Sunday, February 28, 2010

Out of Mind

This independent horror film actually frightened me. A moment - almost ridiculous in its banality - struck me as truly a thing of nightmare. Even without the big production polish, this film captured Lovecraft on film as if he were a damned soul under fascinated scrutiny.

Utilizing seemingly-authentic footage of an H. P. Lovecraft interspersed with period and contemporary footage, Out of Mind explores the realms of fiction, hallucination, fantasy, and nightmare. This film captured almost perfectly the way Lovecraft, as if anticipating audiences flooded with images and dulled to monsters, uses the unknown, the darkness (as his predecessor Poe) to frighten.

Like Primer, some of the convolutions, dream sequences, and flashbacks become difficult to follow, especially if you are only paying half attention. Unlike Primer, the experience still entertains that way. The watcher simply learns to accept the succession of images without struggling to solve the labyrinth.

When you have seen the thing in the darkness, when you have recognized your enemy, it has lost some power over you. You have named it, quantified it, and now you know you can imagine worse. Poe and Lovecraft (and a writer of Doctor Who) both knew this, and so they cloaked their enemies in darkness the way John Carpenter used fog. The watcher, you, are left with an enemy as horrifying as you can imagine. It doesn't usually get any scarier than that, as Stephen King knows.

The shorts, as extras, also largely worked well. These snippet stories were filmed by several different directors and companies, but I do recommend "The Music of Erich Zann", also available on youtube.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Prince Charming

Although it's a rather silly movie, I found Prince Charming, well, charming. I usually enjoy watching Christina Applegate, and in this film she was continuing a common plot/trope from an earlier film. She plays host to a time traveler and finds herself learning from him the meaning of love/chivalry. So far, so good. Add to that Bernadette Peters, a few swordfights, and several off-color jokes, and I'll be diverted for a few hours at least.

Thinking about Christina Applegate, though, does she always wear such dark lipstick? I think she might seem a different character with less noticeable colors.

The medieval scenes were quite a bit hammed, but I don't think they were aiming for authenticity (it wouldn't have hurt the film if they had). My little sister complained about the animated frogs, but I didn't have any more of an issue with them than I did that first bit of acting. It was all generally of the same ilk.

I adored Bernadette Peters, and I thought she and her acting troupe did quite well. Her character was rather simple, but it fit the plot nicely, and she struck just the right chord of jealous girlfriend, Shakespearean ham, and aging seductress. I enjoyed her scenes very much.

The prince must have been type-cast for his boyish looks and long hair. To be fair, though, his character was badly written. The final reconciliation required that his character change more significantly than the plot allowed. Perhaps the writers were sparing us from scenes in which his inferior acting would detract from intended character development. Or perhaps they simply didn't think about it at all.

I think that actor might have been more at home in something more gritty, or techno-futuristic.

Martin Short, Andrea Martin, and Billy Connolly all gave excellent performances, but they are also strongly proven actors, and live up to their reputations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Picture Perfect

I did not enjoy this movie. It exuded "inane." I found nothing picturesque, interesting, or original in it. The acting was just fine, but the script didn't call for any real stretches or emotion, so the performance wasn't anything to be proud of.
The characters felt ridiculous and unlovable without purpose. The masculine lead role came across as tooth-ache sweet, and the feminine lead, despite her own conclusions that she's a "good girl" did and said nothing to provide any evidence. The only reason we believe her is that she has a mother. That movie gimmick doesn't fly. Hitler had a mother too.
The feminine lead displayed sub-standard morals in her sexuality and lack of honesty. She also acted irritable and unattractive. I felt appalled when she bullied her way into the masculine lead's life at the end. Instead of feeling a meeting of equals, a satisfying union, I felt sorry for him, and afraid for his future.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wings of Desire

It's in German (and some French, and a few words in English) with English subtitles. Don't be scared off by that. You might wish to be wary of some brief nudity towards the beginning, though.

This film, featuring the bitter tones of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and live performances also from Crime and the City Solution, captured tone - a difficult tone - somewhere between a joyous awakening and the pain of separation. The film moved slowly, eventually fluxuating between black and white and color film. Images carefully cut onto the screen and dubbed with deep thoughts stay to be digested, rather than glimpsed at and assimilated only by a subconscious. The symbolisms and situations, heavy as they are, come to rest in a film that unlike American movies doesn't rush headlong into a teary ending but instead paces steadily, balancing disparate elements like a circus performer.

