The Cabin in the Woods
Edited from its original form. This was intended to be my observations of the movie’s first few scenes with some criticism here and there.
Reviews of The Cabin in the Woods have been generally positive, although there have been voices of dissent here and there. Whichever side of the fence they’re on, they don’t write about its plot except for a basic premise. There were the few I’ve read and the many that have advertised themselves as spoiler-free. I’ll do my best for this to not be that kind of post even though I’m the last person ever to see it. But nonetheless, let’s get this party started.
It starts with two women in their college dorm, the scene continuing with one character introduction after another. Jules (Anna Hutchison), recently changing her hair and personality, tells Dana (Kristen Connolly) to ditch her Soviet economics books and get into a weekend getaway mode. Jules’ also takes her boyfriend Curt with a C (Chris Hemsworth), a guy who dresses like jock who’s actually a smart sociology major. Out of this triumvirate, only Hemsworth can pull of the dialogue’s wit. Hemsworth is also able to recommend what books Dana should be reading while sounding like he knows what he’s talking about.
Hutchison and Connolly, however, seem to be too deadpan – Drew Goddard‘s blase direction doesn’t always help with this neither. But those two are interestingly cast, Hutchison’s face and demeanour seemingly too mature, her gaze too penetrating to really be the dumb blond persona that Jules has taken on for the weekend. Just as intended. Connolly is more fresh-faced so we’ll know that she’s last girl, whether she lives or not.
Anyway, apparently they’re the only people awake on campus despite it being a sunny spring day, or that they’re the last people to leave on their breaks. Curt offers his cousin’s cabin for the weekend getaway place and Jules asks him to invite his friend Holden (Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) so that Dana doesn’t feel left out. Marty (Fran Kranz), who looks like he’s going to act like a gargoyle for the rest of the movie, usurps into this otherwise picture perfect group and before they venture out into the titular cabin.
The journey towards the rural hideout is already filled with dread (why do young people in movies still go out in the woods to party even though we all know that most of them are going to die?). Being unable to find it on a GPS, they make a stop at a gas station and its attendant, Mordecai (Tim de Zarn), appears through a perfunctory shock cut. He calls Jules a whore, and a fight between the group and Mordecai almost break out, but they decide to leave him and have their fun as planned. As they drive their Winnebago through a tunnel a CGI bird flies in the sky, only to be stopped and killed by an invisible electric grid, reminding us that there are another set of characters in this story.
The movie actually begins with a mundane shot of a coffee vending machine that two white coats Sitterson (Oscar nominated Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Studio 60’s Bradley Whitford) use. Joined by the pencil-pushing Lin (Amy Acker), she worries about the day’s operation, although Sitterson smugly reassures her that they haven’t had a glitch since ’98. The two men leave her stranded, driving out with their cart within a large – public or private? – facility whose operation involves the characters who are cabin bound. We don’t know why they’re doing this or why they choose those kids. The same clunkiness permeate here as well, shot too close and lit too dirtily than I would expect in a scene featuring workplace humour. It also seems like the actors on this side work Whedon’s dialogue better throughout the movie…just like Curt does….and it is his cousin’s cabin. Despite of the imperfections here, Whedon and Goddard do start dropping pieces of the puzzle this early on.
It has the usual setup of young people discovering things hidden beyond the borders of civilization or revealing a character’s family secret. But what I like is that these characters challenge each other, the ones in the facility wondering, just like we do, how these kids will slip into which mess. The characters in the cabin, however, test each other on whether they’ll advance on each other sexually or be more modest towards each other like Dana and Holden does.
