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Ginger Snaps (2000)
"Out by 16 or dead in this scene, together forever, united against life as we know it."
It was funny, because I was standing in the video store looking back and forth between "Ginger Snaps" and "The Grinch" (they were both in the G section, after all), trying to decide. I tried to go and see "The Grinch" a year ago, but the sound in the theater was screwed and I didn't get to. So here's my chance. But something about this lone box with two morbid-looking girls on the front of it vs. the panorama of Jim Carrey roused the rebel in me, so I snapped up the indie and left the commercial geegaw behind.
So anyway. "Ginger Snaps" concerns two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte (known as 'B'), living in a town called Bailey Downs, which I think is supposed to be a satellite town of Toronto. Ginger and B are just-turned-16 and not-quite-15 respectively, and they really, really hate the suburban mundaneness they're stuck with. They might well be called Goths, as they do dress in a good deal of black and are obsessed with death. They spend their time on wholesome activities like faking fatal accidents for school projects and planning the details of their suicide pact. The post title up there is their motto. All the boys are hot for Ginger, but she and her sister scorn them. They are both enormously proud of fact that neither has menstruated yet, as it sets them apart from the simpering girls they see all around them. One of these girls is particularly annoying to them- a stereotypical bimbo-bitch named Trina. Another of the girls' greatest joys is imagining the horrible deaths of their peers, so they decide to really freak Trina out by doing something evil to her big-ass dog. Dogs are important in this movie, in part because "something" around town has been mauling them and in part because they're obviously related to wolves. And in case you didn't know, "Ginger Snaps" is a teenage horror movie about werewolves. On the way to Trina's, they discover two things: one of the town dogs mauled to death and Ginger's first period. And whoops! Two seconds after this second discovery a huge, incredibly ugly dog-man thing attacks Ginger and bounds off with her into the woods. And here we discover just how surface-only the girls' death obsession was. This is the single scariest scene in the whole movie, and there is no question that Ginger wants to live and that B wants to save her. Eventually Ginger does get away from the thing and she and B start running like hell. They do make it to the road, which proves advantageous as the thing is subsequently run over by the friendly neighborhood drug dealer.
So now Ginger has been chomped and clawed by this thing. And pretty soon all kinds of weird stuff is going on. And that's all I'm gonna say about the plot. Now I'm gonna yap about the acting. It's good- really good for a horror movie. In fact, how often does the acting in horror movies even merit mention? With this one, it does. The two central actresses are terrific, and the whole movie hinges on whether you can be concerned about them and believe in their very strong relationship. I'm hard pressed to say who gives the stronger performance, because they are significant for different reasons. Ginger is, quite literally, the libido-driven crotch of the flick while B is it's sad, neglected heart. The drug dealer turns out to be an important character, and even he has a bit more depth than you initially imagine. Mimi Rogers- an actress primarily known for her role as The Wife in Tom Cruise's first marriage- plays the girls' mother with some sort of disturbing mixture of psycho glee (she makes a strawberry cake to celebrate Ginger's period) and over-earnest intent to bond.
Their are streaks of humor to be found in this movie (although they are so pitch black I fear not everyone would catch them), which is delightful in that its not the typical ironic `Scream'-inspired post-modern sort of humor. A word of warning to anyone with a delicate stomach: this movie absolutely gushes gore. Some truly gross stuff is here, but really I don't think it matters. I don't like gore, and except for the occasional flinch it didn't bother me. I was concerned with the characters and what would happen, and the gore was incidental. It feels almost classic, in a way, as it's focus is the struggle inherent to werewolf lore, the one that makes it such a great metaphor for (particularly female) puberty- the fight for and against one's own body and its impulses. That said, the ending does veer into far-too-familiar territory toward the end, only to be saved by its final, quietly shattering last shot.
Nicole: The End
"crazy/beautiful" is among the most frustrating films of 2001. There are two ostensible reasons why this is so, both of which are partially true. One is that a family-friendly studio had one too many fingers in the director's rather daring pie. "crazy/beautiful" is among the most noted victims of the push for PG-13 ratings. If the director's dark R-rated original vision had been allowed to stand, then perhaps the entire thing would work better. The other reason is most obvious and less a matter of speculation. Most of the ingredients were second rate from the get-go and the acting so accentuates those weaknesses that they seem far worse than they would if all aspects of the film were equally bad. You want the whole movie to be worthy of the transcendent Kirsten Dunst, whose performance as Nicole seethes with raw, adolescent power. You want it to be worthy of Jay Hernandez's quiet, conflicted grace as Carlos. You want it to be worthy of Bruce Davidson's lovely if slightly confused humanity as Nicole's congressman dad. But it is not worthy of them. Few movies would be. As it stands, they elevate a movie otherwise is so cliched and standard that you wish you could lift them out of it and put them in one that does them justice.
The movie's major problems are these: the voice-overs at the beginning and end could have been dumped entirely. The characterizations of everyone but the main three and Nicole's best friend (who also gives a terrific performance and is shamefully abandoned two-thirds of the way in) could have been miles better. The plot could have been more original. The relationships between the characters could have been more clearly drawn. The ending needs to be redone almost entirely; "the talk" could stay but things aren't resolved so easily. The ending comes too quickly and feels like a cheat not worthy of the emotions the performances have evoked. An entirely different and unhappy ending would undoubtedly be more powerful, but I don't know if my heart could have taken it.
The movie's primary strength, and I cannot stress this enough, is the acting. Great as Davidson and Hernandez are, though, it is Dunst who truly breathes as her character. Kirsten gives a performance I do not hesitate to call worthy of an Oscar nomination. The finest work yet of this young actress's already remarkable career, it bodes very well for her future. She has incidental gifts- her beauty, lithe body and youth- but she is one actress with which you can dismiss those in favor of her primary one, which is acting. Not looking like a glossy Xerox of a human being on-screen, but acting. She is a young, thin, pretty, blond actress who can force people that automatically dismiss all young, thin, pretty, blond actresses to admit that she is talented. Here, buried underneath wane skin, dirty hair and a lost smile, she is complex and heart-breaking. Here, in a movie that treats teenagers as the complex people they are, I wanted to see and know more about her. I wanted the movie, despite its flaws, to be two hours long so that I could.
I've heard it suggested that "crazy/beautiful" is a pale imitation of a handful of movies, like Larry Clark's "Bully" (which also features some powerful performances by young actors), that strive to show adolescents as they truly are in the face of the sparkly barrage of teen flicks. I don't believe this is so. Very few kids are murderers or rapists of big-time drug addicts. Those are the extreme cases. The biggest tragedies of youth are relatively quiet ones, the kids who can be saved and sometimes aren't. Kids like Nicole- and we all know kids like her.
Strange Days (1995)
He's gotta have Faith.....
A largely ignored entry in the sci-fi genre, 'Strange Days' has its problems but ultimately proves worthwhile.
Ralph Fiennes hits the nail on the head as Lenny Nero, a cop-turned-crook dealing in the drug of the future. His eyes are so vulnerable and his words so sleazy, you don't know whether to kick him or hug him. Angela Bassett is tough and brittle as Mace, a straight-arrow limo-driver whose one weakness is her unrequited love for Lenny. It's not at all surprising that James Cameron wrote this script- he is very big on strong female characters, and Mace continues that tradition. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are so interesting as these two. For reasons unknown, Bigalow cast the very fine actress Juliette Lewis as Lenny's ex, Faith, and then gave her nothing to do except smoke cigarettes and look sexy (which she does) in a series of ever-more revealing outfits. A total waste of Ms. Lewis's talent, no matter how much fun it is to look at her. Terrific character actors Tom Sizemore and Michael Wincott could both do all they're called on to do here in their sleep. Vincent D'Onofrio does his scuzz-bucket routine as a murderous cop- but that routine is always compelling, so that's okay. The artificial reality thing is hardly original, but this movie's realization of 'playback' is intriguing. The violent scenes in which the victims are wired to see what's being done to them through the eyes of the perpetrator are highly unsettling and creepy; the POV and an understanding of how the wire works make these scenes seem less than entirely distant- the viewer feels a bit too close for comfort. The whole rap-star murder aspect of the plot seems a bit too pointed and obvious; it works well enough as a device, but comes off exactly like that- a device. Bigalow portrays 'the future' in Blade Runner-ish fashion, with the city of Los Angeles as a virtual war zone where the law and the citizens are equally out of control. The climax of the film could have been taken from a zillion other sci-fi/action movies and is less than satisfying. But despite the ending, this dark piece of futuristic noir works as a whole, primarily due to its two leads and a well-realized atmosphere.
Practical Magic (1998)
Charmless: A Tale of Two Witches
The single most striking thing about this relentlessly mediocre movie is the bizarre casting of the two lead roles. Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as sisters? What parallel universe does the casting person live in? Both actresses are lovely and talented, but each are the other's antithesis. Glamorous Nicole is all pale skin and red hair, so cool and immaculate and you think her skin would probably be icy to the touch- not that you would probably ever find out, so untouchable is she. By comparison, dark, earthy Sandy defies the practice of calling movie stars 'glamorous'- she possesses beauty and sex appeal, but she also exudes tremendous warmth and accessability. The implausability of these two sharing blood would be easier to ignore in the movie if these cool/warm, pale/dark qualities weren't so dominant in them. As it is, I found the contrasts to be the most interesting aspect. Anyway, Sandy and Nicole are Sally and Gillian, the latest pair of sister witches in an all-female family doomed to have the men they love die. Trying to safeguard against this, Sally is determined to never fall in love. As a precaution, she casts a spell specifying that she will only love a man with a certain combination of odd traits. Nonetheless, she does fall in love- with a man her meddling aunts bring into her life. She bears him two daughters, but- alas- the curse is a real one, and he dies. Gillian, meanwhile, is the wild one and is off living the high life with her 'Transylvanian cowboy' boyfriend. When he turns abusive, she calls on Sally. Sally is already suffering a haunting- she is so distraught over her husband's death that she has forbidden her aunts to teach her daughters magic and refuses to do so herself, though she is far more gifted a witch than Gillian. The killing, resurrection, and re-killing of the girlfriend-beater obliges them to endure a more literal haunting and the arrival of a cop (Aidan Quinn) who possesses a certain combination of odd traits. Added onto this is the suspicions of the town and the determined interference of the aunts and daughters. All of this actually sounds better than it is. The story is played out in such an insipid manner, it inspires scoffing and eye-rolling in equal (and large) amounts. The worst part of the whole affair is the climax, which is never a good thing, but should not be construed to indicate that much of anything preceding it was much good anyway.
Miss Congeniality (2000)
Congenial, But No Winner
To say 'Miss Congeniality' is brain-numbingly predictable is to give it an element of surprise it never even thought about having. It is clear from the box cover/poster that this fits into both the 'fish-out-of-water' and 'makeover movie' formulas. Sandra Bullock is Gracie Hart, an impossibly shlumpy young FBI agent who has, her entire life, suffered from the Ugly Duckling syndrome. A letter from the 'the Citizen', a mass-murderer, leads the Feds to believe his next target will be the Miss United States pageant. And of course they'll need an agent to go undercover. And of course it will be Gracie. They reckon she's the only one who'll look half-decent in a bathing suit, so despite her recent screw-up during an arrest, they send her to a pageant consultant (Michael Caine). The typical transformation into Swan commences, and there is, of course, a cute guy (Benjamin Bratt) who never really noticed her before but suddenly realizes she looks pretty nice in a miniskirt. Burdened with a weak script with little to recommend it but plenty of straggling plot points, the movie is still not without a few positive qualities. The performances are good enough, the jokes are cute enough, Sandy Bullock is beautiful and a good physical comedienne. There's nothing wrong with any of that. The problem is that this same movie has been made about 3 dozen times under different titles in the past couple of years alone. And it's been made better. If you are a Sandy fan, happen to love makeover movies or are in the mood for one while in the video store, by all means give 'Miss Congeniality' a try. If you are looking for a movie with so much as a scrap of originality, though, give it a pass.
