Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004?)

Repost from 2010, when I was working on my undergrad thesis on the film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray.



Dir. David Rosenbaum || 2004 || USA(?)

If you can withstand the first two minutes of the 2004 film The Picture of Dorian Gray without having to reach for whatever alcohol is handy, you are a stronger person than I am. This makes Pact with the Devil look like a masterpiece. The film tries to set the story in the mid-20th century with some vague notion that the Gray family was inherently cursed because Dorian's grandfather created the atom bomb. This notion is only vaguely and occasionally followed through in the film. The acting is horrible across the board, with the actors reciting lines from the novel in a wooden and unintentionally hilarious manner, as evidenced in the video above. The film becomes tedious within the last half-hour, when the fun and alcohol wear off. Unlike most of the other Dorian Gray adaptations, which at least make a point to either subtly or unsubtly point out Dorian's pansexuality, this adaptation's take on it is to mostly make Dorian a heterosexual cad ("I spoiled your bride on your wedding day!") involved in a hetero love triangle between the (female) painter Basil Ward and Harry Wotton; whilst having Josh Duhamel parade around in skimpy bikini briefs for 10 minutes of the film, with at least three of those minutes being shot over his ass while he's laying in bed. Also unlike the other adaptations which actually try to have the portrait done by a real artist on the production team, the painting in this one looks as though it was done by a first year art student whose strong suit is not painting. The degenerated portrait is pretty much James Cameron in a swimsuit (meant to be Dorian's grandfather, I think), not a hideous monster.

Unlike Pact with the Devil, or any other Dorian Gray adaptation, there is no good actor or interesting performance in the film to give comfort or make watching it somewhat worthwhile. Some people will want to watch this because of Josh Duhamel, but it's not a good reason because he is just as awful as all the other actors in this film. He's not even inoffensively passable, like he is in everything else he acts in. He even looks awful, with his badly dyed blond hair.

There is probably a lesson to be learned here, by the time I am done with this paper, since I generally avoid film adaptations of books. I get the feeling it's to just be happy when a film adaptation of a good novel is watchable at all. I think I am mostly happy that I did not choose the film adaptations of Dracula, which are numerous and are also likely to have more bad adaptations than good ones.

This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray is only available on Youtube, via the playlist of favorite movies of what is likely a 15-year-old girl. After the conclusion of the movie, it goes immediately into a 3-year-old video preview of the Twilight film adaptation with some commentary, which I imagine is hell for some people, but was actually a passive improvement for me to listen to while I stared off into space for a few minutes. This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray has never been properly released because it's awful or maybe because Josh Duhamel is rich enough now to have it suppressed, but you can occasionally find an overpriced DVD version of it on Ebay or at libraries.

(Apologies if this post isn't very coherent. I have fairly coherent notes and drunk texts to a friend that I made while watching this last night, but these posts are increasingly becoming an excuse to vent.)

(Adverbs, motherfucker!)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Padackles, I love you, but you're bringing me down. Also, if you keep this up, I'm really leaving you for Doctor Who.

Repost from 2010.

The Christmas Cottage (a.k.a Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas)
Dir. Michael Campus || 2008 || USA (seriously, what did you expect, does any other country have a guy who calls himself "The Painter of Light"?)

Devour
Dir. David Winkler || 2005 || USA


There needs to be some sort of Oracle-like Twitter or Facebook page that tells you in 140-160 characters just how bad a movie is before you watch it. It could say that a film is "worse than stepping in dog shit while you're already late for work, but not as bad as watching the cast of The Room simulate sex" (or vice versa, depending on your taste) and other vague things that would at least give an idea what one is in for when they watch certain films. Yeah, there is Google and reading blogs, but having something that could be sent as text message moments before you hit "play" is best. At the very least it would serve as an indicator of how many breaks you would have to take while watching the movie, or how much alcohol may be required to get through it. It would take a mass effort, and some sort of database, but someone should make this happen.

