Thursday, March 31, 2011

Raimifest Day 5: Submissions

Day 5 of Raimifest and we're still going strong. Got some great reading to go.

Long time friend of site/all around good guy Elwood Jones brings us a look at The Quick And The Dead direct From The Depths Of DVD Hell.

Undy A Hundy makes a welcome return with a quick look at Army Of Darkness.

A promising new blog Spellbound Cinema takes an insightful look at The Quick And The Dead. Which has improbably ended up being responsible for some of the best writing of the fest.

Also Dumkoff that I am I left Josh Bell's review of Intruder up yesterday without any link to the work. I'm remedying that now.

And wrapping things up today we have a look at Evil Dead 2, by Darren at M0vieblog. It'll swallow your soul.


Raimifest Day 5: The Gift

What is so striking about The Gift upon revisiting it, is just how little of a horror film it is. Made during the height of Raimi’s mainstream period, the relatively staid films that Raimi directed inbetween his two franchises, The Gift would seem the type of film more comfortable playing in a double feature with Winter’s Bone than Evil Dead. Not necessarily a bad thing either.

The Gift features a script by Billy Bob Thorton and one of those casts that could only exist for the five minutes that the movie was being made. The kind that make you pause and go, “Cate Blanchett, Michael Jeter, Keanu Reeves, Katie Holmes, JK Simmons, Rosemary Harris, Giovane Ribsi, Greg Kinear, and Hillary Swank in a SOUTHERN Gothic. What the fuck?”

This motley crew of principles is assembled for the story of Annie Wilkes a small town psychic who has troubles enough before the local wild child goes missing, and she’s called on to use her powers to help the search.

It’s a film just as interested in the atmosphere and rhythms of the small town life as it is the solutions to its central and tangential mysteries. It’s the kind of place that Raimi and Blanchett take care in etching as awash in Southern Gothic tropes as it is (as Ebert noted “This is the kind of film where if you see a pond you know it’ll get dredged.) Carefully drawing a place awash in tradition and the kind of idle paternalism where the very act of Annie being a widow makes her suspect. After reporting an assault to a deputy and being told “Whelp Donnie’s a little high strung but I don’t think he’d do nothin’ like that. You know what kind of place it is.

The lackadaisical approach to the central mystery ends up being both its strength and weakness. Like the filmmakers realized they only had five minutes lef to go. To the characters in the story the supernatural is just another part of every day life, and Raimi shoots it more or less accordingly. Only breaking out his lurid feverish side for a dream like cameo from Danny Elfman, as a one legged swamp fiddler who haunts Blanchett’s dreams. Don’t go back to reread that sentence. You read it correctly.

The film’s cast does a game job, with Blanchett giving the kind of quality performance that always gets over looked because it’s in a genre film, Kinear at the height of his “rancid nice guy phase” and Keanu Reeves doing a shockingly credible job as an angry self pitying redneck. Don’t go back to reread that sentence. You read it correctly. Others, particularly Katy Holmes and Hilary Swank are left playing schtick. Looking and sounding as if they’re trying out for a road company Tennessee William’s play.

Try as it might the film doesn’t quite hold together. There are enough red herrings to open a fish market and it’s the type of film that doesn’t so much end as abruptly stop as if the filmmakers just realized that they had five minutes left before the end.

Because of all it’s problems The Gift will always be a minor film in Raimi’s career but it’s the kind of minor film that can make digging into the backlog of a director so rewarding for a starting cinephile. A film that is upfront about its flaws and does not insist on its pleasures so much as idly insinuates them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Raimifest Day 4: Darkman

Though Darkman is often referred to as a superhero movie, it’s really more of a pulp film. It’s not exactly surprising that the film isn’t often referred to as such. Unlike the superhero, the pulp hero outside of his native habitat is not very well defined. The most notable entries into the film world are the Doc Savage adaptation, which is so bad that it makes the very angels weep, and Russell Mulcahy version of The Shadow, which my critical integrity forces me to admit, I have something of a soft spot for. Shut up. I saw it young. Shut up.

But while those two icons, so ill fated in the cinema, are the most famous remainders of the pulp era, there were others. Operator #5, Nick Carter and The Spider, the ultimate killer vigilante who used to brand his target’s foreheads before killing them. Peyton Westlake with his dark origins, super scientist background and baroque methods fits right in among this motley crew. Not a clean cut avenger, but a maimed and damaged hero whose revenge stems from satisfaction as much as it does justice.

Though it’s often lumped in with the action spectacles of the late eighties and early nineties Darkman only really becomes an action film in it’s final third (with a helicopter chase in particular acting as a showcase for what Raimi would do with the opportunity for mayhem provided to him by the Spiderman films). Most of the film is taken up by Westlake’s increasingly ornate plans for revenge. Which range in tone from horror film to three stooges short, Raimi takes full advantage of the characters adaptability, at times a monster hulking in the sewers, at others playing his own deadly version of “Rabbit Season/Duck Season.”

Like Evil Dead, Darkman suffers/benefits from a real schizophrenia of tone. Mixing some truly brutal scenes, with goofy comic relief, and anachronistic techniques (Particularly the overlays during the fantastic “I’M DOING SCIENCE!” montages). Its important to note that this clashing of tone doesn’t come from Raimi’s nervousness as a filmmaker, the way it might with someone uncomfortable with the tropes of pulp. On the contrary it stems from Raimi’s confidence with the material. Not that he’s not playing it straight, but that he’s playing it so straight he has the courage to follow the story to all the crazy places it takes him.

He’s matched in conviction by Liam Neeson. Like Crimewave before it Raimi found himself forced to cast the role he’d written for Campbell with another actor. Unlike in Crimewave, the choice works kind of brilliantly. As sorry as I am that Campbell ended up continuously passed over for the lead roles he so richly deserved, Neeson is perfect here. Giving the material here the complete dedication it needs. Whether swearing revenge or demanding his Pink Elephant Neeson plays the movie completely straight, and with his hulking presence and charisma he’s equally good at playing the man and the monster. Frances Mc Dormand also helps in giving the film a human center. One of Raimi’s greatest strengths has always been his need to couch spectacle in character, for a genre filmmaker he’s very much a humanist, and I think it’s in Darkman that you really see that start to cohere.

In many ways Darkman is the most important film in Raimi’s career. Countering Crimewave with proof that his voice could survive contact with a major studio and a budget larger then the change he found under the floormats in the classic.

Raimifest Day 4: Submissions

Whoo we're on Day 4 and no cracks in my sanity yet. Aside from the laughing deer head behind me. Seriously though you guys have made opening my inbox a real treat this past week and it just keeps getting better...

Darren from M0vie Blog writes a fantastic piece about what made Sam Raimi the perfect director for Spiderman. His best work yet this blogothon.

Meanwhile Internet Buddy Emily from The Deadly Doll's House Of Horror Nonsense takes on A Simple Plan with a very nice piece. And for her efforts gets emotionally destroyed.

Josh Bell from Signal Bleed takes a look at Raimi's appearance in forgotten Slasher movie directed by his old buddy Scott Spiegel, The Intruder. You mean he plays someone named "Randy The Butcher" and there's no gag about it?

Tom Clift makes his triumphant return to the blogothon with a take on Army Of Darkness that is well worth reading.

So yesterday we had House Of Sparrows present a well made case for For Love Of The Game. Today WB. Kelso, demonstrating the affection and level of detail that makes Micro Brewed Reviews one of my favorite new(ish) additions to my blog roll, defends Raimi's even redder headed step step child Crimewave.

And wrapping things up for today we have Hans from the legendary Quiet Cool also making a good case for Intruder.

That's it for today's entries in Raimifest. I'll see you all back here in a little bit with my post for the day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Raimifest Day 3: Army Of Darkness

If one skips over the transformative second film (as I am doing in order to cover as many of Raimi’s films as possible) the change in tone between Evil Dead and Army Of Darkness is so complete that it seems nearly alchemical. Who would take these films for kissing cousins? Let alone siblings. Army Of Darkness is singular as Evil Dead is dissonant, light hearted as the first film is bleak, cartoonish as the first film is realistic as large scale as the first is small. It literally is everything the first film is not.

Of course the film’s share a fair amount of DNA. Not just in the literal sense, with Campbell, Raimi and the mythology of the Kandarian demons. But also in the style equal parts inventiveness and irreverence and the sheer glee Raimi takes in its mayhem.

Though the 12 million dollar budget is positively chintzy compared to the level Raimi would eventually get to work on, it still gives the film a suitably epic feel and hints at the way Raimi would be able to keep his sense of fun and anarchic inventiveness to larger and larger scales. Yet unlike some of Raimi’s later films Army Of Darkness still feels endearingly handmade (Take the shot were Campbell driving the combat version of The Classic plows through an army of obviously unanimated skeletons. Their overdubbed screams the only sign of life that they are able to give.)

Both Raimi and Campbell are operating here with a complete and rare confidence. Campbell having refined Ash from his original beleagured everyman archetype to a comic persona equal parts bravado, indestructibility and an inescapable yellow streak, like if someone took Don Knotts and made him a demon killing sex god, that Campbell plays to perfection.

