Wednesday, December 26, 2007
2) Tuesday Weld or Mia Farrow?
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HIS EYES?!"
3) Name a comedy you’re embarrassed to admit made you laugh
Around the tenth time I watched Heavyweights, I realized with horror that my laughter wasn't ironic.
4) Best Movie of 1947
5) Burt Reynolds was the Bandit. Jerry Reed was the Snowman. Paul LeMat was Spider. Candy Clark was Electra. What’s your movie handle?
6) Robert Vaughn or David McCallum?
Both have strong jaws, but only one ambushed Superman with carcinogenic Kryptonite.
7) Most exotic/unusual place/location in which you've seen a movie
My wife and I saw The Darjeeling Limited at the Majestic in North Conway, NH. The theatre was in a cafe - we bought our tickets from a waitress, got snacks at the bar and discovered a 50-seat auditorium at the end of a long, winding red corridor.
8) Favorite Errol Morris movie
Gates of Heaven, because it's haunting and funny, and because without it, my answer to #17 wouldn't exist. But I must admit some difficulty embracing Morris since his petulant Oscar speech.
9) Best Movie of 1967
Bonnie and Clyde
10) Describe a profoundly (or not-so-profoundly) disturbing moment you’ve had courtesy of the movies
During the trailers before Juno, the entire audience laughed at and mocked the premise of the border-crossing drama Under the Same Moon. Ah, those wacky Mexicans - when will they learn?
11) Anne Francis or Julie Newmar?
Don't feel strongly one way or the other, but Forbidden Planet is pretty great.
12) Describe your favorite one sheet (include a link if possible)
The Alien one-sheet is so simple and suggestive, but even when I was a small child and knew nothing about the film, it (and the tagline) were genuinely unsettling.
13) Best Movie of 1987
Wings of Desire
14) Favorite movie about obsession
Looking at my 100 list, there are a startling amount of movies about obsession. But yeah, Vertigo is almost inarguably the ultimate statement on the subject.
15) Your ideal Christmas movie triple feature
Gremlins, Eyes Wide Shut and Black Christmas (the original - duh).
16) Montgomery Clift or James Dean?
James Dean, but they both kick Ryan Gosling's ass.
17) Favorite Les Blank Movie
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
18) This past summer food critic Anton Ego made the following statement: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Your thoughts?
I can't wait to show Ratatouille to my daughter.
19) The last movie you watched on DVD? In a theater?
On DVD, Two-Lane Blacktop, a movie I've been dying to see for a while that lived up to its reputation. The latter is Margot at the Wedding, a movie I liked a good deal more than most (I dig Harris Savides, and I'm sort of mean).
20) Best Movie of 2007
I have yet to see at least one film that I suspect will be high on this list (I'm referring, of course, to The Bucket List). As of now, it's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
21) Worst Movie of 2007
The Number 23 is the worst movie Joel Schumacher's ever made. Really think about that.
22) Describe the stages of your cinephilia
3-10 - Pure, unqualified adoration. Anything horror or sci-fi. Lots of Spielberg, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam. Anything muppet. A complete lack of critical discernment (2001 is awesome, so is Hook).
10-12 - Onanism. Anxiety. Self-loathing. Movies that validate my pubescent existential crisis (Brazil, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Vertigo). Anything with boobs. Pulp Fiction is a potent gateway drug to a new way of looking at cinema.
13-15 - Loss of religion dovetails with the concept of cinema as transgression. Boogie Nights. A Clockwork Orange. Blue Velvet. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Anything with weiners. Anything that would piss off dad.
15-18 - Intro to world cinema - Herzog, Truffaut, Bergman, Argento. Expressionism. Anything with brains. A soft spot for earnest, overwrought emotionalism (American Beauty and Magnolia).
18-22 - College. Forgetting how to just watch a movie. Lots of posturing and one-upmanship. "Hey, you know what would be an awesome way to watch Tron?" Lynch, Altman, De Palma, Malick. I'm starting to get the hang of this.
Now - The blog. Liking what I like. "Hey, you know what would be an awesome way to watch Barry Lyndon?" Roeg, Bertolucci and Malle all touch a nerve. Romanticism. Uncertainty. Watching my daughter freak out with delight whenever Superman, Willy Wonka or robots are onscreen.
