Thursday, January 27, 2011

Off-Topic Thursday: BluRay

So yes, I figure that while talking about horror movies at my every waking moment is groovy and all, and if I had it my way, this might be how I spent my days, a little variety wouldn't kill me. Besides, I have other stuff to talk about than horror movies, and it'd be a shame for all these lovely words to go to waste, don't you agree? Anyway, the thing I'm talking about that is only tangentially related to horror movies today is BluRay, winner of the war of HD entertainment, forever degrading the HD DVD to the wall of shame together with Betamax and doubtlessly several other formats that time has been even more unkind to than the two aforementioned ones.

My reason for writing about this is that I, finally some might say, have gotten myself a BluRay player for my computer. Installing the thing was a daunting task for someone more used to dealing with software, leaving the hardware to spiral into obsoleteness by itself. I guess years of using laptops will do that to you. Fortunately, the thing wasn't too hard to get installed. Not loving the fact that none of the media players I have seem to be able to play the BluRays, but I feel it's not too horrible, as the standard player that came with the bluray isn't too bad. It gets the job done, can't really ask for more... just yet.

As for quality, it's a step up, and since my computer screen is a nice little 1080p 16:9 wonder, I do get a fairly nice and sharp watching experience. Sure, it doesn't really make the movies any better, craftwise, but holy shit, they're nice looking. And before anyone asks, no this will not lead to me buying Avatar on BluRay, breathtaking visuals or no, that movie just pisses me off. That said, I do tend to seek out films with unique and interesting visuals when I'm buying BluRay discs. Thus far, I've  got  Splice (which I will review at some point) The Orphanage (Same), In Bruges, Paprika, Inception and The Dark Knight, which I probably will make the topic of another OTT.

Of course, this new upgrade in video equipment have left me with some measure of frustration, namely, the selection of BluRays available. See, DVDs had a good thing going now, it had become cheap enough for any two-bit production company to churn out their little disc-shaped nuggets of joy, or bottomless desperation, as the case often was. With BluRay, it has't quite reached this point yet, and thus, some of my weird, obscure movies are kind of tricky, read pretty much impossible to get on the format, which is a bummer, but at least I can look forward to "updated releases", well, if people go for the George Lucas route of film re-releasing, that is. We shall see how it goes.

Monday, January 17, 2011


So, M. Night Shyamalan, we meet again. It's not surprising, no, not by a long shot. I'm a horror movie fan, and I prefer cerebral horror with at least marginally original concepts, and Shyamalan produces a lot of these types of movies. Of course, the fact that the guy is starting to shape up to be my nemesis isn't helping matters. To be fair, I recognize that my irrational hatred might be a result of The Happening... and Lady In The Water and Signs and The Village... so all of his movies I've seen bar one. Still, it feels unfair to judge the man's new works from that, which isn't to say that I don't. I wish I could say I started this movie with enthusiasm and a positive outlook, but try as I might, I just couldn't get myself to do that. Still, I've been convinced by movies I wasn't crazy about before, so let's see how this one fares.

Now, this isn't really a Shyamalan film, per se, it's directed by John Erick Dowdle, the guy who directed Quarantine... Oh my. He did direct The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which I did like, though, so I guess it, from that could go either way. Still, the story is Shyamalan's, and those who have seen a Shyamalan movie, any Shyamalan movie knows what that means, quiet drama scenes and TWISTS, but I'm getting ahead of myself, let's get the basics down.

The setup is very similar to Blackout, another film I liked. Five strangers find themselves trapped in an elevator, one of them have a dark, deadly, secret. Oh yes, one of the five strangers is in fact, El Diabolo, Old Scratch, The Devil, if you so prefer, and he's out to torture sinners because... uh, he's the devil, and he's vindictive and not very nice and what-have-you. I'm not quite sure how well that fits with Christian theology, but it does sound a little odd. Maybe it makes sense, though, Satan is seldom considered the most rule-abiding and decent of folk. I wouldn't say the story isn't problematic, in itself, but it has a couple of snags that makes me go "Uh... what?"

First of all, there's the aforementioned theological confusion, but I guess I, as a non-angry Atheist, have no real room to complain about this. What I do, however, feel I can complain about is one particular bit of "Uh... wait, what?" logic. Mr Exposition in this case is a Hispanic security guard who also, keeping true to national stereotypes, this is Hollywood after all, is deeply religious, and by deeply religious we mean Catholic, because  that's the only type of Christianity that's sufficiently dramatic for screenwriters, it would seem. He claims the Devil, capital D, is in the elevator, and I hope you're holding on to something because this'll blow your mind like an Illithid hooker, because everything seems to go wrong all on itself. Oh yes, he even demonstrates, by throwing a piece of toast up in the air and observing that it lands with the jam side down. You know, never mind that the side with jam on it is probably heavier, or that... as they say, shit happens.
Or, in this case: THE DEVIL HAPPENS

Now, if you pointed to all the other incredibly lethal accidents that happened around the same time, I might be more inclined to call it an argument that... you know, actually makes sense, but come on, toast? That's like me proving that my dog is Lord Cthulhu of the Deeps because of a coin toss. Of course, nobody else takes him seriously, although he, indeed turns out to be right, as the minority exposition expert is want to do. So, I guess it could be worse, since everybody taking him seriously would cause me to headbutt something.

