Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Director Report Card: Peter Jackson (1994-1996)

4. Heavenly Creatures
Feels like something of a transition from Jackson’s earlier more outrageous films to his slicker Hollywood productions. It maintains a lot of the spirit of his previous productions. There’s certain energy, plucky spirit, and anarchic humor to many of the fantasy sequences. Jackson’s imagination shines during these moments and he forges many unforgettable images.

The film’s short prologue seems to be a sort of warning to the audience to let them know that, despite most of the film feeling like a whimsical story of young friendship and budding sexuality, none of this ends well. There’s a certain darkness underlining much of the lighter proceedings. This prevents any sudden shift in mood because you realize it’s been building up to this all along.
The two lead performances are really wonderful. I wonder how many directors envy Peter Jackson for being the one who discover Kate Winslet. She’s captures the essence of a bubbly, energetic teenage girl right on the edge of a breakdown perfectly. Despite Winslet demanding much of your attention, Melanie Lynskey’s Pauline is at the center of the film. When she stares at you with those eyes, you can feel a real intensity cooking inside the girl. She completely immerses herself in the role. Of course, it’s how the two actresses, playing very different but strangely very similar characters, compliment each other that really makes the film work. The relationship they have feels honest and, dare I say, heart-warming. Proof of how involving the film is, is that at the end I wasn’t thinking, “It’s horrible what they did,” but, “It’s so sad they’ll never see each other again.” [Grade: A]

5. Forgotten Silver (with Costa Botes)
I suppose a lot of the fun of “Forgotten Silver” is ruined by knowing anything about the movie before watching it. The movie is quite a brilliant mockumentary.

It details the career of early film pioneer Colin McKenzie. Rising out of obscurity in New Zealand, McKenzie would go on to make such cinematic advances as motorized film, feature length stories, synchronized sound, close-ups, and color. He would film the first working airplane (not the Wright brothers), an early example of police brutality, before his career climaxed in a epic four-hour rendition of the biblical tale of Salome, that wouldn’t be seen until years after his death in the Spanish Civil War. Peter Jackson himself would accidentally discover much of McKenzie’s work before presenting it to the world, where McKenzie was accepted as a hugely important pioneer of early film, to be held in the same regard as Edison, Melies, and Griffin.
Never heard of Colin McKenzie before? That’s because the whole movie is a fabulous hoax. He never existed and everything here is totally fictional. Even if you didn’t know that going in, there are several clues, such as a preposterous use of digital recovery and the amusing series of misfortunes that prevented McKenzie’s amazing developments from being recognized. Everyone involved, including such recognizable faces as Leonard Maltin, Sam Neil, and Harvey Weinstein, keep straight faces. All of the silent recreations as very well done and fairly convincing. The final Salome feature in particular feels pretty definitely like a real silent film. I also really like the music. Under an hour in length despite the 70 minute running time listed on the DVD (I suppose that includes the excellent “Behind the Bull” featurette included in the special features), “Forgotten Silver” is still a really neat little picture and a good example of Peter Jackson’s range as a filmmaker. [Grade: B]

6. The Frighteners
I suppose we couldn’t expect Jackson’s first studio horror film to meet up with the expectations of his earlier gory projects. Considering those expectations, “The Frighteners” holds up pretty well. The movie’s tone isn’t one hundred percent perfect. Ultimately, it’s a horror-tinged supernatural mystery-adventure with some comedy thrown in.

In the earlier parts of the movie, when Frank Bannister is chatting with his ghost friends, many scenes come off as shrill or too frantic. Generally speaking, the goofy slapstick antics of our spectral pals doesn’t really gel over all. Once they exit the picture, things start to go better. Not to say this section is bad. It’s still pretty decent and the likes of John Astin, Chi McBride, and R. Lee Ermy make the goofy ghost pretty entertaining anyway.

Still, once the set-up is established and we get on with the story, the movie improves dramatically. The second half is excellent. The entire finale in the old hospital is thrilling, exciting perfect popcorn stuff. If the whole movie was like that, “The Frighteners” would be a masterpiece. But, you know, the set-up is necessary.
Michael J. Fox isn’t the kind of leading man you would have thought of for a project like this but he actually does a pretty good job, keeping some of his typical smarmy charm while occasionally going to darker places. Jeffery Combs steals the show in his supporting part as the highly demented FBI agent. He’s hilarious and I’d say its Combs best performance after old Herbert West. Dee Wallace, who is almost unrecognizable in a black wig, has fun playing a villainess for once. Jake Busey is good even if he doesn’t cover any new ground.

Peter Jackson’s direction is quite good. Color is used excellently and the whole movie has a beautiful green, blue drab to it. The score, with its gothic violins, is a good listen and provides a unique tone. Though this is definitely Peter Jackson’s project, you can’t help but wonder how much influence producer Robert Zemeckis held. “The Frighteners” feels a lot like a Zemeckis project at times. Still, it’s a good time.
[Grade: B+]

No comments: