The title of David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is fitting, for its hackneyed premise—that there may be a latent lust for violence in even the most innocuous-appearing person—calls to mind the narrator’s dronings from the America’s Serial Killers documentary I watched a while back. Like so many films that are calculated to shock, its presentation is surprisingly safe. Skinning the film’s chest of its blood-caked epithelial layer reveals the heart of a story beating as regularly as the ticking of a time bomb of which the viewer is the only real victim.
Sideways, an excursion of two middle-aged friends into California wine country that has all the outward trappings of a nachos-and-cheese experience—bromance; loose women; and, above all, near-constant imbibing—manages to retain its own philosophy without crashing headlong into the aesthetic dead-end of excessive pleasure-seeking of either the bibulous or libidinous kind. On life’s roads, there’s rarely a direct route, might begin an interpretation of the film’s intriguingly cryptic title. And that’s a good thing. The smaller side streets that wind around the detours of human sorrow often arrive at sunnier shores.
South Park got it right: George Clooney loves the smell of his own farts. The whole audience could be holding their noses, and he’d go right on smirking. So smug and talentless is he that he even manages to be vomitatious in a role that’s tailor-made for him. In Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman features this bronzed hunk of I’m-better-than-you manflesh in equally shallow soap-opera-level claptrap about a smarmy smartass named Ryan Bingham who fires corporate employees for a living.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound commits the cardinal artistic sin of trying so hard to tell us something important that it tells us nothing insightful or interesting. It puzzles me why a director who generally understood better than any other the power of the camera to show rather than tell would want to pontificate about the use of psychoanalysis to investigate repressed memories as if he were delivering a thesis at a symposium of mental-health professionals. The film constitutes little more than dime-store Freudian pedantry.
I’m normally not much of a John Carpenter fan, finding Halloween an overtouted mediocrity of a film even by B-movie standards. Yet I think The Fog illustrates where its captain-obvious teen-slasher predecessor went wrong. For in this later film—whose lukewarm critical reception puzzles me—Carpenter recognizes that evil is most terrifying when its source is supernatural and uncertain. Establishing the atmosphere of foreboding are two lines from an Edgar Allan Poe poem with which the film begins: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” As we watch, our fear grows in proportion to the mist that closes in upon the coastal Californian town of Antonio Bay. A vague, indeterminate anxiety increasingly suffocates each breath we exhale, not knowing when or what creatures will emerge from the green glow that emanates from within this brumous blanket.
It’s alive! An elegant declaration of mad-scientific achievement, that. Dr. Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) terse interjection means more to horror-movie lore than all the chainsaw gorefests and Michael Myers clones that the slick John Carpenters in the “sequel industry” ever reinvented. Still, the original Frankenstein is a bit stiff and blockheaded at times and should probably best be known as the prequel to the magnificent Bride of Frankenstein, which is doubtless among the greatest horror movies ever made.