Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Avenger"? I hardly know her...

I should have gotten to the drive-in more last year.  I kept thinking to myself that I had kinda shirked my responsibilities to the drive-in and avoided it.  This was mostly due to the fact that the car I had last year sucked.  In general.  I mean, it was a nice car, got me from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time, but as was predicted by my brother when I bought it, it started to deteriorate.  One of the first things to go was the speakers.

No speakers, no radio, no sound.  As fun as it is to watch a movie with no sound, I wouldn't want to repeat it anytime soon.  Sure, I could have taken my mother's SUV, but it would have been too inconvenient.  The time that I did, I didn't know how to turn the lights off.  About halfway through the horror line-up, I had the owner of the drive-in tap on my window, scaring the bejesus out of me, asking me to turn off the lights.  After I caught my breath, I turned them off, on edge for the next four hours thinking he was gonna come knocking again.

Around the end of January and the beginning of February, my car finally became more trouble than it was worth and I had to trade it in.  It was kinda sad.  Even though I knew I didn't want the car and it would cost me more than I could afford, I still felt bad trading it in.  So what, I'm nuts.  It's nothing new, nor should it be that surprising.

When I traded it, I ended up getting a 2009 Honda which is worlds different from my 1994 Honda.  Everything worked in the car.  This was something new for me.  When I got the car, one of the first things to cross my mind was the fact of how awesome it would be to go to the drive-in with it.

I started taking the back way home from work, just so I could drive past the drive-in.  Like a hopeless stalker, I fantasized about sitting in the front row with my double cheeseburger and French fries drenched in ketchup and vinegar.  I kept smelling the smells, imagining what movies I'd see on the big screen, all that shit.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to it.

I kept missing my opportunities.  My job doesn't afford me many opportunities to go as I work all but one weekend a month.  I kept driving past the drive-in, pathetically believing that one day, someday, I would be able to go.

And then, as if God Himself understood my plight, the stars aligned and my weekend off coincided with the Midway Drive-In premiere of "The Avengers".  I told my sister and we finalized plans to be there.

I opened that day, getting out of work at 2.  I drove home, taking the back way again, seeing the drive-in in all it's glory.  The sun reflected off the screen as if responding to my obsessive stalking of the area.  I took a power nap, waking up around 5 and chugged a glass of coffee.  I was ready.  My sister was ready.

We drove there and there was a line already.  I find out, once there, that they don't start letting people in until 6:30.  We had an hour.  My sister and I had a conversation all the way through the hours between us and "The Avengers".  Her and I were both anticipating it.

We got food, reclaiming our seats in front of my car, watching the kids play in front of us.  I got my order of a double cheeseburger and fries.  The vinegar was dripping out of the side of the box.  It was glorious.

The movie started and my sister and I realized that we wouldn't be able to hear it from outside the car.  It was a quick fix as we made it back into the car.  The night air blew through the open windows.

It took me a little while to realize that "The Avengers" wasn't as good as the atmosphere that night, though it certainly gave it a run for it's money.

As is well known by now, "The Avengers" concerns the trials and tribulations of the main characters from the last four years of Marvel movies trying to work together.  The plot is quite ridiculous, concerning some cube that is one half of a knock-off Stargate.  The cube brings the brother of Thor to Earth to wreak havoc.  There isn't really any motivation for Loki to do this, aside from the fact that he's just a generally petulant bad guy, intent on world destruction.  There is some lame excuse that he wants to destroy the planet that Thor loves so dearly, but, yeah...

When it comes down to it, the movie, while it has six stars, is fairly even when it comes to who's movie it is.  For a while, you're thinking that Iron Man will dominate the proceedings.  You look through the cast and you see who's in it and it's pretty obvious that Downey Jr. is the star of the movie.  While Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johannson, Mark Ruffalo and Samuel L. Jackson are all stars in their own rights, none of them have commanded films to box office glory by themselves when they weren't playing superheroes.

And even if it weren't Downey Jr., Tony Stark/Iron Man is such a strong-willed, bull-headed character that you can't help but think that this is going to be Iron Man 2.5.  But, it's really not.  The headliners of the movie are Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk all in fairly even doses.  Black Widow and Hawkeye kinda combine to become one superhero.

Holy shit.  Can I go off on a tangent for a minute and talk about Scarlett Johannson?  I know, I'm not breaking any new ground here, but what the hell.  She is so extremely hot.  I don't know if I've gone through this in the past, but there are different levels to attractiveness for me.

They are the following:

Pretty - The type of girl you could take home to your mother.  The type of girl that you bring to dinner, date and eventually marry.  These are the type of girls that they talk about in romance movies.

Cute - This is the type of girl that you'd find at a coffee shop.  The one that is sitting by themselves, reading Faulkner or some random biography of a historical figure.  Maybe John Paul Jones.  These people will likely have glasses, maybe somewhat of a "Pygmalion" thing going on where if she lost the glasses and cut her hair she'd look like the group above.  But, you really don't want her to change how she looks because you know she's cute and could be pretty.  You want to be the only one in on the joke.  These are the types of girls that you'd find in a romantic comedy.

Hot - Simply put, these are the girls that you don't typically do a lot of talking with.  You find most of these girls in porno.

There are the obvious combinations of these three groups and the rarity of all three.  I can't see Johannson as cute.  The other two are not a stretch whatsoever.


But, the real brilliance at work in "The Avengers" is how the movie is constructed.  It's not one person's show.  It's the team element that brings the movie together.  I was amazed at how when I left the movie, I couldn't tell what movie it really was.  Really, it was kinda like "Freddy vs. Jason" in that respect.  You couldn't tell if you were watching a Freddy or a Jason movie.

(But truly, it was a Freddy movie.  Jason was Freddy's puppet the entire time.  That's where that movie failed among other places.)

Aside from the structure of the film, the acting was top notch and the directing with the actors.  I think Whedon was wholly responsible for the feel of the movie.  How it felt like a team more than a singular hero at the forefront.  That aspect of Whedon's involvement I liked.  And his writing.

But really though, can Whedon direct action?

This has been a question for a long time anytime a new superhero movie comes out.  Christopher Nolan has come under attack for his lack of creative direction during action scenes.  That his stuff is too choppy, confusing.  I fully agree.

Now, with Whedon.  Can he?  I'd say I think he sorta can.  I think that he had a lot of plates he had to keep spinning while making this movie.  He could have been a little over his head.  Some of the action scenes are just plain dull (the opening sequence and the chase through the tunnels).  Some of it just seemed like too much (Black Widow finding Hawkeye after being Hulk smashed through flying aircraft carrier that is about to plummet from the sky as Captain America and Iron Man fix it because possessed Hawkeye was trying to free Loki, but not before Loki tricked Thor into the same cage he was just in while having a showdown with Agent Coulson).

And then there was the episodic feel of some of the fights.  It's like Whedon had a list on a marker board in his office that connected each of the main eight characters with a different colored marker, indicating who would fight with who.  "Okay.  We have a two hour and twenty minute movie.  Thor has gotta fight Loki, we know that, Loki is the main bad guy, but he should fight Iron Man.  Ooh.  And Captain America.  But, they're all so evenly matched.  Holy shit!  Inspiration!  Thor and Hulk should fight on the aircraft carrier as it's going down.  Oh!  This is perfect!"

As for Whedon's dialogue, it was pretty good.  He seemed to temper a lot of the ridiculouslness of the situations with his humor.  Though there was one line that struck me as false.  Or, the only one I can remember at the moment.  There's a part where Thor is speaking to the group about how the group shouldn't really speak down about Loki because Loki is still his brother after all.  When Black Widow mentions the amount of people that Loki has killed in two days, Thor quickly quips, "He's adopted."

This really seems out of character for Thor to say for a couple of reasons.  Really, Thor spends the entire movie trying to believe that his brother still has some good left in him.  There's gotta be something deep down underneath all the costumers and Devil-horned helmets that still rings good and true.  He is always there for his brother.  He doesn't want him killed, he wants him to be healed.  He stands by him in his own way the entire movie.

This line, while funny, throws all that back in the audience's face.  It's out of character and seemed like something that Whedon wrote as a joke, not being able to see the big picture at the time of his writing.  He went for the easy laugh as opposed to the earned one.

And another thing:

Why is it that Alan Silvestri is getting lazy?  I swear to God, he keeps rehashing the same themes over and over again.  I know, a lot of people will say the same about John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith, but they at least change SOME things about their music.  There were a lot of parts in the score, especially the actions scenes, that seemed vaguely familiar.  Allen pointed it out to me that some of the music sounded like it was directly lifted from "The Mummy Returns".  It's a rip-off.  Really, if you're not getting goosebumps from the music from a superhero movie, then it's not doing it's job.  I think I might have gotten one goosebump.  Alan Silvestri, I swear to Thor that if you don't change up your music, I will find someway to get to you.  I don't know how just yet, but give me time and I'll enact a plan.

All in all though, I did like the movie a hell of a lot.  I think it was fun and fast-paced, with the exception of a few spots in the middle.  At this point, it's the second best movie I've seen this year (though I still need to see "The Grey") and feels like it would be hard to beat this summer season.  

"The Dark Knight Rises" I feel won't be nearly as fun.  It's not Christopher Nolan's style to be fun and I wouldn't expect him to be.  I just have a bad feeling that "Dark Knight Rises" is going to be closer to "Spider-Man 3" than it will be to "Batman Begins".  Yes, I know.  "The Dark Knight Rises" will not be as ridiculous as "Spider-Man 3", but think of the two directors.  Raimi and Nolan.  Raimi let his freak flag fly with "Spider-Man 3", played into all his proclivities and more or less went crazy.  It shows on the screen.  You give a man no rules and a huge budget, this is what will happen.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, you have Nolan.  Mr. Super Serious.  Mr. Let's Have The Joker Slit Some Guy's Throat and Make the Movie PG-13.  I have a feeling "Dark Knight Rises" will be two and a half to three hours of pure oppression.  Characters being put through the ringer, people dying, Anne Hathaway looking absolutely ridiculous as Catwoman.  She wouldn't be able to intimidate an actual mouse in that outfit.  The mouse would see her and likely die laughing because of how fucking stupid she looks.

With no rules and basically carte blanche, Nolan will fuck with people during this movie.  I can't even really think of a better way to put it.  I don't think it's fucking with people with purpose either.  I think it's just fucking with people because he can.  People are touting him as being this great director (which he is, but he's gotta work on his writing) and it's getting to his head.  So, now, he's going to screw with people more.

And let's face it, "The Dark Knight Rises" is likely not going to make money like "The Dark Knight" did.  "The Dark Knight" had a lot of hype around it.  It had a lot of love coming to it from "Batman Begins" alone.  Plus it had Ledger.  And the most famous of all the Batman villains prominently featured throughout it.  Ledger died and it was like putting a shot of pure cocaine into the vein of the public.  People were buzzing around it, wondering what it could have been about the role that drove Ledger to swallow all those pills.  What dark places did he take the character, so on.  People went for all those reasons.

Now, you have "The Dark Knight Rises".  While there is a lot of praise coming off "The Dark Knight" (99% of it undeserved), it stands a chance.  But with Bane sounding like a bad Bond villain and Catwoman looking more like she's playing dress up than cat burglar, it's looking bleak.  And not the bleak that Nolan is hoping.  Bleak like this is gonna be bad bleak.  Bleak like let's line up and see this train wreck bleak.  Bleak like emo Peter Parker jive-walking down the street.

The point is, I don't think "The Dark Knight Rises" will match the quality of "The Avengers".  But I hope I'm wrong.  Batman has always been my superhero since 1989.  I can't change a 23 year old tradition now.

"The Avengers" - ***1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Best Films of 2011

Every year, my friends and I gather together at a local diner and discuss our favorite films of the year. When this came about this year, I failed at seeing a lot of the best movies. I ended up making a list that was something of a Best Genre Films list than anything else.

Since then, I have caught up with a lot of the movies that were on my friend's lists as well as some others. I know that I still haven't seen some of the best ones ("Certified Copy", "We Need to Talk About Kevin", "Shame", "A Dangerous Method", "Meek's Cutoff"), but I will catch up to those soon enough and submit another list.

Another thing, I kinda cheated on a couple of these.

That being said, here we go...

11. Fright Night / Mission : Impossible - Ghost Protocol / Scream 4
Directed by Craig Gillespie, Brad Bird and Wes Craven

Every year that I have done a list, number 10 has turned out the same. One of these three way ties that have some connection, tenuous as it may be. This year's theme is genre pictures. Not just that, but all these films are not original and could be part of a series.

Start alphabetically with "Fright Night".
There were really no good reasons that this movie worked. It was a remake of an 80s horror film that I actually hold dear to my heart. Unlike "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween" of the same era, "Fright Night" had a certain charm to it. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but that might be what made it so alluring. It really could have been the simple fact that it was one of those movies on VHS that I always walked past in Red's Video as a kid and thought that the cover art was awesome.

So, going into the remake, I was worried. Well, within the first twenty or so minutes, all those worries went away. This was one of the most enjoyable, fun horror movies I've seen in a while. While it was funny (though not so much as the original), it really had some ridiculous horror chops, but not to the point where you were grossed out. This movie is a clear example of what a horror remake should be.

"Mission : Impossible - Ghost Protocol" had something similar to the remake of "Fright Night" going on : it had an uphill battle. The last "Mission : Impossible" movie, while great, didn't meet box office expectations so a lot of people were worried about this latest installment. Turns out, it's probably the best out of the four. The only reason I say probably is because I still really like the De Palma original with all of it's paranoia.

When you really get down to it, this movie is proof that Tom Cruise is a force to be reckoned with. People don't take him seriously because of his Scientology or whatever, but honestly, the man is a movie star. Plain and simple. I wouldn't doubt if later into the series he turns into the new Mr. Phelps and gives the missions. I feel that even then, they won't be able to talk him off the side of a building.

Let me say too that that sequence is probably the most exhilarating, entertaining sequence in an action movie that I've seen in a long time. My friend Allen kept telling me about how I should have seen it in IMAX, which I should have, but seeing it on the screen that I did had a profound effect anyway. I have a fear of heights and that part made me sick. That is about the highest compliment I can give to that movie. You know, aside from it being directed at a brisk pace and having some of the best action sequences committed to film.

Last, but certainly not least, in this three way is "Scream 4". On paper, the movie didn't seem like it should have worked whatsoever. All the characters are ten years older, Courtney Cox looks like a scarecrow that escaped from a nearby cornfield and Neve Campbell is still hot. Wait, that last one worked to the advantage of the movie.

But, no matter, besides the window dressing of the movie (including a young cast of talented, attractive people), it's the plot that really matters here. Though it resembles (some say too much) the original "Scream", I think that's an asset of the film.


I can't really speak of how much I like this movie without giving away it's secrets. For those of you who haven't seen the movie yet, do not read on.

Jill, Sidney's cousin, being the killer is a stroke of genius. Kinda like the "Orphan" twist from a few years ago, everyone said they saw it coming. I'm a little more easily lead so I can't say that I did. I really think people are bullshitting. This is one of the few times a movie has legitimately surprised me as to who the killer was. And I will say that I was surprised for "Scream 2" and "Scream 3", but for different reasons. Those two movies had killers in them that were barely involved with the action. In the background.

In this movie, they just put Jill right in the middle of everything and it turns out she's the killer. The other brilliant thing about the movie is that it explains that reboots are awful when, essentially, that's what they're doing. Rebooting the "Scream" franchise. There are so many levels of metafiction sewn into this script, it's ridiculous. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I hope, and I really do mean this, that they continue on with the series after this one. Not just to carry on the story, but because I really think they have a shot at something special with finishing this trilogy.

Another thing too: with Wes Craven now 72, he directs like he just got out of college. I am, and always will be a huge fan of yours, sir even after seeing "The Hills Have Eyes : Part 2".

10. Moneyball
Directed by Bennett Miller

Here is another movie that shouldn't have worked. I remember a few months before it was released in theaters, one of my sports nuts friends was telling me about how he didn't think it would work. That the book was excellent, but he didn't see how it would make an interesting film.

