Archive for July, 2011

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Ten

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Ten: Favorite Foreign Film
Survive Style 5+ (2004)
Directed by: Gen Sekiguchi
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Kyôko Koizumi, Vinnie Jones, Ittoku Kishibe

With foreign films I’ve run into people from both ends of the spectrum. There are those who refuse to watch them, because of the reading involved. I used to think that was a joke from movies and TV shows. It’s a little disheartening when you come to realize it’s not. Then there are people who refuse to watch anything but foreign films. It’s their contention that anything in their own language could never possibly have the depth, humor, pathos, meaning and integrity of something by a director like Kurosawa or Ingmar Bergman.

Neither of those perspectives has ever made a lot of sense to me. One strikes me as ignorant and narrow, and the other strikes me as both of those things and also just a wee bit pretentious. It’s hard for me to imagine limiting myself that severely with what I might enjoy. It goes back to what I said in the review of Dancer in the Dark about trying to do away with those stupid prejudices when it comes to movies and the like. It’s good to know what you dig, but it’s a shame to miss out on the potential to be completely blown-away by something you didn’t expect to enjoy. With things like Netflix Instant Watch, Hulu, YouTube and all the rest there’s really no excuse for not taking a few chances. I sure as hell wish that stuff had existed when all I had to go on were crappy video stores and depressingly limited movie channels.

That makes me sound like the kind of old-timer who lives on his front porch with a bottle of Old Crow, a carton of cigarettes and decades of bitterness to keep them company. That might be me in thirty more years, but I’d like to think I’m not there just yet.

Survive Style 5+ is not actually my favorite foreign film of all time, but I do have what I think is a pretty good reason for choosing it. Picking a single favorite above all the others would have been as difficult as the overall favorite from day one. Most likely it would have come down to a four-way tie between The Seventh Seal, Children of Paradise, Suspiria, and Yojimbo. What struck me as more appealing was to go with a favorite that’s never really gotten a lot of attention since its release seven years ago. Survive Style 5+ is something of a forgotten gem. It’s not going to be for everybody, but it’s at least worth a try.

Something bad is about to happen. I think we can all sense that from this picture alone.

Japan has a well-deserved reputation for having elements in their popular culture that seem to Western audiences like an acid trap without any acid for miles. A lot of it finds a strong audience in this neck of the world. Some of it winds up only appealing to weirdoes like me. Survive Style 5+ is very distinctly the product of its country, but it’s not wholly outside of what you’re likely familiar with. If you want to look at it as an alternative take on movies like Pulp Fiction or the early Guy Ritchie crime films (the presence of Vinnie Jones in Survive Style 5+ then begins to make sense), then that’s as good a way as any to get your foot in the door. Keep in mind though that this is a movie that is playing within its own small universe. First-time director Gen Sekiguchi and screenwriter Taku Tada have their own way of dictating the movie’s delirious pace, odd characters and bizarre storytelling. You’re either going to be on board it, or you’re not. It seems like pure insanity from its reckless beginning to surreal end, but that’s perhaps the genius of Sekiguchi and Tada. Tada’s script contains several characters and stories whose paths occasionally interact (some more closely than others) throughout. Sekiguchi does a brilliant job of juggling the parts that have some bearing on the characters and stories with the parts that seem exist for no particular reason but to add to movie’s brightly-colored, madhouse personality. He keeps us moving as the movie constantly veers into stranger and stranger territory.

Don’t worry too much about sorting out the meaningful parts from the sheer nonsense. The trick is to just sit back and relax. See how the first ten minutes treat you. We meet a man (the hilarious Tadanobu Asano) who has murdered his wife (Reika Hashimoto) and is burying her out in the woods. We never learn the reason why. What we do learn is that when he goes home, she’s there waiting for him with a giant meal she’s prepared. Most of us would call Max Von Sydow at this point. This poor, potentially dim bastard eats the entire meal, lights a cigarette and then seems surprised when his zombie (?) wife knocks him on his ass and tries to kill him. He manages to kill and bury her again, and from there seems less and less surprised that she keeps coming back for vengeance. Each time she returns with a new, completely unexplained super power (like fire) of some kind.

That’s just one story, and it touches on several of the others. It’s a jumping point to an advertising executive (the very funny Kyôko Koizumi), whose commercials seem to be more obsessed with being off-the-wall and clever than they do with actually selling the product (this is illustrated so well in a couple of scenes in which she is presenting her ads to a company president played by the legendary Sonny Chiba in a memorable cameo). She sleeps with an arrogant, dense hypnotist (Hiroshi Abe), but then hires a hit man (Vinnie Jones, playing his thug persona for strong laughs) when Abe makes fun of her afterwards. Vinnie spends most of his time with a translator (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa) asking strangers and victims alike what they feel their function on this planet is. He still carries out the hit on Abe, but not before Abe hypnotizes a hapless, kind businessman (Ittoku Kishibe) into thinking he’s a bird on a live TV show. Kishibe then spends the rest of the movie putting his family through hell as the most depressed man-bird in film history (there might be more of them in cinema—I don’t want to be presumptuous). The way he meets Asano at the end is magnificent and must be seen to be believed. Within all this is also a trio of robbers (Jai West, Yoshiyuki Morishita and Kanji Tsuda) struggling with their current career choice. In the case of Morishita there’s an additional struggle with feelings for West told throughout the film with drinking games and staring contests put to sexual techno songs in the background. It plays out as the sweetest subplot in the entire movie.

This exact thing has happened to me many, many, many times.

All of this amounts to merely the basics of Survive Style 5+. Other unreal touches include actually seeing several of Koizumi’s commercial ideas that ramble around in her head, Abe’s disturbing stage show and medical science having pretty much no clue as to how to cure Kishibe’s condition. Just remember that not everything has a point here. If you’re addicted after those first ten minutes, then you’re probably going to be fine with that.

Survive Style 5+ won out, because I remembered the sheer wonderful surprise of watching this for the first time. It was at one of my first Anime conventions, and I didn’t know a single thing about it. There were no expectations. In fact I can’t even recall why I was in that video room to begin with. I do know that I was in for the long haul after those first ten minutes. I don’ think I’m special for immediately understanding that this movie was going to exist in its own universe. It simply worked for me.  You’re going to miss out if you at least don’t try to see if it works for you, too. Anyone who wants to stop by is more than welcome to.  Survive Style 5+ has the door wide open, and the first step after walking through is as much of a dozy as any other. This is a movie that deserves a lot more attention than it seems to get.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Nine

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Nine: Favorite Musical
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Bjork, Catherine Denevue, David Morse

Those who know me well enough probably know that by and by I’m not that big a fan of musicals. I suppose it’s because I had to endure so many from the music classes that took place chiefly during my elementary school years. To this day I still despise The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady. You can sell me on their brilliance all you want. Some movies I’m just never going to sit through again. Some genres will always be difficult for me to get into. I like to think I’ll watch anything once, but I have to admit that I still have a habit of picking certain types of movies over others. I’m working on that, because I like to be surprised, but it’s still hard to completely work around weird biases I managed to get stuck in my head when I was a kid. A couple of those biases exist, but musicals are definitely the big one.

