The Fourth Wall
A Film and Television Blog
November 23rd, 2010 at 4:09 pm
When we think about Thanksgiving, some of us think about the value of family. Others think about American history, favorably or otherwise. But one thing almost everyone thinks of is dinner. Not just dinner, but the ritual of dinner. Sitting down for a meal with a group of friends, family or co-workers is a strange mishmash of practicality (everybody has to eat sometime) and façade (because there’s a cultural sense of propriety and civility at work). Films have had a long, proud history of dramatizing these little get-togethers. Put a bunch of compelling characters with grievances against each other in the same room and force them to act nice to each other: as fine a recipe for drama as any ever conceived.
Well! I know what I’m thankful for…
In this edition of The Weekly Listicle, Julia Rhodes, Dan Fields and I (William Bibbiani) take a moment to be thankful for our favorite dinner scenes in film history. The funny, the dramatic, the traumatic, and the yummy. Did your favorite dinner scene make the Listicle?
Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1984)
Hey guys? Jake Roberts called. He wants his snake back. (Ah, the 1980’s…)
Before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came along, Temple of Doom was generally considered the worst movie in the franchise. For some of us it’s our very favorite. It may not be as well rounded as Raiders of the Lost Ark or as family-friendly as The Last Crusade, but this second Indiana Jones epic is the daring one: the crazy, violent, sexually charged romp that pulp entertainment was always supposed to be. This isn’t a movie for the whole family. This is a movie for young men immature enough to want to see people eat bugs and rip a human heart through a ribcage, and yet mature enough to want the film to also be really good.
The film stars Harrison Ford, of course, as Indiana Jones, who along with his two sidekicks Short Round (young Ke Hui Quan of Goonies fame, standing in for the target audience) and nightclub singer “Willie” Scott (Kate Capshaw, standing in for anyone who’d think this movie is immature or icky) finds himself seeking the mysterious Sankara stones in India. Not only have the mystical stones been stolen by the evil Thuggee cult (whom you may remember from the classic adventure film Gunga Din), but also the children of the town that used to guard them. So Jones & Co. travel to the great Pankot Palace where they have dinner with Indian royalty and British generals and discuss the history of the region and the Thuggee.
“You want me to eat that? Are you out of your skull?!”
In other words: a really boring dinner scene, filled with only somewhat-necessary exposition. Indiana Jones needs to know al this stuff, but all most audiences need are an assurances that the film actually does make a little bit of sense. In order to distract from what would otherwise be an interminably didactic conversation, Spielberg & Co. resort to a clumsy, albeit memorable and certainly hilarious series of jokes about how disgusting the food is. A giant cooked snake appears on the table: “Snake Surprise.” The surprise? It’s full of dozens of smaller, living snakes! Short Round and Willie play it safe and order the soup, only to find eyeballs in it. But it’s okay, desert’s coming: Chilled monkey brains, served in their original skulls.
Ew. Awesome, but ew. Hilarious, but ew. Then again, if all you can see is the ew, then this movie isn’t for you. Not the most prestigious dinner scene ever devised, but easily one of the most memorable. Read more…
November 19th, 2010 at 11:20 am
And so the final countdown begins for Harry Potter. With the premiere of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 this weekend, we see the beginning of the end of a monumentally successful literary and cinematic franchise that has taken us to other worlds and beyond… yet not so far outside our own.
Many of us entered the world of Harry Potter as skeptics, not meaning to enjoy ourselves but becoming spellbound all the same. There is much of the delightful, the wondrous, and the unusual in this world, thanks to author J. K. Rowling and her power of imagination. For me, the greatest triumph of Harry Potter lies not in any one character or plot line. The power of the story to draw even the reluctant in is the seamless, thoughtfully rendered “magical” world in which the wizards and witches of the world operate, alongside but largely invisible to the “normal” world. The attention to detail in rendering this world is extraordinary and full of surprises.
A cleverly rendered fantasy world has the power to make us believe astounding things, and to transport us to places we may never have imagined ourselves. In the history of film there have been countless attempts to take real-world places and performers outside the realm of what has been seen before, and into far-off lands where the amazing, the terrifying, and the marvelous lurk around every corner. Join me (Dan Fields) and my colleague Julia Rhodes as we reach down a few rabbit holes and call up some of the greatest fantasy worlds committed to film.
Brazil (dir. Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Wait, wait — this is the dream sequence within the fantasy world! Wait!
Bureaucracy and paranoia are nothing new to science fiction and fantasy. Authors from Asimov to Orwell to Kafka to Dick have made most of us familiar with the manifold horrors of the establishment. Terry Gilliam’s bizarre and starkly beautiful Brazil hearkens to these writers, with a healthy touch of his own darkest humor. In his world, all the miles of paperwork and closed circuit television wire seem to signify nothing at all. The bureaucracy is an endless runaround loop masking the possibility that there is no one at all behind the curtain. Where do all the orders come from, if not from on high?
November 12th, 2010 at 9:41 am
Color me unimpressed based on the trailers for Skyline.
This week’s big release Skyline looks…well, it doesn’t look good. It stars Six Feet Under‘s Eric Balfour and Dexter‘s David Zayas, both of whom I enjoy. But when the trailer for your movie makes audience members wonder, “What video game is this for?” you have issues. (And before I get flamed, I’m not dissing on gaming–but the resolution and movement of game graphics look a certain way, while movies that aren’t made for SyFy usually look another way. That said, I haven’t seen Call of Duty: Black Ops, which is apparently bigger than Jesus right now.) I still haven’t figured out exactly what Skyline is about, but I don’t particularly care enough to look for that information.
Sigh: yet another (probably) bad science fiction movie to add to the list. Sci fi is one of the oldest popular genres; some scholars believe it’s been around since 2150 B.C., while others argue its popular form emerged with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In film history, sci fi goes hand in giddy hand with horror as one of the genres that’s most capable of subverting cultural norms, of distilling our common fears and hopes into entertainment. Anyone who’s paying attention can trace sci fi and horror from day one to the present, comparing it to societal anxieties and desires along the way. In the earliest days of film, we aspired to visit the moon in a lovely, implausible contraption (Le Voyage dans la Lune). In the 1920s, we feared a dystopian factory world (Metropolis) and couldn’t wait to be thrilled by dinosaurs in action (this hasn’t changed much in eighty years). By the 50s we feared Commies and the A-bomb. In the 60s, we feared the Civil Rights movement and differences of all sorts, particularly those druggie, happy hippies. By the 80s, the rise of computers was in full swing: enter cyberpunk. It’s hard to step back far enough from the 90s-2010s to define what our major themes are–but it’s pretty clear from movies like Splice and even WALL*E that on some level we fear our advancing technology will outgrow us (and 2009’s District 9 did a lovely job distilling apartheid and racism into a gross, fun movie that makes you think).
In this edition of The Weekly Listicle, join Dan Fields, William Bibbiani, and me (Julia Rhodes!) as we explore science fiction through the decades and list some of our favorites. As a reminder, the Listicle doesn’t seek to rank its ten movies, nor is it positing that these are the best of that genre (unless explicitly stated). We’re just listing our favorites, and as always, feel free to chime in with your own!
The Day the Earth Stood Still (dir. Robert Wise, 1951)
Gort and Klaatu exit the ship.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is the alien attack film. Bernard Herrmann’s humming theremins, electric cellos and violins brought us the first eerie “flying saucer” noises, the likes of which Danny Elfman strove to replicate for Mars Attacks, and Hans Zimmer (whose scores often rip off Herrmann) played with in Signs. The 1951 movie tells the story of an alien race that visits Washington, D.C., bringing with it humanoid Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and enormous, infinitely destructive robot Gort (Hugh Marlowe). “We come in peace,” Klaatu says upon exiting the silver craft after it lands on the Ellipse in President’s Park–and just before an idiot soldier shoots him. That phrase has ingrained itself in American culture. The presiding thought among science fiction fanatics and authors is that, if alien life exists, it has probably advanced far beyond our primitive technologies, and therefore would be uninterested in waging war with Earth. This movie was one of the first to posit such a theory.
Pinko commie, or alien? Which is worse?
The 1950s were rife with social anxieties. One of Klaatu’s neighbors speculates he’s a communist (of course–because that was a worse thing to be in 1951 than an alien). Generals in the American Army tell Klaatu, “Our world is full of tensions and suspicions.” Our world is always going to be full of tensions and suspicions, but Klaatu left us with a warning: we must join other planets in peace or pursue our current course and face obliteration. The idea of a benevolent but dangerous, completely unfamiliar alien race (who nonetheless resemble humans) is one that’s been done again and again, but most adaptations of the story feature humans fighting for their rights. Independence Day‘s iconic shots of gawkers on NYC streets, alien craft hovering above the White House, cars halting in traffic while drivers step out to look into the foreboding sky…that all comes from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Unlike ID4, The Day the Earth Stood Still portrays humans as weak and silly, violent and not the least bit self-righteous.
Roland Emmerich got nothin’ on Robert Wise.
The film’s incredibly well-written script still resonates almost 60 years later. Klaatu says to a reporter, “I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.” Well, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally for Sanity may not have made the kind of impact it should’ve, but I attended–and discovered there are still millions out there who are with you, Klaatu. People of earth unite for reason!
The Faculty (dir. Robert Rodriguez, 1998)
The Brat Pack part 2? With aliens? I’m in.
Now, you’re probably wondering how I got from the classic, critically adored The Day the Earth Stood Still to Robert Rodriguez’s laughable horror-sci fi-teen flick The Faculty. Well, let me explain. The Faculty is derivative, but as it’s penned by Kevin Williamson, it’s also extremely self-aware–though not nearly as smartly written as say, Scream. The movie starts following a group of high school students who mostly avoid each other on principle: the Brain (Elijah Wood’s Casey), the Athlete (Shawn Hatosy’s Stan), the Basketcase (Clea DuVall’s Stokely), The Princess (Jordana Brewster’s Delilah), and the Criminal (Josh Hartnett’s Zeke). Recognize this formula yet? Perhaps from a certain Brat Pack movie? Enter Marybeth Louise Hutchinson of Atlanta (Laura Harris), who doesn’t fit in the equation, and guess who the alien is. Because Robert Rodriguez helmed the movie, there are a fair amount of horror stars among the faculty: Carrie‘s Piper Laurie, T2‘s Robert Patrick, and From Dusk til Dawn‘s Salma Hayek appear (along with, randomly, Jon Stewart, who is apparently haunting me).
