Friday, February 25, 2011

The Round-Up#43

Film Review: John Carpenter's The Ward: "One of the master's best"; "Carpenter's return to form"; "an old school masterpiece"; these are some of the things people have been saying about John Carpenter's The Ward, the master filmmaker's first film in a decade. Well, I have to say that none of these statements is quite right. The Ward is an enjoyable horror film made by a master filmmaker wishing to exercise his craft after a long absence; nothing more, nothing less.

The film's plot - which revolves around an amnesiac young woman who, after setting fire to an abandoned farm house, is transferred to an insane asylum where the ghost of a murdered girl terrorizes the patients - is, for the most part, a standard affair, with the patients being picked off one by one in a myriad of ways, some imaginative, others not. But this is a John Carpenter film after all, so there are some nice twists, and the second act is especially suspenseful. So where does the problem lie? It lies with the film being a John Carpenter film, a tag which brings with it numerous expectations, most of which are not met in this film. Absent is Carpenter's trademark visual style and painterly compositions; absent is the slow build-up and masterful pacing that Carpenter is known for; absent is an atmospheric and catchy synth score by Carpenter, another one of his trademarks; and most disappointing is the film's ending, which leaves a lot to be desired, a flaw which most of Carpenter's films never had.

As one of John Carpenter's biggest fans (he is one of the reasons I became a filmmaker in the first place), I have to say that the film is slightly disappointing; not because it's not good, but because it's not very memorable or stylish. But I am still hoping that the master has another muscular horror film under his sleeve; because with The Ward, at least, Carpenter has proven that he's still got it, but that he doesn't want to use it to its maximum potential. Yet . . .

Film Review: Black Swan: This tale of a young ballerina's rise to fame and her coming undone as a result, is part psychological thriller, part horror film, part coming-of-age drama, and is an easy film to admire if you're into the bizarre and art-house.

Darren Aronofsky directs the film with his trademark visual flair, while Natalie Portman gives an effectively moving and vulnerable, if not superb, performance. But it's Mila Kunis who steals the show in a supporting role, as a feisty, sexy, playful character who is the only character in the film that comes off as normal and whom the audience can relate to. And that's the problem with Black Swan. Despite a good story, strong performances, and plenty of style, the film features a cast of very unlikable characters: from the obsessive mother (played by an over-the-top Barbara Hershey), to the manipulative and repugnant troupe manager (a scene-chewing Vincent Cassel), to the disturbed and self-victimizing central character (Portman), the audience has almost no one to root for, someone to guide them through the dark tunnels of the central character's psyche, which makes for an intriguing, but ultimately cold film. But, in the end, that doesn't take away from the film's power to haunt and linger in the mind long after the end credits have rolled.

Flawed, but fascinating and memorable.

Book Review: Dweller by Jeff Strand: I picked up this book solely due to the fact that it's written by Jeff Strand, one of the co-writers of Draculas, one of the best horror books of 2010. Before reading Dweller, I wasn't really familiar with the author's work. After reading Dweller, that will have to change, as Strand is an immensely talented author, who is able to transcend genres and come up with highly original plots, as evidenced by this near-masterpiece.

The story is simple: A young boy, a loner and an outcast, stumbles upon a frightening creature that dwells in the woods near his home, and, slowly, they become friends. This strange relationship survives the test of time and the boy, now a man, and the beast stay the best of friends. But when the man gets involved in a relationship with a young woman, all hell breaks loose.

That synopsis just skims the surface of this thought-provoking, multi-layered, and well written novel, which is unlike anything I've ever read. It's a coming-of-age drama, a horror tale, a tragedy, and a meditation on the nature of evil that dwells in the hearts of all men, all rolled into one gut-punching novel. Unmissable.

Extra! The Door in The Floor: This edition's Extra! selection is the film The Door in The Floor, starring Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger and Jon Foster, and directed by Todd Williams. A fascinating, touching, and disturbing film about damaged people and the loss of innocence, this is a superb film featuring wonderful performances by Bridges and Basinger, and masterfully directed by Williams. An undiscovered classic.

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