Sunday, January 30, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Obviously, that title – The Raven, I mean – should tip anyone off to some sort of Poe connection in the film, and it is part of a short cycle of Poe films that Lugosi made. But The Raven is fascinating in that instead of taking Poe’s simple poem of Gothic mourning and inflating it absurdly to somehow encompass mad science and shambling monsters, which is the kind of thing that Poe must be used to by now, it instead uses Poe’s fiction, and the abuse of it, as the basis for Villon’s madness. Admittedly, this abuse takes the form of a torture room in which Vollin has recreated a number of lethal devices described in Poe's fiction, an idea which has been hammered into the ground over the past several decades, but here Vollin goes out of his way to assume an affinity with Poe that betrays a complete misunderstanding of what Poe was about. Vollin gets off on Poe's violence in a way Poe himself never did.
Vollin's love for Jean develops quickly, but really gets moving when she invites him to see her perform. She's a dancer, and her current routine is one she calls "The Spirit of Poe", and involves balletic flailing on her part while some guy reads "The Raven" out loud. It is, quite frankly, a pretty doofy bit, but it cements Jean's place in Vollin's black and shriveled heart. Curiously, this routine at times also calls to mind the climactic ballet in Darren Aranofsky's Black Swan, though with the psychosis coming from outside so that Jean becomes the raven in Vollin's mind, as opposed to Nina becoming the black swan in her own.
Anyway. The Raven is a treat. Occasionally absurd (Jean's car accident, which sets everything in motion, seems to have been caused by her desperate fear of detour signs) but easy on comic relief, something I can usually do without in such films, it's a jolt of pure, manic, old Hollywood-style horror, wearing its armchair psychology on its sleeve while somehow, at the same time, making it serve the characters and the emotion. And the moral of it might just be: Don't project yourself onto what you read. Sometimes I have no clue why I would ever want to watch any other kind of film.
Monday, January 24, 2011
From now: exercise
Thursday, January 20, 2011
They're nothing if not efficient, these killers. The scene is fast, and Prescott and Serpico play the hitmen as professionals, good at their jobs without a trace of psychology threatening to bust them at their seams. They've been paid well, and they get on with their work.
The method of Edens' execution is poison, which they inject into his foot with as little thought to its effects as they would if their syringe contained a mild anaesthetic.
It is not a mild anaesthetic, however, and all his killers need to do now is wait for Edens to die.
Which he does.
Though the two don't entirely match up, while thinking about this scene recently I was reminded of an actual murder I heard about -- I may have the details of it slightly wrong -- that involved a husband slowly and systematically poisoning his wife by putting a little bit of antifreeze in her, I believe, Gatorade every morning. Apart from the sad and prolonged death of that poor woman, the most horrifying feature of this case is the idea that this man woke up every morning, killed his wife a little bit, went about his day, and successfully went to sleep that night, day after day. There is a blankness in that man, as there is -- and I don't mean to connect these things too closely, since in one case a real person really died -- in the hitmen played by Prescott and Serpico. In Michael Clayton, Edens becomes an object, a piece of furniture, as I've said, to be brought down to the dumpster. It's only when the camera lingers on his corpse after the hitmen have left that any of his humanity is restored.
And this is violence. When violence disturbs in films, it's usually because much blood is spilled, or yards of guts have come unspooled, but I've never been able to shake this scene of bloodless murder in Michael Clayton since I first saw it more than three years ago. This is violence as work. This is violence as a project to be seen through to completion. This disturbs.
POST-SCRIPT: I should have done this before, but I'd like to thank Ryan Kelly for providing the screengrabs for this post.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
"Wait! There, I feel once again that I shall really express myself, shall bring the words to bay. Alas, no one taught me this kind of chase, and the ancient inborn art of writing is long since forgotten -- forgotten are the days when it needed no schooling, but ignited and blazed like a forest fire -- today it seems just as incredible as the music that once used to be extracted from a monstrous pianoforte, music that would nimbly ripple or suddenly hack the world into great, gleaming blocks -- I myself picture all this so clearly, but you are not I, and therein lies the irreparable calamity. Not knowing how to write, but sensing with my criminal intuition how words are combined, what one must do for a commonplace word to come alive and to share its neighbor's sheen, heat, shadow, while reflecting itself in its neighbor and renewing the neighboring word in the process, so that the whole line is live iridescence; while I sense the nature of this kind of word propinquity, I am nevertheless unable to achieve it, yet that is what is indispensable to me for my task, a task of not now and not here. Not here!"
- Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Ah, why is this one so hard!! All I can think of are things like Event Horizon, which are like horror movies but in space! And on that same note, I'd rather not choose something as easy as Alien.
I've decided to not actually admit to any shortcomings in this particular quiz, because it's become too much an embarrassment -- practically its own feature -- over the years. So I'm going to answer this question by simply saying that I really like Cary Grant a whole lot.
I never see movies before anyone else has had a chance to see them.
Fitzcarraldo. Or Stardust Memories.
It would have to be one I've been to, yes? Otherwise, how would I know? And it has been my misfortune, I guess, to never really see any of the places I've lived or visited depicted on screen in a way that fully evoked my own experiences. Certainly, the big city I know best, Washington, DC, is always depicted as That Place That Has the Washington Monument In It, and little else of color or interest is given any time. However, the other night I was watching Machete, and a couple of times I thought, "Hey, that looks like Austin." And it was!
