August 30, 2009

Superstition, Fear and Jealousy

No critics' screenings for Rob Zombie's Halloween II. Disappointing, of course, considering my long history with this series. But when I finally sat down and watched it yesterday afternoon, I just became outright desperate to get a discussion going.

I count Carpenter's
Halloween as one of my most important formative experiences, and now it's practically impossible not to know the cliches of this genre. But when things started to heat up in this (probably final) iteration of the same story, I was surprised to find that I was fearfully rejecting the classic movie-killer logic when told on Zombie's terms. "No, that's impossible. How could he have made his way back to the Bracketts' house that quickly? Why is he moving away from Laurie?" It was an odd feeling, after years of expecting and forgiving this form of cinematic teleportation, to be anxiously wondering how and why this monster was traveling his route. Zombie's first Halloween was strictly an intellectual exercise, but here, I think, he finally applied those ideas into a premise that turns the original series' goofiest ideas into something--well, not nearly as goofy. Terrifying, even. The psychic links and the hitherto-unspoken bloodlines have finally plugged into something about the confusion attendant to loss, identity, youth and trauma. I even thought I detected a little contempt in the prologue, which not only takes place in Rick Rosenthal's infamous hospital but also featured the film's most overt and excessive acts of violence. (And why does "Nights in White Satin" replace "Don't Fear the Reaper" as Michael's Manchurian trigger?) By the end of it, similar scenes were wrought with a kind of sad, senseless, impending doom that I don't think I've felt since the Shape popped out from the backseat of a car in Carpenter's most shocking, most "unfair" sequence. Why?

It's still not scary, exactly, but full of existential dread; giving the famously-skeletal Halloween a backstory finally bears some fruit by implying that the mere structural concept of a motive is enough to throw your entire world into disarray. Because Zombie gave us (and gives us) the impression of Oedipal issues with the spectral reappearance of Michael's long-dead mother, his indulgence in fragmented dream sequences becomes that much more disorienting--and the attempt to make some sense out of it somehow makes it worse. Truth be told that Michael Myers barely plays a role here, relegated to the role of a marauding mountain man--but, appropriately, the whole film is haunted by ghosts. The ghosts of history, the ghosts of failure, the ghosts of responsibility. This is the rare horror sequel that feels appropriate to the concept--the same characters back again, fully scuffed-up from their experiences, trying and failing to pick up the pieces. Everything that they inflict upon themselves seems infinitely worse than whatever bloody mayhem will follow.

Laurie Strode's response to discovering her family lineage is to fling herself headlong into a drunken stupor; Halloween II joins Adventureland as a film wracked with worry about kids too young to be throwing their lives away over regret and alcohol. And how do you explain the moment that finds Michael's angelic/phantasmic mother eventually demanding that she be loved by her offspring? Hell, even Pamela Voorhees took Junior's love for granted. Of course, the discussion about unhealed wounds can't get much more literal than it does with Danielle Harris' Annie Brackett--her lacerated face once again warped with sarcasm--but couple that with Brad Dourif's wonderful performance as Sheriff Brackett and you detect something sticky and abstract about fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, and the fear of disappointment that emanates from all sides. I'm still not entirely sure what this film is about, but it fascinates me to no end.

What do you think? Seen it yet? How about The Final Destination?

UPDATE - 9/3/09: Whoopsie! The rumor mill is already spinning on a third Halloween film without Zombie. The director supposedly taking his place? Why, Steve Miner, of course, the guy who made a career out of being a destitute man's John Carpenter. So, yeah, uh--will this theoretical third film go direct to video? Maybe. Will it be a disaster that has absolutely no bearing on Zombie's thematic vision? Pro'lly. Will it be a patchwork amalgam of imitation and re-imagining, plucked from random moments in the series' long history? Well, I'm curious, at least...

August 20, 2009

Inglourious Cat-dudes

I figure we should dedicate a talkback to Inglourious Basterds (Walter's review of which is now live), but since today also happens to correspond with the online debut of the trailer for James Cameron's Avatar, let's kill two birds with one stone.

Since there isn't an ideal embed for the Avatar preview yet, allow me to send you to Apple's site, where you can watch it in HD.

At the risk of passing premature judgments--looks pretty goofy. My favourite shot in the trailer is the one I've capped at the top of this post, just because of the expression on the guy in the background. It's ineffably...human. From there it all seems a little too console-ready to me, but I have a weird, perhaps misplaced, faith in Cameron and will no doubt see it in IMAX as hype-prescribed.

