61 Days of Halloween – Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell is director Sam Raimi’s latest offering and a film which some had expected and hoped to be his triumphant return to the horror genre. Pair that with this being the first major production by Ghost House Pictures who have been unearthing and presenting some gems on DVD and it had some things going for it that would make one think it was a “can’t miss” hit. Well, it did miss – by a lot.

The main issue this film has is that it tries to be too funny sometimes, so blatantly that the film becomes a parody of itself. In one scene the protagonist, Christine (Alison Lohman) is in the tool shed gathering things to hock at the pawn shop and has an encounter with Mrs. Ganush, the Gyspy who cursed her. The old woman shoves nearly half her arm down Alison’s throat. Alison only escapes because she cuts down an anvil that is hanging conveniently over the Gypsy woman’s head. Are you kidding me? When did this turn into a roadrunner cartoon? The Evil Dead, which is one of my all-time favorite horror movies, was tongue-in-cheek and wasn’t trying nearly as hard to amuse you as the sequels and this did.

Of course, the Gypsy curse is old hat in horror terms so nothing exciting there. What this film gave the inkling of was perhaps a vision of hell. Nope, sorry, none of that either. While it is gross on occasion, even that is inconsistent. Alison is at the Gypsy woman’s viewing and the corpse spills out spewing bile (or enbalming fluid) on her, CGI bile not the good, real stuff. There are just so many examples. I will not elaborate on the nosebleed all I will say is it was just too much.

Pacing and overall lack of surprise is an issue as well. There were two instances in the film where you knew that couldn’t be the end but things seemed neatly resolved so either some not-so-exciting twist would come along, or a long explanation scene with new rules about the Lamia would ensue.

The craft of acting generally suffers in the horror genre partially because people with chops don’t want to be involved with it or the parts are too superficial. The supporting cast overall holds their own but Alison Lohman in this film had to carry it and she let it down by being a mousy, annoying, air-headed and unsympathetic version of Jenna Fischer, and in a couple of scenes towards the end she did her worst Bruce Campbell impression.

There was not a moment in this film that was genuinely scary or funny. The only thing that kept it on its feet was a halfway decent concept, the sound mix and the occasional practical or special effect, but even that gets old after a while. Of course, the blame, if you don’t like it, should go towards the filmmakers but spare a thought for the MPAA. Their undue influence on the marketability of films is what helped create this avalanche of PG-13 horror. So we get watered-down, tween-friendly garbage and this is another piece to add to the scrap heap. It’s a colossal waste of time.

3/10

61 Days of Halloween- The Haunting in Connecticut

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

It happens rarely but every once in a while a film will come along that not only has a great trailer, but lives up to the potential that its trailer promises. Such is the case of The Haunting in Connecticut, which is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in quite a long time. It may seem strange to begin the analysis of a film with its trailer; however, films more so than any other art form are inexorably linked to their marketing. Before the work itself can be discussed, a few more pieces of marketing must be quickly touched upon. First, the film’s MPAA rating, PG-13, which is generally the kiss of death in the horror genre. Just knowing a horror movie is rated PG-13 has deterred me from viewing the film. Fear not – blood and gore wouldn’t make this film better, it flat out works brilliantly without need for the violence, vulgarity, gore and gratuitous sexual content we come to expect from lesser works in the genre. Second, the film is “based on a true story.” If you know anything of that true story, as I do, please don’t expect a documentary, or even a faithful re-telling based on fact. I always take the assertion “based on a true story” with a grain of salt. The truths in this film are the circumstances surrounding the family’s life, their rental of a house that formerly served as a funeral home, and some of their supernatural experiences. However, the true story doesn’t allow for a tidy ending or a very linear plot, so liberties have been taken. Many things have been embellished or created, and all brilliantly executed.

Haunting is a film that excels on many levels. Most importantly it never forgets that drama is the foundation of all other genres and thus you must build characters and make the audience care about their problems. Not that these are the most complex or dynamic characters ever created, but they are developed enough such that we can engage and have an interest in their plight.

