Monday, June 8, 2009

47 words about Drag Me to Hell (and then some stuff about $12.50 movies and some other stuff about—oh, you’ll see…)

Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Produced by Grant Curtis, Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert
Written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi

Gran Torino (2008)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Bill Gerber and Robert Lorenz
Screenplay by Nick Schenk
From a story by Dave Johannson and Nick Schenk

The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Written by Stanley Roberts
With additional dialogue by Michael Blankfort
Based on the novel by Herman Wouk

The Eiger Sanction (1975)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Robert Daley, Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown
Screenplay by Rod Whitaker, Hal Dresner and Warren Murphy
Based on the novel by Trevanian (the pseudonym of Rodney William Whitaker)

Had I seen Drag Me to Hell on DVD, I would’ve liked it more.
But for $12.50?!?
No way.
And why should an office drone have to suffer for a stupid gypsy’s financial irresponsibility? Raimi’s attempt at regaining street cred falls short: Flick needed to be sicker.

The last movie I saw in the theater (and on that very short list is also Watchmen—I could’ve waited for it on DVD, I think—but more on that movie in a few weeks—I’m working on a superhero movie mega-post) that I thought was worth the overpriced ticket was Clint Eastwood’s incredible Gran Torino (recently released on DVD—it’s on the top of my N-flix list now).

It’s fun to watch a cranky old man mouth off—to someone else, of course.
Walt is the protagonist of Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, and more than just the ultimate cranky old man flick (a geriatric Falling Down? A septuagenarian Taxi Driver?), it’s a rich, detailed movie about a dying breed of American male—
specifically one man who refuses to simply fade away.

And as that dinosaur, Clint Eastwood is awesome: outrageous and hilarious, but heartfelt and moving when he needs to be.
Meanwhile, he’s the opposite of vain: showing off his wrinkles to great effect, but still so kick-ass and physically imposing.

Without his wife, he’s nothing, and Walt’s waiting to die, but he wants to do it on his own terms.
He wants to bend the world to his view and he won’t back off.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

A lot of folks gripe about Eastwood’s lackadaisical anti-style, but I dig it. What others call bad camerawork, I like to thing of as a quasi-documentary style—
Which is the antithesis of most of the characterizations, which often fall into caricature—but this is Walt’s movie, dig? You’re just visiting.

Clint’s movies, despite—or perhaps because of—their use of natural light and locations, are often quite anti-naturalistic: People don’t act like normal people in his flicks.
Haven’t his critics figured that out yet? For me, Clint has a stylization that I really dig: perhaps because I grew up watching his movies—even his so-called failures are entertaining in some respect.
I may not have seen Bridges of Madison County (and may never—I only recently saw The Eiger Sanction—see below), or Changeling or Million-Dollar Baby, but when I finally saw Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I really liked it! I also like Eastwood’s White Hunter Black Heart: Both are detailed, entertaining movies—like something transported from the 1930-1950s in characterization, although contemporary in temperaments.

Back to Gran Torino:
I did want a Hmong to say to him, “Hey cool it man, we were killing commies, too, and for a better reason than you, so shut yer trap.”
I do think it’s realistic that it’s the women--through their food--who turn Walt around. And the sass of the sister? I think that’s a big clue to how Walt’s wife—the elephant in the room—acted towards her husband.

The amazing thing about Eastwood the director is how he can take themes and tropes that feel like they could be from 1940s and 1950s movies, introducing and updating them into a contemporary palette—something that crosses generational lines, creating a movie that really deserves the praise it’s getting—and probably deserves the criticism, too. (But I ain’t linking to that….)

Speaking of 1950s films, here’s something I wrote in April 2008, after watching the DVD of The Caine Mutiny:
Damn good filmmaking, The Caine Mutiny is still worthy of being called a classic. If you haven’t seen it, please try and catch it. It’s a rich, detailed, beautifully acted movie. The leads are all essentially cast against type, a move that’s still brilliant, I kid you not.

The only reason The National Film Board of Ivanlandia can’t give The Caine Mutiny 5/5 is because it found the “love story” segments so awful and dull, it had to fast-forward through them.
(But our tolerance for that sort of thing is almost nil; the more romantic viewer might find them a pleasant diversion from the more testosterone-loaded Navy scenes—this flick is so butch, it’s got Lee Marvin as an extra!)

The rest of the movie is essentially perfect, and if you’re a first time viewer, don’t mock the special effects: for the 1950s, they were considered spectacular.

And always choose The Caine Mutiny over A Few Good Men, if you’re choosing between naval courtroom dramas.

Returning to the United Provinces of Eastwoodlandia:
The National Film Board of Ivanlandia finally got around to screening The Eiger Sanction in April:

Since I consider myself a huge Clint Eastwood fan, especially of his 1970s work, I’m surprised it took me so long to see The Eiger Sanction.

But I think my patience (or laziness) was rewarded: This is a great six-pack movie! A real sarcastic and politically incorrect subversion of the spy genre (more akin to Harry Palmer than James Bond, if you get my drift), the espionage/revenge aspects of the script seem like excuses to lead up to some of the most exciting mountaineering footage ever, with many shot beautifully composed despite the harsh and extreme conditions.

This flick must’ve been awesome to see on the big screen. Although several of the characters are absurdist (especially the albino boss), the movie’s visual style is very low-key, typical Eastwood. And ironically, this low-key style, combined with the most amazing climbing footage ever caught on film, makes The Eiger Sanction not feel as dated as most other spy/action films from this time.

This movie really deserves a cult following---and now that the creators of The Venture Brothers have given The Eiger Sanction a shout-out on the commentary of their series 3 DVD, maybe it’ll get one. (I’ve had The Eiger Sanction on and off my N-flix list since I became a member in 2005, and it was The Venture Brothers’ commentary that finally made me watch it.)

BTW: Fans of The Destroyer series of very sarcastic, ultraviolent pulp paperbacks (of which I count myself one) take note: series creator Warren Murphy is one of The Eiger Sanction’s co-screenwriters!

Since today’s post was written on June 6, 2009—Damien Thorn’s birthday, I thought I’d LINK back to an early entry on The United Provinces of Ivanlandia, where I praise and criticize the son of nataS…

And I PROMISE: the next 47th Minute Project is in the works, we swear!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lovecrafty (and then some reviews in a similar vein)

The Old Ones were having a good time, getting loaded, terrorizing the primordial ooze, slaughtering a few shuggoths for kicks…The usual: creating a vortex to enable them to be above and beyond time and space…

Then those buttinskis, The Elder Gods had to show up, kicking ass and taking names…

Sure, The Old Ones got clobbered and banished by The Elder Gods. But their psychic pressure was always there…

Sometimes they managed to flex a muscle or two from beyond the walls of sleep

They’re always trying to get back into our world
Or else they’re
lurking in the depths, dreaming and dead--
Dead but dreaming, man, dead but dreaming! That's freaky!

"C'thulhu fhtagn!"

With the upheaval of new land in the South Pacific tremendous events began.... Another race--a land race of beings shaped like octopi and probably corresponding to the fabulous pre-human spawn of Cthulhu--soon began filtering down from cosmic infinity and precipitated a monstrous war which for a time drove the Old Ones wholly back to the sea.... Later peace was made, and the new lands were given to the Cthulhu spawn whilst the Old Ones held the sea and the older lands.... [T]he Antarctic remained the centre of the Old Ones' civilization, and all the discoverable cities built there by the Cthulhu spawn were blotted out. Then suddenly the lands of the Pacific sank again, taking with them the frightful stone city of R'lyeh and all the cosmic octopi, so that the Old Ones were once again supreme on the planet....

H.P. Lovecraft Macaroni & Cheese…

The lucky ones will get killed first--that’s why they believe:
They know The Old Ones will return and fuck shit up--make everybody die slowly.
Really slowly.

Their followers are everywhere: forgotten South Pacific islands, the frozen wastes of Greenland—even the swamps of Louisiana
Some worshippers actually get Cthulhu’s image tattooed on their body! Shocking!

Sacrifices are made, incantations shouted into the night, blood spills and madness ensues…

But why not? The Old Ones and their creations and even their enemies are everywhere: in all the wastelands and dark places…

But mostly aquatic. Mostly.

