Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Supernatural

Supernatural: The Complete First SeasonI try to avoid commenting on television shows, because each episode can be a creation in itself, and because if you don't like the genre you certainly aren't going to spend fifteen hours watching an entire season, but I want my readership to know that I haven't abandoned my boob tube entirely just because I fell in love with a passing book (The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, incidentally).

Supernatural seems to have taken horror movies to prime time. This show currently runs on the CW, and although I've only seen large chunks of season 1, I've been enjoying it so far. The CW affiliation manifests through the obscenely attractive cast, the constant stream of anorexic blondes (with a few notable variations), and the fairly current-gen pop-culture references (with a few throw-backs to classic horror).

Although the X-Files and other science-fiction shows have televised horror from episode to episode, none of them seem so firmly planted in the genre. Angel and Buffy, although closely related subject-wise, seems to spend less time in fear than they do in drama. Medium and its ilk relate more closely with the perennially popular Crime Drama genre, as did The X-Files, somewhat. Supernatural avoids the crime drama maelstrom entirely by firstly, keeping the main characters just skin-of-teeth distance from becoming fugitives, and secondly, by making them exuberantly hunters instead of brainiac puzzle-solvers. Both of the brothers seem more at home cocking a rock-salt-loaded shotgun than cracking a book (although the writers seem to waffle on this point).

Supernatural frightens. The boys hunt at night, and are hunted. Things go bump in the night. Things jump out of shadow. Blood spurts, splashes, and gushes. Dismemberment abounds. Every cheap trick, every agonizing moment the repairman spends with his hand down the supposedly non-functioning garbage disposal unit, every camera angle hides a bogeyman. Every sunrise falls weakly on another victim. Some might call it intense, but as a long-time fan of supernatural horror genre, I'm enjoying the directorial and authorial display of creativity in what so often proves a stagnant idea pool.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter BrotherAs a comedic enterprise, I must declare this film extraordinarily successful, although logistically derivative. Gene Wilder directed the movie, but all points of directing and humor bear the image of Mel Brooks. The movie is conceptually original (although a broad parody of the Sherlock Holmes ouvre), and it is in the specific jokes, casting, probably production costs, and the ending (as seemingly desperate as an exploding Muppet) that Mel Brooks' influence appears.

This movie is truly funny, with jokes ranging from the raunchy (mostly breasts) to the intellectual (parody of the opera, the opening scene with Queen Victoria). Not once did any of the humor directly imitate Brooks specific jokes, but the flavor and style were unmistakable, probably because the casting was so similar and Brooks had such a handle on this kind of adventure parody (Star Wars, Robin Hood, Westerns, and Frankenstein all came under his artistic license, in two of which he starred Gene Wilder). Wilder's treatment of authority figures, the mixture of personal and family issues within the stereotype being parodied, and the ridiculously flippant ending all resemble Brooks' work.

Here Madeleine Kahn plays her usual brash and erratic character (who sings, naturally), Gene plays the tortured and foolish protagonist (more like Young Frankenstein than Blazing Saddles). Supporting cast includes the inimitable Leo McKern (The Prisoner), Dom DeLuise, Marty Feldman (Young Frankenstein), and Roy Kinnear (Help!).

Although the styles and skills Wilder drew upon were certainly from his time with Brooks (he accuses Brooks of inducting him into comedy), we see Wilder's own crazy stamp on the script itself, and the way it skirts the broad puns and plays for bigger scene-based laughs. This humor is a continuation of his script-writing style from Young Frankenstein, which, although directed by Brooks, integrated larger amounts of Wilder's writing, both on story and script (www.imdb.com).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bird on a Wire

Bird on a WireI'm not sure how I feel about this movie. I haven't spent much time analyzing camera work for adventure films, but I just felt that we strained our necks in so many directions just to catch glimpses of potentially naked bodies. I understand that directors have to keep the male audience members interested, but it felt heavy-handed, as if a disproportionate amount of time and effort were being put into an aspect of the film which didn't warrant the attention.

I'm making a false assumption. I assume that when a film is made, the ultimate goal is art. I forget that, especially in the case of these action/adventures entertainment is the primary objective, rather than lasting art. In more simplistic terms, I'm analyzing magazine ads as if they were Da Vinci.

I liked the soundtrack, and the plot held together well enough, except the background stuff (once again, it seemed disproportionately complex). The acting was adequate for basic suspension of disbelief, and Mel Gibson has a lovely laugh. He does slip out his Australian accent towards the end for a moment. The ending in the zoo was a bit hoaky, but imaginative.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Alice in Wonderland - 3D

Alice in WonderlandCritics don't seem to like this film very much, but I watched it at a matinee, and thoroughly enjoyed the cries of awe from the little children as they had their first 3D experience. It immediately put a smile on my face.

Although I'm inclined to interpret Alice too much like a written work with themes and tropes, I honestly feel there's more to this film than first glance reveals.

The main criticism seems to be that the plot lacked something, and I did feel moments where movement seemed shallow, but ultimately the film captured the nonsensical elements of Lewis Carroll's Alice, and the coming-of-age feeling of Through the Looking Glass but without any surreptitious recitation of "Cherry-Ripe."

For at least a century an essential theme of fantasy literature, especially written for children, was that element of growing out of adventure; C.S. Lewis's children grow too old for Narnia, etc. This film seemed to wish to undo some of that by making Underland (as a REAL place) an essential element of Alice's adult courage. She knew she could face her own reality because of successes she experienced in Underland, and the world above would only have been able to speculate about the source of her sudden strength. Her courage relied substantially on the reality of Underland, because if she'd woken to find it all a dream then her successes would have been as imaginary as the characters. She would have simply been experiencing a Freudian wish-fulfillment dream which would have allowed her to re-integrate with society upon her return. The movie would have had a much different conclusion, and Alice would have had a husband completely devoid of chin.

Alice's decision to fight the Jabberwocky seems somewhat unfounded in logic. The film revolved essentially around that single decision (assuredly an allegory for facing society and an unwanted fiance) but her reasoning was as unsound as that of the White Queen. Some unspecified and under-explained vow prevented the queen from defending her own kingdom, and yet she'd so calmly send a total stranger into battle, as long as she fit the armour.

Elements that fit well were Danny Elfman's original music (barely noticeable except at specific moments, as if he were saying, "I'm here, we may now continue"); Johnny Depp's fluxuating accents; the stark animated settings; the White Queen's connection to death; the Red Queen's relationship with Stayne; her court's false grotesqueries; the chess vs. bridge antagonism; Alice's wardrobe difficulties, and their varied solutions; and the much-improved 3D effects.

Elements which did not seem congruent were Anne Hathaway's acting (although I may be biased - I generally dislike her acting, especially in period pieces, or anything atypical. She just can't seem to pull off anything bizarre, unlike Johnny Depp and Helene Bonham-Carter, both of whom can pull off anything); the White Queen's reluctance to fight (especially as, visually at least, she was an obvious fit for the role); and the role of the prophecy, which seemed unfortunately to detract from the value of Alice's decision to fight.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

MST3K - The Horrors of Spider Island

All episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 must be held up to the standard of Werewolf - My favorite episode so far. I have argued with myself quite often about how much the humor of the show depends on the crappiness of the movie being mocked. Truthfully, I think it has more to do with the humor of the writers and the energy of the performers. Certain kinds of jokes seem to work better than others, although I imagine that without a variety it would become repetitious.
MST3K has three facets, the film, the commentary, and the frame story.

The Horrors of Spider Island was a real stinker. The voices were badly dubbed, and the appeal of the film dependent entirely on the opening premise; newly-auditioned "dancers" crash on an island where they're attacked by really big spiders. I'm laughing just thinking about it.

The commentary has been more witty, but the badly framed camera work, and constantly undressing cast give plenty of fodder. Amongst the mocked are Minnesota, the wearing of flora, men's fashion, the Amish, Sideshow Bob, and the fact that it's basically bad porn from the forties.

The frame humor includes a mock audition in which we spot a fairly thick and very funny movie allusion. Pearl's outfit gets a laugh as well. Them's some big roses, Pete.

