#102 - Once A Week Won't Kill You
1919 - 2010
Before we get started, I’d like to thank everyone who emailed or commented on my 100 Best Movies of the 00s feature. The response was overwhelmingly positive, even from those of you who didn’t agree with every single title on the list (a group which I believe includes every single person who read it). For the record, I have nothing against The Dark Knight, Kill Bill Vol. 1 or Zodiac, to name just a few of the most frequently mentioned omissions. I simply like at least 100 other movies more. However, I do have to admit that Gladiator just bores me stiff, so it really never stood a chance of appearing on the list. My apologies to Sir Ridley Scott and his legion of fans.
A number of readers wrote in to ask about my 100 Best Movies of the 90s list which I mentioned a few times. Unfortunately, the text of that essay is presumably on one of the dozens of unlabelled floppy disks I’ve accumulated over the years. But if you’re curious about which movies made the cut, I’ve posted the list itself over on my blog, The Doctor Is In. I usually use that cybercorner to talk about non-movie related topics but in this case, I couldn’t really figure out where else to post it. So if you’re curious, it’s there for you. Incidentally, Facebook followers of JET knew about this a week ago, so if you’re signed up on the Facebook, I encourage you to take a second and become a fan. As they say, membership has its privileges. Plus, it’s your chance to tell the world you enjoy Jahnke’s Electric Theatre almost as much as bacon or squirrels.
Without further ado, let’s ring up the Electric Theatre curtain and see what 2010 has in store.
NOW IN THEATRES
I was not a huge fan of Adam Green’s first feature, Hatchet, a throwback to 80s slasher flicks. The movie has a palpable love for the genre and Green demonstrated an admirable enthusiasm and genuine skill behind the camera. But it also seemed to be coming from someone who truly thought that 80s slasher movies, all of ‘em, were genuinely scary and wonderful films. As much as I love a lot of slasher movies, I’ve never once been scared by them and harbor no illusions that they represent a high-water mark in horror cinema. With Hatchet, Green seemed a bit like someone who could, if he wanted to, get a job as a chef in a five-star restaurant but preferred to devote all his time and energy into figuring out how to make an exact replica of a Big Mac. Frozen isn’t quite filet mignon material but it’s a big step in the right direction.
The movie falls squarely into the worst-case-scenario type of horror movie. Three friends (Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell and Kevin Zegers) get trapped on a chair-lift just as a ski resort is closing down for the week. If you’re already thinking, “That’s stupid. That would never happen,” you probably shouldn’t be allowed to watch movies anymore. You do realize it’s also impossible for a demon to possess a 13-year-old girl or for a man to turn into a wolf. Just to be safe, you probably also shouldn’t be put in charge of anything too important, like a security detail, because you clearly have a pure, unshakable faith that the system will always work perfectly and protect you no matter what. Green sets up his simple premise quite well, making us believe that this trio could in fact get stuck with no way down. He then hits them with every conceivable hardship that could happen in such a confined space. Blizzard, frostbite, ill-conceived and desperate attempts at escape, you name it.
Any movie like this will have you engaging in theatre-seat quarterbacking, wondering, “Well, why didn’t they do this, that or the other?” To Green’s credit, there was just one moment that required me to hoist my disbelief higher than I would have liked. For the movie to work, it’s not really important what you would do in that situation. What matters is that you buy that these characters would perform these actions. Ashmore, Bell and Zegers sell the scenario for all they’re worth. These aren’t necessarily folks I’d want to hang out with but I did believe they were real people and nothing they do contradicts the characters they create. Most importantly, Green stages some genuinely tense sequences, with key assistance from director of photography Will Barratt and composer Andy Garfield. Whether or not you buy the fact that they’re up there in the first place, it’s hard to deny the nail-biting effectiveness of what happens later.
Frozen bears some similarity to 2003’s Open Water but Adam Green deserves credit for attempting something much more difficult. There’s inherent tension in Open Water simply with the protagonists’ trying to keep their heads above water. There is nothing particularly exciting about watching three people sit on a bench and freeze. Green finds a way, striking a careful balance between long hours of waiting and bursts of activity. Frozen is a surprisingly effective thriller and Adam Green is emerging as a unique, creative and confident voice in horror films. (* * *)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
Alan Rickman has made a career off playing the smartest guy in the room. No living actor is better at conveying a sense of haughty superiority or barely concealed contempt for everyone else around him. He maintains a distance, a sense of otherness that sets him apart and commands the audience’s attention. In Marc Evans’ 2006 drama Snow Cake, Rickman channels that feeling of separation in quite a different direction with results that are surprisingly moving and effective.
Rickman stars as Alex, recently released from prison and on the road to Winnipeg. He picks up a young hitchhiker (Emily Hampshire) bound and determined to wear down his reserve and get him to open up. But after the unlikely duo are involved in a devastating car crash, Alex goes to visit her mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver) and is surprised to discover she’s autistic. Unable to simply abandon her, Alex stays on to help with the arrangements, developing a relationship with a neighbor (Carrie-Anne Moss) and slowly coming to terms with his own life.
Very often, Rickman’s aloofness stems from a feeling of superiority. But as Alex, Rickman keeps a distance for his own protection. If anything, Alex suffers from an inferiority complex. He won’t allow anyone to get too close partly because he feels he doesn’t deserve their friendship or compassion. Angela Pell’s screenplay is sweet and sentimental without being maudlin. The relationship between Rickman and Weaver is nuanced and mature. This isn’t a story about Rickman learning to love life after coming to know an extraordinary autistic woman. He gets frustrated with her, just as she does with him. Weaver is also quite good in a tricky role, vividly showing us a woman struggling with a situation she can’t truly understand. And Carrie-Anne Moss is smart, sexy and sympathetic as the independent neighbor who is instrumental in bringing Rickman out of himself.
With its gentle rhythms and low-key approach, Snow Cake is an extremely pleasant and often lovely little film. It’s hardly a revelation but it’s never less than compelling. If you’re a fan of Alan Rickman (and honestly, I don’t know too many people who aren’t), you’ll definitely want to seek this one out. If the movie leaves you wanting a bit more, perhaps it’s because Snow Cake is a detour, not a complete journey. But it’s certainly a side trip worth taking. (* * *)
Thanks to Angela Lee for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! As always, if you have a little-known or underrated movie to recommend, please drop me an email, suggest it at the JET Facebook page or send the title along via carrier pigeon. The first two methods are preferred since McGuffin, the official JET cat, has been known to interfere with pigeon delivery.