Thursday, January 28, 2016

Horror's in Fashion: Plush

I've decided to start a new feature where I divulge my favorite horror movie fashion. It's going to be awesome, because horror is always rad and unique, right down to the clothes.

First up, Plush. Now, granted, this is not a great horror movie. It's almost in that TV-movie-thriller category (I just looked it up and found out it's a Blumhouse movie, so... yeah, their history is patchy, to say the least), but I still love it. Emily Browning totally saves it from the gutter by being a badass babe with a great voice - and, of course, excellent fashion sense.

At the very beginning of the movie she's got this whole raven-haired, heavy metal thing going on. Note the leather corset and the feathers.

And look at her gorgeous pregnant-lady wedding dress. Love the crown. And the shoes.

After tragedy strikes (it's not a spoiler, it happens in the first three minutes, y'all), she chops off her hair and goes bleach blonde, red lips. I daresay it's almost Taylor Swift-esque...

...but she mixes it up with this space-cadet-art-angel look that I'm really digging.

These sunglasses, man.

I love the costume department's idea of "rock star workout gear," when it's really so 90s pop star. Like, a Spice Girl could easily have worn this exact outfit in concert.

When they're shooting a music video, they bust out a Marie-Antoinette-in-a-straitjacket costume (at least that's how I interpret it) which is, frankly, boss. And look at those heels.

And finally, there's the kimono that makes me wonder why I don't have cooler loungewear.

I was just going to stick to Emily's wardrobe, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this leather jacket. I wish I had it in me to pull off that many studs. With that much leather.

I love this movie's balls-out approach to fashion, man. I really do.

That's it for now. What are your favorite horror movie fashions? Tell me in the comments or shoot me something on Twitter.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ranking Blumhouse's Netflix Dump From Least-Worst to Worst

So Blumhouse recently dropped three new horror flicks directly to Netflix – Visions, The Veil, and Curve. This, of course, did not bode well for the quality of the films (you don't quietly drop a movie on Netflix if it's a real winner), but because they featured some bigger names – Jessica Alba, Thomas Jane, and Isla Fischer, to name a few – I was intrigued. At least the production value would be good, I figured. How bad could they really be?

Varying degrees of bad, is the answer. But all bad.

Thus, I decided to rank the films in order of Least Worst to Most Worst for your pleasure (and no, I don’t care about the grammar of my chosen title). You might thank me for saving you from wasting nearly five hours of your life – or closer to seven if, like me, you have to sit through one of the movies a harrowing second time in order to get half a grip on what’s going on. Luckily, only one of these movies even broke the 90-minute mark, so my sanity is still mostly intact. On the other hand, you might be smarter than me and realize that there’s not any point in even reading about mediocre horror churned out like so much sausage… but what are horror fans if not gluttons for punishment? I sat through a Saw movie every year for seven years, in theaters, “because it’s tradition.” Non-horror fans don’t know from pain.

So I've ranked them here, along with a handy little barometer for those looking for something to watch during this weekend's impending Snowmaggedon. Follow my advice at your own risk...

Least Worst: Visions

Seriously, doesn't she look adorable even while acting terrified of benign objects?
Isla Fisher plays a pregnant woman who moves to a vineyard with her husband to start a New Life (let’s start a bingo board of all the clichés right now). She’s recovering from a Traumatic Incident, is recently off painkillers (For the Baby), and there’s a Creepy Old House on the property that’s been Abandoned For Years. She starts seeing Visions, but are they just a product of her traumatized mind, or are they real?

…From the setup alone, you can probably imagine all of the two ways this thing can go. And that’s the movie’s main problem; it’s incredibly generic, from the spooky fog floating outside the window, to the menacing hooded figure that only the main character seems to see, to the incredibly obvious villain. There are hints of Rosemary’s Baby and Inside here, but that only makes it worse because those comparisons are so unbelievably out of this movie’s league. It’s an inoffensive unthrilling thriller that would be well suited to the Lifetime channel.

The Worst Things About This Movie: The fact that we see the villain coming from a mile away. The blandness of everything. The fact that a major "scare" involves a mannequin.
The Least Worst Things About This Movie: Isla Fisher looking adorably pregnant while running around screaming. The vineyard setting is nice.
Who Should Watch This Movie During the Storm: People who will spend all day cozy on the couch with some hot chocolate and want a "scary" movie that won't startle them out of their comfortable existence.

