A new movie thread about movies that aren't new

Dahmer – A suprisingly good serial killer movie that is more about loneliness than gore. It’s ultimately elevated by an excellent performance from Jeremy Renner and some tasteful “underdirection” by first time director David Jacobson. However, I don’t really see much point in exploring the motivations of someone like Dahmer, who I’m more than happy to dismiss as a monster. It’s quality notwithstanding, I’m hardly surprised the movie wasn’t distributed.

Return of the Living Dead – “Brains!” I hadn’t seen this in a while, but I’m pleased at how well it holds up in spite of having one foot firmly planted in the 80s. There are some funny long takes when director Dan O’Bannon just lets his actors wail and holler and panic at the prospect of zombies eating them. This gives it a sort of organic feel you don’t normally get in horror movies (Blair Witch Project excepted). And you can’t go wrong with a movie in which the lead characters are named Burt and Ernie.

Magnificent Seven – Well, this is enough to turn me off of Westerns. Total pablum. I knew it was a riff on Seven Samurai, but I didn’t except it to be so unimaginative. All the actors were standing around being cool, presumably because the audience at the time already thought they were cool. Whatever. I think Steve McQueen looks funny. Robert Vaugn as a cold-blooded killer running from the law, trying to look threatening in his leather driving gloves? C’mon. And who was the dumb kid doing the Toshiro Mifune role? It doesn’t really work to transplant a hysterical Japanese character into a Western. The dopey Mexican stereotypes were laughable. Truth be told, I spent most of the movie trying to place Yul Brenner’s accent and wondering if he was ever going to take off his hat and show his bald pate. He didn’t.

The Limey – I liked it better than the first time I saw it, when all the gratuitous jump cutting drove me crazy. This time I kept in mind the idea that the movie is Terence Stamp’s memory of everything that happened, going through his head while he sits on the airplane waiting to go home. This doesn’t bear out, because there are jump cut scenes that Terence Stamp’s character wouldn’t have seen. But it helps to know what effect Soderbergh was trying for.

The commentary from loudmouth screenwriter Lem Dobbs with Soderbergh occasionally chiming in made me appreciate Soderbergh all the more. Dobbs wanted all kinds of backstory, including subplots with all the ancillary characters, but Soderbergh brought it an emotional focus that obviously wasn’t in the script. He trimmed down Dobbs’ utterly conventional script, deconstructed it, and turned it into an interesting movie centered around Stamp’s performance. Nice work. It’s not my favorite Soderbergh movie (I think Stefan says it’s his), but it’s up there.

High Fidelity – I still love this movie. I especially appreciate the message at the end that true love is probably more a matter of exhaustion than anything else.

Plunkett & Macleane – Yeech. A big budget vanity project for Johnny Lee Miller (who?) and Robert Carlisle. Badits in England’s Olden Days. Messy, stupid, erratic.

Nomads – I remember loving this early John McTiernan movie when I was a kid. It’s about Pierce Brosnan as a anthropologist tracking nomadic spirits through Los Angeles. I must have been a pretty dumb kid, because the movie’s absolutely awful. The nomadic spirits are punkers, led by Adam Ant, driving a black van and listening to bad 80s music.

One point of interest is that McTiernan uses the same shot here that he would later use in Die Hard for Alan Rickman’s death: an overhead shot of someone falling, in slow motion, down the side of a skyscraper. The bluescreen looks bad, but it’s still a chilling shot.

Dark Blue World – The Czech version of Pearl Harbor. It’s good! Not great, but certainly good! Great production values, some smart air combat stuff, and a decent storyline. Even a good date movie for all you married guys who want to talk the wife into watching a war movie.

Code Unknown – From the German director (Michael Haneke) of a movie called Funny Games which features the most gruelling ten minutes of film I’ve ever seen. Code Unknown is sort of a Pulp Fiction conceit (interconnected stories) that never really comes together. Plus it’s foreign. Mark me down as someone who didn’t really get it.

Hideous Kinky – Reminded me of The Ice Storm in that it’s a subtle look at the insidious side effects of the 60s and 70s on family life. Excellent kid performances. Great use of location (Morocco). Kate Winslet plays the mother of two little girls being dragged around North Africa while she tries to find herself. A lot of the movie is ‘fly on the wall’ stuff, when you’re just watching characters fooling around and being themselves.

So, Tom, did you ever watch the Godfather 1 and 2? If so, what was your opinion?

And did you ever find a WS version of Once Upon a Time in the West?

Godfathers are still in the queue.

I think there is a widescreen version of Once Upon a Time in the West, but it’s on VHS. I’ll have to grab it a Blockbusters one day.

Actually, I just looked it up. Seems there isn’t a widescreen version of it. I think I’ll wait until it’s showing somewhere here in town.

 -Tom

I’m not trying to be sarcastic here, but I am trying to figure out what “underdirection” means and what a tasteful version would look like as oppossed to a vulgar version.

My guess is that under-direction would be where the camera is relatively stable, moving only when absolutely necessary. The angles are all eye level and ordinary; the depth of field similar to our perception. The performances are restrained and “natural” and the music is supportive, never crowding the dialogue or underlining the emotional point of scene needlessly.

This is just my guess. But if this is right, couldn’t this also be described as routine, banal or unartistic? And if not, why not?

I’ve also heard the reverse, so-and-so never over-directs. I think I might have an idea of what a good director should do or what a bad director should do, I just don’t understand the concept of over- or under- directing.

Ever heard of a song being ‘overengineered’? An actor ‘underperforming’ a role? Granted, these are invented words, but I think they convey the idea that sometimes less is more.

