All I want for Thanksgiving is Planes, Trains and Automobiles!
Tags: Planes Trains & Automobiles, Ten Words
Tags: A Simple Man, Barton Fink, Blood Simple, Coen Brothers, Ethan Coen, Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel Coen, Miller's Crossing, No Country for Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Rainsing Arizona, The Big Lebowski
It’s a simple question with an altogether simple answer: The Coen Brothers.
I was a Coen Brothers fan before I even realized who they were. I remember catching Raising Arizona in the theater completely unaware of what they had previously done with Blood Simple. It was such a wonderful movie. I didn’t, hell, I couldn’t even fully appreciate what my 15-year-old eyes were seeing. I’ve seen it dozens of times since and it grows in my estimation with every viewing. It is, in my humble opinion, the best of their comedies. And that’s saying a lot when you’re comparing it to the likes of Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou?
As much as I love the funny, it’s their crime flicks that really get me. The aforementioned Blood Simple is an incredibly accomplished piece of sexy noir. And it was their first movie! Films like Miller’s Crossing, Fargo and the Best Picture winning No Country for Old Men cemented their reputation at blood-letting.
As the brothers have gotten older, they have found themselves straying occasionally into more contemplative fare like A Serious Man, their slice-of-life tale of a Jewish man in the full throes of a mid-life crisis. Their latest would seem to fall squarely in line with this smaller film and, honestly, I’m okay with that. It’s a week in the life of a folk singer in the early 60′s. Seems simple enough. But this is the Coens. And things are rarely simple when they’re involved.
Now, the brothers are not immune to serving up a turkey or two. I was not the biggest fan of The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty or Burn After Reading. But, hey, everyone’s entitled to slip or two. I trusted them enough to try those movies and I trusted them enough to try their next even after watching those. They’ve got my faith.
They’ve earned it. And I suspect that faith will be rewarded with Inside Llewyn Davis. Late December can’t come soon enough.
Tags: Elijah Wood, Maniac
Maniac (2012) (directed by Franck Kahlfoun)
So why didn’t I see it in the theater? Well, quite frankly, I didn’t have any other choice. It had been on my radar forever but never came to Austin. Hell, I even bought the soundtrack to kill the time before it was finally released.
So why did I buy the DVD? I’d heard nothing but good things. Elijah Wood rarely goes dark but I remembered his turn as Kevin in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City which was nice and creepy. Plus, as you may well know, I’m a goon for horror. This one was a no-brainer.
So was it worth it? Definitely. As mentioned earlier, I had bought the soundtrack after hearing rave reviews about it. It was like the bastard love child of Tangerine Dream and Goblin and is easily my favorite score of the year. It painted a picture of what I would eventually see in the film. That the Blu-ray was released during October played well into my month-long horror movie marathon and I was excited to finally sit down to watch it. To say it was worth the wait would be an understatement.
So what’s it about? A remake of the classic 80′s grindhouse slasher starring Joe Spinell, this film changes coasts and offers a unique and disorienting first person perspective to deliver a cracker jack horror flick that dares you to sympathize with its sociopath ‘protagonist’. Elijah Wood steps into the role of Frank Zito, the proprietor of a third-generation family store that restores antique mannequins. At night, he finds himself on the streets of Los Angeles stalking those unfortunate women who’ve caught his eye. We see him trying desperately to make a human connection but he is haunted by the ghost of his mother, a neglectful woman who was more concerned with her own lascivious desires than the well-being of her child. His best efforts are doomed to failure and would-be paramours fall like dominoes to the madness that eats his beyond damaged soul. A glimmer of hope presents itself in the form of Jessica, a photographer, who happens upon his store and sees a beauty in Frank’s work. She’s wants to use some his mannequins in a photo exhibit she’s putting on. The two strike up an odd friendship. But Frank wants so much more. And Jessica’s inability to see the monster that lies beneath the artist she admires might doom her.
