Bartender, get me another Tarkovsky. Stronger, this time. For those of you sighing heavily, I promise I’ll get back to watching the trash Hellraiser sequels soon.
I gave my whole Tarkovsky spiel in my write up on his 1972 introspective sci-fi film, Solaris. After having missed Stalker at my local independent theater, I was disheartened that I wouldn’t get to see it, especially after one of my co-workers saw it and really enjoyed it. But alas, you can always count on the Criterion Collection to re-release old school art films for way too much money, and a couple weeks ago, they did just that. Talking about the value of films and how much they should cost is a debate for another day. Let’s just get to the Russian arthouse weirdness.
Stalker takes place in a strange world. Is it post-apocalyptic? Perhaps. Nothing grows in the non-specific country in which Stalker takes place. Buildings are ruined, and the earth is cracked beneath everyone’s feet. Is it a dystopian hyper-industrial future? There’s more evidence of this, with the militaristic police that seem to be patrolling every street corner and every back alley. Chemical factories and power plants make up the skyline. Whatever the case, the world of Stalker is a funereal one. Three men meet in a bar. We do not know their names, only their professions. The Professor, the Writer, and the Stalker, a man trained to bypass the military quarantine surrounding a mysterious area of lush greenery simply known as the Zone. These men are prepared to risk their lives for their mission into the Zone, as legend has it that within the Zone lies a room that can immediately grant the wishes of anyone who enters.
Editor’s Note: I started writing this while kind of blitzed (similar to my Bye Bye Man review, but with maybe half a dozen more bottles of Alpine in me), so bare with me here. I took a sober moment the next day to comb through this write up and clean it up to the usual amount of typos and grammatical errors.
I’m lucky enough to live in a town that has a local independent cinema, which screens a ton of newer indie releases as well as manages to show old prints of classic movies. Local arthouse and documentary films also get a home there, but the reason I’ve taken a new shine to the place is because they’ve been on a bit of an Andrei Tarkovsky kick recently. Last month they showed Stalker, arguably his most revered movie (honestly, among Tarkovsky fans, every single one of his films is up for being considered his best work) which I unfortunately wasn’t able to catch. I was kicking myself for that one, so when I found out that they’d be showing Tarkovsky’s philosophical sci-fi epic Solaris, I made sure I was able to make it out to catch it on the big screen.
For those of you who might not know (I was only introduced to Andrei Tarkovsky recently), Tarkovsky was the most famous Soviet era Russian filmmaker, and was able to produce art so expressive of his own feelings and thoughts his films were repeatedly banned, seized, and burned by the USSR until finally he was exiled from the union. Among the arthouse and independent film fans, Tarkovsky is usually held in the same echelon as Kubrick, Lynch, and Coppola. He’s apparently kind of a big deal. This film is the first I’ve ever seen of his, so we’ll see how he stacks up.
Tarkovsky’s 1972 offering Solaris is often considered as a Eastern European response to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a slow, heady sci-fi flick that uses its setting and creative choices to explore interesting and thought provoking themes and questions. Solaris is smaller in scale and a little more introspective than 2001, following a psychologist named Kelvin who is sent to a space station orbiting the eponymous ocean planet. Kelvin’s mission: to investigate the strange messages received from the station. Word is that most of the crew are dead and the survivors have since descended into madness. When he reaches the station, Kelvin is informed that there are “guests” on board: physical manifestations of the occupants’ memories, apparently conjured up by the alien planet below them. Before long he runs into what appears to be an amnesiac version of his wife, Khari. Kelvin is particularly distraught over this, considering Khari committed suicide a decade prior. Things then get weirder, and much more Russian.
There seems to be a new resurgence in Stephen King stories being adapted to the big screen. There were not one, but two trailers for King novels-turned-movies showing at the theater last I was there: one of which is drawn from a book over 1,000 pages, the other is a re-imaginging of a series eight novels long, clocking in at well over 4,000 pages. I’ve been on a little bit of a Stephen King kick recently, myself. I’m currently grinding my way through It (the aforementioned thousand-pager) and a while ago I decided to rain on my own sun-soaked vacation by tearing through The Mist while lying on the beach slaying Yuenglings. I was interested in checking out a feature length film adaptation of a relatively short story, since usually books-turned-movies have to speed through or omit material so they aren’t five hours long. Now, I am a firm believer in distancing movie adaptations from their source material, looking at those movies as standalone works, but more often than not adaptations often do suffer because they try to cram too much in to be clear and concise stories in their own rights. I figured a film based on a 100-and-some-odd page novella would work better.
The Mist is one of the million stories King cranked out during the ’80s while he was, well, cranked out of his fucking mind. While the average person usually confuses it with John Carpenter’s The Fog, most people know it as “the one where people get trapped in a supermarket” or “The only Stephen King movie that Stephen King actually likes”. As the story goes, a massive storm tears through Maine, leaving an impossibly thick mist in its wake. Our protagonist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy are at the local small town supermarket gathering supplies to repair their house when the mist rolls into the plaza. Rather abruptly revealed to us and our characters, spooky scary
skeletons monsters stalk through the mist, capable of tearing through the flesh and bone of anyone foolish enough to to leave the safety of a building. Despite the chaos and terror outside, tensions rise and factions develop inside the store. Rational thinkers and doomsayers split up and being antagonizing each other, because fuck it if a group of people can’t be trapped in a location without devolving into squads of knuckle-dragging deplorables at each others’ throats 24/7.
Martyrs has ascended to an almost legendary status in the horror community. It’s widely considered one of the most violent, brutal, and depraved movies of all time. If horror fans are known for anything, it’s for having full blown dick measuring contests over who can watch the most despicable shit and not be fazed. And every time someone mentions “extreme cinema” or “most disturbing movies” in any corner of the internet, these horror fans all rush in jerking themselves off over how little they feel when watching sickening stuff. This to me defeats the purpose of horror movies, which is to make you feel. Sure, the feelings are usually dread, hopelessness, or disgust, but they all have their place when you allow yourself to open yourself up in a controlled environment such as a when watching a film.
Speaking of opening yourself up, let’s talk about Martyrs.
Martyrs is the infamous 2008 horror film and top dog entry into the New French Extremity scene. Written and directed by Pascal Laugier (who is really not known for anything else of note), this film is burdened with the unending hype of a thousand thrillseekers, gorehounds, and horror fanatics across the globe. It’s been given somewhat of a new boost in popularity since the American remake was released a few years ago to complete critical panning, driving viewers to seek out the original, unbutchered version.
This movie starts with a hard, cold open of a very young girl, Lucie, escaping an abandoned factory. She’s bloodied and broken, limping through the streets. Once she is rescued and brought to a home for traumatized children, she begins seeing a mutilated humanoid creature that regularly stalks her and occasionally hurts her. After fifteen(!) years, Lucie deduces that she must get revenge on the people who scarred her when she was a child in order to appease the creature that has been haunting and hurting her for over a decade. Armed with a double barreled shotgun, she forcibly enters a family’s house and massacres them in one of the most vicious home invasion scenes ever put to film.
And that is all you get as a synopsis before I enter heavy spoiler territory.
Unbreakable is a thriller and drama that was written, produced, and directed my M. Night Shyamalan. Now, before you click away, I want you to look at the year this movie was released. This was hot on the heels of The Sixth Sense and naturally, Shyamalan wanted a more ambitious project to work on. He already killed it in the supernatural thriller genre once, and I guess he wanted to solidify himself as a thriller powerhouse while everybody’s eyes were still on him.
Unbreakable is the story of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a family man and security guard who’s marriage is tumultuous at best. He’s just chugging along his dreary life until on his way back from a job interview in New York, he gets in a massive train accident. Hundreds are killed, and not only is he the only survivor, but he emerges completely unharmed. This garners the attention of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book obsessed art gallery owner, who believes that Dunn is completely impervious to harm. Dunn obviously doesn’t believe him at first, but after slowly learning more and more about himself and revealing and honing his natural abilities, he then has to try and reconcile the idea of having the potential to be a superhero while navigating his broken family life. (more…)