Additional Thoughts: The Iron Giant

I think one of the most poignant scenes of this movie is the moment we finally get to see humanity from the Giant’s perspective: after Hogarth tells him that the bomb will kill everyone, he looks down at all the little people scattered on the ground before him, and at the shops and buildings no bigger than snackboxes. With a few strides of his legs he would be free of the blast radius, or he could simply fly away. It’s just a little place on a world he isn’t from, and he doesn’t have to be a part of its problems at all.

Here is the original write-up that I did of the Iron Giant a few years ago.

Brought to you in Fan-TAST-A-Vision!

Last night I watched it again and had a few additional thoughts that I wanted to get down.

1. The Post-War Setting

Hogarth’s father has been killed in action, that much we can get from subtle hints through the movie:

  • Hogarth’s Mom is having financial difficulties and works as a waitress, renting out the room in their large house.
  • There’s a photo of a man climbing into a vehicle cockpit on Hogarth’s bedside table
  • One of the pictures that Mansley develops from Hogarth’s camera is of both Hogarth and his mom, begging the question, who took the picture? I’m guessing his Dad, before he went away
  • Annie calls Dean “sweetie” at the movie’s end and has clearly developed a relationship with him, indicating Hogarth’s dad is permanently out of the picture (unless Annie is rocking some seriously progressive relationship dynamics).

But there was something I noticed about twenty minutes in. I had absorbed it but never really thought about the other people in the town – it’s almost all women, kids, and older men. And I realized that it’s because all the younger men were called up for service in the war. And more than likely, didn’t come back. If that’s something intentional on the part of the filmmakers, then BRA-VO. That is a beautifully subtle reality of post-war life.

If this is accurate, then it also adds another layer of subtlety to Dean and Mansley’s characters – Dean might be a conscientious objector; the way the other men in the diner sort of dismiss him could just be because of his beatnik stylings, but it could also  be that he’s thought of as a “draft dodger.” And Mansley was left behind because he’s just plain incompetent.

2. Hogarth’s Reaction to Death 

 

OUCH!

Hogarth is a sensitive, intelligent, and creative boy. He saves the Giant when the latter is endangered at the power station. When the Giant destroys the traintracks, he is horrified at what could happen. When he and the Giant encounter the deer and the hunters, he gently tries to describe what happened to the deer, and is incensed when the Giant tries to pick the body up.

Additionally, he has a serious talk with the Giant about souls and what happens when you die. He quotes his mother’s belief in souls, and I imagined his mother having this discussion with him after his father passed away. It’s a terrible thing, to bury a loved one, and he doesn’t want anyone to experience what he went through, especially not at his expense.

3. Hogarth As Father Figure

Hogarth finds this creature, takes him in, and extends hospitality to him. He helps him find food, and a safe place to stay. He becomes the Giant’s protector, in a lovely role reversal. It’s not every ‘boy’s movie’ where the main character is a protector or nurturer. At very few times during the movie is Hogarth in danger – it’s the Giant who is in the most danger. At the end, Hogarth again saves the Giant by arguing with the General that he is not dangerous, although Mansley borks that plan by grabbing the telecom and commanding the Nautilus to fire its atomic weapon. The boy and Giant are literally following the roles of Jonathan Kent and Superman, and just as in that story, the child (Giant) matures and assumes the role of protector.

I think one of the most poignant scenes of this movie is the moment we finally get to see humanity from the Giant’s perspective: after Hogarth tells him that the bomb will kill everyone, he looks down at all the little people scattered on the ground before him, and at the shops and buildings no bigger than snackboxes. With a few strides of his legs he would be free of the blast radius, or he could simply fly away. It’s just a little place on a world he isn’t from, and he doesn’t have to be a part of its problems at all.

The Giant is destroyed in his role as protector, but as we see at the end of the film, he isn’t really gone. He’ll be back, and OMG I get emotional just WRITING about it. And Hogarth has a father figure again, both in Dean, and in the Giant, who’ll be returning soon.

