Capsule Collection: Summer/Fall 2011 Viewing, < 2011 Part 3

The final pre-2011 installment in my journey towards having an up-to-date arrives with much relief from me. It feels good to take these small bites out of the pile I’d accumulated in front of me. Onwards and upwards through the terrific and the terrible!

Predator 2 (1990)

Written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Starring Danny Glover, Gary Busey and Ruben Blades

Merely by looking at the talent attached to this sequel one can assume that the quality level is a step down from the inimitable first Predator film. This film, like most action sequels, operates under the rubric that quantity is required in order to expand upon the first film; Predator 2 trades a small band of jungle-isolated military operatives for a larger cast of characters – including police officers and a branch of government operatives implausibly led by Gary Busey – fully engaged on the War on Drugs in the middle of L.A. In doing this, the film loses the atmosphere which made the first film so special – in addition to the charisma of Schwarzenegger at his zenith, John McTiernan’s accomplished directing hand, and more. On its own merits the film functions as a fairly basic action/thriller, indebted deeply to the premise of the Predator alien. Glover and company are solid if unremarkable in their roles and the film passes by inoffensively enough (for a film that features beheadings and people being ritually skinned); the film’s legacy, to my mind, resides in a criminally under-seen clip of break-dancing predators. I’m not even kidding.



Silent Night Deadly Night 2 (1987)

Written by Lee Harry and Joseph H. Earle
Directed by Lee Harry
Starring Eric Freeman, James Newman and Elizabeth Kaitan

Perhaps “Attack of the Killer Eyebrows” would be a more suitable title for this 80’s camp jewel. Employing a psychologist’s conversation as a framing device, the film lazily repurposes footage from Silent Night Deadly Night to provide context for its action; taken as a brief summary or review this strategy would still be lazy, but perhaps less offensive. Silent Night Deadly Night 2, however, spends what feels like – and may actually be – half of its running time doing this, unnecessarily bogging down the narrative with detail and, almost certainly, masking the budgetary constraints the film had. The film posits a clichĂ©d sort of psychology as motivation for the main character, witnessing a terrible crime corrupted his brother which in turn corrupts him, and buries a conservative notion that it was the child’s removal from a traditional nuclear family – albeit through a random act of violence – that allowed this negative behaviour to emerge; perhaps if his family life were more stable, and if he had not ended up an orphan, Eric Freeman’s Ricky Caldwell would have had a more comfortable life with less expressive eyebrows. Hilarious for all the wrong reasons. And terrible.



Strangers On A Train (1951)

Written by Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman and Robert Walker

Strangers On a Train PosterThe infamous setup wherein two complete strangers swap grievances and agree to alleviate one another of their problems is complicated here by Hitchcock. As always, the master of psychological thrillers develops high tension as the conscience of Farley Granger’s Guy Haines weighs heavily when his partner Bruno Antony, played by Robert Walker, fulfills his part of the deal by killing Guy’s wife, enabling him to be with his current love. Paranoia accrues as Antony shadows Guy in his day-to-day life, heightened by the typically elegant and thoughtful visual cues that Hitchcock arranges on screen; shots as simple as Guy being filmed behind the bars of a gate when Antony informs him of the completion of his part of the deal, and the heads of a crowd swaying back and forth as they watch a tennis match, save for Antony’s motionless head staring solely at Guy, visually express much more than their simple compositions imply. Interesting, and perhaps also deeply unsettling, is Hitchcock’s continued vilification of characters who bear traits of closeted homosexuals; as with Norman Bates in Psycho, Antony is subject to a domineering mother, in addition to his obsession with Guy and overtly stylish sense of fashion.



The Third Man (1949)

Written by Graham Greene
Directed by Carol Reed
Starring Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli and Orson Welles

Orson Welles, and later Marlon Brandon in Apocalypse Now, are the only men I can imagine functioning in the same manner as the shark in Jaws. Their presences haunt their respective films; they are shadows looming every act, only to emerge later in the film, fulfilling the viewer’s conception of their characters completely. Welles’ Harry Lime is, when he appears, completely captivating, having gone rogue in a way that recalls Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness. Reed’s film is, like Lime, constructed of dramatic angles and shadows; by splitting the difference between the light and the darkness, how this activity of definition shapes reality, Reed aligns the visual structure of his film with the internal nature of its motivating ghost. A sumptuously beautiful film to watch, The Third Man is a quintessential noir, that I had, until recently, never seen despite owning a copy. Like Strangers On A Train, which features a script by Raymond Carver, The Third Man boasts a script by the Graham Greene; such marriages stand as examples of the porousness of the boundary between film and literature, how each art is in dialogue with the other, that a universal language of narrative images exists.



Videodrome (1983)

Written and Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring James Woods, Debbie Harry, and Jack Creley

Less a mediation on the impact of media on culture and the individual than an uncannily accurate prognostication of what was to come, Cronenberg’s Videodrome is so closely attuned to the zeitgeist of its time that it forecasts events a full 20 years beyond its creation; reality television, the escalation of stimulation, the pervasiveness of screens, internet handles and screen names and e-mail addresses, are all obtusely predicted by Videodrome. In a brief and somewhat prophetic diatribe, Jack Creley’s Brian O’Blivion dispenses wisdom about the television becoming the mind’s eye, about how it would invade every aspect of culture and was more real than reality itself. James Woods’ Max Ren is a programmer for an independent television network looking for content that delivers increasingly extreme content to an audience that desires it. In both cases these individuals, and their respective positions, speak to a philosophy and concern that becomes more relevant with each passing year. Featuring some of Cronenberg’s most remarkable – and suggestive – visual effects, the film stands as one of Cronenberg’s most singular and cohesive works with a social commentary that moves beyond relevance and into something resembling necessary; long live the new flesh, indeed.


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