Month: August 2016

A True Slasher: Black Christmas

A True Slasher: Black Christmas

August 29, 2016

 

Taking place on Christmas time, like the title suggests, Black Christmas (1974) could be considered the greatest Christmas horror movie ever made. Could be. The introductory scene to this slasher classic is set at a holiday reunion. Yuppie students celebrate the coming of the holidays in a seemingly big sorority house. It is winter break. While they are hanging out they received a call from a psychopath called Billy: “welcome my choosy cock..” “piggy cunt, you want my fat cock” are some of the highlights of the conversation. The students tell him to stop being an asshole/creep, they just laugh about it. There is, however, someone else in the house. A pair of hands climbs outside to the second or third floor of the house. One of the girls gets choked with a plastic bag and the movie sets off as everyone in campus, including her father and the police, look for this young lady.

 

The film, set in Canada, predates the slasher film. The campus is somewhat empty due to the holidays. This helps the story not to clog with unnecessary characters. Our shadowed assassin starts killing victims, slowly. More than a slasher, the film is a Hitchcockian murder mystery. Directed by Bob Clark, he never reveals who the frightening killer is and we never learn what motivated him to do this murders. The direction of the film goes direct to the forming of tension that keeps the viewer trapped on his/her sit. It was made before the seminal Halloween (1978) and the creepy level of horror can be compared with the Mexican masterpiece Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo (Even the Wind is Afraid) (1968), it has the same level of tense violence as Silence of the Lambs (1991) (that means not much, but smartly placed) and it works authentically as a mystery movie.

 

Jess (Olivia Hussey), arguably the main character plays one of the students. She is pregnant and the film revolves around the dilemma of abortion with her boyfriend, Peter, played by 2001: Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea. It is suggested in the movie plenty of times that he is the killer. There is proof that he is not and other glances that he is actually the killer. This confusing tautness works relentlessly and provides doubt in the viewer. The only physical part we see of the actual killer (besides his hands on the first person POV shots) is an affable eye that makes it all the more creepy when he is making subtle advances towards Marian (Barbara Machenry), an old lady who hides whisky bottles all over the place, she provides the comic relief for the movie and it works well.

 

Although it has comic relief, the movie is still as scary as they get. There is no over-the-top death sequence, no unrealistic comic-book style events; the viewer is just presented with an unnerving tale. It easily has a strong basis in reality. If you are looking for that level of violence, stay away from this movie, gory movies are great in their own way but this film’s visual elements deliver the horror more on the empty and the silent than the splashy and the bloody. These aforementioned disturbing elements are cleverly placed together combined with a great cinematography by Reg Morris, who captures the bleak Christmas atmosphere perfectly with a wonderful use of silent snow-covered streets and other decoration. Let’s face it: Christmas time is probably the safest time to kill lonely people.

 

It feels like the movie has been forgotten by horror fans or shadowed by other popular horror movies that may be also great, only the really obsessed-cult fans seem to know of its existence. Outside of that it’s completely unknown. A true horror fan recommended it to me and he seemed to feel towards it the same way Golum feels towards the ring. It is with no doubt an underrated classic that deserves much more attention. A regular movie viewer like your correspondent should enjoy it the whole way. It will sound a bit extreme but Black Christmas seems like the perfect mystery horror film. Period. Everyone interested in the genre should consider taking a look at it.

 

Blu-Ray Pick: The Nice Guys Review

Blu-Ray Pick: The Nice Guys Review

August 28, 2016

I never regret buying a physical movie but this is definitely not the best investment I ever made. Now that you probably hate  me because I did not love this movie like everyone in the social networks,  I thank you for not closing your browser. I shall start my review: The great 70s. Disco and funk going on, sideburns and afros, peace and love, strange and confused (I didn’t mean confusing) Hollywood movies, smoking the reefer, suits without ties with long sharp necks, leviathan console television sets, clunky shoes, Led Zeppelin. Sounds like a nice place doesn’t it? The Nice Guys is set on this time, 1977, in Los Angeles. It is your “I am a cool movie fan (and I always thought Russell Crowe was one of the great actors of his generation although for some reason I never said it to anyone before) and this is my kind of violent funny movie” movie. But more than that it’s a love letter to private detective movies like Chinatown, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Would Raymond Chandler be proud?

