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April 30, 2011

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol 4: Slithis

There are those who tell you not to judge a book by its cover, and who probably also would recommend that you don't judge a movie by its cover.  Those people obviously never glanced at the cover art for Spawn of the Slithis (or simply, as the poster and DVD case say, Slithis).  With its glorious combination of a) guy in monster suit; b) a William Castle-y warning about needing a Slithis Survival Kit (hopefully produced by Acme!) ; c) cheesy tagline; and (most importantly) d) a 1970s baseball jersey font - I conceded quickly that the cover established Slithis as the greatest film ever created.
In fact, the cover makes me want a pet Slithis and a shirt that looks like this for each of us.
But after watching Slithis, I'm relatively certain it's not the greatest film ever created.  There's still an ever so minuscule chance I'm wrong, but Slithis ended up being kind of not great.  Possibly even bad.

As you can guess, Slithis is the tale of a mutated monster who is born of nuclear waste.  Actually I think he's the product of a Frankensteinan doctor who was trying to create a living organic mud, or something, according to the film.  Somehow, a bland guy with a curly fro and his woman named Jeff become enlightened to Slithis' existence by a stoner friend after a bunch of killings make the news.  The great city of Venice - which is shot with a murky lens that makes it look more like Detroit or Pittsburgh - and its police officers believe the killings to be cult related, and start to interrogate "unconventional" groups around town during a brief montage of hippies being accosted.  But our bland hero Wayne, played by Alan Blanchard, is on the track of Slithis.
We don't meet the Slithis itself until about a half hour into the 85 minute flick, as the flick only gives us a few fish-vision sequences and scaly shadows during initial attacks.  Thankfully, the film gives us a lot of things to ponder as we wait for the green man-in-suit (played by someone named Win Condict) to show up.  My notes from the first act of the film included the following riveting developements.
  • Oh, sure, they have to make the fat kid throw the frisbee too far.  That's such typical movie fat-cism.
  • When it comes to snacks, hobos are to '70s movie monsters as Jell-O is to humans.  There's always room for 'em.
  • Giant falafel sandwiches?!
  • There's big hair and mustaches all over the place here.
  • That Gabe Kaplan lookin' dude has a large framed headshot between two mood candles.  Classic.
Like I said, it's a pretty riveting film from the getgo.

OK, I lied.  It's kind of an excruciating film from the getgo.  All the actors are stiff and boring, the plot is completely spelled out in dialogue, and the film is patched together in a standard manner that provides few moments that are visually interesting.  And by few, it might actuall by none.  There's a fun moment when our emotionless hero has to fend off this wild-haired, stammering, mad scientist of a police detective with only his words, but this scene mostly works because the dude playing the detective clearly knows he's getting paid no matter how ridiculous he acts.
The missing hobo part of the story provides a little bit of intrigue and reminded me slightly of C.H.U.D. down the line, but these scenes are mostly used as failed comic relief and filler to give Wayne information that could lead him to Slithis.  The film takes a Jaws twist in the final act as Wayne and friends take to the sea to fight the evolved bit of toxic waste (on no less than a boat named CREATION!), but the action is pretty standard here and doesn't provide any scares or thrills.

The creature itself is slightly amusing, and is probably the best thing about the film.  The Slithis monster fits well into its spot between The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Humanoids from the Deep, but both of those films had more going on than this one does.  Without inventive direction or cheesy comedy or characters that don't resemble cardboard cutouts, Slithis fails to entertain like the classy Creature or the sleazy Humanoids.  What we're left with is a b-monster movie that feels like it should have been made for TV.

I guess I should take this as a lesson learned about cover judging...but that cover is fantastic.  I regret nothing!

April 29, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #69 - Blow Out

It's only fitting that Midnight Movie of the Week #69 (insert adolescent chuckles here) is directed by Brian De Palma.  He's one of my favorite filmmakers ever, but he's also the dude who showed me how to make Alfred Hitchcock stories into perverted slices of American sleaze that are shockingly palatable.  While I've loved his work ever since I first played my father's ridiculously un-hidden copy of Body Double as a young teen, I've spent the last ten years or so calling Blow Out my favorite of his films. 

In fact, Blow Out is usually something I list among my 20-30 favorite films in general. But it's not like most of my favorite films.  Most of the time I'm like "OMG, I loooooooooooooooovvvvvvvveeeeeee REAR WINDOW!" or "Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww yeah BLUES BROTHERS, homies!" when I talk about some of my favorite films.  But when I talk about Blow Out, I'm all "Oh man, Blow Out. Yeah."  It's not that I love Blow Out that much less than other films, its just that it's hard to get too excited when the film is so heart breaking and powerful.  It's kind of weird to admit it, but Blow Out is one of the few films out there that really gets to me on an emotional level.  And it does so in De Palma's own twisted way.
John Travolta - fresh of his sweathogging and dancing phase - stars as b-movie sound technician Jack Terry who, while recording ambient sounds on a Philadelphia park bridge, witnesses and records an accident that kills a Presidential candidate.  After rescuing a prostitute (Robocop's Nancy Allen) from the wreckage, Terry quickly realizes he's found himself in the middle of something big.  While analyzing his recording of the accident, he becomes convinced that he hears a gunshot before the car's tire blow out.
What follows is one part Jack's descent into madness, one part his courtship of Allen's pro girl, and one part psychotic John Lithgow.  The last part is among the most entertaining bits of the film, as Lithgow offers up a killer who's unnerving due to the disconnect between his efficient demeanor and the violent acts he commits.  The late film sequence in which he stalks a train station whore is incredibly effective thanks to his ability to shift his demeanor on a dime.  Lithgow steals most of the scenes he shows up in, as does Dennis Franz as the seedy photographer who is also involved in the political trickery.
A lot of people hate on Travolta these days, and I've never really understood why.  The guy has had some bad moments - yes, he was in Battlefield Earth - but I've always been a fan.  Maybe it's because I'm madly in love with Welcome Back, Kotter, maybe it's because I prefer thinking fondly of Pulp Fiction over thinking about Lucky Numbers at all.  But other roles aside, I have to say that his work in Blow Out is one of my favorite performances by anyone in any movie I love.  Travolta brings a youthful passion to the role that makes me smile as he bounces from trying to be charming to being totally paranoid and everywhere in between.  At 27 years old, Travolta took on one of his first dark and serious roles, and his range of emotion throughout the film still impresses me.  The performances isn't an Oscar grabbing one, but he's definitely involved in the role and his ability to express emotions that match what's going on around him really sell the film's drama.
But the real star of the film, as is generally the case with De Palma's films, is the use of the camera and De Palma's control over what we see on screen.  With help from the cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond - who had previously shot the likes of The Deer Hunter, Deliverance, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind - De Palma manages to use his trademark split screen techniques without actually splitting the screen with a line down the middle.  The early film scene in which Travolta's Terry records audio of the children of the night is one of my favorite bits of filmmaking in all of his work, as he methodically brings us closer to Travolta's character, then steps back gradually to reveal what he's filming in the right side of the frame.  As the peaceful scene lets us experience the sounds of the night, it slowly brings forth the frogs or owls that are being recorded, which gets the viewer caught up in trying to solve simple mysteries just before it reveals the film's bigger intrigue.  Several similar scenes put an up close Travolta in half the frame while something he's considering appears in the other half, and Zsigmond and De Palma create a lot of interest in Jack's thought process without relying on dialogue.
As a horror fan, I also feel like I have to discuss the opening sequence, which shows us what a Halloween-esque slasher film would look like if filmed by De Palma.  This sequence, which is revealed to be part of the cheap horror film Jack is working on, is a magnificent tease to get us interested in the film, and scenes throughout the film in which Jack and the film's director deal with the production's sound problems provide some moments of comedy within the film, but they all lead up to the final scene which provides a fantastic bit of cynicism and a powerful resolution to Jack's journey through his predicament.
Blow Out has now been meticulously restored by the Criterion Collection, who have once again reminded me that they occasionally have strokes of brilliance between their bouts of pretentiousness.  (Rest assured, the screen caps I'm sharing here are from the old MGM DVD.)  It's awesome to see this tribute to De Palma's film, which holds up still as a powerful favorite.  Like Hitchcock's Vertigo before it, this is one of those rare films that holds me in a trance for a couple of hours before leaving me a bit exasperated.  But in both cases, these films that wear me out and leave me a bit brokenhearted remind me of just how powerful movies can be when the stories aren't simple crowd pleasers.  As it looks at prostitution, sleazy cinema production and political corruption, among other things, Blow Out never ceases to make me think about just how engaging a dark thriller can be when done right.

April 26, 2011

These Are The Halves of Your Brain. These Are The Halves of Your Brain on Horror. Any Questions?

For reasons that were at the time unknown to me, I've been having a really difficult time writing for FMWL lately.  For the last few days, all I want to do is write lists.  Well, there are plenty of other things I want to do, but the only thing I want to write are lists.  The main thing I want to do is play Portal 2, which I'm madly addicted to.
If you're not familiar with Portal 2 (or Portal, for that matter), you should know that it is a video game that looks like a first-person shooter but is in fact one giant maze of puzzles you must solve using your trusty portal gun and an array of things you find like laser robots, boxes, and random gels.  It makes you think about physics and the position of items and logic and - quite frankly - will leave your brain in pain.  Literally.  As I sat down to try and write something last night, with a couple of hours of addictive and puzzling Portal 2 action behind me, I literally could not come up with a creative idea.  My mind was simply not in the mood for it.  And when I tried to logically solve the puzzle of why my brain didn't want to write, all that happened was that my headache got worse until I gave up...and played more Portal 2.

As fate would have it, today I wound up in a lecture/training on the human brain, and one bit of information suddenly struck a chord with me.  The brain - much like Kill Bill - has two halves.  And those halves, like the two halves of Kill Bill, do entirely different things.  Let's take a look at the best example of this that Google Images could give me in less than a minute.
As you can see, most of the things I've been focusing on - logic, science, lists - are controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain.  My creativity?  My imagination or emotional expression?  Yeah, those are right brain traits.  As a writer (and I hate being one of those punks who calls themselves a "writer" because they have a blog, but I'm doing it here, so shush!) it seems obvious to me that both sides of the brain are necessary to create a successful product.  The right side is also more visual and more random than the right - and I'd like to believe those are definitely The Mike traits - while the left side is more involved with putting things in a correct sequential order, which allows me to use these words and spell them properly so I don't look like a moron.

Once I got done thinking about the brain and my writing, I immediately started thinking about the other thing I love to think about: horror movies.  As the presenter rambled on and on about how the brain's division into hemispheres effects teenagers, I immediately wanted to start thinking about how it affects horror fans.  The results are the following totally random, non-professional, non-researched wonderings of The Mike.
My first thought about horror movies specifically, and all movies in general, is that the right hemisphere of the brain is of crucial importance.  Imagination, creativity, dimension - all words I'd associate with great horror films.  Wes Craven, for example, is someone I'd imagine is a heavy right brain thinker.  He can "dream" up Freddy Krueger with ease...but he can't even come close to finding a logical conclusion to that movie.  Don't deny it, you know that the last ten minutes of that movie flat out suck.  I'm sorry, but it's the truth.

Better examples of right brain filmmakers would certainly include the likes of:
David Lynch - EraserheadLost Highway? Mulholland Drive?  We all want to believe that each of these movies has a deep answer to them, some quantitative explanation that sums up all the thoughts in our head into one concrete, rational reason WHY. But let's not kid ourselves.  The man's all about random creativity. (BTW, We don't talk about Lost Highway enough. Fantastic bit of oddness.)
Brian De Palma - I've always been in love with Brian De Palma's work.  His films are usually a wonderfully polished bit of sleaze, and I just can't get enough of them.  In his work, De Palma often tries to give us a holistic view of what's going on by using split screen techniques to place two separate images on the screen at the same time.  Plus, De Palma often tries to find a way to bring these images together - off the top of my head the exploding car trunk scene in Phantom of the Paradise comes to mind - which increases the spatial awareness of the viewer by bringing separate events together in one place.
It's much harder to think of filmmakers who rely more on the left side of the brain.  The first film that came to mind when I tried to come up with logical, mathematical and scientific horror films was Vincenzo Natali's Cube, which includes no less than a billion conversations about math. (OK, so I exaggerated there. Right brain at work, sue me.)  And my mind then leaped to Natali's recent sci-fi/horror combo Splice, which certainly tries to be a little more logical and scientific than most films about a creature who might rape anyone with its tail should be.  (It should be noted that Natali's random follow up to Cube, Nothing, was a very abstract film...but it also really stunk.)
Also fitting into the left half, according to me, would be the majority of writers/directors who dove into the slasher craze of the '80s.  Or at least they often wanted to fit into that group, trying to find a logical way to explain formulaic killings.  A more intelligent example of what I'm going for here would be Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, who made his name by pointing out the sequential items that often occurred in those films of the '80s and putting them into a logical mystery that comes off like Sherlock Holmes for Dummies.  (On a random aside, I've always loved Halloween because it taps into the right side by making Michael Myers an abstract killing machine.  Most slashers didn't get that, they went for logical answers. What fun's a man who kills when an idea could be your killer instead?)
By this point in my ramblings, you're either thinking with your left brain and going "Ehh....what's your point The Mike?" or thinking with your right brain and going "Ooooh, I never thought about it that way! Even if it is a little fishy, it kinda makes sense!"  But again, I don't want to say the left brain is a bad thing.  As horror fans, we need a good dose of logic sometimes.  Films like The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby rely on the left side of our brain, because they provide creative terrors which also tap into logical fears and get both sides of the brain going.  The left half of the brain might not believe in demons or cults, but it can certainly tell us that a crucifix to the vajayjay or an old person screaming "Hail Satan!" are things we don't want to be around.  (To be fair, the amygdala - commonly known as the brain's "fear center" has something to do with this as well.) And what if there was no left half of the brain to say "Hey The Mike, those Paranormal Activity demons haven't been with you since childhood, and they don't just show up, so you're totally safe when you go to sleep"?  (Short answer: MIKE TEARS.)
Just like there can't be rain without clouds or vanilla without chocolate or Wesley Snipes without Woody Harrelson (I WISH!), both haves of the brain are quite necessary to us humans, and to us horror fans.  So the next time you get a little blocked up, or the next time you have trouble figuring out why a movie doesn't work for you - I'm still trying to figure out Insidious, which I feel spent far too much time in the left brain than the right - maybe you should take a look at how that movie fits into the hemispheres of your brain.  If you're a left brain dominant person, you could make a list of reasons the movie stinks.  If you're a right brain person, you could make fun of the characters by continuing their story in a neighborhood park all covered in cheese.  It's your brain man, use it wisely.
Me, I'm gonna take mine to play Portal 2 now.  Be well Midnight Warriors!  And don't forget to stretch BOTH hemispheres of your brain!

FMWL's Midnight Madness Tournament Ends: The 2010-2011 Midnight Movie of the Year is....

It is finished.  By a vote of 14-9, after what seems like a lifetime of FMWL's Midnight Madness Tournament, one film has outlasted 63 others to become our grand champion.  In fact, you could say it assimilated those 63 films, because the winner is....
John Carpenter's The Thing

I'm not particularly surprised by this result.  Not only was it the tournament's overall top seed (due to its 8.2/10 rating on IMDB), it's also one of the most unanimously loved horror films out there.  The gorehounds love it for its effects, classic horror fans love its bleak setting, women love its Kurt Russell beard, etc.  There's next to no downside to the film.  
Much lauding must also go to Evil Dead II, our runner up, which made a good run as the last Midnight Movie of the Week I picked before starting the tournament.  I must admit that I picked it for that spot with the tournament in mind, so its run to the championship matchup didn't surprise me either.
There are a few things I might have changed had I picked this tournament on my own.  First of all, Assault on Precinct 13, which was gigantically crushed by Silent Night, Deadly Night in the First Round, would have at least made my Final Four.  The same goes for The 'Burbs, which I was shocked to see losing to Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf in the first round.  The Regional Finals matchups might also have gone much differently were I voting, as I picked three losers among the four showdowns.  
On the other hand, I loved the way things shook out - thanks to the fantastic list of folks who helped pick the winners! - especially with the likes of Spider Baby, The Entity, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (despite much controversy!) making their way deep into the tournament.  And, though I might have pushed the likes of Predator toward the finals - I can't argue with the result.  
And so it is. John Carpenter's The Thing is FMWL's 2010-2011 big thing.  May it proudly grace the sidebar until a new champion comes forth to steal its throne.

Or maybe it'll just wait here for a while.... see what happens....

April 23, 2011

Midnight Top Five - The 2011 First Quarter Midnight Favorites Edition

I might be jumping the gun a little bit, but it's been a surprisingly good first few months of 2011 for me.  And a big part of that fun has been finding a surprising number of cheesy flicks that I kinda love in the first part of the year.  Instead of waiting to wrap everything up at the end of the year, I figured I'd take the chance to shed some light on a few films I didn't cover yet at FMWL which I've fallen for in the first part of 2011.
This picture might be here because I never learned to ride a bike.  Or it might come into play later on....
Bonnie's Kids (1973, Dir. by Arthur Marks.)
Mega-Babe Tiffany Bolling and Robin Mattson star as the eponymous lead characters in this rape/revenge/film noir hybrid, two young girls on the run after the elder kills their stepfather who is attempting to rape the younger.  On the run from the law, the duo find themselves caught up in a series of dangerous events, including attempts to swindle money from their rich uncle and the problems that come with gang involvement.  The film's biggest legacy is probably the pair of interracial hitmen who track the girls, which were an inspiration to that guy who cast John Travolta and Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction.
I already stated her mega-babeness, but I must again say that Bolling is a ridiculously fetching femme fatale.  Her Ellie is the focal point of most of the film, though Mattson's Myra does get in her kicks. By the time the film rolls into its cheesy "who can you trust?" third act, it does a good job of pointing out that there are few characters in the film that we should be rooting for.  This turns the film into a sleazy version of Double Indemnity as it heads toward the finish, but it stays fun thanks to the fun performances of the actors and a quick pace that fills 105 minutes easily.  This is the kind of movie I'd love to have found at a drive-in of that era.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1973, Dir. by Bob Clark.)
I know I'm not the first to point it out, but Bob Clark is the director with the most schizophrenic filmography of all time.  After debuting with the gender-bending She-Man (no relation to He-Man, naturally), Clark went on to make this film, the original Black Christmas, the Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper flick Murder by Decree, the adult comedy Porky's, the holiday classic A Christmas Story, the Dolly Parton/Sylvester Stallone flick Rhinestone, and (finally) the Baby Genius movies.  I'm no expert on demonic possession, but I've seen one on TV - and I'm pretty sure Mr. Clark needs a young priest and an old priest.
Speaking of demonic, there's Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, an entirely tongue in cheek zombie flick that lacks tact or style but is oozing with a homemade charm.  It's written by oddball star Alan Ormsby, who plays a character named Alan, and features a slew of cheesy characters (mostly named after their actors, too) on a cheesy island being attacked by the undead.  Despite its flaws in tone and execution, the film is a lot of fun to experience as a period of the era.  While a film with this plot and these characters might fall flat in today's saturated zombie market, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things isa neat little byproduct of its time that I fully enjoyed.

Midnight Madness (1980, Dir. by Michael Nankin & David Wechter.)
If it weren't for its name, there's little that would really merit me talking about this film on this blog - but that's never stopped me before.  An American Werewolf in London star David Naughton headlines this surprisingly adult themed (but still PG) comedy from Disney, which features a bunch of cliched characters on five separate teams (jocks, nerds, feminists, bad white guys, good white guys with a token black friend) competing in an all night scavenger hunt that covers large sections of Los Angeles in the name of fun.  It's an incredibly simple film, but I had a ton of fun with it.
The film is assisted by the real-world board game plot, and part of the fun definitely lies in trying to figure out the clues. (I will admit I'm a bit too "wasn't even born then" and a bit too "I grew up in Iowa, what the hell do I know about LA?" to get it all.)  The film's madcap sense of humor, which seems like a toned down version of a John Landis film of the era, keeps it fresh, and the side performances - including a young Michael J. Fox in his film debut and PEE WEE HERMAN AS A COWBOY(!) - add to the appeal.  It's an innocent (except for that whole token black thing) comedy that is one of the more enjoyable '80s films I've found in a long time.

Night Visitor ( 1989, Dir. by Rupert Hitzig.)
I've mentioned before that Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window is 100% my favorite movie ever, but I also have a soft spot for most films that borrow its trappings to make a different kind of voyeuristic horror tale.  Night Visitor is an example of that, as Derek Rydall (later the male lead in Popcorn) plays a teenager with a vast imagination who becomes enamored with his new neighbor (Shannon Tweed), but then witnesses a vicious murder in her home that appears to be a cult sacrifice.
Night Visitor is buoyed by a strong cast of established actors, with Elliott Gould and Richard Roundtree (aka SHAFT!) on the police side of the film and Allen Garfield and Michael J. Pollard (of TANGO & CASH!) on the possibly satanic side of the film.  While the film shifts in tone far too often - and the tacked on ending is enough to make me gag on my own spit - it's a fun little diversion with good actors carrying a silly film and making the whole thing enjoyable.  It's no Rear Window, or even Fright Night, but it's a fun cult thriller for fans of '80s horror.

Stunt Rock/BMX Bandits (1980/1983, Dir. by Brian Trenchard-Smith.)
Up until a little while ago, I knew Brian Trenchard-Smith as the guy who made Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4: In Space.  Oh, and Dead-End Drive In, which is an amusing oddity from down under.  When I started hearing some people talk more about him - and when I won a copy of BMX Bandits from Severin Films and Trailers from Hell - I didn't really know what I was getting in to, except that the film had a teenage Nicole Kidman doing bike jumps.  What I found was a laid-back and playful teen-based adventure that featured some inventive camera work and a frantic pace that was right up my alley.
I followed that up quickly with another Trenchard-Smith project I'd heard of, Stunt Rock.  The film is exactly what it sounds like (unless you think it's about a rock who stands in for actor rocks) - a chronicling of stuntman Grant Page and rock band Sorcery.  Page pulls off some awesome death-defying tricks, the music's fun for a classic rock fan like myself, and the whole film is just so unique that I had to love it.  I can't wait to look into more of Trenchard-Smith's work soon.

Have any great finds of your own from the first part of 2011?  Hit up the comments below and let me know! (And yes, I cheated.  HA!) 


Let's hope the upcoming prequel is half as good as this.
(Thanks be to Morbid Dementia for pointing this one out.)

April 21, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #68 - Red Eye

Though Scream Week is in our past, I must admit that there's been a bit of Wes Craven stuck in my head the last few days.  As I remembered the steps taken to empower Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott in the Scream films, I couldn't help but think of Craven's maligned little summer-time thriller Red Eye.

Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy star in a taut bit of airline drama, as a success driven hotel manager and the mysterious man who aims to intimidate her.  Though the film has some serious flaws in its execution - the final act is a bit too Tom and Jerry for my tastes - the relationship between these characters and the film's stance on gender roles is what really keeps me coming back to the film.
McAdams' Lisa is introduced to us through her interactions with others, and is quickly established as a strong female character who can manage a work-based crisis over the phone while racing to catch a plane after leaving her grandmother's funeral.  But through all her strengths, she's still painted as a woman.  In the eyes of Murphy's Jackson Rippner - who is tasked with intimidating her into helping carry out a political assassination - that's a fault that can be exploited.

