October 22, 2008
The Happening

No one is more vocally disappointed by Shyamalan's post-Unbreakable movies than me it seems, but with The Happening I was conflicted - the previews looked so chilling, so promising. Maybe this was a return to Sixth Sense form? I considered seeing it, despite having been Charlie Brown to his Lucy and the football so many times before.

Finally I resolved to wait until DVD or VOD, and the wisdom of this decision was confirmed by friend Michael, who called from the very lobby of the theatre after he'd seen it to warn that yes, it was as bad as we thought it might be. And if I happened to be in transit to the theatre myself, ABORT! ABORT!

Still, when it appeared on VOD I went for it immediately. Those previews! They called to me, with their chilling images of people mysteriously offing themselves!

And it turns out that vastly reduced expectations, along with seeing the movie in the reduced-presentation 'home' mode, DO help a Shyamalan movie along. But it doesn't change the fact that somewhere after Unbreakable, Night seems to have had some kind of stroke.

I will go out on a limb and say there is not a director alive who can be as chilling as M. Night Shyamalan. Take a look at the first 10 minutes or so of Happening: the simple set-up of people coming to a halt mid-step in the park, or walking backwards and speaking gibberish, and how that creates tension. And I challenge you to find a more awesome, dread-inspiring scene in any apocalyptic movie than the construction workers stepping off the building.

However, after the amazing opening, it's almost as if a switch goes off. It's as if Shyamalan has fallen to the same evil chemicals as his characters in the park. After those opening chills we are following the oddly earnest Mark Wahlberg around as he tries to science his way through the movie - although it's not a very rigorous science, since "unexplained act of nature" passes for an A answer in Night's worldview. Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are not able to offer much to the film, but we will spot them this one considering the context.

Night spends most of the film explaining to us what is going on, painfully and unnecessarily. To make sure we get the point that we are killing ourselves, he lingers over the quote (falsely attributed to Einstein) that when the honeybees disappear, so do we; later he pans slowly over a newspaper headline about the murder rate in Philadelphia.

There are scenes that are so wildly miscalculated, that fall so completely flat, I do wonder if perhaps Night has had a stroke. He certainly is writing his characters as if THEY have. Wahlberg trying to use the scientific method in the middle of an assault in the field; the odd comic interlude with the plastic plant; the oddly sudden brutality of the two young boys being shot down; and sadly, anything with Deschanel. The movie is punctuated with the occasional brilliant suicide interlude - and Betty Buckley's brilliant appearance - but they don't save the movie.

There is a brilliant and creepy potential of a film embedded in Happening, one where there aren't many explanations, but that's not the film he wanted to make.

Posted by Chris at 9:48 AM

I do agree that the opening sequence is genuinely terrifying, but by the end of the film, the greatness of those moments had disappeared. I wanna say cuz of the shit covering my face from the rest of it. Betty Buckley DID rock!

Posted by: klugula at October 23, 2008 5:09 PM
October 21, 2008
Apologies to Indiana and Virginia

... for the cold calls this weekend. In my defense it was on behalf of the Obama campaign, but man do I hate calling people at home. I hate hate hate it. It was for democracy, people.

But what an interesting view into humanity to call people's homes. Most people seem highly pissed to even be answering the phone in the first place; everyone seems to have been either woken from sleep and /or intensely skeptical about any caller whatsoever. Of those that picked up, there was an equal ratio of curt 'I don't have time for this' responses, (I don't blame them), people that were for Obama but did not want to be bothered to hear my Early Voting schpiel, and people that let me get through my persuasion script.

Macbook has returned from the Apple Care Center with a shiny new logic board. Let this serve as a warning to you people! Back up your machine weekly! Get the Apple Care!

Anyway, now that Macbook has returned, so shall Mazinga. Really.

Movies seen this weekend:

W. It's probably too early for the definitive view of George W. Bush's presidency; on the other hand I don't really know what else could be said about him. Will we find out he was even less engaged than he seems to be?

