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Ack. TOP TEN. [07 Dec 2009|11:34am]
[ mood | cold ]

Okay, faithful film snobs, I have been tasked with doing a Top Ten Movies of the Decade list. I've already got a few that should go here, but I need suggestions.

There's been an entry in the works for this blog for a long time, but I have been terribly busy and not able to edit and post. As always, I'm watching tons of movies and submitting reviews over at calitreview.com. Aside from that, it's nearly 2010, and that's a little scary. Are you planning on saying "two thousand ten" or "twenty-ten" next year?

There's snow on the ground, my hands and feet are constantly icy. The semester is winding down, and I'm planning a trip back to Indiana around Christmastime.

Please put your suggestions in the comments! I'll keep you updated, and if I have the energy, I may well write up a much longer list (top 25? top 50?) for this journal.

Over and out.

5 opinions {} berate me

Things, and more things. [19 Oct 2009|10:48am]
[ mood | i was going for thoughtful! ]

I've been sort of crazily busy lately. I haven't even had much time to watch movies. I'm too busy trying to find myself an apartment, get into some semblance of healthy shape, and you know, sleep occasionally. Let's see. I loved Zombieland. I can't wait to get Trick r' Treat from Netflix, although I think it's going to be bad. Next on the docket are The Girlfriend Experience and Away We Go.

I watched House of Yes as a teenager and I remember coming out of it with a "wtf" face and sort of forgetting it, although I think my adoration of Parker Posey began there. I got it from Netflix again recently, and decided it's exactly the kind of movie I would've loved to make back in the day when I was creative (only...perhaps without the incest.) Tiny cast, bizarro plotline, good acting from actors who weren't well-known then but are now--although none of them have gotten much props for their talent (Posey, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Tori Spelling, Rachael Leigh Cook). Long story short, it was obviously done on a shoestring budget and director Mark Walters knew what he was doing. It's a character piece based on a play, which makes it perfect for a small cast and single setting. If you're particularly offended by incest or role-playing, this is not the movie for you. It's a little sick and depraved, but funny and utterly weird.

On Friday I went to see Where the Wild Things Are, and I really liked it. Who among us wasn't in love with the book as a child? It's close to so many hearts that the material is downright dangerous to mess with. Sendak put his stamp of approval on the film, and with good reason. The movie is like spending an awesome 90 minutes inside the head of a little kid--for real this time. Filmmakers have tried that approach many times and rarely have success creating a film that appeals to both kids and adults (think of, perhaps, The Neverending Story, which I adore but which doesn't really appeal to adults who didn't see it as a kid). I think Spike Jonze is a bit of a nutball, but in a really good way. The production notes on the Warner website and articles in Entertainment Weekly, etc. make me think the production was a nightmare in some ways and a really fantastic experience in others. Jonze evidently had a vision and didn't allow anyone to fuck with it--which, in this era of Hollywood crap, is respectable.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the movie end up in the running for costume and set decoration Oscars. I mean, look at this: 

The Wild Things are ripped straight from the page and placed into a new medium. The detail is incredible, the facial expressions (added in post) really lend a sense of realism, and none of this could've been done using complete CG. It wouldn't have been as raw and real.

I'm pretty tired of the hipper-than-thou, smarter-than-thou assholes who want to say how the "precious indie rock soundtrack" and "dysfunctional family problems" ruin the book for everyone. Sorry, dudes...if Sendak's behind it, so am I. If Jonze had set out to make a ten minute movie out of the book, the kind of simplicity in the book would've made perfect sense. He didn't. He made a film that gives each character more depth and paints an entirely new and different picture of a child's imagination--everything from violently tossing oceans to barren deserts, giant dogs, sand-filled monsters, and yes, a dysfunctional family of monsters. If Jonze had wanted to make a movie that pandered to kids, gave them an hour and a half of happily crowing Max and a clean-cut wild rumpus, he could've done it--but why? The film takes the source material to a whole different level. Not only is this Max's retreat from his own reality, but it's also his self-examination and realization that other people's emotions factor into his life. And that, try as he might, he needs to face his problems--because he can't run from them. It makes perfect sense to me. And on top of that, Karen O's vocals were pretty spot-on; that woman can scream with the best of them.

I haven't felt the overwhelming urge to buy a movie poster in awhile (I used to have it a lot). But if only they would release this image in poster size, I think I would buy it.

I feel like it's a pretty good representation of what childhood is like. Fear and awareness that outside forces (sometimes of the terrifying variety) are going to remove your crown; that you're not king of the world.

