Thursday, September 22, 2011
Super is the sort of film where you spend a good chunk of the runtime starring at the screen aghast at what you are seeing. How much you will enjoy the film is directly related to how much you enjoy said experience of gaping in horror.
This is something that audiences have had a chance to do at the theater a lot lately. While it’s easy to be numbed by such calculated taboo pushing, it would be a mistake to lump Super in with its inferior brethren. Troma trained James Gunn is genuinely sick and I hope he never gets well. Unlike say Machete, Kick Ass or Hobo With A Shotgun, whose over the top mayhem and self aware style gave audiences an easy out, Super has the balls to actually play its concept straight. It does not even have the decency to leer at the horrible things that it puts on screen. Instead presenting them with a matter of factness that is almost unbearable. The film never winks, even when its hero is being mind raped by God (You read that correctly). This is not a film that is interested in letting you off the hook.
The film follows Rainn Wilson as a loser whose life of “humiliation and disgrace” has been marked by “two perfect moments.” The first when he married his wife, the second when he pointed a cop in the right direction of a fleeing criminal. When drug dealer Kevin Bacon (Who I have to admit I find kind of irresistible now that he has embraced his inner sleazebag) steals his wife away Wilson snaps. After what he believes to be a rather forceful moment of divine inspiration he decides to follow his true calling. Smashing people in the skull with a pipe wrench for offenses which range from Child Molestation to cutting in line. Each offense receives the same amount of pipe wrench.
All credit has to go to Wilson for finding the movie’s tricky tone. There is something about Wilson’s dead eyed bewildered stare that is genuinely unsettling. He elevates Super above the one note joke it could have been and gives it its own sort of queasy power. When asked by one criminal if he thinks “Stabbing me to death is going to change the world?” he responds, “I won’t know unless I try.” And that sort of sums up the whole film.
Gunn brings the same zealous conviction to every frame of the movie. If there’s one thing that Gunn has taken from Troma it’s the ability to make you legitimately unsure how far he is going to take things, there’s something legitimately filthy, deranged and dangerous to Super that makes other films of its ilk look sanitized. Helped immensely by his game cast. Which includes the aforementioned Kevin Bacon and old hand Michael Rooker. Ellen Page makes the most out of her role as Wilson’s sociopathic sidekick and it is perhaps the film’s ultimate accomplishment that it makes sex with Ellen Page look like a legitimately terrifying experience.
This is not a film for everybody and I have a feeling that many of the people who the film is for will walk away from it actually angry. I think that’s a great thing. You watch as someone falls to the ground and starts having a seizure thanks to a pipe wrench related skull fracture. Your shocked laugh catches in your throat and you’re unable to look away.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 10:23 AM
Friday, September 16, 2011
I didn’t want to write about this but I have accepted that everything else I try to write will be crap until I do. We all have our own ways of drawing the poison.
A good friend of mine committed suicide on Sunday. I found out about it Wednesday morning.
It was unexpected. Which is a dumb thing to write. Of course it was. But if I had to make a list of people I knew who would be liable to punch their own ticket, he would have been way down near the bottom.
Andy had a big personality. That’s vague but it’s the only way I could put it. You know how you know how someone has a big personality? When conversations are defined by their absence. Andy had more conversations take place about him when he was “off screen” than Harry Lime. Put two people who knew Andy into a room together and eventually their conversation would turn to Andy it was inevitable. He had an ability to manufacture adventure, as well as chaos, a sharp sense of humor and a huge heart. Stand him in front of any vertical surface and he would scale it with his freakish simian feet. He posted numbers that would make Wilt Chamberlin envious. Taught me how to smoke. Once stole a life sized advertisement of the movie Barbershop and stashed it in a horse stable for a space of two years. Introduced me to The Beach, Youth In Revolt, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic 5, The Vandals and a bunch of incredibly shitty jam bands. In short he was a good friend. At a time when I needed one very, very badly.
Eventually we drifted apart. It would be a comforting lie to say that distance was responsible for it, we didn’t live anywhere near each other for most of the year, but it wasn’t. We had a few arguments in the last year of our friendship. Nothing serious enough to end it, but serious enough to make a dent. We parted at the end of that summer on friendly terms, but terms markedly cooler then we had before nonetheless. After that, a few phone calls, a couple of letters, when talking to someone we both knew I’d ask after him, (like I said it was inevitable that at some point the conversation would turn his way) and that was that for five years.
And then this summer something funny happened. I had not one but two fairly random encounters with the man, once in person and once on the phone. Neither were long, I’d be surprised if either topped fifteen minutes, so it would be an exaggeration to say that we fully reconnected, but both were good. Catching up, talking about old times, trying out a few of the old in jokes and being delighted to find that they still worked. Both times I walked away struck by the fact that it was still just damn good to see him.
I didn’t get any hint of what was coming. I don’t know if I should have. Both of the conversations were fairly superficial, perhaps if we had had a chance to talk longer I would have picked up on something. Probably not though. It wasn’t as if he was closed off, but you saw what Andy wanted you to see, and unless you knew him very well he did not let you past the surface. I had heard from some mutual friends that he was having some problems, but nothing specific.
I have had many emotions since his death. Grief as well as a fair amount of anger. But now I feel just burned out with a hollow sort of acceptance. I wish that I hadn’t lost touch with him so completely in those last five years. I wish that I had picked up on what he was going through. I wish I had just randomly invited him down here to Austin for a week of eating and drinking. I wish he had not done it. I wish a lot of things. But I’m left with what is. Speaking from personal experience suicide isn’t something that anyone can talk you out of but yourself. Andy didn’t.
So I’m left here, a couple thousand miles and a plane of reality away. With a blog post in the place of a funeral I will be unable to attend to provide what little closure it can. I love and miss you my old friend. The world is a poorer, less interesting place with you gone from it.
But I am not without hope, that some good will come from this, even if I cannot yet understand what that might be. Certainly more good has come into my life through knowing you than any bad (Though the cancer sticks were a bitch to quit). I end with the last line of my favorite poem,
“I say this not out of sorrow, but in wonder.”
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 10:04 AM
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Of course now Forbidden Planet looks if anything like more of an artifact than the Drive In Fodder it was supposed to outclass. This is mainly due to the fact that the producer’s definition of an “A-Picture” was clearly a B-Picture with a lot more money thrown at it. Narratively the film remains strictly in the realm of the unremarkable, (Compare it to the still powerful The Day The Earth Stood Still to see what I’m talking about here.) centered around a deadpan performance from Leslie Nielsen indistinguishable from his later work as Frank Drebbin. In short they may have lost the cardboard sets, but kept its use in other places.
The film follows a crew of astronauts, that lands on a planet deep in space, searching for the remnants of a crew of scientists that had been sent their earlier. To their surprise they find a survivor, Dr. Morpheus, who with his daughter is living among the ruins of a the civilization of an extinct race of aliens called The Krell, who were far beyond humans in their technological advancement. Morpheus has dedicated his life to studying the Krell and does not take kindly to the threat to his control that their presence represents. He warns the crew that the threat doesn’t come from him, but a monster who lurks on the surface of the planet.
The film was directed by Fred Wilcox, one of those directors who made their career in the studio system making any damn film the studio gave them. To give you an idea of his passion for Sci-fi it’s worth noting that the film he directed directly after Forbidden Planet was I Passed For White and his debut features were two of the Lassie Films.
The true people behind the film were Irving Block and Allen Adler. Who developed and pitched the film as a chance to show what the cutting edge special effects work they were capable of doing, but were unable to because of Sci Fi’s B-Budget. The efforts paid off, Forbidden Planet’s visual effects were above and beyond anything that had been seen at the time, though they appear charmingly retro to our post 2001: A Space Odyssey eyes. The film shows every sign of being one conceived of by special effects artists. At one point Dr. Morpheus turns to the spaceship crew and basically says “Would you all like to take a tour of our very expensive sets?” to which Nielson and Co, reply “Yes, yes we would like to take a tour of your very expensive sets.” They then spend the next thirty minutes walking from room to room, gazing in slack jawed wonder at what a couple of million dollars could buy in 1956.
And yet as improbable as it may seem these sequences actually offer the most haunting moments of Forbidden Planet. Sure large chunks of the film come off as corny, and the effects seem more like kitsch today. But not all of it, when the film shuts up, pulls back, and observes, it regains some of its haunting power that it must have had upon its first release. As we watch the human cast, dwarfed to the size of pinpoints by the enormity of the sets, crawling across the surface of great mechanisms of a past civilization, as ignorant and insignificant as insects, it is impossible not to feel, if only for a moment, that eerie awe that the genre is capable of producing at its best.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 11:36 AM
Monday, September 12, 2011
I join my friends on The Action Cast to discuss Escape From New York and LA, as well as every other John Carpenter film we can fit in.
I take Snake's above example when my Pod mates express their opinions on Escape From LA.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 10:48 AM
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Readers, I know I’ve said this before- but this is a weird one. The thirties were an awfully strange time for genre cinema. Pre and post code pressures alike make it about as diverse a period as has ever been, in terms of content and tone. Meanwhile the strictures of the genres themselves were still pretty loose, and the assembly line style of studio filmmaking was really starting to gear up, meaning the law of averages guarantees that every once in a while an absolute mutant of a movie like The Unholy Three got made.