I’m not completely made of stone. A few have managed to slip through and stun me with their beauty, range, warmth, humor, intensity and even the whole ridiculous (to me) idea of breaking out into song for no apparent reason. Is that a sign of maturity? I suppose anything is possible. I’m amazed when any kind of personal growth occurs on my part. People tell me I’m a weird mix of terminal arrested development, and someone who acts like the oldest man under forty they’ve ever met in their life. Anything that alters that combination even a little is usually nothing short of a miracle.

Dancer in the Dark is one of the musicals that have broken through my ridiculous prejudice to amaze me. My biggest reason for catching it on IFC several thousand years ago was my brief, non-drug-related infatuation with the music of Bjork. I was also at a point where I would have watched just about anything IFC had on. They were a fantastic movie alternative to the other channels, and they usually had a lot more interesting stuff going on than The Sundance Channel. I’m grateful for a lot of the stuff IFC tossed my way. A good deal of movies, filmmakers and actors I like today were introduced to me through their programming. Dancer in the Dark was just one movie they showed me out of many. I had never even heard of it before, but again, I had that whole music crush thing for that insane little ragamuffin from Iceland, so it was an easy sell.

I do this at Wal-Mart all the time. It’s very soothing.

I’m not much of a Bjork fan these days, but I’ll still watch this movie any time a chance to do comes up. I find that I still love the movie in spite of not really feeling one way or the other about Bjork’s music anymore. That’s an easy thing to figure out. Dancer in the Dark has good acting, wonderful music and choreography and a story that moves us briskly from one evocative, bizarre song and dance sequence to the next. It probably helps to be a huge fan of Bjork to like this, but I don’t think it’s essential. As long as you’re not someone who absolutely despises her music, you shouldn’t have any problems trying this out.  Some have that feeling about her work. I just don’t have an opinion on it, so I guess that’s why I can still watch this. Her particular approach to a song is not for everyone. That’s true of Dancer of the Dark in general.

None of Lars Von Trier’s movies will ever be accused of being for the mass populace. This is another argument I’m not prepared to entertain. Some people think he’s a genius, and there are those who believe him to be a pretentious nimrod. I’ve enjoyed at least some of his films. Genius might be a little strong, but he’s definitely creative and has created some impressive, challenging movies). Dancer in the Dark is probably the most accessible thing he’s done so far. It’s a lot easier to get into than Antichrist.

Von Trier and Bjork collaborating on a film like this makes sense. Bjork has always seemed to have a fascination with musicals, elaborate imagery, voices and movements. Her music videos would attest to that. Dancer in the Dark could be seen as the longest Bjork music video of all time, except with a terrific supporting cast turning in great performances. Bjork does very believable, tragic work as a struggling mother who is losing her sight while trying to make the money necessary to make sure the same fate doesn’t befall her young son. It works, because she has some merit as an actress, but the tone and structure of the movie coupled with working alongside great actors/actresses like Catherine Denevue, David Morse and Peter Stormare helps her a lot more than she helps herself. These things sustain Bjork’s solid but disjointed performance. I’m not sure she would have been as effective here as she might have been in a more traditional musical or even just a more traditional movie in general.

Because it’s good to keep in mind going in that Dancer in the Dark is definitely not a traditional musical. Von Trier does seem to borrow from outside influences, but this is still going to be unlike any musical you’ve ever seen before. I wasn’t shocked to learn not that long ago that it’s become an opera. That mode of song-based storytelling is the best comparison I can think of. Upbeat is not a word that’s ever going to be used to describe this. The tragedy in the story starts early and only builds from there. It can be found at least somewhere within in the DNA of every single song and even in every line of dialog. Some who love the film would call it a beautiful kind of sadness. Some who also love Dancer in the Dark will react to the overwhelming bleakness of the film the same way they reacted to Requiem for a Dream. They will acknowledge that it’s indeed good, but not something they would ever want to experience repeatedly. Fair enough. You may not even like it all. That’s fair, too. None of Von Trier’s films have met with universal acclaim. It still couldn’t hurt to try this out if you’re someone who is at least curious about the results of a unique approach to the musical. At least the songs should prove interesting. Each one is fascinating assault of style and intense visual creativity. They’re not boring and should keep your interest alive if everything else fails to deliver.

Dancer in the Dark is worth doing sitting through at least once. It’s bound to pull some kind of reaction from you, and that can be a pretty good experience, too, even if you hate it at the end. I didn’t. It’s still the best musical I’ve ever seen, and it’s done a lot (along with a couple others) towards eliminating my absurd cinematic prejudices.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Eight

Someone suggested to me the other day that I should do these reviews as videos on YouTube. I honestly think there’s entirely too many videos of people just talking on any of those sites. I also still kind of prefer the written word and don’t own a webcam (a tragedy when you consider how many requests I get for one of those Avante-garde live sex shows that all the college kids are big into these days) and

I’ve always wanted to rather create hopelessly weird, potentially stupid sketch-type material with a webcam. It’s just not something I’ve gotten around to yet.

I also blame the heat for what was just now a completely random, unnecessary thought.

Let’s move on.


30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Eight: Favorite Thriller
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

It baffles me that some people consider The Silence of the Lambs to be overrated.

Why? Because it won a bunch of Oscars? I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument for why this might be overrated in a larger sense. It doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t like it. My life seems to demand entertaining a certain amount of delusion to get through the day, but it’s not quite at the level of believing that it’s worth getting upset if someone doesn’t like a movie that I happen to love. That part doesn’t bother me. The term “overrated” is what annoys me a little. It seems to be only used as a way of dismissing something entirely without explaining why that word should come into play. People seem to use it as a shortcut to getting the final verdict on something. I’ve seen the word used for The Silence of the Lambs a few times, and while I don’t mind someone not digging the movie I would like someone to elaborate on why they feel that way. You could probably call that one of my inane curiosities. It’s just an excuse for me to talk to somebody about movies.

I’ll label a movie as overrated, but I’ll at least try to explain why I think so.

Personally I wish there were more character-driven horror/thriller movies along these lines. As hard as I try I honestly can’t think of a film where Anthony Hopkins (who won the Best Actor Oscar in spite of only being in the movie for less than twenty minutes) or Jodi Foster are in better form.  The Silence of the Lambs is an amazing piece of work for a lot of reasons. The story is a faithful, multi-layered and constantly chilling adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel. It features beautiful, deeply disconcerting and voyeuristic cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. Howard Shore is one of my favorite composers of all time. His work here amounts to one of the eeriest, most memorable scores ever created. Everything is a striking marriage of music and camera manipulating story and performance at one moment and then flipping that marriage around at the next moment. Somehow it’s a film that’s smooth in every facet of its delivery and yet at the same builds a layer consisting of a strange, dream-like personality with troubling undertones. You can be completely engaged by the detective story (it’s a pretty good one), or you can enjoy that, and then go further into the vast psychological landscape of the film’s world and characters.

All of these things are true, but what has brought me back to watch The Silence of the Lambs more than once is Hopkins and Foster. It bears repeating again that Hopkins is in a two-hour movie for less than twenty minutes. That’s been a source of contention for some people who wonder if that qualified him for the Best Actor Oscar he won in 1991. It does raise points about the difference between Best Actor and Best Supporting, but I haven’t the faintest interest in arguing those points here.