The movie is enigmatic and works its way into being character based but it didn’t really win me over until two of the characters find their way to fight back. When a certain scene happens the sounds of it make me feel like Whedon and Goddard had smiles on their faces while writing and making it. But that defining moment, coming in so late, and the movie’s hype itself, makes me cautious on whether to embrace it. Either way, the movie’s second hour makes the rest more bonkers and fun. 4/5
- The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011) (faircomments.wordpress.com)
2011: We Need to Talk About…
I’m wishing that We Need to Talk About Kevin, the movie based on the Lionel Shriver bestseller, came out on DVD already so I can share with you the film’s first two images. The first one is of a translucent white curtain slowly being blown by the air. The second of an inevitably erotic nature, of muscle squashing together tightly, painted red by tomatoes and tomato juice, those bodies ion the streets that we see from the air in the Tomatina festival in Spain, one of its participants being our protagonist Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Seeing these I inevitably compare this work of Lynne Ramsay’s to artist-turned director Steve McQueen’s, both seemingly having the same meditative pace and construction. The movie doesn’t live up to those expectations although we get a few visual treats – Eva hiding behind carefully stacked Campbell Soup cans, jagged ones of meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her troublesome six-year-old son Kevin (Jasper Newell) making her office room wallpapered by maps into a ‘special’ Jackson Pollock of a mess – to clarify I’m not a Pollock hater but I would equally freak out if my kid dripped and shot paint all over the walls – and countless ones where mother and son (the teenaged version played by Ezra Miller) awkwardly share opposite sides of the same uncomfortable space. Eva, and sometimes Kevin, live in middle American kitsch suburbia, these poppy images drowned under fluorescent blandness. These images satisfy, the rest of the compositions mixing the elfin Swinton with middle American motifs, an unlikely pair that we get used to.
But I keep going back to the first two images, the second set pushed to the back burner as the happiest moment of Eva’s life while the first is the gateway and culmination of her worst. The movie’s intertwining plot lines mostly show us that her worst moments continue. Her new, shabbier house is often vandalized, surrounded by distant neighbours, their suspicious children and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness missionary, oblivious to her eternal damnation. But the movie also return to her relative misery as a wife/mother of two in a rich neighbourhood, their house funded by her best-selling travel books. She’s the town’s pariah, having to apply for a lowly travel agent job while her skeletal face gets clocked by another housewife after her job interview. We find out why the townspeople hate her so much as she has to, out of obligation, visit him in jail. When her family was intact, there seemed to be an alliance between Kevin and Franklin while Eva asks for the sympathy of her daughter, which he gets. But in her present situation, mother and son are stuck together.
Despite the images, this adaptation, as a medium, can’t help but be more one-sided than I imagine the novel to be. We the audience see Kevin as a baby alone with Eva – she takes his stroller to a construction site to drown out his incessant cries as opposed to, you know, feeding him or changing him or whatever actual good mothers should do. Then he magically stops crying when daddy comes home. She even tells him that she would be in France if he wasn’t born, these impulsive words heard by the disapproving Franklin. Speaking of changing, six-year-old Kevin is seen wearing diapers, and eventually we discover that she has to accidentally injure him in order for him to be potty trained. Until this section of the movie Eva seems like a passive character but even with punitive action she can’t discipline the boy or make him be nice to her. There is an exception when, after the hospital visit, she reads “Robin Hood” to her child, only realizing that hell take up an archery obsession that eventually drives her crazy. As the torture continues to his teenage years, Kevin giving her the cut eye to let her know that something would be amiss in the house for which he’s responsible. There’s also a sequence of her as she takes teenage Kevin for a golf and dinner date, when he combats her every attempt of small talk, Miller delivering each line with vehemence as Swinton is exquisite even while reacting. But I keep replaying the dialogue in that sequence in my head, since there are possibilities that his words aren’t that mean, that he’s just holding up a mirror to her hypocrisies and performed motherly warmth.
There’s also this unnecessary nihilism to the movie, especially with introducing Eva’s daughter. The movie, especially with its flashbacks and forwards, makes us wait for what he does that puts him in jail and for why her daughter has to wear an eye patch and the way the movie develops makes us feel that these events will be obscenely portrayed. This also makes me curious about how parents of juvenile criminals in reality are treated because it can’t be as bad and extreme as this. It is about the labourious plastering of how Kevin affects Eva. I’m not necessarily asking for a sugar-coating of the grisly subject it’s as if Ramsay and those involved in this movie are making it more difficult to reach these characters’ and environment’s humanity.
Bad Movie: The Devil Inside
The Devil Inside, directed by William Brent Bell and co-written by Matthew Peterman, is the first of less than mediocre movies that reached the top spot at the box office during 2012. I know some Oscar bait has a longer run in the theatres than this movie, but I’m reopening wounds by reminding you that it still exists.
Ms. Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) tells her story to a man filming a documentary. Her mother (Suzan Crowley) is in some Italian insane asylum run by the Catholic Church (?). When in Rome, she meets these two priests in a…University class about demonic possessions? I’ll keep an open mind because that’s what some people think about psychology then and now. In fact, exorcism was probably the norm before mental wards came into being. During the class and apres coffee-bar meetings with some of the actually enrolled students who are studying the occult. She discovers that within her new circle of friends are two priests do exorcisms that are not approved by the Church because they believe that the institution somehow is corrupt enough to disregard the well-being of some people possessed by the devil. Knowing what these knights of shining collar do on the sidelines, she enlists them into healing their mother.
But when they try to exorcise Mrs. Rossi, the devil jumps bodies from her to young renegade exorcist Father Keane – he doesn’t show symptoms until he drowns a baby. Then the devil goes to the young woman then to the man filming the documentary. This last possession leads to a anticlimactic ending. Which is unfortunate because they are going somewhere where their questions could be answered. Let’s look at what I said before. The devil jumps bodies, which means that the priests’ exorcising methods aren’t sufficient enough in extinguishing the evil entity possessing a person. The exorcists justify their actions, by saying that they’re spiritually healing certain cases that the Church considers as irredeemable. But what if the Church was in a way protecting those who could be saved, as they quarantine the possessed away from everyone. One body isn’t stronger than another so what’s stopping it from possession a holy man?
Despite of me trying to dig something into this movie, it’s constricted from expanding its ideas about the devil and God and people. And it might be because it set itself too low, choosing too small of a canvas and characters to tell their story that’s not really profound. 2/5.
- Movie Review: ‘The Devil Inside’ (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
TADFF: War of the Dead
This is what happens when I put off writing reviews. It took a while to remember the first scene in War of the Dead when Nazi officials are chatteling hostage soldiers to a bunker somewhere along the Finland-Russia border. They resist but when the chemical starts working, their eyes turn white. Chilling scene. Too bad the movie goes to pot after that. Cue Andrew Tiernan, plays soldier Martin Stone, with a permanent Clint Eastwood-esque scowl to convince the audience that he’s American. Along with a troop of Finnish soldiers, he’s on a mission to destroy said bunker. But when the night falls on this strange wooded area, Nazi zombies fly out of the trees, this ridiculously violent entrance fulfilling the “of the dead” part of the title.
I also got the feeling of Schadenfreude in knowing that the Finns actually sided with the Germans during the Second World War. That explains what the cute Finnish soldier and his Russian counterpart didn’t get along in this movie.
- Vote here for your favourite war movie (calgaryherald.com)
Overreading “The Thing” Prequel
Film versions of The Thing has graced our screens three times, seemingly coming in at the right decades when, as horror movies should, audiences see a physical manifestation of their current fears. The monster in Hawks’ 1951 adaptation is supposedly about the communist threat while Carpenter’s 1982 remake is a metaphor for AIDS, so what about this year’s version?
There are multiple lines dividing the characters but the point is that they’re divided. This prequel tells us about the scientists who discover the alien before the Yankees in Carpenter’s film. Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) appoints paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as his right hand woman for the Norwegian base in Antarctica to study a ‘secret case.’ Let’s be cynical about Kate’s recruitment, and her own crew, the film’s screenwriters thinking that their movie needs anglophone actors for North American audiences to buy their tickets. The latent purpose of the subtitled Norwegian characters, however, teach us how to curse in their mother tongue.
Nonetheless, Sander might as well not have assigned for her, as the two scientists don’t behave as friends outside of their professional boundaries. He also vetoes her warnings about the proper ways to handle the alien within its new, above ground environment. He inadvertently awakens the alien, the latter killing off a few of the base’s crew members under the guise of its last victim. Still, some of the survivors, despite themselves, still do not believe her conclusions and methods and we can’t help but assume that her gender and age factors into their unspoken prejudices. Thankfully, Winstead confidently asserts her character despite these intimidating men.
We also have to take into account the different nationalities snowed into one roof. A subplot involves Kate’s crew members Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) on a botched helicopter escape from the base and getting accused of being an alien when he takes the grueling walk back. One of the Norwegians who has stayed yells something like ‘The Americans are the enemy’ which is pretty subversive. Then we can go crazy with the over-interpretations, as circumstances pit Kate and Braxton against each other. Lloyd also believes that checking teeth fillings is the way to see which one of them are the aliens, showing class divisions within the crew. Maybe this movie isn’t confident enough to lift itself from Carpenter’s shadow but the ideas are there, especially in its chilling (ha, pun!) ending, where Kate and Braxton fall under their enemies’ hands. 3/5.
Indefensible: The Butterfly Effect
Ashton Kutcher was once ‘Ashton Christopher,’ model. If you’re rich or in your first month of getting your Rogers Digital cable box, you’re not feeding starving children in Africa and instead watching old footage of ‘Christopher’ in Fashion Television Channel. You’d be watching a Donna Karan fashion show or something in the 90’s wrap up, they interview Janice Dickinson, then ‘Christopher,’ who just walked the show. Best Week Ever alleges that he and Josh Duhamel are the inspiration for Derek and Hansel. Dan Savage also takes credit for discovering him and introducing him to America, and with the former’s stroke of luck, he decides that he’s the soothsayer of future hot famous men and picks Trent Ford, whom you’ve never heard of and will never hear about again. Maybe it’s the foresight, but there’s a glimmer in ‘Christopher’s’ eye and this weird mouth thing that seems like he’s wanting to burst out from this image of the preppy, well composed young man into becoming the turn of the 21st century goofball. A few years later, he decides to show America that he is a serious actor as well with his star vehicle The Butterfly Effect, a critical failure, a relatively box office success, cult favourite. Cue Demi Moore, Twitter, “Two and a Half Men.”
I’ve only seen the first twenty minutes of it. Kutcher is almost absent and looks like ass, Eric Stoltz is terrible, the child counselor from Freddy Got Fingered is in it, shout outs to Dumb and Dumber and Se7en, I will never have children. Tonight at 7PM at the Toronto Underground Cinema, Criticize This’ Andrew Parker is showing The Butterfly effect as part of his Defending the Indefensible Series. Adam Nayman and Norman Wilner will be discussing the (de)merits of the film. And of course, the series continues because when you pay to watch these potentially terrible movies, you’re donating to charity. This month’s charity, appropriately enough, is the Red Door, sheltering women and children fleeing from domestic abuse.
- Movie star Ashton Kutcher training Jiu-Jitsu in Rio (suyanbjj.wordpress.com)
…With Your Best Shot: “Eraserhead”
After the first five minutes of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Henry’s (John Nance) short hem and white socks gives Michael Jackson sartorial inspiration. But seriously, this ‘beginning’ reminds me of the ending of On The Waterfront, but instead of the neo-realist working men going back to work, Henry, alone, goes on vacation. The shadows seem penciled in within this industrial urban setting, but the darkness will be more solid and the vacation ruined as the film continues.
This post is a part of Nathaniel Rogers’ ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ series.
Ghosts of “Insidious” Past
‘It’s not your house that’s haunted, it’s your son,’ an exorcist tells Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) about their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) in James Wan‘s Insidious, and what I want to tell every other parent I’ve ever met. The film makes audiences notice whatever is out-of-place within the house, the ghosts audacious enough to run around in the middle of the day, scaring poor musician/housewife Renai. The film’s problematic but its title is fitting. Its ghosts don’t lunge but stand, their unequivocal presence reminding our hot young couple that every space they inhabit is inherently never their own. The film raises those stakes, as the exorcist claims that other spirits want to inhabit Dalton’s body, the ownership of our bodies is thus as precarious as that of our homes.
Insidious swims through antiquity, from the suspicious furniture to the exorcists’ equipment, the latter’s light bulb-filled boards seemingly ransacked from Dr. Frankenstein’s lair. Its references range from Murnau, the Noh genre, new Spanish horror, and other people and genres you know better about. The first house they movie into had big panels and SPOILER claustrophobic red hallways, both reminding me of Suspiria, making me wish I studied architecture, even if there are too potentially many scary stories in a house so beautiful. 3/5
- “Movie Review: Insidious” and related posts (calitreview.com)
Psycho stories and shots
Sorry for the short blog hiatus! There’s more of that to come, unfortunately.
Instead of talking about my favourite shot from Psycho – that’ll come later – or my long-ass history with arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, or my veneration for the woman with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Janet Leigh) and the man with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Martin Balsam) I’ll talk about a shot and a story that I’m probably not supposed to tell. This story also means that I can’t talk about what school I went to, although I probably can’t keep my mouth shut for that long. And that despite the slight Schadenfreude, I feel bad about telling this story because the same things that I might imply on this person might also be said about me.
As a background, in my college, there is a great film professor pushing into his emeritus years. If you wanted an introduction to ways of thinking and philosophy from the 20th century and beyond, he’s your guy. He is much beloved by the earlier classes but the dissent against his has been coming stronger as new generations of students come. My ambivalent opinion towards him doesn’t make the fact that I’m unemployable because I like talking shit any less true.
So me and an alum were talking about B film ‘Hobo With a Shotgun,’ that recently had its Canadian première. I hesitated on saying that I hated it, he was talking about its merits and deeper nuances, about how the film treats. “So, like, the Drake character is Stephen Harper and Rutger Hauer is some guy in some other political party or ‘the people’ or something?”
“No, not that deep.”
“Sorry. I guess it’s the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ training in me that make me over-analyze things.” Although I do believe that every film is political and social, a belief that will lead to a story that I will never tell unless we meet in person.
“Oh, God. Him. It’s like every film to him is about the economy. Like for Psycho. For genre class he made a shot-by-shot analysis of the shower scene. At the end he showed the shot of the drain, and asked the class ‘What do you see?’ You know what he said?”
“The swirling of the water is reminiscent of the dollar sign,” I asked sarcastically.
“And I shit you not, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ yelled ‘Bullshit,’ walked out of the room and never took his classes again.”
“That is kinda funny. I have _ _ _ _ on my Facebook. I should write on his wall sometime.”
I’m haunted by that sequence because the chunky blood that comes out of Marion Crane (Leigh), eventually being diluted in the water for that ‘zero’ moment.
What’s also ironic is that while I’m talking out of my ass, I’m using one of my prof’s shot-counter shot analysis that he intended for Vertigo – another clue – and how in the earlier scenes, the backgrounds used for Jimmy Stewart’s character had clean geometric borders while the Barbara bel Geddes character worked around a hot mess. The same thing happens here in Psycho, where two characters are literally a few feet away from each other yet the spaces are clearly bordered. Marion sits in front of a relatively blank wallpaper while Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) chooses to sit with his creepy stuffed birds. The clutter around him shows his conflicted, angry mind while she’s fine if a bit delusional.
Despite Marion’s blood and her effects, the bathroom feels clean when Norman enters. It’s as if doing the deed is a method of purgation for him. The clouds and the fog hours before seem to disappear for him, the dead trees making way for his brooding face.
Or to a lesser extent, there’s one particular shot with Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and Sam Loomis (wooden John Gavin). It’s a little bit smoky on Lila’s side while the downtown buildings serve as a background for Sam. We can argue which parts of the mise-en-scene make one more troubled than the other, but I like this shot because it’s pretty.
Then there’s the last scene, showing Norman imprisoned around the ultimate void, when the battle’s been won.
This has been part of Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.
Neverending Christmas: Gremlins is Black
So watched this movie last week at the Underground, had some spiked apple cider, met Sasha, entered raffle, not win anything from raffle. Also, there were short theatrical and musical performances. The former from the Underground staff, the latter from a band with a front girl who sounds like Feist. Thanks girl, I was rooting for me being the hottest person in that room.
I remember the chair scene, I remember a mall instead of a department store. The sequel probably ends in a mall. I haven’t seen the sequel since my childhood.
Apparently the gremlins is black. Stripe with his mohawk doesn’t register as black to me. I guess their ‘blackness,’ in a ‘Renaissance’ perspective of the word, has something to do with the second rule, as light can be seen as whiteness, something that the gremlins can’t live under. The gremlins don’t even register as Chinese, since the parent gremlin does come from China. Ok, thinking about the raciality of the gremlins almost made my head explode. I was this close to comparing them to ‘Muslims,’ or at least how ‘red’ America perceives them.
Nonetheless, the racial reading of the film roots from that despite Christianity’s strength, there’s still an anxiety that Christmas, in its ever-evolving form, won’t be celebrated ‘traditionally,’ whatever our understanding of that is. On that note, maybe it’s not a racial but about generational differences, that the multiplication and transformation of the gremlins are the fault of a curious, young man.
Why is the school open on Christmas Eve? The science teacher wouldn’t have died if he didn’t work. I guess it builds on the childhood assumption that teachers line in school. For some reason, schools in Reagan-era America actually had enough funding to indulge their teachers to make their own research and the facilities that go with them. Also, ooh, black on black violence.
Also, the retired Phoebe Kline nee Cates. She made Jessica Alba seem like a Shakespearean actress.
To Maybe Watch Sweeney Todd
Jayne Wisener‘s Johanna is probably my reason if I was ever gonna rewatch Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Wisener wasn’t the next Kate Winslet, but she’s well-directed here no matter what her acting capabilities are. There’s something in the way she moves her head. June Thomas from Slate Magazine hasn’t been too kind on her rendition of the Sondheim-penned ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird,’ but it’s my favourite rendition of the song, while most of the other renditions I’ve heard sing it with too much operatic force. Maybe I’m being cruel and that the other singers need to boom the song to the back of the audience, but I like Wisener’s softness.
There’s also something in the way she’s photographed here. High angle shot from the view of the birds. Through the window. My favourite POV of her is through the peep-hole from where the corrupt judge looks (Alan Rickman). The black spaces on the screen like that of silent cinema.
Should I watch a film just for two-minute intervals of a character watered down from the original source material and listen to her sing maybe twice? I don’t know why the film never fully connected to me the first time. Maybe I got bored by the ‘arterial spray?’ Or Helena Bonham Carter didn’t project her voice enough? Otherwise the film does look better on video. The thing about Sweeney Todd, and I can say this about at least one movie released every year, is that it’s either great in memory or in parts. There’s a reason why I was bored through half of the film, as if the scenes felt like the could have been played out better.
And those who know me will know that despite of 50-ish movies that I love – list coming up in never – I would rather get punched in the gut than watch a good or ok movie again.
There was also a small group of college-age kids near the front of the theatre who laughed at every other line of ‘A Little Priest.’ Like, we get it. You’re the biggest Sondheim fan ever. You’re so smart, you get all the jokes. I hated the Cumberland then. I said that I regretted not watching The Savages instead, but I’m not sure if that’s still true.
I might be going job hunting with my sister this afternoon. This movie’s gonna be at the Bell Lightbox at 9:30. It’s a Wonderful Life is playing at the Bloor. Black Christmas is playing at the Underground. I have time to think this through.
Halloween Post: Let Me In
In Let Me In, director Matt Reeves blatantly uses the original Swedish Let The Right One In as a starting point, but Rear Window references come within this film as well. The first references is Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) spying on his neighbors in his apartment complex with a telescope. The telescope scene reminds me of how many blue irises the film features. He spies on adults more sexually capable than he is – a good-looking, moody couple and a man lifting weights in his apartment. It’s strange them when Owen notices that the new neighbor, Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her father (Richard Jenkins) have their windows boarded up. The second reference is when Abby’s father pops up from a backseat of a car, attacking a young man while the train passes by. Lights from the train or the tracks flash and the screen turns red as an old man attacks. With the exception of these red flashes, blue and white dominate the film, but even those colours come off as somehow warmer in this film than the original. We’ll have Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser to thank for all of those.
Michael Giacchino created the film’s score, but it sounds more like Hans Zimmer. Owen’s mother is barely visible in the film. I guessed Ali Larter, but I got slightly mad when I found out that she is played by the talented Cara Buono.
The film exposes the source material’s themes without spoon-feeding it to the audience. Smit-McPhee’s Owen is more sickly compared to the twinky in the original, and Moretz’ Abby is more gross yet slightly more emotional than Lina Leandersson’s Elin. The tone of their interactions are more varied and have an arc, Owen’s voice creaking a bit when he tries to talk to the new girl, both of them as awkward as kids in their situation would be. This awkwardness is heightened by Abby, of course, being a vampire. They’re more combative, both crossing the lines of their friendship, daring each other, testing each other’s humanity and compassion, finding out whether one would help the other. We’ll have Reeves and the actors to thank for that as well.
My first film professor taught us shot-counter shot relationships through the most complex examples – those that are found in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. This isn’t the first time Hitch made characters within the film as metaphors for the audience. However, unlike in Rear Window where there are just three or four people at the most watching Jimmy Stewart’s neighbors, it’s one or two-second shots a little crowd watching, all of them focused on different things. Until our main heckler, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) points out something urgent. Shot: explosion!
Counter shot – freeze frame of Melanie reacting ridiculously to the spreading fire.
Wait, did Tippi name her daughter after this character? Anyway, shot – another explosion!
And establishing shot, showing the audience both how small and large the damage is, and showing us the distances between the three locations where the action happens and is being watched. People in chaos running like ants. And that’s just the beginning of another attack.
I can only imagine papers written about this movie all fighting for what they think the movie’s about. The bird attacks symbolizing Cold War paranoia, the urban versus rural divide, the xenophobia engendered by those two issues – love interest Mitchell Brenner’s (Rod Taylor) sister Cathy (Nancy Cartwright) judging her brother’s clients as hoods, even if their mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) corrects her to no avail. Or the birds as a comment on Native versus white occupation, nature against man or expressing how crappy it is to meet in-laws. Melanie is the stand-in for the audience but she comes of as a bit distant so some of the audience can relate more to the townspeople who alienate her. As one of the misinformed visitors say, she might be the cause of all this, the birds following her around and attacking her. And as a big city girl, she goes places alone, and every ten or fifteen minutes of the film she gets attacked.
The film’s first scene alludes to a court date, which leads to socialite Melanie’s history of pranks and Roman exhibitionism. Her face is small, child-like and elegant, but unlike most of Hitch’s earlier heroines, she isn’t one bit innocent. Her deeper voice is more flirtatious than Hitch’s women before her. Instead of feigning innocence, she tries to she the audience that those reckless days are behind her. That’s why the recycled Edith Head outfits and aging chignon are trying to convey. Those qualities convince Mitch, although creating quick banter between them, he keeps reminding her of her past, that she stalked him all the way to his small town, Bodega Bay and won’t let her hear the end of it. She does have to face a hurdle, Lydia which reminds her of issues with her own mother.
Lydia despite of what she reads in the gossip columns, also reluctantly gives Melanie the stamp of approval. The film introduces Lydia as an older woman with piercing, accusing eyes. Anne also gives Melanie fair warning about how Lydia may take her and Mitch apart the same way Mitch and Anne’s relationship ended because of Lydia. Thankfully however, Tandy lucked out on becoming the nicest, most three-dimensional older woman, her age group otherwise demonized in other Hitchcock films (the second nicest, most three-dimensional old woman in Hitch’s films is Anthony Perkins). Lydia is specifically distresses seeing another farmer’s corpse, attacked by birds. She gets to air out her anxieties, her fear that comes with a loss of physical and emotional strength. She questions her own mothering abilities, she’s afraid of being abandoned, ambivalent towards Melanie that she reveals to the latter’s face. She creepily calls Mitch ‘dear’ then later calls him inadequate compared to his father, Frank.
I’ll go back to Hedren’s acting. She can convey the darker, sexier side of later Hitchcock heroines while being caring towards the Brenners but sometimes she loses that spark. Some of the attack scenes also show her weak spots – she flirts seconds after being attacked by a gull, taking away from the believability of the scene. In other scenes, she positions her head, lips and every limb in its exact, photogenic place, not letting go of a performed beauty even in moments of terror. I’m not sure whether to blame her or to blame Hitchcock whose relationship to actors and coaching them aren’t known as the best.
My second complaint would be the special effects, but I think some of you will defend that as ‘painterly.’ Yes, I was actually terrified when the birds started coming in from the fireplace. And yes, I know that Hitch and his crew used as many live birds as possible during production. As the ornithologist in the restaurant says, it’s a war against the temperamental birds, the film this about whether the birds do or don’t mark their territory against man.
TIFF: L.A. Zombie
A friend warned me against Bruce La Bruce and therefore warned me against the latter’s new movie at TIFF, L.A. Zombie, that he has no desire to watch because it would end up being like ‘pretentious hack poverty porn.’ But of course, I’m not a good friend.
An alien zombie emerges (Francois Sagat) in the form that whoever Supreme being created him, from the Pacific Ocean and walks his way to the beaches of L.A. There’s three versions of this monster. There’s the alien zombie version of him who penetrates dead men with the former’s whatever it is in the latter’s man-made orifices – I hope I’m understood. The homeless version of him, cured after intercourse with the dead men – he regresses into the first version although he eventually controls his transformation between these two stages. The third version looks like the first, but the latter watches the former have sex with dead sadomasochistic muscle heads (including Francesco D’Macho, Erik Rhodes, Matthew Rush) and this third version has bigger fangs. Portions of the film accompanied by Chopin’s violin concertos.