Another manner in which Haunting excels is its utilization of all the techniques at its disposal to create a chilling tale. Many weaker efforts in the genre only achieve scares with overly-loud effects. The entire soundtrack of Haunting is subtle and beautifully mixed allowing you to hear voices, footsteps, and rustling in parts of the house unseen. The sound levels are great. Sometimes you could barely hear what was going on, making your anxiety greater. The score is solid and highlights the fright. The editing not only allows for great jolts but also tells the story in a fascinating way cutting from the present to the past, seen and unseen, using L-Cuts (dialogue continuing from scene which is no longer being shown) to move the story along and quick cuts to black. There was a wonderful sense of symmetry, as several situations repeat themselves with different results, like the game of hide and seek for example.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is its relentlessness. It hardly if ever seeks to cut the tension but seeks to keep the baseline pretty high, leaving the audience anticipating the next jolt. And the jolts are fantastic. One was done with the clever use of misdirection. There appears to be a bird under the bed that we can’t see and as it is to be revealed the jolt comes from elsewhere, and it is purely visual. The film is very visual and uses its dialogue wisely.

The performances are spot on. Elias Koteas has never been better. It’s also Virginia Madsen’s best turn in the genre. I can’t say that Madsen’s performance in Candyman excels over Haunting because I understood this character better. Kyle Gallner is cast properly and plays his character perfectly.

I personally judge each movie on its own merit and take it for what it is, for example I will never say “Well, this was no Casablanca or Citizen Kane so I can’t give it such and such a grade” – that’s bunk. The Haunting in Connecticut makes no pretensions about what it is, and does its job incredibly well. It was the most transfixing horror movie experience from the beginning to end that I’ve had since The Exorcist re-release in 2000 so having said that I give The Haunting in Connecticut a score of 10/10.

Review- Bully

Kelby in Bully (The Weinstein Company)

Clearly with all the press that Bully had received from its initial rating, to the online animus it caused, to the subsequent edits and marketing campaign; there are many things outside of simply what’s in the film that can be discussed, even as it pertains to filmmaking. However, that doesn’t really apply to the film itself and if further discussion needs having I will post it here. That situation mutated a few times, therefore it’s best I didn’t comment pre-release, and therefore I will proceed.

Similarly, the subject of bullying itself is one I could talk about extensively. I’ve seen from afar, yet closer than most, some of the effects that it can have. How it should be handled can be couched many different ways based on your cultural or political background, however, that’s neither here nor there in this review as this film, like many documentaries are and should be, isn’t about finding a cure for the issue but rather examining the issue. And let’s face it, in spite of increased media coverage of incidents, there are still those in this country who will say there isn’t an issue.

Eseentially, my feeling is that there’s always been an issue, it’s worse and harder to deal with in today’s world, and we as a society have been too slow to act but we need to.

Yet, what of the film Bully? As I stated above, what it does is seek to examine a very broad subject on a closer level by citing several different kinds of examples. In some cases the students in question are living with it on a daily basis, some have confronted the issue, some shy away from confrontation, in some cases we only meet the family as the bullied has since committed suicide. In another, a student reacted harshly and goes through the juvenile justice system. While the film could’ve been slightly more geographically diverse, it does do a good job of going around our vast nation and showing the similar patterns of behavior and administrative inaction and/or ineffectual action.

However, that conclusion is the one I’ve drawn. The film does volunteer the occasional dissenting opinion about the severity of the issue, however, the film never through a narrator or through over-manipulated editing, tries to espouse a dogma. Instead, it allows the subjects to offer their opinions and feelings. On a few occasions, it captures incidents but merely displays them rather than invoking judgment within the narrative. It’s presenting evidence, which we are parsing.

Perhaps the best and most persistent example of this technique is the fact that, wherever possible, the main cause of a student’s being bullied is suppressed or hardly commented upon. For it truly is not the point, and while the film doesn’t actively try to impose an opinion on its audience it’s made from an anti-bullying point of view and there is ample footage and facts to support it. However, anti-bullying can be a secondary and tertiary rallying cry of other activists, therefore to focus it strictly on the issue of bullying by removing the catalyst as much as possible, it examines the phenomena, its impact on its victims and keeps its focus and scope as narrow as possible, which is essential in documentary work.

