10/15/12 Sinister (2012)
True crime writer Ethan Hawke runs around his suburban Pennsylvania home, in fear of a series of super 8 film canisters.
Now when written down, that’s a really stupid premise. Believe it or not, director Scott Derrickson and his co-writer C. Robert Cargill essentially establish that exact plot, and because of it Sinister is a pretty great film. It offers very little in true scares — and you’ll likely only jump at its loud, cheap thrills — but a creepy atmosphere and an appreciation for the medium are ingenious injections into American commercial horror, maligned (rightfully) for years because of reboots and remakes.
Cargill and Derrickson are seriously crushing on celluloid, and Hawke’s investigation of a mysterious demon’s haunting presence could be classified as a found footage film, only unlike one we’ve seen before. Sinister is a juxtaposition of formats, mixing digital and analog film — Derrickson actually shot the found footage segments on real super 8 stock — and Hawke has to use iChat and web browser to figure out how to edit the material, even shoddily pasting frames together.
The dialogue slacks around the dinner table, but Hawke’s methodical detective work is intriguing and the demon Bagul is slowly revealed to great effect. Sinister questions the heights its fictional crime author (and horror cinema) aspire to and whether or not those consequences are worth the costs.
10/17/12 Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
More of the same with better production value and a weaker story. So weak, in fact, that I was pretty bored with the back half of Part 2 — mind you, that “back half” includes most of the kills. This time, the iconic Jason Voorhees is the one doing the slaughtering, but he’s not all that recognizable, hiding his inexplicably deformed face throughout much of Part 2’s run time. In fact, Jason sports a cloth over his face, and as you can see, it’s not exactly a hockey mask.
Part 2 does an adequate job with its killer’s psychology, including an excellent fake-out between Jason and the film’s last girl, Ginny. Unfortunately Sean S. Cunningham and Steve Miner milk too much from cursory textbook lines, with Ginny awkwardly diagnosing Voorhees in retroactive fashion. Groan.
10/18/12 Bowling For Columbine (2002)
Say what you will about Michael Moore, but the man is undeniably good at two things: making an argument and then getting a reaction out of you. He’s the leftist iteration of a Sean Hannity type, appropriately slobbish and scruffy. Bowling for Columbine, which put Moore’s polarizing style on the map, is an unflinching indictment of American values and how they’re to blame. Err, well the film starts out with that idea at least. A quick Wikipedia perusal yields several fact-checks on Moore’s misdirections. The Michigan bank didn’t actually give him a gun the same day he signed up for a checking account. His convenient and brief “History of America” cartoon paints a flawed portrait of the country’s violent past as much as it apes South Park’s animation style. And Moore’s ambush of Mr. NRA himself, Charlton Heston, feels unfair. By the time Moore is trumpeting Canada’s greatness, I was left wondering how he’d gotten so far off topic. There is a definite passion to Moore’s film; it’s a shame he loses direction in all the frothy zeal.
At the same time, Moore is very successful at asking one question: Why is America so different? He never provides a compelling reason, but it’s a very important subject, and one to which I have yet to see a convincing answer. Moore’s inclusion of Heston also touches on something else, too. Was the NRA violating any laws in holding its meetings so close to the Columbine shootings? No. By the same token, it isn’t illegal to chain smoke outside of a cancer ward either. Just like it’s not illegal for the Westboro Baptist Church to hold up “God Hates Fags” signs outside of soldiers’ funerals. I don’t think the NRA is on the same level as the WBC, but there’s something behind the firearms associations’ history of refusing to comment on any American shootings that doesn’t sit well with me. Just as Heston’s “from my cold dead hands” testament reads more like ‘just because I can.’ And in the interest of maintaining our decency, just because I can isn’t good enough.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut (1999)
Can fart jokes be genius? South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone beat their critics to the punch here, going so far as making a not-so-veiled plot of the anticipated parental backlash. The biggest surprise is that thirteen years later, American attitudes toward censorship haven’t changed at all. Parker and Stone aren’t so much suggesting we go easy on all explicit content, but rather that we question what it is we’re censoring and why. Also fart jokes.
10/20/12 Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Hilarious, sharp, filled with in-references and featuring some great zombie effects to boot. What’s not to love? Edgar Wright’s exaggerated cuts mimic Requiem for a Dream’s own style just on.. well, speed. Shaun of the Dead is over-the-top and mundane all at once. The fate of the world feels like it hangs in the balance of just another shitty run-of-the-mill pub.
But for one truly terrifying ghost, Pulse isn’t a traditional horror movie. It definitely feels unpleasant to watch, like standing around in sweaty workout clothes for two hours, and its hypothesis, that technology ironically drives people apart instead of connect them, isn’t a novel one, but director Kiyoshi Kurosawa does plenty to sustain hopeless loneliness in this J-horror entry.
People join ghosts in the digital ether when they encounter a suicide played over and over via internet connection. It’s an extremely strange conceit, and lead slacker Haruhiko Kato’s life choices sometimes border on hyperbolic. But hey, if everyone you knew transformed into a computer ghost after being instructed to blow their own brains out, you’d probably behave a little weird, too.