23) What is the one film you’ve had more difficulty than any other in convincing people to see or appreciate?
Right now, pretty much anything. My generation is bombarded by hype and infotainment into complete indifference. If my friends would rather see Smoking Aces than The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it's because the latter is an unknowable challenge while the former is reassuringly familiar. The movies become comfort food, a sensory snack with the same value as a video game or a viral video played on a cell phone. In such a climate, how can I convince anyone that cinema has the ability to be beautiful, even transcendent?
24) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth?
25) The Japanese word wabi denotes simplicity and quietude, but it can also mean an accidental or happenstance element (or perhaps even a small flaw) which gives elegance and uniqueness to the whole. What film or moment from a film best represents wabi to you?
The dog crossing the path in the opening shot of Birth, unknowingly violating the images' symmetry and creating a pleasurable dissonance.
26) Favorite Documentary
Gates of Heaven again.
27) Favorite opening credit sequence
While I love elaborate, Saul Bass-style opening collages, I've always admired the plain yellow titles of McCabe and Mrs. Miller silently, craftily snaking in and out of the gloomy landscape like McCabe himself.
28) Is there a film that has influenced your lifestyle in a significant or notable way? If so, what was it and how did it do so?
Eyes Wide Shut not only changed the way I thought about film, it challenged my 15-year-old assumptions about relationships, fidelity and even identity. I think it had a strong effect on my friend Tara as well (happy birthday, Tara!), as she took a classmate to see it again the next night and was shocked when the girl complained of boredom. Truly a case of "Did you see the same movie I did?"
29) Glenn Ford or Dana Andrews?
30) Make a single prediction, cynical or hopeful, regarding the upcoming Academy Awards
In honor of No Country for Old Men, a Chuck Workman-edited montage of the greatest head shots in film history.
31) Best Actor of 2007
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
32) Best Actress of 2007
Carice van Houten, Black Book
33) Best Director of 2007
34) Best Screenplay of 2007
No Country for Old Men
35) Favorite single movie moment of 2007
Jason Schwartzman showing Natalie Portman the view from his suite in the Hotel Chevalier. It touched a nerve more deeply than any moment this year.
36) What’s your wish/hope for the movies in 2008?
For the happy surprises. The other day I saw Sweeney Todd, a movie I wasn't really dying to see, and I loved it - there's no better feeling than that. 2007 was a year of one movie after another exceeding my expectations; let's hope it's the start of something.
Friday, December 21, 2007
- Speaking of blockbusters, Vol. 1, No. 3 of the International Journal of Zizek Studies, titled "Zizek and Cinema," focuses on the Slovenian philosopher's film writing. It's must-read stuff, particuarly if this is your introduction to Zizek.
- I thought I was the only one!
- An interesting discussion is forming over at SLIFR with the debut of Andrew Blackwood's short film Slap, a film that has invited both praise and scorn. Alex Jackson hated it so much that he posted his own film over at the Film Freak Central blog, though Hieronymous Bosch's HECK shares more spiritual DNA with Slap than Mr. Jackson would probably care to admit. But as for the question "Who's more pretentious?," the answer is me.
- Happy holidays!
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
A poster of The Thing visible early on in the studio of poster artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) indicates the film's biggest influence. Like Carpenter's film, The Mist is a Hawksian narrative that traps a cross-section of residents of a small Maine town in a grocery store enveloped in the titular weather activity. Darabont succeeds in mounting tension both with the threat of mysterious, Lovecraftian creatures hiding in the mist, waiting to attack and in the conflicts between people in the store over real and perceived class and cultural differences. This is familiar genre territory, but the cast, largely made up of veteran character actors, succeeds in creating a fresh variation on old themes. A particular standout is Marcia Gay Harden as Mrs. Carmody, a zealous evangelical Christian who uses the crowd's fear to preach her apocalyptic message. King is fond of these broad portraits of the devout, and a less skilled actor could have easily reduced Mrs. Carmody to a hammy, one-dimensional caricature. But Harden delivers her doomsaying prophecies with quiet certainty, making the characte more human, more recognizable and more disturbing (especially if you've met women like her).
Thursday, December 06, 2007
4. The Neverending Story Revisiting this as an adult, I was shocked at how dark it really is. The villian is nothingness, the conflict a race against the death of imagination in the face of childhood's end. It's a must-see for any kid who'd prefer to hide in a book than put away childish things. Fantasia, the film's imaginary world, retains its immersive beauty even as the effects date, demonstrating that photorealism is not nearly as important as artistry. Plus, Falcor is soooo cool.
5. The Princess Bride A satire of sorts, but one that retains an affection for the stories (and movies) it pokes fun at. Plus, no list of sword-and-sorcery movies is complete without one of the very best swordfights in cinema (isn't it weird that Mandy Patinkin was once briefly cool?)
6. Conan the Barbarian An unapologetic display of pure phallic might directed by the inspiration for John Goodman's character in The Big Lebowski (indeed, I imagine that Walter Sobchak's wet dreams are something like this). The Terminator is the better movie, but Arnold was never more Arnold than he is here. The tits are ripe, the decapitations are plentiful, Thulsa Doom is present and accounted for - few films make total idiocy feel so good. Also, Ron Cobb rules!
7. Labyrinth A little more kid-oriented than The Dark Crystal. But The Dark Crystal didn't have a spandex-clad, Goblin-ruling David Bowie (thus began my latency period).
8. Legend Strictly the Jerry Goldsmith-scored director's cut, not the choppy, incoherent theatrical version (though that Tangerine Dream score is pretty boss). Ridley Scott creates another world as fully realized as Blade Runner's future. It's embarassingly earnest at points, but is ultimately unforgettable thanks to Tim Curry's terrifying, sexy performance as Darkness (aided by Rob Bottin's excellent makeup work).
9. Dragonslayer The most direct ancestor of Beowulf, one that more enthusiastically embraces its unapologetic paganism. Made during Disney's attempt to change its kiddie-movie image, it's at points shockingly dark and gory - the baby dragons munching on a virgin is not only nightmare territory for youngsters, it also raises the stakes of the young hero's quest immeasurably. Deeply derivative of Star Wars, but in a good way.
10. Fire and Ice Frank Frazetta is the ultimate geek, and his jaw-droppingly insane illustrations come to life thanks to Ralph Bakshi's rotoscoping (a predecessor of mo-cap). And while the hand-drawn animation is often crude, particuarly compared to its 2007 incarnation, it has one thing that Zemeckis' film doesn't: balls.
Friday, November 30, 2007
As for 21, judging by the trailer, it looks like a decent teen flick, certainly more promising that Robert Luketic's previous output. As I wrote before, he really does know how to run a set, so I'm rooting for him to improve. There are two scenes I worked on that appear briefly at :30 and 2:15, but the emphasis (wisely from a marketing perspective) is on Vegas, sex and money over MIT and math. There are a few warning signs, to be fair - I don't think being better than average at addition is proof of mathematical genius, and the Doors cue is a stale choice. No matter what, though, I can say with absolute certainty that this is going to be way better than The Game Plan.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
A few weekends back, my wife and I decided to catch up on some of the movies that, in the months before and after the birth of our daughter, weren't worth the trip to the multiplex. After a quick trip to the local Redbox, we sat through three of the worst films of the year. Oddly enough, they were mostly bad in the same way - all three were self-important, toothless, and derivative of better films from the 1990s. As the sidebar to your right indicates, 2007 is shaping up to be a memorable year, with many very good films thus far (including a few masterpieces), and several more promising titles coming before the new year. I look forward to discussing them soon; but first, the schmutz.
Easily the worst of the bunch (and the only one we were certain would suck) is The Number 23, Joel Schumacher's feeble attempt to be David Lynch. Screeenwriter Fernley Phillips' steals shamelessly from Lynch's infinitely superior Lost Highway - not only do both movies feature a murderous saxophonist, they both revolve around actors portraying characters with seemingly dual identities. Any Lynchian ambiguity is rendered thuddingly literal with the device of the titular novel, given to dogcatcher Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) by his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen, wasted yet again). Sparrow is quickly wrapped up in the story of a detective (also Carrey) investigating the mystery of a number that has driven people mad with its synchronicities - as he gets deeper into the book, it appears that the story is meant to tell him something about his own life. None of this makes any sense, of course - Sparrow's search for the truth involves his family, his friends and Bud Cort before arriving at a thuddingly obvious conclusion.
