Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gotthammer's Halloween Movies

The following are the films I would choose (in no particular order) to view on a dark and blustery night, provided that my wife and son were already tucked in bed, and I was looking for something to give me chills...or pause...or make me feel that delightful horror, that beautiful terror of the sublime. Happy Halloween everyone!

The Descent - this story of a group of women who become trapped in an uncharted cave network is a masterful combination of horror and monster movie, rare for both its emotional depth, as well as for the ability to maintain tension even after the 'monster' has been revealed. One of the goriest films I've ever seen - not for the faint of heart.
The Ring
- don't bother telling me about plot holes in this remake of the Japanese ghost-story Ringu is all about atmosphere; while the actual scare factor is a little low, the surreal creep-you-out factor is very high. The scene at the end where the hair comes over the lip of the well haunted me for days afterward.
Godzilla (Gojira)
- most of us can't relate to how the original Japanese audiences found this black-and-white man-in-a-rubber-suit monster movie terrifying, but we've seen similar reactions to Transformers this past year with references to 9/11. Godzilla is a symbol of nuclear terror, and in this first of a franchise that ended with one of the highest cheese factors in film history, the subject matter is dealt with in a visual poetry difficult to replicate in our jaded, postmodern era. The version without Raymond Burr and with subtitles is the one I recommend.
Sleepy Hollow - I saw this movie two days after I had my world cave in on me in November of 1999. There's something utterly cathartic about the horror genre in regards to deep sorrow, grief, or loss I think. At least this was the case for me in seeing Sleepy Hollow; the monochromatic landscape scooped from Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas mirrored my personal landscape, and the buckets of blood and endless decapitations seemed a fit metaphor for how my future was looking - with its head cut off. Even aside from the temporal and emotional ties I have to this movie, it remains one of my favorites simply for its gloomily brilliant (is that an oxymoron?) mood, and because it re imagined Ichabod Crane in a role which gave greater substance to the overall film. I think I'll watch it again...tonight.

Silent Hill - This film is what you get when you stick a camera in someone's head while they're in the middle of having a nightmare. A really gorgeous nightmare. The visuals exemplify the term phantasmagoria, however dubious the narrative might be. It lives up to its source material, ostensibly one of the creepiest video games ever made, until the last 30 minutes, when it denigrates into familiar Hollywood Horror Schlock, with a style of ending that the horror genre needs to get tired of, and soon. I think the most original ending a horror movie could have at this point would be a completely happy one. Given all the maternal subtext in this picture, it wouldn't have been out of place.
The Host - A daring resurrection of the Giant Monster Movie which is more complex than meets the initial viewing. What is likely to be dismissed as simply another giant monster flick from the East is actually a complex commentary on current issues, just as the genre's seminal work, Godzilla was. Instead of atomic metaphors, the subject matter is a stew of ecological, political and familial. Broken homes, a mutated fish and fragmented rhetoric all combine to make this a film that, unlike some less informed viewers have stated, a film that ought to be taken seriously. That said, "The Host" is enjoyable for all the reasons a good giant monster movie should be. However, like the poster, which would lead one to believe the monster is a giant squid, there's much more in this film than what's on the surface. Highly recommended.
The Cell - Roger Ebert called it one of the best films of 2000, and I'm more than inclined to agree with him. I'm not generally a fan of the serial killer thriller, but the CGI crafted dreamscapes and nightmare settings most of the film takes place in captivated me. The idea of the soul being an place of architecture and structure is a powerful one, and nothing new; 14th century Carmelite nun Theresa of Avila's "Interior Castle" is devoted to it. While the graphics are extremely disturbing at times, the depth the narrative sinks to is commensurate with the heights to which it rises. A visually spectacular project tainted only by the typecasting and tabloid stardom Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn have been subjected to since its release. A film well worth seeing, albeit not for the faint at heart.
The Crow - while it is neither horror nor monster movie, it is unarguably a Halloween movie, from its temporal setting of "Devil's Night" ("Halloween ain't until maƱana..."), Brandon Lee's makeup transforming Eric Draven into a "mime from hell" (who also bears a striking resemblance to Cesar, the murderous somnambulist from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) who returns from the grave; upon being told "Don't move or you're dead" by a police officer, replies, "And I say I'm dead...and I move." A supernatural take on the avenging vigilante with some of the best action set pieces in the last twenty years.
John Carpenter's The Thing - If this list had to be in some order, I think I'd put this one at the top. The claustrophobic setting of an Antarctic research station is creepy enough, especially when you add Ennio Morricone's minimalist soundtrack. In the tradition of 10 Little Indians who-dies-next films such as Aliens, and more recently 30 Days of Night, John Carpenter's The Thing stands alone, since each death results in a perfect alien doppelganger, so that the suspense is doubled, and even at the end of the film, the question "who is really human" remains ambiguous, unanswered. A classic.
There are a myriad number of notable films for this list; Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas is an annual tradition, a pastiche of horror motifs but not horror per se, the new miniseries of Salem's Lot with Rob Lowe, the brilliant Shaun of the Dead, and one of my favorite long form creep outs of all time, the first 16 episodes of Twin Peaks. So there you have 'em. A few of my favorites, just in time for Halloween. Hope yours is a good one.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Steamboy - DVD review - 10/10

An engagingly beautiful and thrilling (in the way boy's adventure stories with airships and metal men tend to be thrilling) film with a Neo-Victorian Steampunk setting, Steamboy is the most ambitious and expensive Anime to date, and from where I was sitting, it appears that every penny made it on screen. I hesitate to even refer to it as a work of animation, given the strength of story, performance and visuals which often transcend the artwork supporting them. It is a rare event when I forgo the original actors' voices in a foreign film, but the English speaking cast is all star; Anna Paquin turns in a throaty tour de force as James Ray Steam, Patrick Stewart rants madly as Ray's grandfather Dr. Lloyd Steam, and Alfred Molina is quietly menacing as Dr. Edward Steam, Ray's father. A great adventure story which some might argue suffers from some slow pacing (I'd call it character and plot development), this is an Anime which, as my wife (who dislikes Anime with a passion) stated, "doesn't look or sound like Anime." It's just a solid movie, well worth seeing. I bought my copy based on the reviews I'd read, sight unseen. And I wasn't disappointed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Shaun of the Dead - DVD review - 9/10

A terrific zombie film that is more a tribute than satire, albeit a tremendously funny one at times. While it contains a score of intertextual references to the "Z" genre, it belongs to it by its own right; after all, it is the only romantic comedy of the bunch! Although the comedy never lets up, the film is surprisingly touching and thrilling at points. Simon Pegg's everyman hero is very endearing, and once he's wielding that cricket bat, we're cheering for him to the very end. Great, gory fun.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Cell - DVD review - 9/10

Roger Ebert called it one of the best films of 2000, and I'm more than inclined to agree with him. I'm not generally a fan of the serial killer thriller, but the phantasmagoric dreamscapes half the film takes place in captivated me. While the story is extremely disturbing at times, the depth it sinks to is commensurate with the heights to which it rises. A visually spectacular project tainted only by the typecasting and tabloid stardom Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn have been subjected to since its release. A film well worth seeing, albeit not for the faint at heart.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Am Legend - Book Review - 10/10

Matheson's classic tale of the last man on earth's battle against plague-ridden...vampires? That's right, before Romero ever set hordes of zombies loose upon the silver screen, Matheson had already done it, albeit with vampires. While it can be enjoyed on the surface as an excellent horror-thriller, it is also a strong exploration of the concept of what it means to be human, issues of violence and race domination. It will be interesting to see how the forthcoming film adaptation handles these subtleties, as well as whether or not the poignantly bleak ending will be retained or not. A short, but highly rewarding read. One of my top 10 of all time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lady in the Water Review: 5/10

Shyamalan takes a stab at making a fairy tale film, and while he doesn't completely blow it, he never quite hits the mark either. Giamatti and Howard put in great performances, there is a continual sense of wonder and mystery amidst the mundane surroundings and denizens of "The Cove" but the film doesn't flow with the same ease as Shyamalan's other works. It's definitely not the complete piece of trash many critics labeled it. I think with a greater sense of surreality the film would have worked better. Shyamalan's ultra-realistic cinematic style was ill suited to the fairy tale. Whereas in his previous films his characters reacted in the way people would assume one would when presented with fantastic events. Here, the characters' unconditional acceptance of the wondrous events taking place is difficult to accept given the very real-world setting they perform their lives in. The creation by the writer of Anglo-sounding words such as 'narf' and 'scrunt' in an ostensibly Korean legend seemed boldly anachronistic to me, and stole more of the film's already shaky verisimilitude. Ultimately, the film requires the same sort of childlike faith Clevelan Heep has to watch without rolling ones eyes. Otherwise you'll just be shaking your head and saying, "nobody would do that in real life." And you'd be right. But "Lady in the Water" isn't real life. It's a bedtime story. Keep that in mind and you'll do just fine.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Madagascar Review

Another mediocre Dreamworks animation; this studio relies too heavily upon pop culture references and its all star casts when they ought to be trying to write a good story. Kids will love it because it features some of the most recognizable animals in the world, but as with Shrek, contains enough adult-oriented humor to make some parents cringe. I love Chris Rock, but his Zebra, who pronounces things "crackah-lackin" gives the film a decidedly short shelf life. Thankfully, Sasha Baron Cohen's King Julien single-handedly saves the movie from becoming utterly forgettable. Dreamworks should start using their budget for better writers and real voice actors. 5/10