Saturday, March 31, 2007

LOST Season 3 Episode 14 (WARNING: SPOILERS)
“Expose”

It’s interesting that I’ve got a lot to say about an episode that does nothing whatsoever to forward the island plot threads…
Lots’a pluses, though.

So we find out Nikki and Paulo’s stories and end up with an interesting CSI on the island/morality tale/re-working of an old TV show convention.
A) the “murder mystery” was passable, though the second Artz (hey, dude! Good to see ‘ya!) talks about the Medusa spider, bam! There’s your culprit, Grissom. Though I must admit, I didn’t catch the whole “Paulo lies”/”paralyzed” thing. Sneaky…
B) again, passable, in that we have seen this sort of morality tale before (ultimately, they both end up getting what they want, and they can’t even enjoy it).
Also, I’m not entirely convinced this sort of side story has a proper place in Lost, given that at the end of it, both characters are (apparently) dead.
Lost flashbacks have always helped me understand characters and motivations better; once I’d seen where these people were coming from, it would become clear why they did certain things. But in this particular case, Nikki and Paulo end up dead. So what if I understand them better now? Thing is, I didn’t really know them at all. And perhaps that’s one of the points of this episode, that we never really know people, the way the other 815ers had no idea what this couple was up to.
But because they were introduced in Season 3, and hardly did anything at all in the past 13 episodes, I had no feeling for them one way or another, other than to hope that they contributed something significant to the show’s narrative before they died (as has sometimes happened in the past).
Well, if their ultimate contribution was this little morality tale, I’m not so sure it was all worth it.
C) Remember how your favorite TV shows of yesteryear would have those episodes where characters would reminisce, and we would see recycled clips from episodes past (among other things, a strategy to control a show’s budget, since you essentially shaved off the production cost of one entire episode)?
Well, this episode does it in grand style, not just by bringing back the dead (yay, Maggie Grace! And Evil Blush-On Man* himself, Ian Somerhalder!! And Leslie!!! I mean, Artz…), but by astoundingly inserting Kiele Sanchez into the amazing footage of the crash wreckage from the pilot.
Additionally, now that we know their story, it also becomes apparent why we never really saw a lot of them in the first two seasons, as they apparently had their own agenda, searching the island for a little black bag… (And didn’t they pull the old “someone hid something in the bathroom/oh, that’s why he went to the bathroom in that episode” trick with Charlie already?)

So, all in all, it was an enjoyable episode, though ultimately, it feels like a diversionary tactic, not having moved the island story forward and not really making me understand Nikki and Paulo any better. (What it did was neatly explain to me why I hadn’t seen them before.)
I don’t really see any long-lasting ramifications of this episode, unless 1) either or both of them pull a Beatrix Kiddo and somehow manage to dig out of their graves, or 2) that despite Sawyer’s poetic gesture, the contents of the little black bag become a plot point for the future… (And not in some hokey sort of “Here, Ben and the Others, take this and let us go, please” “Oh, sure, why not? I’ve always wanted these…” way, either.)
We’ll just have to see, won’t we?

* What I named Somerhalder after his recurring role in Smallville, where he played Adam Knight, one of those guys who gets involved with Lana, only to get Clark jealous, only to reveal himself to be a baddie. (Also, see Jensen Ackles, currently on Supernatural.)
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Season 3 Episode 20 (WARNING: SPOILERS)
“Crossroads, Part 2”

“`There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief…”

Oh, man, what a way to end the season and leave us for at least nine months…
After an impassioned testimony by Lee (which almost got me convinced), Baltar gets a Not Guilty, and is spirited off by some mystery females. (Presumably, these are the people who think he’s some sort of divinity… Either that, or some people pissed off he didn’t get blasted out of an airlock and are about to go all Death and the Maiden on him.)

“`There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief…’”

Then, four of the Final Five are revealed, as is the sinister reason for that song Tigh and Sam and Tory were hearing last episode (which turns out to be Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”!).
Slyly, they saved the Chief for this episode.
Man, I’m really sad that the Chief is a skin job (making all of that anxiety he felt after the whole “Boomer is a toaster” thing horrifyingly justified). And, hey! That means his rugrat with Cally’s a hybrid. Well, at least Hera’s got someone to play with now. And if they get it on when they grow up…
I’m upset about the Chief. That doesn’t surprise me. What does, is my reaction to Tigh.
As I’ve said ‘round these parts before, I’ve never been a big Tigh fan, but what he said, to the other three, about wanting to be the man Saul Tigh is, and getting out there to do his job, that was moving, and as much as I think he can be a bull-headed pig sometimes (now, he’s a bull-headed toaster pig!), the level of respect I have for him has risen. Of course, ironically, now I have to keep a closer eye on him, now that his true nature has been uncovered.*
Maybe though, this is exactly what Tigh needs to pull himself together: the knowledge that he needs to deny his Cylon nature (just as Caprica Sharon/Athena has done). Here’s hoping.
Funny, for a character I never really took a shine to before (and who was behind the whole suicide bomber thing), Tigh made this stunning, gradual turn-around in my eyes, over the course of this season. Fantastic job, guys, making me give a frak about a character I once couldn’t have cared less about (and at some points, even hated).
And, before I leave the subject of Tigh, could he have been the Cylon D’Anna apologized to in “Rapture “? (They did, after all, torture and put out one of his eyes back on New Caprica…) Or was she apologizing to the still unknown Fifth Cylon?**

“`No reason to get excited,’ the thief, he kindly spoke,
`There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.’”

Aaaaand… voila, Starbuck’s apparently back, claiming to know the way to San Jose (which is on Earth, right?).
Either that, or Lee, not having fully purged himself of his guilt on the witness stand, was so distraught he took some chamalla extract off-camera and was hallucinating like mad.
From CAG to junkie. Them’s the breaks.

“Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.”

Frak, this may not have the balls to the wall immediacy of Season 2’s cliffhanger, but this one left us with so much dizzying potential and a frakload of anticipation.
Ooohhh…

* Actually, there’s so much irony here, it’s not even funny.
It’s ironic, given the Chief’s dalliance with Boomer and the fact that his job demands a certain affinity with machines to begin with, and it’s ironic given Starbuck’s resistance to Leoben’s pervy and twisted idea of “Happy Families,” when all long, she’d fallen in love and married a toaster! (Not to mention campaigning really hard to get back to Caprica to save Sam’s toaster a$$.)
I so cannot wait for the other characters to discover who’s a naughty toaster…
(Of course, given that Starbuck got whisked off to see “… the space between life and death,” she may just have already seen who the Final Five Cylons are, and thus, already know that her dear hubby is a skin job. Good luck, Sammy boy…)

** And considering the auditory switch for the sleepers turns out to be “All Along the Watchtower,” maybe Bob Dylan’s the Fifth Cylon!!!

(Quotes in italics from Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”)

Parting shot: For the lyrics to “All Along the Watchtower,” go to bobdylan.com. And for a great blow by blow account of how Bear McCreary approached the song, go to Bear’s Battlestar Galactica Blog.

Friday, March 30, 2007

BOBBY (Review)

Spending detention in a library with Molly Ringwald and stalking Andie MacDowell. Oh, and starring in what is largely considered the worst Stephen King-related film of all.
Certainly a far cry from that to writing and directing an ambitious film like Bobby. But somehow, Emilio Estevez has managed to bridge that considerable distance.

"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

It’s the 4th of June, 1968, and in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (where the Campaign Headquarters of Senator Robert F. Kennedy is located), a host of individuals converge on the fateful day that the course of a nation, and perhaps even the world, was dictated by an assassin’s bullet.
In a country wracked by social turmoil and civil unrest, Robert F. Kennedy was a beacon of hope, a grand statesman and popular humanist, who was largely considered the best and brightest hope to unite America, and to save it from an unpopular war.
Estevez uses the events of that final day as a pivot point around which to weave a tapestry of disparate lives united not just by the sharing of this tragedy, but by the simple fact of their common humanity.

And portraying this section of humanity is an assemblage of some of film’s most talented thespians, from the older generation—Sir Anthony Hopkins (also one of Bobby’s producers) and Martin Sheen (ain’t nepotism grand?)—to the younger set—Elijah Wood and Shia LaBeouf (who is set to explode in Michael Bay’s Transformers)—and spiced up with some Demi Moore (fellow Brat Packer, to whom he was once engaged, back in the day).
The ensemble meets expectations admirably, infusing their characters with honesty and humanity, a joint effort which earned Bobby a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Arguably though, the weak link here could very well be Mr. Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher. His drug dealer, Fisher, doesn’t really seem anything more than Kutcher in hippie drag. But part of that problem could be traced to Estevez’s script.

In presenting us with 23 characters, Estevez could very well have stretched the Grand Hotel template a tad thin in certain places, leading one to question the relative importance of certain plot threads and characters to the film’s theme of hope in the face of turmoil. Aside from Kutcher’s drug dealer (whose presence also precipitates the bizarre acid trip Kennedy volunteers LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty go on), Sheen and Helen Hunt’s socialite couple are also problematic, as is Moore (unless doing a cover of “Louie Louie” is a valid enough excuse to have her in the movie), and even Hopkins, to a certain extent. And please, keep in mind that I’m not questioning the performances, but rather, whether we could have done without some of these characters.

