Saturday, October 6, 2012

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season: 9/15 - The Stuff

The Stuff (1985)

I should warn anyone looking at this post now; this entry is going to contain as much information unrelated to the movie The Stuff as it will have of my own opinion of the film itself.  I did this basically because I might have more to say about the circumstances surrounding my viewing of the film than I do of the movie.  So, just be forewarned..... Years ago, perhaps in the vicinity of 20 of them, I remember sitting around watching TV at my grandparents place.  There wasn't a lot to do at my grandparents place for a kid my age at the time, and there wasn't anything like the channel selection they have now on the TV, either.  Options were limited, and you took what you could get.  I remember being reduced, at one point, to watching professional wrestling in the early to mid 90s at my grandparents house after I had been dropped off there by my parents (most likely in their attempt of respite, however brief, from my high and squeaky voice).

In the specific instance I am attempting to rehash now, I was alone in my grandma and grandpa's living room and there was a strange film I can still remember watching which I could tell was not of the most prodigiously acted films, even to my young eyes.  It featured people eating some white goo that I assumed had come from outer-space and getting addicted to it.  I remember being slightly on edge from the film despite what I remember thinking was a kind of soap-opera-ish production value.  However, I didn't even get to see the end of the film because I either got bored with it or my grandparents wanted to watch something else.  For whatever reason, the rather small amount of the film that I did see always stuck in my mind and I figured I'd never figure out what film that was and that it would be lost as another mystery of my small, personal, universe; like whatever happened to that blue toy station wagon I lost at my Aunt Cora's or whatever happened to that binkie I threw across the room in protest of a required nap.

The Wonders of the Internets

Over the past 10 years, with the nearly omnipotent presence that the internet has started to become, memories or information on early lifetime experiences you thought you'd never get the details of have become more easily researchable and accesible.  I've discovered the name of songs I didn't know the names of for years (from age 14 to 22 I knew the sound of but didn't know the name of How Soon Is Now by The Smiths), I've figured out how many goals Brush High School's David Antonelli scored on me and my high school soccer team my senior year (before my coach realized I should be put at forward so I could score goals**), and I've discovered that the girl across the street who I was certain I would marry at age six married another man and has had a baby with him even though she never broke up with me after she asked me to be her boyfriend on the stoop of her front door at approximately age eight (and no, Christina, I don't still love her).

So, when I Googled "people eating white stuff movie" about a week ago based on some minute memory of a movie I wasn't even sure existed, I figured if I kept looking long enough I'd find something.  Obviously it didn't take long, as the film is literally called The Stuff.  I thought I remember trying to do an internet search for this movie a few years ago and not getting any noticeable hits for it, but even if I had the fact is over the past few years you can google just about any poorly interconnected grouping of words looking for some odd ball thing and you'll likely find it if you've got the right kind of descriptors in the search engine.  Once I found out what movie it really was from all those years back, I immediately sought it out for my 2012 Scary Movie Season.

Reunited with the Greatness of My Youth Experience? 

 So after all this time, watching The Stuff was going to be a real treat, right?  IMDB has it ranked at 5.8 (as of this blog post), so it must have something going for it, correct?  Well, the immediate answer to that question is two pronged.  If you are like my girlfriend Christina, who really does enjoy good Horror films but who isn't likely to value the "so bad it's good" type film, then The Stuff likely won't be for you.  However if you are like my brother Douglas Biacofsky was, and would actually call friends over and a whole group of guys would seek out the Godzilla movies or Return of the Alien's Deadly Spawn, then The Stuff is going to be right up your alley.

A simpler way to explain what I tried to describe in that previous paragraph is The Stuff is a B-movie.  B-movie fans are likely the main cause of a 5.8 rating for this film on IMDB.  My girlfriend Christina, though, fell asleep to the film.  Listen, there are interesting things actually going on in The Stuff, if you feel like trying to dissect a film that, on the face of it, doesn't really compel dissection.  However, this is a B-movie, and should be judged as such.  Three things really relegate this film to B-movie standards and the first and most obvious is Larry Cohen.  Larry Cohen is traditionally known as a B-Movie director, though he has done some other work as well (including writing the screenplay for Phone Booth).  Secondly, the story itself is one of the more obvious B-movie style stories you're going to find anywhere.  The premise is probably a dead give away on that but the direction the film goes, as well as the behavior of characters and solutions to conflicts in the film, really seal the deal on stamping The Stuff as a certified B-movie gold.  Lastly (and the thing that I disliked the most about the film), the pacing, continuity, editing, and flow of this movie seemed so much like an amateur hour to me that even if the story was less goofy, you would likely still walk away from the movie whiffing the aroma of a B-movie schlop-fest.