August 09, 2009

In Retrograde

What more to say in admiration of "Mad Men," returning to AMC this Sunday? The depths of this shockingly good period drama have been so thoroughly plumbed by critics that the only thing left for me to discuss is the hidden star of the show, something designed to go unnoticed unless you squint.
When Season Two launched last year, I noticed a handful of new wrinkles to characters I'd grown to love/loathe in the first cycle. For one, Don Draper is soft and domesticated, seeking solace in foreign films, until he gets his mojo back by way of sexual assault. Joan Holloway's confidence has gained a brittle, desperate edge as she becomes less of a person, in the terms of her era, and more of an object. Everybody hates everybody at Sterling Cooper -- Sal, Ken, Paul and Harry dine out on each other's misfortune, and there's not much veneer of camaraderie overlaying the bile. (Unless you count Sal's fondness for Ken, and that's essentially a crush.) Betty Draper's encounters with peers outside her suburban Rapunzel tower — a divorcée in Season One, a roommate-turned-escort this time around — raise the possibility of a life without her faithless spouse, built on her own guile and sex appeal.
But I was stumped by any attempt to write a love letter to the only show I consume faithfully. The late Andrew Johnston and his collaborator Matt Zoller Seitz had already shed the fullest possible light on Season Two in their coverage for The House Next Door, a recap/analysis I always looked forward to after the latest episode aired. So I looked again at what I'd detected in the series, and saw that I was being pointed toward certain revelations by the camera itself.
I hope you gain something from the video essay that resulted -- it offers no major insights, but it was fun for my first stab at the form. Oh, and if anybody's got tips for how to avoid a jerky frame rate in DVD Ripper Standard for Mac, drop me a line.

August 06, 2009

Gone Baby Gone

Here are four words I never expected to be writing anytime soon: John Hughes is dead.

I feel this loss very deeply. This one hurts. As you may recall, in 2006 I appeared in a documentary about Hughes' legacy, titled Don't You Forget About Me. That movie was finally completed last year, and I hear I'm still in it. Good; I'm happy to stump for Hughes, and proud to revere him as a filmmaker. The past few years, it's been custom to bash Hughes (just read any review of I Love You, Beth Cooper), but these things are cyclical, and if his death doesn't sway the critical establishment to give up their grudge against him, maybe it will, at the very least, shame them into putting a moratorium on his name as a pejorative.

I had always hoped against hope for an honest-to-goodness comeback from Hughes, one where stepped back into the director's chair, which is really where his true talent lay. (I once blogged about his work in some depth here.) In 2002, he agreed to helm Maid in Manhattan after writing an early draft of the screenplay, but soon quit the project over having to cast Jennifer Lopez. I suspect it was the first excuse that came along--living up to his last name, Hughes was too much the recluse by that point. Even Judd Apatow never met him, despite having shepherded his treatment for Drillbit Taylor into production.

My brother approached me a few years ago about writing a screenplay called John Hughes Must Die. The premise was that an old man blames the problems of his life on The Breakfast Club and so builds a time machine to go back in time and assassinate Hughes. I came up with the following exchange between the old man and his idiot nephew:
Nephew: "You want to kill John Hughes? Mr. Weird Science? Mr. Pretty in Pink? Mr. Fresh Horses?"
Old Man: "Fresh Horses is David Anspaugh. You wanna kill David Anspaugh, build your own fucking time machine!"
To bro's dismay, I bowed out thereafter. I told him I simply couldn't do it--I didn't want John Hughes to die. His movies made me happy.

But John Hughes is dead.

August 02, 2009

My Top 100

Here it is. My very earnest attempt to conclusively define what is good and defend the institution of personal taste. For those who just want to cut to the chase, I'm including the top 100 sans essay on this blog entry.

You may also consider this my formal announcement of the new "I Viddied it on the Screen". Though there are still several pages that are outdated, everything there looks how I want it to look. Web design ain't fun. I have enormous gratitude to one reidscones, who dug up the dead site and created the current design.

So have at it guys. How do you like my choices? What do you think should be on this list that I probably haven't yet seen? What's the difference between good and bad? Why do you like the things you like?

