You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 2, 2010.

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So this is what it has come to. Hollywood should really stop making ‘revisionings’ and just tack on another number to the end of the once sacred horror franchise they decide to desecrate. I’ll admit, the new A Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t that bad, at least as far as formulaic genre flicks reveling in blood and gore while leaving any sense of ambiguity out the window go. What truly made the original scary and still fresh when watched today—especially for newcomers unfamiliar with the tale—is that it left so many things open. You know that the parents killed Krueger, but not exactly what happened to precipitate the act until later installments, and you realize the dreams are coming to life, but are thrown one last curveball at the end to make you wonder if anything you saw even happened. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes’ crew tries their best to mirror that brilliant ending of contemplation, but by making it happen as characters return home from the hospital, not with dead friends alive again for an ‘a-ha’ moment, it’s only one more flimsy attempt at eliciting a reaction and leaving an opening for a sequel since the real ending pretty much shuts the door to one.

I know a lot of critics have been panning the cast; I personally thought it was a pretty decent collection of young actors. The original’s were quite lame in comparison, the simple fact they appeared young, naïve, and scared all that they had going for them. These kids are familiar faces to the genre doing what they know. I’ve always been a Kyle Gallner and Thomas Dekker fan, the latter showing range in fare such as My Sister’s Keeper while the former remains entrenched with the supernatural. Katie Cassidy shows some promise although a bit stilted in her fear, Kellan Lutz was almost unrecognizable looking half the size he was in the Twilight movies, and lets just say Rooney Mara is a better actress than her big sis—unfortunately that doesn’t say too much, but she gets the job done. They even threw a consistent performer in “Friday Night Lights’s” Connie Britton as Nancy’s (Mara) mother and the ever-fantastic Clancy Brown as Quentin’s (Gallner) Dad. The real winner in the performance category, though, is Jackie Earle Haley showing the non-remorseful side to a pedophile after getting an Oscar nod for portraying the other kind in Little Children. You don’t cast a guy of his talent without showing him in action; thankfully we get to see him pre-burn, even though his nightmarish visage does the job too.

Even so, this is one of the film’s major pitfalls. In order to get their money’s worth, they need to show Haley becoming the Krueger that Robert Englund made famous. The only way that is possible is by revealing the children’s past and the horrors supposedly done to them by this pre-school gardener. By giving evil a face—and how insane is it that the writers have the kids play detective in order to exonerate the guy—you take away the intrinsic fear he instills by his mystery. Seriously, they even plug in the whole ‘Pied Piper’ allusions to beat us over the head even more. It is all further proof that American moviegoers have seen their IQs dwindle in the past few decades, leaving the ‘chicken and the egg’ puzzle of whether Hollywood caused our complete ambivalence to being spoon-fed answers or if our complete idiocy has made them dumb down everything because the lowest common denominator is now synonymous with the class valedictorian. It’s a real shame because it not only wastes the considerable talents of Haley—based on past work and his performance here—but also those of director Samuel Bayer. This guy has vision, and Elm Street had flashes of the visceral brilliance seen in videos for Manson, Garbage, Cranberries, and of course the Pumpkins’ Bullet with Butterfly Wings. If only he had an intelligent screenplay to showcase them.

There are many nods to the original, from the first female death while boyfriend lays next to her to the body wrapped in plastic being dragged feet first through the school to the knifed hand rising between Nancy’s legs in the bathtub. Frankly, it’s all done better here due to technological advances. If you could take the death scenes from this remake and plug them into the effectively constructed narrative of the original, you’d have one damn fine movie. A couple things are included in variation to appear new like having Quentin pulled under the water rather than Nancy or have her come through a bedroom ceiling while a pool of blood stays above instead of Depp’s claim to fame bed vomiting masterpiece of the original. The aesthetic here is honestly the one shining star in the abyss of been-there-done-that unoriginality, having but one misstep showing how traditional effects do oftentimes out magic the wonder of computer graphics—Haley’s Krueger pushing through a wall has nothing on Englund’s head protruding in the dark; that was one freaky scene made laughable in its redoing.

Sometimes visuals can trump story, but never in a film that has taken an effective script and made it mediocre. If I wanted to see two kids go forth and discover the answer to the mystery of Krueger’s origins and see whether their repressed memories of sexual abuse were reality or not, I’d watch one of the infinite procedural dramas that liter television. I go to see a horror film to be brought into a world of the fantastical, where violence can be seen as an art form and maybe, just maybe, I could actually get scared for once. Alas, the new Nightmare is anything but. The filmmakers try and humanize this monster who is supposed to be haunting our dreams, taking all that makes him formidable and horrific away, turning this manifestation of pure evil into a misjudged victim of mob mentality. You need to see the face of Fred Krueger in order to appreciate the craft that Haley brings to the role, but it only belittles what his performance as Freddy adds to the table. It’s a real shame too because the guy has the presence necessary to rule that boiler room lair, using the screech of metal on metal to race chills down your spine and turn the Righteous Brother’s Dreams from soothing melody to demonic theme song. All the makings for a quality horror are here; the story just makes sure it keeps a place amongst the tweener torture laughfests of now, never rising to the lofty status of its yesteryear’s genre finest.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5/10

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photography:
[1] JACKIE EARLE HALEY as Freddy Krueger in New Line Cinema’s horror film, “A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema
[2] (L-R) ROONEY MARA as Nancy and THOMAS DEKKER as Jesse in New Line Cinema’s horror film, “A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema

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Branching out from rock band documentaries under the Heavyrock Films umbrella, director Greg Kaplan and company’s first feature length fiction endeavor is making the rounds on the festival circuit. I’m Not Here (and she’s not there) made its way to the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival with its tale of a drug-addled, yet genius surrealist painter and his psychological spiral downward into his inner self, away from all the periphery players that have begun to crowd his existence. Known to his family, friends, and dealers, (both artistically and narcotically), as a heavy user who is generally inebriated at all times, it comes as a shock to all when Daniel Bloom admits to having quit. His work would come to him in flashes, showing what he should paint, but recently only blank canvases have been staring back. Feeling undeserving of his own talents, the decision to go clean is a last ditch effort to be inspired—unknown to him is that the clarity of thought might in fact mess with his head even more. Paranoia and withdrawal set in as a shadowy female figure is manifested across the street in a foreboding city building’s window. Daniel begins to focus all his energy on her, pushing everything else away.

Both Craig, (Alex Bone), and Victoria, (Whitney Parshall), are desperately trying to get in touch with Daniel and retrieve his newest work for a show. He has been ducking their calls, or more appropriately staring into the distance while the phone continues to ring, disappointed in the output he is currently sitting on, wanting more time and more inspiration. I really like the sort of Francis Bacon meets Pink Floyd’s The Wall diptych hanging on his wall, but it appears those were the last of his old self to make it out. Craig even says later on that the new stuff, while not bad, isn’t anything like his previous oeuvre; the mystery woman appearing to him in the darkness taking complete control of his creativity, now the sole focal point of his life. Even when his girlfriend Claire, (Leah Cary), comes over for companionship or to get him out of his apartment, Daniel isn’t completely in the room, constantly looking out the window for his new muse, refusing the hash pipe and sticking with his line of “I’m okay” whenever asked what’s wrong. Everyone can see that something is the matter, but being such an oddity of a human being and most times on some alternate plane of reality, no one delves any deeper than that common surface question, usually followed by “can I get the pot in your drawer?”

The fact that Daniel is weird becomes a crucial realization to continue existing in this world. I can handle the tai chi moves on the water, I enjoyed the fourth wall breaking vignettes of his head shrouded in darkness telling the audience pithy thoughts of his being, and the monotone, robotic way he interacts with those around him is understandable. However, Phlip Wilson’s performance in the role often ventures very close to the point of no return, appearing amateurish over quirky—his eyes opening wide being funny instead of instilling a feeling of shock at what he sees. Until Craig vocalizes his disbelief that a guy so strange as Daniel can have gorgeous women fawning over him, I was seriously writing off the role. Once other characters in the film acknowledge the behavior, though, I was able to accept it as a purposeful representation of his life’s drug-induced lobotomy. He is sleepwalking through life; a broken man looking for meaning and finding nothing except this woman, a wispy shadow he isn’t even sure exists, one that disappears completely once the toxins in his body have finally emptied out.

Sobriety isn’t something Daniel can deal with as the one thing that has kept him going no longer visits. Through the first half of the movie, Kaplan switches between color when dealing with Daniel’s viewpoint and black and white when concerning the others in his life. He is the solitary creature of merit, the one thing with clarity and vibrancy in comparison to the leeches sucking his lifeblood away, more concerned with themselves then his wellbeing, most not only skeptical of his quitting drugs, but actually doing them in front of him anyway. Once the vision ceases and sleep fails to take hold of him, the colors begin to change more rapidly and seemingly at random. Daniel no longer can discern what is real and what isn’t, discovering that until he drinks a glass of water laced with LSD, he won’t have any reason left to live. Whether the beautiful woman he sees is real or not, life without her is too painful to continue. The only caveat to a rekindling of hallucinatory states—as if they ever really left—is that the girl begins to take shape as the beautiful Tara Stiles. First the shadow becomes a ghostlike figure and then her opacity fills out to form a physical woman able to cross the street into his room, getting to the point where the film is in color only when she is present, officially becoming his entire world.

I’m Not Here (and she’s not there) is definitely a low budget independent feature, wearing those traits on its sleeve with some of the performances and some lulls in pacing as the mystery of the woman becomes a bit repetitious during the second third. But you can’t allow those disadvantages to play too much in your experience of it as a film. For that it is a pretty ambitious undertaking of tonal mood, utilizing many transitions from the color to the fades to dreamstate becoming more real than reality. There is some great architectural framing and attractive time-lapse cityscape shots—including a great one of dark clouds moving behind the flatiron building—to temper the very Daniel-centric visuals, showing the motion of inanimate objects while he is shutdown in comparison. Much of the artwork is quite stunning as well, putting the audience into this world, believing that Daniel is worth the trouble needed to rein him in if this work is the result. As far as art is concerned, I also must give mention to Victoria’s apartment walls, covered in posters of Radiohead, Mars Volta, and, if I’m not mistaken, an image of Michael J. Anderson’s Man from Another Place—classic. Kaplan and company have created their own work of art with the film, really coming into its own towards the end when dream and reality merge together as Stiles’ character forms out of thin air. Her evolution plays out so organically and sensually, enhanced by the bluish-tints and effective score, that I can forgive the quasi-uplifting ending to such a dark film overall.

I’m Not Here (and she’s not there) 6/10

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