Best lines:
"He spotted an air molecule who respects women."
"Soundtrack by Schroeder."
"They will NOT come if I build it; shut up!"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things AreThe visual, textual, and thematic elements of this movie blended seamlessly. Although the tomatometer seemed to see as the only flaw in this film its slower pace, I scoff at those who need to speed movies up to breakneck to enjoy them. The visual elements were almost universally breathtaking, as the camera alternated from Max's young perspective to long shots of atypically beautiful scenery.

If I saw an incongruous element, it was the voices of the monsters. I admire the voice acting, but I think a light filter to lower the tones might have helped the viewer take those first scenes more seriously, as the director obviously intended the film to be taken.

A recurring motif that I thoroughly appreciated was the caves. Each moment has Freudian echoes, although one later cave became something even better - a muppet trope.
The caves begin as Max builds his "igloo" (a snow cave, rather, but he can call it what he likes) to keep himself safe from snowball attacks. It has a serious "cool" factor, because he worked very hard at it all by himself. That fort fails quite seriously, and proves itself quite unsafe.
He builds a fort (tent) in his bedroom out of blankets to keep himself safe from lava, but that fails to attract his mother's attention, and so Max abandons it. An analyst might hypothesize a young boy trying to regress to a point of stronger connectivity between child and mother - the womb.

As Max meets the wild things, he helps destroy their houses (swallows-nest-shaped dwellings made of sticks), and so they sleep in a great pile of plush with Max cuddled in the warm, squishy center. He then begins a great project for a group fort (shaped quite unmistakably like a very pregnant womb), but finds that although he can share his safe place with his new monster friends, he is not safe from them inside it, and so he begins a smaller room just for himself, which angers Carol and precipitates the ending.
Several instances of tunneling also appear, although those are more obscure, from a Freudian perspective.
The Muppet trope, which almost made me giggle if it hadn't been so obviously symbolic, appeared when KW swallows Max to protect him from Carol when Carol has lost his temper.

Muppets are always swallowing each-other (or blowing each-other up), and the directors admit that they use this and other devices liberally to complete a sketch which seems endless (I always get a kick out of it).
Freud would disagree, but I find very little ostensibly symbolic or psychological in the Muppet versions. This movie presents an entirely different prospect, and a moment of psychological awakening for Max as he realizes that now he has found a place most like the womb, he almost suffocates and asks to be pulled out again by the mother-figure (KW). By achieving this revelation, he feels comfortable returning to his own home, a site of uncertainty and disillusionment. Max has learned to create his own safe place inside his own head; he can reconnect with his mother as a separate entity, rather than needing to be part of her again.

Where the Wild Things Are earned my admiration, and not just from the scenery and symbolism. The cast and crew created a smooth sail from reality and back again.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Premonition

No, not the one with Sandra Bullock, the one filmed in 1976.

The tomato-meter shows one "fresh" rating, but I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. I found very little laudable about this film except its ambitions.

A few moments captured my attention. The opening scenes seemed very verite and a little artsy, especially while the camera followed the mime as he warmed up, but these few artistic shots seemed to have little coherence to the film as a whole. They follow the beautiful biological mother very sympathetically, which served to support a particular interpretation of the film, but did not progress the plot. The viewer experiences some confusion of sympathies, especially when he or she compares the two women, and finds the adoptive mother less attractive, and much more hysterical, if not more irrational.

One or two moments of shaky camera-work add to the confusion of a scene here and there, but also detract from the seeming eeriness of the remaining smooth, calm panning shots, the latter of which served at least to build suspense

The actors gave mediocre performances. Both of the adoptive parents paused for several seconds before launching themselves at would-be kidnappers in mad hysteria. Their screams grated, displayed an identical madness to the visions of a murderer and kidnapper.

The director chose to portray a moment of possible infidelity before the kidnapping drama emerged. These few scenes deepen the adoptive father's character, but make the film a little tawdry. The sub-plot doesn't support the science vs. parascience discussion, and the whole subplot is abandoned when the object of Miles' secondary affections starts helping his wife discover her abnormal connections.

The main complain I must make about this film is inconsistency; inconsistency of sympathy, camera work, treatment of major themes, and style. Although it is called a horror film, I found it more disturbing (in an annoying way) than frightening.