Tuesday, March 30, 2010


"It's not always Shakespeare, but it's genuine."

Convinced that her husband is cheating, a Doctor hires a young prostitute to test his faithfulness.

My first experience with Director Atom Eyogan was the movie Exotica- a dark, frank, at times erotic journey through the emotional spectrum. His newest feature Chloe is no different. It is all these things and it makes sure you know it from the word go.

Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson play the married couple in question well, and without completely over doing the obvious cues of two people who've drifted apart. Amanda Seyfried plays the title role, a prostitute hired to come into the relationship with disastrous results. There's an interesting dynamic to Seyfried, "the up and comer", playing the wild card element between two seasoned names. Moore and Neeson spatula there performances on like smooth frosting; to her credit, Seyfried keeps up, but not quite with the same subtlety. This role was obviously meant to stretch Seyfried, and though she makes it the effort occasionally shows.

At times all the performances can come across cold, but I don't fault the film for this. Eyogan seems to be going for this feeling. All his color pallets are cool, and nearly every outdoor shot is replete with swirling, condensing breath and icy street corners. Overall this adds to the sense of things boiling below the surface.

To me, Chloe seemed to me to run like a foreign film. And by that I refer to it's lack of a lot of the "sensibilities" that shape American film. There are things general audiences here will not accept, things they don't want to hear said or to be shown without any sense of reverence- at least in main stream film. I didn't use the word "frank" on a whim. As a warning to the squeamish I say: the characters in this movie speak frankly about sex. While this probably would put many audience goers off, I found it offered a sense of reality to the characters that they otherwise would have lacked greatly. And besides, making a movie about the assertion of sexual power doesn't really work if they refer to sexual organs as: "...you know..."

Summed up, this is a simple story told efficiently. There are no space aliens or characters waking up to find out they were another character all along, but it doesn't let this keep it from telling an interesting story. Eyogan's Chloe does well even while avoiding anything over the top and I for one didn't miss it- as much as I may love space aliens, and characters who wake up to find out they were another character all along.

Reel Deal Recommends:
Magnolia: How can I recommend anything else for Julianne Moore.
Taken: Neeson gives us all the greatness of Bourne- plus a reason to care!
Jennifer's Body: Amanda Seyfried in another story of sexual (re)awakening.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

"You-are-fully... AWESOME!"

A viking more interested in inventing than slaying is elated -and then terrified- to find out that his dragon catching machine works. Now he just has to figure out what to do with the one he's caught.

For me, Monster Vs. Aliens was a bit of disappointing follow-up to DreamWorks' nigh flawless Kung Fu Panda. Funny? Yes. Enjoyable? Sure. But all and all a step backward by comparison. It would seem however, that DreamWorks got my strongly worded letter, because How to Train Your Dragon is a rather strong front-runner for the best movie they've ever made. And this is coming from the guy that just called Kung Fu Panda "nigh-perfect".

That it's Jay Baruchel's voice emanating from within the freckled face viking Hiccup (that's his name, not a typo) is fitting since I just got down screaming from the mountain tops in my review of She's out of My League that every time I watch -or hear- him I enjoy him just a bit more. As of my viewing of Dragon, his record remains intact. As with all of these animated movies, this cast is star-studded (and rather small now that I think about it), but the stand outs are easy to pin as Gerard Butler, who gets to use his native accent on full blast for a change, and Craig Ferguson who never pretended to stop using his. They play Stoick the venerated dragon slayer, and Gobber the blacksmith, respectively.

Though the entire cast gets it's shot at delivering a juicy punch line or two, I would dare say that Dragon probably isn't as funny as all it's predecessors. This isn't meant to be a complaint however, as I would also say that its goal is as centered over making the audience laugh in the first place. To put all that a bit simpler: Dragon is absolutely hilarious, but it seems that directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois (the team that delivered my beloved Lilo & Stitch) were more interested in creating a sense of wonder than laugh out loud hilarity- and they were utterly successful in their goal.

This is true even beyond the most obvious factor: the dragons. The array of different species evokes a pokemon-esque sense of desperation in terms of learning everything you can about each one (i.e. catching 'em all), but at the same time never takes away from the emotional core of the story. Which is to say: you never fell like their just Toy 'R Us filler. Blending dynamics is something Dragons does very well. Another example: that overly articulated line that states out right the point of the story is definitely still there, but it's also in moments that cut just a bit deeper- albeit silently.

Whether your a lover of medieval fire breathers, a cartoon fanatic, or just bored on a Saturday afternoon, Dragons has a lot to offer any who are willing to give it a chance. DreamWorks has again offered us a heaping helping of interesting characters and heart friendly stories, while at the same time making approaches at a bit more complex of a morale. Not to complex, however. This is kid's movie after all; they need their drama mixed into their food so they don't notice their taking it.

Watcher X says: "I want one!"

Reel Deal Recommends:
Million Dollar Baby: What can I say? I love Jay Baruchel as "Danger".
Reign of Fire: Butler in a slightly different take on dragons.
A Wee Bit O' Revolution: I try to keep this to movies but Ferguson's stand up is just so funny!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Repo Men

"I don't like my job, and... I don't think I'm gonna go anymore."

In a future where artificial organs are treated like any other thing bought on credit, one union man finds himself on the business end of repossession.

My best friend and I recently had a conversation about the movie The Invention of Lying. He had just recently seen it, and come to the same conclusion that I had when I saw: It was a mediocre movie, that missed all the opportunities it's spectacular premise offered. Repo Men, is another title to add to that list. But it does something many other titles in it's company can't seem to pull off. Put simply, Repo Men may be a crap movie, but it's a lot of fun to watch.

Raging Health Care debate, our country dealing with the consequences of unchecked credit abuse, even questions about the morality of mercenaries and their place in modern society- Yes, Repo Men passes on opportunities to explore all of these. Any commentary is at best implied, and at worst an accident. Instead we're given a predictable and bloody jaunt through a half formed future world where artificial organs can be bought like cars from dealerships.

Like any thing else bought on credit, your new organ can be repossessed if your account goes into default. Jude Law plays Remy, a Union man, one of the people they call when you fall behind on your payments. After he has an accident on the job that leaves him as one of the "clients", Remy finds he's had a... ahem... change of heart. This seems to be a rather selective change however; he shivers like a kitten in the rain when it comes to cutting into a "client", but spends a rather large stint of the movie reducing other Union types (and T.S.A. employees) to syrupy chunks with whatever's handy (my favorite was the type-writer). But this is only the beginning of the plot holes...

You see, Union men get paid commission for every artificial organ (artiforg... yea, I know) they bring in. Remy can't repo anymore, which means he doesn't get paid. Soon he finds he himself has become a delinquent account. Except, he had an accident so bad that it ruined his heart on the job, why does he have to pay at all? Apparently this is a future with no workman's comp. or any other type of insurance.

And then there's his best friend Jake, deftly played by Forrest Whittaker. Remy and Jake were supposedly the baddest Union men in town, and when Remy has his crisis or career, Jake gives him a place to stay and tries to help him get back on his feet. He gives him pep talks and tips, he even subdues "clients" and then passes on the commission- urging Remy to do wet work and collect the commission instead. Jake is willing to do nearly anything to help accept, of course, just give him the money to pay his bill! And we know he has it because, among other things, they were the baddest Union men in town right?

And so the movie goes. Remy's romance with Beth, Alicia Braga in high form, is well acted but horribly plotted, the side story with his wife and son is a joke, and then there's the ending. The ultra violent lead-up feels a bit tacked on but the sequence that followed -and I know I'm probably alone in this- was truly enjoyable, even though it contains one of the most glaring plot-holes of all; why is it they can read the bar-code on an artiforg from half a football field away with the mobile scanners on their guns, but the scanners hooked up to the super manufacturer mainframe pretty much have to be in contact? No, I think the real let down was with the over all wrap-up ( I refuse to call it a twist ending), which would have been an interesting if it had happened at the end of the first act, but instead felt shoddily tacked on.

Repo Men is much less than the sum of it's parts. It's premise, it's performances, it's cast (did I metion Liev Schrieber as the schmoozing salesmen, priceless), it all comes together under the hood of an exercise in bloody predictability. But it is these separate factors that save it from the "waste of time" bin. It may not be a great movie, but it's a truly fun movie- and not just fun to tear apart... though that was fun too.

Watcher X says: "This is not sexy..."

Reel Deal Recommends:
Cold Mountain: Jude Law in one of his best performances to date.
The Last King of Scotland: Forrest Whitaker won an Oscar for this gem.
I Am Legend: Alicia Braga was the best parts of this hum-drum "drama".
The Manchurian Candidate: Liev Schrieber, need I say more?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

She's Out of My League

"I figure...Anyone can lose one fight."
An unambitious "5" happens upon a date with a girl his friends say is a "perfect 10". They also say that going is a waste of his time, because he'll never be able to keep her coming back.

