Thursday, April 21, 2011

Haunted "Houses"

I will say again that I don't like top ten lists. I tend to like--at least a little--almost everything that I see, so it's hard for me to decide what goes first and what goes last, especially when it's been awhile since I've seen something. That said, here is a list of 12ish notable haunted "something" movies I've seen in the last few years. I have defined the parameters of what is haunted and what is a house to suit my own purposes.

In no particular order:

In the Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1994)--This is more like a haunted town movie. And it's more demon-possessed than haunted. But maybe all ghosts are demons anyway, so whatever. This film was craaaazy intense. It's about the power of the written word, or something. I need to watch it again.

The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 2008)--Aha! This will get you talking. I know everybody hates this film and will probably debate its inclusion in a list like this, but it definitely had the feel of a haunted house movie to me. Except that the world is haunted. By plants. Ooooooooh! Yes, the ending was a bit of a fizzler, but up to that point, when you still don't know what the hell is going on, it's golden. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I have not yet given up on M. Night, no siree.

The Orphanage (Juan Bayona, 2007)--If you haven't seen this, I don't want to say too much to risk ruining any bit of it. But the way it turns the traditional ghost story on its head is wonderful/chilling. And the ending even more so. It's a bit like The Others in its mood, though the story is completely different. WATCH IT. And tell me what you think.

Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987)--Yes, I know the catalyst is the cube, but the portal to Hell ultimately is in the house, and all the nasty things that happen in the house happen just like they do in haunted house movies. The Cenobites--man, there's some crazy sh**. Those guys don't mess around. This is a classic, and Pinhead is a classic character. Say what you will about the eighties, but those folks knew how to manage a horror franchise. We haven't had iconic horror characters like the eighties gave us before or since.

Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)--Yeah, you're all like "Damn, why didn't I think of that one?" It's because you have no imaginations, that's why. You realize this film was entirely stop-motion animation? It blew me away when I read that, because it's clean and smooth and ambitious. I will say here that I am a big stop-motion animation fan--from Faust and Alice to Wallace and Gromit to Clash of the Titans to Davey and freakin' Goliath, I'll watch it all. The amount of work that goes into stop-motion demands my respect almost every time I watch it, and it always fascinates me. But back to Coraline. Stylistically beautiful, and cohesive narratively (thanks, Neil!), this film doesn't miss the mark much.

Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 (Oren Peli/Tod Williams, 2007/2010)--The first one was fun and scary, the second even better. But the second is only better because of the first. Sort of like Kill Bill. They need to go together to get the most out of them. I loved how the second fleshed out the first with details about the characters from the first film, but without detracting from the second. It's rare for a horror sequel to be distinct but compatible with its forbear in the way PA2 was. It's hard to impress me with a horror film these days, but I was impressed here.

Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997)--Oh, I know, I know. But you have to admit this has the feel of a haunted house film. The terror is unseen and seemingly ubiquitous. Same kinds of thrills as a haunted house. Only it's a cube.

Night at the Museum (Shawn Levy, 2006)--What? They come alive at night and no one ever sees them! If they're not haunted, what are they?

Walled In (G. Paquet-Brenner, 2009)--Okay, this isn't really a haunted house movie, but it makes you think that it is, and it's got one of the best locations for a horror film I've seen in a long time. It takes place in this really creepy concrete apartment building in the middle of nowhere. I actually wouldn't be surprised if the whole movie was written for the location.

Blackbeard's Ghost (Robert Stevenson, 1968)--Blackbeard haunts a book, sort of, but the inn is named after him, so it's fair to say (I think) that his ghost is attached to a location. Disney made a bunch of great live action films in the sixties and seventies that no one has ever heard of. It's a shame that the animation, good as it is, always gets all the glory. This movie is a bit of all-around, rollicking good fun. John, if you haven't seen it with your girls, you must.

Castle of Blood (Corbucci/Margheriti, 1964)--Edgar Allan Poe appears as a character in the beginning of the film, which claims to be based on a short story of his (but isn't). A man interacts with a bunch of ghosts while trying to survive a night in a haunted house. It's got a bit of that odd sixties Italian horror vibe going for it, but there are also some truly tense scenes. It's immensely entertaining. I got to see this at the Dryden with Adrienne awhile back.

Ghosts of Edendale (Stefan Avalos, 2003)--I probably shouldn't include this because I don't remember much about it other than I enjoyed it, but I wanted to give some indie film props to Avalos, who crafts a solid story with believable effects on a limited budget. Throw in some Hollywood film history, and you've got something distinct and worthy of a recommendation.

