Monday, April 18, 2011

Regular posting? Whatt??

Someday, I will be a real blogger.
I also might get a tumblr. More appropriate for sharing this type of thing:

I am in love with this man. Honestly, probably one of my heroes.

The man makes Cabin Fever and Hostel, two gratuitously gory films, directs 90% of Cabin Fever Two: Spring Fever, a film almost entirely based on images of rotting flesh, mentors one of my favorite new directors, Paul Solet, and this is what he's afraid of:

""Fanaticism, in any form, terrifies me. Fanatical devotion to a cause — religious, political, social, even sports teams, often becomes an excuse to let our most violent sides out. When people see others around them that feel the same, they believe in their cause so strongly that suddenly the regular rules of society and behavior stop applying to them, and their actions feel justified because everyone around them feels the same way." (Read the rest here

*Squee!* That's what I'm afraid of!!

Aaanyways, that comes from a list of answers by people that Time magazine has determined in our society to be "scary..." I shan't get into an interpretation of that right now.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm sorry I doubted you, Wes Craven (with some spoilers.)

(Correction--a dear critic corrected me, saying that there are A LOT of spoilers. So be warned about that.)

Thank you, Wes Craven. Thank you very very much.

You have pulled it off.

I have just returned from actually viewing Scream 4, as opposed to just judging it...

It MASSIVELY surpassed my expectations. I should not have doubted Wes Craven's ability to be amazing.
I am sincerely impressed.

Furthermore, I don't even know where to start with this film--besides being accessible for a genre audience, it's actually a really challenging film critically.

Spoiler alert.

The film starts out with what you'd expect a Scream film to start out with--two stupid girls picking up the phone and being subject to murder by a stalker. The title rolls in--Stab 6. What?

Ok, cute. Wes Craven's doing a sort of Nolan-esque thing, starting us off in a film within a film. Two blonde girls, (actresses whose names I do not know, but who were recognizable,) sit on a couch, discussing the metaphysics of horror films. In an amazing way, I might add--I was very pleased to find that the movie was mostly self aware even to the point that it was discussing the now overdone cliche of being self aware in a horror movie, and making fun of overly long franchises, which, now that it has left trilogy status, Scream has technically become.

Suddenly! One of the girls is killed in a rather creative way, but the killer is also revealed--we are confused. Don't we have an hour and forty seven minutes left? How come you just killed her? Regardless, I was totally willing to watch the movie with the new introduced plot .
BUTWAITTHERE'SMORE. Another title, Stab 8, rolls onto the screen, and the camera again zooms away from a flat screen television onto to more girls sitting on a couch.

What. What is happening. My mind has exploded. So great. The new two girls discuss Woodsborough, and the fact that the Stab movies are based on Sidney Prescott, (introducing the fact that the Stab movies are the Scream universe's version of itself,) and set up the fact that it is the anniversary of the plot in question. Both girls are killed, more dramatically than any of the previous, and we are pounded with the dramatic white block lettering of our real title, with much more of an impact than it would have had when the other titles rolled onto the screen.

Perfection. It was rather ridiculous, but it was clearly supposed to be ridiculous. It set up for the almost all of the major themes in the film, such as
-self awareness in movies
-making fun of franchises, therefore, making fun of itself (more self awareness)
-the importance of movies in culture/a microculture
-the importance of culture's influence on movies
-the fame of Sidney Prescott's story in Woodsborough
-whether or not it is a good thing to turn tragedy into horror
-how awesome Wes Craven is.

These themes were, of course, continued strongly throughout the rest of the film. The media was analyzed and criticized appropriately; the current generation received the same treatment. Particularly under examination was technology--from the first minute of the film, we saw stupid teenagers using facebook on their cellphones (/iphones, yay product placement!) and getting killed immediately thereafter. The trouble with identity  confusion that can come from  a digital world where everybody is inherently connected to their phone number and facebook account was used  to an almost Shakespearean level.

This, of course, made it more difficult to find out who the killer really was--as per usual, everyone was a suspect, but having phones constantly stolen from supposed "victims--" and we know that, in this franchise, you can never really believe what you see--made one wonder who was at the other end of the text message.

Technology was also used with plentiful webcam views, which was overemphasized in ads, but still an important part of the movie and very effective. Particularly poignant was one drunken victim, watching the live feed from his handheld webcam on his phone--so he saw the killer in the screen before he did in real life...still on the screen.

There's one big thing I want to discuss that is a HUGE spoiler, and I'd really hate to ruin it for you, but I will--the killer is female. I won't name names, because I was actually really surprised. Craven leads us so brilliantly to believe that he's doing the same thing he did in the original--and since, in this movie, all the characters have essentially seen the original, in the form of the fictional Stab, they too believe that the killers will fit the same type. I did know something fishy was up--the suspect boyfriend's character was never developed quite enough, and the actual killer was weird throughout the film--something I simply attributed to bad acting.

Having the killer be female is a huge statement for horror film. It isn't as if this is the first time we've had a female killer, but having it be so otherwise traditional, and having the victims still be female--was quite intense. This is, at once, empowering and victimizing to the female character, in positive and negative ways. Scream has always been the most empowering slasher franchise for women, I think, because you don't have to do any sort of analysis to understand the survivorgirl status of Neve Cambell, emphasized by her ridiculously badass, almost action movie-esque clincher lines. However, this is particularly empowering--although the movie focuses a lot on whether Sidney is a victim or not, as a (apparently still virginal? quote, "Sidney's problem is that she never gets laid," so it would appear so?) woman, but it is clear that women are not only victims because the aggressor is also female.

However!! The female killer has been created, ironically, by Sidney herself. Her motives lie in wanting to live up to Sidney's fame, in a world where fame doesn't necessarily come from talent, but from "having f*cked up sh*t happen to you," a technique which Sidney is a perfect example of--but that rings very true in our culture today. The killer is ultimately a victim of Sidney's victimization.

Most importantly, I think, this movie discusses in depth the "new rules" of horror. Wes Craven has as much authority to discuss these as he did to discuss the "old" rules, having remade many of his movies himself. The basis of the new rules is that, to successfully scare audiences, you have to reverse the old rules. You must anticipate the audiences expectations, and simply destroy them. This new movie does that, and discusses it, very effectively. The beautiful irony is that, arguably, the original Scream is what nullified the "old rules." Once a movie like that comes out, revealing all the secrets to the audience, essentially, in an official sort of way, you can't seriously make a film that follows those same strategies.

The thing that Scre4m doesn't discuss is that you still do have to adhere to those old rules, somewhat, to satisfy the audience. No, they're no longer pleased with a straight up slasher, but they do still want that moment of "don't open the door!" that characterized the old films so much. In a genre with as visible a progression as the slasher genre, it is almost impossible to make a film without paying homage to the other movies that made that one possible--even this movie has at least three shout outs to Psycho. Audiences expect that nostalgic feel when they see a slasher movie, and this one puts that out there very effectively.

My favorite thing about this franchise is that it points out to a mass audience something that I already know. By being presented as a real horror film--ie, one in which all the characters, in it's own universe, are real and to be taken seriously--but also discussing every step of the plot, it shows something very important that any genre fan believes--we are all, essentially, living in a movie.

"I judge life by its cinematic counterpart. It makes it worth the seven dollars I paid to get in." -ZS 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Just how much can Leonardo di Caprio hallucinate in one year?

