Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

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The Warriors – Roger Ebert Review

“The Warriors” is a real peculiarity, a movie about street gang warfare, written and directed as an exercise in mannerism. There’s hardly a moment when we believe that the movie’s gangs are real or that their members are real people or that they inhabit a real city.

That’s where the peculiarity comes in: I don’t think we’re supposed to. No matter what impression the ads give, this isn’t even remotely intended as an action film. It’s a set piece. It’s a ballet of stylized male violence.

Walter Hill, the director and co-writer, specializes in fables like this. His first two films were “Hard Times” and “The Driver,” and they were both at arm’s length from realism. Hill likes characters that take on a legendary, mythic stature, and then he likes to run them through situations that look like urban tableaux.

“Hard times,” a good and interesting film, starred Charles Bronson as a professional street fist-fighter who went up against opponents with all the dimension of a James Bond villain. “The Driver” didn’t even have names for its characters; they were described by their functions, and they behaved toward each other in strangely formal, rehearsed, unspontaneous ways.

“The Warriors” takes that style to such an extreme that almost all life and juice are drained from it; there’s great vitality and energy (and choreography and stunt coordination) in the many violent scenes of gang fights and run-ins with the cops. But when the characters talk, they seem to be inhabiting a tale rehearsed many times before.

One example: Three members of a street gang are lined up in a row. The camera regards the first one. He speaks. The camera pans to the second, and he speaks. The camera pans to the third. He speaks. Because the movement of the camera dictates the order and timing of the speeches, there can be no illusion that the characters are talking as their words occur to them.

This same kind of stiff stylization dominates the film. The street gangs take stances toward each other as if they were figures in a medieval print. The deployment of the police and gang forces is plainly impossible on any realistic level; people move into their symbolic places with such perfectly timed choreography that they must be telepathic. And the chase scenes are plainly impossible, as in one extended shot showing the Warriors outrunning a rival gang’s school bus.

All of this is no doubt Walter Hill’s intention. I suppose he has, an artistic vision he’s working toward in this film, and in his work. He chooses to meticulously ban human spontaneity from his films; he allows only a handful of shallow women characters into his stories; he reduces male conduct to ritualized violence. And in “The Warriors” he chooses, with a few exceptions, to cast against type: Only three or four of the movie’s characters look and sound like plausible street-gang members. The rest look and sound like male models for the currently fashionable advertising photography combining high fashion and rough trade.

All very well, I suppose, except that Paramount chooses to advertise the movie as a violent action picture — and action audiences, I suspect, will find it either incomprehensible or laughable. Walter Hill has a considerable visual skill, and he knows what he’s doing in “The Warriors” and does it well. But is this style suited to this material? And does Hill have other notes to play? All three of his films have shown a certain skittishness in the face of human juices and the unrehearsed flow of life. And so his street gangs, and his movies, walk lockstep through sterile streets.


Housebound – Remake Already!?!

Whilst not a surprise, just another wtf? moment. It seems that the New Zealand horror/thriller Housebound has already been targeted for a remake.

The film didn’t get the distribution it deserved, even with Peter Jackson’s name attached as an endorsement. Now apparently Jackson has helped bring the film to the attention of New Line, which has picked up the Housebound remake rights.

This all begs the question of why New Line didn’t just buy the distribution rights for the original film and promote it. It’s got a great blend of horror and scares, the sort of thing Peter Jackson did so well in his early (better) films, and capturing that blend again, in a remake, won’t be easy and will more than likely result in a weaker version.

The Hollywood Reporter article also says that original writer/director Gerard Johnstone will act as producer for the remake, but that another director will actually call the shots on the remake. The studio is looking for a writer to tackle a new script.


Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman

Hansel-and-Gretel_Gaiman J.R.R. Tolkien memorably asserted that there is no such thing as writing “for children” and Maurice Sendak similarly scoffed that we shouldn’t shield young minds from the dark. It’s a sentiment that Neil Gaiman — one of the most enchanting and prolific writers of our time, a champion of the creative life, underappreciated artist, disciplined writer, and sage of literature — not only shares, in contemplating but also enacts beautifully in his work. More than a decade after his bewitching and widely beloved Coraline, Gaiman returns with another terrific embodiment of this ethos — his adaptation of the Brothers Grimm classic Hansel & Gretel (public library), illustrated by Italian graphic artist Lorenzo Mattotti, the talent behind Lou Reed’s adaptation of The Raven.

