Monday, October 30, 2006

"Grudge", "High Tension" and "The Queen". You Can Probably Guess What I've Been Up To This Weekend.

Back from the weekend with a passel of movie reviews.

"The Grudge". Had no interest in seeing this until my brother wrote in his blog how terrified this movie made him. You can read it here, and then make fun of him in the comments. No offense to my brother, but I was right to have avoided this film for this long. Not good. Peggy put it nicely when she turned to me about two-thirds through the movie and said, "You get the feeling they're just making this up as they go along?" And she's right as she is about most things -- there's a haphazard, incidental quality to this movie that makes it difficult to suspend disbelief. The basic premise is goofy, and we only get the whole, surprisingly pedestrian backstory when the movie's nearly over. [If you haven't seen it yet, I'm going to figure you don't care if I give anything away in this here post.] Here's how the ghosts got that way: In life, the Japanese woman ghost was obsessed with a professor played by Bill Pullman (I know! What the hell's he doing in this?). The woman's husband finds out and in a violent rage he drowns his son and kills her. Because the mom and son were so pissed off at the moment of death (I don't remember the pages of titles they flashed at the beginning too good), the grudge they carry stays in the house. Anyone who comes into the house will be hounded by these annoying Japanese ghosts for the rest of their lives. Uh, what?

How many millions of people have died in crime of passion murder-suicides? Why aren't all their houses cursed with Grudge-style ghosts? When I heard their story, the ONLY reaction is, "So?" I mean, it's sad and all, but in the pantheon of violent deaths, it's not really unusual, is it? Contrast their untimely death with Samara's, the girl from "The Ring". Now that girl went out of this world in a bad bad way -- in "The Ring", you totally understand how her death could have psychic implications that extend beyond the physical world. In the Japanese Scary Ghost-Girl movie genre, if your central violent or horrifying death isn't worse than, or even on par with Samara's, you got to keep brainstorming. A second draft would have been a real plus in this case. Anyway, I could go on, but I'll leave it at that.

"High Tension". We went into this one not knowing a lot about it, which was good. In case anyone else wants to check out this French slasher movie, I'll try and keep you in the dark, too. I can't say I really liked this movie, but I enjoyed watching it play out. If you like grisly slasher movie deaths, this one has a few keepers (I especially like the one involving the bureau). But by the end of it, though, I was scratching my head right when all was supposed to be illuminated. Summary: Not bad for what it is. Doesn't make a lick of sense.

"The Queen". We saw this at our local art theater last night. The reviews have been uniformly excellent and Oscar buzz for Helen Mirren, who plays Queen Elizabeth the Second, has been intense. She's fantastic in it, as are the other actors, so I'd say she's a lock for a nomination. The plot of the film is set in 1997, and deals primarily with the aftermath of Princess Diana's death, specifically the royal family's reaction. Tony Blair has just become Prime Minister only days prior, and at the time he was widely hailed for his pitch-perfect public response; one of the tabloids calls him "The Mourner in Chief" because he read the public mood so astutely. The royals on the other hand, particularly Queen Elizabeth, opt instead for the "stiff upper lip" style of grieving, and their seeming indifference to Diana's death provoke a bitter reaction in the public. Much of the film is taken up with a fascinating exploration of how the royal family's Old World sensibilities are out of step, for better and worse, with our over-televised, overexposed modern age.

Mirren does for Queen Elizabeth in "The Queen" what Anthony Hopkins did for Richard Nixon in "Nixon": the actor's performance begins to eclipse their real-life counterpart until they seem to actually become the person they're portraying. Though we'll never get a Barbara Walters-style interview with the current Queen of England, after seeing this movie I feel as though I know the woman pretty well. By the end I felt as sympathetic to her plight (relatively speaking, of course), as I did to Diana's, if not moreso. Technically, everything about the film is, as Christian Bale says in "The Prestige", "top notch", but it's the subtle touches here and there that give you both the basic humanity of the Queen while reminding you that she is the descendent of an awe-inspiring lineage going back centuries and centuries. For instance, Queen Elizabeth mentions in her first conversation with Tony Blair, almost in passing, something her "great-grandmother, Victoria" once said. "Holy shit!" I thought. "She's talking about Queen Victoria!" It's then you realize how rare a thing the English royal family is in this modern age -- a known and predictable quantity that represents a living link to a grander era in British history; kind of like what the Pope represents for Catholics. Anyway, an excellent movie, one I expect to end up in my top ten of the the year.

And it is now 10PM.

[Ed. note: since I wrote all this, Peggy's been on-line reading about what "High Tension" was all about. Some aspects do seem to play out logically, but other movies have plowed similar terrain with a lot more success.]

And I'm out.


blankfist said...

The J-Horror Ringu seems to follow the same blasé sort of 'decent hook but overall uninspired plot line' movies like Ju-On and Dark Water give us, I think. The Ring is great, but not because Ringu was equally as good. Ringu was about a videotape that when you watched it you'd pass away seven days later. That's a decent hook no matter how ridiculous, and if you tried to pitch that idea to any studio in Hollywood, they'd laugh you off their lot.

The thing that made The Ring great was the b-story. It was Samara's story, in particularly, that seemed to steer away from the Japanese version. And not because she died in a horrible, horrible way which is indicative of movies like Ringu, Ju-On and Dark Water, but because she was born in conflict of a natural birth - that was the American twist. Here were two people, a married couple, and they wanted a child. The husband was a horse breeder and the mother was unable to produce a child. They leave their island home for nine months and return with a child who, coincidentally, had round, black eyes just like a horse - a crime against nature had been committed. We can look at a story like that and think, 'yeah, that's not right, so, yeah, that could probably have repercussion'. And, that's when the videotape became incidental.

harwell said...

You guys remember when Bruce Cole said something in class (I think it was Lisa Muskat's) about how he felt horror as a genre could never be considered "art"? I think it was after Amanda Carsner had given a presentation on Dario Argento (and forgive me if I get that name wrong), and boy did Amanda disagree with Mr. Cole.

At the time, I thought it was a pretty boneheaded thing to say and I certainly still feel that what constitutes "art" is entirely subjective. And yet, more and more I realize I really don't give a damn in the least about the entire genre of horror whatsoever. I basically have no desire at all to watch any of these movies. My horror libido, if you will, is kaput.

And reviews like these - which seem to make an appearance on this blog about once a month or two - aren't doing anything to change my mind.

Am I being a bonehead? I thought THE RING was ridiculous, no matter how decent the hook, so if that's the cream of the crop what's left for guys like me and Bruce mofo Cole?

Peggy said...

Yes, you are being a bonehead.

Beyond the story, horror movies exist to allow the watchers to experience emotions that other movies don't give them the opportunity to experience.

Like chick films, which allow viewers to cry, horror movies, which focus on fear and adrenaline, are not for everyone, just the people who want to have that experience.

Just like I don't care about Master & Commander . . .

Anyway, horror movies serve their purpose and should not go away.

blankfist said...

What's left for you and Cole? Sex. With each other. And Reggie.

blankfist said...

Bruce Cole also was responsible for selecting a year to do nothing but tell lies.

harwell said...

And what a great year that was! Ha. Long live the Bruce...

I understand what you're saying Peggy and there are horror movies I like, but there hasn't been anything since SCREAM (though I kind of liked RED DRAGON if that counts), really, that has got me excited enough to seek it out (watched the RING on video for free; still disappointed).

Somebody tell me a horror movie made in the last five years that is REALLY good and that I should really make an effort to see. And then I will do just that.

Is there one that doesn't involve teenagers? Maybe that's my problem. I hate me some teenagers.

blankfist said...

Scream had teenagers. The Ring did not. Your logic is as sound as a Joe Corey family drama plot line. Dude, if you didn't like The Ring but liked Scream, then I'm afraid it's a lost cause. Abondon faith all ye Harwells who enter the theater.

harwell said...

Hey, at the time SCREAM was awesome and everybody thought so. The fact that it had teenagers was okay because it made the point of poking fun at all the horror movies with teenagers who do stupid things and die for stupid reasons when they could've just followed Jamie Kennedy's rules.

Also, THE RING totally had teenagers in it: Amber Tamblyn and Adam Brody, in fact. I just looked it up, because I certainly didn't remember them in that boring ridiculous movie...

But I still love you Naomi Watts!

Captain Mike said...

I'm not much for horror flicks, but "28 Days Later" was some scary-ass freaky shit.

"Cabin Fever" had some effectively nasty moments, and featured NCSA all-star actors Robert Harris and Richard Fullerton.

I kinda liked "The Ring."

harwell said...

Richard Fullerton was in Cabin Fever? I had that guy in my ten minute. Awesome. He's great.

And I forgot that I both saw and liked 28 Days Later. Aren't they making a sequel?

Anonymous said...

Most post-modern horror films are quite derivative and superficial - although there are a few special ones that truly hit the zeitgeist of our times - like United 93 (a true horror film), Blair Witch Project, Jurassic Park (yes, it is classified as horror), The Others, 28 Days Later, The Descent, Touching the Void (survival horror), American Psycho and even The Ring - which for some reason scared the living shit out of me.

I propose you watch AMERICAN NIGHTMARE which is a documentary about horror films. They interview Wes Craven, Romero, Argento, Tobe Hooper, etc.. and it gives you their perspective on why they chose to make these films which have a history of unique independent artistic vision and one that was making a major statement about the Vietnam war and capitalist society in general. You could not get away with these critiques in any other genre, especially during the cold war.

