Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you're our last hope...

I'm all for riffing on established conventions - QT makes his living on it, and it's responsible for much of the charm of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But sometimes you just need a pure, unadultarated genre flick - no cleverness, no irony, just showcasing the best that the concept can be. Such is Assault on Precinct 13 - which follows the pattern so well it should be compulsory viewing to earn a directoral licence.

There is a palpable sense of excitement as the hours tick down to God-knows-what. The moment our hero arrives at Precinct 9, section 13, you should probably have an inkling an assault is on the way. With all the inevitability of a disaster movie, the players are set up, crucial items are identified (gee, you don't think that gun is going to be useful later?) and things begin falling into place.

Suspense is fairly easy to do. Lev Kushelov's experiment proved that the human mind tries to link unconnected images into an impression - he showed a dead woman, a playing child, an empty bowl, and a man witha neutral expression - a man whom audiences praised for his touching representation of grief, because they had imagined a connection. Assumptions make up half of cinema. A man gets out of bed. A man gets some toast. We assume that fifteen minutes have passed in between where he brushes his teeth and walks downstairs. Similarly, we know the street gang, the ice cream man, the prison bus and father-daughter team are all going to impact each other in some way - it's only a matter of time.

Incedently, I generally see this as a great flaw of cinema - they never set up unrelated characters, and the moment you see someone on screen, you know they're vital. Obviously it would be pointless to do anything else, but still...True Romance gets it right. Lots of characters appearing for maybe a scene or two with all the randomness of real life.

Back to the main point - suspense is easy, maitaining suspense is nigh on impossible. Just look at how quickly something like Saw deflates in the second half. The moment a film gives up its secrets, it ceases to be scary. SMell the roses - Assault just doesn't bother with telling us what's going on. It throws you into the situation with Bishop, who has no 3rd person Gods-eye cinematic view of the plot.

All too often, you see a film and want to remake it, just because its flaws are so obvious. Assault is a veritable lesson in suspense - watching it should be compulsary to earn your directing licence. It never reveals its bad guys - they remain motiveless*, distant legs. It's also satisfyingly brutal. I'd be lying if I claimed I don't like movie violence - I think everyone does to a certain extent - but the stark nastiness makes the film-world a genuinely dangerous and scary place to be. This is also upped by a "no one's safe" policy. A cast of unknowns makes everyone is a potential victim - and an amazingly brilliant horrific nasty unusually unusual amazing scene early on confirms it. If only more films were brave enough to have a scene like that! (by the by, I mean the bit where the kid gets shot. I mean, really. They set it up so well: it's got to be the ice cream man, they can't kill the kid. Yes, see! No wait, they've just knocked him out. And then they yank the rug. They kill em both. Who'da thought it? No one is safe in films which kill their children. Whoa!)

*are they...after the father, or is this revenge for the nasty bloodbath at the beginning?

In fact, I'd only change one thing, and it's puny - it would simply change the film, not improve it. When the police man goes out of the station and gets shot, I'd have him injured instead of killed instantly. Call me savage, but a lot of people were shot fatally in that film, and it would have been a good, brief dilemma. See, I suppose, Saving Private Ryan or Full Metal Jacket for the scene I felt like watching. Probably wouldn't have impacted the film - might have made it worse. But I did think...

The editing credit goes to John Carpenter; pseudonym John T. Chance is a tribute to Rio Bravo, occasionally QT's fave, on which the film is kinda based. Of the two, I favour this one - it's pacy and perfect; the latter is good when it gets going, but it's about twice as long. John Carpenter is a bit of a genius really - he writes, he directs, he shoots, and he wrote that great music. Is there anything this man can't do? This is highly recommended to everyone, and especially people who enjoyed The Warriors.

By the by, I just realised - "generic" must be to do with the same word as "genre". Duh, eh?

My blog has never had many photos. It makes the pages quicker to load, dissades skim reading, and basically it takes too long - I have two amazing picture-centric posts ready as soon as I can be bothered to deal with dvds and screen capping. Everyone else I read uses loads, and it's probably why they look nicer than mine. I just felt like using photos today, goodness knows why. Some really nice quality over-photoshopped images. Unfortunately...I just don't have any, especially not of the films I want. Life's annoying like that. Perhaps it's because this post is so much more fragmented than normal? Oh well, this one will have to do to introduce the obligatory QT-comments. Skip to the next pic to avoid them entirely.

I haven't written for such a long time. I hate it when this happens - sometimes I just have nothing to say. Perhaps it's because I'm channeling my main cause of cinematic angst into something else: I've decided the only way to excise my Reservoir Dog demon is to write a book about it. Honestly. I've tried everything else and it just won't go away, and I feel I have well enough things to say about it to produce a genuinely interesting companion to the film. I mean, it does get into every blog post one way or another, and not to mention thinking about it constantly for over a year now. I'm on about 20 pages so far, and the finished book will be in the region of 40-50 pages. When I get a bit further, I'll be demanding you all answer my poll, and the purchase a copy :) . In the mean time, if you have any ideas I'd be greatful. I'm trying to compile a compendium of trivia about the key players and how the film came to be as an introduction, but my main focus is on in-film things. A few chapters about morality, violence, characters and flashbacks later, I'm doing a glossary of all those niggling references and tributes, as well as a FAQ section with helpful comments like "how best to get puke out of carpet and revive a faint". And I'm trying very hard to disguise the fact that Mr Orange is basically my favourite character, but it just ain't working.

On the DVD, Michael Madsen makes a joke about how Tim Roth thinks he's the main character. And while I agree this obviously isn't the case - it's an ensemble piece - you have got good grounds for claiming that he and Mr White together are the main characters. Not that I'm dismissing anyone as less important, but...

When making Pulp Fiction, QT's instructions to everyone was to pretend they were shooting a scene from a film all about their character. Somewhere in the aether is a Mia Wallace movie, which we have only seen 15 minutes of. It gives the characters a really rounded feel - because we see almost nothing, it feels like they have a proper life outside the film. Thus, here as well - and you can't dismiss somebody's life as less important. But if you try to think about the pure story dissasociated from this faux-realsim, them Messers. W and O are the two people creating the conflict. The plot would be severely impacted if you cut any other character, but cut either of those two and you have a completely different film on your hands. Goodness knows I love Mr Pink, and I'd really miss him if he vanished entirely...but things would still work out in more or less the same way. Of course I can't be trusted to be unbiased here. But admit I have a point...

Man I felt bad typing anything that controvertial. One thing I've realised in writing this blog is that I'm really eager to please. When was the last time you remember me being unashamedly mean about anything?

While I'm on the subject, Friend 4 and I had a looong discussion and agreed unanimously that

1 The opening/closing, including Brett's apartment and all the diner stuff
2 The Bonnie Situation - generally, I'd say this was my favourite, but that's because no one else will acknowledge no. 1 as a genuine segment in its own right.
3 Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace's Wife - we agreed that while Mia is unfairly, undeniably amazing and 100% irresistable, that didn't quite cover for the lack of action here.
4 The Gold Watch - Butch's story just doesn't gel in the same way the others do. It's rarely the first thing I think of in the film. And is it just me, or was the basement bit a liittle unecessary? personal objection, not an artistic one.

So finally, for the title of todays post. I need help...

We usually have a small Halloween bash - normally myself and friends 1, 2 and 4. Last year we watched Sleepy Hollow. Lots of laughter about the ridiculousity of the fleeing deer. You might remember a photo of me as Frank the rabbit from one of last years many Dogs reviews. My first one, possibly. I said at the time I had Mr Oorange in mind as an amazing costume, and I think I can almost justify it now 2/5 friends have seen it.

This year, I've got three films in mind:

Pitch Black
To define the plot accurately, you've actually got to give away half the movie. So I'll just say that a spaceship crash lands on an eerily empty planet, and a disparate group of good guys, bad guys, anti-heroes and cannon fodder have to work out what's going on...before it gets them next. This is another example of the "unadulterated genre film" I was ranting about above. It's not exactly scary - it won't stick with you - but it is thrilling, and there is enough merit to lift it above most people-being-picked-off movies. Plus, there are some really cool moments, and the colour scheme is great.

Byy the by, did I tell you about the flood? Basically, a water pipe burst in our roof, resulting in two massive waterfalls, not to mention shooting out some of the plug sockets - two rooms got soaked by the time we shut it off, which was about 20 minutes later. Even at the time I was citing movies left, right and center - after all, not only was there a crisis, but the two people in the house who could have dealt with it were out, they had left their mobile phones and the house phones were broken anyway. The moment the phones get cut off, you know you're in trouble. It was like being stuck in Brazil. Mum did her ducts bit and eventually we shut it off - though there was still 3 inches of water to deal with. Anyway, by the time we established the electricity would have to stay out, we had about 10 minutes before the sun went down - cue everyone finding portable light sources and essentials, which for me included a pair of goggles a la Riddick. 'Twas a pretty effective stunt - appreciated by even people who hadn't seen the film, who assumed it was a reference to the water, and not the dark.

Lost Boys
One of my favourite films - I've thought of showing this before, but Friend 1 went through a long vampire sympathy phase. This is a very 80s vampire flick, more comedy than horror, though there are some creepy moments. It's got great characters, an amazing script (sample: "You're a goddamn shit-sucking vampire! Boy, you wait till mom finds out!"), and the most brilliant soundtrack ever. It needs to be watched at top volume - every time the theme kicks in, you get hit by what I'll call the "Misirlou rush". There are just some songs you can't help but scream the lyrics to. "Cry Little Sister" is one such song. Unfortunately, the words are just so incomprehensible that it's impossible.

Dusk 'til Dawn
Watched this recently. Whoa! I really liked this. I know that, given the QT connection I was always going to, but I still want it logged. Great film! For one thing it answers a complaint I made recently while discussing Jaws. At the beginning of Jaws, two hippies go for a skinny dip in the nearby ocean.

Audience reaction: "DON'T DO IT THERE'S A SHARK"

Because, we know it's a film about a killer shark. Now, actually Jaws did pretty well - several scenes riff effectively on the fact we know what's going on. But in many many other horror films, even before something nasty happens, you want to smack the characters for being silly - OK, it's not their fault - they don't know they're in a horror film. But the ominous skies, cawing crows and the fact the car tyres are badly in need of some air should give them a hint.

Such is the joy of Dusk til Dawn, because our heroes have no clues until the moment they're hit by the supernatural. This gives it a sort of nice realism - after all, you could get ambushed by vampires later today, doesn't necessarily mean scary things will have happened this morning -

but also makes the film completely unbalanced. I'd put this down to the way the film came about. Bob Kurtzman agreed to do the Res Dogs effects for free in exchange for QT turning this story of his into a script. And what a script - it has my vote for his best script ever. But evidently, the roadtrip and yak intrigued QT more than the horror element, which results in a strange gear change 2/3 of the way through the film, when "test drive for the Vega brothers movie" suddenly turns into Lost Boys, resulting in something equal to the Grindhouse experience - road movie meets monster mash with a healthy dose of gratuitous everything. I loved it - George Clooney was incredible, the direction was good, and all bow down to the script. Interestingly, the naming of the Gecko brothers is a deliberate tribute to Edgar and Allen Frogg in Lost Boys, another film which stars holy-water-pistols. And there's a good reason the kid is wearing a "Precinct 13" T-shirt (see above. Man, this has been an intertextual post!)

Pitch Black, Lost Boys, Dusk 'til Dawn. There is one thing they all have in common. They're not scary. PB is creepy, and DTD is gross, but there's very little actual terror. There's a good reason for this. Call me a wuss, but...actually, just call me a wuss. There's no defence for it.

Except it is...I have a strong dislike of "emotion" movies. In general, I don't like romances, or protest movies, or horror movies, or comedies - anything geared to provoke a single response, which can be defined in a single word. Butch Cassidy has comedy and romance, but it isn't the sole point of the film. It has been written plot first instead of poster first ("I'm going to make a story about the Wild Bunch" instead of "I'm going to make a comedy-western buddy movie"). Sixth Sense is immensely forgiveble in these terms - it wasn't meant to be scary. It was, but M. Night was writing plot "a story about a boy" instead of poster "a psychological thril ride". It's not just horror.