So what’s my grade? A very solid and well-earned A. Elijah Wood is strong in a role in which he is very rarely actually seen. All of the action is shot from a first-person perspective. The viewer is quite literally experiencing the movie through the eyes of a crazed killer. When we do see him, it’s most often in mirrors, a clever effect that never betrays the conceit. We see his sunken eyes, his desperate hope, and his unhinged fury. Occasionally, the camera pulls away from Frank’s perspective and shows him in action. This most often happens when he is extremely happy or extremely enraged. It’s used sparingly and to great effect. Genevieve Alexandra is Jessica. She is alluring and a bit coquettish and ably embodies the type of woman who could set a man back on the right path or knock him hopelessly off course. Their roles are the centerpieces of a great film. Throw in that wonderful perfect music by French composer Rob and you’re in horror geek nirvana.
Maniac is available on Blu-ray, DVD and on Netflix Instant.
Tags: Alfonso Cuaron, George Clooney, Gravity, Sandra Bullock
Gravity (d. Alfonso Cuaron, w. Alfonso & Jonas Cuaron)
You’ve seen the commercials. You couldn’t avoid them. They were everywhere leading up to the release of the film. You know the stars, they’re only two of the biggest names in Hollywood. Maybe you’re familiar with the director. Alfonso Cuaron is the man who directed the most enjoyable of the Harry Potter films, The Prisoner of Azkaban. He also directed one of my favorite movies of the last 10 years, Children of Men.
But with his latest, and almost certainly his greatest, Cuaron has cemented his reputation as one of the best filmmakers of his era.
Two astronauts, veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and medical engineer, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), are on a routine spacewalk to install new hardware on the Hubble telescope. A missile strike by the Russians on one of their own satellites starts a chain reaction with devastating effect. They soon find themselves in an impossible situation with no clear course for escape. Their only certainty is that another wave of destruction will be speeding its way through orbit at catastrophic speed.
In a brief 90 minutes (a refreshing change from the overwrought, overdone blockbusters of the summer,) Cuaron delivers what is basically a two person stage production set in space. It features some of, if not THE, most impressive visual effects I’ve ever seen. The films opens with what appears to be a seamless 15-20 minute shot of the shuttle crew as they complete their mission, blissfully unaware of what is to come. They exchange in small talk and banter with mission control (voiced by Ed Harris in what is perhaps a nod to the similar role he played in Apollo 13.) It is here where we first see the steely, professional swagger of Clooney’s Kowalski on his last mission before retirement. Bullock’s Stone is nervous and overwhelmed when faced with the infinite void of all of creation. The two really carry the film and provide the emotional depth beyond the visual splendor. Beyond the visuals and the acting, the subject matter resonates with the viewer because we know something like this could happen. I’m old to remember the Challenger disaster. And I certainly remember the Colombia disaster of 2003. I recall seeing the footage of the shuttle breaking up as it entered our atmosphere. That imagery is reflected in shots in this film and it is sobering.
This is a movie worth seeing as big and loud as you possibly can. Of course there is no sound in space (a fact the film reasserts in a brief written intro) but here there is a propulsive score by Steven Price that heightens the ever-increasing jeopardy of the astronauts. Hell, I’ve already bought the soundtrack. It’s wonderful. On the presentation side of things, It’s rare for me to recommend 3D or Imax but this is a film one should see in its intended format. The larger screen conveys the vastness of space and shows just how small we are in the grand scope of things.
Big, bold and beautiful, Cuaron reaffirms the power of cinema. He reminds us that movies can still be magical. The least anyone can do is take an hour and a half to appreciate what he’s done. I highly recommend you do.
Tags: French, High Tension, Horror, Inside, Martyrs, New Wave, The Horde, Them
The French, as Groundskeeper Willie once famously intoned, are a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, their rifles made of rubber so that they might bounce back into the empty hands they’ve thrown up in certain defeat. Their cuisine is confusing. Their language rolls off the tongue like a razor blade. Their personal grooming and bathing habits are suspect. Yet despite all these terrible qualities, this otherwise hopeless country has managed, like a blind squirrel finding a nut, to get at least one thing right: Horror.
In the new millennium, a group of talented French filmmakers unleashed a new wave of horror that would make even the most jaded of gore hounds take pause. Filled with unfortunate souls in unfortunate situations, these films are often bloody, frequently bleak, and almost always morally nihilistic. They are not easy to watch but they are well made and well worth your time.