Ironically (and apparently a trademark of Larry Choen) one of the other things this movie has is a set of complex analogies and themes within it that work together about as well as the editing does.  This is a film that pitches liberal ideas to its viewers (the fat cat CEOs of the world are out to enslave you), and promotes the efficacy and value of having conservative militant cult extremists as a backup to protect your rights and freedoms as an American.  Then, after all of that, it essentially expects you to take an anti-drug theme to heart.  The best way I would describe The Stuff, thematically, is schizophrenic.  Having said that, most B-movies don't even attempt to play with such higher end concepts.  So even though it is a mess, I think it deserves credit for having something more than "virgins live, whores die, and the bad guy is never actually dead" tropes going on througout.

Overall, I thought some parts were interesting and I thought some of the special effects were relatively impressive (even if they were The Blob knockoffs).  There was also some fun little humor in it, and the militant cult extremist leader's advice on cab fares will likely live on with me as one of the more pleasantly placed comedic scenes I've ever seen.  But most of my own appreciation stems from a personal enjoyment of B-movies, and I couldn't in good conscience tell people that The Stuff is a horror film must see.

** As a side note, to whichever one of my teammates who thought Antonelli was faster than me because they just had me run around and chase all the through-balls and everything else on defense; you were (and likely still are) an idiot.  

  2012 Fall Scary Movie Season Overall Rankings: 
  1. 9/8:     The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
  2. 9/6:     Ravenous (1999)
  3. 9/13:   Frozen (2010)
  4. 9/8:     ParaNorman (2012)
  5. 9/9:     Infection [Kansen] (2004)
  6. 9/15:   The Stuff (1985) 
  7. 9/7:     The Langoliers (1995)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season: 9/13 - Frozen

Frozen (2010)

I found this film during one of my late night Horror film searches last year.  These searches often consist of me cycling incessantly through the "People who liked this also liked..." feature on IMDB and doing quick top 10/25/50 horror films lists searches on Google.  I have a huge 5 page Microsoft Word document with a list of Horror films I haven't seen before, and most likely 80% of those films I've come to be aware of because of the aforementioned feature on IMDB (and the rest from Google searches).  For whatever reason, as I was going through my list of unseen movies, Frozen popped out as something I thought I should go for and Christina and I agreed the synopsis (about three people trapped on a stuck ski lift) sounded interesting.  Right as I was about to play the film, though, Christina asked a very good question, "So, this is a Horror film, right?".  The question suddenly seemed obviously pertinent, but not easily answerable, so I ran over to its IMDB page and saw that the two genre's the film is attributed to is Drama and Thriller.  No horror tag was in the genre description of Frozen.

Pondering's of a Horror Obsessed Movie Fan

This of course brings up the tired question, "what makes a Horror film a Horror film", and I'm not going to really attack that question too much here.  The easiest way to discern whether a film fits in the Horror genre is to watch it and decide for yourself, and I was already pretty interested in Frozen so we decided to go ahead and start up the film despite any possible genre misplacements.  Interestingly, of all the films I have seen with Christina so far this year, the movie which she doubted (based on the synopsis) was a horror film is the one that freaked her out the most.  Christina never saw the end of this film.  She literally left my apartment after telling me to pause the movie, and she didn't come back until I texted her that it was over.  So, I think this incident alone is indicative that Frozen fits into the Horror genre.

What it comes down to is Frozen is part of a sub-genre of Horror that has really grown and filled out over the past ten or so years; the survival/torture porn sub-genre.  I'm sure such a sub-genre existed before 2002, but after the advent of the Saw franchise and Hostel movies, such a sub-genre has really grown as a more verifiable portion of the Horror family.  A big reason why I describe the sub-genre as "filling itself out" is because of the addition of films like Open Water, The Reef, and the movie that is the focus of this blog post, Frozen.  These are films that, to me, clearly fit under the umbrella made by the Saw and Hostel films, but differentiated themselves by focusing the antagonism not from other humans but rather from mother nature.  However, in contrast to films like The Poseidon Adventure, Twister, and The Day After Tomorrow, movies like Frozen are not natural disaster films as much as they are everyday disaster films.  It is this aspect which really lends to each film the true essence of being part of the horror genre.

Yes I Do Discuss the Film Specifically... Eventually 

In regards to the actual film, Frozen,  I wouldn't describe it as a cutting edge film in any real regard but I felt like it did do its job efficiently, effectively, and with gravitas.  It does follow some tropes; even some typical, well establish, old school Horror ones.  Despite this (or maybe because of) Frozen seemed like one of those films that does that but does it more than well enough to continue to succeed from beginning to end.  Even for a film which is seemingly trying to get to the very simple and instinctive core "fight or flight" fear levels within all of us, there were some things that struck out as rather deep.  For example, I took the urination scene (which you'll figure out if you see the film) as a kind of violent reversion back to the innocence of being a helpless infant.  Perhaps that is what fear and life or death situations does to all of us.  Such a revelation has a kind of spiritual quality to it; it has a way of reminding us how big the universe is and how small we are within it (I could probably even make some kind of Begotten reference as a result of this insight, but I won't.....even though I just did).

