Monday, September 28, 2009


Those who know me personally (or have read this blog before)are at least passingly familiar with my tendency to kvetch about the sad state of my favorite film genre, horror. So, there's no need to reiterate that old rant here, save that gore and shock are favored over atmosphere. But I've never talked much about films that did have that atmosphere in this space.....but that's changing. I'll start with one of my favorite films, and one of the most iconic, yet somewhat obscure, horror films ever made: Dario Argento's Suspiria.
Suspiria is the story of Suzy Bannion (Phantom of the Paradise's Jessica Harper), an American ballet student who arrives in Germany to study at a prestigious ballet school.....that may be run by a coven of witches. Like most of Dario Argento's films, the plot of Suspiria is not it's strong suit, though it bears mentioning that the story and acting are tighter here than in most of Argento's other works. What Suspiria's great strength is, is visual. One, it was the last film ever made in Technicolor, which I find a lot warmer than modern coloring systems. Two, this film has some of the strangest interiors I've ever seen, as far as the ballet school. It can be said in certain films that the location is an actual character......this was never truer than it is in Suspiria. This film has some of the strangest, most flamboyant sets you will ever see. Three, the lighting in Suspiria is the most dramatic I've ever seen in a film. Scenes are bathed entirely in bright, primary reds, blues, yellows, etc. Four, what Argento lacks in the department of structure and ability to direct actors, he makes up for in spades in the department of setting up a shot. His visual style remains largely consistent across his catalogue, which is notable considering that he has worked with several directors of photography. All of the above factors combine to make Suspiria the best-looking film I've ever seen, in any genre.
Special mention has to go to the soundtrack by Argento proteges/mainstays Goblin, who also scored the original Dawn of the Dead. The eerie main theme, with it's arpeggiated pedal point progression, is a clear inspiration to later iconic horror themes like Halloween and Phantasm.......and that's before you factor in the unusual use of the bouzouki and tabla on the title track. The rest of the soundtrack is about as strange, but you can't really get the impact from me telling you about need to hear it. It's truly decades ahead of it's time.
There are, however, a few things that keep Suspiria from being counted amongst the all-time great horror film greats by more mainstream tastes.......the events of the film aren't as tight as they could be. There's a lot that happens, mostly character death, that does little to nothing to move the story along or raise the stakes. Also, some may find the performances somewhat dated.
Despite that, Suspiria is a remarkable film, and one that I heartily recommend. I give Suspiria an 18 out of 22 on the 22 scale.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Ensemble movies are one of the basic foundations of film since its inception. In the past 10 years or so, digital movies have become commonplace at the theater as well. Naturally, the combination of the two is a natural leap to make. 9 was not the first movie to do this, however; that would be Toy Story. 9 isn’t even the first of its kind in the digital serious sci-fi arena. The horrible Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within comes to mind, though there might even be one earlier. So 9 is original… how?

That’s not to say the movie was bad; it wasn’t. It just wasn’t all that creative. Post-apocalyptic world… check. Futuristic Matrix-like man vs. machine setup… check. Female character who could kick yours and everyone in the theater’s asses… check. All the elements are in perfectly in place, which may be a good thing or a bad one, depending on how easily satisfied with conventions you are.

The one big thing 9 had going for it was that all the characters were machines made out of burlap and watch gears. That was pretty creative. The look of the movie was spectacular; lush and vivid settings and interesting-looking characters were consistent throughout. It was also a little interesting and different to have all the principles’ names be numbers (there are 9 of them, hence the title). In fact, nobody in the film has an actual name. The story concept was pretty great, too; a scientist’s creations must carry on his last mission after his death. Tried and true, but with a little futuristic twist.

While the visuals were phenomenal, and the story idea had a lot going for it, 9 trips up in the plot and story presentation, especially the dialog. The voice actors are all awesome in real life (the film boasts the talents of Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Elijah Wood, and Jennifer Connelly), and they lend their awesomeness to the digital screen to a certain degree. However, they don’t have a whole lot to work with. The script is pretty weak, and it relies heavily on action and visual wow to carry the film. Dialog and character interaction are given a backseat, and it’s clear that not a lot of time or energy were put into them.

Slight spoilers here, so watch out. The story idea was great, but some story elements were poorly explained in the film. This goes back to the dialog being very substandard. Also, the concept of the 9 living machines all being parts of the Scientist’s soul was interesting, but not well thought through. Also, the only ones left at the end of the movie are the two kids, a male and a female. The assumption is that they will repopulate the earth (that whole “this world is ours” thing), but… they’re machines. Machines can't copulate. Or if they can, that belongs in a different movie.

I’m glad I saw 9 in the theater, because it was quite the visual spectacle. That alone was almost worth the price of admission (or at least it would have been if NYC theaters weren’t so damn expensive). If you don’t expect too much else from the film, though, you’ll at least get to see some great CGI, if nothing else.

Iconic Lines:

I must have mentioned at least twice that the dialog wasn’t very good, so I got nothin’.

22 Rating: 4

Particle Man

Friday, September 04, 2009

Eternal Sunshine is Real

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorite movies, and easily belongs on the Top 10 list of movies of the decade. And it basically starts with this premise: What if we could erase painful memories?

Well, apparently science has once again caught up to filmmakers' imagination. According to this study, a team of researchers has figured out a way to erase the memories of rats. They trained the rats to associate a particular sound with an electric shock, so that eventually, whenever the rats hear the sound, they freeze. Adult rats never forget -- they always freeze. But when scientists injected a drug that's supposed to dissolve the protective sheath around the brain cells in the amygdala -- lo and behold -- the rats stopped freaking out when they heard the sound.

Now, this is being talked up as something that could become immensely helpful to those with PTSD. And I can certainly see that. But I also wonder how long it is before it goes from being PTSD specific to being prescribed to anyone who, like Joel and Clementine in Eternal Sunshine, are just sad about a lost relationship. In any case, it provokes the following questions: Should we erase memories at all? If so, what kinds? And who should be able to decide what kinds?

Anyone have any insights here?