The movie makes its first move with a kid who is having a blast with a porn magazine in his house. Who the hell is he is a question everybody naturally asks. A car crashes into his house and destroys half of it. His parents are sleeping. We never see them wake up. The surprised boy goes out to see what just happened. He notices the words “Misty M” on the plates. The lady who was driving the car and is now dying, naked, strangely good looking (I’m no psychopath, just saying), and murmurs her last few words: “How do you like my car, big boy?” A scene that exits the story for a while and then cleverly comes back at some point in the story. Now we don’t know how long has passed but it is later revealed that the incident with the car was some weeks earlier than the movie main storyline. We get introduced to our two protagonists in a set of narrations.

Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, an overweight now-sober guy who means good but gets paid for fixing problems with violence and so on. Ryan Gosling is a fledgling alcoholic Doc Sportello without the weed/Philip Marlowe without the chessboard- private investigator with a big house full of empty beer bottles, a half-empty pool (“the world’s biggest ashtray”), and a sometimes nice, sometimes problematic daughter who aids the comedy (and some of the action) of the film, his name is Holland March. The first time they meet, Crowe breaks Gosling’s arm (I hereby establish that I will call the characters by their actors’ last name). This sets a long relationship between the two. They are linked to find this lady, Amelia, who seems to be involved in something big. They look for her in a public manifestation with people pretending they are dead. A projectionist tomfool boy, Chet, talks to them for twenty bucks. He’s trying to be funny like everyone else (and later gets his ass seriously kicked for aiding this two. Poor Chet).

We go to a drive in Chinatown, an obvious reference here (Chinatown has been referenced in popular movies two years in a row now, last year’s being Inside-Out) to see a place of evidence. Some other “Films set in LA” references are the porno business (Boogie Nights) and the use of the word “dude” plenty of times in a scene (The Big Lebowski), plus, non-LA, a quick glance at a Jaws 2 billboard. There might be more that I missed. When they arrive to a pornstar party, the movie explodes for about half an hour into a long action scene throwing jokes here and there in a party scene that leaves much to be desired. A funny bit here is when they throw a corpse through a fence and lands in a garden dinner table with bourgeois people hanging out. They later get hired by Amelia’s mother, who works in the Justice Department to get an eye on her, your dose of mother and daughter unlikeness. The ‘long-awaited’ partnership starts here although it’s present during the whole film. 

The second half actually gets better. There’s a hysterical conversation in a hotel bar between Crowe and Gosling arguing wether they should go into an elevator or not. Amelia falls in their car, exactly as it sounds, and gives them this typical argument (trying so hard to mimic the face expressions of a Coen Brothers character) that her mother is a corporate evil and she is just trying to make art, not porno. Is she lying? Maybe. But why are they trying to kill her? They receive a call and they now have to deliver some money. Our characters set into this last impending journey into the unknown that resolutes with blatant discoveries with, somewhere on the road, a surreal dream sequence (Naked Lunch?), and a crazy mercenary. We also get to know what happened to the artsy/porno lost film. Blended with an LA detective score that offers nothing new but certainly fits well with the movie, the action-packed ending scene and expected resolution makes this movie a story bolstered with cheap laughters and forlorn methods of visual strike.

A big problem with the film is the vast quantity of character cliché: The alcoholic detective, the grunt who has a resume full of violence but deep inside is trying to reform himself, the rebellious sensual daughter whose mom has a good chair in the government and, therefore, to embarrass her, she becomes a pornstar, the paid mercenary good-looking sociopath with leather gloves, and your Coffy-like African American lady killer. The latter is alright (she is in probably the funniest scene in the movie at a hotel room near the end). It just needed the freaking smart white-with-a-black-stain-in-the-eye dog that saves the day in the end or something. They seem to be directed well by Shane Black, whose Kiss Kiss Bang Bang remains his masterpiece, and the performances were quite amusing but the characters offered nothing new. And being a homage to old movies is not an excuse. Films like Inglorious Basterds (War) or Y Tu Mama Tambien (Road) do the same tribute to a certain genre and still are full of unique characters.