There was even some self-awareness in the film as there was a reference to "dying by shark" during the film which had a two pronged level of intrigue to it.  The first is the obvious allusions to the film itself.  Secondly, it seemed to acknowledge its relation in a family/DNA kind of way to the film Open Water, which is the first film I saw that really felt like an "everyday disaster film" and an extension of the Torture-porn sub-genre to Horror.  I also think a big reason why the film works as well as it does is because the characters are relatively well written considering how little we really get to know them.  Everyone knows that the only way to make anything matter in a movie is for you to like the right characters and hate the right characters.  I think Frozen's characters are relatively like-able, particularly if you're in the college age demographic in which case you'll likely identify a little bit more with them.

Anyway, I would say that Frozen is a worthwhile little tale for anyone looking for some rather graphic interpretations of how horror stalks us all even in our everyday world.  It is a middle of the pack film, something that doesn't necessarily stand out unless you sit down and see the film.  Films like this are also fun to watch just to compare how you think you'd handle the situation the characters are in, and nothing seems to happen in the movie that seems terribly outlandish (although everyone will have a different opinion on that subject).  Frozen works as a horror film, so if you're in search of something to see you should be appeased by it.

 2012 Fall Scary Movie Season Overall Rankings: 
  1. 9/8:     The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
  2. 9/6:     Ravenous (1999)
  3. 9/13:   Frozen (2010)
  4. 9/8:     ParaNorman (2012)
  5. 9/9:     Infection [Kansen] (2004)
  6. 9/7:     The Langoliers (1995)

Friday, September 28, 2012

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season: 9/9 - Infection

Infection [Kansen] (2004)

Yes, the Asian horror boom changed the landscape of the horror genre.  Yes, it altered the axis of horror essentially from America to Asia and, no, one recent American masterpiece alone (The Cabin in the Woods) cannot reset the world order of horror.  As far as I know, Asia is still the current king of the hill in horror.  However that doesn't mean that everything it produces is gold, even when a film has a solid rating on something like IMDB.com.  One good example of this, in my opinion, is SilkSilk is not really a bad movie, but it is also not any better than some of the more recent horror films that have come out of Hollywood the past few years to little or no fanfare (From Within would be a good example of this, in my opinion).

The 2004 Japanese offering, Infection, is to me an example of a "J-horror" film that gets some notoriety by riding on the coattails of success from the Asian horror boom of the mid 90s and on.  In my opinion, an American film of similar quality to Infection would be met here in the US with "hmm's and haws" and at most a small cult following a la Session 9 (a film I actually didn't like).  I came away with such a blase feeling for Infection because it seemed to follow many of the typical Asian horror styles and standards but hit none of the high notes typical of a film of its niche.  Those standards include: a disjointed or non-linear storyline, slow build ups to a series of dramatic scenes and to an ultimate crescendo, and a featuring of either a technology or a medical field innovation as plot devices.  But it seemed to lack the visual bite of a Kairo (aka Pulse), or Shutter, or Noroi; each of those three are Asian horror classics which do all the aforementioned stereotypes but hit pay-dirt more.  For me, I had around as difficult a time following the actual details and facts of the story of Infection as I did with Pulse, but even as I was in the confusing maze that is the Pulse plot and story, I was remarking to my friend Ben Somerlot (who saw the film with me during my 2009 Scary Movie Season) how visually stunning and freaky the imagery looked.  I was too entertained and stimulated by the images in Pulse to be upset with its complicated and disjointed storytelling, but Infection didn't have that safety net in comparison and I was only left feeling unfulfilled by it as a result.

Of interesting note, and for contrast, this was my girlfriend Christina's first experience with J-horror, and she was actually very pleased with the film.  While I beamed with pride for having a girlfriend who didn't sulk with the complicated storytelling and who made comments on having to deal with sub-titles, it dawned on me that much of my dislike of Infection is likely a result of the high expectations many of the other Asian horror classics have built up within me.  While I do not wish to be overly critical of one film by comparing it to any other film (or films), I do think (as I've admitted before in my analysis last year of the original Asian film Dark Water) that any Asian horror film now has the responsibility of either living up to the standards of the Asian horror boom, or flopping from criticism from a less than masterpiece film.  It is likely an unfair standard, but then again without such expectations then the Asian horror market would likely start spitting out the spare parts and PG-13 candy-horror that the US market has become saddled with.  It has possible come to that, I don't know what the most recent releases are like in Asia as I'm still working on rounding out the classics from the past 10 to 15 years.

