Quarantine (d. John Erick Dowdle) - First thing's first: I have not seen REC, the Spanish film of which Quarantine is a remake, so I can't say whether John Erick Dowdle, in re-jiggering that much praised film, raped my last Spring or not. All I can say is that this American film is pretty damn effective. A group of people, including a TV reporter and her cameraman, suddenly find themselves locked inside a gloomy apartment building after the CDC learns that an especially nasty, rabies-like virus is running through the building's inhabitants. The film is shot -- as an increasing number of horror films these days seem to be -- as though one of the characters is actually the one holding the camera, but as this character is part of a TV news crew, this film (and, presumably, REC) has a better, built-in excuse for that camera continuing to roll than most such movies do. And the chaos generated by the hand-held camera is disorienting, but in a good way. When one of the rabies zombie monsters comes shrieking out of nowhere to attack somebody, the fact that we don't always know who the creature was before getting infected often works. "Who is that?" I thought, or, "When did they get bitten??" This isn't a matter of sloppy filmmaking, but rather a case of pumping up the terrible havoc of the situation. Also, Jennifer Carpenter, as the reporter, was, I thought, very good. She doesn't have the standard "horror film heroine" (that's called the "final girl" now, I think somebody told me) trajectory, and reacts quite believably to the increasingly bizarre, grotesque and hopeless situation she suddenly finds herself in, just because she was given the wrong story to cover on the wrong night.Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (d. Joss Whedon) - I'm late to the game in praising this short film by the man behind TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. I'm late to Joss Whedon in general, really, but I've liked what I've seen of Firefly, and really thought Whedon's theatrical film sequel to that show, Serenity, was damn good. Now, this somewhat mistitled film (there's not really that much blogging to be seen), which debuted on-line and is now available on DVD, has shown me just how creative this guy can be. The 45-minute film is a deliberately cheap-looking musical superhero story (or supervillain story, actually) about Dr. Horrible (a superb Neil Patrick Harris) and his plan to rule the world and win the heart of Penny (Felicia Day), who has fallen in love with Horrible's nemesis, the vain and obnoxious hero, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). The songs are almost uniformly good, with one particular stand-out, "Brand New Day", coming at the end of Act II, quietly setting up the audience for a wild tonal shift, without us ever being aware of what Whedon has in mind. This is really good stuff: funny, catchy, and other things that I shouldn't mention.
Monday, April 6, 2009
More Capsule Reviews
Pumpkinhead (d. Stan Winston) - Prior to yesterday, I had seen this film once before, an eternity ago, and the only thing I remembered about it is that, at one point, Pumpkinhead stabbed a guy with a rifle. It seemed ridiculous to me back then, but now, after catching the film again, I feel that, if anyone is going to not only be able to stab someone with a rifle, but want to do so, it's Pumpkinhead. And really, this film is a cut above most 80s horror. It's a tight little fable about revenge -- to better get across the fable vibe, Winston ends up going a little too heavy on the blues and reds, but by and large the film feels the way he must have intended. Along with "fable" and "horror", Winston has also made an effective Southern Gothic thriller, steeped in swamps and heat and grief, the latter provided by a very good Lance Henriksen, who unleashes the titular demon after his son is accidentally killed by a group of city kids. Winston and the screenwriters up the horror by showing that not only are not all of those city kids all bad, but very few of them actually did anything wrong. So this is pretty solid, I was surprised to find. This is the only film the late Stan Winston directed, but why is that? He had a nice eye.