Raimi, fresh from the nightmare of Crimewave and the studio pressures of Darkman is clearly having a blast. There is an unfettered delight to the film, both in the torments it visits upon the characters (including a shot of an old hag spitting chewed bread as she spouts the unforgettable line “Into the pit with those bloodthirsty sons of whores!” That could be an outtake from Drag Me To Hell, sent back through time) and the increasingly unlikely ways his heroes overcome them.

Perhaps that is the key difference between the two films, the shift from The Deadites as unstoppably powerful entities who shuck the souls of their victims from their bodies like corn to an army of absurd slapstick stop motion skeletons. The Three Stooges could have defeated this Army Of Darkness without breaking too much of a sweat (despite Bill Mosely in a suitably freaky performance) which is I suppose rather the point.

While the perpetually rumored possibility of an Evil Dead 4 will always be an intriguing possibility, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion than this. Whether you prefer Ash returning to the modern day a God among retail, or him ending up perpetually screwed (which in all fairness is exactly how the other two films end) Army Of Darkness fits the bill of a victory lap so well that it almost would seem like tempting fate. Like a victory lap it perhaps lacks the intensity of the first two runs around the track. But it’s tough to hold it against it when it’s clearly enjoying its moment of glory so much.

Raimifest Submissions Day Three:

It's day three here at Raimifest and we're still going strong. The response has been overwhelming. No seriously, I mean that literally. I'm still sifting through submissions from various places. But I want to get this up by noon noonish. Thank you so much for everyone who has sent me stuff and if you don't see it here yet, don't worry, I have it. It'll just be going up on Day Four.

Stacia from She Blogged By Night finishes off her great round of pictoral/oral histories of The Evil Dead Series with Army Of Darkness. These entries have been among my favorite stuff from so far from the blogothon and further proof that She Blogged By Night is awesome. If Stacia isn't on your blog roll all I can say is "Whatsamatteryou?!?"

Darren from M0vieblog returns with another fantastic review, this time of Evil Dead. If you've read his past two entries you don't need me to tell you how good he is. If you haven't read his past two entries go back and do so and that way I won't have to tell you how good he is. (He's really really good.)

Heather from the aptly named Sweet Henrietta has a great list of her favorite deadites in the franchise. No points for guessing who comes in first.

She also offers this great Youtube channel that is simply stuffed with Raimi esoterica. It's a blast but it'll eat your afternoon more ravenously than any deadite. I mean holy shit did you know that Raimi directed an Absolute Vodka ad starring John Saxton? I didn't.

Bill R. from one of my favorite blogs The Kind Of Face You Hate, was kind enough to write a quick introduction to Raimifest. Bill's full entry will be coming later in the week. But like anything he writes this is worth reading.

Seriously Dave puts together an eloquent defense of Raimi's red headed stepchild of a movie. Making me want to revisit it for the first time since... well this might actually be the first time I've ever wanted to revisit for For Love Of The Game.

Finally to go out on a strong note we have Cole Roulin's absolutely stellar take on A Simple Plan. Cole's vitagraph American is one of my favorite blogs and pieces like this show exactly why.

Well that ends a top notch Day 3 at Raimifest. I'd like to thank all of the contributors for helping to make this what it has become. I've already got some great stuff lined up for Day 4 and beyond. I'll be posting my piece a little later then usual today. But somehow with work such as these I doubt you'll miss me all that much.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Raimifest Submissions Day Two:

The hits just keep on coming. To potential contributors know that you can write about anything Raimi Related. Hudsucker Proxy. Sure. Role as the sniggering gunman in Miller's Crossing? That's just fine. As long as you can keep them as good as today's crop I'll be as happy as a Lamia stalking people in Pasadena.

Darren returns with his insightful take on Darkman. Raimi's strangest superhero movie, until you know... that one.

Inspeaking of returning writers bringing the greatness, Stacia from She Blogged By Night returns with her second oral history/pictorials of the Evil Dead movies. It's just as cool as the first.

Fine reviewer, comic artist and supplier of Geneco Brothers Olive Oil, StuartOhQueue takes a look at Drag Me To Hell and finds The Lamia waiting.

If you're wondering why I didn't end up writing about Evil Dead 2 this week despite it being my favorite of the trilogy, it's because it's also one of my favorite movies of all time.

Like I said, one of my major goals with this blogothon was to incorporate different kinds of content then what you usually get from a blogothon. These guys are dictionary definition "good people" and it's always a blast shooting the shit with them. But this time was went above and beyond. It was a real blast to record and I hope it's fun to listen to. So I hope you do, and give the fellas a subscription on Itunes while you're at it. They're always good company.

Raimifest Day 2: Evil Dead

For all the cult love that has been thrown its way Evil Dead is a surprisingly hard movie to pin down, when you try to judge it on its own merits rather than those of the franchise that it happens to appear in.

Lets put it this way, if neither of its sequels existed do you think anyone would refer to Evil Dead as a horror comedy?

I think not.

Put another way, if none of its sequels existed would you think anyone would refer to Evil Dead as a “fun” movie?

Once again I think probably not.

Yet it would never easily rank next to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Blair Witch Project or Night Of The Living Dead. Its flavor is not the stark, merciless horror that one associates with low budget productions. When you talk about those movies phrases like “documentary” “newsreel” or in TCM’s case even “Snuff” are used to describe the vibe of the movie. Which is something that you’d never say about Evil Dead, with its stop motion effects and fountains of gore. Archness isn’t the right word, but it’s the closest that comes to mind unless I want to use the unhelpfully vague “strange”. There’s just no getting around the fact that Evil Dead is an inescapably odd movies. It’s as if someone made a Looney Tunes cartoon about a grisly murder.

Yet I would argue that it is exactly this queasy inconsistency of tone that makes the film so unforgettable. When you see it you immediately want to go back and figure out what you’ve just seen. Like the infamous tree rape you’re pretty sure you’ve just seen a joke but it’s a pretty fucking bleak one.

The aesthetic is similarly divided, with the low rent scenes of the group of friends fucking around the cabin conflicting with the full on monsters who confront them. They feel as if they don’t belong together. As if the demons are intruding on a movie that didn’t expect them. Even Ash, though ably played by Campbell had yet to morph into the iconic wisecracking badass/chicken heart that would make him synonymous with awesome. His overriding persona is one of complete and total bewilderment. It feels wrong and isn’t that the essence of horror?

Perhaps it’s that ambition to offer that sense of bewilderment, that cousin of awe that truly separates Evil Dead from its fellow independent brethren. Horror has long been the go to genre for the poor and ambitious (or greedy) precisely because it is so easy to do. Take a bunch of young kids who won’t ask for much money, stick them somewhere isolated and have another young kid in a mask pretend to stab them. Bingo bango you’re halfway home. I of course don’t mean to disparage this type of independent horror film. Obviously there is that purity of vision and skill that separates the films in that form. That separates the wheat of your Halloween’s and Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s from the disposable chaff that swims feebly in their wake.

My point is simply how Evil Dead doesn’t play remotely by that rulebook or anything like it (Phantasm would be the only film that springs to mind with similar ambition). Not content with a psycho in a mask with a kitchen implament, or even a restless spirit from an old Indian Burial Ground, The threat in Evil Dead has immensity. Lovecraftian Demon’s called from the outer dark who shrug on human bodies as easily as worn hoodies and with as little resistance. An entire woods mobilized against the helpless victims and of course the signature visual of the series, an immense force so great so terrifying that it cannot even be contained by the camera, creeping through the woods with terrible omniscience. How are the callow heroes supposed to stand up to such power?

They’re not.

Evil Dead has laughs that stick in the throat and taste like pennies. It has scares but they don’t so much scare as they do profoundly unsettle. They add up to something unforgettable.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Raimifest Submissions Day One:

Todays the first day of sacrifices submissions and let me tell you it's a bumper crop. Two quick bits of business before we get there. Once more I'd like to thank Deptford for the groovy logo and if you've yet to read his fantastic webcomic Surrealist Obituaries, you should do so forthwith or face the wrath of Eldercash!!!

Also I'd like to remind everyone that there is a contest ongoing with the submissions. The most unusual post, be it review, webcomic, or life sized statue of Bruce Campbell made of Butter gets a shirt from Crazy Dog T-Shirts. This is only the sharpest in S-Mart Finery.

Getting us off to a strong start, the invaluable Stacia at She Blogged By Night, gets us off to a different start. Providing a mini oral/pictoral history of Evil Dead. It's awesome.

Tom Clift at the eponymous reviews by Tom gives us his take on the other end Raimi's career the horror classic Drag Me To Hell.

The Nine Fingered Menace gives his take on Raimi's famous faceless menace Darkman. How great is it that Raimi realized that actor/terrifying Irish Bear Liam Neeson was a badass before anyone else.

Throughout the fest I'll be supplying deep cuts from my own Raimi reviews I've already covered. Here's one I did for Arbogast's The One You Would Have Saved Series about poor poor Ellen Sandweiss.

And taking us out on a strong note for the day, Darren of The M0vie Blog who contributed one of the best pieces to The Christopher Nolan Blogothan was gracious enough to return for Raimifest, and he brought along a great piece about Spiderman 2 with him.

Raimifest Day 1: Within The Woods

Lets go back to the beginning. Within The Woods. The film that convinced a bunch of Midwestern dentists to give a couple hundred thousand dollars to three strange kids, led by a cocky twenty year old, who thought they could make a horror movie out in a cabin they knew about.

But of course that’s not really the beginning. The wonderful thing about Raimi is that the beginning truly seems to have been his beginning. Like a filmmaking John Henry, Raimi was born to make movies.

The DVD I own of Within The Woods includes other Raimi shorts that predate it; including the infamous Attack Of The Helping Hand:

Cleveland Smith: Bounty Hunter, and Torro Torro Torro. But according to Bill Warren’s The Evil Dead Companion I’m missing titles that come before that. Film’s like William Shakespeare: The Movie, It’s Murder, The Happy Valley Kid, Clockwork (Raimi’s first horror film), I’ll Never Heil Again, all the way back to Inspector Klutz Saves The Day, made when Raimi was ten.

This might seem like so much esoterica and undoubtedly it is. But it is also illustrative of something that is in the core of Raimi as a filmmaker, the thing I want to highlight with this blogothon, the irrepressible instinct towards filmmaking.

In today’s era of “light by eye” digital cameras and editing systems for the taking I feel like it may be lost on some of my younger readers just how remarkable this DIY instinct was. In the democratization of filmmaking a certain aspect of film production has been lost. It used to be, for independent filmmakers, the fact that you could make a film was as significant as the film itself. Filmmaking was not a lark, even the simplest required dedication that verged on monastic in the demands of the shooting, editing and expense of it’s making. Raimi embodied that dedication and he did it so lightly that the smirk never left his face.

So how is Within The Woods? Well the phrase “completists only” comes to mind. I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing, the film is fascinating in how it allows us to chart Raimi’s development as a filmmaker. Mostly because of what Raimi doesn’t do in it. Let me put it this way, I’ve never respected Evil Dead more than after watching Within The Woods.

So what is it that separates Within The Woods from Evil Dead? What is it that makes one an obscure test run and the other a cult classic?

Well the funny thing about Within The Woods is just how standard it is. Were it not for the presence of such Raimi regulars as Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss and Scott Spiegel one would hardly be able to differentiate it from any other bloody cheapie. The film follows a couple who goes camping in the woods and make the unwise decision to picnic over an old Indian Burial Ground. Bruce Campbell is possessed and chases the other back to a cabin where he kills their waiting friends.

If that sounds familiar it won’t be the last time. Much of the make up, props, concepts, lines, even entire sequences that will show up over the next two Evil Dead films are here, fully formed. Though little of their imagination, tension, humor or creativity is evident (truth in criticism the copy I have is ugly as sin. 8mm is a notoriously muddy stock to begin with, but my copy is obviously taken from what looks like an eighteenth generation dub of a VHS, with the tracking marks to prove it. Still I pride myself on thinking that I’d know a creative set up when I saw it. Mud or no.) In all fairness the film does have Raimi’s trademark gusto, sick creativity in its effects and aforementioned inherent joy in its making. The film does its moments, including a shot of a severed hand upsetting a board of monopoly that hints at the dark humor of the upcoming films and a nicely done stinger at the end. But it’s not where Within The Woods is similar to Evil Dead that is so important. It is the key places were the films diverge.

Contrast that dusty old “Old Indian Burial Ground” cliche to Raimi’s intricate and fractured Kandarian mythology. Compare the bland cast of Raimi’s short to the idiosyncratic cast of oddballs and chicken hearts who would popular Raimi’s later trilogy. Compare the standard jump scares to the demented anarchy of his later horror. Now obviously this is a short so a certain short hand is necessary for communication sake. The lesson Raimi seems to have taken from the film is that more of his personality in the film the better it would be. Few directors have been as well served.

Within The Woods is exactly what it looks like, a demo reel, a warm up, a film that bites at the chance to prove what they can really do. On those terms it succeeds beautifully. It was good enough to convince a bunch of Midwestern Dentists and it was good enough to convince me. Of course Raimi had just barely revealed his potential…

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blogothon Won't You? Thank You.

Tomorrow starts Raimifest. It's going to be awesome.

Send me your pieces at

See you then.

Sucker Punch

To say that critics have turned on Sucker Punch is like saying a pitbull turns on a raw piece of Porterhouse. It doesn’t quite convey the savage glee of the mauling. It has inspired the kind of histrionic pile up reviews that cause no end of temple rubbing and inspired me to start blogging in the first place and not just because I’m the internet’s foremost Zack Snyder apologist™.

Let’s get this out of the way. Sucker Punch isn’t perfect. More than anything it feels like a movie that is a good two drafts away from being the movie it could have and should have been. Stronger threads between the real world and the two levels of “Baby Doll’s” madness could have created a film as pleasing as storytelling as spectacle. As is Snyder devalues his own storytelling currency. As I wrote before I think Snyder’s strongest attribute as a director is his inability to wink. Well, he still doesn’t wink here, but he makes it far too easy to remove yourself.

Still if Sucker Punch isn’t perfect, what it is is an epic audacious dare. As operatic a slice of id as Alan Parker’s The Wall or the collected works of Russ Meyer. A cheerfully adolescent, delirious, gleeful prank as openly fetishistic as any of Tarantino’s movies. A film that does donuts in the parking lot while blasting "Sweet Emotion"in a muscle car made of studio money, its middle finger raised joyfully in the air. A film that actually has the balls to use Jefferson’s Airplane’s “White Rabbit” unironically. Feed your head indeed.

The story follows Baby Doll who is committed to a nightmare mental asylum where she will be lobotomized in five days by Jon Hamm (in a cameo as effective as it is inexplicable). To protect herself she goes down a layer into madness imagining the asylum as a bordello and occasionally descends a deeper layer into “missions” which represents her escape plans (and truth in criticism could have done a much better job in representing her). The insurmountable flaw of Sucker Punch is that those three levels feel completely divorced from one another. Once Baby Doll falls into the first fantasy we never see the asylum again and though we understand that the missions are supposed to correspond to what is happening in the real world we’re never given any idea of how the hell that would be possible.

The film’s fundamental problems of storytelling are made up for by the sheer charisma of the enterprise. This is Snyder following his own personal rabbit hole as deep as it goes and I have to imagine this will end up being the purest expression of his work. Luckily he has a cast game enough to follow him along. Emily Browning in particular does extremely good work, a strong enough center to keep this improbable circus from falling apart. Jena Malone is also particularly charismatic and if nothing else give Snyder credit for being the one to wake up and go “Oh yeah Scott Glenn is awesome!”

The charisma extends to the imagery; soldiers in trenchcoats who bleed steam, giant samurai with masks that borrow Malcolm McDowell’s phallic nose and cities fallen into ash. As has been noted these are all images much more likely to be found inside the skull of Zack Snyder then in the mind of a twenty year old girl in the 1950’s. But once you accept that, once you realize that the fifties and girl power trappings are just an extension of that fact rather then the box around them, Sucker Punch becomes an altogether different experience.

So call it empty (it’s not) call it Side Scroller: The Movie (it kind of is, though Snyder continues to be one of the few modern action directors who cares about little things like "Geography" and "Coherence") but don’t call it timid. It’s like a foul ball that sails out of the stadium past the parking lot and shatters a shop window three blocks away. Perhaps it has not succeeded in its aims, but all failures should be this spectacular.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The 25: Coda


Thanks to everyone who followed along with me on The 25. One reoccuring column down, about fifty more to go.

All joking aside these guys are good people. So check em out!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The 25: Part 25: The Z Channel

“There but for the grace of God go I.” It was something my Mother taught me to say. And to this day if I see someone destitute, someone hurt, someone sick, that’s usually the first thing that flashes through my mind. If that sounds haughty or snobbish to you that is not how it’s meant. On the contrary, it’s very humble. The key word there is “I” not “there”. The acknowledgement that were circumstances just the slightest bit different I could be exactly where that other person is. If you prefer “There but for the grace of an uncaring void go I.” I won’t stop you. It comes down to just the same. A whole lot of our life comes down to us being extremely, almost unfathomably lucky.

Because as much as I like to bitch about my circumstances, station in life, thwarted ambition and quiet desperation whenever I take two seconds to think beyond my immediate mindset I can’t help but feel extraordinarily lucky. I mean holy shit you guys, I get to write about movies. What’s better a small, but ever growing, number of people actually take the time to read what I have to say about them. In a world filled with darkness, pain and misery, in which people have to fight everyday to survive, I get to write about movies. Who gives a shit if I get to make a living doing it? I get to do it. Given that I half expect to spend my old age in a world that resembles that of The Road Warrior (or when I’m feeling optimistic Children Of Men) I have a feeling that this will grow all the more incredible to me as the years go on. It might not amount to much more then some merry fiddling while Rome burns in the background, but I’m grateful to be able to make my music all the same.

