Monday, June 21, 2010

Shutter Island(2010)

* * * * / * * * *

"You know, this place makes me wonder.."

"Yeah, what's that, boss?"

"Which would be worse? To live as a monster, or to die as a good man?"

Wow, what a movie! I am not gonna go in depth, others more highly skilled at breaking down this psychological thriller's premise have already done so, regarding how the plot reveals details about a US Marshall's trip to Shutter Island, seeking to bring the mental asylum, and those villains who run it, down, to expose their corrupt tactics towards the patients. Sometimes, fiction is simply more easy to handle and accept than the truth..that's what I got out of this movie.

Boy, am I glad Scorsese is still around making movies. This movie is beautiful to look at and experience. I had forgotten just how special camera work can be when the right man is behind the camera. I love a movie that fucks with you and we follow down that dark road along with DiCaprio until the heart-wrenching, painful conclusion when a person must confront the inevitable truth that must be dealt with.

I love how CGI can be used in an effective way when the man directing the movie knows how to use the fx in striking ways such as when Teddy Daniels'(DiCaprio)wife turns to ash in his arms. I go on and on about fluid camera work, I know I can be an insufferable bore because of my ravings, but to see it applied to such a haunting film as this, it makes me appreciate and admire Scorsese's genius even more.

God, I just love Kingsley in this movie, he seems to be so mysterious, holding possible secrets which gives him a sinister aura. And, DiCaprio, under Scorsese, he seems to have found the perfect director to pull from him all his talents as an actor. And, this institution, gosh, how eerie this place as photographed by Scorsese. What a treat to sit through. Scorsese even included a spiral staircase inside a lighthouse, we get to visit the spooky confines of Ward C where all the dangerous patients are kept, and two actors portray creepy inmates that are hard to forget(Elias Koteas, with a stapled scar down his face, as a killer who supposedly murdered his wife and, especially Jackie Earle Haley, as Noyce, the one who seems to have been betrayed by the system, a catalyst for Daniels' paranoia).

The tragedy involving a disturbed mother drowning her three children is highly potent and powerfully presented throughout the movie. Everything Daniels encounters is like a piece to a puzzle. Scorsese really gripped me all the way through, I never lost interest in the least. I was particularly intrigued by how Michelle Williams was used in this movie, as she portrays the wife of DiCaprio, always warning her husband of imminent danger. And, the inclusion of Dacau and how this war has left a lasting scar with Teddy(a memory that has left Teddy tormented)is stunning in it's potency. Everything about this movie, to me, is inspired and ambitious, new territory for Scorsese, and I'm glad he decided to step out of his comfort zone and try something a bit different. He sure equips himself with a gallery of great faces, established actors who add so much to the quality of the movie. What a winner. Color me impressed. Probably my favorite scene involves warden played by Ted Levine and DiCaprio regarding "God and violence". It's such a bewildering scene with some bizarre dialogue. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, it makes sense!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Babysitter Wanted(2008)

* * ½ / * * * *

I won't lie, at the opening of BABYSITTER WANTED, I was thinking, "Oh no, not another torture movie." Truth be told, I'm tiring of these kinds of torture fare, where a woman is tied up, bound and gagged, squirming for her life, to be honest, I think this is played out. Maybe, it's not for others, but there just isn't anything that burns inside this horror fan any longer about the horrors of young women trapped in some godforsaken room located in a lunatic's lair, held hostage and due to die some sort of horrifying death. I mean, what else can be accomplished with this premise?

Well, the film presents this pretty, sweet, religious Catholic who goes to college, finding that her roommate is a slob with a foul attitude, the apartment a mess of empty beer bottles, cigarette butts, with recently used bongs and pizza boxes. Looking for a bed, she sees an ad for a babysitter out in the boonies, and decides to check it out..we know, already that this girl is in for a world of hurt, her faith certain to be tested. I asked myself, "Is a girl actually gonna drive out of town into farm country for a babysitting job?"

She meets the family and they all seem decent and perfectly normal, which is normally a sign that they are sinister, all sunny smiles and vibrant personality is sure to mask their true malevolent nature. She's so innocent and pure, her roommate right the opposite. The discomfort in their scenes together is rather amusing the way her roommate behaves, the slutty clothes and lifestyle. Anyway, the movie moves away from them and on the babysitting night where she soon discovers that lil adorable Sam is far more than she could've possibly imagined. A scar faced man, who cuts an ominous figure, could be a dangerous stalker with frightening plans for her(or could be someone else entirely).

I imagine, it is only inevitable, a movie that will come to mind while watching BABYSITTER WANTED is THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, although we actually see a child in this film. In both instances, an attractive, pleasant young woman, who isn't a trust baby with an endless bank account to pull monetary funds from, must accept a babysitting job seemingly all alone in a house off the beaten track who will find herself against an evil she couldn't have possibly prepared for.

