Monthly Archives: November 2010

Buried Cinema, Artifact #005: The Missing

By Nathanael Griffis

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

(MINOR SPOILER ALERT)

What if I told you Ron Howard was making a movie. “Okay, sure, what kind of movie?” A Western. “Awesome. Who’s in it?” Only Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, and Val Kilmer. “What’s it about?” Jones and Blanchett chase down an Apache Brujo, who’s like a witch doctor on steroids, after he kidnaps Blanchett’s daughter. “Okay, that sounds pretty good. I’m in.”

Yeah, Tommy Lee Jones would kick my ass in a fight.

Apparently not. For some reason, no one saw this movie. The Missing came out in 2003, but if you ask around about it now, you’ll probably get a confused look and the question, “Ron Howard made a Western?” Yes he did, and it was quite good. Adapted from the novel The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson, The Missing was Howard’s first film after A Beautiful Mind, so it should have had the popularity of that movie going for it. Instead, it came and went.

The Missing handles spiritualism and supernatural elements better than any Western I’ve seen. Tommy Lee Jones plays Samuel Jones, who left his daughter Magdalena (Cate Blanchett) when she was a child to go native. The movie opens with Jones returning to a grown Magdalena, now a mother of two. When Magdalena’s oldest daughter Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by the Brujo (played with a balance of brooding and a frightening apathy for the horrific by Eric Schweig), Maggie has to turn to her father track down the Apache. What ensues is a disturbing look at racism, spiritualism, religion, family, and human trafficking in 19th-century New Mexico.

Do NOT take a bad picture of this man. Don't ask why. Just don't do it.

If Dances with Wolves had been a horror film, Costner might have made something akin to The Missing. It has some of the most horrific scenes I’ve seen in a Western. Let me put it to you this way: the description below the R-rating that says “violence” is a huge understatement. (On a side note, this makes me really excited for what Ron Howard will do with The Dark Tower.) I’m still not sure what happened to Aaron Eckhart’s character, but I am sure I don’t want to know. Howard perfectly mixes showing the gore and pulling the camera away, so that the violence has just the right effect. The combined effects of the Brujo’s unpredictable and creative penchant for violence is beyond terrifying (especially in a scene in which he melts a photographer’s eyes out), and the starkly shot remains of his victims will leave you squeamish after the film. Perhaps this is why people have a hard time swallowing the movie.

It’s worth watching though. I’ve seen a few films that try to mix Native American spiritualism with the classic Western and fail. (See Renegade starring Vincent Cassel–or don’t.) The Missing, though, manages to balance the supernatural elements with a startling grace and effectiveness. I give credit to the performances and to Ken Kaufman’s script in this case. Tommy Lee Jones gives Sam, an unlikeable father figure, a level of depth that has to be hinted at in the tone of his voice and in his physical presence, because the character is too prideful to allow the audience to see how deep his empathy runs. Likewise, Magdalena has her father’s stubbornness and never fully overcomes her racism against Indians, but Cate Blanchett’s performance is such an engaging blend of vulnerability and strength that we can sympathize. There is simply no choice: the viewer must watch as the two characters grow but never fully reunite.

If they'd bought a box of Thin Mints, none of this would have happened.

The Missing is almost a movie of redemption, and the fact that it never reaches that level is a great strength of the film. There are some things in life (like, as the movie points out, abandoning you child), that would take more than a weekend to fix and forgive. The film understands this, and Sam, even as he longs to be close to his daughter, does as well. There is beauty in his struggle with resigning himself to the inability to be redeemed or the slim chance he can make things right.

Every character in The Missing has depth, even in the minor roles. Val Kilmer and Aaron Eckhart provide strong support. The same is true of Evan Rachel Wood; and watch out for Jenna Boyd, who plays Maggie’s younger daughter, Dot– she should be old enough to start getting recognition, and she deserves it for this role.

The Missing is not your typical Western. The end is haunting and leaves you thinking. It’s hard to classify, and hard to watch at times, but if you love Westerns, this is a must-see that shouldn’t be forgotten.

(The Missing at the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338188)

–Nathanael Griffis

30 Days of Madness: Day 31

Well, I made it through 30 Days of Madness none too worse for the wear. The only major difference in my life is a series of YouTube videos that show me, a shy introvert who never was much for public performance, occasionally acting like a lunatic for all the world to see. Did I learn anything? I learned I never want to do anything this intense again. I learned a lot about the history of cinema. I learned a lot about my own abilities in film criticism. I reaffirmed that, especially when it comes to horror movies, there are a lot of good ones, a lot of bad ones, and a lot of stuff that is just plain ugly.

Let me take a quick look back over the movies I’ve watched this month of October:

Day 1: Nightbeast (1982) Hey, my first movie was from the year of my birth. How fitting. My inaugural flick was my personal introduction to Troma and one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, but one I would watch again with friends. My response video was only my second YouTube video, after my introductory video which is available for viewing on my channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/KapriciousT.

Day 2: Redneck Zombies (1987) My second Troma movie, and the first movie I ever refused to finish. I would like to wash my memory clean of this one. This one I actually was watching with friends (the only time during the month I was able to do so), and I was embarrassed about it.

Day 3: The Call of Cthulhu (2005) My third movie was a huge step up in quality, one that I would recommend to anyone, horror fan or not, and one that I would watch again by myself or with friends.

Day 4: Puppet Master (1989) My fourth day, I started having a little more fun with the video responses. This is actually my first scripted video to appear on the Internet–at least, the first one that I scripted. (There are one or two other videos floating around out there featuring my acting skills.) I would definitely watch this one again with friends.

Day 5: The Black Cat (2007) Surprisingly, the best thing I watched this month–for this project. (I’m not counting The Social Network or Amélie, which I watched almost immediately after finishing up with Day 30. Call it a palate-cleanser.) I may watch this one again, but it was so horrifying, I might have to wait awhile. I highly recommend it only for people with a high threshold for gore and horror, and especially for cinephiles and fans of Edgar Allan Poe.

Day 6: My Name Is Bruce (2008) Possibly the most disappointing movie I watched this month, in terms of expectations I had going into it, but also possibly the most fun I had doing the YouTube response. I might begrudgingly watch it again with other people.

Day 7: Pandorum (2009) Possibly the most pleasant surprise. (The Black Cat, while amazing, was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever watched and a bit difficult to get through.) I had a great time watching this one, and I’d watch it again by myself or with friends. I’d recommend it to most people.

Day 8: Zombies of Mass Destruction (2009) The second movie I refused to finish. The humor went from obnoxious to ridiculous to offensive. Nowhere near the level of Redneck Zombies, but not one I care to ever revisit.

Day 9: Funny Games (1997) One of the toughest movies I had to watch, and even more difficult formulating a response. This may be the most personally contentious film I’ve ever watched. I would not recommend this to anyone but serious film students. I had a great time doing the video though. Mmmm-bananas.

Day 10: Black Sabbath (1963) This was a really boring one, maybe not even worth watching with friends. I might revisit it at some point for a more in-depth review though.

Day 11: Fright Night (1985) Probably the movie in which my mood most changed (for the better) from the beginning to the end. I started out hating it and by the end was legitimately enjoying it. I’d watch it again, alone or with friends.

Day 12: Sometimes They Come Back (1991) I doubt I’ll ever bother with this one again in any setting.

Day 13: The Fly (1986) One I had been meaning to see for years, and I am glad I finally did. It was one of my favorites of the month, and I highly recommend it. Horrifying, humorous, heartbreaking. I’d watch it again alone or with friends.

Day 14: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) A classic, but one I probably will never sit through completely again, unless I get to see one of the other edits of the film floating around. Definitely worth revisiting for certain scenes and for its importance to cinema. Also, my first silent video response.

Day 15: Lo (2009) One of the true pleasant surprises of the month, and one that has appreciated the more I’ve thought, written, and talked about. Not only would I like to watch it again, I almost feel like I need to, as I’d be seeing it from a completely different perspective thanks to the way the plot wraps up. Did a Flickchart segment in my video, which is less interesting when it’s just me talking. Also gave me a chance to talk up http://www.Flickchart.com and http://blog.flickchart.com/index.php/category/flickfights.

Day 16: The Burrowers (2008) This one, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it immediately after watching it. It’s a well-made movie that doesn’t have a very good ending, and is also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. I may never watch it again, but I’m glad I saw it once.

Day 17: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) The final scene of this film still makes me uneasy to think about it. It’s definitely one of the best of the 70s-80s horror. I may watch it again someday, maybe with friends who could handle it.

Day 18: White Zombie (1932) The article in which I started doing a scene-by-scene recap but had no time to finish. I’d like to go back and finish, possibly to use in another project that I’ll be working on in conjunction with IncidentalDog.com. If you’re as big a fan of http://AgonyBooth.com as I am, you already have an idea of what I’m going for.

Day 19: Peeping Tom (1960) There was a lot to laugh at and a lot to admire, but I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again.

