The Iceman; or, Here’s to Hoping that Cheesy Titles and Goofy Mustaches Can Help Revitalize the Suspense/Thriller Genre

Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Missing Person) has been up to playing some pretty gritty roles in his time on screen, and even though the mustaches in this trailer don’t do the actors any real justice (then again, neither does the Top Gun-reminder of a title), don’t let that turn you off – Ariel Vromen‘s third feature looks like it might be pretty Summer of Sam-meets-Zodiac badass.

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How Ridiculous Marketing Strategies Can Sometimes Advertise Amazing Things

What is it with the whole “XX” thing that seems to be in fashion right now? Other than the pretty stellar band The xx, there’s been a rash of other artists using the whole XX marketing shtick as a way to, I guess, make their 20th anniversary of some product seem cool again. There’s Rage Against the Machine – XX, there’s The Breeders LSXX, and now there’s Tarantino XX.

Tarantino XX celebrates 20 years of Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking, and while that’s certainly fine by me, I’m not sure I get the whole XX part. Is it supposed to indicate the number 20? I guess XX looks and sounds cooler than the number 20. I digress.

On December 4 there was Tarantino XX: Reservoir Dogs and on December 6, Pulp Fiction. These are equally stellar films in Tarantino’s oeuvre and getting to see them on the big screen again is a great case for spending $12.50. Not to mention, in pure QT fashion, they come prefaced with a couple new interviews with actors and others who worked on the films, and they also come prefaced with “hand-picked” trailers of movies that inspired him, from Tarantino’s own collection.

pulp-fiction

Watching Pulp Fiction again in a theater was a great experience. After seeing it at home alone or with a couple friends over at a time for the better part of 18 years, having the opportunity to see it on the big screen with a full audience in attendance who were actively engaged throughout, was exhilarating. It almost makes you want to go out and make films. Even though it’s easy (especially after multiple viewings over a long time) to find the problems in the production or the craft behind the film, it’s such an incredibly fresh and twisted narrative, with such incredibly rich and twisted (yet realistic) characters, that you can’t really look away.

Pulp Fiction prides itself on shock value and its ability to make you unregrettably look at bad people as cool or comical. Literally almost every movie that has ever tried to imitate or take inspiration from Pulp Fiction has failed in being effortless for the audience. They are always either too heavy handed, or too melodramatic, but there never seems to be just the right consistency to the mixture.

The audience in the screening I was at, found themselves inadvertently taking part in the movie. Unlike like watching a Rocky Horror screening where you prepare for what’s coming next so you can sing along, dance or throw rice at the screen, with Pulp Fiction, it creeps up on you – the guy behind me found himself muttering many of the famous lines of dialogue before they even appeared in the scene. This is beauty of Pulp Fiction: it’s fun, it’s grown-up, it’s down to earth, and it’s just plain cool. This is a movie that will go down in history like the Breathless of the ’60s or the Easy Rider of the ’70s – a game changer.

Looper

Looper is one of those films you want to watch a second time just to make sure you caught everything that should have revealed itself the first time around, but didn’t. It’s not a singularly perfect movie, but it’s well produced, scripted and acted. Joseph Gordon Levitt and director Rian Johnson work together well, and after such an awesome debut as Brick, there was little doubt in my mind that Looper would disappoint – and it doesn’t – it even further builds upon and establishes his directing style which Roger Ebert questioned a lot after his viewing of Brick.

Admittedly, I was hesitant about the science fiction aspect of the story and how Johnson would be able to handle the special effects in a first-time-out kind of film, but it’s all done with style and purpose (the latter of which is sometimes very hard to find in science fiction special effects-driven films). Johnson’s film is coolly cyclical and Levitt plays the part of a young Bruce Willis very well. Willis is, of course, Willis, but with a little less machismo and a lot more heart.

The story is dark and inevitably doomed from the start. I don’t normally do this, but it’s important to know the plot if you’re going to read this review. If you don’t here’s a really nice breakdown courtesy of ScreenRant. Once you learn the plot you can quickly pick up where it’s going, but the beauty of the filmmaking is the ending (even though in the back of our minds we know how it has to end) is still a surprise! I’d call that the touch of a budding directorial genius. Shades of Christopher Nolan are even in there, recalling back before Nolan was obsessed with overblown masterpieces.

Films akin to Looper can become easily convoluted and quickly weighed down (e.g. Source Code), but Looper seems carefully thought out, and even if there are flaws in the story, the film is so engaging overall that it will likely go unnoticed. Levitt is coming into his own in the action genre too; between this, Premium Rush (which, by the way, is not a bad film in terms of car chase sequences), Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, he’s cutting his action chops on some heavy-hitting and intense work.

Johnson’s film is a confident, science fiction / action / thriller, so much so, it even plays with the romance genre in a tasteful and purposeful way. There are two sort of oddly linked love stories in play: Willis’ love story is uniquely tied into the film (remember Willis is the the same character as Levitt – just older in the future); and, cagily, Johnson weaves in yet another love story with the young Willis (played by Levitt), as he takes refuge in a rural farmhouse with one ax-wielding Emily Blunt. Her character soon evolves to a central plot device and she is a good fit for the role sans her inconsistent American rough-and-tumble accent which she tries to produce.

Altogether, I find you won’t be disappointed by this film if you’re interested in a smart story, fraught with action, suspense, just the right touch of science fiction and a couple of old fashioned romantic sub-plots. The effects work won’t be seen on the same level for everyone, but more importantly, they’re appropriately used. Just wait… you may even find yourself coming back to film some day in the future.

