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November 2008

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Nov. 13th, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

morehustle

Movin' on up

ATTENTION!



Rabbit Room is going to be moving shortly to a new home. I believe there will be an RSS feed so that you can get the reviews and features shipped to your LJ friends page even though I won't be posting directly to LJ any more.

I'm leaving this journal as it is, but I'm also mirroring the entries on the new site. Once I'm done checking all those out to make sure embedded videos and pictures, etc. are working, I'll resume the October Project.

http://www.rabbitroom.org/blog

Nov. 10th, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

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Film Monthly: Role Models

New at Film Monthly: Role Models

Nov. 9th, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

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New on Film Monthly: Let the Right One In & Tokyo Gore Police

I have a couple of new reviews up at Film Monthly:

Let the Right One In

Tokyo Gore Police

Nov. 6th, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

morehustle

October Project Contest Winner!

polsvoice is the winner of the Dance of the Dead DVD! He got both questions wrong, but he was the only person to enter the contest, so he wins by default! WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Answers were:

1. I have seen three films on the big screen three times each this year. What were they?
-My Winnipeg, Wall-E, and Last Year at Marienbad

2. How many different films have I watched on the big screen this year?
-115 as of last Tuesday, the night the contest was posted.

Regular programming will resume this weekend.

Oct. 27th, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

morehustle

October Project contest!

Holy crap! I'm three days behind in the October Project, and for that I apologize. This past weekend was the Music Box Massacre-- a 24-hour horror movie marathon that ate the entire weekend, pretty much. I spent most of the day today recuperating and preparing to go to another 24-hour horror movie marathon in Philadelphia this coming weekend.

So to make up for my sloppiness, I'm going to do the very first Rabbit Room Contest! The winner gets a brand new copy of Dance of the Dead on DVD. SERIOUSLY. All you need to do is answer two questions. Here they are:

1. I have seen three films on the big screen three times each this year. What were they?

-and-

2. How many different films have I watched on the big screen this year?

How to enter the contest: Answer both questions in a comment. Comments are screened so only I will see them. You have to be a member of the community to leave comments, so the contest is open to members only. If you want to join the community, send me a request and I'll add you ASAP.

How to win:
1. If you get #1 exactly right, you'll probably win right away. If multiple people get #1 right, I'll have to do a random drawing of those people.

2. If no one gets Question #1 exactly right, I'll move on to Question #2.

3. The closest to the actual number of feature films I've watched on the big screen (as of tonight-- I saw RocknRolla tonight as part of the Chicago International Film Festival) and/or the closest answer to question #1 will win. Be aware this does not count multiple viewings of the same film: the question is how many different individual feature-length films have I seen, not how many times have I gone to the cinema.

You guys have plenty of time to do research-- I'll figure out the winner November 5th, after we get back from Philadelphia. Whoooooooooooooooooo!

Oct. 26th, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

morehustle

Note

The October Project is temporarily suspended for the weekend, as I went to the Music Box Massacre IV and now need a bit of time to recuperate. Thank you for your patience and kind attention.

Oct. 24th, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

morehustle

October Project: Saw II




Saw II
Written by Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
2005


The continued success of the Saw franchise completely mystifies me. I thought the original Saw was just awful-- stupid, clumsily directed and with some of the worst acting you're ever likely to see in a film released by a major studio. But somehow, it caught on. There's probably a book in the works somewhere about the sociopolitical/economic/etc. factors that allowed Saw to catch on the way it did. In any case, barely a year after the original's huge success, Lionsgate rushed out Saw II. And shockingly, it's actually worth watching. The best part is that you don't necessarily have to have seen the first film to know what's going on in Saw II, which is great because you really don't need to see it anyway.

