Over the last few weeks, websites and critics have been offering up their often considered opinions on what was/is the Best Horror Film of All Time. Hey, it was October, and Halloween, after all. For many, it’s William Friedkin’s Satanic powerhouse, The Exorcist, while other have mentioned John Carpenter’s Halloween or any number of George Romero zombie films. And then there is the Kubrick contingent, a growing consensus that the masterful auteur’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining stands as the most terrifying film ever. Granted, there’s also an equally vocal ‘minority’ who believes that sentiment is hogwash (yours truly included), but for the vast majority of VCR raised fans, the story of Jack and Wendy Torrance, the gifted little boy Danny, and the haunted Overlook Hotel represents the pinnacle of onscreen scares.
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Over the last few days, an interesting discussion has broken out over Steve McQueen’s masterful 12 Years a Slave. Aside from the blogsphere fact-checking and critical deniers (it’s impossible to believe that there are some people who actually hate this film), one of the most interesting arguments have come from people who believe that the movie is just… too violent. In fact, one of the most vocal opponents, AP writer Christy Lemire, recently said that, for her, the level of abuse and torture levied upon main character Solomon Northup and his indentured kind was nothing short of exploitation. While not venturing further with this analysis, it seems that she, along with several other members of the cinematic Fourth Estate, have been turned off by McQueen’s desire to emphasize the offensives committed in the name of “State Rights” in this warts-and-all overview of America pre-Civil War.
It’s finally going happen. Ever since the Awards were handed out at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, attendees and those who follow the circuit with interest have wondered if Randy Moore’s surreal psychological “thriller” Escape from Tomorrow would ever see the light of day. Yes, the subject matter was controversial (the film centers on a vacationing father who appears to be having a nervous breakdown) but not in the way you think. There’s no sex or deviant NC-17 behavior. Instead, the reason many were concerned about the movie’s eventual release was because Moore, utilizing a guerilla filmmaking technique to realize his vision, set the entire film inside Disney’s theme parks, almost guaranteeing that the litigious House of Mouse would be stopping any type of distribution.
“It can be done!” lisps the blonde, blue-eyed Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Hagen) to a skeptical academic geographer. It’s 1947, and the young Norwegian ethnographer has come to New York City to persuade The National Geographic Society that the Pacific Islands were settled by ancient peoples from South America who traveled across the ocean on balsa wood rafts. The prevailing theory, based on a variety of genetic, linguistic, and physical evidence, was that the settlers sailed in from Asia, but Heyerdahl is convinced otherwise.
It’s understood from the first frame of any Baz Luhrmann film that nothing is going to have much to do with the real world. That’s the whole point. You don’t go to one of the man’s films to be entranced by finely-etched characters or dry wit; you go or not based on your appetite for noisy sensory overkill. Spectacles like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge don’t tell stories so much as they smash elements together so that everyone can “ooh” and “aah” as the sparks glitter and fly. Anachronisms are no matter, as he flings straight-no-chaser Shakespeare into the sunny alleyways of Venice Beach and late-20th century pop-mashups into fin-de-siècle Paris. His signature style is film as fireworks display, a truism brought tediously to life in his newest work of crassly commercial culture-hacking, The Great Gatsby.