|Kudos to Galina.|
Body swap scenes are hard to pull off. When done poorly, they’re laughable at best. However, if done properly, a body swap can suspend your disbelief to see the character over the actor while still in the moment. You wind up having no choice but to praise the actor in retrospect because you don’t stop watching for fear of missing something. The latter scenario occurs in Timur Bekmambetov’s Day Watch, which sees Olga (Galina Tyunina) and Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) swap bodies in one of the best performances of two actors pretending to be the other I’ve ever seen.
Anton is placed into Olga’s body as a necessity, to avoid detection and framing for murder; upon waking, Anton sees his body staring back at him, with Olga’s smirk and foot-tapping. The look of realization on Tyunina’s face is priceless. The small mannerisms she displays as Anton demonstrate that she studied Khabensky’s movements and acting style. The mugging action to get to Anton’s cigarettes and flask show a familiarity with where everything is placed. There’s no awkward fumbling; everything is smooth. Tyunina adjusts her walk to mimic that of a man in the moments after the initial switch, and if you’re not careful, you will take the moment for granted and miss it. From the throw of the arm around Semyon to the lighting of the cigarette, the movements are masculine and abrupt. The way that Tyunina turns her head, moves her shoulders and opens doors are all Khbanesky. It’s choreographed precisely, and she did a tremendous job with the initial switch.
For Khabensky’s part in the initial swap scene, he leans against a desk in the same fashion that we saw Tyunina’s Olga do so in the previous film. He puckers his lips into a bemused smirk and sets his jaw the way Olga would. The instruction that Olga gives while in Anton’s body concerning the way that Olga walks, the smudged makeup and the transition of the voices is a complete departure from the performance that Khabensky gives when portraying Anton. He softens the tone of his voice, re-paces his walking and locks his facial features when speaking. In this manner, he delivers the one-half of the funniest exchange of the film:
Olga (upon hearing Anton ask which reason to give for crashing with Sveta): Say that Gesser snores.
Gesser: Do I snore?
The deadpan look, the complete lack of amusement: totally Tyunina as Olga. This is the face of a woman that has slept next to someone that snores. Women around the globe get this look, despite that it’s on a man’s face. This is a look that we’d see on Tyunina’s Olga. That Khabensky nailed it so effortlessly speaks highly of his abilities to observe and convey Tyunina as Olga.
Where we really see the achievement of the swap is in Sveta’s apartment. Tyunina is slightly detached in conversation the way that Anton is, though that could easily be credited to the script. However, the way that Tyunina smokes and nods her head indicate the she observed Khabensky to mimic his movements in the same actions. The crowning moments comes in the shower scene, as Anton prepares to tell Sveta that he’s in Olga’s body. Right before confessing the deception and telling Sveta that he loves her, Tyunina wipes at her nose and shifts the weight of her body onto her left foot. This right here is when you forget that you’re watching an actress do an impression of another actor: in that moment, we are convinced that Anton Gorodetsky is actually in Olga’s body. The willing suspension of disbelief is in full effect at this point. As an added bonus, we get to see Tyunina watching a hockey game as Anton, and are treated to the way she sits, leans and delivers lines as Anton. However, at this point, the audience is thoroughly hooked. We know that it’s really Anton, not Olga.
Anyone can say words, but it takes a tremendous job to have me fully believe that an actor is a character. Both Tyunina and Khabensky worked hard to observe the other in order to become the other. Over gender lines, this is a difficult line to walk because it can quickly turn into unintentional comedy. What Tyunina and Khabensky achieve transcends gender to become the art of seeing a human being. These performances kept a tricky subject light-hearted when it merited the tone and serious when it wanted us to feel something. The level of artistry that went into both of these performances was a true pleasure to watch.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun blockbuster that knows how to engage its audience. It gives us a funny lead, hysterical side kicks, lots of action, a bad guy that we can’t stand and enough loose ends to make us want to come back for round two. Interesting enough, it gives us aliens and/or modified life forms that make us care just as much about them as our (half) human lead, Peter. More specifically, it gives us Rocket, whose displays of human emotion make him one of the more complex characters I’ve seen in a long time.
When we first meet Rocket, he’s a greedy bounty hunter busy criticizing humans. He calls out their lack of purpose by declaring, “All in a big hurry to get from something stupid to nothing at all.” He takes joy in zapping Peter and shows contempt for his captors, and with good reason: the authorities refer to him as Subject 89P13, only pausing once to state, “It calls itself Rocket.” Rocket is directly called a “lower life form” and does not even get a masculine pronoun, despite that he’s clearly male. Reducing Rocket to the status “it” and assigning him a number instead of a name is extremely dehumanizing for a sentient being. It’s worth noting that even Groot is referred to by name rather than an assigned number. Even a plant ranks higher than Rocket.
|A very degrading mugshot.|
Rocket is rather defensive of his special species status. When Peter refers to him as a racoon, Rocket shoots the notion down, telling him, “Ain’t no thing like me ‘cept me.” He also strives to make sure that others that aren’t understood easily (like him) are explained. For instance, when Peter expresses annoyance with Groot’s limited vocabulary, Rocket replies, “He no talking good like me and you.” Rocket’s willing to trade barbs with Peter in order to defend his friend. He’s also willing to call Gamora out on her haughtiness when she won’t speak to Peter. This shows that, despite his rough tendencies, he is capable of standing up for his friend and citing hypocrisy. We get to see the beginning of Rocket functioning as a sassy type of chorus: not directly part of the group, willing to state the facts, and not always sweet about it.
That doesn’t mean that Rocket is incapable of demonstrating care. Upon arrival at the Kyln, Peter is threatened with implied rape. After Groot attacks the fellow prisoner, Rocket functions as the mouth piece to tell the other prisoners to stay away from Peter: “This one here is our booty. You want to get to him, you go through us. Or more accurately, we go through you.” In this instant, Peter becomes the property of Rocket: he’s Rocket’s to defend, Rocket’s to decide if you get a chance at him, under Rocket’s protection. Peter accepts this, and is able to function in prison. Between the defense and Rocket’s boasting of being able to escape prison easily, Peter quickly realizes that in order to survive, he must align himself with the life form.
So begins a bond. While not entirely reformed, Rocket does begin to display concern for Peter at this point of the film. He gets up and follows Peter to rescue Gamora from being killed at night. He offers more useful information in terms of dealing with Drax, whom Peter does not realize has an entirely literal understanding of language. He plays a practical joke when he asks for the prisoner’s prosthetic leg. Through these acts, Rocket behaves like a human that is bonding with a new buddy.
That does not mean that Rocket is not sensitive to the differences in his treatment from the other characters who happen to have a more humanoid appearance. When escaping from prison, Rocket notes that Peter’s pants were folded, but his were crumpled into a ball. On Knowhere, he directly confronts the racism he has so far experienced by declaring, “You just want to laugh at me like everyone else!… [Drax] thinks I’m some stupid thing. I didn’t ask to get made. I didn’t ask to be torn apart and put together over and over and turned into some… some monster!… He called me vermin! She called me rodent!” This is where Rocket goes from a smart ass talking animal with a gun to a real being: he breaks down and lets those around him know how much their words and actions hurt him. This establishes Rocket as a feeling creature that wants the respect and rights that others have. If you notice, after this outburst, no one refers to Rocket in a derogatory manner for the rest of the film. He’s accepted as one of them once he airs his grievances. Peter may tell him, “Suck it up for one more lousy night and you’re rich,” but Rocket doesn’t have to suck it up. He gets respect and consideration from this point forward.
While still self-serving and sarcastic, Rocket does embrace the new facet of being a member of the group. He agrees to help his new friends. He crashes his ship into the Dark Aster to aid them during the huge battle. He takes a stand and shares the burden of the infinity stone with the group. Interestingly, while Peter, Gamora and Drax can’t stabilize it on their own, Rocket’s joining of them works to strengthen their bond in order to defeat Ronan. They needed him in order to function effectively. Like that, he becomes an equal despite the separation of species. They need Rocket, despite that he is vastly different. His loyalty to them winds up saving an entire world, as well as the group.
To further solidify his emotional complexity, Rocket displays honest, unbridled emotion when he is finally able to mourn the loss of Groot. While teary-eyed in the moment of sacrifice, Rocket allows himself to fully break down and openly sob once the imminent danger has passed. He’s able to compartmentalize long enough to help save the day. Curiously, he also has the distinction of sobbing in the open, which, sadly, is still something that you don’t see a lot of male characters doing in the movies. We don’t often get the audible heartbreak; if male characters are allowed to cry, it’s either the over-the-top, shoot-the-air type of mourning and/or rage, or it’s quiet weeping. Rocket is allowed to cry loudly and really mourn the way that a real person would. Drax tries to comfort him by petting his head, which seems to be the only way that he can think to help him. What’s nice is that Rocket does not wag his tail, proving that he’s not just a racoon: Rocket is a sentient being that not only mourns, but is capable of accepting solace from a friend.
|This will give you all the feels.|
At the end of the film, we’ve watched Peter go from womanizing outlaw to defender of the universe, a man that has reconciled the death of his mother to his larger role in the world around him; however, this is not the most profound transformation. This distinction goes to the way that Rocket allows himself to be part of the group, and how the group accepts him. The fellow Guardians, like the audience, sees him as one-of-a-kind. We don’t see a racoon. We see Rocket.
