Saturday, October 30, 2010

Top 10 Halloween Movies

The following films, in my self-aggrandizing opinion (would that be IMSAO?), are the perfect mood-setters for this great holiday.  The list is in no particular order, with the exception of Halloween, which should be at the top of anyone’s list.  I apologize in advance if I’ve left one of your faves out:



  1. Halloween (1978) – Often imitated, never duplicated… yada, yada.  John Carpenter had the good sense to quit while he was ahead, handing the directorial reins for the inevitable string of successors to other less capable filmmakers.
 

  1. Trick ‘r Treat – The one that almost got away (see my review from 10/11).  This one’s a soon-to-be perennial favorite that was tailor-made for the season.


  1. Frankenstein (1931 version) – Allegedly Boris Karloff’s monster caused some audience members to faint during his appearance.  That sounds a little suspect, but makeup man Jack Pierce’s creation is arguably one of the most recognizable Halloween characters of all time. 
 

  1. Bride of Frankenstein – Even better than the first one.  It’s everything a sequel should be: atmospheric, tragic, funny and subversive (see Gods and Monsters for some unofficial background).  Not to be missed!
 

  1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown – Not really a “movie” in the strictest sense, but Halloween wouldn’t seem the same without it.  Clocking in at a brisk 25 minutes, it’s a great palate cleanser for the feast of other Halloween films represented in this list.
 

  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas – An all-purpose October-December favorite (Yep, this one can serve double duty as a Christmas movie), and your best choice for stop-motion Halloween mayhem.  I’d take this any day over the annoying Mad Monster Party.
 

  1. Nosferatu (1922 version) – Bela Lugosi was great in Dracula, but Max Schreck wrote the book on creepiness as the title character.

  1. Dracula (1931 version) – A little slow for today’s audiences perhaps, but what it lacks in action it makes up in mood and Bela Lugosi’s star-making performance.

 

  1. Night of the Living Dead (1968 version) – The one that started the zombie craze.  The black-and-white version is the only one to get.  Colorization must die! 
 

  1. Halloween III: Season of the Witch – I’ve already expressed my misguided affection for this one.  Watch for it on another upcoming list. 
Have a safe and happy Halloween! 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October Quick Picks and Pans

Today’s post marks the debut of a soon-to-be regular feature, Quick Picks and Pans.  It’s three reviews for the price of one, now in convenient, fun-size form!


Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965): Revisiting one’s childhood isn’t always the best thing, but here’s one that manages to deliver the goods, for the most part.  When I was a kid, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors seemed to play on TV every year, and I always tried to catch it when it was on.  Oddly enough, this is unavailable on DVD, but I was fortunate enough to catch this on Netflix streaming.  Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough and Donald Sutherland star in this classy Amicus production full of low-key thrills.  Consisting of five different stories of varying degrees of quality, it’s still one of the best horror anthology movies out there.  During the course of a train voyage, Dr. Terror foretells the fates of his fellow train passengers on a dark and foreboding night.  My two favorite segments as a kid, and coincidentally as an adult, are the stories about a killer plant that terrorizes one household and Michael Gough’s disembodied hand that goes out for vengeance against caustic art critic Christopher Lee.  Although the effects are primitive by today’s standards and the stories are a little uneven, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors succeeds by managing to be reasonably scary and fun.  Just don’t scrutinize it too much, and you’ll have a good time.  Rating: ***½.  Available through Netflix streaming only.