Coach T-1000. Not in the least bit creepy, really.
November 9th, 2010 at 6:00 am
I do not know if it is possible for someone as warped as I am to overdose on Halloween. However, I came dangerously close this year. As a way of clearing my head, and particularly as a tonic to Saw 3D, I decided once again to get a little nostalgic on myself.
A movie can do a lot of things to an audience. It may move them, amuse them, disgust them, terrify them, or in all too many cases bore them. One thing only a handful of films can do is inspire wonder. Every once in a while, a winning combination of writer, director, designers, composers and cast meet in perfect harmony. Such, I feel, is the case of Marcel Carné’s 1945 epic romance, Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise).
– A Film Of Rare Beauty –
Penned by master French poet Jacques Prévert, the story fancifully interweaves the lives of thieves, courtesans, and actors in 19th-century Paris.
The heart of the city’s theatre district is the Boulevard du Temple (affectionately dubbed the Boulevard of Crime by those who frequent it). In this very street is a little theatre called the Funambules, where both of society’s crusts mingle to hear light music and watch pantomime. The paradis of the title (also known as “the gods”) refers to the cheap seats, way up high, where the poorest and rowdiest patrons hoot and jeer at the performances. However, besides being the roughest customers they are also the most faithful of audiences, filling the gallery night after night to feed their imaginations.
Life is the ultimate comedy for the Children Of Paradise.
To revisit this film without marveling all over again at its scale and beauty is nearly impossible. That such a lavish production should have been made in the confines and under the restrictions of Nazi-occupied France seems almost miraculous. In Children of Paradise one finds a unique meeting of song, dance, pantomime, theatre, and of course film. It is a successful hybrid of all these, and in its three-hour run manages to explore both rousing comedy and deep tragedy.
November 4th, 2010 at 11:49 pm
Megamind, the new Dreamworks animated family feature, is only the second animated family feature film this year to focus on a supervillain. (Remember Despicable Me?) It’s also the latest in a longstanding tradition of movies in which the villain is supposedly more interesting than the hero. When did this shift happen? When did our heroes start to suck?
I don’t know about you, but I’m of a Megamind to see something 127 Hours this weekend instead.
Heroes don’t have to be boring stand-ins for the audience (I’m looking at you, everyone who casts Shia LaBeouf). They can be compelling characters overcoming hardships, psychological turmoil and overwhelming odds to save not only the day but also their films from mediocrity. Heroes can be inspiring figureheads, neurotic losers and everything in between. Heroes can be wonderful, but for some reason many of them – often in otherwise very good (or at least popular) movies – again, just plain suck.
In this installment of The Weekly Listicle, Dan Fields and I (William Bibbiani!) take a look at heroes who could have been heroic but let us down. Maybe they lacked charisma, maybe the only thing they couldn’t overcome was a gaping plot hole, maybe they were simply ineffectual. Maybe… they just sucked.
Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (dir. Mel Stuart, 1971) and Freddie Highmore as Charlie Bucket in Charlie & Chocolate Factory (dir. Tim Burton, 2005)
This flawed protagonist has a golden ticket. That’s not the same thing as a free pass.
Roald Dahl was my favorite author as a child, and despite the gradual onset of adulthood he remains a favorite storyteller to this day. One of his most beloved books is Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, in which a wide-eyed but extremely put-upon child named Charlie Bucket gets the opportunity of a lifetime: a trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. No mere warehouse full of sugar-laden conveyor belts, this factory is everything a naïve child assumes a chocolate factory should be, filled with trained squirrels to crack the nuts, singing workers who put Santa’s elves to shame and of course rooms in which everything is edible (and specifically made out of scrumdiddlyumptious candy).
In the books Charlie Bucket is a stand-in for the reader. Dahl elicits sympathy for his protagonist by making him feel like every child feels: underappreciated, lacking in life’s more pleasurable fineries and in need of escapism (hence the need for Dahl’s book). Once he actually gets to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory he essentially disappears from the narrative, allowing the readers to merely drink in the wonderful world created for them and watch as annoying and obviously inferior children are punished in hilariously horrific ways. In the end Charlie gets to keep the whole chocolate factory simply because he isn’t a jerk. He’s the center of a satisfying tale of wish-fulfillment… not a good protagonist.
You know you’ve got a forgettable protagonist when you can watch the entire film – several times – and the only memory a picture like this brings to mind is, “I think my Mom made me wear a sweater like that once.”