On paper, this movie is ridiculous. In reality, this movie is ridiculous. That doesn’t make me love it any less, and you should, too. Here we go: five reasons why, this Memorial Day weekend, you should spend some quality time with Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
#1 – Two words: leather pants
Allow me to be a total pig for a minute: Gemma Arterton’s ass in leather pants is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy. Yes, that’s a terrible statement for a woman to make, we shouldn’t objectify women, etc. As a bi woman, I’m not going to sit back and pretend that I don’t like what I see. In a world of actresses with zero body fat, it’s nice to see someone that can actually fill out her costume without looking comically misshapen.
|I’d like to buy the costume department a drink.|
#2 – Hansel’s medieval diabetes
This part just blows my mind every time I watch it. How in the hell does he have insulin at all times? How did he know to treat himself from childhood? Does he reuse his needles? Do these people not realize that eating a shitload of candy does not a diabetic make? So many questions. I can overlook the evil witches flying on brooms, but this one just makes me scratch my head with a type of “what the fuck” glee that I reserve for something I have to laugh at lest I cry from stupidity. It takes something special to get me to that point.
#3 – Hansel gets knocked around quite a bit
I’m not a huge fan of Jeremy Renner. It’s gotten even worse since the whole mess of the press tour that was The Avengers: Age of Ultron (a.k.a. “Marvel, it’s time to come and get your fucking children”). So, watching him act tough and get the crap kicked out of him a few times was fun for me. It’s so nice to see that everyone in the yesteryear of Germany was so well-versed in hand-to-hand combat. Especially martial arts.
|Yeah, I’m not going to lie: this was fun to watch.|
#4 – There’s tons of gratuitous blood and guts
Exploding people! Dead evil witches! Fist fights! Everyone is made of endless pounds of ground beef and a couple gallons of blood. It’s AWESOME. You really need to watch this one in order to fully experience the joy of watching someone’s head explode in an oven. It’s just such a good time that you don’t even feel guilty about it.
#5 – Speaking of fun, there’s a biting sense of humor
Referring to the townsfolk as “fucking hillbillies” to their faces takes balls in an era of mass hysteria, but that’s Gretel for you. She has some fun one-liners, and Arterton’s combination of voice and delivery make them all the better. With other actors, this would have been horrible, but somehow, this cast makes something ridiculous completely fun.
|Is it sequel time yet?|
There you have it. For a good time, call Hansel and Gretel.
The first time I watched Let the Right One In, I wondered if I was watching something that was going to go down as a classic. It certainly has the hallmarks: great script, performances of remarkable depth (especially from Lina Leandersson and Elif Ceylan, both of whom contributed to Eli), and themes that run relevant no matter what the era. Focusing on a severely bullied child and his relationship with a centuries-old vampire, we watch Oskar and Eli’s bond develop over the course of time into something pure and powerful. If you watch the setting, you’ll find that the progressions of light and the seasons mirror the emotional development and bond of these two characters.
When we begin the story, it’s black. Snow is then introduced, but over half the screen remains shrouded in darkness. As Eli arrives at the apartment building for the first time, Oskar presses his hand to the window to touch his reflection. He’s clad only in his underwear, surrounded by darkness in his reflection. He then utters his first line: “Squeal like a pig.” Oskar is rehearsing revenge against his tormentors, though we’re not fully aware of this fact that this point of the film. We only see a nearly-naked boy attempting to connect to a blurred version of himself in the darkness.
|Reaching out to try to connect to anyone.|
This serves as a precursor to Oskar’s life at school. The next day, in a life before Eli, it’s overcast in the daytime. We see Oskar’s isolation and bullying firsthand. We know that he is alone. So when he meets Eli, it’s fitting that it’s nighttime: there’s not much hope; it’s dark; he’s alone; the only person that will talk to him is the smelly, dandruff-afflicted little girl that tries to make friends on a snow-covered jungle gym. It’s not the most auspicious circumstances for friendship. In fact, when Eli first observes Oskar, he’s stabbing a tree and rehersing his revenge against his schoolyard bullies. He’s hopeless and growing violent. He half-heartedly gives Eli his Rubik’s cube to solve, with the thought that he’ll receive it back withoutm much progress to it being solved in a few days.
The tone doesn’t immediately change at this point for either Oskar or Eli. Oskar retreats to his bedroom and collects clippings of various crimes and murders. Eli, who is left starving after a botched attempt to obtain blood by Håkan, resorts to a dark underpass to obtain sustenence. It’s still bleak for them both: they’re still alone, and so the setting is still the black dead of winter. It’s when Eli solves and returns the Rubik’s cube that we see trees beginning to bud and sunshine peeking out. Their growing bond ushers in spring. It’s a rebirth for them both.
|Funny how this appears once they start to bond.|
That’s not to say that the light and seasons are uniformly bright and cheerful from here on out. This is still a movie concerning true horrors, after all. Oskar is confronted by his bullies again and whipped after school when it’s very dark outside, showing that he still has a way to go in his suffering as he learns to stand up for himself. While Oskar and Eli begin their morse code communication through walls, we see Oskar’s forest-clad walls as opposed to Eli’s cracked, barren walls, a stark contrast of Oskar’s emotional attachment and Eli’s bleak existence as a vampire. It’s nighttime when Oskar takes Eli out for chocolate, which leaves Eli sick.