Medium Worst: Curve

This is what indifference looks like, people.
I was convinced that this would be my favorite of the three, since I have a curiously strong affinity for both wilderness survival horror and single-setting horror movies. Unfortunately, Curve turned out to be more 247 Degrees than The Ruins. (What? The Ruins is my favorite single setting horror film, bar none.) Okay, it wasn’t as bad as 247 Degrees, but it was pretty dull. Julianne Hough plays a bride-to-be taking a little road trip while contemplating breaking up with her fiancé. There’s a lot of exposition and sad music, which does little to make you care about the character’s situation or raise the stakes, until she offers a ride to a handsome stranger (who, obviously, turns out to be nuts – which, really… is The Hitcher not yet ingrained into our society’s collective psyche?). They end up getting in a car accident and Hough spends most of the movie trapped in the car, where her greatest adversary is a rat.

That pretty much sums up why this movie isn’t very good. Yes, there’s a psycho killer outside of the car, but he doesn’t really do anything other than occasionally taunt Hough and then walk away for long stretches of time. There is a pretty good bit with a flood, but the last part of the movie feels tacked-on and out of place, like it’s two different stories. They could have raised the stakes with the wilderness stuff and avoided a lot of the “crazy killer” clichés.

The Worst Things About This Movie: The movie fails to use the wilderness as an enemy as effectively as it could have, and Teddy Sears makes for a subpar replacement villain with all his scenery-chewing.
The Least Worst Things About This Movie: Per usual, Julianne Hough is pretty middle-of-the-road acting-wise, but she’s likeable enough. There are worse things you could watch while folding laundry.
Who Should Watch This Movie During the Storm: Those of us who will spend all day grumbling about shoveling our sidewalk and car out of the snow, and need to realize that a lot of people have it worse than us right now.

Most Worst: The Veil

No one saw this coming? Really??
Oh, boy. This movie. I’m not even entirely sure what to say about it, because while the first two films are just annoyingly generic, this one was… something else. Sadly for me, this is the only film of the three that was more than an hour and a half (93 minutes), and those extra three minutes felt much, much longer than they should have. I’m still not certain if The Veil was as nonsensical as I think it was, or if it was just so bad that I couldn’t focus on it long enough to keep up with what was going on. I actually sat through it twice, hoping that would help, but I think it only made me hate it more and understand it less.

The Veil is about the mass suicide of a Jonestown-like cult, with Thomas Jane playing the leader of The Church of Heaven’s Veil, Jim Jacobs – because they needed to make it just that obvious. Lily Rabe plays Sarah Hope, the lone survivor of the mass suicide, and Jessica Alba is the documentarian trying to uncover the “real” story. What ensues is far too many minutes of running around in the dark, flashbacks and videotapes of the cult performing hackneyed rituals, and way, way, way too much of Thomas Jane shouting out religious platitudes like an auctioneer on speed. I assume he was going for “mysteriously charismatic cult leader,” but he comes off like a crazed villain the entire time, and it’s impossible to understand why people would listen to him long enough to decide that killing themselves was an a-okay plan.

There’s also a ton of back-and-forth between time periods through videotapes, flashbacks, and actual time travel, and it’s just a total mess. Add in Jessica Alba being a pretty shitty crier and some truly illogical leaps, and you’ve got a movie that even Lily Rabe can’t save. I really hated this movie, y’all.

The Worst Things About This Movie: Thomas Jane’s interpretation of “charisma.” Jessica Alba and her crocodile tears.
The Least Worst Things About This Movie: Literally nothing.
Who Should Watch This Movie During the Storm: Stir-crazy people you want to push over the edge, you malicious bastard.

And that's that. Hopefully you've learned something. I'm off to contemplate my life choices now.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Hateful Eight Roadshow and the Revival of the Movie-Going Experience

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite movies was The Great Race, a 1965 film featuring Tony Curtis (a.k.a. “The Great Leslie”), Jack Lemmon (a.k.a. “Professor Fate”), and Natalie Wood (a.k.a. the first obvious feminist I had the pleasure of encountering as a child). If you don’t know it, it’s a classic in every sense of the word, at least to my mind: Professor Fate, tired of always being one-upped by the debonair Great Leslie, challenges him to an automobile race from New York to Paris. Leslie, of course, accepts, and thus commences a sweeping, nearly three-hour journey across continents, wherein the characters encounter saloons and outlaws, snowstorms and melting icebergs, royals and doppelgangers, and much more.

