Gimme Those Funky Horns
Horns - 2014
Written by Keith Bunin
from the Book by Joe Hill
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Horns is bound to anger the internet rage-nerds (but then what isn't?) with its resistance to simple classification and expectation-defying insistence on being completely itself. The core structure is that of a murder mystery, but in its greater context it's also a love story and a dark parable that steps outside naturalistic conventions. While I had some doubts about whether its primary conceit was strictly "horror," the final scene convinced me that, while it was certainly horror, why should it need to be strict about it?
The rage-nerds love to throw out the debate between Siskel & Ebert over Full Metal Jacket and Benji the Hunted as an attempt to discredit Roger Ebert, but it really only demonstrates that the rage-nerds don't understand art. Ebert gave thumbs down to FMJ and up to Benji in the same episode, and Siskel tried to shame him with the specious suggestion that he was saying Benji was better than FMJ. What's often omitted from this example, however, is that Roger called Gene out for his false equivalency, explaining (as Siskel damned well should have known) that the rating of a single movie is not inherently a comparison to all other movies, but an indication of how successfully that movie achieves its own purpose. Art is not a sport, and the pathetic need to score it for so many emotionally and intellectually undeveloped males per their demands and expectations is deeply unhealthy for the art form. In Ebert's opinion, FMJ was not entirely successful as a war movie, or an anti-war war movie, or a Kubrick movie, and I can see his point without necessarily having strong feelings about it one way or another. Separately, he saw Benji the Hunted as a very successfully executed Benji movie. While having no personal interest IN a Benji movie, I can see how one might be well made per its own intentions. While you and/or I may feel that he misjudged FMJ, Benji had absolutely nothing to do with it. In other words, they're not in competition with each other -- not one human soul went to the theater in 1987 and said, "Hm, do I feel like seeing a bleak vision of the Vietnam War, or a cute children's story about a fluffy dog?!" -- they're in competition with themselves. I bring this up because A) I consider Ebert to have been pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to film review, and 2) the absolute failure of the majority of internet loudmouths to grasp this concept has become toxic to the media arts.
Approaching Horns as a film that is what it means to be, it's a complete success. Approaching it as a film with tho obligation of meeting the expectations of angry young boy-men, it's a magnet for scorn. And the moral of this story (like so many stories) is "Don't read Comments on the Internet."
But I digress...
Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe in what I believe is his best performance to date. Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a young radio DJ from near Seattle who is accused of murder. The murder of which he is accused is of the love of his life, Merrin (the ethereal Juno Temple), his girlfriend since childhood. The whole town hates Ig and wants him to burn. Even his parents' phrasings betray their own doubts about his innocence. Universally despised, but legally bound not to leave, Ig is in a living Hell.
So maybe it shouldn't be entirely surprising when he starts to sprout horns from his forehead. Devil's horns. People react very differently to Ig's new appearance. Some see it as representative of what they already think he is. Others don't see them as anything terribly unusual, and some don't see them at all. This becomes part of the mystery. Along with the new fashion statement, Ig's other statements take on a new gravity as well. People immediately start sharing their shameful secrets, asking him whether they should go ahead and act on them. We all have our hidden impulses, but we like having the Devil around to blame.
Initially horrified, Ig comes to embrace these changes almost like super powers, enabling him to uncover layers of the mysteries surrounding him.
Well, I just enjoyed the hell out of this film. What was more-or-less a mystery gained all kinds of richness through its characters and their secrets, and through the utterly surreal story device of Ig's horns and abilities. It's filled with genuine humor, never resorting to cheap jokes, and darkness that never resorts to bleakness. The way the story reveals personal histories creates characters worth caring about and hoping for Even when a plot point came up that hinted pretty strongly at the mystery's solution, I was still fascinated to find out how it all fit together. This is just plain good storytelling, in the true spirit of fable craft.
Constantine: Pilot Episode - 2014
based on the Hellblazer comics by first written by Jamie Delano,
based on the John Constantine character originally created by Alan Moore
I don't know if John Constantine has actually become "wildly popular" over the years since I walked away from comics, or if that's merely the hyperbole of the lazy and triflin' entertainment press. The movie with Keanu Reeves was... okay ...but felt wrong, primarily because the character known to readers is a smart-mouthed demon fighter from the north of England and Keanu Reeves is, well, Keanu Reeves. It was with extreme skepticism that I approached the new NBC series. It just didn't (and I'm still skeptical about this) seem possible that a network TV show could have the brutal darkness and grit of the comic books I knew. It was announced that Constantine wouldn't be shown smoking, which is not only a defining character affectation but a MAJOR plot point. And the actor, Matt Ryan, still doesn't look quite right -- his clothes look too fresh and his dye job or wig still strikes me as costumey.
So it came as a significant surprise to me that I was intrigued and entertained for the entire pilot episode.
The story was instantly familiar to a reader of the original series like me, even if it's been transposed from England to the United States. At least Constantine is English, as he always should have been. The character was created by Alan Moore during his run on the Swamp Thing, and always had the quality of bringing that gloomy, rainy, Jack-the-Rippery steak-and-kidney flavor of the macabre to DC Comics' supernatural world. Alan would probably get his ire up for me saying this (then again Alan hardly needs an excuse anymore), but I always took John Constantine to be the character most like Alan himself (prior to Promethea anyway), albeit wrapped in Sting's body. Constantine is something of a paranormal investigator, magician (the real stuff) and "Master of the Dark Arts" towing doom in his wake.
The series opens with him in a mental hospital (per his choosing) trying to leave behind the idea that demons and ghosts and whatnot are real. This is a man with a past of which he wishes to be unburdened, and it's not going to be as simple as disbelieving it away.
The first episode was actually a lot more fun than I remembered the comics to be, but it's hard to complain about that when you're having fun. The episode did a fantastic job of establishing the series as well as completing a single-episode story. It was overflowing with tone and texture, hinting at things to come without being overburdened by them, and sneaking in one hell of a tease without dwelling on all the "Guess who THIS is! Guess who THAT is!" that we got from Gotham.
You can seldom know for sure what you're going to get in the long run based on a pilot episode, but in terms of promise, Constantine's got it in spades. Let's just hope he doesn't let us down like all those dead people he used to know.