Monday, September 10, 2012

Long time coming . . .

It's been a long while since I've updated this blog. A lot of it has to do with how incredibly busy my schedule has been the past half year, which has literally left me with no time to view films, much less write about them. I have deleted the majority of my posts because, well, people change over time, including their thoughts and writing skills. I hope to pick up where I left off and continue the high output that I once did. Stay tuned!

-Sam

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Thing



Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Year: 2011
Country: USA
Studio: Strike Entertainment, Morgan Creek Productions

The 2011 rendition of The Thing acts as a prequel to the 1982 film of the same name. The premise revolves entirely around the Norwegian camp seen at the beginning of John Carpenter's film, encompassing a group of Norwegians, with a few Americans in the mix. Since the American characters are far outnumbered by their Norwegian counterparts, it's interesting to note this ethnicity reversal, especially coming from a Hollywood studio film. While The Thing isn't a remarkably good film, there are a few clever bits that will please genre fans and hardcore fans of the original as well.

Shall we get started? What separates the prequel from the original is the use of special effects. What was once revolutionary and creative is now dull and mundane. When I first saw The Thing ('82) I saw creature designs that I never would thought up in a million years, they were fantastic! They were original! Meticulously designed from head to claw. Fast forward to 2011 where every studio is trying to push 3D CGI, and it leaves something to be desired. The creature effects of the original is the reason why the film remains such a cult classic. However, the prequel is riddled with lame CGI, and the creatures look like they belong more in a game iteration of Dead Space than they do in The Thing (funny, since Dead Space is heavily inspired by the Carpenter classic). CGI seen today is rather lame; you can obviously tell it's fake. You can argue that that isn't the point, that it is a tool used by its creators to help flesh out scenes, to scope out the impossible and make it presentable to a movie going audience. I still think the graphics look murky and dumb.

The pacing of the film is nothing new, as the first three quarters of the film pretty much retrace that of the original's script. People disappear, people are attacked, and dogs still have bad luck. There are things they got right here and things they didn't. I mentioned the diversity among the character's ethnic groups, which helps work to further alienate all the characters present. However, since the original film is noted for it's all male cast, the casting of a female lead for the prequel seems out of place, in fact it seems more like a gimmick. She doesn't offer anything new, in fact she's flawed. The scene where they excavate the ice coffin and drill a hole in it to retrieve a sample of the alien, she mentions how unsanitary it is to be unprotected, who knows what this alien is carrying? And you know what? She's absolutely right. This all goes out the window though as she comes back to the room without a mask on or any other precautions. Whoops.

The problem with this film is that it's unneeded. Must we ruin the ambiguity of the original film? Must we leave it open ended for the possibility of a The Thing franchise? I consider the first film to be a flawless work of horror, a pristine example. This movie is shlock. It's fun at times, and certainly not bad, but overall . . . shlock.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Let Me In

Director: Matt Reeves
Year: 2010
Country: USA, UK
Studio: EFTI, Hammer Films, Exclusive Media Group

Let Me In is more of a coming-of-age tale than a straight up vampire flick. However, don't let that turn you off, as Hammer Films packs this movie with lot's of blood and heebie-jeebies to create a very atmospheric horror tale.

12-year old Owen is a pale, lonely boy who is the target of bullies in his school. If this wasn't enough, his home life is a wreck; his parents are getting divorced and the one friend he had (a high schooler who plays ping pong) has been long gone. With this void in his life Owen spends his time outside in the courtyard, eating Now and Laters and doing puzzles. When he's not doing this, we can see him spying on the people who live in his tenement building; don't be fooled, this young boy is a voyeur.

Things change when a young girl and what seems to be her father move in next door, and the two children quickly become friends. Owen finally has a companion in his life that he can trust, the only problem is that she's an undead vampire who feasts on the blood of human beings, collected by her servant (possibly an ex-lover?).

From here on out there's lots of blood and poorly down CGI, but the relationship between these two children is where things get really interesting. Owen is a derelict, who's mother is rarely seen; the audience only sees bits and pieces of her, in the scenes where we can see her face her hair cleverly distorts the image. Abby changes all of this, as she teaches Owen to stick up for himself. There relationship deepens, and while the idea of sex dances around the viewers mind, no such move is made in the film, which helps to keep its childlike innocence.

Regardless, there are plenty of people howling about an Americanized version of Let the Right One In being blasphemous, but if you complain about this being a remake of a film, you obviously forget that it's all based on the same book. Let Me In is an Americanized adaptation, and a good one at that. While keeping relatively faithful to the book, the film also won't alienate viewers of the Swedish film. This isn't a shot-for-shot remake like The Omen was, but it doesn't abandon the original film. Director Matt Reeves strikes a remarkable balance between the Swedish film and the novel, while adding and omitting his own touches. This is a prime example of contemporary horror, which helps remind us that horror isn't quite dead, it's only dormant.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mulholland Drive

Director: David Lynch
Country: USA
Year: 2001
Studio: StudioCanal

A delicious, dangerously sensual film from David Lynch, one that I just might consider to be his best film of all time (yeah I said it. I like this better than Blue Velvet). Naomi Watts is fantastic here, and Laura Harring is absolutely beautiful (and I'm not just saying that because we see her tits). David Lynch is able to weave a masterpiece of surrealism and noir brilliantly in this two and a half hour opus.