The two coexisting versions of the alien zombie are, according to him, open to interpretation. Every text is open to interpretation. There are many intentionally disappointing things about the film. That he can’t fully commitment to any message is my biggest disappointment. The film has its fashion connections, from Bernard Wilhelm’s deconstruction designs to a cameo by Santino Rice as a homeless drunk. I gave this movie a 1/5, and I felt good doing it.
- Australians won’t see zombies having sex (theglobeandmail.com)
Other critics have written about the curiously interesting film making techniques that Nobuhiko Obayashi has used in his feature debut, Hausu, which makes me question my sobriety until this moment as I’m writing this post. But I’ll talk about how marriage-obsessed this movie is. A female gym teacher’s having an arranged marriage, and audience members can deduce that the marriage had to be arranged because she didn’t have the volition to look for a man herself. A high school student, Gorgeous – seriously that’s the character’s name – is angry because Daddy’s getting remarried. Gorgeous and her friends are staying with her aunt for the summer. On the way, a poster tells then “Stay at the countryside. Get married.” The aunt’s lover died in the war but stubbornly waits for him forever, and eats young women so that she CAN wait forever.
Hausu is a part of the Japanese horror/Noh/kabuki tradition like its more coherent predecessor, Ugetsu Monogatari, since both have haunted houses with ghostly female hosts trapping new guests, national metaphor, yadda. Hausu is also a part of horror tradition in general because it kills of the useless ones. Who will survive? How many? Will it be Gorgeous, the young woman who might inherit her aunt’s house? Fantasy, the observant one, doting and waiting for her male teacher? Prof, the one who reads while cats with laser eyes – Andy Samberg oughta be sued – is attacking her and her friends? Kung Fu, her name being self-explanatory, although she presents herself as another obvious enemy against the house? Melody, who shares the aunt’s interest in the piano? Sweet, the one who cleans the house? Or Mac, the one who gives the aunt a watermelon? You have two more days, today till Thursday. Go see it!
I do like these girls, walking through the countryside like that. Girls today would be too conscious that they might be watching their pedicures while treading on their impractical Louboutin heels. Or maybe that’s just me being sexist.
I wasn’t scared in a way that I wasn’t jolted by the movie, but it’s creepy and that’s good enough for horror. Enjoy this movie.
Hausu is screening at the Bloor tonight at 9:15. It started playing yesterday and is gonna be on until Thursday. I don’t know if it’s my cup of tea but there’s a lot of good visuals in it as far as I’ve heard. Don’t miss it!
Half of this post will be mostly me chickening out of grandiose statements. I’m not alone in what I’m gonna say, but I still don’t feel comfortable writing it. And note that I haven’t seen the original for comparison, and that I have a short list of DVD’s I’ve yet to see so the original version of this movie’s on the bottom of the list. Anyway, here goes.
Everyone else has pretty much said that this is a zombie movie without zombies. Stark realism, yadda. Instead of seeing sub-humans walking with their hands in front of them, the film shows the sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Oliphant) shooting his neighbor and bearing the consequences of doing so. The film also shows a man killing his wife and child rendered more as familial abuse than a zombie’s act. Horror is masculine camp in a way that you’re expecting a monster that you know doesn’t exist, and in turn you’re scared like you’re shrieking in a roller coaster ride. When you witness realistic events in a movie while expecting to watch fantastical ones, you’re more uncomfortable than scared. Not necessarily a bad thing.
What adds to my discomfort is the political message of the film. It’s subtly presented (no speeches, etc.), but I can still see it, and since I’m on the one side of the spectrum I’m worried about those who might watch this movie representing the opposite. The crazies are toting guns and killing their wives because they’re drinking government Kool-Aid water by mistake. And since Ogden Marsh, Iowa is already crazy, the government doesn’t wanna be accountable and wants to kill off the town, shooting family members in front of each other, and does so except for our sheriff and his doctor wife (Radha Mitchell). Familiar.
The film also follows the Romero formula of scary stuff, a few people try to get away, they have misadventures, scary stuff follow them for a final showdown. With the Duttons is the sheriff’s gun-toting but altruistic deputy and a great teenage screamer, all four competently presented as complex gender archetypes. It’s acceptable enough of a formula, but what it’s used against kinda peeves me.
Canadian Television: Corner Gas
Why do people always think that horror movies are about teenage girls getting sliced up or about evil cats?