Showing posts with label social satire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social satire. Show all posts

Thursday, October 19, 2017

underseen for Halloween

** no (major) spoilers to fear **

Eric Hoffer famously said, "Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil."  In parallel, Halloween has expanded in significance: we'd celebrate monthly, given a way around the cognitive dissonance. 
Six low-budget films for observance:
consulting a physician, Body Parts
Body Parts (1992) is one, like Starship Troopers and Con Air, best enjoyed as self-spoof.  Despite financial modesty (top-billing Jeff Fahey of Lost), Body Parts is equally wicked as it rolls the chestnut about transplant recipient possessed by not-quite-dead criminal donor.  Eric Red directed (after writing The Hitcher and Near Dark), aiming for the cult celebrity of The Evil Dead and Re-Animator.

Frailty (2001) is a solid horror-drama (and an early credit for Matthew McConaughey).  The late Bill Paxton directed and stars as a dad with his own ideas: raising sons to be homicidal.  The plot holds some unusual twists, if not to the end.  Paxton had planned to re-team with screenwriter Brent Hanley to adapt Joe R. Lansdale's The Bottoms.

Danvers State Hospital (Mass.), 1893
Also from the shadows of 2001, Session 9 is set at the amazingly creepy (since demolished) Danvers State Hospital, the reported inspiration for Arkham asylum in the Lovecraft (and Batman) mythos.  David Caruso is the only "name" in an asbestos-removal crew discovering their site, a shuttered mental hospital, is not empty like the work-order says.  It's a slow burn, but truly frightening.  Directed and co-written by Brad Anderson, who's since made The Machinist and Vanishing on 7th Street.

At one time, the American cowboy was sacred, such that a horror-Western was almost unthinkable, excepting self-sabotaged junk like Billy the Kid Versus Dracula.  Westerns are fewer today, but a high percentage have horror elements: The MissingJonah Hex.  The Burrowers (2008) is the Old West equivalent of Pitch Black or The Descent, as white settlers and natives discover a common enemy.

You're Next (2011) is a slasher film that asks if anyone deserves to survive, as an entitled/dysfunctional American clan reunites to celebrate the parental anniversary.  Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett announce their presence with this shuffle of thrills, humor and social criticism.  Part of a cycle in which the suburbs are hell, including A Horrible Way to Die (also Wingard and Barrett), Martha Marcy May Marlene and We Need to Speak About Kevin.  

The latter's Karyn Kusama directed The Invitation (2015): slow-building and dark, it leaves a mark.  While the mainstream offers crime films about horror-down-the-(L.A.)-street (Training Day, Crash, Lakeview Terrace), The Invitation bypasses righteousness for the disenchantment of Right at Your Door and Sound of My Voice.  To say more would spoil the party.

Friday, March 25, 2016

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) 3 of 4

** this post contains only mild spoilers **

In this film, the Coen brothers are saying that the "birth of the nation" wasn't the reversal of Reconstruction, as in the D.W. Griffith film, but the New Deal of the 1930s.  That this is a story of national origin is signaled by its recapitulation of Homer's The Odyssey, revised as the story of three fugitives from a Southern prison work-gang.  The film also draws from a younger classic, Sullivan's Travels.  Although the Coens agree with Preston Sturges that movies should entertain, to give us relief from our toils and sorrows, O Brother admits movies have become our national literature, the source and mirror of our values. 

And if we feel our U.S. culture is less magical than old Hellas, we need to look again, as at the haunting scene of supplicants going down to the river.  If you're not sure you believe, well just hang on, and something will turn up -- a hand cart driven by a blind man, a talent scout, a flood -- to change your luck.   

The New Deal of the 1930s was a key part of the rise of the Federal government as the seat of power in the U.S. (note that Americans used to say "these United States are," now we say "the U.S. is").  Thereafter, it was harder for local or regional authorities to abuse prisoners or otherwise deny human rights.  The planned flood, referenced throughout the film and seen at the end, is a baptism for this new nation. 

One unforgettable bit has Everett (George Clooney) repeatedly frustrated by his inability to secure his preferred brand of "pomade" (hair-grease).  It's hilarious, but even here, he's urging his countrymen to a higher standard.  The Coen brothers are known for inventive, off-the-wall humor, but may be unique in their ability to smoothly insert an extended visit with the KKK into a whimsical comedy.   

In summation, good people, since the days of the New Deal (with its many dams), we're closer to our stated ideals about everyone having a chance to pursue happiness, etc., whether ethnic minority or ex-convicts.  The down side is that major corporations now call the shots, and regional cultures tend to be discouraged, unless expressed through the arts, such as music (cue The Soggy Bottom Boys).