Thursday, March 23, 2006

Requiem for a lazy blogger

Yup, I'm still yet to be cured of this slacker blogging syndrome. I was trying to pin down the reason this week and thought that it might be the fact that I've seen way too many disappointments this month, films that aren't exactly inspiring me to write. That doesn't mean I haven't seen some good ones, but the stud:dud ratio was clearly at an all-time low in February-March, so come with me as I take you on a tour of the hits and misses I've seen lately.

Biggest Dud: 'Creepshow 2'
My God this one was bad, and I actually had some modest expectations for it. I remember seeing the previews for it as a kid and always was intrigued by the potential of the vignette The Raft, which is the main reason I finally watched it. Based on three of Stephen King's short stories, Creepshow 2 also included George A. Romero as director. So there's definitely some potential here, which is subsequently ruined by the curious directing decision to play the whole movie slightly sarcastically, with a half-smirk to inject some element of comedy into all three stories. While it might have looked good on paper, the laughs are never there and subsequently, neither is the horror.

Making matters worse is the awful animated segments that preclude each of the stories. We begin as some sort of Cryptkeeper dude drops of the latest issue of Creepshow at a comic book store, where it is picked up by some slimey kid. Through the magic of animation that reaches previously unheard of lows, we see the kid's adventures with the comic in between readings and are introduced to the Cryptkeeper's generic castle as he introduces each story. Before the previously mentioned Raft story, we get a worthless vignette called 'Chief Wood'nhead' about a wooden indian who sits in front of George Kennedy's store, until one night when some hoods rob the place and he goes on a killing spree. It is devoid of any fright, comedy or entertainment value. Luckily after it was finally over I got to see the reason I even popped in this atrocity (which regularly sells for $5, wonder why): The Raft.

The story is vintage King: three teens on a raft haunted by a strange creature in the water that slowly kills them. The thing in the lake resembles a floating oil spot and can reach up through the cracks in the raft and kill them. This is a good premise, but the whole segment is ruined by more awful direction. When the first teen is sucked in and horribly killed, her friends react more like she dropped a glass of milk. It could have been played out like Cujo, which has a similar plot, but instead plays out like a bad Amazing Stories episode. In the end, 'Creepshow 2' was so disappointing I couldn't even bear to watch the final vignette (some trash about a woman and a zombie hitch hiker).

Biggest Hit: 'Elephant'
After watching Gus Van Sant's masterful Elephant, I couldn't believe there isn't more hype about it. 'Elephant' is one of the most original and unique movies I've ever seen. Most will dismiss it when they hear it's about a Columbine-style high school massacre, but it's more of an experimental film about life than anything. Using a voyeuristic lens and toying with the chronology of a day at a generic high school, Van Sant leads us through characters we get to know deeply, while never succumbing to overly expository dialogue. One of the characters, Carrie, has extensive screen time, but maybe two lines. Finally, she is given a quick and emotionless death just like the others, showing what little concern the teen killers had for their victims as they probably knew her just as we did: a face in the hallway.

Van Sant uses extremely long shots from a lens that routinely drifts away from characters and into other conversations like it was some ghost wandering through the school. The chronology Van Sant uses is creative, as in one scene we see three characters pass by each other in the hall and eventually see through each of their paths how they got to that intersection. At no point until that deja vu shot was it apparent that we were watching a flashback. The killers themselves are not portrayed as hell-bent Satanic kids, but as a couple of punks who anyone would know. Both know they are going to die and that they will kill many of their classmates, but never seem overly excited about their prospects. The only real emotion any of them show is when one is walking the halls and is frustrated that most of the students have already fled the building.

Van Sant makes it a point to show that he has no answers, just like anyone else, for the ghastly phenomenon of high school shootings. Using a controversial and unsexy topic, Van Sant created a very simple movie that creates a powerful message by being just that.

Biggest surprise: 'High Anxiety'
I was surprised by Mel Brooks' tribute to Alfred Hitchcock not in how much I liked it, but just as how it is not your typical Brooks comedy. He's at his always-zany, but it's not exactly overflowing with jokes like Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein or as daring as Silent Movie. And most of all, it's not really a parody, but as the opening prologue says: a tribute. If you're not familiar with Hitchcock, this might not be for you, as you won't catch the note-perfect takes on his scenes, or jokes like Brooks' character checking into a hotel as Mr. McGuffin. It's not the funniest Brooks comedy, but it just feels so right, such as the setup for the best joke in the movie: Brooks repeatedly asks for a newspaper from a bellhop, who finally enters Brooks' room while he's taking a shower and 'stabs' him with the newspaper, leading to the exact shot from 'Psycho' where we see black ink (the same color the blood in Hitchcock's black and white movie was) swirling down the drain.

Other misses:
Rio Grande
As the closing movie in John Ford's 'Cavalry Trilogy,' I really wanted to like Rio Grande, but it never seemed to capture the lively spirit that Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon did so well. Sure, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara are in it and Victor McClaglen plays Victor McClaglen again, but the pieces never seem to come together as well as they did in the other two. Hurting its cause is that Lt. Col. Yorke isn't the best kind of character for Wayne. It's essentially the same character Henry Fonda played so well in 'Fort Apache,' whereas Wayne was always at his best when playing men with a slightly lighter and synical side, not a stone cold disciplinarian as Yorke is.

The Devil's Rejects
This wasn't so much a disappointment, as it was entertaining, but it seemed like it should have been better. The sequel to Rob Zombie's tremendous House of 1000 Corpses (which will be even better when a director's cut is finally released), The Devil's Rejects seems more like made-for-TV spinoff of a once-popular series. We get the best characters from 'House' back and go with them on more of their adventures, but it always seems like it's a 109-minute movie made with a 45-minute story. There are subplots and inflated scenes everywhere that seemingly do nothing to better the movie than to up the running time. And in that running time we never really get that good a glimpse at Captain Spaulding & Co. We're with them the whole time but never get the sense that we know them, or find out much more about them than we did in the original.

The Haunting (1963)
Again, a good movie but it never once lived up to its hype as a genuinely scary film. I watched it at night and never found it even remotely creepy. I wouldn't sayI'm immune to scares, as I am quick to give a movie credit for having genuine chills, but it may be a case of simply becoming desensitized to the 'what's that sound' kind of scare that this movie apparently makes its living on. That's not to say 'The Haunting' is not entertaining, as its use of brilliant setpieces (the towering spiral staircase -- wow!) and lighting make for plenty of eye candy, but the lack of scares makes this movie truly drag at times.

No comments: