Sunday, January 30, 2011

False Witches and Religious Hypocrisy

In 1968, Vincent Price starred in Witchfinder General, the story of a corrupt, hypocritical monster who travels the English countryside accusing innocent people of witchcraft and torturing confessions out of them. It is set in the year 1645, during the English Civil War, and Price's Matthew Hopkins uses the country's social breakdown to his advantage, identifying "witches" and charging the local magistrates for his services.

In a village in Suffolk, he accuses the local priest (Rupert Davies) of sorcery and orders him to be tortured. His horrified niece, Sara (Hilary Dwyer), offers herself to Hopkins in order to save her uncle's life. But when Hopkins is called away to another village, his equally corrupt assistant, Stearne (Robert Russell), rapes her. Upon his return, Hopkins now considers her "unclean," and the torture of the priest resumes, culminating in his death.

Sara's fiance, Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), is a young Roundhead who, upon returning home from the war, is horrified to discover what has happened to his beloved and her uncle. He vows to hunt down and kill both Hopkins and Stearne.

This is an amazing film in many respects. Price's performance is absolutely grim and humorless, a revelation in this era when he'd really begun to camp it up. It's also surprisingly sadistic for its time, earning the wrath of British critics, even though it had been heavily censored before it hit theaters.

Ironically, when American International Pictures released it in the States under the title The Conqueror Worm (to tie it in with the earlier series of Poe films, also starring Price), it was virtually uncut. It was written and directed by wünderkind Michael Reeves, who was only 23 at the time of filming.

Even while it was being condemned by British critics, it went virtually unnoticed in America upon initial release, but a few months later defenders on both continents began to speak up, and Reeves' star began to ascend.

Reeves didn't want Price in the film at all (Donald Pleasance was his first—and unavailable—choice). Price didn't want to work with Reeves, considering him to be far too young and inexperienced. On-set explosions were frequent. At one point, Price famously sneered, "I've made 87 films. What have you done?" Reeves' response: "I've made three good ones."

In one scene, Reeves wanted Price to fire a pistol between the ears of the horse he was riding, and he wanted the pistol to be loaded with a blank so the puff of smoke could be seen. Price was aghast: "What? You want the gun to go bang between the ears of this fucking nag? How do you think he’s going to react?” Reeves persisted and—of course—Price was thrown to the ground.

Other problems plagued the production. A technician's strike had to be negotiated. Price showed up drunk on the final day of shooting. Sometimes there weren't enough actors, and production staff filled in. The startling climax (which I won't reveal here) is the result of a continuity problem, but that's a really lucky accident as far as I'm concerned.

Reeves had only directed two films prior to Witchfinder, The She Beast (also with Ogilvy and the incredible Barbara Steele) and The Sorcerers, with Boris Karloff. Even though his career was going well, Reeves suffered from clinical depression and he died of an alcohol and barbiturate overdose in 1969. The jury is still out on whether it was intentional. He was only 25 years old.

Inspired by the film's success, Germany jumped on the bandwagon with the infamous Mark of the Devil in 1970, starring Herbert Lom, Reggie Nalder and an incredibly young and androgynous Udo Kier. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, it raises the stakes (ha!) by amping up the sadism and nudity.

It's set in rural Austria in the 1800s, and Keir plays the apprentice to a witchfinder (Lom), only to become disillusioned when he discovers that his employer is using his position for profit, free sex, and to keep the population terrorized. The torture scenes are pretty tame by today's standards, including the cutting of flesh (in search of Satan's skin), bare bums on spikes and perhaps the most famous scene—the pulling of a woman's tongue out by the roots.

The film's American distributor (Hallmark, which also released Last House on the Left and Don't Open the Window) went into publicity overdrive. The ads screamed: "Positively the most horrifying film ever made!" "Likely to upset your stomach!" "Rated V for violence!" It was also the first release to provide barf bags for theaters to distribute to patrons.

Mark has its defenders, but it's miles behind Witchfinder. The scenes of torture are contrasted with sequences of Kier and his love frolicking in the Austrian countryside, accompanied by that 1970s "doo-doo-doo" European music, and the frequent nudity gives it a sleaziness and unintentional humor that Witchfinder doesn't possess. Plus, some of the scenes could be transferred intact into a Monty Python routine and were, in a way, if you count the persecution of Carol Cleveland in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"She turned me into a newt!" Pause. "I got better!"

1973 brought Mark of the Devil II and more of the same, although ironically it wasn't as brutal as the original. However, it did have a consistent theme of misogyny, which many found even more distasteful.

It took big, burly and prolific Spanish horror star/director Paul Naschy six years to do his own witch-burner, but in 1976 he starred in and directed Inquisition. As Bernard de Fossey, a corrupt inquisitor traveling the French countryside during the time of the Black Death, he does basically the same things Price and Lom did: accuse, torture, kill.

What makes Inquisition different from the earlier films is that many of the accused actually are devil worshippers. Plus, the film asks that its audience find some pity for the inquisitor.

I haven't personally seen this film. I find Naschy's movies to be rather slow and silly, but it sounds like De Fossey's demise echoes that of Oliver Reed's Grandier in Ken Russell's The Devils—head shaved and burned at the stake. And, of course, it heaps on the nudity that is required of a Naschy film. Once again, the sadism stakes are raised to out-gross Mark, the highlight being a rather realistic nipple-removing scene.

Witch hunting movies didn't enjoy the long-term popularity of the Exorcist clones, Naschy's latecomer was pretty much it for the genre. Christopher Lee starred in Jess Franco's The Bloody Judge in 1972, but he was targeting traitors to the crown instead of witches.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Scenes To Freak Out Impressionable Youngsters

In the new issue of Filmfax, Kipp Friedman (the photographer and author whose father is Bruce Jay, the screenwriter, playwright and actor; and whose brothers are Drew, the caricaturist; and Josh, the writer and musician) wrote an article about the movies that really scared the hell out of him was he was a kid. He and his brothers used to talk their father into taking them to horror movies when they were young, and it brought back fond memories of the horror films I saw with my parents when I was a sprite.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) terrified Kipp. He talks about how his father wanted to leave during the trowel slaying scene, but Josh talked him into staying put. I saw the film at the drive-in with my mother and two sisters, but there was no mention of leaving, regardless of what may had been going through Mom's mind. Besides, Dad was often on business trips and Mom would take us to the drive-in frequently for economical entertainment—we saw a lot of horror and sci-fi, and I loved going to the "outdoor theater," as we called it.

In the late 80s I started ordering videotapes from Sinister Cinema and discovered the magnificent Barbara Steele. When I began watching Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965) for what I thought was the first time, a wheelchair-bound character appeared onscreen, and I suddenly thought, "Oh, my God! He's going to run himself through with a sword later and there'll be a close-up of the guts oozing out of his stomach!" Sure enough, it happened, and I realized that a dormant memory of a long-ago viewed drive-in film had been triggered.

Kipp also mentions slipping into some sort of hallucinatory haze when he saw the nuclear mutant unmasking scene in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1968). It was trippy, that's for sure, and Beneath remains my favorite of the Apes films—maybe because I found the apes to be pretty boring after a while and something different needed to be going on.

Around the same time, I went to one of those classic kiddie matinees—the Japanese rubber monsterfest Destroy All Monsters. All of the earth's monsters have been retired to Monster Island, a kind of resort community for creatures. But when space women take control of the monsters and cause them to wreak havoc on the world's major cities and release Ghidorah, their three-headed secret weapon, a battle for supremacy ensues.

The scene that really stuck with me occurs was when a scientist realizes his female counterpart is being controlled via implants in her earrings—and he rips them right out of her lobes! She screams, her ears bleed... I think it hit me because it's a kind of pain I can relate to...not that I'd ever had earrings ripped out of my ears.

TV provided memorable shivers as well. After church every Sunday, we'd go to our grandparents' house. The adults would gather in the kitchen, drink endless cups of coffee and discuss local politics while the kids would huddle in front of the television, of course. The local CBS station, WSBT, had purchased a package of Universal "B" titles and would run them endlessly on Sundays...after church! Not their horror classics, but rather the cheesy early 60s films like Kitten with a Whip. We saw William Castle's I Saw What You Did...And I Know Who You Are (1965) quite frequently. It's about two teenage girls and a kid sister who decide to make prank phone calls while the parents are out, and they happen to ring a man who's just killed his wife. Of course, he comes looking for them.

My sisters and I often had babysitters. It was the suburban 1960s (and parents' "date night" was in its prime), so that movie really creeped me out. The house in which the primary action takes place is remote and surrounded by studio-bound fog. Plus, it had a violent shower stabbing scene which Castle intended to rival Psycho (which I hadn't yet seen, of course), and WSBT ran it more-or-less uncut.

Speaking of sitters, I have a specific memory of watching the 1959 English Herman Cohen cheapie Horrors of the Black Museum with one of mine on a memorable Saturday night. I had to have been been pretty young—no older than six—but I still vividly remember the woman's eyes being pierced by the spring-loaded spike binoculars and the murderer striking with a kind of portable guillotine poised above the sleeping girl's bed.

Occasionally, instead of getting a babysitter, we were taken to other parents' house parties. Once, there was a prime-time network showing of Hitchcock's The Birds that I watched with some kids I didn't know—who actually had a color TV!—during one of them, and the scene where Jessica Tandy goes to visit her neighbor and finds him dead on the floor with his eyes pecked out was shown intact. I was only seven or eight at the time, and it was a memorable freak-out.

Later, I'd talk my family into going to all sorts of trashy horror films, motivated by an endless parade of cheesy TV spots. We had a small theater in downtown South Bend, the Avon Art (so named because it ran foreign "art" films during its heyday in the late 50s and early 60s when audiences attended to legally ogle naked bodies). In the early 1970s, the Avon was on its last legs, screening Blaxpoitation flicks and American International's questionable output.

We saw William Girdler's Abby, a combo Blaxploitation/horror film (1974) there before it was pulled from theaters as a result of a Warner Bros. Exorcist rip-off lawsuit; the 1974 Juliet Mills epic Beyond the Door (ironically another Exorcist rip-off) and Sergio Martino's Torso, both heavily cut for an R rating were also screened there. I was particularly disappointed with Torso. The television commercials promised a lot more than was actually shown. I thought I was actually going to see some explicit hacksaw-on-limb action, but it just didn't happen.

Dad took me to see The Exorcist (1973) on its original release. It was given a hard "X" in South Bend, so he literally sneaked me into the State Theater hiding under his coat. Considering all the mayhem in that film, it might be surprising that the scene that haunted me for months thereafter was the ol' head-spinner. "Do you know what she did...your c***ing daughter?" To this day, I still find it amazing that it airs on broadcast television with the extreme horror (if not the language) more or less intact.

Dad and I also saw Brian DePalma's Sisters (1973) at the drive-in. It began to rain about 40 minutes into the film and the windshield fogged up, but so transfixed were we by the plot that we rolled down the side windows and stuck our heads out into the rain for the duration. It's actually one of the most enduring childhood memories I have of my father. And of course, the violent stabbing scene near the beginning had me hooked from the get-go. She gets him in the mouth, doesn't she?

Kipp and his brothers actually talked their father into taking them to Last House on the Left (1972), but he put his foot down and demanded they leave before the film was over. I can certainly see why, but I saw it later at the drive-in (of course) as part of the infamous Don't! triple bill: Don't Look in the Basement, Don't Open the Window and Last House. Interestingly, my favorite film of the trilogy was Don't Open the Window, which of course is the American title of Jorge Grau's Spanish Let Sleeping Corpses Lie or The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue.

It's easy (for me at least) to understand why. Last House was slow and talky and had corny music, while Don't was like Night of the Living Dead—except in color! Again, even though it was cut for an American R rating, the scene that really got to me was the post-autopsy zombie with his chest stitched up (pictured here) lumbering down the hospital stairs.

Speaking of NOLD in color, Romero's Dawn of the Dead was released when I was 18 and far too mature to "freak out"—or so I thought. Even though the blood was pink and the zombies were blue, the scene near the beginning when the Swat team descends upon the slum to blow away the tenants—and the African-American zombie comes out of his apartment to tear a chunk out of his still-living girlfriend's shoulder and arm—well, I can understand Kipp's hallucinatory haze, because that's what happened to me.