Now, watching a movie was almost always an event in my family, regardless of the film. Friday nights, we’d order a ton of food and spread out on the couch with our plates of lo mein and dumplings, or my brother and I would eagerly await the snacks my mom and dad would bring down to the den, usually including this disgusting popcorn-and-melted-gummy-bears concoction my dad made that we’d grown to love. And we’d get all excited deciding – or fighting about – what movie we were going to watch that night. We were just that kind of house. Basically, movies were a big deal.

I’m sure we watched hundreds of movies in that room, but there were certain movies that we came back to again and again. One of those was The Great Race. Maybe because it’s such a long, all-encompassing saga, or maybe it’s the inclusion of an overture and an intermission, which I found irresistibly quaint and peculiar as a kid. In any case, I know I always felt somewhat more grown up watching it, like it was a special occasion I’d been invited to participate in. This past Christmas, as I sat in a darkened theater with my parents, my brother, and my husband, and the screen lit up – blood red, the word “overture” emblazoned in thick black letters – to the strains of Ennio Morricone’s ominous score, The Great Race popped into my head. Although the two movies have almost nothing in common, they do share one thing, and that is the feeling that watching them is An Event.

Of course, that’s exactly what Quentin Tarantino wanted when he conceived the idea of turning The Hateful Eight’s premiere into a limited, throwback-style roadshow: “The thing about the roadshows is that it made movies special. It wasn’t just a movie playing at your local theater. They would do these big musical productions before the normal release of the film. You would get a big, colorful program. It was a presentation.” Not only would The Hateful Eight have the music and the programs; Tarantino insisted the movie be shown on 70mm film – a gargantuan task requiring the skilled hands of a special projection and sound company (read more about that in this fascinating article). You have to give Tarantino credit for being passionate enough to seize upon such a monumental undertaking and run with it.

Despite some setbacks – since seeing the movie myself, I’ve heard tell of melting film and other issues at some theaters, none of which I encountered, luckily – I think Tarantino pulled it off completely. When my group and I arrived at the theater, we were presented with the programs, which featured the cast, full pages of glossy photos, and facts about the making of the film. I avoided looking inside too carefully for fear of spoiling anything, but it still felt distinctive, like getting the playbill before a play. Inviting.

Now, although I love the theater near my home, I will say that on a good day, the seats are old and squeaky and the audience is typically kind of… spirited. On a bad day, your seat is practically sagging to the floor and the audience is chock full of boisterous kids with little parental supervision. I’m a little surprised the roadshow even made it to South Philly, but I guess that’s the benefit of living in a city. However. The “Event Effect” seemed to permeate the entire audience during The Hateful Eight. Despite tons of chair squeaking before the start of the show and a packed theater, you could have heard a pin drop during the movie itself – which is especially significant when you consider that the movie has a runtime of over three hours. I’m not sure I’ve seen an audience sit so still for so long – without ever peeking at their phones, no less – well, pretty much ever.

Frankly, I don’t believe it’s because The Hateful Eight was so incredible that the audience was awed into total silence. The Hateful Eight is a solid, entertaining movie, but it’s still a long, imperfect film. It has slow parts. It makes a few missteps. But it was the “special event” aspect of the whole endeavor that really suckered me in – the fact that it was shot in Ultra Panavision, a format that hasn’t been used since 1964; the unusually wide aspect ratio (2.76:1, rather than the 1:85.1 used for most movies shown digitally in theaters today) that made vast shots of the snow-covered prairie and interior shots alike seem positively grand or unbearably intimate. The program, the overture, and the intermission – all the little hallmarks of an exclusive experience for which one would typically expect to pay far more than a few dollars.

Tarantino’s “roadshow” provided something that even today’s biggest blockbusters no longer seem capable of: the promise of a complete movie-going experience. He provided an experience for serious film geeks to sink their teeth into, an experience worthy of and in deference to our collective, enduring love of cinema. The fact that it was such a feat to pull off in itself proves Tarantino’s own love for the art of film. Had I not seen The Hateful Eight roadshow version, I’m not sure I’d ever have found myself very driven to watch it again. But given the memory I now have – waiting in the dark with my family for something singular to begin – I’ll always appreciate the film, Tarantino, and the memory he gave me. I’ll put it on the shelf right next to The Great Race.