Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to one and all of you! In celebration of this spooky holiday, I leave you with this thrilling video . May you eat lots of candy, watch horror flicks and carve jackolanterns. Also, here's a fun game that will test your horror film knowledge...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Film Trifecta Weekend Part II: Marie Antoinette

Last Saturday night found me at “Marie Antoinette”, written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Truth be told, I was expecting to hate this film, but I didn’t --not at all. I respect Coppola as a woman and a filmmaker, but on a personal level, I’m not a huge fan of her work. I found, “Lost in Translation” to be largely overrated. While I appreciated the hip soundtrack, and colorful imagery, and found Bill Murray’s performance to be quite charming, I could not abide the protagonist, Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen). Friends of mine rallied on her behalf, touting her search for answers, and justifying her malaise with life, but I found her attitude to be asinine. She was a perfectly healthy, attractive, smart, articulate woman, who was all “woe is me” because her husband had a busy professional career, and she was still searching out hers. All her longing gazes out her hotel room window, and pensive stares at the Japanese cultural phenomenons surrounding her, left me feeling annoyed; I just couldn’t muster up any sympathy for her plight.

There were similar moments of quiet thoughtfulness in “Marie Antoinette”. Only instead of gazing out at an urban sprawl, Marie daydreamed out of the window of her horse drawn carriage. Like “Lost in Translation”, “Marie Antoinette” was a young woman’s coming of age story. But unlike LIT, I actually thought Marie had something to feel gloomy about. True she lived in the royal opulence of Versailles, but she was also forced into a political marriage at the age of fifteen, constantly harassed about producing an heir for the nation, and forced to abide a silly amount of pomp and circumstance on a regular basis.

Sure, I get it, “poor little rich girl” right? But though she lived in the lap of luxury, while peasants starved to death, (which was of course horribly unfair and indicative of the pitfalls of a royal system), –it wasn’t her fault, and her emotional trials were real. Coppola adapted the screenplay from a recent biography of Antoinette, so it seems that historical accuracies were of importance to her. The film had a very realistic tone to it –it looked like everything was shot with natural light, and there was a rawness and grittiness that served up an interesting contrast to the stunning sets and magnificent costumes. For if Marie Antoinette was anything, it was certainly visually impressive. Upon leaving the theatre, my friend said that it was like reading a magazine for an extended period of time, and indeed I felt a bit like I had just swallowed up a September issue of VOGUE in two and a half hours. Kirsten Dunst must have worn, literally, at least a hundred different costumes during the course of the film, while sampling two hundred pairs of shoes.

Adding to the sensation of a visual feast, were the numerous pastries featured in the film. Marie had a tremendous fondness for them, though the film posits that the infamous line of “let them eat cake” was merely a vicious rumor. Whatever pastry chef was hired to design the bevy of sweets consumed by the royal party should win an Academy Award. I got a sugar rush just from watching the film, and my mouth watered at the sumptuous raspberry tarts, strawberry lady fingers, pink frosted cookies, and cherry red cakes. There were a multitude of pretty and pink montages in the film featuring, dresses, shoes, sweets and champagne. I would wager that every twelve year old girl who sees this movie is currently obsessed with it.

The 80’s rock soundtrack added a further layer to this historical portrayal of teen angst, and somehow, worked, even as it was interspersed with the different operatic pieces in the film. You definitely have to give kudos to Ms. Coppola for having her own style and sticking to it. She made many deliberate choices with this film, and the end result was a tone which was disarmingly girly. But for all of it’s refreshing auteurism, there wasn’t much story to go by here. There was little greater historical context in the film, and it insulated itself primarily to the palace grounds, and in turn, the internal grievances and joys of Marie Antoinette. There was not a lot of traditional plotting going on – storylines were brought up but never resolved, characters faded into the woodwork for no apparent reason, and many a scene was put to celluloid merely for the sake of themselves. For all its prettiness, Marie Antoinette was like a meandering walk without a destination. While Kirsten Dunst imbued the character with an earnest sweetness and innocence, I wasn’t sure what sort of journey I had watched her take. Her life endured changes and woes, but the overall narrative stroke, seemed to imply merely, that like anyone else, she had the capacity to acclimate. Though the film spent a lot of time focused on the unconsummated marriage between her and Louis XVI, she finally fathered his child, we saw little private interaction between them. They continued to have more children, but the context under which they were conceived was left unexplored. Marie’s affair with the dashing solider was also left largely unresolved. Did her husband know about it? What did he think of it? What ever happened to the solider? Why did their affair end? How did she feel about it ending? I would have liked to have seen some of these things played out on screen. Sometimes, you need more than a thoughtful pretty face fogging up a window pane to melancholy music.

(Forthcoming "The Prestige"...)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Film Trifecta Weekend (Spoilers Galore) Part I

This weekend, after what seemed like an eternal void at the cinema, I took it upon myself to go see, not one, not two, but THREE films!

I’ll start from the ground up.

Friday evening, I went to see the Grudge 2, which currently has a whopping rotten tomatoes tomameter rating of 8%. I believe that Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post said it best, when he described the Grudge 2 as “a movie so bewildering and impenetrable that I believe it siphoned off a good 40 IQ points.”

I’ve certainly done my fair share of ranting here about the bevy of poor quality horror films that we’ve seen in the last few years. But, at the risk of hyperbole and redundancy, I currently hold the following to be true: The Grudge 2 defies logic and coherency to the point of oblivion. There is no narrative through line. There is no continuity. (There is no Dana, there is only Zool). What there is, however, is a multitude of shot after shot of swarming straight black hair overtaking characters at random and filling up the screen for about ninety minutes or so. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or scream.

The plot(s) is as follows. American girl Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) flies to Tokyo, at the bidding of her mother, to collect her sister, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who has had a nervous breakdown. If you saw the first Grudge, (which was mediocre at best) you will recall Karen, as the main protagonist, who found herself drawn into the violent web of mystery surrounding “the most haunted house in Tokyo”. After learning the secret of the house, (a husband murdered his wife and child in a jealous rage, after learning she was in love with another man) Karen was confronted with its “evil” and attempted to burn it down, killing her boyfriend in the process.

Cut back to the Grudge 2. Aubrey shows at the Japanese hospital to find her sister seriously disturbed and spouting nonsense. Her sister, then promptly falls to her death, forced off the hospital roof by a ghost (the wife in the house who was killed by her raging husband). Aubrey, scared and alone, befriends a young male journalist who has been tracking the story of this mysterious house. Immediately they begin conversing in cryptic meaningless phrases like “I’m afraid.” “I must find out the truth.” And “How do we stop it?” i.e. they speak without actually saying anything at all. But that’s OK, because thankfully we have two entirely independent plotlines, with which to bang our heads on the theatre seat backs by.

The second plotline revolves around three teenage school girls (with scandalously short uniform skirts to match), who go into the haunted house as –a joke, or –to “check it out.” Their motivation is ultimately unclear and irrelevant. Two of the girls are popular, but the third is not, and as horror film procedure would have it, the two prettier, socially successful girls, force the dowdy girl into the closet. While in the closet, the dowdy girl gets stuck and has contact with the ghost of the house. Unbeknownst to them, the two “pretty” girls were exposed to the evil of the apparition as well, and so all three end up being haunted by Miss broken neck long hair(the ghost).

The third plot line is perhaps the most baffling of all. Back across the big pond, in Chicago, Illinois, we observe the happenings of an American family. A father with a teenage daughter and pre-teen son, has just invited his girlfriend to move into their apartment. We become acquainted with the cheery cheerleading teen, and her Lolita neighbor friend, as well as the general family dynamics. Pre teen boy resents Dad’s girlfriend, Dad’s girlfriend is nervous about making good with the kids, and so on. One night the preteen boy spies a dark figure being led down the hall by two of his neighbors. After that, things start to get weird. People aren’t acting like themselves, and strange visions and sounds make themselves apparent. What on earth could be happening to this family? Unfortunately, you never end up giving a good God damn.

Now keep in mind that the three different plot lines I’ve just summarized, are all intercut with each other willy nilly. The end result is a film that has the continuance of a furniture building manual from Ikea. Characters die, others vanish into the ether, pulled out of the space time fabric by the ghost, while others try to “fight” against the rage. One particularly bizarre subplot involved Aubrey tracking down the ghost’s mother to speak to her about her daughter. It is there we learn via grainy flashback, that when her daughter was a child, she used to perform exorcisms, and force her daughter to swallow the evil spirits. Why would she do such a heinous thing, you might ask? Who knows, I doubt if the filmmaker himself does. Nevermind the fact that this woman is spilling out her deepest darkest secrets in perfect english to Joan of Arcadia. Let’s not even bother to try and explain that.

What I want to know is --why would the writers throw in this haphazard factoid to basically turn the concept of the entire franchise on its head? Impossible to say. Isn’t the whole point, as indicated by the title, that when someone is killed in a horrible rage, that “rage” haunts things forever? When did the franchises M.O. become that little girls who witness exorcisms have spiritual baggage?

The big “reveal” at the end of the film, is that the dowdy school girl who is tormented by the ghost in Japan, is brought back home to her parents in Chicago. Voila! She lives in the very same apartment building as the American family, and was in fact the same mysterious figure wearing an oversized hoodie that the little boy saw walk down the hall. The problem was that, this reveal didn’t serve much purpose. Not only was it obvious and predictable, but it failed to provide context or even link all the storylines, which is what well done reveals typically too. It was the missing piece to a puzzle that still didn’t create a cohesive image. The reveal in The Grudge 2 was a protracted justification for tying together two halves that didn’t make a whole.

There were definitely some frightening moments in the film, and I probably jumped more than I’d like to admit. One of the most disturbing moments for me was when the perky cheerleader popped over to her friend’s apartment, who had fallen under the grudge’s curse. The friend proceeded to chug an entire gallon of milk, and then regurgitate it into the same container. Icky. Also, for all its unoriginality at this point, I still get creeped out my the staccato movements of the ghost with her double jointed limbs and snapped neck.

These movies are most disappointing to me because while they capitalize on clever concepts, conjure up horrific images and moments, and are pretty adept at creating an atmosphere, they lack the quality of story and characters to see them through. In terms of setting a mood, and establishing a visual style, Japanese writer/director Takashi Shimizu clearly knows what he’s doing. But what’s particularly incendiary about The Grudge 2 is that not only does it fall into this category, but it’s nearly impossible to watch. It’s a confounding viewing experience, where one is denied the simple viewer’s pleasure of getting lost in a story --because there truly isn’t one. It is a nightmarish assembly of non-sequesters, a ninety minute music video that’s set to creepy violin tunes. And let’s be honest –there’s a reason why videos are only three or four minutes long at most….

(forthcoming Marie Antoinette…)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The New Yorker remerges (for the time being) a little LOST but not worse for the wear...

It’s been a long time folks. And I can’t say I haven’t missed this little party called blogging because I have. Now, let’s get down to business.


Two episodes into the new (third) season my head is spinning and I barely recognize the show. Probably, because at times, it feels like a COMPLETELY different show. New characters, new locations, new scenarios, new storylines. I supposed that’s all well, good, and expected for any intelligent and creatively done show that evolves over seasons, but something is amiss. That wonderful vibe that they captured in the pilot, and first season, and less so but still in the second season is gone. A bunch of strangers from all different walks of life who are banded together under the same banner of “let’s not get eaten by polar bears” and “lets get off this crazy island” and “what the hell is going on in this crazy island.” That was something special, and in the construct of LOST it felt new and refreshing.

Cut to this season. The season premiere only dealt with three of our characters, Jack, Kate and Sawyer. Now I love Sawyer, and Jack is alright, though teetering on the bland side, but Kate seems to have descended even further into the territory of the vulnerable hot piece of ***. (On a side note, how Raiders of the Lost Arc was it when she came out in that dress and sat down in front of Henry Gale and the full spread of food. It was Marion and Belloq all over again, though not as classy or exciting.) But I missed the rest of the castaways and that feeling of “teamwork” as they all worked together to solve one problem or another. But let me back up a minute here. It goes without saying that the teaser for the premiere was meant to be another shocker, like last year’s reveal of Desmond in the Hatch. And truth be told, I was surprised by it. I didn’t expect in the slightest that the “earthquake” was actually the Oceanic flight plummeting down from the sky. Nor that the seemingly idyllic community was located on THE island. It was jaw dropping to be sure. But a variable had changed for me –I didn’t care as much. I didn’t really care because I knew, or at least strongly suspected, that the reason behind this village, the rationale of the Others and their motives in going after the survivors, none of that, was going to be explained succinctly for at least another I don’t know, one to two seasons, --if that. It’s like the Russian dolls that stack inside one another seamlessly without end, until finally you get to the last wooden figurine, and realize, that it’s only a smaller version of what you started with, and is hollow on the inside.