The Old Ones are a tentacled lot.
Lurking, lurking…

They lurk.

According to Wikipoopia: “The Deep Ones are a race of frog-like, ocean-dwelling creatures with an affinity for mating with humans.”
That’s GROOVY, man.

Vote Cthulhu in 2012
(when the Mayan Calender ends…)

Jesus, Satan and all those other dudes are really nothing compared to The Old Ones—it’s way beyond that. We’re talking essential stuff of millions of universes here.

You see, the Old Ones like to transform humans, mate with them, create hybrids. Sometimes mutations happen just from being too close to The Old Ones or their artifacts. Accidents happen…

Breeding, they were breeding with humans!

Why doesn’t anybody think of the children!?!?

Sometimes the hybrids live under the water, sometimes underground. They all prefer the dark.

And yeah, they like human flesh…

Look! The ocean in the deep South Pacific is exploding! The tomb-city of R'lyeh rises!
Great Cthulhu awakes!
All Hail Mighty Cthulhu, devourer of the world! YAAAAAA!

The New Mainstream Cthulhu-riffic Flicks: The Mist, The Burrowers and Cloverfield (and poorly named pretender to the throne)

The Mist (2007)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Produced by Frank Darabont, Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer
Screenplay by Frank Darabont
Based on the novella by Stephen King

Cloverfield (2008)
Directed by Matt Reeves
Produced by J. J. Abrams and Bryan Burk
Written by Drew Goddard

Cthulhu (2007)
Directed by Dan Gildark
Produced by Jeffrey Brown and Anne Rosellini
Written by Grant Cogswell and Dan Gildark
with additional dialog by Jason Cottle and Douglas Light
Supposedly based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft

The Burrowers (2008)
Written and directed by J.T. Petty
Produced by William Sherak, Alton Walpole and Jason Shuman

The Mist (2007)
Even though I hated, hated, hated, HATED the ending of The Mist, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia still has to give it 4/5 (but that ranking would only be for fans of the genre; 3/5 for the general population, though).

This flick is a gorehound and monster movie fanboy’s delight, and a fun Saturday afternoon six-pack &/or bonghit B-movie. (So is Cloverfield as well, but more on that below.)

LOTS of disgusting and freaky imagery, all with a groovy Cthulhu vibe (which makes sense since Stephen King wrote the novella “The Mist” as a Lovecraft tribute).

Although set in the present day, the movie also feels like an ultra-gory episode of the original Outer Limits or an E.C. horror comic illustrated by either Wally Wood or Jack Davis.

But at 2-plus hours, this flick certainly needed some trimming. Where’s the Weinstein’s notorious interference when you need it? And some of the music choices were atrocious: so heavy-handed as to make you cringe.

Darabont’s ending is the over-the-top sick joke told by someone not used to telling sick jokes.
It’s when the nerd tries to hard to fit in with the cool kids: It’s James Dean making a fool of himself trying to impress the hoods in Griffith Observatory—and the kids ridicule Dean even more.

Not only does Darabont’s ending prove the religious fanatic right (the blood of the innocent does drive the mist away), but also the knuckleheads in the military who caused this mess in the first place are still in charge!

It’s a very frustrating conclusion; one that I’m not sure is necessary for this type of horror movie. It’s not that I wanted a happy ending, King’s original ending was just fine.
Actually, if you rent this DVD and only wish to experience the story as Stephen King ended it, just turn the movie off after the good guys see the mega-giant monster on the highway after they have left the supermarket.
Imagine that the movie “fades to black” at that point, and you may save yourself some major disappointment.

I can understand Darabont’s desire to muscle into John Carpenter’s territory of “unhappy” or ambiguous endings (The Mist makes a particularly heavy-handed reference (tribute?) to Carpenter’s The Thing), but he really overdoes it.

Darabont may have cut his teeth writing some pretty crazy horror movies before he hit it big, but it seems he’s forgotten the punk rock attitude that made his script for the remake of The Blob so cool. Break the rules, but remember the conditions of genre conventions and the audience’s expectations.

