Monday, August 11, 2008

Scream and Shout

239. So following up my viewing of Hellraiser a couple of weeks ago, this week, I stuck Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988, directed by Tony Randel) into the machine. My memories of the film were hazy--like its predecessor, I hadn't seen it in well over a decade. My memory of the film consisted mainly of the notion that Hellbound is closer to Clive Barker's prose, in spirit if not in letter, than the first movie. I still think that's true, though it's not necessarily a compliment. My impression at this viewing was that this is a movie with No. Damned. Plot. You have a setting in a mental institution, the elements remaining from the previous film, and writers who think that that will make the movie without any input from them. It's pretty bad. More troubling: the later part of the movie seems drawn more from the Nightmare on Elm Street series than from Hellraiser, with hell substituting for Freddy's dreamland, and with the evil doctor cum Cenobite filling the role of Freddy, suggesting that the filmmakers had exhausted their own ideas in the first two reels. This also features the pussification of the main Cenobites. What a cop out. I mentioned that I think this is closer in spirit to Barker's prose, and here's why: Barker throws narrative coherence to the wind in favor of startling verbal images. This movie attempts the same, and occasionally succeeds. Unfortunately, none of those images really connects with any experience that anyone has ever had. Some might call this "visionary," but I don't know that that's what I'd call it...

240. So having abused my brain with THAT movie, with what did I scrub the lingering residue from my tortured gray matter? That would be Cutthroat Island (1995, directed by Renny Harlin), perhaps not the wisest choice. My significant other brought it home from some bargain bin ("Honey, it was only $4.98") a few weeks ago and we hadn't filed it in the collection yet. So I stuck it in the machine.


Let me tell you about wall to wall action--a fallacy into which this film falls. If you pitch everything at just the far side of hysteria, how do you know what's really important? Most movies that boast a thrill a minute? They're DULL. Monotonous, even. They're like being trapped on a long car trip with an ADD-afflicted ten-year old on a sugar high. And Jesus, does THIS movie fit that description. Oh, the elements are all here: pirate map, scurvy sea dogs, hissable villains (thank you, Frank Langella, but this was NOT your finest hour. I'd still sleep with you, though). What's lacking is mood. What's lacking is rhythm. What's lacking is brains. I mean, I like the idea of casting Geena Davis as a pirate captain, in theory. She's a fine actress, and I like seeing Mensa members do well. I'm sure that the movie sounded fun at the time. But performances are crafted by directors and film editors, and her then-husband Renny Harlin picks the worst possible takes and the clumsiest line readings imaginable.

So I was bored. In the big sea battle at the end of the film, full of sound and fury signifying nothing, my mind was wandering. I was wondering why it seemed like neither of the pirate ships was actually moving. Now, the movie sets up a classic stern chase, but that's not cinematic (don't tell Master and Commander, which has a stern chase that's a corker). It wants the ships to beat the hell out of each other with full broadsides. As a result, neither ship is maneuvering for advantage. They just sit there firing volley after volley, not even creating a wake. This is dumb. But by that point I just wanted it to be over so I could go to the bathroom and take some aspirin for the throbbing headache the movie gave me.

241.So God bless Brian De Palma and his 1981 thriller, Blow Out, which may be the high point of his career. It's my favorite of his movies, and when I was thinking about what to write about it, I stumbled across this review from Reverse Shot. It begins:

Like John Travolta, I remain, long after Blow Out’s closing credits roll, haunted by a scream—so piercing, palpable, so full of anguish. “Now that’s a scream!” exclaims a delighted sound technician in one of the film’s final lines of dialogue. Indeed. Not only does Nancy Allen’s climactic cry, as she reaches out to her potential savior, put to shame all of the other scream tests enacted by a succession of stalker-flick bimbos throughout the film as its central running gag—it erases the memory of all other movie screams. Anyone who denies De Palma’s humanity, or sense of the tragic, has a lot of explaining to do in the agonized face of 1981's Blow Out, which manages to be at once the director’s most melancholy, gripping, and empathically engaged work, a monumentally humane and grim film, perched ever so slightly on the edge of sadism. The scream is thus recorded, within and without the movie, played back, fraught with horrible memories; it’s the scream of all damsels in distress, the scream of every De Palma heroine, but most importantly, in the film’s world, it’s “real.”

And it ends:

The final images and sounds of Blow Out are definitive, horrible, and final, and, apologies to Antonioni’s art-house trend-setting, much more terrifying than the existential what-if miming that closes Blow-Up. De Palma wants to penetrate and shatter—with perhaps the exception of Carrie and Casualties of War, never have De Palma’s characters felt so vivid, dynamic, and therefore, cruelly snuffed out. From this point on, De Palma moved into the excess pageantry of Scarface and the truly miserable, meta-effects of Body Double, perhaps the end point in the erotic thriller, a film in which the very sight of a naked woman seems to give off the stench of rotten flesh. Blow Out is a penance for all of De Palma’s past and future cinematic crimes, as well as ours as viewers. I can think of no greater image of the force of movie watching than Travolta sitting alone in a dark room in Blow Out’s final shot, covering his ears from the horror he has witnessed, recorded, and fed back to the world. A victim and perpetrator of his own crimes, he still can’t stop watching. And listening.

...which summarizes my own thoughts on the movie so thoroughly that I can hardly improve upon the sentiment. I had forgotten, however, just how utterly bleak the ending of Blow Out is, which is not exactly how I wanted to end a weekend that was actually pretty bad for me.


242. I ended the weekend with Linda Linda Linda (2005, directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita), which just makes me smile with my whole being. The band assembled for the movie apparently toured Asia for a bit (including Bae Doo-Na, the terrific Korean actress who some of you may know from The Host or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance). This movie feeds my appetite for girl group power pop, and the title song is so infectious that it will stay in your head for days. Take a look, if you've got a mind:



Zelda Rose said...

Fun little band, but their lead singer is weak. I kept thinking they needed Debbie Harry as their singer-would have absolutely rocked.

riftgirl said...

I used to be a bit... over enthusiastic about the first two Hellraiser flicks - especially the second one 'cause I was crushed out on Uncle Frank. He can come' a knockin' at my door any day... But I also liked the horrid third one - but only up until the evil boyfriend got sucked into hell, and that was like, what, the first 15 minutes? Still, I dug those bellbottoms that the girl wore... I'm totally off topic probably, but I'm kinda feelin' dizzy... Have you watched Feed? I love that one! And still need to check out Teeth, yet.

DeAnna said...

Action is what turned me into a movie buff. but I quit going to action movies for about a decade because they had become so mind numbingly dull that I couldn't handle it any more. I'm glad that Kill Bill brought me back to the genre. I missed it!

But this article makes some good points on what went wrong [the matrix!] and includes my one of my most favorite recent action sequences in their discussion.