The photography is stunning, and every little quirk in it helps deliver more to the story. There's one trick (or technique? Either way I don't know what it's called) where the camera is unfocused and twitches around really fast, as if its a point-of-view shot from a fly on the wall. And you can't forget the classic Lynch love affair with vehicles driving on the highway at night. And red lamp shades.

The music is disturbingly unsettling throughout the entire picture, and helps to make its audience as uneasy as possible. This is why I respect David Lynch so much. As seen in previous films like Blue Velvet and Lost Highway, Lynch can take the most ordinary image or object and make it absolutely horrifying. There are countless scenes in this movie, for instance one where Watts and Harring are walking down an outside corridor in the complex where the music kicks in and their acting becomes dreamlike. It's completely unreal and terrifying at the same. I felt the same feelings I felt years later when I was sitting in a dark theater watching Inland Empire.

Lynch does an excellent job weaving a series of vignettes set in Los Angeles, CA, that all connect in one way or another. You gotta love the beginning, where we see a bunch of people who look like they came straight out of Happy Days, all smiling and swing dancing their cares away. Then we see close ups of smiling faces, the most terrible and fake smiles one can ever see. These smiles could even be used to help interpret the film itself(SPOILER!): that the rest of the movie is as fake as this beginning, just one prolonged dream.

The only problem I had with this film dealt with some of the framing, but that can be forgiven since Mulholland Dr. was shot in a different aspect ratio since it was originally going to air on television. Justin Theroux is the bee's knees here, as a director who is just having the worst day of his life (and even gets punched out by Billy Ray Cirus. Ew.). That's okay though, since that huge man who comes looking for Theroux knocks out Cyrus in one hit, Paul from Tekken style.

BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!?! Here's the beauty of Lynch (although it seems to enrage many viewers: it's up to you to decide. In my opinion, I believe that the first two hours is a dream until Naomi Watts switches roles. From there on out the film is more fact based, although that dinner party scene at Theroux's is also a dream. And the very ending , at the diner, is real. So its a dream inside a dream, right?

Mulholland Drive should have won best picture back in '01, but oh well. Like I said above, I think this is Lynch's masterpiece. SOme may argue that he just recycled elements from Lost Highway and reused them here, and I do agree with that to some extent, but Mulholland Dr. is much more perfected than it's predecessor. Black humor abounds here, and unfortunately this is one of those movies you'll either love or hate. I belong to the former.

Onibaba

Director: Kaneto Shindo
Country: Japan
Year: 1964

Onibaba is a bleak tale set in war-torn feudal Japan. The plot follows a mother and her daughter-in-law who are only able to eat by trading in goods taken from the dead samurai they have slain. From there they wander through the beautiful (and erotic) field of susuki grass to a hermit-like cave where they meet a man who gives them food in exchange for the goods the have taken.

This is considered to be Kaneto Shindo's masterpiece, but since I haven't seen anything else by him it would be unfair for me to say that. However, I can say that everything about this film is amazing. The stark black and white photography is stunning, and watching the wind blow through the fields of susuki is nothing short of orgasmic (haha, get it?). From a filmmaking standpoint, black and white film is obviously cheaper, but, in all honesty, I think this film would have been a mess if it was shot in color. I feel that it would loose the raw emotion that it contains. The characters in this film are driven by basic human instincts: survival and reproduction. And is there a better way to show human beings at their fundamentals than by shooting it in an absence of color? It's a brilliant way to show mankind's primitivity.

The character development builds even more when a friend of the mother's son returns home . . . without her son. He tells of a tragic tale oh how they were prisoners of war and how during an attack the son was slain while the friend escaped. Now, this friend is perhaps the seediest man alive, but there's no way to tell if he's telling the truth or not. However, judging from the theme of human behavior I can only assume that he either turned on him or left him to die so he could save his own hide. The mother becomes infuriated with him for that fact and soon begins to loose her cool as her daughter-in-law starts to fall for him. Jealousy becomes a big issue as the mother needs her daughter-in-law to help her survive, but a deeper desire for sexual activity erupts into nothing as the young man declines the mother's invitation for a nice fuck and has to sit idly by while her daughter-in-law becomes ever so promiscuous with him.

Sexual pleasure is a big theme here. The director has stated that he purposely filmed the swaying susuki field to convey a sense of eroticism, depending on the character's mood (an instance being the daughter-in-law running to her lover as the grass is blowing frantically around her). We can also see this since whenever the two woman go to bed they sleep topless, due to the extreme heat which makes them sweat. The jealous mother tries to put an end to this since she has no way of relieving her own sexual repression (due to the lack of a lover and also old age). She has no way to escape this feeling, which many people could connect to the gaping pit that lies near their hut. She goes about this by donning one of the most horrifying masks (which could even be labeled as a precursor to the mask with nails seen in Mario Bava's Black Sunday) to scare the living shit out her daughter-in-law by pretending to be a demon and accusing her of sinning.

The frenzied score only helps to heighten the intensity of the film, as well as keeping the viewer on edge. Anyone who is interested in this film should pick up the Criterion Collection DVD since it contains a nice interview with the director, as well as a diesel booklet with some really good essays to mull over in your mind. Onibaba is a gemstone in Asian cinema that everyone should see.