Saturday, October 31, 2009
An evil force produces zombies in Athens. A bunch of people have to kill the zombies in order to survive. Same story, different language. Lot's of tantalizing gore!
The evil force works quick, people feel funny, start to cough then wham! They're eating your flesh. These are fast zombies so the fights are quick, plentiful and brutal, lots of good deaths. I really liked the characters as well, no one is particularly irritating and they all hold their own in a fight. As zombie films go, had I written this review earlier I would have recommended this to AC & Mr.AC to add to their list. The Greek sure know how to put a zombie together.
Set in 18th Century in Japan, Jihei falls in love with courtesan Koharu. He becomes broken-hearted when he realizes he does not have the money to buy her from her current master. Jihei's loving wife Osan offers to sell everything she and his two children have to keep Jihei happy. He knows he is unworthy of Osan's love but cannot resist taking from her to obtain his beloved Koharu with whom he has made a pact of double suicide so they might stay together after death.
This is a classic tale that has been done several times in film and most often as a play. I love the story and have seen it before in play form but never on film. I was told that this was the best version to watch and well, I didn't like it. The entire story is riddled with emotion and heartache which when played well can draw you deep into the story. Unfortunately, the acting here is way overblown to the point of irritation. During one long scene where Jihei fesses up to Osan and she offers to give everything for him the emotion should be so tense and thick that it makes you uncomfortable. Oh it made me uncomfortable alright, it gave me a huge headache! The characters just kept uncontrollably crying. Loud, whiny, wailing cries that just went on and on until poor Tony, who was not watching with me, yelled from the other room, “Would someone kill those people and shut them up already!” Tell you what, I echoed his sentiment. I really wanted to like this. Maybe next year I'll try a different version.
Let’s get one thing absolutely straight from the outset: I watched this movie for one reason and one reason only (and the more alert amongst Horrorthon readers have probably already figured out what that reason is). In one of his commentary tracks, writer-director Nicholas Meyer (who had nothing to do with this movie) voiced what’s probably the best definition of movie stardom (as distinguished from mere movie acting) I’ve ever heard: “An actor pretends that they’re somebody else,” Meyer said, “while a movie star pretends that somebody else is them.” Along precisely these lines, The Jacket, a mediocre horror/fantasy thriller, answers the burning question, “What if a strung-out, hard-drinking, chain-smoking Vermont diner waitress was Keira Knightley?” It’s a question I found very intriguing (after four or five period-piece Knightley costume dramas in a row); the answer isn’t nearly as satisfying as I had hoped, beyond the visual/auditory freak-out of the crazy stunt-casting. (There’s another hidden-in-plain-sight super-famous British star in this movie, whose performance is vastly more interesting than Knightley’s; more below).
The Jacket is one of those movies during which you keep asking yourself why it got made, since the story barely makes sense and the scenes keep failing, one after the other, each leaving you less interested in continuing to watch than the one before. In nearly all cases, movies like this have one single, very clever idea, and it’s easy to imagine that idea surviving into each one-page summary and cell-phone agent discussion and studio meeting, making just enough of an impression on all concerned that nobody stops the project from moving forward (or forces the script to get substantially re-written, which is definitely what should have happened in this case). When one of these scripts -- an ineptly-constructed narrative with a single worthwhile concept nestled inside it -- gets the kind of high-profile, big budget production that was lavished on The Jacket, the burden invariably falls on the cast to try to salvage the weak story, and you can spend the whole movie watching the painful spectacle of talented, famous actors working as hard as they possibly can, trying in vain to jump-start one dead battery after another. In this case, English rose Knightley joins Adrien Brody (the youngest Best Actor winner in Oscar history) and established, beloved pros like Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch and Brad Renfro in trying as hard as humanly possible to keep this lead balloon of a story afloat.
