Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dribs and Drabs

I'm getting a little backlogged on reviews, so here are some quick hits to get caught up.

Horror and related:

I Sell the Dead (2008, directed by Glenn McQuaid), in which amiable grave robber Dominic Monaghan recounts his life of crime on the eve of his execution. Not really a narrative, per se, so much as a collection of vignettes; the horror movie equivalent of a picaresque. It has an interesting production design that recalls the roots of the horror film in the graphic arts, and a striking artifice that's the product of being filmed in front of a green screen. It's intrusive some of the time, but it works well enough. It's certainly better than some of the cheaper productions of the past (Ed Wood's cardboard sets for instance). The filmmakers obviously spent their money on the cast rather than on sets, including Ron Perlman as the confessor, Larry Fessenden as Monaghan's partner, and Angus Scrimm as the Doctor Knox figure. It has some good moments, particularly after our erstwhile resurrectionists start dealing in the undead, but on the whole, it's kind of lackadaisical. It takes a while to get where it's going. Still, parts of it are pretty funny, particularly the first encounter with other worlds.

Christine (1983, directed by John Carpenter) is one of Carpenter's most underrated movies. It's stripped down from Stephen King's ungainly novel into a lean, mean horror film, though it is perhaps let down by at least two of its leads. It has some terrific character work by Robert Prosky, Roberts Blossom, and Harry Dean Stanton, and it makes fun use of old rock and roll songs to boot. Still, the real star of the movie is the car, a menacing 1958 Plymouth Fury, which is appropriate given the eponymous title. The story itself strikes me as a masculine version of Carrie, though it's a bit more sinister than Carrie. It kinda sorta borrows the ending of Carrie, but only if you squint your eyes. It dispenses with the ghost story element of the book, and suggests that Christine was just born bad (which it accomplishes in a droll assembly line sequence to start the movie), much to the betterment of the whole. Unfortunately, I streamed this from Netflix and the print they have for streaming is in the wrong friggin aspect ratio and it's WAY noticeable. Note to self: revisit this sometime soon.


I'm sucker for a swashbuckler, and there was a LONG drought for swashbucklers in the last quarter of the 20th Century, so The Mask of Zorro (1998, directed by Martin Campbell) was a welcome return. The mantle of Zorro is passed from Anthony Hopkins to Antonio Banderas in the course of this movie, and there's a hint of The Count of Monte Cristo in the way Hopkins's elder Zorro goes about taking his revenge on the enemy who imprisoned him for 20 years. It's not canon, but it works. The film is so much fun to watch that I'm not inclined to be a stickler. What this film restores to the action film is charm and romance, a model adopted in part by the Pirates of the Caribbean films a couple of years later (they also borrowed Zorro's screenwriters). This is the film that made Catherine Zeta-Jones a star, and she was gorgeous in it, but the real pleasure for me was watching Anthony Hopkins, dressed all in black, snuffing out candles with a bullwhip. I started thinking wicked, wicked thoughts about that, and I can't remember the last time an action movie had that effect on me. But that's just me. The film's not without its faults, but it's at least in the neighborhood of the great Zorro films with Fairbanks and Power.

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