Saturday, January 31, 2009

Children hate you!

In honor of the octuplets lady, here are some thoughts on David Cronenberg's "The Brood"!

Gosh, I just loved this movie. I didn't expect to. Years and years ago I saw "The Fly" and thought it was fine, but more gross than scary, and I assumed that would be the case here. And there's some grossness (see photo) but it's the tension and the bizarreness that really make this movie wonderful. It's a good while before you see the evil children, so the sense of dread really builds up. I love the first kill scene, which begins when the victim-to-be hears a muffled thump in the other room, and creeps toward the swinging kitchen door... This is totally the kind of movie that makes you scream "Don't go in there!" And once you actually see the children -- who are of course not children but physical manifestations of a divorcee's repressed rage -- the balance kicks over into the deeply surreal. The evil shorties in their little bright hoods are a great shout-out to "Don't Look Now," too...

It's fascinating. And somehow even empowering. I thought this movie would be all misogynistic and women-are-evil, but divorcee Nola develops this Carrie-like power. Somehow by having her dwarf creations beat the living daylights out of everyone who's ever gotten on her nerves, she achieves peace of a kind her miserable ex-husband will never know. She's certainly not a hero and things go no better for her than they did for Carrie White, but the movie still treats her powers with tremendous respect. Don't mess with a breeding woman, I guess.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Por fin

Por fin, I can be happy with Guillermo Del Toro again. Finally steeled up the nerve to watch "The Devil's Backbone" last night. I was all braced to loathe it, what with having hated "Pan's Labyrinth" and having viewed enough Spanish Civil War movies in college to kill a horse. But this 2001 film hits all the right notes. It's a good ghost story. It's a good war movie. It's scary. It's sad. It has beautiful colors. It has dead children and a teacher with a wooden leg. It has everything!

The setting is symbolically loaded: an orphanage for leftist kids during the last days of the Spanish Civil War. The director & teachers have watched, devastated, as their side has lost; their food supplies are dwindling, their options are running out, and they have all these kids with nowhere to go. The last boy to arrive is wee Carlos, who learns the orphanage has a resident ghost: that of a boy named Santi, who died violently on the premises. His ghost flickers through the bedroom and hallways at night but spends most of its time near a basement cistern. What does it want?

Unlike "Pan's Labyrinth," where you just get so exasperated with everyone you want to kick them in the shins, this movie gives you a great array of flawed, complex, identifiable characters. Even the villain has a tragic past -- he's the total opposite of the scenery-chewing fascist from "PL." All the action is all too believable. Del Toro does a great job of delineating the scorching sunlight of the external world -- where adults are, where the war is -- and the dark interior corridors of the orphanage, where Santi tries to communicate with the boys. But the two worlds inexorably overlap. The ending, in which a group of wounded boys limps haltingly out into the blinding sunlight, is both a perfect war-movie visual and a perfect ghost-story visual. He mixes the tropes just flawlessly.

And the ghost stuff is nice and scary. Santi is no Tomas, thank God, but he's plenty creepy. He's a little CGI-intensive but that's OK. All the ghost tricks you might expect, like footprints from an invisible source, the shadow of a hand that isn't there, an eye suddenly on the far side of a keyhole, are deployed so expertly. It's a pleasure to see Del Toro exercise his craft. It almost makes up for Hellboy 2.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Movie "pick" of the week! (Ha ha!)

By all means, go and see "My Bloody Valentine 3D." It is indeed a barrel of laughs!

And amazingly, it really honors the spirit of the original film. I missed the everyday camaraderie of the miners, and the denizens of the small town -- these characters spend most of their time standing around in shock or running for their lives -- but still, they're clearly working-class folks rather than your typical slasher victims. The killer chases two employees through a darkened grocery store and goes after a hotel desk clerk, a truck driver and a very unfortunate nanny.

But this movie is definitely less about the characters and more about the 3D. Here comes a pickaxe! Here comes a tree limb! Here comes an eyeball! Here comes a jaw! Oh man, the 3D is used to maximum effect and it just could not be more fun. It's cheesy but competent, intelligent but not snarky, and just on the whole a great ride.

There are some nice references to scenes from the original, too: something horrible in a dryer, the scene with all the empty mining suits (yes!), body parts in candy boxes (really, would a heart fit in one of those?). Sure, there are a couple bits that don't work -- the mine setting isn't used as intelligently as in the first film, and the scene where the killer walks along smashing light bulbs would be a lot scarier if it actually got DARK when he did that -- but these are quibbles.

You have to love a movie that, in its first ten minutes, gives you Tom Atkins walking into a carnage-filled hospital, surveying a bloody body's empty chest cavity, and snarling, "Happy f***king Valentine's Day."

As for Jensen Ackles, ACE... he is perfectly serviceable, if not really my type. Still, just for you, here is a gratuitous photo!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Time to lose your heart!

Sat down with Art Boy the other week and tucked into "My Bloody Valentine," the classic Canadian slasher being remade in 3-D. What a fascinating little movie! I thoroughly enjoyed it, start to finish -- even though Art Boy pointed out afterward that a) it does not hold up under any degree of analysis and b) it has no genuine scares at all. Still, it's so unique that it's just a real charmer.

First of all, it's set in a sleepy mining town, and our heroes are all working-class men and women -- not high school students, campers or babysitters. It all begins with a horrible mining accident, in which sole survivor Harry Warden is trapped underground for six weeks and has to subsist on the bodies of his friends, all because his colleagues on the surface blew off work in order to get to the town's annual Valentine's Day dance. A year later, Harry escapes from an institution and kills said colleagues, threatening to do the same every year that a Valentine's dance is held. Twenty years later, the town finally decides to have a dance, and guess what happens!

I am so in love with that premise. It's like nothing else you've ever seen. The workers and their gals care so much about this dance! They really hate to think about canceling it even after people start dying! They ignore the dire warnings of their bartender! The whole thing even closes out with a Gordon Lightfoot-style folk ballad, recapping the story in vague fashion ("The horror, from 'long time agooooo"). I can't talk about it without gushing. But it's not just that it's cheesy. The movie, oddly enough, makes this quirky little world believable, at least for a couple hours. The miners' banter, the run-down laundry room, the creaking mine machinery, the lived-in neighborhood bar... somehow it all works. You end up really rather concerned for these people.

It's stylish, too. There aren't any great scares, but the atmosphere down in the mine is fantastically creepy, and the movie intelligently teases you for a while until it actually gets you down there. My favorite though is the scene in the room with all the hanging uniforms -- it almost resembles Harry Dean Stanton's death scene in "Alien." (The death by pot of boiling hot-dog water is pretty imaginative too.) The final shot is fantastic, a perfect blend of gruesome (the severed arm) and stylish, with an eerie sound effect to cap everything. It's like listening to a predictable but still well-told ghost story. This movie's a real pleasure.

Apparently at the time it was a box-office flop. I watched an interesting documentary this week, "Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Flick," in which the movie's failure is blamed on its R rating. This was back when kids could get into pretty much any movie (lucky damn kids) and an R rating was seen as kind of a punishment, in this case because the makers were seen as Canadian carpetbaggers trying to capitalize on the new American slasher-movie cash-cow formula. Anyway, it's interesting that the remake is also rated R, and that will probably do nothing but help it at the box office, since no teenager is going to bother with a lame-o PG-13 movie. (Teenagers still say "lame-o," right? Oh, where are my bifocals?)

Side note: The remake is driving me up the wall with its tagline, "He's coming to break your heart." With a pick? He's going to *break* my heart or just drive a pick into it? (I don't think it's the same thing.) And he's not going to extract it and hide it in candy boxes for people to find? Drag.