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Entries in sci-fi fantasy horror (139)

Wednesday
Nov162011

Yes, No, Maybe So: "Mirror Mirror"

We've never really imagined visually acclaimed director Tarsem Singh as the Evil Queen type but the release of the trailer to his next flick Mirror Mirror (included at the bottom of this post) so quickly on the heels of Rupert Sanders Snow White and the Huntsmen trailer (previously discussed) changes that immediately. Suddenly it's remarkably easy -- nay required! -- to imagine Tarsem all fussy, bejewelled and panicky with sweat in front of his own magic mirror when it declares Snow White and the Hunstman the fairest of all new Snow White projects. That's admittedly a small 50/50 type achievement, but still... 

Breathe deeply and put The Fall on loop in your home theater, Tarsem! Movie magic is temperamental even for the most skilled visual magicians.

But it's time for our Yes, No, Maybe So breakdown. As we do in this series, let's start positive...

YES...

 

  • As in The Social Network, Armie Hammer seems more than perfectly cast as upper crust... in this case upper upper crust as in the royal family, as in Prince Charming.
  • Birch trees are pretty and there seem to be a lot of them in this movie.
  • Lily C... Ju... the se... the cos...vi... oh fuck it, let's move on. 

NO...

"Snap!" to quote Thor on Nurse Jacket. 'We don't say that anymore."

 

  • Julia Roberts used to be so great at comedy. But it might just be true that if you rest, you rust.
  • That "I believe I believe I believe in love" musical number is strangely off putting. Was it the smug way Snow White already thinks she's the fairest of them all with her dance move? Was it the Bollywood influence without really committing to Bollywood?
  • Why does the whole thing look lower budget than even the cheeztacular Once Upon a Time on television?
  • Why does the sound drop out for each Julia Roberts moment like an awkward silent laugh track?
  • Being banished to the woods isn't very scary when the woods look like the soundstage adjacent to the soundstage you were just banished from.
  • Why is Nathan Lane in this?
  • Why did they release a trailer when the images aren't color corrected and they didn't even fix the green screen backdrop in the "you're not as pathetic as I thought" scene?
  • Why is the dialogue so anachronistically modern?
  • Why is Julia shouting all of her lines. Wouldn't the highlighting and underlining of 50% of each sentence be enough for a line delivery?
  • "Snow White? Snow Who? Snow Way" 
  • I think instead of Seven Dwarves they've given us Seven Jar Jar Binkses. *shudder*
  • No, Julia... I don't think there's a happy ending coming your way here.
  • "Say Hello to My Little Friend" ... seriously? SERIOUSLY?!? What is this Shrek only without animation and with hoarier lame pop culture jokes? 

 

MAYBE SO...

 

  • If you're going to risk being laughed at, by all means wear swan dresses! Really go for it. Should your swan be pooping out your leading lady instead of casually draped around her a la Björk? WHY NOT!? Go for it Eiko Ishioka! Your cuckoo bravery is inspiring. We love you
  • The Fall is awesome and maybe it looked like shit at some point during production? 

 

The atrocity in full is embedded below... Are you a No, No or Maybe No? Sound off in the comments.

 

Monday
Nov142011

Yes, No, Maybe So: "The Hunger Games"

We watch trailers. To avoid entirely selling our souls to marketing experts or entirely caving to our preconceived biases, we try to stay balanced as we do so. Sometimes we fail with unqualified "holy hell yes" or "dear god, no!" reactions but it's good to try and keep an open mind. 

On the subject of The Hunger Games, I haven't always had one. Though I live for the movies, the past decade has been rough going for me in franchise-land as Twilight and Harry Potter fandom have reigned for so long that I've begun to feel like an outcast from my own church, the church of the cinema. And now yet another YA appeal genre franchise which promises endless movies that will not be judged on their cinematic merit but on how well they fill fan cravings for beloved characters? I CAN'T DEAL.

I felt abused by the marketing, which has released so many morsels that we know they're building not just a bread crumb trail to the box office but a superhighway.  But that wasn't the problem. It was the way each crumb, no matter how inconsequential, was treated as if it was a seven course meal. Entire movies don't get the kind of attention each little blip from this movie gets.

But then this trailer arrived and it's either so brilliantly cut together that they've finally brainwashed me, or I've just now opened my heart to The Hunger Games or, possibly both. 

YES...

While I've never really thought of Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) as an inspired visual stylist that might be mere forgetfulness since he doesn't direct features too often. There are quite a few shots I love in the trailer. I mean look at the palette, focal precision, and direct but subdued emotion of those tense crowd scene. Jennifer Lawrence, so strong in Winter's Bone and so sympathetic in Like Crazy looks to continue making good on her promise.  

