Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day gift ideas you probably won't find at Hallmark.

The Holiday Gift guide you were hoping never to see?

1. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill. A cheerful, festive title! Happy Valentine's Day! Tell them that you bought the book on eBay and that it comes with a ghost! How come nobody ever gave me a vengeful ghost for Valentine's Day?

2. Let the Right One In. A vampire film that is really a love story between a boy and a girl who is "not really a girl." Romantic! Also it is a secret test to see if they realize how oh my god depressing the happy ending is.

3. The End of Alice by A. M. Holmes. The first story I ever read by A. M. Holmes was about a boy who was secretly dating his sister's Barbie doll. The story had weird overtones of the sister abusing Barbie, and it ended with the boy using Ken as a sex toy. Now imagine that writer writing a book about murderous pedophiles. This is the perfect gift.

4. Little tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith. Patricia Highsmith is one of my absolute favourite writers, and this book is not why. It is almost entirely hateful, to women in particular but also just to everyone. If Valentine's day is rolling around, and you haven't been able to break things off, give them this book and tell them it really speaks to you.

5. If, on the other hand, Valentine's day is rolling around and you are starting to think they might be the one, you could get them Highsmith's far superior The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder. A book of animals killing the people who mistreat them. It is just as nasty as the Misogyny book, but this is the kind of nasty anyone can get behind. And true love loves to hate together.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More screaming: The Others (2001)

The Others opens with a scream. Nicole Kidman screams herself awake. She sits up in bed, confused and off balance and we watch as she realizes where she is. We watch her come to the conclusion that it must have been a nightmare that woke her up. Without any other information, the audience is left believing it was a nightmare, too. It feels cheap at first, to open with a scream that doesn't mean anything, but as the movie goes on it becomes clear that this isn't a movie built on cheap scares. The scream is a clue, and it's the good kind of clue, where you don't realize what it is until you're looking back on the movie trying to make sense of things.

Later in the film there's another scream. One of the children is screaming, and Nicole Kidman has to unlock a series of doors in the house to get to them, scrambling and panicking as we hear the voice screaming for its mother. It's tense, sure, but it isn't scary until she opens that final door and the boy is just sitting there calmly. It wasn't him that screamed. The screaming starts again, and this time it sounds more like the girl, and so Nicole Kidman starts running again, and again her child is just sitting there with her homework. It takes the tense panic of a horror movie scream and at the last second it twists it into an unsettling quiet moment instead.

The Others is such a great ghost story. I'm going to give away the twist ending here, but this movie came out a decade ago, and there is a scene at the end that I have to mention. And, I think it should be said that the twist in this movie is anything but a gimmick. Watching it again, knowing the twist, only made the movie more satisfying.

At the end, when you learn that Nicole Kidman and her children are dead, there is an unexpectedly touching moment where they are leaning against the wall, hugging, and she tells them about their murders and her suicide. She tells them about how she put the gun to her forehead and pulled the trigger and then... nothing. And how suddenly she could hear their laughter in the next room! God had given her another chance! And then one of the children says, "are we in limbo?" and she says she doesn't know. She doesn't even know if limbo exists. It's a moment of honesty that is very satisfying from a character who has been trying to deny what she knows for the whole movie. This whole scene is such a satisfying conclusion to the relationship arcs between the characters that you almost forget this is a ghost story, but then she holds them tighter and says, "I do know one thing, though. This house is ours. Say it with me, children. This house is ours."

And their three voices repeat again and again, while the camera shows the empty rooms of the house, "This house is ours. This house is ours. This house is ours."

a couple short reviews for a couple bad movies

Jennifer's Body (2009) has dialogue that is sometimes painfully stupid and sometimes fun and clever. The characters talk in stylized slang that makes it clear the creators want us to see Jennifer's Body as the spiritual successor to Heathers, but slick visuals, one liners, pretty stars and a lack of any memorable substance establish this as the spiritual successor to I Know what you did last Summer. 

Final Destination (2000) looked so complicated and awesome in the trailer, and I remember having enjoyed it when it first came out. It's a fun premise - death coming for a group of teens who had avoided a plane crash. Like a gory game of mousetrap, with Rube Goldbergesque grisly deaths. But, like the actual game of mousetrap, it was cool on the commercial, but turned out to be kind of boring and stupid. I suspect this is a movie where the sequels might actually be more fun. There's a lot of potential in the premise.