Sunday, June 24, 2012

RUTZ Rant #3

Last time I saw you is where my heart went. The dark places the people that take care of us represent. A world filled with anger for reasons no one wants write to down. I will watch with the rest as everybody seems to enjoy the safari. The things we want so badly. The things people already have. The things that can be taken away from you and the people who are taken away from us. What do we really want? And who the hell is we? Last time I checked it was every man for himself out here. We have plenty of time to figure out new exciting ways to destroy each other. Maybe I will pay attention to politics again. Maybe I can help. I don’t have enough money to pay “them” off so there goes plan A. The only thing this generation understands is CASH. Everything else is a placebo.  Ugly desires in the night that can lead sane people to turn around and shoot you in the face. We Americans act as GODS, boring ourselves to the point that we have to go online and type into the mural of internet Twitter history “I am bored”. People are starving and being bombed in other places, be glad you are bored. I’ll take boredom any day over dodging bullets in my own house. We have a good thing going in this country and some greedy crooked fuckers who want absolute control. They want their families to live longer than yours, so they send your seeds to wars not their own children. We give these powerful people whom we elect an amazing array of comfort which upsets me due to the fact that their job should not be making them feel comfortable. Maybe public office should be a hard job like construction. Let’s put all these pigs in the sun where we can see them and hopefully get an idea what country they will send our seeds to next, to fight a war that will mean EVERYTHING to them and mean nothing to you. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: Pet Sematary

Directed by Mary Lambert    

Line that stays with me:  “No fair, no fair”

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together. 

The first time I watched “Pet Sematary” I was seven years old. I will never forget it. It gave me nightmares for 3 or 4 years. The blood-ridden face of Victor Pascow appearing in my mind every time I closed my eyes and the terrible vicious sound of those roaring trucks racing down “that road” as the most famous character from the film Jud Crandall put it. I believe this is a very special film. It is by far my favorite American horror film of 80’s or the 90’s. (Pet Sematary was released in 1989) Today it is a very hit or miss film with audiences. Like me some viewers saw the film at a very young age and it probably put the fear of death into them like nothing they have ever experienced before.  “Pet Sematary” is one of those films that you truly enjoy when you get on the film’s wave length. Meaning, the mind set you have in the sense of life and death before viewing the film will either allow you to take this tragic reality in emotionally and get caught up in the horror, or merely view the film as boring melodrama.  I’ve heard that comment from teenagers these days who have watched the film, “It’s boring” “It’s slow”.  There is defiantly a wide generational gap when it comes to horror films. Now it’s all about the frenzy, the Rob Zombie horror films, which are great in their own right. But there’s something special about a horror film that creeps up on you. It is very essential for a horror film to have great pacing, to deliver some sort of spookiness without really showing us anything at all. Horror films are supposed to mess with our heads, not just our stomachs.  “Pet Sematary” achieves this level of spookiness and so much more. It is a special film for many people for reasons better left unsaid. 

The writing of the film is the first thing I have to get into. As a young person watching the devastating scenes of honest horrible deaths in this film, and not knowing anything about the horrors of REAL life truly shakes you up the first time. The deaths you were watching were very possible; anybody can get hit by a truck. Stephen King loves to create horror stories that disrupt your sleep. This day and age a cynical young viewer watches that scene of the baby getting crushed by a truck and might not even wince. Ten years later that same person has children, will catch the film again and have trouble sleeping at night. The story of “Pet Sematary” will never get old, it is perfect. A horror story built to allow so many grand ideas of death and the horror genre itself. From beginning to end Stephen King’s story engulfs you in with the always reliable fear of death. The film opens with those perfectly unsettling shots of Pet Sematary, and Elliot Goldenthal’s creepy score settling us into the film’s very calm eeriness. The story begins with images of death and sends us into a new beginning for a nice looking family. That combination really makes you worry about that nice looking family. Throughout the film you are bombarded with some depressing truths about death. If you are emotionally in tuned with the film there are many times the film will remind you of your scars. The loss of your favorite pet or, watching your own son die; I can only imagine how horrible it would feel if I lost my son in a similar way and later watched this film. A person could really breakdown watching some of the moments in this film. It also reminds us that sometimes in life things get so nasty; we want death to happen, very terrible truths confronting you for the first half of the film and then it turns into a nightmare. 

