In a World for October, 2010

In A World... for October

October’s here, which means the trailers for the winter’s Oscar bait are making their premieres and cheapie scary movies are released upon the teenaged public — complete with a new Saw installment. September was mostly a pretty grim month for movies, but October promises something a bit better: A wider mix of good talent and subject matter, from high brow to low.

OCTOBER 1

Let Me In

Let Me In

DW: At the best of times, I’m pretty skeptical of both vampire films and of remakes of horror films. The pedigree for this story of a boy who forms a relationship with a childlike vampire girl is pretty strong; the original novel has been acclaimed and the original film version as well. And the look here is pretty striking, with all those pale, snow-covered, bleak landscapes standing as glaringly obvious symbols for the main story.

I’m almost tempted to give it a shot, if only for the sake of curiosity alone. After all, it has been long enough that we’re about due for at least a decent English-language vampire movie, right?

But then “from the director of Cloverfield” flashes across the screen and I’m suddenly even more skeptical than I was before.

KL: I have seen Let the Right One In, the Swedish film this one remakes, and can attest that it is as good as people say it is. What I see in this trailer confirms what I heard from trusted critics coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival: this is most certainly a remake, pretty loyal to the original, only this time it’s in English.

As with Gus Van Sant’s near-literal remake of Psycho, one must ask the question: What’s the point? Same characters, same color tone, same dead-silent winter landscape… I enjoy Richard Jenkins as much as the next man, but I think I’ll pass.

The Social Network

The Social Network

KL: If the movie had instead just been the minute or so of Facebook hallmarks set to that marvelous cover of “Creep,” I’d be fine. But no, there is a feature film, and boy do I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, David Fincher (yay!). On the other, Aaron Sorkin, who going by the trailer is at his Aaron Sorkiniest (boo). On the one hand, David damn Fincher, who did Zodiac! On the other hand, his last movie was Benjamin Button. On the one hand, Jesse Eisenberg, who I quite like. On the other, Justin Timberlake. And on and on.

I also share some sympathies with the camp saying it’s “too soon” to do a movie about Facebook. I agree, and partly don’t understand why one is being made at all. I suspect I may need to be of another, older generation to truly understand how revolutionary social media is to the social landscape. It could be I just lack the proper perspective.

But I am who I am, and I’m of the “digital native” generation. I fully expect we’ll next see Francis Ford Coppola do a movie about the inventers of Words with Friends.

DW: Yeah, I want to be interested in the film, because apart from Sorkin, who has always left me cold, that’s a pretty impressive list of names associated with this film. But, a movie about the people who made Facebook? Really? I can sort of see the logic behind it. It’s the kind of success story with behind the scenes drama that Hollywood loves, and the “true story” nature of it always gives a movie a little extra push when it comes to award seasons. But Facebook? Okay. I guess I have to throw myself into the “too soon” camp. I just can’t shake the suspicion that, fifteen years from now, people will look back and remember that people once made a movie about that friend-stalking service that people used to use before moving on to newer, better social experiences on the web.

OCTOBER 8

I Spit On Your Grave

I Spit On Your Grave

DW: Unless you’re a real fan of ’70s grindhouse gore films, you probably only know of the original I Spit On Your Grave either for the controversy it created at the time, with feminist critics accusing the film of misogynistically glorifying rape, or the reappraisal it received from later feminist critics who saw it as an early example of the “woman takes vengeance on her rapists” film that would go on to become a staple of “television for women” channels. (There was also the re-reappraisal by critics who noted that while everyone was arguing about whether or not the film was sexist, as a distaff Deliverance, the rather unpleasant things it was saying about poor people were being overlooked.) In any case, it is one of those films that is more entertaining to read about than to try and actually watch.

So I can actually see the logic behind remaking it. People know the name, most haven’t seen it, and the original is just a little too dated to really work with a contemporary audience. Unfortunately, the aesthetic of horror has come around again to the point where the torture-porn genre is so ascendant that people are mistaking gore and brutality for “scary” and taking the film and making it just another torture-porn film, only with a woman doing the killing this time, just gives the entire enterprise an air of tediousness.

KL: About the only thing the original I Spit On Your Grave had going for it was the title. Because come on: that is a badass title.