A lot of first time directors go flashy. Lots of camera moves, gimmicky cuts, elaborate sound design, intricate production design. It’s easy to just throw in motion and noise. But it’s hard to tell a story, to trust your actors and script almost exclusively. But this doesn’t have to be ‘routine, banal, or unartistic’ at all.

David Jacobson, who also wrote Dahmer, plays it all very quietly and there’s not much in the way of directorial fingerprints on this movie. There’s almost no gore (maybe two scenes, one of which is bloodless and very stylized) and there’s very little shock value. One of Jacobson’s most effective choices in the movie is that he relies on what we know about Jeffrey Dahmer for suspense rather than what he shows us. He doesn’t go into stuff about how he was caught, how many people and who he killed, and what happened to him in jail. In fact, he ends the movie at a very strange, but ultimately satisfying place, with an image that is in no way shocking. He just wraps up with a sort of visual metaphor that you might not even notice until it’s over. That’s underdirecting.

Contrast this with another director’s first movie, also about a serial killer: John McNaughton’s Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, which was very gory and very shocking. In fact, the difference between Henry and Dahmer is an interesting contrast in styles. McNaughton’s Henry was all about showing you horrible things. Jacobson’s Dahmer was all about showing you mundance things, since you probably already knew the horrible things.

 -Tom

Fair enough. I guess I would tend to think of this as naturalistic direction. I guess it’s just the term “underdirected” that irks me, that’s all.

"Godfathers are still in the queue. "

Uhm, what the heck are you waiting for? You must hate Coppola or something!

BTW, I watched Blade 2… not bad. Much more comic bookey than Blade 1, which was more ‘serious’. Pretty cool how its like a Vampire Aliens movie. And Wesley Snipes seemed cool in the commentary. Interesting.

etc

Yeah, I second this one. Saw it recently, and thought it was a pretty good movie. Worth a look even if you’re not into war stuff.

KMD, apparently Dark Blue World was quite a commercial commodity in the Czech Republic.

When I was over there, I was helping my friend look for tea for his sick girlfriend. All the boxes are labeled in Czech, so I don’t know camomile from Earl Grey. As we’re browsing through the various types of tea, I see a familiar picture of a WWII airman on one of the boxes. It was Dark Blue World tea!

I saw posters and such for the movie in various other places, but the tea was my favorite. I guess it was an appropriate product placement because it’s about Czech pilots who fly with the RAF. Where, of course, they drink a lot of tea.

I also liked Blade II, mtkafka. I’m very glad it didn’t take itself as seriously as the first movie. I imagine this was partly because it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, a Mexican director who brings a sort of Catholic Old World sensibility to his movies. I can imagine him getting up every morning and groaing, “I can’t believe I’m doing a comic book movie…”

Of course, his next film is Hellboy, another comic book movie.

 -Tom

He’s a big time comic geek.

He’s a big time comic geek.[/quote]

Apparently, in the commentary, he rattles off tons of random comic book references scattered in Blade II.

Hellboy is fun stuff.

Yeah, del Toro actively sought out Blade II and Hellboy as “things he wanted to do” and Hellboy is fantastic… though I’m not sure it’s going to translate to film. Thierry, did you get “The Adventures of Screw-Top Head” or somesuch? It’s from Mignola and it is a hoot!

Actually, there’s a bit from Devil’s Backbone, his last movie, that leads me to believe del Toro was into comics. This kid is abandoned at an orphanage and his prized possession is a small stack of comic books.

 -Tom

Tom, if you enjoyed Dahmer then check out Ed Gein which is out new as of August. it’s about the same as Dahmer, working tension from the viewer’s knowledge (and some darkness of scene topics) but very little gore. my wife and i ranked each worthy of rental, certainly not worth full-fare at the theater.

was odd that both these films hit the rental market within two weeks of each other. serial killer film festival weekend!

Wisconsin serial killer weekend. Yes, badger pride.

Thanks for the recommendation, sellthekids, but I have to say I hated Ed Gein. It was occasionally creepy, but I thought it was overall heavy-handed and in very poor taste. Nothing like a shot of a man frying up a pan of female genitalia to lend your movie that artistic quality…

Jeremy Renner brought a lot of depth to Dahmer. But Steve Railsback just brought this sort of pathetic washed-up quality to Ed Gein. Poor Steve Railsback. I suppose most people know him as Duane Barry, but to me he’s Peter O’Toole’s dupe from The Stunt Man. Unfortunately, ever since then, he’s been a sort of burned-out weirdo a la Bud Cort.

 -Tom

I wouldn’t quite agree with your characterization of Henry. There are some awful things in that movie, yes, but a fair bit is left to your imagination as well. Look at the ending, for example. Nothing is shown there at all. I haven’t seen Dahmer, but it’d really have to be something to top Henry for its power to unnerve me. Henry is one of the creepiest movies that I’ve ever seen.

I wouldn’t quite agree with your characterization of Henry. There are some awful things in that movie, yes, but a fair bit is left to your imagination as well. Look at the ending, for example. Nothing is shown there at all.

I haven’t seen Henry in a while, but the point of not showing the death of the girl at the end is that it’s a reveal whether Henry has killed her or not. As you can see from the rest of the movie, McNaughton would have had no compunction about showing that murder.

I maintain that Henry is shocking, gory, and explicit. IIRC, there’s even a videotaped rape/murder scene that makes Clockwork Orange look like something you’d see on Cinemax.

 -Tom

No way, he’s Charles Manson from Helter Skelter.

Del Toro’s also preparing a serious attempt at adapting HP Lovecraft. The work in question is “At the Mountains of Madness”. It will certainly be an interesting experiment to see if he can pull it off without it being “The Thing” only boring. Good luck to him, I say! Check out the link if you’re interested.

http://www.fangoria.com/news_article.php?id=343