Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cat's Away 2: Trailers work

Night #6 here. Cat's Away. The second one.

When you're doing a double feature in the type of film festival I'm doing -- in other words, where you can't start until late because your rascally kids need one more thing before they go to sleep -- it helps if you can watch the first movie with them. And start it at 7:15.

So Friday night saw the return of Movie Night, a slot filled by Harry and the Hendersons during the first Cat's Away. That title was chosen to scratch an itch for my son, who was (still is?) in a phase of intense curiosity about Bigfoot, as well as to feed my own idle curiosity -- the type of curiosity I have about any film I have not yet seen.

This time, the choice was just for me.

That's right, neither of my kids were into the idea of Moana, a film they had already rejected when it was in the theater -- which was the primary reason I myself have not yet seen one of last year's most prominent animated releases, which I always try to get on my year-end chart. When I suggested it, bracing myself for the blowback, my older son balked at the idea and the younger one more or less followed suit. I knew this was shaping up to be another one of those conflicts where my older son wants me to watch some type of feature-length Pokemon thing, while I want to watch a "real movie." Because it's on Netflix, I didn't even have the argument that I had committed to it by renting it.

But I had a trick up my sleeve.

It's called a trailer.

I don't know why I've never thought of this before, but a trailer is the perfect way to get a child interested in a movie he thinks he doesn't want to see. Disney knew what they were doing when they cut an action-heavy trailer for Tangled, to sell it to boys who didn't think they wanted to see a movie where the girl was the hero. A similar dynamic exists in Moana. There's a fair bit of action, including a set piece involving pirates (coconut pirates, but still), and on IMDB I happened to get that trailer that played up the boy stuff. (I don't know if there's actually a "princess version" of the trailer -- possibly not.)

Probably all it really took was a glimpse of the lava monster that serves as this film's "big bad," and my older son was sold. He didn't even need to finish watching the trailer. Meanwhile, the younger one was saying "When are we going to start watching Iguana?"

Fortunately in one respect but unfortunately in another, they ended up liking the movie more than I did. It was fortunate as it meant there was no mid-movie rebellion, which might have happened even though they knew the choices were to watch the movie or go to sleep, but unfortunate because I really wanted to love Moana. And didn't.

There's no doubt it's Disney's most technologically advanced film to date, which should come as no surprise, and the verisimilitude of the imagery -- not to mention the use of some magical water effects -- gave me chills with some regularity. But this is also one of Disney's most formulaic films. Every story beat came at us from miles away, and it led me to the cynical notion that this script was constructed using time code -- at exactly 5:38, this needs to happen, and at exactly 26:14, this needs to happen. And so forth.

My favorite recurring bit was probably Maui's moving tattoos. For some reason they reminded me a bit of Hercules, a Disney film I always liked that I'm due to rewatch.

The other brilliant thing about the kids watching the first movie with you is that when it's over, they're really ready to go to sleep. Even the younger one was asleep within five minutes of me depositing him in his bed.

Which allowed me to turn to:

Blow Out

Brian De Palma's 1981 film has always occupied a special spot among my cinematic fears of the horrifying unknown. And here's how I think that must have happened.

Around the time Blow Out become available to watch on The Movie Channel, the only cable station we subscribed to when I was growing up, I had probably just seen and fallen in love with Grease. I must have then wanted to see another movie starring Danny Zuko.

It was at this point I suspect my mother must have told me the reasons why I couldn't see it, and in her trademark clueless fashion, gave me more specific details why than I wanted. This is the woman who went into detail describing gruesome aspects of Jaws and The Exorcist before I was even ten years old. While I remember those stories quite well, I don't remember what she said about Blow Out, only that it gave me the idea that something truly disturbing, possibly of a sexual nature, occurs to a character in this film. The fact that I didn't know what it was might have made it worse, as it allowed my mind to fill in the details.

That impression has persisted to this day, though I obviously have made no attempt to fill in those missing details before now. But I threw Blow Out on my brainstorming list for the first Cat's Away upon seeing it available on our streaming service, Stan, and Cat's Away 2 afforded it an actual time slot.

Unfortunately, I came away disappointed with both that horrifying unknown and the movie itself. There's a serial killer in this movie who strangles women and then carves a bell design into his victims, which on the face of it sounds bad. But there's not much in the way of graphic violence, and certainly nothing to cause someone to discuss this films in hushed tones. Certainly nothing that compares to either The Exorcist or Jaws. I kept waiting for this big awful thing to happen, and it never did.

And as might be expected, the film has not aged all that well. The distracting musical clues, some slow-mo, stuff like that all place it in the early 1980s. Which is not always a problem and ideally, should never be, but you can't help the impression a film has on you. While John Travolta gives a pretty good performance, I thought his co-star, Nancy Allen, was actually kind of awful. She's not meant to be a smart character -- she's an escort -- but the performance itself is pretty stiff.

I did enjoy the aspects of the film that reminded me of another movie involving a foley artist, Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio. I have to wonder if Strickland's film was influenced by Blow Out, as both films touch on the idea of trying to record the perfect scream for a B horror movie. And perhaps if I'd seen them in that order I would have thought Berberian was derivative of Blow Out, though they differ significantly after the main basic setup. While Berberian becomes a psychological horror, Blow Out becomes a paranoia thriller, and I did appreciate the way this fits into a tradition from around that time that mostly involves the films of Alan J. Pakula. Blow Out also has a very memorable shot involving fireworks at its end. Ultimately, though, it was just a three-star movie for me.

If two movies were good, why not another four or five on Saturday? My kids are going for a sleepover at their aunt's house, so ... watch out.

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