Both of the (really rather good) adaptations of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory have attempted to beef up Charlie as a protagonist, and both have met with limited success. He’s a wallflower not just by nature but by function as well. It’s Willy Wonka’s world and Charlie is quite literally lucky to be visiting. Mel Stuart’s classic version gave Charlie a brief interlude of his own during the chocolate factory sequence. Everyone else had one, so why not Charlie? But in stealing fizzy lifting drinks Charlie acts completely out of character, and in fact is really no better than all the other kids who get punished for their transgressions by Wonka throughout the rest of the film.
But Stuart’s version compensates somewhat by giving Charlie a test to pass. Charlie must not only survive the tour, but also prove himself moral enough to resist betraying Wonka’s trust to Horace Slugworth. In Burton’s version, Charlie has nothing whatsoever to do in Wonka’s chocolate factory. He pretty much disappears for the bulk of the film, only to emerge at the end with an admittedly interesting twist on the climax: he refuses Wonka’s offer to run the chocolate factory because Wonka wants Charlie to abandon his family in the process. This subplot probably seemed like a good idea on paper but in practice it’s haphazardly tacked onto the end, like someone suddenly remembered at the last minute that there should be some kind of theme going on here somewhere. It takes the edge off of our dull, dull, dull hero (or perhaps more accurately puts on edge on him), but it doesn’t actually solve the problem. Charlie Bucket, in all his incarnations, just isn’t very interesting. Sure, that’s by design, but the Titanic wasn’t designed to have enough lifeboats. The design itself is sometimes the problem.
George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell as Batman and Robin in Batman & Robin (dir. Joel Schumacher, 1997)
Batman and Robin make a public appearance in Batman & Robin. Oh man, if only celebrity idol Bruce Wayne and his handsome and doubtless equally famous “ward” were here to see this! (Beat) – Wait a second… Read more…
November 1st, 2010 at 3:49 pm
Last night, half of zombie aficionados across the world tuned in to Frank Darabont’s new zombie series, “The Walking Dead.” (The other half was out in full makeup terrorizing teenage trick-or-treaters or drinking copious amounts of alcohol to celebrate Halloween.)
AMC has gained a (well-earned) reputation for airing some of the best shows on TV, so it’s no surprise Darabont went with the cable network when pitching a horror series. Many of us can’t afford HBO or Showtime, but a lot of us can tune into basic cable. Most TV series are made on a notoriously low budget, causing “Buffy”‘s disintegrating vamps to be pretty laughable and “Supernatural”‘s gore to be quite silly at times (but once you’re invested, you stop caring about that). “The Walking Dead” is confined to only six episodes this season, probably for budget reasons, but those six episodes will probably look and feel better than the average horror series.
Frank Darabont is well known for his attachment to Stephen King’s material–and his ability to make King’s lesser work not only more palatable, but more emotionally jarring. Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist are some of the best King adaptations out there (with due respect to Kubrick, De Palma, and Garris) because Darabont manages to take King’s rambling, melodramatic tone and sharpen it without losing the point completely. Hopefully he utilizes the same deft touch with the graphic novels that are the basis for “The Walking Dead.”
Andrew Lincoln as Deputy Rick Grimes in “The Walking Dead.”
Needless to say, when I heard 1) Frank Darabont was making a show for 2) AMC about 3) zombies, they had me setting my phone’s calendar for 10pm on Halloween before the trailer was over. Niggling doubts circulated, though: is the series format right for zombies; what’s going to keep the plot moving? Can a cable channel produce horrible enough gore to satisfy zombie fans? Will the series be innovative enough to help revitalize a genre that’s been mowed down by sexy sexy vampires in the last few years?
During last night’s premiere, most of these questions were answered. Read more…
October 28th, 2010 at 6:40 pm
For years, the makers of Saw and its sequels have subjected us to an increasingly convoluted morality play, presumably intended to legitimize the prolonged torture and mutilation of what was, as we recall, a fairly interesting psychological horror concept in 2004.
Not to pick exclusively on the big weekend opener. The “horror remake” trend is doing our intelligence no favors either. The directors of these films feel obligated to saddle their monsters with implausible, quasi-sympathetic back story which, instead of making them more complex, only humanizes all the scariness out of them. A good scary story inspires wonder and dread. The appeal of disgust, as an emotion, wears thin so quickly.
It’s almost Halloween, folks! Aren’t we supposed to be having fun? Rather than dwell further on the shortcomings of modern horror, we salute the spirit of the campfire tale, the ghost story, and the urban legend in this nostalgic look at great horror stories in film and television. Join me – Dan Fields – and my fellow campers William Bibbiani and Julia Rhodes, as we pass the flashlight and torch a few marshmallows.
The Fog (dir. John Carpenter, 1980)
Predictably, this film is rated “Arrr!”
John Carpenter, horror king of the 1970s and 80s, made a big splash early in his career by making the definitive Halloween movie – appropriately titled Halloween. Soon after, he released a less celebrated but certainly noteworthy adventure called The Fog, about undead terror in the little seaside town of Antonio Baby. As the citizens prepare for a centennial celebration, a dense fog rolls in from the water. With it come a murderous crew of ghostly pirates, out for all the blood they can find. As the body count climbs, a number of local figures piece together the dark secret which brought this curse upon them.
