Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cinema Bits

I'm still into heavy video game times, but I've become bogged down in one particular game almost to the exclusion of all other play. When I finish that thing soon, I'll put up a 'blog entry on it and get on to some other game topics too. Here's some films or DVDs I've managed to squeeze in over the last few weeks:

The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. Rob Zombie's years-long-production animated comedy. Surprisingly polished animation on a very raunchy violent story. At first, if one is an 'elderly person' such as myself, it might put you in mind of Ralph Bakshi's adult-oriented cartoons like Wizards or Fritz the Cat. But the spazziness and surreal humor actually has more in common I think with Spongebob Squarepants or The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Be warned: the violence, nudity, and cussin' are off the scale, though humorous in nature and not realistic. Special mention needs to be made of how hilarious Rosario Dawson is as a ebonics-spouting WHITE ho, and the songs are unbelievably funny, IF you really pay attention to the lyrics... particularly the Yellow Submarine-esque song playing behind Suzy X's first battle with the nazis. Open-minded pop-culture mavens should get this but keep it locked away from the kids.

Where The Wild Things Are. This was on my list to take my kids to go see because the book is great and a staple of just about every family library. I wasn't sure how they could expand a work made of about a dozen lines of poem into a feature film, but the production design and cinematography in the trailer looked so stunning I was willing to give the idea a chance. Then came the controversy. In the media, parents supposedly found the movie inappropriate. Well I like me some controversial films, so that made going to see this that much more appealing. I deliberately avoided actually reading up on what was so disturbing because I wanted to see if I could discern what the fuss was about myself, and see if my kids actually noticed anything objectionable from their point-of-view. First off the movie is okay. As expected from the promo reels the look and sound of the movie is unique and very well done, but quite melancholy compared to the book. I can see how the writers and director derived this feel from the story, but it isn't something I've ever felt myself all the times I've read it so it was a surprise. Also, the misbehavior on Max's part, which could be interpreted as just a mild issue read from the book, is treated as a serious alienation or ADD-related emotional disturbance. And this all may be why the movie was only 'okay' for me. It isn't like the tone was truly awful (to me) or invalid, but it wasn't joyous or cheerfully humorous in anyway. The wild things themselves are given 'everyday people' sorts of voices and they seem neurotic and dreary too.

I usually like my expectations to be challenged in a film, book, or game, but in this case my view of the source material is too strongly rooted. In the same way the Lord of The Rings were written in stone for uber-fans before Peter Jackson's trilogy of films came out.

So when I followed up on the controversy the next day I expected the emotional issues and realistically awful problems this creates in Max's family to be the point. There is also a lesson about abusive relationships taught to Max (by example) on the wild things' island. I figured THAT stuff was what would be objectionable. Well, the depressing tone, and unfriendly depiction of relationships was mentioned by critics... but what did parents object to? Scary scenes.

What the fuck? The wild things are MONSTERS. In the book and in the movie. They are stylized on the printed page as per Maurice Sendak's art style. Apart from doing the film as animation (or a Muppet Movie) the monsters, though derived directly from the book illustrations, ARE going to be more realistic. They just are. And what do parents think the wild things do on that island when Max isn't lording it over them? They must do what monsters do. So in an expanded format you are going to have to see some other behaviors. I think there are three scary 'things' that parents objected to. Shots of bones, indicating the wild things have eaten people in the past, a sequence involving the lead wild thing chasing Max down threatening to eat him, and a scene where that selfsame wild thing rips the arm off another wild thing... bloodless and treated humorously by the victim.

This is totally retarded. My kids didn't find anything objectionable in the movie. Nothing scary. They just found Max to be a bit of a dick and were glad he seemed to have reformed a bit by movie's end. And my kids are not jaded either. They get nightmares from images seen in Hammer horror films over Halloween (more on that below). They get apprehensive from previews of Harry Potter movies. But nothing in Where The Wild Things Are induced that sort of fear in them. I like Sendak's quote on the matter. Parents who find the content too disturbing for kids can: "go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate" and he further noted "I saw the most horrendous movies that were unfit for child's eyes. So what? I managed to survive."

Speaking of which-

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. This is a goshdamn awesome old movie. Everything a fan of Hammer films loves is in here apart from Peter Cushing. When I was a kid of about nine, my Mom started letting me stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights to watch old horror films and Kolchak the Night Stalker. Afternoons after school had the Harryhausen, 50's science fiction, and occasional Godzilla movie. But late-night was the dark stuff. Literally. I would sit close in front of the TV with all the lights out, some snack going uneaten while I absorbed the horrific spectacles paraded out in grainy prints from Universal, Hammer, Amicus, AIP and others. My Mom was a good church-going woman, but she just didn't see the harm in these rendezvous with FICTION. She trusted that I was discerning enough to keep a bedrock of disbelief underneath the enjoyment or fear. And it didn't hurt that I never complained about nightmares. Even when I did have them, the possibility of being banned (like other kids including my brother-- hah!) kept my trap shut on the subject.

