Sunday, June 29, 2008

a few reelers

the ship of evil
30 Days Of Night works as a sombre effective modern-day vampire piece. It's ironic that the comic book miniseries it's based on had started life as a failed pitch for a film. Director David Slade guides the cast through a gory, atmospheric wonderfully lensed narrative that, despite sporting all the familiar elements of the genre, tosses in its share of embellishments. In sharp contrast to Count Dracula and his sirens, the vampires don't have much for looks and speak an argot of their own. This means that there isn't much scope for conversation between the blood-thirsty hordes and the humans fighting for survival. This also means that the vampires are focused cold-blooded killers without table manners; you won't find any tortured soul wearing anguish behind the veneer of the toothed snarl. There's also none of that pop culture awareness and self-referential subtext that breathed life into the Scream series. In fact, the film plays out more as a calm action thriller with the tropes of horror. The opening and closing credits have a life of their own, especially the end credits, which, accompanied by an ominous cue from Brian Reitzell, play out against an epilogue to death comprised of photographs of townspeople viewed through a cascade of shadows and cracked ice.

Owning Mahowny (there's a nice rhythm to that title, especially given the way his name is spelled) is the tale of Dan Mahowny, a boring bank manager who has a gambling addiction (or as he chooses to describe it "a financial problem; a shortfall") and lands up managing a multi-million dollar account. Addiction breeds temptation and soon the bank's money makes it to the casino floor. Based on a true story, the film derives its strength from characters instead of from gambling and the slick glitz associated with it. Philip Seymour Hoffman nails the part yet again, making Mahowny a tragic wretched figure we find ourselves liking, hating and pitying. John Hurt chews with relish on his part as Victor Foss, an Atlantic City casino manager, who recognises Mahowny as a high-roller and also has an appreciation of the inevitable fate of the compulsive gambler: he isn't playing to win; he's playing as long as he can ride from one loss to another, weathering the thrill of a winning streak along the way. We know Mahowny's going to get caught and we share his inability to do anything to prevent it.

The previous cinematic adaptations of Charles Belden's short story The Wax Works have been minor milestones in themselves. The first adaptation directed by Michael Curtiz was the final Warner Bros. film in Technicolor. Its famous 1953 remake starring Vincent Price was the first 3D film from Warner Bros.; the film made it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the first 3D film to be released with a stereophonic soundtrack. The 2005 adaptation sports only the least interesting aspect in the adaptations. Curtiz's film worked as a mystery film while the remake with Vincent Price moved down the horror road. The latest offering from Jaume Collet-Serra takes the easy way out -- it transplants the story into the overpopulated dumb trope that is the slasher flick. It takes the plot element of wax from the original narrative and appropriates elements from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Having Paris Hilton on the roster is another hint about the direction this film has decided to take. If you get a bunch of people you don't really care about, a bunch of people who are quite annoying, would you really care if they were dismembered in the most grisly fashion? The use of the Robert Aldrich classic What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? is perhaps the most interesting bit in this mindless by-the-numbers affair; and perhaps reading up about a Bowie knife, after it showed up in the film (with its share of exposition). "On May 6th, watch Paris die" screamed the promotional T-shirt that Paris Hilton wore, with the studio's permission, to promote the film. That summed up the essence of the film (for another example of cinematic notoriety, try Hounddog and the little scream queen Dakota Fanning). On an unrelated note, Elisha Cuthbert looked like a better version of Kirsten Dunst. A little reading-up told me that she had auditioned for the part of Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man, a part that eventually went to Dunst. It would have been nice to have Dunst show up here instead. That could've given us an artsy title like Waxing Dunst: We'll Always Have Paris. I should stop now, before I explore the jokes about building material.

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