Natalia’s Awesome Post-81st Academy Awards Spiel

I woke up at 3 a.m., like a good girl, and turned my TV on. Since the timezone I’m in has a 7-hour difference with the East Coast of the United States, this was what was required of me in order to be able to watch the show live.

I don’t think I’ve watched this show live, all the way through, since I was a freshman in college and Adrien Brody was spontaneously kissing Halle Berry (and my pants were spontaneously combusting). I haven’t had the patience for the back-slapping, despite the good films being highlighted. I dreaded to see Jack Nicholson in front row again – grinning from behind a pair of dark sunglasses.

Yesterday, of course Hugh Jackman hosted and I also found myself thinking things like: “I am so bored, I am having discussions about Schiller with the cats.” “What am I DOING with my life?” “I want to be seventeen again, unashamedly listening to Enya.”

Oscar night is the night during which Hollywood unabashedly dangles the glittery “dreams come true” carrot in front of the plain little faces of girls like me (although unlike a good percentage of my fellow plain little girls, I want that Best Adapted Screenplay thingamabob) .

And you know what? I wanted that. I wanted the dangle. I wasn’t lost enough to latch on to the idea that Hug Jackman was really going to strip, so not that kind of dangle, I suppose, but any kind will do in a time of need. My celebrities take care of me when I am upset. It’s not quite tea and a hot water bottle (or a bottle of Jack – honestly, what’s the difference?) but it’s something. Continue reading “Natalia’s Awesome Post-81st Academy Awards Spiel”

MY List of the 25 Greatest Movie Characters Ever (So Far)

This one is purely subjective. If you agree with some of my choices, lovely! If not, that’s cool too. I have to say that I generally don’t approach movies in a progressive or affirming ways – I think that sometimes, what makes a great character isn’t necessarily something that’s progressive or affirming. I think that people should respond to characters on a variety of levels – for example, “300,” to me, was both very entertaining and extremely disturbing, much like a lot of Cold War-themed American movies are.

I don’t think that the disturbing factor should necessarily preclude enjoyment, but rather deepen your experience as a viewer (of course, this doesn’t apply to every situation, I’d be a fool if I insisted that it did. This is why I hate people who go – “You can’t watch ‘Munich’? For*snort* psychological issues? What the HELL is wrong with you?” – and wouldn’t do that to anyone else).

Having said that, I like comic roles most of all. Probably because they’re darker in more creative ways, sometimes. And also because laughter is way underrated, even vicious laughter.

And as Rachel pointed out, why were so little women included in the revised Yahoo list? Tsk.

Anyway, here we go:

Continue reading “MY List of the 25 Greatest Movie Characters Ever (So Far)”

Zombie Purism: My Creepy Creature Can Beat Up Your Creepy Creature!

Continuing with the theme of terrifying creatures – how about them zombies?

Particularly, how about the representations of zombies in film? Even more particularly – should zombies walk, or should they run?

Now, the debates about walking vs. running are at the surface of zombie purism, yet at the heart of it also lies the eternal question of dead vs undead. For example, certain people will scoff at you and refuse to invite you to their garden parties if you call the infected in 28 Days Later & 28 Weeks Later “zombies.”

This is because zombies popularized by George Romero (and ancient legends) have all reanimated. They were once alive, then dead, now they’re neither alive nor dead. Those infected with the Rage virus, as presented in the aforementioned movies (the idea of a Rage virus was initially conceived by the brilliant Alex Garland, of course, and it feels eerily plausible), are very much alive, just murderously enraged. And some people get murderously enraged when they get lumped in with Romero’s creation and the distinct tradition he’s coming from.

Questions about reanimation also involve the idea of who gets reanimated – all dead people? Some dead people? Dead people who died from zombie bites? Dead people whose funeral rites were not properly observed? A lot of the people working in the genre are vague on this, perhaps intentionally, because vagueness inspires a whole new level of dread.

Reading a book of early Slavic myths, I was struck by a story of a man whose body, upon death, is left in the house with his family. In the middle of the night, he reanimates and eats one of his children. His wife and other children are able to escape because they are hiding on the top level of a kind of old-fashioned bunk bed (this reanimated corpse is not particularly intelligent).

The story can be read as a kind of parable highlighting the importance of disposing of dead bodies in a timely fashion. A rotting corpse, after all, spreads disease. Yet this is just a tiny example of international zombie lore, and why it exists.

The idea of zombie-hood as an infection is also, on one level, a public health issue, and one that is especially pertinent as biological warfare seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. Max Brooks, the author of such modern classics as The Zombie Survival Guide, sticks to the idea of zombies as undead creatures, yet also specifically points out that reanimation is caused by a virus. Brooks’ zombies shuffle, awarding him extra brownie points from many of the zombie purists.

Zach Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” meanwhile, sticks to the idea of reanimated zombies, yet, learning from the success of “28DL,” makes the creatures cheetah-fast. Snyder strove to preserve genre convention, but he also realized that the zombie-as-Olympic-sprinter works well on film. My friends the zombie purists are split on Snyder – I have seen him both criticized and praised for this.

Maddox, the world’s leading authority on everything, thinks that Snyder is a genius for incorporating racing zombies into the narrative while not allowing the zombies to die of starvation as the infected do in “28DL.” After trawling a variety of message boards on the subjects, I’ve discovered that some people think that Snyder is just buying into the idea of instant gratification – people’s lives are speeding up, and so, consequentially, are the zombies. Though these same people tend to respect Danny Boyle’s “28DL,” as long as you don’t use the title in the same sentence as the word “zombie,” of course (and even though I just did that, I have to agree that the infected are not zombies).

A zombie is uncanny (here I go with that word again), because it was a person, it still is a person, only not really. A plot-arc of a zombie movie (or book) usually utilizes the idea of societal chaos as people face confusion: why is my next-door neighbour coming at me with teeth bared? Are my dandelions annoying him that much? By the time the populace figures things out, they’re toast (or chow, rather).

Zombie purism has inspired one of the most colourful flame-wars I’ve ever seen on the Internet. I sh*t you not, my fair friends. I’d love to point you in the direction of this particular discussion on a sci fi forum, but the discussion was erased, and the moderator specifically asked me not to mention the forum by name. That thing got so ugly, someone wished rape on someone else.

I am both a zombie purist and a zombie heretic. I *prefer* slow-moving zombies to the cheetah-legged ones (notice that in the beginning of the latest tale from George Romero, “Diary of the Dead,” young student filmmakers get into an argument about whether or not an undead mummy can chase its victim quickly), because slow-moving zombies, to me, are less scary. But people will argue that slow-moving zombies have their own entertainment value, because you can actually do close-ups of them, while the fast ones result in frenzied, disorienting action. Frenzied, disorienting action scares me more than close-ups. Similarly, viruses infecting living people scare me more than reanimation. The former is just a little too realistic for my tastes.

It should be noted, however, that while the undead need a bullet in the head to put them down, the infected are not that supernatural. If only they’d stand still more.

Now, within the horror genre, scary = likeable. So I guess I like athletic zombies which are the product of science experiments gone wrong. I prefer them to the lumbering, undead hordes. But I also think it’s cool to be able to combine the different elements of zombie lore as one sees fit.

Then I come across reassuring articles like this one, and start thinking about investing in a grenade launcher/personal fortress/pet dragon trained to kill on command. Considering the fact that zombie purists also differ on whether or not the zombies can act intelligently (although I hope that we can ALL agree that the z… I mean, the infected dad having some sort of Rage GPS to track down his offspring in “28 Weeks Later” was lame), it might be good to enlist a trained general or two as well. Which is why I wish my granddad was still around.

This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Tatiana Panteleevna Antonova, who turns 81 today. She’s not an expert on the undead, but she did specialize in infectious diseases.

Speaking of Horror: Trailer for “The Ruins” Is Up!

You can see it here.

I read the book, by Scott Smith (in case you don’t know who he is, “A Simple Plan” might sound familiar), on a long flight from JFK to Kiev Borispol last year.

I have to say, my reaction to the trailer, at this point, is mixed. It seems promising, but there is that whole “Touristas” vibe there as well, you know?

The book revolves around a group of hapless tourists that are attacked by deadly, carnivorous plants. Sounds stupid, right? Well, just you wait… This is no “Little Shop of Horrors.” Because these plants release their spores quite effortlessly, effectively “infecting” a potential host, nearby villagers surround the area and will not let the tourists escape. And the plants themselves have a terrifying self-awareness that makes them much creepier than your average Venus Flytrap on steroids. The plants can torture, both physically and psychologically.

It’s a spectacularly spooky read, and it’s also one of those stories that’s incredibly easy to screw-up. If you really too much on the gross-out factor, you destroy Smith’s hoodoo, that queasy build-up of dread and hopelessness that made The Ruins such a fabulous read. I hate flying, but I was glad to be up in the air while reading this book – away from menacing plant life. Even after I got into Kiev, I eyed my grandmother’s potted violets with suspicion for most of my vacation.

Will the movie be able to properly capture the book?

Well, Jena Malone is in this, and I think she’s terrific. Carter Smith, the director, has said that he’s a big fan of the book’s incredible bleakness, and therefore, I have hope. It also seems as though the ending won’t be changed.

