Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The 30 Day Movie Challenge: Days #5, 6, and 7

I've been falling behind and getting off schedule with the 30 Day Movie Challenge, and unfortunately it's likely to continue. So while I'd love to give all three of these films fuller write-ups, here's a condensed look at Days 5-7:

Day #5: Favorite Action Movie

Like many of these prompts, I had to do some thinking with this one. I came down to two veeeeery different films, one much more serious in nature than the other. Yet as much as I love Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, my pick goes to something on the lighter side: Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).

Johnny Depp and Jack Sparrow take up most of the time whenever people talk about this movie, and rightfully so. Depp's loopy spin on pirates is the key to the film's success. However, as much as Pirates succeeds thanks to its characters and wonderful sense of humor, it's equally successful as a legitimately enjoyable action-adventure piece. Black Pearl works best of the original Pirates trilogy because of 1) the variety of action and 2) the more even spread of action throughout the story. Dead Man's Chest (2006) and At World's End (2007) are filled with relatively little action until their bloated finales. Black Pearl, by contrast, has action and adventure perfectly spaced throughout its run time. From Jack Sparrow's opening zip-line maneuver and his first fight with Will Turner, to the ship battle in the middle, the action is diverse, well-staged, and engaging.

Sparrow's fight with Will Turner in particular is a blast to watch, as the two chase each other around turning gears, and eventually catapult themselves up to the beams of a warehouse's rafters. The Chaplin-esque nature of scenes like this heighten the film's sense of fun, and fights never become dull, soulless scenes of clashing metal and big explosions (I'm looking at you, Michael Bay). Bolstered by colorful characters, solid direction, a very funny script, and Hans Zimmer's classic score, Curse of the Black Pearl is a true delight of a movie that makes up for its lack of realism with engaging atmosphere and execution.

Day #6: Favorite Horror Movie

Horror has never really been a favorite genre of mine. I really hate movies that indulge in senseless blood and gore. Movies with scary, jump-worthy trailers usually become dull once seen in their full form (take the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example). And that's what makes today's entry so notable. When I first saw the trailer, I was only 11, and a certain jump moment scared the hell out of me, and I swore I'd never see the film. Years later, after discovering the film's strong connection with both audiences and critics, I decided to finally give it ago, and it's been my favorite horror movie (albeit from a limited selection) ever since: Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later...(2002)

Many are quick to claim that some of the specific's of Boyle's film aren't actually original (zombies that can sprint), or that Boyle's creatures aren't even zombies, because they're merely infected with a disease (the appropriately named Rage Virus). Whatever the gripes, however, it's hard to deny that Boyle and crew do a phenomenal job of taking the zombie genre and giving it a healthy dose of modernism.

Unlike certain movies that make you want to cover your eyes for long stretches, 28 Days actually held me wide-eyed with fear. Even when things get bloody, Boyle never goes out of his way, and violence isn't shoe-horned in just to kill people off. Instead, it becomes a tale of survival, with long zombie-free stretches of characters trying to survive or simply traveling.

It's this, above all else, that helps 28 Days achieve the terrifying heights that it does. Boyle actually calms down his frenetic style, and only brings it out when necessary, and the result is as arresting as it is scary. By taking a tired genre and injecting it with his own style, Boyle was able to make the zombie genre fresh, genuinely scary, all while making a legitimately strong film that can appeal to more than just the traditional zombie fan-base.

Day #7: Favorite Animated Film

I'm going to cut straight to point here: my pick isn't a Pixar film *gasp*. In fact, it predates Pixar's first release by two years (not exactly a large gap, but still...). The film in question is none other than Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

Now, first we ought to clear something up. Tim Burton didn't actually direct Nightmare, Henry Sellick did. However, given Burton's obvious presence in creating the film's story, world, and characters, I like to consider this film an example where a producer was the true auteur, and not the director (usually the go to for that controversial label). Regardless of who deserves more credit, however, one of the things I love about Nightmare was how strange and subversive it is. Despite its PG rating and quirky animation, the Halloween world is filled with plenty of gruesome creatures, including, to quote Danny Elfman's lyrics, "the clown with the tear-away face." Doesn't exactly scream "TAKE THE KIDS!", does it?
Regardless, despite the simplicity of the story, Nightmare succeeds on just about every level. The animated, while slightly stiff-looking almost 20 years later, is still vibrant and even enchanting. As a work of design, it ranks of there with the greatest art direction of all time. Character design in particular is stunning, never feeling weird just for the sake of it. Driving it all along is constant Burton collaborator Danny Elfman's score and songs, and perfect mix of quirk, charm, and menace. Pixar may win all of the accolades, but Burton and Sellick's masterpiece deserves credit for sticking to a very bold, and very strange concept all the way through.

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