Thursday, November 24, 2005

Capote (2005)

I know a man who is a long-time friend of the woman portrayed by Catherine Keener in the film Capote, and had occasion to ask him if she had yet seen it, and if so what she thought. She had, she liked it, he told me, though with some understandable reservations. Among her reported comments: "If there ever was a New York premiere party for To Kill a Mockingbird, I certainly did not get an invitation."

The movie describes the research, composition, and publication of Truman Capote's true-crime masterwork In Cold Blood -- work accomplished with the generous aid of his good friend Harper Lee. Philip Seymour Hoffman vanishes into Capote the same way Johnny Depp vanished into Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; it's an all-in performance. But despite the wry, droll appeal she brings to the role, whenever Keener appeared onscreen, questions about Lee's "reservations" arose fresh in my mind: Did they really go to these places? Did things really happen in this order? Did these conversations actually take place? It's a dramatization, after all, not a documentary, so leeway should be expected, understood, allowed. But in this context, seems to me completely ignoring those questions just might risk a haunting by the ghost of Perry Smith.

Humans do not live their lives along easy, cohesive narrative lines -- but maybe, with a little tinkering, it could be so. As suggested by Bennett Miller's film (based on a biography by Gerald Clark), this was precisely born storyteller Capote's "investigative" strategy during his interviews with the Death Row-dwelling Smith. Those scenes map their developing relationship with anxious, sublime energy; when the climactic moment arrives, Perry's single-sentence confession bursts out like the gunshot it represents. Capote calculates his position according to the moment, so he may extract from the situation just exactly what he wants (heedless of needs, whether his own or those of others). In the end, when he defends himself: "I did everything I could do," it rings sadly true; for him, everything was limited simply to write a great book. What Capote could not do -- due to his unexamined faults and overwhelming desires -- was actually help.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

According to the opening credits, Die, Monster, Die! is based on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour out of Space." If you say so, movie. Aside from an asteroid crash that sparks mutation in neighboring plant life, this more closely resembles a cheap Hammer knockoff than anything inspired by HPL. Nick Adams, apparently on loan from Hemingway, shows up at his feckless fiance's family estate only to find Boris Karloff hamming it up uncontrollably. For those keeping a Horror Scorecard, we have: hints of black magic, family history of satanic appreciation, faint whiff of zombies, carpetbagging space plants, and a butler -- who in this case didn't do it -- who disintegrates like a leper in the tropics. Spoiler Alert: all prolonged, achingly silent scenes of characters investigating spooky corners of the house will end with the cat jumping out. Finally, Boris chokes on his own hambone, and it's all over. Die, Movie, Die.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Nekromantic (1987)

Years back, I got a call from one of my oldest buddies who had just been astounded by a horror movie. This wasn't something I took lightly; Anthony (name changed to obscure the guilty) is a long-time creature-feature buff and, having absorbed more than his fair share of gore and weirdness, isn't too easily shocked. So his flabbergasted, Lovecraft-level disturbance at Nekromantik, a German slice of Grand Guignol, was pretty amazing. As he described the vile story to me, I was repulsed, but like all confirmed horror fans (and who knows what makes us sick like this) I was also deeply intrigued. Over time, Nekromantic became a kind of in-joke legend between us, helped by the fact that the "weird little video store" in Boston burned down shortly after Anthony returned the tape -- obviously a sinister curse was at work. Or maybe he just forgot to be kind, rewind? Anyway, I'd bring it up from time to time, and he would say, "Ug. That movie's more unsettling than the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Stay away from there." Pfft, I'd say, nothing is more unsettling than the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I usually don't mind being proven wrong -- opportunities for learning, all that. But in this case, like a passing motorist rubbernecking at a roadside accident for a glance of something rotten, I got what I deserved. So, the nekromantic in question is a sanitation department worker whose particular dirty job is cleaning up human remains from car wrecks, crime scenes, so forth. A great job to have if you and your girlfriend are curating a collection of body parts back in your dingy apartment. Which, by chance, wouldn't you just know it. Then one happy day, the collection is blessed by an entire rotting corpse, inspiring the fellow and his lady to engage in an unusual threesome. Fairly sure the story continued past that point -- the girlfriend fled, stealing the corpse and complicating everyone's relationship -- but by then I had lost the ability to focus, and shortly thereafter blacked out for an unknown period of time. I regained consciousness just in time to witness the hideous hara-kiri climax.

Okay. My buddy is right: Stay away from there.