October 21st, 2010 at 9:10 am
Here at The Fourth Wall, we’re spending the month of October catering to your every scary movie need. With only one Weekly Listicle left to go before All Hallows Eve, William Bibbiani and I (Julia Rhodes!) are tackling the most disturbing, most gut-wrenching, most f*%$ed up movies we’ve ever seen.
We won’t force you to watch them, as in A Clockwork Orange, but we’ll make a strong case.
We friendly bloggers at The Fourth Wall are avid horror geeks (you’ll find this is often a common denominator for film nerds in general). We love the scary movies: B-grade, A-grade, atmospheric, gory, smart, satirical, and stupid. However, we’ve each seen movies that made our stomachs wrench, our arms break out in goosebumps, and our body parts throb empathetically. In this Weekly Listicle, we’ll cover rape, fetuses, torture, excrement, and brutal violence.
This is by no means a complete list; even we have drawn the line at certain movies (for instance, I have yet to make it all the way through Salò, and haven’t yet seen Lars von Trier’s Antichrist). As always, The Listicle doesn’t wish to rank these movies according to quality or content, either. That aside: join us for a journey into the dark side of horror film, where only the crazy dwell and even those with constitutions of steel may find themselves cringing. Warning: though this article is safe for work, it may not be for the faint of heart.
Irréversible (dir. Gaspar Noé, 2002)
Cassel and Dupontel in Irréversible.
A friend once told me he couldn’t get past the first few minutes of Irréversible because it’s “too pretentious.” What he meant, I think, is that Noé’s movie is the opposite of a typical Hollywood film: it plays out in reverse chronological order, relies heavily on dizzy camerawork, and is basically a punch in the face from the first scene.
Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) spend the movie searching for and eventually brutally beating The Tapeworm. Their search takes them through the dingy underworld of Paris–they track and violently question a transsexual prostitute and investigate a gay sex club called The Rectum. Bear in mind this is all told backwards, and at this point the audience has no idea why these men are urgently seeking (and beating the living hell out of) this mysterious character. Marcus and Pierre’s violence is startling and upsetting–and then you find out the reason behind it.
Bellucci’s Alex at knifepoint.
Marcus’s girlfriend Alex (Monica Bellucci) accidentally stumbles upon The Tapeworm beating prostitute Concha in a pedestrian underpass. The Tapeworm then turns his attention to Alex, rapes her brutally then beats her into a coma. If you’ve heard of Irréversible before, it’s surely because of its gut-wrenching nine minute rape scene. The camera is completely unflinching and the audience is privy to each shriek, every punch and thrust. We learn after this scene that Alex was pregnant with Marcus’s child.
I pride myself on my ability to watch even the most horrific things play out in (fictional) film, but this scene plastered my hand firmly over my involuntarily open mouth and riveted my shocked eyes. I’ve spent more hours than I’d like to admit studying rape revenge movies, and rarely has a movie disturbed me like Irréversible did. Roger Ebert, who loved the original Last House on the Left despite its rape scene, and hated the original I Spit on Your Grave because of its rape scene, maintains that, due to its reverse chronological structure Irréversible is brutally honest, not exploitative. No matter which you consider it (I fall on Ebert’s side…in this battle), it is absolutely not for the faint of heart. Cinematographer Benoît Debie and director, editor, and co-DP Noé fashioned a merciless, unflinching movie that’ll stab you to the core, but it’s also a brilliant addition to experimental horror.
À l’intérieur (Inside) (dir. Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury, 2007)
The gore isn’t the scariest part of Inside.
In the last decade it seems the French are prone to making gender-specific horror. À l’intérieur was a breakout (though sorely underseen) hit in 2007. Artistic editing, fantastic cinematography, gory makeup, and brilliant lighting make for an unforgettable experience. Expectant mother Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is in a car accident that kills her husband. Four months later, an intruder attacks her country home with a sinister purpose: to cut Sarah’s baby out of her belly.
It’s rare for horror to feature women as both villain and victim–and Béatrice Dalle’s villain is among the most frightening to grace the screen. She is viciously violent, her attempts to pierce Sarah’s uterus with a scissors absolutely horrifying, especially for those of us equipped with ladyparts. The intruder murders police, visitors, and expecting mother without qualms.
Scissors will never quite look the same to you after this movie.
October 14th, 2010 at 2:58 pm
A lot of people say that Halloween is a time for children, since they’re the ones who get to play dress up, carve pumpkins, and run around town getting free candy, but really… that’s kind of a lie. Kids love Halloween, but if the holiday was really geared towards the wee ones they wouldn’t need parents to ‘okay’ their choice of costumes, handle the knife they so desperately want to plunge into the juicy flesh of an orange squash or escort the little monsters from house to house. More to the point, since this is a movie blog, too many of the horror films we associate with Halloween (like, for example, Halloween) are deemed “inappropriate” for the very children who are their target demographic at this time of year.
“It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” It’s a great cartoon… for sissies.
