Friday, February 26, 2010

Cat People / The Curse of the Cat People

I know, I know. Cat People (1942). The Curse of the Cat People (1944). The title just sounded far too entertaining to pass up. Indeed, as I happened to pause in front of the horror section, I chose a few titles that tickled my fancy. Having just revisited an old favorite among many in Batman: The Animated Series that involved Selena Carlisle becoming an actual "Cat-woman," I decided to see what this obvious B-movie horror from 1942 was all about. (I should note that, as I suppose many of today's audience may find, it's very difficult for me to enjoy "classics" because the style of acting way back in the day is not at all what I'm used to in the modern-age; what was once considered "realism" is considered by many "over-acting" now and if anything, distracting and rather alienating to the audience. But since I plan on visiting Uncle Movie-Buff next week to see both incarnations of Universal's The Wolfman, I decided to take the plunge.)

I won't give you a rundown of the film, of course, because sadly, one of the original "horror classic"'s flaws, IMHO, is its tendency to spell everything out - at least, it was to me. Then again, when I rewatched it with commentary, I clearly missed many subtleties that would've been a big deal at the time. Again, I'm going with the dumbed-down script... it's not really demanding a lot from the audience besides the whole people-can-turn-into-cats thing. If you can suspend belief of that, you don't really care, right? As I'm watching, the opening scene of the "catwoman", Irena (ee-RAY-na) at a zoo outside the panther enclosure immediately brought to mind several instances in Batman:TAS when Selena is visiting her feline companions. I actually kind of wondered whether any of that stuff was canon to the comics, and if so, what amount of it might have been influenced by Val Lewton's Cat People. Whenever I get around to rewatching the entire series, I shall certainly be paying attention to whatever I can catch or perhaps I'll go researching on the web... Interestingly, the commentary tells you that none other than Alan Napier - Alfred of '60s Batman fame - takes the role of Doc, a minor supporting player in CP. Interesting coincidence, no?

I just realized that was a rather lengthy tangent, as I'm wont to do, so my apologies. Anyway, let's just say that despite its pacing (I would've included some very pregnant pauses to heighten the tension myself), I would recommend to any film/theatre fans to check out Cat People. "If anything, you can take it as a "if only Halle Berry was Simone Simon in this, Catwoman wouldn't have been so ridiculous." The commentary too can get fairly annoying. Unlike modern film commentaries, this one is done by some historian giving you a few useful nuggets of info about the filming, including some recorded interviews in the later lives of the principle actors, but almost an overload of their IMDb credentials to the point the narrator himself sounds about out of breath and you can barely make out WTH he just said. Apparently there was a 1982 remake, which I admit I kind of wanted to see, but given its description on IMDb, I'm pretty sure they upped-the-ante in the gore (nonexistent) and sexuality (only hinted) components compared to the original, so I think I'll pass, even if David Bowie had a Golden Globe nomination for Original Song (seriously, what the...).

Luckily, the DVD people included the sequel on the same disc, so the following night of my first adventure with the original, I was rather curious to see The Curse of the Cat People, which in some respects, I very much agree with the RKO picturehouse. The title guaranteed Lewton could make a film, but the direction he took it only barely has anything to do whatsoever with the first. It's rather like a spin-off series with a couple of the same characters, but no continuity of the real story. I wasn't so crazy about it, to be honest, until I reviewed it with the commentary, once again provided by historian(?) Greg Mack. The look into Lewton's creative, and well, slightly mad mind was actually quite fascinating to me. I think I may have to check out another couple of his flicks, even if the premise of The Body Snatchers always freaked me out (just from the made-for-TV-remake promos and the parody eps on DarkWing Duck). If you're at least interested in B-movie horror or the mind behind the story, I recommend the sequel.

Below you can watch the first eight minutes. By the way, I want the panther screen that sits in Irena's apartment :)

Friday, February 19, 2010


For a while now, I've been wanting to see Baz Luhrmann's follow-up to Moulin Rouge!, 2008's Australia. Obviously, I didn't get around to it for a while. I wish I would've thought to double-check the running time before I started though, not that it necessarily dragged, but I felt the effect of thinking, "When's this gonna be over?" simply because I didn't realized it was like three hours long. However, the Baz's signature of gorgeous visuals and equally beautiful music combined with epic storytelling make this a great film. I think the time does hurt it though. If I had been up for it, I might've tried watching it again before it I had to return it to the library simply to plot out the individual "acts" for surely this film plays as such. Act I is all at Faraway Downs, the property of Nicole Kidman's character (you get to see her on a horse ranging cattle!), Act II is stuff in town, Act III is the war, I guess (again, didn't really have time to contemplate it but it's certainly worth the view).