Interestingly enough, once Oskar leaves to visit his father, the setting is clear and bright, despite the snow. The escape and the freedom associated with it is reflected in the weather. It’s when his father’s friend (or lover, if you interpret it that way) shows up with alcohol that the world turns dark again. The reality of how broken the situation with his father is literally blackens Oskar’s world. Hitchhiking home in the middle of the night in the snow is a pretty extreme method of running away from the situation, yet that’s what we get. Oskar’s happiness is brief, as is the light. He returns to Eli to draw more strength.
The light does stick around when Oskar finally stands up to Conny on a school trip. The action is violent and causes the loss of hearing in Conny; however, as an audience, we’re thrilled that Oskar stood up for himself. The day is cheerful and bright, with spring beginning its first flush. It’s also at this time that Jocke’s body is discovered. We’re still not entirely at that point of peace, but we’re making progress. The death intruding upon the sunshine demonstrates that while it’s not complete, there is definite progress to Oskar’s quality of life.
Eli, on the other hand, continues to struggle. Eli requires the darkness due to the many secrets he possesses. Eli laps blood during a nighttime outing with Oskar; however, he sends Oskar away to avoid harming him. Also at nighttime, Eli confesses his vampiric nature as Oskar gets a glimpse into Eli’s past (including Eli’s missing male genitalia). It’s worth noting that as their bond grows, and Eli becomes more transparent, the sun shines brighter and the seasons progress further. This culminates when Eli kills Lacke rather than have him harm Oskar. Covered in blood, Eli wraps his arms around Oskar, who offers thanks. It’s significant that Oskar’s reluctance to kill Lacke and Eli’s defense of Oskar happens during the daytime. It’s their first daylight interaction, and it cements their intimacy.
Eli’s subsequent flight away from the situation leaves Oskar devestated. We get the mirror image in the window again, along with a type of watery haze. We hope that Oskar isn’t as alone, and that his transformation has stuck. However, like a false spring, Oskar still has some growing to do, but he’s not going to do it alone. Oskar’s final confrontation with the bullies happens at night, in a pool. He’s isolated again at the start, but this time, he’s reborn with the help of Eli. The light in the pool appears brighter after Eli kills two of the bullies and Conny’s older brother Jimmy. Our final take away of them before they depart the pool: two equally bright, happy smiles. These two have pulled through a long, harsh winter and are ready for sunlight.
|A pair of bright eyes after a near-death experience.|
While we see the snow and darkness again, we liken it to a closing of life in Blackeberg. There is death, destruction and general unhappiness for Oskar and Eli there. The snow falls again, but this time, it takes up more of the screen. It’s not as pitch black; there’s more beauty to the pattern, more of a chance to see crystals and recognize flakes. We see the beauty of the darkness that we couldn’t see at the start of the film.
In arguably the most touching scene of the film, we see bright sunshine streaming through the train windows at the very end as a singular Oscar watches the world go by. We hear quiet tapping from the trunk in his compartment, to which he answers in morse code. The word he spells out? “Puss,” which is Swedish for “small kiss.” They have an inside tradition that holds special meaning, they would do anything to protect each other, and they love each other very, very much. As an audience, we love that these two wound up together.
What does this demonstrate to the weary audience that has followed them on this journey? Like the seasons, our problems will not disappear overnight. In fact, many problems will require confidence and outside help in order to fully come through them. It also shows us that damage, while it doesn’t go away, can make the right person love you no matter what. Just as we finally see the beauty in the snow in time for spring, Oskar and Eli accept each other no matter what. The loneliness and suffering of each does not matter anymore. Like the inevitability of the springtime, it too will pass out of the dark winter and into something better.
The best actors can own an entire scene without having to once open their mouths. There’s no chance for ridiculous annunciation or offbeat breath draws. There’s less of a chance for, as Jon Lovitz put it on Saturday Night Live, “ACCCCCCTING!” If you can suspend my disbelief long enough to make me see not just an actor, but a character, you’ve done your job well; if you can do it without relying on words, it’s a sign of a level of sophistication at which many actors fail to arrive. Bearing that in mind, I have to applaud Battle Royale for the litany of good actors it provided. For a film that featured a massive amount of violence, the most impactful moments occured when the actors did not utter a line.