The reason I bring it up, is because those seven little words go a long way to explaining why I feel able to watch the story of Jerry Harvey. And yes, relate to it. This may be a man who ended his life and the life of an innocent in an act of evil. But circumstances are all that keep his story from being my own. I mean gee the story of a alienated loner, raised Catholic, who struggled with depression and other mental issues and fell in love with the movies as both an all consuming passion and a means of escape from a hostile world? Why would I relate to that?

But let’s back up a bit.

Z Channel is the story of Jerry Harvey a programmer and screenwriter, who in the mid eighties took a struggling LA cable station and made it a haven for cinephelia. In the process he rescued the directors cuts of The Wild Bunch, Heaven’s Gate, and 1900, gave independent and unloved movies a home and spread the love of cinema like a virus. Jerry also struggled with addiction, depression, and paranoia before he tragically ended his life in the murder suicide of his wife.

The film is among other things, the loveliest tribute to movies of which I know (One of those other things is the best film to bare the name Cassavetes. Yeah I said it.) All movies; old and new, Hollywood and indie, foreign or domestic, good or bad. It’s the only movie I know of that captures that excitement, the hunger of the first time a budding cinephile realizes just how much stuff is out there. Backed up by beautiful clips narrated by the likes of Jim Jaramusch, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne, Robert Altman and FX Feeney.

Yet no matter how light and enjoyable the movie gets it always circles back around to it’s heart of darkness. Harvey staring out accusingly in stills with haunted brown eyes or hiding behind avatar shades.

I recognized myself in that stare back when I first watched this film. And it was a surprise for me to realize that I no longer do. I no longer nod knowingly during the anecdotes. For better or for worse I’ve lost that tunnel vision. A Magnificent Obsession film still is, but no longer my only one.

No doubt, at least in part, because I saw this film. Few have made me take as many good hard looks in the mirror. And I can’t say I’m sorry to have seen it change. The kid who first watched this movie was without any real friends, a kid who felt entitled and angry, unable to see past his own pain to anyone elses. That was a kid who if he had managed to make movies would have made films that no one wanted to see. Because beneath all of the love they would have been hollow. I feel sorry for that kid. But I can’t say I miss having him around.

Not that it’s like I don’t think and write about film more then 99% of the world’s population. I’m just fully aware, to borrow a phrase from another writer, “That art is the support system of life. Not the other way around.”

I started this cinematic authobiography a year ago in an attempt to retrace my cinematic roots. Now I have and I eagerly await the next step. Because that is in the final analysis the one thing so wonderful about film. A next step is always assured.

(Tomorrow we’ll conclude The 25 with a special coda. Thanks to all who have followed along on this experiment.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Scenes #9: Dawn Of The Dead: Apocalypse Right Now

(As the internet's foremost Zack Snyder Apologist you can bet that I'm pretty excited about the upcoming release of Sucker Punch.

I had intended for this week to be a tribute to/defense of Snyder. But then, well, shit got in the way (which oughta be the sites motto at this point). Anyway danged if I'm not going to get in at least one of my articles in praise of Snyder before Sucker Punch. So here it is...)

Oddly enough for all the influence that Night Of The Living Dead has had on myriad of zombie movies, very few take place concurrently with the raising of the dead. Instead preferring to start in some nebulous amount of time afterwards.

Not Snyder’s remake of Dawn Of The Dead, which starts things off with a relentless immediacy not seen in a horror film since they came to get Barbara.

“No not tomorrow. The day after tomorrow” is the first line we hear. It’s a nice touch, despite being a bit on the nose. So many characters in horror movies seem to realize they are in horror movies. That their certain doom at the hands of forces too dark to be imagined lies right around the corner.

Snyder allows them to be as oblivious to impending doom as you or me. Not frowning over these strange foreshadowy things that he’s seeing on the X-Ray. But Bull shitting with friends. Not just assuming there will be a tomorrow, but a day after tomorrow as well. How’s that for counting your chickens?

Even Polly, not the type of actress who normally does this kind of role, even less so back then, who has seen patient zero with her own eyes is less concerned about the virus and more concerned about getting a chance to clock out.

Polly has always been an appealing actress and to her credit isn’t playing down to the material the way certain indie ingĂ©nues do to preserve their street cred when they get in spitting distance of a budget over ten million (I’m looking at you Chloe Sevigny).

“Security to Admitting please-“ this line over the PA is buried deep in the sound mix. You almost have to be listening for it. Synder isn’t a director usually praised for his subtility, but this is just a nicely layered scene.

Again in the distance a siren passing by. Mixed well under the conversation. It’s a hospital people don’t even bother looking up. It’s a hospital after all; nothing out of the ordinary about it...

Or that for that matter. Polley doesn’t even give it a second look.

OK that’s funny.

Claustrophobia. Paranoia. Dread. Not to mention the establishing of geography something that Snyder unlike so many modern actual directors cares for. Not bad for a simple jump cut.

The Dialouge between Polley and her significant other is actually some pretty sharply banal writing on James Gunn's part. Once again this is a relatively subtle piece of work. Underlying both the intimacy of them as a couple, and the sheer trivialness of their concerns. I like many fans of the original (which I revere) initially rejected Snyder’s film for lacking a satiric point of view. Revisiting this film now (for perhaps the third or fourth time since its release) I merely think he had a different target. It’s the very idea of safety of security that Snyder finds a dark joke. With a worldview like that I can only hope that Snyder finds some time to return to the horror genre after Superman.

It’s not something that usually gets talked about, obscured by all the testosterone in 300, but Snyder actually has always been pretty good at documenting intimacy between couples. He takes the time to make it seem as though his characters actually have met one another. Even in 300 it’s clear that he sees Lena Headly as an equal partner of Leonides.

In this instance you literally have grim reality shouldering trivial bullshit aside…

Or in this case kicking in the door as it were on this cozy cocoon of a world. (As an aside many like to point to Snyder’s style as all empty bombast. But as the dual push ins on the reverse shots of the opening door show he can be subtle when he needs to be.)

It’s a cruel object lesson. Those who show empathy and concern are the ones who will literally get eaten alive in the new world.

Five Minutes Forty Seconds into his career we get the first slo motion shot in Zack Snyder’s oeuvre.

Yes running zombies are stupid (ever try sprinting with rigor?) and screw up the whole metaphor. But eh what are you gonna do?

Once again the door is under assault. It having taken all of two seconds for the real world to reach in and destroy theirs.

Note the face not the trademark Zombie Snarl, but a look of fear, almost grief. That’s the look you expect to see on the victim in a zombie movie not the aggressor. Once again a choice more creative then Snyder is usually given credit for making.

Once again the overhead motif. I just wanted to note violence and ferocity of this shot and stunt. She flies through the door. And that landing looks like it hurts.

Normally in a film this would be a head slapping duh. But here because of the care taken with the set up it feels earned. After all we don’t want to believe the worst is happening.

But it is and it’s brought a damn fine jump scare along with it.

Nothing like your neighbor in a bathrobe calling you by name as he points a gun on you to let you know things have gone right to shit.

This is a seriously eerie shot. So complete is it's break down. Look at the fire in the background with the sapling in the foreground. It's a weird quasi religious bit of imagery a complete inversion of how things are supposed to be.

So is that.

This pan is all the more affective for the way that Snyder's blocking subtly keeps not one but two Zombie attacks off of screen. Another director would break the mood with an insert shot. Go for the money shot. Snyder is confident enough to delay pay off.

Once again the rules have changed. Yesterday at this time Polley would have been exactly the type of person who would pull over to help a distraught stranger. But survival trumps all.

This is a nifty shot. Not just for the magnitude of the chaos it conveys but the way it helps us suspend disbelief. How'd things get so bad so quick?

...Oh that's how.

That is a horrific image.

That look of exhaustion. Weariness. Sorrow. In other words Of Horror is something that some of the finest veterans of the genre have never brought to their films. Substituting only looks of fear.

Once again Snyder has such a reputation as a director of testosterone that often times its lost just how capable his heroines usually are. Sucker Punch will of course be a major factor in this, but I will not at all be surprised if when the history of Snyder's career is finally written it will be the one of a surprisingly female friendly director.

I’m deciding to stop this study before Snyder’s brilliant credit sequence (another hallmark) which intercuts a staged apocalypse with contemporary news footage until the two become indistinguishable. It’s its own sequence and deserves to be treated on its own terms.

I will merely note that it carries the exact same feeling of apocalyptic dislocation.

Dawn Of The Dead’s greatest crime is the fact that it peaks in its first fifteen minutes. Though it has its moments it never regains that exquisite pervasive wrongness of its opening (Though it is a film that I like more each time I see it).

But that takes nothing away from the achievement of this sequence. Nor nothing away from a director able to create such a profound sense of dislocation, the thing at the heart of all horror. A director who can create such a pervasive sense of dread and ending out of a few bloodied extras and some CGI fire is one I am proud to be an apologist for.