Friday, July 07, 2006

Camera Obscura - Pirates, Hills Have Eyes, UltraViolet, A Scanner Darkly

I know it seems like an incredible, star-filled lifestyle to write and report on the movies and the often-unseen traps that surround celebrity. And it is. But there is also the seamy, dank underbelly of cinema, the hours and months spent in dark rooms watching movies that no one liked and no one should have made. Someone eventually has to come into the emptied-out palaces to clean up the leavings from "champagne wishes and caviar dreams". Makes for some nasty, crusty cleanup.

Reality shifts are commonplace, most critics or writers get lost in the media mazes and never find their way out. A good example is The Pickle at the Knox News Sentinel - she drools so much over Johnny Depp she taints any objective review of the sequel to "Pirates of the Caribbean" and simply drowns. The paper is soggy.

Will the average moviegoer swim alongside the continuing piratey adventures? Yeah, likely. But whether or not you'll like the movie depends on the skills of the swimmer to keep up with the roiling seas of plots and romance.

Here in this weekly roundup. I track the castaways, the shipwrecks, and attempt to chart the murky movie waters for fellow travelers who seek forgotten treasures or ghost ships and sail outside the shipping lanes. Some movies survive with spectacular skill, some smash against the waves and founder with spectacular doom.

Enough introductions - we're already underway.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the remake of Wes Craven's 1977 horror classic "The Hills Have Eyes" sailed into an alternate reality of the mutated nuclear family which takes revenge on the "normals" by feasting on flesh. The original ultra low-budget thriller almost seems like a seedy newsreel, with some tedious time ticking past until the mutant family forces brutal retaliation for a lost tourist family. The remake gets you there quicker, and also ramps up the blood and violence with terrific style. As in the original, Pacificism is manipulated by horror and fear and turns to primal rage.

Unlike most remakes, filmmaker Alexander Aja, born the year after the original came out, actually gets it right. He transfers intact all the ideas of the original and adds new details and has stunning make-up and effects work so the mutant cannibal family looks as real as the rocky barren landscape. DVD extras show the brilliant and somewhat hi-tech work the KNB EFX group did and will likely help inspire the next generation of movie magicians.

And a big hint here - note the movie is about the attack by mutant cannibals - that sound like a kid's movie to you? It isn't.

Some other news Horror fans will like - Eli Roth is at work on a sequel to "Hostel" and has been signed to direct Stephen King's recent zombie thriller "Cell".

Given the opening sea-going metaphors, the easiest and most cynical review I could provide for the DVD release of the science-fiction thriller "UltraViolet" starring model/actress Milla Jovovich is -- wait for it -- "Thar she blows!!!"

Writer/director Kurt Wimmer showed great technical skill in the highly derivative sci-fi "Equilibrium", and he really pushes the tech edge in "UltraViolet". Shot with high-def Sony cameras, coating the existing backgrounds of modern-day Shanghai with green screens, the movie is jaw-dropping eye candy.

The plot is inconsequential as the opening nearly 10 minute exposition by Jovovich tries to explain that somehow in the future a disease makes people into semi-vampires and she's a widow and the future is weird. Yeah, that takes about ten minutes for her to say. For true gut-crunching surreal nonsense, try watching the movie with her full-length commentary.

The violent killer that is usually referred to simply as "V" by her pals, poses with swords and guns which she has nanotechnologically loaded into infinity on her clothes. All kinds of throwaway tech is here, and the movie grabs bits of anime and goth and comics and blurs it all together in a day-glo Uber-Revlon Para Para commercial for .... I don't know what.

Wimmer has tech skill, no doubt. Now all he needs is a writer. And some actors.

Lost at sea now, mired in a strange silent fogbank we see on the horizon that the adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" opens this weekend in limited release and should be in a theater near you in coming weeks.

The movie is fully faithful to the drug-zapped madness of Dick's book. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover narcotics agent on the trail of a new drug, Substance D, and wears a constantly shifting visual exterior body mask while on the job. Off the job, he's a fellow drug addict with his friends (superb casting of Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson). Then he gets assigned to track a new suspect - himself. He lives his undercover life and then goes to work and watches himself.

