Friday, February 26, 2010

Fear Thy Neighbour

Director: Breck Eisner
Writers: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell
2010 | USA | R | 101 mins

You know, I've come to accept it, as it's just plain inevitable and it's already been happening for so many years now that there really is no stop to it. I'm not hating it any longer, but I'm not growing fond of it, I'm just accepting it as is. In a town where ideas are put through the meat grinder and then pulled out of a hat you just have to come to terms that they are just going to remake your favourite films from your favourite directors whether you like it or not. And you know what, I'm starting to become OK with that. And no, it's not because I don't care whether they remake my favourite films or not, it's really that no matter how good or how bad the remake turns out I know I still have the original film to go back to and it's not going to change on me. So let's get on with it and find out if The Crazies remake is worth going crazy over.

Welcome to Ogden Marsh, a quiet agricultural-based town in Iowa, where life is quaint yet the people are hard working. Where everyone knows everyone and life just moves along. That's all until Rory Hamill (Mike Hickman), a local farmer, interrupts a town baseball game with a crazed stare and a loaded shotgun. Town Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) tries to talk him down but it escalates quickly and Rory is shot dead after taking aim at the Sheriff. Something didn't seem right about Rory during the incident, and soon more townsfolk are exhibiting the same symptoms, almost as if they're all going crazy. But things get real crazy when the military quarantines the entire town under unknown motivations and mass confusion and hysteria set it. Now David, his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) and a few other town's people must try to survive and find out what exactly is going on.

For those unaware, The Crazies is based upon a 1973 film of the same name (or under it's alternate title 'Code Name: Trixie') written and directed by genre legend George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead). Both the original film and the remake follow generally the same story and plot but the remake does update the context of the film and add a few new surprises and twists. As much as I enjoy the original, it does have its problems and can be a bit slow at times. The remake, also with its problems (some of which also stem from the original), however moves along quite briskly. It establishes it's characters and settings right away and also wastes no time at getting into the contamination factor that sets up the entire film. I was actually quite surprised and entertained at how it went straight to this and cut a lot of the fat out that it could potentially have had if it went the more traditional route we're used to with these types of films. Breck Eisner's direction is taut and he's able to get some genuine scares but he also does not let things get out of control. Initially, my reaction after first seeing the trailer was that they were going to overdo the crazies and have way too many of them and it would be too focused on the action and scare tactics, but instead it's perfectly balanced with the survival and escape plot of the few survivors. It's almost as if it's giving you time to breath in between the crazies attack sequences even though the scenes involving their seemingly impossible escape are tense and suspenseful in themselves.

Scott Kosar (The Machinist) is not unfamiliar with remakes since he also wrote The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes, and here he and his co-writer Ray Wright (Case 39) faithfully adapt George A. Romero's script without bastardizing the material. It was great to even see a cameo appearance from original cast member Lynn Lowry as a creepy 'crazy lady' riding her bike through town while humming a chilling tune, as well as a lot of great homages and sequences right out of the original. Also, while not award-winning performances, all the cast stand their ground and are all quite fitting into their roles. I usually don't care for Timothy Olyphant as he usually feels kind of stiff in his roles, but this is by far his best role. He plays the lead Sheriff with thought and conviction and finally we have a smart character in a horror film who can read between the lines and figure out what's going on at the same time we, the audience, are also figuring it out. Usually we're a step or five ahead, but here we're finally on the same page as the characters we are watching. Especially in horror films, this is very rare. Joe Anderson as Deputy Russell Clank is fun to watch as he's both a smart-ass snaky SOB and a tough guy who still knows his balance of power, and perfectly complimented David Dutton's character.

Overall, The Crazies is a highly entertaining and refreshing jolt in the horror genre as of late, especially when it comes to remakes. The story does have some issues, especially with logic (if a character's hand has been stabbed and he gets contaminated blood all over it, shouldn't he too eventually become a 'crazy'?). And the ending, too, does go little off the deep end but at least the overall film prior to that faithfully stayed true to its original source while updating it for today's audiences without hand-feeding them action and gore. The Crazies, while fast-paced, does take time to focus on telling a story and establishing characters and this is what is missing from most of these types of films. Here we have substance with our mayhem, and that makes an effecting, taut, scary film that doesn't dumb it down for the audience. The make-up effects are quite good, the direction and writing above par for remakes, and it's just plain old entertaining. If you're a fan of the original, or a fan of horror cinema in general, The Crazies is definitely worth a look.

