'Saw' was probably the first torture porn flick. It was followed by 'Hostel', simply a variation on a theme. After that came a series of imitations and sequels, each one doing progressively worse business. Well, let's face it. These flicks were getting a bit on-the-nose. Been there, done that. Hollywood took the hint and created a new type of movie -- the thinking man's torture porn, gussied up with top-drawer production value and (what I'm sure is) sharp writing that hits every turning point with snap to spare.
This is the first trailer I've seen for 'Untraceable', a glossy looking psych-thriller with Diane Lane directed by Gregory Hoblit. Movie is about a killer who imprisons people to be elaborately killed on a website which is...untraceable. Lane is the head of a team which tracks cyber-criminals, who becomes a target herself.
In the above still a man is restrained in the middle of multiple banks of heat lamps. He is being televised live on the internet. The more people that hit the site the more heat lamps are turned on. The text at the bottom of the screen reads '...the more that watch, the faster he cooks'.
That's right. This man is, apparently, depicted as being cooked alive while thousands of people watch online. Told you torture porn was here to stay. (Some observers breathed a sigh of relief when 'Captivity' did so badly, claiming the gorn fad had run its course). Sorry...I don't mean to gloat, but this fad ain't going away.
I don't know if I necessarily think it's a bad thing. The public craves increasingly more violent movies to numb them to an increasingly violent world. Who is to blame for all the sick headlines? Well, us, I guess. Society feeds on it. Every generation becomes more inured to violence, even as it evolves into stranger and more graphic expressions, whether it be on the nightly news or at the local movie theater matinee. An inescapable cycle.
I recently wondered how Hollywood would manage infuse fresh blood into the genre. Things were looking grim indeed for the torture set. Even hardcore fans were taking a pass, leaving movies like 'Captivity' high and dry. Have to give them credit. Rather than creating another watered-down copy of a copy, the torture-fest of 'Untraceable' is pretty original -- it's made public, brought to you, and me, and anyone else with the ubiquitous internet connection. We even have the opportunity to actively participate. Now, don't judge. While hitting the site increases the level of torture inflicted on the victim, doing so would appeal to both the sadist and the compassionate. The cruelest of us would hit the site to inflict pain, while the most angelic would do so to put the poor slob out of his misery. You got to admit that's got built-in cool factor.
Makes me wonder what could possibly be next. What twisted version of this bizarre escapist fantasy could follow suit? In case Hollywood is running out of cool new cutting-edge storylines, here's an idea for the folks in Tinsel Town (feel free to use this): A game show where contestants allow themselves to be tortured with increasing severity in order to win prizes. Sort of like Fear Factor, except it would be called 'Torture Factor'.
How about this: A national lottery where the winner gets hundreds of millions but only if s/he agrees to be tortured in some gruesome manner. (Of course, they would be guaranteed to survive -- I mean, who would agree to be tortured to death. That would be stupid).
Let's see. How about: In a world where violence and crime is out of control, criminals are sentenced to torture instead of imprisonment or death. (I like this one. It has a ring to it).
Um...wait. Give me a minute. How about: A genetically engineered virus escapes from a lab. The infected torture themselves to death. (Okay, maybe we're not ready for that yet. A 'Torture-Comedy'...the Tor-Com. Give it ten years).
I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Whatever form or structure is next in the torture porn evolution I'm sure it will be wicked. Granted, there will be those inevitable gore-fests for the brutish and literal-minded amongst us who simply want to see people tortured in a basement, abandoned warehouse, or other such run of the mill torture chamber. Let's hope up and coming screenwriters will find ways of making torture inventive and entertaining.
Usually, this kind of fantasy flick is just a series of effects-driven set pieces with little story of any depth. But, check this clip out. Although obviously made accessible to kids, the energy here is subtle and intelligent. If the whole picture is as rich as this clip, 'The Golden Compass' will be a must-see. Have to say -- didn't quite expect this. Dakota Blue Richards (how's that for the name of a future movie star) has no acting experience -- she does a great job here.
Mrs. Marcinka Climbs the Stairs
Mrs. Marcinka stands in a beam of sunlight coming through the large window in the stairwell landing between the fourth and fifth floors.
