Friday, October 24, 2014

The Art of Madness in The Darkness Within

The Darkness Within is a microbudget Hitchcockian psychological thriller from independent filmmaker Dom Portalla, and it's a perfect example of how to do everything right with no money. In spite of its limitations, the film manages to not only establish its own sense of style, but more importantly it builds and maintains a high level of suspense.

Chad (Jimmy Scanlon) and Ashley (Michelle Romano) move into their new house with high hopes, and while the place clearly needs some work, the young couple is willing to try as long as it means being together. But the one thing Chad can't cope with is their neighbor, Mr. Reed. After catching him peering in through their bathroom window, Chad takes the matter to the police. He just can't stand being watched. Meanwhile, Chad spends more and more time escaping his problems by hanging out upstairs with his delinquent landlord and her sometimes-boyfriend. But as his frustrations continue to pile up, the reemergence of one of Ashley's old lovers threatens to finally push Chad over the edge into madness.

Tenebre (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 13

Dario Argento double feature: part 2 – Tenebre (1982)

I think that, technically speaking, Tenebre might be the best film I've seen from Dario Argento so far.

It's certainly his most self-aware and self-reflexive. The protagonist is a clear stand-in for Argento, a famous writer of what appear to be giallo novels in the same vein as Argento's giallo films. Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is also criticized for his purportedly sexist subject matter: "Tenebre is a sexist novel! Why do you hate women so much?" But that's not where the connections end. The murderer, who keeps killing fans of Neal's work, has a penchant for photographing his victims. In the duality between writer and photographer, here we have the two most common aspects of a director's work brought to life. Each half of the whole embodies different aspects of Argento's idea of himself and of directors in general. And insofar as the author and the killer are doubled representations of the director, Argento is here literally killing his own fans.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Police Violence and Sexual Intolerance in Sabotage

Expectations are a tricky thing. I went into David Ayer's Sabotage expecting—hoping for—a mindless action movie. It didn't have to be on par with The Raid, I merely wanted something better than other disappointing entries we've seen this year, from 3 Days to Kill to Brick Mansions. Unfortunately, while Ayer handles his action scenes well, no amount of cinematic bloodshed would be enough to make me want to spend another second with these infuriatingly immature idiots. After almost two hours of objectifying women and reinforcing negative gender stereotypes, these characters all deserved much worse than what was coming to them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Phenomena (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 13

Dario Argento double feature: part 1 – Phenomena (1985)

Finally! The horrific, absurdist, female-centered, heavy metal superhero movie I've been waiting for all my life!

Jennifer Corvino (a perfectly charming Jennifer Connelly), the daughter of a famous film director (wink #1), has a telepathic connection with insects. She travels to a foreign country for school, and in spite of her general social alienation she makes fast friends with her roommate (Argento's real life daughter; wink #2). Jennifer also has a habit of sleepwalking, and one night her dreams and a firefly lead her to discover her new friend murdered. She decides to take the matter into her own hands, and along with the reclusive Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance) she uses her strange powers to find the killer and exact her own unique brand of entomological justice.

The Brood (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 12 – The Brood (1979)

The Brood was one of a very short (and ever-shrinking) list of David Cronenberg-directed films I hadn't seen. It's his fourth feature not counting his student films Stereo and Crimes of the Future, and marks the beginning of his transition from pure body-horror exploitation movies to more dramatically-minded thrillers (although his roots in body horror would still show until at least the turn of the century). It follows the story of Frank Carveth and his young daughter Candice as they struggle with the deteriorating mental state of the child's mother Nola and her experimental therapy with psychoplasmics. Also, there are creepy mutated little people, and they may or may not be controlled telepathically. It's a weird movie.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 11 – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles is another Hammer Horror production in glorious Technicolor featuring Grand Moff Tarkin and Saruman. But this time, the legendary Peter Cushing gets to take a stab at the equally legendary role of Sherlock Holmes, and he handles it with exactly as much class and sophistication as you'd expect. Also making this stand out from other Hammer films is the fact that Christopher Lee actually gets significant dialogue and screen time as the debonair Sir Henry Baskerville instead of playing the guttural Frankenstein's monster or the absent Count Dracula.

Beetlejuice (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Ken Taylor
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 10 – Beetlejuice (1988)

Part of me is disappointed I didn't see this when I was younger, because if I had seen it before I became interested in more traditional film stuff and was more concerned with things that simply played to my tastes it could have been my favorite movie for a little while. Which is not to say that Tim Burton's Beetlejuice is anything like a bad movie—it isn't—it's just that its success rides heavily on whether or not the method of its delivery (its "voice") appeals to you. I'll unpack that a little, but as a simple thesis you could say that Beetlejuice might be a "just good" movie, but for the right person it could be the perfect "just good" movie.

Monday, October 20, 2014

SIFLW: Early Claymation & Stop-Motion Shorts

Behind the scenes at Laika

After seeing Laika's new claymation film The Boxtrolls in theaters, I found myself curious to investigate the origins of claymation and stop-motion animation. There's plenty of information available on Wikipedia (not to mention in film textbooks, for those of you with an excess of free time), but if you're looking for a more hand-on approach you can also find several early animated shorts on YouTube. Here are my three favorites:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Identity Politics & Being "Gone" in Gone Girl (Full Analysis)

***This version of my analysis contains spoilers. You can find the spoiler-free version here.***

David Fincher's latest film Gone Girl has been called many things. A problematic portrayal of women. A postmodern analysis or a pessimistic critique of marriage. One thing most readings of the film can agree on, however, is that—whether or not they take it as a point of contention with the film—Amy Elliott Dunne is a bad person. She's a psychopath. But, while no one denies that Amy embodies the central ethical conflict of the film, surprisingly few critics have looked at the film through her eyes. I'd like to take a step back from making any judgments about her character or the film's portrayal of women for a moment and talk instead about the film as a deconstruction of the psychological coordinates of contemporary identity. I believe the film provides unique insight into the nature of the modern self, and that through this perspective we can gain a better understanding not only of its conception of identity politics, but of feminism as well. I hope to show that Amy is not only sane, but is in fact the moral center of the film.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Boxtrolls: Beautiful Box, But What's Inside?

The Boxtrolls tells the story of Eggs, a boy raised from infancy by a community of trolls who live underground in boxes. Lord Portley-Rind opens Pandora's box when he hires Archibald Snatcher to rid Cheesebridge of its boxtroll infestation, and the group finds itself suddenly boxed in. Eggs must think outside the box and use his entire box of tricks, or he and his friends will go home in a box. Boxtrolls box with box-boxers who try to box the boxes in a box.

Okay sorry, I'm done.