 

 
Forbidden World (1982): Did you know that decades before the current green revolution, producer Roger Corman was already invested in the practice of recycling?  Forbidden World consists of sloppy seconds from other then-current Corman productions, including Battle Beyond the Stars and Galaxy of Terror, unabashedly lifting shots and sets from both.  According to behind-the-scenes interviews, the filmmakers consciously set out to make a rip-off of Alien.  They succeeded, without the pesky annoyances of story, credible acting, coherence, or real scares.  The best I can say about it is it wasn’t boring.  Forbidden World is chock full of gratuitous violence and nudity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, if the rest of the movie is fun.  Even these elements are squandered, however, thanks to vapid, unlikable characters and scenes that seem voyeuristic rather than sexy.  Corman exploitation can be fun if viewed in the right light (notably Deathrace 2000, Piranha), but this one left me cold.  Stupid plot, stupid characters and terrible sets (think corridors made of empty cardboard egg cartons and Styrofoam fast-food burger packages) add up to one dismal experience.  Similar to Galaxy of Terror, the stories behind the scenes are much more compelling, so if you rent it, be sure to check out the “making of” documentaries.  You’ve been warned!  Rating: **.  Available on DVD and Blu-Ray.




Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981): Here’s an oddity -- a TV movie that manages to be genuinely suspenseful, atmospheric, and engaging.  The net has been buzzing about this recently rediscovered film, so I decided to take a look.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Larry Drake (Darkman) plays a mentally challenged man wrongfully accused of a brutal attack on a young girl.  Four friends capitalize on an opportunity to make him a scapegoat, and decide to take matters into their own hands, only to suffer the consequences of their actions. You’ll likely recognize some familiar faces in this production, especially Charles Durning (Tootsie, The Muppet Movie) in a role he was born to play – A creepy, sociopathic mailman with a dark secret who will stop at nothing to protect his secret.  It’s engaging stuff, definitely a cut above the usual sub-standard fare that passed for entertainment in the days before HBO and Showtime.  How they managed to get this one past the network programmers of the day is beyond me, but I’m glad they did.  Highly recommended!  Rating: ****. Available on DVD.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Bubba Ho-Tep


(2002) Written and Directed by Don Coscarelli; Based on a short story by Joe Lansdale; Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Reggie Bannister; Available formats: DVD                      

Rating: ****

Elvis and JFK team up to defend their present-day East Texas rest home from a soul-stealing Egyptian mummy.  Huh?  Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Beastmaster) takes this twisted premise, courtesy of writer-extraordinaire Joe Lansdale, and runs with it, creating a movie that defies easy categorization.  It’s a horror movie that’s also a comedy, which just happens to be a drama about old age.  It’s three, count ‘em, three treats in one!   Similar to Trick ‘R Treat (reviewed previously), Bubba Ho-Tep was barely released theatrically, but has gained a cult following on home video.  Unlike Trick ‘R Treat, however, it was easy to see what a challenge the film company had trying to market this movie to a jaded 18-to-34 demographic used to youthful protagonists and frenetically paced action scenes.  From the beginning, it was clear that this was never going to be blockbuster material.

Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead films, among many) plays the role of a lifetime as an elderly Elvis Presley, spending his golden years in a dingy East Texas rest home.  But Elvis died in 1977, right?  Wrong.  You see, years ago, Elvis tired of the trappings of success, and decided to switch places with an Elvis impersonator, Richard Haff.  Unfortunately, as the result of an unfortunate trailer park accident, his contract with Haff burned up, so there was no way to substantiate his claims.  It was Haff who died in Graceland in 1977, leaving the real Elvis Presley to continue on as an impersonator, until he suffered an accident that led to a broken hip, and eventually into a rest home. 

 

The late Ossie Davis (Do The Right Thing) plays John F. Kennedy – yes, you read that right.  It turns out, if his story is to be believed, that he did not actually perish in the assassination attempt in Dallas in 1963, and that he isn’t truly African-American, but his skin was “dyed” this color to keep him out of the way.  You’re never certain if it’s an act, delusion, or the real thing.  Even Elvis seems skeptical, but he goes along with the story anyway.  They form an uneasy alliance to fight an Egyptian mummy who has turned up in East Texas, due to another bizarre turn of events.


The idea of an aging Elvis could have been simply played for laughs in the hands of less skilled filmmakers, but Campbell manages to pull off a performance that’s funny and surprisingly touching at times. You feel genuine pathos for his present condition, as he reflects on his changed life and withered body.  In true Lansdale fashion, there’s an inordinate amount of emphasis on the current state of his male member, but it’s a potent (pun intended) metaphor for everything else that’s gone wrong in his life.  Elvis reflects on his past as someone who once had it all in terms of money and fame, and is now looking back, wondering where it all went, and what the value of it was in the first place. 

Coscarelli does a great job of capturing Lansdale’s signature style, employing liberal applications of scatological humor to mask the main characters’ physical and mental pain.  The locker room humor is only a façade for deeper issues that lie underneath.  While you are laughing at the situations and Elvis’ deadpan narration, this does not serve to denigrate his character, but makes him seem more human.  The script navigates a fine balance of illustrating the inherent absurdity of Elvis and JFK’s dilemma while never patronizing them.  They function in the story as human beings rather than simple comic foils.

One of the overarching themes of Bubba Ho-Tep is how elderly members of our society are often marginalized and forgotten.  Early in the film, we watch as the daughter of a recently deceased rest home resident rummages through her father’s few remaining possessions, discarding anything that doesn’t appear to have any monetary value.  The residents of the rest home are little more than feeble children to be tolerated by the listless, dismissive staff -- society’s burden left to die.  No one seems to have much use for them anymore, and the residents have little use for life.  Elvis and JFK capitalize on their dire circumstances to do something worthwhile one last time.

Unbeknownst to the rest home’s residents and oblivious staff, a recently re-animated Egyptian mummy has begun his nocturnal rampage, feeding on the souls of the weak and elderly.  The method by which the mummy obtains and subsequently disposes of these fresh souls can only be described as Lansdalian.  Elvis and JFK realize that the mummy will not stop unless someone takes a stand to prevent their fellow seniors from providing an endless supply of souls for the mummy.  They covertly devise a plan to defeat the undead threat, and in the face of danger, both protagonists discover a renewed sense of vitality.  


As a sort of back-handed compliment, some reviews have emphasized how Bubba Ho-Tep differs from “conventional” horror films, warning those who are looking for quick scares or tons of gore to stay away.  I tend to think that most people who seek out this film know what they’re getting into, and if they don’t they might be in for a pleasant surprise.  Bubba Ho-Tep is certainly unconventional, but it rewards viewers with a funny, creepy, and surprisingly thoughtful movie that puts a new spin on the whole Elvis Presley/JFK mythos.  Don’t expect anything, just watch.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Brides of Dracula



(1960) Directed by Terence Fisher; Starring: Peter Cushing, David Peel, Freda Jackson, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur; Available formats: DVD                      

Rating: ***½

Let me get this straight – A Dracula movie without Dracula?  Well… sort of.  In the opening narration we learn that Dracula is dead, but his legacy lives on in the legions of the undead that he helped create.  So, I guess because of the “shout out” to Dracula at the beginning, this makes The Brides of Dracula a semi-sequel to 1957’s Horror of Dracula, despite the conspicuous absence of Christopher Lee’s titular character. 

As if to reassure the audience that this is a Dracula movie, Peter Cushing’s Dr. Van Helsing makes a welcome appearance.  Even if his performance seems somewhat phoned-in, Cushing brings a certain gravitas to the role, and in the absence of Lee provides a much-needed center to the action in the film.  Christopher Lee’s iconic Dracula is replaced by David Peel’s foppish Baron Meinster.  Lee was a hard act to follow, bringing his own unique blend of sophistication and menace to the role.  Peel can’t possibly match him in this department, and he doesn’t really try.  In Horror of Dracula, you always knew where you stood with Lee’s Dracula.  In The Brides of Dracula, Baron Meinster comes off as initially sympathetic.  You feel sorry for his predicament, until his evil intent becomes clear.  


Warning: There might be a few mild spoilers here, although nothing should be much of a shock if you’re even remotely familiar with the Hammer films or vampire stories in general.