Phillips and Schumacher emulate the Lynchian weirdness while abandoning the ambiguity and layered meanings that make Lynch's works so rich and emotionally cohesive even as his narratives become increasingly less representational. Strung together by its useless numerological conceit (π this is not), it's tabloid filmmaking that could only be enjoyed by audiences who prefer bullshit speculation to real inquiry into the nature of things (this is perhaps the line that divides good mysteries from lousy ones). Worse still is the idiotic, morally repugnant ending, one that cynically discards the questons it has attempted to raise in favor of a pat resoultion for its protagonist that defies all understanding of human nature. The Number 23 is so bad that it's alien, confirming that Joel Schumacher's films have become must-sees in that they just keep getting worse (he's become Uwe Boll with better lighting). And its biggest mystery is how Jim Carrey, a star who, with the right director, can do great, multilayered work, could have possibly thought this movie was the right departure from his comedic work. Did it even occur to him that he's playing a pet detective again? Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, indeed.
Neither The Number 23 nor Vacancy made much of a dent at the box office; Transformers, on the other hand, is one of the highest-grossing movies of the year, proof that one can never underestimate the unstoppable combination of nostalgia and hipster detachment. The sudden acceptance of Michael Bay now that he's bracketing his misanthropic cock cheese in so-ironic quotation marks (one extra: "This is way cooler than Armageddon!") is definitive proof of my generation's soul-killing apathy. The script is a straight ripoff of the better and funnier Small Soldiers, minus the shrewd social commentary, and I spent most of the movie imagining how kickass a Joe Dante Transformers would have been. Young Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf, the biggest question mark of Indy 4) buys a car that is actually a robot from space, and the good robots fight bad robots while a lot of other stuff happens and Witwicky tries to titfuck a witless, dead-eyed trout (Megan Fox). It doesn't matter. It's hateful, materialistic crap, keeping the sales-pitch cynicism of the original cartoon minus the endearing kitsch. True, the writers try to bracket everything in wink-wink sarcasm, making this crap that knows it is crap. The effects are flawless but pointless, as Transformers is never remotely fun . Try to defend it as meant for kids and I'll ask you to recall the indefensible dreck we liked as kids; try to defend it as shut-your-brain-off fodder and I'll ask why I should shut my brain off; defend it at all and I'll remind you of the scene where a robot pisses on Barton Fink. The Number 23 and Vacancy are bad, but Transformers is actually dangerous, its massive success paving the way for another decade of Bay's Teutonic brand of anti-art. The biggest question, then, is who Michael Bay hates more - us or himself.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
- Ah, the Chaw. He's an angry, angry man, but when he sees something he likes, there's no better champion of cinema. For evidence of this, see his stunning review of American Gangster, I'm Not There and No Country For Old Men. An excerpt:
"I used to like to condense Modernism as the search for God that culminates in the discovery that God is a series of broken monuments and chaos and that Post-Modernism was therefore the gradual acceptance of God as a manufactured construct. Facile, but good in a pinch; apply it to Todd Haynes' fascinating I'm Not There and suddenly there's the thought that the film is an autopsy of film-as-history to this moment--an analysis of how the moving image has become in this century the only real way we access history as a people, as well as of how the image, eternally malleable within the image-maker, has now become malleable within a mainframe."
- What exactly is There Will Be Blood? Each trailer has improved on the last - the newest suggests a period piece that is equal parts western and horror film. It looks weird, dark as hell, and the last thing I expected from P.T. Anderson after the beautifully daffy Punch-Drunk Love. The early reviews have been rapturous, and if the movie lives up to this trailer (which I've been watching at least once a day), then Anderson may have outdone himself.
- I've been sort of busy these past few weeks, so I had to let a few fascinating blog-a-thons pass me by. Between the Queer Film Blog-a-Thon and the Kurosawa Blog-a-Thon, you should have plenty of reading material for the long weekend.
- Over at The House Next Door, Dan Callahan writes about Bibi Andersson's appearance at a screening of Persona at BAM. Best detail: Andersson's admission that she filmed her character's stunning confessional monologue while half-cocked.