Te words "it's about racism" put me right off, as do "it's about love" etc. If it's a romantic film which cares more about the way our black hero and white heroine feel about each other, than the fact it's making Very Serious Point, that's OK. But if it sets out to make us feel bad, or feel fuzzy, or feel scared, then that ain't good enough fpr me.

Of the three suggested, perhaps Pitch Black comes closest to this traditional poster-reading of horror. They all place emphasis on character, comedy, colours and coolness instead of causing sleepless nights.

Friend 5 asked "what about the Grudge". I said no. No modern horrors reviewd badly in Empire. We're gonna watch something qualiy. Friend 2 said "I've got The Shining." I complained about that too - I want to be scared, not scarred for life. Anyway, it'll exacerbate my phobia of corridors.

So I want your recommendations for (deep breath...): a SCARY FILM which has OTHER MERITS beside being terrifying and which is also PRETTY DARN GOOD. And on behalf of Friend 5, I'll add her criteria which is "SCARY not GORY, and something none of us have seen," which translates as "I can't slip a Saw marathon under the radar, and Tideland's a non-starter."

Preferably, and this is just me, it should be more on the DARN GOOD side than the scary. After all my self-analysis, I remain a wuss and an easy target for psychological horror, creepy children and corridors. So in a moment of picky pique, if you can manage it, something so DARN GOOD my friends will be knocked backwards and they won't mind that it wasn't heart-stopping.

And no one suggest Psycho. That's just a non-starter.


Rob said...

That's certainly a tough question.

Being so ridiculously manly, I've never been scared in my entire life, so I never really got into the horror scene. The scariest movie I've seen is Jesus Camp, which I found terrifying but I don't think that's quite what you're asking for.

I thought Deliverance for a minute, because of its overall sense of trouble, but again, I'm not sure that's what you're after.

Aguirre, Wrath of God was the next movie to come to mind but saying "How about a German movie from the '70s about some Spanish conquistadors who go down a river?" may not go down so well. However, I remember when I first saw it, many years ago, it scared the absolute bejeezus out of me.

Finally, Eraserhead came to mind. Completely amazing but also disturbing on so many different levels, it fits the bill perfectly. The only problem is, some may find it a bit slow, or give up on it because they can't follow it exactly.

In the end, my advice would be, try The Shining. It may scar, but it's such a finely crafted disturber that it's worth it.

Ninquelosse said...

Not sure Jesus Camp would go down too well with Friends 3 and 5, who attend yearly Christian bash "Newday"...I know what you mean about documentaries though, Inconvenient Truth was damn scary...on those grounds, I'm not sure what I've heard about Deliverance would be their cup of tea either :) And you've got a good point on Aguirre too, though I do want to see some eventually. So I may grin and bear it on Shining, although there's plenty of oppertunities for me to chicken out of that one in the oncoming months...

Will said...

I agree with Rob, The Shining would be a great movie to watch. Jesus Camp freaked me out, too, but fear of what those children will grow up to do isn't halloween scary.

Also, in my personal opinion (seeming to be in the very small minority) Aguirre, Wrath of God bored the living heck out of me. A slow decent into madness while floating down a river is evidently not my particular cup of tea.

Rob said...

Fair enough, I don't think Aguirre is everyone's thing. And while the pace is fairly languid, I always felt Kinski was just crazy enough to keep it alive.

But yeah, The Shining is probably your best bet. Though I still think Eraserhead is scary enough for a Halloween party, or maybe it's just because I love that movie so much that I think it's right for everything....

Ninquelosse said...

I'll keep an eye out for Eraserhead as well then, as it's one I've wanted to see for a while.
I feel I should see some Lynch, as I never have and think he may be on my wavelength. Going on what I've heard, I just know my mother will _hate_ him...

Will said...

If you want a Lynch film that will mess with your head you need to see Mulholland Dr.

Rob said...

I retract my past responses - see Braindead (Dead Alive), the early Peter Jackson movie.

Horror-comedy and the goriest movie you'll ever see - all in good cheer, of course

friend 2 said...

Em I want to see Eraserhead! Or I think I remember wanting to see it, it sounds familiar...

Rob said...

I know it's a bit late, but I finally saw Freaks and thought I should give it a recommendation.

It's online, too, if you haven't seen it:

Mostly melodrama throughout, the last 10 minutes are perfect horror.

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