Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 2012 Horror Digest, Part 1

Horror is a genre that has seen varying levels of success over the last forty years. Action films can always be counted on to make a pretty penny, short of the occasional bomb (though to be fair, they haven't been so occasional this year), and comedies often turn decent grosses on much smaller budgets. Horror has never been so reliable. It's difficult to track what audiences find scary at any given point in time, and even if some studio has tapped into the zeitgeist, they can't always translate that into a good movie. This decade has proved to be one of the rougher patches for horror, save for new installments in the Saw or Paranormal Activity franchises. 2012 hasn't seen either of these come back around yet, and much of everything else that has come out so far this year has been low-profile and fiscally disappointing. Cabin in the Woods did okay, but the only two breakout successes were The Woman In Black (surprising but not totally undeserved) and The Devil Inside (ugh, fucking kill me).

No matter how poorly it does, though, I love horror. I love it at its best and worst, at its most brainlessly shitty and at the height of innovation. No other genre is as compulsively watchable to me, and since I've seen so few movies overall this year, I want this set of posts to act as both a catch-up for myself and a series of capsule reviews in case y'all are looking for something scary to watch. There's no real connection between whatever I review at any given time, just the ones that are itching to get out of my brain and onto the empty Blogger page. With that:

Cabin in the Woods

Easily the best horror film of the year so far, if not the best film period. Its role as a conventional teenagers-adrift slasher is questionable since there's very little conventional about the movie at all; some may find it a disappointment in that it simply isn't very scary. The film completely subs out fear, not really its strong point, for a pervasive sense of dread by the third act, which ends up being a much better fit for its nihilistic message. Likewise, the humor operates at a comfortable 70:30 hit to miss ratio, as it has in everything good ol' Joss has ever laid his hands on. Cabin in the Woods earns its keep with a thoughtful, confidently asserted premise, rich with an understanding of the horror genre that positions writer Drew Goddard as both scathing critic and diehard fan. Superb pacing, anarchic fun, and a surprising undercurrent of sadness make this an exceptionally unique offering to the genre canon. A-

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Batshit Charms of Deadly Blessing

This entry was written for the superlative Final Girl's August Film Club. Thanks, Stacie! Spoilers for low-budget thirty-year-old horror ahoy!

Deadly Blessing is Wes Craven's fourth film - or his fifth, if you count Angela the Fireworks Woman, an incest porno he wrote and directed under a pseudonym. I don't, but brought it up anyway because this is intriguing trivia that you can now share with friends and...well, maybe not family. The movie is ostensibly about a woman fighting off some unseen evil forces and the judgment of the mysterious Hittites (???) after her husband is killed by his own magically animated tractor, but the story flies totally off the rails after half an hour so I'm not terribly concerned with discussing it. Rather, there are three things Deadly Blessing is obsessed with that are much more interesting:

1) Ernest Borgnine looking creepy

Monday, August 6, 2012

Breaking Bad: Is There a Right or Wrong Way to Watch Something?

Spoilers for the most recent episode.

After one year spent in the universe of Breaking Bad, who thinks that Walter White has become the most awful person on the show?
Vince Gilligan: "As unpleasant as some of these tasks he has taken upon himself have been, there is something else that drives him. And that is this need for power. This need for feeling potent and feeling important in this little world he lives in.  And to that end, he does what he would probably describe as a lot of unpleasant things. He rationalizes his behavior, and says that what he does, he does for his family. But, in fact, he does what he does for self-aggrandizement, to make himself feel important. So as the killings progress, they take more out of Jessie [sic]. They seem to bother Walt less and less."
Bryan Cranston: "Cranston adds that he understands some of the character's impulse, but only to a point. 'It's not so hard for me as a man to get into that survival instinct, or protecting your family,' he says. 'Most men take on that responsibility. But the thing that is difficult for me to accept is his whole ego. His hubris and greed and avaricious nature are foreign to me. I have to allow myself to go there and have him become the peacock that he is.'"
Jonathan Banks: "I don't think he loves Jesse at all. You're talking about Walt? I don't think Walt cares for anybody...A sociopath feels no guilt in their actions and what they do...I think he's been a sociopath since the time in the gym when he justifies the airplane crash - with 'Well, there have been worse crashes. More people have died.' That is the classic sociopath."
Aaron Paul: "I think he's definitely taking us down...and he just knows how to manipulate everybody. He has everybody on his little strings...he just wants to be the king. That's it. It's just a power trip."
The critical pulse: He's a controlling megalomaniac, a monster underneath a regular suburban dad mask, relentlessly badgering and mocking, someone Gilligan is unbelievably committed to [making us] hate, and a mix of arrogance, greed, intellectual vanity, and male insecurity that drove him to kill the old Walt and replace him with Heisenberg.
Who doesn't? I dunno, maybe take a quick trip through Twitter and see who's least popular there? (Or skim this poorly argued Slate article, which totally misreads the last four episodes.)

I'm framing this discussion through Skyler because she acts as a mirror to what Walt's plan was from the very first episode. He started cooking meth as a way to provide for his family after his death; in his eyes, it was a market he could easily assimilate into and slip out of once he'd pulled down enough money to allow them a comfortable post-Walt life. Skyler is the only person in the cast who is able to put this into perspective, since Walt Jr. remains obliviously enthralled by his father and Holly is a dumb baby. She is the only character who takes Breaking Bad back to its first seed, morally questionable action in defense of loved ones, and her presence serves as a painful reminder of how far Walt has strayed from this goal. She has her own goal now, explicitly announced - she's taking morally questionable action in defense of loved ones - and that puts her in direct opposition to Walt. The most recent episode portrays her as her childrens' most staunch defender, which earns her Walt's fury and scorn and promises of greater trouble down the line. How odd.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ain't no friends of mine

Friends With Kids, the directorial debut of Kissing Jessica Stein writer Jennifer Westfeldt, would be nothing special if it wasn't so fucking annoying. Its crimes against palatable film making are numerous, most of them stemming from a screenplay that presents us with a predictable upper-class white dilemma and feeds it through the mouths of six exceptionally irritating human beings. It takes a special kind of incompetence to waste the gifts of Adam Scott, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, and Jon Hamm, rendering them all either indistinct or unlikable. More disappointing still is that, in a cinematic landscape where so few women are allowed to write AND direct, Westfeldt felt it appropriate to create a story where all of the female characters are shrewish, neurotic, over-emotional caricatures. The type of women you see in ugly sexist romcoms, scribed by thirty-something men with mommy issues, are the only type you see here, for reasons I just can't understand.

So what's the best way to make an annoying person even more annoying? Have them talk to a baby, of course! People in this movie are constantly talking, as Westfeldt's attempt to create a warm group atmosphere boils down to having every character speak very loudly at the same time while sweltering under hideous orange lighting, but their true colors shine through when she puts them in front of an infant. In order to demonstrate how the movie made me feel, I've assembled a soundboard representative of every awful base this movie covers: entitlement, snobbery, shrieking, crying, obliviousness, abrasion, breathless cooing baby talk, poor word choice. And this is, for the most part, AFTER excluding the baby sounds. You're welcome.

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