Killing Them Softly

The Fallen Idol

The Fallen Idol is not Carol Reed’s masterpiece, but it is an expertly crafted work of film. Almost a chamber play, it’s quite the opposite from what you might expect. For being made in 1948, it feels more modern than you’d expect. The cinematography by Georges Périnal is crisp, silver and modern – full of canted angles and ominous movements.


The story is based on a short story by writer Graham Greene (whom Reed also got The Third Man and Our Man in Havana from), titled The Basement Room. The basement room is where the butlers and maids live and work. The lead character is a little boy Phillipe who is the son of a diplomat and parents that appear to be non-existent. He idolizes his father-figure and “best friend” the butler, Baines, whom he believes to have been world-traveled and heroic. In reality, Baines has always just been a butler.

Baines is trapped in a loveless marriage with his wife whom appears to manage not only the servant staff in the house, but her husband as well. Soon the boy leads us to find out Baines is having an affair, a fact which his wife also dreadfully suspects. It drives her mad and she plots a way to uncover the truth.

She is a hatful woman, killing Phillipe’s pet snake and making his adolescent life miserable. When finally she catches Baines, his mistress and Phillipe in the act of a fun game of hide-and-seek in the dark mansion, she erupts into a tirade at the top of the massive, marble, winding staircase, physically fighting with Baines. At this point the boy runs away to hide and watch from a distance, but while he’s not watching Baines too leaves her to rant and rave, at which point she inadvertently kills herself in a chain of events that I’ll leave you to find out on your own.

It’s basically the perfect murder to be pinned on old Baines, and of course all that the little boy witnesses when he reaches his hiding place is the swift fall to her death. Now convinced that “the butler did it” he bursts from the house in the middle of the night in pajamas and courses through the dimly lit streets until he meets a police officer.

Interestingly, his initial shock and fright of what he saw and thinks has happened, doesn’t overshadow his loyalty to his best friend, and so he attempts to protect him. An effort which (aided by the fact that Baines makes himself more suspicious by attempting to cover up his affair) only drives the police to the conclusion that it was anything but an accident.

The best part about this film is the young boy’s performance. It’s so virtuous and pure. You can literally see how much effort Reed must have given to just getting the performance that he did out of him. There are some scenes where you can catch a glimpse of his mouth mimicking the lines that the other actors are saying, but for the most part Reed cuts around that. The best moment with the child is when he’s in the basement room having lunch with Baines and his wife, who is chastising him for something or the other. Phillipe says, “I wish you were dead,” in a moment of film that no other child actor has matched to-date.

The Fallen Idol is a brilliant film, but if nothing else — worth seeing for that scene alone.

Violence Is Sexy

Although it had always been prevalent in cinema, violence was only becoming glorified and exploited in the early 1970s. As far back as 1903 the ending in The Great Train Robbery is that of a pistol barrel pointed at a viewer. Film noirs of the 30s, 40s, and 50s only took it to another, somewhat respectable level, while the shock-and-schlock horror films of that time slid to the opposite end of the spectrum.

The 60s, a time of radical change in the world, produced yet another breed of on-screen violence, by gradually throwing in sex, nudity and other easily identifiable exploitations to further muddy the waters. One sub-genre that was taking a firm hold of on-screen violence was the slasher film, proposing a dark reflection of society typically through one character’s actions on a number of characters who were staples or stereotypes of the rapidly evolving American and European societies.

Alfred Hitchcock was the director most notable in pioneering this sub-genre with his indelible mark on celluloid that is Psycho. But more importantly, it was little known films like The Toolbox Murders or Driller Killer which helped this burgeoning sub-genre explode into the onslaught of slasher films the 80s produced. Films like Friday the 13th maybe wouldn’t have been possible if not for the inspiration of ones like, say, Bloodbath.

There’s something intrinsically frightening to a society where only one individual is a threat. At the same time though, there’s something utterly captivating about an individual who could pose a threat to an entire society, and the 80s capitalized on this idea as well, spinning it off into Predator, Die Hard and Rambo, where one man stands as both savior and menace.

Generally, horror films appear in greatest amount during or after a time of war, so it’s conceivable that during a war such as that in Vietnam, where a society finds itself in an opinionated divide, the horror genre, always in flux, should begin to peak once again. Just look at the last seven or eight years.

In the late 60s films were trying to shape the way audiences perceived life, society — the world, and were subsequently slapped on the wrist while critically applauded (e.g. Midnight Cowboy). Gritty realism was in full swing during this time and was spilling into the early 70s, so much so one could almost feel the slime on the streets of New York (just read some of the the article below).

Politics of cinema were vastly changing during this tumultuous time, especially in the horror and drama genres; in fact, by the mid 80s horror (and its many sub-genres) would be the most produced (and rapidly produced, at that) films of any genre! 1971-72, I propose, was the catalyst for this horror film explosion, due to a concentrated collection of four films which were typically filtered out of being considered in the “horror film” genre.

Through the future articles on this blog Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) will be carefully (open to debate) dissected. Subsequent comparison of the parts to circulating ideals, morals and motifs of those years will show that society is reflected in horror films as an instrument of aversion; and therefore, this genre can thrive in times when society needs to reflect upon itself in order to find something, anything, which could be more frightening.