Thursday, May 10, 2018

What I Watched in April

Over the past few years it has become typical for a new horror film to be released, get lots of great reviews by non-genre press and make a lot of money while being savaged by 'horror film fans'. The reasons given for rejecting these new horror movies are slightly varied and kind of amusing if you can separate yourself from the emotions being stoked. Recent high profile horror hits have been labeled 'slow, annoying & stupid'  (THE BABDOOK) or 'boring, stupid garbage' (IT FOLLOWS) or 'slow, predictable & lame' (THE WITCH). In most cases these horror nerds seem to have rejected these and other critically well received genre films almost because they were enjoyed by non-horror fans. Or because they were carefully paced or were driven by character instead of action or required that you actually pay attention to the film 100% of the time and not your phone. I see a lot of this type of fan adopting a kind of "If the adults like it, it can't be good!" attitude that comes out if you press them for the details behind their dismissal. Since I liked each of those films you can understand that I've developed a mild disdain for a lot of what passes for horror fans opining on the internet. Here's a hint for future internet film reviewers - If you don't like a film, you should be able to explain clearly why. Calling a film boring without any follow up shows no depth of thought and if you're not going to apply brain power to what you write, please just stop. Also, sometimes the adults have a point you super-smart rebel, you.

I had read just enough about A QUIET PLACE (2018) to know that it was probably good and would inevitably fall into the nerd fan hate trap. I'm sure it has but I stopped paying attention to that crap after the release of MOTHER (2017).

Turns out the this is a very well realized and almost unbearably tense horror tale. The set-up and plotting are played brilliantly to carefully ratchet up a sense of dread while letting us inside the dilemma of the small family we follow. That this is done with a minimal amount of dialog is amazing. It's a testament to the direction by co-writer and star John Krasinski that each character is well defined and sympathetic with mostly just physical acting. I expected this level of skill from the always reliable Emily Blunt but the child actors are very good too. You are never left wondering about the emotional state of the characters and what they are feeling about each other. It's very well done.

While I do have a couple of questions that the film doesn't quite answer the strengths of A QUIET PLACE are impressive and make it a must see for genre fans. Even those looking to complain because critics like it.

I've had problems with Steven Spielberg films for decades. My biggest criticism of his work is that he rarely knows when or how to end his movies. Dating back to E.T. (1982) Spielberg can find ways to drag out the final scenes of almost any film until I'm begging for the credits to roll. How many endings did SHINDLER'S LIST (1993) have? Four? And what was the eventual ending of A.I. (2001)? It stopped and re-started so many times I can't remember. But even when he crafts an actual ending to some films it's so poorly thought out that it destroys the previous two hours. How in the Hell did the son survive to pop up with the grandparents for that saccharine ending to WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)? And has there ever been a more obvious last minute re-write of an ending than for the otherwise well done MINORITY REPORT (2002)? So, imagine my surprise when his latest film ends well but begins like a disaster area.

I have not read the book on which READY PLAYER ONE (2018) is based but I bet it works a lot better than the film. It would almost have to, in fact. I suspect that what cripples the film in my opinion is a holdover from the book's structure. In a novel you don't have to worry about not spending time with the protagonist and his friends when they are hiding behind CGI avatars. On the page they are always the characters and there is no barrier to getting to know them, identify with their struggles and understanding what drives them as people. But on film this means that we spend the entire first half of the movie trying to give a damn about CGI creatures who are primarily playing a video game that they play every day. Every day. That means that there are no stakes for all this kinetic action onscreen. It's just a bunch of very detailed go-go with no real emotional content.

About halfway through the film we finally get to see the actual actors playing these characters and then it becomes easier to feel for them. But, really, by then it's too late. Because I couldn't give a damn about all the gorgeous eye-candy for the first hour it was impossible for me to get invested in the characters so late in the story. I was only moderately interested in the story's central pop-culture wrapped mystery so I was just waiting for the thing to end so I could go home. The film ends well but the beginning is so weak it didn't matter. The spectacle was worth seeing on the big screen but I can't imagine giving enough of a damn to ever watch this again.

And how likely would it be for a 1980's pop-culture junkie to never reference Star Wars? I know they couldn't get the rights to use SW, Marvel, DC or Disney characters but it kind of stood out. The book has to be the best way to experience this tale.


TERROR FROM BENEATH THE EARTH (2009) - 5 (the fourth Mihm film)
HITLER (1962) - 7 (interesting psychological look at a monster with a great performance from Richard Basehart) 
NOT OF THIS EARTH (1988) - 6 
RUN FOR THE SUN (1956) - 8 
JUSTICE LEAGUE VS TEEN TITANS (2016) - 7(good animated adventure) 
DEVIL'S KISS (1976) - 4 (terrible Spanish chiller) 
MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) - 9 (rewatch) 
HUMONGOUS (1982) - 6 (rewatch) 
THE HOUSE OF INSANE WOMEN (1971) - 5 (period Spanish drama about an asylum) 
A QUIET PLACE (2018) - 8 (excellent horror film) 
THE HOUND OF BLACKWOOD CASTLE (1967) - 8 (excellent krimi) 
A STUDY IN TERROR (1965) - 7 (Holmes vs Ripper) 
AT MIDNIGHT I'll TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964) - 7 (rewatch) 
THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937) - 7 
READY PLAYER ONE (2018) - 5 

No comments: