Archive for The Hole

Things That Podunk in the Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2010 by dcairns

Apologies for the title of this post, which makes no sense even to me, but it slipped into my head last night as I was falling asleep, and this morning I had failed to forget it. That’s often the way of it, Coleridge forgets the ending of Xanadu, I remember the nonsensical pun. In mitigation, we’d just seen Joe Dante’s “family horror film” THE HOLE, and I’d been reading interviews with the director where he described the film’s setting as a “podunk town”. We don’t really have that word in Scotland, perhaps because you could apply it to just about any town here, so I was charmed by the sound — pebble into bucket of water — and it must’ve lodged somewhere.

In this small town there is a house, and the new residents of said house are a single mom and her sons, one teenage and one younger (Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble, both potential future stars). Also in this house, in the basement, is a supernatural bottomless pit, its presence gratifyingly unexplained. And what Nietszche said about the abyss goes double for this one. Like inhabitants of a domestic SOLARIS or EVENT HORIZON, the two kids and their neighbour (Haley Bennett, likewise terrific) are soon being persecuted by their worst fears, a selection of creepiness carrying various echoes of other, more adult scary movies — THE SIXTH SENSE, STIR OF ECHOES, THE GRUDGE, POLTERGEIST, and the director’s own GREMLINS. The closest movie overall might be THE GATE. It was fun to think of these horror tropes being inflicted on a generation of kids who haven’t seen the originals and have no defenses. In fact, we were scared enough to jump several times, and feel the pleasing tingle of anxiety, especially at the jittery movements of the little dead girl with one shoe.

And it’s in 3D. Really good 3D. Annoying to think that this has been waiting for release a year, while faked-up post-production 3D hack jobs like CLASH OF THE TITANS and THE LAST AIRBENDER lobbed their digital scorpions and fireballs at an insulted world. The falling nail that drops straight towards the lens made Fiona flinch, the first time that effect has EVER worked on her, and the use of stereographic space in conjunction with lovely sound design to create a real feeling of deep, scary space, was beautifully judged. There’s also a spectacular tunnel shot in an abandoned glove factory (“Gloves By Orlac”) followed by a forest of light fittings amid which squats local recluse with scary insider knowledge Bruce Dern looking like Coppelius from THE TALES OF HOFFMAN (he even has clusters of plastic eyeballs on stalks — he just does). All absolutely thrilling in 3D.

There’s a strong sense of “welcome back” as Dante serves up cameos by Hollywood old-timers (only a couple, as the film was shot in Canada); amusing reading material (the heroine reads that other Dante’s Inferno); monster movies on TV (and I am just not sure what that dinosaur flick is! Most frustrating) and a chattering little attack creature, pint-sized malevolence in motley.

The kids are all great, with the youngest, Nathan Gamble, particularly impressive. Just because we’ve come to expect impressive kids in this kind of movie, since Haley Joel Osment, that shouldn’t stop us being amazed by him.

Approach with caution if you are particularly afraid of the following things: heights, depths, clowns, the dark, Bruce Dern, scary dead kids, giant abusive fathers. Approach with glee if you want to see what Dante does with a cartoon-expressionist city somewhat in the vein of the toon-house in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE.

As the end credits rolled (and it’s worth staying through them…) a wee boy approached us tentatively and asked “Eh that was quite scary?” (In Scotland we put the “eh” at the front of the sentence so you know in advance it’s a question.) My guess is his friends were acting tough and denying they’d been frightened and he wanted to get some confirmation from responsible adults that he wasn’t silly to find the movie pretty frightening in places. We assured him: he wasn’t!

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A 3D Gallery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2010 by dcairns

Just reminding you again that Joe Dante’s THE HOLE is out there, waiting to be seen. I’d have seen it myself by now but circumstances — yes, those damned things again — have so far thwarted me. Dante is particularly interesting in that he’s one of the few using the new technology who has prior experience of 3D filmmaking, via theme park show HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE. And I do think experience tells — James Cameron limbered up for AVATAR by making GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS, after all, and Jack Arnold… but Jack Arnold, a good director but not the world’s best, actually defeats my argument by making his best 3D movie, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, first. But that feeds into my other argument, which is that you need a good script.

THE FRENCH LINE’s main asset, 3D-wise, is Jane Russell. The Great lady refused to wear a bikini, feeling that would be indecent, but consented to wear the above (very) little number, which conceals about 10% more skin, but which has the moral advantage of being a one-piece. These things mattered!

You’ll have someone’s eye out with that thing! In THE CREEPS, Charles Band (the son of Albert Band, forming a sort of low-rent Dynasty of Dinge) postulates a mad scientist with some kind of, like vortex, who reanimates the classic movie monsters, but in dwarf form. Dwarfs — 3D — geddit? Me neither. But I’d be willing to go along with the gag, especially as Band’s movies usually feature one or two surprisingly adroit comic performances, were it not for the fact that they also feature skin-crawling misogyny dressed up as chuckles.

The Lumiere Brothers experimented with 3D in 1930, and of course they just HAD to shoot a train arriving at a station, didn’t they? I’m betting that even in anaglyph form, it didn’t have the same impact as the first time they shot it…

3D is, in essence, an attempt to give the audience something extra, but one of the things that rightly makes audience’s suspicious is when that extra something is an attempt to cover for absent values of a more traditional kind. Which is perhaps why filmmakers like Band are drawn to it — they know they can’t make a conventional good film, so they shore up their weaknesses with gimmickry. I wonder if something similar was behind Robert Rodriguez’s use of the technique for his SPY KIDS 3D. He’s somebody who always strikes me as a man in search of the next big “will this do?” I point to the static chimney smoke in the background of one shot of SIN CITY as an emblem of the general prevailing cheese. Now, the movie is modestly budgeted and is seeking to make a little look like a lot, and I applaud that in principle. And had the frozen smoke-cloud, perched atop a smokestack like candyfloss on a stick, been a deliberately stylised effect, I’d have enjoyed it. But it’s a small detail, clearly not meant to be noticed, and it rather offended me in its complacent inadequacy. And I see a similar cheap-heartedness at play in SPY KIDS 3D, where the idea of a virtual universe in which the heroes become trapped is not so much a TRON tribute, as an excuse for really, really cheap-looking CGI.

Thank God for GOG, or vice versa! An inventive, ideas-packed and pleasingly dated sci-fi thriller, it may miss tricks in all three dimensions (an early helicopter flight has the chopper buzz the camera but neglects to provide any POV flying footage, surely the biggest potential thrill, cf AVATAR) but does have the perverse imagination to begin with a very cute monkey getting an injection. Like, “YES! This is what the public wants!”

There are drawbacks — knowing that Herbert Marshall was just trying to pay the medical bills incurred by a defective prosthetic leg takes some of the usual pleasure out of seeing him, but he’s utterly professional and authoritative as ever. Much of the science, and all of the sexual politics, has dated badly, and there’s no sense of humour evident, unless the following is a joke ~ (the two leads have just survived an overdose of radiation) ~

Hero (kissing heroine): How do you feel now?

Heroine: Radiant!

Across the Third Dimension

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by dcairns

Above — from CITY OF PIRATES — why Raul Ruiz must and should make a 3D movie.

My sole objection to 3D at the moment is that it’s the domain of big blockbusters (including some very good ones, like TOY STORY 3 and CORALINE), predominantly kids’ films, with a few cheapo horrors thrown in. And of course I’ll have no truck with any movie retrofitted for the process. When a smaller film does get made, like Joe Dante’s THE HOLE, the scarcity of screens that can accommodate the third dimension results in a long wait for the movie to appear.

“A waste of a perfectly good dimension” is Roger Ebert’s witty dismissal of the medium, but that doesn’t really make sense: since the fifties, the dimension of depth has been essentially lying fallow, save for the efforts of sculptors and architects. Admit it: your life has become flat, two-dimensional, like a western set in an old movie. Turn you around and we’d see the clapboard backing and wooden props holding you up. Like the denizens of Flatland, you walk only in straight lines, and when you meet somebody coming the other way, you try to climb over them. This is the cause of all the turmoil in the world.

3D MOVIES FOR PEACE!

Ruiz, as a native of Chile who’s had to spend decades abroad due to the political ructions in his homeland, is all too aware of this, which must surely be why he’s tried to force a third dimension into his non-stereoscopic productions, poking the audience in the eye by composition alone. Wake up and smell the third dimension! There’s space there for EVERYBODY!