Brody plays Jack Starks, a Gulf War veteran who suffered a traumatic gunshot wound during a combat exercise and was discharged from duty after recuperating from his near-death experience. (Why do protagonists of lame movies like this always have names like “Jack Starks”?) Apparently, Starks’ primary goal upon resuming civilian life is to wander freezing New England roads in the depths of winter, lugging his belongings in a single rucksack – I know that’s what I would do. There’s no relief from the bad weather: the entire movie takes place in such a relentlessly cold, snow-blown, overcast, bleak climate that I was compelled to put a sweater on, while watching; I don’t think I’ve seen so many reddened faces, frosted windshields and clouds of fogging breath in one movie since A Simple Plan. While hitchhiking through the freezing Vermont woods in December 1993, Starks helps a falling-down-drunk single mother and her young daughter, whose truck has stalled; he inexplicably gives his Army dog-tags to the little girl before accepting a ride from a friendly stranger who gets pulled over by a highway patrolman, trapping Starks in a Fargo-style escalating violent confrontation (depicted over the course of the movie in the requisite BLAM! BLAM! staccato flashback style) that results in his being tried for murder, found not guilty by reason of insanity (Gavel pounding! Cell doors slamming! BLAM! BLAM!) and institutionalized within a mental hospital situated in the coldest, bleakest winter landscape imaginable. (These sequences were actually shot in Scotland, which explains their icy, nearly arctic atmosphere.)
Starks is subjected to an unconventional, borderline-criminal treatment by eccentric shrink Thomas Becker (Kristofferson) involving extended periods of sensory deprivation within a morgue drawer, strapped into the titular straightjacket while heavily drugged -- and, during these sessions, experiences the extended hallucinations that form the bulk of the story (and represent the aforementioned “clever idea” that got this movie made). In his dreams (or are they?) (yawn) Starks is transported forward to 2007, where he immediately discovers the little girl with his dog tags, who has grown up to be Knightley. With her help, Starks must essentially triangulate a (dull) murder mystery from two temporal vantage points, while solving several life crises for surrounding characters along the way. The time-displacement concept is initially intriguing, but it never leads anywhere worthwhile, and the inevitable revelations are more tiring than satisfying. Throughout the movie, the actors work their hardest to imbue this undercooked, badly-thought-out material with pathos and dramatic weight, and one sympathizes for their efforts, but it’s to no avail. (Adrien Brody’s unique ability to convey morose suffering is exploited shamelessly.) Additionally, the movie fails what I call the “belief test:” at some point in every fantasy/horror/sci-fi story, the characters have to confront the uncanny; they never believe what’s in front of them (which is reasonable; neither would we) and nearly all fantasy stories can succeed or fail solely on the strength or weakness of these revelatory “I now believe the impossible” catharses. The Jacket does particularly badly in this regard, since the inept plotting depends on so many “belief test” scenes in a row that the cumulative effect renders the entire cast of characters so collectively gullible that you want to sell them a bridge. The time-twisting secrets and reveals tediously unspool until all questions are answered (by means of some unusually bad time-travel logic) and the movie swerves in its final moments into a misplaced elegiac mode that only emphasizes how little empathy and human interest it’s generated.
The actors are all good, nevertheless, and the freezer-burned photography is consistently presentable...and there’s straggly-haired, over-mascara-ed, grunge-dressed, trailer-trash diner waitress Keira Knightley, whose supernaturally perfect face is, if anything, even more mesmerizing to watch in this unusual context. Knightley’s American accent (she sounds like a whiskey-voiced, methed-out heavy-smoker) adds to the effect wonderfully. And, just because girls should be exposed to the same caliber of British eye candy as boys, the movie also includes an unexpected and welcome turn by Daniel Craig (as another mental patient), nearly unrecognizable in shellacked black hair and another perfect American accent, his James Bond physique hidden beneath loose hospital-issue pajamas. Watching beautiful British actors slum as skillfully as Craig and Knightley (whose mouth is open nearly the entire movie, deploying her trademark pout) is a fun exercise, but there’s not much else to recommend The Jacket; it’s a joyless enterprise whose central idea would hardly be worth so much snowbound drudgery even with the benefit of the rewrites it conspicuously never received.
[ADDENDUM: As discussed, Daniel Craig's work in this movie is so wonderfully chameleon-like that I had to post a clip of his first scene, just so you can see what I'm talking about. Check out his portrayal of a nebbishy American mental-patient -- about as far from James Bond as you can get!]
Friday, October 30, 2009
Before MTV commissioned the full-length Aeon Flux series (in which the characters speak out loud) there were six dialogue-free "Aeon Flux" short films which appeared on MTV's excellent Liquid Television animation anthology show in 1991-2. Peter Chung, the visionary creator/director/writer/designer of "Aeon Flux," provided commentary on the recent compilation DVD box set, compiling all the MTV Aeon Flux material.
The short called "Tide" has a unique structure. According to Chung's commentary, he was inspired by formal arrangements in music when he conceived it. The entire story is constructed from a sequence of twenty shots, each two seconds in length, which repeats six times. (There's an additional shot on the end, longer than the rest, that repeats the first shot.)
Here's the original short: http://www.jordanorlando.com/tide_original
And here's a mosaic presentation I made, showing exactly what he means: http://www.jordanorlando.com/tide
He cheats once.
Michael Small's music for the 1976 John Schlessinger classic Marathon Man, one of my favorite movies of all time, has never been put out on a record. (Judging by Google searches I've run, I'm not the only person looking for Michael Small's music, both from "Marathon Man" and from "Parallax View," but there's never been an official release of either soundtrack.)
This is one of the great 'seventies scores, exemplifying the tonalities and mood of the movies of that period. I've had these melodies running in my head for more than twenty years. I did what I could to pull the music off the movie DVD. I was able to remove dialogue, noise etc. to some extent (due to duplicated tracks through the movie) but there's still a lot of ambient sound. I draw your attention to Szell's theme and to the solo instrumental in the "Closing Suite" that alters the timbre of Babe's Theme. (Obviously I'm making up all the names.) Look at all the trouble I have to go to, just because Paramount won't put out a record! But there can't possibly be more appropriate music for running in Central Park, can there?
I would be shocked if there was one person on the blog who has not seen Gremlins, so I imagine a summary is not necessary, but I’m scared of what JPX might do if I don’t provide one, so here it is. A traveling salesman, looking for a unique gift for his son, purchases a little creature called a mogwai at a Chinese shop. We are told early on that with a mogwai comes a lot of responsibility. There are three rules that must be strictly followed. 1) keep the mogwai away from bright light, 2) do not get it wet, and 3) for the love of god do not let it eat after midnight. It’s not surprising that all three rules are immediately broken. One mogwai becomes several that soon turn into the lethal yet hysterical green gremlins anxious to wreak havoc.
Overall, I was surprised at how entertained I still was. The film is often described as scary and funny, but I only saw the humor. Actually, I’m not sure I ever found it particularly frightening as a kid either. It certainly made me laugh though. I particularly love when the Gremlins go out Christmas caroling, and I was also amused at the police officers complete avoidance. When they arrive at the scene to find one of their townsman getting clobbered by a couple of Gremlins, they immediately roll up their windows and drive away.
Mac Guy is now dead
Now - bus of football players
Same road, Same Creeper
Farmer loses son
Seeks revenge on the creeper
Cool spear gun on truck
Less scary than first
Too many shots of creeper
characters are dull
Mid-America high school
No sympathy here
Hope third is better
Second film has nice set-up
But it's been six years?!?
Lionel, an ultra momma’s boy, falls for Paquita, a local girl who believes they are destined to be together. Sensing her sons detachment, his mother follows the couple on their date to the zoo where she is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey She shortly falls ill, and turns into a zombie. Lionel is forced to keep his zombie mother and her victims under control while hiding them from Paquita and his gold digging uncle.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I watched this movie a couple of weeks ago. In the opening moments, I was annoyed by the bad acting and shitty dialogue to the point that I almost turned it off, but luckily I soon realized that this is all part of its charm. I laughed like crazy, and I felt queasy in a number of scenes, like when puss and blood oozed and squirted out of an arm sore and flew into someone’s bowl of custard pudding. When I told JPX I was watching this, he mentioned the lawnmower scene. He said it was the only part of the film he could remember, and I can see why. It’s pretty damn memorable, and anyone else who has seen this film certainly knows why. Definitely one of the craziest movie endings I’ve seen.
While vacationing in Spain, Tom and his pregnant wife Evelyn rent a boat to visit the nearby island of Almanzora. Soon after arrival they notice that aside from some children the island is completely deserted. They consider that the people may have gone off on a fiesta, but are unsettled by an abandoned cart of melting ice cream, and burnt chickens endlessly turning inside an oven. It’s not long before they learn that the children have murdered all of the adults.
