Archive for October, 2013

The-Counselor-CastCormac McCarthy is an acquired taste. His novels, which are the closest thing to a modern-day William Faulkner you’re ever going to read, require a certain level of commitment and perseverance. Yet, his writing has translated well to the screen — The Road and No Country for Old Men were both exceptional films, if bleak. So, I went into The Counselor not unfamiliar with the source. However, The Counselor is not an adaptation of a McCarthy novel — he wrote the screenplay. And herein may lie the problem with the movie.

Make no mistake — I still think McCarthy is the most profound novelist in America today. He has a stunning body of work that often explores human nature’s darker side, those not-talked-about impulses and motivations that drive and sometimes consume us — and our ability, or inability, to deal with those impulses in a human society that strives for conformity and morality.

And when a novel of such weight is adapted to the screen, it undergoes a certain amount of translation and/or interpretation that, if done right, makes for a downright startling movie (the two films mentioned above, for example).

But in this case, McCarthy’s work didn’t go through the adaptive process first; as he is the screenwriter, what he wrote is what was shot. And as compelling as it is, the movie seems at once overly ambitious and strangely incomplete.

Director Ridley Scott can still make a breathtaking movie, and he does here, from the stunning Cameron Diaz to the details in Javier Bardem’s ludicrously decorated drug kingpin abode. But the characters moving through Scott’s expertly rendered landscape are doing just that — moving through it. They do a lot of talking: about doing bad things, about the consequences of doing bad things, the morality of doing bad things … you get the picture. But, with one exception (no spoilers), they don’t really DO any bad things. Each of these characters (portrayed by a wonderful cast of Michael Fassbender, Diaz, Bardem, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz) are intriguing, but we learn next to nothing about them. They are locked into a life-or-death, all-bets-are-off predicament, and we know very little about the circumstances that brought them together.

McCarthy is known for his violent prose and this is a strangely violent movie. There isn’t much, but when there is … it causes you to flinch and squirm. He’s also known for his penetrating looks into the human soul, but The Counselor is reduced to a great deal of exposition, in the form of curious double-speak dialogue, about the nature of humanity. Ruben Blades, putting in a performance that soars because of the understated style he always brings, nearly steals the entire movie with a beautiful monologue — until it goes on about two minutes too long.

A McCarthy novel is best enjoyed when the reader takes the time to let the words and the themes and the imagery wash over him and become fully immersed in what McCarthy is saying. The Counselor felt like being thrown into the deep end of the pool before being yanked right back out.

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Now that we’ve talked about scary books in the days up to Halloween, it’s time to move on to movies. We all have that one movie that scared The. Living. Hell out of us, regardless of when we saw it. It doesn’t matter if we were pre-teens or adults, it stuck with us and made us afraid of the dark, the ocean, the neighbors, the phones, dark oceans, etc.

Entertainment Weekly has a pretty good list. You can read the write-up here; I’ve listed the movie titles below.

  1. The ShiningThe Exorcist
  2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 version)
  3. The Silence of the Lambs
  4. Jaws
  5. The Ring
  6. Halloween
  7. Psycho
  8. Seven
  9. Rosemary’s Baby
  10. Poltergeist
  11. 28 Days Later
  12. A Nightmare on Elm Street
  13. The Thing
  14. The Evil Dead (1982 version)
  15. Carrie
  16. Night of the Living Dead
  17. The Omen
  18. An American Werewolf in London
  19. Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer
  20. Dead-Alive

I’m not going to debate most of the movies on this list. My own personal five:

exorcist1. The Excorcist: Holy shit, did this movie scare me. Still does. I only watched it once, because that was enough. Being raised in a Southern Baptist church probably didn’t help, because that much churchin’ makes you believe the devil is for real, sho ’nuff. The movie was out for a few years before I finally summoned up the nerve to watch it. Saw it in college — not even in a theater, but at some dorm function (probably a Halloween scary movie party). Even then, it made me want to sleep with the light on. For, like, ever. I have avoided this movie ever since. I even live in the greater DC area now, not far away from Georgetown, where the infamous stairs scene was shot. Nope, never seen it. At least not up close.

halloween-movie-poster-10201895842. Halloween: That Michael Myers is one persistent dude. A lot of movies have come and gone since this came out in the late ’70s and, sadly, its legacy is tarnished by a seemingly endless line of bad sequels, but Halloween is scary as all get out. When it first hit HBO, friends told me not to watch it alone. So, naturally, I watched it alone. In the dark. I was 17. I must have jumped off the couch a dozen times. John Carpenter has a knack for these kinds of horror flicks (he also directed 1982’s The Thing, Christine, The Eyes of Laura Mars and a bunch of other films), but he was never better than in Jamie Lee Curtis’ debut starring role. And she did her share of screaming in this one, but she also did her share of dishing it out to Michael. Carpenter starts this one at “chilling” and never lets up. That last scene …

The_Silence_of_the_Lambs_poster3. The Silence of the Lambs: Love Thomas Harris’ novels. Love Jodie Foster. Love Anthony Hopkins. TSOTL is not only scary as hell, it’s an excellently crafted movie that won five Oscars. Yes, it’s loaded with all the elements of a crime and horror film: suspense, gore, mystery, creepy characters, and a cannibalistic psychopath. And Jodie Foster, as neophyte FBI agent Clarice Starling is superb. But, to me anyway, the scariest moment of the movie is the first time we lay eyes on Hannibal. He is simply standing serenely in the center of his cell, dressed in white, faint smile lighting up his face, but I shuddered. In some ways, I found that one scene a lot more terrifying than any of the decidedly creeped-out scary scenes with Buffalo Bill. That was scary.

JAWS_Movie_poster4. Jaws: Yeah, I know, it’s not really a horror movie. It’s really not even a “scary” movie. And the most quotable line is “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” But tell me you didn’t jump out of your skin when the guy’s head pops out of the hull of the boat. I bet I cleared three rows of seats in the theater. Of course, I was in junior high at the time. Jaws was a little like The Exorcist in that it played on a psychological fear more than just visually scaring you to death. And it worked. Nobody that I know of will say, “Nah, sharks don’t scare me.” Watching it today, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when Steven Spielberg wasn’t The Steven Speilberg. Even back in 1975, when Jaws was released, you could see his ability as a director.

220px-Wait_Until_Dark_19675. Wait Until Dark: This little-known suspense tale was directed by Terence Young (he also directed three Bond movies) in the ’70s. It stars Audrey Hepburn as a blind Montreal apartment dweller besieged by drug dealers (Richard Crenna and Alan Arkin) intent on retrieving a doll stuffed with heroin. (The husband of Hepburn’s character innocently came into possession of the doll on a recent trip.) If you love suspense, you have to see this movie. I first watched it when I was pretty young, and I didn’t move for the entire length of the movie. It’s an intelligently written movie, using darkness (as both a weakness and strength of the blind character) to maximum effect. And the last scene will damn near give you a heart attack.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s a reader list (in no particular order) of favorite scary movies from the Deep Blood Facebook page (link follows the list):

  1. Salem’s Lot
  2. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
  3. Gargoyles
  4. Evil Dead
  5. The Shining
  6. It
  7. The Silence of the Lambs
  8. Under Siege
  9. Misery
  10. The Exorcist
  11. Freaks
  12. The Ring
  13. The Omen
  14. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  16. Alien

Facebook link here.

Did I miss one? List it in the Comments section

zombiehttps://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10201379109213199&id=268924986502103

Since we’re getting into the season of Pumpkin Spice Everything and Halloween, it’s time to talk about scary books. You know, the ones that made you sleep with the light on for a week or stop reading, hide the book in a dark corner of the closet, check under the bed, and lock all the doors (OK, maybe that was just me).

In any event, I don’t usually find books “scary.” Maybe it’s because a book is so much less visual than, say, Michael Myers coming after your ass in Halloween or Norman Bates interrupting your shower. Of course, that very fact can also make a book even more scary, since the images you drum up are all in your very own head.  And because of the latter, there are a few books that are just downright scary to me.