But as you say, Dorian, it looks a hell of a lot like a modern-day torture porn thing, except this time the torturer is the protagonist and we’re given a reason to cheer monstrous behavior. That thread in a lot of movies has always bothered me: that need to have an excuse for righteous fury right up front so characters—and, vicariously, the audience—can indulge in the worst behavior imaginable. Yuck.

I don’t know who that’s meant to be fun for. Maybe teenagers, looking for the emotional rollercoaster of “real life”; lord knows I pursued movies like this as a kind of tourist back in those days. But I’m not a teenager anymore.

My Soul to Take

My Soul to Take

KL: Well, no one can accuse Wes Craven of not knowing what his interests are, huh?

I kid. One thing I like about a lot of Craven’s better movies is how they examine the concept of “sins of the father”—in broader terms, how old sins and wrongdoings tend to linger on well after they’re apparently put to bed, and how growing into adulthood often means dealing with the complete fucking wreck your parents’ generation made of the world. It’s a common thread in many horror and crime films, and one I can get behind. I enjoy a genuine mystery along with my scares.

And just when I think it’s safe to count Craven out, he surprises me. New Nightmare is, looking back, pretty well flawed, but it was still a brilliant stab back into relevance, and a clear attempt to try something new. As many misgivings as I have with the Scream series, you can’t say it didn’t give new life to the slasher film. And Red Eye is, I think, still one of his most underappreciated thrillers.

I’ll be interested to see how this one does.

DW: I like Craven when he’s doing something different from what he’s done before, or what anyone else is doing in horror at the moment. Nightmare on Elm Street was interesting because it had that surreal, fantasy edge that the standard slasher films of the times lacked. Scream was different because it was self-aware. This looks to be treading a lot of the same ground as the Nightmare series and I’ve already seen Craven do that. Like you, I’m a little interested to see how it does, because even a retread from Craven promises to be more original than the bulk of the horror films we get these days, but I’m not sure if the audience wants that, or yet another Saw movie. But I’m not terribly curious about the final product or the fate of these characters. Especially when you factor in the 3D gimmick and a terrible nu-metal song in the trailer.

Stone

Stone

KL: I’ve spoken to a critic or two who’ve already seen this and they tell me it’s about as good as the premise and cast indicate.

I tend to hear two things about Ed Norton: he is a great chameleon of an actor who never chooses a dull project, or he just walks through everything as Ed Norton and how interesting can that be, anyway? I tend to lean toward the former, but that’s likely because I consider The 25th Hour to be one of the very best movies of the last 20 years. De Niro’s presence is sort of a non-factor in determining the worth of movie these days, as is Jovovich. But the Movie Math is good. Them plus Norton plus premise equals Ken is going.

DW: It’s a very good cast, and the moral complexity of the situation it presents is intriguing. In normal circumstances that would be enough to get my attention, but there’s just something off-putting to me about the elements on display here. There’s a lot going on, and there doesn’t appear to be a real lead character for an audience to focus on. The characters all appear to be self-sabotaging to certain degrees, and while that can make for a good tragedy, there are limits to my patience with it.

Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe

DW: It looks like there’s a little more wit to this than most entries in the “girl returns to small town she grew up in to cause upheaval in the lives of the residents” genre. That’s not really saying much, to be honest, but quality level does look to be above the usual baseline. I have a suspicion that the we’re in for a bit of over-praising from the critics, both for the cachet of the film being British, when most of the genre is dominated by American films with the “it girl” of the moment, and the novelty of the source material being a comic book instead of the more usual light novel, of the sort that dominates book racks in airport news-stands.

The only major knock I can see coming is that, for the most part, none of the characters featured in the trailer seem particularly likeable. Not the philandering authors, not the jealous local boy-toy, and not the object of everyone’s affection herself. Tamara Drewe is just a cipher in the trailer, though a well-sexed one. That’s not really enough to get me to care about why she’s returned home.

KL: Oh, good. A story about writers.


OCTOBER 15

Red

Red

KL: The similarities between this movie and the graphic novel created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner probably begin and end with character names and very, very basic premise (retired government hit man pursued by government). And that’s OK; the OGN was like Ellis doing a Garth Ennis plot, and aside from some neat dialogue, a few good action sequences and doing me the admittedly huge solid of introducing me to Hamner’s art, I can take it or leave it.

I way prefer the absurdity on display here. Red the comic is grim and preachy, whereas Red the movie looks fun and absurd. “Let’s let Helen Mirren shoot some bloody huge guns” is basically stunt casting, but I find myself not caring.

DW: I have absolutely no recollection of the comics other than that Cully Hamner’s art was nice. That’s really not a strong testament to the story. It’s probably fitting that we get this and Expendables so close together. The themes appear to be strikingly similar, with aging badasses called together once more to prove that they are badasses. This one looks to have more of a smirky tone, which may or may not help it find an audience. But once more, I’m finding myself just a bit put off by it. Yes, there are actors I like in this, and yes, I prefer my action films not to take themselves too seriously. But this just looks too slick, too effects heavy, and too much of the cast just playing themselves.

It might just be possible that the Crank films have ruined me for big, Hollywood-style action films.

OCTOBER 22

Hereafter

Hereafter

KL: Clint Eastwood, boy, I just don’t know.

I was into Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby as much as the next guy, but I’ve never had any desire to see them ever again. I did not see Flags of Our Fathers, found myself troubled by Letters from Iwo Jima, actively disliked Changeling, ignored Gran Torino and found Invictus to be astoundingly pedestrian. This is not a good trend, and I’m starting to agree with the growing chorus of critics meeting each new Eastwood offering with eye-rolls and, sometimes, outright hostility.

The story out of Toronto is no different: some slathered Hereafter with praise and others actively hated it. So there’s that, and the fact that what I’ve seen of screenwriter Peter Morgan’s work (The Last King of Scotland, The Other Boleyn Girl, Frost/Nixon) has repeatedly disappointed me.

So no. No thanks.

DW: I went from being a little bored with the premise of the reluctant psychic to outright angry with the use of the tsunami to add real-life gravitas. So, no thanks for me too.

OCTOBER 29

Monsters

Monsters

DW: I’m willing to bet that we’re going to see a lot of comparisons between this film and District 9. They both have that same theme of humans dealing with aliens in their midst and the transformations society has to undergo because of that. But this looks more my speed, to be honest. At its heart, it’s a giant monster movie, and there’s something really compelling about the way they’ve shot this. Usually the trick of keeping the monsters mostly out of the frame just screams of an attempt to save on the effects budget, but in the glimpses we get in the trailer, it looks like care was taken to integrate the creatures into the environment. I also really respond to the fact that the creatures aren’t just scary, that there’s something fascinating and beautiful about them. It feels like a more honest portrayal, that acknowledgement that humans aren’t just terrified of the “other” but attracted to it as well.

KL: It’s a movie about an alien ecosystem growing in Mexico that the American and Mexican military can’t keep under control! We are totes subtle up in here, people.

OK, flippancy aside, I tend to agree with you: this looks like way more my thing than District 9, and here’s hoping it doesn’t follow D9’s sin of just turning on FPS auto-pilot in its last act. I’m way more interested in the realities of engaging, running from, marveling at and shrinking back in horror from an encounter with the truly alien; strapping on the guns and going macho works if the movie’s Predator, but most movies aren’t Predator and shouldn’t try to be.

I’m also glad that sci-fi monster movies like this are still being made by people without a ton of money. Huge sweeping blockbuster epics wearing the trappings of genre pictures do not interest me (I never saw Avatar, and likely never will); to me, these things belong in the hands of people who really, really want to make that movie, major studio backing be damned.

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2 thoughts on “In a World for October, 2010”

  1. I’m actually becoming curious about The Social Network based on the NY Times review. It may be because I’m not a digital native, but I’m a college professor who works with digital natives all day long, but I was struck by Dargis’s description of Zuckerberg as a man with poor social skills needing others’ help to make a site that substitutes for true friendship. What does friendship even mean now when the word ‘friend’ has been so coopted? So I’m curious about the movie.

  2. Good call, Elsie. I understand the reviews are stellar and if this is Fincher at his best, we likely WILL see some examinations of how something like Facebook has altered the social fabric of cliques… though the trailers, at least, seem obsessed with the dirty doings of the rise-to-power, which I find way less interesting.

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