I do wish my answer was more interesting, but A Christmas Story is the one true answer. It was a staple in my childhood, and to this day something seems amiss if I don't see at least half the film every Christmas. I love the setting, a suburb in the 1940s, and the sense of detail -- my dad grew up back then, and that film was like going home for him, at least in some small ways -- and, of course, Darren McGavin, who worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oil or clay.
18) Best Actress
19) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson?
21) Think of a movie with a notable musical score and describe what it might feel like without that accompaniment.
23) Movie You Feel Most Evangelistic About Right Now
24) Worst/funniest movie accent ever
25) Best Cinematography
26) Olivia Wilde or Gemma Arterton
27) Name the three best movies you saw for the first time in 2010 (Thanks, Larry!)
28) Best romantic movie couple of 2010
29) Favorite shock/surprise ending
30) Best cinematic reason to have stayed home and read a book in 2010
31) Movies in 2011 could make me much happier if they’d only _______________
Friday, January 7, 2011
...or this picture of Ernest Borgnine from The Devil's Rain:
The choice is yours entirely. I make no judgments, and don't even care to know your selection. It's your life, and you must find happiness where available. But -- and I probably should have said this before -- you can only look at one of them. Make your choice, and then look at that picture, and only that picture. This isn't a charity.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The Damned United (d. Tom Hooper) – Hooper’s new film The King’s Speech is currently angling its way towards some Oscars, or so people keep telling me, but his previous film, The Damned United, about the disastrous 44 days Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) spent as the manager of his one-time rival soccer team Leeds United, is sort of an Oscar-bait film in miniature. I don’t mean that as a knock, either, because The Damned United – based on a novel by David Peace, whose work also inspired the Red Riding Trilogy -- is hugely entertaining and satisfying. Sheen’s performance is one for the ages, all Yorkshire ego, brains and anger. In some interesting ways, this film is a sort of English version of The Social Network: smart fellow with a hidden store of arrogance gets snubbed and uses that experience to fuel not only his future success but also his disasters. Though I see I’ve already pretty much said this, Sheen’s work cannot be praised too highly, because while the film is a good one, and he’s surrounded by some prime supporting actors (Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham, and so forth), it’s Sheen’s hysterical and fascinating Brian Clough that elevates this film to the realm of the Endlessly Rewatchable. Michael Sheen, über fucking alles!
The Tingler (d. William Castle) – Please note the above image. Taken from Castle’s 1959 film The Tingler, it is one of the most striking images from horror movies from that era. The Tingler is probably nobody’s idea of the best of the genre, but almost any time it’s mentioned, the context is Castle’s ridiculous and ingenious gimmick of rigging the seats in the theaters that showed the film with little thingamajigs that would shock the viewer any time the titular creature made some sort of feeble gesture towards violence. But the film – about a scientist (Vincent Price) trying to isolate the tingle one feels in one’s spine when one is scared, ultimately discovering that it’s caused by a nasty-looking electric worm or whatever – is actually a good deal better than the gimmick (which, again, was awesome) would imply. Price gives a fine performance, seeming worldly and kind and natural throughout, but even better, or at least very different, is Philip Coolidge, who plays a movie theater manager whose deaf-mute wife you can see above. His entrance into the film, and ultimate motives, take on different meanings as you go along, but Coolidge never plays the guy as anything other than an aw-shucks, good neighbor sort. It’s kind of weird, actually. As is pretty much the whole film, and right smack in the middle is that bloody bathtub sequence, which is powerful, disturbing stuff created by Castle as a kind of sub-gimmick, a warm up to the literal shocks he had in store. You don’t see showmen like that anymore.
Rampage (d. William Friedkin) – A film I’d very much like to see on DVD is this one, Friedkin’s low-budget 1987 adaptation of William P. Wood’s thriller about a Richard Chase-like serial killer (a quite unnerving Alex McArthur), whose murders are both horrifying and repulsive, and who is finally brought down by the police and put on trial. The film’s main character is the prosecutor, played by Michael Biehn, who makes the counter-intuitive journey (for Hollywood, anyway) from being anti-death penalty to pro. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen Rampage, and it wouldn’t shock me to learn that Friedkin stacks the deck in favor of Biehn’s ultimate conversion, and in any case my own views on the subject are nowhere near as confident as they were when I first saw the film. However, there’s something very powerful about the direct, cheap-paperback way in which Friedkin approaches the material, not to mention bracing about an American film not walking the expected path on a controversial topic. Not that any of that matters so much, really, because the film also features, apart from the good work done by McArthur and Biehn, Royce D. Applegate as a man whose entire family, save his son, were slaughtered by the killer, and Friedkin actually follows this man and his boy in the aftermath as they try to get away from it, leave everything, including the horror and anger. This section of the film doesn’t take up a hell of a lot of screen time, but almost no other film would include it at all. Add to that a typically excellent, yet forgotten, score by Ennio Morricone, and yeah, like I said, I really wish this was on DVD.
Monday, January 3, 2011
1946 - 2011