Life by 'Chocolat'
What a sweet movie. 'Chocolat' is a fun fable about a free-spirited woman named Vianne (played by Juliette Binoche), who travels wherever the north wind takes her in order to heal the troubled souls she meets up with. Her cure? Chocolate. This time, the sly wind has brought Vianne and her young daughter to a small town in rural France. The mayor of this town, Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), is the latest in a long line of moral-compass types to watch over the village and its traditions. He is not bad or evil; he simply strives to preserve tranquility- but unfortunately for those who have to live there, the town's tradition of tranquility has become little more than suppression. When Vianne shows up with her aura of warm sensuality the mayor sees her as a threat, so she must strive to prove to him and those like him that there is more to live than pointless self-denial. Juliette Binoche is both a presence and a timeless beauty; she will be beautiful at 70 because it exudes from both her face and her spirit. It's really no wonder the entire town reacts so strongly to her character. Also on hand is another warm, beautiful woman: Judi Dench (who is already nearly 70) plays Vianne's landlady and friend, Armande. Lena Olin is another strong character- Josephine, at first a beaten wife and klepto, then transformed into a spirited young business woman. Johnny Depp is Roux, a handsome river-rat whose arrival is the catalyst for the film's climax. All of these characters will face temptation- the chocolate Vianne makes is an obvious metaphor. In this fable, however, temptation is not a bad thing. It's what makes life worth living.
The Matrix (1999)
Free your mind, and the rest will follow.....
There is so much that's good about this movie, it's a shame that there's even a little that's bad about it- but there is. First of all, the bad: some of the performances and dialogue are a bit stilted. Not even the main characters are particularly developed beyond their central archtypes- Trinity and Neo's love story isn't the least bit believable because of this. The final scene is just silly. And the whole film has the Messiah Complex, which has been done and done and done...... Okay, enough haggling. Here's the good: everything else. The whole idea is cool. This just might be the launching film for a whole mythos, like 'A New Hope' and (hopefully) the first Lord of the Rings movie. There are metaphors and analogies here, a lot of them. The Wachowski brothers showed great promise with their very first flick, the terrific 'Bound', and continue to do so here. There are small things that intrigue me- things like the little robots that help with the human-harvesting and look like a cross between insects and surgical instruments. Visually, the movie is nothing short of an unprescedented marvel and has already proven to be one of the most seminal films made in the last couple of decades in that regard. Hugo Weaving is a true find- amazingly creepy as Agent Smith, he absolutely exudes menace and contempt for humanity. The story is rooted in our race's fear of our own creation- technology. Technology has been our salvation. It has allowed the human being- a physically inferior mammal with few natural characteristics to recommend it- to thrive. Cautionary tales that display our fear that it will also be our destruction abound- 'The Matrix' is one of the best. It will be interesting to see how the series develops. It could be as important to the action genre in terms of complete, complex story-telling as it already is visually. One can hope. With the Wachowskis at the helm, there's a good chance.
The Doom Generation (1995)
A bleak, surreal adventure.
Scaldingly angry and hateful, this is the tale of a trio of young people on a roadtrip to hell. Amy Blue and Jordan White are a teenage couple who have been dating "a really long time"- 3 months. One night Xavier Red jumps in the backseat of Amy's car and leads them on a mad, illicit journey through Greg Arraki's twisted vision of young America. Much has been made of the 'excessive' violence and sex this movie has, but that very excess is part of the point- that pointless excess has led the youth of America down a path where death barely registers, and intimacy doesn't at all. Greg Arraki *likes* these 3 characters. He grieves for the innocence they never even had and the love they try to fashion from the bloody shards of their hearts. And he rages at the widely held and ever-so-patriotic belief that regressing back into intolerance is the answer to America's problems, especially in regards to the young. Maybe he's looking for a third option, one that actually does children good, rather than oppressing them or leaving them to run wild in an irresponsible world. Rose McGowan once stated that Amy, with her sharp tongue and wounded eyes, is Rose herself at 15. Like Amy, Rose suffered a horrible childhood and because she put her fury and pain into her character, any 15-year-old girl who has suffered at the hands of those who are supposed to protect her can relate. Jordan is just adrift. He finds that Amy is having sex with Xavier, and he dismisses it- a soft, honest "whatever, Amy." Xavier plays demon-imp, tormenting and tempting Amy and Jordan headlong into their bleak, surreal adventure. Ultimately this story is Amy's, and the story is about isolation- hence Amy's whispered, matter-of-fact assertion at the beginning that "there's just no place for us in this world", her attempts to connect with both boys in the only way she knows how, and then her unseeing stare at the end.