It’s been said that vampirism has symbolized different things throughout the generations.  At one point, Dr. Van Helsing refers to vampirism as an evil cult, an antithesis to Christianity, or at least the Christianity depicted in the film.  This sentiment appears to be in line with the socio-political climate of the time, viewing outsiders (Communists?) as an affront to moral values.  Of course, the vampire paradigm would have to adapt to fit the changing social landscape of the more free-wheeling 60s and 70s, and exploring the consequences of those behaviors in the 80s and 90s.  It’s no accident that the most virtuous character, Marianne, is spared while her more licentious (implied) friend at the boarding school succumbs to Baron Meinster, along with another young woman in the surrounding village. 


At times, The Brides of Dracula seems like the stereotypical Hammer horror film, replete with the usual items you’d expect: spooky castle, check; naïve female protagonist, check; horse and carriage, check; superstitious villagers, check.  Compared to modern horror films, it’s quite tame, but taken in the context of a different era, it’s full of the things that made the Hammer films so much fun.  Hammer films often pushed the constraints of the time, offering more in terms of overt and implied sexuality, Technicolor splashes of blood, and generally risqué situations that were usually absent in most of the American counterparts of  the 50s and early 60s.  Hammer horror films such as The Brides of Dracula seem to be winking at the audience, upholding morals and traditional values while offering audiences of the time a glimpse of the forbidden fruit that censors tried to eradicate. 


Things really start to pick up after Marianne, played by Yvonne Monlaur, releases Baron Meinster under false pretenses.  Although she gets a fair amount of screen time, her character seems underdeveloped.  She’s attractive enough, but a bit bland, and seems to exist mainly as a plot device to draw out the Baron Meinster character.  When he started collecting brides like stamps, it was never made clear why he bothered to propose to her while he just skipped the formality with the other women, and simply appropriated them into his personal harem.  Perhaps it’s just another facet of his alternative lifestyle?  We may never know.  Perhaps the real reason is that Marianne is the “star,” so the plot is designed to stall Baron Meinster long enough for Dr. Van Helsing to intervene just in the nick of time.  This eventually leads to Van Helsing’s confrontation with Baron Meinster (including one particularly “owwy” scene that made me wince), culminating in an unsatisfying ending that fizzles.  Like many Hammer films, it ends quite abruptly.  We’re Hammer -- We don’t need no stinkin’ dénouement!

"How much was your paycheck, compared to mine?"

It’s never dull, the pacing is brisk enough, with nice sets and atmosphere given its low budget origins, and Cushing is always good in a role nearly as iconic as Lee’s Dracula.  Bottom line: It’s a Dracula movie without Dracula that still manages to be fairly entertaining.  It’s a fun, if trifle slight, chapter in the Hammer horror canon, even if the title is basically a cheat. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

And The Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay Does Not Go To…

I have seen the future of horror, and its name is Family Circus.  That’s right.  Someone in the upper echelons of 20th Century Fox has decided that there was a gaping void in the American consciousness that could only be filled by turning Bill Keane’s “classic” comic strip into a motion picture.  I can see the pitch now: “It crosses generational boundaries with its poignant observations about modern family life.  Its life-affirming depiction of the American nuclear family and madcap childhood antics will tickle America’s funnybone while capturing their hearts and minds!”  Or maybe it went something like this (imagine a 20th Century Fox executive perusing the L.A. Times’ Sunday comics): “Hmmm… What haven’t we done yet?  Brenda Starr, Marmaduke, Garfield? … Nah, they did that already… Crap, what do we have left?  Hey, how about Family Circus?   Why didn’t anyone think of that before?  It’s been right under our noses, virtually unchanged for the past 50 years.  It’s box office gold!  We can’t lose!”  Once again, Hollywood has voided its creative bowels, and we’re supposed to be its willing recipient.

 Beloved, timeless purveyor of family values or meta-ironic?
  You decide.

It’s a frightening prospect to realize that right now, possibly at this very moment, the powers that be in Hollywood are deciding what other insipid, stale properties will be transformed into movie magic.  The mind reels at the possibilities.  Pretty soon, the creators of Hagar the Horrible and Drabble are going to start wondering, “Hey, where’s our piece of the pie?  If (fill in the blank) can have their own movie, why can’t we?" 

And so it goes… Unlike Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, I have not just become unstuck in time, but unstuck in reality.  When did I slip into an alternate universe, where original, mentally engaging screenplays remain un-filmed, while the most execrable ideas wind up in our nation’s multiplexes?  Don’t even get me started on movies based on video games and board games.  What’s next?  Candy Land the Movie?  Oh yeah… That’s in the works too. 


Monday, October 11, 2010

Trick 'r Treat


(2007), Written and directed by Michael Dougherty; Starring: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox; Available formats: Blu-Ray, DVD                      

Rating: ****1/2

The late great Theodore Sturgeon once remarked, “90% of everything is crap.”*   In the film world, nowhere is this adage more accurate than in the horror genre, where tired storylines, grade-Z actors, and clichés abound.  The past several years have not been kind to the American horror film, rife with tepid remakes of Asian horror, over-reliance on CGI-laden effects and PG-13 rated fare that catered to the widest possible audience.  Recently, American horror seemed to be experiencing a rebirth of sorts at the hands of a new generation of filmmakers who cut their teeth on the excesses of 70s and 80s horror films, and were going back to the source for inspiration. 

Some movies are almost instant success stories, capturing the imagination (and dollars) of filmgoers in a perfect confluence of timing, marketing and public interest.  Other films fall by the wayside, and only gain a following long after the fact.  Writer/director Michael Dougherty’s Trick 'r Treat belongs in this second category, as one of those “woulda, coulda, should’ve been” hits that never got a fair shake during its very limited, long-delayed theatrical release.  I will not bother to go into all of the details about why this was not a commercial success.  This has been covered by numerous sources, and is worth investigating, if you’re into that kind of thing.  Thankfully, home video has afforded this hidden gem a second chance, giving it an opportunity to be re-discovered and rescued from the garbage bin of obscurity.

The opening title sequence is reminiscent of Creepshow, displaying a montage of animated comic book pages that introduce characters and foreshadow events that will shortly take place.  Douglas Pipes’ accompanying music helps to further set the mood, bringing to mind Bernard Herrmann’s iconic Psycho score.  In the hands of a less-skilled filmmaker, this could have been another schlocky horror film, relying on mediocre production values and cheap scares while stealing from superior sources.  However, one does not come away from this film with the impression that Dougherty was ripping off those horror films from the past, but proudly wearing his influences on his sleeve. His efforts have resulted in something original: a loving homage to the best of the past, utilizing the familiar tropes of Halloween (witches, jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, etc…), while crafting a story that is still contemporary.

One way that Trick 'r Treat rises above the rest is typified by the solid performances by the principal actors.  They are clearly having fun with their roles: Dylan Baker as the nerdy grade school principal who keeps his own traditions alive, Brian Cox as his cantankerous next-door neighbor, and a pre-True Blood/post X-Men Anna Paquin as a young innocent out on her first night of debauchery.  They represent different stories, interwoven in a way that can only be described as Altmanesque, as their paths inevitably cross during one Halloween night.  Another story thread involves a Halloween-night hoax gone awry, played with conviction by an ensemble of younger actors. 

The central character, Sam, has no lines of his own but is the glue that binds all of the stories together, and maintains a creepy presence throughout Trick 'r Treat.  Sam, whose name is derived from the ancient Gaelic holiday Samhain, represents an embodiment of the ancient traditions that have become diluted over time to form the modern concept of Halloween.  He is an elemental, childlike force that’s equal parts malevolence and mischievousness.  His primary purpose seems to be to uphold the honor of the original sacrosanct holiday, bridging the gap between Samhain and Halloween.  With a couple of notable exceptions that bookend the other stories, Sam is less of an active participant, and more of an observer of the evening’s mayhem.  