Starting at the beginning, we see the winner of the previous Battle Royale post-victory. She’s covered in blood, her smile reveals braces, and she’s clutching a doll. There’s something beauty-queen-esque about her smile: that look of winning, of having clawed her way to the top. Juxtaposed with the blood, the doll and the braces, this girl is jarring when we first see her. She scared the crap out of me without having to say a word.
|Something tells me her platform isn’t world peace.|
Working our way through the film, we get to witness those small indicators that something is wrong, even though the discomfort isn’t explicitly voiced. Did you catch the look on the Mr. Hiyashida’s face as the students’ bus passes armed military vehicles? Yeah, that look of fear. He knew something was wrong and didn’t want to say anything to alarm the kids. The whole expression takes under 15 seconds, but it’s there, and it’s effective. Just as effective? Nobu’s interaction with Kitano during Kitano’s introduction to the game. Kitano gets to address his attacker, the kid that stabbed him some time ago. Nobu doesn’t verbally confront Kitano at first: he shifts guiltily in his chair, moves around, then makes a face at him. This is an interesting choice: the kid knows he’s in trouble, that he’s been confronted for an ill deed, and that he’s being publicly picked on by someone who now has a lot more power than previous interactions. Nobu’s response is childish. It reinforces that there’s still a child in there. As much as I disliked Nobu in the film (but not in the book, which, if you haven’t read, you absolutely need to – it’s even better than the film, which is a masterpiece), he’s still a child.
When Nobu dies, Nanahara does not yell and scream. He cries while everyone else watches silently. There are mixtures of pity and indifference in the facial expressions, but we are able to read these emotions without dialogue. Eventually, Nanahara has to be restrained, but Nakagawa only has to give him a look to calm him down. She tempers a rash reaction that would have killed him with one look. Her silence is her power. Nakagawa does not have to make a dramatic speech. She quietly reassures. And we believe her. We know that she’s trying to help Nanahara live to see the end of the battle. She’s successful because he picks up on this too. All without a word.In terms the gathering of the bags, this group does this quietly as well, yet we all read their expressions. The pain, the rebellion, the sorrow. Out of the 15 or so kids we see grab bags, we only have three speakers, one of whom is Kawada demanding a new bag. There’s no dramatic speech because it won’t do any good. The fight is inevitable. These kids grasp the finality of the sitation. Even Kiriyama, who does not speak for the duration of the film, clutches his bag as though it’s a baby; he willingly signed up for the game of the film, and so in a sense, this is his baby.
Ironically enough, Kiriyama is the one that survives to the final four and executes the most kills. His silence is just as much an asset as a gun. He does not have to deliver speeches, or give backstory. He’s the worst type of Big Bad Wolf: the one that you can’t sympathize with because there’s nothing really human in there. We can’t connect in small ways, even if it’s pity (like with Mitsuko): we don’t know. All that we know is that he will creep up on you, smile and kill you. The smile conveys that he takes glee in the act. He does not feel remorse. We don’t want him to win because there’s no inkling of a soul there. He doesn’t beg for his life when confronted. His lack of explanation renders him a type of strength that the other students don’t have.
|There’s really no expression to read here.|
In fact, talking becomes a type of weakness for the characters in that it wastes time, especially when dealing with Kiriyama. While Mitskuo is an effective killer, she continually rages about the injustices she experiences in her social life, which weakens her. She screams when fighting Kiriyama; ultimately, he survives while she dies. Likewise, Mimura stages a silent rebellion with typing and computer hacking once he figures out that the necklaces have microphones; however, when his group gets attacked, he starts yelling as his friends die. There’s a direct correlation between the act of speech and the lowered chances of survival against the silent killer.
The most damning example we have of speech decreasing the chances of survival is the group of Lighthouse Girls. Yukie, Yuko, Haruka, Yuka, Chisato, and Satomi all fall prey to in-fighting, which causes a gun fight and eventual death for all. While this stems from an act of murder (poison intended to kill Nanahara), the group makes accusations, quickly turns on each other and resorts to killing each other off in no time flat. Really, it takes a grand total of about 5 minutes for them to off each other. That doesn’t bode well for the power of speech.
|Man, make one comment about the soup…|
When do we get to see the positives of silence without the murder? Kawada cares silently for a recovering Nakagawa. Nakagawa’s wordless dream sequence of eating ice cream with Kitano instills a sense of pity in her. Kawada’s quiet death – which he likens to going to sleep – is peaceful and moving despite that he’s covered in blood and has rampaged for nearly three days with our heroes. These instances make the characters more human. We read their expressions and, despite the language barrier, we can sympathize with them. We feel their sense of peace and search for understanding. We connect.
Battle Royale is, at its core, a deeply violent film about a horrible socio-political situation involving children. It’s horrifying, even more so because we see these kids as people. Any actor could have come in and read the lines. The actors of Battle Royale came in and became these people, lending their faces and emotions to the sacred teenagers to give them more facets. Some dramas can’t accomplish what a horror movie did. The credit goes to the acting and direction. Well played, kids. Well played.
I’ll admit it: when I first heard about Tusk, all I could think was, “Jesus, that sounds fucking weird.” I was right – it was very weird. However, it was also a good time. Which made me wonder why more people haven’t seen it. So, in the grand tradition of persuasion, I’m putting together a little list of reasons why you should give this movie a shot. If you don’t like it, then get off my lawn.
#1 – It’s an original idea.
