Wednesday, October 8, 2008

getting caught up, or maybe just getting caught...

So, Rob Zombie's "Halloween," as discussed in my last review, is an awful movie, but I can understand why it was made.  I mean, as a cinephile, I can't really understand why anyone would want to remake "Halloween," but I can understand the the idea of that project in a larger sense.  It's a familiar property, a "hip" director, there's a pretty good chance that something like this is going to make money.  On the other hand, I watched "I Know Who Killed Me" the other night and I have no idea like something like that comes out of Hollywood.  You've got an awful script by a first time writer, a director with only a couple of medicore, low-budget movies under his belt, seriously nothing impressive, yet somehow this manages to attract one of the biggest stars in the world, and get a theatrical release.

Probably, and justly, "I Know Who Killed Me" is best known as one of the last movies made by Lindsay Lohan before going into rehab.  I'd like to think her moment of clarity came when she watched the final cut of this piece of shit, and realized drugs and alcohol were impairing her judgement (though more likely it came when the box office receipts and abysmal reviews came in).  To be fair, Lohan isn't even in the top ten worst things about this movie.  She isn't even one of the ten worst actors in this movie.  "I Know Who Killed Me" is one of those movies notable for simply failing on every possible level, though the biggest problems clearly lie with the script and the direction.

The script for "I Know Who Killed Me" sucks.  Though it isn't based on anything, there isn't an original idea to be found anywhere.  Novice filmmakers take note, ripping off David Lynch is not a substitute for coherency, a strong plot and story, well-defined characters or whatever it is you're trying to compensate for by dipping into the well of a presumably "cool" filmmaker.  David Lynch can't even make a good David Lynch film anymore (I know alot of people liked it, but I found "Inland Empire" over indulgent and boring).  And we've just seen this same scenario over and over and over again, the "is it real or a dream?" flashes of film school surrealism, the awkward stabs a capturing a reconceptualized 1950s atmosphere, the entirely unnatural stabs a characterization via character "quirks."  It's tired, and tiring, and it's been so for years.

And you, Mr. Novice Director, you can't just slap up some red and blue lights in an effort to mask your complete and total amateurishness.  The film plays out so self-consciously, so without any real style or, y'know, direction, you can practically hear it creaking at the seams.  A lot of it goes back to the bad script, of course, but there's also the bad acting and cinematography to be reckoned with.  Then again, the script is so bad, you can see the actors having difficulting reciting the lines with anything resembling human diction. You can feel all the performers ACTING throughout, and not in a fun, over-the-top way, or a campy, bad-acting way.  Just in a regular bad-acting way.

Other problems abound.  Once again, we have a movie in which the main character is a stripper, and is shown stripping, but not naked.  It's not that I'm dying the see more nudity in films (although, why not?) or that I really need to see the star of (the remakes of) "the Parent Trap" and "Freaky Friday" naked, it's just, that's what strippers do.  I mean, I'm not an expert, but it's in the name- strippers strip.  If you don't want nudity in your film, or your lead actress doesn't want to do nudity, don't make a movie about a stripper.  Disenfranchized women have other jobs other than stripper.  "I Know Who Killed Me" tries to use the "seedy underbelly" for some instant "grit" but it plays about as realistic and "edgy" as, well, "the Parent Trap" or "Freaky Friday."

The "twist" ending is only not entirely predictable because it's completely stupid.  And the identity of the killer is pretty easy to figure out as soon as he shows up on screen in the first few minutes of the movie.  Honestly, I'm getting pretty bored just writing this, not quite as bored as I was watching the film, but at least I can end this anytime I want. blah blah blah blah blah  I'm still pretty amazed this got to be a major Hollywood production.  Then again, did I expect anything more?  Anyway, I was pretty stupefied by the whole ordeal.

I film I assumed I wouldn't like, meanwhile, and wound up kind of enjoying, was "Boarding House."  This 1982 slasher pic has the distinction of being among the first shot-on-video features to be shown theatrically, which I assume means at some point it was transferred from video to film, and projected.  I'd like to see a DVD of that version, just for the novelty.  This version comes straight from video (3 3/4" I'd assume) and it looks pretty clean, at least for a 25+ year old shot-on-video feature.

When I first started watching this, I was put off because it appeared to be a vanity project for one John Wintergate, the speedo wearing, frosted mulleted, vaguely European writer, director and star (playing mutliple roles, no less).  Wintergate plays some kind of psychic yuppie who lives in a house in Los Angeles with six (or seven? five?) attractive female roommates, some of whom occasionally sleep with- or nearly sleep with- him, and all of whom spend most of the time frolicking around the pool and beach in bikinis.

There's also some unseen force in the house, killing people off.  Or sometimes just nearly killing them off, of making them think they've been killed off, or something.  As we are warned in the opening credits, the gorier scenes are preeceded by some kind of sub-William Castle "horrorvision" warning thing, simliar to the 1970s Canadian film "Cannibal Girls" (is that the right film I'm thinking of?  I know this technique was used for kitsch effect before).  The gore and special effects are sometimes reasonably mounted, although being shot-on-video everything looks kind of awful, which is also kind of awesome, and a part of the charm of the film, that it's so grungy looking, even though it's professionally shot, it has kind of a porno-ish quality to it (there's a bit of nudity but nothing too heavy).  Like, yeah, a cheap and well-made porno movie without really any sex in it.  Which is to say this is kind of rockin' as a gutter film, y'know, in the vein of "Criminally Insane" or "Love Me Deadly," by its' very nature it has, without trying for it, more real-world "grit" than the posturing "Halloween" (remake) or "I Know Who Killed Me" could ever hope to achieve (and this is a movie basically about yuppies, not gutter folk).

And what's more, "Boarding House" is kind of oddly charming.  Wintergate is a total dork, sporting bikini briefs and pink plastic shades, he's unabashedly impossible to take seriously.  He practically turns to the camera and winks at the close of every scene, his uncontrolled goofiness and the overall crappiness of the production making the viewing experience ultimately an endearing one.  The audio commentary on the disc, by Wintergate, his wife Kalassu (who co-stars in the film), their kinds and a nerdy film "historian" (if the people who do the commentaries on DVDs like this are film historians, I should be moderating audio commentaries on DVDs.  Anyone wanna hire me for that?  Anyone?) is also quite enjoyable and illuminating.  Wintergate is, fortunately, not a mad egoist, but the same kind of goofy post-hippie he plays in the film.  Nobody, except the historian, take the film very seriously, though they are clearly proud of it, they refer to it as a parody.  Some of their boasts are a bit hyperbolic, but in general they seem to have perspective on what this movie is and how it's going to be viewed.  The whole experience, the film alone and with commentary, wound up winning me over.  It's partially a novelty, being from the early 1980s and shot-on-video, and it's partially a stupid-weird-fun good-bad groovy movie.

Finally, a film I wanted to like but just couldn't was "Trapped Ashes."  According to imdb, this was from 2006, though I don't think it ever played theatrically (I sort of remember it playing once at Lincoln Center/Walter Reade, maybe a year or so ago) despite being co-directed by Joe Dante, Monte Hellman, Sean Cunningham, John Gaete (a special effects guy) and Ken fucking Russell.  I wondered why a movie with such a notable slate of talent could slip so totally under the radar, until I watched it, and realized that the problem with the film is that it's quite bad.  In fact, it's really not worth writing about.  The intro, by Dante, is promising (it features Henry Gibson, John Saxon and Dick Miller) and the first segment, by Russell, was just gaudy and insane enough to remind of everything wonderful about Ken Russell, but the rest is just totally dullsville, even the section by Monte Hellman, who I like alot, although admittedly his best work is from 30+ years ago.  Hell, his only other horror film is the perplexing "Silent Night, Deadly Night 3," so it's weird he was even involved in this in the first place.

Actually, the really weird thing about the Cunningham, Hellman and Gaete segments isn't how bad they were, it's how incomprehensible they were.  It's sort of the same problem as the bulk of "I Know Who Killed Me," when did horror and suspense get to be replaced, so freqently, and especially in short film mode like this, with incoherent mind-fuckery?  Weirdness for weirdnesses sake?  None of the sections make any sense, nor are they especially about anything, they just sort of meander along, occasionally throwing us a brief sex scene (no major scares to be found anywhere) and then eventually petering out.  But I'd almost still recommend seeing this for the Ken Russell segment, which is about vampire breast implants, and features Mr. Russell himself, in drag (with rubber tits, no less).  And just the thought of anything by Joe Dante warms my heart, so I'd almost like to see this do well on DVD so that maybe he'll get to do another feature some day.  But damn, this picture is bad.  So, yeah, don't watch it.

I'm kinda depressed now. Happy Halloween.

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