The screaming blonde in the shower, the creepy hotel, the guy who keeps his mummified mom in the old family home… everybody knows about “Psycho,” if only by cultural osmosis.
But probably not as many people know about the history of the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie, and just how tough it was to bring it to the screen. Cue Stephen Rebello’s “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” which compellingly sketches out every single step of “Psycho” — from the bizarre serial killer who inspired the book to the mysterious PR campaign.
It begins with Ed Gein, a serial killer who inspired Richard Bloch’s pulpy horror novel “Psycho.” It was an unlikely choice for the great Alfred Hitchcock to adapt — a small, gritty weird story with a shocking twist ending and two graphic stabbings. But it did appeal to his “fiendish” sense of humor, and gave the great filmmaker a chance to make what he wanted — something fresh and “young,” something in the “Les Diaboliques” mold.
He then proceeded to make a movie that went against all the “rules” — he ignored Paramount’s horror and disgust, he hired a relatively inexperienced screenwriter, he used the crew from his hit TV show, and he cast the film’s biggest star as the woman who is brutally stabbed after only forty minutes.
Rebello goes through the production step-by-step, following every aspect of the casting, the props, the camera techniques, the infamous shower scene (the blood is actually chocolate syrup), the performances, the costumes — just about every single aspect of the moviemaking process. And from there he follows the story of “Psycho” into the movie theatres, where Hitchcock’s film disgusted critics, shocked audiences, and ended up becoming his magnum opus.
I usually find highly “technical” books about moviemaking to be dull — I’ve never made a movie, nor have I been on a movie set, so the behind-the-scenes descriptions of camera angles and lighting are simply something I can’t visualize. Maybe it would be different if I were able to go onto a movie set and see these things personally, but currently they are as impenetrable to me as the inner workings of a space probe.
But Rebello managed to make this interesting. In fact, he managed to make every step of the process fascinating — which probably wasn’t hurt by an entire chapter devoted to a grotesque serial killer, Ed Gein. His writing style is detailed and rich in details, letting you envision virtually everything he has to say.
He also mines a LOT of interviews for information about the shoot, and not just the actors either. There are countless delightful anecdotes about making “Psycho,” such as the way they tried to film the falling-down-the-stairs scene. Or Joseph Stefano talking about how, as he and Hitchcock were plotting out the shower scene, they were interrupted by the director’s wife Alma — and promptly started screaming. Some of this stuff is hilarious.
It also gives a fascinating portrait of Hitchcock — an accomplished artist who loved twisted, weird stories, with a wickedly mischievous sense of humor and a lot of eccentricities. Rebello doesn’t delve too deep into Hitchcock’s psychology (which is always a dangerous road for any nonfiction writer), but he lets the various anecdotes about the Master of Suspense form a portrait on their own.
But while he gives a lot of attention to Hitchcock’s personality, style and artistic contributions, he also makes it clear that the movie was the masterwork of many different people — from actress Janet Leigh (who spent days seminaked in the shower) to the dude who butchered a bunch of melons to get the right “stab sound.” Credit for the work is spread around liberally.
“Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” is a fascinating, full-bodied look at the inner workings of a humble little movie… which just happened to be one of Hitchcock’s greatest films ever. A must-read for any enthusiast for the medium of film, “Psycho” and/or Hitchcock.
Once upon a time, Francis Ford Coppola made movies like “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now.” He also made “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” but that doesn’t eclipse his accomplishments.
But Francis Ford Coppola clearly has entered the “I’m going to do whatever I want, even if it makes no sense” phase in his career. Exhibit A: “Twixt,” a baffling little movie that twines together ghosts, vampire bikers, child murder, Edgar Allen Poe and a big messy knot of subplots that may or may not be real.
I once tried to summarize “Twixt” to an acquaintance, and ended up babbling incoherently about Poe, vampires, ghosts and dead children. But I’ll try to tackle it anyway: Second-string horror author Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is touring for his latest novel, and ends up in a small town that doesn’t even have a bookstore. That evening, he encounters a strange, ghostly young girl who calls herself “V” (Elle Fanning).
He soon finds that strange things are afoot in this town — time seems to be frozen (none of the clock faces move), there is a gang of bikers who may be vampires camped out on the lakeshore, and the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe visits him in his dreams to reveal half-forgotten secrets. And what does all this have to do with the recently-murdered girl lying in the police station?
It’s really hard to even pass judgement on “Twixt” — it would involve understanding what the director was trying to do… or thinking… or understanding ANYTHING. It feels like Coppola had four or five different ideas for stories (“Vampire bikers! A vampire/ghost orphan! Dream messages from Poe! A failing author with personal issues!”), and so he squashes all of them into one movie.
The result feels like a mad hybrid of Stephen King and David Lynch. The small-town setting, the supernatural threats and the eccentric characters feel somewhat like something King would put in a story… but the way it’s presented is wildly Lynchian, with giant lumps of misty symbolism and blurred borders between fantasy and reality. You could watch this movie a dozen times, and still not be sure what is happening.
For instance, one scene features Baltimore wandering into a blue-lit bar, where he listens to two people who speak in an affected, dreamlike way and occasionally sings “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” After one of them attacks V, they babble some more about how the clocks do not work and time cannot be measured… and Baltimore just leaves. Utterly baffling… and no, it is never referred to again.
I suspect that Val Kilmer was just as baffled, because that’s effectively the performance he gives — total confusion. He does a decent job with Baltimore’s frustration and grief over the problems in his life, but most of the time he’s left staring around in confusion. Elle Fanning isn’t in much of the movie, but she does do a good job as a girl who may be a ghost, a vampire, a dream, or whatever.
But one thing that Coppola does not fail at is making the movie beautiful — it’s a misty, night-hued story that drifts over lakes, through ruined stone walls, through moonlight-dappled forests. Some of the greenscreen is a bit obvious, but it doesn’t distract from the hauntingly lovely, surreal visuals that fill most of the movie.
Francis Ford Coppola has become the elderly winemaking version of people who make amateur horror shorts and put them up on youtube. “Twixt” is utterly baffling and bizarre, but at least it’s a pretty kind of baffling/bizarre.
A mummy movie is possibly the easiest kind of horror movie to make — it comes to life and terrorizes the living. Simple, but effective.
And yet “The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy” (aka “Trance”) has managed to screw that simple formula up. Despite the ever-interesting presence of Christopher Walken and some pretty cinematography, the story itself is a flaccid, flabby mess of plot holes and basic writing errors — including some of the least sympathetic characters I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Nora (Alison Elliott) and Jim (Jared Harris) are a pair of wealthy alcoholics in New York, who have decided to dry out on a visit to her grandmother in Ireland. Yes, they plan to dry out in the land of Guinness, because apparently it doesn’t count as booze. But when they arrive, Nora immediately blacks out and crashes the car.
And it keeps getting better — her grandmother has that highly selected senility you only see in movies, and her weird uncle Bill (Walken) only seems interested in the bog-preserved mummy of a druid witch who murder-suicided in the Iron Age. Of course, the mummy comes back to life… for no reason that’s ever explained… and she looks exactly like Nora. Now she apparently wants to steal Nora’s body… even though her own body seems to be working fine.
Director/writer Michael Almereyda seems to have only a vague idea of how proper storytelling works. Important characters appear without introduction two-thirds of the way through, logic is constantly violated (so Niamh doesn’t realize that a cigarette is ON FIRE, but she knows what whiskey is?), and the awkward climax ends up pretty much making no sense at all.
Worst of all: huge oozing lumps of exposition are constantly thrown at us like lumps of excrement… from people who couldn’t POSSIBLY know what they are talking about. How does Bill know the history of Niamh? Magic, apparently. How does Alice know all about her powers and intentions? Never explained. It becomes infuriating after awhile, especially when you realize that Alice is JUST there to exposit.
Almereyda tries to compensate by draping the movie in a dreamy atmosphere and Ireland’s peaty, raw beauty… but it’s not enough. The movie sludges by at a painfully slow pace, with lots of people wandering around and having the world’s slowest conversations, most of which are pretentious muckity-mystical drivel (“Every day; all the time. You wake up, open your eyes, take a breath, start over: that’s how it is”). And of course, Alice monologues over everything. EVERYTHING.
And rarely do you see a movie that is so padded, yet STILL manages to drag by at a snail’s pace. For instance, several characters fall down the stairs. There’s apparently no symbolic meaning to it — they just fall down the stairs because it eats up a few minutes of screen time and looks dramatic.
It also has a cast where you root for nobody, because nobody is likable. Christopher Walken comes the closest merely by being himself — weird, off-kilter, and utterly unconvincing as a lifelong resident of Ireland. But he sadly exits the movie after only a few scenes, and we’re left with… everyone else.
I kept waiting for a moment to come when we start to like and empathize with the lead characters — a pair of rich, irresponsible alcoholics — only to eventually realize that Almereyda intended for us to like them already. Elliott and Harris are mediocre and charmless here, especially since Elliott has to play the dual role of Nora and Niamh, which she does with slack-jawed dullness worthy of Kristen Stewart.
And the character of Alice is the most naked, blatant “exposition fairy” that I have ever seen in a film. I kept thinking that she was the love child that Nora claimed to have aborted, but it turns out that she is nobody special. Just a source of pseudo-mystical narration… and nothing else.
Watching “The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy” is like being slowly dragged facedown through Ireland’s mud — it will leave you cold and miserable. And eventually, you’ll want a Guinness to dull the pain.
I have a confession to make: I kinda like the Mortal Kombat movie from 2021.
I mean, it’s not as controversial as saying you’re an unironic fan of Battlefield Earth or something like that. But as I understand it, fans of the video games didn’t like it a great deal, even just compared to the 1990s movie.
And I won’t lie – it’s flawed. Cole is a pretty bland lead character who isn’t from the games, though he’s inoffensive and he avoids the whole Gary Stu character aspect. Kano is lots of fun to watch, and I suspect the actor had a ball playing him. Shang Tsung is not really very intimidating, There’s some eye candy for women and a small number of men (Liu Kang is basically this ALL THE TIME). The special effects are pretty decent. Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim are basically perfect as Scorpion and Subzero, and there’s a reason the entire climax is about these two whaling on each other.
But I think of all the characters, I enjoy watching Sonya Blade the most, because she is an example of a warrior woman written correctly. And we don’t have a lot of those anymore – a lot of female characters in current-day action movies are essentially written as power fantasies…. which are okay, as long as it’s acknowledged that they’re nothing better than that. These characters are coldly constructed to maximize feelings of shallow empowerment without risking upsetting anyone by making the character look “weak” by having them be vulnerable, struggle to do anything, or need anything from a man.
Disney, I’m looking at you. You gave us Rey, Live!Mulan and Captain Marvel.
Sonya Blade is literally not like the other girls… and for once, that’s a good thing. The first thing to note is that she is always depicted as a butt-kicking badass – she’s a military veteran who’s good enough to fight in Mortal Kombat, and she’s strong and skilled enough to capture Kano and keep him chained up in her house. When Subzero is chasing down Cole, she’s the one that Jax sends him to to keep him safe.
But it’s worth noting that in raw physical power, she’s not the strongest. On average, men are much stronger than women physically, which many movies and TV shows don’t want to acknowledge because… I guess acknowledging it would be considered misogynistic. But Mortal Kombat does implicitly acknowledge it, because Sonya is shown going toe to toe with physically powerful men not based on raw muscle power, but using her brains, her training, and her agility. Her part of the climax is a wonderfully intense game of cat-and-mouse, where she not only has to battle Kano’s physical power but his laser eye, which she manages through manipulating her surroundings as well as physical attacks.
Which brings me to another aspect of Sonya that many other action heroines don’t have anymore – she struggles. Watch the Disney action heroines mentioned above, and you’ll be lucky if they EVER struggle to take down their enemies.
In the shallow minds of the people writing these stories, I think they imagine that a woman struggling would make her look weak… and that idea is bad storytelling. Seeing your hero struggle is part of the experience of wanting them to triumph – you watch them sweat, get punched, collapse to the ground and struggle to get up again, and lose their initial fights. That makes it all the more cathartic and satisfying when they finally triumph – because you know they worked for their triumph over the bad guys, and all the sweat, blood and tears were worth it in the end.
If the hero’s only flaw is “he/she needs to realize how AWESOME he/she is!”, and they breeze through, effortlessly winning the day without breaking a sweat… the only people who find that satisfying are people who just want a power fantasy.
And yes, Sonya struggles. She follows the arc of HERO FIGHTS –> HERO FAILS –> HERO REGROUPS/TRAINS –> HERO FIGHTS AGAIN –> HERO WINS AFTER STRUGGLE, like Luke Skywalker and other classic heroes. Her ultimate triumph over Kano – and gaining an arcana – is narratively satisfying because we watched her grapple with him right to the end, and it was a near thing. So when she looks at her dragon mark and laughs, it feels earned.
I do not get that feeling from a Captain Marvel, a Rey, a Live!Mulan. They don’t struggle to win, so there’s no cathartic satisfaction when they do win. It’s like watching Usain Bolt outrunning a toddler. Who’d find that satisfying?
I also really like Sonya’s relationships with the men around her. She doesn’t really interact much with the female characters – I think she only encounters Mileena, who skips out on murdering her because she wouldn’t get Mortal Kombat street cred from it. I guess she probably meets Cole’s wife and daughter at the end of the film.
Anyway, throughout the movie Sonya interacts mainly with the male characters, and for the most part… they treat her no differently than if she were a man. The only exception of Kano, who is a walking mass of personality defects, who is sexist to her because he’s casually offensive to everyone (and also he’s salty that she chained him up). But the men on her side treat her with respect and admiration, not considering her any less worthy because she’s a woman, and it’s hard to imagine that, say, Cole would treat her any differently if she were a guy.
That also goes for her relationship with Jax. I’m not sure what the age difference is between them, but it seems like they have a big brother/little sister connection, with a hint of mentor/student.
One thing I’ve noticed about movies in recent years is that women are often not allowed to be the mentees/students of men anymore – a woman must either know everything she needs automatically, or she must learn from another woman. See Rey, Captain Marvel, etc. That makes it kind of wholesome when Sonya admits that when she first entered the military, she wanted to make Jax proud, and that was clearly an important motivation in her training and her service.
It’s also worth noting that in the second act, she also spends a lot of time just supporting Jax. She’s told that she can’t train for Mortal Kombat because she doesn’t have a dragon mark that gives you superpowers, and instead of pouting or kicking up a fuss, she decides to go support her best friend, who just lost both of his arms and has been given little dinky robot ones instead. She doesn’t make it all about her, but about her friend who needs help.
On the subject of Sonya not having an arcana, I also liked that she’s demonstrated to have actual morals rather than a vague sense of goodness that is never challenged or confronted with temptation. You see, Sonya wants an arcana because she wants to engage in Mortal Kombat (DA DA DA, DADADA DA DA DA!), but there are only two ways to gain one. Either you are an elite fighter and vague supernatural powers bestow it on you, or you gain it by killing someone else who has the marking.
Kano has the marking. Now, Kano is a person who has done all sorts of hideous criminal things, and killing him would probably make the world a better place. In fact, he keeps taunting Sonya about killing him, even to the point where she fights him but does not kill him, just to demonstrate that she can in fact beat him. But she doesn’t kill him, because at that point he was technically an ally and wasn’t a direct threat.
Does she kill him? Yes. But only after he turns against the group and tries to murder her twice, in self-defense.
The same way a hero has to struggle for his success to mean anything, a hero’s morals have to be challenged for their morality to have any depth. If the hero is never tempted to do the wrong thing, then their morality doesn’t really mean anything. This is especially true in a situation where doing the wrong thing feels like it might be the right thing, such as killing a loathsome murderer who will get superpowers and probably misuse them to kill even more people.
Right now this particular reviewer is getting his butt kicked by the Youtube algorithm, probably because he puts out videos devoted to science fiction, Asian cinema, cult movies and horror rather than… well, I don’t know what does well in the Youtube algorithm, because I don’t watch it.
And of course, Godzilla movies. He’s fun, dramatic and has luscious hair, and seems like a very nice person. So please support him in whatever way you can!
Sorry it’s been awhile since I last ranted about something that bothered me, but upon watching JLongbone’s rant about the movie Cruella, I had to talk about it.
Specifically, I had to talk about how… I am not sure how Disney came to the conclusion that Cruella was a genius. The movie is crammed with her referring to herself as a genius, and others talking about her genius, and the narrative acts as if she’s a genius even though she does very little geniusing. The entire movie revolves around the idea that she’s not just an artistic genius, but a criminal mastermind who can dominate and manipulate everyone.
Just… where did this characterization come from?
Because I have seen 101 Dalmations, and she is most assuredly not a genius. She is literally just a rich bitch who hires other people to do minor crimes for her. Even if she did the criminal acts in person, it wouldn’t be genius – it would be breaking into a middle-class London house and stealing baby animals that can be easily stuffed into a sack. That’s not Mission: Impossible. It’s not even Ocean’s 11. Actually, I was never quite sure why Roger and Anita never had the police investigate her, since she was literally the only suspect.
And lest you think that she was a fashion design genius… no, she was a consumer of fashion. There are plenty of bibliophiles who can’t write four coherent words, and there are plenty of fashion enthusiasts who know absolutely nothing about making fashion. They’re called celebrities. Ba-dum-tish.
The point is, wanting a coat made out of spotted dogskin is not the same thing as being a fashion designer of genius caliber. Hell, in the original book, Cruella’s husband was the one with actual fashion knowledge and experience; she just took advantage of his position to get lots of furs. Yes, someone actually married… that.
And of all the Disney villains I can think of off the top of my head, Cruella is arguably the least genius of them all. The closest to her in lack-of-genius is Gaston, and… well, at least Gaston knew how to rile up a crowd and manipulate people. Cruella just screams at them, hits them and throws money at them, and then ends up crashing her vehicle and being outwitted by a pair of dogs.
Who looked at this loony rich skank and thought, “Yes, she is a true genius”?
Maybe its one of those really sad attempts to inspire young girls by telling them that they’re brilliant and brave and talented and all-around glorious when… the majority are not, and likely never will be, and setting them up with big egos and inflated self-image is just going to make things rocky later on. Maybe people think that all girls will be amazing brilliant girlbosses if they have self-confidence, and that’s just not true. Self-confidence is often bestowed on people with nothing to back it up, and they typically make life harder for everyone around them.
And don’t even get me started on how the movie makes Cruella not do evil things. This is a woman that is famous for wanting to skin baby animals – whose bright idea was it to have her be kind to dogs? It’s like Disney wants the edgelord cred of having movies about villains, but they’re too cowardly to have their villains actually… do anything villainous.
Remember that one Justice League episode where the Flash and Lex Luthor switched bodies, and Flash declared that he wasn’t going to wash his hands “cuz I’m evil”? That was more evil than Cruella.
No, I haven’t finished it, but something struck me when I was considering the excessive largeness of the cast and how it probably could have been pared down to at least half without losing anything.
In addition to the fact that none of the characters are developed very well, and there are way too many of them, they aren’t interesting to me because… they all have the same backstory. They all come from the same place, with the same mission and goals, and for about six-and-a-half thousand years they pretty much do the same things over and over with each other around. That gives their characters a sameness that just isn’t appealing in an ensemble cast.
Let’s compare them to the Guardians of the Galaxy, a similarly obscure team who was a rousing success and instantly beloved instead of… whatever the Eternals are. Each of the Guardians comes with a different backstory – they each have experiences, tragedies and struggles that are unique and distinct, but which bind them together when they do finally find friends. Rocket’s backstory is wildly different from Drax’s, and his experiences logically affect the way he sees the world and interacts with other people.
That’s why the Guardians feel like such well-rounded characters by comparison – each one is different. With the Eternals, all the differences feel very shallow and surface-level, because there’s not really anything in their histories to make them stand apart from each other.