All contents copyright 2010 Tyler Baptist

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wolf's Bane

Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
2010 | USA | R | 102 mins

Aaaahhhhwoooooo! Everyone enjoys a good werewolf picture from time to time and we've been given many classics to that specific sub-genre in the monster movie cannon. From the original The Wolf Man from '41 to John Landis' transformation of the genre with An American Werewolf in London to even memorable one-liners from cult hits like The Monster Squad with "Wolfman's got nards!" We all love seeing that inner beast unleashed and mauling people's faces off and I'm sure we've all imagined looking up at a full moon and ourselves becoming some kind of teen wolf or other such variation. But it's been quite a while and many lunar cycles since we've actually had a good werewolf picture. I think the last good werewolf movie to hit the screens was the Canadian coming of age horror mash-up Ginger Snaps, and that was a good 10 years ago. And apparently, at least according to, there have been some 81 werewolf movies released between Ginger Snaps and The Wolfman, and of those I can only think or 3 or 4 worth checking out. So now let's find out if Joe Johnston's first R-rated feature can reset that cycle, or will we have to wait another 10+ years before there's a full moon worth howling over.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his family estate in Blackmoor, England after hearing his brother Ben (Simon Merrells) has vanished. Upon arrival Ben's mauled body had been found in a ditch and the townsfolk believe it to be the work a dancing bear at a nearby gypsy camp. Lawrence is here to find the truth and ease his brother's lover Gwen's (Emily Blunt) loss, but along the way must battle his inner demons detailing his past with the death of his mother, his stay at a mental asylum, and his stone cold father Sir John Talbot (Sir Anthony Hopkins). But gypsy dancing bears are the least of the worry when superstition becomes fact and Lawrence is bitten by a werewolf. The townsfolk and Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) imprison Lawrence and take him back to London to prove the superstitions wrong and confirm insanity for all the recent murders, but with a full moon fast approaching there will be a werewolf in London!

Unfortunately this werewolf's teeth are dull and any attempts made to sink them in have been miscalculated. The main problem with this loose remake is pacing. The Wolfman sufferes horribly from creating any sense of dread or tension or suspense; scenes either run too long or too short for the audience to engage in either the characters or situations unfolding on screen. It just feels sloppily edited, which if you recognize the names attached in the editorial department is blasphamey! With Walter Murch and Dennis Virkler as the main editors and Mark Goldblatt serving as assistant editor you wouldn't believe they actually cut the film. How those behind the invisible cuts of The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day could chop The Wolfman up mystifies me. And then there are a few examples of terrible CGI involving a bear and an elk, but I won't even get into those... The film's problems don't just stem from post-production, but begin back in pre-production when the film was green lit.

The Wolfman officially began prep all the way back in 2006 and Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) and David Self's (The Haunting remake) script went through many rewrites. Even after countless tweaks they never ended up fleshing out an actual story, instead it seems more focused on the action which should be secondary to the story in these types of pictures since you're dealing with 'inner demons' so to speak. And when production was originally slated to start shooting they shuffled directors. Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) was first attached but dropped out over budget issues and ended up being replaced with Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) whom had never made an R-rated picture in his entire resume up until this point. And lastly to add to the production problems there were countless re-shoots. The film was supposed to hit theatres February of 2009 but because of the many changes its release was pushed back twice, first to November 2009 and then finally to February 2010. Just like the legend of lyncanthropy, The Wolfman appears cursed from the beginning.

With names like Benicio Del Toro and Sir Anthony Hopkins attached you'd at least hope that the acting can transport you, but here neither of them, nor the rest of the cast, can contribute to the audience engaging with their characters. Benicio is also not unfamiliar with playing a wolf-creature since he was Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-Wee but here he is in fact lost under the make-up. If the film does have any redeeming qualities it is the wolfman make-up itself, which looks great, and the soundtrack (which almost got scraped as well during the re-cutting phase and replaced!) and the sheer fact that they did go R-rated with the violence. There's a ton of carnage and mauling on display and those particular scenes were a lot of fun, but towards the end the action gets a little ridiculous, especially the showdown between father and son where they fight pata a pata so to speak. I for one, and I'm not the only one, saw that twist within the first five minutes of the film.

Ultimately The Wolfman is not engaging. At times I found it actually quite boring and waiting for the moon to set and do wish they had fleshed out a decent story. Due to inept pacing the film lacks the bite it could have had and instead it hands you a silver bullet within the first few minutes. With all the problems that cursed its production unfortunatley there's no cure for this werewolf flick that ends up being pretty forgettable. Looks like we'll have to wait many more lunar cycles for a rebirth of the beast from within, so in the meantime rewatch the original version instead or just stick with the classics. Or if you want to watch an actually so-bad-it's-good werewolf flick, track down a copy of The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf. If only The Wolfman took a hint from that flick and had Sybil Danning added into the story and over their end credits would it maybe have been at least hilariously enjoyable.

All contents copyright 2010 Tyler Baptist

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

We are each our purest Hell.

Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
2009 | Denmark | Unrated | 106 mins
"For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night" Shakespeare ended his Sonnet 147 with these words, a sonnet about the grief, pain, and despair that goes along with any love lost. These are heavy, hurtful, emotional, and devastating stages to go through and these are exactly what you will also go through when you witness Lars von Trier's Antichrist. A film that garnered an anti-award at the 2009 Cannes film festival because it caused such an uproar for is perceived mysogynistic views. Critics have denounced it while others have hailed it, audience members have fainted during screenings, and even yelled out "Fuck you!" to the screen at the end of showings. This is a film polarizing audiences and challenging filmgoers around the world. True art divides people, makes them question and think, and Dannish filmmaker Lars von Trier is not affraid to take you to the darkest places and leave you there.

Chapter One: Grief
Antichrist is the descent of He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who have lost their son after he fell out of a window, plunging to his death, while they were consumed by their passion. With loss comes depression and grieving and He, being a therapist, wants to cure Her by finding the root of her fears and getting her off the doctor's prescribed medication. Afraid of the woods known as Eden, where She and her son were staying prior while she worked, the couple travels there to try to unravel the pain and piece together their shattered relationship. But nature has other plans.

Chapter Two: Pain (Chaos Reigns)
Von Trier's Antichrist takes the viewer into a world of such raw power, emotion, and human evils with no promises of anything safe or subdued, it just bludgeons you scene after scene. You will be shocked, you will be shaken, and you will be disturbed. But most important of all, Antichrist will make you think and reflect. Walking out of the theatre I had so many questions given to me that the fallout from the haunting effects of the film stayed with me for days after, bringing to light subtleties that point out who really was hurting who: was it He or She? Or it will draw you darker into the numerous tangents the different metaphors the film possesses: is it about theology? Misogyny? The evil of man or nature? Or is there nothing to it all? Whichever conclusion you come to depends on what you got out of the film but ultimately what you brought going in. Antichrist is one of the most reflective pieces of cinema to come out in many of year and I believe to be the most important film of the past decade. It takes you to Hell, the one you've made for yourself.

Chapter Three: Despair (Gynocide)
Some have labelled the film misogynistic, but I can't see a film that is deliberately about the effects of misogyny to be remotely misogynistic. Von Trier even had a researcher specifically on the subject of misogyny while working on the film, as he also had researchers for therapy, theology, and horror. The film does contain scenes of explicit sexual violence, but this reinforces the intentions of the story and the meanings of the fear of loss and the history of He and She. These are not used to be shocking, they are organic to structure of the film and its tone. Both performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe are harrowing and powerful, and the depths that these actors went to in order to bring the real grief, pain, and despair to the screen is unprecedented in film history. And to what degree is the other the one causing the harm? She has become mad and is letting her fear and belief in her gynocide research get to her, but He is using therapy to heal her when she needs her husband to be there for her. Each is dividing the other after their loss. Neither can deal with the grief, pain, and despair.

Chapter Four: The Three Beggars
Theology. Misogyny. Nature. There is no finite answer to what Antichrist is fully about or where it wants you to go looking for its meanings, messages, and/or morals. Lars von Trier has unleashed a beast of cinematic brilliance that expertly makes the audience react to avenues they didn't want to explore. Because of this, you will either love it or hate it, you'll get it or think it's tripe. But even if you think you know what it's about, more questions will arrive long after you've viewed it bringing you to think more about it's effects and you will end up looking for the answers within yourself. Within your own purest Hell.

Von Trier has crafted a film of such haunting emotions and the fear that we each possess individually and transpire with others that Antichrist is a film of devastating beauty. It demands to be seen more than once, and because it is such a polarizing film, it will be discussed, debated, hailed and shunned, as an astounding work of cinematic art for years to come. Even after a second viewing I was actually left with more questions than answers and that's why it's so important - it challenges the viewer - and that is the purpose of art.

All contents copyright 2010 Tyler Baptist