I will give a few votes of confidence to Infection, and the first of those being that it was trying to be different with most of its imagery and visuals.  It doesn't follow the cookie cutter standards of the cross-over generation J-horror, which should be noted and applauded.  Unfortunately, I believe that the different look they go for is a bit droll, but at least they tried.  Upon recollection, I've started pondering if Infection had a similar visual texture to or perhaps if there was a visual inspiration from Re-Animator, only with all the satire and campy look taken out for Infection.  Because of its use of the hospital setting and its story and plot-line, I did think there were some interesting takes on the mentality of those in the medical field.  I don't know much about the system and structure of medical institutions in Japan or in greater Asia, but I suspect that many of the issues with care that we suffer with in the United States are things that everyone everywhere deals with in one way or another.  Snobby doctors, under-trained staff, the stresses of being a doctor, and assembly line style care are the lesser talked about issues in the U.S. because of the insurance debate that rumbles along, but those four types of issues are exactly what Infection seems to focus on.  This is actually one of the strengths of the film as well, assuming you can figure out what is going on with the story to discern as much.

Eventually, when I have to lay my own cards down, I can't help but respond with a "meh" style reaction to Infection.  In my book it is one of the lesser impressive Asian horror movies, so the benefits of seeing it depend on your own interests and experience with Asian or J-horror.  If all you've seen is American remakes of Asian original films, then this should be on the bottom of your must-see list of original Asian horror films.  If you've seen all the classic and buzz-worthy Asian originals, there wouldn't be much harm in checking this one out as it is still a quality production and a relatively interesting flick.

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season Overall Rankings: 
  1. 9/8:    The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
  2. 9/6:     Ravenous (1999)
  3. 9/8:     ParaNorman (2012)
  4. 9/9:     Infection [Kansen] (2004)
  5. 9/7:     The Langoliers (1995)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season: 9/8 - The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

 Movies that make you have the proverbial double take, particularly recent or new releases, are honestly rather rare occurrences.  One can rant and rave about the virus that has become the "remake/reboot era" all one wants, in no era are you going to go into a movie theater every single time (or pop in a DVD or stream a movie, etc) and be truly surprised with what a film shows you or a story does for you.  So when you get a surprise or are left in awe, it should probably be considered a pretty special experience.  Perhaps it has to be that way, if every movie blew you away all the time, we'd likely all get desensitized or burnt out on the subject.

I mentioned in my last blog post how Coraline did that for me, how it surprised me.  That was partly due to not really knowing what I was getting into with the film, but it was also because it was (and is) a special film.  Inception did that for me, too, and The Green Mile, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and Requiem for a Dream are a few more examples of films that got to me in that way.  These types of emotions are not the hallmark of a masterpiece film; while I do still love Jurassic Park it doesn't really compare in cinematic excellence to something like Citizen Kane, but these types of feelings and reactions are what get to the root of the term "movie magic".  In the horror genre, I'm not sure when the last recently produced horror film really did something like that for me.  Perhaps I should qualify that last statement a little bit more; I don't know when the last American, home grown and produced, horror film did that for me.  I could say The Ring, but even if I think the American version is better than the Asian original (as I dodge tomatoes and other vegetables thrown my way from the horror fan-boy snob section), it is still a remake and not an original creation from the US of A.

Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon Go Avengers On Us and Save the Day

But then a few weeks ago I finally saw The Cabin in the Woods, and I finally saw a recent (it was released in April of this year) American horror film which can compete with anything the rest of the world is concocting.  I remember when I first saw previews for it; I honestly thought it was just another of the long list of cookie cutter movies like The Haunting in Connecticut or the recently released Possession (please do note the similarities in the poster imagery), so I didn't rush to the theaters to see it.  Christina (my girlfriend), however, did go see it during its theatrical run and when she came back from the movie she cautiously told me that I should really see the film.  I told her I eventually would, but I felt that her cautious recommendation, as well as some further previews I had seen, made me think that perhaps the secret of the film was something akin to Death Race or Gamer which didn't inspire me much and eventually I forgot about the film during its run in the theaters.  Looking back on it now, my cynicism really cost me a wonderful experience in the movie theaters.

The Cabin in the Woods is, in my estimation, an instant Horror classic.  It's received generally favorable reviews (and raving ones from horror fans) and supports a relatively healthy (though I think it should be higher) 7.3 out of 10 on IMDB.com, so across the board it does seem to be a well liked film.  My affections for the film really go beyond generally favorable.  At least within the horror genre, The Cabin in the Woods is a masterpiece.