The 4th Floor (1999)
Mediocrity Lives On 'The 4th Floor'
'The 4th Floor' is a decidedly mediocre film starring Juliette Lewis as a young interior designer with a heck of a problem neighbor. Jane (Lewis) has recently inherited a terrific 5th floor apartment from her grandmother, and per agreement with the landlord, gets a ridiculously low renting rate. Her boyfriend (William Hurt as a creepy weather man) wants her to move in with him, but she wants her own space. So she moves in, and weird stuff starts happening, and because this is a B-grade horror flick, there's a dumb, not-to-be-found-in-reality reason why. As the none-too-intriguing Jane keeps trying to tell others- her boyfriend, the police, coworkers- what's going on, everybody thinks she's losing it. So, of course, she has to face the problem- the lunatic living right below her- alone. Neither scary nor interesting, The movie's single saving grace is Lewis. She's a very fine actress but poorly used here, which is not to say she isn't the best thing about this flick- because she is. She has feral charisma and holds the screen better than a dozen of the silicone bimbos that routinely populate this type of movie. This type of movie, though, is not worthy of her- which is ironic, given that she's probably the only reason anyone would see it.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
An Experiment In Fear
Hmm. Wow. What is there left to say? I've waited for most of the hype to die down to even add my comments for this movie to IMDB, and here they are:
This is really a movie that has polarized a lot of people. Many love it and consider it the best thing since sliced bread, and plenty more absolutely hate it and call it tripe, drivel, awful, wretched, the worst ever, etc. (NOTE: as far as I'm concerned, the opinions of anyone calling any movie the best- or even more especially, the worst- movie ever are to be immediately disregarded.) Highly innovative in its way, it spawned many parodies and an interesting but inferior sort-of sequel. In the summer of Star Wars: Episode 1, this was the movie that originated several cultural symbols.
I saw this movie shortly after it opened in wide release. Sitting in a theater surrounded by my friends with popcorn in my lap and watching Mike and Heather run around some creepy old house, I felt for the first and last time in my adult life *real, creeping fear* when I myself was not in danger.
Many have complained about the shaky-cam, the cussing, how nothing 'really happens', and that it's not scary. By and large, the camera is not *that* shaky, at least to the point where you can't understand why- they're tromping through the woods and they're scared half to death. I must not get queasy very easily, as I had no problem with it. As for the cussing- the lines were ad-libbed, the actors are college-age, and all three sound exactly like every American college student I've ever known. So maybe people have a problem with young peoples' language, but what else is new? That's not a flaw of the movie- it's realism and part of why so many more young people found TBWP scary.
I think at least some of the dissention in opinions is caused by generational and cultural differences. My mother's friends told me it wasn't scary, but that 'Psycho' terrified them. 'Psycho', while interesting and a classic, is not the least bit scary to me. 'The Excorcist' has only a couple scenes that I find frightening, but my mom breaks out in goosebumps at the mere mention of it. The scariest thing I ever saw until I watched this movie was a reel in a collection of horror shorts: a woman walks into her house carrying groceries, drops her keys down her heating vent, bends down to try to get them, and something grabs her scarf. She struggles, but within a minute or two, she's drug down and strangled. The scarf goes slack, the woman is lying dead on her floor, and that's it.
TBWP is about what you *can't see*, about how your fear of the unknown is so much worse than what the unknown could probably ever be. The characters were not even necessarily likable, but they were *familiar*- Heather is the girl I sit next to in film class who thinks she has all the answers. Their mundane existence, captured in the beginning of the film, roots them in reality. What happens to them is terrifying because they are so every day, so interchangable with millions of other college kids. And, finally, you never know whether the Witch exists or not. Everything that happens can be explained away by coincidence, pranksters, bats, hunger, exhaustion and imaginations run wild with fear- or you can choose not to explain them away.
Young Americans are not scared of much- school shootings can roll off us like water, the evil human beings inflict on each other is run-of-the-mill 6 o'clock news, we are raised in a culture that claims to worship a vengeful, elitist god while almost everyone is hypocritical and uses the power of spirituality as a way to abuse others. We are in information overload from birth. What we fear is not knowing. And in the Black Hills Woods of Maryland, just beyond the flashlight's reach, something is making strange and terrible noises- but we don't know what it is.