Some backstory would be useful, I suppose. Saw introduced the character of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), a serial killer who "doesn't kill anyone" because he puts people in situations where they can choose to do some sort of horrible damage to themselves or just die. Jigsaw's gimmick is that he's a cancer patient, dying of a frontal lobe brain tumor, and he puts people in these situations so that they'll learn to appreciate the life they have instead of throwing it away. You would think this would apply to pretty much any person on the street, but as the series progresses it seems more and more like vigilante justice (this is actually confirmed in Saw V). That's really all you need to know going into Saw II, although for anyone who watched the first one there are some references, mostly accompanied by tiresome exposition that explains everything anyway.

So Saw II opens with a guy in a trap (a series hallmark) who-- surprise!-- doesn't make it out alive. Police investigate and Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, looking appropriately gruff and sweaty) is called out by Jigsaw for some reason. Matthews and his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer) have crossed paths with Jigsaw before, but now it seems Matthews is his new pet project. The action jumps ahead a few days when Matthews has a brainstorm and realizes where Jigsaw's hiding out. Matthews and Kerry take a SWAT team to the hideout and find Jigsaw sitting patiently waiting for them, but not before a few SWAT team officers die in one of his traps, which makes him a murderer. Sigh.

Anyway, Jigsaw directs Matthews to a bank of video monitors and a ticking clock. The monitors show a group of people trapped in a room, among them Matthews' son Daniel (Erik Knudsen). Matthews and Daniel's last interaction had been a screaming fight, and now Jigsaw is putting Matthews to the test. The ticking clock is roughly how much time the people in the house have until the poison gas they're breathing kills them all. Throughout the house are needles with the antidote, but each needle is in an elaborate trap. There are enough to save everyone, but only if they can find them before their 2 hours runs out and they all die. Jigsaw informs Matthews that all he has to do is sit and listen and his son will be returned safely.

Once all the setup is out of the way and the people in the house are introduced, Saw II rarely lets up. It does exactly what a sequel to this sort of film should do: it expands on the themes and ideas of the original in an interesting way. It also works as a clever update to the slasher franchises of the 1980s. You know most or all of these people are going to meet horrible ends, but the killer is in a warehouse miles away, letting all his victims take care of themselves. The traps are considerably more gruesome than those in the first film, and mostly a little more fair. For example, the guy in the barbed wire in the first movie didn't have a chance; the idiot in the furnace in this movie should have known better. You actually get the idea that these people can get out of the traps if they just think for two seconds, which (naturally) they almost never do.

Saw II also has a very clever take on the series' trademark playing with time that I won't spoil. Suffice it to say, it's the only instance in the series when this particular gimmick has been done effectively. The performances are still pretty bad, but they're nowhere near as comically maniacal as those in the first film, and the bigger cast of characters are much more engaging than the two annoying guys we're stuck with for almost the entirety of Saw. Jigsaw is given a much more active role this time around, and this is actually the only film in the series in which he seems like a formidable villain and not just a voice on some tapes. Subsequent sequels in the series have devolved into pointless retconning, a sad trend that reaches its nadir (one would hope) with Saw V. As a standalone film, Saw II is the only one in the series that can stand on its own merits. Investing in the rest of the franchise is an exercise in frustration, but I would recommend Saw II any day.

Oct. 23rd, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

morehustle

October Project: In the Mouth of Madness




In the Mouth of Madness
Written by Michael de Luca
Directed by John Carpenter
1995


John Carpenter will always be known as the guy who wrote and directed Halloween, just like George Romero will always be the Night of the Living Dead guy to most casual movie and/or horror fans. This is not because these men haven't made other great films, but there's no question that the combined number of people who have seen Martin, The Crazies, and Bruiser falls well short of the number of people who have seen Night of the Living Dead. They have been blessed/cursed with the creation of a hugely popular, iconic film that has moved on into Legend territory. That said, John Carpenter's track record is considerably more inconsistent than Romero's-- I'm looking at you, John Carpenter's Vampires.