Secondarily, this guy might do:

Again, fair representation of the frustration and sheer awe of being surrounded by larger elements and the feeling you have no control.

The movie did, however, remind me painfully that I'm not a kid anymore. Sure, I found myself swept up in all the detail and the crazy structures and the dysfunction of the Wild Things' family. That didn't preclude this constant jarring sense that Max is inevitably going to get crushed! Trees fall on him, the Wild Things dogpile on top of him, he climbs in KW's mouth...everything in this world is so incredibly ENORMOUS compared to this tiny kid--it's definitely almost nailbiting. Purposefully, I'm sure. But something tells me that as a kid I wouldn't have been so paranoid about such things. 

On a very happy note, one of the film's editors commented on my review. This makes me incredibly happy. Apparently it spent 3 hours at the top of Google News, and has had 4,400 hits in the last 3 days. That's all fine and dandy...but to know that the people involved in the filmmaking are paying attention? That's something. This is in no way tooting my own horn. I think my work for CA Lit Review hasn't been all that great because of the time constraints I work under--I see the movie after work Friday and I have to have the review turned in by 11am Saturday. It's kind of rough if I want to get some sleep, or, you know, hang out with friends on a Friday night. Nonetheless, it's nice to know people are watching. I think Peter would be proud.

As soon as I can scam my way into press screenings, I think my reviews will go ever so much smoother. For the time being, though, I'm just happy to have brain exercises.

Dear LJ friends, what movies have you seen recently that you really liked or really disliked? And why? 




7 opinions {} berate me

Animation, War, and Melodrama [02 Oct 2009|02:49pm]
[ mood | hungry ]

Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi, 2007) 

On a lazy evening at home, I caught up on some older movies I've been meaning to see for awhile. I watched Persepolis, which alternately made me laugh and tear up. The animation was incredible--stark, simple, and beautiful. The tone was both funny and sad. The movie deals with Marjane Satrapi's youth in Iran during the reign of the Shah and the Islamic revolution. Although the film revolves around the revolution and Marjane's family's involvement, it also centers upon her very personal coming of age. With a deft, satiric voice-over, Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni in the French version I watched) narrates her relationships with men, her adoration of her uncle and grandmother, and her inability to comply with the dictatorship. The best parts of the film for me were Marjane's personal experiences--her relationship with a gay man; her entry into (and rather quick exit from) the punk scene; her crazy Austrian landlady whose dog humps her leg. A few have mentioned that the parts of the film that actually dealt with politics didn't really do them justice--but I think that was the point. To convey the fact that even as wars rage overseas, even as people are shot to death by their governments, people still live their lives. They still have to deal with their teenage years, their petty relationships, trying to find their niche. It's a sort of wake-up call. I've heard it said that the Vietnam war didn't entirely seem real here in the States--it was a lot of toy bombs exploding far away, and a list of dead boys each week. Material like Persepolis highlights the horror of war and the nature of human resilience. I haven't read the graphic novel, but I understand it's pretty incredible.

Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)

The movie reminded me a bit of Waltz with Bashir, which, truthfully, I had a hard time making it through. It is really good, but it is intensely sad and disturbing. Using animation to convey heartbreaking subjects is nothing particularly new, but in some ways it makes the material a little easier to stomach, I think. It also allows the filmmakers freedom to play with dream and memory sequences and audience perception. Waltz with Bashir is haunting, both in imagery and subject matter. It's an intensely personal film about a national and global tragedy. As director Ari Folman digs deeper into his own repressed memories of his involvement into an Israeli army mission into Lebanon, he unearths layer after layer of perception and memory, his own and his old friends'. It's gradually clear why his mind chose to shut down rather than deal with the reality of the invasion. The animation is gorgeous, more colorful, nuanced, and detailed than Persepolis, but also more melancholy.

Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001)

While I'm on this track, I think I am in the minority here but I like the way animation is used in Waking Life, which used rotoscope techniques to animate over live action footage. I just read that Waltz with Bashir did not--which makes it all the more incredible. Like everyone else in the world, I adore Pixar movies, but sometimes I really long for cel animation. I'm semi-hyped for The Princess and the Frog (despite the advance press regarding its racism), simply because it's a return to the kind of animation I grew up on. I hope it's good. I reviewed 9 a few weeks ago, and while the animation had me enthralled, I was really disappointed by the story. The movie had a lot of potential it didn't live up to--but if you have a chance, do see it in theaters. It was pretty. Nonetheless, I'm happy for the return to using animation as a way to deal with emotionally tough subjects rather than to distract from reality.

Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979)

On an entirely different note, one of my favorite genres is the family melodrama. I'm totally enraptured by The Ice Storm, Eve's Bayou, All that Heaven Allows (most of Doulas Sirk's movies, in fact, and Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven), American Beauty, and oh...approximately a million others. I love Ordinary People (which has been described as a "women's film for men"), and I've known a long time that I should watch Kramer vs. Kramer but never got around to it until recently.

I think I mentioned a few entries ago that I'm interested in horror films that deal with fear of childbirth and children. We as a society tend to look down upon mothers who abandon their children, and in horror movies mothers who fear their offspring usually bite it in really awful ways. Kramer vs. Kramer chronicles a family's demise--but rather than the stereotypical tale of the absent dad, it follows Ted (Dustin Hoffman), a father who's forced to take care of his son Billy when his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) leaves them both. This is of course taxing on both of them, but he cares for Billy and grows to love him immensely.

On the first morning after Joanna leaves, Ted and Billy struggle with the a.m. routine. Ted tries to make French toast and botches it, managing to criticize Billy's egg-beating skills, break the bread in half, and burn himself. Their wariness of each other is palpable and sad; Ted doesn't even know what grade Billy's in. In a particularly heartrending scene, Billy tumbles off a jungle gym with a toy airplane in his hand and cuts his face. A completely panicked Ted carries him a few blocks to the emergency room, where they continually try to make him leave the room (although they clearly would allow his female friend to sit with Billy). Ted holds Billy's head and whispers to him while they stitch his face.

Kramer vs. Kramer
came out in 1979, and it feels ahead of its time. For some reason, men taking care of children is STILL generally used for comedic effect (e.g. The Hangover, Are We There Yet?, Mr. Mom--which was released four years after K vs. K, etc. ). This movie deals with gender reversals in a really interesting, very unfunny way. Ted loses his job because he's caring for his son, while his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) moves up the corporate ladder. When Joanna suddenly returns to claim custody of Billy, the courts rule in her favor simply because she's the mother--a phenomenon which is still alive and well, of course. By the end of the film, Ted has fought his way into a new job and plastered the entire dining room with Billy's fingerpaintings. On the last morning they are to spend together, Ted and Billy work in tandem to make French toast--they have the routine down pat.

I like Dustin Hoffman anyway, but his acting in this film was superb. Streep was impeccable as always, even in a small role. The filmmaking (mise-en-scene and set decoration in particular) is great. All in all it is a pretty fantastic film, and plays with conventions that aren't touched upon much in movies even now. 1979 was a big Oscar year, and K vs. K left a lot of people grumbling because it won so many awards (ahem, Crash, Forrest Gump) that might've gone to other movies. Nonetheless, I think it's definitely worth watching if you haven't already.

I'm reviewing Zombieland tonight (I am REALLY excited for this one--my obsession with zombies and Shaun of the Dead, and my crush on Jesse Eisenberg, have my horror-comedy-geek sense tingling). If you're interested, look for it tomorrow on CA Lit Review.
berate me

Critiquing criticism. [24 Sep 2009|12:36pm]
[ mood | exanimate ]

Recently some of my criticism has come under fire.

I tend to read reviews and use them to bolster my own thoughts--or refute them. I didn't like Inglourious Basterds, but I'm not really a Tarantino fan. I appreciate that he's a film geek who makes movies for film geeks. I do not enjoy his films much because I think he's gotten a bit big for his britches. I feel like every time I see one of his movies I end up rolling my eyes and thinking, "OK, we get it. You're convinced you're awesome." But I did like District 9 for a lot of reasons (one being that it's not often science fiction and horror choose to deal with painful historical material--particularly apartheid--in such an incisive way). There are infinite reasons to like or dislike movies, and my personal opinion without some kind of backup just isn't going to float. Not until I'm Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael, anyway. Aside from that, I have to be careful what I say and how I say it. Sure, any press is good press, but for real, I can't just say "GODDAMN THIS MOVIE WAS TERRIBLE" because I dislike Megan Fox or Quentin Tarantino. Neither can I grovel in front of Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon because Soderbergh made sex, lies, and videotape and Damon doesn't look like Jason Bourne in The Informant! (link goes to my review). I mean, sure, yes, I could do that. But it wouldn't be film criticism. It would be opinionated and gut-oriented. Doesn't make it valid.