In a world of remakes and adaptations, original ideas are becoming more and more rare. Studios are looking for a way to make a buck on something that has had proven success. This is how we get a theatre filled with adaptations of young adult novels (more on that another day) and ’80s hits getting a fresh coat of sickly beige paint. More often than not, I hear people bemoan, “Why can’t they think of something new? I don’t need another remake!” You want something new that isn’t a half-assed remake of a really awesome ’70s horror movie/T.V. Show/miniseries? Tired of having to slug through Shailene Woodley alternating between her two facial expressions (if you need help, I’ll give you this one: disbelief and “I smell dog shit”)? Then give a movie about a man being turned into a walrus a shot. Can’t say it’s been done before.
#2 – It’s a technical step above Smith’s other movies.
I’m a sucker for lighting and good camera work. The lighting and sets in this movie are really good for the mood: it’s rich and bright at the beginning, then progresses to a sepia tone in Howe’ house before transitioning into an overcast captivity and metamorphosis. In terms of direction, it knows when to show us something, when to get blurry and when to sit back and let us watch like we’re spying on the characters. Smith uses this to create a tone that fills the audience with a sense of foreboding, which can be difficult to do for modern audiences. We’re left not knowing what we’re going to see because we’re accustomed to seeing the worst from other filmmakers. That’s the sign of a maturing filmmaker. As a longtime fan of Smith, it’s nice to see him growing rather than just sticking with the formats of his other films.
|Seriously, check out the colors in this.|
#3 – It still retains the fun factor of a Kevin Smith movie.
Kevin Smith knows how to write dialogue. The man has a talent for writing a joke and listening to the way that people talk. He loves to make puns, something of which I’m a sucker for as well. The Eh To Zed – the name of the Canadian convenience store in the film – had me giggling because it’s so simple that I’m surprised others haven’t thought to make the joke before. Some are more inappropriate than others, and that makes them all the more fun. The Not-See Party is so wrong you can’t help but laugh. And come on, the explanation of Howe’s nickname of “The First Wife”? Having been someone’s first wife, even I laughed at that. Tusk knows how to make a joke, even if the jokes make us mildly uncomfortable from time to time.
#4 – Speaking of fun, check out the cast.
There’s a reason why Smith keeps using the same actors in his movies: you can tell, even in a horror movie, that everyone has a ton of fun working together and really loves what they’re doing. It shows in the performances that are turned in. Michael Parks is batshit wonderful as the villian. Justin Long can go from sarcastic to emotionally scarred to absolutely terrified in this movie. Haley Joel Osment, fresh off of The Spoils of Babylon (which, if you haven’t watched, you should, if only to watch Osment chew scenery with bravado), is equal parts Jiminy Cricket and willing participant. Together, Osment and Long had me believe that they were good friends because they interacted as friends do: they don’t always agree with each other, but they’re there when shit gets real. Johnny Depp was a weak point for me, but I’ll excuse it because he looks like he had a blast. Even Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp looked like they were having fun. (Side note: I can’t wait to see the ladies in Yoga Hosers.) Really, that’s enjoyable to watch, and at the end of the day, watching a cast that really liked what they were doing enough to sign on for the other parts of the trilogy makes you want to keep watching.
|Yeah, this just looks like fun.|
#5 – The movie does pack some depth.
Smith wrote this movie after goofing around on a podcast, and there’s silliness galore in the movie. What’s rather unexpected is the way that he fleshes out his characters. Wallace, a vicious podcaster that makes his living shredding moments of stupidity and humiliating other people, has to fight for his humanity in the face of a terrible transformation. The smooth explanation of Howe as to why he hates humans so much is delivered in a weary, even fashion that demonstrates how living with horrors can warp you if left unchecked. Even if it gets obvious at times (cough cough Alley’s speeches cough cough), it does have moments of love and care crafted in there. Smith liked these characters enough to give them motive and feeling; crappy movies don’t even attempt this. Someone who’s willing to present a multi-dimensional character obviously cared enough about that character.
So, that’s it. Five reasons to watch Tusk. It might be weird, it might be completely unplausible, but it demonstrates the growth of a filmmaker and the power of a different idea. Give it a shot – what have you got to lose?
Of the three segments from Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, my hands-down favorite is “Lover’s Vow.” In it, stuggling artist Preston (James Remar) witnesses a monster kill a friend; the monster agrees with spare Preston in exchange for his silence. Preston then experiences amazing luck: he meets and falls in love with Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), then quickly gains acclaim and fortune as an artist. He maintains his silence for 10 years, until he tells Carola about the incident with the monster under the pretense of the honesty of love and his desire to never keep a secret from her. She then reveals herself to be the monster in human form, transforms both herself and their children, kills him and turns into a stone statue. It’s dark. No really, it’s literally dark – the lighting, setting and costuming is all done in shades of black, brown and grey. It doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s a messy version of love. As a preteen when I first watched this film, I felt that it was oddly familiar. Something about the story stuck out for me. Then, re-watching it on an overcast afternoon this past weekend, it hit me: this is The Little Mermaid retold. I was a little amazed that I hadn’t picked up on that before.