Wide-eyed and slack-jawed she stares at the door at the top of the stairs. She tries to remember why she is standing here, but can't. It doesn't disturb her though -- her memory had become so unreliable lately -- she was accustomed to these lapses. In fact, the thing she remembered most from the past several days was a vague sense of unease, as if there was always someone else was in the room with her. It was worse at night, and the lack of sleep only sharpened her nervousness. On the rare occasions when she did manage to sleep, it was a quick nap during the day, usually when it rained. Her dreams were always the same -- Isabelle was sitting in a chair a few feet away, watching her sleep. She didn't say or do anything, just sat there, watching calmly. When Mrs. Marcinka woke she would look at the chair where Isabelle had been in the dream. It was empty, of course. Every time. But, M wasn't satisfied and, even though she was fully awake, she would search the apartment looking for that girly...Isabelle. 'She had to be here', M would think. 'I don't remember letting her in the apartment, but she's here'. M would approach a closed door and hesitate before turning the knob. What would she say to Isabelle? M would rehearse some stilted dialogue, then open the door, wearing a false expression. 'Oh. There you are, Izzy', M was ready to say. The room would be empty and it always came as a surprise. M was so sure, she had been so sure...
I've been a fan of Ridley Scott since I saw 'Blade Runner'. (I had no idea who had directed the movie or who Scott was, but I had become a big fan -- I think not only of BR, but of movies made with visual panache). Here's a great interview with Elvis Mitchell on The Treatment. I especially like the discussion of the voiceover work and planned definitive version of 'Blade Runner' on DVD.
They also talk about how Scott started directing commercials. Here's a couple:
Chanel No. 5
And here's one I'll bet you've never seen -- The Hovis 'Bike' Advert
Sarah McBride at WSJ reports on the potential the WGA strike has to boost interest in webisodes -- the new online short-form movie/TV show. I think it's a bit optimistic, but you never know. If major Hollywood writers start penning webisodes they might catch lightning in a bottle and create a new fresh type of episodic movie-thing that draws an audience...like a serialized Blair Witch, except with reproducible results. Channel after channel, oh, sorry -- I mean site after site of cool cutting-edge shows that you watch whenever you're in the mood, that last 5-20 minutes, with no commercials, that you can pause or watch again, or see a whole 'season' at one time, or whatever.
Well, all these shows have to be written. From WSJ:
Some writers are indeed contemplating making the jump to the Web. Striking outside the Disney studio last week, Ed Bernero, chief writer for "Criminal Minds," talked a good game about the online future. "If we can't reach a deal [with the studios], I'll just call Google or Yahoo or one of those companies and make a deal myself," Mr. Bernero says.
So, is there money to be made by the writers?
Online video companies are hungry for more professional material than what typically arrives in over-the-transom videos.
Could be. Can a WGA scribe write webisodes without incurring the wrath of the guild?
Some writers believe strike rules preclude them from writing for anybody, even if it isn't studio content. But a spokesman for the guild said the rules don't prohibit members from writing for new media for companies that haven't signed agreements with the guild. "We encourage members, however, to consider trying to cover their new-media services by having the employer sign a made-for-new-media agreement," the spokesman said, "and we will continue signing such agreements even during [a strike]."
Would it be worth it? I think so. There's a lot of schlock online, but I've seen an increase in the level of craft of these webisodes lately. Like Goodnight Burbank. It's a little too 'TV' for me, but well done -- I can see this show holding a viewer's interest.
If any webisode demonstrates the potential of online movie/TV content it's Quarterlife. This show is nicely paced, shot, and edited, and the acting is very good. Quarterlife is a 36-episode show produced by Edward Zwick (Traffic, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) and Marshall Herskovitz (thirtysomething, Legends of the Fall, Blood Diamond).
The pedigree of these two producers says something about the future of original online content.
Here's episode 1 of Quarterlife.
You know...I thought I had never seen Javier Bardem in a movie, but I have. He was Felix, the killer/showrunner in 'Collateral'. Very good stuff. Honestly, his performance is my favorite thing in 'Collateral'. Well, there's Daniel, played by Barry Shabaka Henley -- I really liked that guy, too. I bet you're wondering who I'm talking about.
