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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Deep Red (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 9 – Deep Red (1975)

I really loved Dario Argento's Suspiria for its intense atmosphere and absurdly vibrant visuals, and in that sense Deep Red is a very odd and almost disappointing follow-up. This film actually came out first, but I watched them in reverse order, which is not something I would recommend. Deep Red is much more restrained and character-driven than the atmospheric indulgence of Suspiria, and I think it's a much more subtle access point into the director's filmography. Because of that, however, I had to spend the first half hour or so readjusting my expectations.

Rope & Silence of the Lambs (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 8

Classic genre-bending thrillers double feature: part 1 – Rope (1948)

Rope is a classic Hitchcock murder mystery best known for its inventive use of long takes and creative cutting to try to appear as a single, uninterrupted shot, and while some audiences may find this distracting, it effectively puts the viewer at the scene of the crime and creates a feeling of claustrophobia or entrapment, as if events are escalating out of control and there's nowhere for you to escape to—likewise, confining the action to a single apartment with a view of the New York skyline increases the anxiety of the situation by creating the sense that we're not allowed to leave (and it's this tense and uneasy atmosphere which makes it a perfect candidate for a horror marathon)—and the two central performances from stage actor John Dall as Brandon and Strangers on a Train star Farley Granger as Phillip not only succeed in light of the difficult conditions of doing 10-minute-long takes at a time, but also manage to provide convincing arcs for their characters, with Brandon becoming increasingly excited and Phillip becoming increasingly drunk and nervous as the two face the prospect of either getting away with their crime by a slim margin or getting caught at the last minute, and James Stewart provides a lovably comedic supporting role as Rubert Cadell, a professor who initially takes light-hearted pleasure in the frivolous entertainment of the party but eventually begins to worry that his students have taken his teachings a bit too literally; but the real star of the show is the script, which is as pun-derfully filled with sexual innuendo as anything else in Hitchcock's uniquely sexy filmography, and continues to develop the director's exploration of the connection between sexuality and violence, depicting its murderers as sexually liberated or frustrated in relation to their respective enjoyment or fear of their crime, which they committed as an intellectual exercise: the "perfect murder"—but will they get away with it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Maze Runner's Response to Dystopian YA

The Maze Runner is the latest installment in our culture's current obsession with young adult post-apocalyptic science fiction, and despite not being part of its target audience I had a splendid time with it. Don't get me wrong, it's no revolution in adapting YA fiction for the screen, but it has its fair share of memorable moments and is generally entertaining despite its clich├ęs and contrivances. And all things considered, it should have been so much worse. It's The Hunger Games for boys, with no Jennifer Lawrence and no grown-ups to anchor the performances. But somehow it hops effortlessly along, and by not setting its sights too high it feels like it achieves exactly what it sets out for.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Day of the Triffids (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 7 – Day of the Triffids (1962)

The Day of the Triffids is an adaptation of John Wyndham's novel of the same name, and it's no surprise to learn that the film is considered far from a faithful recreation, since it somehow manages to make the idea of gigantic murderous monster-plants boring. It takes the premise of carnivorous extraterrestrial vegetation from the book and guts the characterization and plotting to make room for an uninspired caricature of an alcoholic scientist and a rewritten ending so contrived it makes War of the Worlds's look like the paragon of complexity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

28 Days Later... (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 6 – 28 Days Later... (2002)

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later used to be one of my all-time favorite zombie movies, but whether I've finally seen it too many times or my tastes have shifted since the last time I saw it, I find myself falling out of love. Boyle's story about a man who wakes up in the middle of the apocalypse still has its merits, but on this viewing I felt its strengths almost—almost—overwhelmed by the weaknesses in between them.

There are three scenes I still love:

Suspiria (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 5 – Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento's Suspiria is a surreal arthouse fairytale of a horror movie. The young Suzy Bannion comes from America to Germany to study ballet at a renowned dance academy, but one of its students has recently gone missing and the teachers are acting strange. When Suzy and her roommate begin to act on their suspicions, they slowly uncover a conspiracy at the very heart of the school. It's like The Red Shoes played out in an alternate reality where everyone is possessed by demons. I love it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Octoberfest Horrorthon)

Octoberfest Horrorthon: Day 4 – Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is an experimental Japanese sci-fi horror film that will really knock you off your rocker with its absurd-surrealist insanity. The best I can do by way of a plot synopsis is say that it's about a cyborg who gradually loses his grip on what little humanity he has left as his mechanical half progressively takes over his body, but I can't really be sure that's even accurate. It is absolutely bonkers.