Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Whole Bunch of Films That I've Watched Recently

Sometimes I get an urge to just throw myself into movies. In particular, after compiling my "top ten horror films," I was sad to realize that my period of really studying and enjoying movies ended around 1989. I have digested a huge number of movies since then, but I haven't actually SAVOURED them.

Part of this is because I worked at a video store during the '90s. Rentals were free for me, and my obsessive nature lead me to work alphabetically through the various sections of the store. I wasn't picking a movie because I WANTED to see it, I was picking it because it was the next one on the shelf, regardless of quality or desire. Gradually my senses dulled.

How do I find new movies to love? I don't think that's very likely; I no longer have the free time that I had when I was younger, when I could just sit around and watch my favourite films over and over again. Plus I feel guilty and unproductive when I do that sort of thing.

But I HAVE decided to watch some films I've always wanted to see, and re-watch movies I saw a few years ago that I really liked, and also to gorge myself on a whole bunch of new horror movies (because I'm on a bit of a kick right now).

So here's a taste of what I've been watching. You may wonder why a lot of these movies start with the letter "A." Yup, I'm doing the alphabetical thing again...but I'm actually skipping the movies that look crappy, which I think is a step up from my old technique.

Alone in the Dark

Oh wow, a uniformly AWFUL film. Rarely do you have the opportunity to sit through a movie where EVERYTHING is bad...so bad that it could only have been planned that way.

The stinky badness was painful to watch, but you might enjoy Tara Reid playing a serious, brainy scientist. She's obviously a very stupid person in real life and she can't hide her inability to enunciate her words. Plus they gave her outrageous hoochie-girl make-up -- candy-pink blush and lipgloss...and then put ugly glasses on her as if to say, "see, she's smart!" No, she isn't.

During the special features the director brags that they shot more than 20,000 bullets during a single scene. If you judge movies on that basis alone, I guess you should see this. But on every critical measurement known to humankind, "Alone in the Dark" failed.

An American Haunting

I love a good lead-up and an unconventional structure, but there is such a thing as TOO MUCH suspense. What started off as a creepy Poltergeist tale quickly degenerated into "then the next night, THIS happened, and the following night, THIS happened, and then the next night..."

A stylish film, well-acted, with some striking images. Also a surprisingly up-front message about child sexual abuse. But jeez, it just went on and on.

I like Donald Sutherland in his pilgrim outfit. Sissy Spacek less so.

American Psycho

Really fabulous, actually, and not a horror movie; it's a tense satire and very funny.

I read the book when it came out and I'm surprised that the filmmakers preserved the spirit of the story -- a socially-created empty shell of a human moves through a world of equally empty human creatures -- while shying away from the gruesome stuff. I kept waiting for the nailgun to appear and I'm glad they chose to (mostly) omit it.

My only complaint is that Christian Bale comes across as too goofy-manic in certain scenes. And I suppose it's inevitable that an extra layer of "'80s retro" veneer was added; it would be difficult to contextualize the film's events without playing up the music and the hairstyles of the time, being as the characters are so immersed in their vacuous culture.

The most amusing and understated theme in the book was the way that identities were constantly confused, because everybody wanted to look and act alike and nobody really CARED about anybody else. This wasn't so explicit in the movie, which might lead viewers to a certain hypothesis about "what actually happened." The book, however, was more ambiguous.

The Holy Mountain

I finally crumpled and bought the Alejandro Jodorowsky box set.

This particular film continues to amaze me, especially in its remastered form. I still can't believe they built those sets, filmed those scenes, and tortured those animals. It is uniformly beautiful and awe-inspiring, and even has a somewhat significant plot (albeit cloyingly shaman-zen-enlightenment-ish). The extremely funny middle portion helps you get through it all.

Where else will you see an elderly man, naked, squirting milk from the leopard-heads attached to his nipples? Nowhere. "The Holy Mountain" is unlike anything else. It's a freakshow, yes, but a SINCERE freakshow.


Lame-brained, poorly-acted, go-nowhere story that really, really wants to be "The Ring." I haven't seen the Japanese original and now I don't want to. After seeing a bunch of people become disfigured in somewhat gruesome ways, it's amusing to have a late-appearing crap actor scream to us what's really going on: "They TAKE YOUR LIFE FORCE! YAAARGH! They take away everything that makes you YOU! You end up walkin' around...LIKE A ZOMBIE! YOU STOP CARING ABOUT STUFF! OH, the agony, the terror!"

Sort of like being told that the Alien gives you a bad case of indigestion, then expecting you to feel pathos and fear. Especially when all the characters seem like zombies from the very beginning.

A sign of everything that is bad about Hollywood.

Silent Hill

It's a testament to the film that I didn't realize it was based on a videogame, though I suspected something was up when she had to memorize a map and solve a light/dark puzzle near the end.

Incredible, INCREDIBLE nightmare visuals thanks to the choreographed grace of the monsters (note to directors: put more dancers in prosthetics!) One of the best soundtracks I've heard in a long time. The acting wasn't up to snuff but there were a few bright spots, and everybody seemed totally into the project.

I have to admit, though, that I'm getting awfully sick of desaturated visuals. Turn up the chroma, people! I know that a grey/blue colour scheme communicates death and despair, but it's SO overdone now. Can't we move on to a different digital effect?

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