4. Giant as Russia

Obviously, the film’s big themes are the Atomic Age and beginning of the Cold War. Dean literally tells the General that the Giant “will not attack unless he’s attacked first,” which was the entire situation of the Cold War. There’s even a joke about the Giant not wanting to be Atomo, the atomic robot villain.

Additionally, the fear and hatred whipped up in the townspeople by Mansley is also ephemeral once they realize the Giant poses no threat, and is even as invested in peace as they are. And, just as in nuclear holocaust, when you’re about to die the lines between hero and villain kind of fall away, since there’s no time left for such distinctions.

So those are the thoughts I thunk while watching it again last night. I do love a good, layered film that makes you think, and that you can see differently if you go back to it.

I hope you’re having a great day! If you haven’t checked this movie out, you might. It’s not on Instant at the moment but it’s widely available elsewhere.

Just, you know, maybe bring some tissues!

Old World Evil Entry Number 1: The Ninth Gate

Once he’s there, the movie becomes more like a travelogue of beautiful European scenery. Portugal, Spain, France, everywhere the man goes is picturesque. Little bistros and cafes, stone-cobbled streets, huge old houses where elderly shut-ins drink booze and play the violin all day, accompanied only by their memories, giant chateaus full of satan-worshipping yuppies…As an American who has barely even traveled out of my own state, this is pretty much how I imagine Europe all the time. Yes, there is the occasional murder and arson and a poor old woman strangled in her motorized wheelchair… but that paneling! Those wall sconces! The old man’s house in… wherever he was alone playing the violin. DAMN.

I guess I was just in an Old World Weird kind of mood!

[EDIT: The Ninth Gate is actually based on a book called The Club Dumas, which I am currently reading. I’ll post another entry on a book/movie comparison once I’m done!]

The cigarette needs its own credit.

If you take it on its own, The Ninth Gate as a supernatural horror movie is less a slow boil and more fossilization. It doesn’t plod, it glaciates. I do like the film, but while watching I had to mentally reboot my expectations for pacing.

I read about The Ninth Gate in some horror or film magazine probably, and was really looking forward to its release. I can’t recall why I didn’t see it in the theater, but I know I didn’t, I rented it when I was working at Blockbuster at the time. I just remember seeing the wall of boxes and thinking ‘Whoa! There are so many! This must be good!’

Well, the massive media campaign was less about the film’s quality and more about the controversy surrounding Roman Polanski: it was his first foray into supernatural horror since the now-classic Rosemary’s Baby, and also one of his first big American films since (what he probably refers to as) “the unpleasantness.”   Ew.

The movie itself is serviceable, even classy. The elements of the supernatural are so mild that they are mere suggestion rather than anything really concrete, and the horror elements have more to do with the depths of human depravity.

In the opening scene, we see one of those type of rooms that movies love to show us: the library of someone disgustingly rich. OLD money rich. There’s more leather on the walls than in the entire state of Texas, everything is covered in gilt and the furniture looks like prime Alpha Vampire vintage. It’s the kind of shit that practically requires a chemistry degree to clean, like knowing what linseed oil is and how it is applied. I heard a maid once tried to bring in some Pledge Wipes but like Belvedere the butler saw it and was NOT HAVING IT and she was immediately sent away without a reference. True story. Somewhere. Probably.

And this beautiful and elegantly appointed scene is only marred when its owner finishes his letter, sets down a pen that probably is worth more than my car, and hangs himself from the chandelier, which I KNOW is worth more than my car. The camera takes a long, slow journey across the room to focus on a conspicuous gap in the library: a book is obviously missing.

Paneling! Elegance! Study! Smoking!

Anyhoo, Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a fortyish antique and rare book dealer of questionable morals. Sporting gray temples and spectacles, he exudes the air of that rumpled, bookish poetry/drama/art history professor who totally sleeps with his students, which is what I always pictured Johnny Depp doing were he not acting. Or maybe he’d be happily married and be turning down students’ offers of ‘extra credit work’ for that passing grade, I don’t know, he seems a pretty decent guy. Anyway, we are introduced to Corso (which is just a flat out cool name: CORSO!) helping some folks price their father’s antique book collection. The father in question is still alive, but has had a stroke and is sitting in the room, staring out into space as his children are advised on how best to dispose of his priceless collection. When Corso artfully underbids on some ‘lesser’ tomes,  the poor old man’s eye bulges and his fingers clutch uselessly in rage: Corso is basically robbing them blind.

Corso is kind of an awesome character, even though he’s a bit of a sleaze. He puts me in mind of John Constantine from the Hellblazer graphic novels (and they are apparently doing a show that will be truer to the comics than the movie was). However, while Corso has a well-deserved rep as a dirtbag, the only way he’s hurt anyone has been financially.

And of course that changes.

Charged by Boris Balkan (a perfectly cast Frank Langella) to authenticate an incredibly rare book, Corso is seduced and then attacked. He leaves the book with a friend and the friend is murdered and his shop rifled, although the book remains unfound. Troubled both by these developments and the fact that Balkan doesn’t seem to give two shits about his book leaving a trail of bodies, Corso heads to Europe in order to find the other two existing copies of the book. Having worked at Border’s Books and Music in my college years, I can totally believe that people would be willing to kill over a book. YOU try telling a Mom that the last copy of ‘Lord of the Flies’ or whatever from her kid’s reading list just got sold.

Once he’s there, the movie becomes more like a travelogue of beautiful European scenery. Portugal, Spain, France, everywhere the man goes is picturesque. Little bistros and cafes, stone-cobbled streets, tree-lined avenues, hillsides, huge old houses where elderly shut-ins drink booze and play the violin all day while accompanied only by their memories, giant chateaus full of satan-worshipping yuppies… As an American who has barely even traveled out of my own state, this is pretty much how I imagine Europe all the time.  Yes, the movie has the occasional murder and arson and a poor old woman strangled in her motorized wheelchair… but that paneling! Those wall sconces!  The old man’s house in… wherever he was playing the violin. DAMN.

Along for the ride is a mystery woman about whom everything is inexplicable: her kung fu skills, her suddenly having a moped, her huge eyebrows, her wearing my wardrobe from high school, her name… seriously she has no name. She’s called ‘The Girl’ in the credits. And there’s a reason why, as you’ll see, unless you don’t watch the movie, in which case *SPOILER* she’s actually a fallen angel, perhaps THE Fallen Angel, trying to help Corso for some reason.

This was the only pic I found find where she’s dressed. I’m just kidding myself, she is wearing all this better. Probably would have worn the extra 40 lbs and the fascination with  Dragonlance books better too.

She’s in about half the movie, but the only scene anyone seems to want to put up on the ‘net  isn’t worksafe.

I even found myself loving Corso’s bag in the film, and after a short Google, discovered that it has its own following! It’s called a musette ml 35, and was a French military bag from WW2.

And once again, the ubiquitous cigarettes.

After first watching the film, I was kind of like ‘What the hell was that?’ I suppose I was expecting another The Prophecy or Lord of Illusions, so the subtlety and reserve in Ninth Gate was lost on me. It’s in the mold of those 70’s horror films where less was more: Rosemary’s Baby (which Polanski also directed), The Sentinel, The Omen. The only thing supernatural I remembered about it was a moment where the Girl seems to be able to glide when she jumps down from a balcony, and a demonic shimmer to her eyes. And of course the ending, but that felt sort of tacked on. I definitely enjoyed it more now, but I don’t think it’s a great movie. It builds great atmosphere and is beautifully shot, and has some really attractive people doing things in beautiful locations, so I think it’s worth the time. I loved the clothes and the cars and such, so it succeeds on that level at least. But if you do not wish to visit a world created by such a controversial figure as Polanski, give it a miss. You won’t be missing too much.

The Ninth Gate is available on Instant Watch.

The Blair Witch Project: Sticks and Stones Breaking Bones, But Hysteria Can Kill Us

The movie certainly creeped me out. There was the lost in the woods at night thing, the creepy half-heard sounds thing, all the little weird stone cairns left around, and some woven stick-sculptures. But I left the theater thinking that while it was fun and a lark, it wasn’t genuinely scary.

That came later.
On that score, I feel TBWP delivered.

Good horror stays with you. The dark parts of your mind pick and choose things from the images and ideas presented, and tuck them away to germinate, and spread. Then when you’re alone, those things come creeping back out from the cracks and shadows.

I saw the Blair Witch Project in the theaters, WAAAAY back in 1999. I didn’t know what to expect, and if you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time you’ll know I love horror movies and fiction and games, and I figured something like TBWP would be right up my alley!

It was and it wasn’t.

In the theater, the movie bemused me. The camera work was offputting, but these days you could put a smartphone in the hands of a toddler and achieve the same effect. I loved the American gothic setup of the legend, evoking not only the horror of the witch trials but the possibility that, if they were real, they would want vengeance for their treatment. Colonial America was a new world still stuck in the old world mindset, and nothing brings people together like ostracizing others. Even the “characters” had their charm: stolid, level-headed Mike, with his hangdog expression and flannel; laidback and good natured Josh, channeling the ultimate Gen-X male; and shrill, pain in the ass Heather.

God. Heather. 

Before I go too much further, I need to point out that Heather Donogue has already taken a metric ton of shit for her portrayal of control-freak Heather. She based her performance on a colleague she had known, who insisted on taking control of situations only to fall to pieces constantly. So she really turned in a great performance at being a massive pain in the balls.

UGH.

The movie certainly creeped me out. There was the lost in the woods at night thing, the creepy half-heard sounds thing, all the little weird stone cairns left around, and some woven stick-sculptures. But I left the theater thinking that while it was fun and a lark, it wasn’t genuinely scary.

That came later. 

On that score, I feel TBWP delivered.

Good horror stays with you. The dark parts of your mind pick and choose things from the images and ideas presented, and tuck them away to germinate, and spread. Then when you’re alone, those things come creeping back out from the cracks and shadows.

The first freakout came when I was home alone. I was in my second year of college and home visiting my parents, sleeping in my old room. They were out of town for some reason or another, and as I lay in my childhood bed in the darkness, I suddenly remembered the image from the end of the movie, of Mike, standing in the corner with his face to the wall. My room was on the south side of the house, and there was about seventy feet between our house and the street, so the streetlights cast dark shadows from treelimbs and leaf clusters over the once-familiar interior of my room. My heart raced and my eyes bulged as i lay alone in the dark, sure that if i looked, I would see Mike in my room, standing in the corner with his face to the wall.

The second freakout came a few weeks later. I was in the habit of running at a nearby park in at dusk. The park was familiar, was somewhere I had been dozens of times. But that night it was almost deserted, sinking into darkness as the sun fell down the sky. There had been a storm, and pine needles and sticks were scattered all over the ground. As I was running I looked up into the trees, and a trick of the eye made it seem as if the treetops were filled with the little woven totems shown throughout the movie. DOZENS of them, just hanging in the air, revealing my impending doom. There was a shudder, a squawk, and then a feat of athleticism that I have never again been capable of. I may have run the world’s only half-minute mile.

As I was rewatching the movie a few nights ago I remembered something my French teacher of the same year said of the movie. She was talking about a recent hurricane that had come through. The news had basically warned us this hurricane would be the end of earth, but it turned out to be just a series of heavy thunderstorms, which is always a relief in our, fair but oft hurricane-ravaged state.

“It was kind of like the Blair Witch Project. A lot of hype, a lot of sticks lying around, but nothing really happened.”

Still though, I enjoyed the film and the waves of nostalgia it brought back. And it’s certainly something to study for aspiring film-makers since it made disgusting amounts of money despite being an independent movie.

It’s available on Instant Watch!

Big Drunk Posts – Babe: Pig In the City

Read this. Don’t skip it. You’ll be thankful you did.

Mrs. Hoggett learns Horrifyng Lessons

When the original Babe movie came out, a young cousin of mine insisted on watching it over and over again. Although I loved the movie when it came out (I was in high school at the time) watching it ad nauseum turned me off to the notion of the sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, when it appeared in theaters.It seemed like a shameless attempt at cashing in on zeitgeist.

It sort of fell off my radar after that.

In 2008, The Onion did a New Cult Canon review of the film, and in reading about it and watching the clips I realized I might really be missing out on something. I put it in my Netflix queue and sort of forgot about it.

Then one of my dad’s closest friends died.

I found out the night before, was up most of the night crying, and decided to call in to work the following day.

While at home, I saw we had movies, and being a person who likes movies in a time of emotional upset, I decided to watch whatever the hell was near at hand. It turned out to be today’s entry.

As a children’s movie, Babe: Pig in the City is somewhat wanting. There are a lot of bizarre plot twists, characters with shady motivations, disturbing characters, and downright twisted imagery.

Things get weird. So, so weird.

As an affirmation of remaining true to oneself, throwing off the expectations of others, the benefits that may come with risk, and continuing to struggle in the face of impossibly bleak odds, it is a goddamn masterpiece.

That’s right: the truth gets typed in bold.

Between horrible Rube Goldbergian accidents, geriatric clowns, licentious chimpanzees, art deco/steampunk architecture, rampant species-ism, brutal life lessons, and animal violence, Pig in the City seems more like something one of the Davids (Lynch or Cronenberg) might jot down in their Bad Dream Diary and forget about. It’s easy to see why it failed as children’s movie, when it was really the next City of Lost Children.

At base, it’s about getting separated from one’s protector/parent/comfort zone and the inherent fear of needing to fend for oneself, as well as other less-articulated fears like fierce dogs, strangers, liars, clowns, and even the police:  in a particularly frightening scene where the Health Department conducts a Swat-style raid on a hotel full of animals in hiding,, many animals are brutally subjected to cages, choke-poles, nooses and just rough treatment. There are so many facets to the film it’s almost trite to try and name them all. What Miller was attempting was something less like Bambi and more like ET, but unfortunately the timing was wrong–a film like this would have cleaned up in the 80’s, when children’s fare tended to wander into the dark more often.Unfortunately, the late 90’s was more geared towards the sugar-coated, Nerf-encased products of today.

Do not, do NOT, be frightened away from seeing this movie because of this image. It's worth it, believe me.

An important factor differentiating the first Babe from its much darker second is that the second was largely scripted by George Miller, who directed (but didn’t write) the first. Miller began his career as a trauma center surgeon in Australia, putting back together people who had grievously damaged themselves in traffic accidents, and it was this constant exposure to youth bike/racing culture that brought him to write and direct the films he’s much better known for than Babe:

The Mad Max films.

The man who directed a movie about a sweet little pig who refuses to conform to barnyard stereotypes also wrote Mad Max. He wrote THUNDERDOME for Christ’s sake.

Here’s a fun little gratuitous jaunt in the Wayback Machine, about a woman named Entity and her little Raggedy Man:

Yeah, I feel like watching it again RIGHT NOW, too. Mel Gibson may be a crazy ass ranty mysogynist, but that movie isn’t just Mel Gibson. It’s George Miller, Tina Turner, Angry Anderson, giant trucks, chainsaw battles, and everything else.

Pig in the City is a rightful entry into the new Film Canon: as mentioned above, it makes an abysmal children’s movie, and an amazing affirmation of keeping one’s moral compass amid unrelenting social pressure.

On the screen, I finally saw the sorts of things I believe in being displayed: respect for others and their rights and beliefs, understanding, reciprocal altruism (the concept that the good you do may be returned: karma, sort of), and most of all, optimism.

The first two-thirds of the movie are brilliant, but it begins to break down in the 3rd with an extended ‘zany party bungee’ scene. I can see why such a strangely lighthearted sequence would fit, if only it had been a little more underplayed it might have netted the Babe movies another Oscar nod.

There are rumors that Miller is writing a 3rd installment to the franchise: they may come to nothing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a 3rd Babe film. I hope it’s as good as Babe 1, if only so it makes decent money and is a delight for children, but secretly I’m hoping for another installment of the wondrous weirdness that is Pig in the City.

Happy Pig! See it for the happy pig!

Pig in the City is not available on Instant Watch.