My Week in Movies: (01/09 – 01/14)
Not too many this week:
PUMPKINHEAD — Stan Winston’s directorial debut is a decent little creature-feature that apparently spawned a number of sequels (back before every movie spawned sequels hand over fist). Distraught over the death of his son, farmer Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) goes to the old witch in the woods to have her summon the demon Pumpkinhead, and wreak revenge on the city kids that killed him.
I used to read Cinefantastique pretty religiously, so at some point Pumpkinhead became part of my genre awareness. It’s really a very striking creature (and well puppeteered in this film, for the most part) and while it has its own cult following I’m surprised it hasn’t managed to become as iconic as Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees.
Maybe it’s because the movie around the creature isn’t particularly striking. There’s no real build-up of tension, and they seem to have mistaken fog machines for mood. The death of the son is a major plot point but the way it’s played it kind of just thuds dully — and this despite the film having done a decent job of quickly setting up the father-son bond and affection. Winston might have done better with more time setting up close ups and less setting up crane shots (THERE ARE SO MANY CRANE SHOTS YOU GUYS).
The scares are generally weak and the gore almost laughably tame, considering the implied sadism of the demon. In all fairness, we’re in a post-torture porn horror culture now, so it could be I’m just desensitized, but it all just kind of rides along superficially on the surface. There’s a good movie in here, and even some good moments, that just weren’t all that well-executed.
I hate myself for saying this, but PUMPKINHEAD is ripe for the reboot treatment. Give it slick modern production values, spend some time polishing and adding some depth to the story and characters, and have a filmmaker who’s not afraid to get really sick and in-your-face with the violence (I feel the need to repeat: this is a sadistic demon) and I could see the Pumpkinhead remake doing what other recent horror remakes haven’t: improving on the original. Barring that, I’m kinda curious about the sequels at the very least.
THE EXPENDABLES — Went into this film expecting the ultimate 80s throwback movie, and wasn’t disappointed. It was ridiculous, over-the-top, and pretty good fun too. They also utilized something that American films have failed to leverage before: Jet Li has serious comedic chops to go with his kung fu ones.
The film’s editing was pretty wonky — sometimes because the actors weren’t in the same place at the same time due to scheduling (most noticeable in the scene where Bruce Willis and Ahnuld are never in a two-shot together despite supposedly standing two feet apart), and sometimes because it was just plain wonky and I dunno why. Mickey Rourke, who probably only worked two days on this movie, steals the show with a monologue about how he lost his soul.
Overall, though, it’s exactly what I expected, nothing more or less, and that’s all I wanted really. The behind-the-scenes documentary “Inferno: the Making of Expendables” is available, stand-alone, on Netflix Instant. I haven’t watched it yet but I plan to.
BODY OF LIES — Anthony and I are writing an espionage script, and he watched this one for research. He loved it, and was shocked to find that the critics were less impressed. So he got me to watch it to see if he was crazy.
I don’t think he’s crazy. What I think is, it probably suffered with the critics because of its pedigree — when you’ve got Ridley Scott directing Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in a story about spies fighting the war on terror, I could see how you might expect more than what amounts to a well-plotted character piece. If I had to guess I’d say the critics couldn’t quite find their way to accepting the movie for what it was and not what they hoped it would be. Had the two leads and director been relative unknowns, I think this would have knocked critics back on their heels. It kept my interest, was tightly scripted, and was fascinating in that it had a protagonist (DiCaprio) who had no control over the events around him, but was still an active rather than passive protagonist.
If it were possible to buy stock in actors like you can in businesses, I’d be buying up all the Mark Strong I could. I don’t understand why he’s not a household name, but he’s going to be. In a movie full of great performances, he was a cut above.
A number of critics compared this one unfavorably to SYRIANA, which I haven’t yet seen, but I’ll try to next week.
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS — There was a lot that had me interested in this one. I’m a fan of Terry Gilliam and it’s the last appearance of Heath Ledger and I almost worked on it to boot (place I was working at the time was bidding for it). It’s probably one of his most cogent films, and it was fascinating to watch three actors channel Ledger’s mannerisms in stepping into the character.
Also, Andrew Garfield’s in it. Totally down with him for Spider-Man and anything else he wants to do, he’s great. And there’s some face-replacement work in here that I’m surprised got zero attention FX-wise — in fact, the whole movie was under the radar all around, aside from the fact that Ledger had been shooting it when he died. It’s a pity it got overshadowed so, I liked it quite a bit.
Speaking of Spider-Man and face replacements, this week on Down in Front we’re recording SPIDER-MAN 2 and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. You can join us live at 2 P.M. PST, if you’re so inclined, otherwise the eps will roll out over the next few weeks.