Newspaper-style review for my Journalism class: 

It seemed that, in 2010, the bar was set fairly high for films to shock their audiences with extreme realism in animation and special effects or over-the-top plot twists. This, of course, is a brilliant way to have a film become “what everybody is talking about.”
            The best example of this is Christopher Nolan’s Inception, where the audience is left wondering what parts of the movie were simply figments of main character Leonardo DiCaprio’s imagination. But before audiences were left to wonder what scenes in Inception took place in DiCaprio’s head, they were left to wonder which scenes in Shutter Island took place…in DiCaprio’s head.
            Shutter Island, directed by Martin Scorsese, came out in January of 2010, five months before Inception’s high-grossing release. It follows the story of Marshall Teddy Daniels, (played by DiCaprio,) who is sent to an isolated island off the coast of Boston to investigate the escape of a mental patient from a somewhat experimental criminal institution. He is given a new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo,) for the job, and the men trudge through the gray weather of the Atlantic while discussing their military history in thick Bostonian accents. Soon after reaching the island, they learn that things have gone amiss.
            The thing that people talked about most in this movie was the plot twist in the end, which is almost Shyamalan-esque. Scorsese very effectively leads up to this, and setting the audience just a bit off balance throughout the film. Within thirty seconds of reaching the island, DiCaprio and Ruffalo are greeted by guards armed with loaded machine guns. The escaped patient leaves both pairs of her shoes in her room when she flees. All of the patients in the asylum are very clearly reciting their testimonies from a script. And when our dynamic duo tries to leave the island, DiCaprio’s hallucinations of his dead wife, and then a severe hurricane, stop them.
Unfortunately, regardless of the build up, the twist is quite disappointing—in my opinion, the disconnect from the main story is too great and it ends a foul taste to the end of the film. The point of view even changes; throughout the film, we follow along with the adventures of DiCaprio in a series of flashbacks and intense close-ups, but when the twist occurs, the camera turns on a dime and we spend the rest of the film looking, confused and almost accusatorily at the main character.
            The plot arc in the rest of the film is that of a typical psychological horror downward spiral, with his hallucinations of his wife and gory, grainy flashbacks to the German war camps becoming more and more severe as the movie progresses. This is brilliantly foreshadowed, and the central theme of the movie embodied, in a single line: when the local sheriff describes how rigorous the security measures are for “Ward C,” the building for especially violent patients, DiCaprio replies, “You would think insanity was contagious.”
            This, as well as the paranoia that comes with a film taking place in 1954, is what I consider to be the best part of the film. The plot is threaded through with straight-up Cold War crazy, which interacts beautifully with the themes of insanity intrinsic to a film taking place in an asylum. About half way through the film, DiCaprio essentially abandons the task of finding the escaped patient and instead focuses on uncovering the government conspiracy and medical experiments he is convinced are taking place on the island. His lunacy is fed by his post war paranoia that Nazi like experiments are happening at the hospital, and uncited evidence that HUAC is funding the project. Juxtaposed with this is the unwavering hallucinated image of the wife, dressed in a perfectly housewifely yellow dress, and the marshal’s occasional descriptions of and flashbacks to their picturesque suburban life together. The subtext of the movie, which I consider to be much more fascinating than the puzzley plot, exposes the ugly underbelly of paranoia and fear that is such an important part of the era that we remember as I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver.
            Even though Shutter Island and Inception have similarly twisty plots, Leonardo DiCaprio, beautiful cinematography, and hallucinations of tragically dead wives, the former made about half as much money as Nolan’s blockbuster hit. This has a lot to do with the marketing of Shutter Island, and the fact that it’s somewhat in between genres; it has the romance that directors are trying to work into “masculine” movies to appeal to a female audience (plus Leo), it has the plot characteristic of a psychological horror, almost (but just almost,) enough guns and explosions to be an action movie, and enough historical references and implications to be historical fiction—and it was marketed as a slasher.
            However, considering the reputation of Scorsese and the quality of this film, it certainly deserves more credit than it was given when it was released—though the failed attempt at mind-blowing plot twist does take away significantly from the film, it redeems itself with the thoughtful themes of insanity and paranoia. It was over shadowed by Inception, but in terms of plot, visuals, and especially the nearly identical performances of Leonardo DiCaprio, this movie should have earned just as much credit as the Oscar winning box office hit. With the plot twist, this film gets a three out of five stars, but if we were just rating the first hour and forty five minutes, I’d give it a solid four. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011


My friends.

Have you seen this nonsense?

Scream is one of my favorite movies, so I'm pretty excited about Scream 4, or, in the grand history of giving ridiculously punny titles to sequels, Scre4m.

But this is not good. Not good at all.

I wasn't really alive and/or old enough to watch movies when Scream came out, and I've gotta be honest, I haven't seen the two sequels preceding this one. I think, however, I have approximately the same love for slasher movies as somebody who went through the eighties, where slashers were a much larger staple of pop culture, so I get Scream. All of it. I get all the references to earlier films, I get how amazingly brilliant Wes Craven is to be able to essentially stare into a mirror with this movie and laugh at himself. And I get that slasher movies were at a point that, well...they needed to be addressed. I've talked about satire before, and how once a genre can have that much self-recognition...well, that's just awesome. And Scream is the perfect example of good satire--as opposed to Scary Movie, which was made by comedians, Scream was a movie making fun of horror movies by the veritable duke of slasherdom.

And even as those VHS's of the movie unwound more and more jokes and self-mockery, they also addressed some of the moral issues with horror film--and whether or not watching slasher movies makes people into serial killers, the lessons they potentially teach, the carelessness of the characters, etc.

It was the wicked awesome hat on the fantastic body of slasher film that was the created in the 1980's.
If you want to get technical, it was this hat. For obvious reasons 
But I'm really not sure about this Scre4m business. I don't know if it is the right time.

It's been eleven years since the last Scream franchise film. That last film, titled simply Scream 3, (aw, come on, not Scr3am?) made as much money as the first film (about 161,000,000,) but had almost three times the budget, and was only four years away from the first film, meaning it could still succeed only on the momentum of it's predecessor.

Obviously, this isn't really the case anymore. The audience for slasher movies is today, as it has always been, teenagers--and, as a teenager, I can say that Scream wasn't a huge part of my childhood, since I was three years old when it was released. If I wasn't into slasher movies as much as I am, I'm not sure I ever would have watched it.

So that's one big issue--audience. The people who liked slasher movies when Scream came out--ie, the people who were teens in 1996--are now in their thirties. With children. And stuff to do. The people who liked original slashers when they were teenagers, and therefore could understand Scream when it came out for it's brilliant satire, are now in their mid to late forties. Teenagers now were toddlers or zygotes when the original came out. Who exactly are they thinking is going to watch this film?

Well, apparently, they think they're going to get the current teenagers, because they're marketing it like they would market any other slasher film today. And to be fair, a good chunk of the slasher movies recently have been remakes, and there have been quite a few remakes in my teenagerdom--Rob Zombie's Halloween came out when I started high school, and since then we've gotten remakes of Friday the Thirteenth and Nightmare on Elm Street--in correct chronological order, even. I suppose it is part of the natural order of things for a Scream remake/sequel to come out.

I think they're marketing it all wrong, though. Again, I haven't seen two and three, but I believe that the tone of  the first one is meant to be relatively lighthearted. And, like so many slasher movies of the millennium, this one is, at least visually, very very dark. The original is witty and self aware, this one seems to be taking itself very seriously. The first one banks on a cultural knowledge of slasher movies as a staple of film...and do we have that any more?

The thing is, the first glimpse of slasher movie culture and structure that most of the kids in my generation get is Scary Movie, which is parodying scream--which is a parody. Could you possibly be less classy? I can't even imagine the confusion that seeing this movie would cause for someone who has seen Scary Movie but hasn't seen Scream--probably most of their key demographic, my peers.

That is the most important question in whether or not this movie will succeed as anything other than a cult hit. Does my generation have the correct understanding of slashers to "get" this movie? Does this movie simply assume that they don't, and as a result have decided to turn this into a film that takes itself seriously, with the only satire left having the killer constantly ask, "What's your favorite scary movie?" and turn his murders into a game, which is actually a horrible premise if it isn't in context? Can the Ghostface killer stand, ungrounded, with no basis in actual knowledge of slasher lore like the original killers had, but only knowledge of the mythos in the movie based on the original lore?

Let me clarify what I mean with this infographic.

Good luck with this one, Wes Craven. You have gotten yourself into quite a bind.