This is Henley as the jazz club owner with Tom Cruise as Vincent the killer, and Jamie Foxx as Max the hapless taxi driver:
This scene springs a great reversal on you when it turns out that Vincent not only knows Daniel, he's been sent to kill him. Poor Max, the audience surrogate, flips out. Here we all are thinking this is about listening to some cool jazz and talking about Miles Davis and turns out this is about killing someone who's been telling you about Miles Davis. Damn, man, that's harsh.
Once Vincent has redefined the clubbing experience the suspense pegs the meter as Max and Daniel (and the audience) wait to see what will happen next. This scene is more satisfying than the straight action sequences in 'Collateral'.
And here's Bardem playing a man used to getting his way trying to cope with losing control:
Those are nice stills -- thank you Michael Mann. Bardem is just so real here. I have to admit I forgot I was watching a movie (and I very rarely do that). So, anyway -- I didn't even know I had seen Bardem in a movie. I mean, he's pretty hard to recognize in this scene, yes?
Here's how I'll think of him for a long time to come. You know what picture I'm going to post. The Picture. The one you've seen so many times:
That's right. Here's Bardem as the single-minded guy out to get his stolen money back in 'No Country for Old Men'. Nice still -- thank you Ethan and Joel Coen.
This guy is so good...he should be in just about everything. I just wish I could recognize him. I guess that's my problem.
What was I talking about? Oh, yes. Mike Newell directed Bardem in 'Love in the Time of Cholera' (see still at top in which Bardem is unrecognizable as the sensitive in-love guy, Florentino Ariza. Nice still -- thank you Mike Newell). Newell talks about the movie and takes a couple intelligent caller questions at Talk of the Nation. He calls the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 'sacred text' -- not your average fluff interview.
Here's a look at the making of 'Beowulf' with comments by director Robert Zemeckis, production designer Doug Chiang, and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. Some cool storyboards, and a look at some very nice use of 3-D.
Joanne Colan talks with Douglas Egar, the executive producer of the documentary 'War Dance', about the Ugandan children who are abducted to be soldiers and sex slaves. Here is the write-up from Wardance.org:
War/Dance is a new documentary movie about three brutalized children of Northern Uganda and their dream of musical expression. The documentary is set amidst the violence of the Lord's Resistance Army (L.R.A.), who kidnap sleeping children to abuse them and force them into rebellion and murder, sometimes even murder of their own families. Despite the horror, War/Dance has captured a beautiful story about the epic, unbreakable spirits of these children.
MTV has a few new clips from 'The Mist'. Two things are immediately apparent: This movie will make gobs of money, and Frank Darabont is not as comfortable directing as he is writing.
Joe Medeiros, head writer on The Tonight Show, talks with Shane Stranahan. Shane is 15 years old and lives walking distance from WGA picket lines. So, he walked up and got an interview. If only all interviews were this good. Nod to Nikke Finke
'No Country for Old Men', based on Cormac McCarthy's novel, will certainly be one of the best movies of the year. I've watched every scrap of footage from this movie I've been able to get my eyes on and I get the feeling this piece is cut with the same precision as the Coen Brothers' earlier gems 'Fargo', and 'Blood Simple' -- cinematically secure with lean dialogue that breathes on its own and characters that can't be taken lightly.
The character I like the best is the killer -- Anton Chigurh, portrayed beautifully by Javier Bardem. He reminds me of the shark in 'Jaws' except he is far more compelling. That shark simply killed whoever had the bad luck to be in the vicinity, while Chigurh hunts a specific target (and ignores bystanders). It's this application of intellect that makes him so frightening -- he has a motive, while a shark does not.
Chigurh engages victims in a game of chance, flipping a coin and asking them to 'call it'. He kills with an especially brutal weapon, a gun which fires compressed air, which is both gruesome and intimate -- one must be quite close to their target to kill with such a device. Bardem convinces. Chigurh's voice is flat and lifeless but his eyes betray roiling emotions that must be controlled (he is not crazy after all, simply a man on a quest to satisfy a vendetta, and to lose control of his emotions wouldn't do). Let's be clear: Chigurh is sociopathic, not psychopathic.
The Coens and Bardem have brought this character to life, made him a very real thing. They've done so well I fully expect to turn a corner and see Chigurh walking up the street toward me, his eyes fixed and flat like a shark's. He deserves his own award. I propose a 'Best Character' statuette for Anton Chigurh -- although I wouldn't want to be the one that hands it to him.