I’m not sure if the film will have a wide international release (and I’ll probably be abroad when it comes out), but it seems like one of those things that could really work. And by “work,” I mean invade my dreams for more than one night.

Grab Your Chainsaws, Ladies.

A decent horror film will have me cowering under the blanket hours after a viewing. I still love the genre, though. This is why I was so excited by the recent article on George Romero, John Carpenter, et al, in Vanity Fair’s latest “Hollywood issue.” The article, “Killer Instincts,” was written by Jason Zinoman.

It was a good piece, but I was extremely disappointed to read about what went on on the set of Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left” (1972). The movie deals with mindlessly horrific events, and it’s natural to be both disgusted and fascinated by it. However, here’s how one of its stars, David Hess (he plays the main killer dude, Krug), described acting alongside his co-star, Sandra Cassell:

“I was very mean to the girls, so when it came to the rape scene, [Sandra Cassell] didn’t have to act… I told her, ‘I’m really going to fuck you up if you don’t behave yourself. They’ll just let the camera run. I’m going to devastate you.’ I don’t think she was too happy about that.”

Jason Zinoman describes Hess’ approach as “a Method actor’s intensity.” Jason! That’s not method-acting! That’s barbarism. Hess goes on to engage in seriously pathetic bragging about his conquests with co-stars and groupies (he might be a loser, but he got laiiiiiid!!!), and it is very clear that this guy is not some raw-edged heir to Stanislavsky. He is a misogynist using an actor’s persona to camouflage his serious issues, and, in the article, the masks obviously slips. That is, unless, Zinoman is deliberately mis-representing him with this piece. Zinoman, however, has an impressive resume and reputation – one does not attain such heights with blatant fibbing. [Update: David Hess is in the comments section of this post, saying that he was misquoted. I’ve gone ahead and changed the title of this post. Having been misquoted by a journalist before, I don’t  take these issues lightly.  Now the picture would be complete if Jason Zinoman showed up to talk as well, but I’m not holding my breath. Are you out there, Mr. Zinoman?] [Update 2: Mr. Zinoman is indeed out there, and says that no one was misquoted about anything. So there.]

I really like Wes Craven, but I wish he hadn’t allowed that to happen on set. I understand that he was a young director struggling to break free from his parents’ (particularly, his mother’s, as Zinoman darkly notes) expectations. I understand that things can get crazy in such a peculiar atmosphere. Nevertheless, there are lines you do not allow people to cross.

Zinoman does not go to Craven for a response on Hess’ “method.” And I wish he had.

I don’t think that Zinoman should have reached across the coffee-table and smacked Hess across the face. As a fellow writer, I get to speak to a lot of people, not all of them particularly cuddly. What Hess reveals about himself in this article is just as fascinating as the thematic elements of any good horror film. In order for revelations to take place, the writer must rein in his or her judgment. However, I do think that Zinoman’s characterization of Hess’ behaviour was way off the mark.

While I’m at it, here’s another disturbing quote from Zinoman’s piece, describing what happened on the set of the “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”:

Exhausted, overheated, and frustrated by a tube of fake blood that wouldn’t spurt, Hansen [in his role as killer] decided to cut Burns [in her role as victim] for real, just to get the scene over with. “That was hardly the worst of it,” remembers Burns… I got a black eye that day… and I remember getting beat up by everyone while Tobe [the director] was standing nearby saying, ‘Hit her harder! Harder!’ “

I’ve always wanted to see the original “Massacre” film, but now, I don’t think I will. Obviously, Burns is a tough woman. I salute her for soldiering on. But I’m not going to salute the glaring un-professionalism of Gunnar Hansen and Tobe Hooper, and what it ultimately implies about them. Where any male actors injured on set? Zinoman does not say.

I’d like to see more women feature prominently the horror genre, and not just as pretty girls being chased/tortured by maniacs, but as both the maniacs and the creators of maniacs. Of course, many women have been working behind the scenes in the horror genre for years. The Pretty/Scary site is a good resource on some of them (as well as to many, many horror actresses).

As a fan, I think that horror has a great future, especially wherein women are concerned (and no, I’m not one of those puritan types who thinks that we should fight sexism by completely cutting out any instances of female victimization, and portraying women as All Powerful, All the Time – but more balance doesn’t hurt. Certainly, the fact that Neve Campbell’s character had sex and survived “Scream” is a good thing; John Carpenter may not think that killing sexually involved characters is prudery and sexism, but I sure do).

Now, I’d love to see Diablo Cody do a horror film, now that she’s bagged an Oscar for “Juno.” Why the hell not? I imagine something both hilarious and disturbing.

Long live the dead.