I posed the question on Facebook a few days and got a few good responses. And, no surprise, a Stephen King book title was the first response (It). Also making the list: Salem’s Lot, Rebecca, Helter Skelter, Neverwhere and In Cold Blood. All pretty strong choices.

My own list, in order of scariest one first. Interesting that my top two are non-fiction titles. I guess real life is scarier to me for some reason.

Got one for the list? Leave it in the Comments section.

zodiac1. Zodiac: The notorious “Zodiac,” a serial killer that terrorized San Francisco and northern California for years in the lat 1960s and ’70s, was never caught. He just disappeared. But not before killing several people with a brazenness and an arrogance not seen since Jack the Ripper. He became so infamous that Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry was (very) loosely based on Zodiac’s rampages. The movie features a San Francisco cop chasing a killer named “Scorpio” who was eerily similar to the Zodiac. The book was written while the case was still under investigation and examines several theories as to the Zodiac’s identity and whereabouts. I made the mistake of reading this book alone, in a hotel room in a city, at night. It gave me the heebie-jeebies for weeks. Besides being a gruesome killer, the Zodiac was a mocking, creepy presence.

the-hot-zone12.  The Hot Zone: If you believe in things such as the zombie apocalypse (and I’m not saying I do; I’m not saying I don’t), it’ll start with a scenario described in Richard Preston’s chilling account of an Ebola breakout in Africa. Yes, it’s real. And Preston’s excruciatingly graphic depictions of the outbreak and the effects on the human body will scare you out of your skin. Preston also carefully investigates and tracks down some of the possible sources of the Ebola virus, all of which lead to a dead end.Even Stephen King said it was one of the most horrifying things he’d ever read, so you know this is some scary stuff.  And Preston is an exceptional writer. As tragic and terrifying as the story is, I could not stop reading — and thinking about zombies. All I could think of after finishing this book was, “Please. Find a cure.”

Red dragon3. Red Dragon: Actually, any Thomas Harris novel could fill this spot. But this one, the first “Hannibal Lecter” novel, really put the hook in me. Harris is as skilled a writer as any novelist working. I’d never read a book where I was actually sympathizing with a serial killer, but Harris’ depiction of Francis Dolarhyde is gripping. This isn’t a psychopath run amok as much as a tragically flawed man created by the abuse of others at an early stage in his life. Harris writes him with a humanity and empathy that is rarely seen in “horror” novels (I think Harris transcends the genre). As for Lecter, as this is his debut, the best is yet to come. The novel was originally adapted for the movie Manhunter (directed by Michael Mann in the ’80s), a well-produced but weak movie. It was redone in the ’90s with Ralph Fiennes as Dolarhyde — this version is truer to the novel and much better viewing.

stephenking4. The Shining: Holy cow, what a creepy book. I’m not a Stephen King purist, so I’m not going to say whether this is one of his better novels or not — it was, after all, his third novel and first one in hardcover. I will say it scared the bejeezus out of me — and that was after I saw the movie. Like Harris, King makes your skin crawl with every page, even though you can’t stop turning every page. And, unlike the movie, I was drawn in to the story immediately, rather than spend time trying to figure out exactly what in the hell is going on. But I don’t think I’ve ever read anything with such a high creepy factor, from Jack’s descent into insanity to the visions themselves to the little boy (“REDRUM!” “Tony’s not heeere.”) Even thinking about now makes me shudder a little.

In Cold Blood5. In Cold Blood: Yeah, I know, Truman Capote’s signature work isn’t really a novel and it isn’t really a true-crime story. I know it’s scary as hell, too. Written in 1966, the book details the 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, and two of their four children. Capote heard about it and traveled to Kansas with his childhood friend Harper Lee (of To Kill A Mockingbird fame). Capote claims to have written it straight, but the book is not without its critics regarding its factuality. No matter. Capote’s skill as a writer make this story of quadruple murder as real and frightening as it can be. The book is scarier than the movie. By a long shot.