Rippner is a suave character who could definitely charm the pants off of the cougar who's been eyeing him from the other side of the plane, but he's also a bit of a misogynist.  His theories about how to deal with Lisa are based partially on eight weeks of stalking, but also on his own perceptions of gender roles.  At one point he even takes the time to lament Lisa's "female-driven, emotion-based dilemma" by countering with "male-driven, fact-based logic".  To the character, these are the facts of life.  This is how he believes gender roles work.
Having grown up in a small town and a rural setting, I'm sad to admit that there are still people out there today - people who are far less tactful than this egomaniacal male character - who actually believe there are facts that back up these opinions.  That women can not make decisions without emotion and that men can therefor control all crisis situations in a manner that women can not.  It's appalling, to be sure, but it's a little more unsettling coming from Murphy's character.  This is a man who is obviously trained in various schools of thought, the kind of man who might have a bit more knowledge of gender roles, yet his comments continually seem designed to demean Lisa for being an inferior woman.

Lisa's transformation throughout the film is something to behold.  Though we quickly see that she is a strong person who can deal with problems on the go, but she does have her weaknesses and Jackson aims to exploit them.  None of this would work if McAdams wasn't able to deliver a gamut of emotions as Lisa goes through the stages of conflict, and none of it would seem worthwhile if Murphy wasn't able to play both a snake charmer and a cunning adversary.  Both leads do exactly what is necessary to carry the film, and without them Lisa's late night flight wouldn't seem so tense.
And then something amazing happens in the final act of the film, and suddenly the film takes on a deeper meaning.  Lisa recounts a previous trauma which left her physically and emotionally scarred, and Jackson assumes that she's still lamenting the fact she couldn't prevent what happened to her.  But the fear behind Lisa's eyes is gone, and she lets him in on a little fact - she's ready to prevent the next trauma from happening to her.  And she starts to follow through on that immediately, with an assist from a well placed Frankenstein-shaped pen.

Y'know, I take back what I said earlier.  The final act is not "a bit too Tom and Jerry for my tastes".  Seeing McAdams' Lisa, who has been emotionally abused and written off as inferior because of her gender for an entire night (not to mention the things she has to put up with on a daily basis just because she's a woman) is an exhilarating sight.  Murphy's big bad wolf no longer has a bite that effects her, because she's done accepting her place as a victim.  It might lose a little bit of focus with all the lacrosse bats and rocket launchers and SUV crashes, but the message is still the same: Lisa has had enough of being pushed around by those who assume her gender makes her an easy target.
Red Eye may not have the iconic status of Craven's other women-in-peril films, but there's something about the stripped down, one-on-one approach to Red Eye that lifts it to a special place.  It's two solid actors taking a high concept thriller and turning it into something fascinating because it's willing to address gender stereotypes and to surprise the viewer by flipping the tables mid film.  The battle that plays out on screen is a tribute to strong women everywhere, and I've seen domestic abuse dramas that aren't near as adept at showing how men can try to overpower women mentally and physically.  It's a little too polished and glossy for hardcore horror fans, but I think it's a nice little diversion that's head is in the right place.  Craven has done some great things for strong women in horror, and Red Eye is certainly a success in the same ways Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street were.

April 20, 2011

Lost in the 2000s - November

(Note from The Mike: One of my recent goals has been to revisit some of the literally hundreds of movies I watched for free back in my movie theater days of the early-mid 2000s.  There are a lot of movies I saw and occasionally bought on DVD and then shelved away and haven't really thought about since.  Hence, The Mike decided it's time for FMWL to get Lost in the 2000s.)

(2005, Dir. by Greg Harrison.)