Now for a few comments on the previously mentioned titles...
The Shining--YES! Not on my list because it's not a top ten list! But one of the best out there! Awww, snap!
Poltergeist--Enjoyed it, but not really scary. ET was better, Spielberg. And pretty much everything else you've written or directed.
The Others--Also YES. The ending was a complete surprise to me. I showed it to my wife, who is NOT a horror fan, and she liked it. It's true that there should be more horror films like it. But not all of them, because I need my severed heads, you know.
1408--liked it, but unremarkable. I think I'd watch it again, though.
I've only seen the remake of The Haunting, if you can believe it. I liked the special effects.

Other stuff:
I had to watch the ending of Zodiac three times because I kept falling asleep. I know Brandon has said he needed to give it another go before he could really appreciate it, but I'm not sure I want to take the chance.
Eastern Promises: good film, but...Viggo's junk. His JUNK, man.
No Country: great film, but sheesh. Let's talk about something else already. Or at least something else by the Coen brothers besides that and True Grit. And Lebowski. Like, for example, HUDSUCKER PROXY, which might be my favorite Coen brothers film. You know, for kids.
Watch Hot Fuzz, Jeff. It's some all-around, rollicking good fun.
I should watch The Fugitive again. I really liked it the first time I saw it at the theater.

Brandon, I have a very short "Movies I Don't Like But Think I Should" list. Can you guess what's on it?
I even watched another of his films--Pierrot le Fou--and liked it better, but still found it pretentious and inaccessible. And what's with him always killing off his protagonists? Stupid. But I feel like a chump saying so because, of course, the first three letters in Godard are...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Record Store Day 2011

I'm very excited about all the swag I got and wanted to share. Not movies, I know, but those of you who are into music will appreciate this post.

I only got one CD: The Head and the Heart's self-titled debut. If you're a pop folk fan, you'd like these guys; check 'em out. Here's a list of the rest.

7" singles, EPs
Side by Side: "Havana Affair"--Ramones on one side and Red Hot Chili Peppers on the other
The Civil Wars "Dance Me to the End of Love," B-side "I Want You Back"
Blitzen Trapper "Maybe Baby," B-side "Soul Singer"
Regina Spektor *Four From Far*: A-side "Riot Gear" and "The Sword and the Pen," B-side "Time is All Around" and "Eet (Live in London)"

10" EPs
Dharohar Project, Laura Marling, and Mumford and Sons: A-side "Devil's Spoke/Sneh Ko Marg" and "To Darkness/Kripa," B-side "Anmol Rishtey" and "Mehendi Rachi"

12" singles, EPs
Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues," B-side "Grown Ocean"
Franz Ferdinand Covers "Live Alone (Debbie Harry)" and "Dream Again (Stephen Merritt)," B-side "Live Alone (LCD Soundsystem)," "What She Came For (ESG)," and "Turn It On (Peaches)"

Architecture in Helsinki *Places Like This*
Mates of State *Team Boo*
The Submarines *Love Notes/Letter Bombs*
Devotchka *How It Ends*
The International Submarine Band *Safe At Home* (w/7 inch "The Russians Are Coming" and "Truck Driving Man")
John Fahey *Requia and Other Compositions for guitar solo*

All in all, a good day. I'll need to freeze my spending for a little while, but I'll have some good music to listen to in the meantime.

P.S. Brandon, you're even more awesome in person. It was great to meet you. I'm glad I took the chance and came out.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Kubrick's Rube

I'm not actually sure what that means. I just thought it was a great title for a blog post. So I'm writing one about Kubrick though I don't think I have much to add, since I've only read the most recent posts about the Kubrick discussion. I would say that he comes across as cynical in his films, but they're so masterfully done, maybe you don't think about it too much. I've never really considered whether or not he was anti-life. I just get lost in the story. As a filmgoer who tends to respond primarily to visuals in movies (as opposed to being very good at figuring out themes), Kubricks never fails to disappoint. His range is also impressive: horror, war, sci-fi, historical fiction (I haven't seen that one yet), etc. I think my favorite might actually be Full Metal Jacket, though I've only seen four so far. I like that FMJ is two movies. I like that it doesn't seem to have a point. Neither does war, so maybe in this film Kubrick and his subject really gel well.
I wrote a little more about FMJ (and some other Vietnam War films) here: War Movies

Midnight Express (1978)

Randy Quaid keeps popping up in the strangest places. I saw him a few weeks ago in The Last Detail with Nicholson, playing a Navyman on his way to the brig for stealing. Now he's in a Turkish Prison, also in for stealing from a place of worship. Was Parker giving a nod to Ashby? It's seems a little too coincidental that in both he is imprisoned for a long time for a relatively minor crime. Nevertheless, he did a great job in both films! Such a shame that up to that point, his most notable role for me was in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

I read that this film wasn't enturely factual. The screenplay *was* written by Oliver Stone, though, so you kind of have to go into it expecting that. Still, it is a very harrowing story and well told. There are some gems from the seventies that don't get a lot of press these days. I wonder why that is. Maybe because of so many disco-inspired soundtracks...