Hansel-and-Gretel_gaiman_2The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm have attracted a wealth of reimaginings over their long history, including interpretations as wide-ranging as those by David Hockney in 1970, Edward Gorey in 1973, and Philip Pullman in 2012. But Gaiman’s is decidedly singular — a mesmerizing rolling cadence of language propelling a story that speaks to the part of the soul that revels in darkness but is immutably drawn to the light, that listens for the peculiar crescendo where the song of the dream becomes indistinguishable from the scream of the nightmare

Hansel-and-Gretel_Gaiman_3With stark subtlety, Mattotti’s haunting visual interpretation amplifies the atmosphere that Gaiman so elegantly evokes. Gaiman says of the work:

“I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids — and, in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back, tell them you can win. Because you can — but you have to know that.

Hansel-and-gretel_Gaiman_4And for me, the thing that is so big and so important about the darkness is [that] it’s like in an inoculation… You are giving somebody darkness in a form that is not overwhelming — it’s understandable, they can envelop it, they can take it into themselves, they can cope with it.

And, it’s okay, it’s safe to tell you that story — as long as you tell them that you can be smart, and you can be brave, and you can be tricky, and you can be plucky, and you can keep going.”


The Walking Dead – Random Facts…

Things you may not know about The Walking Dead…

Over four seasons of The Walking Dead, many walkers have been taken out. Rick has made a total of 127 kills, 70 of those have been made with his Colt Python. Daryl has killed 98, 60 of which were from his Horton Scout 125 Crossbow. Michonne has a total of 45 kills, Glenn has 31, Maggie has 25, Tyreese has 40 (all with his hammer) and Carl has 41. These numbers are from March 9, 2014 so there have been three additional episodes that have aired with more death scenes.

Most of the cast has their own stunt doubles to stand in during the more dangerous scenes. 15-year-old Chandler Riggs plays Carl Grimes. One of his stunt doubles is a 29-year old woman named Emily Brobst. Before hitting puberty, Riggs’ stunt double was a young woman named Savanna Jade Wehunt. Wehunt is also the stunt double for Sophia and Penny.

In a season four episode, Lizzie tries to feed the walker a mouse. The effects crew created an edible mouse for the actor to eat. It was made out of gelatin and grape jelly. Plus, when the walkers eat human flesh, they are actually nibbling on ham that has been soaked in vinegar.

In all four seasons of The Walking Dead, the word zombie has never been used. Walkers is the most common word used to describe the walking dead on the series. They have also been called Roamers, the Herd, Lurkers, Biters, and Floaters. The actors that portray the walkers must attend a special school to learn how to act and move like the zombies. Walkers outnumber the living 5000 to 1.

There are three levels of zombie makeup: Hero, Midground, and Deep Background. Hero zombies are featured walkers and are completely made over from head to toe. Midground zombies get highlights and shadows on the face, but do not get close enough to the camera to require full makeup. Deep background zombies often wear masks and are only meant to be used as a backdrop.

In the comics, Rick’s hand is cut off very early on in the story by the Governor. The writers decided this would not be a wise decision on the television show. Their reasoning was that since Rick is the main character, he is shown so much, and there would have been too much CGI needed and an unnecessary expense. Additionally, Rick is involved in many fight scenes, many of which would not be feasible without a hand.

There are many more differences between the characters on The Walking Dead television series and the characters found in the comic books. First, Daryl and Sasha are never mentioned in the comics. Also, Glenn (who does not have a last name in the comics) and Maggie adopt Sophia. Rick and Andrea are a couple in the comic stories. Michonne and the Governor have more interaction in the comics and Michonne’s payback to the Governor was way to much for the series…


Hollywood Disaster Maps

At the movies a city-destroying disaster is just the expected conclusion of any big action movie. Politicians and the media can argue all day long about whether Hollywood is destroying America in the spiritual sense, but filmmakers definitely love wrecking the country as part of a blockbuster narrative.

Check out this Hollywood disaster map that illustrates just how and where the movies like to hit. Not surprisingly, New York and Los Angeles lead the rest of the country in terms of general destruction. The infographic was put together by Reuben Fischer-Baum and Samer Kalaf. Their map covers 189 cinematic attacks (it doesn’t count post-apocalyptic adventures or small-scale attacks), which means it’s by no means a comprehensive list. For “fictional or undefined locations” like Gotham City, they assigned an approximate real-world analogue. Thanks to /Film for the link.


Wolf Creek 2 knifed by intellectual snobbery

wolf-creek-2-posterThat shameful refusal by Australia’s top Film Reviewers to not review Wolf Creek 2 on their popular At The Movies show just won’t go away… check out this excellent article by Jessica Balanzategui in The Age.

