Archive for Guillermo Del Toro

Physician, eel thyself

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2021 by dcairns

I’d been curious to see A CURE FOR WELLNESS since it came out in the benighted year of 2016 but not curious enough to, you know, see it. But it’s on Netflix now so I finally did.

First impressions from the trailer confirmed: it’s a very handsome film. It was shot by Gore Verbinski’s regular guy, Bojan Bazelli and designed by Eve Stewart, who does Tom Hooper’s films, which I dislike on sight but which undeniably always have “a look.”

It didn’t scare me, but it sometimes repelled me, and I have a fairly strong stomach, being Scottish. There’s some dental abuse, done with ECU CGI relish, but it was nowhere near as disturbing as MARATHON MAN’s famous (drill) bit, which made do purely with terrific performances, creepy pacing, disturbing angles and surprisingly Pinterish dialogue. No magnified teeth were needed.

What’s with the eels? There’s an explanation of sorts, but it’s strangely unimpressive. I find I’m not as disturbed by eels as Verbinski and his team want me to be. They’re good and repellent in THE TIN DRUM, writhing from a horse’s head washed up on a beach. Even when they’re administered orally to the film’s anti-hero (Dane DeHaan, whose character — a shitweasel of the first water — I never liked, but whose performance was rather admirable — I hope his career continues) in a passably revolting moment, they didn’t really bother me. Maybe the CGI effect is to blame: the prosthetic beasts laid out in an alchemist’s lab seemed more upsetting. Things with real textures have more power.

The film is damn long — on the one hand, I appreciated the measured pace for its novelty, on the other hand I found the intrigue at the spa insufficiently intriguing, the revelations not startling enough, so it dragged a bit.

I believe we can trace this one back a long way. Back in 1999, Verbinski was fired from the cannibal romp RAVENOUS. Antonia Bird took his place in a hurry and turned out an entertainingly daft thriller. Maybe my favourite of her films, since I don’t respond too well to social realism, and I always found fault with her camera choices — whirling round an embracing couple with the sun flaring into the lens; close-up on hands clenching together in a sex scene, cliches not wholly redeemed by the novelty of the same-sex relationship portrayed (the film is PRIEST). It’s a shame the film that impressed me most was a relatively impersonal one, and had AB’s life not been cut so tragically short I’m sure she’d have made something I could honestly love.

Verbinski gave some interview somewhere about having wanted to make of RAVENOUS “a modern ROSEMARY’S BABY,” which is baffling, considering that the eventual movie was so essentially just a bit of gory froth. But with WELLNESS (rubbish title: wants to sound sinister but just sounds bland), he’s done his best to fulfill that early ambition. The slow pace; the accretion of details that largely spells out the plot for us but leaves us wondering if it’s all in the mind; the conspiracy and the supernatural history and all that.

[THIS IS ALL WRONG: SEE COMMENTS!]

But the exotic look of it robs it of the quasi-realism that makes Polanski’s film of Ira Levin’s novel so creepy. I just didn’t believe in the film’s world. There’s no credible reason, after all, for the isolation tank, setting for a major eel attack, to be the size of a reactor cooler. The locations are stunning, and their reality does help the film, but it all feels far more like a fairy tale than a psychological thriller, and fairy tales are usually short and speedy rather than prolonged and lugubrious. I can’t prove that Verbinski’s approach couldn’t have worked, I can only attest that for me it didn’t work.

But it’s a gorgeous looking film, and the bigger-than-usual-for-this-sort-of-thing budget lifts it out of the regular categories, even though that’s kind of regrettable because the movie’s underperformance probably cost us Del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.

Late Entry Wounds

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2019 by dcairns
Image from JONATHAN (1970)

There will, clearly, be several follow-ups to our Project Fear blogathon, not counting Brexit itself. The fact that the general election results, which will go some way to settling the issue, will come in on Friday the thirteenth is pretty irresistible.

First of these slight reprises comes from me old mucker Scout Tafoya — five sparking video essays on subjects as close to our collective hearts as a sturdy stake. European horror, European-influenced horror, and Euro-genre stuff. Float off into Scout’s atmospheric ruminations

The Noms

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2018 by dcairns

So, unusually, I have actually seen some of the Oscar-nominated films.

We saw THE SHAPE OF WATER. Fiona is a big Del Toro fan. I like him as a person on the movie scene, but usually wish I could like his films more than I do. I like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE best, the rest seem to miss the mark. I like the compromised MIMIC better than I like PAN’S LABYRINTH, which gives you some idea.

This one disappointed both of us, but all the reasons I could give you don’t mean much, because the real reason was we didn’t buy into the central relationship and as a result we weren’t moved. We were interested, but we didn’t get weepy, which we should have, surely, since this is basically E.T. (and SPLASH, but then SPLASH is E.T. too).

The romance seemed to consist of Sally Hawkins giving Doug Jones some hard-boiled eggs. I can imagine that Guillermo sees this as the highest form of love, and he might feel he would be tied by unbreakable romantic bonds to anybody who gave him some hard boiled-eggs, but I couldn’t relate to this. Now, if it had been cheese on toast…

The production design of Hawkins’ apartment, styled after Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (episode: The Drop of Water), is gorgeous. We didn’t buy the light from the cinema downstairs filtering through the floorboards, but we were willing to be indulgent. But then when Hawkins fills the bathroom with water, we stopped indulging. You can have a flimsy, permeable floor or an impossibly strong, almost-watertight floor, not both. And that flooding the house was a stupid thing to do when you’re hiding from the authorities.

(How I know about water and floors: there’s an anecdote from the filming of TOMMY. The production made what can in hindsight be seen as a mistake in putting Oliver Reed and Keith Moon in the same hotel. One evening, Moon knocks on Ollie’s door and asks for help moving his water-bed. Ollie is a very strong man: his party trick was to seize a bar-top and hold his entire body out horizontally. But he doesn’t know that it’s impossible for a human being to move a water-bed when it’s full of water. It weighs about twice what any strong man could lift. Still, Ollie has a try, and does succeed in ripping the water-bed, flooding the room with 200 gallons of water, not enough to fill a bathroom but enough to cause Moon’s hotel room to collapse into the room below. So I always laugh at stories of rock stars destroying hotel rooms. They merely destroy the contents of hotel rooms. Moon and Reed destroyed two actual rooms. This may seem like a digression but the film is called THE SHAPE OF WATER so it isn’t.)

Other bits of production design we liked: well, all of it, but the dais Jones is strapped to is borrowed from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

And the idea of a film set in a secret government lab but centering on the cleaners is lovely.

But I didn’t buy the baddies wanting to dissect their only specimen, I didn’t buy the Russians at all (what they wanted seemed to make no sense). I couldn’t invest because I couldn’t believe. The twist was cool, but the sudden miraculous powers bit kind of confused that. It seemed odd that a writing team wouldn’t pick up on each others’ mistakes more. But I’m sure if Del Toro asked me to co-write a film (ain’t going to happen NOW, is it?) I would be somewhat in awe of him and just agree with all his ideas even if I privately thought maybe they were silly.

We also saw THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. That has lots of entertainment value, and we did respond emotionally, and I think we’re all grateful Martin McDonagh isn’t trying quite so hard to be Irish. I did have qualms, but mostly some time after seeing it, so I can kind of recommend it as a cinema experience.

At first, when I heard people having an issue with the film’s treatment of race, I thought, well, that’s not really what the film’s about. Which I would stand by. But Sam Rockwell’s character is explicitly identified as a particularly horrible racist. And then he’s put through quite a lot, and tries to redeem himself. But racial awareness never plays any role in that character arc, that shot at redemption. He doesn’t seem to think about it, and nor does the movie anymore. Which I think is a problem. It does seem rather too urgent and serious an issue to drop into and out of your movie. Would it have been better to leave it out, or else deal with it more fully? How would they have done that?

By making Frances McDormand’s character black, I guess. Hmm, would that make it a more urgent, serious and meaningful film, all by itself? I think it might.

And we have seen GET OUT (no complaints, a masterpiece — so why didn’t I write about it?), THE DISASTER ARTIST (a wasted opportunity), I saw DUNKIRK, Fiona saw and liked LOGAN, we saw the STAR WARS and the BLADE RUNNER and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Gotta see PHANTOM THREAD! That’s the one I feel doltish for not having caught. But oh look, it isn’t out here. So I’m not stupid for missing it, yet.