In BABYSITTER WANTED, the farmhouse is being renovated, and provides the movie extra chances to have creaking sounds and unnerving noises. Like THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, there's something off about the house, an unease that exists, that permeates. In THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, the excuse for looking through the house was curiosity and boredom, while Angie, in BABYSITTER WANTED has a legitimate reason, to find Sam who has come up missing, she presumes it's a game of hide and seek or something. Angie has already been spooked due to the feeling that she is being followed. Receiving odd phone calls at the farmhouse, we wonder just when the creepy man will make his presence known.

The filmmakers implement a ton of loud music cues, it all gets a bit aggravating/grating after a while..I believe that if those who made this film just had more faith in themselves, the less is more approach could've worked instead of pummelling us with loud bangs to make us jump(and, in all honesty, most of these cues rarely work).

Cute, quiet Sam seems like the perfect kid to babysit, but soon the "demon" comes out of him and Angie is in for a rude awakening. A premise consisting of a strange man continually calling and lurking around the house, a babysitter all alone with a kid somewhere off hiding, out in the middle of nowhere, and all those foreboding sounds Angie keeps hearing, it works in an old school way. .I can see why this film was an underground hit, it's reputation preceding itself. As a horror fanatic, I look for anything that might seem buzzworthy.

We assume that the man who rattles the knob and kicks open the door will be after Angie, but I must credit BABYSITTER WANTED for mixing things up a bit. BABYSITTER WANTED is similar to THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL in that there's a family with dark secrets, a couple leave for what appeared to me a night out alone absent child with a more macabre reason for getting away, and the heroine who must evade certain death.

Good, clean girls, a hammer to the skull, a human body hung on meat hooks, and the knowledge that cannibalism is associated with all just mentioned adds to the twisted plot eventually. We have entered into the plot as it had been going on, so our heroine is here to supposedly put an end to it..someone was bound, sooner or later, to disrupt what has been a successful killing spree.

Oh, and the filmmakers couldn't help themselves and we get a chance to see the killer's grisly handiwork of slaughtering a body for the meat to be stored, this is liable to be a bit too over the top for some viewers I imagine. And, there's a decision made to not act when you have an opportunity to halt evil for good, passing up on a chance to rid the world of anymore human suffering and bloodshed, yet walks away(the use of shovel, we must acknowledge will just not be enough(this is a horror film after all)'s this way, if we think about it, just so that the filmmakers could have that twist at the end.

Sarah Thompson's face was familiar to me and I put two and two together remembering her from a show my wife loved, 7th Heaven. I like her. Her innocence works because when she kills in BABYSITTER WANTED you know Sarah's character has no or die, survival of the fittest. Matt Dallas seemed also familiar to me and I recognized him from a show called Kyle XY. He is considerate and sweet to Sarah's Angie, under the hood of her car, repairing it after it wouldn't start(a key to the movie as in others of it's ilk is that Sarah has no vehicle of hers to escape it seems). Bruce Thomas and Kristen Dalton seem like the wholesome, easy to like family, which could fit into any suburb or rural town, and that is the reason their true selves once revealed to us works as it does..although, I imagine most wary viewers will know right away something's not quite right, because they are "too nice", too polite and easily approachable. I'll be honest, the casting of Bill Moseley was for his name in the credits. He's a chief of police Angie needs at a time of crisis. That's pretty much his role. At least, he's not a psycho this go-around and shows he can play a normal person(which I figure will disappoint those who love the roles where he portrays sadistic wackos and batshit crazy lunatics).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Action Theater

I decided to watch a couple of tough guy action movies, and started with the easiest choice, THE TERMINATOR. The dvd had been staring at me in the eyes for years now, keeping it on a shelf in my bedroom, as I would walk by THE TERMINATOR would beckon unto me. I had watched the two marvelous documentaries(or they were to me being a die hard fan)last Sunday night and it put me in the mindset to revisit one my faves quite soon as time and mood would permit. It has been a while, too long, since I had last watched the movie, and found the dvd for a great price, but it would be some time before I would ever even take it out of the wrapper. The isn't too unusual, since time moves fast, and before you know it, it's June 12, 2010 and not 2003. Anyway, it was a pleasure seeing Ahnuld in his original form as an emotionless killing machine, hunting down Sarah Conners until finding the right one. I love that slow motion scene in the neon lit technoir club as Arnold approaches the last Sarah Conner left as Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese intervenes in her favor. I really love those apocalyptic sequences where humans, using instincts and courage, engage in tactical combat with machines with superior weaponry and vehicles. We see the wreckage, the effect nuclear war had on the few humans still alive(and barely ticking as misery and sickness are present, as is poverty and lack of food), and the skeletal remains and skulls of all those victims lost, crushed by HKs(Hunter-Killers)across a destroyed world. Many of the terminator's moments are based on nightmares Cameron had which I thought was kind of neat, how he was given an opportunity to manifest them in cinematic form. And, a very memorable scene from my youth(we only see the aftermath of something like this kind of attack in THE HITCHER and HALLOWEEN 5), the attack on an entire police station, just a massacre with the cyborg just mowing down all those cops with Reese just narrowly escaping with Conner in tow. The fact that Cameron was in such dire straits, broke and homeless, this film making him a household name, is really a testament to what hard work and genius can do.