When the segment first opens, we see a gargoyle statue looking down on Preston’s apartment. The way that it’s positioned, it’s been watching him for some time. That his bartender friend Jer is killed is a little too convenient: this act gets Preston alone with the creature, who exacts a promise. The wording is interesting: it focuses on Preston’s speech. “If I let you go,” it tells him, “you must swear you’ll never say you saw me. Never say you heard me speak. Never tell anyone how I look. Never repeat what I have said.” This is a direct parallel to the story of the mermaid, who cuts out her tongue in exchange for legs. The creature exacts this promise to bind Preston into the same silence to which the mermaid is bound.
Both the act of the murder and the promise prove to be a calculated way for Carola to worm her way into his life. Almost immediately, Carola appears. Preston’s first instinct is to protect her. Much like the story, he brings her to his home. Curious, she begins touching his work station at first. We see her inspect his work station as she remarks, “You’re the first real artist I’ve ever met.” She tests him successfully on their first meeting when she sees his wounds from the creature, as he does not tell her where he got them. The wounds, in fact, harken back to the original story: the mermaid is in pain when she walks on her new legs, but continues to do so in order to maintain her transformation.
|Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just stalking an artist.|
Carola’s test receives another try the next day. Preston leaves to check out the crime scene after he hears sirens. When he goes to leave, Carola doesn’t ask what’s wrong – she merely looks disappointed. When he doesn’t talk, she comes back with her bags and moves in. A third test arrives in the form of Preston’s drunken friend Maddox, who wants to know if Preston saw anything concerning Jer’s death. Carola witnesses Preston’s denial, ensuring their contract is intact. Within a short time frame, he’s a successful artist and she’s pregnant. All is well so long as he is silent. In the grand tradition of fairy tales, Preston does betray his promise, first with sight, then with speech. He creates sculptures and drawings of the creature, then hides them. This act of creation does not break the promise. Carola discovers part of the drawing, but does not say anything. It’s when he tells her about his experience that she changes. The secretive fragment of a drawing she seems to be able to live with because it does not violate the contract. It’s the act of speech that breaks the promise and voids their contract, causing her transformation.
Up until this point, it appears as though Preston has taken on the role of the mermaid; however, the wording of the exchange between Preston and Carola post-transformation is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention to the semantics. After all, Preston was the one that got the amazing Faustian deal: life, art career, beautiful partner, children. However, Carola explicitly states that he broke his promise, and it’s “too late.” When Preston begs her to stop the change, she replies that she can’t. This turns the situation into Carola’s Faustian deal: in order to remain human, Preston, like the prince, must uphold his end of the bargain. In story, this was the form of marriage, which the prince would not provide to the mermaid. When Preston does not uphold his end of the deal, she is compelled to kill him to save herself. In the story, the mermaid chooses to die rather than kill the prince to save her life. In this case, though, Carola has her children with which to contend. They transform as well. She chooses her life and their lives over their father’s life. She has stalked him, tested him and built a life with him. She declares her love for him. She is truly sorry that she can’t remain human, and that she is compelled to kill him. She does kill him, which alters the meaning of the story. Her regression back to the creature she is defeats the transformative purpose of the story, and places a different twist on the 80s theme of transformation.
|Yeah, this totally didn’t go the way she planned it.|
The notion of transformation is something that ran rampant in the 80s. How many movies featured someone masquerading as someone or something they weren’t? Roxanne, Can’t Buy Me Love, Soul Man – just a few, but all featured a lead that felt the need to lie about their appearance and/or circumstances in order to achieve something. Typically, these stories involved a romantic partner that would not have gone for that lead under normal conditions. In the end, the true nature prevailed, and the couple was able to move forward with the honesty. This is not the case in “Lover’s Vow.” The broken promise ups the ante in this respect: while most films of the 80s featured this theme and ultimately had the lead get the girl in the end, this one goes folk tale style on the theme: it treats the deception as contract enforcible by death. This is a rather damning take on the light-hearted transformations of the 80s. No, you can’t be just anyone. You can’t escape your true self. Sometimes, you sign up for something and you have to live with the consequences. You don’t criticize a theme more harshly than that.
|Somehow, I don’t think these two kids are going to make it.|
In the end, Carola reverts back to her creature form, hiding as a stone statue. Instead of watching over Preston’s apartment, she’s facing the other way with her children in a pose of mourning. Her transformation failed, and now she’s frozen in a state of emotional agony with her children. In the end, love didn’t transform. Love brought about the true self, ugly as it was.
By all means, I should have been upset with the adaptation of Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch. I like it when films to follow their book source material; this one did not follow Lukyanenko’s novel of the same name. In fact, it combined the first part of his novel Night Watch with elements of his follow-up Day Watch, and even then, there were radical differences. However, I loved this film.