I believe it attains such status so easily because it works on a magnitude of levels; its special effects are dynamite, its story is as strong as a brick house, and its characters could perhaps be its strongest foundation.  The Cabin in the Woods knows the Horror genre’s past and present, and this cognizance spills out of nearly every scene in the film.  While taking a peak at what others have said about the film I saw a quick reference to how The Cabin in the Woods was the best thing from American Horror since Scream, and I can basically agree with this.  There is a good association between the two because of the strong satirical view they share, as well as both being self-reflexive, and both respective films take a look inwardly and outwardly at a genre (horror) that so often gets stuck in the muck of stereotypes and clich├ęs.  However, where Scream turned into a franchise that often flirted with collapsing within itself due to its satire and parody, The Cabin in the Woods intends on making a more resilient and bold statement loud and clear within its own 95 minute run time.

That bold statement is a multifaceted commentary about the film industry (perhaps specifically for horror) and humanity in general.  From sociopolitical issues and religious pondering, to industry specific zingers and Horror references, this film isn't just about boobs and blood; it has something to say.  I mean, as humans in a growing world economy where the butterfly effect theory seems to be increasingly more applicable to world markets, social networks, and eco-environments, one has to start wondering how we can keep it all together while we continue to forge ahead.  How do we deal with these huge, complicated, and now global systems?  How do we agree to disagree, and how do we recognize the difference between needing to fight for what you believe in or knowing when it is time to sacrifice?  This is legitimate thought material that The Cabin in the Woods seems to raise, and it does it in such a way that if you don’t want to engage in such a thought process, you can just sit back and marvel at some of the coolest death scenes and blood and gore this side of the Final Destination franchise.

In reference to the special effects and the ensuing chaos from some of the incredible scenes in the film, after I had finished the movie I actually went back to certain scenes and re-watched them.  I even attempted to watch them in slow motion, which is something I haven’t really tried to do to a movie since perhaps when I was 13 and watching Jurassic Park on VHS (although I might have done it for the highway scene in Final Destination 2).  That’s how excited this film got me from what it did and how it did it, which is why I started this whole blog off with a rant on how rare it is for a film to really get you amped up about watching movies.

I'll Finish Up My Love-Fest, I Promise

I don’t even really want to get into some of the styles, references, and tributes to Horror this film has within it because I feel I'm starting to feel aware of the length of this post, but I'll touch on some of it quickly.  The synopsis alone tells you that there would be obvious Evil Dead references, and from there the film touches on all kinds of things from the 70s and 80s Horror eras to the recent Asian Horror boom.  For a horror fan, The Cabin in the Woods really has it all.  It even goes beyond story concept and imagery references and offers you cameo appearances, which completely surprised me and only further enhanced my growing love affair with the film during my first viewing of it.  As a matter of fact I, more than once, turned to Christina (who watched the film again with me) and gushed about how much I already loved the movie.

Just when I thought there was nothing else about The Cabin in the Woods that could possible make me squeal like a kid in a candy store anymore, because the credits were rolling, I was again surprised.  I actually threw my arms up almost appalled that the movie’s end credits song was Last by Nine Inch Nails (my favorite band of all time).  It was the original recording by Trent Reznor himself off the Broken EP, not a cover (which I at first thought it might be).  This is a song from 1992, and a movie from 2012 is playing it during its end credits.  It was at this point that I felt justified in saying that the creators of this movie had vision, and it isn’t just a fluke due to some cool images or a story that I thought worked.  And in the end, I think it's quite apparent that much of what the films creators were doing with The Cabin in the Woods were flinging their collective middle fingers at the movie industries cookie cutter expectations and opinion polls film designing about what needs to be done to be a successful film.  Much of the commentary of the film is probably as much their own angst over the Horror genre today as much as it is with the problems of the world and their views on society.  And in that, this film fulfills one of my favorite things about a movie; it is complex and there is a lot to think about with what the film is trying to say.

So how smart is too smart?  Is there ever a point of over-immunity?  Can we actually be getting too good for our own good in society, and could that be why there are certain institutions in our midst always trying to keep us deaf, dumb, and blind?  Maybe such institutions are needed for such purposes.  Or, is The Cabin in the Woods just a simple Horror movie and the writers and directors simply wanted to give the Asian movie makers a run for their money?  You be the judge and rush to see The Cabin in the Woods.

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season Overall Rankings: 
  1. 9/8:    The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
  2. 9/6:     Ravenous (1999)
  3. 9/8:     ParaNorman (2012)
  4. 9/7:     The Langoliers (1995)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season: 9/8 - ParaNorman

ParaNorman (2012)

I went to see Coraline when it came out in the theaters in 2009, but when I went to see it I didn't exactly know what I was getting myself into.  When I walked out of the theaters, I was blown away by it, and I consider Coraline one of my more surprising film experiences to date.  ParaNorman is another branch off the same family tree that Coraline shares, and this family tree has rather exhaustive offshoots and roots which ultimately lead you to the godfather of them all; no, not The Nightmare Before Christmas but Tim Burton's 1982 six minute short film Vincent which can be seen right here:



ParaNorman is not affiliated with Tim Burton in any real way, nor is Henry Selick involved either.  But the director of ParaNorman (Chris Butler) did work on story boarding and art on Corpse Bride and Coraline which makes the blood line of this film to Tim Burton's earlier stop animation work more obvious.  The blood-line in question seems to look like this:
  1. Vincent
  2. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  3. James and the Giant Peach
  4. Corpse Bride
  5. Coraline
  6. ParaNorman
I'm restricting this family tree to the fine art of stop motion, but you could make a case for 9 being involved in this record as well.  Now, generally I'm not one to delve deeply into actor/director backgrounds when trying to talk of my impressions from a movie, but in this case the history helps outline my overall critique of ParaNorman.  For the sake of argument, I'm going to count Vincent as rather equitable to the rest of the films even though it only last six minutes.  With that in mind, I divide these six works into two categories; the films that seem to have a deep essence to them and succeed really well (Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline), and the films that are wonderful to look at and are relatively entertaining but seem like second fiddles to the first category (James and the Giant Peach, Corpse Bride, and now ParaNorman)

I enjoyed ParaNorman, and there were some features to the film that I really loved, but it didn't grab me the way Coraline or The Nightmare Before Christmas did.  There are some tangible reasons I have for this opinion, but before I get into them I want to recognize that this is just my opinion.  My girlfriend Christina, who saw ParaNorman with me, actually enjoyed it more than Coraline and felt it was a better film overall.  I might also agree with an assertion that ParaNorman is far more compatible as strictly a children's film than Coraline is.  Coraline is bit more haunting and angsty than ParaNorman, which might make ParaNorman smoother to swallow for kids.  But if my opinion is to be featured (and this is my blog, after all), then it's the distractions and flaws of ParaNorman that most stuck out for me, and which keep it from attaining the higher levels of film excellence that some of its family ancestry have achieved.

So what distractions does ParaNorman have?  Well, for me, it was hard not feeling like there was a strong liberal bias in this movie.  So much so that I was distracted by it.  Now some of that might be related to the overall theme of the film (which I will let you discover upon seeing the film), but in the end I believe there is evidence that when they were creating this film they were also trying to infuse it with a definite liberal world view.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing (depending of course on your beliefs), but it felt too heavy handed and distracting, or at least to my adult eyes.  Kids aren't going to be concerned about the sociopolitical message of the film and if I was to review the film only from a "is this a good kid-movie" perspective I would give it a very high rating.  However, if an adult card carrying republican sees this film, they will likely be growling at a number of things.  I generally don’t pay attention to such things as the black or white “this is a liberal movie” or “this is a conservative movie” debates and complaints, but either some things in this film were just too obvious or I am getting old and crotchedy and I’m going to start talking about how hard it was walking through snow to get to school.

Putting those complaints aside, though, there are some things worth praising about ParaNorman.  For one thing, it is as impeccably created as all of its ancestors in terms of animation.   It's wonderfully put together and imagined, and the imagery enhances the film.  Secondly, I was as giddy as a school girl with some of the horror genre references that were placed throughout the film.  Having the main character's cell phone ringtone be the Halloween theme was a quaint touch and the obvious Halloween scene reference (with a Jason Voorhees twist) was really fun.  I also couldn't help but notice some general feelings of relation to The Fog, mostly as a result of the small town feel of Blithe Hollow and the era in which the "curse" originated (American Puritanical period).  However that might have more to do with my obsession with The Fog than any intentional referencing.  I also felt an odd sense of similarity to certain aspects of Silent Hill, and as I was going through the cast and crew I noticed that the girl (Jodelle Ferland) who voiced Aggie in ParaNorman also played the little girl in Silent Hill.  So I think the similarity is perhaps intentional there.

In the end I'm likely being a bit nit-picky on ParaNorman.  The film was pretty good, and I was entertained.  I think my biggest problem is that I keep comparing it to its brethren and, for me, it just didn’t seem quite as moody or aesthetically creative as Coraline or The Nightmare Before Christmas is, but I did like it a lot more than James and the Giant Peach or Corpse Bride.  By all means, take your kids to see this while it's in the theater, they will like it.  You'll probably enjoy it relatively well, also, but I don't think this film can broach any masterpiece or cult classic talk.