With this many characters and this much going on, it’s unavoidable that some plot threads will be more important and more integral than others. Some, like the young husband- and bride-to-be (Wood and Lindsay Lohan) and several of the hotel employees (particularly Freddy Rodriguez’s busboy and Laurence Fishburne’s chef) serve to give voice to particular issues of the time, or to underscore some of the values and beliefs that Kennedy stood for, and these are the ones that clearly belong in this movie. Others though (some of which I’ve mentioned above) are on shaky ground.
If Estevez had shaved off some of the characters, then there might have been more screen time that he could have devoted to bolster some of the roles that seem iffy; Kutcher serves to typify both the drug and the hippie cultures, so the presence of his character could be justified, but as it is, he’s more a plot device to get LaBeouf and Geraghty high than a flesh and blood character.
Hopkins’ retired doorman also could have used some beefing up. This sort of character, who is acutely aware of the history of the story’s setting, could have been a far more valuable asset to the narrative than he turns out to be.

If there is a weakness to Estevez’s script, I feel it is this, and not, as some people may point out, its historical accuracy.
Yes, the bystanders wounded in the assassination in Bobby are fictional and not the actual victims. And yes, there is also no suggestion of any conspiracy pertaining to the assassination.
But this is not JFK. This is not that sort of film.
This is, instead, a film about the everyday kindnesses (the “… numberless diverse acts of courage and belief”) and the casual cruelties that make up the history of our lives as a race and as a people. It is about hope, about its resiliency and fragility.

Is there more to the story of Robert F. Kennedy? Of course, although I feel it would be more accurate to say there are other stories to tell of Robert F. Kennedy.
Estevez chose to tell one about everyday people and how a figure like Kennedy—already mythic, even in life—could impact and influence their lives, and that is just as valid as a story about destroyed evidence and mystery gunmen.
Estevez chose this tale, and for the most part, succeeded in the telling. Surely that is something worth celebrating.

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not."

(Quotes in italics from speeches by Robert F. Kennedy.)

AFTERTHOUGHTS (4)

4.1 Brandon Routh won the Best Male Newcomer in the Empire Readers Awards 2007. Hurrah! Superman Returns and Bryan Singer were also shortlisted in the Best Film and Best Director categories, which were won by Casino Royale and Christopher Nolan (for The Prestige), respectively. Additionally, Superman Returns also wound up on the Best Sci-fi/Fantasy shortlist, which El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) won, and in Scene Of The Year, for the awesome Space Shuttle rescue. (To Mark Stetson, Visual Effects Supervisor; Joyce Cox, Visual Effects Producer; Sony Pictures Imageworks and Pixel Liberation Front, thanx for the brilliant work on that sequence.)
Additionally, Best Horror was won by Hostel (Hostel: Part II releases June 8!), and Best Thriller, by The Departed.

Also shortlisted in the following categories were:

Best Male Newcomer
Rian Johnson (for directing Brick)
Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine)
Dominic Cooper (The History Boys and Starter For Ten)

Best Female Newcomer
Rebecca Hall (The Prestige and Starter For Ten)
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Ellen Page (Hard Candy)
Vera Farmiga (The Departed)

Best Film
El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)
The Departed

Best Director
Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
Guillermo Del Toro (El Laberinto Del Fauno)

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed)
Christian Bale (The Prestige)

Best Actress
Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Kate Winslet (Little Children)

Best Sci-fi/Fantasy
Children of Men

Best British Film
The Queen

Best Horror
Gwoemul (The Host)
Slither

Scene Of The Year
The foot chase (Brick)
Frank and Mr. French interrogate Costigan (The Departed)
Attack on the car (Children of Men)

Congratulations one and all.
Check out the list to see if your favorite films made the cut.

(Superman image courtesy of brandonrouth.com.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

ED GEIN: THE BUTCHER OF PLAINFIELD (WARNING: SPOILERS)
(Review)

On the 17th of November, 1957, a gruesome arrest was made in Plainfield, Wisconsin. One Edward Theodore Gein was found to have murdered a number of women and kept chilling souvenirs, memento mori which he used, as pieces of furniture (severed heads as bedposts; skin which upholstered chairs and was used for lampshades), dishes (the top of a human skull became a soup bowl), and articles of clothing (a belt made of nipples; a necklace of lips; masks made from the women’s faces; an entire body suit made of skin, including leggings and breasts) which he wore on occasion.
So bizarre and atrocious were Gein’s crimes that a number of fictional characters would find their origins in certain aspects of his case: Norman Bates in Psycho; Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films; Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.
Now, Michael Feifer brings us Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield, which dramatizes the events leading up to his arrest.

There are two central characters to this tale: Gein (played by Kane Hodder, a stunt man who made his indelible mark on the horror genre when he played Jason in parts VII through X of the Friday the 13th franchise) and recently promoted deputy sheriff Bobby Mason (Shawn Hoffman, The Heat Chamber).
Feifer contrasts Gein and Mason by showing us each man’s relationship with his mother: Gein has been scarred for life by his domineering mother, whose mental spectre haunts the tortured man, while Mason cares deeply for his mother Vera (excellently played by Priscilla Barnes), who runs the hardware store in town.
Throw in the other woman in Bobby’s life for good measure, his girlfriend Erica (Adrienne Frantz), and the stage is set for the inevitable collision between the story’s principals.

For a straight-to-DVD release, Ed Gein has a couple of surprisingly good performances, from Hoffman and Barnes (who is best known as the second “replacement blonde” on the hit TV show Three’s Company, following the sudden departure of Suzanne Somers).
There is no discernable trace of the broad sitcom humour Barnes once had to ply for the show, and her turn here is suitably impressive.
Hoffman meanwhile, essays the young newly appointed deputy well, presenting us with a capable, caring, and humble leading man. Sadly, he is sabotaged by an uncertain script, which, in perhaps trying to show that Bobby is only human, manages to depict an otherwise responsible lawman sometimes derailed by his libido.
Hodder acquits himself well enough, if not with any particular flair. A more interesting (though awfully short) performance is that by Michael Berryman, another recognizable genre face, for his role as Pluto in the original The Hills Have Eyes and its sequel. Here, in an obvious move of casting against type, Berryman is Gein’s accomplice, who questions the morality of grave robbing.
Less successful in her performance is Frantz. Again, the script does the actor a disservice by painting a picture of a young woman dangerously close to being a self-absorbed princess, who soothes Bobby’s guilt at being away from his job (to search for a missing girl) with some heavy petting. (In a deleted scene, she even goes so far as to get annoyed that Bobby isn’t completely with her, as if jealous that the missing girl is taking up her boyfriend’s thoughts.)

The script also takes incredible liberties with the state of the remains of Gein’s final victim, 50-year-old Bernice Worden, mother of deputy sheriff Frank Worden, abducted from the hardware store which she owned.
Yes, Vera gets abducted, and yes, she gets killed, but Feifer pretty much leaves her body intact, particularly her head (which was chopped off of Bernice Worden’s gutted carcass), so Bobby can have one of those teary farewells where he thanks Vera for taking good care of him, tells her to tell his deceased father that he’ll never forget everything they taught him, and vows to catch her killer.
Feifer then stages one of those climactic scenes where a moral debate takes place as the protagonist (who has just lost a loved one to the killer’s depredations) holds a gun to the baddie’s forehead, while the would-be victim pleads with the hero not to stoop to the bastard’s level.
Yes, it’s a dramatization, but it doesn’t have to be so melodramatic.

Ed Gein does have its merits, and as I’ve mentioned, is slightly better than your average straight-to-DVD fare. It is, however, not as morbid as one would expect, given the facts of the case, which are a matter of public record. There really isn’t any sign of the macabre décor Gein had around the house, and we actually only see him wear the full body suit in one scene, and as it is, the sequence in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, where Buffalo Bill dances to Q Lazarus’ “Goodbye Horses” is a whole lot more disturbing.
In fact, some of the most disturbing shots in the film are seen during the opening credits, and I’m assuming these are the police photographs taken in the wake of Gein’s arrest.
We also don’t really get any deep insight into Gein’s childhood or his relationship with his mother. The film doesn’t really delve into the psychology of Gein, into why he apparently wanted so badly to be his mother that he made a suit of skin just for that sole purpose. (Nope, no convenient psychiatrist’s evaluation here, ala Hitchcock’s Psycho.)
What conceivably could have been an intense psychosexual study is instead a film about a killer getting arrested and a young man proving true to the values instilled in him by his loving parents.
And if this is Feifer’s point, that we are all merely products of our parents, then the film really could have benefited from an involved exploration of Gein’s childhood and upbringing. A harrying voice with lots of disorienting echoes isn’t going to cut it.
And neither does this movie, when you come right down to it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


ZODIAC

(Review)

I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE
BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH
FUN

Among the handful of non-fiction reference books I own is a copy of Robert Graysmith‘s true crime novel, Zodiac. It’s one of three serial killer cases I’ve long been interested in, the other two being Jack the Ripper and the Green River Killer.
I’ve also been a long-time fan of David Fincher, ever since he raised the entire Alien trilogy to the level of allegory with Alien3. Of course, he’s also disappointed me in the past, with films like The Game, Panic Room, and to a certain extent, Se7en. So when I first heard he was taking on the Zodiac, I was both excited and anxious.
Right now, I’m relieved.

IT IS MORE FUN THAN
KILLING WILD GAME IN
THE FORREST BECAUSE
MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE
ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL

Based on Graysmith‘s non-fiction accounts, Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America’s Most Elusive Serial Killer, the film follows the torturous investigation of the notorious serial killer who held San Francisco in a stranglehold of fear during his reign of terror.
Like Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac wrote letters to the local newspapers, taunting the police for their apparent inability to catch him. Caught in the wake of the killer’s trail were a number of policemen and newspaper men, some of whom would ultimately be consumed by the mystery of the elusive Zodiac. Principal among these were Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), crime reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), lead investigator on the case, and Graysmith himself (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a political cartoonist for the Chronicle at the time of the Zodiac’s emergence onto the public stage.

