Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cabin in the Woods; Mirror, Mirror; Super Noypi; Citizens' Band; The Shanghai Gesture

The last word

Cabin in the Woods (2012) is fun, a deconstruction exercise the way Scream was only wittier and more imaginative, with some serious muscle behind the evil behind it all.

Best way to see it is go in knowing as little as possible, I'
d say; Whedon's script lets you know quickly what kind of movie this is, then complicates matters as swiftly as possible.

I do like it that the film takes the time to individualize the characters--we get some sense of who they are, care if they survive or not. Also like it that the film pulls some fast ones in plausibility--some unlikely coincidences, some lucky breaks--that stretch but don't snap the rubber bands of credibility (can't recall the proper term, was best I could think of).

Joss calls this his reaction against torture porn; damn straight. We need more of this kind of horror, less of that dull torture fare.

Only wish Joss had directed it--think he's a fine director, that he can do more with the camera (even the handheld kind) than most directors his age, or younger.

It's just a fantasy

And to continue with the genre-benders, Tarsem Singh's Mirror, Mirror (2012) is every bit as sloppily told as his Immortals--sloppier, in fact--but for all the cheesy effects, the story does enjoy the benefit of a genuinely funny script, and a cast as good-naturedly game as it is energetic (the standout being Armie Hammer as the unreservedly silly prince--for once, genuinely charming--and Julia Roberts as the deliciously evil queen).

The film's real star is Singh, who (unlike, say, Gary Ross) knows how to stage and shoot sword fights--they come off as both coherent and inventive. He knows how to wring every ounce of drama out of his always impressive sets (a ballroom with a gigantic bow of an entrance; a cozy dwarves' den; an enchantingly enchanted forest) and his outrageous costumes (designed by the late Eiko Ishioka, whose work on this film was, alas, her last).  

Super hero

 Quark Henares' Super Noypi (2006) isn't without its share of problems--okay, more than its share of problems--and you can see what a frustrating experience this must have been for the filmmaker: he's finally gotten a decent budget, a chance to show what he's got, and he's forced to fashion what he feels to be a piece of ordure. 

But after all's been said and done--the movie isn't that bad. Yes, the effects are terrible and some of the sets and costumes worse; yes the storytelling can at times seem painfully awkward. At the same time it manages to communicate the essential sanity of teens, it's inside them the way John Hughes likes to think he is (mostly with upper middle-class Caucasian teens, and a lot less often than you'd imagine). 

The plot twist when it comes is genuinely surprising, and surprisingly moving, and you can't help but note the differences between this and something like Chronicles: in the former the anti-hero commits crimes in the name of a wronged father or mother or beloved other; in the latter the anti-hero suffers his past hurts and his angst and doesn't really give a damn about anyone else...

Talk radio

Jonathan Demme's Citizen's Band (1977) is a lovely tribute to middle America--to ordinary people reaching out and annoying each other from hundreds of miles away (anticipating the Facebook culture by some twenty-six years). It's a colorful cast--a bigamous trucker; a hooker operating out of her trailer home; a seductive-voiced siren; an eager operator determined to enforce the rules of on-air courtesy (Paul LeMat) at the risk of life and limb.

The last is the hero of the film, for no other reason than that he has the most screen time, and has the unthankful task of trying to rein in his fellow conversationalists--not going to happen, but we have a time watching him try.

Charles Dickens might have written the screenplay to this movie, if he ran a ham radio: the sense of teeming, overwhelming life; the occasional touches of sentiment and pathos; the sympathy for all people, no matter how 'little.' These qualities shine through and feel like a updated version of his fiction, only Demme's has an unmistakable American quirk to it--every character there realizes he possess by birthright the opportunity to reinvent him or her self on a larger, more vivid scale, befitting the larger, more vivid landscape, and does so accordingly.

Come with me to the casbah, darling
Adopted from a play by John Colton, Josef von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture (1941) had to turn the original brothel into a casino, the drug addict into a degenerate gambler--but what a casino, and what a gambler! The club rises in a series of concentric circles, with a roulette wheel spinning at the very bottom, each circle embraced by wrought metal rails depicting paradisiacal birds and lush forests, the floors teeming with Asians and Europeans of every type indulging in every kind of vice. Think of Rick's Cafe conceived as an oriental Dante's Inferno--hell choking cheerfully in its own cigarette fumes.

(And who else should be spinning the bottom roulette wheel but Marcel Dalio himself? Obviously Michael Curtiz or his producers had seen this film and appropriated the man as a kind of Seal of Authentic Decadence for their own (frankly impoverished-looking) gambling den, in a far more wholesome (read: bland) melodrama)

As for the beautiful Eurasian Poppy (the name being the only hint left of the girl's original addiction), the censors kept Gene Tierney from really cutting loose, but she and Sternberg did their level best to suggest hedonism at its most amoral and monstrous, and damn if they didn't come close, with Tierney draped over every available sofa and bar counter and man, her luscious body poured into the various slinky gowns designed for her by her then-husband Oleg Cassini.

Censorship be hanged--it's a heedless spectacle where Victor Mature recites Omar Khayyam-like verses with all the relish of a Penthouse Forum Letter of the Month, where Ona Munro as Mother Gin Sling lovingly describes her sexual degradation from one big-city harbor to another, and Walter Huston as Sir Guy Charteris smiles icily, thinking himself protected by money and power, unaware of the fatal course his destiny is describing--a gradual but inevitable spiral into destruction and despair. A masterpiece, in short.



Anonymous said...

I've always thought Citizen's Band is a wonderful American film. Demme lost his way right after Melvin and Howard - another beautiful film.

Noel Vera said...

I think he did worthwhile work after. Something Wild is a fascinating road movie, Married to the Mob a wonderfully bizarre mob comedies (how many of them are there?), the documentaries are good, there's something to be said about even Silence, and he's back to form with Rachel Getting Married.

Melvin and Howard is his best, but he's still doing interesting work.

Jugs said...

or suspension of disbelief if that's the proper term you're trying to recall. i like rubber bands of credibility, though. would like to use it someday with your kind permission. =)

Noel Vera said...

Was kidding--course I know. And yes, you have my permission.