Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Movie Face/Off! Biblical Horror Edition (Results)

The reckoning is here! The scoring is very arbitrary and specific for these films, but the last set of figures represent things I've found I look for in every movie. Production values are something that often mean nothing (the best looking movie can still be shit), but it's where I'll give bonus points for nice photography or an excellent score. Unique selling points account for cool moments that cannot be classified otherwise. Oh, and sorry for using an obnoxious corporate phrase.

As for liveliness, a degree of coherent energy can make up for a lot of other failures, and by that I don't mean crazy pace. Something slow-paced, e.g. Jonathan Glazer's widely hated Birth (off the top of my head), barely moves at all, but there is an intelligence and plan for maximum effectiveness to that film that many films lack despite the frenetic editing or stunt-packed explosiveness or otherwise skillful filmmaking. It's just apparent there's some attention to pacing beyond making individual scenes work in a certain way, something that extends from committed and thoughtful performances on set down to the arc of the movie, and whether it works as a progressive ebb and flow from the first moment to the last, i.e. has the director figured out the movie's parts and whole from a God position instead of just focusing on the money shots, for lack of a better word. It sounds silly and nitpicky, but I'm always surprised at how many talented or untalented directors nowadays can't be bothered to figure that out. ::shakes cane at whippersnappers on their skateboards::

Ugh, it's something I've been thinking about for a while, and hope to explain better in the future, as well as come up with a better word for it. Not right now, though. We've got facing/off to do.

The Omen

Liev Schreiber: -10
David Thewlis: -10
Julia Stiles: -3
Pete Postlethwaite: +2
Michael Gambon: +4
Mia Farrow: +7

Total: -10

I will admit, kneejerk dislike of the leads didn't help here, but as much as Schreiber and Thewlis get on my nerves, I'll admit they're talented, intelligent actors (cursed though they are with sinuses that function as reverb chambers). Here, though, they just give up, sleepwalking through the movie with just enough awareness to point their faces in the right direction. Gambon and Farrow bring it back through sheer insane effort, but John Moore really wasn't paying attention to some of the performances, and thus we get a mixture of apathy and shrill annoyance.

Plot elements specific to these films:
Elegant transmission of exposition: -5
Crazy deaths: +4
Ridiculous character names: +3
Grasp of London geography: -5
Fair treatment of women/reproduction: -10
Avoidance of lazy dream sequences: -4
Survival of ethnic sidekick until final frame: N/A (Thewlis doesn't count)

Total: -17

Yes, Thewlis' death was great fun, but once cinema has offered the sight of someone sliced into pieces by a flying wire fence (as in Final Destination 2), or a skull chopped into pieces by a dislodged engine (as in Final Destination 3), you've got to try hard to top it.

Originality: -10
Liveliness: -7
Enthusiasm for project: -8
Avoidance of cliche: -10
Unique Selling Points: -10
Production values: +1

Total: -42

Lowest scores possible for originality, as it's pretty much a Van Santing of the original movie. As for cliche, perhaps it's a bit unfair to judge the script on that, but Moore offers nothing directorially that could sway me. Everything is filmed exactly the way you would expect it. As for offering something you can't get elsewhere, you've got the superior original and the macabre Final Destination trilogy, which not only loses the religious guff (a secular horror movie about fate!) but presents pregnancy as something positive and hope-inspiring. That those movies are horribly bleak is both an unfortunate side effect and a USP. ::sigh:: I really like those movies.

Omen overall total: -69

A truly appalling, cynical cash-in movie, and further casting doubt on the ability of John Moore to create anything memorable in his career, other than the awesome plane crash scenes in Behind Enemy Lines and Flight of the Phoenix.

The Reaping

Hilary Swank: +6
David "Elvis" Morrissey: +1
Idris Elba: +1
AnnaSophia Robb: +3
Stephen Rea: -4
Andrea Frankle: 0

Total: 7

For all the film's faults, Hopkins did get a bunch of talented actors and didn't get in their way too much, as opposed to Moore's higgledy-piggledy approach. Swank especially tries hard. I just can't hate on her. Her taste in projects is often way off, but she commits to it, at least. Andrea Frankle, playing Robb's mother, was in the movie enough to register, but was given nothing to do other than be a red herring. She might be good given something to do, but here she was ill-served.

Plot elements specific to this film:
Elegant transmission of exposition: -2
Crazy deaths: -2
Ridiculous character names: 0
Grasp of London geography: N/A (If you could see the London Eye above the bayou, it would win hands down.)
Fair treatment of women/reproduction: -10
Avoidance of lazy dream sequences: -7
Survival of ethnic sidekick until final frame: -7

Total = -28

If only this film had a Bugenhagen, or death by satellite-crashing, it would register more. Instead the earnestness swamps anything, with only the staging of the locust scene making an impression. It's the only proof that the crew were awake during the planning of the movie. However, see below.

Originality: -7
Liveliness: -8
Enthusiasm for project: -7
Avoidance of cliche: -8
Unique Selling Points: -2
Production values: +5

Total = -27

Not as cynical as The Omen, and certainly the dour atmosphere tends to suggest Hopkins thought he was making something more than a silly potboiler, but it doesn't hide the lack of imagination, not to mention the derivative script. It rips off many better movies, and the best scene in it, i.e. the locust attack, is nowhere near as emotionally affecting or dramatic as the locust scenes at the end of Days of Heaven. Completely different film, but infinitely more compelling. Some nice photography and effects, though.

Reaping overall total = -48

Bland to the point of barely existing. It looks a lot better than it should, but it's a film that just didn't need to be made. Not that that's a bad thing; lots of films don't need to be made, but they can still transcend that and become something great. A half-hearted rehashing of better plots without the wit or imagination to rework them, play homage to them, or push them to an insane level of melodramatic hysteria, is not what I have in mind, though.

So, in a fairish fight, The Reaping wins through superior acting and some nice production values. But as you can see from the score, it's a Pyrrhic victory. In fact, here is an accurate representation of the Biblical Horror Movie Fightbot Face/Off, from Stuart Gordon's massively entertaining Robot Jox.

Oh, the humanity! Those final shots show what me and Canyon's brains were like once the movies were over. Damn you biblical horror movies! We should have rewatched Exorcist III. And pooed ourselves with fear.

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