So for every kid who wanted to rent A Nightmare On Elm Street this year but was forced instead to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas for the umpteenth time (no slight against The Nightmare Before Christmas, mind you), we here at The Weekly Listicle present Scary Movies For The Whole Family. Not kids movies with Halloween themes, and not the kinds of movies that will traumatize your kids for life and keep you up all night as they suffer through sugar withdrawals and nightmares, but great Halloween movies that kids can enjoy without feeling pandered to. Trust me, parents… They’ll thank you for it later.
Dead of Night (dirs. Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Deardon and Robert Hamer, 1945)
Who’s the real dummy here? Dead of Night knows…
Dead of Night is one of the first great anthology horror films, telling not just one scary tale but a whole series of spooky stories with a clever wraparound device connecting them all. Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns, who played Bob Cratchit in the great Alistair Sims version of A Christmas Carol) arrives at a party in the country and feels like he’s been there before. He can predict random occurrences before they happen, and what’s more has the distinct feeling that something horrible will happen to one of the guests very, very soon. Some of the guests balk, but most are willing to believe in the supernatural after having some inexplicable experiences of their own, and each of them have spook stories they are more than happy to share.
The tales they tell range from eerie to scary to a little dorky. In one, a young girl doesn’t know when she meets a childlike ghost at a party. In another, a man engaged to be married becomes possessed by the ghost of a murderer in his mirror. There’s also a not-particularly-funny comic relief piece which finds Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford more or less reprising their comedic personas from The Lady Vanishes as golfers whose love of the game, and a pretty lady, gets the best of them. But the best of the lot stars Michael Redgrave (also of The Lady Vanishes) as a ventriloquist whose dummy may or may not be alive. Redgrave’s performance is astounding… almost as astounding as the twist ending which at the time was so striking that it inspired the “Steady State” theory of the creation of the universe, an alternative theory to The Big Bang. Seriously.
Considering the ghost of a murderer was in there, we’ve decided to waive the seven years of bad luck.
As an older film, even the creepier tales are unlikely to freak your kids out and many of the segments, like the classic “Room For One More” story, have become clichés in the ensuing decades, but to children they will be fresh and new, and most of them have never been done better. Dead of Night’s anthology formula keeps the movie fast-paced, and more importantly makes the film feel like a series of great campfire stories for the whole family.
Invaders From Mars (dir. William Cameron Menzies, 1953)
And somehow, your kids will sympathize: Invaders From Mars
For whatever reason, horror movies are often reluctant to put children in the foreground of their stories. Maybe kids are placed in jeopardy (The Shining), or maybe they’re just incidentally creepy (A Nightmare On Elm Street, and come to think of it also The Shining), but it’s rare that they’re given the starring role, and rarer still that a horror film is told convincingly from a child’s perspective. Invaders From Mars remains one of the best horror flicks to give it a try, and is one of my favorite horror movies as a result. Read more…
October 13th, 2010 at 7:41 pm
For those who came in late, “Movie Time Nostalgia” is an open forum for die-hard movie lovers to look back on the various milestones of a life spent watching. From my previous ruminations on Sleeping Beauty and North by Northwest, I pitch my wandering mind forward a few decades to 1987. This week…
– The Shared Favorite –
An essential part of movie madness is the sharing of your personal favorites with another. Depending on the taste of the recommender, one may be inclined to rush out and see everything they ever mention liking, or may accept their picks grudgingly (at very least with a grain of salt).
My father has seldom, if ever, steered me wrong with one of his favorite films. Would that I could say the same. Frightfully sorry about Wild At Heart, old timer, though now I admit it was a bit of a prank.
October 13th, 2010 at 11:59 am
Fiction vs. reality: Eisenberg and Zuckerberg.
First things first: I’m in the business of paying close attention to roles of women in film and TV, both behind and in front of the camera. I also really enjoyed The Social Network, David Fincher’s biopic of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg.
Critics in the blogosphere claim the movie is everything from racist and sexist to homophobic (Indiewire states that Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is gay, and that isn’t represented in the film). TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy vocally protests Sorkin’s depiction of tech geeks, saying even though she’s worked in Silicon Valley for ten years, she’s never encountered this level of sexism. Jezebel.com’s Irin Carmon bemoans its lack of dynamic female characters, while others hate the way it glosses over gay characters and its fetishism of Asian women.
In The Social Network, there are only a few memorable roles for women—and this is what most of the feminist blogs take issue with. Certainly, Fincher is notorious for making what I refer to as “dude movies.” Se7en and Fight Club both feature women (Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Tracy, respectively) as prizes–something either bizarrely attractive or wholesomely pretty to come home to–while men are the dynamic characters. The Social Network certainly doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, which requires 1) two female characters, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than a man. And yes, that’s certainly a problem. However, Sorkin maintains (and I understood from watching the movie) that he wrote the film in such a way to demonize misogyny–not to glamorize it.
Rooney Mara as Erica, one of the movie’s only strong women.