Years later, I met Dawn co-star Ken Foree at a collector's show, and he told me that he'd recently been involved in a panel discussion with some of the cast...and the shoulder-munching zombie sat next to him. "And he still freaked me out!" Foree said.

That's what I love about the movies in Weird Movie Village—they're the gift that keeps on giving.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Food Horror Movies

My ridiculous obsession with the Food Network and its competition shows ("Chopped," "Worst Cooks in America," et al) has made me reflect on all the food-based horror films that have been made, and which ones were the most toothsome.

Surely the granddaddy of them all is Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman's 1963 Blood Feast, which is more deservedly famous for being the first splatter film. It made tons of money and played the drive-in circuit for years.

The plot is simple. Egyptian caterer Fuad Ramses (the hilariously strange Mal Arnold) offers to cater a young girl's engagement party with the intention of bringing an ancient goddess back to life.

To achieve his goal, he runs around town collecting body parts from young women to "rebuild" his goddess. Legs are cut off, eyes are gouged, tongues are pulled out by the root. All the effects are crude, but the mere fact that someone had the audacity to let the blood flow to such an extent in 1963 was an accomplishment in itself. And the Coral Gables-based cosmetic company that formulated the fake blood was called Barfred Cosmetics (an amalgamation of the husband and wife owners' first names) and would ever after be known as the manufacturers of barf-red blood.

Lewis and Friedman had already run through the dying days of the "nudie cuties" (nudist colony films in which womens' breasts and buttocks could legally be shown) and they realized they needed to take it to the next level. They thought, "How about dismembered bodies with gushers of blood?" and the drive-in crowd went absolutely wild. The film played for years and years and made a bundle.

Blood Feast, and others in the Lewis/Friedman pantheon, greatly influenced cult filmmaker John Waters. In his book Shock Value he wrote: "I discovered [Lewis'] films at my local drive-in, and when I saw teenage couples hopping from their cars to vomit, I knew I had found a director after my own heart..." Now there's not actually any consumption of questionable food or cannibalism in this movie, but its importance in the genre must be acknowledged. Waters himself opened his Desperate Living (1977) with a nauseating sequence showing a woman demurely cutting up a cooked rat and consuming it in small bites (offscreen, thank God).

Now let's munch on...

Another epoch-maker and much more fitting in the queasy realm of disturbing barbecue and cannibalism is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Tobe Hooper's micro-budget drive-in classic. There's a lot of implied, nausea-inducing food preparation (courtesy of the mute, scary Leatherface), but the film has the reputation of being a nonstop bloody gorefest. That's simply not true.

What gives TCSM its power is what is suggested—viewers get just enough visceral information to upset them, and then their imaginations do the rest. That and the nauseating art direction inside the crazy family's house (bones and feathers everywhere, chickens in cages), trigger the gag reflex much more effectively than acres of fake blood ever could. Besides, the smell of the real meat and offal on the set made the actors sicker still!

To me, the most upsetting scene occurs when the hitchhiking son (Edwin Neal) describes to the young travelers who've picked him up how he enjoyed working at the local slaughterhouse and using an airgun to kill the beef. His monologue is accompanied by close-ups of bovine victims rolling their eyes in terror. By the time he pulls out his knife to slice open his own palm, Hooper has achieved his goal—the audience is nauseated and on edge, and will remain so for the rest of the film.

I have a super 8mm sound print of this feature that I'm pretty sure is a pirated knock-off of a well-used drive-in print, and for my money it's the best way to see the film. The colors are garish, almost melting off the screen, and it actually increases the anxiety level to watch it this way. It evokes those scary 1970s emotions when things were out of control—like watching authentic home movies made by insane cannibals!

Now here's a picture that is not all about food, but it contains one singularly memorable foodie scene...Douglas Hickox's exquisite Theatre of Blood (1973), starring the great Vincent Price, firing on all four campy cylinders.

He plays Edward Lionheart, a hambone stage actor who fakes his own death in order to "come back" and exact his revenge on all the snobby theatrical critics who've ridiculed him throughout his career and denied him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

One by one, he knocks the critics off in Abominable Dr. Phibes style. Ironically, real critics of the era turned up their noses at this film because they considered it a blatant ripoff of his earlier hit. Time has been kind to Theatre of Blood, though, and it's now possible to enjoy it on its own merits. Rated R, it's much sicker than the PG-rated Phibes.

Anyway, the food scene. One of Lionheart's targets is the effeminate Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley from The African Queen) who thinks he's guesting on a TV cooking show and ends up being force-fed delicious chunks of his twin toy poodles a la "Titus Andronicus." The close-up shots of the creamy pieces of meat being pushed down his gullet are...well...sickening.

It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters! Kevin Connor's 1980 Motel Hell came so far out of left field that it took a decade or so for people to say, "Oh, yeah! It's supposed to be funny!"

It didn't take me that long. A knowing, insane parody of movies like Texas Chainsaw, it features erstwhile Western movie star Rory Calhoun as Farmer Vincent and Nancy Parsons (who looks like she'd be right at home in a Warhol or Waters film) as his wife.

Together, they waylay unsuspecting travelers and bury them up to their necks in their garden (slitting their vocal cords to render them mute) and keep them underground until their flesh is nice and tender...and ready to serve. I don't know if it started the "funny cannibalism" genre, but it certainly helped it along. It's interesting to note that at this same time the cannibal vomitorium films were making their mark in Italy...and on 42nd Street.

Human flesh consumption hit the arthouse most memorably in Peter Greenaway's 1989 The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. I'd seen Greenaway's earlier Draughtsman's Contract, but I wasn't prepared for this challenging, super-theatrical film that alternates sumptuous, color-coded restaurant tableaux with scenes of the lovers screwing amongst rotten meat. And when the gangster husband kills the wife's (Helen Mirren) lover, she has the body cooked and forces him to eat it.

Later, Greenaway would turn Ewan McGregor into a book made of skin in the equally challenging The Pillow Book (1996).

In 1999, director Antonia Bird made Ravenous with Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), which I thought would be a pretty grueling film about an isolated group of soldiers resorting to cannibalism. Alas, although they do refer to it after a time, it's much more of a talkfest. It had one of those dishonest marketing campaigns that made it look like a horror film instead of an art film, which is what it was.

And in 2002, Lewis finally released Blood Feast II: All U Can Eat direct to DVD, which I haven't seen. Waters is on board as a pedophile priest (of course!). I'm kind of scared to watch it, because I don't want to be disappointed by another old timer who's trying too hard to make a "camp" classic, which can only happen organically, of course. You can't push it.

Now let's close the circle. Food Network's own Iron Chef Mario Batali has a role in Bitter Feast, a straight-to-DVD film that Salon's Bob Calhoun gives props to. I haven't seen it yet either, but I really intend to take a bite of this crudite.

James LeGros (of Drugstore Cowboy and tons of other independent films) stars as Peter Gray, a TV chef who is pissed off at snippy food blogger JT Franks (Blair Witch Project's Joshua Leonard) who is ruining his career. Gray kidnaps Franks and holds him hostage in his remote home in the woods, presenting him with an escalating series of cooking challenges in order to stay alive. Chopped, anyone?

The contents of your mystery basket are: human brains, gullets and popcorn! You have 30 minutes to make your appetizer!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The current cinema: "Blue Valentine" and "True Grit"

Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, is a superbly realistic drama about the deterioration of a couple's relationship over the course of six years. The film crosscuts between the first few weeks of their courtship and the last two days of their collapsing marriage.

Williams is Cindy, an emotionally repressed medical student who lives at home with her abusive father who keeps both her and her mother terrorized, and her thuggish, inconsiderate boyfriend, Bobby (Mike Vogel) is practically a carbon copy of Dad. Gosling is Dean, a high school dropout and would-be musician who works as a laborer and seems content to take life one day at a time. He's determined to fall in love, and when he sees Cindy for the first time, he enthusiastically tells his coworkers that she's the one. She confuses her attraction to his freewheeling attitude as an actual attraction to him, even though they couldn't be further apart. A relationship begins against everyone's better judgment.

She becomes pregnant, and she's sure the baby's is Bobby's, not Dean's. They go to an abortion clinic, but she can't bring herself to go through with the procedure. On the bus ride home, Dean proposes marriage and she gratefully accepts. Dean accepts the child, Frankie (Faith Wladyka) as his own, and they develop such a close relationship that Cindy is frequently jealous, proclaiming that she "doesn't want to raise two children."

