Friday, March 09, 2007

Odd lots

I did something kind of dumb last month, waiting for my bank to send me a new ATM card by the end of the month rather than calling them and saying, hey, I need to be able to access my money in March. When I finally got around to it, I found out that they had sent one of the new RFID-enabled ones to my old apartment last year, only to have it returned to sender. So I went into this weekend, when movies that I actually wanted to see were coming out, somewhat cash-poor. Indeed, when I was through grocery shopping on Sunday, I found myself thinking that seeing The Devil's Backbone at the HFA Saturday night was an extravagance.

It's given me the excuse to finally watch some of the DVDs I've been accumulating. So did this article on HBS about John Carpenter - to which I ironically contributed a couple lines about how Carpenter doesn't give home video the slightest thought when shooting a movie.

The Thing

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 2 March 2007 in Jay's Living Room (HD DVD)

I've really got no excuse for not having seen this before, other than not renting many movies. I've seen The Thing from Another World, I've probably read "Who Goes There" at some point, and I've got the nasty-looking toys Todd MacFarlane made in one of his Movie Maniacs lines (I'd actually purchased a box and distributed the extra Ashes and Snake Plisskens to Matt and Justin). And with the fuss it took to get this movie properly in my home - Deep Discount DVD initially sent me the regular DVD when I'd ordered the HD version, and by the time I'd sent it back, postage had eaten up any savings I would have seen from just buying it on Amazon - you'd think I would have watched it just to claim victory.

Ah, well. At least I did get around to it. John Carpenter's take on this story is the rare horror movie that is both gleefully disgusting and full of genuine tension. It starts with a nifty shot of the Thing's flying saucer which could be lifted directly from a fifties monster movie and then jumps to the present with an opening scene that seems both off-kilter and desperate at the same time, with a Norwegian helicopter desperately trailing and attempting to kill a beautiful dog. The American outpost where they wind up doesn't know what to make of it, yet. They soon will, though, as the Thing first finishes of the other dogs and then starts to work on them, duplicating its victims and taking on bizarre, alien forms when it's caught and has to escape.

That's when the gross stuff starts, and it's a blast. The special effects department gets to be very creative, coming up with all manner of ways to mutilate the human (and canine) body to create a number of grotesqueries. It quite frequently made me cry out in shock and revulsion, even as a part of me was delighted at the design sense - the biology looks good. Still, the effect that probably made me jump the most was one of the simplest, as alien blood leaps from its petri dish upon sensing a threat.

Great stuff, and a potent reminder of how right the article on HBS was - this is nitty-gritty genre filmmaking without anything wasted. It's not today's style, but it gets the audience to the edge of its seat. It also shows just why John Carpenter deserves every second chance we give him - he's got movies this great in him.

The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 March 2007 at the Harvard FIlm Archive (The Spanish Civil War on Film)

This is kind of embarrassing. The Devil's Backbone is a fantastic movie, and yet twice during the past year I've been certain I haven't seen it. I picked up the DVD when Tower was blowing DVDs out a few months ago, and then a week ago I decided to go see it at the Harvard Film Archive, even though I really shouldn't have been spending the money, for much the same reason. And then, as I did so, I found each scene familiar, soon realizing that I had, in fact, seen it on its U.S. release.

How does one forget seeing a movie like this? Makes no sense.

The Secret Life of Words

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 March 2007 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

One of the people I saw The Secret Life of Words with described it as a "feel-bad movie", which isn't quite fair: Hope does occasionally manage to crack its dour nature. Its goals are, I think, a little more abstract than making the audience feel good or feel bad; writer/director Isabel Coixet seems to be more interested in the difference between feeling and not feeling at all.

"Not feeling" is represented by Hanna (Sarah Polley), a Balkan refugee who has been quietly working at a silk plant in England for the past four years without a sick day or vacation. Indeed, her boss insists she take a month off, lest the other employees think their jobs are in danger if they don't meet her example. A seaside holiday doesn't bring her any pleasure, though, so when she overhears a man at a nearby table talking on the phone about the difficulty of hiring a nurse to tend a patient on an oil rig, she immediately offers her services. That patient is Josef (Tim Robbins), who feels far too much, thanks to severe burns from an accident that killed his friend.

Hanna and Josef are both damaged people, in a very literal sense: Hanna's hearing is severely impaired (she won't discuss how other than to say she wasn't born that way. On top of the burns, Josef was blinded by his accident. It will, of course, be some time before they tell us what has hurt them emotionally; Hanna won't even respond truthfully to Josef's most innocent questions, even to the point of revealing her name.

Full review at HBS.

Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah Talai Jone)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 March 2007 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run)

When I saw Wisit Sasanatieng's Citizen Dog at the Montreal Fantasia festival last year, the introduction included a fair-sized rant on how Miramax had done a major disservice to people in North America who like movies by keeping his debut in limbo for five years or so. I can't disagree - how many movie-lovers have died or lost their vision while Miramax spent years trying to figure out how to market it, trying to fit it into a schedule, or just plain ignoring it before giving up and selling the rights to Magnolia? How can they begin to apologize to those people?

I exaggerate, of course, but this is the sort of movie that inspires grandiose statements. I have heard it described as a "Thai Western", but that is a woefully incomplete description. I can best approximate the experience by saying that it is like an old-fashioned Western fused with a Wong Kar-wai period romance, but with heaping helpings of Raimi-esque splatstick and Tarantinoid genre awareness. But that makes it sound like some sort of disjointed imitation, when it's not. It's a Wisit Sasanatieng film, with all the colorful environments, comedy tinged with melancholy, and fantasy that will eventually imply as he grows in fame.

The story has a straightforward love triangle at its heart - Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi) is soon to be engaged to police captain Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangvuth), but is none too happy about it, for she has loved Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) ever since they were children, even though her father was a successful businessman and his a mere peasant. What she does not know is that Dum is The Black Tiger- a gunslinger working for Fai (Sobat Metanee), the province's worst bandit, whom Kumjorn has vowed to capture.

Full review at HBS.

Hellboy: The Sword of Storms

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 March 2007 in Jay's Living Room (direct-to-video)

I'm in for all the Hellboy I can get. In some ways, I actually like the adaptations better than the original comics, because Mignola gothic style (which the newer artists on Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have taken up) sometimes obscures what a fun group of characters he's created. The animation style for Sword of Storms is very different from both the comics and Guillermo del Toro's movie, but it works just fine for this story which takes Hellboy to Japan and then a strange spirit world. There are monsters to be slain and adventures to be had, and Tad Stones packs his 77-minute movie full of fun.

That said, I already know I'm going to miss David Hyde Pierce as the voice of Abe Sapien in the next movie; Doug Jones just isn't the same. Still, I think I liked Selma Blair more this way, and Peri Giplin is a great call as B.P.R.D. bookworm Kate Corrigan. I also wonder if Liz's repeated line that water is not her element suggests they're looking to eventually bring in Johan and Roger. I hadn't really looked at the B.P.R.D. crew that way, but they do sort of make up the four elements - Liz is fire, Abe is water, homunculus Roger is earth, disembodied psychic Johan is air.

At least, it seems they're thinking along those lines, even if the characters don't seem to appear in Blood & Iron, either. Hopefully that means they're planning on doing a lot of these.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Thing is probably my favorite John Carpenter movie. It's got everything -- a great, creepy setting, the inside out dog, and one of my favorite character actors - Wilford Brimley. This is just one of those movies that if I see it on, I have to watch it.