What I will argue is that Hopkins gives a performance as Hannibal Lecter so breathtaking, so absolutely in control of a character awash in disturbing personality and depth that it’s impossible to imagine the movie without him. When he’s not on screen we wonder just what in the hell he might be up to (something involving culture and insanity is a good guess). We know Jodi Foster as Clarice Starling is wondering that. His shadow looms over every scene that he’s not in, and in everything Starling does in pursuit of the even-more frightening Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine at his very best). Their relationship is almost immediately established on several different levels within minutes of their first encounter. It’s the heart of the movie. It’s because of both Hopkins and Foster that so much is established or just suggested in the very limited amount of time they share the screen together. Foster has proven time and time again her range. Her talent and how completely she realizes this character only further enhances the impact Hopkins has when he’s on screen and when he’s not. As much as Lecter seems to be in control of everything around him it’s obvious that he comes to rely on her (for what can be debated) as much as she relies on him. For both information on Bill and what is clearly a black hole ripping apart the center of everything she is and hopes to be. This thought can even extend towards the actors themselves. Both won Oscars, and both absolutely needed the other to accomplish that. Foster gets the whole movie to both create her own character and enhance Hopkins’, but Hopkins only gets that limited window of time to create something that can allow Foster to do that. I would say doing that more than makes up for his not being in every scene.

Captain Leland Stottlemeyer enjoying some quiet time after work.
I also love the somewhat deranged assortment of names and faces popping up in small roles or as cameos. This includes Tracey Walter, George A. Romeo, Chris Issak, Dan Butler (who I note mostly because I’ve seen the entire run of Frasier way too many freaking times) and Roger Corman. I’ve always been a little amused by the fact that Corman’s career includes cameos in a slew of A-list pictures directed by filmmakers (Demme, Francis Ford Copolla, Joe Dante and others) whose careers he helped launch. None of this is critical to The Silence of the Lambs as a whole. It’s just a small bonus for me to see so many different talents round out the cast after Foster, Hopkins and Levine (who also deserved an Oscar nomination). Credit for kicking in something memorable should also go to Anthony Heald as the greedy, despicable and dangerously inept shrink who keeps Lecter under lock and key. Also to Scott Glenn as Starling’s mentor and as one of those actors who’s so steady and reliable that you almost forget he’s there.

It’s easy to see why this movie got so much love from critics and Hollywood in general and continues to do so. The Silence of the Lambs is a slick, well-acted and well-made film. Calling it a thriller is fine (I’m doing just that myself), but I think it’s still a straight-forward horror movie beneath the supposedly classier label of thriller. I suppose it may just be a question of semantics. That’s another argument I don’t have the patience for. I just like the notion of calling this one of the greatest horror movies of all time. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t really matter. All that really matters is that I wind up watching this about once a year. It just pulls me right in every single time. I still remember thinking as a kid that just on atmosphere this was one of the creepiest movies of all time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve maintained my love of that atmosphere, one I’ve never really found anywhere else, and I’ve added so many other things to the list.

Let’s just hope and pray that nobody ever makes a musical out of this. That thought scares me more than Buffalo Bill ever did.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Seven

The plan at the moment is to do ten, break for some fiction/poetry/something else, do ten more, take another one of those breaks and then finish out the last ten in glorious (maybe? It’s not like I’m getting a ton of feedback on this little endeavor) fashion.

In case anyone was even a little curious.


30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Seven: Favorite Animated Feature
Paprika (2006)
Directed by: Satoshi Kon
Starring: Megami Hayashibara, Akio Otsuka, Toru Furuya

I can’t believe I waited four years to see this. Let’s just go ahead and blame all those Anime conventions I’ve been working at for the last six years. That makes absolutely no sense, when you realize I still love Anime and watch it whenever possible, but it just seems like fun to blame something without any real reason behind doing so.

The real reason is that some movies sit on that list of things I want to see for ages. It’s as simple as that. I know people in their forties who have been meaning to see The Godfather. Most of us are just never going to get to see every single movie that grabs our interest (Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese might). We do the best we can, and we make time wherever possible. I love that it’s impossible to see everything I could ever want to see. That’s weirdly appealing to me, and it’s something I’ve mentioned before. It’s the same thing with music.

Unfortunately certain genres suffer from neglect on my part more than others. There’s a special place in my cold, black Canadian heart for animation, but I notice from time to time (Netflix is good at reminding me) that the list of animated films I’d like to check out is a pretty long one. I’ve seen plenty of Disney, Miyazaki, feature-length adaptations of various Anime series and other titles, but the list still seems to be considerable. It doesn’t bother me. The reminder that I’m missing out only hits me when I’m finally getting around to seeing something. I had that thought after finally seeing Pink Flamingos the other night, and I definitely had that realization after seeing Paprika late last year.

I might actually be willing to go to a stupid parade, if they were anything like this one.

I knew Satoshi Kon’s work from seeing Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue and trailers for Paprika and Millennium Actress. His body of work was certainly more about quality than quantity. In the past year I’ve finally finished watching the films he directed in his lifetime, and all I can do is sadly wish he was still alive and directing today. Dreaming Machine is to be his last film, and it’s supposedly going to be released at some point this year. It’s a shame that has to be the case. The only consolation is the remarkable talent and imagination displayed in his few finished films. It’s almost intimidating as a writer to look at something as extraordinary as Paprika and realize how limitless the creativity of some can truly be. Of all his films Paprika is easily my favorite. It’s also the best animated film I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s room for that opinion to change, but it’s going to take something pretty spectacular. I can think of a dozen things I love about this movie. If I watch it again I’m sure I could come up with a dozen more.

The story is wonderful. It’s original, well-told and with a fantastic depth of attention to fully-realized, believable characters. I love the basic premise of a device that can record dreams running amok in reality. What I like even more is how much Kon and co-screenwriter Seishi Minakami get out of that premise. A great storyteller can do a few movies’ worth of ideas in a couple of hours or less. A hack job will either not explore the concept to its fullest potential or crush the great idea under trying to express so much that the film becomes bloated, confusing and dull. Kon and Minakami take a 1993 Japanese novel and use animation to blow the story wide open. Films in general demand that you trust where they’re going to try and take you. That can lead to any number of possibilities for what that means you’re going to get out of it. Of course, some movies ask more of you than others. Some demand a little more trust to keep your mind wide open, to simply settle in for the ride and wait until that ride has come to a complete stop before asking questions. Paprika asks for a whole lot of that trust. It’s just a little unreal how much ground this movie flies across a mere ninety-minute span. Taking the movie with arms wide open can leave you exhausted the way a four or five hour movie might. I’m honestly inclined to think that a lot of other attempts at this story would have yielded a film running three hours or longer and just not nailing it in the same way. A lot of themes, characters, ideas of social, political, moral and scientific importance are taken on. None of it is short-changed. Nothing overstays its welcome. This only sounds a lot more overcrowded than it actually is. If anything you’ll get to the end wishing there was a little bit more.

Okie dokie.

