Scanners (1981)

Scanners, directed by horror wise guy David Cronenberg, is a film where the director seems to be smoothing out his style. A majority of the shots involve the camera panning towards a character, in a shoulder shot, with his or her eyes gazing up at something with their big, scanner eyes. It’s done repetitively, and runs tiresome, but the plot is taken into newly explained depth and the actors always make it involving. Cameron Vale, the guy that reminds you of Luke from Star Wars with his sense of virtue, is used by Doctor Paul Ruth to fight against the scanners who have joined together. The leader of this underground group, who we meet personally when he assassinates a scanner at a presentation, is Darryl Revok. He will stop at nothing to find Cameron, and has already killed many scanners who wouldn’t cooperate with him.

The film has a way with muddying the motivations of its characters. No-one from the start is who they seem to be, except Cameron, who as a scanner barely has a personality because he thinks and thinks all of the people’s thoughts around him, as a telepathic. Dr. Paul Ruth has a serum that can suppress this and make all input from other thoughts gone. I’m not sure why Cameron didn’t want this more than he did, for it was the whole problem before Dr. Paul found him.

It ultimately doesn’t let us know who to root for; we are in contact with several double-sided misfits, but don’t know if what their doing is wrong. I think the lack of motivation in Cameron is a key disappointment; what did the Doctor do to get him on his side? Put fifty people in his room and let him suffer from their thoughts? Grumble his raspy voice like a wise-man?

The set-design is always meticulous and atmospheric, though. The scene where Cameron goes to the Artists house is incredible, where he has a massive skull made out of some sort of clay. They hide inside of it, and while the artist walks out and is blown to pieces by guns, Cameron resides inside the head, a metaphor, and scans all of the people around him. He walks out fine, but the artist has died.

The film boasts fine performances and an engaging plot, no matter how under developed the characters were compared to Cronenberg films like ‘The Fly’. It’s a gruesome, horror aficionado’s hot-list entree.

Battle Royale: Hunger Games Unrated

    Battle Royale is the BR act in Japan, which consists of a mandatory lottery that selects a class of students to fight it out on an island, to the death. In this film, we see a class of rebellious ninth-grade students taken onto a bus, gassed, and then woken up, confused and bewildered like the viewer. Their past teacher, one who was cut and abused during his time teaching, shown in the first scenes, is now their commander in the BR act. They are all very shocked and the sense of rebellion still acute. They shout and demand answers. This is it. Their to be silenced, with a bag of random weapons and a chance in the course of three-days to kill all their classmates and remain alive and able to return home. But to what? Is what’s being asked by several characters.

The film blends pulpy, bloody action with high-school drama in a sardonically funny, yet poignant way. Behind each person pointing a gun comes with conviction: You locked me in the bathroom, you stole my boyfriend, etc. High-school students are too misty with their priorities for violence, and the ‘teachers’ know this. The scenes are shown in an evocative manner alongside long-spanning landscapes and frightening noises. Shuya and Noriko band together as romances, like so many other devoted young lovers, or young fighters. The movie has stark similarities to America’s Hunger Games film and books raving, but this is an entirely different beast and genre. It is dark, atmospheric, and grotesque, while Hunger Games is fluffy, flush-faced and Hollywood-designed. Don’t make exceptions with your children on this one.

Their are ironic moments that lift this film far above The Hunger Games. It isn’t first-person, but instead switches to different people and incites convictions from different points of view. The way it seams these together, even with sporadic use of flash-backs, makes it a masterpiece of film structure. When you look at movies in Hollywood consisting of twenty-plus people, you will see two or three people and become close to them, idealize them in fact, and the rest of the bunch won’t be introduced besides the act of being killed. Not here, though I don’t see entirely why we couldn’t spend a few minutes of exposition introducing the characters in their natural, school-desk existence.

Battle Royale is a strong, highly cinematic and entertaining film for those who like Pulp action or High-school drama (think Carrie). This is a movie that deserves and is receiving hype, even with the subtitles that ignorantly turn people away.

Prometheus

Ridley Scott stirred many science-fiction fans into the tongue-wagging mindset, waiting happily for the arrival of the next Blade Runner. Prometheus is not of the same order, but does blend incredible digital effects with strong performances. The plot, though, doesn’t run away from the same outline of the Alien films: Quiet, intelligent woman goes with a crew of rowdy boys hired by a corporation whose motivations are unknown, and slowly and somewhat suspensefuly are killed down to that last woman. In Prometheus, based on the characters behavior, you wont have to second-guess who is going to drop dead next. But, hey, maybe some fans take comfort in familiarity; or even worse, the filmmakers do!

Regardless of the screenplay letting us down, the action and pace is still there, along with the crowd-pleasing android played by Michael Fassbender. David, such a normal name for such a sophisticated machine, can see the memories of the people he guards while they lay in stasis; he loves movies, and quotes them often. He is a truly enticing character to watch on the screen, and even more so after some very eerie plot turns. The relationship between Elizabeth and Charlie seems a little unnatural; Elizabeth is a quiet woman with a despairing history, and Charlie is a shameless promoter of his own interests, drinking on the ship at will. However, the relationship’s dimensions may be explained by Elizabeth’s inability to birth: This is the couples last chance at mutual happiness.

The film accomplishes its frightening tone with a slow, evolving pace: yet, at several points in the film, I asked myself whether or not the person being killed right now was even introduced? The ship started with seventeen passengers, and it ended with one: Did it really feel like sixteen went down? These sort of elementary notions that are bypassed does not resemble the quality Ridley Scott has produced. The formula for horror, even sci-fi horror, is becoming far to transparent: Why couldn’t he have flipped it upside down, and had the people who were left in the cave at the start, (who obviously are killed), be the ones who outlive it all? The cinema has a language for form and design, but  genre-language does not win any more points, as Tarantino and many other genre-bending directors have shown.

The performances are very well done, and the crafting of each scene, in the sense of composition, is done by Scott’s signature confidence. Prometheus is a movie for science-fiction fans who aren’t perturbed by lack of thought, just awing at spectacle.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum, is a crowd-pleasing body transformation movie about a self-made monster covering his face with the hunched back of his own mutated ugliness. Seth Brundle (Goldblum) is an obsessive scientist, focusing all of his energy on the prospect of teleportation; he has created a machine and tested prototypes, but both Seth and the audience are very conscious of his lack of humanity: people, such as his poignant love-interest, Veronica, aren’t as important to him as science.

Seth compares himself to Einstein through his practice wearing the same clothes everyday, a fresh pair, mind you. He doesn’t have time to think about what slacks to wear in the morning.

Brundle’s dreams of scientific glory are disrupted when, anxious to see the results of his machine prototype, he disregards using a viable test subject and instead calls his own number and climbs inside the small chamber of his invention. A buzzing fly follows shortly behind him and miraculously, the teleporter works: but what happened to the fly? Cue a haunting drum sound.

The movie is a character-driven exercise, a tragic and classic beauty and the beast love story. It boasts great performances from Goldblum and his sporadic love partner Veronica, played by Geena Davis. It enwraps us in Brundle’s decline, as many great films do: We know how it starts and we see where it goes. A rousing meditation on intellectual-burden, scientific-awareness, and unfiltered love.

Plan 9 from Outer Space

Plan 9 from outer-space is a passionately made film by a very, very incompetent director; his characters shout to each other in dramatic tones; the monster monotonously growls as his hands are extended far out his chest. Plan 9 is an uproarious movie that visibly gets everything wrong. The introduction is redundant and unedited, and with dialogue as laughable as a comedy. But the effort is there: through the tin-foil suits and the pretentious voice-overs, Ed Wood shines in the background, gleefully watching: and the idea of him designing these scenarios is what makes his films so loved, not necessarily even the movies themselves.

The film casts seemingly unknown stars, and has a continuum of poor voice overs, like the old man slowly walking out his house, fore-lorn of his wife’s passing.  The plot follows the arrival of a starship and their ability to rise the dead; grave-diggers from outer-space! In glossy purple and silver suits, the space-agents talk to their captain with soldier-like gesture, chin-straight. The attempt at nuance is very funny, with stern saluted faces, and a fantastic scene where the woman space-agent cant control her freeze-gun, and the ginormous ex-police chief now zombie heads straight for the kill, the homosexual-like male space-agent, who horrendously gasps in fear, arms flailing. Phew, that was close, they say. Too close.

The all American storyline of a pilot and his worry for his wife is entertaining, also; he first spots aliens as he points it out to the other man in the cockpit, flashing in the sky. It all ends with the man with the blonde hait with a little curl on the front re-appearing, re-assessing the importance of what we have seen today.  The importance of our place in: The worlds greatest cheese movies!