- Happy Thanksgiving.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
But for all its high aspirations (it was gratifying to hear Domnik reference Barton Fink, calling his film "a fruity movie about suffering"), The Assassination more than honors its dime-store origins. The violence isn't the operatic bloodshed of Leone and Peckinpah, but Dominik and cinematographer Roger Deakins (brilliant as always) never shy away from the red red kroovy of a well-placed headshot either. While this is not a movie filled with DTS-charged shootouts, the constant threat of violence creates a superbly sustained tension. This is largely thanks to the two leads - Pitt makes almost imperceptable shifts from folksy humor to animalistic rage, and Affleck (in a revelatory performance) creates an assassin as sympathetic as he is creepy, constantly keeping us off-balance. The entire film is equally well-cast - Sam Rockwell is alternately funny and moving as Ford's brother Charlie, Sam Shepard's brief appearance as Frank James is a smart nod to Malick, and Mary-Louise Parker is stunning in a near-silent turn as Jesse's oft-neglected wife. The irony of the film's immediate reputation as a strange, overlong art movie is that, more than anything, it recalls the grand, outsize entertainments of a bygone era of moviemaking. Like the songs of Nick Cave (who, with Warren Ellis, wrote the film's score), the film is at once sweeping and delicate, lingering in the grey area between pulp and myth.
The Assassination cements its classic status in the stunning denouement, which follows Ford as he makes a living recounting the murder for a rapt audience. Preserved as a coward, Ford repeats the deed over and over, at one point challenging his audience's hypocrisy in attending to judge him. His destruction becomes his immortality, a point Dominik drives home in a breathtaking final freeze-frame. If Ford's cowardice ensures his story's retelling (and commodification), Dominik ackowledges his own role in Ford's fate, and ends with remarkable empathy for a man destined to become the villain in the story he so adores. Awful marketing and the public's preference for the more straightforward 3:10 to Yuma have resulted in Ford's continued marginalization. But, upon viewing the film in a near-empty theater, I found myself transported by The Assassination's visual grace and aching humanity. It's a masterpiece, one that Robert Ford himself would have surely been proud to be a part of.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
As with his previous film, A History of Violence, the "mob" is an abstract, a pulpy representation of the ways that family at once defines and assimilates one's self. When a fourteen-year-old girl dies during childbirth, leaving only a diary and a business card behind as identification, midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) sets out to find the baby's family. Her search leads her to Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a grandfatherly restauranteur who is also the head of a powerful crime family specializing in sex trafficking. Implicated in the diary is Semyon's son Kiril (Vincent Cassel), a hothead accompanied by Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), his driver, a cool, calculating figure who, early on, dismembers a corpse as casually as if he were cleaning a turkey. I referred to Eastern Promises as a sort-of thriller because the the plot does not to be Cronenberg's main point of interest. Instead, it's the characters that drive the story, particuarly Nikolai; as part of an initiation ceremony, the driver renounces his parents and origins in favor of the criminal history tattooed on his body. Here, criminality becomes a way to transform, or even destroy, one's identity, and screenwriter Steven Knight suggests, as he did in his previous Dirty Pretty Things, that this is a mirror of the global economy's push towards homogenization. But Cronenberg isn't a political filmmaker, at least not in such black-and-white terms. In Nikolai he finds a true hollow man - a character that is representative of nothing except his actions, a smirking blank slate brought to life by Mortensen's pitch-perfect performance (also a mirror image of Tom Stall).
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
When we first see Pam (Rose McGowan), it is from behind as the other characters that populate the first half of Death Proof speak cattily about her. Pam remains in the backgroud, out of focus, or in distant two-shots for most of her screentime, her marginalized position in the frame mirroring her status in the film. While the Final Girl archetype of slasher film has been frequently discussed (and is an important part of Death Proof, less talked-about is the First Girl, the generic, interchangable character who departs before we ever really know her. Think of Judith Myers, or Annie in Friday the 13th, or the dude who gets whacked with a mallot in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We're denied any emotional investment with these characters; they exist only as fodder.
The above two-shot (which reminds of both Magritte and Ringu) literalizes the oft-criticized facelessness of slasher characters. Tarantino is making reference to the often awkward visual compositions of grindhouse cinema, but it's more than the kind of tongue-in-cheek smartassery that comprises most of Death Proof's sister film Planet Terror. It's one of several times that Pam literally upstages herself, her ghostly hair concealing her features.