If the story beats are as economically and fluidly expressed in the movie as in the trailer we're in for a treat. What great buildup and release. Too few trailers understand that the set-up is what's crucial, not the whole package. If you give us the whole movie, what's left to see in the theater? This feels as exciting as any "ready. set. go..." ever did  and I bet we're not even seeing anything beyond the 45 minute mark. 

NO...

I haven't read the source material (I know I know) so I can't be sure what is being metaphored up for us -- if it's reality television, shouldn't they all be volunteers out for fame and fortune and thus willing to exploit themselves? Personal potential pet peeve: I hate when theatricality obviously equates with evil -- and all the excessively theatrical people in this trailer appear to be the villains -- since theatricality is so fun and never hurts anybody. If this is one of those movies were physical aptitude is glorious and noble (even if used in the service of killing people) while entertaining showmanship is a sign of evil, I'm gonna be annoyed!

This is just on my mind because people worship sports and winner-takes-all competition to a scary extent and that seems to be a-ok with everyone, no metaphoric condemnation required. Just the other day I was watching the news and a crowd was literally rioting, turning over cars because Coach Paterno was fired. Never mind the sexual molestation scandal at Penn State that wasn't properly handled under his watch that prompted it... SPORTS ROUTINE INTERRUPTED? CUE: MASS CHAOS. Sports being naturally more important than the well being of children.

MAYBE SO...

The subject matter -- 24 people enter the games, only 1 can survive by killing the others, I take it ? -- has the potential to be totally icky in lots of hypocritical "are you not entertained?!?" Gladiator ways and also, if we meet 24 people are they going to divvy them up and make them easily good or evil so that it will be easy to "enjoy" as mainstream movies tend to be. Or is it actually a nuanced portrait of desperate people in which case... isn't it going to leave one feeling sick afterwards that the hero has to murder other potential heroes? The topic just seems so... ewww.

But the trailer works in that ready set... don't you wanna see what happens... go!.

So I'm now a yes. Are you a yes, no or maybe so? But more importantly... were you one of these things before the trailer arrived?

Monday
Nov072011

Q&A Pt. 1: Sexy Time, Big Scares, Grace Casting, Favorite Kubrick


As an apology for always taking so damn long with these Q & A columns, I'm doing two this week, but shorter just so I can get some questions done. I'm glad the feature is so popular so thanks for your patience when your questions aren't selected or delayed a week. Here we go. You asked. I select eight to answer... for now. Part Two in a day or three.

MARK: Do you think the success of The Help and Bridesmaids will get more female oriented films made, black or white?

Sadly I do not. It's actually not that rare for a female-driven film to become a big success. Everyone in positions of power just has collective amnesia about it the following year or assumes that it's a novelty even though novelty should imply "one off" and not something that occurs pretty much a couple of times a year. ;) 

KOKOLO: What is your favorite Kubrick film?
I haven't been a completist about everyone's favorite director but mine. But of those that I've seen my preference is The Shining. I don't like the ending very much but otherwise I love everything about it and I think it's spectacularly creepy. But this could be because I saw it in a spectacularly creepy way for a first time in (wait for it) a cabin in the woods without another house around for miles, surrounded by the pitch black of a forest. I was SO scared. And don't you think that the circumstances in which you first view a movie have a real longlasting impact on you (provided it's a great movie to begin with)?

As for Kubrick in general, I find his films somewhat alienating which I suppose is the point but he's just not a favorite of mine. We're all allowed our off-consensus feelings about "the masters" aren't we? I actively dislike Eyes Wide Shut (1999), hate its faux shocking orgy sequence and cheesy-ass pay cable looking fantasies and the molasses performance beats drive me utterly wild... not in the good way. No, I don't even like Kidman in it very much. I keep meaning to give it a second chance but... every time I see a scene out of context I hate it all over again. I do however worship the opening sequence with Nicole Kidman stripping in front of the mirror.

But because I have never written about Kubrick I will now allow of you to choose one of the following (I skipped ones I didn't feel like writing about) and I will rent and write about whichever one you choose before the end of November. Drum roll... GO!

 

 

BIA: Which actresses would you put on a shortlist for this new Grace Kelly movie?

Please god no. We don't need this movie! Unless it's an alternate reality fantasy in which Kelly loses the Oscar to Garland. Hee. But in all seriousness, I did look at my list of actresses in the right age range -- yes I keep age range lists like I'm some casting director! I am an actress nerd. I couldn't come up with anyone suitable - Grace Kelly was 25 at the peak of her movie fame and 27 when she married the prince and retired. [If you're curious some blondes in the 20something age range -- I'm not endorsing them just listing them...

Grace casting, Sexy & Scary movies and more after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Oct312011

Oscar Horrors: Nosy Neighbor Finale

Editor's Note: This is the final entry in our Oscar Horrors miniseries. We really hope you enjoyed all 17 entries -- full index at the bottom of this post. Should we do it again next year? (Yes, there are more nominations afforded to the creepy-crawly films. The Oscars have been around for 84 years after all...) -Nathaniel

HERE LIES... Ruth Gordon's Oscar-winning turn in Rosemary's Baby who drugged her competition and dragged them to hell in 1968.

Robert here, with a look back at one of Oscar's best Best Supporting Actress decisions. You probably already know that Ruth Gordon was a real Hollywood veteran when she won her Oscar for Rosemary's Baby, having been in the showbiz business ever since appearing as a picture baby in 1915 and taking a stage role as one of Peter Pan's lost boys. Even if you didn't know that, it's the sort of thing that seems right. Or you may have deduced it after seeing footage of Ruth winning her Oscar and declaring "I can't tell ya' how encouraging a thing like this is" followed by a big audience laugh. It's a good laugh line and a silly thing to say after over fifty years in the business. But the laugh was on the audience because Ruth was right. At the time of her win, Ruth's career was going fine. She'd already been a nominee for Inside Daisy Clover a few years earlier. So it would be wrong to say that the Oscar raised her career from the dead... but it sure created a monster.
 
In the first 53 years of Ruth Gordon's career, the pre-Oscar years, Miss Ruth assembled 13 screen credits to her name. Not an insane amount. Not the hundreds you probably assumed from such an enduring actress. But hey, showbusiness is showbusiness. You take what you can get to put food on the table. In the final 19 years of her career, the post-Oscar years, Madam Ruth showed up on screen 28 times. If you take out TV roles the number still almost doubles post-Oscar. so between the ages of 72 and her passing at 88, Ruth Gordon worked twice as much onscreen as in the first 70 years of her life. You'd think she'd made a deal with the devil.

How'd she do that? Well, Ruth Gordon knew what she was doing. Her performance in Rosemary's Baby is the most memorable in the film. But it's not written that way. Consider the descriptive names given to all the characters in the film: the plain but still very pretty Rosemary, the generically masculine Guy, the ancient and powerful Roman, and Ruth Gordon plays Minnie. She's a tiny little thing. Okay, she's got some sass, but she doesn't have any big emotional stand-out Oscar scenes, except of course that she makes every scene she's in stand out.
 
She's a villain. She's evil. Really evil. Frustratingly, annoyingly evil. She's your grandmother's pestering friend, but evil. And the Oscars don't like their supporting actresses to be that evil. Even when they're villainous, like Tilda Swinton or Mo'Nique, they're multi-layered evil. They have human moments. Oscar like's his supporting ladies complex but his supporting men sociopathic. Ruth's Minnie Castevet is dangerous and remorseless. She has more in common with the Hannibal Lecters, Anton Chigurhs and Jokers of the world then her fellow supporting actresses. Then she followed it all up with Harold & Maude. Chances are, if you don't know Ruth as Minnie, you know her as Maude. From the malevolent to the benevolent. It was the one-two punch of her career and it proved that she could do anything. And that, is truly scary.

OSCAR HORRORS
The Swarm - Best Costume Design
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane -Best Actress in a Leading Role
The Fly -Best Makeup
Death Becomes Her -Best Effects, Visual Effects
The Exorcist -Best Actress in a Supporting Role 
The Birds - Best Effects, Special Visual Effects

The Birds - Best Effects, Special Visual Effects
Rosemary's Baby - Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Beetlejuice - Best Makeup
Carrie - Best Actress in a Leading Role
Bram Stoker's Dracula - Best Costume Design
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Best Actor in a Leading Role
King of the Zombies - Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

Poltergeist - Best Effects, Visual Effects
Hellboy II: The Golden Army -Achievement in Makeup
The Silence of the Lambs -Best Director
The Tell-Tale Heart -Best Short Subject, Cartoons

Monday
Oct312011

Curio: Cinema Carvings

Alexa here.  Every Halloween I hope to carve a cool pop culture pumpkin, but inertia usually takes over (although this year I was pretty happy with my Jack-o'-Louis C.K.). Here are some of my favorite cinematic jack-o'-lanterns that have inspired me over the last few years. I'm still waiting for someone to step up and create a great Black Swan or Rosemary Woodhouse, though.

Jack-o'-Lecter!
Pan's Labyrinth pumpkins, seen here and here.


A strong Spielbergian carving, seen here.

Click for more, including Miyazaki, Hitchock and Anton Chigurh...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Oct312011

Oscar Horrors: Killer Bee Costumes!

Happy Halloween! This month Team Film Experience has been celebrating those rare Oscar nominations given to horror films. Here's a true oddity from Robert Gannon. This mini-series was his idea! Take it away, Robert.
 

