Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Round-Up#27

Film Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010): First, let's get this out of the way: I am a die-hard fan of the Nightmare On Elm Street series, and have been since I was 16 years old. I have watched the entire series (including the abysmal Freddy Vs. Jason) numerous times, and hopefully will continue to watch them for years to come. To me, the Nightmare series is one of the most wildly imaginative fantasy-horror film series ever made. And even with their faults and low budgets, they contain some of the most memorable sequences of dark imagination ever put on film. There is no argument that the best entries in the series are the ones in which Wes Craven (the writer/director of the original) was involved (the 1984 original, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, and the seventh entry, Wes Craven's New Nightmare); but all of them have something to offer to horror fans. So, with this in mind, trust me when I say that I know my Freddy Krueger, and that when it comes to sequels or remakes of my beloved series, I am as harsh a critic as you're ever likely to find.

With this we come to the 2010 remake of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, directed by Samuel Bayer and starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. I went to watch this film with an open mind; which means with my expectations neither high nor low. That was a good call. Because, you see, this remake isn't great in any sense of the word. But it is good. It manages to re-introduce the mythos and the Freddy Krueger character to a whole new generation, without marring the legacy of what came before it. It has some memorable visuals, an unnerving, almost hallucinatory atmosphere, and is admirably dark, much darker than the 1984 original and most of its sequels. Performances are good, especially from Kyle Gallner and Thomas Dekker. And Jackie Earle Haley's take on the Freddy Krueger character, while not spectacular, brings enough stylistic changes to the role to make it interesting. Also, director Sameul Bayer admirably chooses a more old-school style of filmmaking, favoring longer takes and a slow build-up over the flash-cut, hyper-kinetic style that is so prevalent these days, especially in horror films.

So, where does this remake stumble? In the script department and in its loyalty to the original. The script doesn't make a lick of sense and expects the audience to just go along with everything without thinking too much. Although Wes Craven's original didn't make much sense, either, at least it gave us enough time to get to know the characters. This film, however, doesn't allow us to get to know the characters, rendering them two-dimensional, and forcing the actors to carry all the weight. Also, its loyalty to the original weakens it, since most of the memorable sequences in this version are nothing but set-pieces lifted directly from the original and given a new coat of paint; something which newcomers wouldn't mind, but die-hard fans like myself find annoying and lazy on the part of the filmmakers.

But, in the end, this film delivers the goods: There are plenty of scares, a haunting atmosphere, memorable, surreal visuals, and it succeeds where almost all of the sequels to the 1984 original failed: Making Freddy Krueger scary again.

Extra! Paperhouse (1988): This edition's Extra! selection is the 1988 psychological thriller Paperhouse, directed by Bernard Rose. This is a haunting, stylish, creepy, and strangely touching coming-of-age film. It is visually stunning and, more than 20 years after it was made, still packs a punch. Available on DVD.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Round-Up#26

Book Review: The Search (الطريق) by Naguib Mahfouz: Reviewing any piece of work by Naguib Mahfouz is a risky proposition. His work is both loved and over-analyzed; both cherished and reviled (yes, to this day, there are some people, especially Uber-Conservative Egyptians, who consider his work to be "immoral," due to Mahfouz's unflinching eye when it comes to describing some of the seedier aspects of Egyptian life). I have already attempted to review one of my favorite books of his, Midaq Alley (زقاق المدق). And I am going to try once more, with another of my favorites, The Search (الطريق).

The Search is, far and away, Mahfouz's most noirish work. The story of Saber, the son of a prostitute, who is forced, after his mother's death, to search for his absentee father, whom his mother claims is an "Egyptian gentleman" who will able to save him from an ugly life of pimping and petty-crime, is chock-full of all the main ingredients of livre-noir: The troubled anti-hero with a sordid past, the search for something elusive that promises salvation, the femme-fatale, and the overpowering sense of doom. Although Naguib Mahfouz's tales almost always have a norish bent, The Search is, arguably, his most obvious attempt at writing a piece of vintage noir. The sharp, hard-hitting dialogue, the descriptions of Cairo by night, the extremely complex character of Saber, who, throughout the tale, struggles with his own demons and penchant for violence and crime, the fast-pace, the downbeat, borderline nihilistic ending, all combine to make this a masterpiece of crime fiction, similar to the best works of James M. Cain.

A somewhat lesser-known part of his oeuvre, The Search is a fascinating novel that showcases Mahfouz at his most stylistically daring, and is a must for fans of livre-noir.

Film Review: Iron-Man 2: I didn't like Iron-Man. I thought it was silly, childish, under-directed and bland. Its only saving grace was Robert Downey Jr.'s appealing portrayal of the title character. My sentiments toward the sequel are pretty much the same.

But I have to admit that Iron-Man 2 is an improvement over the previous film, but only marginally so. The script is as silly as hell, and seems to operate with a sort of infuriating cartoon-logic. I know that the film is based on a Marvel Comics character, but Comic Books, good ones at least, were never meant to be silly and childish. Good Comic Books have a fast-pace, likable, smart characters, and at least an inkling of logic to ground things and make them resonate with the reader. The same goes for movies based on good Comic Books: They should have likable characters, tolerable dialogue, a fast-pace, and some logic. Well, Iron-Man 2 has some of these ingredients (likable characters - well, mostly a likable character in Tony Stark - and a fast-paced story-line). What this movie doesn't have is imagination and intelligence. This is a cartoonish, dumbed-down film, that seems to revel in its own silliness and doesn't offer anything fresh or original. And I mean anything.

The directing by returning director Jon Favreau is as unimaginative and bland as in the first film, and the script is a juvenile mess. So what is there to like about this film? Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke, who both give quirky, energetic performances, relying on their charisma and sense of fun to overcome the trappings of what it basically a mediocre film.

Even appearances by beloved Marvel Comics characters like Nick Fury, Black Widow, and even Thor (well, sort of), can't save this film from its own unoriginality and blandness.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.