The film gets to strike at you with the everyday real life horrors of losing a child like the classic film “M”, but when it all goes crazy; the supernatural aspect of the story takes hold showing us how hard it is for us as human beings to accept death. Early in the film Rachael Creed is scared to speak about death with her daughter, the film’s main concern is death and coming to terms with it. In the beginning of the story the parents treat death as a taboo subject but behave as they have death “under control”. Of course soon as they are confronted by death everything changes. The mother goes to pieces and the father cannot accept it. He goes insane when he loses son. Can you really blame him after what he witnessed? Watching your child get destroyed right before your eyes is the sort of event that can alter your personal ideology of right and wrong. Fairness is thrown right out the window as you become a mirror of the hell living within yourself. Watching this poor father crumble is very horrifying for we know there is no real solution to his problems. That’s why I love that scene near the end after Cage Creed gets his DEATH SHOT and starts saying “no fair, no fair”. Sometimes that’s all that can be said when death makes an appearance in our life. “That wasn’t fair” we will say but there is nothing we can do about it. The empathy this story makes us feel for its lead character Dr. Louis Creed is sad, but it also helps you take it all in. It involves you in a way that’s truly personal as you got to know the doctor before he went insane. He went insane for something that could happen to anyone of us. That’s why I think for some people this film exists as an important milestone in their horror film viewing history. It was the horror film that forced you to come face to face with death and not just cover your eyes.

Pet Sematary’s story and themes can be broken down in several ways and I am sure someone can write a great thesis on the story of the film alone.  What makes this film special is that the story is great and the filmmakers paid a great deal of attention to other areas most films just slightly care about. Now the film is not perfect, for one thing Blaze Berdahl as Ellie Creed is the only sore thumb in an otherwise perfectly casted movie. I mean there are scenes when Miko Hughes, the two year old playing Gage outshines her. There are also some improbable death scenes, which are the only real flaws I found but, the film’s energy is too strong for those small blemishes to wither this film’s overall effect. One area I think director Mary Lambert put a lot of thought into is the film’s pacing. The pacing of a film can make it or break it. It is a very delicate thing, depending on the story you are telling and the length of time available to tell that story. Like a great song a film has to get you on a steady tempo and once you get used to that tempo, it gives the director options on how to pleasantly surprise you by switching the tempo. “Pet Sematary” has a really slow pace in the sense of shots. It is slowing everything down so you can take in the reality. Perfect example, is in the beginning of the film when the Creed family arrives to their new home. The sweeping creepy score that makes you feel like you are watching someone’s twisted version of a Hallmark movie. The shots of the family getting out of their station wagon feels like someone’s photo album came to life. Big smiles of happiness and the cat in her plastic cage in the trunk, on a beautiful sunny day somewhere in Maine and baby Gage wondering about it. The filmmakers are making sure they slow you down and bring you into Louis Creed’s reality of having a family, of having  a beautiful life, so when it comes crashing down you are right there suffering with him. This slow pacing technique gives the filmmakers more room to excite us or surprise us with quick cuts or intense sequences due to the fact that you get use to the slow steady pace. When the director decides to turn things up to INTENSE MODE, as a viewer you don’t know what to do with yourself. Perfect example of this is the scene where Dr. Louis Creed fails to stop his son from getting on the road. 

One of my favorite things about this movie is Fred Gwynne’s performance of Jud Crandall. Sometimes when I watch it, it is my favorite thing. The film wouldn’t be special without Fred Gwynne’s performance. It is now a very famous performance; it has been parodied on “South Park” and other places. I think the reason people remember this performance is because it is not something we can calculate. The performance is perfect to me and I do not care to know why. I just know I think it is amazing. The way he delivers the lines, his tone of voice, his facial expressions, his body language, it is a performance of the perfect actor for the part creating classic moments and not even knowing it. Some moments make me smile like a little kid at the pleasure of watching an actor deliver a line that just sounds perfect coming out of his mouth. Fred Gwynne saying “It was the ragman that told me about the place” can put me in a hysterics of joy, I love that moment in the film, and Fred Gwynne’s grand delivery very much in the style of classic horror films, sets us up perfectly for the back story of the cursed Indian Burial ground.  Fred Gwynne saying “that road” is special, there is no other performance like it and his performance grounds the film in a very important way.  After all Jud Crandall is the lead character’s only neighbor and the man that leads Louis Creed to his doom.  It is a legendary performance. 

 The neighbor aspect is also very important to the story’s overall effect. The friendly neighbor is not supposed to tell you how to bring your daughter’s dead cat back to life. The way Louis Creed blindly follows Jud’s advice is a constant reminder to me of how easy it is for us human beings to be lead astray especially in moments of grief. I think the film is talking about something else altogether in that regard. It is talking about, the dark places we can allow to take ourselves if life only gives us a push. When Jud tells Louis Creed that a man’s heart is stonier, he is exposing Louis to a very dark side of human nature, a foul darkness that will hide the truth and lead a good man to disaster. Dale Midkiff’s performance as Dr. Louis Creed is great and at times stunning. I love how the filmmakers decided to give Rachael Creed a short haircut as it projects the image of a MOTHER very quickly to the audience. If the mother would’ve looked like a Hollywood model, it would have been way too distracting. Denise Crosby delivers a simple strong performance and I think the filmmakers casted her for that reason. You care about her as a person, and she is not eye candy but a mother who we feel terrible for. “Pet Sematary” also delivers the horror goods as it should. You get ghosts, foggy nights, great make-up effects, jolting moments involving a once dead cat, a dead rat covered in blood near Louis Creed’s feet and other moments that in real life would make you scream at the top of your lungs. I will never  forget how I felt when I first saw that devastating scene where Louis Creed loses his son, till then I never saw any film where a child was killed in that manner.  I think all those elements will give “Pet Sematary” a long shelf life. The film’s unblinking insight of what could happen if the most important person in your life is taken away and the brutal fact that there’s nothing you can do about it. It is such a natural fear. I think this film truly understood that fear at the core of the story which deals with the inevitability of death and the lack of comprehension any human being can have when death does arrive.

ABOUT RCM: RUTZ Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers


Sunday, June 10, 2012

RUTZ: "Champagne"

Thanks for checking out my work! This new song is called "Champagne" Enjoy!


You said come over tonight

I need you by my side

I try to hide and play games

But I realize you're Champagne

Baby I feel no shame

Telling you I'm insane

When I look at your face

I see a place where my spirit can fly


Girl you comin over tonight

I need you by my side

I try to hide and play games

But I realize you're Champagne

Sunday, June 3, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: The Black Dahlia

Directed by Brian De Palma    

Line that stays with me:  “Who are these men who feed on others?”

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together. 

Of all the underrated films on my RUTZ classic movies list “The Black Dahlia” is the one that mystifies me. I do not understand how anyone can label this film mediocre. The only reason I could find for this sad error is that critics always harshly review directors like Brian De Palma. Directors with filmographies so stunning critics expect them to reinvent the wheel every time.  The perfect example of this is Jackie Brown directed by one of Brian De Palma’s accidental creations Quentin Tarantino. When Jackie Brown first came out very few claimed it was excellent (which it is) and now everybody loves it. In a recent Tarantino poll it was voted his best film. So what happened? Why didn’t audiences love Jackie Brown in 1997? I think audiences and critics were too caught up by some of the nuances of Tarantino’s style. It took Tarantino 3 years to deliver another film after “Pulp Fiction”. During that time I am guessing he wanted to grow as an artist and create something new, change the canvas a bit before it gets stale. Of course people were expecting something else. I think the same goes for “The Black Dahlia”. I suppose Critics were expecting the narrative to be epic, rather than the confusing story of a poor broken down hero. Audiences were probably expecting something more straightforward or something like the film “Seven” because that’s how the studio sold it in the trailers. At the end of the day it is a film that is never going to instantly please critics or audiences. Critics were unhappily confused and audiences didn’t have the patience. I think the film is classic film noir. I love it.

First off, if you are a film nerd and you love film noir, you get very excited when you hear about a new film noir type of movie. Not many crime film noir movies are being made these days. As filmmakers we love the genre because it lets you play with so many cool elements. The cold stares with voiceovers, shadowy figures and sexy dames, and fantastic imagery all driven by basic human desire.  I love the film noir genre; it is a great playground for filmmakers who have developed their style and love genre films. That’s why I love Brian De Palma’s work; he respects every genre he’s ever worked in. He’s done almost every genre except a western, wouldn’t that be something, a Brian De Palma western.  Many critics think Brian De Palma is all style and no substance, but in films style is substance. Film is a visual medium and like any other artist producing images, creating your style is very important. Unfortunately, when these directors style make other films pale in comparison, critics will call directors like Brian De Palma or Wes Anderson “showy”. I think that sort of media criticism is really making many run to the internet for REAL film criticism. I don’t understand it. When I go watch a Wes Anderson film I am expecting to watch a film that truly cared about its production design, costumes that match their characters and basically wonderful imagery all around. If I went to a Wes Anderson film and it turns out that he decided to make his film look like a Brett Ratner movie, I would be furious! Style is substance, these filmmakers are unique because they have developed a style that fits the stories they want to tell. “The Black Dahlia” is a Brian De Palma film noir and unfortunately audiences were not ready for it. 

Right from the beginning of the film we have the marriage of film noir and Brian De Palma’s style in full force as Bucky Bleichert catches us up on the story. The opening takes us to flashbacks upon flashback as we get used to Bucky Bleichert’s voice, very effective. I can understand how people got confused by this film; I mean it is something De Palma loves to do anyway. This is a movie you have to keep up with, but not in an overly intense manner the whole way through.  The film is a first person account through the eyes of Bucky Bleichert. It may not seem that way the first time you watch it but the whole film is a first person account. That’s what surprised me in my last viewing; it really made me care about Bucky Bleichert’s journey to the Hollywood hells. Watching Bucky throw a fight so his father can have a home was a perfect way to show us the (audience) what kind of character our hero is. Now that is of course attributed to the writing, but the way De Palma handled those scenes is what makes it special. Perfect example is the Mr.Fire VS Mr.Ice boxing scene, where De Palma made sure to show Bucky blocking punches, so when we notice Bucky move his arm out the way in the knockout scene we would know what will happen next. That’s a director thinking things out; setting us up and it works, that scene is extremely effective. Another director would have just shown Bucky getting knocked out, and CUT to next scene. Brian De Palma’s style gave it weight. It is a great set piece, something not many directors do anymore but something Brian De Palma is famous for.

What is a set piece?  To me, it is a complex sequence created to be a grand moment in a film. You are not going to instantly remember every scene in a film but you are going to remember the set pieces. One of my favorite set pieces ever to show a clear example of what a set piece is comes from “Jurassic Park”. The scene where the T-Rex attacks for the first time is one of the best set pieces ever put together.  It goes from BOOM, BOOM, water in cups shaking, to kids screaming, to T-Rex chasing Jeff Goldblum, to T-Rex eating man hiding in the bathroom, to more kids screaming, to T-Rex pushes a Jeep with a kid still screaming for his life inside, EXCELLENT. Everybody remembers those ten minutes or so, it is an excellent set piece of high intensity.“The Black Dahlia” has a good amount of amazing set pieces. One of the set pieces features a sexy lesbian song and dance number. How rare is that? My favorite set piece involves Bucky meeting Madeleine Linscott’s bizarre wealthy family, that scene is hilarious. The screenplay by Josh Friedman is perfect in my opinion. The dialog feels right and there’s several moments of dark humor sprinkled throughout, which is another Brian De Palma staple that makes you reevaluate what you are watching. While I watch all these strong ideas and great execution on display, because of the film’s reputation, I continue to try and find faults in the film in any area. I couldn’t find anything truly wrong. I can understand if Brian De Palma’s style doesn’t match your interest but to call it a bad film because you don’t like its style is very cheap. The film looks amazing; the cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is incredible, it makes your average film look like a reality show. Great production design, a perfect film noir-ish score by Mark Isham, top-notch performances and a story that develops never quite the way you thought it would.

The film’s noir-ish elements set the perfect the tone for Bucky’s tragic tale of resolution.  Knowing about Brian De Palma’s anti-authoritarian attitude I always wonder what he is truly trying to convey with this film. The first thing I noticed is that Bucky’s character is always being lied to or forced to live a lie. That theme and others throughout the film, to me, expresses the terrible reality of the American dream. What better setting than “Hollywoodland” the place where dreams are made and dreamers flock to make their dreams a reality. This is bait for girls in the middle of Nebraska somewhere with nothing to do and nothing exciting to look forward to. Poor girls like Elizabeth Short who were lead to believe that Hollywoodland is worth the trip only to find out how horrible people can truly be. That’s one of my favorite things about the film; it shows how we Americans deal with corruption. In the film Bucky’s partner Lee Blanchard uses corruption to keep a large amount of dirty money, and get his face in the papers. Mr. Linscott, corrupted the city with shoddy homes which he made a fortune from.  When Mrs. Linscott kills herself we see that the newspapers labeled her death as “accidental”. Throughout the film, Bucky becomes a man who is sick of being lied to and, sick of the dark world of lies around him. His partner Lee lied to him, the women in his life, and his boss made him lie about the death of his partner. The only explanation people give him is that there is no other way. Thus that is where we are at as Americans today; the lies will never stop because this country has deemed the truth to damaging to their position of power. The truth gets people fired and we can’t have that happening can we?  That’s why I love the ending with that terrible quick glimpse of Elizabeth Short appearing on the lawn of Kay’s house. Bucky has seen the ugly truth, a truth that he now has to live with, and even if it disappears he knows it’s there.

The film ends with Bucky entering Kay’s house, trying to find relief from the horrors he has uncovered. Not quite the standard tragic film noir ending, but “The Black Dahlia” ends on the hope of personal survival by means of not letting cynicism get the best of you.  A beautiful ending for a film that showed us awful human behavior from a time and place that would shape American dreams of glory for the next fifty years. It offers the hope and tranquility of coming home. The performances in this film are also great in every category. I think this is Josh Harnett’s best performance, Aaron Eckhart kills every scene he’s in, Scarlett Johansson makes her character work using her sultry voice and terrific facial expressions, and Hilary Swank playing a sexy role I think for the first time, is in full control of her talents. She is amazing to watch. The supporting roles are all performed by great character actors like Partrick Fischler, John Kavanagh, and Mike Starr. Plus let me not forget Mia Kirshner who played the role of Elizabeth Short, many still think she should have been nominated for an Oscar. That’s why I am scratching my head when it comes to this film’s poor rating. I mean if I read a book that’s well written but isn’t my favorite genre I am not going to say it sucks. I’ll say it was excellent writing but it’s not my thing. Unfortunately “The Black Dahlia” didn’t even get that sort of respect, maybe because it doesn’t have a grand message. Maybe because the truth the movie has to offer is too bold and the truth is something we have never been allowed to value as American citizens.

ABOUT RCM: Rutz Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Mary Lambert's Pet Sematary