Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Week of Genre Movies

I love genre films: horror movies and westerns particularly. They work like good formal poetry – creators have to fit their story into an established set of rules. It’s always interesting to see how they will do it: will they play nice and boring or will they stretch the box?

It seems Oh-So-Hard to stretch this genre (which is why so many horror movies have moved into either the meta mode or remakes of old classics). Also, as they say…you can scare some of the people some of the time…but you can’t scare all of the people all of the time. I think the corpse of Abe Lincoln said that. Anyway, our fears are so subjective. This makes the form all the more difficult.

Silent Hill
Movies based on video games, like lovers who come together during traumatic accidents, never work out. At least, nobody’s gotten it right yet. Yes, the atmosphere is all fleshed-out in advance. You’d think half the work was done for the scriptwriter. Well, there’s always that bit about a linear plot. Something antithetical to video games and their endless outcomes. But I know how it is…a writer plays an evocative game with its enticing props and backdrops. The game evokes a strong desire to inhabit the world with a story. Writers just can’t resist; they try to graft a plot onto the set. In Silent Hill, the setting is awesome, the monsters are scary and novel; but the three heroes are flat as pancakes. The husband (Sean Bean) is a competent but wasted character with his impotent but yearning attempts to find his wife, who has gotten herself senselessly trapped in the abandoned, mine-burning town of Silent Hill. The wife is an annoying idiot who would be dead two-times over were it not for the one interesting character, a fierce take-no-prisoners policewoman (Kim Coates). Even after many miles of explanation on the backstory behind the town, you find the plot is a complete mess and the rules of this world are too murky for your patience. The underlying critique of religion (and hey, I’m no fan of the zealotry described here) is heavy-handed and visually preachy. One good thing, as one would expect, the monster scenes are computer-enhanced, par excellence scariness. But if it’s even a few good scenes of horror you crave: get your Netflix copy and fast forward directly to them.

American Haunting
I enjoyed this ghost story much better that the aforementioned. But then I’m just your old-fashioned haunted house kinda gal. However, the characters were cut too short. The dialogue was passable (read not ridiculous) but the movie tried to hard to be a period piece (over-abundance of retro props). The cast is of note: Donald Sutherland (great performance; we’re lucky to have him visiting our genre) and Sissy Spacek (same ole, same ole ineffectual whining). But the ending doesn’t work (a surprise that doesn't quite gell). And attempts to force the narrative into the future were jarring and disruptive. Okay, the movie wasn’t perfect; but it has suburb timing – something horror movies have gotten too lazy with, IMHO. I haven’t jumped at a scary movie in years and years. Maybe I’m becoming a nervous Nellie these days, but I jumped about five or six times, which is worth the admission price for me.

The Western
The rules of a western are somewhat looser, the genre a lot less dependent on gripping the sub-consciousness of an audience. They’re less gut-oriented and more cerebral. Although marginalized as well, westerns are much more highly regarded in the cinematic cannon.

The Proposition is definitely an A in its genre. Great script by Nick Cave. Great cast (flawless performances by Danny Houston, Guy Pierce, Emily Watson, Ray Winstone, John Hurt), well-written dialogue (not too much; not too little). Subtly heartbreaking story of well-defined characters who struggle each in their own way. From the first scene, two characters are set as opposing in the main conflict of the film. You come to empathize with both. This may be a boring review but what else can I say but Go see it!


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