This is how I would’ve ended The Mist: The survivors are in the car, it’s run out of gas, but now they are surrounded by hordes of the nasty critters. Like in Darabont’s version, Thomas Jane shoots everybody, but he still doesn’t have a bullet for himself. He steps out of the car, expecting to be eaten, but the monsters ignore him. “Kill me,” he screams, but they go inside the car and eat his friends and child instead.

Then one of the nasties brings him over a chunk of flesh – from his son, perhaps? – and drops it at his feet. The implication being, “You’re one of us, a monster. Eat up.”
Shattered, Thomas Jane then walks off into the mist. Roll credits.

There! Now that’s an ambiguous and possibly depressing ending I like!

Despite my disappointment, I’ll tell you this, when The Mist is shown on cable, I’ll watch it again: A noble failure worth at least one viewing, The Mist would be perfect with Cloverfield in an “awesome, but disappointing, contemporary monster movie” double feature.

Cloverfield (2008)
Speaking of which,
if it weren’t for Cloverfield’s fast pace and seamless effects, it wouldn’t get high marks from me. That, and the fact that it’s exactly the type of movie I had wet dreams over when I was 12. It may be The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms for the YouTube generation, but Cloverfield is a darn good monster movie. It has some incredible animation with some of the best matte work ever.

Bitch and moan as much as you want about the lame story or the shaky-cam: I don’t care. I liked Cloverfield and may even rent it again one day.

The flick’s an American kaiju – and like its Japanese counterparts (and inspirations), most everything in the flick that isn’t monster-related is a bit of a drag. But once you watch the simplistic boy/girl plot, you never have to see it again.

The monster footage, however, I rewound and watched again and again. I think I would have liked to have seen more buildings get knocked down in greater detail, but the flick sticks to its single-POV gun(s).

There’s an effective mood of dread and several good shocks, and the parasites are truly creepy and awful. While perhaps not nearly as malevolent as I would have liked, the main creature’s got an H.P. Lovecraft-ish vibe that makes it a kissing cousin to the monsters from The Mist (hey, maybe that’s where the Cloverfield monster comes from).

Actually, if you’re wondering about where the Cloverfield monster comes from, watch the conclusion on Coney Island carefully—over the kids’ shoulder, off in the ocean is something falling into the sea with a splash. It’s really faint, and on my cathode-ray tube TV, I couldn’t see the splash (I’d seen the flick in the theater and was looking for it), but on my computer, the splashdown was definitely noticeable.

Not that that explains where the monster comes from--but it’s an awesome little thought-provoking twist akin to something John Carpenter might try (why do I compare so many films to the work of John Carpenter? Because John Carpenter rules. ’Nuff said).

Cthulhu (2007)
Unfortunately we must now look at the recently released to DVD Cthulhu:
If you’ve got the temerity to call your film Cthulhu, you had better back it up. And this film doesn’t come as close as it should.
If anything, it should have been titled “Innsmouth” after the H.P. Lovecraft story it most closely resembles. Then, the fans of the Cthulhu Mythos (like myself) wouldn’t be so annoyed.
If anything, this movie is hardly as entertaining as any of the H.P. Lovecraft-related movies put out by Roger Corman, American International Pictures, Charles Band or Stuart Gordon.

The Burrowers (2008)
In the western badlands of 1879, a posse of ranchers search for a family they think has been kidnapped by the Indians, but instead find some nocturnal parasitic beasts that are very, very hungry….
A darn good B-movie that mixes the western and horror genres intelligently, The Burrowers keeps the tension high and doesn’t disappoint when it gets around to revealing its monsters. When the hungry critters show up, the movie feels like a Robert E. Howard story (or like a cross between Zane Grey and H.P. Lovecraft), and while the monsters aren’t supernatural creatures per se, they tie in very nicely with vampire legends. The Burrowers is recommended for rental by genre fans.

BTW, all of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are all available on-line—click HERE, oh soulless one!

[Tentacled and eldritch kisses from beyond the vault of doom to all the sites I’ve “borrowed” images from. I’m just trying to spread the madness, that’s all, for the better mutating of all mankind!]