Monday, February 08, 2010

A Tale of Two Movies

The best things

(in life are free)

come to those who wait, often unexpectedly. (In that regard, I'd like to consider myself somewhat of a master of patient serendipity*. After all, am I not the man who lived through four torturous years of marriage hell to finally find matrimonial heaven?) I was again reminded of that cliched aphorism late last night. Legs and I had a few hours prior watched James Cameron's anticipated-yet-ultimately underwhelming Avatar, and after a few beers and reruns of High Kick through the Roof were considering calling it a night when Legs suggested we throw on a DVD (aka a Blu-ray for poor people). I suggested a film of the genre horror, and Legs, my lovable Amazonian princess, agreed. But what film? I remembered that I had a *ahem* copy of The Strangers, which I obtained a year ago but never got around to watching. Legs gave me the go ahead, and cinematic worlds were torn asunder. I went into Avatar hoping to have my mind blown** and left disappointed. Lucky for me, The Strangers was a celestial make-up call.

First, Avatar. It's an enjoyable experience, but it's not a film that lends itself to discussion (unless you're an idiot who enjoys debating the ersatz political message of a movie featuring giant blue cat-people). So I won't discuss it. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not exactly a film. You've probably seen it, anyway, so either you love it, like it, dislike it, or hate it. But we're all in agreement that it's pure spectacle, right? It's pretty movie with a video-game plot, yes? A carefully constructed exercise in visual gratification not unlike a big-budget porn film, non? What I'd rather discuss is the film's 3D experience, insomuch as how it related to my own. To paraphrase the title of a shitty Limp Bizkit album***, your results may vary.

Call me a purist (horror of horrors: I prefer to watch Casablanca in black and white), but if 3D is the future of cinema, the art of movie making will suffer. I have to preface this by stating that until yesterday I'd never seen a 3D film, but based on that sole experience I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I never want to again. It looks cool, yes, but it's distracting. Furthermore, the viewer has no point of focus. I found my eyes jumping all over the screen, more often than not searching for what stood out in the image and what didn't rather than them naturally resting upon the key elements of a scene. The 3D works well during long scenes of dialogue, but forget about it when it comes to action sequences with quick cuts. There simply isn't enough time to see everything. What a waste. 3D in film can't be immersive when it forces your eyes to dart back and forth, in and out of focus, like someone tripping in REM sleep. (Maybe that's the business model. Storywise, Avatar is as barren as an octogenarian's womb. Perhaps the secret to its success -- besides jacked-up ticket prices -- is its visually enticing siren's song.)

I can't say I didn't have a good time, though. It was an experience, just not one I'd like to revisit.

Which brings me to The Strangers. The horror genre is full of such dreck that, two years ago, when Chickenwire**** invited me to go see it, I turned her down. We all have our faults*****, and mine is my reliance on critical consensus. It's rated "rotten" on the Tomatometer; Roger Ebert gave it one-and-a-half stars out of four******; it stars the guy from Felicity.

But, oh, what a gem it is. What made the movie for me is that, beyond the basic premise, I knew barely anything about it, only that it was a horror movie about a home invasion; so I was doubly surprised when I discovered it to be a truly chilling, extremely well-made film. Beyond Avatar's technical aspect, there's not much to say, but I could write about The Strangers for days (Marvin Gaye, Oil of Olay). Thing is, though, if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil anything. See, if you've yet to watch The Strangers, I trust that you, California Pizza Kitchen Retard, will quit reading this post right now and head to your local Netflix/DVD 방/Pirate Bay based on my recommendation, but I also know that you want to keep reading, even if I tell you not to, so I'm torn between writing further about the film and eating a chicken sandwich. Decisions, decisions.

Consider this a compromise.

Bryan Bertino is the new name in suspenseful horror. I've seen and loved a lot of movies in the genre in my lifetime, but as an adult few have downright scared me. The Strangers is one such film, a throwback to the slasher films of the 70s and 80s, before they became a joke, when they were still frightening. Based on a well-worn premise, The Strangers succeeds in its execution. It's a film that kept me up almost until dawn, afraid that someone might come knocking at my door, asking, "Is Tamara home?"

The film's opening gives away its ending, but in this case it's a reveal that works perfectly. You know the couple in the film is doomed, yet you keep watching, hoping they aren't. Mostly, you keep watching. Kristen and James have returned to James's parents' summer house after a wedding reception. They aren't on speaking terms, and organically, without any expository dialogue, you begin to understand why. James loves Kristen more than she does him, but they're both in love, however lopsided. Dejected, James calls a friend and asks him to pick him up in the morning. Feeling guilty, Kristen tries to make up, and she almost succeeds until a series of loud, ominous thumps on the door disturbs coitus.

What follows I will not tell, except to say that it's par for the genre yet incredibly well crafted. Think Carpenter in his prime. The Strangers is a film that frightened me. A lot. Legs, too. After the movie, she asked me to sleep downstairs with her. I guess it's a closet door closed/open kind of thing, but I would have rather slept upstairs, felt safer there. Yet I slept downstairs, which is to say I lay on the downstairs sofa, fitfully opening my eyes to look at the entranceway to make sure no strangers were about.

Avatar: 2.5/4 *_*

The Strangers: 4/4 *_*

* The best kind because it requires no training, only positive thinking. I know that, and I haven't even read The Secret. I bet it's fantastic!

** but afraid the 3D experience would give me a seizure (Legs: But you're not epileptic. Me: Not yet.) Don't let my often cool demeanor fool you, Connie Hawkins Retard, my neuroses are closer to the surface of my sanity than they appear. For example, if you ever catch me placing my palm on the back of my head, it's not an insignificant bodily quirk; it's me afraid that my head is going to fall off my shoulders. Word to Tchaikovsky.

*** You've heard of trick questions. That was a trick adjective.

**** aka The Blueberry Boner

***** Legs: honest to a fault (and its her fault she's that honest); Kennan: can't bowl worth a damn; Jikko: shits on my bathroom slippers; Ilsan: radiation poisoning

****** I still can't reconcile myself with that review. You'll have to read it for yourself.

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