2012 Fall Scary Movie Season Overall Rankings: 
  1. 9/6:     Ravenous (1999)
  2. 9/8:     ParaNorman (2012)
  3. 9/7:     The Langoliers (1995)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season: 9/7 - The Langoliers

The Langoliers (1995)

I originally found this film through research looking for other "alien abduction" style movies like The UFO Incident, Communion, and Fire in the Sky.  I think I categorized it as an alien abduction movie based on comments I saw on a message board somewhere, either on IMDB or just from google searching.  Based on all this, and after watching this film, let me make this a cautionary tale: do not categorize a movie based on how someone describes it on a message board.  Perhaps this is a bit of a spoiler, but The Langoliers is not an alien abduction movie.  It's not even close.  The Langoliers also isn't a good movie, it is also not even close in that regard either.

Apparently The Langoliers was a TV miniseries, like Intruders (which I saw last year).  Intruders is an example of a clear cut alien abduction film, and like Intruders, The Langoliers was made for multiple episodes which makes for a very crawling pace and leaves the film length at an amazing 180 minutes.  Listen, I'm not the kind of guy who complains about the run-time of movies simply on the merits that a movie isn't allowed to last anything more than 90 to 120 minutes.  Great movies are allowed to be long.  Gone with the Wind is an incredible 238 minutes long, and in the 73 years since its release I don't think there have been many, "boy those scenes were so pointless, they could have chopped off an hour to that film" type critiques.  The Godfather is 175 glorious minutes long and its sequel is 200 minutes long (which I have never even realized even though I've seen the film multiple times).  Schindler's List checks in at 195 minutes, and if you've chosen to see that film it's unlikely that its length is going to be a sticking point in any critique of it.  Even horror films are allowed to be long; The Shining clocks in at 142 minutes.

My point is, a critique of a films length is relative to the quality and usefulness of the time it takes to tell its story.  The aforementioned films earned their right to be that long by being great.  The Langoliers, on the other hand, is a former TV miniseries based on a novella (a novella!) by Stephen King.  And it's not even a good miniseries.  Even Stephen King, a man who wrote the Dark Tower series (have you seen the length of The Green Mile?) knew that this story was only worth a novella.  And yet this movie version of the miniseries still clocked in at 180 minutes.  It is essentially a travesty, because a shorter film with even the same quality of production, story, and acting would have been measurably better.  It still wouldn't have been great, but it would have been better.

So why is it so bad?  Well, maybe it's just a bad story, which means someone somewhere along the line should have said, "yes I know it's a Stephen King creation, but can't we pick something else of his that hasn't been turned into a movie yet?".  The film only ever moves forward when one of the (basically stock) characters goes Johnny "plot device" Hammersticks on us and, viola, progress then ensues.  A case could be made that almost every character in the story is more plot device than anything else.  That's a bad sign, and that judgement goes more to the source material and less to the movie.  I've never read the story in text form by Stephen King, so I'm not sure were the weakness of the story as a whole ends and the weakness of the production as a miniseries/film begins, but in the end it's all moot because a film is made to be watched and watching this film is not a particularly pleasant experience.  What baffles my mind is the people at IMDB rating The Langoliers at a whooping 5.9 out of 10, which is astronomically high considering how bad I feel the film is.  Perhaps there were better payoffs when it was viewed as a miniseries and maybe the breaks between each dragged out sequence helped ease the digestion of the film, but ultimately the ending of it all proves too disappointing to imagine it being worthwhile even when it was shown as a miniseries.

I mention the acting being bad, and the worst of it is done by a dynamic duo of cardboard acting; Kate Maberly, who plays the blind girl and who is arguably the most important plot device in the whole film, and
Bronson Pinchot, whose character might be the other most important plot device (or the most annoying person in the film, even more annoying than the little blind girl).  It appears that Kate Maberly had received critical success from her performance in The Secret Garden before The Langoliers and she has continued to work, and apparently has continued to thrive moderately, at acting.  Bronson Pinchot, on the other hand, was plugged into everyone's households in the late 80s/early 90s with his co-starring in the hit sitcom Perfect Strangers.  So these are two people who are serviceable actors, but it didn't seem to work for them in this film as they were bad enough that they added to the laundry list of distractions.  To further defend the two aforementioned actors, it should really be said that nobody seemed to act well in the film.  This again proves that the blame rests either on the screenplay or the source material itself as even the best actors will become victims to material they are given when it is bad enough.  And there are some other good actors here as well, including one of the earlier works I've seen of David Morse, who later on has a great performance in another Stephen King move adaption; The Green Mile.  So I don't believe it is a lack of acting talent in this production which further contributed to the films demise.

No, in the end, it has to be the story with some added help by poor screenwriting and direction.  It seems to me that Stephen King was scraping the bottom of the barrel when he concocted this one; he is using all his own familiar tropes.  He uses a kid with extra powers of perception in the blind girl, and a writer is one of the characters on the plane (both relating to The Shining).  It appears as though King was watching a few episodes of The Twilight Zone and decided to throw this together as a novella before he got started on dinner one night.  Lastly, this film features a freeze frame.  Christina, who watched this film with me, actually shook me after the film was over ranting that the movie ended on a freeze frame.  The freeze frame even had a person jumping for joy right at the point of freezing, as if this was the ending to an episode of The Baby-Sitters Club.  Perhaps of all the things I could rant about, the freeze frame is the clearest indictment of the low quality of this film.