A few things I neglected to bring up in the essay. I did not include any short subjects (sorry Rachel) and only put films on that I know people can have easy access to (Ken Park, The First 100 Years, and Destricted couldn't make the cut exclusively for this reason). And no, the Plan 9 over Citizen Kane thing wasn't supposed to be cute.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994, Tarantino)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Kubrick)
3. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959, Wood)
4. Badlands (1973, Malick)
5. Blade Runner (1982, Scott)
6. The Trial (1962, Welles)
7. Gummo (1997, Korine)
8. Once Upon a Time in the West (1969, Leone)
9. Andrei Rublev (1971, Tarkovsky)
10. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Kershner)
11. Citizen Kane (1941, Welles)
12. Dogville (2004, Von Trier)
13. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Dreyer)
14. The Grapes of Wrath (1940, Ford)
15. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Laughton)
16. Apocalypse Now (1979, Coppola)
17. Eraserhead (1977, Lynch)
18. There Will Be Blood (2007, Anderson)
19. Grindhouse (2007, Rodriguez and Tarantino)
20. Mulholland Dr. (2002, Lynch)
21. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003, Tarantino)
22. Boogie Nights (1997, Anderson)
23. Kalifornia (1993, Sena)
24. The Dark Knight (2008, Nolan)
25. Taxi Driver (1976, Scorsese)
26. Lost in Translation (2003, Coppola)
27. Rain Man (1988, Levinson)
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Forman)
29. Days of Heaven (1978, Malick)
30. Marie Antoinette (2006, Coppola)
31. Being John Malkovich (1999, Jonze)
32. Platoon (1986, Stone)
33. Blue Velvet (1986, Lynch)
34. Traffic (2000, Soderbergh)
35. Batman (1989, Burton)
36. Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Scorsese)
37. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Anderson)
38. Marat/Sade (1967, Brooks)
39. Trash (1970, Morrissey)
40. Cries and Whispers (1973, Bergman)
41. Freddy vs. Jason (2003, Hu)
42. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002, Cuaron)
43. Triumph of the Will (1935, Riefenstahl)
44. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Kubrick)
45. The Exorcist (1973, Friedkin)
46. Wonder Boys (2000, Hanson)
47. Kids (1995, Clark)
48. Return of the Jedi (1983, Marquand)
49. Napoleon (1927, Gance)
50. Killer of Sheep (1977, Burnett)
51. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965, Gaffney)
52. The Birds (1963, Hitchcock)
53. La Dolce Vita (1959, Fellini)
54. Pennies from Heaven (1981, Ross)
55. Come and See (1985, Klimov)
56. M (1931, Lang)
57. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Kubrick)
58. Touch of Evil (1958, Welles)
59. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975, Pasolini)
60. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Kubrick)
61. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996, Rodriguez)
62. Detour (1945, Ulmer)
63. Woodstock (1970, Wadleigh)
64. Schindler’s List (1993, Spielberg)
65. Duck Soup (1933, McCarey)
66. A Boy and His Dog (1975, Jones)
67. Week End (1967, Godard)
68. Palindromes (2004, Solondz)
69. The Shining (1980, Kubrick)
70. Seven (1995, Fincher)
71. THX 1138 (1971, Lucas)
72. The Battle of Algiers (1968, Pontecorvo)
73. Killer’s Kiss (1955, Kubrick)
74. Ed Wood (1994, Burton)
75. JFK (1991, Stone)
76. Patton (1970 Schaffner)
77. Jurassic Park (1993, Spielberg)
78. After Hours (1985, Scorsese)
79. The Mormons (2007, Whitney)
80. The Thin Red Line (1998, Malick)
81. Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Deodato)
82. Birth (2004, Glazer)
83. Die Hard (1988, McTiernan)
84. Pandora’s Box (1928, Pabst)
85. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, Spielberg)
86. Star Wars (1977, Lucas)
87. Broken Blossoms (1919, Griffith)
88. Masculin/Feminin (1966, Godard)
89. Last Days (2005, Van Sant)
90. Strange Days (2005, Bigelow)
91. Alice in the Cities (1974, Wenders)
92. Olympia (1938, Riefenstahl)
93. Flesh (1968, Morrissey)
94. Bully (2001, Clark)
95. Funny Games (2008, Haneke)
96. Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970, Herzog)
97. Drugstore Cowboy (1989, Van Sant)
98. Repulsion (1965, Polanski)
99. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002, Clooney)
100. The Departed (2006, Scorsese)