I would start rewatching classic horror films from the late 60's and 70's to see why these are the films that are being remade today.

Because, like it or not - they truly had a political consciousness.

*BTW - forget the sequels as they were made purely for profit and nothing else.

**BTW 2 - not mentioning all the great B movie flicks and foreign gems.

Last House on the Left
The Hills Have Eyes
Nightmare on Elm Street (#1)
Cannibal Halocaust
Halloween (#1)
Friday The 13th (#1)
Suspiria or any other early Argento flick.
Dawn of the Dead
Night of the Living Dead
Day of The Dead
The Crazies
Henry, Potrait of a Serial Killer
Scanners and Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers
Hellraiser (Cliver Barker is interesting)
Rosemary's Baby
The Serpent And the Rainbow
The Omen
The Exorcist
Alien (#1)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Jacob's Ladder
Altered States
The Wicker Man
The Shining
The Dead Zone
Lord of the Flies
Evil Dead 1, 2, 3
Blue Velvet
Lost Highway
The Howling
Near Dark
The Kindred
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Peeping Tom
Don't Look Now

etc. ect.

These are all classics and the ones that TRULY got me into wanting to make films.


blankfist said...

BTW 8327 - The sequel to 28 Days Later is called 28 Months Later. And the first one was scary.

Harwell, dude, come on. Just because The Ring had teenagers in it doesn't make it a teen movie. With that logic, Giant was a teen movie. Now, that's ridiculous!

harwell said...

I know dude. I was just following your original attack on my logic when you said The Ring didn't have teenagers. It's not a teen movie, agreed. It's a creepy kid movie though, isn't it? Yeah, that's original...

Would you call The Sixth Sense a horror movie? Because that's some solid entertainment that is both frightening, thrilling, and - at least to my knowledge - different from the rest of the crop.

Also, Paul that's a great list but I was talking mostly about not being interested in recent horror movies. Seen anything in the past five-six years you'd call a "great" horror movie???

Just curious. And where's Crane?

blankfist said...

Obviously I meant it wasn't a teen movie like, say, Scream or... Mean Creek? I think I remember a certain someone who resembles Kermit just a bit telling me they really liked that film. Is that not creepy kid movie?

Anonymous said...

Shawn - let's day last 5-6 years best horror - good question. Difficult to answer because most horror films are bullshit - meaning they are unrealized potential.

If it is originality (not remakes) only I would say...

1) 28 Days Later
2) Shaun of the Dead
3) Open Water
4) American Psycho
5) From Hell (ok.contestable)
6) The Others
7) Dog Soldiers
8) The Ring
9) Cabin Fever (original, but not a good movie in its execution).
10) Saw (pioneering torture flick) - haven't seen one yet!
11) Passion of Christ
12) Dark Water
13) Devil's Rejects
14) George Romero's Land of the Dead
15)The Skeleton Key
16) Wolf Creek
17) The Descent

Now in terms of true quality I would say...

1) 28 Days Later
2) The Descent
3) The Others
4) Shaun of the Dead
5) American Psycho
6) Dog Soldiers

Too many remakes lately and straight to video schlock. In a way, someone needs to think of a new and unique perspective to horror films - and this mean maybe creating a new genre (Political horror, etc..).

To me, the best horror is always based on a sociological context of our times. A mileau where the worst nightmares of humanity are displayed and exorcised.


harwell said...

Okay, now there's a list I can work from. Thanks, Paul. I actually remember the reviews for the Devil's Rejects being pretty good. Anybody seen this? If so, do I have to sit through House of 1,000 Corpses for it to make sense? I don't know why, but I like the idea of Rob Zombie making good movies.

And, no, Mean Creek isn't a creepy kid movie. The kids are normal they just find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. Nobody walks down a dark hallway dripping wet in their night gown while rolling their eyes back in their head and whispering a nursery rhyme.

Still waiting on Crane to chime in. He wrote something on Craig's blog...but I guess he's too GOOD to comment on his own. Hmmph.

JudgeHolden said...

I think one way to revitalize the genre is to introduce some new and seriously scary movie monsters. The shark in Jaws, the alien from Aliens, and Hannibal Lecter -- what since? No indelible and nightmare-giving monsters in movies since (Samara wasn't bad though). I'll just have to hope that the monsters Craig's writing about will do the trick. One other thing: it all has to do with directors. For whatever reason, the great old and exciting new directors aren't doing anything with horror these days (though props to Zemeckis for his attempt with "What Lies Beneath" and Spielberg for his recent "War of the Worlds"). It's considered slumming by critics, and most directors want Oscars more than they want to make quality scary movies, so we're stuck with the few bits that squeak through from first timers that happen to be good.

blankfist said...