However, Carpenter has also made some great films that are as good as Vampires is inexcusably awful. The Thing is one of those rare remakes that greatly improves on the original. Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China are goofy, ridiculous fun. But one of my favorite Carpenter films is one that seems often ignored or dismissed: In the Mouth of Madness, which is also one of the best H.P. Lovecraft films ever made.

Sam Neill stars as private investigator John Trent, hired by a publishing company to track down Sutter Cane, their most popular author (and a thinly-veiled reference to Stephen King). Cane has gone missing and took the manuscript for his latest novel with him, so it's Trent's job to find Cane and/or retrieve the book. Trent sets to work and discovers that Cane has left a series of clues in the artwork for the covers of his books that create a map that leads to Hobb's End, the sleepy New England town in which many of Cane's books take place. He follows the map and ends up in Hobb's End, which is exactly how Cane described it. Of course, the thing is that Hobb's End doesn't exist.

Then things get weird.

In the Mouth of Madness features numerous references to ancient cosmic forces, and was obviously written as a tribute to the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Carpenter even manages the rare trick of making the film seriously disorienting, especially toward the end. And especially on the big screen-- this is a film made for late-night shows. And even though it's not an adaptation of a Lovecraft work, In the Mouth of Madness succeeds more than almost any screen adaptation of his work in evoking the kind of mind-bending cosmic terrors Lovecraft so effectively conjured in his fiction.

Oct. 22nd, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

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October Project: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon




Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Written by Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve
Directed by Scott Glosserman
2006


The "deconstructionist" horror film sub-genre that started with There's Nothing Out There and reached its highest popularity with Scream has led to this-- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is the new king of the genre, hands-down. Behind the Mask is the name of the documentary being made about Leslie Vernon, a new killer hoping to join the ranks of his heroes: Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, et al. The film presupposes a world in which these characters actually exist, and that killing is an open market-- anyone with the dedication and training can make their name at it.

Leslie Vernon has decided to allow documentary filmmaker Taylor Gentry an inside look at what it takes to become a career mass-murderer. He explains the rules he must follow, and how his ultimate aim is to find the perfect Final Girl: that one girl who's left alive at the end to destroy him. The term "Final Girl" was originally coined by critic Carol J. Clover in her classic book Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. This, along with many of Leslie's musings, make it clear that writers Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve have been paying attention to the academic studies of the horror film popularized in the last twenty or so years. The film switches back and forth between documentary footage and interviews with Leslie (in which he does most of his pontificating about the genre) and scenes of the "film" that Leslie is setting up. All of his prep work leads to a final slaughter at his abandoned childhood home out in the country where (if all goes well) he'll have his perfect showdown with his perfect girl.

While it's a lot of fun to hear the characters talk about the accepted ways of behavior and strict adherence to rules that cause people to do completely wrong things in these situations, the best part of the film is Leslie himself. Nathan Baesel gives an excellent performance, making Leslie a funny, charismatic guy who's just confident and assured enough that it's okay if he's a bit of an asshole. And, you know, mass murderer. The scenes with his mentor Eugene are also really funny. For example, we learn that Eugene is retired but still trains by doing things like staying buried in a coffin for days on end, just to keep in shape. Eugene and his wife are parental figures for Leslie, and their concern for him is genuinely sweet. This little touch is just one more thing that sets Behind the Mask apart from overly ironic or wacky horror comedies.

The film eventually turns completely into the slasher film that's being set up for its first two acts, but manages to keep the viewer off-balance and guessing with a sneaky plot twist. Even this is that rare twist that doesn't feel like cheating on the part of lazy writers-- you might see it coming, but it's fun anyway. The film also surprisingly isn't very gory, and might well appeal as much to fans of Christopher Guest's mockumentary style as to horror fans. However, its style and surprisingly thorough discussions of genre staples and psychology will likely still appeal most to horror fans. Make sure to watch the credits all the way through, and not just because it probably wasn't cheap to get "Psycho Killer" licensed for the film!