It’s a gorgeous world to visit. The animation has to be able to keep up with furious pace of the plot, while also doing justice to a magnificent voice-acting cast. Paprika strikes me as so beautiful that I could probably watch it quite easily without sound. It’s a firm reminder of what animation can do that live-action will never be able to duplicate with all the bells and whistles of formidable technology (time may prove me wrong on that, but I choose to hold onto that opinion for as long as possible) and its disposal. The backgrounds of Paprika alone seem like they would be a breathtaking place to get lost in. The countless character designs, larger details are a sight to behold, but at least some of the fun of the movie is in its details. It’s another aspect that demands repeat viewings and a guarantee that they will never feel like a chore. You will almost certainly want to come back to this world again. Catching the sights missed the first time will give way to that pleasure of a second (or third) viewing feeling a lot like the initial one. I can’t even imagine my own favorite visual moment. There’s too many to pick off the top of my head. Watching it again would only increase my options.

I really can’t think of a better example of the genre than this. That goes for Anime specifically (at least with feature films) and animation of all kinds in general. Paprika is a film of staggering visual beauty, wonderful characters and relentlessly good storytelling. It’s going to take many, many viewings to exhaust the potential of how much there is to see and absorb throughout. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that we lost one of the good ones when Satoshi Kon passed away. He left behind some truly worthwhile films. I’m just selfish enough to wish there could have been a few more. That wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy me, no specific number ever could, but one of the best and most bittersweet things I’ve taken from Kon’s films is a sense of a longing. I wish I could see the world as he saw it. Since that’s impossible, I wish he was still around to give us some visual possibilities to work with.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Six

Thirty Day Movie Challenge:

Day Six:  Favorite Horror

A Nightmare on Elm St. (1984)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon
By Gabriel Ricard

It still bugs me a little that I’ve been to three horror movie conventions in my life, and not a single damn one of them included Robert Englund. He’s been one of my favorite actors for as long as I can remember, and his presence is welcome in any movie. He’s also always struck me as underrated. There’s a lot more to Freddy Krueger than terrible jokes and an ugly hat. I’ve always like Freddy more than any movie monster and that’s because of Englund. Even the worst Elm St. film at least has what I feel is a great actor in of the great cinematic villain roles of all time. I’ve always found that entertaining enough to at least enjoy movies as terrible as Freddy’s Dead or Freddy vs. Jason.

That’s probably why the good Elm St. films are amongst my favorite horror films. They don’t have to just rely on Englund’s considerable charisma as an actor. They have good casts, fantastic, enduring special effects (made all the more remarkable by how low the budgets for those films tended to be) and stories that usually had a lot more energy, humor and creativity going for them than most horror film franchises (especially in that era). The first one is the best example of this, and it also has the benefit of still being genuinely creepy. From the film’s ferocious beginning Craven establishes an oppressive, dooming atmosphere for those wretched teenagers of his. Freddy is clearly in control of this universe from start to finish, even when his chief protagonist, Nancy (the amazing Heather Langenkamp) seems to gain an edge as she slowly comes to learn more about him. A Nightmare on Elm St. is Freddy’s world, and it’s almost always an accident when anyone gets away from it alive. The first film does a better job of making us believe that than anything that came after it (six sequels, a TV series, a crossover with Jason Voorhees, a disappointing remake, a ride at Disney World, an assortment of cookies and other snackables and the scariest damn children’s doll ever created). It’s a dark, grim ride that would never be properly duplicated ever again.

These two are so cute together. It’s actually kind of sickening.

There’s a reason why New Line Cinema is known as “The House That Freddy Built”. Before A Nightmare on Elm St. became a runaway hit in 1984, the studio was known for distributing midnight movie classics like Reefer Madness. Wes Craven’s mediation on the death of innocence, the potential for dreams to be as harmful as reality and the consequences of revenge and mob mentality (I can’t imagine why either of those things wouldn’t work out—I love mobs or any opportunity to upgrade my TV and get some new shirts). Craven’s best films are often obsessed with the notion that we’re never safe, and that any attempt to try and change that is pretty futile in the long run.

Or A Nightmare on Elm St. is just a movie about a guy who kills a bunch of teenagers. You can just look it at that way, too.

Choosing this was not a huge, difficult stretch of the imagination. Horror has been one of the great, long-standing influences on my writing and even with some of my acting. Being able to work for a horror movie website and being able to meet so many of my favorite actors/directors/etc is still one of the highlights of my writing career. I miss being able to ramble about horror films, and I miss the wonderful atmosphere of those conventions.

It goes back further than that. I remember as a child going to the video store in Lake Cowichan, B.C. (the good one) and being transfixed by the box art for the rather large horror section the store boasted. I suppose it’s not a huge surprise that I had nightmares all the time. More often than not my imagination over what the movies might be about based on their artwork was far more elaborate and frightening than the films themselves. Freddy Krueger was one of the exceptions. He was exactly as terrifying as I imagined he would be.

The effect the Elm St. films had on me was pretty profound, and I would imagine those effects continue to this day. I have to say it again. I don’t think it gets much better than Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. I’ve never been obsessed with meeting people whose work I admire, but I do wish I could meet the guy just to tell him that I borrowed heavily from Freddy when playing Bob Ewell in a production of To Kill a Mockingbird. It was kind of hard not to find parallels between two. I also wanted to convey menace as best as I could, and there are few actors who are better to draw that kind of inspiration from than Englund. God knows if I was actually successful, but it was awfully fun to pretend I had any business trying.

The first film is the one I’m the most likely to hit up, whenever I feel like watching something I’ve admittedly seen entirely too many times. Wes Craven gets an insane amount of mileage out of his miniscule budget. I really do believe that all of the film’s visuals punches retain the ability to be eerie and impressive.  The movie also benefits from a better-than-average cast for a 1980’s horror film (John Saxon is another actor who has saved a lot more bad movies than the ones he did that actually knew how to use him properly).  The other teenagers are more than just victims to serve a fantastic story that was a decidedly clever twist on the slasher genre it helped create. For the most part they’re actually worth giving a damn about.

This is probably *not* the story of Captain Jack Sparrow. Just saying.

It’s astonishing to me that this was turned down by pretty much every major studio in Hollywood. New Line got a juggernaut of a hit from risking pretty much everything they had on at least making back its 1.8 million dollar budget.  I don’t blame them a bit for turning Freddy Krueger into a surprisingly-marketable anti-hero (even if the downside of that was the character being seriously diluted and changed across each sequel). The sequels can be fun in their own way, but I’ll take the force of this film’s atmosphere over anything those others have to offer. It’s gritty, bleak and features what is easily Englund’s most sadistic, menacing portrayal of Freddy. That’s the main draw here in spite of everything else contributing something to this film’s status as one of the best horror movies of all time (it’s also appeared on several notable lists of overall great movies).  There’s no cruel humor to be found here. Freddy is pure evil in classic makeup (created in this film by David Miller and improved upon in future films). The only shame is that Englund didn’t get to use more of that sadism in the sequels.