Here are some of my faves!
A group of dirty French cops invade a tenement high-rise under the control of the vicious drug gang that was responsible for the death of their colleague. Their quest for vengeance is thwarted in a vicious gun battle leaving casualties on both sides. Before the surviving gangsters can dispatch their enemies, an unexplained zombie apocalypse lays waste to the city. Trapped on the top floor of the building, now surrounded by the undead, the two forces join sides to navigate their way to a parking garage that serves as their only avenue for escape. Along the way they must deal with their fallen brothers, now risen and hungry for flesh, and their distrust for each other. The flick is relentless. From the cops siege of the building to a final showdown in the garage with the few survivors and hundreds of zombies, the pace never lets up. The final shot is so perfectly depressing and so very French.
Two young college girls get away for the weekend to the country house of one of their parents. After a nice meal with the family, they settle in for the night. The visiting girl, Marie, is still awake when she hears someone at the door. Her friend Alex’s father answers. And all hell breaks loose as a madman is unleashed on the unprepared family. As the killer stalks through the house, Marie hides under her bed just as the killer enters. Finding no one, there he moves on. She comes downstairs just in time to see the vicious predator dragging Alex into his truck. Marie sneaks into the truck before it drives off setting up an ultimate confrontation with the killer that will decide both her and her friend’s fate. There is an ill-advised third act twist that almost derails the whole flick but one can forgive it for all the goodness that comes before the big reveal.
3. Ils (Them)
What’s up with the French and their fear of the countryside? Several of the films on this list involve isolated folks surrounded by malicious forces with emergency services not readily available. Here, a young nurse leaves the big city returning to the country home she shares with her boyfriend. Their evening is interrupted by strange noises and music coming from outside. They investigate and see someone drive off in their car. They return to the house only to find that they are no longer alone as unseen parties begin tormenting them. The film is short and economical with no fat on the bone. It conveys with brutal effectiveness the couple’s realization that their lives are in jeopardy. The film is all the more disturbing because it seems entirely plausible made even more so by the reveal that closes it. Highly recommended.
This film is not for the weak of heart. It is unflinching and brutal in the depiction of its subject matter all the while taking sudden turns that keep the viewer guessing just what the hell might come next. It opens with a young girl escaping captivity from an abandoned warehouse and briefly follows (through videotape footage) her recovery. It then jumps to a typical family enjoying a simple weekend breakfast…in the country (See?!?) A doorbell rings. The father answers. A cold, dead-eyed young woman, Marie, is at the door. And she is about to unleash hell. Her motives become clear as she exacts bloody and indiscriminate revenge. Her accomplice, Anna, another woman abused in her youth, is shocked at the level of violence, almost sympathizing with the victims. Soon, Anna won’t have time for sympathy. The film bravely asks whether violence and pain serves a purpose. More bravely, it answers that question.
I was fortunate enough to first catch this film at a horror con that came to town a few years ago. That viewing continues to be one of the most visceral and nerve-wracking theater experiences I’ve had in my 40 odd years. As the lights went up in the theater, my body unclenched from the terror to which it had been subjected the previous 82 minutes. I let out a deep breath knowing I’d been exposed to something special. The story is simple: A widowed mother-to-be, alone in her house on Christmas Eve and scheduled to have labor induced the next day, is set upon by another woman who wants what the protagonist must treasures: her child. The lengths this total stranger will go to claim her prize know no bounds. The film’s violence is almost operatic, escalating by the minute as the antagonist lays waste to anything in her way. It ends on an image so profoundly heartbreaking it will test your soul.
These fine films are but a sampling of the great offerings France has had to offer in the last decade. The French New Wave has slowed down a bit but the product that has made its way overseas speaks for itself. It’s not for the squeamish or for those who get morally outraged. Because, remember, the French have no morals. Such a dastardly people. And cinema is all the better for it.
31 Days of Horror!!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, folks! Pumpkin spice is added to any drink you can imagine. Your girlfriend has already decided what kind of costume you’re going to wear. Hundreds of gore hounds have stacks of horror flicks lined up in a noble effort to have a frightmare every day leading up to All Hallow’s Eve. And this movie geek is no different.
