Monday, May 31, 2010

A Birth in Grief and Ashes: Thoughts on The Road

"All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them." (74)

"He walked out into the gray light and stood and saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the interstate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like gorundfoxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it." (130)

"He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not." (131)

"A dead swamp. Dead trees standing out of the gray and relic hagmoss. The silky spills of ash against the curbing. He stood leaning on the concrete rail. Perhaps in the world's destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular." (274)

[All quotes come from the Vintage International trade paperback edition of the novel.]

Cormac McCarthy's The Road is one of the great books of the past decade. It's the perfect example of a master author simultaneously appeasing the masses while supplying a richer, more complex subtext (the novel is not just about hope and survival as Oprah would have you believe). Because of the quality of writing here, and the mass appeal and success of the novel, it's no surprise that the novel was adapted into a film destined to be released on the festival circuit before raking in numerous Oscar nominations. However, when John Hillcoat (whose The Proposition also evoked McCarthy, reminding me of Blood Meridian) finished filming The Road I don't think he imagined the film's release being held back twice; ultimately, leading to the film's forgettable release in late 2009/early 2010 after the glut of Oscar hopefuls had already hit theaters. The film just kind of petered out, and its lukewarm reception caused it quickly to fade from people's memory as anything worthy of much thought, let alone deconstruction. The general consensus was that Viggo Mortensen gave (another) great performance, but the film's tone was so dour, and its aesthetic too dilapidated and gray, that the film was a slog to get through. However, what I think we have here is an adaptation that not only gets the aesthetic right, but adds some powerful and poignant context to McCarthy's intentionally skeletal character backgrounds. It all coalesces into a rare film experience: here's a film that is faithful to the novel (sometimes a tad too faithful) while showcasing the talents and vision of the filmmakers and actors. It may be the closest thing we'll ever get to a legitimate visual representation of the tone and themes found throughout McCarthy's oeuvre.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Summer of Slash: Visiting Hours

Visiting Hours is an odd entry into the over-satiated slasher subgenre of the 1980's. This import from Canada directed by Jean-Claude Lord feels different than other slashers. Probably because it deals with adults rather than teens, and the plot seems like something out of the type of scary scenario that DePalma made famous in films like Dressed to Kill rather than some boring stalk and slash. The film definitely feels like a Canadian production as the horror is far more cerebral here than anything being released at the time in this subgenre, and that can clearly be seen by the imprint of producer Pierre David who was the man partly responsible for the David Cronenberg horror entries The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome. Visiting Hours may not set the genre on fire with its originality (for how different the film feels, it still relies heavily on lame slasher tropes like false scares and over-sustained cat-and-mouse chase sequences), but it's an interesting entry into an otherwise monotonous subgenre.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Summer of Slash: City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell, aka Fear in the City of the Living Dead)

[This is a re-post of something I wrote back in October for the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon I hosted.  Today I am re-posting it because the invaluable and unmatchable horror blog Final Girl has selected this for her May entry for her Final Girl Film Club. And I figured I would use that as an excuse to post it again for my summer horror series.  Enjoy.]

City of the Living Dead is typical 80's Fulci as the plot is one nonsensical moment after another; however, in typical Italian horror fashion (and Fulci was one of the best) these nonsensical moments seem purposeful, they lead to ethereal, displacing scenes that are heavy on atmosphere and style and empty of all logic. That’s okay, though…we know that’s we get with post giallo Fulci – films that exist for the moment.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Parody only works when the people doing the jabbing have a genuine love for the very thing they're ripping apart. Often with parody you either get mean spiritedness; awful self-aware, wink-wink comedy; or a bad a mixture of both that just leaves a bad, snarky taste in one's mouth. Too often the entity that is Saturday Night Live produces failed attempts at catching lightening in a bottle with their over extended TV-parody-to-film adaptations that often leave the viewer wondering why they didn't just leave it to the small screen. These film adaptations of five minute sketches (which vary in humor) are often the latter definition of the aforementioned definition of parody. But now comes MacGruber and the polarizing – but hilarious – Will Forte, determined as hell (and I mean it, I don't know if I've ever seen a comedy try this hard to make an audience laugh at something) to be the first successful Saturday Night Live film since Wayne's World. And, hey, MacGruber is a man that can make something explosive out of contents found in a garbage can…I can't think of a better analogy to describe this film.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thanks, whoever you are...

Browsing the blogosphere today I noticed that the LAMB blog is doing their annual Lammy's.  I knew this was coming down the pike, and yet I just don't care enough about nominating myself for these kinds of things.  Oh, that doesn't mean I think they aren't fun and cool rewards for hard working bloggers...they're just not for me; or, let me put it another way: as goddamn cheesy as it sounds I don't do this for things like Lammy's.  That being said, I read the nominations today, and no I didn't see my name on there for the final cut, but I did see my blog name down there for a number of categories:

Best Blog Name
Best Blogathon
Brainiac Award
Best Blog
Best Writer

Wow.  My point is...I didn't do this.  I didn't pimp myself out, here. So, whoever did throw my name out there for these: Thank you!  I appreciate it.  It's nice to know that what I'm doing here, tucked away in top northwest corner of the country, is being read and appreciated by people. It means a lot. Only two weeks left of school and work...then it's a whole lot of blogging.  I look forward to coming back to this as a full time hobby.  See ya in a few.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Summer of Slash: Just Before Dawn

In what will be an ongoing feature this summer I will be reviewing horror films (some with more 'slashing' than others) of varying ilks. All of this will culminate and coalesce into a much larger format/project that myself and other bloggers will unveil at a later time. My thanks to Tim Brayton, who, most likely unbeknownst to him, allowed me to completely rip off his Summer of Blood idea at his blog Antagony & Ecstasy. See what I did there: I replaced 'blood' with 'slash' so not to be too overt about my cribbing. Hugo Stiglitz will invariably be a blog of horror reviews and essays this summer; however, should I come across something not horror related that I feel like writing about I will make sure to do so.

Read any interview with director Jeff Lieberman and he will adamantly insist that he had never seen Tobe Hooper's seminal 1970's horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before writing the screenplay for his 1980 horror gem Рand cult favorite among die-hard fans of the genre РJust Before Dawn. Lieberman's backwoods slasher actually has more in common with the natural horror of James Dickey's Deliverance (something that Lieberman also points out in various interviews), and made this horror fan think of the modern man (or woman) vs. nature horror found in Neil Marshall's The Descent. The two films actually share more in common than one might think: Lieberman's film starts off as a story about a group of young people (I say late teens) looking to hike and camp and challenge themselves against the elements; however, not only do they find that the elements are indifferent towards them, but like The Descent, what starts out as a film about people overcoming natural obstacles devolves into a more recognizable kind of horror film where the characters are fighting for survival against a completely different kind of obstacle. However, Just Before Dawn is a step above most dead teenager films, and Lieberman's direction makes for some truly eerie moments in a film that perpetuates dread just as well as any from that era Рand it's all punctuated with one of the genre's most famous d̩nouements.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Iron Man 2

The summer movie season has officially begun now that the much anticipated sequel Iron Man 2 is out. I wasn't expecting a lot from the movie because I wasn't expecting a lot from the first film…so why go in with any other kind of expectations? I've never read a single panel of the Iron Man franchise, but two years ago when I watched the original Iron Man I was stunned at how witty and fun the film was with its classic action film aesthetic. I was shocked at how much I liked Iron Man, and even though I rarely see these big summer movies in the theater anymore, last night I decided to check out the sequel without any pre-conceived notions or expectations…and perhaps that's why I thought that the sequel was more successful than most:

  • Jon Favreau returns to direct the sequel and his improvisational tendencies are all over the film. The screenplay, by Tropic Thunder writer Justin Thoreaux, has enough humor sprinkled throughout that it made me forgive the film's horribly soggy middle where characters essentially just sit around and wait for plot points to gain momentum so they can pay them off at the end.
  • The film follows the traditional story arc for comic book sequel (the tone of the film felt like it was a beat-for-beat remake of Spider-Man 2) which only becomes mildly annoying in its predictability.
  • Robert Downey Jr. doesn't get the same material to play with, but as the narcissistic Tony Stark he still hits a homerun as this is so obviously the character he was born to play (can you imagine if the years-ago-rumor of Tom Crusie playing Stark came to fruition?) employing the same wit and snarky attitude that made the original so entertaining to watch despite the fact that things aren't blowing up all the time. 
  • Oh, about the action: Iron Man 2 may be the tamest summer sequel ever made. There may be about 20-30 minutes of action in a two hour film. Now, that's both a good thing and a bad thing. The good: the filmmakers understand that people didn't love Iron Man because of the Rock-em-Sock-em Robot-type action (they Transformers for that kind of action film) which is pretty cheesy and boring to watch…they loved the first film because of the attitude of its characters, specifically Downey's performance, and the way the film felt like more than just another draining, dour 150 minute summer blockbuster (pay attention Michael Bay and Christopher Nolan) – it was a witty, crisp and breezy action film that felt classic in its execution compared to the modern output of summer action films – and because of this attitude and understanding the sequel doesn't try to amp up the action in any way. It's essentially the same film. The bad, however, exists because of this understanding from the filmmakers that the fans liked the original Iron Man so much because of Tony Stark and his snarky attitude. So, in the sequel we get an overdose of the kind of His Girl Friday whiplash dialogue between Stark and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow who steals every scene she's in) and it becomes just as tiresome as the constant pounding of one's senses in a film like Transformers. It becomes grating only because it is so obvious that in the majority of the dialogue nothing sprang organically (except for the initial introduction of Potts), and it all felt like a screenwriter who was so pleased with how clever he was, instead of letting the actors embody their characters like they did so well in the first film. 
  • About the characters: Everything is an upgrade – acting wise – in the sequel. I wish there would have been more of Mickey Rourke's character Ivan Vanko (one of the more interesting villains in recently memory who gets absolutely nothing to do during the duration of the film) and his dealing with Stark-wannabe Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell who does all of his usually great Rockwell-isms…playing smarmy in a way that only he can); and I wish there would have been more story between Tony (and just why does he sit around a lot in the middle of the movie? It's as if the filmmakers just expected us to except that plot thread) and Pepper (it would have made those final moments between the two better). I also loved the addition of Gary Shandling as a senator who hates Stark as much as any of his arch enemies do. Whew. There's more…and they're not good: Samuel L. Jackson was good, but unnecessary, and I'll do this as succinctly as possible because it's not worth thinking to much about…but boy Scarlet Johansson seems to be another movie altogether. Her, um, "action" scene at the end is one of the most laughable things I've seen in a while. It's not enough that she can't act, but now we have to watch her try and kick people's ass…yeesh.
  • The film was breezy and fun, despite its problems, much in the way the first installment was. Despite the film's need to feel like they needed to set things up for subsequent films – ignoring what was important in this film – I really enjoyed what I saw. Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, and of course, Robert Downey Jr. are worth the price of admission. The action is satisfying as it happens – if altogether forgettable by the end of the night – and the interactions between the characters is exactly what I expected to get going into the film.
  • Sure Iron Man 2 isn't as satisfying as the original – it's more of an appetizer it seems for a bigger third entry – and I've already forgotten a lot about the film, but as a Friday night entertainment I think the film delivers in spades. It's exactly what I expected it to be, because like my attitude going into the original, I had no expectations at all, and just let the charm of the actors wash over me and usher me through the problematic script that does its best to disinterest its viewers after the film's extremely entertaining opening 40 minutes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Descent: Part 2

Elegiac and poignant are not adjectives one expects to read in a review for a horror film, but the sequel to Neil Marshall's brilliant 2005 horror film The Descent does something interesting in playing off the events of the first film in order to evoke these emotions. Sure the film is a fun, often flawed Friday-night horror flick, but it's also trying to be something more than that – and even though there's not quite the same amount of character development as the original to give weight to the peril and mayhem the characters go through – for a 90 minute sequel director Jon Harris should be given some credit for almost making the film a success. There are pay-offs in the film that don't work, repetitive set pieces, and an ending that is atrociously bad; however, warts and all, The Descent: Part 2 is still a visceral experience that outdoes anything we've seen from the genre since Marshall's original film, and it even slows down for a few moments so that the story can compound on the sadness from the first film, all culminating in making this sequel a better horror experience than its straight-to-DVD American release would suggest.