Thirty-Day Film Challenge: Day Five

Thirty Day Movie Challenge:

Day Five:  Favorite Action

Die Hard (1988)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
By Gabriel Ricard

I’m still pretty easy to please when it comes to a ridiculous, gleefully stupid action movie. The problem is that it’s a lot like my problem with horror films these days. It just takes a lot more to impress me and keep my attention than it used to. I should also keep in mind that they just don’t make action movies like they used to. That’s actually a good thing for the most part, but I do get annoyed by films released over the last few years claiming to be smarter, more sophisticated affairs for a more sophisticated, smarter audience. That’s a load of nonsense. A dumbass movie is a dumbass movie. No matter how prettier it gets, no matter how hard it tries to rip off the editing style from the Bourne films and no matter how aware of its own silliness it pretends to be. I can still embrace a stupid movie, but I would at least prefer the movie just admit it’s stupid. It’s okay. I won’t judge. I’m already watching the damn thing.

I actually think cinema junk food is pretty essential to the whole diet. I’d like to think I was able to express this when writing about 2012.  I can’t just watch Criterion titles, obscurities from the dustiest corners of an endless film vault. I have to be able to tune out once in a while. It’s the same thing with those broad comedies, and it’s why I’m never the kind of person who’s going to have blood shoot out of my eyes. Just because you happen to like a movie I can’t stand. That’s stupid. Like whatever the hell you want, but at least try to be honest about what you might want from a movie in a given moment.

This was another category with a lot of front-runners. Die Hard won out when I thought about for a second and realized how many times I had seen and enjoyed it as though I was watching it for the first time. I can’t remember when I saw it for the first time. It’s just one of those movies that feels like it’s playing in the background somewhere since I was four years old. I’m a good deal more conscious of when the three sequels came out. I’m guessing I saw the first one somewhere in that time period of whenever it came out on video. Some movies just seem to be permanent fixtures in my life. In my case it’s probably a couple films too many. It’s not my fault there’s such a wide range of things to choose from.

Waffle House takes all kinds. Not like those stuck-up bastards as Denny’s.

If you’ve never seen Die Hard and have no interest in seeing it, then there’s not a lot I can say. It’s one of the best pure-action movies I’ve ever seen. I think it’s held up better than most like it through the years. That’s probably because it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. The movie comes by its charm so easily that it never seems to drag, show its age or take itself too seriously. John McTiernan was pretty good sometimes at making films that could be unadulterated entertainment without making you feel stupid or in need of a spiritual cleansing of some kind (Michael Bay movies, for example). He hasn’t made one of those in quite a long time, but here he’s at his best with a great script from good source material (the novel isn’t bad at all), a memorable Michael Kamen score and some of the best editing and cinematography of its time. Most of all he has one of the best casts ever assembled for an action movie. It’s hard to imagine now that Bruce Willis was at the time considered an unlikely action star, and that Die Hard itself would be a surprise hit of 1988. As much as I like other elements and talents I can’t see this movie working with anyone else. I don’t think it’s an accident that Willis is still hanging around after twenty-three years later. He casts a presence that I never really saw in any of the other action stars of the 80’s and 90’s. I don’t even think there’s anyone today primarily known for that genre than can hold even the most painfully dumb movie together better than he can. I wouldn’t throw him in the same category as someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s not that kind of actor. I do think he’s good though, and I’ll even go so far as to say he’s great as the certain types of characters he plays. I’m not directly comparing him to someone like John Wayne in terms of perceived greatness, but I think they both go about being great at those certain types of characters in the same way. Some actors simply cast a presence that can dominate a film and even make it tolerable if nothing else comes together. It keeps them working a lot longer than most of their contemporaries. Willis has had a knack with that for years, and he’s only gotten better as time goes on.

Alan Rickman getting the Wile E. Coyote moment every European actor in a U.S. action film dreams of.

Die Hard succeeds on Willis’ constantly overwhelmed, surprisingly durable hero, but it still owes a lot of its energy and humor to the rest of the cast. Alan Rickman almost got typecast after this, but he still set down one of the best movie villains of all time. He’s easily as much a pleasure to watch as Willis. He proves (as he still does this to this day) that a good actor can stretch even the most simplistic character into something memorable and engaging. It doesn’t have to be deep (but an actor like Rickman can do that, too). It just has to be the best within the context of that particular film and genre. He steals every single scene he’s in.

A lot of performances in Die Hard are like that. Bonnie Bedelia gets a lot out of a thankless role and proves to be a perfect match for Willis’ McClane. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to see how those two got married. Reginald VelJohnson will probably never be known for anything but playing cops, but he’s still great at playing those kinds of cops. The same can be said for William Atheron and the late, great Paul Gleason, and how well they could make you despise them within about two minutes of showing up on screen.  Everyone adds to that sense of fun Die Hard would struggle to repeat in its three sequels. All of them were all entertaining in their own ways, but they never quite captured the same battered, frantic magic of this one. McTiernan would never be better at carefully maneuvering us from one hectic moment to the next as he would be here. The movie drops us into the war zone pretty early on, and it rarely lets up until the end. Willis is a good companion for that. He never stops cracking jokes while looking exhausted from losing more blood than the human body generally contains. The movie never stops putting him through one circle of hell after another (while even inventing a couple), as we careen along the walls, causing explosions and destroying everything in sight over as McClane staggers closer to the moment when he finally gets his hands on those stupid, stupid bad guys. It’s a tired plot, but it can be a lot of fun under the right mindset and circumstances. Here it’s as fun now as it was twenty-three years ago. I don’t debate for a second that there’s probably something wrong with enjoying revenge movies. I don’t debate it, because I just don’t care. Sometimes it’s a relief to still be able to do that.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Four

Thirty Day Movie Challenge:

Day Four: Favorite Drama

The Hospital (1971)
Directed by: Arthur Hiller
Starring: George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, Richard A. Dysart
By Gabriel Ricard

I didn’t set out to reference black comedies yesterday and then come back to them for day four. It just seemed to work out that way. I wrote at great lengths yesterday about my ability to laugh at a lot of different things. However there does seem to be a pretty large place in my cold, nicotine-battered Canadian heart for the dark comedies. People frequently comment that the things I find humorous are sometimes quite horrifying. I don’t debate that for a second. I’m aware that they are horrifying. It might be a cop-out to deal with how terrible the world can be by immediately looking for the humor, but I’ll take the cop-out over feeling helpless and angry.

You can indeed look at The Hospital as a very, very black comedy. You can also see it as one of the most depressing movies ever made. The consensus from critics at the time of its release and people who have seen it now puts it somewhere in the middle. Personally I think the movie is hilarious, but I’m also capable of doing MST3K-style commentary for Grave of the Fireflies or Requiem for a Dream. I’m probably not the best person to consult for what the world at large is going to find funny.

Still, people who have seen The Hospital seem to consider it a pretty brilliant mix of one vicious gallows punch line after another and callous observation. The film hit its forty-year mark in 2011, but I would say a lot of those punch lines and observations are as sharp now as they were in 1971. Paddy Chayefsky would win a score of writing awards for the script (including an Oscar). I didn’t know anything about the movie before seeing it, but I wasn’t surprised when I found out later. A forty-year-old script can’t help but suffer from being a little dated as the decades wear on. Great scripts can shrug that off and still suck you in. They can stand as good a chance of engaging somebody as they did the year they were filmed. I’m willing to show The Hospital to anyone to prove that point.

There’s a lot of reasons why I won’t go near doctors or hospitals. This movie is one of them.