There isn't much of a reason to watch this film.  At most it might be interesting for those who saw it in the 90s and are looking for some nostalgia, or if you'd like to see some not so well done mid 90s CGI use in a film of that time period.  Neither of those reasons are enough, in my mind, to sit through this one.

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season Overall Rankings: 
  1. 9/6:     Ravenous (1999)
  2. 9/7:     The Langoliers (1995)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season: 9/6 - Ravenous

Ravenous (1999)

The first movie seen for my 2012 Scary Movie Season, Ravenous, is a solid little indie film that has been sitting in a pile of blue tinted DVDs ever since the end of my Scary Movie Season last year.  Thanks to the beauty of DVR, DVD recorders, and too much free time, I was able to record a version of Ravenous off of IFC (onto a blue tinted DVD, hence that previous reference).  I call Ravenous an indie film not because of large quantities of research I performed on the production, funding, and politics of the making of the film but rather simply because I saw it from a viewing of it on the Independent Film Channel.  I would venture to say that the film does have an "indie" feel to it, but I wouldn't trust my own opinion on that due to the platform I saw the film on (a TV channel purported to support independent films).  Regardless, the quality of the film is not of any question; the visuals and the acting come across very clean and are capable of getting even an ornery viewer absorbed into the story.

One such ornery viewer would be my companion to much of this years Scary Movie Season; my girlfriend Christina Zwilling.  Ms. Zwilling was not particularly taken by the initial few scenes of the movie, and let such feelings be known through minor bellyaches only minutes into the movie that she didn't like the music being used in some of the early scenes and the story was boring and didn't seem to be going anywhere.  I, on the other hand, was relatively copacetic with the early offerings of the film, though I did feel a little let down that the stylings of the film were not going to be heavy handed in the spiritual or obviously otherworldly.  Of course, some of the most interesting films don't require pure ghosts and demons to play the horror card, which in the end (depending I suppose on your interpretations) Ravenous seems to prove.

Ravenous is a film that does not fit easily in a stereotype, unless there is a stereotype for movies that try to be something other than a cliche.  A good example is the music throughout the film which generally does not fit with the period in which it is set (American Civil War era North America), and can grate against what ones expectations might be for a horror film.  However, Ravenous succeeds because it eventually finds a nook in your consciousness and cuddles up with it and gets comfortable.  By the end of the film, Christina was remarkably remarking how she actually liked the music, and I was equally compelled with the minimalistic approach on the nature of the film.

And there are a lot of reasons the film can achieve this other than what music it uses; the acting is really top notch.  I assume this movie is one of the earlier Guy Pearce features, particularly if you think that Memento was his break out film.  Mr. Pearce indeed does very well in this film, but interestingly he isn't what most propels the film.  The standout (in my mind) has to be Robert Carlyle.  His vigor and cadence in filling out the multiple angles to his character seem to be the driving force of the film.  Really Ravenous has some seasoned actors in it beyond just the two aforementioned fellows; Jeffery Jones is another key pillar in the film.  I've come to enjoy Mr. Jones's work, and I always seem to remember him from his turn not as a cohort of Lucifer in The Devils Advocate, but rather his work in playing a similar role contextually in Stay Tuned.  There are other noticeable faces in the film who fill out the rest of the cast, including David Arquette doing his own best David Arquette impersonation.

Something of interesting note that I picked up on the film was some similarities thematically with Interview with the Vampire.  Between the obvious blood/flesh connection and the more of a stretch (from a Ravenous point of view) sexuality angle, there seems to be something to talk about here.  However, it is the interaction and the conflict between Pearce's character and Carlyle's character that bear the most interesting obvious resemblance between the characters of Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt) in Interview with the Vampire, and it is that which makes the strongest case for similarities of the two films.  Like most things, one could interpret that each film is either incredibly like each other or are polar opposites, depending on your tastes and vision, but I think my comparisons are still apt regardless.

There are certainly some things to complain about, as well, but they seem to be nothing but minor ones and they are at most debatable.  Logic issues, pertaining to injuries and recovery in relation to a core element of the film, might be a place where someone who decides to rail against the film might start.  From my perspective these possible issues aren't even remotely capable of distracting from the film.  Additionally, when I tried to raise them with Christina (who initially was not liking the film) she scoffed at them and declared that she really liked the movie during the credit roll.

Ravenous is certainly worth a look and it was a good foot forward to start the season.

2012 Fall Scary Movie Season Overall Rankings: 
  1. 9/6:     Ravenous (1999)