Movie Reviews: Nightmare on Elm Street Comparison and Being John Malkovich

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Introducing... MOVIE CLUB 2010!
My friend Liberty and I, since we are going to be on opposite coasts this summer, have decided to watch movies together and write reviews in order to keep in touch. Here are our first reviews - we are comparing the two versions of Nightmare on Elm Street and Being John Malkovich!

Nightmare on Elm Street:
In this review, I will compare the remake, which came out this year, to the original version by Wes Craven. We watched the remake first, so I might be biased in that direction, especially since I love Jackie Earle Haley and wanted to see the remake solely for him. I did like the remake, although I felt that it was in the same vein as new horror films: a lot of things happened in dark places and the overall feel of the movie was very grey. I did think that it had a more coherent plot and a better overall explanation of what was going on. I got more of a feel for the characters and I knew why the events were happening. In the original, the characters weren't introduced as well and there was never a definitive explanation for why Freddy was after the teenagers. He was described as a "child murderer," but no one ever said that he was trying to kill Nancy as revenge for his death or anything. I inferred that from my knowledge of the series, but it was very unclear. I did think that Nancy in the original had a much stronger voice and presence than she did in the remake. In the original, she was very forceful and had a strong voice. I liked her more in the original, because she knew what to do and she did it with very little support, as everyone in her life kept failing her. In the remake, Nancy keeps to herself and feels muted and subdued throughout. Although she has better ideas than her friends, she keeps them to herself and follows along. I feel that there's a cultural shift in there, maybe a backlash against feminism, but I don't know enough to really posit a thesis. What was really interesting to me was what was left unsaid in both films. In the original, they never say that Nancy's father and mother are divorced, although it seemed to me that they are--Nancy's mother is always drinking and her father is never seen in the house. She and her mother drive a separate car from him, and he is referred to as her mother as "your father." In the remake, they never say clearly that the children were molested, although the remake revolves around that information. Their parents say that "He hurt you" and never refer to what happened to them in any other terms that might help them process what happened to them. What our culture is willing to talk about is shown in these omissions. Even in the remake, I don't think that it's clearly stated where Nancy's father, whom we never see on screen, is. Are they divorced? Her mother is an air hostess and leaves her alone in the house when she has to go on a flight, so unless her father also has a job that requires travel, I would assume so. To me, it seemed that Wes Craven's scenes of horror were better shot and scared me more than the scenes in the remake. However, I laughed throughout the remake except during those scenes, so I would say that the remake, during which I hid behind my hands in fear, was a scarier, more coherent movie overall. I enjoyed both of them, though, and they both have their merits.

Being John Malkovich:
I enjoyed this movie; it has the kind of quirky humor that I like a lot. It also (obviously) has John Malkovich, whom I love. I was suprised to see Cameron Diaz, but I thought that she gave a very good, nuanced performance, and she was my favorite to watch on the screen. I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it, so I will try not to go into to much detail, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would (although I still liked it). I don't know if I would watch it again or tell anyone that they had to watch it. The moral issues raised by taking control of someone and making them do things that they do not want to do, and the blase way in which it was presented bothered me. I understand that it is a comedy, but it bothered me that they didn't seem to really consider or be disturbed by what they were doing or the consequences of their actions. I started out sympathizing with John Cusak's character, but I rapidly (within 20 minutes or so) lost my sympathy. The only likeable character was John Malkovich. The rest of them seemed vapid and morally bankrupt--interested only in themselves and what would make them happy at that moment. As a result, I have mixed feelings about the movie. John Malkovich is awesome, though, and this discomfort over the lack of morals displayed in the movie may be only my own bias or me taking the movie too seriously.

Nightmare on Elm Street:
In watching both the remake and the old version of this movie, I must say that the campy bits of the original were much better for a silly slumber party horror flick than a seriously scary movie. The effects in both movies were astounding, however, and I felt myself really drawn into the horror scenes in both versions - the bed scene, for instance, was much more effective in the original film, while in the remake it seemed less chilling. Yet those parts do not a cohesive horror film make. I see the appeal of the Freddy of old because he is definitely a terrifying man and his use of the bodybagged first victim is effective, but in the second version it seems that he has a more well-developed character and back story. I enjoy the addition of confusing elements that coalesce into making the movie more of a thriller genre flick rather than a simple slasher film.
Switching gears, however, I feel like the female roles in the original movie were much more pronounced and carried much more gravity than in the remake. What's wrong with a strong female protagonist? Why did she have to be coaxed into drawing the killer out of her dreams in the second version whereas in the first she had the gumption that no one else did to confront him head on? Maybe the movie is not meant to act as a woman's empowerment ploy, but there are definitely overtones of the strong, smart woman in the first film that are genuinely lacking in the second.
Overall, I really enjoyed the remake for its heart-stopping scenes and its ability to make Freddy into a deeply complicated character. Though Robert Englund still remains the original Freddy, his predecessor Jackie Earle Haley makes his own man out of the character and definitely nails the creep factor. The first film is better used as a throwback at a party where no one wants to have bad dreams later that night.

Being John Malkovich:
This movie is a thought-provoking romp through the mind of some very specific characters. I felt that it was very effective in exploring the psyches of Lotti, Craig, and Maxine in a way that showed they were deeply flawed people that needed to find themselves through another consciousness (namely, John Malkovich). I grew to hate Craig as the movie progressed and found deep sympathy for Lotti, especially when she and Maxine began to express their love for one another. Maxine I liked from the beginning, as she was a strong female character that I really admire.
Overall, this movie is not for the faint of heart. As opposed to some of the more popular and straightforward storylines, in this movie the viewer is dropped into the middle of a strange world with low-ceilings and torrid love affairs using another person's body - the audience has to suspend their disbelief from the very beginning. Yet the movie lays out a plausible and realistic account of these characters as it studies their internal dilemmas through the strangeness of the situation they find themselves in.
I really enjoyed this movie, although at some moments I was fed up with the whining of Craig in his desperation for Maxine; it goes to show that the characters are really well-executed when I can go through a range of emotions towards them throughout the course of two hours.

Make sure to take a look at the other movie reviews Liberty and I wrote and our other collaborative work: comic alterna-history zine The Bearniverse.