Indeed, Pam practically volunteers for her First Girl role (that McGowan plays such a low-status role after her Planet Terror supervixen is a great meta-joke). Stuntman Mike seems mostly annoyed and mildly amused by Pam - she's a momentary distraction from his real targets. But Pam begs for Stuntman Mike's attention and gets into his car even after this becomes an obviously bad idea. She's looking for trouble, and is absent even in her own shot.
When we finally view Pam in close-up as she pleads for her life, it is only because she has fulfilled her narrative purpose. Tarantino frames her through the smeared glass dividing Mike's front seat and the celluloid detritus that is a major part of Grindhouse. She is a prisoner not only of her killer but of the frame, conceived for a horrible fate she is doomed to repeat over and over again. She has no mouth with which to protest, because if she does not die, then we haven't gotten our money's worth. While Tarantino's talent with cinematic violence is famous, less talked about is the underlying empathy he grants even his most marginal characters. IAnd in McGowan's eyes, we can glimpse the sad story of the girl who never had a chance.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
- So it turns out I'm in The Game Plan for about three seconds. The Rock's running one way, I'm headed the other way. I'll post a screencap when it hits DVD, because under no circumstances should any of you ever see The Game Plan.
- Greg at Dreamscape is spending the month looking at mostly lesser-known titles in a series he's dubbed The October Ordeal.
- Don't forget about The House Next Door's Close-Up Blog-a-Thon, which starts Friday (details here).
- On a personal note: Luna loves Superman. She becomes completely transfixed whenever Superman Returns is on TV, and giggles and squeals whenever Supes is in action. It's important to me that I not force my interests upon her, so it warms my geeky heart to find out Luna's a chip off the old block. Luna, have I got a movie to show you:
But I love this more:
Monday, October 08, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Aliens begins with the discovery of Ripley 57 years after the start of her cryogenic sleep, giving us a protagonist that is literally and spiritually adrift. At the film's core is the transformation of this woman, stripped of the world she knew and, consequently her identity, redefining herself in the crucible of violence and battle. Survival in Alien meant escape, here it means battle, and Ripley is transformed from Scott's liberated, resourceful warrior woman into one of Cameron's trademark gun-toting Überbitches. I'm of two minds about how Cameron treats his female protagonists; it's certainly a kick to see strong women celebrated (Titanic's sappier moments are largely forgiven by me thanks to the scenes of a buff, axe wielding Kate Winslet), but Cameron also defines strength in narrow terms. Early on, Ripley impresses the Marines she is accompanying on a rescue mission to LV-426 (the barren planet seen in the first film) by operating a power-lifter; bookended by her climatic battle with the queen alien, the two scenes are the first and last in a series of Ripley proving her strength to the skeptical soldiers (and, perhaps, to a skeptical audience). I admire Cameron's mostly successful attempt at creating a forward-thinking action movie, except that I already knew Ripley was strong and I don't need her to be talented with military hardware to belive this. Where the first, weapon-free film was driven by a kind of vaginal horror, Aliens is preoccupied with weapons and, thus, becomes about Ripley growing a dick. At worst this feels hamhanded; at best (which is, to say, for most of its running time), it's like Robert Heinlen's Starship Troopers as directed by Hélène Cixious.
The heart of Aliens is the relationship between Ripley and Newt (Carrie Henn), an orphaned little girl resourceful enough to have survived for several weeks on LV-426. Ripley's prolonged climatic rescue of Newt from the queen (masterfully realized by Stan Winston and his crew) is complely gripping, as Cameron and Weaver have succeeded in creating a very real emotional in these the characters, each experiencing a total, existential loss resulting in a poignant mother/daughter bond. Cameron comes closest to aping Scott's concerns in pitting his warrior woman against a monster defined by her reproductive status - it's a battle between Amazons and breeders for the future of our children, and it's awesome. On the other hand, in a development that jibes sharply from Scott's film, Ripley learns to cast aside her fears and embrace technology in the form of a sensitive 80s man android named Bishop (Lance Henriksen). While both films are critical of Weyland-Yutani, the company determined to capitalize on the alien, Aliens ignores the relationship between the android and his creator, as if to say "Yeah, Lockheed Martin is evil, but the F-22 raptor is sooo bitchin'."