By the time we see them in the last throes of their marriage, she's barely able to show any affection to her husband or child, while he stays in a state of drunken denial. He suggests they go to a sex motel (for which he has a gift certificate!) to try to rekindle some spark of affection, so they check into an appallingly tacky suite called "The Future Room" and get sloppily drunk.

She rejects his efforts at lovemaking and he ends up passed out on the bathroom floor. Early in the morning, she is called into work, so she leaves a note taped to the bathroom mirror and takes the car. When he wakes up, still bleary, he doesn't see the note and thinks she's abandoned him. He starts drinking again, finally discovers the note and takes the bus to her job—a clinic where she works as a nurse—for an angry confrontation.

From this synopsis, this certainly doesn't sound like a particularly compelling story, but it is. It's all about capturing realism in a most convincing manner, and it excels at this. I love films that deliver little moments with convincingly-drawn characters realistically, and Blue Valentine is chock full of them. When Dean sees Cindy for the first time, they're visiting a nursing home for different reasons: she's visiting her grandmother (Jen Jones) and he's moving a new resident into his room. The care Dean takes in setting up the old man's belongings to make him feel at home is truly touching and immediately adds a great deal of charm to his character.

The near-abortion scene is disturbing, and Williams does a commendable job of expressing Cindy's increasing anguish even as she's being treated by two of the kindest, gentlest medical professionals in the business. My only complaint would be that the semi-improvisational style results in some repeated dialogue, particularly during the arguments, that becomes somewhat tedious.

Made on a conservative budget, the gritty cinematography and art direction contribute to the film's minimalistic realism, as does the lack of recognizable faces in their supporting roles. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance spent a great deal of time developing this project, and even the leads worked hard becoming these characters, and the effort certainly paid off. It's a small film, but it's memorable. And it's nice to see a movie made for grownups every once in a while.

Speaking of movies for grown-ups, the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit topped the boxoffice charts this week, and with good reason. It's a superb adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel, boasting some amazing performances from Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBouef.

Everyone is familiar with the story: 14-year-old Mattie Ross hires U.S. Marshal Cogburn to help her track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the outlaw who shot down her father in cold blood. LaBouef, who is also hunting Chaney for killing a congressman in Texas, suggests that they work together, Mattie objects because she wants Chaney to hang for killing her father, not the congressman. The three bicker constantly as they head out in search of their quarry, only to individually reveal their "true grit" when the going gets tough.

Bridges' take on John Wayne's iconic character is completely his own. John Wayne always played John Wayne—and by the time his Grit came along, characters had to be tailored to his personality instead of the other way around. Bridges' Cogburn, on the other hand, is the fully realized creation of a talented actor who isn't afraid to disappear into a role.

Damon is also amusing as the pompous ranger who continuously tries to one-up the older, wiser Cogburn. Brolin is also funny as the goofy-scary Chaney. Steinfeld is a real revelation as Mattie, a tough, all-business kid who comes to town to take care of family business. Kim Darby was 21 years old when she essayed Mattie in the original; I always thought she looked too old for the part. Steinfeld was actually 13 during production of the remake.

Although it has a lot of humor in it, this True Grit is a much more solemn film than its predecessor. Roger Deakins' magnificent, desaturated cinematography gives us a look at the Old West as it really could have looked. Some scenes look like they've been burnished into leather. And Carter Burwell's score, with its frequent use of variations on the hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," also adds to the solemnity.

Violence is wisely used sparingly, but when it comes, it's all the more shocking. This isn't a shoot-'em-and-they-fall-down Western—it's real mayhem, and it pushes the outside edge of the PG-13 rating.

A trademark of the Coens is their use of language and the way their characters speak. In True Grit, the characters speak very formally, using few contractions, which makes the humorous lines even funnier. It's a rather verbose film, but what's being said is engaging. An example:

Cogburn: We'll sleep here and follow in the morning.
Mattie: But we promised to bury the poor soul inside!
Cogburn: Ground's too hard. Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have got themselves killed in summer.

In summary, it's a vastly entertaining, richly realized film—a Western that manages to be postmodern and surprisingly traditional at the same time. I predict many Oscar nominations.


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