I don’t want to give anything away, but things are not always as they seem.  Part of the fun is watching the plot unfold, like turning pages in a particularly sordid comic book.  Dougherty keeps the pace lively from beginning to end, deftly weaving Halloween themes such as razor blades in candy and urban legends with Halloween’s ancient, darker origins.  Trick 'r Treat does not go for the cheap scares.  The scares are present, but they’re earned. 

My only criticism is that it’s a little too brief.  Clocking in at a lean 82 minutes, there really isn’t a lot of time for exposition or extraneous character development.  Everything is in the service of its compact story structure.  At the end, I wished there was more, but that’s okay.  I’ve watched so many movies that have worn out their welcome long before the credits rolled, so leaving me wanting more is not necessarily a bad thing.  Trick 'r Treat is a sleeper that rises to the challenge of being one of the definitive Halloween movies.  It’s smart, fun and scary, and better than 90% of everything else that’s out there. I’m proud to add this title to my short list of films that are required Halloween viewing alongside Halloween, The Nightmare Before Christmas, It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and to a lesser degree, Halloween III.



* For you nitpickers, Sturgeon actually stated that 90% of everything was “crud,” but I decided to go ahead with the oft-misquoted “crap,” because A), it’s my blog, and B), “crap” seems to hold more resonance with our jaded, 21st century sensibilities, don’t you think?

The Cinematic Catharsis Rating Scale

***** = A Masterpiece
                                   
**** = Generally great.  A few flaws here and there, but a solid
             effort, nonetheless.
*** = Good, but not great.  A perfectly acceptable waste of time.

** = Just okay.  Not without its relative merits, but still decidedly
         mediocre.
= Unquestionably bad.  Watch at your own risk! 


= Beyond Awful. You should consider watching paint dry before watching this.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

3D or Not 3D?

Although I wouldn’t describe myself as an early adopter, I’m usually a little bit ahead of the curve, technologically speaking.  Over the past 20 years, I’ve plunked down more dollars than I’d care to count in my endless pursuit of audio and video perfection.  There’s one constant, however.  Whenever I’ve pulled the trigger on the latest and greatest, the Next Big Thing has always been lurking around the corner.  Without dwelling too much on the geeky details of each component, let’s take a brief tour of the progression of the Cinematic Catharsis theater…

I started out with a JVC hi-fi VHS VCR and 2-channel stereo system in 1990, and it didn’t take too long to realize that this was hardly the pinnacle of home theater technology.  After renting laserdisc players a few times, I decided this was where I needed to go, and purchased a used model from a now long defunct store in Woodland Hills, California, called The Laser’s Edge.  Discs were bulky and expensive, and the player was temperamental, but I felt confident that I was partaking in the best that early 90s technology had to offer.  What could be better than that?  Little did I know that just a few years later, DVDs were lying in wait to unseat laserdiscs from their venerable pantheon.  After they stopped producing laserdiscs, I knew that I had to take the plunge again, into a new format.


Ahh... Laserdisc!


But wait, there’s more!  The details about the evolution of the Cinematic Catharsis theater get a little muddled here, but suffice it to say that the original DVD player suddenly wasn’t good enough, lacking progressive scan, so it was time to make another purchase.  And that was good… until high definition came along.  This required a new TV, and yet another format.  After the bloody HD disc wars had subsided, Blu Ray had emerged victorious.  And of course, I just had to have it.  After more than a little negotiating, cajoling and pleading with Mrs. Cinematic Catharsis to sell the merits of the new format, we purchased our new Blu Ray player in early 2009 to complement our 1080i television with a Dolby Digital/DTS sound system.  Not too shabby, but apparently not entirely up to the exacting standards of Blu Ray.  Time marches on, and we fast forward a wee bit to the present day, as the whole 3D marketing juggernaut is taking shape.  Forget for a moment that they were just telling us a little while ago that Blu Ray was the best thing out there.  Now there’s 3D Blu Ray.  It’s one louder!