For the fourth year in a row, I intend to watch at least one horror film a day. There’s a good chance this year I’ll do a bit more than that. I’m on a roll. There’s a strong international flavor to the offerings I’ve set aside as well as a handful of recent remakes. Scream Factory has helpfully provided new Blu-ray editions of some classics I’m looking forward to seeing in a brand new light. Throw in some blind buys and a few choice theatrical releases and it’s looking like it’s going to be a busy month.
And I can’t wait. I’ll be updating this blog every few days to share a few thoughts on what I’m watching. If you’re so inclined, tell me what you’re watching! I’ll also be posting a few other “horror” themed blogs along the way so I hope you check back often.
I’m thinking I’ll be starting off with a nice, little French shock flick. Yeah…that’s sounds about right.
1. Martyrs (2008) – A sterling example of French New Wave horror. At times it’s a brutal thing to watch but it’s a hell of a flick that never turns its cold, dead eyes from its shocking subject matter. Not for the faint of heart. The second half of the film takes a sharp, narrative turn into pseudo-religious material but it never comes off heavy-handed.
2. Munger Road (2011) – It’s ballsy of a small independent horror flick to end with a ‘to be continued’. Stupid, maybe, but definitely ballsy. What’s here though is an interesting enough flick with parallel stories that evoke Carpenter’s Halloween and the 90′s slasher Urban Legends. Nothing to write home about but if that sequel/second part ever gets made I’ll check it out.
3. Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) – Following a brief prologue, the film jumps right into the action picking right up where the first movie left off. Along the way we get some back story explaining the history of the creepy ‘Bride in Black’ that’s been haunting Josh Lambert his whole life. It all feels a bit forced leading to an ending that sets up the inevitable and already announced Chapter 3.
4. April Fool’s Day (1986) – A group of college friends with terrible names like Arch, Skip, Chaz and Kit gather at equally poorly named Muffy’s island mansion for Spring Break. After a nice first act that sets up the group dynamics, the film wanders into familiar slasher territory with a knowing wink and a smile. It’s an unusually bloodless affair which all makes sense in the end.
5. Carrie (1976) – A surprisingly restrained affair from provocateur Brian DePalma despite the somewhat skeezy soft-focus opening girls’ shower scene. Sissy Spacek is perfectly cast as the mousy and timid Carrie White who discovers she can move things with her mind. The movie reminds me how truly fortunate anyone is to escape high school relatively unscathed. Carrier’s classmates? Not so lucky.
6. Misery (1990) – To date, this only film of the many based on Stephen King stories to receive an Academy Award, Kathy Bates won the gold statue for her portrayal of the cockadoodie crazy Annie Wilkes. The flick is all about the crazy fan and imagining just what the hell she might do next to her favorite author, Paul Sheldon, played gamely by an overshadowed James Caan.
7. Cockneys vs Zombies (2012) – An enjoyable if forgettable flick that never strives to rise above its simplistic title. Some Eastenders decide to rob a bank to obtain the necessary funds to save their grandfathers retirement home. The robbery goes awry and our robbers find themselves in the midst of a full on zombie outbreak. Meanwhile, Gramps and his senior citizen amigos fight off the horde.
8. Cabin Fever (2002) – Eli Roth’s debut feature is as mean-spirited as anything he’s done since and I don’t really have a problem with that. There’s a cabin in the woods. There’s a bunch of disposable college kids. There’s some flesh-eating bacteria. There’s some inbred country yokels and a hick cop. Throw it in a blender and you’ve got great gory fun.
9. The Entity (1982) – Barbara Hershey is repeatedly sexually assaulted by an invisible, malevolent demon in this odd sleazy affair that is supposedly based on a true story. Of everything I’ve watched so far this month this made me perhaps the most uncomfortable. I felt rather voyeuristic watching it. Yeah, I don’t know what to think about this one.
10. Resolution (2012) – A man tries to help an old friend, strung out on drugs and squatting in an isolated cabin in the woods, kick the habit. There’s some great acting from the two buddies in this mega low-budget flick that barely qualifies as horror until a third act that becomes trippy and meta. Some folks call in ‘the Primer of horror movies.’ If you know what that means, you might want to check it.
11. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – Platinum Dunes serves up another warmed over remake of a classic horror film though this one is not near as bad as some of their others. This one is helped out by some pretty cool nightmare sequences and a rather good performance by Jackie Earl Haley stepping in for Robert Englund in the role he made famous.
12. Fright Night (2011) – A remake that gets it right. It honors the source material while doing its own thing and in my opinion actually surpasses the original. Not the most popular opinion but I’ll stick by it. Colin Farrell is great as Jerry, the vampire next door, and David Tennant is excellent as Peter Vincent who is a Vegas show magician this time around. Lots of fun stuff here.
13. 28 Days Later (2002) – The film that helped launch the resurgence of zombies in pop culture is over 10 years old and doesn’t even feature zombies (if you ask some people.) Danny Boyle’s masterpiece is a bleak, personal affair focusing on a small group of folks trying to avoid the rage virus running rampant through England. And it turns out humans are the biggest monsters of them all.
14. Lifeforce (1985) – This movie is bat-shit insane. There’s no other way to put it. Astronauts find a giant spaceship in the tail of a returning Haley’s Comet. Inside the ship, they find the incredibly hot Mathilda May in suspended animation with some equally good-looking model dudes. Of course, they bring them back to earth. Wackiness ensues with much death and great practical effects.
15. Land of the Dead (2005) – Romero’s last great zombie flick though great might be giving it a bit more credit than it deserves. It’s definitely better than the last couple. The director’s usual social commentary can be found this time with a none too subtle statement on class warfare and social rights. The decision to humanize the undead and make them more intelligent is controversial but interesting.
16. The Hand (1981) – Oliver Stone directed this odd flick which to my knowledge is the only horror flick in his oeuvre unless you count that Alexander flick. It’s neither terrible or great. Oddly stylish but occasionally flat. Plus it has one of those endings that I hate without having the guts to stick with it. Vague enough for you? Oh yeah, there’s a severed hand. It kills people. I think.
17. Prince of Darkness (1987) – John Carpenter had a hell of a run in the 80s. This was the only flick I hadn’t seen from that period and thanks to the wonderful Scream Factory that’s been tended to. An ancient sect of Catholic priests has kept the Son of Satan bottled up for centuries but he’s decided he wants out and a gaggle of research students is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fun stuff.
18. Severance (2006) – Some sales reps for a weapons manufacturer go on a team building retreat in Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe is a bad place to go for any reason. Seriously, have you seen Hostel? Or Hostel 2? Or the news? No es bueno. Which is Spanish. Anyways, turns out Eastern Europeans are a murderous bunch which they should have known for the aforementioned reasons.
19. Modus Anomali (2012) – For some reason, this is called Ritual on Netflix Instant. It’s an Indonesian movie that was curiously filmed in English. That aside it’s a pretty good bit of horror. A man wakes from being buried alive in a freshly dug grave. He has no memory of who he is or how he got there. We follow him as his pieces together this puzzle to reveal the shocking, twisted truth.
20. The Roost (2005) – Director Ti West has become known to genre fans as a master of the ‘slow burn’. It’s a device he used to great effect in The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Here, in his first feature, it’s a bit less effective owing perhaps to the material. The film focuses on a group on friends en route to a wedding who get involved in a killer bat/zombie situation.
21. Poltergeist (1982) – One of the many fantastic film of that awe-inspiring summer of 1982. It’s quite frankly the perfect PG rated horror film. Legend has it that Steven Spielberg (the executive producer) actually ghost-directed the film for credited helmer, Tobe Hooper of Chainsaw Massacre fame. It definitely has a lot of Spielberg elements but there’s an edge to the film that screams Hooper.
22. Dance of the Dead (2008) – A zombie overtakes a small town on the same night as the big high school prom. All those poor suckers unfortunate enough to be without a date team up to save their schoolmates who are sitting ducks for the undead horde. A low budget flick with a lot of heart and some genuinely fun performances.