I guess that’s my biggest fear for LOST. That they’re never going to answer the questions, and that they’re only to going to keep on generating more and more, defying logic and rationale at every turn. Let’s take a look at for instance, last season, when Michael was brought to the Others shantytown, where they lived in little tents and dressed in rags. Later, Michael would lead Jack, Kate and co. back down there, and they would attempt to enter yet another hatch which, as it turns out, didn’t exist. The metal doors merely masked a granite wall. In this week’s episode, one of the Others mentions to Henry Gale hurriedly, (in what I believe to be a huge writer’s oops!), “But they found the decoy village!” Gale responds, ever stolidly, “That’s exactly what we wanted them to do.”

I think I actually laughed out loud at that moment. Really? It’s exactly what you wanted them to do? Why? So Hurley could turn back and tell the other survivors what he’d seen here. And what kind of an impression would that make? “Hey dudes. It looked like they had a Hatch, but actually, --looks like it was fake or something…oh yeah and they took Jack, Kate and Sawyer too.” First of all, Hurley would be in a panic about the fact that his friends were taken, --the least thing on his mind would be the fake door. And even if he did discuss the “fake hatch” opening with the other survivors, that doesn’t necessarily reveal the village as a “decoy village.” I can’t deny that I’m curious as to the possible valid explanation for the “decoy” village. I’m interested to see what they come up with, because it sure seems like an awful lot of work on the part of the Others, towards an end which remains a mystery.

After watching the first two episodes in this season, the question that resounds with me is, is this season really going to become about human behavioral studies and experiments? Them trying to break Jack’s psychological resolve, and manipulating Sawyer and Kate into getting romantically involved, only to play them each off against one another in some bizarre sort of love triangle? Whatever it is, I hope they at least cut to the chase, because watching Kate and Sawyer break rocks, even under the threat of electric shock? Not interesting. Also, it was not at all a shocking reveal that Kate and Sawyer were being “watched” by Henry Gale via monitors when they were speaking to one another at night back in their cages. Of course they’re being monitored, that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone at this point. If Sawyer and Kate themselves don’t realize that, then they are idiots.

In this week’s episode, I liked Sun and Jin’s flashback, in part because it actually gave closure and answers to their storylines, and also because it continued to give more depth to their characters. I thought it was great that Sun shot the woman on the yacht, I definitely didn’t expect it. I liked the idea that the Others are so sure they know the survivors, and yet Sun proved them wrong. What I did find disappointing was Sayid’s “plan”; it made no sense. So Sayid hoped to start and fire and attract the Others via smoke, so that he could kill them, and then hopefully somehow learn where Jack had been taken? This plan also entailed “tricking” Jin because once Sayid started the fire it would be “too late” to turn back, (Wha? Why?). Not only that, but Sun was left by herself, on the boat, which was a good two hundred yards away. Sure he told her where the gun was but if he (or Jin) was really concerned about her safety they’d have her stay close. Even if in the past LOST has dragged its feet in divulging the island’s secrets, it has always typically been good at creating interesting episodic action and adventure plots. But the plotting of some of this second episode at times just felt lazy and sloppy. One of the last scenes of the episode where Henry Gale comes into Jack, felt particularly so. It’s already been made clear that the Others know what’s going on in the outside world, they have contact and communication with it, --hence how they know so much about the survivors. So for Henry Gale to come out and recite the occurrences of the past two months in 2004, was no real surprise. (Also, the Boston Red Sox winning the world series clip/gag is OLD) Then there was more of the classic cagey talk, where words are coming out of the characters mouths, but in effect, NOTHING is being said. (Paraphrasing) Henry Gale: If you cooperate with us, we will help you get home. Jack: Cooperate with what? Henry Gale: We’ll tell you when the time is right. Grrrrrrrrr. I’ll bet you will Henry.

I know what some of you are thinking. “Stop complaining, and just stop watching it!” But I can’t –for several reasons. It’s like the boyfriend that your friends tell you to dump, but you just can’t let go, because deep down you know you still have feelings for him. I love LOST. Or at least I did. I’ve been disillusioned for sure, cheated by it, annoyed with it. But I can’t let go, or at least I’m not ready to. I still care enough about these characters that I plan to tune in to see what happens next, and I do want to see how they wrap everything up. But my care is dwindling, and never more so than with the start of this season. I’d like a little payoff please. A little light shed on the truth, and answers that don’t feel like more questions. I’m frustrated and I want my old show back.

I miss Danielle Rousseau.

Heroes review forthcoming….

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