I was waiting and hoping THE PREDATOR special edition dvd would come down in price and when it did, I picked up a copy. It had extensive special features, with some footage of interviews from the present and past, with some particularly interesting content on the evolution of the alien hunter thanks in part to Stan Winston, who came recommended by Ahnuld after his stunning work on THE TERMINATOR. I've always enjoyed these testosterone actioners set in the jungle where skilled soldiers, knowledgable in the ways of warcraft, are put to the test when they encounter an enemy unlike any other. This just delves into science fiction in regards to the alien enemy, it's really an old school survivalist adventure. These soldiers are the kind assembled for their abilities to sweep in and annihilate in sudden and quick order, in rescue operations for their government(Ahnuld only accepts certain missions)and are persuaded by CIA agent Carl Weathers to enter a jungle to collect kidnapped diplomats..what they don't know is that Weathers really needed documents which would lead the government on the trail of guerrillas. Anyway, the whole CIA idea just gets the soldiers into the jungle to be hunted one by one by a creature who can camoflague itself and move across trees high up, tracking humans by their body heat, a laser weapon on it's shoulder which blasts holes through victims(the wounds cauterized almost immediately afterward). There's this great scene where Sonny Landham says, completely spooked, that "There's something out there..and it ain't no man." I really enjoy the first major action sequence where we see Ahnuld's boys strategically intercept guerillas at their basecamp as it gives us an impression of how good they are. It sets up this point as we understand that the thrill of the hunt must ultimately derive from the skills of the prey. An example of what an action junkie like me enjoys include Old Painless canon which shoots rounds and looks like an extension of Jesse Ventura's Blain's personality, it's like a giant dick you can show off and takes a special person to use it properly. Or, how our soldiers fire machine guns, unloading ammunition in the general area of the Predator, cutting a swath through a whole portion of forest, and only wounding the creature. When I was a kid, Landham was my favorite character, his Billy's scouting abilities unmatched..although, as a warrior, we see that he is simply outgunned by an opponent with certain advantages. But, shit, does Landham cut an impressive figure, all 6 ft 6 of him in frame, serious and expressionless(for the most part), will drop his guns and face the Predator like an Indian prepared for a fight to the death, even though his battle lasted mere seconds! I always enjoy these kinds of jungle/wilderness survival actioners where the hero must set up traps to ensnare(or create himself an advantage)his rival, using his acumen as a means to fight a foe with certain advantages he doesn't have.

Saturday Afternoon

80's Double Feature Friday Night

I decided to hold myself a double feature(I had intended to include TERROR TRAIN, but alas this would not materialize)Friday night(June 11, 2010) and so I chose the movies HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME(1981) & PROM NIGHT(1980). I had recently purchased both movies for only 5 dollars a piece so I decided to finally watch them.

Crawford Academy. The Top 10 are a group of wealthy kids who have an enemy taking them out individually. Virginia(Melissa Sue Anderson) returned to this school after some absense and has become part of the 10. She was almost killed in a car accident that took her mother's life. Memories of her trauma are returning and she depends heavily on her psychotherapist, David(Glenn Ford in what many considers his worst film), to help her through this trying cycle in her young life.

Her damaged psyche is a staple in the slasher genre as it possibly implicates her as the potential killer. You can visualize her being a suspect for good reason. It's an old trick that would be revisited over the years in regards to the female character and her questionable emotional state, a young woman who could be considered a killer due to such baggage she is carrying around.

The characters in the movie, those part of the ten, have their own quirks and eccentricities. Alfred's workshop with all the fake body parts and stuffed animals. The bell tower incident. The science department skull found in the garden. The incident where Etienne climbs into Virginia's room to steal her panties. The culprit behind all that is taking place and this person's reasons for committing such murders.

There are numerous characters with an oddness about them, such as Alfred(Jack Blum) the taxidermist or Rudi(David Eisner) the practical joker, both have these moments where they carry this creepy demeanor and facial expression as if either one could be capable of lunacy. But, we wonder why the killer is targeting this particular gang, and the motive later materializes. The tragic night where a car isn't able to cross a bridge, resulting in the death of Virginia's enraged mother(her desire for her daughter's acceptance in the wealthy elite is rejected during the night of Virginia's birthday party). As the movie moves on and bodies continue to go missing, the searches intensify.

"We've got to find the link between your trauma and your friends."

David starts to become suspicious of Virginia himself when Ann(Tracy Bregman) goes missing and he recalls her calling him in terror claiming she had found her in the bathtub drowned. A memory locked in virginia's mind could hold the answer and it has something to do with her birthday(of course, considering the title of the movie). This movie has one of those infamous "dinner party" scenes where the killer gathers together the corpses of those murdered around a table in various stages of decomposition. After watching it again, I think it's okay, the twist was a bit off the wall and there are many of the well worn cliches we've come to expect while watching it. I had tonight about the same response as the first time I watched it..HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is a middle of the pack slasher, but if it was one I had grown up watching I reckon it would earn credits for nostalgia. The fact that I rented and watched it for the first time in like 2003 means it didn't exist as a slasher favorite from my younger years that has remained with me. I like veteran director J Lee Thompson's style, has a visual polish at least and the camera work is top notch. And, the idea of a shishkabob as a weapon is certainly imaginative. Was I the only one grabbing my crotch in agony after that poor kid got the weight dropped on his nuts?

For my second movie during my slasher night, I chose PROM NIGHT. It isn't exactly highly regarded anymore, earning particular vitriol from slasher fans who consider it mediocre or just flat out boring. I find that I have warmed up to it over the last few viewings, even though PROM NIGHT is less over the top and gratuitous, lacking nudity or strong ultraviolence. Like a lot of folks I purchased the Echo Bridge dvd for like 5 bucks and that's the kind of quality delivered to get what you paid for so to speak. Anyway, director Paul Lynch opens the film with why the eventual killer is stalking the victims in PROM NIGHT. A little girl falls out of a window thanks to some brats who terrorize her, crashing to the ground stories down and through a mirror right in front of her little brother. On the night of the prom, those involved in this incident(the ring leader got the others to keep it hush-hush), now seniors in high school, will be hunted down and killed one by one for their hand in the death of a little girl. What a great building Lynch found for the opening of his movie..such wreckage, like an abandoned vessel lost at sea, a gutted body with the remains of a once occupied area now left in ruin. A menacing voice, with an enthusiastic whisper, informs the potential victims of what awaits them at the prom(Lynch shows a shadow on the wall, a pencil striking through the names on paper of those chosen for execution, and the faces of the characters as a child and six years later at present time recieving the call from their possible assassin). What's good about this Jamie Lee Curtis slasher is that she gets to portray the popular babe of the school this time around. We see her in a bra and it allows us a chance to recognize her for the very sexy woman she is. Her Kim is the homecoming queen and recently acquired boyfriend Nick(Casey Stevens) is the homecoming king. Nick was one of the kids responsible for the death of Kim and Michael's sister. Wendy(Eddie Benton), a beautiful bitch with a black heart, was once an item with Nick and hasn't taken her "dismissal" very well. Wendy truly believes Nick will return to her after the prom, unable to accept that he no longer wants anything to do with her. Marybeth Rubens and Joy Thompson are the other two girls the killer will seek after. Using both a piece of broken mirror and an ax, the killer, dressed in black, with a stocking, will strike when the appropriate opportunity presents itself. I think PROM NIGHT perseveres because it's one of the "Jamie Lee Curtis slashers" before she would go into more mainstream roles and features Leslie Nielsen as her father. I mean, those of us who have seen PROM NIGHT numerous times know that Nielsen's role is minor(to put it mildly), but his name in a slasher movie will always draw curious genre fans. I think PROM NIGHT is probably most (in)famous for the disco theme around the prom and seeing Curtis bust a groove on the dance floor. But, the story itself within PROM NIGHT is indeed a tragic one..the Hammond family have yet to recover from the loss of the girl, and the ending ultimately will cause even more grief. Lynch's subplot regarding an escaped lunatic who was charged with the murder of the Hammond girl is uninspired, to say the least, basically an attempt at a red herring, though I imagine most will see right through it. I've read from many reviews(slasher fans and certain critics)who agree with me that the best sequence is the long chase through the darkened halls of the school as Wendy tries to evade her pursuer to no avail. The payoff is lackluster, but I think Lynch built adequate enough suspence, although we knew Wendy was a goner. I must admit, the beheading is quite a doozy, the way it is carried out.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Never Back Down(2008)

** / ****

I agree with others as it came to my mind as well, the fact that NEVER BACK DOWN is an obvious clone of THE KARATE KID about a fatherless young man whose mom moves him to Orlando where he must contend with a mean bully whose reputation as a superior fighter gives him an advantage when confrontations occur.

Sean Faris is Jake Tyler, who becomes a good fighter(full contact fighting replaces the more civilized karate tourney from THE KARATE KID)thanks to a mentor in mixed martial arts, who teaches him the ropes. Djimon Hounsou is Jean Roqua, Jake's teacher and "counselor" as there's no other father figure in the young man's life.

Cam Gigandet is the hostile teen, Ryan McCarthy, who relishes his abilities to pummel Jake, and we get a look at why he's such a sadistic son of a bitch, a father who has obviously demanded nothing but discipline and excellence from his son..he's not strict in regards to his son's extra curricular activities, but no disrespect because his father is into bodybuilding as well. Ryan's father has molded this bastard into a repulsive cretin needing his ass kicked one good time to straighten him out. As you would expect, Jake soon is up for the challenge when Ryan beats up his friend Max(Evan Peters)so bad he ends up in a hospital.

I have passed by as my wife watches NEVER BACK DOWN on occasion, and it kind of disturbs me that so many kids seem to do whatever the hell they want, the movie again questioning parents and their roles in the lives of their children. These teenagers seem to have all this freedom to do whatever they want, and many of them seem to congregate at Ryan's palatial home. Ryan is the "cool" one many of them wish to emulate and admire, but to me his personality is one to avoid at all costs. He exists to fight. He lives, breathes, shits bashing on bodies until those victimized suffer internal bleeding, external bruising, or worse. I consider people like Ryan the lowest form of human being imaginable. He works out all the time, carries that cocky demeanor that sickens me, and surrounds himself with others who seem to worship at his alter. It's easy to root for Jake, because Ryan's such a shitheel.

