Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wait a minute! I like "Batman and Robin"?!

There has got to be a secret cult of people who love Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Where is this group because I want to join! This is the one with Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), and Batman and Robin (George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell). Joel Schumacher apologized for this movie! I watched it on TV recently because I wanted to see the scene where Uma Thurman transforms from her nerdy scientist persona into Poison Ivy and for some reason I kept watching. Whoo boy is this a bad movie. But, something about it changed for me this time around. Instead of hating Arnold Schwarzenegger’s constant “Everybody chill” or “Cool party” one-liners, neon set pieces, batsuit nipples, and Chris O’Donnell, now I think I like them. Ok, maybe not Chris O’Donnell. But, Batman pulls out the Batman credit card for cheesy-goodness sake! And Mr. Freeze gives a really great stink eye! Batman and Robin is one mess of a movie, but it is a fun mess. What makes this movie so different from other campy flicks? Why did I first hate this movie and find it blasphemous to the Batman genre? Is it its self awareness? its Hollywood budget? its big name actors? There are plenty of campy movies that are self aware or are campy for the sake of camp like Grindhouse, Cabin Fever, even my beloved Army of Darkness. So that can’t be its supposed downfall. Maybe it’s the big name actors? But wait, Arnold is in this and he used to be a king of camp and cheese, with such beauties as Conan the Barbarian, Running Man, Total Recall, and his introduction to the world Pumping Iron. So what is so different here? He is practically the same loveable powerhouse of muscles goofball he is in all of these movies. And Uma Thurman plays Poison Ivy like a femme fatal, a vamp with an over acting swagger. This movie has also been accused by critics of being homoerotic because of the close up shots of Batman and Robin’s butt, cod piece, oh and the nipples. Now since when is this a bad thing? I think if Batman and Robin were made in the 80’s it would be a cult classic. It blows a loving kiss to the campy original 60’s TV shows and movie. I know I am giving this movie a lot of credit, but something turned my cold stone heart into a warm loving embrace for Batman and Robin. And I don’t feel I need to apologize like Joel Schumacher did.

Oh and I added some links over to the side of my page! Everyone should check them out, especially because if you were ever scared as a kid or like movies at all, then you will love this site!

Friday, March 13, 2009

For the Love of Boring/Slow Movies: Part 1

There are endless amounts of films out there that are boring. And usually “slow” equals boring or vice-versa, but for the sake of keeping it simple let’s just stick with boring. Here are some examples of some of my favorite, most boring movies!

I will go ahead and start with a movie that for about 15 years was my “number one”. “Blade Runner” directed by Ridley Scott is a fantastic unfaithful sci-fi adaption of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Whenever I talk to people about “Blade Runner” I always make the mistake of mentioning that it is a perfect film, which a friend of mine once replied “Isn’t it kind of boring.” In my mind I am thinking “I know, isn’t that great!” When you realize that this is technically a sci-fi action movie it makes it seem even more boring. There are long drawn out scenes of replicants harassing their human counterparts, beautiful long shots of the cityscape, and Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachel (Sean Young) staring at one another. The movie seems to go on endlessly, but because you are so sucked in by its gorgeous story and set you don’t notice until maybe the second or third viewing. For me it took about the 12th viewing. I went to see the recent release of the director’s cut of the director’s cut …cut on big screen. I was so excited and the movie was awesome even though it was the first time I really realized how boring the film really is. Remember, boring does not mean bad.

“Dune” may be the longest movie in history. Of course it really isn’t, but it sure seems like it is, especially if you put it on in the evening and curl up in your bed to fall asleep to it and hours later you wake up and it is still on. By morning the credits are rolling. Yes this is an exaggeration and “Dune” is wonderful. There are so many weird things about this movie. Only David Lynch could turn a quintessential sci-fi book into a weird unique film. The scene when the Atreides family, including Paul (played by the all around badass Kyle MacLachlan), are getting ready to board the “ship” to head to Arrakis they all turn around to pose and the Duke Leto Atreides is holding a pug dog in his arms. This is such a hilarious and random thing to have him holding this silly little puppy for a dramatic scene. The first introduction to the evil Barron Harkonnen is unforgettable. If you haven’t seen this movie you should. Just make sure you are fully awake and ready.

There is the original masterpiece “Night of the Living Dead”, the incredible and socially aware “Dawn of the Dead”, and then there is the least liked and most boring “Day of the Dead”. A group of army men and scientists try and get along underground after the whole country has been taken over by the undead. There is constant fighting between the tough guys and the scientists to the point of boredom. However, there is one extra special treat in this underrated third installment. A scientist manages to teach a zombie how to behave by giving him human flesh as treats if he does well. The zombie, who the scientist lovingly calls “Bub”, remembers from before he turned into a flesh eating monster how to listen to head phones and shoot a gun! Although the movie seems really long and there is a lot of yelling it is essential to the dead series and is one of my favorite zombie movies.

Almost all movies become watchable if they are on “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”. Most people know what MST3K is, but for those of you who don’t, it is about a guy and two robots, who, are forced to sit in a theatre and watch bad movies and to make it more bearable they make fun of them. We are watching them…watch and make fun of horrible movies, it’s fantastic. Anyway, there is one movie that I absolutely loved that was shown on MST3K and was replayed on Comedy Central over and over again called “Alien from L.A”. I watched it constantly growing up. It stars Kathy Ireland (yep, the model) as a “nerd” whose father goes missing in an underground world. She goes off to find him and returns to the surface world as a new woman. Sounds great right? So I went out and bought this movie and watched it without the MST3K guys there to make it hilarious. And guess what? It is really boring. It’s not because nothing is going on; because there is a lot that goes on; it is because everything that happens is nonsensical and dull. But, I still loved it! I have tried showing this to other people and they have a hard time sitting through it. Oh well, you should give it a try! The drawing that is accompanying this is about as good as the movie.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Follow up to "Body Double"

Even though this movie may have been made out of spite, to me it came across as a labor of love.  Perhaps that makes it more personal. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brian De Palma's "Body Double" (1984)

“Of course the ending of the Production Code was a good thing and filmmakers should have full control over what they show and not show the audience, and showing a graphic scene doesn’t automatically devalue a film or the filmmaker’s art by any means. It is just interesting to me that the more horrifying movies I have seen only give you hints and glimpses of a monster or murder. I’m going to get more into this later.”

Earlier I had written a short paragraph about directors showing graphic violence and the amount of imagination directors require from their audience today, specifically in horror films. With the thrasher movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween (including their even gorier recent remakes) the movies themselves became about the killing scene or the sex scene. How many different ways can Jason or Michael kill? How many beautiful early twenty somethings can we see f*** and then get slashed? There are also the torture films like Saw or Hostel where the purpose is to watch bad people getting brutally tortured or killed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and these movies are self aware, of course. I understand the transition from fearing what we don’t see (the idea of the monster in our imaginations) to fearing what we do see (the monster). However there is an undeniable difference in graphic violence adding to a story and it being the story. Sometimes the movie itself is just about the gore or the torture. Sometimes the story, even the simplest one, gets lost. Or maybe that is the point. However some of the greatest films are specifically gory or graphic. Examples are: Dawn of the Dead (George Romero), Dead Alive (Peter Jackson), the Evil Dead series (Sam Raimi), Scanners (David Cronenberg), Body Double (Brian De Palma). I could go on and on. This will probably be an ongoing conversation with myself, so feel free to leave comments! Now onto a review of one of the movies I mentioned above, “Body Double”.

Supposedly this film was made in response to critics disliking the director’s previous films, calling them misogynist. The director, Brian De Palma, has been accused of stealing from Hitchcock as well for several of his movies, which he does. I like to think of him as a Hitchcock without the Production Code (see earlier review for description), or if Hitchcock made films in the 80’s. For “Body Double” and in earlier films like “Dressed to Kill”, De Palma uses Hitchcock’s tools and takes it to an over-the-top level. “Body Double” is a trashy sexed-up, dirty, gory, weird mix of “Rear Window” and “Vertigo”. I love it! Can you blame someone who steals from a master? And I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it stealing. Every artist is a thief in one way or another, using or recycling each other’s ideas.

