Movie Roundup: Klowns, Ghosts and Other Monsters

This will likely be the last movie roundup I do for a while, mainly because I’ve got a lot of writing and reading I want to get done in the next few weeks. I also want to post something to this blog that isn’t just a list of stuff I’ve read or watched for once, since I’m getting back into the habit of updating this thing regularly. There’s a few topics and questions I’ve been thinking about the past couple days, and hopefully I’ll steal away some time to write about them soon. That said, I’ve watched some notable movies recently, and as they say, sharing is caring, and I do care, so here we go.

Pontypool: I watched this Valentine’s Day, which was appropriate – not because it’s a sweet date movie, but because it’s set on Valentine’s Day in a town in Canada. Basically, the denizens of the town of Pontypool find themselves afflicted with a bizarre infection that turns them into crazed, hiveminded monsters. They’re like zombies in almost every way except for the brain-eating, although they engage in cannibalism at some points. The movie revolves around a radio jockey and his production staff, who have to at first figure out what’s going on and then try to warn people how to stop the infection later. It’s a clever movie with some great acting. The nature of the infection is very distinctive and unique for this kind of movie. The action of the movie is what I would call “stage-bound,” though it doesn’t happen on a stage, because it’s contained to the setting of a radio station studio. In that sense, it felt like I was watching or listening to modern variation on the classic War of the Worlds broadcast from the early 20th century. If you can overlook the lack of “action” for a strong story, it’s worth watching.

The Stone Tape: Rather neat movie overall. This one is really hard to find, since it was broadcast on BBC back in the 70s and it’s never received an official DVD release (it is available for download and rental on Amazon Instant Video, though). The premise: a tech development team moves their operations into an old manor home with a secretly haunted history; when they discover the presence of a ghost, they try to discover the source of the haunting, thinking they’ve discovered a new form of data storage. It’s a very scientific take on the concept of a haunting – in fact, from what I understand, this movie popularized the notion of “residual haunting,” the incident of a ghost or ghostly phenomena repeatedly occurring in a set sequence of actions in a location like a tape loop. This has since become the “Stone Tape Theory.” Nicely done, Nigel Kneale! Anyway, it makes a better science fiction movie than a horror movie – using science and computers to find an alternate explanation for the occurrence of ghosts and supernatural phenomena. Yes, the characters are prone to spells of back-and-forth exposition about this, but it all sounds so cool and brain-bending when you listen to it, so it ended up appealing to me. The ideas are better than the story, but that doesn’t mean the story is bad, just that the ideas are massive. My other major misgiving about this movie involves the female protagonist, the programmer who first discovers the presence of the ghost. Half of the time, she’s this strongly capable scientist who makes major breakthroughs in how to communicate with and then “record” the ghost; the other half of the time, she’s your typical hysterical, helpless female protagonist from any other somewhat sexist ghost story. It’s fairly annoying.

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The Chaser: Another Korean action-thriller, on the heels of The Man From Nowhere. This is a good movie, but not as good as Nowhere. A former-cop-turned-pimp finds out that his prostitutes are being abducted and murdered by a serial killer living in his city, so he uses the skills cultivated from his former trade to track him down. It’s a fairly exciting movie, but it suffers from being a little overlong and dragging too much in the middle when the police bring the killer in to their custody and wind up running around in circles trying to find evidence of his crimes. There’s a sense of something intangible missing from this movie that’s present in similar movies, like the aforementioned Nowhere and others like, say, Oldboy, that I can’t fully explain except to say that it’s a matter of personal resonance with the characters or their emotional contexts. It just feels a little more ordinary in comparison to other movies I’ve seen recently. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching, though.