He couldn't have been more wrong. The movie is interesting. The fact that it's story is unique and true makes it all the more. Brad Pitt settles into his part perfectly as Billy Beane. His nomination this year is deserved quite a bit. I believe that between this and "The Tree of Life", he's shown remarkable range. Not that I didn't think he had it before, but I think a lot of people don't give him enough credit because of his looks.

And another thing too, where the hell did Jonah Hill come from? He used to be this incredibly annoying kid in every stupid gross out comedy and then he calms himself down and turns in this performance. I honestly believe that if he continued on as he is in this film, he'll have a long, prosperous career. I just hope that someone else tells him this. Maybe the nomination he got will be proof enough.

But, back to the actual movie, you have to give real credit to Sorkin, Zallian and director Miller for bringing this story to light and making it entertaining. What's nice about it is that it doesn't give you the easy answers. They could have ended with the record setting game that the A's won, but they didn't. They showed that a lot of people considered Beane a failure and the whole system.

What this movie shows more than anything else is that people are resistant to change. From Art Howe, to Billy Beane, to the baseball community in general, people just don't want to use new ideas. They'd rather be stuck in their ways and continue to fail than make some kind of ballsy move. This movie shows that people can change and adapt, even against the odds.

9. The Artist
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

I know, a lot of people are probably gonna have me strung up by the short hairs for having this as low as I do, but there was one fatal mistake the filmmakers made (in my opinion) that derailed it at it's most important point.

But, before I get into that, let's talk about all the good things that it has going for it. Much like this year's "Hugo" and "Midnight in Paris", a lot of the love for this movie comes simply out of nostalgia. The movie is made with such skill and grace that it's hard not to get carried away in the pure filmmaking. Jean Dujardin is going to have a long career after this movie, especially after he wins the Academy Award (or at least I hope). The man has all the looks and skills of a movie star but none of the pretensions that come with it. His costar Berenice Bejo is beautiful and talented as well.

A lot of the time in the movie is spent showing how silent film actors were thrown to the side as soon as sound in film was invented. When it comes down to it, that's how a lot of life is. As new technologies crop up, people get lost in the mix. The song "Video Killed the Radio Star" comes to mind. People have short memories. They'd rather watch "The Fifth Element" on Blu-Ray than let themselves get carried away by a film like "The Artist".

Yes, you're right. The movie is a 100-minute black and white silent film, but there's not a movie out in theaters like it. And while it doesn't hold a candle to the classic silent films like "Sunrise" or anything Chaplin did, it's nice to see it on the big screen with an audience that appreciates it.

Now, for the negative thing that prevented this from being higher on my list:
One of my favorite films of all time is Hitchcock's "Vertigo". Has been since I was about eight and didn't understand a thing about the plot. The music is so, so familiar and famous that anyone that has seen "Vertigo" would be able to notice the musical cues if they were used in another film.

"The Artist" does this. It uses a track from the "Vertigo" score. Now, I wouldn't mind this so much if the movie was set in modern times, but it's not. The movie is set during the depression. "Vertigo" was made in 1958. My friend Allen tells me that they didn't use the exact music from "Vertigo", that instead they used an adaptation of it that was made in 1989. THAT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE!

Let's think about this for a second. When you see "The Artist", the thing that drives you from scene to scene (because there is no sound) is the score. Just like a silent movie did way back when. Now, the whole movie is supposed to be entertaining for those who do not know silent films and nostalgic for those who do. Isn't it kind of cheap to use music from a classic movie in the score to this one? Granted, the music works for the moment that it occurs, but the score for "The Artist" (at least up until that point) is so good that I'm sure they could have gone with something, anything but that.

It just seemed like a copout in the middle of an excellent film. I had a hard time putting this on my list for that reason alone. But cooler heads prevailed. I think...

8. The Guard
Directed by John Michael McDonagh

"The Guard" is an incredibly difficult movie to qualify. It's almost like a comedic "Bad Lieutenant" in Ireland movie. I guess that's a good way to describe it. Kinda. I don't really know. The success of this movie hinges upon two things : the performances and the script. And it succeeds brilliantly.

Brendan Gleeson might be one of the most underrated actors out there for the simple fact that he falls into his characters like really no other actor. Between this and "In Bruges", he's cemented himself as a great comedic talent as well, something I never would have seen. He played the straight man in "In Bruges" and now gets to be the funny one in "The Guard". he really is something to behold in this film.

The plot of "The Guard" really makes no difference. It could easily be something out of a "Miami Vice" episode. What is so great about the movie is how the characters treat certain situations. We see Brendan Gleeson being an irresponsible lout the entire movie, but then see this incredibly sweet relationship that he has with his dying mother. We see that even though he is kind of an asshole, he is a good cop. Not just that, but he's incorruptible. He has such an interesting set of morals. He'll do drugs and buy prostitutes, but he won't take a bribe.

He also screws with people for his own amusement but really doesn't mean anything nefarious by it. He makes a racist comment to an incoming cop and continues to, and in Gleeson's performance, you can see that he's testing the new cop. Getting him on his level. Trying to gain a report with him. The part of the film where Don Cheadle (the cop in question) realizes that Gleeson is just screwing with him is oddly touching. You see a friendship blossoming, a mutual respect.

This is the type of film that not a lot of people have seen, but it deserves much more acclaim than it's gotten so far. If you haven't seen it, find it now and watch it. I'm sure you'll like it as much as I have.

7. Warrior
Directed by Gavin O'Connor

Talk about a surprise. My friend Mike has been telling me about this movie since the weekend that it came out. When it comes to this kind of thing, I consider Mike to be an expert. This kind of thing is sports. I am not a sports guy. Anyone that has seen me will know this. But, as I usually do, I passed this off. Not because of any reason besides I was told I would like it.

Well, I am an idiot.

Once it came out on Blu-Ray, I decided to buy it. I had a feeling I might like it, but was still hesitant. Once I saw it, all those feelings went away. The movie is about the closest thing that anyone in my generation will get to "Rocky". It is one of the most emotional movies I've seen in quite a while. The only person that made a movie more emotional this year was Spielberg and that's saying something.

The entire time you watch this film, you're not sure what's going to happen. Instead of having one person to root for in the film, you root for them both. Both brothers. But, towards the end of the movie, I noticed that they had pulled a fast one on me. The movie was not about who was winning, but if the characters became a workable family unit at the end.

It was kinda clever and made me rethink the movie. Got me to watch it again. And when I did, I realized that it was less a sports movie and more about these broken people trying to get by in life, similar to "Win Win" earlier in the year. You like both of the characters, but the most heartbreaking character is Nick Nolte.

If this movie was set thirty years ago when Nolte's character was the dick that he was, the movie may have been different. You would have felt completely differently. But, as the movie shows you, none of these characters are completely innocent in their lives. They've all screwed up at one point and they want to move on and be happy. Nolte's character believes that he can reconcile with his children and be a part of their lives. About halfway through the movie, you get the feeling that it won't happen.

But then comes The Scene. I say "The Scene" for the specific reason that when you see the movie, you'll know what I'm talking about. When you see this scene, you are completely devastated. And it ends with such a touching moment between him and Tom Hardy.

Sure, the movie is melodramatic. But, let's be serious, movies are supposed to be.

6. The Adventures of Tintin / War Horse
Both directed by Steven Spielberg

This is another stretch of my list, but whatever, it's my list. The connecting theme, though you should know, is Spielberg. One is the best animated film of the year, the other is the best John Ford movie that he never made. Kinda like J.J. Abrams made the best Spielberg movie he never made with "Super 8".

But, no matter, "The Adventures of Tintin" never stops. Not for a moment. The camera is constantly moving and it's always exciting. When you're not thrilled by the action, you're laughing at the dialogue. This is really what you would expect from Spielberg. When you really think about it, Spielberg hasn't made a movie like this since "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". A lot of people complained that there wasn't a lot of character development in the movie, but that's small change. I thought there was enough to hang your hat on, so to speak. For a movie that's as exciting as this movie is, I can't imagine having a complaint as most people had.

Some people might say this was somewhat of a magic trick. Spielberg distracted me with a bunch of cool looking action and I let him slide on the character development. To that, I can say you could be right. That I've been on this blog, complaining about how Nolan does something extremely similar to this. The difference is this: Spielberg isn't trying to make the end all, be all psychological maze of a movie. He's out to make an entertaining film. Plain and simple. With that in mind, I think he had an unqualified success with "Tintin".

As far as "War Horse", I can't say much about it. It is a strange movie, to be sure, because it really is like watching an old John Ford film. The in your face emotions, the good people with big hearts and a horse. And the scenery. Good Christ, Kaminsky (the cinematographer). You truly are amazing.

You really can't push this all on the cinematography and the emotions. You gotta hand it to Spielberg. His professionalism and his shot composition are something to behold. He always knows exactly how to wring every emotion out of the audience. He is a master manipulator. I know that sounds like an awful thing. But really, that's only an awful thing for a significant other. As a director, he has to be manipulative. Just like Hitchcock, Capra and especially Ford.

Another connecting thread between these two films is John Williams. I mean, holy shit. I know that I have a little bit too much respect for him and Spielberg but I wish that when I'm John Williams' age that I'm still doing all the shit that he does. He did two full, excellent scores this year for two great films. And he's in his 80s. He and Clint Eastwood. Damn. That is so damn impressive. And the scores don't slouch. You know, maybe Williams draws upon some chords that he's used over the years, but honestly, the man has been around since the mid-60s, you're going to eventually fall on the same themes.

5. Melancholia / The Tree of Life
Directed by Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick

This is also kind of a cheat. The movies are similar, but not the same. They both deal with the cosmos and humanity in equal measures. It was difficult for me to keep one but throw away the other so this was my solution. Deal with it.

"Melancholia" was about what I expected from a von Trier film about the end of the world. It focused on the characters dealing with the situation over having all these people spread across the globe, trying to figure things out. It is incredibly bleak, depressing, but also has a lot of heart to it, oddly enough.

Kirsten Dunst gives a performance that was sadly overlooked by a lot of the awards this year. It could possibly be the same thing that happened with Brad Pitt for the last twenty years. She's a pretty face, no one wants to take her seriously as an actress. Now, I know a few people with depression. I can honestly say that Kirsten Dunst's portrayal of a depressed woman really is accurate. The way she acts during the final scenes of the movie have this incredible peace attached to it. She knows the end of the world is coming and she knows there's nothing she can do about it, so she just waits for it to happen.

Unlike her sister. Charlotte Gainsboro (known famously for cutting off her clitoris with rusty scissors in last years "Antichrist") plays her sister. Her sister wants to be able to do something about what's going on. She fears the end of all existence. She wants to shield her son from it and be able to have some kind of resolution to it. But she can't. It's out of her control and it drives her mad.

Really, the movie is about death. Some people go through life fearing that they will die someday. So they waste their lives. Others know that it will happen but keep it in the back of their minds at all times. It's incredibly bleak, but realistic. What I will say is that the science may not match up with the planet going through the universe like some kind of a bulldozer, but used as a metaphor, it works.

On the flip side of the coin is "The Tree of Life".

Here is a film that is completely up to interpretation. It is two hours and 18 minutes long and you can put whatever you want into it. I know a lot of people were put off by how the movie was. The dinosaurs were ridiculous, there was no dialogue that you could really hear. But, if you think of it from the perspective of the Sean Penn character (or his child self), a lot of it makes sense.

When you think of your childhood, what do you remember? You don't really remember a lot, unless you have an eidetic memory. You remember feelings. Moments. Images. You don't remember plots. Or at least, rarely you do. Especially from ages 10-15. Given that thought, all the home stuff makes sense.

As far as the cosmos stuff and the dinosaurs, I don't really know. Maybe it's indicative of Sean Penn's character trying to find his place in the world. Maybe he feels like his life pales in comparison to what's already happened. Wars, feast, famine, plate tectonics. All this shit is more important than his measly life.

At the end, when everyone comes together, I took that as the afterlife. I feel like others have as well. It could also be seen as Penn coming to terms with his life. That these people all were integral in who he is as a person. Him hugging his child self is him finally understanding all the trials and tribulations that he went through as a child.

Who really knows what it means? I'm not sure Malick does. Penn has famously said that he doesn't understand anything that happened in it. But, could "The Tree of Life" be the new "2001"?

I think it's possible. Give me a couple of years to think it over and the creation of the world to compare it to.

4. Contagion
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

If you know me, you might know this little anecdote already:

When I was a younger, my brother and I would go to a movie almost every weekend. Some were good, some were bad, but there was one that changed my life forever. In 1995, a film called "Outbreak" was released. I just thought it would be a decent thriller with not much going on with it besides that. Little did I know that it was more or less about the end of the world.

I was and never have been good with end of the world scenarios, especially when I was a kid. I was more a Charlotte Gainsboro at the time, worried what would happen. Well, during "Outbreak", I started crying hysterically because I was scared. At the time, I was only 11 (my birthday was a couple of months after this) so I think it was relatively justified that I was crying. My brother had to take me out of the theater at the time and leave the movie halfway because he didn't think it was good for me to stay.

This story became somewhat of a legend on it's own. Friends of mine heard about it, made fun of me for it. Family members thought it was funny that my brother had to leave early. This past year, I bought "Outbreak" for my brother on Blu-Ray as a kind of apology for making him miss the rest of it.

Since probably six or seven years ago, I've come to terms with "Outbreak". It is actually a movie that I like quite a bit. It's entertaining, suspenseful and exciting. It's still a little scary, but I can handle it now that I'm older.

So here comes "Contagion". I started thinking that it would be something similar to "Outbreak". It is and it isn't. Where "Outbreak" was entertaining, "Contagion" is realistic. "Contagion" made me uncomfortable for days afterwards. Not in a "Hey, I saw a person get their eye ripped out in a movie and now I'm grossed out" way, but in a "Holy shit, this could happen" way.

I was impressed with the movie, but then I heard something from Allen I didn't know. Because I didn't read the article or see the interview like he did, I don't want to try paraphrasing what he said, but Soderbergh deliberately tried doing something different with "Contagion". He made it more like a documentary. There is no histrionic melodrama, the actors disappear into their roles and there is no helicopter chase. (Yes, there was one in "Outbreak", but damn, was it awesome.)

There's no real action in the movie at all. This is just another instance of the characters doing what they can to survive. Another thing too, although I knew it was coming the entire time, the ending still disturbed the shit out of me. I think the music had something to do with it.

Excuse me, now. I'm going to go bathe in bleach before I write my entry for #3.

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by David Fincher

Okay, that's better. Little burny, but better.

Anyway, I've never seen the Swedish version of this or read the books. (Books...HA!) What I do know is that this is an incredible film, front to back. A lot of people critique Fincher for not having a heart, to be emotionless and all that jazz. I see him as more of a worker than most other directors.

Fincher is a perfectionist. My friend Greg had a great thought regarding Fincher, saying that he's obsessed with details and that carries over into his work. If you go back and think of "Zodiac" (easily the best film of 2007), this theory works well. "Zodiac" was a movie about characters obsessed with details who end up (sorta) solving a crime. "Dragon Tattoo" is very similar.

If you were to put the two films side by side, the themes are close to one another. Craig and (the incredible) Mara are detail obsessed freaks who end up solving a 30 year-old case. In "Zodiac", Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr. pretty much do the same thing. What's so amazing about "Dragon Tattoo" is exactly that: the details.

There's a sequence in the film that's pretty minute when you think about it, but all together integral in the long run. They start going through old photos, trying to find out who the victim of this crime was looking at. All the photos are meticulously shot so you only get a little of an idea as to what's going on in the frame. This is an amazing sequence. The amount of time that it must have taken to get these shots just right to keep the suspense up is ridiculous when you think about it.

But, without getting too caught up in the details, let's talk about Rooney Mara for a moment. Rooney Mara basically came out of nowhere two years ago when she was in the remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street". The movie itself was pretty terrible, but I really liked her in it. She has a plain Jane, girl next door look that works for her. And she was a good actress, the one sign of light in the darkness of that film.

Then she was in "The Social Network" in a small part, but she was effective. She was the type of girl that I would have gone after in college. (And likely failed at picking up.) This isn't because of how she looked (although that helped), it's because of her personality. This could be a testament to Aaron Sorkin's writing or her acting. I attributed it to her.

Now, here she comes along in this like a bat out of Hell. I mean that too. Every choice she makes is such a badass motherfucker choice. The reason I'm using those words is because that is what she portrays the entire time. Badass motherfucker. Her performance is likely the best female performance of the year. Not Meryl Streep, or Viola Davis or Glenn Close and her cross dressing. No. Rooney Mara.

Take for instance one of the hardest scenes to watch in the movie, her rape. Not only is the scene brilliant from a technical standpoint, making you cringe at every thing that happens, but her acting is really what brings it all to the front. Seeing a lot of horror movies in my life, I've seen a lot of rape scenes. They're disgusting, as is the act. I don't really see the point of most of them, or all of them really. But the entire time she's getting raped, you know she's got something up her sleeve. You know that this guy that raped her is going to get his. And good God, he does.

That's another thing, too. From an attractive quality standpoint, Rooney Mara is incredibly attractive for a lot of reasons. I wouldn't normally go for a girl like her (at least not in all the makeup she's in) but her raw sexuality and her bluntness are an uncommon quality in women in film. You don't see a lot of that. And the fact that Mara tackles it with such conviction, and, dare I say, grace is a testament to her all too obvious talent.

Oh yeah. Daniel Craig is good, too.

2. Drive
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

If Steve McQueen were alive, he would have starred in this movie. I know some people didn't like this movie as much as others, but I was hooked from the beginning to the end. Ryan Gosling cemented himself as a star this year. I liked this movie worlds better than "The Ides of March". I thought that while he didn't say a lot, the looks and the emotions that he got out during the movie were a ton better than anything in that movie.

But aside from him, the movie is a throwback to something out of the 60s. A lot of movies were throwbacks this year. Dealt a lot with nostalgia. Anyway...

The plot, again, is pretty inconsequential. He drives, gets embroiled in a heist and has to get out of it. What sets this movie apart from a lot of movies like this is Gosling's code. He has standards. Kinda like Brendan Gleeson in "The Guard", his morals are weird, but he at least has some rules he adheres to.

And that's another thing, Albert Brooks. What's up, dude? You mean you could have been playing badass bad guys for years and you are just now starting? What the fuck? Talk about a scary character. He is such a nice guy, and you get a sorta fuzzy feeling seeing Albert Brooks at all in a movie, and then he just stabs some guy in the eye with a fork and then pulls out a butcher knife and finishes the guy off. That's how you apologize for "The Muse". Let's just hope he has some more apologies coming up.

As far as the direction in the film, I can almost say it's flawless. I do think that it may have bordered on pretension at times, but really, the movie didn't have a lot of faults to it. It even killed off a character I didn't really like just around the time I started not liking him. That was pretty impressive to me.

And I will say that I want to have a marathon of "Drive", "Faster", "Speed" and "Crash", preferably the Cronenberg one. The Haggis one would just muddy the waters.

1. Hugo
Directed by Martin Scorcese

This really was a foregone conclusion. Since I saw this, it shot up to the top of my list. Now, like I said, I haven't seen all the movies I wanted to see so this could still change, but really, how is there another movie out there that succeeds on so many levels?

First and foremost, we have to commend Scorcese. I know it's a little overwrought these days. Scorcese breathes in the right direction and he gets an award. But, he took something that he loves (film) and turned it into an entertaining film itself. The movie is a love letter to films. He loves everything about films and he loves all films. He goes to an era that he would have loved to have lived and does his best. And he does all this with an assured hand. He knows what he's doing at every moment.

Unlike the film that he won Best Director for five years back, "Hugo" feels like a complete movie. "The Departed", as good as it was, succeeded on style, dialogue and performances. But, it didn't have a lot of depth. "Hugo" has depths that rival some oceans. We have a story about an orphan, dealing with his father's death, we have this mystery about a person living in a train station and we have the history of silent film. All in one movie.

The movie also has the task of rekindling people's interest in silent films. And to think, Scorcese does all this while showing it in 3D. Now, I hate 3D. I don't understand what the point of it is. But Scorcese and Spielberg have shown me that it can be used well and properly. That does not mean that I now like 3D, I just know that, in the right hands, it could be used well.

That's some other food for thought. Scorcese is directing a movie in 3D about the beginning of film. Way back when this was all going on, people were legitimately afraid of films, thinking trains and bullets were going to come out of the screen at them. Now, we have the technology where it could happen. Scorcese, in his weird, bushy eyebrowed way, is telling us that 3D is just the next step. He kinda convinced me. Sorta.

On top of the subject matter, you have to remember too that the production design, editing, cinematography and score are all top notch. You feel like you're a part of this film. The dialogue comes off like something out of a Robert Altman film at times. Scorcese deliberately used techniques he learned from other silent filmmakers in this film.

So, when it comes down to it, you feel like you've eaten a full meal when you walk out of "Hugo". You realize that film can be more than just "Transformers" and "Twilight" and "The Hangover Part II". Film can transport you places you've never been, or places you have been. Get you to know people you might not have normally. It can be an experience instead of a hinderance to your life.

Scorcese could make terrible movies for the rest of his life and I would never lose my love for him and my appreciation for what he brought to the screen with "Hugo". Not just that, but it would be nice to see Scorcese slumming it for a while. Maybe he can direct the "Green Lantern" sequel.


Maybe then, I'd lost some respect.

But, I'll never know if he doesn't try.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

American Horrible Story

During the summer, I cracked open my copy of Entertainment Weekly's Fall TV Preview. I was excited because one of the main articles was on a new horror series called "American Horror Story". It had Dylan McDermott and I liked him and I was always a fan of "Nip/Tuck" which the creator of "American Horror Story" was involved in as well. I couldn't wait.

But then it premiered and I couldn't have been more disappointed.

For those of you who don't know the basic story, I'll go through it now as quickly as I can: The story is more about the house than the characters. The house has had all sorts of murders happen in it, half-aborted babies and effeminate, misunderstood teenage mass murderers. Next door to the house lives Constance who seems to be the puppet master of all the goings-on in the house.

Then the family moves in. The father is a Cheating Son of a Bitch with a Heart, the mother is the Strong-Willed Victim and the daughter is Angsty Cool. The reason I've capitalized their descriptors is because this is exactly the character construct that they fit into. I remember their names, but really to understand the unmitigated failure of this television show, it's easier if you do it this way.

The Cheating Son of a Bitch with a Heart is tempted by a maid that walks around wearing nothing and keeps masturbating in rooms by herself. But to everyone else, she's an old lady with a dead eye. Later in the show, it's revealed that years before, Constance killed the maid as a young lady, shooting her through the eye. The maid was more or less being raped by Constance's husband and Constance blamed her so shot them both. This Constance is a rational person who puts a lot of thought into her actions.

That was sarcasm.

But when you watch the trajectory of the series, you're supposed to think that Constance is this calculating woman who works everything so she gets exactly what she wants. But she murders people. It's an interesting character, the only one in the series, and Jessica Lange does her best. It's just too bad that the rest of the characters in the series didn't have this punch to it. If they spent half the time they did with the Constance character with any of the other characters, they wouldn't come off as bullshit and transparent.

Let's take the Cheating Son of a Bitch. Dylan McDermott plays him. I've always liked Dylan McDermott. He has this everyman quality to him that's uncommon in a lot of actors, TV and movie alike. He brings a sort of earnest edginess to every role he plays. He was one of the main reasons I was so excited about the show. I can't blame what happens with his character on him. I can't. As much as I'd like to, it's impossible. Ryan Murphy is the one to blame for all this shit.

Ryan Murphy reminds me a lot of J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan in a way. One person saw one thing they did at one point in their career and then told them, "Hey, run with it." Ryan Murphy created "Nip/Tuck" which I'm still not sure has gotten the recognition it deserves. The two leads in that show were two of the most interesting characters in television. But, as with the rest of Murphy's stuff, the rest of the characters fell by the wayside. The son was annoying and easily just a plot device. "Oh wait, you mean Matt fucked some transexual? What do we do?"