There is plenty of eye candy for the gals(and gay guys)in NEVER BACK DOWN, plenty of buff bodies and cut abs, and I reckon this is one of the appeals to my wife, which contributes to why it is always on. I pass by to watch it when Amber Heard pops back up, but other than that I kind of find it a chore to sit through because this forumla is evaporating to me. It's not the fighting, which is energetically shot by the filmmakers, trying to make up for a routine, tired story. I've seen this crap over and over, new pretty boys and chicks supplementing older ones. You do see fighting in abundance with poor Jake a lot of times on the recieving end of Ryan's blows. There is a tournament, the kind of underground set up with an army of jubulant youth cheering and shouting as teenagers engage in combat, beating each other senseless. This is the kind of "sport" a person like Ryan would fit perfectly into; I imagine he'd make the perfect gladiator for the decadent citizens of Rome. Jake has heart and soul, but lacks the savagery Ryan has ingrained in his psyche. Amber Heard is the beauty who comes between the two competitors(just guess who she eventually sides with).

So, THE KARATE KID is an obvious influence. The girl once connected to the bully, soon falling for the hero. The mentor with knowledge of the martial arts lending his expertise to the kid, but molding him into more than a fighting machine, a better human being.

Class of 1984(1982)


The unruly group led by Peter Stegman(Timothy Van Patten) of Abraham Lincoln High are a severe nuisance to teachers and students alike and it will all come to a head as they finally victimize the wrong target who decides to strike back in Mark Lester's indictment on the plight of today's youth(well, in 1981 that is).

This gaggle of punks of Stegman's push the weaker kids around and it is quite a statement when green teacher Andrew Norris(Perry King) recognizes that fellow academian Terry Corrigan(Roddy McDowell, in one of his best latter career roles) carries a gun in his briefcase!

"Surveillance is the name of the game around here, Mr. Norris. "

This coming from the principal of the school for petesake! It's like a high school from hell where teachers worry more about surviving the day instead of "molding young minds"! Sure, many of the kids just want to learn, but with Stegman's brood causing trouble at every turn, it's hard for anyone to relax. The moment Norris walks into his class room, the kids are all cutting up and throwing paper wads while Stegman sits on his desk! Mr. Norris discovers that the punks(except Stegman) perpetrating his band classroom don't even belong there!

The punks steal lunch money from students and we see a kid selling drugs right out in the open. There's graffiti all over the walls of every room and halls..mostly featuring explicit content and detailed artwork. The gang beats Leroy the drug dealer to a pulp for selling dope "in their territory". These thugs seem to live and breathe to raise hell and cause mischief..everyone is a target that doesn't belong. Their sorry lives' purpose is to antagonize and fight.

Stegman, unstable and always one step from demolishing anything in his path(that or ordering his stooges to do so), actually has talent behind the piano, but his immature anarchic antics don't endear him to Norris.

McDowell's Corrigan is a miserable, cynical, boozing, extremely disheartened biology teacher who tries to persuade Norris "to play nice" when it comes to the dangerous students. Corrigan feels that he is a failure because his influence on the students that enter his class seems nil and void.

"To the lower animals..they never kill each other without good reason."

Corrigan says this while gulping some liquor he keeps around in class when he gets time to himself. When the punks skin his pets alive, spreading their blood all over his classroom, this ultimately sends poor Corrigan over the edge. This repulsive act certainly leaves it's mark on Corrigan who will now set his sights on getting even.

After snorting some angel dust sold to him by Stegman and his crew, a kid climbs a flag pole stoned out of his gourd, falling to his death. Michael J Fox portrays a good, tenderhearted youth who attempted to convince the kid not to buy the dope from Stegman, to no avail. As Arthur, his knowledge of the drug sell gets him in pretty deep shit with Stegman who orders a kid to stab him. We see later that Stegman's mom hasn't a clue how psychotic her son is, he has her wrapped around his finger.This is one of those movies where delinquent youths push adults too far, to the brinking point and beyond. Their unrelenting joy at causing those in their orbit harm shows in almost every scene in the movie.

"Life is pain. Pain is everything. You will Learn."

When they rape and abuse his wife, the point of no return is reached, and Norris will not stand by and take their bullshit any longer. He has become a mainstay at the police department, doing whatever he can to halt this gang's activity. Even though he saw them set fire to his car causing it to explode, it still doesn't get them in trouble. Norris tries every method at his disposal to get them out of his school and off the streets, but Stegman and his crew keep getting back out there due to "lack of evidence". There's an irony with the last half as Norris gets his revenge regarding "proof of wrongdoing" which might be gratifying for those who hate these fucking cretins.