Anyway. The movie. Risen is the third in Hammer's Dracula series. Hammer studios was known for very 'English' actors and acting, colorful 'stagey' costumes and sets, and most of all for putting the sex and blood into horror. The sex was mostly lowcut bodices on the victims and heroines, and the blood was the luridly colored 'paint' common to films of the 60's. But at the time of their release (before I was watching them on TV mind you) they were pretty strong stuff... to the point of being severely censored or banned in many countries. The over-the-top acting (and very theatrical costumes and sets) were the standard for films of the day, but the color and style really set the Hammer films apart. And of course Christopher Lee's version of Dracula, made more of an actual personality in this film, is just the cherry on top. The movie drags a bit in the middle as it sets up all the people and logistics necessary to move Dracula from the village he's terrorised in the previous film to the big city, but the climax more than makes up for it.

Spoiler Alert: It had been a long time since I'd seen this film, so I didn't remember a lot of specifics... even the ending. Considering this film was made in 1968, I still found the climax in this film to be more hair-raising and just-plain-awesome than dozens of more modern films... including just about any 'Dracula' movie you can name. Near the end of the film, Dracula has been 'staked' by the hero. This is a particularly graphic scene... probably cut when I saw this on TV as a kid... I'm mean, no shit, the blood is pouring out. But in THIS vampire mythos you can't just stake the vampire (at least not one as powerful as Dracula) you have to say a rite just after to complete the process. Well, no one manages to get the words out, so Dracula motherfucking gets out of his coffin and pulls this huge, and I mean huge, stake out of his own chest and gets on with the business of knocking the hero around and kidnapping the girl. When he gets back to his castle he orders the girl to remove this huge gilded cross that is sealing the main doors. She throws it over the side of the short cliff on which the castle resides and after the climactic struggle with the hero a few minutes later, Dracula falls off same cliff and lands impaled on the gold cross. But of course it doesn't end there. You gotta say the rites. This time a formerly-enthralled priest does the honors... all the while Dracula is spitting and writhing on this cross, and almost manages to get himself off of it. But the words are spoken, and the end of Dracula is shreds of his cloak and copious amounts of blood running down the cross. It probably doesn't get much better than THAT to a horror-seeking kid plomped in front of a late-night television set. How can Where The Wild Things Are even approach that? It isn't realistic looking in the modern sense, but once you spend the earlier part of the film getting involved and buying into Hammer-world, it's pretty damn intense. And I would still let my kids watch this. It was part of my growing up. I just can't see this as damaging. I almost feel like I'd be depriving them if I didn't at least give them a chance to see Hammer films as I saw them. Well better than I saw them actually...

The DVD I watched comes in a set and the print is so much more colorful and clear than anything previously available for any Hammer film. Watching a DVD like this, especially on an HDTV, will give the viewer some idea what it must have been like to see them in a theater, before grainy, scratchy, washed-out prints became the norm. And even with those faults, I still remember Hammer films as being the most colorful selections in my late-night fare. I'll single out Veronica Carlson here too. I met her sometime in the 90's at a horror convention in Baltimore. She looked pretty good there still, but watching this movie will let you in on why she was mobbed at that meet. She made wearing a bodice and tilting your neck for the vampire an art form.

Since the color and stageyness of the Hammer films lends an air of unreality watching one of these has become a sort of tradition with my kids at Halloween. This year it was The Mummy. Pretty much all the positives I mentioned for the above film would apply to The Mummy as well, subtracting the gore, but adding in very creepy living eyes in a dead face (again supplied by Lee), and the presence of Peter Cushing. No blood but still a real wincer of a scene during a flashback to ancient Egypt. I highly recommend Hammer films as a Halloween tradition. They still give my kids sleep problems, but I look at it as necessary toughening up.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Smithee here. I really liked this... Where The Wild Things Are sounds just like I thought it would be, although I mostly want to listen to the OST as it is done by Karen O from YYYs. Very good, for a fan like me :D

    Basically, the opinions of those parents and having problems with that, is foolish. Absolutely foolish. Really? I mean, that shit is GOOD. I'm 15 and I've been looking to have a nightmare... it is good inspiration, y'know? It really helps you get creative, fear it does. Well, fear from fiction. Real fear is terrible.

    In any case, good post as usual. Can't wait for more :)