Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Movies for the week of 7/23

My week in a nutshell:

I took another stab at The Creeping Flesh (1973, directed by Freddie Francis). The last time through, I fell asleep at the halfway point--not a reflection on the movie, per se, so much as it was on the 2am hour at which I nodded off. I'm getting old, it seems. Excellent performances by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee--every film in which they play scenes together is worth watching--but the absurdity of the thing undoes them. Freddie Francis's heart doesn't seem to be in it, either, which is nothing new (Francis was always uncomfortable as a horror director). Tigon ports over most of Hammer's mannerisms for this production, including the unfortunate equation of sexual awakening with evil. But what can you do?

Monster House (2006, directed by Gil Kenan) is the sort of kid-friendly horror movie that briefly surfaced in the 1980s (The Monster Squad, for one example). The movie concerns a trio of kids who must deal with the monstrous house across the street on Halloween, lest it devour trick or treaters like popcorn. Mostly harmless, and probably a good choice for the Goosebumps crowd, but I'd like to say a word about "performance capture" technology. There's something "off" about it. Capturing completely natural movement in animation is nothing new. Disney did it in the 1940s and backed away from it. He realized that animation needs to be slightly exaggerated to read as natural. This is something that eludes performance capture, because the technology itself is so literal-minded. The technology also gives the director license to move his camera around the scene at will, without worrying about re-blocking everything. The result is a film that is marginally lacking in actual direction and composition because no planning is necessary. I don't expect anyone to know what the hell I'm talking about.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950, directed by Otto Preminger) is film noir as Greek tragedy. Detective Dana Andrews has a bad temper fueled by a desire to divorce himself from his father's criminal past. This is his tragic flaw, and leads to him killing a suspect while roughing him up. Compounding things, he covers it up. Watching him manoeuver himself to his fall from grace--and a hint at redemption--is fraught with all kinds of Oedipal nuggets. The most interesting shot in the movie is the last shot, in which Andrews's catharsis is belied by the finality of a closing door. As Billy Budd learned, the law has an imperative all its own.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest (2006, directed by Gore Verbinski) is exactly the same sort of film as Van Helsing. It's a relentless sequence of action scenes that are the equivalent of a ten-year-old on a sugar high racing about saying "and then this happened, and then this, and this!" Mind you, it's better than Van Helsing--basic film craft will do that--but it's also exhausting, especially at 2 and a half hours. Some sequences--I'm thinking specifically of the island cannibal sequence--could have been excised whole for a trimmer running time. In any event, the relentless pace is too much. I'm reminded of something that Clint Eastwood once said about the pace of his movies: "There's nothing wrong with MTV (style-editing)...well, actually, there is. If everything is flash images, you never have time to actually look at anything." That's certainly the case here. Johnny Depp, the main reason to see the first film, doesn't seem as daft in the second, largely because the movie never pauses to let him go nuts. There's too much plot. Alas...

In any event, Dead Man's Chest, like its predecessor, is an example of genre boundaries collapsing. It raids horror iconography wholesale for its imagery--what is Davy Jones but a piratical reimagining of the Great Cthulhu, after all?--without ever once treading on the horror genre's intention of sending a shudder down the spine. It does, however, occasionally touch on disgust, particularly if you have an allergy to shellfish.

1 comment:

DeAnna said...

hey there. I adored Monster House and didn't have an issue with the animation. It seemed much less creepy in this film then in the Tom Hanks project, but maybe that is because i find Hanks creepy! Anyway, I really enjoyed the appearance of "camera work" in an animated feature. I thought it was really cool.

Pirates on the other hand: Ug. I really enjoyed the ending of the film, but why oh why did they feel the need to go all Return of the Jedi on us and give us Fish Face, Baracle Man, etc. Why couldn't they ditch all of the CGI and just let PEOPLE play the crew???? And I too wish they had ditches the whole canabal bit.

And speaking of animation: did you see A Scanner Darkly? The more I think about it, the more I like it. I'll have to read the book. And the animation blew me away.