Film: Eclipse

I, along with thousands of over people went last Tuesday at midnight to see the latest (and greatest) installment in the filmic adaptations of The Twilight Saga. As I was settling myself in, amid the safety of my Team Mike shirted friends I, as usual, wondered why we were there. As it turns out, I think I was there because like it does for many people Twilight exerts a mysterious power over me. I am unable to figure out whether it’s the sweeping beauty of the Pacific Northwest, the ever present possibility of seeing Robert Pattinson sparkling, the overwhelming eye-candy,  or perhaps because anything with vampires has a certain magic for me. Either way, there I was.

I have taken the time to read the entirety of The Twilight Saga (despite finding it to be not a Saga at all, but then I suppose, The Twilight Melodrama has a mildly negative connotation.) Of all four books I find Eclipse to be the most dull. It’s one of those books where characters putter about a lot and talk about how they feel, kind of like in The Two Towers, or the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (not further comparisons between Rowling, Tolkien or Meyer will EVER be made by me.) I wasn’t really sure how they were going to make all that puttering into a watchable film.

Somehow they managed quite nicely. The quick and dirty of it is as follows, be wary if you haven’t seen/read it, and don’t want it spoiled.

The film begins with Bella and Edward reunited and snoogling in a field after the hysterical break-up of New Moon. At this point the true thrust of the story appears and he begins badgering her to marry him as she begins badgering him to make her a vampire. The pair continue to badger each other over this issue until Bella begins badgering Edward to have sex with her, at which point he explains the importance of female virtue to her as if she were a corrupted lady of the night. Naturally, his skillful manipulation of language and clever rhetorical tricks floor the poor, simple-minded Bella and she caves, agrees to marry him and the badgering pauses…briefly…until he begins badgering her to wear her ugly engagement ring and tell Jacob.

In the background of this fundamentally nonviable relationship between a wet flannel and a stalker, there are all sorts of nasty, hungry, uncontrolled new born vampires popping up all over Seattle. They spend most of their time tipping cars over (yah!), killing people (rock on!) and generally upsetting the delicate balance of vampiric secrecy (stick it to secrecy!) They are lead by Riley who, thankfully doesn’t last the film, because he has the jawline of an underwear model and the demeanor of a lemon.  This narrative revolves around the apparently very bored vampire, Victoria who continues to attempt to kill Bella to punish Edward for killing her mate, James (who tried to kill Bella because he was pretty bored and thought it would be fun.) Yeah, you remember that whole “bad vampires” narrative in Twilight that wasn’t interesting and didn’t really matter so long as Edward kept the smolder going? Anyway, Victoria gets a pretty good idea that the Cullen’s are a bunch of future-seeing, mind-reading freaks and using Riley as a conduit to conduct her malevolent plot and “use the blind spots in Alice’s vision”. Riley thinks Victoria is in love with him, what a tool.

In the mean time, Charlie (Bella’s awesome moustachioed dad) decides he’s none to keen on this Edward chap and begins encouraging his little girl to spend more time with Jacob. Eventually, after a particularly chilling moment where Edward disables Bella’s truck to prevent her from leaving to see Jacob, they begin hanging out. Oh, but remember Jacob’s a big, smelly werewolf so Edward hates him, it probably doesn’t help that Jacob also has a stomach on which cheese could be grated, and rides a motorcycle, and has a tattoo…

But through Bella’s skillful diplomatic efforts the Cullen Clan and the Wolf Pack join hesitant forces to protect little, weak Bella from Victoria, who is perceived as a mega-threat by all. At some point in all of this it becomes absolutely 100% necessary for Bella and Edward to go and sit in the mountains in a badly constructed all-weather tent, without appropriate provisions or clothing during a snow storm, while everyone else gets ready to go all out on Riley and Victoria’s “army” of new born vampires. Lucky for Edward his bride avoids being a real life ice queen because, surprise, there’s this toasty, sexy werewolf to snuggle up to her. Edward and Jacob have a little heart to heart while Bella sleeps. It’s probably the highlight of the book, and also the movie. Edward laments his coldness, how he’s worried about Bella, how he has to protect her, how he knows Jacob can protect her, how he wishes she didn’t want to be a vampire etc. etc. while Jacob thinks about doing Bella, and freaks Edward out (because he’s a child of Victorian morality and the thought of sex abhors him!) Eventually, Edward confesses that under different circumstances he might quite fancy Jacob, I mean, might want to be friends. This adorable advance is pretty much shut down by Jacob.