Here lies...the original costume designs of The Swarm. Three time Oscar nominated costume designer Paul Zastupnevich earned his second nomination for the epic killer bee film from 1978. As silly as the film is, the costume design is no joke.

Zastupnevich designed very detailed costumes for the entire cast of the film. They fall into three broad categories. The first is military uniforms, including the imagined design for the killer bee response team in orange and white jumpsuits. The second is business attire, worn by a large cavalcade of performers and professionals woven throughout the running time of the film. The third is casual civillian wear, designed in an American-hued palette of various reds, whites, and blues. 

Taken separately, it may not seem that impressive. It's contemporary costuming in a horror/disaster film. But the true beauty of the costumes is seen in the second half of the film, where military personnel, business people, and casual civillians are all mixed together. It makes it quite clear that Zastupnevich had a great eye for categorizing character types. With such a large cast, it becomes essential to be able to pinpoint who everyone is. If nothing else, there is no confusion as to who is doing what during The Swarm.

This is the rare case of the Academy nominating the strongest element of an otherwise critically maligned film. It's rarer still that a horror film that was a commerical failure could gain any awards recognition. 

Previously on Oscar Horrors...
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane -Best Actress in a Leading Role
The Fly -Best Makeup
Death Becomes Her -Best Effects, Visual Effects
The Exorcist -Best Actress in a Supporting Role 
The Birds - Best Effects, Special Visual Effects

Rosemary's Baby - Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Beetlejuice - Best Makeup
Carrie - Best Actress in a Leading Role
Bram Stoker's Dracula - Best Costume Design
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Best Actor in a Leading Role

King of the Zombies - Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
Poltergeist - Best Effects, Visual Effects
Hellboy II: The Golden Army -Achievement in Makeup
The Silence of the Lambs -Best Director
The Tell-Tale Heart -Best Short Subject, Cartoons

Friday
Oct282011

Oscar Horrors: In (Mild) Defense of Linda Blair 

In Oscar Horrors, Team Film Experience explores Oscar nominated contributions to the horror genre. Here is new contributor Mayukh Sen.

HERE LIES...Linda Blair’s reasonably complex turn in The Exorcist, slain by the prodigious work of fellow pubescent Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon). 

Brian de Palma apparently hated The Exorcist, and it’s not difficult to see why.  I generally fall on the unimpressed side with the film, because none of the psychological trauma undergone by the characters finds aesthetic articulation.  Everything is so clearly, obviously constructed on a Hollywood set that it borders on the parodistic. What is superlative about a director like de Palma is that he understands the trappings of genre conventions and mocks the notion of film as a classically escapist, populist medium, managing to extract a modicum of truth out of such a framework.  Friedkin doesn’t understand this.  Interpreting what should be perfunctory entertainment as a parable of human suffering – that’s dreary city.         

I won’t waste a second pretending Linda Blair’s performance is any great shakes.  Her nomination was largely the product of inertia – The Exorcist (1973) was just a cultural phenomenon that the Academy couldn’t ignore, Dan.  Yet reading Glenn’s wonderful piece on Sissy Spacek’s performance in Carrie made me realize the extent to which Blair’s performance has become underrated.  Spacek’s performance is a masterpiece because of her fearless, but still graceful, physical expressivity.  She is a performer who understands body language.  The way she continually destructs, contorts, and fractures her body often acts as a reflection of the character’s emotional distress. 

Somewhere along the line, it became fashionable to oversimplify Blair’s performance as a lot of “sitting there” caked with makeup.  Those in defense of her performance often point to the luminosity of her earlier pre-possession scenes, rightly claiming that she is replete with youthful charm.  I agree.  She’s wonderful there, and she sets up a foundation for the supposed tragedy that occurs later in the film. 

Beyond Mercedes McCambridge’s voice, plastic turning heads, body double controversies and other stunts that may not have much to do with acting talent, though, Blair’s work is solid.  She demonstrates remarkable control over her facial expressions and body language, subtly communicating the “devil’s” continual torment, lack of patience, and frustration.

How does one externalize the psychological state of demonic possession?  I’m not quite sure, but we can say that Linda Blair succeeded, to a degree. Her work is highly gestural but still controlled, and this degree of expressivity works wonders. I’ve noticed a tendency of certain critics to dismiss horror film performances as merely “acting scared” and “being terrified”.  Though Blair’s performance is ultimately a cheap narrative trope, it shouldn’t be evaluated so lazily.  I’m not a fan of praising performances because of the sheer amount of work put into them (see Meryl Streep’s string of performances in the 80s), but, in this case, the physical work is brutally effective.  There is increasingly little appreciation for what actors communicate through physical gestures, and this might be part of why Linda Blair’s nomination is something of an afterthought these days.

Previously on Oscar Horrors