Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To My Surprise, Just The Thing I Was Looking For

     1982's The Thing, directed by John Carpenter and starring the great Kurt Russell, can easily be classified as one of my favorite horror films. Its cold, claustrophobic story mixed with entertaining characters and cool creature effects gel together to create an icy horror great. Thankfully, 2011's The Thing pays homage to the original ideas without disrespect, and although the story is more-of-the-same (technically, the new film chronologically is a prequel), it shoves enough scares and gore down the throats of the audience that any horror-freak's blood lust would be satiated. And although the film relies on a bit too much CGI as it chugs along to the semi-questionable ending, it always provides enough tension to make you forget you're not watching real effects like the 1982 version.
     A thought that passed through my head about a year ago: Hollywood executives decided to remake Carpenter's The Thing (which is already a remake)? Sounds like a fucking terrible idea to me. A thought that passed through my head about a month ago upon witnessing the first trailer for the new version: Hmmmm...that actually looks sort of cool. Slick and scary, similar to the Americanized Let Me In (a remake of the slightly superior Swedish film Let the Right One In). A thought that passed through my head last night: I'm officially surprised. The filmmakers told a new version of the story with successfully adding worthwhile horror and scares, and although they relied on too much CGI, it was still pretty damn effective. 
     The story of The Thing (any version) has the potential to always be entertaining and worthwhile. It's about an Alien life form that can manipulate its cells to imitate any living creature. No one is safe, and it's very hard to determine who has the "virus". Eventually, "the thing" that is living inside the human or animal it is mimicking reveals itself, and that reveal is always totally horrific and generally disgusting and vomit-inducing. It's got just about any appendage that is able to penetrate human flesh and bone, it seems like a spider and lobster's love child and it lets out a piercing scream that would send shivers down the most skeptical of spines.
     It helps that the last couple of film versions take place in a very uncomfortable and claustrophobic place: The South Pole. Some scientists and general laborers find an ancient spacecraft and the body of an unknown creature enclosed in ice nearby. The Ice thaws. General hysteria ensues. You see, all of the humans are in an isolated research base and major storm is blowing through. (Isn't it always when you need it the least?). Anything that comes into contact with The Thing or its blood could be infected. Who is who, and could anyone still be human? That is the basis for these films, and it serves up paranoia and tension at an extremely quick pace. There's no reason to speak about the actors: Scientist #1, Bad-ass #1, and Frightened Female #2 play their roles with the grace and honor of a total pro.
     This most recent incarnation of The Thing is a great concept with cool moments but is also a little overblown at times in regards to the excessive use of CGI effects instead of more natural looking creatures. However, that fact doesn't particularly hurt the overall enjoyment. When watching The Thing, you take the story for what it is and accept it without much of a sense of disbelief. Characters blow shit up with flamethrowers and slowly creep down dark, narrow corridors, and the viewer watches between the tiny cracks of their closed fingers, hoping they don't end up like many of the film's stars: eaten, half-digested, spurting blood and pieces of skin, shrieking that terrible scream.     (B)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Primary Pressure: The Ides of March Review

     I know what you're thinking. Another blog post with a few paragraphs about how wonderful an actor Ryan Gosling is. It's not my fault that his movies seem to be the only ones worth watching lately: after seeing the incredible Drive a few weeks ago, no new release seemed to spark my interest enough to get into my car, shift into drive, and head on down to the local Cinemagic. That is until The Ides of March was released this past Friday. Even still, my interest was barely sparked: a political drama that looked solid if unspectacular, starring great actors but looking like a less interesting version of 2010's great book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. Unfortunately, my suspicions were more confirmed than denied. The Ides of March, though a very well-acted and sometimes absorbing drama, is a been-there-seen-that story that is good but not great and oftentimes tells a lesson that most people know: politics can and do corrupt more often than not.
     The Ides of March tells the story of Governor Morris (portrayed by George Clooney, in a typical George Clooney fashion), a Presidential hopeful that is full of ideas that many liberals wish Obama would produce, myself included (basically atheist beliefs, pro-gay marriage, etc). Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager played by the aforementioned Gosling, is what you would call Hot Shit. He works hard, has great ideas and is fully invested in his commitment to Morris and his beliefs. Meyers' boss, the main campaign manager, is a hardened and experienced man played with typical vulgar cleverness by the always amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman. You might think that with Clooney's real life political beliefs (Democratic) that the film tears Republicans apart. Fortunately, it doesn't: the entire picture deals with one Democratic primary, and Republican ideas are barely mentioned and the entire film is enclosed the state of Ohio's Democratic primary bubble.
     Morris is going against Senator Ted Pullman, though we don't see too much of him. What we do see is plenty of his campaign manager, played with a rat-like cockiness by the great Paul Giamatti. The film deals with many issues that plenty of Presidential hopefuls must face: betrayal within your own team, unforgiving hatred toward the other side, and different types of scandal. Above all, it shows us something. Something that isn't a new idea but it still worth questioning: can any Presidential hopeful rise above the dregs of the political process and win without sacrificing an aspect of themselves that totally defines why people love and believe in them? The answer, though a complicated one, seems to be a resounding No.
     The problem, you see, is that this question had an obvious answer. Between the plethora of books, magazine stories, television shows, and documentary films that deal with the subject, it's pretty clear that the political process is as ripe with betrayal and scandal as much (if not more so) than any other profession. No candidate can follow through on all of their promises: it's virtually impossible. There is no clear hero or villain in The Ides of March. Every character evolves in one way or another, and they nearly always act out of their own self-preservation instead of the greater good. You can hate and love each character, even in the same scene.
     The George Clooney-directed The Ides of March is a wonderfully-acted story dealing with behind-the-scenes whispers and wild allegations. It just didn't surprise me enough to love it. The title, however, is quite appropriate. In modern times, the term Ides of March refers to the death of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., where at least 6 conspirators took it upon themselves to stab Caesar 23 times in an unbelievable act of betrayal. Clearly the metaphor is more than fitting: in politics, its kill or be killed, whether it's with words, back-stabbing actions, or a very sharp knife.      (B-)