In the late 1980’s, Mick ”Crocodile” Dundee playfully encouraged audiences to question what really constitutes a knife when you’re in the untamed wilds of outback Australia. More recently, Mick Taylor of Wolf Creek similarly compelled potential visitors to the outback to think deeply and painfully about when a knife is really a knife.

He implores some German tourists to consider ”what the bloody hell are you buggers doing here?” And rightly so, considering what lies ahead for them.

The Wolf Creek films revel in the nightmarish underside to the myths of rural idyll, mateship and charming ockerism that have become so central to our ideas of national identity.

Horror films have long crept alongside the comedies, dramas and art films that make up the bulk of our cinematic output: before Babe, the adorable little pig who dared to dream big, there was Razorback, the giant wild boar that gleefully ripped its victims to pieces. In fact, some classic Australian films that we proudly hold as pinnacles of the craft, Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971), Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), are basically horror films masquerading as lofty art pieces.

I can distinctly remember watching both Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock as a child – my well-intentioned parents evidently hoping to instil within me early a respect for great Australian cinema – and being haunted by nightmares from both for weeks. (At least I escaped being subjected to Wake in Fright at a young age – the consequences may have been much more severe.)

Wolf Creek 2 follows in the footsteps of these films, and in fact references Wake in Fright directly a number of times. Yet Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, the deserved royalty of Australian film criticism, refused to review Wolf Creek 2 on their influential television program, At the Movies, despite the fact the film is currently the top earner at the Australian box office.

For decades Pomeranz and Stratton have been vital cogs in the rather badly oiled machine that is the Australian film industry. Australian releases face a David and Goliath battle from the outset, being forced to compete with the flood of heavily marketed blockbuster Hollywood films.

Throughout their careers Pomeranz and Stratton have made it their mission to champion Australian films – even the ones they don’t particularly like – by raising awareness of Australian releases through their insightful reviews and interviews. Yet it seems that films classified as ”horror” are not extended this support.

This genre bias did not start with Pomeranz and Stratton: it has been an entrenched component of the Australian film industry since its revival in the 1970s. In the 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood, Phillip Adams, who helped to establish Australia’s government film funding system, admits that in setting up the guidelines for funding ”many of us were very snobby about genre films, there’s no question about it. We didn’t approve of them.”

Wolf Creek director Greg McLean and producer Matt Hearn are all too aware of this issue. Hearn mortgaged his house to finance Wolf Creek; their follow-up, Rogue, was financed by American studio executives the Weinsteins; and Wolf Creek 2 was delayed for years due to funding shortfalls.

Snobbery towards horror films does nothing to help strengthen the Australian film industry. Just because a film is packaged as ”horror” does not automatically mean it is devoid of artistic and intellectual value: it just makes it easier to sell. Even Stratton, in his caustic review of Wolf Creek 2 in The Australian, reluctantly admits that the film’s cinematography, courtesy of Toby Oliver, is ”pristine”.

Wolf Creek 2 is indeed violent and confronting, particularly because of the disconcerting mash-up of Mick Taylor’s true blue Aussie humour and his sadistic, murderous intent. However, so was Wake in Fright, which Pomeranz described as ”menacing and sinister” with a ”disgustingly seedy” antagonist, yet which Stratton went on to describe as ”a great milestone in Australian cinema history”.

So, too, was the recent Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, 2011), a thoroughly disturbing film about the infamous ”bodies in the barrel” murderer John Bunting. Yet Pomeranz lauded this film – classified as an ”art film” due to its minimalist style – for it ”does not pull back from exposing the audience to … grotesque brutality”. Stratton also complimented the film on its ”dark power”.

Yet Wolf Creek 2, which employs similar tactics wrapped up in a commercially viable horror film package, is by contrast ”ugly and manipulative”.

I deeply respect Stratton and Pomeranz and have idolised them for as long as I can remember. But their refusal to review Wolf Creek 2 – even just to declare their hatred for it – points to a long-standing problem within the Australian film industry.

The confected division between ”lofty” art pieces and ”low brow” horror is outmoded and unhelpful. Horror has some powerful and revealing things to say about our society, just as art films do.

Jessica Balanzategui is undertaking a film studies PhD at Melbourne University. Her research explores the cultural power of horror films. Read more and comment at The Age HERE

 

 


How American Horror Story’s Cinematographer Got These 11 Disturbing Shots

How American Horror Story’s Cinematographer Got These 11 Disturbing Shots.