What we have here is a gimmick that’s been shoved down the public’s throat since the 50s, albeit in new and improved form.  Now that the technology gap between watching a movie in a public movie theater versus watching a movie at home has narrowed considerably, we’re being subjected to the newest weapon in the electronics manufacturers’ arsenal.  I can’t help but recall the seminal children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”  For the uninitiated, Laura Joffee Numeroff’s tome chronicles the nightmarish chain of events that follow after the eponymous mouse is given said cookie.  Its 3D equivalent might be titled, “If You Buy a 3D Blu Ray Player.”  If you buy a 3D Blu Ray player, you’ll need to get a criminally overpriced 3D television to go with it.  Of course, if you buy a 3D television, you’ll want to buy several $100 pairs of 3D glasses to share this amazing technology with your friends and family.  If you buy the 3D glasses, you’ll want to buy 3D Blu Ray movies to watch – all three of them (only a slight exaggeration).  Oh, I forgot to mention that if you want to listen to that incredible, upgraded 3D sound, you’ll need to get an HDMI 1.4 compliant receiver (Too bad for anyone who has an earlier model, but I’ll spare you the messy details).  But hold on a minute, Mr. Cinematic Catharsis, I heard that there are companies out there that are working on 3D TVs that don't require glasses!  Okay, point taken.  Just subtract the cost of the glasses, and you’ve still spent thousands of dollars on new equipment that will likely be obsolete sooner than you think.  You didn’t really think that the home video gods would let you off the hook so easily in your quest for video nirvana, did you?

This begs the question: Is 3D really necessary to enjoy movies?  At best, 3D seems well suited for “event” films like Avatar, but not quite as necessary for everyday viewing.  For more on this subject, I suggest reading Roger Ebert’s intriguing article about the relevance of 3D.  Suffice it to say that we are getting further away from the experience of movies as a medium of the mind, as it becomes all about the bells and whistles.  In the end, is the investment in yet another upgrade worth it?  Your mileage will undoubtedly vary. 

So, is the Cinematic Catharsis theater in danger of becoming obsolete?  I guess it depends on your definition of obsolete.  Even if you decide to buy the most up-to-date system imaginable, you can count on the marketing spin doctors to make you feel as if your current set-up is somehow inadequate.  After all, you might as well be looking at cave paintings, you unsophisticated cretin!  Unless we have the financial resources of Bill Gates, we all have to draw the line eventually, and I feel that it’s now.  For the foreseeable future, I will probably limp along with my plain-Jane, 5.1-channel, 1080i, dimensionally challenged system, while supplementing my disc-based viewing with the   less-than-perfect but instantly gratifying access to my Netflix instant queue.  This will have to do for the time being -- at least until they progress to the point of Star Trek-style holodecks or finding a way to beam their content directly to my cerebral cortex.

Here we stand, at another technological crossroads.  Will the public buy into it, or will 3D be another dead end?  Only time and discretionary income will tell.


The End... Or is it?

 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Cinematic Catharsis Manifesto

Oh no, not another movie blog!  That seems to be a fair reaction, since the worldwide web is already over-saturated with other blogs covering similar ground, running the gamut from erudite film criticism ala Roger Ebert or shameless Harry Knowles-esque fanboy adoration.  They all have their place in the grander scheme of things, and I think there must be a balance somewhere.  You probably won’t find it here, though, since I intend to explore both ends of the movie blog spectrum.  Besides, to quote one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, “There’s room for one more, honey.”

I’ve had a lifelong obsession with movies that refuses to die.  Some of my earliest memories involve going to the drive-in with my family in the 70s, watching grainy images from the back seat of my parents’ white Pontiac Catalina wagon, while listening to a clunky metal speaker draped over the car window.  There was no digital 3D, no THX sound, no cushy chairs with cup holders; none of that mattered.  The movies took on their own reality, as I was held captive by the sounds and images that left an indelible imprint on my impressionable developing brain.  Whether it was James Bond saving the world again while clad in polyester, or Quint being swallowed by an enormous, malevolent great white shark, my world was shaped by cinema.

So, what’s this blog really about?  Anything I want it to be about.  It’s my blog, damn it!  Well, let me take that back.  Cinematic Catharsis is primarily about movies, but there might be the occasional tangent from time to time.  Don’t worry, I’ll be brief!