The acting is a big part of that enduring quality, too. The Hospital is one of my favorite films simply for the amazing performances by George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. Scott had a pretty good career being a larger-than-life, terminally brooding presence kicked in the stomach by day-to-day life and just hanging on to his dignity and sanity by a thread as large as a few inches of floss. This is my by far my favorite version of a persona he played so consistently well (but he could play other characters, too). He takes hold of Chayefsky’s great script, chews every line to pieces and spits them back out with a ferocious, career-making bark. The “We cure nothing!” speech is quite possibly my favorite rant in a film of all time. George C. Scott plays a man at the brink of self-destruction amidst absolute chaos so well that I have to wonder just how much of it was really acting. He was clearly as intense a guy as you were ever going to meet in real life (and I’ve read things about him that seem to indicate this was true).

Diana Rigg makes Scott even better. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. Her character is largely amused by the weary doom and gloom of Scott’s exhausted Chief of Medicine to one of New York’s largest, most unwieldy hospitals. Rigg was (and still is—she’s not actually dead) the kind of actress who could chemistry with anybody she was paired up with. It worked on The Avengers, and it worked with actors like Vincent Price in the phenomenal Theater of Blood. Her amusement, affection and then love (maybe, you know? Her character is clearly not playing with a full deck, so it’s difficult to tell if she really loves the guy or not) for Scott’s Dr. Bock is like everything else in the movie. It comes out of nowhere and seems to exist by its own universal set of rules. The same thought applies to the murder spree that goes on as Scott struggles to survive his latest bout of suicidal despair before falling into his bizarre-yet-inexplicably charming relationship with Rigg (it probably doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly sexy in this).

There’s a lot going on here beyond the clearly-defined anguish, love, sex, murder, bedlam and cruel cosmic humor. The hospital itself, and by extension everything else, is falling apart under the weight of constant, Kafkaesque (I don’t like that term, but it does work here) bureaucracy, indifference (Richard A. Dysart is brilliant as the unfeeling, sadistically greedy Dr. Welbeck) and deranged, counterproductive social upheaval. It’s a pretty frantic collection of scenes, characters, motivations and events for a hundred and three minutes, but it comes together quite well when taken from start to finish. It was a forerunner of the kind of pessimism that would later be the heart and soul of TV shows like House and E.R. You should be right at home with The Hospital if you consider yourself a fan of those shows. My favorite moments in either of those shows were the ones that could be savagely funny over the bleakest of circumstances. The Hospital is one of those moments after another. It has a well-earned reputation for being a severe ride.

In the next scene, George C. Scott literally eats this man’s soul.

This was one of the first movies I ever rented from Netflix some years ago. It was appropriately a completely random choice, and I’ve always been grateful that I gave it a shot.  The Hospital turned me into a fan of both Scott and Rigg, and I’ve enjoyed several performances of their ever since I checked this out. It only takes a few minutes a day on Facebook or an afternoon in a city to remind myself that the anarchy in The Hospital is not only pretty close to the kind of thing I see in real life, but it’s probably gotten even worse since 1971. It could be that I’m just being pessimistic myself. Then there’s the Dr. Bock character. You don’t need a sprawling back story to know that the mess he’s in has come about from a combination of his own design and whatever the hell that twisted cosmic humor is doing to him. A lot of people are victims of that combination. It can exhaust you into old age long before you actually get there in years, if you happen choose to take on more than your body and spirit can handle. At times I relate to the mood of this film (and of Scott) far more than I should probably admit.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Three

Thirty Day Movie Challenge:

Day Three:  Favorite Comedy

Ghostbusters (1984)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson
By Gabriel Ricard

There was a long period in my life when I was pretty sure I loved horror above any other genre. I still love horror but find myself more and more cynical about it. Most of the movies I watch in that field these days are either classics I’ve been meaning to see or something I’ve seen and loved several times before. Maybe, it’s the whole business of getting older. Scaring me is not as easy as it was twenty or even ten years ago. People become jaded. The fix becomes more and more difficult to score. New horror films tend to be an incredibly tough sell with me. It’s rare for a recent release to jar me the way Jacob’s Ladder did when I was seven (that movie still kind of freaks me out) or The Exorcist did when I was sixteen (for some reason it had a much greater impact on me at that age than when I saw it at nine).

I’m making a point here. I promise. Horror is still a favorite, but I’ve come to realize that comedy is at the top of the genre heap. I’m cynical about laughter, too, but it still seems to come more easily to me than being scared by anything in a film. I guess my compromise with that is dark comedy, because it does seem like I dig an awful lot of those.

Dark comedies might be part of the reason why comedy wins out over horror or any other genre in the end. Horror is a very specific thing to me. There are types of horror films, but only a small number of those types have the potential to terrify the living hell out of me or simply be entertaining. Comedy has a lot more room than that to get my attention. I laugh at a lot of things. Sometimes being aware of that is the only thing that staves off a nervous breakdown.

I’ve had those before, and they’re not fun. You know how it is. You’re in Wal-Mart and suddenly see someone running naked through the dairy aisle screaming at the top of their lungs.

They weren’t always like that. Chances are, they just didn’t laugh enough.

I love countless types of comedy. That’s what’s so great about it to me. I can go in for the subtle, deeply subversive stuff as easily as I can laugh at the broadest of the broad comedies. Those are the films that supposedly appeal to the widest audience and/or the lowest common denominator. Whether or not I like something along those lines tends to rely on my mood and what I need in terms of a laugh. That leaves the door pretty wide open for something to entertain me. Or even reach for something more than that. I try to be open-minded.

My favorite comedy was an easy one to pick. Ghostbusters is the film I have seen more than any other (by a substantial margin), has consistently held up as a great movie for most of my life and even managed to get me kicked out of pre-school (seriously). Somewhere in my walk-in closet I could dig out the original VHS tape (complete with trailers to movies like Starman and The Karate Kid after the credits roll), but that didn’t stop my first DVD and Blu-ray purchases from being Ghostbusters. I wish I had taken better care of all the toys I had as a kid. I’m not big on collecting action figures and the like, but some of that stuff would be pretty neat to have right about now.

It’s a comfort movie at this point in my life, but I can still point out what I love about it. Everything about Ghostbusters is still a joy. That’s especially true with the performances. The story is great and well-told (it’s not lost on me that it has some strong elements of horror in it), but it’s really just a loose structure for the talent to have a ball with. This is the movie that introduced me to people I still like to this day. Bill Murray is likely my favorite actor of all time (occasionally I see a really good Al Pacino role, and a ridiculous argument starts up in my head). This was the first thing I ever saw him in, and it’s been one great turn after another. No one has been more enjoyable to watch through the years. The others have been hit and miss (especially Aykroyd), but they’re still responsible for some of my favorite roles and films of all time.

Forget about the awful Year Zero. Harold Ramis is still a great writer and director. I frequently find myself wishing Rick Moranis was still making movies. I also think Ernie Hudson is still a decidedly underrated character actor. The fact that he’s not listed on the front or back of the recent Blu-ray release strikes me as slightly criminal. William Atheron has become one of my favorite character actors, too. He plays a scumbag so sublimely that it’s almost a shame to find out he’s supposed to be a pretty nice guy. Annie Potts was the first actress I ever had a crush on. I’m not ashamed to admit that.  Avatar was one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen in my life, but it was nice to see Sigourney Weaver prove she could still be so awesome twenty-five years later.