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Monday, October 01, 2007
The enduring appeal of the bloodsucking ponce has never been better articulated than by Bela Lugosi himself (as played by Martin Landau). "The pure horror," Lugosi explains, "it both repels and attracts them. Because in their collective unconsciousness, they have the agony of childbirth. The blood. The blood is horror. Take my word for it. You want to score with a young lady, you take her to see Dracula." With that in mind, here's a list that was unusually hard to create (in the interest of diversity, I've limited myself to one Dracula and one Orlok).
1. Count Orlok (Max Schreck), Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens "Schreck" is the German word for "fright," and while this would have been a great pseudonym for the actor who first embodied Dracula (sporting his own pseudonym), it's a hundred times more awesome that Schreck was the dude's real name. Proof, in my mind, that Schreck was born to play the tortured, feral count - it's more than a performance, its one of the definitive images in horror. Klaus Kinski gave the role a palpable sadness, and Willem Dafoe turned it into sharp satire, but it's Schreck that really earns his surname.
2. Dracula (Gary Oldman), Bram Stoker's Dracula Coppola's version of Dracula is uneven and famously features a particuarly terrible Keanu Reeves performance. Still, it's my favorite Dracula, thanks to its visual opulence and the magnificent titular performance. Bela Lugosi is the most iconic, Christopher Lee is the scariest, and Frank Langella is the permiest. But Oldman is amazing here, his Dracula ranging from warrior to feeble old man to bummed Goth dude without ever becoming jarring or incoherent - this Dracula is a multilayered monster, driven equally by satanic instinct and human desire, and the Count has never been so compelling. Plus, gotta love purple-tinted shades.
3. Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve), The Hunger She's a pianist, she seduces Susan Sarandon, she's into Bauhaus, and she's trapped David Bowie in a coffin in her attic. Case closed.
4. Martin Madahas (John Amplas), Martin Possibly the creepiest vampire listed here, Martin is a vampire who can appear in sunlight, has no particular superpowers, and lacks fangs (a razorblade does the trick). Director George A. Romero never quite tells you whether the teenage-looking Martin is crazy or if he is, somehow, an 84-year-old bloodsucker, and Amplas' deadpan performance enhances the film's effectieve ambiguity. The monster here is competely unremarkable, which makes the bloodletting all the more unsettling.
5. Severen (Bill Paxton), Near Dark The coolest in a movie filled with cool vampires, Severen looks badass in leather, even more badass with a blistering sunburn, and gives the coolest possible delivery of the line "Finger-lickin' good."
6. Countess Elisabeth Nodosheen (Ingrid Pitt), Countess Dracula It's one thing to have large breasts. It's another to have large breasts that look nifty when covered in blood. Pitt, in a semifictional Elizabeth Bathory biopic, achieves the latter. And for some reason, I really respect this fact.
7. Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), Fright Night Dandridge, who moves in next door to a horror-loving teen, is walking subtext. An impeccably dressed, sexually ambiguous 80's archetype, Dandridge flirts with the hero's mother, seduces his closeted friend, and nearly turns his girlfriend to the dark side before they've ever knocked boots. Fright Night, for all its laughs, has always felt weirdly dark and nihilistic, and a lot of this is thanks to Sarandon, cheerfully embodying a fanged corruptor of the youth and imparting an important message to the film's young audience: fear yuppies.
8. Ralphie Glick (Ronnie Scribner), Salem's Lot Typically I don't like to lump in TV movies with features. But I'll make an exception, as the above scene scared the bejesus out of the eight-year-old me and gave me nightmares for a week.
9. Max (Edward Herrmann), The Lost Boys Every time I come home to my wife watching Herrmann as the wealthy, doddering grandfather on Gilmore Girls, I can only think about the predictable but still excellent reveal at the end of Joel Schumacher's only watchable movie. Plus, Max's subsequent destruction, set to "La Cucaracha," is endlessly rewatchable (I have a friend who made The Lost Boys his first DVD purchase just so he could watch the ending in 5.1 surround).
10. Space Girl (Mathilda May), Lifeforce Because any list of the best vampires is incomplete without at least one naked space vampire.