SOMETHING GIVES ME THE
MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE

Toning down his trademark visual flair, Fincher succeeds in giving us a riveting and involving police procedural that isn’t just about unmasking the killer; what makes Zodiac a noteworthy piece is the fact that we also become witness to the effect the killer has on the people involved in the case, how the protracted investigation impacted on these people’s lives.
The principals are effective, particularly Gyllenhaal, one of the most talented actors of his generation. His Graysmith is an introverted ex-Eagle Scout, whose fascination with puzzles becomes the doorway that allows him access into the world of the Zodiac, a journey that skirts the borderlands of obsession.
That performance, along with Ruffalo’s and Downey Jr.’s, is ably supported by a (excuse me) killer cast which includes Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, John Terry, Donal Logue, Philip Baker Hall,* Chloe Sevigny, and Clea Duvall.

THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE
WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN
IN PARADICE AND THEI HAVE
KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES

The script by James Vanderbilt (who also wrote the bland Darkness Falls and the enjoyable The Rundown) effectively takes the salient points of the case and presents us with a 2 hour 38 minute-long narrative that doesn’t feel long at all. For the duration, we are absorbed into this investigation that had so many other victims beyond the dead, an investigation hampered by pre-computer age technology and conflicting jurisdictions, an investigation that never quite got its man.
It’s a solid triumph for Fincher, who submits a serial killer thriller without the excessively contrived sordidness of Se7en; a film that, due to the strength of the source material and Vanderbilt’s script, also successfully evades the style-over-substance trap that holds prisoner not just Se7en, but Panic Room as well.

“My life has been one glorious hunt.”

With at least four previous films based on the Zodiac (among them, Alexander Bulkley’s The Zodiac, which was a perfectly good waste of Robin Tunney), as well as a host of fictional madmen loosely based on the killer (notably “Scorpio” in Dirty Harry and the “Gemini Killer” in The Exorcist III—a film director William Peter Blatty based on his own novel Legion—as well as the serial killer featured in the Millennium episode, “The Mikado”), the case has been visited often enough through celluloid.
But what Fincher and company do here is present the case as it unfolded, over the course of years, in a narrative that is as much about the investigators as it is about the murderer. In a world with a million CSIs and a gazillion CSI rip-offs, this is a procedural that isn’t about flash and glitz and methodology. It’s about people and mistakes and dead ends, about frustration and obsession and trying to uncover the truth even when the rest of the world has left the mystery behind.

“Only after the kill does man know the true ecstasy of love. It is the natural instinct. Kill, then love! When you have known that you have known ecstasy!”

* Interestingly enough, Philip Baker Hall also appears in Bulkley’s The Zodiac.

(Text in capital letters from the Zodiac’s letter published August 1, 1969, and decoded by Donald Gene Harden and his wife Bettye June. All misspellings and grammatical errors are as per the Zodiac’s message.)

(Zodiac OS courtesy of aintitcool.com.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


PREMONITION
(Review)

Linda Hanson (Sandra Bullock) is an ordinary mother and housewife who experiences the sudden and wrenching loss of her husband Jim (Julian McMahon, Nip/Tuck’s Dr. Christian Troy, and Fantastic Four’s Doctor Doom) to a senseless vehicular accident, only to wake up one morning to discover her husband alive and well.
But as the days come and go, Linda finds herself apparently shuttling back and forth through time, one day before the accident, the next day, after. And as Linda is increasingly distressed and unsettled by her predicament, she struggles to comprehend why this is happening to her.

From a script by Bill Kelly (who wrote the Brendan Fraser/Alicia Silverstone romantic comedy Blast From The Past) and directed by Mennan Yapo (LautlosSoundless), Premonition certainly has a tantalizing premise. I’ve always had a fascination with non-linear storytelling, and here was a film that would have that not just as a narrative technique, but as a crucial plot point.
And the execution of the idea is skilled enough that confusion can be kept to a minimum, provided one is paying attention. The problem, I feel, lies in the general attitude Linda takes in response to her predicament.

There is a certain sense of fatalism that permeates Premonition, as if Linda immediately understands that all is predestined, that she is being shown a future that is inevitable somehow; that she is witness to this eventuality not so she can prevent it, but so that she can prepare herself to accept it when it does take place.
There is no struggle here, no raging against the dying of the light. It almost feels like she already made her decision regarding her husband even before the film started rolling, a decision we weren’t privy to, so we don’t see the process of her coming to that conclusion.
Rather, what we see is a wife who doesn’t really seem to care about her husband enough to even warn him of what she has seen is coming (until it’s too late to make a difference). As a result, Linda seems far too passive a protagonist for the audience to completely identify with.

That fatalism then translates into a vague sense of lassitude, to the point where the audience isn’t really emotionally involved so much as merely along for the ride, only mildly concerned as to when they will finally get to their expected destination.
Kelly and Yapo seem to have replaced any tension the film might have had with an odd mixture of uncertainty (as to when in time we’ll wake up next) and confidence (knowing full well this will all end in tears) that only serves to cancel each other out, leaving us with nothing but a vague sense of distance from the proceedings.

Linda’s true feelings about her husband and the situation she finds herself in never truly externalizes for the audience to see. The story would perhaps have been better served had it been executed in written form, where internal thought processes are more accessible to the reader.
What’s more, when we are presented with certain mysteries, the consequences of actions we have yet to see, because Linda hasn’t experienced them yet, there is a certain expectancy as to the nature of the payoff. Things are built up, surrounded by sinister airs. (Where did those wounds come from? Why is there a page missing from the directory?) When we do uncover the truths though, they’re ultimately, painfully, pedestrian, rendering the film’s tiny mysteries gratuitous—and vain—exercises in building tension.

In the end, nothing really quite meshes in Premonition.
Even the final scene, which attempts to leave the story on a hopeful note, feels like nothing so much as making the best out of a really horrible situation, which would not be so bad, if one sensed some vital surge of dynamic belief from Linda. But once more, it’s that prevalent aura of fatalism that the character wears like a second skin which colours the film’s ending, and leaves us dissastisfied and curiously unmoved by it all.

(Premonition OS courtesy of wildaboutmovies.com.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

DESU NOTO (DEATH NOTE) (Review)

Based on the popular manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Shusuke (Azumi 2: Death or Love) Kaneko’s Death Note tells the story of college student Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara, from Batoru Rowaiaru II: Chinkonka: Battle Royale II: Requiem, and Takashi Miike’s Sabu), who finds a mystical notebook belonging to the Death God Ryuk, a dodgy CGI construct appearing to be a very tall Marilyn Manson with wings and a fanged Joker’s grin.
Complete with handy, detailed instructions (I guess Ryuk wants to cover his bony a$$ against law suits from the afterlife), the notebook has the power to kill any person whose name in written on its pages, with the proviso that when you do write down a person’s name, you need to visualize that person’s face, so as to avoid all the people in the world named, say, “Adolf Hitler,” to drop dead at the very same moment from a heart attack (if you’re not particularly choosy about cause of death).
Light quickly gets into the spirit of things, using the notebook to execute criminals, alleged or otherwise, in the process becoming a cultural phenom known as “Kira,” judge, jury, and executioner of Japanese criminal scum.
With the police stumped, enter the mysterious “L” from stage left, who first appears as a laptop spouting a synthesized Chipmunk voice. “L” is apparently a specialized consultant for law enforcement agencies around the globe, who has helped solve any number of seemingly unsolvable cases.
Of course.
And when “L” throws down the gauntlet in a very public manner, the stage is set for the two self-styled geniuses to match wits in a deadly chess game of move and counter-move, while Light gleefully speeds down the road to Sociopath City.

With a premise and plot that fairly screams “Comic book!!!” (and I mean the juvenile, vaguely ludicrous and improbable sort), Death Note clears the starting gate with a hell of a handicap.
The production then isn’t helped any by performances that are frankly painful to watch. The only actors who manage to rise above bad and just squeak past mediocrity are Takeshi Kaga (Chairman Kaga from Ryori No Tetsujin—the original Iron Chef!), who plays the head of the police squad investigating the Kira case, and Asaka Seto (Chakushin Ari 2: One Missed Call 2, the “Dark Hole” segment of Hak Yae: Black Night, and Hideo Nakata’s upcoming Kaidan), as the fiancé of an FBI agent.
Not only do we have bad acting from the humans, but the CGI is of the sort that isn’t 100% convincing either, thus, the scenes where Light interacts with Ryuk (invisible to everyone else who has not touched the Death Note) are distracting, bad actor bouncing off bad CGI. Not good. This is the sort of film where maintaining suspension of disbelief is like trying to break the law of gravity.

Things then get even stickier when “L” is introduced in flesh and blood form. I’ll refrain from saying who plays “L,” so there’s some mystery for those of you who plan on seeing Death Note. What I will say though, is that “L” is a character whose eccentricities feel monstrously contrived, and a large part of the fault lies in the performance, one of the most disastrous in the film. Watching “L” in action is like watching Ryuk; you just know what you’re seeing isn’t real, as there isn’t a speck of genuine honesty in the portrayal.
(Actually, I think watching Ryuk is easier. He’s CGI, so at least he’s got a valid excuse for being a great big fake.)

As events unfold, there’s a plot twist some 40 minutes into the proceedings that tantalizingly dangles the possibility that the narrative will go into some interesting, more provocative waters, but no. The twist is revealed, apparently without altering anything in the slightest. A golden opportunity to spike up tension and delve deeper into personalities and motivation is basically tossed out the window apparently without the slightest trace of regret.
One of the most bothersome aspects of all this is that we never really see why Light gets into the Death Note so intensely, he simply does. Other than a brief debate with his girlfriend Shiori (Yu Kashii) over whether Kira’s deadly vigilante actions are justified, Light just plows through the notebook’s pages like nobody’s business.
And there doesn’t even seem to be any discernable segue from his execution of criminals to his offing of the law enforcement types who are after him, no apparent remorse for his supernatural murder of the innocent. We see no reason for Light’s coldly sociopathic tendencies. You’d think we’d get to see why this particular human is apparently even more “evil” than Ryuk himself, but that simply isn’t the case.

Like the film adaptation of Devilman, Death Note leaves you with the feeling that there was just way too much material to adapt comfortably into a 2-hour long movie. In fact, Kaneko cheats by having the story split into two films, following up the tale in Death Note: The Last Name.
Thus, Death Note ends in a stupefying cliffhanger that makes a mockery of the frustratingly long 2 hours and 6 minutes that it took to get there. Those desperate for a final resolution so as to put the whole sorry mess behind them will be royally ticked off (or, at the very least, annoyed, as I was).

Parting shot: The fact that this film was so popular in Japan—so much so that it went head-to-head with one of last year’s global box office juggernauts, The Da Vinci Code, and actually came out on top for two weeks—is just one of the myriad mysteries of the movie world; “more things in heaven and earth and the multiplex,” and all that.
MASTERS OF HORROR Season 2 Episodes 3 & 4

“The V Word”
Written by Mick Garris; directed by Ernest Dickerson

The title pretty much telegraphs what the episode is about. What it doesn’t tell you is that this is probably the worst that MoH’s second season has to offer.

We follow best friends Justin (Branden Nadon) and Kerry (Arjay Smith), as they enter a funeral home in the dead of night to see a corpse, up close and personal, only to discover some cadavers just don’t stay dead.

Now, I have very little patience for stories that begin with teen-agers getting into all sorts of trouble with the supernatural because they did something patently stupid on a dare, or for lack of anything better to do. I have even less patience for the characters themselves. It’s difficult to find any sympathy for people who basically asked to get screwed by acting like complete juveniles. (Yes, juveniles are exactly what teen-agers are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t use their God-given brains, right?)
So, when Justin and Kerry meet the undead Mr. Chaney (genre icon Michael Ironside; you’ll undoubtedly recognize him from Scanners, TV’s V, and Total Recall; he also voices Darkseid on the Superman and Justice League animated series), all I can think to myself is, Well, you asked for it. (The fact that Justin is such an indecisive wuss for the majority of the story makes me care even less for his welfare.)
And when the episode devolves into I Was A Teen-Age Vampire, things get even worse.

This is such a difficult episode to get through, with long stretches of tedium desperately masquerading as suspense. Then, throw in Jodelle Ferland (Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill, Terry Gilliam’s Tideland, and the Pang Brothers’ The Messengers) as Justin’s sister, Lisa, and reaching the end credits on this one gets even dicier. I’m just thankful Ferland‘s screen time is at a minimum here; though she does have her share of admirers, I’m not one of them at the moment.

Ernest Dickerson was the frequent cinematographer for Spike Lee, before getting a director’s chair of his own, helming films like the Tales From The Crypt feature Demon Knight and the failed TV pilot Futuresport (with Dean Cain and Wesley Snipes). More recently, he directed the Heroes episode “Collision.” What he does on “The V Word” is anyone’s guess. This one is so boring, it’s almost as if Dickerson slept through the proceedings, as the audience is sorely tempted to throughout the one-hour-running-time-which-seems-like-an-eternity.

As much as I try to find even the smallest of redeeming qualities in even the sorriest pile of cinematic poop, scrambling to find something nice to say about “The V Word” is a tall order. The only bright light in this mess was the thought that the remaining 10 episodes of the season couldn’t get any lower than this.

“Sounds Like”
Teleplay by Brad Anderson; based on the short story by Mike O’Driscoll; directed by Brad Anderson

And sure enough, we go from season 2’s worst, to its most disturbing, an unnerving exploration of how the loss of a child can damage a parent’s psyche.

Larry Pearce (Chris Bauer, who’s in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers) is the supervisor at a software company’s tech support call center. Pearce is a husband and father quietly grieving for his dead son. He’s also apparently got hypersensitive hearing, hearing which at first seems to be beneficial to his job, until things begin to spiral out of control.

Having also directed Session 9 and El Maquinista (The Machinist; best known as the film Christian Bale lost 2/3 of his body weight for), it’s apparent that Anderson is fascinated by the psychological effects guilt can have on a person’s mental health. In Pearce’s case, his hearing intensifies to the point where the jerky movements of a fly become deafening noise to his ears.

Among other things, “Sounds Like” is an interesting variation of The Tell-Tale Heart. And though its gore quotient is pretty low compared to some other MoH episodes, Anderson still crafts an unsettling little tale where the scariest thing is how guilt and loss can transform any of us into monsters.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

LOST Season 3 Episode 13 (WARNING: SPOILERS)
“The Man From Tallahassee”

When Locke says, early on in the episode, “This is gonna be more complicated than we thought,” all I could think was, That is such a loaded line.
For one, that could refer to we, the viewers, and our own reaction to the show.
It could refer to the people making the show, and the discovery, once they were well into it, that Lost was a show that didn’t really have a lot in the way of precedents, so they couldn’t really look around to see how things could be done.
That line could even refer to the show’s current straits: once you have a critical and ratings darling on your hands, you pretty much think you’re in the clear, but all of a sudden, your third season hasn’t even really gotten into full swing, and ratings have lowered drastically, and people are talking early send-off.
Yes, indeed, John. “More complicated than we thought.”

Thankfully, “The Man From Tallahassee” feels like Lost has gotten back on proper track.
When Locke stands (after his disability checks are suspended), I thought to myself, Finally! We’re gonna see how John ended up in the wheelchair, which was, in my books, the biggest personal mystery that had not yet been addressed since the show started.
(I’ve also been waiting for a scene of this sort ever since “Walkabout,” knowing in my gut we’d see a “reverse reveal” to contrast with that killer moment when we first see Locke in his wheelchair.)
And now that we see the moment of John’s crippling, this is what I have to say: Brutal.
For some reason, I always thought, Car accident. Not, Oh, my conman dad pushed me out of a building. (So much for “I’m a conman, not a murderer.”)
The guy is evil. There is no other word for it. (And I’m still waiting for the reveal that’ll confirm my big suspicion of his exact connection to Sawyer…)
I may hate John from time to time (and what he does to the sub is next to unforgivable) but Terry O’Quinn just slays in this role. The scene where he’s first lowered into his wheelchair is potent. Here’s this broken man (literally and figuratively) who has yet again been monstrously hurt by his father, and he has to cope with this. You can almost understand the whole sub deal.
Almost.

And while that’s going on, Kate and Jack have their face to face, Danielle and Alex don’t, and Ben does what he does best: manipulate. Locke is so his bitch at the moment, it isn’t even funny.
A lot goes on in this episode, and a lot is left hanging, with a whopper of an ending.
So the dazzling begins in earnest…

Parting shot: Ben and his Magic Box… Hmmm…

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Season 3 Episode 19 (WARNING:SPOILERS)
“Crossroads, Part 1”

As if to waste no time getting to Baltar’s trial, we get no opening credits sequence this time out (missed the Gayatri Mantra), and let me tell you, the trial gets ugly.
I’ve never been a part of the Col. Tigh fan club, but you’d have to be totally unfeeling not to think what went down between Tigh and Ellen back on New Caprica was frakking heartbreaking.
And all that stuff comes out.
On the witness stand.
I mean, to have to admit under oath that you killed your wife because you were the leader of the resistance and she was a collaborator. That’s bad enough. But to know (and further admit) that she did it because she truly loved you and was forced into doing it to keep you out of jail…
I may not really like Tigh, but that’s tough. (And that’s the understatement of the century.)
In a fleet of walking wounded, Tigh is hemorrhaging. He returned from New Caprica not so much a different person, but as a Tigh that was broken somehow (something that he shared with, ironically enough, Starbuck).
And now the poor guy’s deep in his cups and hearing a damned song! It’s a scary, unsettling sight, and seeing him with that mad, sick gleam in his remaining eye at episode’s end was truly disturbing.
And apparently, Sam’s hearing the same song too! And what is up with Tory?
Meanwhile, the Adamas continue to tear into each other like mad dogs, and Apollo has crossed the line from flawed hero to a$$hole.
To cross-examine the President the way he did, to see him hurt her the way he did, all in the name of his beloved system…
A$$hole.
It was one of those Pyrrhic victories to see his face when he gets shafted by hearing Roslin tell him exactly why she was taking the chamalla extract again. Take that, a$$hole!
And power to Dee! It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a real person there, and her packing it in had, again, Pyrrhus written all over it. She needed to do that, not just for herself, but to prove something to Lee too. Of course, something tells me that could very well have been the straw that breaks Lee the Idiot Camel’s back…
And crap. Let’s get back to Roslin.
Crap.
I love Mary McDonnell. She was one of the biggest draws for me to sit down and watch the BSG mini-series. There’s this sensitivity there that’s always a joy to watch onscreen (and she was marvelous in Donnie Darko). So I sat down to watch the mini-series largely because she was in the cast, and I haven’t looked back.
Understandably, when they saved her from the cancer, I was massively relieved. And now it’s…
Crap.
This sucks. (There better be some way to get around that whole prophecy thing about Roslin not living to see the Promised Land…)
And whilst we’re talking religion, Baltar is being treated by some as divinity. He has been looking very Jesus-y lately… Of course, this is also the sleazoid who not only slept with the enemy, but collaborated with them as well, right?
Oh, and have I mentioned? The Cylons have returned! Granted, the fleet is trying to shake the toasters off their tail, but Helo does the whole doomsayer thing and refers not-so-cryptically to “a storm coming.”
We can see where this is going, right?
Season end cliffhanger, people…
(Image courtesy of spacecast.com.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

AFTERTHOUGHTS (3)

3.1 My sincerest apologies to Neil Marshall and Neil Jordan.
In my review of Blood and Chocolate (Archive: March 2007), I completely forgot to mention Dog Soldiers and The Company of Wolves as quality lycanthrope cinema.
And really, the only reason why that is, is due to the fact that Marshall’s subsequent film, The Descent, blew Dog Soldiers away. A very dark and brutal yin to Dog Soldiers’ testosterone-laden yang, The Descent is always at the forefront of my thoughts when it comes to Neil Marshall, so Dog Soldiers often gets overlooked, thus my failure to recall it when I was writing my Blood and Chocolate review.
For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about British soldiers running into some hairy opposition in the Scottish boonies.
It’s also spawned a sequel, Dog Soldiers: Fresh Meat, though this one is being helmed by Rob Green, who brought us the World War II-set The Bunker.
Now, as for the Jordan oversight, absolutely no bloody excuse except senility. So very sorry. His adaptation of the late Angela Carter’s work is dark and phantasmagoric and a must-see for any werewolf completists out there.
(I have also yet to see the Ginger Snaps films, so who knows, there could be some gems there too.)

3.2 In my review of Season 1 of Showtime’s Dexter (Archive: March 2007), I made mention of its brilliant opening credits sequence.
Well, it ended up as #3 on A.V. Club’s list of 22 TV Opening-Credit Sequences That Fit Their Shows Perfectly.

(3) Dexter
According to Showtime’s engrossing series Dexter, being a serial killer—even a serial killer who preys on his fellow killers—is all about hiding. Hiding bodies, hiding slides of blood in the back of an air conditioner, and hiding a pronounced lack of human emotion. But mostly it’s about hiding those pesky sociopathic tendencies that seethe just underneath the surface. Dexter’s opening credits hint heavily at those tendencies, with a highly sensory sequence of Michael C. Hall going through the motions of his morning routine. Hall swats a buzzing mosquito on his arm in extreme close-up, then smiles. From there, the fine line between morning routine and homicide gets blurrier and blurrier. The most graphic scenes come when Hall prepares his breakfast. He slices ham with a sharp knife, butter sizzles in the pan, a blood orange is sawed in half—all shot in the heightened style often referred to as “food porn.” Here, it’s closer to “food snuff film.”
(coloured text from avclub.com)

Check the list out. It’s got links to YouTube, where you can see the sequences yourself.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (Review)

I’ve said this before.
Having never seen the original, I can come at this with a clean slate. And on that clean slate, I write…

Glen Morgan is a name I’ve kept an eye on since his days as an X-Files alum. From Mulder and Scully, he went on (along with his collaborative partner James Wong) to Millennium in its sophomore year, giving the show its best season in its three-year run.
Morgan then went on to script feature films which Wong would direct, starting with Final Destination (interesting and effective), and then on to the Jet Li starrer, The One (disappointing), and Final Destination 3 (dull and pointless).
During this time, Morgan also had his directorial debut with the remake of Willard (which I missed seeing).
As the films came and went though, it seemed Morgan was becoming less of an interesting storyteller and just a mild curiosity in my books.
At the tail end of last year, Morgan wrote and directed the remake of the 1974 slasher flick, Black Christmas, coming up with quite possibly the worst film he’s worked on to date (it’s a toss-up between this and Final Destination 3).

We’re trapped (along with a gaggle of annoying sorority b*tches) as psychotic killer Billy Lenz (Robert Mann) escapes from the loonybin and comes home for Christmas; as it turns out, the Delta Alpha Kappa sorority house happens to be Billy’s old home.
General mayhem and much eye-gouging and -yanking ensue as the film unfolds in its bizarrely perfunctory manner, with sections of Billy’s life told to us by different characters. (These flashbacks seem to have been directed by Tim Burton on a really bad day, while in the worst possible mood.)

The visual hi-jinx (an overabundance of skewed, extreme angles which, instead of building mood and tension, just get really annoying, really fast) does nothing to hide the flimsy plot and script, populated by spoiled little princesses who aren’t really characters, but Dead Meat Walking.
Not to sound misogynistic, but seriously, these are sorority sisters you can’t wait to see get iced by the mad killer. And speaking of ice, check out the death by icicle scene. Yeesh.

With a cast of ciphers that includes Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Michelle Trachtenberg, there is absolutely no one to sympathize or identify with. The only performer to actually register is long-time Morgan collaborator (and real life wife) Kristen Cloke (who played Lara Means, a recurring character on Millennium’s second season, and appeared in Final Destination), as the estranged sister of one of the sorority girls, come to the house to look for her sibling.

Just squeezing past the 1 hour 20 minute mark by a hair, Black Christmas feels interminably long, and is the kind of sad excuse for a horror movie which makes you just want to climb into the screen and help the killer shut these damn girls up.
These are the kinds of movies right wing conservatives should worry about, the ones that are so badly made, they actually promote violent tendencies.
I’m not sure which is more horrendous, this, or the worst examples of pointless masochism that exist within the currently burgeoning sub-genre of torture porn. Believe me, watching Chabert, Trachtenberg, and company natter away about how Christmas and their families suck is sheer, effing torture.

Okay, it’s official. Earlier on I said worst film Glen Morgan ever worked on was a toss-up between Black Christmas and Final Destination 3.
Well, Final Destination 3 wasn’t really bad so much as it was pointless and redundant. Black Christmas however, is bad. It’s the kind of film that eventually killed the slasher movie, the kind of film that wasn’t about suspense or thrills, but about cheering on the killer as he dispatches the next pretty little airhead.
And perhaps its worst offense (in a long string of them) is that it doesn’t even have one sorority sister who emerges from the ordeal as the kick-a$$ Sidney Prescott. Instead, just when you hope one of them will rise to the occasion, they devolve into screaming, hysterical ninnies.
I think it’s safe to say even girls would be annoyed with this pack of hyenas.

So the next time you feel that the worst part about Christmas are the crowded malls, or the traffic, or hearing the same holiday songs over and over, or that dreaded family reunion, think again.
The worst part about Christmas is that it can spawn cinematic dreck like this.

(Originally posted 022407)
AFTERTHOUGHTS (2)

2.1 Congratulations to Bong Joon-ho and all involved in the making of Gwoemul (The Host: review in Archive: March 2007), for bagging 4 Asian Film Awards, namely Best Film, Best Actor (Song Kang-ho), Best Cinematographer (Kim Hyung-goo), and Best Visual Effects (to San Fo-based effects house, The Orphanage).

2.2 Likewise, congratulations to Guillermo Del Toro and all involved in the making of El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth: review in Archive: March 2007), for winning in 9 of the dozen categories it was nominated in at this year’s Ariel Awards (Mexico’s equivalent of the Oscars).
The wins were for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Maribel Verdu), Best Cinematography (Guillermo Navarro), Best Art Direction (Eugenio Caballero, Pilar Revuelta, and Ramon Moya), Best Original Score (Javier Navarrete), Best Make Up (David Marti, Jose Quetglas, and Arjen Tuiten), Best Costume Design (Lala Huete and Rocio Redondo), and Best Special Effects (Reyes Abades, Angel Alonso, David Marti, and Montse Ribe).
Interestingly enough, the other major contender this year at the Ariels was 2004’s Cronicas (so I’m not sure how it was nominated in the same year as Laberinto), which has Del Toro and good friend Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) as producers.
Cronicas is a searing look at which is the greater evil: a cruel serial killer, exploitative and sensationalist journalism, or a public with an insatiable hunger for both. It was up for 6 awards and I’ve yet to confirm which categories it won in. (I’ll mention them in a future installment of Afterthoughts.)
AFTERTHOUGHTS (1)

1.1 Sci Fi Channel has upped its order for Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica to 22 episodes, and a special two-hour BSG “event” which will air in the 4th quarter of 2007, and will also be released on DVD. The “event,” which will reportedly deal with Battlestar Pegasus, is presumably meant to tide us over till Season 4’s premiere in early 2008.
There’s also the in-development prequel spin-off, Caprica, which will be set over half a century before BSG and will focus on the Adama family, as well as depict the technological advances that will eventually lead to the Cylon revolt.

1.2 Congratulations to the following composers, for ending up on Visions In Sound’s Best [Soundtracks] of 2006: Elia Cmiral (Pulse: #17); Dario Marrinelli (V For Vendetta: #9); John Ottman (Superman Returns: #4); and Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica: Season 2: #1).

Thursday, March 22, 2007


RAINES (Pilot)
(Review)

Michael Raines (Jeff Goldblum) once thought he could be a crime novelist, but decided against it. Too many decisions to make, he thought. (An idea that is played with to good effect in the pilot’s opening.)
So instead, he became a police detective.
Three months after an on-the-job shooting, he’s back to work, but now, the victim in the case he’s just been handed, Sandy Boudreau (Alexa Davalos, from one of the best shows from the 2005 TV season, the brutally truncated Reunion), is talking to him. She could be a ghost, or she could be Raines’ fertile imagination giving him a sounding board, but the fact remains, Raines sees her, and by interacting with her, he solves the case.

Like Dexter before it, Raines takes certain facets of the crime procedural and presents their logical extremes. If investigators imagine and visualize murder scenarios, why not have a cop actually interact with the victim?
And more than just being the show’s hook, this idea is explored quite nicely, as Sandy undergoes changes even as Raines uncovers her secrets. Her accent changes, as do her clothes, as well as her physical appearance and demeanor. This aspect of the premise then neatly dovetails into stereotypes and ingrained perceptions (a hooker would look slutty and have heavy make-up; a woman working with a sleazy detective would be a femme fatale).
This aspect of the show then allows us to see psychologies and motivations, just as the flashbacks in Lost do. In Lost, we understand better why characters make the decisions they do; in Raines, we gain insight into the murder itself, and the reasons why the victim ended up on the coroner’s slab.

Raines is one of the best of the new crop of mid-season shows (certainly far better than Blood Ties), with a pilot written by Graham Yost (Boomtown) and directed by Mr. Stephen King on the Big Screen himself, Frank Darabont.*
It’s a crime procedural with an interesting and welcome twist, that boasts good writing and a commendable central performance by Goldblum as a man who is worried he could be going mad, but is willing to see where this ride could take him. (The pilot also has a plot twist that you may see coming if you’re sharp and on the ball. Regardless, it’s a fun little curveball that spices things up quite nicely.)

Having given Raines my thumbs-up though, I would like to say that I hope there is some kind of arc here, and that this show won’t just be about the Victim of the Week. Even Dexter has the title character (a forensics expert/serial killer) go on a transformative journey over its first season.
I’d like to see Raines struggle with this predicament (for lack of a better word). This is not exactly normal, whether it’s all in his head or not, and this show should never fall into the trap of being flippant and nonchalant about the idea. That’s the way a lot of the forensics procedurals are these days when it comes to murder and victims (another week, another body), and Raines, given its atypical premise, should never fall prey to that.

* After The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Darabont is currently shooting The Mist, based on King’s novella of the same name.

(Image courtesy of tv.com.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


BLOOD AND
CHOCOLATE
(Review)

Poor werewolf. His sexier cousin, the vampire, has always had better luck on the big screen.
After the one-two punch of Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (both from 1981), there has been a distinct lack of quality lycanthrope cinema. There was Mike Nichols’ Wolf (Nicholson and Pfeiffer do scream “quality,” after all), but that lacked bite, and the more recent Underworld films (where the werewolves share screen time with their sexier vampire cousins) are just too MTV/CGI for their own good.
Taking a slightly different tack is Katja von Garnier‘s Blood and Chocolate.

Vivian (Agnes Bruckner, 24 Day 3) is one of the loup garou, who have lived among us in secret for centuries. She is also about to become the latest wife of the leader of the pack, Gabriel (Olivier Martinez, the lover in Unfaithful and the baddie in S.W.A.T.), who, alpha male that he is, takes a new wife every seven years.
But Vivian crosses paths with Aidan (Hugh Dancy, Galahad in Antoine Fuqua‘s King Arthur), an American graphic novel artist doing research in Romania on the loup garou. The young man brashly pursues her and the two become romantically involved, all the while being observed and harassed by the upstart Rafe (Bryan Dick, Brothers of the Head and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), Gabriel’s son, and Vivian’s cousin.

Blood and Chocolate is more potentially doomed love affair than either action thrill ride or midnight horror movie, and in that, it’s closer to Wolf than any of the other films I’ve mentioned in this review.
Given that the main character is Vivian, it’s also rather evident that this is one of those films that targets the female demographic more than anything else. Like TV’s Blood Ties, it’s even got the pretty boy graphic novel artist. It also presents the transformation sequences as more ethereal than physical, eschewing both practical special make-up effects or heavy CGI work. All one has to do is leap into the air and twist, just so, and one shiny bright light later, you’re a hairy four-legged wolf.
Now, I have nothing against this sort of movie, if it happens to be a good, involving one, but Blood and Chocolate doesn’t even seem to try.

There’s a lot of lip service paid to the idea of being one’s own self, and some shots taken at the tyranny of a patriarchal society, but it doesn’t have anything to ground itself on, as Vivian doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special or different. Bruckner brings nothing noteworthy to the table in her performance, so the character doesn’t really come to life. And Dancy is a Brit who is a bit too successful at being the brash young American, not the most credible romantic lead in these strange circumstances.
But as off-target as these performances are, Martinez and Dick are significantly more problematic.

As the main protagonists of the piece, one expects actors of substance to inhabit the roles. Instead, we have Martinez, who lacks the presence and the gravitas to be the pack’s alpha male, and Dick, who just comes across as an annoyance of the Wicked Stepsister school, an auxiliary character whose raison d’etre is to make the main character’s life a living hell.
There are a number of reasons why Rafe would hate his cousin: Rafe’s mother (Astrid, played by Katja Riemann) is the wife about to be tossed aside in favor of Vivian; Vivian is aware of Rafe’s personal hunting of prey—against Gabriel’s law of communal hunting-as-ritual; he could even be threatened by her very presence, which would be confusing and embarrassing for a would-be alpha male.
But Dick just doesn’t communicate any of that properly. All he does is get in her face in the most irritating way, making him seem more like a spoiled brat than anything else, certainly not the next alpha male in line, as he seems to think.

Of course, the script (by Ehren Kruger and Christopher Landon, based on the young adult novel by Annette Curtis Klause) also doesn’t give the characters ample opportunity to display anything more than the most basic personalities, so the fault isn’t solely in the actors’ ball court. I’ve repeatedly bemoaned Kruger in the past, feeling that the only time he’s gotten it spot on was the English-language Ring Two. Blood and Chocolate falls somewhere near The Skeleton Key and The Brothers Grimm, in that it was trying to be something more than your average genre movie, but faltered short of the mark.

In the end, Blood and Chocolate was a wasted opportunity to develop genre material along lines not usually explored in feature films. I applaud the fact that this was clearly not meant to be your typical werewolf movie. Getting Von Garnier to helm this seemed an interesting and appropriate choice; given that she also directed HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels, she’s handled the subject of strong women before.
The result though, is a lukewarm piece that lacks conviction, and yes, bite.
Just because you’re not giving the audience Underworld action or Howling gore, doesn’t mean you give them a lifeless lump of celluloid either.

(Blood and Chocolate OS courtesy of wildaboutmovies.com.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


BLOOD TIES
Pilot
“Blood
Price”
(Review)

Dude in Black, about to become a Demon Victim, talking to his Goth Girlfriend on his cellphone: “There’s some guy. He’s wearing a black cape or something. Cool. He looks like the freakin’ Prince of Darkness.”

Based on the series of Victoria Nelson novels by Tanya Huff, Blood Ties kicks off with ex-cop turned P.I. Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox) witnessing the murder of the aforementioned Dude in Black (Juan Riedinger). His Goth Girlfriend, Coreen (Gina Holden, Final Destination 3 and TV’s Reunion), subsequently uses some choice lines (“They’re real. Out there. Walking the night. Looking to slake their unquenchable thirst. Feeding on us the way we feed on cows or chickens.”) and hires Vicki to track down her boyfriend’s murderer, since she’s convinced said murderer is a vampire, and wouldn’t you know it, cops aren’t equipped to handle vampires, much less believe in them.
And as the tabloids go on a frenzy over the string of “vampire” murders, it turns out that there really is a vampire in town, one Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid, The Covenant), a vampire of the sensitive, pretty boy variety, who is both Henry VIII’s illegitimate son and a comic book—ooops, excuse me—graphic novel artist. Henry is incensed at the negative press his kind are getting from the tabloids, and decides to get to the bottom of the murders as well, causing his path to cross with Vicki’s.
Sparks fly, chemistry kicks in, Henry is forced to feed on Vicki after being severely wounded, yada yada. You can see where this is going, right?
Oh, and I forgot to mention, there’s also some residual sexual tension between Vicki and Mike Celucci (Dylan Neal, Pacey’s older brother on Dawson’s Creek), her ex-partner/lover, who happens to get assigned to the murder case as well.

Now, despite my smart a$$ tone above, the set-up isn’t that atrocious. Mind you, it’s close, but what truly sends it plunging over the edge and deep into the Cheesy Abyss is the manner in which the material is approached.
To start with, the lines…
Like this one, from a Morbidly Cheerful Coroner: “Like from teeth. But whatever did the cutting was razor sharp. It cut right through skin, muscle and cartilage in one fell swoop. No animal can do that.”
“In one fell swoop”?! Does anyone actually say that in reality?

There is an awkward air to the show, something about the approach that doesn’t quite gel. Sometimes, it seems that all involved are fully aware that their tongues are lodged firmly in their cheeks, but they never seem to completely commit themselves to that position, leaving the show in a lurch, and squarely in the territory staked out by mongrels like Charmed, territory that just makes me cringe and wince and want to head for the hills. (Or take out contracts on the show’s “creative” team.)
Blood Ties reeks of those ersatz genre works that have been cobbled together by normal people looking in, people who are trying to tell stories of outsiders, but don’t really get how it is to be on the fringes. Thus, it has the overriding feeling of being a perception—a flawed one at that—as opposed to an actuality.

A case in point is the horrible negative stereotype of the psychotically unhinged loser geek (Norman Bridewell, played by Michael Eklund, easily taking Worst Performance of the pilot), whose obsession with getting a chick is what starts all the trouble in the first place, as he works his way towards calling up Astaroth, portrayed here as a bald, white-bug-eyed dude in a robe with a funnily modulated voice.
The requisite Professor of the Occult doesn’t help the cause of the geeks either with lines like, “Every year there’s a few that play one too many games of Dungeons and Dragons and then they start looking into places they have no business.”
Yes, parsing the statement tells me it isn’t meant to denigrate D&D, but for anyone who isn’t really listening, it sure sounds like D&D caused him to call up the bald, white-bug-eyed dude in the robe with the funnily modulated voice. Gasp! D&D must be bad, then!