Why “Cinematic Catharsis”?  Simply put, it’s always been a release for me to escape my normal day and immerse myself in movies of all types, whether they came from the fertile imaginations of Alfred Hitchcock or Ed Wood (two directors who never won an Oscar, incidentally).  Some psychological researchers have questioned whether or not catharsis is a real effect.  Much like the whole prequel vs. original trilogy debate, I’m not going to expend much energy discussing it.  All I can speak to are my own impressions and the visceral reactions that movies have spurred over the years.  Is it a real or imagined release?  Reality or fantasy?  You decide.

You might feel prompted to ask, “So why should I trust you, anonymous blogmaster?”  Fair question.  Since this is my movie blog, I do have a few preconceptions:

You’ll undoubtedly notice my huge bias toward Sci-Fi (sorry Mr. Ellison if I offend thee) and Horror films.  Not to say that I won’t delve into other genres from time to time, but Sci-Fi and Horror are my bread and butter.  Hey, it’s my blog, and I can be biased if I want to!

Michael Bay sucks!  Two-dimensional characters, loud explosions, and grand mal-inducing quick cuts do not make compelling cinema.  He’s truly a filmmaker for this generation.

Han shot first.  End of story. …And that’s about the extent of my Star Wars related commentary.  I do not plan to engage in another exploration about why the original trilogy is superior to the prequel trilogy, or start another tirade about George Lucas raping my childhood.  It’s all been done, ad nauseam.  In fact, even though I consider Star Wars and The Empire Strikes back to be among my all-time favorites, I probably won’t say much about them because frankly I’m burned out on the whole Star Wars universe -- no thanks to Mr. Lucas, who has continued to milk the cash cow long after it’s run dry.

I tend to place a lot of emphasis on unloved films.  Some of my guilty (and not so guilty) pleasures have been movies that were not big box office successes, the head scratchers, the misfits of celluloid whose mere mentioning would induce instant elation or groans of disgust. Here’s a random sampling of titles, in no particular order:

The Adventures of Buckaroo BanzaiAcross the Eighth Dimension:  Because, no matter where you go, there you are.  A perfect alchemy of talent, a try-anything approach, and more non-sequiturs than you can shake a stick at.  It made me who I am today.

Mars Attacks! :  Arguably the better alien invasion flick of 1997.  Who knew that Slim Whitman would be the savior of humanity?

Halloween 3:  Yeah, the one without Michael Myers.  This one is probably as guilty as guilty pleasures get.  I can’t help but give them kudos for breaking the mold of the usual serial killer stalker thing, and trying to do something completely different.  Even if it did involve the bat-shit insane premise of installing microchips made from Stonehenge material into Halloween masks.  I don’t blame anyone for hating this one.  I realize that I’m on completely shaky ground here, but it’s oddly infectious.  Once you’ve watched it, just try to get the “Silver Shamrock” song out of your head.

The Abyss:  Yeah, it’s essentially “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” but I enjoyed the re-telling.  And yes, it’s chock full of dialogue that only its writer/director/producer could love, henceforth known as “Cameron Corn” (expect a future post on this topic).

The Fifth Element: Bruce Willis + orange-haired, band-aid-wearing heroine + Gary Oldman + Eurotrash aliens = Inspired Insanity.  ‘Nuf said!

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou:   I think Wes Anderson was tapping into my unconscious when he created this film.  There’s no other explanation that makes any sense.

One Crazy Summer:  An artifact of the 80s from the director of the much-beloved and far less obscure Better Off Dead. I’m sure I stand alone here, in my testament to this bit of fluff, but all I can say is, “Dog from Mars!”

So, there you go.  It’s only a mere sampling, but this gives you a good idea of where I stand and what you can expect.  If you’ve gotten this far, I can only assume that you haven’t been scared off by my miscellaneous ramblings.  Join me, won’t you, while we explore the good, the bad, and the WTF of cinema!