I mean, imagine if every single character in the MCU was some variation of a rich, talented, arrogant man who is badly injured and humbled, and ends up becoming a nobler version of himself who uses his power and influence for good. That’s fine for Tony Stark. Some people complained that Dr. Strange was too similar, but their wheelhouses are far enough apart that it’s tolerable. But if every character came from the same background and experiences as Strange or Stark, it would be dull and none of them would stand out.
That’s why Ikaris and Sersi’s relationship feels so boring, dull and flat. What do these characters see in each other beyond “I’m hot, you’re hot, let’s do it”? It’s one of the worst romantic relationships I’ve ever seen, because neither one has any actual characteristics that could lead someone to find them attractive beyond the purely physical. Yet we’re supposed to believe they were so in love that they got married and spent over six MILLENNIA together.
And that’s not including the fact that many things about the Eternals that don’t make sense if you think about them for half a second. If they’re basically fleshy androids designed for their mission, why do they feel attraction? Why are they given the capacity to disobey and think for themselves, rather than being designed and programmed to simply do what they were designed to do? Why not just design them so they value the Celestials above all other life, and humans simply won’t matter to them outside of their function for the Celestials? That seems a lot more efficient than constantly tricking them and mind-wiping them so they’ll never find out the truth.
And if you could design a perfect artificial life-form, one indistinguishable from an organic being and possessing immense superpowers… why would you DELIBERATELY give them a handicap like deafness?
This movie is just very poorly-made, poorly-conceived, and very dull. Marvel has a reputation for putting out shiny, competent blockbusters, but they’ve been very shaky lately – Shang-Chi was just okay from what I heard, and Black Widow was a trainwreck. The Eternals just has so many elementary things that should have been fixed in the early stages of screenwriting, long before it went into production.
I mean, this is a movie where Kit Harington is one of the most dynamic and engaging characters. Kit Harington. A man who made a career out of making puppy eyes and sad mouths, and nothing else.
I kind of went off the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Avengers: Endgame, primarily because it bid farewell to most of the original Avengers who made the brand what it was, while ushering in an era of much, much lesser superheroes. It also was when Marvel started spewing out Disney+ TV shows like a geyser, and so far all of them have had serious issues of varying degrees.
But there is one Marvel show that should have been a TV show, and that’s The Eternals.
I admit that I am only about halfway through this Chloe Zhao superhero movie, but I sincerely doubt that it’s going to turn around and suddenly blow me away in the second half. It is, to put it simply, plodding. It just trudges along rather than sweeping the audience in its wake, never making you excited about anything that happens. Even when something shocking or cataclysmic occurs… you don’t feel it.
In the first half of the movie, there is a horrifying revelation about the protagonists, their natures, their mission, their very existence and everything they believed about themselves… and their general attitude towards this is, “Aww, that sucks a little.” It is so anticlimactic, and it just made me even more indifferent to most of these characters, most of whom are generic (Thena, Sersi), bland (Ikaris) or annoying (Sprite, Druig).
Remember when Captain America discovered that HYDRA had been infesting SHIELD for the past seventy years, and had corrupted it completely from within? That was a shocking moment, and it held the weight of its import. But I don’t feel that with The Eternals.
I should care. It doesn’t make me care.
Part of the problem is just that Chloe Zhao’s direction is very uninspired, and the script is extremely meh. It’s just boring. But even if there was some pep and zing in this movie, it would still have some serious issues that need to be addressed… and most of those could have been handled by making it a TV series rather than a movie. Ten, maybe twelve episodes could have told the same story, but with more meat on its bones.
Part of the problem is that the main cast is too large. Look at the Guardians of the Galaxy – they have five members of their main cast, and a small number of supporting characters bouncing off them. Each of the Guardians has a distinct personality that complements or conflicts with every other member, and the cast is small enough that nobody gets lost in the shuffle. This is not the case with The Eternals – there are too many Eternals in the main cast, and thus there isn’t time enough to explore any of them except maybe Sersi. Most of them are extremely underdeveloped, and I just ended up thinking of them as “the Superman clone” or “the guy who looks like Credence Barebone” or “the little annoying one.” The only character traits that really set them apart were that some of them were very bitter and pissy.