The ending, rather than rejoicing in the happiness of one character, or wallowing in sorrow, actually finds a bitter-sweet center, a place where the past and the future reconcile. It's a place Germany has been searching for for a long time.

Although not the star, Peter Falk gave an endearing performance. I like him the more.

Although the American film "City of Angels" was obviously based on this German production, like most American remakes of foreign films, I suspect it to be much too heavy-handed, and I'm patently refusing to see it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Besides the totally outdated technology prevalent throughout the entire film, this movie grated on my nerves precisely every time Al pulled out his despairing or angry screech. It was exactly like watching a two-year-old throw a tantrum (and I would know, having spent this last weekend with SEVEN of the most adorable human rodents in the universe), but to be fair, the effect was probably intentional.

Don't think I didn't love the rest. The movie was really funny. The parodies of then-popular movie franchises were just high-budget enough to be unmistakable, and just dramatic enough to be almost flattering. I particularly enjoyed Conan the Librarian's accent, the Rambo parody (lovely muscle-suit), and the opening Indiana Jones sequence - complete with a lovely imitation of Harrison Ford's deadpan acting.

The plot was thoroughly predictable which made the characters themselves a parody of the romantic comedy as well. It's either brilliant or sad, depending on how broadly or subtly you think Weird Al writes parody. I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think I'd describe it as thorough, rather than heavy-handed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conan the Destroyer

This film has the dubious honor of being the only Conan film not rated R, although I don't see why it isn't. Few serious films contain quite so much waxed flesh; to be fair, though, I'm not certain this was a serious film.

If Conan the Destroyer has a selling point, it must be in the conceptual designs. Although too many of the props in this pre-historic age were made of plastic, many of the sets were breathtaking, with the exception of scenes shot in the Mojave desert, which, though imbued with sentimental value, don't exactly scream "exotic." A castle of mirrors on a lake mostly made up for that bit of homey nostalgia.

The humor would have held more significance if all of the jokes hadn't been dubbed slightly askew from the picture. It played merry hell with the timing.

Seriously, if you ever decide to watch this movie just watch for moments - still images that fire the imagination. In between, tolerate the almost-nudity and questionable acting.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Truth About Charlie

I know Charles Aznavour from a single source: The Muppet Show, Season 1. Watching The Truth About Charlie, a remake of Charade starring Mark Wahlberg, made me love him all the more. Charlie was a rough film, and the action scenes often lacked the crispness of blockbuster films, but throughout the movie the flavors were undeniably French. A dark scene on a dance floor made some awkward noises, but ultimately delighted me, as did several other interesting sequences.

The film began as a very precise replica of the original, and indeed, the crux of the issue, (spoiler alert) the stamps reprised their role as McGuffin. Although I would have been satisfied if the parallels had continued (I enjoyed the original, and wouldn't mind seeing it again, but updated), the truths one trusted from the original film blurred, and were erased by a somewhat clumsy directorial hand. Unlike the original, in which although we never quite know who Cary Grant will turn out to be we always trust that he's the good guy, Mark Wahlberg treads a much finer line. We want him to mirror Cary Grant simply because he's so adorable, and yet bloody, knife in hand, a desperate scowl molded from his clay face, the viewer feels sure he has embraced the dark side, something I feel that perhaps the original didn't miss, but certainly might have contained under different circumstances in which it would not have marred the total experience.

The showdown climax, probably the most difficult scene or scenes, lacked something. (Another Spoiler) With only a small complication, they concluded as did the original. Directing a re-make of a suspense movie posed an impossible task here. Although the plot had varied enough from the original to make the scene retain some tension, the conclusion of that scene proved almost a let-down. The viewer watches, wondering who these people really are, what they'll do, and then finds that he or she has been watching a re-make, something he or she had briefly hoped to forget.

The denoument scenes were original. Lewis's office was a delightful hodge-podge of originality, finally creating for us a likable personality from what has been throughout the film merely an occupational ghost. Watch for the props.
Charles Aznavour sparkled. I wasn't sure what the secretary was doing, and I didn't like the ages and ages in which the camera snap-shot Reggie and Lewis with their faces plastered together. I thought Carson Dyle's comeuppance, though a little fantastical, rounded out the film nicely, but did stray from the typical bleakness of French film.

I give it seven critics quills from me, but expect the general audience not to award more than three, if they can finish it.