Alexandre Aja, a French filmmaker gone Hollywood down the most gore-splattered highway possible, engages a story more firmly rooted in the human soul than ever before. His prior moviemaking turns (most recently as producer for a harrowing remake of William Lustig’s Maniac) betray a penchant for jittering, shrieking horror that attacks the senses, the brain and heart second. Horns, based on the much-lauded novel by Joe Hill, plunges his raw director’s hands into a moral fable whose questions and troubling answers require some serious thought.
Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is a tortured soul in a bruised body. His dual burden is to come to terms with the brutal murder of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), while staving off an angry mob of former friends and neighbors convinced that, despite his acquittal, Ig himself killed off the hometown darling. His only true allies seem to be his brother Terry (Joe Anderson) his defense attorney Lee (Max Minghella), and his torch-carrying bartender Glenna (Kelli Garner), all of whom have known Ig since childhood. Between the three of them, there just might be some answers lurking, but Ig’s impotent rage at the cosmic unfairness of it all seems to have him deadlocked in limbo.
Ig finally lets his rage out in a drunken spree that apparently shakes something loose in either heaven or hell. Waking the next morning, he finds a wicked pair of horns sprouting from his head. Not only that, but everyone he meets treats him differently. His horns grant him a devilish power over people, compelling them to pour out their secret sins and desires. At first an unwilling confessor, he gradually realizes that lurking among the nauseating secrets of his neighbors is the identity of Merrin’s killer. With this in mind, he hones his fiendish influence to maximum effect, stalking the truth around town as the changes in him take deeper root. Continue reading →
Although not the sole director at Japan’s Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki is the most prolific, and the author of the animation studio’s most popular works, including Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Academy Award winner Spirited Away. In addition, the face of his creation Totoro became the Ghibli production logo.
My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro), first released in 1988, was a moderate success in its original run but became a huge domestic after subsequent TV airings. Many of you already familiar with the film in English will have seen a translated version from 1993, but since then the Walt Disney studio has made a deal to handle distribution of Studio Ghibli films in this market. Talk about joining forces.
With its new translation of Totoro, Disney has taken the time to cast and direct great performers. Rather than re-brand the humor or rewrite the jokes, this version seems to preserve the beautiful comedy and pathos of Miyazaki’s original work. Continue reading →
by Dan Fields
First published February 15, 2013 by the California Literary Review
My Supernatural Sweet Sixteen
The advertising campaign for Beautiful Creatures was abysmal. The film’s producers and their editors made it look like a secondhand bid for the dollars of weepy tweens still grieving for the end of Breaking Dawn. This is not meant to pillory the Twilight franchise, but to say that this movie looked like something thrown together in haste, which fans of that departed series might like, but which had zero chance of attracting the rest of the viewing public.
Skeptics, be comforted! Remember those enticing teasers for the inept gun drama Killing Them Softly? Fortunately, the principle of false advertising can run both ways. The big secret is that Beautiful Creatures is no melodramatic suicide pact slouching in the shadow of Twilight. It is more akin to HBO’s madcap ghoul opera True Blood, in a version scaled back so that a family could enjoy it together. Scripted and paced with impressive skill and thoughtfulness, this movie manages to be witty, racy, and thoroughly weird without getting crass. Innuendo is such a wonderful spice in the hands of capable writers and actors. Adapted and directed by Richard LaGravenese (P.S., I Love You) from a successful young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, this movie has “sleeper” written all over it. Continue reading →
This super-secret brainchild of screenwriters Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon came shrouded as carefully as Super 8, surrounded by many a dark rumor but giving maddeningly little away. Goddard and Whedon began laying it out during their time working on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Then, in a blaze of energy, they cobbled the labyrinthine script together in a three-day writing session. After a close call with the bankruptcy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (their original studio), the project nearly became a lost legend. However, Lionsgate swept it up and by all accounts urged the writers to make the film exactly as they wished. Lionsgate has done a lot of good by giving such films a fighting chance, and even when they’ve turned out the odd dog, it seems that Lionsheart has been in the right place. All this took three years, and by the time the movie surfaced, some of the people involved were a lot more famous than they were while shooting this film. Chris Hemworth in particular had been picked up by Marvel for Thor, and was months away from his next Whedon-penned release, The Avengers. Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, a very big part of this movie’s soul, had bolstered his popularity with strong supporting turns in Burn After Reading and Let Me In (still the best film of 2010, no matter what history says).
The Cabin In The Woods opened to great fanfare and a very polarized reaction. Masquerading as a standard-issue slasher (as the title suggests), it soon goes off the rails into a payoff the audience would never even think of expecting. It pays tribute to the legacy of films like Hellraiser, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween and countless others, mainly by turning the horror genre on its grisly head. This pissed a lot of people off, and to them I can only offer my condolences. For those of us who love the movie (full disclosure), we love it down to its black beating heart. Hopefully our multiple trips to the theater made up for those who warned their friends off the experience. Those sad, sad souls… Continue reading →
by Dan Fields
First published August 27, 2011 by the California Literary Review
Right Ingredients, Wrong Temperature
Sally has problems. Being passed back and forth between her worthless parents has put her on an anti-depression med at age eight. She has been sent to a scary old house, to live with her dad and his new girlfriend (architect and interior designer) while they restore the old homestead to sell it. If there is one thing this girl needs, it is a whimsical adventure. And she will soon get one, though she may regret it later.
Little does she know, for example, that many years ago in the basement of the house, a man knocked out a lady’s teeth with a chisel to appease something hideous living in a tunnel under the house. Don’t worry. This is the first scene of the film, which primes one to expect much more out of the remaining story. But no, things plod along for a while after this, as Sally explores the grounds of the house to avoid her career-focused dad (Guy Pearce) and her on-deck stepmom (Katie Holmes). She manages to stumble upon the bricked-up basement, which the groundskeeper (Jack Thompson of Breaker Morant fame) warns the family away from in the strongest terms. Obviously he knows something sinister. Nobody listens, of course, least of all Sally, and soon she finds herself tormented by a hive of small, wicked creatures who want only one thing… Sally.
Everything seems right about the setup. In a refreshing change from the norm, Sally is the kind of character who does not falter at reaching or peering into dark places. She seems to be intelligent and adventurous, never giving a thought to the possibility of monsters. This causes us much anxiety on her behalf, as we know something is lurking before she does. And when she does find out, all the natural fears of childhood come crashing in on her. Something that can only exist in the dark wants to take her away, and if necessary will drive her insane to do it. So what went wrong? Continue reading →
by Dan Fields
First published April 09, 2011 by the California Literary Review
Cue the Black Plague, please
For years, I have heard and filed away lavish praise of David Gordon Green as an inspired and clever filmmaker. Something told me not to believe it, and Your Highness proves what I suspected all along — that it was all a big hipster lie. Predators dashed my childish fanboy dreams. Paranormal Activity 2 instilled me with despondent boredom. Saw 3D unapologetically piled virtual intestines on my face. Never, though, have I felt as criminally sinned against as by Your Highness.
To call this movie a “stoner comedy,” the most convenient label at hand, is an insult to stoners. I refused to get stoned before seeing it, as more than one person recommended. I doubt it would have helped. If only the makers of the film would publish something — perhaps as a DVD extra — describing how and why this film is supposed to be funny, perhaps more of us could be in on the joke. Continue reading →
Guillermo del Toro has a gift all too rare in movies today – a terrific imagination. Like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam before him, he sometimes gets a little too mired in imagery to pay attention to the rest of the movie, but given the right story he can craft a thing of true beauty.
El Laberinto Del Fauno has had words like “parable,” “fable,” and “fairytale” hung upon it, and it has the right ingredients to be all of these successfully. Its simple and moving story about the power of imagination and spiritual purity over real-world oppression blossoms with both gorgeous and grotesque images. A young girl, caught up in the turbulent fallout of the Spanish Civil War, discovers her link to a magical world away from all the struggle and strife.
Charged with a number of hair-raising quests, she fights not only to save herself but also her mother and unborn brother, living under the thumb of her cruel military stepfather.
This movie hits a lot of high and low notes, and Del Toro’s airtight sense of style transports us seamlessly back and forth from the heartbreaks of everyday life to the fantastic places hidden carefully in the seams of our world.
Fairy tale though it may be, this movie is no lightweight affair. The “real” world of the film is a violent and oppressive place, and the world of the fantastic offers many horrors as well. There is enough of the gruesome and brutal to help us understand how beautiful and essential the alternatives are, especially with lives and souls on the line.