October 7th, 2010 at 5:52 pm
This month, the critics of the Fourth Wall invite you on a stroll through what Ray Bradbury calls “The October Country.” With the movie industry devoting nearly full attention to the spooky side of the market, we will happily follow suit.
Today we take a different look at the master horror directors. Each of these moviemakers has made an iconic footprint on the history of scary cinema, whether with a well-worn franchise or in a single terrifying stroke. In many cases, the great success of such a film overshadows a director’s lesser works. Some are forgotten with good reason, but others are worth reviving now and again. Join William Bibbiani, Julia Rhodes, and myself (Dan Fields) as we discuss the neglected offspring of the great names in horror.
The Funhouse (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1981)
Imagery like this is every bit as horrible and scary as the monster of Hooper’s Funhouse.
Tobe Hooper, despite a mottled track record, has scored some major hits in the horror market. He is the man who gave us the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the Halloween favorite Poltergeist, and a very enjoyable TV adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. James Mason and David Soul, together at last!
Two of Hooper’s other films really stand out. The first is Eaten Alive, which is like a wackier and sleazier spin on Chain Saw, and was a tempting entry for this list. In all its Neville-Brand, scythe-swingin’, alligator-chompin’ glory, it is definitely worth your time, but there is just something special about another of Hooper’s neglected babies, The Funhouse.
October 1st, 2010 at 11:02 pm
Michael Caine is Harry Brown. Because someone has to be.
The “Catching Up With 2010” series was founded as a means of revisiting films that flew under my radar when they first came out, but that as a film critic – or merely a fan – I felt somehow obligated to watch before the end of the year. It was never intended to merely catalogue the worst movies of the year, but as has been repeatedly pointed out to me by my readers that is exactly what happened. As such I’ve decided to remedy this chance occurrence (well, mostly chance… I really didn’t expect much from Marmaduke, after all) by reviewing a film I recently caught up with and which has a very good chance of making my “Top Ten” list at the end of the year: Daniel Barber’s exceptional British revenge drama Harry Brown, starring Michael Caine.
Pete Townsend once wrote “I hope I die before I get old,” but it’s important to note that he was only 20 years old at the time. The song “My Generation” was very much on my mind as I watched Harry Brown, which like the song is British and discusses the difficult relationships between young whippersnappers and old farts. The obvious difference is that in Harry Brown our sympathies clearly rest with the codgers, but in defense of the analogy many of the young characters in the film do die, and long before they’ll qualify for even the earliest retirement. Michael Caine plays our hero, Harry Brown, whose very name implies a comfortable complacency: The movie may have other plans for him, but clearly this isn’t supposed to be a very interesting man.
Director Daniel Barber treats Harry Brown like a chess game, carefully played. And blood also comes in pints. Read more…
September 30th, 2010 at 8:19 am
Timberlake as Sean Parker and Eisenberg as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network.
Here at The Fourth Wall we are anxiously anticipating this week’s David Fincher feature, The Social Network. Even if you aren’t enchanted by the involvement of Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, you might’ve been reeled in by the good-looking cinematography and the trailer’s choral rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Perhaps your interest was piqued by the involvement of perpetually nerdy yet loveable Jesse Eisenberg, or maybe by the presence of oft-better-than-he-should-be Justin Timberlake. Some of us are curious solely based on the film’s subject, though: Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg.
“I hate that guy,” is the typical reaction when someone mentions this movie. Or “who gives a s*^&? That dude got rich by making us all suckers…,” grumble, grumble. Yep, these things are undoubtedly true, and it certainly is spooky how much of our collective privacy Zuckerberg controls. However: the slogan for The Social Network is “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Zuckerberg stepped on a few toes to get where he is, and even if you’re not interested in moneyed, Ivy League drama you may find yourself fascinated by just the kind of treachery that went into inventing this thing we all use. I mean, come on, despite the fact that everyone bitches about Facebook, almost all of us get something out of it. Whether you use it for day-to-day amusement, a platform to advertise what you’re doing, to spout missives about God or your marriage, or even if you just celebrate the existence of stupid people on failbooking, Facebook is a full-blown communications phenomenon.
The movies have long been fascinated with public figures, great and terrible—but particularly the terrible. No one’s perfect, and many of us aren’t even good people. Some of the films on our list were made posthumously, but certainly not all; for some, the protagonists were alive and well to watch the public’s reaction to their innermost secrets. Delicious! Just because someone made a movie about you doesn’t mean you get to sit on a pedestal and preen—this is evidenced by Zuckerberg’s noted distance from this production. Join William Bibbiani, Dan Fields, and me (Julia Rhodes!) as we chronicle our favorite biopics that turn vivid spotlights on their protagonists, illuminating them in a harsh, questionable, and sometimes awful light.
Heavenly Creatures (dir. Peter Jackson, 1994)
Off we go: Winslet and Lynskey.
In 1954, teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme brutally murdered Pauline’s mother near the picturesque town of Christchurch, New Zealand. The murder stunned the country, which prides itself on gorgeous landscapes and a neutral position on world politics. Peter Jackson (who has become a personification of NZ since the Lord of the Rings movies released) undertook the murder as the subject of his first mainstream film forty years after the fact.