And as Norman brings the world towards the brink of Armageddon in the name of his woody, he does his best to transform into Cool Goth but only succeeds in reaching Pathetic Wannabe. It might have been funny, if this wasn’t the sort of show that tries to stage a scene in some generic Cool Goth club, but only succeeds in giving us a Pathetic Wannabe.
I mean, this guy gives geeks and Goths a bad name, in… wait for it… one fell swoop! (This show is lucky the graphic novel artist is the vampiric romantic lead, or they would have really cut down on their potential audience.)
There is no attempt whatsoever to show the audience why Norman is so screwed up, he just is. I’d like to think that if he was about to be the cause of the end of the world as we know it, that we’d learn a little bit more about him other than that he draws and plays Everquest.

Written by Peter Mohan (producer on Mutant X) and directed by Allan Kroeker, this one is a klunker, the sort of show that climaxes with a magical showdown involving an open grimoire, a lot of gesticulating, and some dodgy special effects. I’m honestly not sure which one is worse, this, or The Dresden Files pilot.
If either one is better than the other, it’s only by the slightest of margins. I’m talking nanometers, skin-of-your-teeth close.
It’s especially distressing to me since Kroeker not only directed an episode of Wonderfalls (“Crime Dog”), but also the pivotal Battlestar Galactica episodes “Bastille Day” (which introduced Tom Zarek, played by Richard Hatch, the “original Apollo”) and “Resistance” (which introduced Sam Anders, the future Mr. Starbuck).
I mean, come on, Kroeker! BSG to Blood Ties?! Yeesh!

And granted, the fact that Henry is actually the Duke of Richmond and Somerset—who died of consumption just 3 days after his 17th birthday—opens up the narrative to a lot of potential (not the least of which is the fact that if he ever gets it on with Vicki, she’d be guilty of statutory rape). But if they continue to approach the material in this clueless and artless manner, they’ll just be pissing away a good opportunity to tell a hell of a story.

(Image courtesy of tv.com.)

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Season 3 Episode 18 (WARNING: SPOILERS)
“The Son Also Rises”

The loss of Starbuck colours the proceedings of this episode,* which establishes the lawyer for Baltar’s defense, the unfortunately named Romo Lampkin (Mark A. Sheppard, 24 Day 5), a man who was apparently taught by Joseph Adama; a man who is all too ready to lie, filch, and manipulate to suit his own ends.
Initially put off by his manner, it wasn’t until the hospital bed scene that I found the interesting character that was there. (And episode’s end confirmed that. This is a new, dangerous variable that needs to be watched, constantly.)
Starbuck’s loss understandably affects Sam (who has a great scene on a Viper), as well as the Adamas, the tension between father and son flaring anew. Conceivably, if circumstances were closer to normal for Apollo, he might have been more aware of the subtler deceptions and manipulations taking place, but he’s in mourning, so there you go.
The stage is thus set for Baltar’s trial, with the Old Man as part of the Tribunal, and Lee assisting in Baltar’s defense.
And still no sign of the Cylons. (Hint hint.)

* I’m honestly surprised at how shocked I was at the absence of Katee Sackhoff from the opening credits. Yes, I know she’s supposed to be dead, but as per my review of last week’s episode, I really do think it’s one of those cases of temporary death…

Monday, March 19, 2007

LOST Season 3 Episode 12 (WARNING: SPOILERS)
“Par Avion”

The difference of this episode is split between Sayid and company getting into the Barracks, and Desmond’s heroic attempts to keep Charlie amongst the living. (Why Des has fixated on Charlie though is still a mystery… And just how long can Desmond keep it up? I mean, it has felt to me like Charlie’s been on borrowed time ever since Ethan strung him up to that tree in season 1 anyway, so…)
A good balance is struck between those two island plot threads and Claire’s flashbacks, where we see her in her Goth-y body artist phase. Seeing Emilie de Ravin in an ill-fitting black wig is as mind-boggling a sight as flashing back to her Beastmaster days, when she wore a glittery green body suit as she pranced around the forest as Curupira.
But the trauma was worth it, if only for the reveal, which confirms a niggling thought I’ve had ever since season 2’s “Two For The Road,” where we saw Christian trying unsuccessfully to see someone in Australia.
What is it about Jack’s da though? I mean, not counting Jack, he’s connected to three other 815ers: Sawyer, the dearly departed Ana-Lucia, and now Claire. And though Claire not knowing his name borders on being contrived (Ana-Lucia didn’t know his name either), I can accept the idea, as it was one of those wild Lost thoughts that I’ve entertained since the series premiered almost three years ago.*
It also adds some surprising resonance to the events of season 1’s “Do No Harm,” where Jack assigns Kate to help Claire through labour, as he’s busy trying to save Boone’s life. You gotta wonder, if he knew that that was his nephew (or half-nephew, if you want to be technical) being born, would he have been quite so eager to help Boone?
Sadly, this is a connection that may not be revealed to either Jack or Claire, unless those files that the Others had on Jack are really as complete as Juliet intimated they were. Presumably, the Others may have files on some other 815ers as well, perhaps even Claire.
Either that, or the possibility that Jack carries a picture of his da in his wallet, if he even still has his wallet, though I don’t quite see Jack as the carry-a-picture-of-my-beloved-parents-in-my-wallet type.
Or (and I could very well be reaching here), in “White Rabbit,” the body of Jack’s da was missing from the coffin. And I’m not suggesting that the ex-Doctor Christian Shepard is doing the zombie shuffle on the island (though who knows?), but perhaps the Others got up to some perverse grave (or coffin-) robbing and have the body stashed somewhere in the Barracks. As to why, who knows? They’re all nutters, right?
At any rate, Claire sees the body and goes, “Oh my God! That’s my dad!” And Jack goes, “But that’s my dad!” And then they go, “Then that means you’re my…” Much tearful hugging and kissing, and afterwards, Jack has someone new to obsess and feel protective over, leaving everyone happy and fulfilled.
Ah well, we shall see.
Also, that final scene with Jack playing football was so surreal, I can imagine what Kate was thinking… “Damn f*cker. I risked a messy death-by-sonics and this a$$wipe is playing football!”
Next week: Sayid and Locke join the football game!

* We also see Jack pass by in the background in “Abandoned,” when Shannon’s da is at hospital, having apparently been in the same accident as Sarah, Jack’s future wife. (Interestingly enough, it was Jack’s call, to either save the man or the woman…) Maybe the senior Dr. Shepard met Shannon too. He’s like Lost’s Mr. Linderman, he is.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

SHEITAN (Review)

As if to forewarn the audience of the wild ride that is about to begin, a DJ at the Styxx Club asks if I am ready. Ignorant of all that is to come, I say, “Hell, yeah!”
Poor, stupid fool.

With Christmas Eve right around the corner, a group of clubbers finds trouble at the Styxx, where Bart (Olivier Bartelemy) gets a bottle broken on his head. Leaving the club behind, they travel to the country home of Eve (Roxane Mesquida), where they meet backwoods yokel and housekeeper Joseph (Vincent Cassel, one of France’s busiest actors, whose face I became familiar with from films like Christophe Gans’ Le Pacte des LoupsBrotherhood of the Wolf—and Les Rivieres PourpresThe Crimson Rivers). It isn’t long before they meet some curiously inbred-looking villagers, and experience a number of unsettling situations.
What gradually becomes clear is that all is not right out here in the French countryside.

Now, if it’s one thing the French can do, it’s to serve up some pretty disturbing, effed-up horror movies. From Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension to Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire, I have come to be very wary of France; if these films are anything to go by, France is one country I am never stepping foot in.*
Sheitan follows in that fine, anti-tourism vein.

Though it is a variation of the young pretty things-in-peril fright flick, Sheitan succeeds in making the idea of being stalked by some mad cannibalistic killer with a chainsaw seem like a Disney movie. Recent Hollywood offerings like The Hitcher or House of Wax or the Texas Chainsaw movies? Wussy.
And Sheitan isn’t in the Hostel or Saw mode, either; what some industry observers have come to term as “torture porn.” Sheitan takes the horror beyond the visceral, getting underneath your skin without the fixation on the blood and gore.

Kim Chapiron (who also directed both Cassel and Bartelemy in his short film La Barbichette) sets up a situation that is truly disturbing, painting a world seething with insanity and chaos, a world where God is deaf and blind. And although this is the general aetheistic attitude the average horror film cops anyway, there is actually a crucial dining table discussion in Sheitan which serves as a cornerstone of the film’s portrayal of an indifferent deity.

And can we really blame Him? After all, we watch a group of youngsters (some of them espousing a deep faith in their chosen god) cheat and steal and have wanton sex. General horniness, in fact, seems to be the major motivational factor which drives them, which muddles their judgment, making them easier prey.
Two telling points towards the film’s end bolster the God-in-absentia idea: the direct plea which goes unanswered, and the end result of the perhaps one true selfless act in the entire movie. (And keep in mind, this is happening just as Christmas comes around, a temporal setting incidentally shared by Calvaire.)

If there is any suprahuman force active in Sheitan, it’s the one the film is named for. Note though that there is no actual physical presence of the demonic or the supernatural which appears onscreen, no rotating heads or pea soup vomit. (Unless you consider Cassel wearing a set of fake bad teeth—and other head gear—demonic.) There are, however, motifs: from the Styxx Club, to a dog called “Cerberus,” to a tale told by Joseph, to a ghastly birth on Christmas. (Also, please note Joseph’s wife’s name…)

Sheitan is a cinematic experience that is by turns absurd and unsettling, and is the sort of movie that stays with you in a way that the majority of Hollywood’s horror doesn’t. There are some images that will sear themselves indelibly on your mind’s eye, so be warned. (The family portrait at film’s end is one of the most disturbing images in the entire movie.)

So if your idea of horror is the watered-down Hollywood PG-13 variety, or the measured quiet creep of long-haired female contortionist ghosts, you’d best be advised to stay as far away from Sheitan as you can. If you are, however, open to the experience of being unsettled by your horror, then Christmas dinner with Sheitan could be just the ticket.

* And Belgium too, as Calvaire is a Belgian horror movie. (Not France, yes, but it is right next to France, so… Let’s change that to “I am never stepping foot in France and its surrounding areas.”)

(Originally posted 021807)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

THE HISTORY BOYS (Review)

It’s 1983 and eight young bright boys from Cutlers’ Grammar School are up for acceptance at Cambridge and Oxford, and everyone (particularly their headmaster, played by Clive Merrison) wants them in.
Enter one Mr. Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a young upstart teacher, drafted to get the boys ready for their exams and interviews. Irwin’s arrival in Cutlers’ halls though, encroaches on the territory of the boys’ regular teachers, Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour, Madame Olympe Maxime from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and Mr. Hector (Richard Griffiths, incidentally enough, also recognizable to global audiences due to the Harry Potter franchise, where he plays Uncle Vernon).
Based on the multi-Tony winning play by Alan Bennett, The History Boys is a wonderfully moving film that chronicles the boys’ final term before university, as they are schooled in life, the nature of history, and the true meaning of learning (as opposed to being “properly educated”).
Adapting his own play for the big screen, Bennett (who also wrote Stephen Frears’ Prick Up Your Ears) re-teams with his The Madness of King George director Nicholas Hytner, to afford us a poignant snapshot of the shaping of the young mind, of students looking to their teachers for answers, and of teachers doing their best to impart knowledge, to, as Hector puts it, “Pass the Parcel.”

With a script that has genuine wit, dollops of irony, and an earnest heart, Bennett takes us back to that time before adulthood, when we were still uncertain of what life was ultimately going to be all about, and what exactly of the things we were studying was really going to be on the exam.
He also takes us decisively into that area always found to one degree or another in these sorts of teacher-student films (sometimes, the most important things to learn are those things that don’t end up on the test) through Hector and his subject of “General Studies”; a catch-all phrase for the unquantifiables that are taught by the aging eccentric.
Under Hector’s guidance, the boys taste of a mish-mash of poetry, literature, film, and song, all the while wondering exactly which of these they will be tested on.
And while Hector demands honesty, even if it may apparently seem frivolous or whimsical, Irwin endorses the use of the lie to make one seem “interesting” and different, to help one stand out (all in the hopes of getting noticed by the universities, of course).

And therein lies one of the major sources of tension in The History Boys, the decidedly modern approach to education which Irwin takes, clashing as it does with not just Hector’s laissez faire style, but Mrs. Lintott’s more traditional touch as well.
To Irwin’s mind, true and eloquent wisdom exists to be used as “gobbets,” handy quotes with which to pepper one’s papers and essays, decorative wallpaper for rooms which only look the way they do so as to elicit the response, “Oh, my. Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Certainly different.”
In Irwin’s world, people don’t say what they mean or what they truly feel, they only say what they think will grab the right people’s attention.
This schism between teaching styles understandably affects the boys as well, particularly Dakin (Dominic Cooper) who finds he rather likes Irwin, but feels Irwin hasn’t really taken a shine to him. Meanwhile, Posner (Samuel Barnett) feels the acute pain of unrequited love for Dakin, and knows that even though this could just be a “phase,” thinks that perhaps, he doesn’t want it to be one.

At this point, it’s important to point out that homosexuality, while not exactly a theme in The History Boys, is still nonetheless a vital component of the narrative, as at least two characters could be gay, one is definitely gay, and another could be bisexual. (This is, after all, an R rated film.)
Having said that, it should also be pointed out that this is not some gay romp through Queer Central High. Among other things, The History Boys is also about our quest to find a certain amount of contentment, if not happiness, in our lives. The fact that these characters are yearning for members of the same sex is entirely incidental to that universal yearning for personal bliss.

With effective performances across the board (the film does boast the same cast as its theatre incarnation), the stand-outs are the adult principals (particularly Griffiths, whose touching performance got a well-deserved BAFTA nomination for Best Actor),* and Barnett, whose Posner is the most heart-wrenchingly human of the eight boys, the wretched pain of adolescent longing clear to see in his demeanor.
And granted, with eight boys, some will be less-defined than others, but what does shine through is the camaraderie of a shared experience, the ties of a close-knit band of young men striving towards a common goal. The chemistry and banter between them is casual and believable, undoubtedly achieved after hundreds of previous performances on the stage.

To the sounds of The Smiths, The Clash, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and a moving rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” The History Boys move through a pivotal moment in everyone’s life.
At the cusp of adulthood, they savor, just as we once did, those tantalizing moments before university and the long road that unwinds beyond its gates, preparing themselves for the whims of choice and circumstance, elements that in the light of tomorrow’s dawn, will be seen as history.

* Additionally, de la Tour got a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress.


THE
MESSENGERS
(Review)

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Gin Gwai (The Eye). Though it does have its share of stand-out creepy moments, as a whole I felt it didn’t quite reach the high mark of the best horror films out there, Asian or otherwise.
I did however think the Pang brothers were directors to watch out for. But when I saw Sei Mong Se Jun (Ab-Normal Beauty, directed by Oxide), I thought it was clumsy and terribly derivative of Alejandro Amenabar’s Tesis. So, strike two. Not very promising.
And yet, when I first heard of their English-language debut, The Messengers, under Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of anticipation. (I have really cut these guys some slack, haven’t I?)

Roy (The Practice’s Dylan McDermott) and Denise Solomon (The Relic’s Penelope Ann Miller) move out to North Dakota, leaving Chicago behind for a fresh start on what will hopefully be a successful sunflower farm. In tow are their troubled teen-aged daughter Jess (Panic Room’s Kristen Stewart) and Ben (played by Evan and Theodore Turner), who hasn’t spoken for six months due to an accident involving Jess.
Naturally, as is wont to happen in this sort of film, strange happenings soon begin to occur, and it quickly becomes clear (to the audience, if not his parents) that Ben can see things the adults can’t. Unable (or unwilling) to speak though, all Ben can do is point, giggle, and crane his neck and look up at the ceiling.
One offer to buy the farm (made by none other than The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man, William B. Davis) and one farmhand (Northern Exposure’s John Corbett) later, the farm’s troubled spirits make themselves known to Jess as well (in a violent overture which occurs while the adults are absent).
But her parents don’t believe her, so it’s up to Jess to get to the bottom of their new home’s mystery.

Certainly not a new premise; we’ve all seen the family moving in to the new, but ultimately haunted house before. But the Pangs line up the scares well, and are working with a script that does its best to give us a real family, with real problems. When the fit hits the shan in horror movies of this sort, I’m immediately hollering, “Well, get the ef outta there! Screw the house!”
But the Solomons really just can’t up and leave. For one thing, they don’t believe Jess (who they may still subconsciously blame for Ben’s condition). Then there’s the fact that they’re basically broke (since Roy was out of work for a pretty long time, and then there were all Ben’s hospital bills).
The Messengers actually has characters, as opposed to the ciphers that normally populate horror films. They may not be awfully complex, but they’re certainly not one-dimensional. It’s apparent that the parents are trying to get through to their daughter, just as she eventually comes around to doing, only to have those pesky ghosts ruin everything.

Where The Messengers fails though, is in its third act.
When the other shoe drops, and the secret reveals itself, it’s a “secret” that any savvy horror film fan would have clocked the second it came onscreen. To make matters worse, the script contrives to have one family member absent when said shoe drops, sadly compromising that character’s contributions to the proceedings.
And if this was the shoe to begin with, you’d think the ghosts would have been just a little more active than they actually were.
You also know that Ben’s gonna start spouting off before this movie ends. Personally, I just expected it to be during some pivotal scene where his speaking would actually have had dramatic weight. But no.

There are any number of reasons why this film didn’t work, among them, the possibility that there were individuals other than the Pangs who ended up muddying the cinematic waters.
In an interview, McDermott mentions, “… they brought in writer after writer to polish it up and make it better.” Re-shoots were then done (not by the Pangs, but by Eduardo Rodriguez, who directed Curandero, from a Robert Rodriguez script). Raimi was then active in postproduction, apparently in the editing room.
At this point, I’ve probably already crossed over into the Never-Never Land of Speculation, so I’ll just leave it at that.
What remains though is a film that, like Gin Gwai, just doesn’t work in the end. Granted, it has its moments, and it’s a lot better than a lot of the horror coming out of Hollywood’s posterior these days, but it’s far from a classic.
Now perhaps if Raimi ponies up the money to finance a script written by the Pangs themselves, then leaves them to their devices, then we might get cooking.

Parting shot: I am saddened to report to all those still unaware, that the English language remake of Gin Gwai currently filming has Jessica Alba in the lead role. At least Parker Posey’s in there, so I’m happy.

(The Messengers OS courtesy of wildaboutmovies.com.)

(Originally posted 021707)