Kirk is a sweet, unambitious T.S.A. employee who spends his days engaging in witty banter with his T.S.A. friends and pining after the one girl who's ever really expressed any interest in him (even though that interest was mostly loathing). The way in which he unknowingly stumbles into a chance at a date with a beautiful, successful woman is as contrived as "boy-meets-girl" moments usually are in these affairs, but is at least short and sweet. What unfolds there after is an odd experience to say the least, one served with a side of wasted potential, but with Hall and Oates references for dessert.

She's Out of My League manages to do three basic things that most of it's genre can't seem to pull off with me: It created characters worth caring about, it showed them actually getting to know each other instead of meeting a claiming immediately that they're in love, and it gave them an (inevitable) conflict that actually related back to the point of the story- instead of just randomly having the her walk in on him somehow innocently in bed with another woman. For all this She's Out of My League I commend you. Unfortunately, outside of these things the movie throws up on itself in a way not unlike newborn babies: Sometimes funny, but never cute and rarely worth the price you pay.

We meet our guy, played by Jay Baruchel (whom I seem to enjoy more and more with each movie he does), who quickly proves to be both cute and funny. Then we meet our girl, played by Alice Eve, and she's charming and down to earth. And just when we, like the fools we are, begin to wonder if this may be another exception to what seems like the crappy rom-com rule, we are then bombarded with a stream of overtly recognisable jokes from the "Famous Sex Comedy Guide to Making High Schoolers Laugh" (available on amazon.com for a whopping $2.79). They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, if so then There's Something About Mary should feel very flattered. I guess I should qualify this: There are plenty of hilarious moments in this movie outside of the ridiculous bathroom humor it resorts to, and in it's defense I will say the two scenes I'm really referring to are major moments, but mercifully short.

Outside of it's gutter mis-steps, this movie manages to be decently funny. I wasn't rolling in the aisle's, but that's a lot to ask for and I don't think letting week old soda on the back of my shirt be the bench mark of whether something is funny at all is very fair. The supporting cast is truly entertaining, (though the only way Kirk's family's place in the story would have been more obvious was if they'd been wearing signs that said: "Hate me, I'm a metaphor for Kirk's insecurities.") and there are only a few moments where the dialogue really seems to stumble. Again, these are all things that many of She's Out of My League's peers seem to struggle with, so it deserves recognition for making over these hurdles.

But even with all this praise, I don't even consider putting it on my list of exceptions for this genre. Maybe it's the detour down American Pie Road, maybe it's Alice Eve's odd tendency to look off in a random direction during her scene's, but I can't seem to muster a pure love for She's Out of My League, even with it's lovable couple and the fact that Kiss On My List appears multiple times through it's run time. Or, to use the vernacular: I say it's a hard Hard 6, low 7.

Reel Deal Recommends:

Tropic Thunder: Both Jay Baruchel and this movie are under-rated.

Alice Eve is a newcomer for me. IF you have a movie to recommend, let me know!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brooklyn's Finest

"I should've been a Fireman. "

One night in Brooklyn, three cops who've never met come to a point of no return.

Antoine Fuqua is one of those director's whose movies have made it much farther than his name in the general populace (Read: people who don't devote large percentages of their money and free-time to movies). Chances are even if you've never heard of him, you've seen one of his movies. Those his better known titles include: Tears of the Sun, The Replacement Killers, King Aurthur, and The Shooter, the one that gained the most notoriety was Training Day, in which Denzel Washington gave an Oscar winning (and therefore history making) performance. Fuqua's newest title continues his fixation on the confliction of his characters- much to the betterment of the film.

Michael C. Martin's impressive debut as a feature film scribe follows three police officers as their lives and careers lead them to the same place on the same night. What's interesting about this story is not that each officer is being pushed and slowly approaching the edge, it's that going over the edge means completely different things for each man. As the stories progress, we learn what those things are, and while we definitely don't come to think of any of them as heroes- for two it's just as hard to hate them out right, no matter how far they do or don't go.

That this is going to be an abrasive, violent ride is something Fuqua has no interest in hiding, demonstrating as much within a few scenes. This is probably even more of a deliberate point then I originally thought in the theater, as I remember that he's received criticism for being far to "gentle" in the past. Brooklyn's Finest seems to be his defiance, which is not always a good thing. I'm no stranger to a little cinema carnage, but apparently this movie takes place in an alter reality where no matter where your shot blood gurgles out of your mouth.