The first ten minutes alone of this film is enough to hook you. As we watch Darya attempt to kill an unborn Yegor, there’s a sense of real fear that she’s going to succeed. In the battle to subdue her, the camera work and special effects used enhance the scene without being the sole thing that drives it. Between Tiger Cub’s transformation and the slow motion attempted clap of Darya, you can’t take your eyes off of it. There’s tension and style, and we have Timur Bekmambetov to thank for that. He took a budget of approximately $4.2 million dollars and produced something this slick-looking. That’s fairly impressive. He uses the effects to enhance the story, not totally drive it. Michael Bay, take note.
|Khabensky is the man.|
So, let’s address the elephant in the room: the differences between the book and the film. In the book, Anton is not Yegor’s father, and Yegor is actually a very minor role for the first of three parts in the first book alone. Yegor isn’t the great other; in fact, he refuses to choose a side due to his distaste for the manipulations of both sides. Under normal circumstances, I’d be yelling “bastardized adaptation.” We need to bear in mind, though, that Lukyanenko collaborated with Bekmambetov to write the script. The author himself worked to make this come to the big screen. Here’s where we need to address a broader cinematic truth, one of which even I have difficulty with sometimes: not everything is adaptable and/or filmable. The Lord of the Rings, though good, is really fucking long. One book was over three hours, and that was cutting portions out. Done poorly, this can take your favorite novel and turn it into an endurance test. Sometimes, the material needs to get retooled to make it work for the length of time you have to tell your story.
So how was this handled so deftly? Lukyanenko builds characters in the film that follow the DNA of the story, but merge into a kind of alternate reality. In a way, he writes his own fan ficiton. What works is that he knows how to flesh these characters out onscreen. We like Yegor the scared child, and we accept that he’s angry with Anton. We like Olga and are curious about her backstory. We get vested in the suffering Sveta; we feel that the hand she’s been dealt in life is unfair. We want Zavulon to fall flat on his face. We care.
|The Russian version of Starsky and Hutch is so much cooler.|
The introduction makes us believe that Anton is the Great Other, and when it’s revealed that he’s not – that it’s actually Yegor, and that his mistake in 1992 has pretty much fucked humanity – there’s an element of surprise. Konstantin Khabensky is perfect as a man that has messed up and knows it. He gives us damaged and cool simultaneously. It works because it moves in a logical progression. It tries to tie up its loose ends. It gets us vested in these characters. It’s a compelling story. It ends on a down note as well, which makes me ;ike it all the more.
In the later books, Lukyanenko nods to the films when Yegor, well on the path to becoming an Inquisitor, bumps into Anton and tells him that he had a dream that he was his father. Anton replies that dreams are alternate realities. This alternate reality in film worked, at least for me.
I’ll cut right to the chase: this movie is fucking funny. It’s edgy, wry and just plain wrong at times. It features the mother from hell in the most humorous way possible. Let’s do this: five reasons to watch Girls Will Be Girls this weekend.
#1 – Drag humor with a twist
In the tale of an aging Hollywood has-been, her long-suffering confidant and the young upstart with a past that moves in with them, the leads are not just three men dressed as women. For the purposes of this film, they are women. They’ve been pregnant and have straight sex. We’re in on the joke, but no one else is in this movie. I’ve seen this concept done elsewhere, but here, it adds charm and sass.
|Clockwise, from right: Coco, Evie and Varla|
#2 – Evie Harris
Evie (Jack Plotnick) has the best lines of the movie. I would hate Evie in real life. I love Evie in this movie. She’s a fun drunk without a mind-to-mouth filter. She can’t remember her son’s name. She’s drunk before noon. She’s cock-happy and spreads destruction everywhere she goes. She’s inappropriate and unapologetic. And I love her. You will too.
#3 – Singing and Cheez Whiz
The sheer skill of the Cheez Whiz trick baffles me. I can’t try this at home. I’m just going to slow-clap and marvel.
#4 – Asteroid!
A movie within the movie. A disaster flick about an asteroid with the tag line, “EARTH MIGHT GET CRUSHED!” If Asteroid! was a real movie, it might have a chance of being shown as a double feature with The Room. You will never again hear the term “astrophysicist” without laughing. Watch it just for that.
|“Oh Billy — what about the children?”|
#5 – The writing and delivery
The first line of this movie is someone screaming “FUCK” after knocking over a picture. It’s delivered in a primal scream over a nearly one-minute period. That really does set the tone for the rest of it. Dick jokes, vibrators, Hollywood, motherhood, dating, abortions, the worst marriage proposal ever, dead dogs, money-making schemes – nothing is spared the quick wit and deadpan delivery. So many one-liners that I can’t quote right now. This is killing me.
|Yes, that is Eric Stonestreet. He’s completely epic in this movie.|
Sorry if this is vague, but I don’t want to spoil the best parts, and it’s so quotable. Do yourself a favor and check this one out. Be prepared to laugh.