Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

“I’m Ready to Communicate With You Now”: The Millennial Anxieties of “The Sixth Sense”, and Feeling Alone in the City of Brotherly Love…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing The Sixth Sense on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

What do you think these ghosts want when they talk to you? I want you to think about it, Cole. I want you to think about it really carefully. What do you think they want?

Just help.

That’s right. That’s what I think too. They just want help, even the scary ones. I think I might know a way to make them go away.

How?

Listen to them.

The Sixth Sense is a remarkable film, for many reasons.

These days, The Sixth Sense is perhaps best known for its central twist. The film’s powerhouse emotional ending has become a pop cultural touchstone, anchoring jokes in everything from Fifty First Dates to the viral video sensation Jizz in my Pants. Of course, this also complicates the legacy of The Sixth Sense by serving as ground zero for director M. Night Shyamalan’s subsequent dependence upon these sorts of twists in movies like The Village or The Happening. Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense has endured in the popular memory as one of the rare twist-driven films that stands up to repeat viewings.

A Cole’d open.

However, it is much more than that. Even beyond that, The Sixth Sense is a lavish production that looks beautiful. Of course, Shyamalan’s ego has done his reputations few favours, from his own cameo as a writer-messiah in The Lady in the Water to his role in a Sci-Fi Channel documentary The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan to the famous Newsweek cover crowning him “the next Spielberg.” Still, The Sixth Sense is visually stunning. Although it is tempting to think of The Sixth Sense as a “small” movie by modern standards, it was actually produced on a budget of $40m.

Rewatching The Sixth Sense twenty years later, it is amazing how much of the film’s visual storytelling lingers. Shyamalan might not have been the next Spielberg, but he had a wonderful eye for composition; that shot of a red balloon drifting up the inside of a spiral staircase, those eerie sequences of Malcolm and Cole wandering through a surprisingly quiet Philadelphia, even the conversations at that church with Cole towering over Malcolm from the balcony as he plays with his toy soldiers.

Pew pew!

However, even more than all of that, The Sixth Sense remains the rare film that is both specifically rooted in its cultural moment and profoundly universal. The story that drives The Sixth Sense is surprisingly straightforward – helpfully encapsulated in Cole’s trailer-friendly assertion that he sees “dead people.” However, Shyamalan understands that ghost stories are about more than just the recently deceased. Ghost stories translate a sense of longing and regret, of disconnect and isolation. The Sixth Sense is fundamentally a story about how difficult it is to meaningfully communicate in the modern world, with or without a pulse.

The Sixth Sense is a story of existential ennui, wrapped up in a set of late nineties anxieties.

M. Night Shyamalan had to eat Crowe on his next few films.

Continue reading

Advertisements

“… You Wanna Get Nuts?” The Unique Legacy of Tim Burton’s “Batman”…

Tim Burton’s Batman is thirty years old this year, having opened in Irish cinemas thirty years ago this weekend. It leaves a complicated and underappreciated legacy.

To be fair, at least part of that is down to how the series ended. Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin count among the worst blockbusters of the nineties and the worst comic book movies ever made. Taken together, they were responsible for killing not only that iteration of the cinematic Batman franchise, but also for effectively killing the superhero as a blockbuster genre until the triple whammy of Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man kick-started it again at the turn of the millennium.

Continue reading

“Ladies, That Was Fun”: What’s Happening Under the Hood in “Death Proof”…

Okay… Warren’s sending over shots, and you know the house rules. If he sends over shots, you gotta do them.

What?

Hey, them’s the rules, baby.

Warren says it, we do it!

I love that philosophy! “Warren says it, we do it.”

The filming of Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and Kill Bill, Vol. 2 took nine arduous months. There were a variety of reasons for this, most obviously that the film represented a departure from the stylistic sensibilities and aesthetic associated with Quentin Tarantino. A director best known for his snappy dialogue and vivid characters was pushing himself outside of his comfort zone, building a movie that would incorporate elaborate action sequences and even an animated interlude. In fact, the films came after something of a short break in the director’s career. The six year gap following Jackie Brown was the longest in his career to that point.

As shooting was winding down, an incident occurred on the set. Details of that incident would not be made public for more than a decade and a half, although it would have a profound impact on all involved. By all accounts, Tarantino pressured Uma Thurman into driving a stunt car herself, leading to an accident. Thurman recalls, “The steering wheel was at my belly and my legs were jammed under me. I felt this searing pain and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to walk again.’” Thurman was not paralysed, but she was scarred by the experience, with a “permanently damaged neck and […] screwed-up knees.”

It was an act of reckless malfeasance from a director who had – with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – announced himself as one of the preeminent directorial voices of his generation. Tarantino is remarkable among directors of his generation for establishing a cult of personality, being as effective on the chat show circuit as behind the camera. Tarantino has been known for making brass pronouncements and asserting his authority, from his famous assertion that he is god within his fictional universes to his insistence on shutting down lines of questioning in interviews to rejecting reporters’ questions outright.

