Sunday, 22 March 2009

Battlestar Galactica Finale

This will be brief for the moment. I've just seen it and there's that kind of relief that a lot came together with some disappointments (the end essentially remakes The Matrix Revolutions with more character and less wonderful weirdness). So its a odd one. Its sort of like the conclusion for Homicide and The Wire for me. Lots of wonderful moments and character beats finally coming together but with a little overt sentimentality and some missed elements which felt important in the run of the shows.

There were lost moments. There's one nasty moment that I feel went too far because it hadn't been built up enough and lacked proper dramatic resolution (Tyrol kills Tory for the murder of his wife while saving his son, a situation on which he was partially responsible for, as well as being very responsible for the mess they found themselves in the finale, which also destroys a fragile truce, causing more deaths). Now the act was shocking and nasty, powerful, and hopefully a longer released cut will fill in some blanks, but there's so little afterthought, so little balance that its resolved as the bitch is dead. As the situation was more complicated, you wanted more, especially as they had built up Tyrol's disenchantment with everyone and Tory's falling into the background, trying to hide from the past, throughout the second half of the season. You kind of feel that you got all the build-up, then horrible violence and no dramatic pay-off. It also means that the image of a man killing a woman and then walking away is distasteful and leaves a lingering bad taste after the finale. The Adama-Roslin finale has the opposite problem, feeling too long and self-indulgent, getting and repeating points so often that it grates by the time you're meant to feel emotion.

There's a lot of good stuff. Baltar finally comes together, shows some guts and loyalty, creating a truce by showing his madness and talking common sense. He faces his worst fear (basically its settling down with someone who knows him), the character arc really working, a more traditional ending likely seeing him dead. Lee also worked well, someone who saw the mess around himself and realised that everything had moved too fast, that everyone was damaged, out of control, to have realistic expectations (over-coming his main flaw in his own life). The Kara reveal was good, nicely unforced and mysterious, a figure disappearing, not really revealing much. Its nice not to be told too much.

The finale, the jump 150,000 years later worked okay but was a little forced. Am still not quite sure what to think of it but will probably blog on it again after a few days.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Watchmen The Film: What A Horrible Mess

As a fan of Alan Moore's Watchmen, the real Watchmen, this Zack Snyder film is an obscenity. Gratuitous violence, an ending that both ignores the book and changes itself into something dumb and horrifically anti-climatic (the film ends with twenty minutes of, is that it? That's the stupid moment you've been building towards). The actors are at best miscast, at worst woeful (take a bow the guy playing Rorschach for all those horrific and misplaced line-readings). The camera moves all over the place but forgets to actually frame and cut to suggest subtext, nor to place actors in frame that gives the film drive and feeling. Action scenes extend themselves far longer that what Moore suggests, and are in love with blood. The music is just awful, plastered on every few minutes loudly, with no reason.

Above are the base problems with the film. For narrative problems we have simple bases not covered. The world is not set up coherently. If I hadn't read Watchmen I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on a lot of the time. The film spends a lot of time showing the characters in different time zones yet never establishes character nor emotional context. The point repeatedly made in the comic book is that these loony superheroes are at base an expression of various absurd forms of cultural immaturity made manifest in different time periods in American history, suggesting bizarre dreams of of an immature American culture that in the forties gave us noir, in the fifties the cold war, the sixties Vietnam, the seventies distaste and civil revolt, in the eighties all-powerful American expansion policies. Moore takes these feelings to the extreme by showing his characters, setting them up carefully in context, in carefully separated and chaptered segments of the story, have stories within stories (such as the Black Freighter) that introduces the fiction of this Watchmen world, which gives atmosphere, character and subtle plot details as well as to suggest how the fiction influences and creates absurdities in the minds of those reading it. Within the main narrative itself you have these stories flashing back and forward, always compact within themselves to suggest what the characters are feeling, with much clearer suggestion of the emotions in the fictional world of the characters and the real world we live in that has been given one last fantastical push by Moore into various myopic absurdity. (All the Watchmen characters are myopic, thus who watches the watchmen)

The film doesn't get that. The idea of stories within stories is dropped, the social ideas in the books are placed up and made to look stupid, not having the wonderful sense of humour and of the absurd that Moore gave them, where the joke is any type of self-appointed ambitious leader is a total nut in one way or another, now lets look at them. The Vietnam sections in the film are absurd, make you think what, while in the book its handled with a lot more humour, of immature wish fulfillment and brutality, not as a plot point. There are civil disputes in the seventies that are brutal yet suggestive of something worse, make narrative points while in the film are crude and have no punch, make you wonder is that it. There's no sense of humour to the right-wing fascism shown throughout in the story while its all over Moore's comic.

Another example of the lack of humour is the film tries to make a character called the Nite-Owl sexy and dangerous, this a character who intentionally always looked silly in the comic. They try to make his characters actions exciting where in the comic there is a wonderful grace to the moments where he flies his ship and does things because it looks goofy. That's one of the main points where the film kept losing me. The mocking tone on the world and what these characters think of themselves, as well as their subtle brutality, is not there, is instead replaced by scenes that go on forever and make a fan of the book bored. Watchmen is a pretty boring film based on something that is clear and self-contained.

I could go on about what the film gets wrong, such as a truly awful sex scene (worse than anything in Showgirls) replacing a wonderful moment in Moore's original, a dull prison scenes, the lack of stillness in the story (the comic had a wonderful sense of framing to suggest emotion amongst what should be pulp absurdity). But the film is just a mess. The only reason its not the worst Moore adaptation is because The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen exist. But the theatrical cut is a very weak, ignorant film in dire need of a good director and writer. It hasn't raised the level of the genre (and who cares about that, these movies are meant to be imaginative and a little pulpy). All its done is make the source look stupid. I think Alan Moore has had enough of that already. I just hope they leave the poor guy alone and stop adapting him.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A Nightmare And Other Horrors.

I have been watching the Nightmare On Elm Street films. So I'll give a brief look at them.

Essentially the best of the bunch are the Wes Craven films. A Nightmare On Elm Street is a taut little b-movie. While its no Halloween, it does have a load of energy, even after years of being ripped-off and sequelized. What's really good about it is that it takes its premise seriously. There's no jokes, people being brutally murdered, there always a proper atmosphere of unease through-out, which is something that's lacking in most horror films. The dream idea still feels pretty fresh when rewatching as its played honestly so you do follow the story and atmosphere. Plus they have a focus central protagonist that actually thinks her way through the situation, which really keeps you involved in the narrative. Also Freddy is a seriously under-played nutcase in this one. He's out to kill for his own reasons, is pissed off and revenge-driven. He's always in darkness, his tricks always having a nasty edge to them. That's very refreshing in a horror film.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare for me is the creepiest of the films. Its all about madness, the fear of someone thinking that they are slowly losing their mind, that they will hurt family members as they go crazy. Which is a very scary idea that the film keep jabbing at, getting terrific moments as a woman keeps thinking her child may become dangerous or mad, inherited from her. What's great about this is that the madness spreads and no-one is safe, no-one sure what to do or how to react to mental illness. Which is something that horror should do more often, tying up a metaphor from real life within a film narrative. There is also a good idea of how horror movies cage fears that flow below society within their movies, allowing people a way to escape from the fears darker than a horror movie can show.

Now to the rest. The other films are not at all serious nor are scary. But some are loads of fun. And other aren't. They lack the intent to tie the narrative to the characters, nor to have the pace be something that can be oppressive, that can add to the horror.

Number 2, Freddy's Revenge is the gay-subtext one. Unfortunately that's the only vaguely interesting thing about it. It takes the first film and ignores everything that works in it. This one goes for demonic possession rather than dreams so has a kid possessed by Freddy killing people (the most thorough of these seem to be naked men or good looking guys lying in their own beds, which is helping with the gay sub-text. The guy also runs way from kissing his own girlfriend to got watch a man sleeping). There's also a pool party where teens get killed, which is generic slasher movie territory. Its not bad really, scene to scene but there's nothing to really focus on (even the gay subtext gets boring). And its not in any way scary, the sense of mounting possession never truly worked out to induce fear as they simply go for kills and weird meandering scenes that annoy and make you lose interest. There's no big scary idea to get under your skin and the film continues to ignore momentum and build.

Number 3 and 4 are much better. These are the fun sequels. They aren't remotely scary but Freddy is an actual threat and you can follow the sequences coherently, even though they add up to absolutely nothing in narrative terms. And they have soon to be famous writers and actors slumming. Part 3 was written by Craven and Frank Darobant (from Shawshank Redemption) and takes the idea of people learning to fight Freddy in their dreams. The leading lady from the first film is back, and, as is the way of things, is written stupidly. In this film, all adults are stupid, the kids utterly moronic. Essentially, you're wanting Freddy to kill them all horribly. Which he does (he's reliable in that way). Patricia Arquette and Laurence Fishburne show up and its not their finest hours but they are professional. Craig Wasson from Body Double is in it and is horribly wet yet doesn't die. So all this talent and no real story. What is amazing by now is how they really struggle with story. I watched Dracula movies by Hammer a few months ago, and while they are not all great, they do make a good attempt at story. But these nightmare films stalled at number 2 in story and only got a good one at number 7. And these are the better of the eighties slasher films for story.

Number 4 is a Renny Harlin film and is probably the funnest of the non-Craven movies. It also has the least interest in story. The first third kills off everyone from the previous film (thus killing any story development possibilities). The next third kills off anyone remotely interesting. The final third has heroine versus Freddy. And that's it. Thankfully its all very energetic. Five minutes after the film you won't remember the plot but people are trapped on dreams in interesting ways and the film does have the sense of a director having a bit of fun. It was written by the guy who wrote LA Confidential. Never has a writer with respect has had a script that he should disown instantly as this. This has wall to wall bad writing. Now we should mention the director Renny Harlin, for this is his best film. While Harlin has made two other decent films (Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight), one guilty pleasure (Driven, which is just awful yet somehow I can't help but love it in a way that I can't understand), a Die Hard sequel (worst Die Hard film, whose title is awful yet the best thing about it- Die Hard 2: Die Harder, what he hell does that mean?) And then there's the dreck. Of those I have seen there's Cutthroat Island (an abomination) Deep Blue Sea (mutant sharks no less) and Exorcist: The Beginning (where do I start. Agreeing to remake a good unreleased film with a terrible, unwatchable, dire, insulting, hacky etc etc... film). This man also made Ford Fairlane (with Andrew Dice Clay), a horror movie called The Covenant (which has disappeared from existence) and a Christan Slater/Val Kilmer direct to DVD serial killer hunter movie whose title I can't recall. If you want a definition of what not to do with your career, Renny's your man. It's kind of a miracle that this one worked, when on average he has managed to make a fool out of himself consistently. But if you're making A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, its not a good sign for your taste.

The series really went to hell when Renny Harlin left. Number 5, directed by Stephen Hopkins (who's had a mixed career, some duds but did make the delightfully pulpy Predator 2 and the first season of 24). This one has a script that's woeful, that over-explains everything. Hopkins does a pretty good job of it mostly (there's a few music video inspired moments of what the fuck that someone should have said, please don't) but the film doesn't work at all, is incoherent in the extreme. Yet it does have some nice bits.

Unfortunately its the first one where Freddy is in no way threatening. Robert Englund had been keeping this series going a long time by keeping Freddy somehow a threat despite some inane one-liners and images, still making Freddy work despite some watering down. he has really kept it afloat but here he had no support, was now simply a jokey monster. Its now you can sense the boredom creeping in.

Now we have the nadir. Number 6, Freddy's Dead. This one is unwatchable. Its hard to tell what's worse, the writing or directing. (Both were done by New Line executives. It's a case of hire professionals please). The plot lurches forward without anything interesting happening, story lines started, thrown away without coherence, back-story explained without any interest. Its so dull that whenever anything happens, you're trying to think of a reason to care, with every fight played for laughs. This is the Robocop 3 of the series, a film so bad you can't quite believe it. Freddy is lit brightly the entire time so has no chance of being scary. Englund looks bored through-out, has nothing to work with. Yaphet Kotto is in it, and must have really needed the money. He's professional but must have known what a dog it is. Luckily he moved on to Homicide after this. And the series moved onto New Nightmare, a sudden return to form.