Oliver Stone's movie is not the bash-fest that Republicans and conservatives probably counted on it being. I'm sure there will be complaints, but I had more sympathy for Bush during the film than I've ever had. His problems are not my problems, but - he is a person and he was obviously affected by them.

The issue with the film is that, as a story, it's not much to watch. What did Bush overcome? What did he learn? How did he change? I would argue, with as much respect that I can, that the answer to all of those questions is, 'not much.' Overcoming alcoholism is nothing to sneeze at, but from a story perspective, did it lead the character to a greater ability to lead? No, he moved from that to evangelical certainty about issues he knew nothing about, and... here we are.

The film is fascinating as a dramatization of events and figures that we know, but nothing is revealed. I suspect that's because in the actual story of the last eight years, Bush himself is not even the main character. When they make the next movie about this subject, the protagonist should be Colin Powell. Out of the lot of them, he alone seems to be more complicated than a single-minded idealogue. That he went along with them anyway is good drama.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Smart dialogue; a good romantic comedy for a matinee. If you enjoyed Simon Pegg in movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, check this one out. You'll get a chance to see Megan Fox, the ever-adorable Kirsten Dunst, and beautifully oily Danny Huston. Also, why doesn't Gillian Anderson do more villains?

More from the past:

Open Water 2: Adrift. Perhaps the simplest premise for a disaster at sea movie ever. Such is the power of this idea that the day after we saw it, we made sure our own boat had the appropriate, crucial, missing piece of equipment. Perhaps there could have been more, better-written drama once they were in their predicament, but it was a chilling watch.

Note: Considering that the previous Open Water was completely unrelated and also a one-note horror, what could the premise for the next one be? Somebody gets drunk and falls off the deck of a cruise ship?

Descent, again. Holds up for a second viewing. Friend Leslie and I are working on a top ten list of horror films now. I would be surprised if this is not on it.

Bad and the Beautiful. Sometimes Robert Osborne on TCM, the best channel in the world, gets me whipped up to see a classic, then... I'm a little underwhelmed. Still, glad to have seen it. I am more of a Kirk Douglas fan every time I see him (Out of the Past is one of my favorites).

Blood on Satan's Claw. Hilarious fare from the fabulous 1970's British horror period, which as we all know means terrorized villages, big hair, and most importantly, the occasional naked bride of Dracula. No Dracula this time, but the influence of Satan does cause the lovely Linda Hayden and another random pagan women to expose themselves to evil. Tsk, tsk. You could do worse than Tivo this one if it comes around, but it's not worth the Netflix clicks.

Annie Hall. Occasionally you're not in the mood for Woody Allen, even one of his best films, and this was one of those times.

Stop-Loss. Lots of redneckery about honor vs truth, as I recall. An important subject that's probably not as effective as something like In the Valley of Elah, and not as shocking and amazing as Kimberly Peirce's earlier Boys Don't Cry. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as usual giving a strong performance.

Posted by Chris at 2:27 PM

I also caught Open Water 2 about a year ago when it was available On Demand. I was pleasantly surprised. However, I am so terrified of sharks, I was waiting the entire time (especially with lots of blood in the water) for them to show up. I think that added a great deal to my uneasy stomach while viewing. There was also a good deal of quality naked male torsos...for those gays and women out there. I'm glad that The Descent worked for you on a second viewing. I think I've seen that one about 10 times, and it still works. You've also inspired me to come up with my top 25 horror films...to later be posted on my blog. I first must come up w/ my list of requirements for them to make the list. Lots of work ahead.

Posted by: klugula at October 23, 2008 5:14 PM
October 15, 2008
The Santa Anas

The Santa Anas appeared this week to whip up some fires - they are the winds that boaters fear so much but no one can be very specific about when they show up or how you might know from a weather report that they are due, in such a way to avoid being blown out into the Pacific if you happen to be underway at the time.

Also this week, my Macbook Pro went into a coma. I had planned on ranting mightily about the precious Geniuses at their precious Bars in the precious Apple Stores, but once I got to one, well, he was nice and it seemed to go OK. Well - I'll say this. The machine has not returned from the hospital yet. Stay tuned.

I WILL say that the shininess of the Apple Store itself has just about completely worn off for me. It's preposterous that you can only make a tech appointment online. And anything they have at that Store, I could get online with a better customer experience. I'm sold on Macs - just mostly done with the Apple store.

Two movies we saw last weekend:

Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story. Probably the third time we've seen it; Friend Amy was in town and we wanted some reliable laughs. If you're not into Family Guy it probably won't do anything for you, but if you are, it's a supreme example of Stewieness.

Blindness. Not so much terrifying as unsettling, but a great film. Yes, it's gray, yes it's dark, but it was not depressing or bleak. It reminded me a lot of Children of Men, minus about 30% of the apocalypto. Fantastic acting - most of it could be done on stage, it's so contained. I thought some of the violence - one particular scene - went a few steps too far, and the ending provided more of an upswing than I thought it should have. But, an A.

Posted by Chris at 3:53 PM
October 10, 2008
It's like living in the future, except with outrage instead of gadgets

I do try to avoid political rants in this space now, which is also why I blog infrequently.

I think that living in the U.S. for the last few years has felt like I imagine a time-traveler to the future would feel. Only instead of looking around and marveling at all the flying wonders and miraculous gadgets, I am looking around in amazement at the complexity of outrages and various unbelievably backwards political, financial and social situations. Every day brings another revelation.

If I DID allow myself to list just one political thought for the day, it would be to note how certain factions of the Republican side are already setting the stage to loudly complain about voting fraud if Obama wins. Hence, the "ACORN" scandal.

Instead of getting into that, let's review more filims:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Ugh. No. Jump into a time machine and travel back to the most bland part of the 80s in Romania or some place where everything is nighttime and gray and lit only buzzing fluorescents. Also, illegal hotel room abortions. No. No. NO.

Waitress. Minor amusing whimsy. I wish it had been more. Kari Russell was doing a weird and interesting character in this strange slight movie.

Dexter Season 2: Our Dexter run continued straight through season two. If you're not watching because you think it's too gory, it's not. It's well-plotted with great characters.

La Vie En Rose. Wow - I'm not mad about Edith Piaf but Marion Cotillard's transformation in this movie rivals or even tops Charlize Theron in Monster. That was one well-deserved Oscar.

Sister Street Fighter. A lame addition to the girl boss kick I was on. She's cute, and she kicks ass, but - she's no Lady Snowblood.

In Bruges. So funny and then YIKES! Too much violence! Am I a fogey? No, I'm just not a fan of exploding heads.

Jumper. Minor sci-fi fun. If I could jump around in space like that, I DO think I could have a more interesting time of it than he did, though.

Alien. From whence all sci-fi has come for so long. Still #1. No matter how many times I watch it and scream for him not to, John Hurt STILL goes down there and gets himself face-hugged every time.

Chicago 10. Good doc intro to a time when people took to the streets and got arrested or bloodied when the process stopped working. I wonder how / if my views would change if I got night-sticked?

Justice League: New Frontier. I enjoyed it more than the comic. Another strong entry to DC animation.

Sister Street Fighter: Return of Sister Street Fighter. The winner only for the award of Most Redundant Subtitle for a Sequel.

Girls Rock. Yes they do. If you have a little girl, watch this movie. A great documentary about a camp for girls that teaches them rock and roll. In fact, watch it on a double bill with Jesus Camp to see two differing approaches for raising a child.

Posted by Chris at 3:16 PM
October 8, 2008
I'll be honest...

... I think we may have too MUCH news reporting, and that may be the whole problem. From too much news reporting comes too many Presidential debates, because I didn't see anything new last night. Granted, I am Decided, so maybe the buzz-words and hypnotic phrasings aren't targeting me anyhow.

What I'd like from Obama right now is a little plaintalk, of the sort he gave after the attempt to whip up the Reverend Wright thing into a Thing. Here's a proposed schema of what I'D respond to:

"We've got two wars going on right now and they are spoiling for a third. We used to have a surplus but now we have a 700 billion dollar bailout and worst financial crisis since the Depression. We've got prisoners being held indefinitely in Guantanamo, and Bin Laden is still at large, even though they've used 9/11 as an excuse for anything they want to do for eight years. How could we even consider letting the same political party run things for another term?"