Really my only problem with the film is its pacing, which can seem pretty fast before it slows down only to pick back up at a rather slower momentum near the end (not slow, but noticeably different from the first act). Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, and David Wenham make the grade as fantastic protagonists/antagonists, respectively, and newcomer Brandon Walters as the aboriginal child taken in by Kidman is a darling. I don't know if that's actually him singing or not, but it's gorgeous; I will definitely have to get the soundtrack. (Additionally, Legend of the Seeker fans will get a kick out of Bruce Spence's cameo...I got a chuckle anyway, as I often do when I find a familiar face in a place most unexpected.) It may not make you cry like King Kong's three hour epic, but this film is still certainly moving, and for those like me with hardly any knowledge of Australian history, it's also educational as far as The Land of Auz's version of WWII and racism between whites and aboriginals. I also particularly loved how the mythology of Auz was worked in (but you'll see what I mean when you watch it...I still have to digest it for my part).

I really like both of these trailers, and it's better quality than what YouTube offers, so take your pick.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Whip It / Derby Girl

I'm hoping to volunteer at my local library with a special book and/or film club targeted at teens and young adults. My first assignment was for Tuesday: Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, the novel that inspired Whip It starring Ellen Page and Kristin Wiig and marked the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore. The meeting didn't really fare well, what with all the kids on snow day and such, but I'm so glad it inspired me to read Derby Girl, because it's hilarious. Because of my inability to turn off the inner-critic if I've read the book before the movie and I've been dying to see the movie before I knew anything about a book, I decided to watch the film first. (It also didn't hurt that I had been more in a lazy mood to watch movies over reading books and each theatrical experience is different the first time...I wanted my virgin experience with this particular material to be worthwhile.)

I definitely recommend watching it first, or you might be very tempted to stop at every bit and fuss about the discrepancies, but since Ms. Cross was herself the screenwriter, at least you can be content with the fact that the film is true to the source material and literally comes from the source herself, a real Los Angeles Derby Doll (or at least says the book jacket). As usual, Ellen Page steals the show as her usual charming self, although she doesn't have quite the same tenacity or script as Juno. It's really a shame too, but as the original novel is just as sarcastic as Juno, albeit a first-person narration, I can see the difficulty in translating that to screen without a voiceover. It's a lot of what's unsaid except in Ellen's face. And of course, although she doesn't shine nearly as she does on SNL (which really isn't hard to do nowadays with a lack of good writing), Kristin Wiig is equally delightful as Page's Derby Godmother, so to speak.

I like the movie for fun as itself, but there's a number of things that aren't explained and are just subtly thrown in that you only catch upon second viewings about the setting and characters. Of course, there's plenty of funny one-liners in the book that are left out, but I can see why it just wouldn't work out within the confines of the film. Then again, there are sequences in the film and even particular details, that while present in the book, are altered just enough that they really make quite a difference in the way they made it to screen. As I reviewed large segments of the film with my librarian colleague, I realized there are definitely some favorite scenes that play far better in the film version than the book. It's rather like the novel version of Derby Girl (later reissued in its second edition with the film's title... I read the first edition, however) is an earlier draft, the film version a much more refined one.

Also, I was rather annoyed because the "Rental Exclusive" version of the DVD I borrowed from the library doesn't have any of the dozen or so deleted or extended scenes, so make sure you do your homework before check out, kids. Alas, I guess I'll just have to buy it then :) And special shoutout to my new acquaintance, Charles, from the library, for hooking me up with my very own copy of Whip It! the novel. Yay, free books!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Boy A

Having piqued my curiosity by his supporting role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I decided to head over to IMDb to see what other film credits young, handsome Andrew Garfield had under his belt. The trailer for Boy A caught my attention as I recall seeing it somewhere before (although it escapes me at the moment). This late 2007 television feature was awarded 10 wins and 8 nominations, including Best Actor by BAFTA Television for Garfield's turn as an ex-con recently released after serving his sentence for a murder committed as a child.

Like The Lovely Bones, the trailer lets us know this isn't a whodunnit, but rather focuses on young Jack Burridge (Garfield) as he attempts to reorient himself in society under a new identity and the relationships that follow. The film's tagline appropriately begs the question, "Who Decides Who Gets A Second Chance?"

Now, I could go on and give you a synopsis of the major plot points as I initially began to write, but honestly, everyone does that and you're quite capable of having a look at the trailer below. Let me just say that this film warrants a viewing from any self-respecting fan of cinema or story, not just because it's a great example of a well-executed script and screenplay, but the performances
- the score - the cinematography - and most importantly the story - all make this one unforgettable film about second chances and the choices we make on a daily basis.