But I am just giving it a hard time. It is indeed one of the decent films of the year, but not a great one. It has plenty of cool violence; Crowe dodges a shot and a lady in the next house takes the bullet and doesn’t get in trouble for it, for example. There are some comic Yoo-Hoo references (or maybe mere marketing). Crowe mentions he hasn’t drank one since at least 30 years (a vintage drink indeed). The line uttered by Gosling: “Jesus tap-dancing Christ!” I am not sure if it was borrowed but made me chuckle. Gosling being an asshole works in general while a drawing of a duck in his cast makes him look silly. Like I said early, there are many scenes that try too hard to be funny and fail. I fucking particularly hated a part in the party scene when Ryan Gosling appears in the background swimming in the pool following the sirens. Also the, “How did you know my name was Buddy?” part was rather annoying. And that Nixon bit was good when they talked about it but when we actually see him, after that vertiginous fall in the pool that doesn’t hold a grain of truth realistically, it turns into a pointless joke. 

Overall, on the entertainment department, the movie wins. It has a couple nice songs too, and the story is well structured with the action never stopping and surprises coming in one a time. Opponents may say that the humor was outstanding and I am a complete idiot without a sense of one. While it is true that some of the jokes’ pace flows well and the timing is good and all, some other times they sound/look like unnecessary crap. And don’t tell me it’s because I didn’t get the satire. Please don’t even try. By the way, there’s a notion that there might be a sequel, so brace yourselves. The nice guys is a solid piece of film that might age as “that movie that made tribute to old private detective movies that shaped cinema in the 20th century.” Like both characters say in the movie: “The sun went up, the sun went down. Nothing changes.” That’s probably the case when you finish watching this one. See it with friends and family and have a fun time and stuff. 

7/10

Breathless and Editing

Breathless and Editing

August 26, 2016

 

When it appeared in 1960, Jean Luc-Godard’s debut Breathless was immediately recognized as one of the signature films of what became known as the French new wave period of film during the 1960’s. The film is about Michel (Jean Paul Belmondo), a character we barely know but after the first scene we realize that he is just an irresponsible, hard-smoker, sociopath who thinks himself as Humphrey Bogart (he even adopts the mannerism of drawing his thumb across his lip as Bogart did in his last film, The Harder They Fall). After stealing a car, Michel is chased on the highway by the police and in an attempt to escape he shots one of the policemen and kills him. In consequence, he heads to Paris to hide. That’s when he renews his relationship with Patricia, an American journalist student whom he met a few weeks early. Patricia helps Michel to dodge the police, while they steal cars together in order to raise money for a trip to Rome. At the end we see that things didn’t go very well to the couple. Throughout the movie, we never know how much of the real Michel we are seeing, and that makes more puzzling the fact that Patricia sees anything in him. But, either way, we do not see much interest in Patricia at all. She only apes everything she sees and frustrates Michel playing along with him the whole movie.

 

Breathless is often used as the best example of French New Wave to represent all of the movement’s characteristics like existential themes or the breaking of many of film’s established rules. However, the storytelling methods in Breathless are perhaps the most fascinating part of the film. It is the editing in Breathless that sets this film apart and the clever and unique ways in which the editing conveys themes in the film. The film uses disjunctive editing, a lot of jump cuts that intentionally created gaps in the action. The jump cuts are shots in which the same subject in both shots is varied slightly, giving the impression that time has “jumped” or is no longer continuous. Godard uses this technique several times in the film, including when the main characters (Michel and Patricia) had a sequence in a car at a certain moment; there was a shot of one, then a shot of the other, as they spoke their lines. This editing technique is employed to accentuate the underlying themes in the film. Michel’s reckless behavior is also emphasized by the editing technique. The jump cuts suggest that the audience only see what is important in this film and at times seems reckless or irresponsible, just as Michel’s character is. For example, after Michael shoots and kills a police officer, for almost no apparent reason, a jump cut is used to show Michael in Paris, making no attempt to hide from authorities.

Besides using jump cuts, we also have in the middle of the film a scene edited as a long shot for about twenty five minutes long. This scene shows a conversation between Michel and Patricia in her bedroom. The sequence is basically an extended meditation on two people passing time together; it simply consists on their talking about casual stuff like literature and poetry while Michel is just trying to seduce her but she’s rather more ambivalent about his intentions, more interested in cultivating her own ingenuous pretensions to culture and existential angst. Sequences like this one demonstrate that Godard was concerned with the look and feel of his characters and not just about the story.