Film criticism (or movie reviewing, depending on how pretentious you want to sound) doesn't come out of a vacuum, that's all. If it did, it would be a series of "This sucks" and "OMG this movie is effing sweet!" with no information to back up your thoughts. When you write about movies, you have to think of your audience; you have to appreciate that your individual tastes will differ vastly from other people's. When critics en masse agree that something is wonderful or terrible, it's nice to know you've expounded the popular opinion (or not: it's also kind of nice to cause some kind of backlash, i.e. "Wow, you're bitter. This movie was fantastic" as seen on my Inglourious Basterds review, etc). But criticism has to be objective as well as subjective. I did this for five years in college--and it was ingrained in me to be able to support each and every thesis and opinion with concrete evidence. Not to mention that it helps immensely to have more brains at work on dissecting a scene or an entire film--an opinion is an opinion, but sometimes it helps to have a sounding board from which to bounce your own conclusions.

Am I wrong? I mean, those of you who read film criticism, do you enjoy reading more subjective or objective criticism? Do you like comparisons to other sources, or do you just want to read how one person thought it was? 

I am very curious about Jennifer's Body, though I'm waiting to Netflix it. It has been so polarizing; I almost wish I'd taken the chance and insisted I do a review on it. One way or another it probably would've gotten hits--and compliments or insults, likely enough.

Last night I saw (500) Days of Summer. I fully expected to like it because of the cast (I'm a little in love with both Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and because I kept reading (because after all, that's what I do!) that it wasn't your typical rom-com, and that it played with gender roles. These things were true. It wasn't the perfect movie by any means, and I think I'm biased, because I think at 25 I am Summer (Deschanel)...only not as cute and quirky, and without a consistently adorable wardrobe. What I actually enjoyed about the movie was that it wasn't the woman who was neurotic and searching for this perfect relationship (although she found it in the end, grumble); it was the man. He gossiped with his dude friends about his relationship, he bought Jack Daniels and OJ from the corner store in his bathrobe, he quit his job in mourning. It's refreshing to see men portrayed in a similar light to the way women usually are (see Cinematical's Loathsome Female Cliches for examples). Or see Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City movie for the female counterpart. Then again, there are more instances of men on film acting "like women" lately. Jason Segel's naked breakup scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall is also notable.

Visually I also think it was really well-done. For one thing, the filmmakers managed to make L.A. look pretty. For another, the cinematography (particularly a cute dance sequence involving J. G-L.) enhanced Tom's emotional highs and lows. I think we've all woken up and just felt smiley and awesome (and like dancing) after a great night with someone--and we've also all descended into the depths of a kind of personal hell when a relationship is troublesome.

Tomorrow I think I'm going to ask if I can review something that I just have a feeling will be terrible. Fame or Surrogates might be good for that. It begins to get really boring when you only give things 3-5 stars.

berate me

Thoughts on women, horror film, and Jennifer's Body. [18 Sep 2009|01:04pm]
[ mood | TGIF ]

I haven't updated this thing in, oh, forever. But I think I'm going to start again. My home computer is acting wacky at the moment, so updates may be sporadic, but I feel that I'm losing intelligence each day I'm out of school (and it's been almost two years now). If I can keep myself mentally active, I think I'll feel better about everything. Hopefully I can make it happen.

I'm writing reviews for California Literary Review--about one a week. My editor is talking about getting me into the Online Film Critics' Society as soon as I have 50 reviews. Maybe if I can pull that off, I can make this a part of my life for real. A girl can hope.

In early June, my friend Peter passed away at the age of 38. He was a critic at the local NPR affiliate, and helped me get my foot in the door to start writing reviews for them. The last thing he said to me was, "Now you can say you're a film critic for NPR." You wouldn't believe how warm and fuzzy that made me feel--but I was in a terrible mood that day, and I think it showed. I wish I could've thanked him more sincerely and given him a hug. I'd like to think he chose me as a protege because he enjoyed my writing, and that he'd be happy I'm still doing it. Whenever I write about a movie, I can't help wondering what he'd say about it. It's hard, and I feel bad that I wasn't a better friend to him. Lots of things have happened in the last year that have made me a little crazy. No one should ever have to bury his or her child, that's all I will say.

On a cinematic note, my tastes have been changing a little recently. My interest in rape-revenge movies hasn't waned much, but in the last few years, I've found myself feeling more queasy about the subject matter than I used to. Another area of horror which has piqued my interest is related to rape-revenge, but doesn't deal with sexual assault of that variety. I'm really interested in the distrust of female sexuality and genitalia, and of children and childbirth. (I wonder what this switch means about my "maturing sensibilities." It used to all be about violent sex, and now it's all about babies? Ha, yeah, no.)