Director Richard Linklater has made the movie in a new rotoscoping animation, which adds to the cognitive dissonance of the story and the addictions and a world hidden within a world. There is no romantic vision of the addict onboard this ghost ship. There is despair and deep black comedy as all slowly sink into the abyss.

As critic J. Hoberman noted in his review, fellow sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem said of Dick - he was a writer who "
does not so much play the part of a guide through his phantasmagoric worlds as he gives the impression of one lost in their labyrinth."

Fractured time and space and reality are hallmarks of his work. In the novel "Time Out of Joint," the lead character literally sees through the fake world he is in when the Ice Cream Stand at a local park dwindles to a piece of paper with the words "Ice Cream Stand" written on it.

Our voyage is not over, but we've reached a windless beach. The Cap'n says we'll sail again soon.


  1. Had I been in a psycotropic haze, I may have been able to make it throuogh more than 30 minutes of "Ultraviolet." Then again, under the influence, I may have found the lint in my belly button are far more interesting and worth while distraction.

  2. Anonymous1:32 PM gives A Scanner Darkly only 64%. I've been looking forward to seeing it quite a bit. The two downsides I see are Keanu Reeves, who just has never gotten past Ted for me, and that I was teased by the prospect of Thom York doing the soundtrack, which apparently he didn't do. Shucks.
    I've not read the book, nor do I know much about it, yet I'm still intrigued. I could take or leave the rotoscoping, really. Waking Life had more than enough for me, although I've heard the technology's improved quite a bit for Scanner.
    I'll still see it, but I abhor Downtown West, and I doubt this movie will ever make it to more mainstream screens.

  3. Anonymous1:49 PM

    Yeah. I'm really thinking about doing something kinda not fully sanctioned by the MPAA in order to see this thing on a decent screen (i.e. my TV).
    Downtown West is teh suck.
    So are the Pickle's reviews. They're completely colored by whatever emotional garbage she attachs to the movies to the point where crap like an Adam Sandler movie gets a high rating, but something decent like Broken Flowers gets panned. Of course, I pulled both of those examples out of my ass, so if anybody likes to check facts just to prove people wrong, there you go.
    And I think Thom is still providing tracks from his solo record (out next week) on the movie, if not scoring it.
    And I don't care what Rotten Tomatoes says, I wanna see it.
    If it sucks the first time, I'll just go back in with some of The Editor's psycotropic haze stuff.

  4. I read A Scanner Darkly shortly after it came out, as I was already a fan of his work. In fact, a person need not take any mixtures of psychotropic goodies to have your mind expanded to the point of near-oblivion -- instead just read about a half dozen of his books and you'll experience some reality shifts!
    Blade Runner is still the best and closest to the future PKD described, but there is so much more on the printed page.

    And trust me - the casting is perfect for this movie.
    Ted and Bill tumbled from the California that PKD describe, helped create and knew too too well.

    And as for The Pickle, yer dead on AT.
    She is a guide in that what she pans is the one to see and the ones praised are usually for cable viewing.

  5. I'm really looking forward to "A Scanner Darkly," but since such subversive stuff doesn't play in my little corner of the world, I'll have to wait for DVD ... Hopefully Linklater's Fast Food Nation will get wider distribution this fall

  6. I'm going to "A Scanner Darkly" if I have to drive to Morristown to do it.

  7. reel f. - thanks for stopping by - hope others go check out your movie posts. and yeah, you may never see that movie in Macon, GA.

    newscoma - c'mon down!
    i bet if it plays here, it will be in the dinky, seamy independent theatre that barely has stereo sound and the floors are thick with a history of buttered popcorn and coke. it's a little hole in the wall that has seen the likes of Andy Warhol's Frankenstein in 3-D and the recent Devil's Rejects. It's almost as good as a drive-in.

  8. 1) Going to see Pirates 2/Nacho Libre double feature at the drive-in this weekend.

    2) Can't freaking wait for A Scanner Darkly.

    3) Must go rent The Hills Have Eyes re-make now.

    That is all.

  9. arrrr, Tits - i be wantin' to hear how the Pirate ship sails ....
    and that remake is most worthy!