Dylan Baker and Julian MacMahon were such consummate professionals that you could really never see them realize that the plots and lines of dialogue they were supposed to trek through. They went with it and gave it their all. These two people were the ones that were responsible for the success of this show. No one else. Not the writing, not the direction, not the minor characters. None of it. Murphy got really lucky.

But when you really think about it, Murphy pretty much breezed through the years that "Nip/Tuck" was on the air because he didn't write all the episodes. The show was inconsistent at best. There were some excellent episodes, some really good campy episodes and then there were just horrible, boring episodes. Baker and MacMahon almost fully convinced me that I was watching a good show.

But I started to realize that I wasn't. The inconsistencies starting rearing their ugly heads. I can't really remember what they were, but I do remember when the show ended, it seemed like they didn't tie up the loose ends of the series. I was extremely disappointed, especially for a show I invested so much time in.

After this, Ryan Murphy turned to "Glee". I can't get through an entire episode of that show because it's cheap. People are way too enamored with this show and I have no idea why. I think part of it has to do with the fact that it dealt with bullying. This bullying movement that happened about a year or so ago. Everyone was against bullying. I hate to tell these people but bullying was prevalent when I was a kid in school too.

Being fifty pounds overweight didn't exactly get me a ton of friends and pushed me away from some people. I wasn't aesthetically pleasing to some of these people and they made it known to me. I shed my share of tears, went to counseling and grew because of it. Now because of parents in high school too busy with their work schedules, they want something done about the bullying. Everyone wants a kid but no one wants to deal with them. So the parents blame the school and the teachers.

Even the ones that are parents of bullies. They don't want to take responsibility for the actions of their asshole kids so they put it on the teachers. This is incredibly unfair. The first thing I should say is that bullying made me realize how dumb people were in the first place. Most of the bullies that made my life a living Hell in high school are now too busy being unsuccessful and jobless to say one word straying from what they tell the people that give them welfare.

But the parents nowadays don't allow for such revelations to happen. They want an answer and they want it now. They want people to understand that their kids are special and they can't be made fun of because it's not nice. Every single thing needs to happen for their kid, they don't need to earn shit anymore. I'm only 28 and I realize this. I can't understand at all why it is that people ten and fifteen years older than I am fail to understand this most basic concept.

Ryan Murphy certainly doesn't. He puts a superficial spin on bullying and gets lauded for it. He introduces possibly one of the most annoying characters on TV (Chris Coifer's character, I don't know his name) and he gets lauded some more. Mind you, none of the characters on this show stray from their intended caricatures. There's the jock, the pretty girl, the cheerleader, the gay guy and the nerd. Wow, that's some Emmy worthy shit.

Now, he's got "American Horror Story" and he weaves a bullying subplot into that. There have been interesting horror stories about bullying and the effects of it, but this certainly isn't one of them. The Angsty Cool girl goes to school, tries fitting in and this girl, for no reason besides the plot required her to, flips out on the Angsty Cool and tries getting her to eat a cigarette. Bullies are stupid and irrational, but this just elevated the bullshit. Eventually Angsty Cool and the bully become sort of friends.

Oh yeah, and then there's the Strong-Willed Victim, the wife. She's been fucked over by her husband and doesn't understand her daughter. Wow, that's some groundbreaking character development. I'm pretty sure Douglas Sirk dealt with this back in the fifties. So, she masturbates too. Great.

But, you get the feeling that Murphy too is masturbating. When you think about it, masturbating is doing a fairly banal activity to please one person and one person only, their selves. Murphy does these plot points and kills characters off, not because it's earned in the story but just because he wants to. Like a kid on an ant hill with a magnifying glass, he does what he wants, playing God.

And granted, yes, "24" was a show that I was a huge fan of that was notorious for this and even that messed up from time to time with the characters they killed off, but 99 times out of 100, it was a character based death and didn't feel like a "Hey, you know what'd be awesome? If we killed this person" situation.

So, now we have these "characters" going through this "plot".

But, there is no real plot. It's the people on screen saying, "We gotta get out of this house" and then never leaving or attempting to. And when they do, something happens that prevents them from doing this, be it a surprise pregnancy or a man in a rubber suit.

Or, the Black Dahlia herself.

This episode is where the show went from sort of harmless stupid entertainment to something that turned around and went offensive. They take an actual person, an unsolved murder case from 70 or so years ago and make her a character on the show. But not only do they show this character as an incredibly desperate person that will pretty much do anything to be famous, they show her getting raped and then having sex with the maid ghost to taunt Dylan McDermott.

For those of you who don't know the story behind the Black Dahlia, it's a pretty simple one: a woman traveled to Hollywood to become famous. She was found one day in an abandoned lot completely drained of blood, cut in half with a Ledger Joker-like smile carved on her face. Creepy, right? They never found out who it was that did it. There were leads, most of them went cold and the legend lived on, the metaphorical scarecrow at the edge of Hollywood, warning people of the dangers of Hollywood and seeking stardom.

I don't really know much about Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia) besides what I've said. I guess there were ideas that she could have been selling her body to get ahead. This is all speculative. So Ryan Murphy, in his infinite wisdom, decides to go with that. Show her as some desperate, fame seeking whore who got caught up with the wrong people and killed. While taking huge leaps of logic to do this, I would have almost kind of accepted this type of thing.

But no, Murphy's not done. Because she was killed on the property that the main characters now live in, her ghost cannot leave. So, she gets bored and starts banging the maid, trying to seduce McDermott and doing all sorts of other things. I guess the only thing you can do when you're a ghost is to bang other ghosts (or people) or kill other ghosts (or people). Some are benevolent, but most of them are just mainly id.

So, let me get this straight. Three years ago yesterday my father died. He was 69, died in his bedroom. It was a shock to all of us. What Ryan Murphy would probably say is that my dad is still roaming the house, causing things to go haywire and what not. Because in the "American Horror Story" form of the afterlife, there is no Heaven or Hell. Everyone is just stuck where they die. Does that mean that all the people that die in nursing homes and hospitals are stuck where they are for eternity?

Well, if that's true, Murphy certainly has a pretty sweet deal here. The characters never develop because he kills them off before he gets the chance to. Then once they die, they go after the living people until they die. Once the living people die, then they go after the next. And so on...

This is how the show feels. Like an unending cycle. Like having a friend that tells you the same joke every day, hoping you have a different reaction. I understand why people would be frustrated by this type of thing because I'm usually that guy.

Now, the show killed off all the characters except for Constance during the season finale. Everything kinda got wrapped up, but not quite. As a result, what's happened is kinda like they painted themselves into a corner. There's really nothing else they can do with the show except get a whole new cast. They can't do that, can they?

That's exactly what they're doing. They're going to a new house with a new theme. The first season's theme was infidelity.

So what now? Why is this good entertainment? Is it even entertainment?

Well, I have a theory.

The only reason I watched the entire season was because I kept wondering how they were going to get out of the situations that they had made for themselves. And like Indiana Jones, they kept getting out of the situations. But unlike an Indiana Jones movie, you feel extremely cheated by all of this. At least I did.

I think the reason the show is so popular is because kids that are around 15 or 16 are watching it and thinking it's awesome to see this much sex and violence in a show. A superficial critique from an underdeveloped mind. But why is it that some adults hold it in such regard? Probably for the same reason. To be honest, there's never been anything like this on TV. I swear. But different doesn't always mean good. If you shit out a box of tacks tomorrow morning instead of your regular feces, would you be happy because of the variety? I don't think so.

And that's exactly what the show is: junk food. But, it's not even good junk food. It's not like a "Nip/Tuck" (inconsistencies and all). The acting is okay, compliments going to Lange and McDermott. But they won't be back next year. So what's the point? Are we going to just continue to watch this bullshit on TV and think it's better than it is?