The plot reads almost like a crime thriller typical of the 1930-40’s; a criminal on the run from the police, the distraction of a beautiful woman, a gun, the escape, and eventually someone’s death. The score it’s an ironic European homage to jazz without actually being jazz just as Belmondo’s performance is an ironic homage to the anti-heroes of Hollywood gangster films. As a mentor said to me once as an example, “this movie is to people who really like gangster movies.” But it is in Godard’s approach to film style and use of new technologies that the typical crime thriller was turned on its head. Goddard makes the editing a character itself. It is the nervous narrator hurrying the film along. It breathlessly awaits the next scene, and leads the viewer to do the same.

All in all, this movie was edited in a very innovative way that people had never seen before. If Godard wanted to make his debut picture to show how well he understood American ideals and the history of cinema, he couldn’t have made a better picture. Breathless introduced Godard to a new generation and confirmed him as one of the most talented and creative foreign directors. Directors of the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese wouldn’t have shaped modern cinema the way they did if they had not influenced their styles with Godard’s. Breathless completely changed the face of cinema and, even today, It stands as one of the most influential films ever made.

The King of Marvin Gardens

The King of Marvin Gardens

August 25, 2016

 

How often do you see Jack Nicholson play a sensible guy? Some probably know him as the guy who’s always winning awards for playing yet another lunatic. See The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) if you have that ideology. The movie starts with David Staebler, Nicholson’s character. He might not be the protagonist in the movie but he gives us a heads up of what’s coming and we see most of the film from his point of view. A DJ at nights, David recites true, human, personal, existential, call them what you will, stories on the radio. On this particular night, he quietly tells the story why he doesn’t eat fish. He explains plenty about his grandfather and his brother, Jason. He obviously cares about these people.

 

We are in Philadelphia only on this first scene, David goes back home and we discover he still takes care of his grandpa, a crazy funny guy, kind of a Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo. We also see grandpa still gives “Davey” (he hates to be called like this) a hard time now and then. The jockey admonishes no emotion in return. David receives a call from his brother. He is inviting him to Atlantic City where he has a new business gig going on: buy an island in Hawaii and turn it into a Resort. David knows this is bullshit but still goes to give advice to his brother. The storyline then develops in different directions at a strange flow. The rest of the film takes place in Atlantic City, and its landscapes as well as inside references are shown towards the whole story. Bob Rafelson, the director, worked with Nicholson in several films, they all have this particular distorted way that sometimes they take moments in the present and throw them everywhere, as a viewer you think you are going nowhere, the future seems hopeless, nothing can be the same again, and at the end you realize everything is returned to place in careful manner, with probably a couple casualties.

 

David arrives, he is welcomed by a crazed Ellen Burstyn, Sally. Where is Jason? He is in jail. Of course. David goes to the rescue of his messy brother, played by Bruce Dern. At moments in the movie he talks for both himself and David, who probably says more in his opening speech than in the rest of the movie. Jason lives with Sally and her stepdaughter, Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson). The acting is outstanding. The two girls at times seem to compete against each other. How many times have we seen family members act like these? A strong theme in the film is family competition.

 

The film progresses into a series of different peculiar scenes. We get deeply introduced to the two brothers and how they are. The girls only work as an instrument (I am not being chauvinist just stating what I felt towards these characters) but they also have their disputes and personal struggles that make them somewhat interesting characters. David and Jason seem to be total opposites. Jason is a criminal, he lives out of conning people and seems to, despite all of his problems, be an energetic guy with a purpose in life: get advantage of everyone and have a good time. David, in contrast, is just a boring guy. This probes with his boring radio show. He records his own voice at the restroom stating he has chosen radio to author his life stating: “Not because my life is particularly worthy but because it is hopefully comically unworthy,” a miserable line indeed.

 

There are a couple strange sequences. The two brothers having a conversation riding horses (it doesn’t sound strange but just watch it), a dance cabaret-like scene that easily seems as an inspiration for a David Lynch unexplained sequence, and a strange lobster dinner with Japanese businessmen. It also has a great small performance by Scatman Crothers. The film touches interesting conversations in a rather original story if there ever was one. The important message of the film is how these brothers came to be really different at their adult ages. But more than that: How the one that acts like an outlaw seems to have a good time with his life and the one who lives a completely straight life seems to struggle personally and socially. The resolution of the film heavily throws its last comment to the viewer about this. See it with your eyes.