Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Meta-Horror Triple Feature

This month, for Shocktober, I watched three horror movies referring to past horror movies to make them something more, something special.  I almost wish I had watched them all in a single day, because they work together in a way that separately are dull.  Here's my reviews of each, with the final review wrapping things up.

Evil Dead II
This film is the King of Camp, this film spurred many comments from my daughter and I while watching:

"Epic shovel. Keep that with you."

"Some guys like it when their girls bite. I guess he doesn't."

Amazing car! It's faster than evil!"

"You can hide from evil, but not the camera."

"Favorite character: the Hand. Miracle fingernails!"

"Pretty red. Quite cinematic."

"If it weren't for stupid people, there'd be no horror movies. But honestly, I'm surprised he made it for a full hour and a half."

"Exploding puddles!"

Comments like these is what makes movies like Evil Dead II worth watching.

Viewers tip:  You don't have to watch the first Evil Dead to appreciate this follow up as it is not a sequel, but a mock remake. 

A beautiful meta-horror film filled with references to horror films of the past.

Just to give you an idea, here are the three rules to not getting killed in a slasher movie:
1. Don't have sex (only a virgin can defeat the bad guy)
2. Don't drink/have drugs (that's just an extension of #1)
3. Don't ever say "I'll be back." (because the irony is too much to deny)

Of course, as this is said, a couple is having sex, a group of teens are drinking and a person leaves, saying, "I'll be back." Obvious, but still delightful.

By the way, I'd hate to be the serial killer in this film. He gets so beat up and punished throughout the film. I think I'd give up the serial killing business if I were in Scream.

It is interesting to compare this to the meta-horror film Cabin in the Woods. It is just as referencing past horror films and creating principles of horror, but Cabin feels less like a lecture on horror tropes and plays with them more.

Still, any movie that purposes to point out then reverse tropes is okay in my book, and entertains me.

Viewers Tip: Get with friends and have a drinking game for every time they reference another film.  Certain to give you a bloated bladder. 

Cabin in the Woods
The first time I watched this film last year, I felt that it wasn't all that I thought it should be. First of all, it was only occasionally. Secondly, it wasn't that scary. Yet somehow, I thought that it was a horror film I could show my teenage daughters, and they would enjoy it. Since last year I watched Scream and Evil Dead II, and the light turned on and I now know why this film is great.

Cabin is the ultimate expression of what Scream and EDII tried to capture-- the meta-horror movie. All three films attempt to explain the mythic core of horror stories and what makes them both successful and powerful. There is a basic moral story that communicate to us, especially young people, some basic sins that the universe demands must be punished, even if we, as humans, might wink at.

Cabin is the best of these three because it makes the meta story not only explicit, but integral to the plot. There is a double story-- the familiar one of the group of teens getting a taste of freedom without any authority, and the story of a secret government agency tracking their movements for some hidden, dark purpose.

Cabin is the best of the three because Scream references and summarizes all slasher films, Evil Dead 2 takes the plot a step far beyond the cabin story (poking tender fun at the genre), but Cabin speaks of not only the purpose of the genre, but the horrible end to it. It goes to the ultimate finale of the myth, which is satisfying in its own right.

Oh, and it truly has funny moment and is highly entertaining, like the other two. What a great triple feature, to watch all three, as I did this Shocktober.

Viewers Tip: Watch it again.  It's good that way 

The Emperor's New Groove: It's just Funny, Okay?

There are many who were disappointed in this film before they even saw it.  It was to be called The Kingdom of the Sun and was to be the follow up to the dramatic and powerful Lion King.  Then someone *cough*MichaelEisner*cough* took the film away from Roger Allens and gave it to the comedic director Marc Dindal, reduced the budget and took away almost all the songs written by Sting for the original production.

Others don't care for this film because it's simply too light.  There is no dramatic tension, pretty much no sympathetic characters, and the moral is as obvious as the nose on a llama's face.

Nevertheless, for my money, this is the most entertaining of Disney (non-Pixar) animated films.

I grew up on Loony Toons, watching Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote almost every day of my young life.  This film has the zaniness and the non-sequitur humor of those old films.  It also has a few times when the most awkward of adult conversations are placed in, just for fun. (An adopted son speaking to his mother about her much younger boyfriend: "So... he seems nice."  "Oh, he is.").  It pokes fun at every aspect of real life, from the self-importance of those who have always gotten what they wanted to brilliant ideas that occur to us in the middle of the night to the desperate importance of a minor talent of ours ("And I never liked your spinach puffs."  "Oh, she's going down").

Perhaps the voice-over narration is irritating, but if we get into the film, the irritating nature of David Spade is part of the fun, and how David Spade's character gets irritated at the David Spade narrator, tells him to "go away" and the narrator is silent throughout the rest of the film is not only brilliant, but a revenge on voice-over narration in all films.

How I love this film!  I count them by quotes that my family throw at each other almost every day:

"Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh."
"Point three: Look what I can do." "What does that have to do with..." "No, wait, he's got a point."
"Why do we even HAVE that lever?"
"Bring it on."
"No touchy"
"It's not the first time I've been thrown out of a window, and it won't be the last."
"Oh.  I feel it."
"Is that MY voice?"

Okay, I won't bore you with the silly quotes.  Enough to say that this movie works for us.  Yes, it's only entertainment.  It entertains us.  And that's what a movie is really all about, right?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gravity: Glorious Spectacle

I checked to see a 2D version of this film on the internet and went to my local theatre, who charged me extra and gave me the glasses.  "This is a 3D showing?" The cashier nodded.  "Dang, I really can't see 3D. It's all fuzzy to me."  He said, "I'll tell you what.  If it's a problem, come to me early in the film and I'll give you your money back."  That's fair.

The trailers didn't seem too fuzzy, but they weren't inspired, either.  The extra dimension seemed attached to the screen, unrealistic, pointless.  Then the feature film began.

Spectacle, glorious spectacle.  This is what I saw when I first saw Star Wars in 1977, opening my eyes to the cinema experience.  It is what I hoped to see when I saw Avatar a few years ago when my 3D vision was all fuzzy.  From the very first shot of the three astronauts in a space walk outside the ship Explorer, I am stunned.  And rather than get bored of the vision of the massive Earth as a wall portrait, I am never comfortable, never apart from the awe of this vision.  This isn't due to the 3D, although it didn't hurt it, either.

The story is pretty basic.  There's no deep characterization, the symbols used are pretty basic.  But what does it matter? The characters are so basic that the film suffered no impediments.  This was an uncomplicated odyssey through the most dangerous nature humanity has ever explored.  The majority of time in the film was spent in the harshest environment possible, and it was not just the confident Clooney or the trembling Bullock who had to face this sparser-than-the-arctic enemy, but I.  It was me, floating above the earth, trying to remember that I would not fall, at least not yet.  I suffered vertigo throughout the film.   I had to remember to breathe.

This film is also a disaster film, where the human mechanism, needed to survive, failed in a big way.    And it isn't just a one-time disaster, but one that visits again and again, pouring tragedy upon our lives in a cycle of fire and doom.  The space ships are islands of humanity, but they are not places of hope, reminding one of home, but pockets of emptiness and chaos.  The film is relentless, pounding, increasing it's intensity at every moment, without respite.

No, there's nothing deep. But the experience is unforgettable and immense. 

I think that 2013 will, for me, be the year of science fiction.  My three favorite movies (so far) were all wonderful explorations of the genre: Upstream Color, The World's End and Gravity.  They are all unique and powerful versions of SF storytelling.

Minor spoilers below.

I am fascinated by a theory about Gravity that has been bouncing around.  That the whole of the film was symbolic, that it is Bullock's state of grief after her child died.  That she is weightless, drifting without purpose or meaning in life, and that Clooney's character is her guide to get past grief and back to Earth (real life). 

There is also the womb symbols that are used, with the water at the end being her rebirth into life.

I think that these ideas are interesting, but they don't add much to the film for me.  Still, the first theory I might find interesting next time I watch it.