Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More TP, Please

Hey, I've got a couple more things to say, especially after seeing Last House on the Left (Craven, 1972) last night.
I have Brandon's and Jeff's posts in my head, so I'm trying to sort my thoughts. They won't come out neatly, I don't think.
We do seem to talk about this a lot. I think that each time, we're saying something a least a little new, or we wouldn't keep talking about it. We're not the "you're wrong, no, you're wrong" sort, and more sensitive to nuances. So, let John be bored, and let him wait until we talk about something he's more interested in.
First, I really appreciate you tackling this discussion, Jeff. I feel like I'm seeing you on a different side than usual, and find myself changing my estimation of you and your ability to appreciate horror. I admire your willingness to try to find anything redeeming at all about a film like Martyrs.
Secondly, I don't see anyone taking me to task for my statement, but I still want to clarify. I guess I do believe that there is a line that a director shouldn't cross (even before the one that allows harming people and animals), but I couldn't tell you where that is. I can tell you where it is for me, but I have no way of knowing from a societal standpoint, where my line is relative to anyone else's. I suppose when I speak of a director respecting the distance between fantasy and reality, I mean perhaps simply respecting that there must be a distance or it's no longer entertainment. So then he must come up with his own conclusions as to what represents that distance, and we must decide whether or not our limits are compatible with his. But when a director disregards the notion altogether, then I think that he is moving from the realm of art to something else. I'm not going to get into a discussion of what is art and what isn't, but I think at least some people would agree that for art to be considered such, there must be a separation between the artist and the audience. Otherwise, anything can be art (some would say that it is, but I think that notion is silly). I need to be able to respond to art, and I can't do that when I'm closing my eyes and plugging my ears. I don't even think a work of art--like a horror film--needs to be saying anything profound. The thing is, when that gap is removed, I'm experiencing a thing rather than observing it. It's one thing when it's giant robots beating the hell out of each other and I feel like I'm right there. It's completely different when it's one human being torturing another. I don't want to be right there.
That's why I like the quick deaths of movies like the Jason films, or Final Destinations, or anything like that. Crack, snap, you're dead. On to the next one. Roller coaster ride. Roller coasters are fun because they last a couple of minutes. Leave there for a half hour and now I want to throw up.
The only time I appreciate a film pushing the envelope is when it's doing something new, or at least something that hasn't been done in awhile. There's an element of exploration, innovation, creativity, etc. If it goes too far, you might not know it until it's been in theaters for a little while. It's why I make an allowance for Hostel, but not, say, Captivity. One's breaking new ground, or breaking up fallow ground, the other is just sowing its seed in that ground (the kind Brandon referred to in his last post, not the kind you're probably thinking of). It's why I make an allowance for I Spit On Your Grave, and Last House on the Left (1972). As I mentioned in a FB comment, I was surprised to see Craven letting his film be what it was, but acknowledging that he explored some territory in LHOTL that he didn't need to revisit. I totally respect that.
For the record, the most harrowing part of LHOTL for me was when Krug made Phyllis piss herself. And then finding out later that the actress really did piss herself for the scene. Talk about blurring the line. I also found the inclusion of a woman among the aggresors interesting. We got screen time with them when they weren't committing crimes to see them as more than monsters. It reminded me of Zombie's Corpses/Rejects gang. I found the silences in between aggressive acts interesting, like we're watching the their humanity slip away from them, bit by bit.  Craven left a good half hour for the parents' revenge scene, too, so the film raises all kinds of questions not just about the torture and rape of two young women, but the length the parents go to avenge themselves. Revenge in films often happens towards the end, and we don't get time to process it. Here, we get to think about what they're doing and why we're enjoying that so much more than we enjoyed the violence against the young women. Which leads me to another potentially disturbing thought. When I was watching ISOYG, I had to turn away for some of the rougher parts (I mean, they just dragged on and on). But when it was the woman's turn to exact revenge, I swear I rewound and rewatched several of those scenes and tried not to pay attention to how much I relished them. It's a testament to the effectiveness of what came before that I wanted to see those young men die. But then....we also saw them not being monsters, especially the developmentally disabled young man. It was honestly a very confusing film to know what to do with emotionally.
Anyway, did you know that Craven was inspired to make Last House on the Left by Virgin Spring? Yeah, the Bergman one.
Hope you could make sense of this.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Brandon, I think that I think that Wolf Creek is a well-made film, and for me (as previously stated more than once) one of the most effective TP films out there. I think that may be why I finally had to ask myself why I was watching these films. When this sort of thing really happens to people who have done nothing to bring it upon themselves (like our sex-crazed teenagers in the Jason films) or who don't represent archetypes that need to be put in their place (so aptly and humorously done in CITW), why am I watching? Perhaps it hits too close to home for this voyeur masquerading as a horror fan, or perhaps it just crosses a line that entertainment is not supposed to cross. When horror is even a step removed from reality, I can still distance myself enough from it to be an armchair QB--that's part of what makes it fun. But when I'm not able to do that anymore (I Spit On your Grave is another fine example of a film I will never watch again and question my motives for watching it in the first place, yet is chillingly effective in its realism), and I'm actually in the film, as a participant--well, quite simply it's not fun anymore. I think that every horror director who is not trying to shock to get himself some extra recognition realizes that, ethically, he must respect that distance between the horror and reality. So whether or not he is genuine, McLean isn't respecting that distance. And yet, an individual's ability to distance themselves from horror varies, which is why some people can't watch any sort of horror at all and which is why there is disagreement about where exactly that line is. The perpetual subjectivity leaves the criticism of horror in constant tension, and I like that about it. Horror constantly flirts with boundaries, which makes it exciting, but it also practically guarantees it will never completely be taken seriously. Am I making any sense here?