Horror film is notorious for its blatant misogyny. Aficionados (and haters) will note that the genre is rife with sexist portrayals of women. The "cinematic gaze" about which Laura Mulvey writes is at its very epitome in the horror genre. Women are maimed, tortured, gutted, raped, abused, and violated. They are, in some ways, redeemed in Carol Clover's Final Girl, but even Halloween's Laurie and Alien's Ripley have been picked to pieces by critics for their masculinity. In horror film, females are relegated to the position of victim, and when they can return the killer's gaze, they are deemed too masculine, their femininity obscured by their ability to retaliate.

I am female. My heroes are females who love horror film in the same fashion I do; there aren't many. It's a difficult genre for a lot of women to endure, let alone enjoy. As far as I'm concerned, it's a genre that's more than worth examining. Historically, horror film is a an outlet for societal anxiety. It's a brilliant purging of aggression, fear, and hatred.

Firstly, perhaps I should preface this with the fact that I recently read David J. Skal's The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, and am currently in the middle of Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth. The two are entwined in some very odd ways; The Beauty Myth posits that women are under immense pressure from outside influences to be "beautiful," and that we should strive to feel good about ourselves and see through the pornographic advertising, skinny models/actresses, and ageism. In the midst of this book, I took the opportunity to finally watch Three Extremes. Fruit Chan directed the first short film of the three, entitled "Dumplings." The protagonist, Mrs. Li, is so obsessed with regaining her youth (and winning back her husband's affections) that she starts eating dumplings made of human fetuses. When she becomes pregnant, she home-aborts and eats her own offspring. It's horrendous and grotesque on many levels. All three films are worth watching. Takashi Miike, who made "Box," the third short, is also responsible for the banned Masters of Horror "Imprint," which made me feel sick to my stomach...and also deals with duality and dead fetuses). The sad part about "Dumplings" is that it's very nearly believable, considering the lengths to which people--mostly women--go to stay "looking young." 

The Monster Show chronicles horror film from silent-era vampires and wolfmen to 80s slashers and the Alien movies (it was an amazing read...I felt like stealing it from the library. My copy had an awesome Edward Gorey illustration on the front--and is apparently no longer available!). The section that dealt with child-birth-fear movies (Village of the Damned, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Brood) really interested me. I've always felt strangely toward that subgenre. I think in those films a cultural anxiety emerges--fear of youth, and fear of women, whose ability to give birth inherently gives us power. In The Beauty Myth, Wolf suggests that patriarchal society finds women threatening (and must constantly tear us down with, among other things, impossible standards of beauty) because of our ability to have babies, because we can have multiple orgasms, and because we are "insatiable."

For awhile, birth-and-children movies took a kind of break, but they're coming back with a vengeance. The new movie Orphan, and an older one (also starring Vera Farmiga, interestingly) called Joshua--which is basically a spooky retelling of The Omen and Rosemary's Baby, are very much about women's issues. Fear of your own child is something I imagine all mothers have to deal with at some point (I could be wrong). But culturally women are expected to have this unending, enduring, uncompromising, fierce love for their children; we tend to look down upon mothers who shirk their offspring. As in Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, mothers who fear their children or rebel against the patriarchy tend to meet gruesome ends. The same goes for Farmiga in Joshua (and I'm guessing in Orphan, but I haven't seen it yet).

I'm entirely fascinated with horror movies that place women in positions of power on either end of the spectrum. There's the interesting phenomenon of Carol Clover's Final Girl (Nancy in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Ripley in the Alien movies, Laurie in Halloween, the list goes on and on), in whom masculine traits are often instilled in order to assure survival--and who is very nearly always a virgin. But then there are a few sneaky movies that put women in positions of villainous, murderous power of their own accord. Suspiria, of course, is one of my favorites, and is set in a women's ballet school. Cattiness, bickering, and immaturity prevail as the few-and-far-between males in the film seek to control the females--but the final battle is between women, and women only.

The Descent
is another recent horror movie I really adored--not only because of its claustrophobic cinematography and amazing lighting, but because the hero and the villain are both women. Strong, powerful, feminine women. Sure, tension arises between two characters because of a man, but he has basically no screen time. The film is really about the friendships and sisterhoods of this small group of brave, intelligent women. (It could easily be argued that they're punished for their boldness--how dare a group of women go into a cave without men? Of course they would all die. I don't subscribe to this theory, though.) They're shortly releasing a sequel, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'll see it.