In keeping with the theme of the film’s scope, there are a number of case studies made within the film but the film is very astute at establishing these personalities and locations such that as cuts are made from narrative to narrative there is minimal reminding we as an audience need of who these people are, where they’re from and what their precise situation is. It’s a credit to the filmmakers because it allows the film to have a sense of flow rather than being segmented case-by-case it traverses the nation over the course of a year and follows an emotional ebb and flow to its conclusion.

What stands out most in that the film is at its most effective when it reveals how these things affect those who love the victimized. Typically, the bullied are resigned to one extent or another or not present. What’s most revealing is the collateral damage caused in the families examined.

The fact that some people searched for a solution in this film just shows that they acknowledge that there’s an issue and they’re desperate for there to be an answer for this generation’s sake, and for those to come. However, while this film is zeitgeist to some it still has to contend with a faction who dismiss the notion and it as propaganda. I think the film very strongly and steadfastly makes its case that there is, in fact, an issue and that it must be addressed and it will continue to be an issue until serious actions are taken and policies are adhered to. The film is a heartbreaking necessity, both in its making and its need for an audience. It’s a film that should be seen by all and I hope it has a long life.

10/10

The Movie Rat’s Manifesto

Welcome to The Movie Rat. This blog’s name comes from a term I came up with for a friend of mine when we went to the movies every Saturday for a matinee and at least one other film. We were like mallrats except we went to the movies eventually he lost interest but I kept on going.

So a new blog and infinite possibilities and here there won’t be any annoying restrictions such as trying to keep one of the most universal artforms in the world “localized.”

What does one do when one sets out to start a new blog. Well, for the time being anyway, whatever one wants.

However, I am starting with this manifesto to let you know a few things I plan on doing and conversely not doing.

So here are some things you can expect and some things I will venture to avoid, five things in each category sounds like a decent start…

I will:

-Be re-posting older articles slowly but surely.

-Do daily themes such as: Monochromatic Monday, Two For Tuesday, Weird Wednesday, Theme Thursday and Film History Friday. These may change. I also Plan writing longer more theory-based papers from time to time. I have ideas for both Metropolis and Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe).

-Will offer “seasonally appropriate” reviews: For exampled, TCM is currently doing 31 Days of Oscar. From September 1 through October 31st there will be a glut of horror titles, from November 1st through Thanksgiving; foreign films and Christmas-themed (sometimes only slightly) in December.

-Always be looking for new and unique films as well as different ways of viewing and/or acquiring them and being a consumer advocate to an extent.

-Always write personally. No matter how informed one is I will not presume that my opinion is anyone else’s. I firmly believe in the assertion that no two people ever watch the same film and can only offer my views and interpretations and if I need to use a few “Me’s” and “I’s” to convey that so be it.

I will not:

– Discuss the MPAA here. Ratings exist for a reason but I personally do not care. The MPAA, if you visit their site (www.mpaa.org), will explain its reason(s) and other reviewers will give you their slant on the rating (I suggest: www.lights-camera-jackson.com – he is a kid who is also a professional critic and always includes how kid-friendly a movie is) but it is of no concern to me. I am not a parental aid I am only interested in aesthetics. I would not deign to judge what is and is not appropriate for your children that is a decision that all parents must make on their own based solely upon their values and what they believe their children should see, hear or can handle.

– Use the phrase “well-intentioned.” Few films, if any, have bad intentions.

– Avoid, at all costs, saying “it’s the best of its kind since such and such” for I am likely to have missed films of its ilk since such and such and you may disagree with my opinion of the former film and therefore I won’t adequately express my sentiments if that’s all I say.

– Since I discussed hyperbole above I will not say I am going to post something. I mentioned on more than one occasion on Examiner that I was planning on writing something about hyperbole in film criticism. And I was, but I never did.

– Confuse the person with the artist, or allow any other bias I may have, creep in without at least addressing it and letting you know that there is a grain of salt. Unless, it’s a first run or DVD review this will be a very positive site but unfortunately some movies are bad and it needs to be said, however, I do believe that in an overwhelming majority of them there is at least some redeeming quality.

I’m sure there’s probably more I can add. Suggestions would be more than welcome, for either category. Starting tomorrow the fun really starts.