On the technical side of things, Devil is competently done, but with some odd choices that I feel diminish the overall immersion and at least my enjoyment of the thing. For one, the movie opens with this odd, upside-down pan across the city this thing is set in. I'm not sure what it's supposed to signify, maybe it's a play on that whole thing of an upside-down cross being satanic or something,or maybe there's some absurd bible verse in play here, but honestly, it just looks odd, and not "cool odd" either, just kinda... weird. Also, this could just be me, but I felt the score was way to aggressive on the ominous music. I mean, it's true as they say, scary music can make most anything scary, but when you're playing scary music over pretty much the entire opening without anything even slightly unnerving happening... you're kind of wearing it out.

Scary music will not make this intimidating

Scare-wise, Devil could've done better. Granted, it has one or two moments that's... pretty creepy, but I can't help but feel that Devil squanders it's potential. It's El Diablo we're dealing with here, one would think he could whip up some pretty terrific stuff, or at least be a little... scarier about it. Just such a relatively simple thing as having the lights go out, because the devil always kills in the cover of probably infernally powered blackouts, without anyone dying would be a fun trick, and you could be awfully deceptive as the Big D. Of course, you could be awfully deceptive as filmmakers too, but they seem to not having poured their heart into it. You see, from the basic premise, it's obvious how this was planned to play out, juggling suspicion on all living characters, but sadly, it's pretty straightforward, as they rotate which character is in the suspicion spotlight, and doesn't go back, questioning people who previously was in the spotlight, etc, you know, mindfuck material..

All in all, Devil feels like a big honking helping of wasted opportunities here. Sure, here I go as an uppity film geek telling professionals how to do their job, but I guess it wouldn't be a proper blog if I didn't display a little unwarranted self-importance, or what? At any rate, the movie really doesn't make the most out of it's premise, in that very little time is actually spent in the elevator, which feels like a cop-out to me. Alternatively, maybe it'd be a more interesting movie if you never actually went into the elevator, kind of turning the plot inwards-out. That could create a few interesting scenes, I think, but here's me, art-film weirdoing again. Also, you really don't get any backstory on the main characters, so when they die, or have mind-shattering plot twists that you might see coming if you've seen a single Shyamalan film, I personally found it hard to empathize with them, especially since they're given little more than the one character trait that tells us why the Devil is fucking with them in the first place.

So, all in all, Devil's a fairly disappointing movie, and while I won't say that everything Shyamalan does nowadays end up sucking, it would be a deceptively simple conclusion to make.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

John Dies At The End

Every so often, you find a title for a work that really grabs you. You're not sure how or when, but in some way or another, you have to read/watch/listen to this thing. To me, the book John Dies At The End was an example of such a title. It was a ballsy move, I figured, spoiling the ending in the title, but there probably was some sort of postmodernistic point to be made, unless it turned out to be a lie, which I figure it might have been, of course, that'd also be some sort of postmodern brouhaha, so there's little escaping that. At any rate, some spoilers here.

John Dies At The End is about John, whose prospects of the future, on account of the title, are rather grim, and David, two college dropouts who get in way above their heads when they take an odd drug called Soy Sauce. The drug gives them supernaturally keen perceptive abilities and discover that, indeed, there are things that go bump in the night, and a lot of those things want to mess Earth's shit up because, as mentioned earlier, beings from another world are usually dicks.

Maybe one of the most striking things with this book is how it treats humor and horror, two things that not always goes together. Many works of horror takes themselves too seriously, and, has been observed, thus usually become the bigger joke. See 90% of all the slashers in the history of ever. John Dies At The End, though, demonstrates that a work can both be genuinely funny and genuinely terrifying. This is mostly on account of the narrator and the titular character being... well rather funny, and the things they face actually being genuinely terrifying.

Oh yes, we're talking Lovecraftian horror here today, and interestingly enough, the author keeps it varied. Sure, the multiple villains might give the book a bit of an anthology feel to it, but there's several things tying the plot-lines together, amongst others a bit of a murder mystery that I, for one, found very refreshing, although the way it slides into the background kinda bothers me. Then again, you're dealing with dimension-spanning baddies and horrors scarcely describable by us squishy humans, a dead body in your shed isn't your highest priority, although by the end it might have been a good thing to focus on, but that's me.

From what I hear, Don Coscarelli, B-Movie master, creator of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, is making a movie of this book. I'm not usually optimistic about all that many things, but this could really fit. Phantasm is somewhat similar to JDATE in several ways, sans the fact that the latter sort of made sense in the end, whereas Phantasm made increasingly less sense until Phantasm 3 left me as one big O.o. From what I hear, the fourth one didn't exactly help matters.  So, we'll see at any rate, unless the production goes to shit in style of the World War Z movie, where the studios apparently got nervous when the script was leaked. Kinda odd, since it's based on a book, but there you go.