During what was supposed to be his big night, a symphony he and his class worked their ass off for, Stegman and company pull out the stops to his enforce their will on Norris. Every avenue exhausted, Norris has little choice now but confront and kill every last one of these douchebags.

During the movie, we've had to tolerate these scumbags getting away with all their indecent behavior, hiding behind their age of 17, the law seemingly on their side, and seeing them get their comeuppance is certain to satisfy many a viewer. As one of his gifted students orchestrates the symphony, Norris is running about darkened halls and rooms trying to rescue his wife as the punks scurry about. This kind of movie is certain to ruffle a few feathers as it provides a legimate excuse for a man to kill high school kids who are threatening his life and wife's welfare. Blackboard Jungle this is not; it goes far darker and more disturbing. Director Mark Lester proclaimed that this was a cautionary tale worthy to take note. The gratuitous violence on display(the table saw damage and setting one victim on fire, his body's charred remains on display for extra impact)might be a bit much for some viewers to endure, but it sure worked for me.

Easily the best scene in the movie has a completely fed-up Roddy McDowell holding his class at gunpoint(!)forcing them to answer biology questions they would never in class before. After this, his life in ruins, a drunken Corrigan attempts, and fails sadly, to run Stegman and punks over with his car! Stegman, alas, is able to avoid being roadkill and has the last laugh on Corrigan.

I have to tell you, I thought Perry King was damn good in this movie. His character tries, really does, to be the kind of teacher that can do good for his students, and, through the shit that Stegman puts him through, has a transformation. In order to survive, sometimes even the most civilized person must find the savage within to overcome the obstacles one is faced or else. I mean, can we really blame him? His pregnant wife(Merrie Lynn Ross) is sexually molested, kidnapped, her life in potential danger, and he himself being chased by a wild pack of hyenas..what is a man to do with such odds?

The rape, while mild by some people's standards, was so effective to me because those involved were having such fun violating Norris' pregnant wife. It only enforces our rage to see him destroy those slimeballs in gruesome fashion for their crimes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Queen Margot

I was about to go to bed and made the mistake(nah, it wasn't a mistake)of leaving the television on(the remote was next to me)as I was setting the timer for another movie(showing later, Roman Polanski's GHOST WRITER).

But, director Patrice Chéreau's QUEEN MARGOT grabbed my attention and never let go. This production blew me away. The way he captures a particular kingdom in France during a tumultuous time where two religious sections in Parisian society were at each others' throats. There's an overwhelming hatred and animosity between the Catholics(who have the power)and lowly Protestants considered a scourge in the city.

I think it's clear which side the movie's on, the Protestants led by Henri de Navarre(Daniel Auteuil with a prosthetic beak; who is fantastic)gain our sympathy after this great slaughter which is shown in all it's bloody(and pretty lengthly)detail.

To supposedly bring about peace between the people, Henri marries the deceased king of France's daughter, Margot(Isabelle Adjani; is this woman ever NOT impossibly beautiful in a movie?!). Later we discover that it was a concocted scheme by Margot's mother, Catherine de Médicis(Virna Lisi)to free France of the Protestants by placing them in a vulnerable position, preparing her Catholics for a sadistic unprovoked attack.

Catherine has two sons, Charles IX(Jean-Hugues Anglade) and Anjou(Pascal Greggory)who she wants to see in position as king of France. Catherine awaits a child's birth from one of them, although it appears that Charles is homosexual. Anjou takes the position, but he secretly admires and likes the peasants(even having a lover and child with a woman he keeps hidden from Catherine)soon cherishing a friendship with Henri.

Henri wants Margot and him to become allies not enemies..they both acknowledge their marriage as a falsity merely for show. Margot meets a Protestant on the street during one of her days "out on the town", La Môle(Vincent Perez), finding an instant attraction, fucking him against a back alley wall not long after.

At first, it's lust, but eventually a strong, passionate affair will spark between them, particularly after she saves him from certain death on that horrible night, when all of his people are slaughtered, the streets bathed in blood, bodies torn asunder. While La Môle is able to flee(..thanks to Margot's intervention and through the kindness of an executioner who hides him amongst the bodies to be carried away), Henri takes the Catholic oath at Margot's advice to keep himself alive, if just for a little while.

Here's where the movie really got to cooking for me. I mean, the slaughter is as shocking and cruel as can be depicted, the way swords are drawn as crowds of Catholics gang up on unsuspecting Protestants, picking them off in droves, Paris littered with corpses. But, when La Môle escapes and Henri fears for his life at every turn, few allies as Catherine tries every way in her power to kill him(poison which backfires to say the least multiple times), the movie takes on a new dimension.

Already estranged from her family, Margot was barely a member of this brood and she begins aligning herself with Henri, even making love to him at one point! Margot's heart is for La Môle, though, and she sneaks away when she can to meet him. La Môle is truly the film's hero. He upended the leader of the wave of violence which overtook the Protestants and risks his well being in an attempt to take Margot out of Paris to be with him. Henri, always looking over his shoulder, nervous as can be expected, wondering when attempts on his life will be carried out. These are two very different men in Margot's life..and her life is more than a bit complicated.

I really enjoyed the presentation of this movie, and was thrilled at how chaotic this time in France(..with all the people everywhere, so much activity as gatherings and multitudes converge after the opening wedding, so congested, men and women could barely walk without bumping into each other, you literally see many circling their wagons just to find a place to move about)is shown. Batches of Catholics and Protestants, schemes and gossip, questions and murmurings, we get an idea at how divided this city was only a matter of time before war would break out. I think it came down to who would strike first and when.

The way Chéreau evokes this period, it really feels like you have revisited a turbulent time in France when all was not calm and right in the world. There's a decadence and liberality that surprised me. I visualized France as I would picture Sodom, and that's interesting in that everyone speaks about how God guides them, yet the sin and debauchery that exists is palpable. Both sides believe God is for them and they kill in his name..kind of ironic to me, how a deity that presents right the opposite of how these people act is proclaimed as leading them against one another.

Bottom line is Catherine doesn't want the Protestants in her city, finding them nothing but repulsive peasants, and desires the kingdom and all the power that comes with it. She is ultimately the one that rules from the throne even though her sons recieve the mantle as King. You always see her cast in a malicious light, calling the shots in pernicious ways, and suffers for her antics, a son paying the price in the desire to rid the kingdom of Henri(who could fall in line as king if something wasn't done about him).

Asia Argento, if you were wondering, is Charlotte, living in the castle and in love with Henri..she could be the pawn Catherine needs to get to Henri, in a malevolent way, to possibly poison Henri(Charlotte is a supporter of the Protestants in a roundabout way). She is so young and astonishingly lovely in this movie, not like her more cutting-edge/edgy roles she would later portray after this one.

There are plenty of shocking moments to find here besides the slaughter such as a poisoning so strong it causes the victim to sweat blood and die a slow, agonizing death. La Môle's wounds are devastating and Vincent Perez ably shows how painful his suffering was. One poor victim, with poisoned lip blush, twists and convulses in a quick but terrible demise. The director takes us behind the scenes, into the rooms, and we see how characters plot and form partnerships, until tragic deaths change the shape of France.

Rachel Getting Married

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED was an intense experience. It has a raw power and spontaneity(that rarely works as excellently as it does here, giving the film a unique authenticity)I wasn't expecting.

I wasn't caught up in the euphoria of this particular year's Oscar season, nor was I that familiar with it's star Anne Hatheway. To be honest, I've had no interest in the PRINCESS DIARIES movies nor do I feel anything for the fashion industry which is why I hadn't seen her in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA.

But, having seen this movie, I think Hatheway's an actress who could become a favorite of mine. This role requires a lot. She has this mess of a character trying to overcome a young life of bad decisions and drug issues.

When her Kyme enters a room, eyes roll with discontent. That's what impressed me about this movie, director Demme uncannily raises the complications of this family with such realism. I was uneasy while watching this, seeing a family preparing for a wedding, with all this baggage that is exists simmering.

Rosemarie DeWitt is extremely good as Rachel, Kyme's sister on the cusp of her marriage to a black musician(Tunde Adedimpbe), who wants some attention deverted her way for a change, with lots of emotional fireworks, hurt feelings, tension, heated arguments, anxiety, conflicting viewpoints about the black sheep in and out of drug rehab.

Kyme, I was thankful, doesn't devolve into drug abuse as we might be accustomed to seeing, which is refreshing. She legitimately wants to change, to be accepted again by her sister and others, finding it hard because of her involvement in the death of her brother. This is the painful event which lingers everytime Kyme enters the picture as her sister and others are setting up the wedding ceremony.

Debra Winger is their mother, having established a different life for herself after divorcing their dad. The truth is that the boy, Ethan, was entrusted in the care of Kyme who was deeply into her drug addiction. A car wreck where the vehicle plunges over a bridge into a lake resulting in Ethan's drowning, contributes mightily to the problems which clearly cause a visible fracture in the relationship between Kyme and her family.

I think that is the strength of the movie, how we see ups and downs, highs and lows, over the course of Kyme's return after spending time in rehab, and how those around her deal with this.

I mean, you see how they obviously would prefer her not to even be a part of this wedding and Kyme, who undeniably loves Rachel, in her heart of hearts, wants to be a part of her sister's happiest time. But, there's such anguish and turmoil prevalent in this family, to get to the wedding ceremony itself will yield unpleasant moments between sisters, and others hurt over the mistakes of the past. Genuine emotion is captured in all it's intensity and I had moments which were hard for me to not look away because of the vitriol.

Like when Kyme questions where they sit her at the wedding, her confrontation with her mother over Ethan, the night dinner where toasts are made for the happy couple as Kyme gets her turn, the shouting matches where Rachel tires of the topic of conversation always centered around Kyme, etc.

It isn't all uncomfortable and tense, there are moments of joy and harmony, and, thankfully a peaceful olive branch is extended between the sisters which is rewarding.

