sequel focusing on the aftermath in Haddonfield, but it was not to be, which is unfortunate because that sounds like a great film.

As for The Thing - it IS the best horror-film ever made. The visual effects used in the movie are astounding for the early-80's. It's gross and horrifying what the titular Thang can do to you, but that's not the focus of the film's terror. Instead, it derives its edge-of-your-seat tension from the paranoia and distrust among the players. The blood-in-a-petri-dish scene is just such a classic, but then again, so are a lot of scenes.

The Thing also features a great cast, including Kurt Russell at his best, Wilford Brimley (also at his best) and Keith David who aint bad. Great theme to this as well and a pretty fantastic conclusion.

Oh, and since I want to cover three horror films per director I feature - why not praise The Fog a little. I've heard some pretty nasty things about the remake, which is too bad because people shouldn't be turned away from the original because of it. The film already has a hard enough time with a slightly silly plot featuring ghost-pirates (pirate ghosts? well, maybe they're just fishermen).

Anyway, The Fog is a moody, slower-paced horror that excels at giving a sense of impending doom. There's nothing perverse or visceral about the vengeful ghosts that inhabit the fog; it's old-terror, classic-terror of American seafaring legend. 

There's a lot more good to Carpenter's filmography, horror and not. Unfortunately, his career hit a pretty sharp decline in the 90's and he's yet to recover. Personally, I'd love to see one more success before he finally calls it quits, though we could already consider it a career well-spent. I don't know why directors like Carpenter fall off like they do. Sometimes auteurs refuse to change with the times and it becomes their undoing, but looking at Carpenter's recent works I think perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe Carpenter was never meant to change, or maybe he's just had his day. Either way, he's still the director I'm drawn to most this time of year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Retro Trailers: The Three Musketeers (1993)

They've got this new Musketeers film coming out and frankly, it looks like garbage. In fact, it looks like less than garbage - like even bad for Paul W.S. Anderson. Which got me thinking about the Three Musketeers of my childhood; that's right - Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Charlier Sheen..and uh, Chris O'Donnell (that's four, so what?). I can't speak to this film's quality since I've long-since lost my VHS copy, however, I do remember enjoying the shit out of it when I was a kid. My level of interest in this movie was so high at that time that I can't imagine it being unbearable today.

As far as I remember: Sheen and Platt were a lot of fun in their side-musketeer roles and Sutherland was a badass leader. O'Donnell's character represented pure goodness while the villainous Tim Curry and Michael Wincott stank of corruption. It's a simple film with a lot of fun swashbuckling and, oh yeah, the powerful ballad by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting (!) "All For One". I bet that one could still get me juiced.

This new film just makes me feel sad and empty. Here's a fan-made trailer for the 90's film. It makes it out to be a little less silly than it really is, but I just can't find an official trailer on Youtube. Follow this link if you really want to see the original.

And, even better, here's the music video for "All For One":

Friday, October 14, 2011

This Is Halloween

Well, it's getting to be about that time. Halloween is already getting pushed aside by retailers in favor of X-Mas decorations, but there should still be at least two weeks of jack o'lanterns, black cats and spooky ghouls, dammit!

Admittedly, I've never been that into horror films, but I appreciate their importance to this holiday season. Everywhere you'll find scary movie marathons and allusions to Jason, Freddy, and Michael as well as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman.

I wanted to just do some sort of horror movie top-10, but I couldn't narrow the list down and, in the end, I felt that was less inventive and didn't quite cover my feelings on the genre. Therefore, I will try to come up with numerous horror topics to discuss over the coming weeks. First up - quintessential horror directors. Who will make my cut? I bet you can guess. Until then, watch something gory.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MKE Film Fest Reviews: We Need To Talk About Kevin

I was lucky enough to catch the sole screening of Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin a couple weeks back at the Milwaukee Film Festival. I'd read the Lionel Shriver novel a few years back, so I was definitely interested in seeing how it would translate to the big screen. However, enough time had elapsed that I wasn't concerned too much about how that would affect my view of the film.

Kevin is a good film; definitely unique with some great performances, but also not without its flaws. I saw three, in particular. First, is that the film's opening half-hour or so is intensely jumpy in a chronological sense. The film, which shows a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggling in the aftermath of a Columbine-esque act committed by her son Kevin (Ezra Miller), shifts to various points in his development, from conception to young-adulthood. This continues throughout the film, but the plot becomes considerably more linear as it progresses. The opening act the film hurt my head though and I was left frustrated by the lack of dialogue or interaction between anyone during this time. Had I known that this wasn't going to be the style of the entire film, I might have been less annoyed, but hindsight is 20/20.

Issue two is in the depiction of the titular Kevin. Ezra Miller gives a solid, creepy performance as the character in his teenage years (as do the two child actors who play him at other points). However, at times it goes a little overboard, making him out to be preternaturally wicked - like Damian or Michael Myers. This is slightly divergent from the book, where Kevin's idiosyncrasies were a notch more subtle. And even when he's being particularly bad in the book, we are still supposed to recognize that the mother, Eva, is an unreliable narrator, who projects her feelings about Kevin post-incident onto her memories of him as a child. There's no real sense of that here in the film.

Kevin is just an evil psychopath, which I suppose works in its own right if you think of it in an It's Alive sort of way; Eva was never too psyched about having a kid - ergo her child is a monster. However, to me, this makes the film a little more melodramatic than I'd hoped from Ramsay.

Issue #3 is with the soundtrack - simply that I don't think a lot of the musical cues work that well. There are both hits and misses, one hit being this warbled older song that I still cannot track down the name of that's used a couple times throughout the film, but misses certainly outnumber the hits.

Apart from these issues, Kevin is pretty good. Swinton's performance has received a lot of buzz, and rightly so, but she's almost always excellent, so this came as no surprise. As I mentioned, Miller is pretty good and so is John C. Reilly in his relatively subdued role as dad.

The film looks great throughout. It also gives the audience just a taste of what Kevin has done from the get-go, so everyone thinks they already know the extent of it, but also have no idea. My heart jumped with panic a little watching firemen cutting through bike locks on the high school's gym doors - this shot leaves audiences to wonder "what will they find inside?". These snippets elicit some pretty heavy tension throughout most of the film and the ghastly reveals near the end make due on the promises that those tensions suggest.

Though my issues with the film have framed this review, they now seem only minor-to-moderate infractions and I applaud the movie for winning me over despite them. I'd definitely be interested in catching another screening some time in the near future.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Great Expectations: A Plea For Consumer Responsibility

A news story surfaced today about a Michigan woman suing the distributors of the film Drive and the theatre at which she viewed it because of misleading advertising. I found this annoying because, for one, I think Drive is one of the better films made in this century, and two, I don't really remember the trailers being terribly misleading. Perhaps some of the TV spots presented Drive as a bit more of an car-chase film than it was, but that's typical in film marketing these days. She also claimed that the film was racist against the Jewish people and encouraged violence against them, which simply isn't true in the least bit.

My critical opinion of Drive and their marketing tactics notwithstanding, this woman is still 100% wrong. Films have used way more misleading trailers than FilmDistrict did in the case of Drive. This can be annoying, but trailers aren't the only resource we have to figure out which films we want to see.

This idiot is claiming that Drive pulled the bait-and-switch, marketing a film similar to that of The Fast and the Furious series, which I find to be somewhat untrue, but either way - why would you want to go so another film like the neverending Fast and Furious films. You're just clamoring for more stunts and chases? Have you never wanted more from a film. And say they did completely mislead you via their marketing? Say they really tried to dupe you by false advertisement - it's still your responsibility as a consumer and a movie-goer to be more educated.

There are countless websites and online resources that will give you a clear picture of every major film out there. Rotten Tomatoes offers critical and consumer reviews. IMDB features much the same and even greater info about the film. On IMDB, you can also research the filmographies of directors and writers with the click of a button. It's no excuse for anyone to say, "I don't know who Nicolas Winding Refn is, so I had no idea Drive wouldn't be standard Hollywood fare". Do your research, don't go into a film without knowing who directed it and what they're capable of.

In the case of Drive, it's adapted from a goddamn book, so even reading a synopsis of that should have given opponents of the film pause before seeing it.

I feel like Drive has fallen victim - albeit to a much lesser extent - to the same curse of ignorance and stupidity that The Tree of Life did earlier this year. I remember a bunch of giggling girls staring up at the Oriental Theatre's marquee this summer saying, "oh, that's that Brad Pitt movie! I really want to come see that!". Brad Pitt is an actor who appears in the film, much in the same way Ryan Gosling stars in Drive, but neither man directed those films. And with just a few exceptions, both men also tend to pick more unique roles and films to take on anyway. Just because they're handsome, popular, leading men doesn't mean they're going to pander to the populous.

Multitudes of people around the country asked for refunds to The Tree of Life, claiming it was boring or nonsensical, but I bet a lot of those people don't have a clue who Terrence Malick is or what type of work he's done previously. That's their fault. Not the theatre's. Not the distributor's. And certainly not Terrence Malick's.

Film-goers need to be cognizant of/realistic about their level of taste as well. You can't come out of a film like Drive of The Tree of Life crying foul if you're an uncultured person. I'm not trying to be an elitist prick here, but there are obviously different classes of film-viewers, with greatly varying levels of film literacy. It's like someone who doesn't read books throwing down "War and Peace" and saying "this was stupid! It makes no sense! I'm bored!". That's your fault, you shouldn't have picked it up in the first place, or if you did, you should have the perspective to say, "this wasn't for me" because that's fine, not everything is for everyone.

I'm not saying that you have to be smart to like films like the above-mentioned (but it helps), or that if you're film-savvy you will automatically like them, it's just that you have to be more vigilant in choosing the media you ultimately engage with. You can't hate on Drive because you're not patient enough to sit through it or can't appreciate it like a higher-functioning human being can. Just don't see it.

Nobody anywhere should ever be allowed a refund for a movie ticket on the grounds that they didn't like it. I see films I don't like all the time and that's as much a part of being a film-goer as seeing films you love. TS, buyer beware.

And as for claims of being duped by advertising - take that as a sign encouraging greater vigilance. You were "fooled" into seeing a film that wasn't at all like Fast and Furious (oh fucking no!). Too bad, do your research next time, lady. The trailers don't need to change, you do.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

El Velador

Review Coming Soon.


Review Coming Soon.