Another film that pits women against each other in the most basic sense is the iffy video-game-based Silent Hill (which I'm almost ashamed to admit I liked--possibly because I don't get scared of movies, but playing the game alone in the dark scared the bejesus out of me). Silent Hill's screenwriter (Roger Avary, also responsible for Rules of Attraction) sent in his original all-female script and was told he had to add a male character for the audience's sake. And, frankly, the father figure in the movie was entirely unnecessary and detracted from the film, if you ask me.

The French movie Inside (one of Peter's recommendations) put me in such a state of "wtf" that I couldn't say anything for three minutes after finishing it. It was incredibly spooky, and the cinematography was beautiful. Once again, this gruesome, sick battle takes place between two women, and it deals with their abilities (or lack thereof) to procreate. As do, in fact, all the films listed above. Men have absolutely nothing to do with the story--except to provide a few extra good deaths.

I get this feeling that as a horror film fan, movie critic (and, I suppose, amateur scholar), I should be excited for Jennifer's Body. It was written and directed by women, which is all well and good. It pits females against each other, which is fine. But the second, longer trailer of the film seems to indicate that Jennifer is attacked by men and has to seek revenge against them for their sexual-deviant ways. In the process, she has to deal with her friendship with her best friend, Needy, which may be the more interesting aspect of the film.

My biggest problem with all this is that I have absolutely zero respect for Megan Fox. She strikes me as nothing more than a sorority girl with a dirty mouth and fake body parts. I tire of her incessant need to tell the world she's crazy, bisexual, or hot. I tire of her ass and boobs being prominently featured in her films--and did I mention that I tried to write a review for Transformers 2 that ended up being 900 words describing what an utter waste it was? Yeah, she didn't help.

I can hardly stand to see the trailers that emphasize this crazy makeout session between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfriend, and although I like Adam Brody a lot, I'm just not excited for this movie. It doesn't placate me that Diablo Cody's writing just doesn't feel real to me. It's cute and quirky (I liked Juno just like the rest of the world, and I enjoyed "The United States of Tara" for a bit before falling out of it), but it just never feels like reality. That combined with Megan Fox is what takes away for me. I am sure the movie will be notable and quotable and that Fox will draw in the male audiences they want. But I can't feel anything else toward it except annoyance. Maybe it's the addition of this year's "hottest woman" to draw in teenage boys with hard-ons. I can't take seriously a movie that pits women against each other solely for men's pleasure. Ah-ha!

I'm now reading a review that gives the reasons why you should like the movie on my favorite feminist/gossip site, jezebel.com. They mention the two things I am concerned about and recommend seeing it--especially if you're prone to being the sidekick (ahem). Well, I'll probably see it. I don't think I'll pay for it. I've been assigned to write a review on The Informant! tonight, so we'll see how that goes.

4 opinions {} berate me

What a Plague You Are: 30 Days of Night [19 Mar 2008|12:35pm]
[ mood | mellow ]

It's no secret I'm a fan of the vampire flicks. From Anne Rice to Stephen King to The Lost Boys to Nosferatu and Near Dark, bloodsuckers form an intriguing horror subgenre for me--they get my blood pumping, so to speak (yeah, I went there). Scholars suppose vampire lore to be a representation of societal apprehension regarding sex, disease, and loss of inhibitions. Films such as Kathryn Bigelow's 1987 vampire flick Near Dark, an allegory for the AIDS epidemic, portray vampires who are alternately alluring and heartrendingly miserable, with a touch of over-the-top cowboy thrown in. Neil Jordan's pretty, homo-erotic visualization of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire brims with heartthrobs, romance, and corsets. By and large, vampire films have mostly portrayed their subjects as beautiful, lonely, and achingly sad--with a troublesome cruel streak. Keyword-search "vampire" in IMDb, and you'll come across "erotic vampire," "sexy vampire," "lesbian vampire," "vampire-human-love," but tellingly, not "ugly vampire," "scary-as-hell vampire," or "gross vampire." Vampires' allure in film and literature is unmistakable. As in Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, the fanged ones are often portrayed as fascinating, magnificent, sexy immortals who, well, just happen to thrive on your blood.

David Slade's 30 Days of Night, based on a graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, deliberately takes the "sexy vampire" mythos in a strangehold and crushes it. It's not an entirely original approach (think of From Dusk Til Dawn or Fright Night), but the film's moodiness makes it a fun watch nonetheless. Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the US, is approaching its annual month of darkness--making it a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet for creatures of the night. First, though, comes the watchdog, played rather brilliantly by Ben Foster, who cuts off all communications and power to the tiny town. Then the vampires move in--slowly at first, then with a bang. Or, rather, with a massacre in the streets.

The massacre is artfully shot; a crane follows the action from far above the main street, so the audience is disconnected from the violence--and yet, the copious splatters of red on the snowy ground, the faint screams, and the occasional *pop!* of a gun, seize the eyes and the ears. The sheer magnitude of the killings (as evidenced by the drawn-out shot) is chilling. While I'm at it, speaking of chilling, the film's bluish tint creates a frosty atmosphere in the same way the emphasis on glass, icy shine, and blue tinting did in Ang Lee's 1997 drama The Ice Storm. The constant drone of wintry wind almost escapes detection but lends an eerie undertone, much as a faint heartbeat would in a nailbiter scene of a thriller.

What I found least interesting (aside from Josh Hartnett's acting) was the lost-love story between Barrow sheriff Eben Oleson (Hartnett) and his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George, whom I still can't forgive for her part in the Amityville Horror remake). With the exception of a few (Foster included; his disappointment that the vampires don't "honor him" for his work is particularly good), the human characters are unsympathetic and boring. The vampires speak their own tongue: a series of grunts, shrieks, and growls. Subtitles lend the audience a hand in understanding, but the language barrier shoves a wall between humans and vampires that most films don't bother with--it's simply easier to have them speaking our language, especially when we are supposed to sympathize with them. Because the vampires of 30 Days of Night lack human speech, only vaguely resemble normal humans, and kill so brutally (no gentle, erotic nibble on the neck for these critters), they're completely detached from the romantic vampires often portrayed in film.

One of the film's most memorable moments comes when a young female victim, used unsuccessfully as bait by the vampires, says, "Please God, please God." The vampires' leader Marlow (Danny Huston), leans toward her, looks up into the sky, and says with relish and something resembling dry amusement, "No god." Also memorable for freaks like me was the gore--in particular, a scene where Hartnett punches through the head of another character. And, of course, let's not forget: all that crimson stands right out in clean white snow.

My biggest problem with the movie was its ending. No spoilers, but let's just say that extravagant heroics are overrated, and that particular form of vampiricide has been done before. As in I Am Legend (whose review I will likely post when I re-watch and perhaps re-read it), the end was the film's true downfall.

I did not read the graphic novel, but the artwork makes me want to:


Overall, 30 Days of Night is an enjoyable movie (and something tells me it will be even moreso on a 90* summer day when the AC just isn't cutting it) with a pretty original take on vampire lore. It could have been much stronger, but the premise is fantastic, the gore is satisfying, and, well, let's put it this way: I felt the chill.


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Amateur Film Theory Central (don't kill me.) [17 Mar 2008|04:47pm]
[ mood | blah ]

I don't think anyone who has this journal friended even checks their friends-page anymore, but if you're curious, this is Julia. This is the beginning of a journal I'd eventually like to devote to film reviews, commentary, and some academically-minded criticism (since that's what I'm most familiar with). Since I don't see a lot of newer movies anymore (Netflix doesn't do me much good since I take weeks to send movies back, sometimes without watching them), I'm going to start with the oldies but goodies. For now,  posting an old final paper for a horror film class seems like a good idea. It may be dry to some of you, but it's got some interesting tidbits about all the movies involved: some good, some bad, all worth watching, even if just the once.

Blood Relations: Horror Conventions in Family Slashers

Slasher films, which really began to gain momentum in American culture in the 1970s, often contain a single “monster or maniac stalking and killing off a succession of people, usually teenagers” (Trencansky 1). But the slasher genre also includes films in which there is a group of killers—often a family. Seventies horror films such as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) portray murderous families, often in direct (and usually very bloody) conflict with stereotypically “normal” families. The “scary family” movement of the 1970s has generated plenty of remakes: Jerry Bruckheimer produced a 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and in 2006 French director Alexandre Aja remade The Hills Have Eyes. In March, 2009, Rogue Pictures released a Wes Craven-produced remake of Craven's first film, Last House on the Left.