My complaints haven't all fallen on deaf ears. After I posted a few things on Facebook about it, he thought I was just being my usual, critical self about the show. He didn't understand how so many people could like the show and I didn't. So, I invited him down to my house to watch it. I got him a cup of coffee and one for myself. We sat down and watched the entire episode, front to back.

Once it was over, he was on his phone, seemingly texting. Laughing to himself. I said, "What?" He said, "Check my status." I got on my phone, checked and and saw what you see in the subject line of this blog entry.

It is a simple summation of what we watched. Succinct and told the story. That's exactly what the show is. It puts on this sheen of thinking that it's something better than it is and then it turns out the joke is on you. You know those characters that you got to know for this season? Well, they're all dead and they're not coming back. Deal with it. That's just how I roll.

This is not good television and the more we accept these lowered standards for entertainment, the more we're going to have to deal with reality TV and 27 year old adults playing high schoolers.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"The Ghost" and The Darkness

Horror Movie Marathon
Day 2, Movie 3

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
Directed by Alan Rafkin

What can one say about this movie? It has a lot going for it, but suffers from the same problem that a lot of horror comedies do: it can't truly decide what to be. Granted, it's a Don Knotts movie so we can assume that comedy is going to be prevalent in it. The horror (if you want to call it that) is very subdued. It turns out there is no actual ghost. It's all some convoluted Scooby Doo plot. I suppose it makes sense, but as with a lot of other movies like this, it could have been a ton better.

The plot pertains to a typesetter at a small town Kansas newspaper who gets the idea to write a story about a twenty year old murder suicide and sends the small town into a small panic. Because of the huge impact the small story had on the community, the head of the newspaper tells Don Knotts to write a follow up story, a story that could lead him to a byline. Knotts jumps at the opportunity, trying to face his fears of the house as the editor tells him to spend a night in the house to get inspiration.

While in the house, paintings bleed, organs play by themselves and bookcases move to reveal secret rooms and staircases. He leaves the house, writes the story and the town goes into even more of a panic. The owner of the house (the son of the victims of the murder/suicide) sues Knott's character for libel, saying that all of it was a lie fabricated by a creative mind.

This is where the movie takes an odd left turn. It goes into a trial where Don Knotts is being sued and the judge, after little consideration, decides to bring all the members of the prosecution and defense, as well as the jury to the house to determine if the house is truly haunted. Things don't turn out as they should, Knotts looks like the boy who cried wolf and the suit is imminent. Just as Knotts is walking away from the house, he hears the organ playing again.

He runs back inside, seeing someone at the organ. It's his friend at the newspaper. Turns out, he used to be a gardener of the house when the murder/suicide happened and he witnessed what actually happened. I guess it all makes sense in a really convoluted way, but that's what I couldn't get over.

A lot of people tell me I take somethings too seriously. I wouldn't disagree with this, but I would say that I feel I am justified. I know it's just a Don Knotts movie, but it could have made more sense. As with Friday the 13th Part V, the plot should make more sense than it does. If they're going to be doing this bait and switch thing, they really should only do it once. Once we realize that Don Knotts could be crazy, that could be enough. They don't keep it light and airy enough. It'd kinda be like scooping up a nice spoonful of whipped cream and it's got chunks in it.

I feel like it could have been more about the investigation instead of the trial. I think that would have been more interesting. Just think of Don Knotts playing detective when he's not supposed to. Snooping around a house, asking questions to people when he doesn't know what he's doing. Instead, the movie does the trial which doesn't make any sense and isn't particularly funny.

It's really too bad. The movie could have been a hell of a lot better. Not only that, but when the movie ends and all is revealed, Knotts is barely involved. Sure, he subdues the bad guy in comic fashion, but it takes too long. There's a certain punch missing to the movie. Something it could have used.

I will say I laughed quite a few times and the score was excellent, so it's not all bad.

Maybe I'll do a Ghost and Mr. Chicken reboot. Then I'll be like all the rest of the assholes that make movies nowadays without an original idea in my head.

The one thing I will say that this movie made me realize is that I haven't watched The Ghost and the Darkness in a while. I think I might have to break that one out soon.

Ghoulies on Parade!

Horror Movie Marathon
Day 2, Movie 2

Ghoulies (1985)
Directed by Luca Bercovici

I don't think I'll have a hell of a lot to say about this movie because there's not a lot to latch onto. Yes, there's a bunch of small creatures. Yes, there are a lot of green eyes. Yes, there is an old mansion. This would seem like it would be a decent set up for a horror movie.

Not so much.

The movie starts off with a seance at a mansion and this old guy taking a baby away. We don't know the baby, we don't know much. The movie continues on to show this guy inheriting the same house from the beginning and he wants to quit college and remodel it because something is compelling him to do so.

He goes downstairs, finds these symbols on the ground and gets immediately drawn to the whole idea. He reads a book and eventually tries holding a seance to open a door to another world. He keeps saying how there will be something coming through and appearing in the middle of a triangle. Nothing comes out. He and his friends walk back upstairs. Just as they do, these really ugly creatures come out. These are the Ghoulies.

There really isn't a plot and I shouldn't be too upset about this. But, not only is there no real plot, there's no real drive to the movie. Evil Dead 2 really has no plot to it, but there's that inherent drive by Sam Raimi that pushes the picture to the limits and it's one of the most fun movies you'll ever see. This movie is just dead in the water. Sure, there are some throwaway jokes like one of the Ghoulies covering his eyes as someone gets gruesomely killed, but nothing really besides that.

If you look at a movie like Gremlins (which this movie obviously was made because of), the creatures had personalities and you cared about the humans. This movie you're just waiting to get over. I've watched this movie once before today in my friend Mike's basement pool room. I remember falling asleep to it that time. This time, I did the same thing and it was four in the afternoon. The movie couldn't even keep my interest. I had plenty of sleep last night, I shouldn't have been tired at all, but instead, I fell asleep like I was watching some four hour Biblical epic. This is an 81 minute horror movie with creatures and killing. There is absolutely no reason why I should have fallen asleep.

That being said, the DVD that I bought with it on it comes with the sequel. It's nine minutes longer. I would be lying if I were to say I wasn't the least big intrigued by watching the second one. Maybe someday.

Who knows. Could be some night when I really need to fall asleep...

There is always that part that the Ghoulie comes out of the toilet. That's something to latch onto. But it's not enough. The movie should have been a lot more fun. A lot more.

Brokeback Freddy

Horror Movie Marathon
Day 2, Movie 1

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
Directed by Jack Sholder

I can't exactly remember which franchise I saw all of first. I'm thinking that it was the Friday the 13th franchise because I could never get a hold of Halloween 4 to watch it. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies were definitely the last for me to see them all. I had watched a few here and there, but it wasn't until I got the huge box set of all of them that I watched them all the way through.

Since I've seen it, the second one always left an odd taste in my mouth. I never quite understood what the fuck it was, it just always bothered me. Not in a way that a horror movie should either. More like it made me uncomfortable. There was some odd quality about it that I never understood.

Then this past spring, it all made sense.

There is a channel in the late hundreds on Time Warner Cable called Bio. It specializes in reality TV, if there is such a thing as specializing in reality TV. Back in March, they had a special on about the Nightmare on Elm Street films. When they got to the second of them to talk about it, they explained what it was that was bothering me all these years.

The screenwriter wrote the script with a homosexual subtext attached to it. Certain imagery and plot points always seemed a little weird. With this explanation, I wanted to go back and watch it. Earlier today, I finally got the chance to watch it again.

Another quick story about the box set of these movies. A buddy of mine that I worked with two years ago had never seen all of them. One day I brought them into work so he could watch them. This was the last I saw this box set until about August of this year. Within that time, I had transferred to another store thirty miles away and he moved away to California.

When I watched it today, a lot of it made sense, a lot of it didn't. If you were to watch this film with a homosexual context, it makes sense to an extent. The main character is a man (when in slasher films they are typically a woman), he has this ridiculous high-pitched scream anytime Freddy jumps out and he has this odd relationship with a rival/friend at school. For instance, just as he's about to have sex with his oddly Meryl Streep looking girlfriend, he turns away because Freddy is about to take over. He then runs away from her and goes to his guy friend's house so he can keep an eye on him in case he changes. Freddy, of course, jumps out of the main character's body and kills his friend. The movie then cuts back to the main character, not Freddy, with the glove on.

This is where the movie starts to play fast and loose with the filmmaking. We see the main character looking in the mirror, seeing himself as Freddy. So, we as the audience assume that the main character now looks like Freddy. Okay, that makes sense (I guess...).

Later, in the movie, we see the main character go to his girlfriend's house covered in blood. Not Freddy. Then Freddy comes out of seemingly nowhere and starts killing people left and right. So, now it's Freddy again, right? Maybe...

Freddy holds all these asshole kids at the party at bay. This one guy walks up to Freddy and says something to the effect of, "Hey man, calm down. Don't worry..." He then gets promptly fucked up by the Freddy claws. Are we to assume that the main character is acting like Freddy, not looking like him? Or, is this guy that got killed just a true hero and was trying to calm down a burned to death, child-murdering, dream master of a ghost into compliance? We'll never know...

Then later in the movie, the main character's Meryl Streep looking girlfriend goes to this factory to confront her boyfriend/Freddy. She keeps telling Freddy/her boyfriend that she loves him and even kisses him on the lips. Freddy! She kisses Freddy on the lips! The burned guy that kills people. I mean, a lot of people will do anything for the person they love, but Jesus, this woman is committed. But she kisses Freddy, reacts to him as Freddy, not as her boyfriend. Meaning, she sees Freddy. Maybe the asshole at the pool party was just that. An asshole...

Now, if you read all this crap with the homosexual context, sure, yeah, the main character is repressing his homosexuality and it comes out from time to time. But, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth because it infers that homosexuality is akin to pedophilia and homicide. But, at the same time, you have to admire a movie like this. It's not your typical slasher film and it has a message to it. It might be extremely wrong and not completely fleshed out, but it took a chance. Not many franchises do that.

All in all, I think it's a decent movie. I don't think it's nearly as good as the first, the third or New Nightmare, but you can't expect miracles. That eighties feel permeates the entire film, too. That's part of the appeal of it.

Oh yeah, and it has an exploding, psychotic parakeet. How many horror movies can say that? Not many, not many...

Jason and Tommy, sittin' in a tree...

Horror Movie Marathon
Day 1, Movie 1

Friday the 13th: Part V-A New Beginning (1985)
Directed by Danny Steinmann

Jason Vorhees is an icon, simply put. There's nothing around it. Granted, he's not the best written character around. (Big deal, you were relatively retarded and drowned because of horny teenagers.) But his legacy lives on. Often imitated, pretty much every slasher film from here on out owes something to Jason, even though he owes a lot to Michael Myers.

Michael Myers was really a product of suburbia. There is a certain rural-ness to Jason. He's the reason you don't want to go into the woods alone, or at all. I know for a fact that I've avoided sets of woods deliberately at night. I'm not sure exactly what it is that bugs me so much about them, but I don't believe I am alone.

To put things in perspective as to how much of a pussy I truly am when it comes to these things, my friends and I thought it would be a good idea to venture into the woods behind my friend's house a little over three years ago. I remember, we went to Allen's house after we got done seeing Pineapple Express at midnight. He, myself and Greg thought it would be a wise idea to walk out into the woods. The moon was full, it was foggy and cold. We couldn't see much in front of us, even though we took a flashlight with us. We stayed out there for about ten minutes and left. As soon as I turned my back, I felt like something was right there behind me.

This has been a common occurrence in my life. When I was a kid (and even more recently), I'd turn all the lights off downstairs and have to go upstairs to my bed. As soon as that light got turned off, I sprinted up the stairs in order to avoid whatever it was I believed was directly behind me. It was never anything (least so I think), but I can say that it resulted in a lot of stubbed toes and swearing.

Is this phenomenon from watching the Friday the 13th movies? It certainly could be. But really, domestic horror belongs to Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. Jason will always be something I think of when going into the woods.

I'm not really sure when my love of these movies began. I don't even know if I can seriously say to myself or anyone else that I love these movies. They're a secret, or else should be. I try posing myself as this serious minded film guy, watching the occasional foreign film and trying to pass myself off as smarter than I probably am. But when it comes down to it, everyone has guilty pleasures and each of the Friday the 13th movies falls under that category.

When I was younger, my cousin Matt and I would meet up at family functions. We would get talking about different things, but eventually, it became known that he was able to watch R-rated movies. And not just Lethal Weapon 3 and Speed, but actual horror movies. The types of movies that I was pulled away from when I was at the video store. Once I knew about this, I mined Matt for all the knowledge on these movies. He and I would walk off, talking about various scenes in each of the Friday the 13th movies. He would describe them as if they were stories around a campfire, urban legends that weren't supposed to be heard. I had a ball getting the shit scared out of me.

This is probably most of the reason as to why these movies hold a special place in my heart. I know a lot of people wouldn't find it as appealing as I do to get whole movies ruined, but it was awesome. My imagination filled in the blanks, just like a good campfire tale. I took what information I had or could get from VHS boxes and plot summaries, along with Matt's stories and constructed these elaborate scenarios.

Needless to say, I was slightly disappointed when I actually watched the movies.

But, then again, I wasn't really.

I didn't actually start watching the movies until I was working at Blockbuster. I don't exactly remember what the dates were, but I'm pretty sure it was around spring of 2003. The reason I remember this (at least slightly) is because I watched the latter three films in my parent's bed, recovering from getting my wisdom teeth removed. I sat there, gauze filling my mouth, and watched these movies. The mix of actual decent filmmaking (read: only decent, nothing more) and the nostalgia I felt for the stories Matt told me on my grandmother's farm resulted in a genuinely pleasing movie watching experience.

When I watched Part V at first, I was pretty confused. The whole plot was a little strange: Tommy (portrayed by Corey Feldman in the previous film and someone that looks like a low rent Mark Hammill in this one) from The Final Chapter is now crazy and recovering from his stint of running away from Jason and ultimately killing him. He goes to a countryside mental institution with a cast of characters that ranges from your typical slasher movie nymphomaniacs to rip-offs of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest characters.

Tommy shows up and, before long, a fat, chocolate eating, well-meaning, mentally challenged young man gets axed to death by another man who has a remarkably short fuse. The EMTs show up to take the body away. It's after this that the killings start. And man do they start.


A lot of fans of the Friday the 13th fans tend to not take this one seriously. Almost like On Her Majesty's Secret Service. But as with that film, this really isn't a bad movie in respects of the rest of the series. The reason that people have such a problem with this movie is that the killer is not Jason. Rather, it's the EMT father of the fat, challenged boy. He goes crazy, but not crazy enough to not have a way to explain his way out of the killings by making them all look like the work of Jason.

This is all well and good, a decent plot. But the movie is not concerned with plot at all. While watching this, my sister was sitting to the side, talking to me about different things to do with the movie. She started asking me about the plot and things of nature. I explained to her that the plot of a Friday the 13th movie is about as important as how many bullets a six-shooter has when being used against a living dead mummy. (Thanks Dad for that one.) The movie hints that the killer is someone besides Jason, but goes along with the assumption that it's him for the entire of the movie until the end.

Everyone thinks it's him. And why not? They should. He has superhuman strength, he appears out of nowhere, he kills people in an over-elaborate fashion and wears a hockey mask. But the movie never hints at anyone besides Jason being the killer. Granted, they linger on shots of him after he sees his son dead, but they never actually imply anything else besides that. I always found that weird. The movie could definitely been a decent whodunit, but it never quite elevated itself to that level.

That is not to say the movie is without merits. Oddly enough, for the killer not being Jason, it has the highest body count of any of them. It has a few inventive kills here and there, nudity and the like. This one always holds a special place in my heart because of the atmosphere it contains. I don't know why I like it, but I do. It's up there with the first and the third.

And really, though I like Jason Lives, I was always more of a fan of Jason being alive than resurrected Jason. Call me crazy, but there it is.

Jason will always hold a special place in my heart, even if he'd rather be ripping it out of my chest and holding it in front of me while I die slowly.

Dedicated to those who never saw a Saturday the 14th...