23. Sauna (2008) – Finnish horror. Two brothers tasked with charting the border that will separate Sweden and Russia discover a hidden community that claims allegiance to neither. There the sins of their past and those of their Russian compatriots will come back to haunt them. Strange, creepy and slightly off-center. Requires some attention but worth it.
24. Maniac (2012) – For a flick starring Elijah Wood there’s surprisingly very little Elijah Wood in it. But his presence hangs over the entirety of the film. A remake of an 80′s grindhouse classic, the film is told entirely through a first person perspective which makes for an interesting film watching experience. Ultra violent and very stylistic. If you like horror, this is a good one.
25. Sleepaway Camp (1983) – Make no mistake, this is a watered down, ultra-cheap Friday the 13th knockoff as an unseen killer lays waste to a gaggle of counselor and campers at your typical boy/girl summer camp. You’ve seen it all before. But what you haven’t seen (unless you’ve already seen this gem) is one of the absolute best twist endings in the history of cinema.
26. The Fog (1980) – Tom Atkins. Adrienne Barbeau. Jamie Lee Curtis. Hal Holbrook. John Houseman. Janet Leigh. All directed by John Carpenter with a typical synth-infused soundtrack. Some people take issue with the big bad. Ghost leper pirates? Whatever. I’ve got no problem with that. Ghosts is ghosts, creepy is creepy and Carpenter delivers both with spades.
27. Come Out and Play (2012) – An appropriately creepy killer kid movie. A young couple on vacation before the arrival of their third child finds themselves on an island seemingly void of adults. The truth behind this odd happening is shocking and may cost them their lives. Dark and pessimistic, you probably won’t feel real swell after watching this remake.
28. Halloween (1978) – Another Carpenter? Why the hell not? This one’s the granddaddy of all slashers. Some folks find it boring but I think it’s a masterclass in suspense. When you go back and watch it, you realize there’s not many ‘kills’ in it but what the few that are there are highly effective. Watch this to see what all other slasher flicks have stolen.
29. Halloween (2007) – The Rob Zombie remake goes with an extended first act that establishes Michael Myers’ troubled upbringing serving, in part, to justify the evil that is within him. Questions of nature or nurture aside, once the film lands in familiar remake territory it loses a little steam. It’s a rough and raw film and a sore point for devotees of the original.
30. Children of the Corn (1984) – It’s the somewhat decent little movie that launched a terrible franchise. To say that this is the best of the films based on the Stephen King short story is light praise indeed. There’s a great opening sequence involving those old, reliable killer kids but then things go sideways once we’re introduced to He Who Walks Behind The Rows. And those visual effects? Laughable.
31. Hellraiser (1987) – Now this movie has aged very well. Clive Barker reveals a sadistic side as wide as a country mile. One gets the feeling the monsters that populate the film based on his story are a pale reflection of the nightmares that fuel his writing. And even then, Pinhead and his crew of Cenobites may suffer in comparison to the nasty humans that drive this tale. Good stuff, Clive. Good stuff indeed.
32. Creepshow (1982) – They don’t make anthologies like they used to. Hell, they just plain don’t make anthologies with one notable exception (more on that later.) Here, Stephen King teamed up with zombie maestro George Romero to create a crackling good series of twisted tales any EC Comics fan could be proud of…even with King’s over-the-top acting in one bit.
33. An American Werewolf in London (1981) – Quite possibly the best werewolf tale ever put on film. Joe Dante’s tale of two college students’ jaunt through the British moors gone terribly awry features the without a question best transformation scene using practical effects that put today’s CGI infused wankfests to shame. In turns terrifying and hilarious, it’s a perfect little tale.
34. Let the Right One In (2008) – One of the best movies of the last 10 years, this Swedish film (based on an equally good novel) is cold and bleak. It tells the story of Oskar and Eli, a boy and a girl who meet cute in a snow-covered playground. Their friendship is the heart of a film that illustrates just how monstrous some people can become. Beautifully shot and hauntingly elegant.
35. Carrie (2013) – Horror remakes get a bad rap. More often than not they deserve it. While this film is certainly not among the best of its ilk, it by no means deserves to be lumped in with the worst. Chloe Grace Moretz assumes the title role and delivers a very, strong performance as the young, confused girl torn between her burgeoning sexuality and the mother who stops at nothing to repress it.
36. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) – John Carpenter’s attempt to expand the Halloween brand into an annual anthology format me with great resistance from a viewing audience desperate for more of Mike Myer’s evil shenanigans. Those people were too busy wanting what they weren’t getting to enjoy the fun, clever and wryly subversive film they got. Tom Atkins kills in the lead role.
37. Trick r’ Treat (2007) – Quite possibly the perfect Halloween film and the savior of the anthology horror format. After sitting on a shelf for several years, it was finally released on home video for an eager audience who had only heard tales of its greatness. We were not disappointed. Move over Mike Myers, there’s a new boss in town. His name is Sam. And he’s the cutest murderous ‘boy’ around.
Well then. I guess that’s it. Another October down in the record books. But remember my fine friends, horror doesn’t belong to October. It belongs to us to enjoy whenever the hell we feel like being scared.
Tags: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Prisoners, Terrence Howard
Prisoners (Grade: A-)
There is a chill in the morning air. Leaves have begun to fall from trees. The football season is in full swing. All of this can mean only one thing. Oscar bait is about to land on your local multiplex with an unrelenting fury. That means Hollywood is about to serve up a passel of serious dramas, biopics, and costumed period pieces. And while French Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve’s thriller can stand proudly among films of this ilk, it is unlikely to be remembered come January 2014 when this year’s Oscar noms are announced.
But that’s neither here nor there. It ain’t all about trophies and there’s been hundreds of movies that are better than most Best Picture winners.
Prisoners is a chilling and chilly film. Set in a small Pennsylvania town, it opens on Thanksgiving Day as two families gather to celebrate the holiday and break bread. Their post meal doldrums are interrupted when they realize that the younger daughters of both families, having earlier walked to the visiting family’s nearby home, haven’t returned. Their fathers and siblings race out onto the streets desperately searching for them. A wintry mix of rain and sleet has begun that permeates the rest of the film and sets a gloomy and dire tone. The girls are nowhere to be found.
A young detective with a perfect record picks up the case when he is called to investigate the sighting of an RV that matches the description of one seen along the street that the girls had been playing on prior to their disappearance. He’s convinced that the man within, a man-child of low intellect, knows where the girls are and we will not rest until them suspect tells him what he wants to know. The man claims to know nothing and eventually is freed for lack of evidence.
The film proceeds to track parallel paths of investigation. The detective following leads and the fathers following their guts, leading to a final confrontation where those twin paths fatefully and fatally collide.
The cast is top-notch. Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard are the two fathers desperate to mend and reunite their devastated families. Jackman especially shines. His character is a bit of a survivalist, his basement filled with essentials, who stills finds himself helpless and hopeless to protect the most innocent of those he most loves. Maria Bello plays his wife, the weakest role in the film, who has little to do but cry in her bed. Howard, with far less screen time, gives control of the situation to his wife, played by Viola Davis, who shows a steely indifference to any questions of morality that might arise from that which must be done to uncover the truth.
Paul Dano is the man accused who perhaps suffers more than anyone else. He doesn’t understand what is happening around him. He doesn’t understand what he may or may not have done. And that childlike innocence and ignorance may lead to his end.
Jake Gyllenhaal is stellar as the determined cop willing to follow any lead to find the girls. He’s instinctual and stubborn. He knows he’s circling the truth but he just can’t put the pieces together. He’s twitch and constantly blinking, fighting back sleep that would waste precious time because he knows. He knows the longer the girls are missing the more likely they are to never be found or to be found dead.
The film never lets up on the pressure surrounding all of these characters as they do indeed become prisoners of their pursuits. Someone has to break for all the lies to come unraveled and there will be consequences.
The film becomes almost too heavy at points and because of this its 2 and 1/2 hour running time is about 20 minutes too long. There is at least one subplot that diverts the investigation that could have been cut, the pertinent elements that contribute to the conclusion easily folded into the rest of the story. But that one quibble aside, I’ve nothing bad to say.
It’s just good old-fashioned quality Hollywood film-making and, really, that’s never a bad thing.