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Archive for March, 2006

The Hills Have Eyes

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 17, 2006

Directed by Alexandre Aja/written by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Lavasseur/starring Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin, Vinessa Shaw, Ted Levine, Robert Joy/Fox Searchlight Pictures

OK, this isn’t going to be a full-fledged review so much as a (hopefully) brief rant. I know, what’s the difference on this site? But I’m only going to talk briefly about the film itself as far as “what’s it about” and deal mainly with some issues that the movie has brought up which kinda piss me off. Mainly, that the majority of movie critics out there are complete fucking idiots. Bear with me. If you don’t know much about the film itself, there are plenty of places on the web to find out that kind of info.

All right, so this is a remake of the 1977 Wes Craven film of the same name, which actually happens to be my personal favorite Craven film. It’s not quite as out-there as his first film, Last House on the Left, but it’s still much more raw and disturbing than his later, more mainstream stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing mainstream horror films, I just really like this movie more than any of his others. It’s one of those movies I refer to as an “accidental masterpiece”, a film that just works like a motherfucker, more than it actually should have any right to. Whether it was Craven’s budding talent or just pure luck, I’m not sure, but I hold it as one of the ‘70’s “extreme horror” classics, maybe a notch below the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead.

Now Craven himself has produced a remake of the film, with his handpicked choice of director being Frenchman Aja, who made the awesome horror flick High Tension (originally released in France under the title Switchblade Romance, which in retrospect actually makes more sense). Where most remakes of classic horror flicks are merely cynical cash-ins, Craven seems to have found a kindred spirit in the young Aja, who appears to have been the perfect choice to re-create this nasty bit of business for a new generation. The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is gruesome, grisly and shockingly violent even to hardened oldsters such as myself. It’s the modern equivalent of what Craven’s original was in its day – a genuinely upsetting nerve-rattler.

It’s also a fucking awesome horror movie, and at least in my opinion, the first great movie of the year.

This is where the stupid critics come in. I’ve read a few positive reviews, but mostly the response from the tired old guard has been, as it usually is with “extreme” horror films, “why do we need stuff like this?” The quote that set me off was when smug yuppie snob Richard “Dick” Roeper called the film “an ugly piece of splatter porn”. Never mind that there’s no such thing as “splatter porn” (I’m not sure Dick knows what the words “splatter” or “porn” actually mean). It occurs to me that too many so-called intelligent critics are perfectly willing to dismiss a movie like this simply because it contains elements that they, as individuals, disapprove of. And that’s bullshit.

These are the same kinds of people who gave negative reviews to such films as Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw, Last House and the original Hills, which are all considered genuine horror classics that have stood the test of time. Why were these films so reviled originally? Because they pushed the envelope of screen violence. Because they showed audiences things that some people didn’t want to see. They weren’t safe. They shook people up, and some people don’t appreciate being shaken up.

Never mind that these were all films that were about something, that were a response to the times in which they were made (the Vietnam era) and were released to an audience that understood them on a primal level. All certain people could see was the violence. And that remains true to this day – films ranging from Bonnie & Clyde to The Wild Bunch to Scarface have all been summarily dismissed on the same basis by people who should be smart enough to know better. It’s not just that they don’t like a movie – it’s that they don’t approve of what the movie represents. Forget about plot, character, style, artistry; if a film is “too violent” that’s enough to write it off as a piece of shit.

Here’s the thing that the tsk-tsk critics (and I use that word loosely, given that they’re obviously not using their critical faculties) don’t understand. Violence is ugly, repulsive and sickening. That’s the point. The violence in this film isn’t “fun” or “cool” – it’s brutal and horrifying. When the family members are attacked in this film, it hurts, because we like these people and care about whether they live or die. We’re shocked and repulsed by what happens to them. Calling the movie “splatter porn” insinuates that audiences are watching the film and jerking off (psychologically, at least) to the awful brutality in it like a bunch of depraved lunatics. That’s not the case. I guarantee you, not one person in the crowded audience I saw it with reacted that way. Nobody laughed or cheered when one woman is raped by a mutant and another is shot in the head at close range. That’s not the intention or the desired reaction. Maybe if these critics actually saw films with real audiences, they would understand that.

Horror movies are supposed to be horrifying. The point is to scare the shit out of you, to unnerve you and shake you up, make you feel like you’ve just been through an unsettling experience that you won’t soon forget. It’s a catharsis, a way to channel the kind of emotions that one hopes they will never have to process in real life. This has always been the case – it’s just that what scared audiences in the past is different than what scares us now. Where people were once terrified of “scary monsters” like the old Universal creatures, films like both versions of Hills remind them that the real monster is humanity. A lot of horror films don’t do that, and that’s why most of them are quickly forgotten almost immediately after viewing. It takes an “extreme” vision to truly freak people out these days – a guy running around in a hockey mask killing off stereotypical teenagers just doesn’t cut it. For violence to truly upset people, they not only have to see it – they have to feel it. They have to be taken to places that they don’t necessarily want to go.

Some people are willing to take that ride, and many are not. Those that aren’t just aren’t going to bother seeing the film. Let’s get serious, anyone who’s squeamish about screen violence is not going to buy a ticket to Hills, or any R-rated horror film for that matter. They’ll go see something else, probably anything else. But there is a large audience out there full of people who are willing to be taken to that dark place, not because they want to jerk off to carnage but because they want the experience of being unnerved, unsettled, shaken up. It’s that audience that critics should be reviewing these films for, based not solely on what the films contain but on whether or not they work. Does the film achieve its intended goals? Is it an effective piece of work? That’s what matters. And frankly, if a movie like this disturbs and upsets you, that means it’s fucking working!

Now, I’m obviously not trying to say that every violent film is a great work of art. Of course not. I’ve seen plenty of violent films that were total crap, and I’ve seen many non-violent films that were total crap. I’ve seen lots of films where violence wasn’t used effectively. Movies like those are generally the kind where nothing works particularly well. But a movie shouldn’t be penalized just because of violent content. There’s a difference between Faces of Death and Straw Dogs. You don’t have to like a movie because it’s violent, but you shouldn’t necessarily dislike it for that reason. And if you’re that kind of person, you just should not go see that film. If you’re that kind of critic, you should excuse yourself from reviewing that film, because you have no business claiming that you can watch it objectively. Calling a film like this “splatter porn” is a bit like comparing Last Tango in Paris to Cum Swallowing Cuties 5. It’s not just unfair, it’s inaccurate and inappropriate. And it’s pretty fucking stupid.

The ironic thing is, other than the nuclear-testing angle (which I thought worked really well), the plot of the remake (at least the first 2/3rds anyway) is virtually identical to the original. The same things happen for the most part, the same characters die and the same ones survive. Yet no one seems bothered by the original anymore, because it’s now “an old movie”. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same, huh? I guarantee you, Wes Craven is somewhere right now laughing at these disapproving assholes. All the way to the bank. Can you imagine someone remaking, say, I Spit on Your Grave or Cannibal Holocaust and having to listen to moralist shitheads complain about the violence? I mean, what the fuck did these cocksuckers expect, anyway?

Of course, no true horror fan is going to skip a film like this just because of what “Dick” Roeper and the notoriously horror-hating Ebert are going to say. And that’s the way it should be. These critics honestly wonder why so many films aren’t being screened for them anymore? Gee, maybe it’s because they’re in genres that are immediately dismissed by these annoying fucks, and that they have a built-in audience who don’t really give a shit what critics say anyway. In time, the foolish outcries of the moral guardians will be forgotten, and the films will live on. The original Hills has stood the test of time, and I believe the remake will do the same. Love it or hate it, it raises questions about ourselves, our country and our humanity, that are impossible to answer. That’s what’s really fucking disturbing, and that’s what makes it a great horror film.

But one word of advice: if the government ever tells you to vacate your home because they’re doing nuclear testing in the area, do yourself a favor and get the fuck out.

**** 3/17/06

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Oscars 2006: Once Again, America Votes Against Gays

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 8, 2006


That’s pretty much my reaction to Crash winning Best Picture. I think it’s a mistake, and a big one, but that’s pretty much par for the course for the Academy. This is the same group that gave the award to Shakespeare in Love and Chicago, so there you have it. A year from now, everyone will have forgotten all about it, so there’s no sense in getting all worked up about it.

But it would have been nice if a certain other film, which was considered the frontrunner, had taken the prize. It would have made a statement, and the fact that the majority of Academy members chose specifically not to make that statement pretty much says it all.

While certain critics like Roger Ebert (who’s been off his game for several years now) are gloating over Crash’s victory, and claiming it was entirely justified – come on, who are we kidding? Not even Crash’s supporters actually expected it to win. The idea that homophobia didn’t play a part in the Brokeback backlash (Brokebacklash?) is extremely naïve and foolish. You’d have to be completely out of touch with reality to think that wasn’t a factor. Can we get real for just a minute?

You want evidence? Okay, how about geezer Tony Curtis’ assertion to the New York Post that not only was he not voting for Brokeback, a significant portion of the Academy – the older, more conservative, old-Hollywood faction of the group – were not going to be voting for it either. He gave some rather bizarre statements in that interview, including one I’ll likely never forget: “Brokeback Mountain isn’t anything new or special…the only difference is that they put it on the screen”. Whatever that means! It’s a sad thing when senility kicks in, isn’t it?

Now, I’m not claiming that everyone who voted for Crash did so for this reason – but that’s probably what put it over the top. Let’s face it – Crash was the safest, most non-threatening alternative. Certain people voted for it not because it was the best film on that list, but because they knew it could possibly win against “the gay cowboy movie”. What about the other movies in that category? Capote – still too gay. Good Night, and Good Luck – too liberal. Munich – too political and controversial. What does that leave us with?

So rather than vote for the film that swept all the critics’ awards and the Golden Globes, that got three acting nominations, won for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, the Academy chose to anoint the film that caused most outsiders to wonder why it was even on the list. It’s important to remember that the entire Academy votes for Best Picture, so it’s appropriate to speak of “the Academy” in this case. That’s why the film that wins Best Director doesn’t necessarily win Best Picture. So this year the supposed “Best Picture” not only wasn’t directed by the Best Director, it didn’t feature any of the Best Performances (and only got one acting nomination, for Supporting Actor). Right. So you have to wonder, what’s so damn great about it?

Now, I haven’t even seen Crash, so I can’t claim that it’s a completely unworthy film. I do recall that when the nominations came out, many pundits thought it took the spot that Walk the Line should have had. So it’s likely that film could have won had it been nominated instead. This is all coming from someone who thought the best film of the year was A History of Violence, and in my opinion, Good Night, and Good Luck was the best film in the category. So why do I even care?

Because I guarantee you, every bigoted, homophobic redneck asshole out there is counting Brokeback’s loss as a victory for their side. And they’re right about that, as sad as it is to say. I guess the conservatives can take heart in the fact that Hollywood’s not quite as liberal as it’s made out to be. Again, it’s not that the movie should have won because it’s a gay-themed film – it’s that it lost because it’s a gay-themed film. Every indication pointed to it winning, and any other film with that much critical acclaim, that had won that many awards prior to the Oscars, would have won Best Picture. For this film to have come that far and then have the prize yanked away from them is nothing less than a slap in the face. It’s bullshit, and anyone who thinks otherwise is fucking kidding themselves.

And it’s all because society still hasn’t gotten over the fact that some guys like to fuck each other. Crimeny, man. You know, I’m not that comfortable with gay sex either, but luckily for me, I don’t have to be in the room when it happens. So why on Earth would I give a fuck what other people do in their own bedrooms (or pup tents)? I’m still trying to figure that one out. People act like Brokeback is some kind of hardcore gay porno with full-on anal penetration or something. It’s just a fucking movie. Get over it, people. And get over yourselves.

Overall though, I thought the Oscars were pretty good this year, albeit a good show with a terrible ending (as any filmmaker knows, you gotta stick the landing or people walk out disappointed, no matter how good the rest of the movie was). I don’t know why people are bagging on Jon Stewart – I thought he was a terrific host. He was classy, self-deprecating, and best of all, funny while still being respectful of the event. It’s a fine line that an Oscar host has to walk, and where Chris Rock trampled all over it, Stewart managed to strike just the right notes. He made sport of Hollywood without seeming mean-spirited or diminishing the importance of the event. Nor did he try to make the show all about him (unlike, say, Whoopi Goldberg). I don’t know what people expected – did they think it would be a non-stop barrage of Bush jokes? Was he supposed to go into his stoner routine from Half Baked? Seriously, everything you could want from an Oscar host, Stewart delivered on. Sign him up for next year, I say!

Other, more random observations about the Oscar ceremony:

I’m glad they took my advice and dumped the Baba Wawa special (actually, moved it to Wednesday night) but can we please leave all the “red carpet” nonsense to the likes of the E! channel? This is exactly why people think it’s all about “watching the celebrities” – it’s a sad perception, and one that the Oscar producers themselves play into. For Christ’s sake, for one freakin’ night can we focus on celebrating the films? If they have to do these pre-show interviews, it wouldn’t kill them to talk to the nominated directors, writers, producers, etc. You know, those people that make the movies. And not just George Clooney.

Ben Stiller needs to reconsider his career. His pathetic routine was just an example of how tired his “male humiliation” humor has become. I’d honestly like to see him tackle some dramatic roles, just to keep him from making any more damn Fockers movies.

I didn’t like any of the nominated songs this year (and why were there only three?) but that whole presentation of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” was just an embarrassment. I believe it’s the first time in Oscar history that a number was presented with dancers representing pimps and whores. Classy! Yeah, gay sex is still taboo, but a song glorifying prostitution is perfectly fine. I guess that’s something Hollywood’s more familiar with! And really, what’s so hard about being a pimp anyway? Does counting all that money cause severe eyestrain?

Turn off the damn music during the speeches! And for Christ’s sake, let these people talk for a friggin’ minute! This is their moment in the sun, for cryin’ out loud. Instead of giving people time to give their speeches, they wasted time on that Tom Hanks sketch about people taking too long to give their speeches. Brilliant!

Seriously, did Michelle Williams look fucking hot or what? Is it just me? Maybe it’s just my thing for diminutive blondes. Heath, you don’t need an award if you’re coming home to that every night! Lucky bastard.

Why weren’t Don Knotts, Darren McGavin and Dennis Weaver on the “death list”? Surely they could have tacked them on at the end in time for the show. How hard is it to throw a couple of still frames up there? Now they’ll have to wait another year.

Isn’t Hollywood honoring Robert Altman a bit like the White House honoring Michael Moore? Not that Altman doesn’t deserve it, but given that he’s worked outside the system for most of his career, and made more “comebacks” than most of us can remember, it’s a pretty ironic thing to do. “We know we’ve ignored you and your work for close to 40 years, so here’s a statue to make up for it.” That Lily Tomlin-Meryl Streep introduction gave me a migraine. No, really.

Including Thelma & Louise in a montage of films about “serious issues” is like including Death Wish 4 on a list of serious films about the failure of the American justice system. Wrong kind of “issues”, ladies. If violence is the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.

No one over the age of 75 should ever have to present anything. Lauren Bacall was obviously having trouble reading the teleprompter, but to some viewers she looked like she was losing her grip. For that matter, while I love film noir as much as anybody, I didn’t see the point to that little tribute. It’s the equivalent of saying, “hey, remember film noir? That was pretty cool, wasn’t it?” Yeah, it was. What’s your point? Maybe they should give out honorary awards to various genres and past eras of film that were influential on succeeding filmmakers. That would be awesome, actually.

Clooney gave the best speech of the night – good enough to make me glad he won, even though I was rooting for William Hurt (who had no shot, admittedly). But I still wonder why he was nominated for Supporting Actor for Syriana. Yes, it’s an ensemble film, but he’s still essentially one of the main characters that we follow throughout the movie, along with Matt Damon and Jeffrey Wright. Who is he supporting in his scenes? Nobody. He’s the main focus of virtually every scene he’s in. He’s basically the lead in a movie with a lot of characters in it. Now, if Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper or Amanda Peet had been nominated for that film – those are supporting roles. Of course Clooney won – he should’ve been in the Best Actor category. Then again, Jake Gyllenhaal was pretty much the co-lead in Brokeback. It’s not like his character was a minor one compared to Heath Ledger’s. Maybe the Academy needs to redefine what a Supporting Actor actually is. If the movie’s about that character, it’s not a supporting role.

No one should be a presenter if they don’t even have a possible shot at actually being nominated for an Oscar in the future. Jessica Alba, this means you.

I hear the annual orgy afterwards was a blast – oh wait, no one’s supposed to know about that. Never mind.

So that about covers it. It was a pretty typical Oscars show, with the usual highs and lows. Let’s all try to put it behind us.

Now, some brief reviews of movies I’ve seen recently but haven’t had the time (or the inclination) to write full reviews for:

The Pink Panther – Call me a retard, but it made me laugh. What can I say? I thought it was a return to form for Steve Martin, a throwback to the absurdist humor of his early films (The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains). Not quite as good as those films, of course. I don’t see why everyone’s suddenly so precious about another actor playing Clouseau anyway. They’ve tried to revitalize the series with actors ranging from Alan Arkin to Roberto Benigni. Why not Martin? Sellers didn’t even like doing the movies anyway – he only did them for the paycheck and to keep his career going. Everyone seems to agree that Connery was the best Bond, but they keep making Bond movies with different actors and no one throws a fit. Yes, the humor is very broad and slapsticky – just like the Edwards movies. They weren’t exactly subtle either (especially the later ones). Shawn Levy may not be the best comedy director out there, but he knows how to point the camera and shoot, and that’s all this movie really needs. The cast is game (gotta love Emily Mortimer), the humor is inspired and the laughs are there. It may be formula, but it works. And if it gets younger people to check out the Sellers films, that’s cool too. Good one, indeed. ***

Firewall – not a great Harrison Ford movie, but easily the best he’s done in years. Then again, that list includes Six Days, Seven Nights and Hollywood Homicide, so maybe that’s not saying much. He’s finally back in action-thriller mode, and people are complaining? Dude, it could’ve been another comedy. Think about that. I thought it was relatively smart and suspenseful, as this kind of film goes. Mary Lynn “Chloe” Rajskub steals the whole thing, and it’s worth seeing for her alone. Now bring on Indy 4 already! ***

Match Point – finally got to see this, and it was well worth the effort. For once I can say “it’s Woody’s best film in years” and actually believe it. Getting out of New York was surprisingly good for the Woodman – it’s revitalized and energized him, and the result is a truly terrific piece of work that ranks with his best films. Maybe he needs to go on a World Tour! If all of his dramas were this good, no one would be clamoring for the “early, funny stuff”. Remarkable work from a stellar cast (again, gotta love Emily Mortimer) and Scarlett Johannson absolutely kicks ass in this film! Anyone who thinks she can’t act is out of their fucking gourd. I’ve actually liked a lot of his recent work, but here Woody’s resetting the bar for himself, and it’s a great thing to see. Had I been able to see this earlier, it would’ve been very high on my Top 10 of 2005. ****

Ultraviolet – no, it wasn’t screened for critics, and who cares (lately some critics seem to think that movies are only made to be shown to them). It’s a decent little sci-fi/action flick from Kurt Wimmer, the writer/director of the criminally underrated Equilibrium, and if you liked that flick, you know what you’re in for here. Lots of stylized futurism and non-stop action coolness, and what’s wrong with that if it’s well done? The thing people don’t get about this kind of movie is that style is substance, and action is character. It’s not deep, but that doesn’t make it stupid either. Milla’s the perfect actress for Wimmer’s sensibilities – she may never win an Oscar, but she can pose with the best of them. Where “serious actress” Charlize Theron seemed out of her depth in the similarly themed Aeon Flux, Jovovich has the “hot girl who kicks ass” thing down to a science. It’s a perfect fit, and Wimmer makes the most of it. It doesn’t reinvent the post-Matrix action wheel, but it turns that wheel with grace and agility. What more do you want, blood? ***

So that covers it all for now. I’ll be back soon with more reviews. Later!

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