In stupid whims to best some of my more stupid and masochistic whims, for Bad Movie Night at my house, I watched The Christmas Cottage and Devour back-to-back because they star Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles from Supernatural. I knew these films would be bad going in, and neither of these guys have great track records in their forays into film (Padalecki's is a tad better, even if they're mostly horror remakes). I'm no apologist, and I'm certainly not one of those Stans that harbors insane delusions that I'm going to marry them or that they're going to marry each other. Supernatural is a highly entertaining show and Padalecki and Ackles are very pretty men, and that's about as far as my interest goes.

I'm not sure much can be said about The Christmas Cottage. The Christmas Cottage is a film based on a Thomas Kinkade painting, or his life, or something. It falls somewhere between a wacky comedy about a quirky small town and your average Christmas movie that's about finding the true meaning of Christmas with a large dose of "we gotta save the *(insert structure here)*!". I think almost everyone but Padalecki and the people with actual acting honors were told that this was a comedy, and it sometimes seems as if the scenes were shot around Padalecki due to the high angle-reverse-angle shot and montage ratio. Marcia Gay Harden, Peter O'Toole and Ed Asner are there to give the film some sort of gravitas, but any attempts at gravitas or sentiment just makes things worse. There are so many subplots in this movie that after 20 minutes, it's not worth keeping up with.

The only scene of any worth is below, in a video response shot by Dustin Rowles of pajiba.com, and who provides his own laugh track. This is why Ackles is the only one who is allowed to cry in the Pretty Man Tears/"hell, let me tell you about my time there" scenes in Supernatural these past couple of seasons, while Padalecki just looks constipated.




Devour is something else, and I mean that in the most sarcastic and borderline abusive way possible, because this is a less watchable film than The Christmas Cottage. Someone should have informed Jensen Ackles that it's never a good sign when your co-stars are Shannyn Sossamon without her trademark short and sassy haircut, Dominique Swain, and a guy who looks like the result of Willie Aames, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Brad Dourif's spliced DNA; ergo, making Ackles the best looking person in the film. The plot of the film itself is the spliced DNA of The Omen and the numerous horror films about video games, websites or software that are evil and want to control you and make you question your reality (eXistenZ, Stay Alive). Like most films about evil video games, websites, or software, the filmmakers have nothing to say about the matter really and instead pull the "you're the son of Satan" card with some equally weak add-in about free will and a twist ending that revolves around incest. Instead of you know, maybe formulating an idea about why the film's particular video game, website, or software is evil or perhaps an allegory about how video games, the internet, or software may be evil in general, if you really want to try to state such a thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Crazy Theory #8: Ghostbusters as a Metaphor for Koch Era NYC


Last year for my Cinematic Urbanism class, I chose NYC to write about for my final paper. It was not until almost very late in the semester that I chose to write on Born in Flames after realizing No Wave Cinema was not going to pan out due to inaccessibility of most of the films. I briefly flirted with using the more mainstream films of 1970s and 1980s NYC in my paper, including Ghostbusters.*

I conducted some historical research into the Koch era of NYC beginning in the mid-1970s when everything was rather bad and the US government declined to help financially save the city that was on the brink of bankruptcy. NYC began to see some reversal in the early 1980s. But you still see how bad it was in films** - the city did not prevent these films to be made, sort of under the guise of "any publicity is good publicity". Wolfen (1981, Dir. Michael Wadleigh) was shot in the Bronx after a large portion of it was burnt down (primarily by landlords or pyromaniacs hired by landlords) and the borough's destruction becomes a part of the film: 

A shot of the Bronx from Wolfen (1981).

Ghostbusters was released in 1984, or thirty years ago this month. Stories have been told, particularly after Harold Ramis' death in February, about how he helped Dan Akroyd scale the film down so it would have a more reasonable budget and therefore more studio support. The film was originally supposed to take place in space in the future, instead of then-modern day NYC. Perhaps partially due to the fact that Ghostbusters was filmed in NYC as well as a soundstage in Los Angeles, the audience is never shown how rough NYC was or looked, even as it was in the beginning-middle stages of being cleaned up. The Ghostbusters somehow never leave Manhattan, nor do they venture to Times Square or 42nd Street - which were filled with porn theaters at the time, because Ghostbusters is a family film. But their work appears to be a metaphor for the clean up NYC was in the midst of during the film's production and release. They are cleaning out the past to make way for a future for the city (or arguably, the ghosts are the have-nots). This is alluded to in one of the perkier MOR songs on the soundtrack with the line "the Ghostbusters are back here, cleaning up the town, oh yeah!" The only allusion given to the aesthetic state of the city is when Egon says the future Ghostbusters HQ is in "a demilitarized zone." 

But of course the clean up job turns out to be much bigger than anticipated, particularly after the government (the EPA) steps in and releases all the ghosts that they have caught. Despite perhaps only having no more than 6 blocks of the city destroyed by the end of the film, mostly due to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man exploding, we find out that the city and state blamed the Ghostbusters***. By the release of the second film, when the clean-up of the city was a success (and maybe a handful of years before the "Disneyfication" of Times Square), the Ghostbusters are not needed anymore. It is hard to say whether they are there to remind the city to not forget its past, including the past buried in NYC's infrastructure, or to remind the city to come together in the face of adversity.  

* If this post seems a bit stilted, it's because it's somewhat impossible to write about the one film I have seen the most times in my life. I used to watch Ghostbusters obsessively as a child, and I still watch it a few times a year as an adult. 
** While there is a coffee table book released within the past 5 years on NYC in films, I do not know if it chronicles the rougher Koch era much. You can see the issues in not only in Taxi Driver and Wolfen, but in The Warriors, Street Trash, C.H.U.D., Smithereens (and Desperately Seeking Susan to a lesser extent), Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper, Frank Henenlotter's films from this period (Basket Case, Frankenhooker, Brain Damage), and you can see the porn districts in Bette Gordon's film Variety. The documentary Blank City features clips from No Wave films and early Jim Jarmusch films shot in the mid-1970s-early 1980s. Escape from New York was primarily filmed in St. Louis, which also had some trouble during the same period.
*** Okay, maybe I am underestimating the destruction. This simulation video released this week demonstrates the amount of damage the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man would do in terms of zones. The maximum impact zone would be 4-6 blocks, while the total impact area appears to be 24 blocks of Manhattan.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Crazy Theory #6: You're Next and Its Ugly, Undeveloped Idea

Promotional street art for You're Next apparently from the Midnight Madness screenings at Toronto International Film Festival. Also: a perfectly good discarded waffle.

SPOILERS because this movie is a few months short of having been out for a year, not counting festivals.

I only went to see You're Next in theaters last summer because a couple of friends wanted my opinion on it. I am not much for home invasion horror, and yet I managed to see this and The Purge last summer for the same reasons. I am not sure that I found either film that interesting or remarkable. If you have seen Twitch of the Death Nerve or Intruder, you have seen You're Next. The only interesting thing about You're Next is the simultaneously explicit and implicit idea that at least one of the children supported the murders because if their parents and most of their siblings were dead, they would inherit enough money to pay back their student loans, as well as the student loans belonging to their girlfriend. Granted, one of the characters already has become a disgrace in his young academic career because he became involved with his girlfriend while she was his student. But the murder for inheritance-for student loan payoffs is an interesting, if ugly and fairly undeveloped idea for a movie with a sea of undeveloped characters. Why no films have been made about generational resentment, I have no idea.

I cannot really discern if most horror films from the past 4-5 years have really have been confronting modern economic issues that well, if at all. But I have increasing trouble paying attention to more recent horror films because very few interest me or appeal to me. Drag Me to Hell is perhaps the most explicit and in the moment, while the first Paranormal Activity film is more implicit about the lending and housing crisis, despite its being made right before the collapse. Sinister's story hinges on the housing crisis at the beginning and end to some extent, but it is not a driving force (although this may be arguable). The reoccurring flashback sequences in Oculus occurs at least 5 or 6 years before the housing and job crisis. American Mary used tuition payment issues as the catalyst, but it is never explicitly stated that it was for student loans, because Mary was still a student and you do not have to pay your loans back while in school. The currently limited release of Cheap Thrills also appears to be confronting the job and housing crisis. I will not lament the issue much, although horror has the reputation for being at the forefront of criticizing modern issues.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Ring (2002) and Its Prediction of Viral Media


I recently re-watched The Ring (2002, dir. Gore Verbinski) for the first time in about ten years because a friend is using it in his thesis on surveillance films. io9 recently ran a discussion post on what films could never be made today, and several people listed The Ring. Granted, it appears that some filmmakers in Japan, Ringu/The Ring's country of origin, have recently tried to place the story into 2014 with a "reboot" of the series. 

I do not necessarily believe that a film like The Ring could not be made today, but what I noticed upon my recent viewing is how it does exist in a certain weird time period in regards to technology. It also seems to predict viral media in a way, while at the same time functioning as an actual virus on some level.

The technology in The Ring exists in a time right before technology became more compact, or more functional. The video itself is on a VHS tape, not DVD. The characters have flip phones, but in their brief use at various points of the film, they almost seem foreign and they definitely cannot get a signal once on the island where Samara originated. The characters still have home phones, whether cordless or not. Rachel (Naomi Watts) conducts her research both in libraries or archives as well as on a computer.

The tape in The Ring functions as a normal biological virus would with the same imperative biological beings have - it has to replicate in order to survive. But where it goes horribly wrong is that if the viewer fails to replicate the tape, the viewer will die, not the virus/tape. The tape seems to exist with the confidence that it will never actually cease to exist, perhaps even predicting that it will continue to exist even as new viewing formats are invented and become popular. Samara's father seems to have an older, top-loading VCR (I mistook it for a Betamax player initially), so the tape began its rotation as home viewing technology became easily accessible. If somehow the series was perpetuated in sequels into the 2010s, there is no reason to disbelieve that the video would be online, or co-existing with physical media as well.

The Ring also came out sort of right at the beginning of viral media – preceded by The Blair Witch Project and its viral marketing campaign in 1999, but the only other sort of “viral” media I can think of or remember around that time are those images of 9/11 that circulated but were also doctored to feature things like Satan’s face in the smoke/dust of the buildings. So The Ring is predicting the uptick of viral media in a way, just making it biological on some level and deadly. Either that or it’s predicting creepypasta, which, like The Ring, exists in a realm that incorporates both urban legends and technology.

PS - The separate issue in this film is the presentation of what are essentially experimental film and Surrealist aesthetics as horror. This is not exactly the first film to do it, I just find it kind of amusing. Because this film was so popular, I like to think that it was the gateway to experimental films for some people.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crazy Theory #4: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4 as Superhero Origin Story



I think between my research a couple of years ago and the documentary Never Sleep Again, in my mind, the Nightmare on Elm Street series has kind of built itself up as the only respectable slasher series. It was consistently trying different things within the confines of slasher sequels, while also having an almost enclosed narrative because it rather smartly stuck to one town or one circle of people. Within the enclosed narrative, only maybe parts 2 and 6 were somewhat jettisoned out of the entire Nightmare narrative to various extents, because Nancy was not linked much in those films. Nancy exists in a sort of off-screen space in 2, with the new inhabitant of her room finding her diary. When she returns for part 3 and later dies after teaching the kids that their "superpowers" within their dreams can help defeat Freddy, she still manages to become the link to the fourth and fifth films. 

Part 4 quickly jettisons the remaining survivors of Part 3, who have returned to relatively normal teenage, high school lives. Kristen manages to call her friend Alice into her dream right before she dies. Alice then gains Kristen's power. As each of her friends and her brother begin to fall victim to Freddy, she gains their skills or powers. Her brother was into karate, her above-pictured friend was into weightlifting, another friend is highly skilled in science and can create tools out of simple objects. Alice becomes the only person who can defeat Freddy with her superpowers and release the souls of her friends and his other victims. Essentially, the film is a sweet story about how your loved ones never really die wrapped in a superhero origin story. This is not to say this storyline is maintained into the fifth film exactly, but it's an interesting experiment for the fourth Nightmare film.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

(Film) books, check 'em ouuuuuuuuut!