This is my second time watching this film (another review I didn’t get to last year) and it did not disappoint this time around either. The movie plays pretty straightforward. It wastes no time indicting that the children are a threat and that the couple needs to quickly vacate the island. The challenge lies in how and what they are willing to do to escape.
What I enjoy most about this film is the atmosphere it creates. There are many moments where it’s simultaneously serene yet also eerie and unsettling. I felt this as the couple traveled in the empty sea towards Almanzora. The isolation, along with Tom and Evelyn’s playful and genuine interactions formed a sense of ease, but the music and the awareness of the imminent danger they would soon face left me uncomfortable. The island is picturesque, the architecture stunning, yet it is white, drained of color, as if devoid of feeling. The children, through their smiles, laughter and play often appear sweet and innocent, and at other times convey icy and detached stares.
This was Hammer Studios last film. It begins promisingly enough with Christopher Lee donning some priestly clothes as he grumbles, “Excommunication… It is not heresy, and I will not recant!” Then we jump a few years to find out Mr. Lee’s intentions aren’t all that pure. He wants to use his goddaughter Catherine Beddows as a receptacle for a demonic rebirth. Catherine is played by a very young Nastassja Kinski, who I might note spends a good portion of the film nude. So we have rituals, Satan worship, nudity & Christopher Lee. Need I say more?
As I am struggling through this review I totally realize that I did not heed JPX’s advice to not read other reviews when you have to write one. So, I have sat wordless for nearly a week now after reading both JSP’s & Octo’s reviews of this film. Their gift for words leaves me dumbfounded at times. I’m also excruciatingly tired this morning and it’s not helping matters at all. So, I’m trying my best but forgive me if my ranting sounds like that of an insane old person. I feel like I am bias on this matter since I automatically give an extra ½ star to anything with Christopher Lee. The man is such a phenomenal presence that he bumps the quality of the film just by being there. I feel the same way about Vincent Price & Roddy McDowell. After reading the aforementioned reviews I tried not to compare this film to American horror films from this era, but once the thought is implanted it’s very hard to dismiss it. So, I am giving the film 3 ½ Gretchen’s simply because Christopher Lee’s performance was superior and also because it is right in the middle of JSP’s 4 Gretchen’s which I think is a bit too much and Octo’s 3 Gretchen’s which is just a little shy. From there I leave you to judge for yourself if you choose to watch it. However, you might want to take JPX’s advice and skip the other 2 reviews first. The man is wise beyond his years.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I am of the opinion that this movie was treated unfairly by critics and fans alike. I won’t disagree with anyone who dismisses the 12th Jason movie as “unimaginative” but to brand it “lazy” is to miss the point entirely. (And honestly, which Friday the 13th installment isn’t unimaginative?) If you look a little closer I think you’ll find that this (misleadingly dubbed) “reboot” is in fact a carefully crafted attempt to identify and recreate everything that was once held dear about the “good” sequels, which most agree are parts 3, 4 & 6. I’m willing to argue with anyone who will listen that this goal was achieved and that Friday the 13th (2009) is every bit as good (and bad) as the above mentioned classics.
So what did everyone find so damn appealing about this franchise in the first place? Simple – people flocked to the theaters to see horny, disposable teenagers get machetes in the face. No relentless torture, just a few cheap thrills to make your best gal squeeze your hand while you stuff your face with salty, buttery hot popcorn. Jason’s not interested in hearing his victims scream for hours, he just wants everybody dead. The audience is always guaranteed a few likeable characters we hope will escape (including the comedy relief guy who never, ever does), as well as a few jerks that we can’t wait to see die. In my Frontier(s) review I discussed the extreme dislike for the villains. In the 80’s slasher movies the opposite is often true. The victims are the ones we despise and their deaths are met with cheers.
This is where the reboot truly shines. Meet Trent:
He’s the embodiment of everything I've ever hated about anyone or anything. It’s his parents’ cabin so you have to play by his rules and in case you forget it he’ll remind you again in 5 minutes. Trent is an insufferable, entitled, annoyingly good looking preppy boy fu*kface shit stain whom I could not WAIT for Jason to get his murderous hands on. Like it or not, the entire movie hinges on his obnoxious shoulders.