This problem would probably be lessened in a TV format, where we could have episodes focusing more on the many different characters and what sets them apart from each other, as well as their feelings about their mission, their history, and the events of the story unfolding in the present. Maybe they could give Ikaris a personality.
The other problem is simple: the scope of the story is too big for a movie with this many characters. The Eternals have been on earth for seven thousand years, and supposedly have been defending and assisting humanity for most of that time. We get some flashbacks to their time in the past every now and then, but again, it feels pretty underdeveloped, and it doesn’t really give the feeling of those seven thousand years. We need more to really grasp it.
A TV show? You could introduce multiple glimpses of the past, all across the world, and you could work your way through those seven thousand years incrementally, all the way to the present, rather than hopping straight from 5,000 BC to the 1600s, with a ten-second wedding detour.
I admit I have not finished the movie yet, but the handling of it so far has not given me confidence that Chloe Zhao is suddenly going to give me a wild, exciting experience. It’s been dull and plodding, and all signs point to it continuing to be dull and plodding.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was considered unfilmable for a very long time – the story was too big, too fantastical.
But in the late 1990s, New Zealand director Peter Jackson got the green light to shoot the “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy: a sprawling fantasy epic that chronicles the tipping point of the mythical Middle-Earth, and the humble hobbits who change the world. The richness of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world is translated exquisitely into a movie trilogy full of beauty, horror, hope, humor and vibrant characters.
“The Fellowship of the Ring” introduces us to the hobbits. Eccentric old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) leaves the peaceful Shire at his 111st birthday, leaving all he has to his young nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) — including a golden Ring that makes the wearer invisible. But the grey wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) reveals that it’s actually the One Ring, which is the source of power for the demonic Dark Lord Sauron. So Frodo and his best pals leave the Shire and join a band of elves, men, and dwarves to take the Ring to the only place where it can be destroyed.
“The Two Towers” picks up immediately after “Fellowship” ends, with Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) lost on the path to Mordor, and being stalked by the murderous Ring-junkie Gollum (Andy Serkis). Elsewhere, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) make a desperate stand with the kingdom of Rohan, but must face off against the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and his orc armies.
“Return of the King” brings the trilogy to a dizzying head: Frodo and Sam’s friendship is threatened by Gollum’s trickery, leading Frodo into a potential fatal trap. Gandalf and Pippin head for the city of Gondor, while Aragorn summons an ancient army that might be able to turn the tide against Mordor. But no matter how many battles they win, the war will never be won if Frodo is not able to destroy the Ring once and for all.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is one of those stories that is too big to fit into one movie – it’s almost too big to fit into three. While Jackson had to streamline the story considerably, the heart of the original novels is still there, with its message about how misfortunes can become blessings, and even the smallest and least imposing person can change the world. Despite the richness of the world-building and the complexity of the characters, it all boils down to that.
Changes are certainly made, such as altering and adding to the characters of Arwen and Faramir, as well as obviously having to leave a lot of events and characters out. Certainly the trilogy doesn’t need Tom Bombadil. But the overall story is remarkably faithful to Tolkien’s tale, and Jackson’s script with partner Philippa Boyens is a masterpiece of storytelling – full of humor and dramatic moments, adapting Tolkien’s richly-archaic prose into powerful speeches (such as Sam’s powerful final speech in “The Two Towers”).
Furthermore, it’s a beautifully-constructed movie – the exquisite sets and expansive New Zealand landscapes are breathtaking; the battle scenes are bloody and exciting; the different cultures of Middle-Earth feel deep and well-lived-in. All the trappings — clothes, jewelry, even beer mugs — are realistic. And the special effects are almost entirely convincing-looking, especially the gruesome Gollum. He’s the first fully convincing CGI character, and after awhile you’ll forget he is made digitally.
It also has a cast who give the performance of their lives – Elijah Wood as the wide-eyed, wounded Frodo Baggins; Sean Astin as his steadfast best friend Sam, who supports him no matter what happens; and Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd as the mischievous but brave Merry and Pippin. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is the prototypical wizard – kindly and grandfatherly, but capable of anger and fear when confronted by the Ring – and Viggo Mortensen is outstanding as the noble king-in-waiting Aragorn. Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies round out the cast as the elegant elf Legolas and doughty, down-to-earth dwarf Gimli – and there are a bunch of other great performances by actors such as Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, and many many more.
The extended versions of the movies are even better than the theatrical versions — plenty of cut scenes that fill out the characters and plotline are put back in. As a result, the extended versions cleave more closely to the original books. Not to mention TV specials, featurettes, cast commentary on everything in the movies, Sean Astin’s sweet little short film “The Long and Short of It,” and extensive behind-the-scenes footage that will inform viewers about special effects, sets, direction, and everyday life filming “Lord of the Riings.”
The movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy are classics for a reason – while they have some flaws, Peter Jackson managed to adapt a brilliant story into brilliant, beloved movies. Powerful, gripping and full of beauty.
“Malignant” is one of those movies that is… hard to judge. It’s hard to judge because the intent of it is not entirely clear, and so you’re left unsure whether the filmmaker responsible for it was successful in their ambitions.
Specifically, it’s hard to tell if it was meant to be funny or not.
In the broadest sense, “Malignant” is a horror movie, by the current king of horror, James Wan. And for the first two acts, it serves as a perfectly serviceable buildup to some kind of horrifying revelation, with distinct overtones of the gothic and giallo. Then… the third act happens, and somehow the drama, the absurd action and the bizarreness of it all splatters across the screen like so much CGI blood. It’s absolutely gutsplitting.
When her abusive husband cracks her head against a wall, pregnant Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis) locks herself in her bedroom. But she’s woken in the night by the murder of her husband – and an attack by a mysterious figure with long hair over his face, which leads to her losing her baby. Detectives Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) investigate, but the only evidence to be found is bizarre and inexplicable, so they suspect Madison.
Upon returning to her home, Madison begins having visions of the killer hunting down and murdering other people – and it turns out that yes, her visions are coming true. The problem is, it’s all tied up in Madison’s mysterious childhood, before she was adopted by her parents… and she can’t remember that. To find out who “Gabriel” is, and how to stop him before he murders again, Madison will have to uncover a horrifying truth about herself.
I’m going to be blunt about this – “Malignant” is not a good movie. It has plot holes up the wazoo, a massive plot twist that can be easily figured out in the first ten minutes, and countless unanswered questions. For instance, why doesn’t Madison have a scar? How is Gabriel able to control electricity? Why does he wear a leather coat? Why does he have superhuman agility? All of these questions will not be answered, because the plot comes unraveled like a cheap sweater when you think about it for more than a few minutes!
But at the same time, there’s something strangely lovable about the movie. It has the innate drama and striking, haunting visual artistry seen in old giallo movies, right down to the copious gore, mingled with a kind of bad 1990s horror-movie aesthetic that just isn’t seen anymore. The opening sequence alone is a block of pure cheese, and it’s beautiful.
This gives the movie a rather inconsistent tone – during most of the police work and Madison’s daily life, we’re given a fairly realistic, subdued directorial style from Wan. Then Gabriel appears, and suddenly everything is crashing lightning, gothic castle-hospitals, and medical awards being used to brutally stab people to death. And of course, there’s the third act, where everything is dialed up to eleven – the sentimentality, the cheese, the bizarre plot twists.
This includes a scene that seems like it was made to be hilarious, but I honestly can’t tell if it was – a scene in which “Gabriel” carves his way through the police station, with superhuman acrobatics, snapped spines and rivers of gore… all performed backwards. James Wan, what exactly was your intent here?
Annabelle Wallis is merely passable as Madison – she’s okay when the role demands she be scared, and her crazy-eyes stare is pretty solid, but most other emotions just make her look like she has a stomachache. Maddie Hasson gives a pretty good performance as Madison’s younger sister, and Young has a striking presence as the police detective who looks beneath the veneer of the obvious to find out what is happening.
If nothing else, be glad that James Wan got the chance to make “Malignant” – an original horror movie that isn’t part of a glossy franchise, and which wears its niche influences like a badge of honor. It’s not a good movie, but it is an entertaining and memorable one.