Sunday, November 16, 2008

If the world is round, why is a frozen pond flat?

Wow, "Don't Look Now" was -- not at all what I expected. I'd heard of it as a super-scary horror classic and guess I was expecting something on the order of "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Innocents" in Venice. But wow, WOW. It's just like nothing else.

Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, of course, play a married couple whose daughter drowns in a pond on their property. Grieving and racked by guilt, they try to move on with a working vacation in Venice, where Donald restores old churches. There they run into a psychic who claims she can communicate with their daughter, and from there things get weird.

But things were pretty weird from the get-go. The opening sequence introduces the film's fragmented editing, full of quick cuts across space and time: from indoors to out, from the immediate past to the future. "Nothing is as it seems," murmurs Donald as he looks over some slides of churches. (It's so cute to see slides. And it's so funny that it's cute to see slides. While on the subject of cuteness, Donald and Julie have these great identical wavy perms that are almost hypnotic.) I watched the opening and then *immediately* skipped back to watch it again. It's gorgeous how the tension builds, and how you get a sense of Donald and Julie's closeness right off the bat; and how their daughter already looks like an otherworldly harbinger of doom.

What surprised me the most thought is just how unbearably sad this movie was. Not sad because a little girl dies; but because it shows you in the most visceral way that everything you love and believe in is just hopelessly fragile and transient. This movie's sex scene is famous for being graphic, but also for the way it flashes forward throughout to shots of Donald and Julie dressing afterward for dinner. The gimmick's been read as a joke or as an illustration of Donald's second sight, but I took it to mean that everything ends, even the most blissful feeling of connection. One minute one is rolling around in shared ecstasy, the next minute one is sitting on the same bed dressed in an uncomfortable suit, pouring some scotch and staring off into space. In the context of the end of the movie, the contrast becomes absolutely, unutterably heartbreaking.

As for the end -- the big reveal -- what's crazy about it is that you can't possibly prepare for it (I screamed out loud), but somehow, on some level, you *know* what he's going to see. You want to stop him and you can't. You're as helpless as Julie behind the iron gate. One day your story will end too, and your own finale will turn around and look you in the eye; and that's scary as hell.

Final Girl has a fab review, which I was excited to finally read after watching the movie! I also went and looked up the NYT's review and read Pauline Kael's review in one of my books; neither of those two enjoyed it much. (Pauline really hates it when she thinks filmmakers are just trying to be arty.)

Monday, November 10, 2008


This week I joined Facebook and started watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on DVD. In other news, I am 13.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The vampire is angry now!

For years I was warned off the old TV movie version of "Salem's Lot" by Betsy: "The vampire is made out of, like, blue Play-Doh, and his mask is so stiff that he can't actually talk, so the other characters have to supply his emotions by saying things like 'The vampire is angry now!'" Still, about eight years after I borrowed the book from her and was rendered sleepless for a week, it was time to check the movie out for myself. And she's right, it is pretty goofy (although to my disappointment, "The vampire is angry now" is not an actual line of dialogue) and the monster really is blue. You know he's coming, in fact, every time you see the color blue. This spells trouble for our hero Ben Mears, who likes to wear lots of denim, most troublingly a close-fitting short-sleeved denim blouse. On the whole, though... it's really not that bad.

OK, it's not great. The pace is slow and it crawls and crawls... you could argue that this is building up a sense of dread, but come on, when you immediately introduce a black-suit-clad weirdo living in a haunted house and driving a big black car, there's really no dread to build. I spent a lot of time thinking about horror movie tropes and wondering how anyone would not immediately suspect the black-suit-clad weirdo when bad things start happening. It's like in the Harry Potter books where they're like "The Death Eaters are back! It's probably Harry Potter's fault! It's certainly not Draco Malfoy's!" and you can't figure out if JKR is being sarcastic.

But then the vampire noshes on a little kid, and things just pick up from there. The movie becomes a series of really fantastic vampire set pieces. The wise old professor reading books labeled "Vampire Lore" in his library, and then hearing a noise upstairs.... the vigil over a sheeted figure at the morgue ... the movie fog outside the window parting to reveal a genuinely creepy floating child. And Barlow's first appearance, in extreme closeup (above), gave me the supreme willies.

It doesn't really go anywhere, and it's nowhere near as scary as the book. Scenes in the book that turned my hair white -- the boys walking alone in the woods, not knowing they're being stalked until it's too late; and everything involving the priest -- are pretty much ignored here.

Still, it's a hell of a lot scarier than the more recent TV movie starring poor Rob Lowe as Ben. My favorite scene in that had poor Samantha Mathis, starring as the vampire-turned Susan, appearing in Rob's window and delivering a crucial bit of exposition, talking like Susan even though she's supposed to be a vampire. "I could love you, Ben Mears," she concludes. Rob replies, reasonably: "Susan, you're a vampire."

Anyway, it was interesting to see Tobe Hooper's other good movie, having become besotted with him last year. I don't guess I will be checking out "Eaten Alive" or any of his other opi. This one doesn't have the sort of gorgeous and uniform look of TCSM.... the lighting is this sort of milky wintry light, and isn't really noticeable anyway since most of the scenes are indoors. Ah well.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Well, heck

It appears to be a bittersweet morning in California, with a rather mean-spirited little constitutional amendment appearing poised to pass. Here's hoping for a last-minute counting miracle. In the meantime: