What We’re Watching – 5/11/11
I’ve got a small confession; I cheated before compiling this list. I thought describing my usual viewing habits (“saw Die Hard for the 1,534th time—still awesome”) would become pretty tedious, so I’ve tried to find a few things that I’ve wanted to watch for a while but never got around to.
As far as recent ridiculous horror high-concepts go, Altitude sits just behind Burning Bright, but that’s always going to be a hard one to top. Basically, a group of cool and sassy college kids charter a plane and get caught in a storm with a killer flying space octopus. It’s a fairly ambitious premise, but you can tell how far the budget has been stretched to accommodate it. The whole way through the film I wanted to see a lot more of the space octopus, so spent most of my time willing it to appear, but every time it did I had forgotten how poor the CGI was, then cringed and hoped it would go away. I really like the concept and thought it was a pretty bold attempt, and in the ‘killer space octopus’ genre it ranks pretty high. The real problem with Altitude isn’t in the direction or the CGI, but with characters; they’re all so predictably written you want to punch every one of them in the face. Even in the midst of unspeakable danger, the obvious jock character chooses to get drunk; the girl who you’d expect to panic and cry a lot, panics and cries a lot. I know the teen horror genre doesn’t particularly lend itself to pragmatic characters, but Altitude chooses to isolate these teenagers: the radio’s broken, so there’s no local sheriff or a Sam Loomis-type to come to the rescue. The teens are all on their own, and the fact that they’re all written as idiots becomes increasingly frustrating to watch. There’s a scene when one character decides to go outside of the airborne plane to fix a problem on the tail, so the gang tie a rope around him and basically throw him out. I think this is the film trying to show the quarreling characters coming together and making a responsible attempt to save their own lives, but it looks more like assisted suicide. First time director Kaare Andrews does a really solid job and I’m looking forward to whatever he does next, ideally with a bigger budget and a much better script.
The Lady in the Lake (1946)
The almost encyclopedic film knowledge of some of the writers at the MacGuffin has made me feel guilty for hardly watching any film made before 1970, but being a sucker for gimmick-laden Hollywood, there’s not much to choose from. Luckily, I found a film made in 1946 that fitted the bill.
The Lady in the Lake was both directed by and starred Robert Montgomery, as the hardboiled private investigator Philip Marlowe. Adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, it’s got every noir trope that you’d expect: missing women, femme fatales, gangsters, crooked cops, and Marlowe stuck right in the middle, punching and shooting his way to the truth. The film does, however, have one unique trick up its sleeve—the entire film is shot from Marlowe’s perspective.
Noir fiction is commonly written in the first person, and sits firmly in the subjective male gaze, so it makes a lot of sense for the film to be shot from Marlowe’s POV. But I’m probably over intellectualising the reason it’s there; it’s just good fun and a quirky way of promoting the movie. Obviously with the film predating steady-cam technology, the POV sometimes suffers from being too static, but it has it moments, notably the ending, when it becomes a fluid and captivating way of viewing the film. It made me think that other genres, besides the recent wave of horror “found footage” attempts, should try it more. The only other film I can really think of is Kathryn Bigelow’s use of first person in Strange Days. I’m not sure if I’d enjoy another film shot entirely like this, but I’d like to give it a go.