I should also mention that Eclipse is the film in which Jacob and Bella kiss. The first time it’s in the bumbling, oversexed manner that most 17 year old boys go about kisses. Jacob assumes the words “I don’t feel like that about you” mean “take me in your strong arms and kiss me.” Bella punches him in the face and breaks her hand. Now, I have to say, this kiss is weird and awkward, and a only a little hot, but I liked it. I liked it because Bella gets pissed off, and punches him. Bella never gets pissed off at Edward and I can’t imagine her punching him in the face. This is the moment that demonstrates that Bella isn’t in awe of Jacob, she doesn’t adore him, worship him – he’s a real person, someone she cares for, maybe even loves, but won’t allow to treat her in a way she doesn’t want. Imagine if she’d punched Edward in the face at the hospital in Twilight when he told her “no one will believe you anyway…”. What a totally different Saga it would be.

The second kiss occurs because Jacob tells Bella no more kisses until she asks. When he finds out she’s marrying Edward, she asks for the kiss in an attempt to get him to stay and not behave like an irrational 17 year old werewolf. This kiss is epic. I don’t want to describe it, because it’s that awesome. It was better than the first Bella/Edward kiss (which I also loved).

Overall, it’s a good film – some awesome angry vampires being turned into…rock candy? lots of teenage angst, melodrama and moments of channeling conservative Mormon sexual ideals into the brains of teenage girls.

Really, what more could you want?

well, you can have that too, Jacob is shirtless for 70% of the film.

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The Charm of the Horror Genre

Because I’m a horror fan I spend a lot of time thinking about how the whole genre works. I contemplate how horror fans are different from other film fans, other people, how the directors are different, the production process, idea conception and the relationship between the audience, filmmakers and the product.

It has recently occurred to me that what’s primarily different about horror is that whole community, filmmakers, audiences, producers are a bunch of complete deviants. People who strive to take their weird dark fantasies and put them on screen. Also, horror fans tend to discover their love pretty early on. As a result of this a lot of horror directors, especially in the 2000’s forward spend a lot of their time recreating and reimagining the stories, scenes, characters and images that inspired and scared them as teenagers. The other thing about horror fans is they tend to be highly enthusiastic consumers.

We know there are lots of awful horror movies, but we don’t care. We have genre love and we’ll watch them anyway. We also have a beautiful canon of classics, running all the way from 1896 to 2010. It’s not all required viewing but it’s a prolific genre and there are lots of classics, and most serious horror fans know their classics. Now, it’s safe to say that the people who direct horror movies and the people who watch them are the same people, we’re all devoted fans. This means that when a director makes a film it’ll be filled with subtle references and nods to it’s sub-genre predecessors. If you can’t see those, you’ll not going to get it. To really enjoy a horror film you really need to have watched a lot of other horror movies, like it helps a lot to be familiar with the valuable objects of the genre (the repeat directors; Wes Craven, George Romero, Dario Argento etc, the rare Oscar winners; The Silence of the Lambs, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) as well as the campy artifacts. I never expect horror movies to do well, and I never read the reviews of them by normal people, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

A lot of people ask me why I watch these movies, and I have trouble usually answering: I like being scared, I have a twisted sense of humor, I like to question myself, I dig bad guys, I appreciate the development and work that goes into gore and creature effects and make up, and I like to watch people being disemboweled on screen. I also like horror movies because I feel a degree of connection to the people who make them because  I know they like what I like, they share my twisted sense of humor and my love of disembowelments.

A great example of a director I love that doesn’t get the best reviews, even among horror fans is Rob Zombie. The truth of my life that if I were to make a list of people who have inspired me, Zombie would be on that list. While some people question his right to rethink Carpenter’s Halloween, frankly,  after House of a 100o Corpses a lot people question his right to think about and produce anything, I think he’s awesome. I liked everything about House of 1000 Corpses, and I’ll be the one to say it, The Devil’s Rejects featured one of the best wearing-someone-else’s-faceskin moments ever.

A lot of people think he goes too far. I personally want to see the films that he would make if the film censorship people weren’t such fascists. When discussing the concept of “going to far”, Zombie stated, “sometimes on set something looks just ridiculous, but in editing you say “wow, this really works.” But I never say, “this has gone too far.” I mean – it is all fake. You can’t go too far.” It’s a sentiment I really support, espesically in horror. You can’t go too far. I mean that in every sense, there can’t be too much blood, too much gore, too many disembodied limbs. There can’t be too much fear, too much atmosphere, too much shock. Horror movies are designed to take the audience to the limit, you’ll be appalled, delighted, occasionally turned on (I can’t judge), horrified, repulsed, feel euphoric and physically ill when you leave the cinema if it’s done perfectly. There are no perfect horror movies, but they make more of them every year than anything else. It’s a testament to the fact that this, most unacceptable genre still has huge appeal.