I wrote something really fantastic about this movie once.  It's lost now, but I distinctly remember it being one of those rare moments where someone on a message board (Gosh, remember those?) asked about what the movie meant and I suddenly blacked out like Will Ferrell in Old School and rattled off everything I thought the movie meant.  And they were like whoa.

But that smart commentary on the film is lost now, just like November was on my DVD shelf.  The abstract film features Gale Weathers/Courtney Cox from Friends teaching photography and witnessing her boyfriend (the always cool James Le Gros) die in a corner shop burglary gone bad, before she's forced to deal with her post-traumatic stresses and the exceedingly strange events that are occurring around her.  The film doesn't fit into what is traditionally recognized as the horror genre, but is full of haunting sounds and images that should remind the viewer of surreal filmmakers like David Lynch.
Cox is on screen for nearly every minute of the surprisingly short (78 minutes, including credits) psychological thriller, and she's about as good as I'd expect her to be.  I've never been a big fan of her as an actress - Gale is still my least favorite cog in the Scream films - but I suppose if I had to pick an actress from Friends to lead headline the film, she's the best I could do. She never dives too far into her mental anguish, which is a good thing to an extent, but I didn't quite think the actress was unsettled enough to really make me entirely care about the character's plight.
Luckily, the movie's not really about her.  It's about what's happening to her, and what's happening to her is really freakin' interesting.  The complaints of annoyed neighbors start to become violent quakes, phantom photos of the night of the shooting appear in her classroom, and things like using a cotton swab - or a Q-Tip, if you're one of those fancy rich people - become dangerous.  Editor and director Greg Harrison keeps the film visually interesting  by switching the color palette throughout his three part narrative, and the sound effects throughout the film provide a lot of welcome tension. The end result of the film might be a little obvious - I'm guessing my description of the film could have already given it away - but it's the film's sensory appeal that really makes it memorable to me.
There are many layers to November's mystery, and I still can't say I get all of its psychological twists and turns, even if the film does its best to spell things out for the viewer through title cards and a drawn out epilogue.  But November still gets me on a visceral level, and I think Cox and Le Gros do enough to keep us involved in Harrison's surreal tale.  If you're looking for something off the beaten path that's a bit abstract, I highly recommend it.

April 18, 2011

The 2010-2011 Midnight Movie of the Year is.....

... one week from being officially chosen.

But what IS official, you ask?  That only two films are left in FMWL's Midnight Madness tournament, which used to be FMWL's March Midnight Madness tournament except it's almost the end of April and I'm lame.

Voting played out in the comments of our last Midnight Madness post, and a whopping EIGHT Midnight Warriors cast their votes.  At least, they better have been whopping, because there were only eight of them.
They were:
MMOTW #32: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre vs. MMOTW # 25: John Carpenter's The Thing

I always kind of envisioned this matchup taking place somewhere in Central America.  Leatherface stumbles across Mexico creating human enchiladas while the shapeless Thing somehow makes its way across the ocean AND the Strait of Magellan to end up in the Rainforest inhabiting parrots and travelers and such.  Somewhere around Belize, probably.

The voters saw things much differently, but they voted - by a slim 5-3 margin - the same way I would have.  And thus....
THE THING moves on to the Midnight Madness Finals!

MMOTW #2: Moon vs. MMOTW #64: Evil Dead II

This matchup just doesn't really make sense.  We've got the subdued nature of Duncan Jones' sci-fi debut, led by Sam Rockwell's unique performance, and the slapstick, in-your-face attitude of Evil Dead II.  Though both films do have some tertiary cast members, they're two of the biggest and best one man shows in genre cinema.

The voters, for the most part, only had one of these men on their minds.  And, after a 7-1 vote, it was decided that....
 EVIL DEAD II moves on to the Midnight Madness Finals!

So, there it is.  The final two films that will battle in the last matchup for the title of 2010-2011 Midnight Movie of the Year are The Thing and Evil Dead II!

The poll is up.  It's at the top of the page on the right.  GO VOTE.  Or I send this guy after you!