In the last ten years, it seems, fewer original horror films are being made (with the trend leaning toward remakes, reduxes of Japanese horror films, and sequels). Some of the few original horror flicks include Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects (2005) and the Rob Schmidt endeavor Wrong Turn (2003). Since 2000, the family slasher film has made a huge comeback, reaffirming the subgenre’s importance in American culture and its critical role in undermining American family values.

Pat Gill writes that “slasher films covertly engage an odd nostalgic yearning for a traditional family and traditional family values” (4). They “seem to delight in undoing the happy domestic scenes and comfortable, safe communities of the [1950s and 60s] television era, replacing them with vapid or nasty family encounters” (Gill 4). The “evil families” of Hills and Chain Saw are distinctly threatening to the American audience because they exist in the lower class, because they are uneducated and uncivilized, and because the institution of the family is so sacred to American culture.

Slasher movies are considered by most critics to be “‘reductive exploitation films’” (Trencansky 1), but to a growing number of film scholars, the horror film’s ability to destabilize American cultural values makes it a very worthwhile academic concentration. Robin Wood concurs, “Seemingly innocuous genre movies can be far more radical and fundamentally undermining than works of conscious social criticism” (Wood 116). Because Hills and Chain Saw portray such grotesquely distorted versions of the American family while consciously pointing out their resemblance to “normality,” both films help to subvert American family values.

On The Hills Have EyesCollapse )

On The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)Collapse )

Froma Walsh’s book Normal Family Processes says that among other things, healthy families follow these processes: “connectedness and commitment of members as a caring, mutually supportive relationship unit,” “respect for individual differences,” “open communication characterized by…pleasurable interaction, emotional expression and empathic responsiveness,” and “effective problem-solving and conflict-resolution processes” (Gill 10). Slasher films “portray families in which none of these processes are working” (Gill 10).

The “evil” families in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes fit exactly this description. In Hills, the family chains Ruby outside their cave, call her degrading names, and they constantly argue. There is absolutely no “pleasurable interaction” or “empathic responsiveness” within the family (Gill 10). In Chain Saw, the evil family is constantly fighting within itself—at one point viewers may or may not begin to sympathize slightly with the legendary villain Leatherface, since it becomes very apparent his family abuses him.

The families in The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre share another similarity: they are both cannibalistic. Wood remarks that in horror films, a family of cannibals illustrates an absolute break from civilized culture. Whether the cannibalism is metaphorical (as in Hitchcock’s Psycho, in which Mrs. Bates “swallows up her son”) or literal (as in Hills and Chain Saw), it represents a harrowing contrast to the supposed “normality” of American family values (Wood 123). Wood points out that “the four most intense horror films of the 1970s at the ‘exploitation’ level…are all centered on cannibalism, and on the specific notion of present and future (the younger generation) being devoured by the past” (131).

Indeed, the two films’ perpetrators are of an older generation, and the survivors are all young. “The final person in slasher films does not so much bend gender as age, somehow gathering into her or his character the maturity and responsibility missing in the adults,” writes Gill (6). The final survivors of slasher films usually “protect the weak, tend to the wounded…and risk their lives to save the group. In short, they are parental” (Gill 6). This again undermines family values: children are taught to respect and obey their parents, but in most slasher films, “there is no enduring core of parental strength” (Gill 5).

Besides commenting on anxieties toward youth and family, Hills and Chain Saw also play on cultural apprehension regarding deformity. In Hills, the character of Pluto (perhaps the most memorable member of the hill family, whose image is on the film’s cover) is visibly deformed. The actor who portrays him, Michael Berryman, was born with birth defects that, after many surgeries, left his skull elongated. Chain Saw depicts deformity both in the “normal” and the “evil” families. The slaughterhouse family’s Hitchhiker has a huge birthmark on his face, which makes his features appear abnormal; and survivor Sally’s brother Franklin is introduced in the opening titles as “invalid.” He is confined to a wheelchair, and his character is by far one of the most obnoxious throughout the film.

On The Devil's RejectsCollapse )

Where Wrong Turn conforms to Hollywood and horror film conventions, The Devil’s Rejects pays homage to the films that first truly subverted the conventions and values Americans sustain. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, along with other 1970s slashers, helped to undermine American values regarding the family, nature vs. civilization, sexuality, and the past vs. the present. Robin Wood maintains that the horror genre is perhaps the most progressive and important genre in existence, in terms of its ability to subvert cultural values. In the last five years, the sheer number of remakes and recreations of 1970s family slashers reveal the telling fact that, even decades after the first films’ radical statements, American anxieties remain the same as before.

ReferencesCollapse )

 (c) j.e.r. 2005

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