Repost from 2011, pre-grad school days. I re-read the two middle books at least twice during the course of my graduate education. The nitpicking may still stand, but I can discuss the theoretical issues with the two books pretty well when I want to.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here are some of the film books I was reading a month or so ago. Other than the Jonathan Lethem book, I felt the need to start out with some classics and basics

Feminist Film Theorists (Routeledge Critical Thinkers Series) - Shohini Chaudhuri
I think the number one thing I learned from this book is of the divide in early feminist film criticism that was American (sociological) versus British (psychological). And for the most part, this book puts forth the more psychological theorists. It's a minor fact, but it sort of explains why I do not absorb the psychological aspects too well. I was very close to minoring in sociology during various points in college as well. This book is mostly good as a starting point, but not much else.




Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and the Films of the Stalker Cycle - Vera Dika
This was released roughly a year before Carol Clover's Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Clover's book is more in-depth. Dika has some fleeting good ideas and it's not too bogged down with psychological theories; but it's a basic book that monotonously outlines the monotony of slasher/stalker films by discussing the plots of about a dozen films; in particular the Jamie Lee Curtis ouevre. Dika's jumping off point is Psycho, but from there she goes straight to Halloween, while only giving passing and brief references to Peeping Tom and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. My problem with this book and Clover's book is that it skips over Black Christmas. I do not know the history of Black Christmas past what Wikipedia tells us, and it wasn't a film I remember seeing around often in video stores when I was a kid and teenager. Was Black Christmas that obscure? Did Dika ignore it because it was Canadian or because it had an experienced cast in John Saxon, Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea; a post-Sisters, pre-Superman Margot Kidder, and a pre-SCTV Andrea Martin? Peeping Tom, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Black Christmas do not completely fit in the checklist of plot occurrences that Dika outlines for the films she discusses in this book, but neither does Psycho. By and large, The Burning seems to be more obscure than Black Christmas, yet that film receives a section in this book.

Other issues I had with this book: the frequent misspellings and typos. She misspells Steven Spielberg's name quite often. It was also hard to tell whether or not Dika was approaching these films from a feminist POV (and then a feminist POV as to whether or not slasher films can be feminist). And the way she used a Freudian binary system to declare characters as valued or devalued did not sit well with me. It's not a terrible book, but it has some issues that made me twitch.


Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film - Carol J. Clover
I have read this book twice now and in regards to the first book I reviewed in this post, I am perhaps still finding trouble absorbing most of the psychological criticism in this book. The only thing I feel as if I better absorbed this time around was the chapter on possession films and the chapter on the sort of meta horror films that concern viewing horror films (Peeping Tom, Demons). I did check out a lot of the films mentioned since having first read this book in 2006, like the oft-mentioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and I Spit on Your Grave. In fact, I checked out so many of these films that I could parse out some of Clover's mistakes (wrong dates, the implication that Motel Hell was inspired by Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 when Motel Hell was released six years before that sequel - also TCM2 is a terrible movie and I don't understand why anyone would want to write at length about it). I can't get too mad at Clover about them though, because for one thing, she's an expert in something like Nordic history. Film is not her primary academic interest, although the dates thing bugs me a bit because most VHS boxes back in the day did have dates on them, and it's not that hard to figure out dates from the roman numerals on copyrights at the end of films. And again, nary a word on Black Christmas, although at least Clover does cover Peeping Tom extensively. Also, for better or for worse, I can't shake off the fact that it is acknowledged by Clover herself in the Afterword that the writer of Slumber Party Massacre 3 changed the story significantly after reading the first chapter of her book, which was released in an academic journal in 1987; making for that film's ugly and brutal third act three years later.


Proof of my marginalia in Men, Women, and Chainsaws.




Deep Focus #1: A Novel Approach to Cinema: They Live - Jonathan Lethem

They Live is the first book in a new series of books published by Soft Skull press that allows fiction writers to discuss their favorite films. I haven't read any other books in the series yet, so I don't know if all the other writers take the same approach as Lethem. Lethem writes about John Carpenter's They Live on a almost shot-by-shot or scene-by-scene basis, each with a timecode reference. Some scenes receive only a paragraph of discussion, others receive up to four pages. It took me awhile to get used to this approach as I was sort of expecting something akin to the short books the British Film Institute publishes on films (although it is mostly film critics and academics who write those) that are long essays or treatises on a certain film. But after getting used to Lethem's approach, I found that he does have some interesting things to say about They Live, especially in connection to the art of Jenny Holzer and Shepard Fairey.