Donnie Darko: I’d already heard all about this movie, owing to the fact that it’s a cult classic. When I went to college, every other student’s favorite movies were this and Boondock Saints. I had already heard every possible opinion about this movie – good, bad, indifferent – so when I finally watched it, I was in this bizarre situation where despite all I’d heard, I came to it with no expectations. Turns out I like the movie quite a bit (the original theatrical cut, not the director’s cut; I know there’s a world of difference between the two). It is a very weird movie, and the SF-nal/Horror-ish elements work well without a lot of explanation, simply because of what they lead the characters to do to themselves and others. What I noticed about the movie more than anything else? It’s a surprisingly funny movie, dependent on the irony of its frequently self-absorbed characters saying and doing stupid things. It’s also one of the few movies I’ve seen, aside from American Psycho, to honestly portray just how weird and alien the 80s really were. And yes, it has a pretty awesome soundtrack.

Donnie Darko (2001)

Killer Klowns From Outer Space: Yeesh, this movie is lame, but I suppose that’s kind of the point. It actually terrified me when I was a kid; I never finished the movie. It’s exactly what it sounds like: killer aliens that look like clowns and use alien-circus-grade technology kill and abduct people in this little college town while a few people try to stop them and escape their clutches. Turns out it’s on Netflix, and I am now somewhat less scared of clowns than I used to be, so I decided, what the hell, I’ll give it another shot. Still couldn’t finish it, but for different reasons. It’s a B-movie, basically, and it never tries to rise above that or take itself more seriously. I watched the first fifty minutes or so because the filmmakers actually do come up with some unique ways of having the klowns terrorize people – in my favorite scene, a klown makes shadow puppets on a building wall at a bus stop before eating a group of bystanders with a shadowy t-rex. Once the novelty of watching the klowns wreak havoc wears off, though, there’s no real reason to finish the movie, other than simply wanting to finish the movie.

Trollhunter: This is right alongside Lake Mungo as my favorite found footage film ever. I’m very critical of the found footage style/genre/whatever in most instances where it pops up, for reasons I may have to get into with a future blog post. Trollhunter does not suffer for being a found footage movie, though, and in fact makes a good case for when it’s done well. Basically, an amateur film crew tracks down this reclusive hunter and finds out he’s been tasked with controlling the troll population of Norway, and so they begin documenting his adventures, which quickly become their adventures. There’s quality acting, for what the movie requires, and the story is inventive and clever and above all good. The faux-real style of the movie makes the appearance of the trolls all the more incredible when they appear, especially when the Moby Dick of trolls shows up at the end.

Dark Portals – The Chronicles of Vidocq: I liked this one in theory, but not in execution. It’s a detective story set in 19th century France, with all of its social upheaval and what-not. The main character, Vidocq, is basically the French version of Sherlock Holmes. The primary calling card for this movie is the stunning visuals and bizarre scenes and villain, a black-cloaked “alchemist” who can seemingly shapeshift and blend into the shadows/wall/floor anywhere, invulnerable to attack. Imagine my disappointment, then, to find that it’s mostly a by-the-numbers murder mystery with supernatural elements added in and too many plot points dependent on coincidence alone. The big twist with the revelation of the villain’s identity is fairly underwhelming too. There’s really no reason to care about the movie unless you happen to care for these kinds of stories. It is well shot, but I’ve seen better. Overall, it left me with a feeling of “meh.”

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The Skin I Live In: One of the strangest movies I’ve watched recently, and it also happens to be the first Pedro Almodóvar film I’ve ever watched. I’m, um, not sure how typical this movie is of his other movies, but I do know that I liked this one enough that I would readily watch anything else he does. It features maybe my favorite Antonio Banderas performance ever, as a mysterious, creepy doctor who keeps a woman locked up under odd circumstances in his home, watched over only by him and his maid, the only two people who seem to know that the woman is a prisoner there in the first place. The first thirty minutes are somewhat rough going, but the movie picks up big time as it rolls out the tragic backstory for the doctor and the causes of the woman’s imprisonment in the house. It also contains some industrial-grade twists, which impressed me with how unexpected they were. It all builds up to a surprisingly affecting ending. Definitely one of those movies that grew on me as I watched it.

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