Monthly Archives: August 2016

Progenitors: Wait Until Dark

large_20weaq6ylvqkycyr1slwzrpda0qEveryone else is making the comparison to Don’t Breathe; I might as well state the obvious and throw my lot in. 

Fresh off of kick-starting the Bond franchise with Dr. No and ultimately sharing custody of the epitome of ‘60s cool with Guy Hamilton, the other important Bond director of the era, director Terrence Young uses Wait Until Dark to curdle his ‘60s action-thriller rave-ups into a creepy, unmooring cavern of unmitigated menace. Retreating from pop-art-etched culture-chic to acid-laced domestic nightmare, Wait Until Dark is British invasion as slimy invasion of domesticity. Young discovered America in this, his first film across the pond, and let’s just say it’s hardly a kind appraisal. Continue reading


Midnight Screening: Collateral

collateralReleased after a decade of directorial experiments toward wider, more all-encompassing expanses, Michael Mann’s Collateral is a satisfyingly blunt reduction: a spry, athletic, all-muscle take on stringy two-character cinema that feels like an indie move coiled up in constricting digital fiber optics. It’s a freezer burn of a film. Glancing the punctured historical adventure The Last of the Mohicans, the punctured crime thriller Heat, the punctured social treatise The Insider, and the (well you get it) sports biopic Ali, Collateral might be called a punctured action film. But bequeathing it with a genre (even a slantwise one) feels like sacrilege, a way to explain, and thus uncoil the mystique of, such a venomously wound-up, unique beast of a picture. Collateral is etched out of a B-movie spirit that does something more important than defy expectations or wrinkle the narrative (although it does both of those things): it throbs. Real good. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

dawnofthedead_2004Zack Snyder has been spending way too long in the sun with the wrong king of edibles. Over a decade later, his brand of fast food cinema has woefully miscalculated its essential inessential-ness, replacing gleeful cinematic pit-stops of full-bore energy with lugubrious dogged trudges, buckets of lard pretending to be hearty, social-expose steaks. All these years later, he retains but one meaningfully good film to his name, and one that was more or less written off as trivial in its time period. But 2004’s Dawn of the Dead is only guilty by association to a superior film bearing its name, a stone-cold masterpiece that Snyder nonetheless fricassees in his hot-fire skillet of improbably sure-handed, slithering filmmaking. Continue reading

Progenitors: Swamp Thing

swamp-thing-1982-artJustice League Dark sounds kind of cool, I don’t know. Unlike any of those other DC movies, it has a for-real talented director with things like a track-record scheduled to direct it all of the sudden. Let’s look at the somewhat sketchy cinematic history of characters in that particular DC Comics franchise.

A pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Wes Craven’s bid for the big time, Swamp Thing is a reminder that some tales are as old as time. It goes a little like this: a small-time cinematic crook, stealing our attentions with unholy little anti-pleasers like the wonderful The Hills Have Eyes (Craven’s best film), is conscripted by Hollywood. And the results are a quagmire of stifled filmmaking, timid poetics, and oddly carefree glimmers of wonderment and innocence that suggest a more kitschy, amused director in Craven’s case just waiting to break out from the Big Time, corporate sanding-down of the material. The film is trampled by Craven’s inability to let loose, but in the rare moments where Swamp Thing emboldens him to not only pay homage to but stir the weirdness of his predecessors and inspirations, the film is amusing enough. Continue reading

Progenitors: Constantine

constantine-02-di-e1448859560532Justice League Dark sounds kind of cool, I don’t know. Unlike any of those other DC movies, it has a for-real talented director with things like a track-record scheduled to direct it all of the sudden. Let’s look at the somewhat sketchy cinematic history of characters in that particular DC Comics franchise.  

Perhaps emboldened by the success of The Matrix sequels, Constantine is a slightly freaky portmanteau of the expected, exhausted post-Matrix spiritual solemnity (read: Jesus allegory) and a more enticing brand of carnival food amusement. The balance, somewhat lugubrious faux-meditation on fate and destiny and who cares, on one hand, and the spark of a film limned with B-movie playthings on the other, is ultimately too mangled by the former for the film to appropriately circle around adjectives like “fun” or “inspired”. But, hey, at least it’s more willing to doodle in the margins than either of The Matrix sequels. And, sometimes, even their predecessor. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: The Birds

the_birds_original_posterTwo horror masterclasses from 1963 on Midnight Screenings.

At the apex of his commercial and artistic powers in 1963, Alfred Hitchcock was a cinematic god with a devil’s temper and an imp’s sense of cackling humor, both of which are fastened ruthlessly to The Birds. No other director could have masterminded the insurrectionist Psycho and survived on the A-list, but even Psycho, released three years before The Birds, had its condolences to the audience, markers of forgiveness that The Birds has no earthly investment in.

Let’s pair it with the otherwise rambunctious Psycho for contraposition and awareness of Hitch’s renewed confidence in The Birds. The final scene of Pyscho, a superior film overall, is ice water on the film’s lusty, libidinal fire, thawing everything out before our eyes by pushing his inexplicable film through the throngs of explication in a final, miserable scene. The greasy sense of sweat-soaked temptation, the morbid shattered-psyche suggestion of the images, and the jittery, frayed spark of the brutal filmmaking and psychosexual implication unravel before our eyes in the great cinematic cop-out ending, where Hitch dredges up a psychiatrist to explain away the terror of male desire and modernist aimlessness by diagnosing it with a name. The ever droll The Birds, however, has no salve for its fatalistic rapture. It saunters in like a volcano ready to erupt, hangs around, and although you may leave, this mordant thresher disfiguring the human species isn’t about to gift us an explanation or an excuse for itself. This late in his career, Hitch didn’t need one.  Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: The Haunting

haunting-4Two horror masterclasses from 1963 on Midnight Screenings.

Objectivity and subjectivity fraternize and jumble in Robert Wise’s The Haunting, an adaptation of a book by Shirley Jackson that traces the contours of a seemingly antediluvian manse as a proxy for, and a catalyst of, the frigid, fractured topography of a mind in mortal catastrophe. The mansion is Hill House, one of those forlorn, heavy things out of America’s New England aristocracy, and the mind is worn by Eleanor (Julie Harris). Beleaguered by poltergeist activity in her youth, she grew up to spend her adult life conscripted into caring for her invalid mother, who has recently passed when the film begins. Wracked with guilt, Eleanor’s newest lot in life is as a case study in an experiment by John Markaway (Richard Johnson), testing Hill House for mysterious happenings by subjecting it to a duo of supernatural-prone potential victims for its frisky haunting shenanigans. Eleanor and Hill House will initiate a non-verbal (although certainly not non-sonic) dialectic throughout the film, the results of which are … well, whatever they be, they’re the underwire for one of the great horror films of all time. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

invasion-2The 1955 short story Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney, supports a general reading of society but not an iron-clad exegesis. It plays out in broad strokes, not particularities or specificities. This isn’t a problem; the endless adaptability of the original text’s vagueness is part and parcel with its malleability. Always retaining blank spaces in the fable-like texture in order to cull any version a director or writer wants or any meaning a time period beckons, that vagueness demands to be filled with contemporary detail that stimulates an understanding of that adaptations’ place in the world. The text by Jack Finney is a placeholder, an easel to be massaged into a filmmaker’s, and a time period’s, own fresco. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: The Blues Brothers

Layout 1Of the cultural royalty ‘80s comedies handed down like comfortable, used clothing over the decades, not even Ghostbusters can go toe to toe with The Blues Brothers’ brand of schizophrenia. The defining feature of Ghostbusters, indeed the source of its disenchanted, abrasive energy, was copied, and somewhat reduced, almost wholesale from the template discovered by The Blues Brothers: boisterous Big Cinema energy fragmented by a nonchalant, almost skeletal cast vividly underplaying the lunacy around them so that they either seem hostile to the film they’re in (in Bill Murray’s case) or vaguely indifferent to the shenanigans around them. That astringent concoction of insoluble elements – bellicose bravura sequences and wizened anti-comedy – stimulated something akin to characters viewing the sudden-onset entropy of the Tex Avery cartoon logic around them as just another part of the day. With all due respect to that epochal 1984 blockbuster required reading though, The Blues Brothers probably introduced the style (although that’s questionable), but it undeniably perfected it. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Mommie Dearest

Two Joan Crawford films on Midnight Screenings this week. 

mommiehedCamp is a gas pedal for a gas of a film, but it doesn’t go the philosophical distance to explaining Mommie Dearest, a sincere expression of the personal trauma of a performative lifestyle refracted through a film where performance and life are visually and tonally so inextricably intertwined that cop-out compartments like camp and drama only continue to falsify dichotomies where they ought not exist. Is this adaptation of Christina Crawford’s tell-all of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother, Hollywood mega-star Joan Crawford, actually campy? Only if we consider camp as drama in the first place, not as a leper to be embraced only through the lens of irony but as a style that simultaneously acclimatizes us to its own lenses and resigns others, namely the naturalist lens, to the garbage heap. Continue reading