Psycho

Pyscho changed the way America looked at movies, and how much they really could tolerate while sitting in them. For the majority, Psycho liberated the isolated horror genre, and created a world of mystery and deceit worth the price of a ticket. In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock weaves together a story in parts consisting of different characters and their points of view. The first is the unassuming Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, who steals money from her work and skips town in a hurry, only to find crossing the street her boss, his eyes prying into her guilt-stricken face; their she meets the cinema famous Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, who acts suspiciously, and then, murderously.

The main suspicion in the movie, placed almost subliminally by Hitchcock by way of the winding stairs on the hill, is the house where Norman’s mother resides. We see the silhouette of her torso and head in the top-left window, but never are the characters directly greeted by her. And while her mystery is peculiar, so is her son Norman’s behavior, who has an eerie boyish, suppressed attitude; he seems to be easily over-run and maybe vulnerable.  He cleans, replaces towels, and sustains the motel, even when he knows that they are located in such a desolate, rarely-visited place.

The rain pounding on the car, the windshield fiercely swiping it aside, is a classic scene of paranoia, and we feel almost in the mind of Marion, so intimate and revealing on an endless road of perturbed thoughts. Who knows what Hitchcock was trying to say about karma, but it must have been something. He displays several static shots of fear, like Norman’s bird collection, which somewhat wrongfully seems like a warning of his illness, though their is nothing really wrong with hunting birds. And then, the legendary shower scene itself, the moment where Marion is truly taken over. The rest of the film involves finding what has caused her to go missing, with our consciousness now streaming with the horror of the hotel, a form of dramatic irony for the horror genre.

Lila Crane, played by Vera Miles, and Sam Loomis, Lila’s boyfriend played by John Gavin, are now privately investigating the hotel, the sort of unknowing terror that modern horror films manipulate, in a more characteristically ignorant manner. The film is a masterpiece of terror and suspense, a convention-bending Hitchcock movie that won’t be forgotten in the swamps or the drain.

 

Eraserhead

8/10

Eraserhead is one of those strange movies by David Lynch, with his obsessive use of close-ups and tantalizing stills of silent action. The character, Henry, lives in an industrial nightmare, walking in streets filled with odd, squirmy sounds and metal-racketing. Smoke fills the air constantly,  in the tradition of an old silent movie like Metropolis.  Henry is a quiet fella who lives a modest life as a printer; his lapel is filled with pens, and he wears the suit each and every day. The scenes are filled with odd tweaks to modern design; the light is shaped like a ‘T’ upside down, and their are mounds of what looks like cement, with a plant peaking out the top.

The connections that we make throughout the movie often have little merit: it is inherently metaphorical. It isn’t inherently anything really. The personality of Henry is very interesting, if not the most interesting, aspect of the film to me. He is quiet, yet when he speaks it will be for his benefit; “move over” he says to Mary, his wife, when she is squishing him in bed.  When he does speak, it often feels like he hasn’t completed a sentence and will say more, but he wont: he’ll simply put his head down a little bit, resigned. Henry is invited to dinner with Mary and her parents, and he comes inside the house in his tense manner, though he says later that he is nervous, we do not know for sure because he seems to act the same way all of the time. The news leaks while Henry is cutting the chicken, a biologically-mutated thing, and he is made aware that Mary was pregnant, and the bay is at the hospital.

The baby is the subject of the rest of the film: It is a disfigured, big-eyed, alien-like creature with no hands or legs. It’s bottom half is wrapped in a cocoon of tissue, hidden. The shrieks turn Mary away, for she cannot stand it any longer. What does Henry, with his calm and unchanging gestures, think of all this? Is he sad that his son is so malfigured?  These questions aren’t answered, but through Henry’s actions we are shown his state of mind: his desperation for acquaintance, after making love with his next door neighbor who has always looked over at him, and his somewhat iconic blank gaze at his child, eyes wide in terror.

Most people wonder what David Lynch was thinking about if it took five-years to make Eraserhead; maybe just how to get more money. I really don’t know, because Lynch’s motives, like Henry’s gesture, ultimately seem out of aesthetic purpose, not meaning. A strange, moody piece with a unique style that’s worth witnessing at least once.