Monday, March 27, 2006

"Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them!" - Thoughts on Tarantino

"I don't care how crazy they are--psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them." - Seth Gecko
You know, I've tried really hard to like Quentin Tarantino movies, but I just can't do it. They're all full of maddening pop culture references and blood geysers and self-referential crap. So far I've seen 'Pulp Fiction,' 'True Romance,' 'Kill Bill (1 & 2),' and 'From Dusk Til Dawn.' People keep telling me I have to see the other one--'Reservoir Dogs'?--but I'm thinking I'll pass.
The only one I like is 'True Romance,' and I think I like that one because Tarantino neither directed nor acted in it.
It's sort of the way I feel about Kevin Costner. I didn't mind him so much when he was just an actor. I mean, 'Dances With Wolves' was okay. It's when he started being actor/director/producer/dancing girl Costner that it became a problem.
Or maybe the reason I don't like Tarantino's films is that (with the exception of Alabama and Clarence in 'TR') most of the characters are tremendously unlikable. I always feel that they're not "real" people--just characters waiting with heady anticipation to say their lines and upstage everyone else with just how crude and hilaaaaaaarious they can be. Or to cut someone's arm off. Whichever.
Frankly, if I want pop-culture riddled dialogue, toilet humor, and deranged violence, I'll just watch Kevin Smith's 'Dogma.' It's about a hundred times better.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The House on Haunted Hill (re-make)

Yesterday I watched another re-make (a much more satisfying one, I must say.) I ordered the 1999 re-make of The House on Haunted Hill from Amazon, and sat down to watch it when I got home from work. Now, I must admit that I have never seen the original, so I had no real basis of comparison. However, I will say that the movie pretty much scared the shit out of me, and that's a good thing. I'd probably rank it right alongside Thirteen Ghosts (the remake with Tony Shaloub) and The Frighteners as far as scary movies go. I think to appreciate movies like this, you have to be able to set aside the thinking adult part of your brain and watch with your kid brain--the part of your brain that doesn't consider things like "How are they affording this?" or "Are they REALLY that stupid?" The movie was set in a 1930s era abandoned insane asylum, so right off you've got the super-creepy going on, and the building they used was fantastic. The lead characters were played by Taye Diggs and Ali Larter (Final Destination) and both of them did a great job being sympathetic, but still multi-dimensional. Less well-played were the other members of the ensemble cast. I'm not saying they were bad, just...not as good. Geoffrey Rush played the Vincent Price-like Mr. Price complete with dinky mustache. As usually happens when Rush is allowed any freedom, he immediately began munching the scenery, and didn't stop until the end--luckily, that was sort of what his character was all about, and he was funny, so it wasn't unpleasant. Peter Gallegher and Famke Jansson couldn't act their way out of a paper bag with flashlights and machetes, so I wasn't too disappointed by their wooden performances. Chris Kattan was...Chris Kattan. He was still kind of annoying, but you could tell he was trying really really hard to tone it down. The special effects were fairly impressive (and even more entertaining if you get the DVD and watch the extras featuring the director's explanations of how they were done) and I have to say they definitely managed to keep up a mood of tension and suspense throughout. Mind you, the plot is a bit scattered and it's clear that if you're looking for true character development, you've come to the wrong place. But if you just want to be creeped out and spooked, I recommend this one. (And as I mentioned before, the extras are pretty good. There are a lot of explanations from the director on how various effects were achieved, and also a featurette on adapting the movie from the original William Castle version that's pretty interesting.)

You know, if I were trapped in some house of horrors, you can bet the last thing I'd do is prance down into the super-super-creepy basement with a mere penlight all by myself. Instead, I'd have my butt planted sqare in front of the front door, and I'd be clinging on to whomever I could get ahold of.

I think this may indicate that I am in fact a coward...or that I have common sense. I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I've also seen some movies lately, which I have been meaning to talk about. The Boyfriend and I finally got arond to watching the re-make of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and as much as I wish I could say I liked it...I can't. It's not that it was necessarily bad, or that I think there was anything special wrong with it. I simply think the original film was so unique that a re-make can't begin to hold a candle to it. The Boyfriend found it particularly upsetting because he is a big fan of the original. He spent the whole movie comparing this version to the original and pointing out the differences. I personally try not to that when watching re-makes--I like to try and keep in mind that this is a new movie, with a new director, new cast, and new direction. Unfortunately, I wasn't especially thrilled with the new direction. There were parts that I enjoyed. While I wasn't entirely enamored with Johnny Depp's portrayal of Wonka, he had his totally hilarious moments. Some of his clipped one-liners or throw-aways had me giggling aloud as I watched. (My favorite scene, in fact, involved a throw-away joke that tied back to the beginning of the film. When the children arrive, there is a dancing, singing, audio-animatronic puppet display, similar to the 'It's a Small World' ride at Disneyworld. As the intro show comes to the end, the dancing dolls catch fire, and the whole thing grinds to a draggy, creepy, flaming halt, and is all but forgotten. However, later on, as they're touring the factory, Wonka takes them through a hospital looking room, and says "This is the Wonka Doll and Puppet Burn Hospital. It was added very recently." and then they walk out. I laughed my ass off--I love details like that.) I was also very impressed by the special effects; obviously, there are things that can be done today with special effects that hadn't even been thought of when the original film was made. Violet's en-blueberry-ment, the trained squirrels in the nut room, the lovely chocolate room, the functions of the great glass elevator--all these things looked stunning. The downside was that some of the changes were not for the better. The whole subplot with Wonka's childhood was just kind of annoying. And the Oompa-Loompas all being the same guy was lame. The biggest issue I had with it, though (and I'm pretty sure The Boyfriend agreed) was the overall outlook of the film. In the original, Gene Wilder plays Willy Wonka as a genius who remains a hermit because he is so busy creating that people just get in his way and slow him down--he can deal with people, he just doesn't want to. On the other hand, there's Tim Burton's version of Willy Wonka (as played by Johnny Depp.) Burton's Wonka is UNABLE to interact with people--he isn't locking everyone else out...he's locked himself IN. I suppose this was to be expected, since every single Tim Burton movie ever is basically the same. The lonely and misundestood hero existing in his beautiful, intricate inner world is Burton's calling card, and while I guess technically it works here, it just doesn't resonate with me in this particular circumstance. The difference in point of view of the main character colors how the entire rest of the film plays out, and for me, this particular interpretation didn't work. I'm not saying you shouldn't see it, but I'm saying you really shouldn't expect too much.