Everyone in Ghostbusters is significant. Even if they’re only around for a few moments to feed the main cast a great straight line or reaction (that poor, poor stupid bastard who didn’t know they were going to be giving him electric shocks).

Most of the special effects still hold up fairly well, too. The music is a mixed-bag. I still love a lot of the instrumentals, and anything annoying in the soundtrack is quickly trumped by the movie replying, “Yes, well, here’s that Ray Parker Jr. song that you like so much, so shut up.” The song blaring over the last few moments of the film makes me want to immediately watch it all over again. I’m pretty sure I’ve done just that.

Actually, my favorite musical moment in Ghostbusters is when they arrive at the apartment building for the big showdown. I think that’s the song I want playing, should I ever be called upon to save the world (let’s hope not—I’m lazy). It’s one flawless scene in many.

I’ve been to New York several times now, and I’ve never seen the famous firehouse. Supposedly it might be torn down soon. That’s a shame. It’s not an important landmark by any means (well, maybe to me), but I would be very disappointed if I never got around to seeing it. Ghostbusters put me on the path towards wanting to be a writer (I actually started out wanting to draw comic books, and then I had to unfortunately realize later on that I couldn’t draw worth a damn and never would), so that obviously places it pretty high on my list of things that are important to me.

I could be wrong, but Murray looks like he’s rocking one of the most sarcastic smiles of all time.

Whether or not I ever get to do something as frivolous as visiting the firehouse wouldn’t change that, but it would still be nice to see the building with my own eyes. I’d like to remind myself that it’s still possible to be profoundly moved by frivolous things and taken from that starting point into countless other directions. Ghostbusters is one of those broad comedies to be sure, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything that claims to be smarter, better-made or more ambitious. I love a lot of that stuff, too, but Ghostbusters is still funny to me twenty-three years later. Life doesn’t have a whole lot of consistency with the good things, so it can be important to hold onto books, movies, albums, paintings, TV shows, stand-up performances or anything else that brings out the best in your personality over and over again. Ghostbusters will always be a part of that list.

To this day, my secret (well, not anymore) fictional dream job remains to be a Ghostbuster. It just seems like a great gig. I have a feeling I’m not alone in thinking something as silly as that. Considering how many astonishing proton-pack replicas I’ve seen over the years.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Two

Thirty Day Film Challenge:

Day Two: Your Least Favorite Film of All Time

2012 (2009)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
By Gabriel Ricard

I had to think about this one, too, and once again I went with the first movie to pop into my head. There’s a good cast in this movie, too. You could say that’s how they get me every single time. I’m pretty good about not being suckered in by a cast full of people I claim can make even the lowest form of film entertaining (Roger Ebert had a rule like that for Harry Dean Stanton and M. Emmett Walsh), but sometimes I still give something that looks inhumanly awful a chance in spite of certainly knowing better than to think it’s going to be anything but inhumanly awful.  I suppose that makes how sadistically wretched it is all the more unforgivable.

Part of my problem is that I have a great affection for bad movies. I guess it’s that MST3K upbringing. I’m completely willing to watch a horrible movie if I think I can at least be entertained by it. The cast can help with that a lot, but just anything that leaves a lot of room open to smartass observations and dumb jokes (I even do this when alone, and that’s always struck me as kind of pathetic and depressing) can work. There are too many movies in the world that I haven’t seen but want to. A lot of them are supposedly classics, so I prefer to focus on the films I actually want to see. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for the movies that tell me I’m in for a hellish experience right from the opening credits, but I still like to tune out and give in to something that can make me laugh by getting so much wrong that it’s a bit awe-inspiring to watch it unfold.

I want to say that’s how I saw 2012 on a stack of DVDs in the living room downstairs and decided that it could be a pretty harmless way to kill a couple of hours (it wound up feeling like four or five hours that did a much, much better job of killing me instead—And by “kill” I mean “Beat, rape, murder, post the video of said rape/murder on YouTube and create from the ashes of my ruin a brand-new meme”). I wanted to watch a movie, and I didn’t have anything else to consider. I should have been smart. What’s wrong with watching The Godfather or Nightmare on Elm St. Part 3 for the seven thousandth time? I could have enjoyed Dog Day Afternoon again, or I could have even run a marathon of Frasier or MillenniuM episodes.

I probably should have just spent the time reading, but I was fixated on watching something, and I was even more stupidly fixated on watching something I had never seen before. That’s how I came to 2012, and like an alcoholic who has six drinks when they know they can only handle four, I hung in there with that bastard film to the bitter end.

There’s a plot. I think there’s a plot. I can’t remember now. There were no drugs or alcohol ingested with the viewing of this movie. I smoked roughly seventeen packs of cigarettes, hated my obsessive trait of finishing any movie I start and hoped the whole time that some form of smoking-related cancer would finish me off before the end. There was certainly enough time for that to happen. It turns out the Mayans were right about 2012 all along. The world as we know comes to a spectacular finish through a series of natural disasters (I think Woody Harrelson had something to do with it—That damn hippie is always up to no good, it would seem) that are brought to us with some of the most uninspired action sequences and worst special effects I’ve ever seen in my life. This movie cost 200 million dollars? Are you fucking kidding me? I want to believe a lot of that went into the marketing (which was quite elaborate) and salaries. Movie budgets are honestly one of the aspects of the business that I’m not extremely knowledgeable about, so I have no idea where that 200 million went. It sure as hell didn’t go into the FX.

Because it’s Roland Emmerich it’s not enough to blow the planet up yet again. We also get a whole bunch of absolutely delightful, engaging and relentlessly endearing subplots and character motivations. We see that John Cusack wants to be a better father. We understand that Oliver Platt is a giant tool (although I found myself rooting for him more than anyone else) and that Danny Glover is certainly too old for this shit (I had to say it). Amanda Peet still loves her estranged husband (Cusack). George Segal has no idea what’s going on. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the only one who understands what’s going on and is really keen to do what he can to salvage the world. It goes on. There are other characters, other subplots and other human interest details that act as bridges between each disaster sequence. I remember these things only vaguely. The whole thing has blurred in my memory. All I can really remember is a cruise liner getting knocked over, Woody Harrelson playing a version of what I imagine he’s like in real life and an incredibly irritating morality argument between Ejiofor and Platt near the end of the film. Everything else is just disbelief that my life is such that I actually sat through the entire thing and could barely think of anything funny to say about it. Some movies are awful but have that great capacity for unintentional comedy. Other films are so viciously humorless that I can do nothing but sit there in mute horror and wait for it to be over. That’s what happened with 2012.

What floors me is that this movie grossed over 700 million dollars. That has to mean that at least one person on this planet saw that movie more than once. I’d be at a loss to comprehend that, and then I remember that most of that total comes from foreign markets. It begins to make sense after that. published an article on referencing the nature  of films like 2012 in the foreign markets. I don’t think Cracked needs the publicity, but hunt down and check out the piece at your leisure. It’s fascinating, endlessly depressing stuff.

Did I expect too much from 2012? I don’t think so. There are a lot of big, noisy, ridiculously stupid movies out there that did a great job of entertaining me. I won’t go into that list right now, but I hope you’ll believe me when I say I went into 2012 with the absolute minimum of expectations. I wanted a decent roller-coaster ride, and I wanted to laugh at terrible dialog and over-the-top acting. I didn’t get any of that. It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t pay to see the movie. Roland Emmerich still owes me a handjob, a verbal apology, a video apology and a hand-written apology. I won’t enjoy any of those things, but at least I’ll feel like I got something for my time.

I can probably think of worse movies I’ve seen than this one, but dear Lord I don’t think my heart can take that kind of introspection. I’m bitter enough as it is without remembering movies like this that gave nothing and took time away from that could have been better spent improving myself somehow. This will do just fine in terms of a movie that is literally without a single decent quality from start to finish.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Introduction and Day One

30 Day Movie Challenge: Introduction and Day One
By Gabriel Ricard

I don’t go in for a lot of the stuff on Facebook. I’ve never played Mob Wars, Empires and Allies, Farmville, Cooking Mama, Grave Digging Ragamuffins, Porn Legends of Gainesville, Florida (Okay, I might have made a couple of those up). I don’t re-post those obnoxious status updates challenging my courage and convictions. I’ve even managed to avoid clicking on those delightful “videos” that infect a person’s Facebook faster than they can cry about it on Twitter.

That last one is a shame though. I really would like to know what happened to that girl when her father caught her doing whatever it was that she was doing.

Don’t misunderstand me though. It’s not that I think I’m better than anyone for avoiding these things.  I post videos and articles like crazy, tried those apps that makes a collage of your status updates for the year or top friends and got entirely too much mileage out of those top-five lists that were popular for a little while. Facebook is a lot of things to a lot of people. How I waste my time on there is no better or worse than how others go about it.

One thing I’ve had a great deal of fun with is those thirty-day challenges. I’ve done one for movies and one for music. Right now I’m doing another for music, and I’m planning to do an extremely elaborate, supposedly endless one for movies. God knows why, but I enjoy thinking about the films and music that have managed to keep me inspired and moving along with my own writing, acting and whatever other nonsense I get mixed up with. I don’t think I remind myself of those inspirations nearly enough.

The movie challenge was particularly enjoyable. The original plan was to pick the movies and throw down a couple of sentences about why I chose it. It started out that way, but as I went on I realized I wanted to elaborate further than just a couple of sentences. By the end of the thirty days some of the entries clocked in at several hundred words.  They were a little verbose, but I enjoyed the experience immensely. Anyone who knows me will tell you I can ramble about movies for what feels like decades on end. I don’t get to write about them as much I’d like to. Most of the things I review these days are books. That’s fine. I just rarely have an excuse or opportunity to write about things that I already love.  The thought makes me miss the time I spent working for a horror movie site. The job frequently called for writing up reviews for films I had already seen. I had a great time with that, but the opportunities since then have been few and far between. That movie challenge was a fantastic excuse to change that.

Let’s change it even further with another excuse to ramble about those movies that color my dreams, keep me motivated to create my own things and all that other inspirational mumbo-jumbo.

I’ll be posting the entries from the Facebook Thirty Day Movie Challenge here. They won’t be exactly the same as they were on Facebook. I’ll be editing each one as I go, expanding on anything I want to expand on, clarifying something that might not make sense and just making them a little more sharply dressed in general. I’ve wanted to expand on some of these entries for a while now, and this is as good a time as any to do it. The other idea is that doing this will get my mind rolling for completely original material to contribute to this blog. I have some ideas, but I don’t want to throw my lot in with them just yet. Using these entries is a great way to keep busy while I work on those other ideas.

I’m also still planning to share fiction, poetry, scripts and all the rest whenever possible.

So, moving on to day one?

Does that work for everybody?


Thirty Day Film Challenge:

Day One: Your Favorite Film of All Time

Seven Samurai (1954)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Yoshio Inaba

It was difficult to choose one film over any other, and I’m not entirely sure I made the right choice, but this was the first title to pop into my head above all others, so I suppose that should count for something.  What’s important to me here is that I go with my instincts. The first answer to pop into my head is likely the correct one.

This is a beautiful, massive epic in every sense of the word. I cannot find a single thing wrong with it. The story is immediately gripping and doesn’t lose even a fraction of its momentum in spite of a fairly long running time (207 minutes). I can appreciate why so many sequels came out of the American remake (The Magnificent Seven). It’s the kind of story that you still want more of even after you’ve already been given a lot.

The cast is a huge part of that with Seven Samurai. Discovering Toshiro Mifune’s body of work has been one of the great movie-watching pleasures of the last ten or so years of my life.  He has a few awful movies under his belt, but I’ve yet to see something he’s awful.  Mifune was one of those rare talents who could be absolutely and completely in control of the entire movie when he’s on camera. His performance here is second only to his performance in Yojimbo. It’s electrifying and by far my favorite aspect of the whole movie. He’s not the only one. Every performance is absolutely essential in one way or another. Mifune cuts an imposing figure, but he doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast and certainly not the entire film. Takashi Shimura is another of Japan’s great actors, and is at least somewhere on my list of favorite actors of all time, period. He gets some of the best lines in the film. His performance and by extension his character very quietly and effortlessly hold their own against everything else that’s going on.

Nothing overwhelms the movie. That’s one of the things I love about it. The best epics are the ones that have a thousand elements working together to create that singular, extraordinary final result.  That can be true of other film types, but I would like to think it’s especially critical for an epic or ensemble piece. Seven Samurai is a beautiful film, because everything in it is critical in some way, but it’s never a case of one thing overwhelming another. The spotlight may shine on a particular actor or shot, but that’s only within the moment. Seven Samurai doesn’t linger or allow anything to wear out its welcome and drag the movie down as a consequence. This was the first film to truly and so flawlessly combine so many characters, so many relationships between those characters (including a romance subplot between Isao Kimura, the youngest of the samurai and Keiko Tsushima, one of the villagers). Wrap that up in the rest of the action scenes and storytelling. You leave with a movie that never loses focus or the energy it builds for that fantastic final battle against the bandits.

There is not an ounce of wasted motion in Kurosawa’s effort to create something great.  There is no pretension or indulgence to be found. The ambition here was to make a good movie. Kurosawa did that, but I can’t imagine he knew what the long-term implications of Seven Samurai would be. The film was Japan’s most expensive up to that point and took a little over a year to shoot.  It was box-office hit and established Kurosawa as an international force that would serve to influence future filmmakers from all over the world.

Not only does it work as pure entertainment, but it is also the absolute pinnacle of the capacity and potential a film has to create a universe that is somehow larger than even the people who created it. Different minds have added to this specific universe over the years, but the one within the film itself is still as good as it could ever get. I don’t love Seven Samurai to impress or out of some weird obligation to the history of cinema. I love it because it has everything I could ever want from a movie. I’ve seen it a dozen times since 1998, and I still find something new and wonderful each time. Repeat viewings are not completely uncommon with me. Repeat viewings that don’t feel at all like repeat viewings are another story altogether. That’s exceptionally rare, and Seven Samurai is the absolute pinnacle of that very short list.