Day 20: Planet of the Vampires (1965) A movie that is as important as it is ludicrous, I’d love to go back and do more of an in-depth critique of this film. This one would probably be fun to watch with friends.

Day 21: Ringu (1998) The one I realized I never wrote an article for. I’d been wanting to see this film for years. Now that I have, I can compare it with the American remake, which I love. I may go back and explore these two films in an actual complete article.

Day 22: The Last House on the Left (1972) One of the biggest surprises of the month, in how poorly made a movie it is. I’ve heard that it’s a must-see in the horror genre, but it’s really not. And it’s too unpleasant to be fun for a group or for a scene-by-scene recap. As far as the video response goes, there were apparently a few people who watched it without having watched my video response for Ringu. I appreciate everybody almost calling to make sure I was okay.

Day 23: Fido (2006) I’d been waiting for a real good zombie flick, and Fido delivered. The messy ending and some less-good performances kept it from perfection, but I’d watch it again anytime. And it’s a PG-13 zombie film, which is just weird.

Day 24: The Masque of the Red Death (1964) I’d recommend this film for just about anyone. It’s well enough constructed to be respectable, but there’s also plenty to have fun with. I might like to revisit this one for a more in-depth look someday.

Day 25: Empire of the Ants (1977) This was one of the most ludicrous films I watched this month, but it would be a lot of fun to watch with a group of friends or to do an extended review of. I totally forgot about all those fake giant ants I had sitting around when I did the video response. Oh well.

Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Another respectable but slightly-cheesy flick I’d watch again, especially with a group.

Day 27: The Washingtonians (2007) I paid the price for cheating on choosing the next movie title out of my jack-o-lantern in the previous YouTube video, because this movie was awful in every way. I don’t think I could tolerate sitting through it again.

Day 28: Cat’s Eye (1985) Much like Fright Night, I was much more into this movie at the end than I was in the beginning. This would be fun to watch with a group. Also, a note on my YouTube video: I learned that the deep guttural growl of a cat does not pick up on my laptop mic, so while my cat sounded really pissed off to me, to the audience it looks like I’m just holding a silent cat. Oh well. Crazy is as crazy does, I guess.

Day 29: Attack of the Puppet People (1958) I’m glad I got to bring back Shakes and Lefty for this one, because they are much more interesting than I am in the videos. Attack would be fun to do a more in-depth review of. Maybe someday.

Day 30: Sugar Hill (1974) I did not choose Sugar Hill at random. I did it as a present to my friends who chose it for my jack-o-lantern and kept mentioning how much they wished it would come up. They may be underwhelmed, though, because I enjoyed the movie alright. Sorry, honks, it wasn’t nearly as awful as you were hoping.

I am so happy to be done with this so I can start watching other movies I’ve been wanting to watch. Between watching the movies, preparing and recording the YouTube videos, and writing the articles, it took roughly four hours per movie, so this frees up my time a fair bit. One final thing I’d been wanting to do is some sort of a Top Horror list, so what I did was, I went back through all the titles available for instant streaming on Netflix and chose what I consider to be the 31 best horror films (out of what I’ve seen–there still are a ton of horror flicks on there I’ve never watched).

Some are relentlessly horrific. Some aren’t specifically horror films but still have a strong element of horror in some aspect of the narrative. Here are my Top 31 picks (an asterisk indicates a title from the 30 Days of Madness):

1. Aliens (1986)

2. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

3. The Black Cat (2007)*

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

4. The Call of Cthulhu (2005)*

5. Carrie (1976)

6. Child’s Play (1988)

7. The Crazies (2010)

8. Creepshow (1982)

9. Diabolique (1955)

10. District 9 (2009)

11. The Exorcist (1973)

12. Fido (2006)*

13. The Fly (1986)*

14. The Host (2006)

15. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

16. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)*

17. Jaws (1975)

18. Lo (2009)*

19. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

21. Nosferatu (1922)

22. Pandorum (2009)*

23. Paranormal Activity (2007)

24. Peeping Tom (1960)*

25. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)*

26. Reign of Fire (2002)

27. Signs (2002)

28. The Sixth Sense (1999)

29. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

30. Them! (1954)

31. Zombieland (2009)

Thank you Alban, Nate, and Steve for your support this past month, and to everyone else who left encouraging comments along the way. Thanks to Cindy (my dog) and Putty and Kunj (my cats) for their appearances, and special thanks to Jack-o, Shakes, and Lefty. Finally, thank you to the film makers whose good films made the bad ones more bearable. Happy Halloween.

–Tom Kapr