The case involving Tarantino and Thurman is perhaps more complicated than a lot of the similar stories of directorial abuse that have entered the spotlight since the #metoo movement rippled through Hollywood. This complexity is compounded by the fact that Thurman has publicly forgiven Tarantino for his part in the accident, and for Tarantino’s contrition on that point. (Tarantino’s public support of progressive causes like Black Lives Matter also plays a part, even if there is still a larger debate to be had about Tarantino’s relationship with African American culture.)

Even if none of this was made public until after the release of The Hateful Eight, these details hang over a lot of Tarantino’s work since the accident. Tarantino has conceded, “Beyond one of the biggest regrets of my career, it is one of the biggest regrets of my life.” It is notable that Tarantino had always been particularly close to Thurman. The story for the Kill Bill films is credited to “Q and U”, the pair practically living together during the development of the story. (Tarantino allegedly promised the script to the actor as a thirtieth birthday present.)

The tragedy echoes through a lot of Tarantino’s subsequent work. It is notable, for example, that a lot of Tarantino’s later work focuses explicitly on the idea of rewriting history. Inglourious Basterds famously offers an alternate ending to the Second World War, a striking piece of historical revisionism. There are also shades of the tragedy to be found in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, which features two protagonists that are – to quote actor Brad Pitt – “two sides of the same coin.” Rick is a washed-up has-been who worries he is out of touch. However, his best friend is a reckless stuntman who may have killed his wife.

A lot of the discussion around Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood has likened it to Inglourious Basterds. This makes a great deal of sense. Both stories are effectively historical revisionist fairy tales. Notably, the opening chapter of Inglourious Basterds is even helpfully subtitled “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France.” It is a logical point of comparison, but one that conveniently glosses over an even more obvious reference point for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood within Tarantino’s filmography.

That point of comparison is Death Proof.

Continue reading

“One Priceless Moment”: “Apollo 11”, and the Search for a Singular Defining Narrative…

This July marked the fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landings.

It was an occasion marked with much discussion and celebration. The nostalgia had arguably kicked into high gear the previous winter with Damien Chazelle’s First Man, an awards-season biopic looking at the life of Neil Armstrong. Mired in an absurd controversy, First Man failed to make as much of an impact as it might. It under-performed at the box office and ended up shut out of the big awards races. However, there were other celebrations of the landmark date. Donald Trump met with the surviving astronauts. Mike Pence used the occasion to push for a manned mission to Mars.

There was also Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary Apollo 11. This documentary is interesting, in large part because it eschews a lot of the conventions of these sorts of retrospective celebrations. There are no talking heads; what little exposition exists in the film is drawn from a combination of archive recordings and public materials, without any sequences of participants or experts trying to explain the footage that the audience is seeing. Indeed, a lot of Apollo 11 flows without dialogue, a sequential retelling of the moon landing stitched together from newly-discovered 70mm footage.

What is most striking, and most successful, about Apollo 11 is the fact that it captures the essence of the moon landing as much as the finer details. The intimate footage – cobbled together from dozens of sources  – offers a rare and intimate insight into the mission, but that is not the source of the documentary’s power. Apollo 11 fundamentally understands the appeal of the idea of the moon landing, particularly at this moment in time. Stitching together countless different perspectives of the same event into a singular cohesive narrative, it offers a glimpse of a rare moment where mankind was “truly one.”

Continue reading

A Doll’s Place is in the Home: The Sly, Semi-Subversive Domestic Politics of “Annabelle Comes Home”…

Annabelle Comes Home is an intriguing film. It’s arguably more intriguing than it is successful.

A large part of that is down to the way in which it very much basks in its position as an unlikely lynch pin of a horror shared universe populated by a variety of ghosts and ghouls that seem to be clamouring for their own spin-off movies like Annabelle or The Nun as the eponymous demonic doll just sits back and watches. It’s a surreal spectacle, particularly for a horror movie. Annabelle herself often feels like something of a passenger in her own movie, instead a tether for a variety of episodic horror adventures.

However, there is something more subversive and intriguing happening beneath the surface of the film. As the title implies Annabelle Comes Home is a story centred on the domestic environment, on a suburban family home menaced by a sinister supernatural threat. This is a standard horror movie set-up. A lot of horror movies focus on the idea of evil within the family environment, whether coming from within or without. Annabelle Comes Home borrows a number of cues from The Shining, including the bass on the soundtrack and a possessed typewriter, but it runs much deeper than that.

A lot of horror films focus on the nuclear family placed under siege, often as a metaphor for the pressures at work in the real world. Stephen King has pointed to movies like The Amityville Horror as examples as “economic horror”, reflecting the anxieties of families sinking into debt in their family homes during the seventies. (As if to underscore the point, the real life case that inspire the film was a fraud to help the family get out of debt.) Similarly, the liberal single-parent household in The Exorcist turns back to the Church, perhaps expressing deep-seated anxieties about liberalisation or shifting cultural norms.

There is often a strongly reactionary subtext to these sorts of horror stories. It is not always a conscious choice on the part of the production team, but it is rooted in the fact that change is scary and that subversions of conventional conservative dynamics are unsettling in large part because those conventional conservative dynamics are so ubiquitous. In short, audiences tend to see conventional family units as the default, so anything that attacks or erodes that is potentially uncanny and unsettling, and so many horror movies play on that instinctive reaction.

There are any number of obvious examples of how this approach can lead to very uncomfortable and unsettling implications. The Curse of La Llorona is perhaps an obvious (and easy) contemporary example. The basic set up of the movie finds a single (widowed) mother struggling to provide for her children; she has to leave them for extended periods to work at her job, but is also held back at that job because she is a single mother. Meanwhile, a Mexican spirit invades the family home and attaches itself to her children. The result is a film that seems to be about a single mother who leaves her children open to a foreign threat.

Part of what makes Annabelle Comes Home so interesting is the way in which it seems to play with this central dynamic, how it teases out and subverts some of the central subtext of the larger horror genre to which it belongs. Annabelle Comes Home is not so much a story about outside forces menacing a conventional family within the seeming comfort of their home, but is instead a story about two young women who end up trapped inside a suburban home and attacked by the monstrous forces that the family have consciously placed there and even folded built into the structure.

Annabelle Comes Home offers a slyly feminist twist on the familiar domestic horror.

Continue reading

“For Infinity… and Beyond…”: In Praise of “Toy Story 2” as the Perfect Sequel…

Ranking films is often a fool’s errand.

I make this argument with no small amount of hypocrisy. Most obviously, I co-host a weekly podcast called The 250, which is dedicated to exploring the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. Even beyond that, I am guilty of participating in that periodic pleasure of pundits everywhere; the top ten… or forty… or fifty. At the end of every year, I produce a list of my favourite films of the year, whether on the Scannain podcast, on my personal Twitter, or even occasionally on this blog. In my defense, I rationalise that through a desire to draw attention to good films, and accept we can quibble on the order of said film.

At the same time, these lists can often be illuminating in terms of contextualising affection for a particular film, or for gauging the general mood. So when a film appears on a single list, it might be worth checking out if you trust the author. If it appears on multiple lists, it is probably a much stronger recommendation. (The Scannain annual top ten is an eclectic list, but it disparate viewpoints often settle on at least one consensus pick: You Were Never Really Here, Moonlight, Hell or High Water.) It helps to set a level of a particular film’s relative appeal and popularity.

By that measure, Toy Story 2 is generally considered the weakest film its franchise. At time of writing, Toy Story, Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 all feature on the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. Toy Story 2 is the lowest ranked entry in the franchise on lists compiled by Variety, Business Insider and The Ringer. It is the ranked as the weakest of the original trilogy on lists compiled by Slant Magazine, Collider and Polygon. None of this amounts to anything that can quantifiably be described as a “backlash.” After all, to be the worst Toy Story movie, a film still has to be pretty good.

However, there is a sense in which Toy Story 2 gets overlooked. There are any number of structural reasons for that. The middle part of a trilogy, picking up immediately after Toy Story but without offering the resolution expected of Toy Story 3, the film is neither a beginning nor an end. It is not an introduction to these characters, and it does not really function as a farewell either. More than that, the film may also be somewhat tarnished by its production history, originally mooted as a straight-to-video release before entering an insanely fast turnaround as a theatrical feature; it is partly why Disney owns Pixar.

Still, this tends to look past what makes Toy Story 2 such a delight. It is in many ways the perfect sequel.

Continue reading

“This Was Supposed to Be a Spiritual Experience”: The Mid-Nineties Ennui of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

I’ve never been able to watch it with any kind of perspective. To me it just looks like some crude backyard movie a bunch of kids slapped together. There seems to me to be, on one hand, a group of people who were strictly horror fans who venerated it. Only over time has it come to occupy a very peculiar position, and I still don’t have any concept of what that is. I think we just wanted to hang a bunch of people on meat hooks, chop ’em up, and sell tickets at the theatre.

– Kim Henkel discusses The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is a very nineties film, speaking to a very unique set of nineties anxieties.

There is something very revealing and candid about certain kinds of bad movies. Of course, many bad movies are just bad, hacky executions of well-worn concepts without any insight or skill to anchor them. However, there are some bad movies that seem driven by a strange source of passion and energy, which makes them bizarre snapshots of a particular time and place. It is almost a sort of candour, an unguarded bluntness, that allows them to articulate their perspective without any of the consideration or care of a better film.

The Next Generation is one of those films. It is, to be entirely clear, a terrible film. It is sloppily constructed. It is terribly framed. It is incoherently plotted. Its characters are drawn in the crudest of terms. Most damningly, it combines two particularly awful subgenres of the “bad movie” archetype. It is both a horror movie that is not scary and a black comedy that is not funny. It is, by all accounts, a disaster. Watching the film, the question isn’t how the release was delayed for three years. Instead, the question becomes how the film was ever released at all.

However, whether in spite of because of all of this, The Next Generation feels like a weird snapshot of a particular mid-nineties mood. Somehow, while groping around in the darkness, it accidentally puts its finger on the pulse.

Continue reading