Finally we have Freddy V Jason. Its not very good, isn't scary, is stupid, has idiot characters. But it is fun and energetic. Its the kind of film that's hard to say anything about as it does what you would suggest, nothing more.

So there we go. the Nightmrae series before the inevitable awful remake.

Monday, 2 March 2009

What If Horror Remakes Showed Imagination?

I think we've all seen the posters and trailers for the glut of recent horror movies. As someone who likes a good horror film I'm kinda appalled. 1960's & 70's horrors were cheap, nasty, full of ideas.

Now while the producers might want to keep the base focus of the story they were buying, changing up lots of background details can keep the story as original as it can be. Maybe expand the story in odd directions that could be useful in creating interest.

So here's a few suggestions how a few horror franchises could have proceeded if done at a certain time in history.

Friday The 13th- Let's says you change the setting of the murders to Nazi Germany. Jason is the "mentally challenged" son of a woman who was enjoying herself a little too much during the 1920's party era, who's baby-sitters, young accountants by day, were too busy cross-dressing and shooting heroin to pay attention, so he falls out of a window into a local river, apparently drowns. Jason's mother goes mad, becomes a cross-dressing razor slasher during the rise of the Nazi's, gets caught and killed by her own upper middle class peers, who are all heading towards the power, which is Nazi-ism. During the Nazi regime, while Poland is being invaded, Jason comes back from the grave, starts taking out those who killed him and his mother in brutal ways, as well as their families, these middle class people now rich, apparently isolated, snobbish, not wanting to hear of their youthful failings. Some of the youth are becoming soldiers for the cause but won't make it to the front line, are brutally murdered by a machete-wielding, brain-dead zombie Jason, who after massacring many a Nazi and more importantly, those who fund the invasions, heads towards Poland. The sequels will just write themselves.

A Nightmare On Elm Street - Little Freddy Krueger gets systematically sexually abused as a young soldier in world war 1 bunker. Even by Hitler. Was an idealistic young man who joined under-age and got horror upon horror thrown at him. Leaves the army after the war, tries to become an artist, gets burnt alive by a jealous Hitler, who can't sell one painting. As the expressionistic film stylisation finds its feet Freddy infects the dreams of the youth, as they watch the films, he tries to interest them into sex then murder at the moment that people are not expecting it. As a series of sex crimes infects down-town Berlin, no-one is sure where to turn. Through dreams, Freddy lures innocent young virgins of both sexes into opium dens and decadent night clubs, into nightmare situations, then even inspires more murder of leaves them to their consciences. Freddy is defeated by the rise of Nazi-ism, that abhors this decadence. Thus many of the places are closed and Freddy is left with only a few slash murders a week. Defeated once more by Hitler.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre- The US based franchise stays at home. At the rise of the depression, a mom and pop operation starts to expands, by cheerfully killing the poor that wander through in a desperate search for jobs, eating them yet also passing free human meat onto other poor and needy in the neighbourhoods. It's broken down as such. Local people are safe, their kids can play in the street without worry. Outsiders are meat. Eventually the kids in the neighbourhood get the idea and start killing entire travelling families to suck up to mom and pop. Mom and pop are happy with that arrangement. They like the power but stay modest. The kids grow up to be preppy, patriotic, interested in oil and god. That is the early story. In World War 2, many a young idealistic young man is asked to sign up and the preppies have made a pledge to go fight in Europe. Mom and pop disagree. Not their fight. Even though the depression is over times are tough so the preppies set up an elaborate series of games, trapping happy families travelling through area, putting them through a series of sick, torturous tests, many family members not surviving and becoming the meat, simply to distract Mom and Pop. As the games go on, the preppies disappear one by one, until none are left, all having gone to sign up for war, to be heroes. All their children gone, mom and pop are angry, brutally murder the survivors, are left to wait for the survivors of the war, their town empty.

So these are three simple ideas anyway, how you could simply change the settings, keep the bases of each story but have a new feel. Of course, would never happen in imagination impaired Hollywood.