The main character, Jake Scully, played by Craig Wasson (looks like he could be a stunt double for Bill Maher) is a struggling actor in Hollywood who because of his severe claustrophobia has lost his acting job as a vampire along with his apartment and girlfriend. He is asked by a friend to house sit a ridiculous spaceship-like apartment that’s propped up on an edge of a cliff over- looking the Hollywood Hills and a neighbor’s window. With the help of a telescope and his friend’s suggestion, he watches his neighbor Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton, former miss USA contestant). Every night she dances seductively in front of her window. Jake can’t look away and becomes an obsessive voyeur, later following her into a mall in an amazing sequence of cat and mouse. In the ending of the mall scene he sees her throw away panties she just bought. He picks them up, sniffs them and then pockets them. This is a great detail, showing this guy’s furthering sexual fascination with this stranger. This guy is a pervert, but we are all perverts, I think, in our own way. Later he witnesses her murder that is in true slasher-flick gore excessiveness; she is murdered with a giant drill, essentially getting penetrated. Then we are introduced to the porn actress Holly Body, played with true spunk by Melanie Griffith. Jake and Holly together try and solve the murder mystery. In order to meet Holly, Jake becomes a brief extra in a porn movie. During their porn shoot there is a scene in the movie that turns into a music video for the 80’s group Frankie Goes to Hollywood and their single “Relax”. I loved this song and it’s over the top, homosexual metaphor for men cumming. “Hit me with your laser beam!” This combined with the campy visuals and sex; the film seduced me and opened up a whole world of cheesy 80’s pop music. I know most of what I have described of this movie so far might sound horrible to many people, but think back to an experience you have had with a movie you saw when you were younger and I’ll tell you my experience with this film…

I saw this movie when I was about twelve. Seeing this movie as a twelve year old girl was such a weird exposure; it excited me. The combination of sex and violence jump started my awareness of my own sexuality and at the same time conforming me into a culture in which sex and violence are so ingrained it is a norm, especially for women, where they are both the victim and the intended audience in horror. This movie is sexist and the women in it are the objects of men’s desire and also the victims of the phallic drill. However, all of the players are such caricatures of themselves, almost like they are puppets in a funhouse that is called Hollywood. It is so phony and cheesy and has that air that most 80’s B movies have, that dream like foggy quality. For some reason I love this film. This is the best “B” movie you will ever watch and one of my favorite movies. Maybe those who love this movie as well can tell me why, so I can better understand why I do.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Leave it to the Imagination and Review of "Let the Right One In"

I have recently been reading a book called The Shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho: Creating Cinematic Suspense and Terror by Philip J. Skerry. The book gives an in depth look at the shower scene in Psycho. There is a chapter in which he is interviewing Janet Leigh, the star of the first half of the movie before she is killed in the famous scene. The author asks her about her thoughts on contemporary cinema “showing” the audience every detail of sex or violence and whether or not the ending of The Production Code in 1968 contributed to what Janet Leigh thought of as films taking away imagination: “An audience doesn’t have to think anymore, isn’t given the privilege of imagining anymore.” The Production Code was a set of moral guidelines that censored what movies could show that the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) adopted as what we now know as the Motion Picture Association of America’s film rating system which uses a rating system (G through NC17). The author and Ms. Leigh thought that movies today show all and the audience isn’t required to fill in the blanks with their imagination. For instance you are shown a brief glimpse of a knife coming down toward the girl in the shower and then another shot of it coming back up and then a shot of a mouth open and screaming. There is no shot of the knife going into flesh. We fill in those blanks with our mind, our imagination. When I was talking about this with one of my friends she said “whatever is in your imagination is always scarier than what is on the screen”. I agree with this. In contemporary horror you see the knife enter flesh you see it tear skin, and you also almost always see the monster, whether creature or human. Of course the ending of the Production Code was a good thing and filmmakers should have full control over what they show and not show the audience, and showing a graphic scene doesn’t automatically devalue a film or the filmmaker’s art by any means. It is just interesting to me that the more horrifying movies I have seen only give you hints and glimpses of a monster or murder. I’m going to get more into this later. But first this brings me to my second review of a movie that only gives us hints and glimpses, subtly and at the same time violently.

White, cold snow and silence in Blackeberg a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden is the set of Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In”. This is a quiet, subtle, beautiful yet brutal/violent movie about two twelve year old children and their found bond with one another. The two children are a boy who is lonely, bullied, and has golden hair and a pale face and his friend, a girl, who isn’t actually twelve at all, just stuck in a twelve year old body and mind. She is a vampire. Eli the vampire, played by Lena Leandersson, has an incredible and beautiful face. Her eyes are huge and they have an eerie gleam to them. When you first get a close up of her face you know at once she is a monster; not all human. Oskar, the boy played by Kare Hedebrant, is tormented at school by bullies and finds friendship with the vampire Eli who moves in next door. She has a companion, who is an old man, and they share a strange relationship that later turns sad and lonely as the film unfolds. This vampire isn’t a romanticized one who is seductive or who has the trademark fangs like in “Twilight” or even “True Blood”, the two more recent additions to the vampire genre. She is more creature-like, a monster. There is no full showing of her as the monster however. We only get beautiful hints….

Whenever Eli moves she has these subtle actions or gestures that make her look like she is an animal, quick and light. It seems that gravity does not have any effect on her at times. There is one scene where the two friends walk into a completely dark room and before Oskar turns on the lights you see her eyes glowing as they try to get used to the light. Or, when the boy cuts himself so they can be “blood buddies”, drips blood on the floor. She lets out an inhuman growl like sound and ravenously falls to the floor to lap it up with a tongue that is too long to be human. Eli vows to protect Oskar and tells him to stick up for himself. Her love and protection of him springs out of her an intense vengeance that culminates into such a fierce ending, that after the last shot, I felt an unlikely cross between strong feelings of fear and happiness. This isn’t just a vampire movie, it is so much more. Please, please see this movie. Don’t let the label of horror genre keep you from seeing this quiet, lonely movie about true friendship at its most extreme.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette

For my first review I thought I would go with something difficult. A love it or hate it film. A 49% on the Rotten Tomatoes list, Sophia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette”. Before seeing this movie I had already decided I would not like it, being that I am not a fan of Coppola’s other films. Then while flipping through cable, I recently came across it and gave it a chance. I was entranced. This film is not really about Marie Antoinette and not really about the rich heiresses that engulf our modern media. It is about both. Marie Antoinette was born and later married into a world of money, power, food, clothes, and popularity. What was a young girl to do?

You know in period pieces where there is a party scene and it isn’t quite convincing as a party, well normally scenes like this are very structured and performed for the camera, separating the audience from the feeling of being there. There is always the dance and some conversation. Here we see the characters act like they are at a party, drinking, laughing, kissing, the place is packed and full of energy. This was the only time I felt like I was watching a real party in a period movie; this is what people probably acted like. Of course in the characters time it was contemporary to them so why can’t it come across to modern audiences as real? Another example that separates this film from others in the same category is the “carriage scene” where you watch characters get in, then see it leave, and then the shot of the carriage arriving at the destination. Where in the beginning of Marie Antoinette it puts us in the carriage with her and her companions along for the ride, where we see them sleep, play cards, and look out the windows. This among the party scenes and others removes the film from a period piece, giving it a more contemporary feel. It brings the audience closer, more familiar with the characters and action. You are watching them on a more personal level. The whole movie is a period piece that doesn’t play like one. It is refreshing. This movie shows what her private life might have been like; leaving out the political and social workings that would have changed the entire idea and mood of the film. Coppola is not necessarily kind or sympathetic to her character. She shows her as this teenager with all this stuff to play with and who is oblivious to everything going on around her. When she falls for the hunk in the movie there is a scene where she lies on her bed grasping at her chest and looking wistfully at nothing with big blue eyes. I have felt that ridiculous giddiness before as a teenage girl and it comes across so easily in this film. The ending is wonderful. Instead of showing her beheading which would have thrown the movie off course, there is a last frame of the film that shows her bedroom ransacked and destroyed. It signifies her death in a quiet, motionless, serenity. The soundtrack is fitting. It consists mostly of 80’s new wave at its height, which works great, moving along with the feel of the film.

Kirsten Dunst, who plays Marie Antoinette, does the job of looking as if she’s made of sugar along with the costumes and set. There is a sly, pretty, simpering look on her face most of the movie. The little dialogue she has is weak, and her speech is unsteady. Jason Shwartzman is so unconvincing as Louis XVI that it is just silly. This does not make me dislike the movie; it actually makes it more likeable to me. Let me describe it this way…

A candy apple has a shiny red candy shell, super sweet, but the apple inside is usually stale and soft. Marie Antoinette is like a candy apple, frivolous, sweet, fun, and satisfies your sweet tooth. It is somehow satisfying, but superficially. Yes this movie is frivolous and yes that might be the point. But, it is also a unique portrayal of a historical figure. Instead of an intense historical period drama you get a quiet, light, atmospheric story of Marie Antoinette or any teenage heiress whose obliviousness gives her nothing to do but eat cake.