But enough beating around the bush, just how strange is The Unholy Three? Well it’s a movie that features the sight of Lon Chaney in drag, threatening a strong man with a caged ape. Said caged ape actually being a man in a suit whose costume makes vigorous claim to “Least convincing man dressed in ape suit of all time.” Which is saying something as “quality of ape costumes in old fashioned films”, is a particularly low set bar if there ever was one. This scene is, by the by, directly preceded by one in which a midget straight up kicks a toddler in the face. Readers, this is a weird one.
Not quite a horror film or a crime film (the type of genre bleed over that was common in the thirties) The Unholy Three follows the titular trio, a gang of former freakshow workers, who turn to crime when their carnival is shut down (a result of the aforementioned toddler face kicking. That’s the sort of thing that will just ruin the reputation of a family entertainment establishment, believe you me). Led by Professor Echo (Lon Chaney in his only sound film and last role. He died of throat cancer a mere two months after the films release. All the sadder given that his comfort in the role suggests that he would have made the leap to sound stardom with an ease that few of his contemporaries could match.) The Unholy Three hide in plain sight with Echo taking on the role of “Grandma O’ Grady” and the midget acting like an infant child, in between their robberies and murders. Things only get stranger from here.
The film is a remake of one of Chaney’s earlier hits, and it misses the atmospheric direction of original helmer Tod Browning (who was busy making Dracula at the time). But what it lacks in style it makes up for in its pervasive strangeness. Much more of the film’s runtime is given over to the star crossed lovers of the plot, Professor Echo’s former squeeze, and the dopey shop clerk (perhaps the squarest hero I’ve ever seen in a film) who is set up to take the fall for The Unholy Three’s crimes.
The incongruity between the standard thirties romance, and the bizarre doings of the circus freaks just highlights how odd the ongoings are. It’s as if a standard thirties melodrama has gone stark raving mad. Novelty is tough but I can personally guarantee that The Unholy Three is unlike any film you’ve ever seen.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 1:19 PM
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Son Of Danse Macabre, lurches back to life with an article about the King of horror. September should hopefully be a pretty busy month over there. After all I have to get as much in as I can before October. When it becomes an absurdly busy month over here....
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 7:33 AM
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Hype’s a funny thing isn’t it?
I saw Attack The Block about two weeks ago and just have not built up the steam to write about it. Granted part of the reason for this is the week long road trip I took. But equally troubling is the fact that I haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts on the film in a way that doesn’t make it sound like my soul is of the consistency of sour Owl Poop.
Because like I said, Hype is one hell of a double edged sword. Hype is what allows a foreign genre film like Attack The Block to play in US Theaters. Hype allows said film to break out of the “foreign film ghetto” and get a crack at a larger audience. And hype is exactly what had me walking out of Attack The Block with a big ole case of the “mehs”.
Attack The Block is the Edgar Wright produced, Joe Cornish directed sci fi film. That finds out what happens when an alien invasion lands in the slums of London. It’s Guy Fawkes Day (I think?) so thanks to the chaos, and downgraded location of the attack the authorities don’t cotton to what’s going on until a few of their own get splattered. By that time it’s far too late, and in the best Amblin fashion all that stands between London and certain destruction is a group of young outcast teens (albeit cut from a rougher cloth than most of the Amblin leads).
The bitch of it is that I know had I caught Attack The Block at one of its earlier screenings, my focus would be completely different. Had I it snuck up on me as an unassuming programmer among many, I like its early champions would most likely have praised the film for its character driven story (a rarity among genre films of any stripe), admirable social conscience, charismatic lead performance, innovative moments and several tense set pieces. However, thanks to seeing it after it was ordained as a modern genre film classic, my thoughts instead tended to be more along the lines of “Well someone has been watching his Joe Dante”, “Well that was a bit heavy handed”, and “I fervently wish that these alien creatures reminded me more of HR Giger, and less of the things in Critters”.
Now exactly none of this is the movies fault. It just comes from me seeing the film on the opposite end of its prerelease hype. Like I said, hypes a necessary evil but it is in fact an evil. When one allows their expectations to be raised from “modest” to “high” there are certain consequences. In that way Attack The Block is perhaps the anti-Ward.
So take this review as my gift to you. Definitely see Attack The Block. Particularly if you have a chance to do so in the theaters. It’s important to support this sort of original genre cinema if nothing else. Just do yourself a favor and cycle down your expectations a little. There are many fine things in Attack The Block. Don’t allow them to be overshadowed by the fine things that are not there as I did.
PS. Dear English readers, Are you guys just cloning Emily Mortimer now? Not that I'm complaining but jeez that was downright disconcerting.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 1:46 PM