You mention Peeping Tom, which in my opinion allows sympathy but not empathy. We can somehow understand how this lonely young man arrived at his obsession, but we don't feel what he feels and we can never condone his behavior. Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, Leatherface--they will never get that sympathy. Okay, Leatherface is clearly mentally retarded (in the clinical sense) as well as mentally ill, so maybe him. Maybe just a little. Now that I think of it, Jason is too, ever so slightly. Poor guy never got over being drowned. But Freddy? F$%k him.

Now there's another great topic for discussion: horror and its treatment of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. Want to create a monster who can kill senselessly and not be held morally responsible? Make him a retard.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Goon (Michael Dowse, 2012)

Guess who's home sick today, writing about not necessarily the greatest movie he's seen, but the last one, simply because he has the time?

Goon, starring Seann William Scott, is about a simple man brought on to a minor league hockey team to start (and win) fights. It's based on the real-life Doug Smith, who played for several minor league hockey teams for the same reason in the late eighties and nineties.

As usual, a lot of the details are changed for the sake of the narrative, but in this case, I'm glad, because the real life story is a little less interesting than the film. The whole thing takes place in northeastern Canada, and highlights cities like Halifax and St. John's, which don't get a lot of the Hollywood spotlight. The real life story took place entirely in the states. Blah. Hockey stories *should* take place in Canada.

Scott's character is a lovable oaf, who starts the film as a bouncer at a bar. He gets into a fight with a player at a hockey game and knocks him out, drawing the attention of the coach, who eventually gets him a job as an enforcer (or "goon") with the Halifax Highlanders, a player who is brought on exclusively to protect and take out other players. The climax of the film comes when he has to face Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a former NHL enforcer, now in the minors at the end of his career, and Doug's hero.

Scott reminds me of Sandler in Punch Drunk Love--in that he's portraying a character that resembles somewhat his one-dimensional dimwitted characters from other films, but played with significantly more depth and sensitivity. Scott does a great job of creating a character at whose foibles you chuckle, but with whom you are ultimately able to empathize. He's perhaps a bit too romanticized in places, but honestly, it's still refreshing. Alison Pill (Scott PilgrimConfessions of a Drama Queen--two movies film club members may have seen her in) is adorable as the love interest. The romance itself adds some heart but isn't really necessary, though at least doesn't fall along your typical romance/comedy ruts. You know they're going to get together by the end, but the way they go about it is entertaining, and, again, refreshing. Jay Baruchel is a little overbearing as the best friend, but isn't overused in the film and doesn't distract too much from the primary focus of the story, Doug Glatt trying to find self-respect and dignity using skills that don't necessarily lend themselves to it.

Goon is a lighthearted film that you can escape into, but that doesn't insult its audience. It's cute and heartwarming and it knows it, but it's taken a lot of effort to be so and really wants you to notice, because, frankly, it cares about giving you a good experience. It knows that you probably won't go on another date, but really appreciates the time you spent together and will remember you fondly, and hopes that you will too. And who knows, when you're sick and tired of all the other crap, you just might give it a call again, just to see how it's doing, and, maybe...well, it doesn't want to get ahead of itself.

P.S. I gave it four stars on Flixster.
P.P.S. It's on Netflix streaming.