People like to be scared, like to be grossed out. The experience of being in a theater with 200 other jumpy people is in comparable. At the end of the day we go to the cinema to question how our world works, how our morality functions and to test ourselves. If you can grit your teeth, and come out from behind your pillows you might learn a thing or two.

[Also, I could make my like 10, 20, 35, 50, 100, 250 most important horror movies, but it’s been done, and it’s a huge project…maybe I’ll work on it.]

Film: The Wolfman

Today was a very special day in my life. Today I saw Joe Johnston’s remake of The Wolfman. I firmly believe I have probably been waiting most of my conscious life to see this film, I now feel like the magic horror trifecta is complete (Dracula 1931, 1992, Frankenstein 1931, 1994 and The Wolfman 1941, 2010) and I will sleep better at night because of it.

The film is, in every sense a remake of Waggner’s original (though being made in 1941, it didn’t feel like a cop out). It was a speedy 102 minutes and not one of them was wasted. The story follows the homecoming of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) to his family estate in England, after receiving a letter from his younger brother’s (now) widow informing him of her husband, Ben’s disappearance. He returns home to find his eccentric father, Sir John (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and the widow – Gwen (Emily Blunt) dealing with the discovery of his brother’s terribly mangled body in a ditch. All through the area people spectulate about Ben’s death, trying to work out if the local gypsy dancing bear, an animal or lunatic are to blame.

Lawrence takes it upon himself to uncover the mystery and while investigating at the local gypsy encampment is mauled during a wild attack by the beast. The film is frenetic, often scenes are accompanied by Lawrence’s disturbing childhood memories in the wake of his loss. He is stitched up by the gypsy medicine woman (who looked creepily like my Mother…) and despite mixed feelings from the community is sent home. His epic wounds heal surprisingly and almost unnaturally and soon the people of Blackmoor are gathering their pitchforks and making their way over to dispatch him. However, Sir John nips that situation in the bud rather quickly.

Lawrence goes on to discover his now lycanthropic identity and implications are drawn that is father is aware of this. He then proceeds to endure a horrifying and painful transformation and go on an entrail busting, dismembering, flesh-nomming orgy, it’s all very graphic. When he comes too, sleeping in a tree (?) his Pa is waiting, and in graceful style informs him he needs to “free the beast”. Lawrence (in man form) is carted away to the asylum (where he spent time as a child after having witnessed his mother’s supposed suicide). He endures from awful, Victorian psycho-therapies, which actually formed the most frightening and disturbing scenes of the film. Finally being set up in a lecture room (very much like Van Helsing’s classroom in Bram Stoker’s Dracula) to demonstrate that when the light of the full moon hits him he will not turn into a werewolf and the reality of his delusions will be proven. You can guess what happens next, it turns into a rolicking frenzy of blood.

He then goes on a epic jog through London with Scotland Yard in hot pursuit. It’s in this scene that Johnston does some of the best and most beautiful work, capturing the emotion and action of the scene as well as stunning recreations of the orginal’s best known shots.

Needless to say, I think we know how this ends…but he also finds time to woo the girl, be victor in an interesting, albeit campy werewolf a werewolf battle, and dismember some more people.

The film is beautifully gothic, shot in a real locations in England, and making use of well designed sets and make up effects which pay glorious tribute to the appearance of the original wolfman. I really like seeing horror movies as period pieces and appreciate how hard it is to make them good without being ridiculous. The costumes are stunning, and the countryside is evocative and charming – it reads like Wuthering Heights meets Underworld.

Also, it’s fair to mention that I have a serious crush on Sir Anthony Hopkins and he really makes the film. He wicked beady eyes and surreal calm are disarming and painfully charming. Who knew a 72 year old man could be so hot. I did.

This is not a film however everyone will love. It’s a horror film for horror fans, for people who adore the myths of werewolves and the genre of supernatural monster horror, it’s for people who loved the original, who appreciate atmosphere and want to see some heads, arms and other assorted bits be gracefully hewn from their owners. Not everyone will enjoy this, but for horror fans, and classic horror fans with an eye for reinvention and honoring our beautiful roots it is a powerful, sexy ride.

Just like Robert De Niro will never be Boris Karloff, and Gary Oldman will never be Bela Lugosi, Benicio Del Toro will never be Lon Chaney Jr. but these are the monsters that have defined our imaginations and scared generation after generation and I see nothing wrong with resurrecting them and carrying them with us in whatever form into the future.

It’s nice to see them all updated, Drac, Creature and now dear Wolfie.