The monstrous politics of horror

Since, as happens every two years at least, Halloween coincides with a crucial U.S. national election, a selection of scenes from a few politically themed horror/monster films feels right. We’ll start with the obvious.

In some ways I think a little overrated, John Carpenter’s science-fiction/action/creepy alien monster flick from 1988 ,”They Live,” seems to me a thorough-going and obvious from-the-left savaging of the Reagan years and the consumerist, bland cultural mentality that went with it. Yet, oddly enough, it’s imagery has been picked up online by some Reagan-worshipping teapartiers. Well, history probably isn’t their favorite subject.

More clips and  commentary after the flip

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Post Comic-Con trailer insanity: “Sucker Punch”

Not wasting any time after a reportedly very successful debut at Comic-Con, Warner Brothers is capitalizing on the good press with the first official trailer for the film, which won’t be coming out until late March of next year.

So, after seeing all this, you might ask “so, what is this movie about?” Here’s what they said on the YouTube page:

“Sucker Punch” is an epic action fantasy that takes us into the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality. Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, but her incredible adventures blur the lines between what’s real and what is imaginary…with potentially tragic consequences.

So, here’s writer-director Zack Snyder’s elevator pitch: it’s kinda like “Pan’s Labyrinth” with hots babes, or like “Kill Bill” meets Sam Fuller’s “Shock Corridor.” For me, the jury on Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen“) is still very much out. He’s got technical ability like crazy and definite visual panache, but I’m not at all sure about his storytelling. However, if he can pull this off, I’ll have to pay my due respects.

H/t /Film.

  

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Guillermo del Toro, hobbit-heads hardly knew ye

I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a fan of Guillermo del Toro, the person, almost as much as I appreciate the outstanding work of Guillermo del Toro the filmmaker. He’s a guy who, among other distinctions, is the only auteur I know of to get his start largely as a special effects creator. It’s impressive even if, as del Toro explains in one the clips below, it was a matter of necessity for a burgeoning horror-fantasy director, as there weren’t any efx houses to speak of in his native Mexico. He’s also the most openly sensitive, soulful public geek I know of. What can you say about a man who’d address the denizens of the Tolkien fan community and expand on his initial farewell to directing “The Hobbit” on a fan message board like this:

I have to thank those of you that have supported me from the start as well as those that converted along the way. And even say farewell to those that never did convert or believed.

I will miss Mr. Crere, the faith of Compa and Sir DennisC, the wisdom of Voronwe, the joy of Grammaboodawg, the support of Kangi Ska and so many, many other.

He says this, addressing himself to a fan, Pasi, who I gather was upset by del Toro’s departure from “The Hobbit.” This is not the usual approach of a major Hollywood filmmaker and, there is no doubt, del Toro is not your typical major Hollywood filmmaker. He says that leaving “The Hobbit” was “the toughest situation of my life.” That’s a rather extraordinary statement considering that del Toro’s personal biography has an almost Dickensian flavor, including having to negotiate the release of his kidnapped father with brutal gangsters, some of whom may still threaten his safety and are the reason he no longer works in Mexico.

In other words, this is a man who loves movies with absolute devotion and it’s hard not to mourn the movie he might have been allowed to make if we lived in a slightly more logical universe. Another director may well do an extraordinary job but it cannot really be the same and it’s hard to imagine it’ll be any richer than the movie del Toro might have made. That includes every other director out there, including Peter Jackson.

If you watch the video interviews below and after the flip, I think you’ll see what I mean.

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Friday night movie news dump

Regulars might have noticed a bit less movie news this week. Don’t worry, I won’t try to cover everything that happened in movieland this week tonight. Unfortunately, I have to start with three notable deaths.

* The saddest for me personally, and perhaps for some of you horror fans out there, is the most recent. Dan O’Bannon has died from Crohn’s Disease at age 63. Best known for the horror-comedy hit, “The Return of the Living Dead,” and for writing the screenplay for “Alien,” O’Bannon emerged out of U.S.C.’s film school with his friend, John Carpenter and together they collaborated on an odd science fiction comedy called “Dark Star.” While few remember that film, it set them both on a pretty interesting path.

When I was in the middle of high school and at the height of my geekness  (three terms as president of the Venice High science fiction club!), I actually met O’Bannon in some odd circumstances at a crisis point in his career. Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you the story, but suffice it to say he seemed like a good guy and he was clearly something of a minor genius. He’ll be very much missed.

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* Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney and the son of Roy O. Disney, also passed on at age 79. The younger Disney emerged as a king-maker and king-breaker of sorts, launching insurgent movements that wound up putting Michael Eisner in charge of the studio in 1984 and then deposing him in 2004.

* Finally, if you’re a former film student like myself you’ve probably had to read some of the work of famed academic critic and scholar Robin Wood, who was so respected that almost no one noticed when serious film-criticism aficionado Joss Whedon named a supercool cool high school principal/cum monster-fighter after him on “Buffy.” (How could anyone namecheck him on a mere TV show? It had to be a coincidence.) One of the first critics to approach genre films seriously, he is famous for works on Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, among many others. He has passed on at age 78, and the always interesting Glenn Kenny has a remembrance.

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Rainy days and movieland Mondays… (Updated)

…Can really get you down. Especially if you’re a deposed big time executive.

* Marc Shmuger and David Linde are both now former honchos at Universal. As reported in the show biz paper of record, having a far better and busier Monday are Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley, from the marketing and distribution departments respectively. As for the why, I’m sure it can mostly be summed by a number of fairly expensive/high profile box office disappointments/flops including “Duplicity,” “Funny People,” “State of Play,” and the one that got almost no respect from anyone (except Roger Ebert), “Land of the Lost.”

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Still, you can trust Nikki Finke to find a more down and dirty side (Shmuger was “‘The Schmuck'”! Poor Linde was “collateral damage”) while Anne Thompson provides her usual sober assessment and notes that the real killer might have been the lack of any apparent “tentpoles” coming any time soon.

* On a similar note, the Rich Ross ascension at Disney is starting to look like a sure thing amidst an overall shake-up — or at least that’s what they’re saying today at Variety. We’re told to expect “a greater emphasis on tentpoles and family fare.” Not a surprise…gotta have them tentpoles.

UPDATE: Ross’s promotion is official. Anne Thompson has the press release.

* Nikki Finke also has an item to gladden the heart of our own Chris Glotfelty. “Paranormal Activity” has had what the Finke terms “freakishly good” business with $15,000 per screening averages (matching the amount I’m seeing reported as the film’s budget…very spooky!) in a special midnight-only engagement in 33 cities Thursday through Saturday, which means some theaters were making those numbers not only at midnight but even on a day when most people had work/classes the next morning. The film will be expanding into a regular release in 40 cities on Friday.

After reading a few reviews and seeing some comments online in addition to what Chris wrote, I have to say that in the wake of so-called “torture porn” and considering that filmic horror has, long ago, sometimes gone to places so horrible and extreme an awful lot of us won’t even consider following (and I don’t just mean silly gorephobics like me), it’s nice to see you can still scare an audience, including hardy souls like Chris (and supposedly Steven Spielberg), to death with not much more than a big, slow build-up and some very inexpensive atmosphere and basic special effects. Is it possible that our filmgoing innocence still lingers?

* Work on the “Arrested Development” movie continues. Yay.

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