Oct. 21st, 2008

Inland Empire, Male Rabbit

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October Project: Subconscious Cruelty


Subconscious Cruelty
Written and directed by Karim Hussain
Canada, 1999


Karim Hussain is a Canadian director who has written and directed three feature films. None of them are currently available in the United States, despite his latest (The Beautiful Beast or La Belle bête) winning the Director's Award for Best Film at this year's Boston Underground Film Festival. La Belle bête is easily Hussain's most accessible film, which says a lot for his other two features: it's the story of a severely dysfunctional family living in an isolated mansion. The mother verbally abuses her daughter at every opportunity, and has a sexual relationship with her developmentally-disabled son, which causes her daughter in turn to abuse and neglect him. Also, it's entirely in French. And again, this is Hussain's most accessible film.

Hussain's second film, Ascension, is openly confrontational. It's driven almost entirely by dialogue, because it is basically a film about three women climbing a very tall stairwell in an abandoned factory. The story goes that some force has killed God, thereby dispersing God's power among all of humanity-- suddenly, everyone is immortal and has the ability to create and destroy at will. The force that killed God resides at the top of a tower, and three women venture into the tower to confront and destroy it in order to end the world. Their powers are nullified in the tower, but the force that resides there is at no such disadvantage: the women come across other pilgrims who attempted the same feat and who have met their demise. The film is mostly a series of long dialogues between the women, often ponderously philosophical, as they climb the stairs.

To date, however, Hussain's most traditionally confrontational film is his debut as writer/director: Subconscious Cruelty. The film is a series of vignettes with no overarching storyline other than the early statement "THE CINEMA IS A LIE" and a recurring imperative to "KILL THE LEFT BRAIN." Shot on 16mm film, the film often has the look of a particularly accomplished student film. It was clearly a labor of love for those involved, which makes its extremely disturbing content all the more unsettling. On his website, Hussain explains that the film took over six years to complete, and that he started shooting it when he was 19: "Being a film that I began when I was only 19 years old, I see in it today a pure, rage-drenched honesty and analytical frustration against the world that I find almost endearing, if not somewhat naive- but in the most beautiful sense."

In the film's first extended sequence, a brother and sister live in a collapsing house where the brother spies on his sister's trysts with various men. He often fantasizes about making love to his sister, but the fantasies veer off into the realm of more than simple incestual disgust. When she becomes pregnant, he pampers her while he plans a sort of revenge on all women, a grotesque parody of the birth process, that is not revealed until he engages in the act itself. This lengthy story is followed by a few minutes of nude people frolicking and eventually making love to the earth itself, biting off leaves that bleed copiously into their mouths and smearing themselves in mud.

The constant assault acts as a set-up for the centerpiece in the film's last section, and (unsurprisingly) the most controversial scene in the film. After a man wearing a cross necklace masturbates watching hardcore pornography, he is given a horrific vision of three demonic women violently assaulting a "Martyr" on a cross. Images of the mass are intercut with gruesome parody: during the transubstantiation of bread into flesh, one of the women tears a strip of skin from the Martyr and shoves it into her mouth. It's pretty strong stuff, to be sure, but Hussain leaves it up to the viewer whether he intends this sequence to be an assault on Christianity itself or a violent blasting of the blatant hypocrisy of the modern church.

While it may be some time before we see any official US releases of his films, Subconscious Cruelty has built a strong cult following throughout the world with its relentless nightmare imagery and Hussain's willingness to confront his audience and their preconceived notions about just about anything (religion, family, reality, etc.). His most mainstream appearance in US film so far has been as co-writer of Nacho Cerdà's feature film debut The Abandoned, and after seeing his other films his influence on the tone of that film is evident. Hussain, along with Cerdà and other filmmakers such as Douglas Buck, could very well represent the best of what the horror genre has to offer going forward: artful, original, thought-provoking films that find new ways to unsettle their audience. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Karim Hussain's films are available through import sites such as Diabolik DVD and Xploited Cinema.

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