To Demme's credit, his film isn't concerned with pace or editing, he allows scenes to play out, such as the night dinner table..almost everyone in attendance is allowed to speak from their heart to the soon-to-married couple. The dishwashing scene where a troubling argument between father and daughter is broken up by those outside so the day wouldn't be totally spoiled by yet another conversation about Kyme.

The scene in the beauty salon where a former addict confronts a startled Kyme over how she contributed to his recovery through her bravery(she admitted to being sexually molested by her uncle, and that she contributed to Rachel's anorexia)which sends Rachel over the edge(she can not believe Kyme would lie about something so heinous, although the molestation isn't completely written off as false, since it is avoided later). I'll never forget his face, he had this ease and glow, as if a rainbow after a damaging storm. His voice had this peace and was a remarkably emotional, and positively awkward, scene, quite fascinating to watch play out. I don't think Hatheway could respond any better than her character does, befuddled by his comments as if she couldn't even remember saying them.

And, Demme shoots handheld, camera always moving as if someone is intruding upon this family as a witness sometimes up close, othertimes in the background. And, Demme shoots faces, and through such rich characterizations, we're rewarded by the work of his performers who completely inhabit their roles. These feel like accurate/real problems in the lives of accurate/real people. To spend time with them can be quite harrowing and troubling in equal doses.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


People have been taking a giant shit on Dario Argento's GIALLO for about two years now, but my confidence in him never wavered. I think I was rewarded automatically as his sweeping camera captures the immense scope of a giant operahouse, dance club, and fashion brought a grin to this giallo fan's face knowing that Argento returned to his roots to include the fashion world in the story. And, then he shoots this wide shot of Rome with Siegner looking out, her breath taken almost drew a tear because it was as if Mario Bava's ghost returned behind the camera one more time.

Celine(Elsa Pataky), a rising model in Rome is kidnapped by a serial killer who drives a taxi, the perfect vehicle to capture his victims. Using a hypodermic, the killer sudbues his victims, binding them for later sadistic kicks. Celine's sister, Linda(Emmanuelle Seigner), is visiting Rome and fears for her safety. Inspector Enzo Avolfi(Adrien Brody), not exactly the most hospitable of detectives, has been working on the cases involving the serial murders of models and pretty girls. He isn't exactly Mr. Nice Guy with Linda who is absolutely petrified with the sheer thought that her sister could wind up as those gruesome photographs featuring a number of butchered girls.

"Sometimes you have to do what has to be done."

Enzo is haunted by a recurring past memory that continues to traumatize him as an adult. He saw an intruder enter his home as a child, thrusting a butcher knife into her throat. This event is what has fashioned him into the detective he is at present, and answers why he can tolerate the kind of troubling job no one else wants(he works in the police department basement, alone with little association with others. It's obviously unhealthy to be so consumed with such a profession, his reason for even existing seems to be to catch "pattern killers". Under pressure to catch this wackjob, Enzo will have to find some clue, some sort of evidentiary lead, a detail that will get him one step closer to finding him.

"I wanted to destroy something beautiful." - Fight Club

Men destroying beautiful women due to their own definciencies is a theme often associated with films about serial killers who have social malfunctions due to homicidal urges and self image problems which effect their psyche.

Like giallo thrillers of old, Dario Argento, one of the key masters of the genre, the name of his new film ties in with the case represented GIALLO. A recording from an Asian victim lends a key description of the killer, yellow pigmentation of the skin, Argento's title reflecting this.

Argento develops a storyline which sympathises with the killer. There's a psychology he introduces in the film as a reason for why the killer behaves in such a manner..his problem which instigates the destruction of beautiful women. We see his face half way in, and then his story is provided for us. We know why his skin is such, and where his hideousness comes from..a junkie crackwhore mother who dropped him off at an orphanage. He has a serious liver disease which might just be a catalyst for his eventual downfall.

I have read how terrible this movie was. How Dario's talent is over and he no longer should make movies. I think all that is horseshit because I found GIALLO to be quite an entertaining thriller. I mean, Argento uses the terrifying situation of Celine, milking her dilemma for all it's worth. Will she escape and be the girl who got away? Will she wind up like all the others? Argento goes as far as pitting Enzo and Linda against each other thanks in part to the yellow killer by way of the location of Celine. Enzo just wants to do his job and stop the killer no matter what, taking into account Celine's life and whereabouts. Linda, desperate to find her sister alive, will do whatever it takes, if that includes assisting the killer, and when Enzo stands in the way of this, even if inadvertantly, she'll not appreciate his admirable efforts at apprehending him or ending the murderous reign if given the chance. Argento even went Hitchcock on me, which I always find thrilling, in how he sets up the horrifying possibility that Celine may never be found, only to toy with us through a fade to black, only as a way to tease us. I think GIALLO has a Hitchcockian camera. It moves in ways to lead us to where the action wonderfully fluid and precise, too. It's a shame others can easily dismiss this movie..I thought it was beautifully shot with a surprisingly tasteful orchestral score, adding a sophistication to the camerawork. Maybe I watched a different movie than others because I came away more than a bit impressed. I think he's still got it. Perhaps Argento wasn't savage enough, and there's no nudity or sex as giallo fans are accustomed to.




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