Aside from Trent, all of the other familiar F13th staples are in place. There’s plenty of titillating nudity to satisfy the pervs. The comic relief reigns are handed to a lovable Chinese goofball named Chewie. (Before Jason gives him the business, Chewie tries to hand him a hockey stick to complete his outfit.) And the hero and heroine are both acceptable if somewhat generic. Finally, the deaths aren’t particularly innovative but they’re decent enough.
Back to that unbearable sonovabitch Trent. By far the most disturbing couple of minutes of the film is Trent’s sex scene. While he’s unjustly getting some, I was wishing with all my heart that Jason would appear to lampoon them both with a spear the way he did in Part 2 (or was it 3? Doesn’t matter. He doesn’t.) One of the other girls bangs on the bedroom door screaming that there’s a killer on the loose. At this point I was pleased that his coitus was interruptus.* Sadly, Trent tells her to piss off, finishes the job, and the audience is forced to endure the smug post-orgasmic look of bliss on his face. I can’t prove it, but I’m fairly certain that this scene was included for the sole purpose of pissing me off. AAARRRGGGHH!!!
Now if you’ll excuse me, ahma get me some salty buttery hot popcorn.
*brilliantly coined by Handsome Stan
While shopping for groceries Susan meets David, a good-looking, charming man who briefly flirts with her. Later in the parking lot they have a “chance” meeting and Susan reveals that she is newly divorced and is the mother of two boys. David notes that his wife and daughter died in a car accident a year prior. Fast forward 6 months and the two are engaged and living together. Susan’s eldest son, Michael, who has just returned from military school, cautions her about rushing into this relationship but she ignores his concerns. At first David seems like a great guy usurping the father figure role and playing it to the hilt. Over time, however, Michael begins to suspect that something is not quite right. First of all, David keeps a huge storage locker padlocked in the basement and freaks out if anyone goes near it (!) More importantly a background check suggests that David has been lying about pretty much everything (!!). Unfortunately Susan continues to ignore Michael’s concerns despite overwhelming evidence that David is a weirdo (!!!). By the time David reveals his true nature the horrified family finds themselves in a battle for their lives.
"Where have I seen him before?"
If you’ve seen the original Stepfather films you know that David’s sociopathy is driven by a desire to have the “perfect” family and when he can’t attain this impossible goal he kills everyone and starts over. This seemingly crucial bit of information is so understated in the remake that I’m not even certain that it’s stated at all - perhaps I’m simply recalling the 80s films? Although the original Stepfather films were just dumb, stupid fun, the remake gets bogged down with a b-plot involving eldest son, Michael. It’s established early that he’s some sort of a problematic fuck-up and he’s been away at military school for a long time – being allowed to come home is a “test” to see if he can behave. The problem with this set-up is that the kid seems perfectly nice throughout the film. Not once do you ever believe that he’s been a source of tension in the household. The film wastes a lot of precious minutes on the son’s relationship with his girlfriend, who spends most of the film clad only in a bikini or her underwear (yay! I mean, yawn). The main story only becomes interesting in the final act when David finally unravels. The climax is a bit too little too late and ultimately underwhelming (no pipe in the ass here).
Get back to the horror already
Believe it or not, Japan continues to birth out more JUON films. In the latest installment the son of a prominent businessman murders all 5 members of his family after failing the bar exam. He later hangs himself while recording his death on cassette. In the now-familiar disjointed manner of the previous JUON films, Old Lady in White is presented as a series of short, spooky vignettes that follow the deaths of all who come in contact with the ‘grudge’ and, for reasons never explained, the cassette tape. Unlike the previous installments where there was one identifiable grudge murdering everyone, in Old Lady in White all the dead family members are grudged out and causing everyone headaches.
This is not a good film, but damnit, I still get spooked out by those damn grudge ghosts! The first appearance of a grudge in this film gave me my biggest jolt of the Horrorthon season. I was glad no one was around to hear me squeal like a schoolgirl who has just been pinned by her dreamy boyfriend. As noted above the story makes little sense but its intended audience probably won’t care given the sufficient grudge scares throughout its short run time. This film also offers the most ridiculous grudge of the franchise - the family’s grandmother who walks around hunched over holding a basketball.
I mean, even I wouldn’t be afraid of that. Also, for no discernible reason, except perhaps to link this film to the previous installments, the blue boy makes a very brief appearance meowing at a toy dog.
By the way, there is another JUON film…