Heavenly Creatures opens with tourism advertisement footage of Christchurch in the 1950s: babies crawl happily through neatly trimmed grass over which lovely red brick buildings soar; smiling schoolgirls march in time, their plaid skirts swaying; flowers erupt in bloom. Suddenly anguished shrieks interrupt the cheery voice-over and the scene shifts to a pair of young girls, covered in blood, as they rush toward the POV camera crying, “It’s Mummy! She’s terrible hurt!” This jarring transition—from beauty and tranquility to violence and the death of innocence—pretty well sums up the way New Zealanders felt about the murders.
Into a magically spooky wonderland: Jackson’s imaginative Borovnia.
Fourteen year-old Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) met English transplant Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet’s first film role) in school in Christchurch. The two bonded immediately over their shared health issues, disdain for the royal family, love of Mario Lanza, hatred of Orson Welles, and yearning to escape into an imaginary world. Jackson formed the movie based on Pauline’s diary entries, which betray their parents’ reticence to the relationship between Pauline and Juliet. Mr. Hulme visits a psychologist, worried about his daughter’s attachment to another girl, and a fisheye lens on his mouth captures his utter disgust and near-inability to say the word “homosexual.” Those were the times in which we lived (and it’s almost unnecessary to note that some still do). As both sets of parents strive to tear the girls apart, Pauline’s anger takes on a whole new dimension, eventually ending in her mother Honora’s bludgeoning.
What’s most exciting, beautiful and captivating about Heavenly Creatures is Jackson’s depiction of the fantasy world in which Juliet and Pauline while away their time. They carve clay figurines and invent detailed scenarios in which the figures interact. Jackson tells the story mostly by taking the audience into the depths of the girls’ imaginations. In the fantasy land of Borovnia, they lavish in luxury and quickly dispose of anyone who pisses them off. Pauline’s and Juliet’s real lives are nothing by comparison.
Imagination is all you need…
Winslet’s and Lynskey’s performances are spot-on; Jackson’s trademark beautiful cinematography captures the sweeping mountains and plains of New Zealand; the director’s overactive imagination is a perfect fit for two girls who found the real world wanting. The movie’s a suspenseful, lovely trip into the passionate minds of teenagers and the conservative 1950s. On another interesting note, after serving time in prison, Hulme moved to America and began a successful career as writer Anne Perry. She was only outed after the movie released.
Mommie Dearest (dir. Frank Perry, 1981)
Is it weird that I find this picture perhaps the creepiest one of them all? Mommie Dearest.
Joan Crawford is nothing less than a silver screen legend. Brought up in the studio-run silent era, Crawford was one of the original superstars. One scant year after her death, her daughter Christina Crawford released an expose and memoir that divulged the neurotic and poisonous underbelly of Crawford’s home life. In the book, Crawford was depicted as a vainglorious, abusive, mentally ill alcoholic who cared more about her career than her four young children.
Would you mess with this?
People love to hear about stars’ personal lives (go stand in the supermarket checkout line to see the evidence), and Mommie Dearest took off like nobody’s business. In 1981, the movie was released with Faye Dunaway, a superstar herself, in the leading role. Dunaway’s performance is over-the-top; the two actresses look nothing alike, but Dunaway eerily resembles Crawford in appearance and mannerisms when she plays her. There are a few hilariously frightening scenes, one of which takes place when Crawford finds that Christina hung some of her dresses in the closet. Crawford allegedly had a complete nervous breakdown when she found wire hangers in Christina’s closet, making untoward wrinkles in her little girl’s clothes.
“NO MORE WIRE HANGERS EVER!”
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve likely heard someone yell “NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!” It’s become synonymous with “unnecessary tantrum.” The movie depicts Crawford as threatened by her daughter and constantly battling for status with the young girl. After Christina takes a job working at a soap opera and must take time off to have surgery, she’s stunned to find out none other than her mother replacing her in the role. Then, according to Christina, Crawford disinherited her.
The story is melodramatic, sad, and completely compelling. It’s become a cult classic, and Crawford’s appeal to drag queens resulted in reenactments all across the country. Who doesn’t love watching a famous person tumble from his or her pedestal? (Hint: remember Britney Death Watch 2007?)
Party Monster (dir. Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, 2003)
Did you ever expect to see Macaulay Culkin in drag? It’s okay if it changes Home Alone for you forever–I think he wants it that way.
September 25th, 2010 at 7:00 pm
Previously on “Movie Time Nostalgia,” we went all the way back to the beginning of movie watching memory. Sleeping Beauty struck a nice chord with several readers, much to my delight. The discussion also brought another fine title to the table – Carol Reed’s The Third Man, starring Orson Welles.
The British noir classic leads nicely into this week’s topic.
– The Introduction To The Classics –
For many lovers of the screen, there is a turning point at which one develops awareness, however modest, of the craft of filmmaking. When did you you begin to compare one director with another, in hopes of finding out why some are so much more celebrated than the rest? Think of the first person who pressed a movie on your young imagination for the simple reason that “it’s a classic.”