Then he should drop the mic on the floor and walk out.

Oh wait! But then he needs to come back in and say

"And do you people remember a thing called the Savings and Loan Scandal? Do you remember the Keating Five?"

Then he needs to point at McCain, and THEN he can walk out.

I think that would pretty much dominate the news cycle up to the election, don't you?

Continuation of Infrequently Asked Questions:

Q: Let's be honest: The new XBox has really cut into your productivity.

A: Look Q - I haven't been in the gaming mainstream since... well, it's been decades. I'm going to enjoy myself for a while, through the magic of Overlord, playing Halo 3 online with McFall, there's a fabulous game called Braid, and I may forego eating for a while so I can buy Lego Batman.

Q: What have you learned from finishing screenplay #6?

A: #6 is not #6 - it is a revision of #4. I have strewn my lessons throughout this site, but I am looking at #4 as a sort of psychological abberation - maybe with #6 I can just write it and not LIVE it for several years.

Q: Is it true that you went to a disco roller-skating event the other night?

A: Uh... yes, we did go, and I found--

Q: No. No, don't try to explain it. I think we will draw our own conclusions.

A: OK, but--

Q: NO. Just... no.

A: Uh.

Q: What about all those other movie reviews you promised?

A: I Think I Love My Wife. I have high hopes when a comedic actor (like Zach Braff or Ben Stiller) or a comedian gets behind the camera. I'd go see another Chris Rock movie - because it would be great for him to be a filmmaker as well- but this wasn't the strongest film.

There Will be Blood. I saw it twice - this was the best film of 2007, scooting in right ahead of No Country for Old Men. A real departure for P.T. Anderson. It is rare that you see a movie like this where not one single shot is wasted. Daniel-Day Lewis was magnetic, even before he opened his mouth and spoke with the gravelly voice of Jack Palance.

No End in Sight. Oh yes there is. (Well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.) Predictably depressing. I'm tired of having outrages outlined for me, but there's never any accounting for anyone. There are some people in this world who should be strapped down and forced to watch this, Clockwork Orange-style.

The Savages. NOT depressing, despite the subject matter. A good movie about families, as opposed to a family movie. Hoffman, Linney, and Bosco are very very good.

Silk. I admit that I had to look this movie up to remind me of the plot. The plot of this J-horror film stretches imaginatively to deliver the requisite spooky J-children, including a thing called a Menger Sponge. Not so bad for the genre.

Cloverfield. The pitch must have been Blair Witch meets Godzilla, and that is exactly what the movie tries to be. As much of a stretch as it was that our characters would keep shooting throughout in Blair Witch, it's even more of one here. But what I enjoyed was how the film #1) truly adhered to the least-adhered and yet most effective rule of horror films, which is to show the monster as little as possible, and #2) the low (extremely low) survival rate of the pretty young things, which made it more realistic.

Unlike others, I also enjoyed the device of having the tape the movie was being "recorded" on show some accidental earlier, happier times. They could have used it a bit better - but it was clever.

No Country For Old Men, again. Got better with a second viewing.

Dexter Season 1. Thank God for video on demand - we probably saw the whole season in two or three weeks. And it was hard to spread it out. I think we were also still mourning the death of the Fishers, so we were quite excited to see Michael C Hall again.

The character Dexter is probably too cute for this show - I never really think of him as a killer or a monster in the American Psycho way. But that may be why we enjoy the show as much qas we do.

Posted by Chris at 2:33 PM
October 6, 2008

Religulous: Along with Jon Stewart, Maher is one of my media heroes. The exasperated joke is, how sad that people get their news from comedians these days - but who else am I supposed to turn to for common sense? NBC is talking about flag pins, MSNBC is polling its viewers on whether Obama is folksy enough, and CNN cannot find enough space on one screen for all the talking heads they need to repeat whatever they have just been told by someone's campaign.

So I generally agree with Maher 98% of the time, and on religion it's closer to 100. He did not let this documentary turn into a Borat against the faithful, nor was it purely propaganda on the order of Fahrenheit 911. He was honestly asking questions of people, and he also gives us some of his own background. But beyond a simple survey of the hypocrisy of religion, what I would have liked was more conversations with moderates - the people that don't believe in a literal Bible but are still giving money to James Dobson.

Because Maher's ultimate point (delivered in an unfortunately thunderous and preachy climax) is not just that religious nuts will happily destroy the world to fulfill their prophecies (which we know), but that moderates - or even silent non-believers - are at fault for tolerating them in the first place.

Sorry for being so serious here, but Maher could be an important voice for a needed change. But like the Presidential election, the battleground is in the middle.

It's All About Love: Thomas Vinterberg made one of my favorite Dogma films, The Celebration. Unfortunately I actually stopped watching this sci-fi film about 45 minutes in, as nothing seemed to be happening. There had been some polite disagreements. There had been some Claire Danes clones (or doubles). There was the occasional body strewn across a pathway, apparently expired from loneliness - that was promising, but... not enough. I like understated sci-fi - but it's possible to be TOO understated. And my preference in movie storytelling is for some drama to eventually happen.

Miracle at St. Anna's: The movie is beautiful, and every actor is excellent - but the story is scattered and random, and what's frustrating is how some simple editing could have changed the movie from OK to excellent.

When the four soldiers are onscreen, I was right there with them - but then there are Italians, Partisan and Fascist, a love-triangle, a long interlude about a betrayal and a massacre, there are Nazis, a sympathetic Nazi, a kid and a gentle giant, a mean white general, a racist, and an incompetent white Sargeant. And don't tell me it was that way in the book.

And by the way, I'm not positive what the miracle actually was. That one boy survived? That our hero made bail?

The modern framing devices were ultimately useless - they promised some sort of mystery with an art treasure, but it went nowhere and affected nothing. And the treasure itself was not even a MacGuffin - it comes up at the beginning and end, and that's it. John Torturro and John Leguizamo's roles are the same way. They appear in roles which were intriguing - but then they never show up again.

Posted by Chris at 9:28 AM
October 2, 2008
Infrequently Asked Questions: October Edition

Q: Why the no blogging in more than a month?

A: Life, man. Just life. I think between work, the work Instant Messagin' and the screenplayin' and the Mazingery, plus to be honest the X-Boxery, the blog just fell out of use.

Q: But - the page has been blank for so long. So blank - so cold - so alone...

A: I know. But everybody's on the dang Facebook now anyway - nobody reads a blog that doesn't have pokes and Mob Wars and status updates and whatnot.

Q: Or maybe you're just an undisciplined jerk?

A: Yes! That also is a possibility, Letter Q!

Also, I have tried hard not to make this blog an incessant rant about politics like the last one was. And I have been so wrapped up and incredulous about that subject for so long that - well, if I'm not ranting about that, what the hell am I talking about?

Q: So it's John McCain's fault that you haven't blogged. Your blog's front page being blank is yet another thing we can lay at Sarah Palin's feet.

A: Uh, well--

Q: -- because you live in a time that has a unique form of very stupid politics - no nation in the history of Society has ever had to endure such partisanship and zealotry, with wars and the media and such! O, the burden of Modern Man!

A: Shut up.

Q: What about the movie reviews? Have you not even seen any movies that you can report here?

A: I... have seen 85 movies this year... ALL OF WHICH I WILL BE REVIEWING SHORTLY IN THIS SPACE. (Although I already put up the Hellboy 2 review)

Q: Strong words from a man who walks away from his blog for almost 2 months. So can I conclude that Hellboy has been your favorite movie this year?

A: No.

Q: You finished your "Creative Accounting" screenplay. So when is it going to be sold?

A: After I revise it one more time, find an agent, and get several more very lucky breaks.

Q: How did you celebrate the 50th edition of Mazinga?

A: With a bottle of clip-art champagne - and also taking the next week off.


Posted by Chris at 9:08 PM