In terms of performance there are no terrible miss steps. Richard Gere struggles a bit out of the gate before settling into yet another good performance while Ethan Hawke fights the good fight and avoids falling into the obvious trap of playing his character as just another bad-man. In the past decade Don Cheadle has become one of those actors that you get tired of complimenting, and though he does well in Brooklyn's Finest, I think I liked this character better when he played him in Traitor. As for Wesley Snipes... this is an actor I grew watching as action anti-heroes, but it's been a long time since I've seen him do anything remarkable.

There are very few punches pulled as we follow our three officers in and out of there homes, workplaces, and crime scenes. What they see is what we see, no matter how gruesome or personal. They often take up entire frames themselves, and though their histories are hinted at or touched on there are no flash backs to mull over. The camera work and editing serve as constant reminders that these , here and now, are the story. This is certainly not a sweeping epic, nor should it be. "These are days in the lives of..." and the story is much more accessible as such.

Unfortunately for all it's focus, I found myself often pulled out of scenes by the scoring. As much as one may love Jay-Z, I think most can admit that the song from the previews would have been out of place in the actual film- the used in it's stead is no better. It's tone doesn't mesh. This is a problem only underscored by a lot of oddly hammy musical cues. I caught myself thinking things like 'oh, he's about to say something deep' as the music swelled through pregnant pauses. That this is something I'd notice in the theater the first time I saw the film is a bad sign. Fuqua may have ditched his "gentleness" for this venture, but it seems his subtlety was clinging to it when it fell.

It's a cop movie. I don't think there's anyway to reinvent such a done-to-death genre, but Brooklyn's Finest certainly brings the appearance of freshness to the mix. Whether or not it's really there is debatable, but that one can be fooled for even a little while is telling of the skill that went into it. It's flaws are rarely jarring, though overall enough to keep it from being spectacular. As I've fell a bit behind on my reviews last week, I imagine that anyone who's going to see it already has. I say it's worth checking out, but not at the cost of any other movie you might be waiting for.
(My Apologies for forgetting!)
Reel Deal Recommends:
Traitor: For another performance full of confliction from Don Cheadle.
The Mothman Prophecies: Not enough people saw this thriller with Richard Gere.
Gattacca: Ethan Hawke in one of my favorite of his roles.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Messenger

"The way you don't die, sir."

Upon returning home, a decorated soldier is assigned to notification detail to finish out his enlistment. As he struggles to make sense of watching people's live come apart, he clumsily tries to put his back together.

The Messenger was one of the silent contenders in the newly expanded Best Picture category of the Academy Awards this year. I say silent contender because it was pretty clear that, though the category had ten nominations, only five were really in the running. Still, I'm glad to see a movie like The Messenger get it's name said aloud- though as strong a film as it is, I wouldn't say it's the best movie of the year.

Alessandro Camon and Oren Movermen (who also directed) have crafted a story who's description brings to mind another movie that made a somewhat bigger splash this winter: Both movies juggle highly familiar story elements with new or inventive ways of approaching them.

"A war hero returns home to a life shattered by his time away; a life that he feels unable to reconnect with because of all the changes his time away has seen in him. And on top of that, he is plagued by all the claims that he even is a hero- because he certainly doesn't feel like one. His healing wounds on the outside betray his knitting emotional damage, damage he's not ready to admit he's taken." We've all seen that movie. But like Avatar (among many others) the story is familiar because it's poignant. We've had this talk before, remember? Yes we've seen it before, but we're willing to see it again if it's well done, and brings along with it something new.

The Messenger comes through on both counts with performances that are scathingly well done, and constructed from the ground up to convey the emotion purely. Ben Foster and Samantha Morton wear confliction as though it were high fashion as SSgt. Will Montgomery and Olivia Pitterson. Foster refuses to let 'brooding' take the place of 'searching', while Morton gladly lets go of sex appeal in favor of as human a performance as any could have given in her stead. The two wax and wane in waves; on and off, in and out, sure and confused. While Woody Harrelson harnesses his unique ability to make you wonder if it's not really him on the edge instead of Cpt. Stone.

Tied inextricably to the quality of the performances are the "notification" scenes themselves. Here is where the new comes for me. This is a practice that I (and probably many others) know little about the inner workings of- though much can be inferred. The Messenger handles these scenes with tact, respect, and powerful honesty. The players leave their egos off screen, generating intense and often uncomfortably raw performances. Some family members react with rage, some with a piteous and complete loss of control, and others are almost cordial. But no matter their reaction it is completely believable- and heart-breaking.

But as doleful as it may be, the film feels as though it loses it's way as it approaches it's finale. It's a loss of direction that I'm willing to deem forgivable, as the main characters are experiencing the same kind of skid. Even though this section of the movie seemed almost out of place, sitting in the theater I still never doubted the pacing- and that at the end of the tailspin we would understand why we lost control- and we did. This says a lot about the first half of the movie to me, that it managed to establish enough report with me as the watcher that I was willing to trust it when things seemed to loose bearing.

It's hard for me to come to any definite conclusions about The Messenger. In hindsight I am tempted remember it only as a bombardment of white hot emotion, but it was more than that. The comparison of the chaos of battle (though we never see it per say), and all that one can't plan for there in, to the like-wise fear of the unknown that the notifying team faces every time they approach a new door is more than smart, it's sincerely moving. Within the seething turmoil The Messenger brings to the table, there is a story of personal journey also. Not just for Montegomery, but for Pitterson and Stone.

This is a movie packed full of material to assimilate, and I think Movermen is aware of this as he's kept things like the soundtrack simple to compensate. The Messenger offers nothing but pitch perfect performances. There are moments where you will feel like you've seen the characters before, and I'm not going to tell you that your wrong. I will tell you however, that there are times that that's OK, and this is one of them.

Real Deal Recommends
3:10 to Yuma: One of many movies where Foster commands every second of screen time.
Enduring Love: A sadly under-seen film about obsession with Morton in the lead.
Natural Born Killers: Again, you'll wonder if it's not Harrelson that's crazy.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why I'm not seeing Alice in Wonderland.

Tim Burton. I grew up enamored with the oddity of his films. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetle Juice, Edward Scissor Hands... Well more the last two but still, they had a place in my heart because I watched them at just the right age for their titles and imagery to stick with me. And then you have his Batman movies. As a layman fan of comics I have to appreciate them as the best there was during the 80's to 90's stint, a stint that started with Burton willing to get dark and ended with Joel Schumacher putting nipples on the bat-suit.

So yes, there was a time when I associated the name with imagination and enjoyable movies. When, as I nursed my developing creativity, I might have used his among many others as fuel. There was a time when his name might have even been uttered during a "favorite directors" conversion among friends. But that time is long dead. It all boils down to one major point: I am sick of his recycled productions. I'm sorry, but since when are you considered a creative genius for using the same elements over and over... pop music aside? Tim Burton is marketed as this lone-wolf artist, possessed of unique and unfaltering vision. What they don't tell you is that it was just one vision, and he had it back in 1985.

I refuse to call beating the same color schemes to death in every movie "vision". Black and white next to pink? Brilliant- the first time. Either he does an entire world in neon to make one character in black stand out, a la Edward Scissor Hands. Or he does the world in black to make the character in neon stand out, a la Batman's Joker. And then, when he's feeling really bold, he does the entire world in black just to throw you off! Examples include Sleepy Hollow, Batman Returns, and Sweeney Todd. And let's not forget his love of stark white makeup. For the most part this pretty much reads like a "Hero!" sign hanging around the characters neck. Their pale, and therefore misunderstood. In his defence I will say this is part of what made his Joker work ("Mr J!" said in annoyingly high-pitched voice), but conversely it's part of what made his Willy Wonka fail.

All this is just vamping, however, for the entrance of my main (and most quantifiable) problem with Tim Burton: his casting- or lack there of. Put simply, Tim Burton has a fixation on Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and the composer Danny Elfman. And don't worry- I'm not just going to point the finger here. I knew I was gonna have to back this up so I went on IMDB and did a tally. The final numbers were actually worse (or better) than I predicted.

Since the Release of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure in 1985, Tim Burton has been working his way into the spotlight. Including Pee-Wee he's directed fourteen feature films in the last twenty-five years. Of those fourteen films, not a single one did not have one of the three names mentioned involved. But wait, there's more! Of those fourteen films, six starred Helena Bonham Carter, seven starred Johnny Depp (that's half by the way), and a whopping twelve (!) featured a score composed by Danny Elfman, many of those using the same pieces of music. Three of his movies featured all three, and eight of his movies featured at least two.

"So what?" you might be thinking. "Plenty of directors re-use cast members or composers. That doesn't mean their movies are 'regurgitated' does it?" Well, one of two people who reads my blog, I had a feeling you might say that. So I took the initiative and looked up a popular trio of artists who tend to team up. Director Steven Spielberg, actor Tom Hanks and composer John Williams.

These three are pretty well known, both individually and for their work together. My research says that in the same space of time (1985-2010) Spielberg has directed twenty feature films, three of which starred Tom Hanks, 16 of which featuring music by John Williams, and three having both. Sounds like a lot right? I agree, it was definitely more than I would have guessed, but let's look at the content.

Right off the bat we know that four of Spielberg's movies with Williams were from within series, two from Jurassic park and two from Indiana Jones, so in the interest of fairness we'll only count series relations as one title (I would do the same for Burton but there are no movies applicable). That brings our total down to fourteen of twenty. Still a big portion, but that's less than three out of four of Spielberg's output for those twenty-five years, as apposed to Elfman's 86% of nearly all of Burton's career. And of those movies, none outside of series relations re-use the same music. Unless it's a sequel, Williams is writing entirely new body's of work. Elfman and Burton, not so much. And as for Tom Hanks? He's been in 3 of Spielberg's twenty titles, I think we can call that good.

Then there's the quality of the films produced. This is of course a debatable subject, so, in honor of what week it is, we'll go by oscars. Of the twenty movies Spielberg has directed with Williams composing since 1985, Two have won him Oscars for Best Director with another garnering a nomination. The same three were also up for best picture, one of which took the statue home. And again, this is only representative of a 25 year period out of a career that stretches all the way back to 1959.

In the entirety of his career Burton has not once won an Oscar. He has never seen a nomination for best picture or director. His only nomination has been for Corpse Bride in the Animated Feature category... not that there's anything wrong with animated features.

So let's put accolaids aside. Why, in my opinion, is one innocent, and one guilty? The answer to that is subject matter. Other directors who re-use cast members or composers do so across various stories and plot lines. We'll use our example pair again. "Together", Spielberg and Williams have tackled everything from the plight of African-Americans in 1930's Georgia, to rampaging clone-dinosaurs. From Fire-Fighting Pilots to the horrors of the Holocaust. Now get ready for a spoiler warning cause I'm about to tell you how 9/10 of Burton's movies end: a lonely outsider eventually finds their place in the world with the help of something odd and/or dead. TA-DA!

This is not meant to be a rant on how good a Director Spielberg is, believe me he's made some fine movies but I have my problems with him too. My point is only to demonstrate that Burton's cinematic crimes run deeper then simply using casts over. That can be done while telling interesting and varying stories. No, Burton's crime is that he re-uses everything! Creature design, make-up affects, color pallets, plot-points, major set pieces, the list goes on and on!

If he manages to break out of his cycle (or Watcher X is willing to spend a pick on him) I'll consider spending full ticket prices for his films, but until then Netflix will have to do (I don't get paid for this after all, my budget is limited). Tim Burton is a broken record. I realise I may end up having to eat some crow next week, but still I stand by my statement. His particular brand of "wonder" has grown stale, and hearing people rave about his films only makes it worse. I need something new Tim, and that is why I'm not seeing Alice in Wonderland.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Crazies

"In the back of my mind, I was always saying: 'Better them then me'."

A small town is rocked by a police shooting, which reveals itself to be only the beginning of strange, and escalating occurrences of seemingly pointless violence. But even those are only the tip of the iceberg.

George A. Romero made The Crazies in 1973 as a commentary on the Vietnam war. In it he painted the military as heartless brutes, obsessed with dealing out violence as a solution to a problem that they themselves set in motion. His images of a priest setting himself ablaze, old women attacking soldiers who've come into their homes, and father's raping their own daughters -all set against a backdrop of inhumanity- are meant to reflect the images and memories of the conflict itself (though not Romero's personal memories as he did not fight in the war). So going into Breck Eisner's remake, I knew generally what to expect. The only conceivable point of remaking a movie like this (other than money of course) would be to re-tune it to another set of current events.

So did he succeed? Whether or not you agree with the politics (which I'm not going to get into as this is not the place or time... though even if it was I still wouldn't) the point is- for the most part- well mapped onto the frame work of Romero's original. As one might expect, in doing so writers Scott Kosar (a man who seemingly makes a living remaking old horror movies) and Ray Wright have removed most of the images mentioned above. Also gone is the military history of David and Russell Clank. In this newest incarnation they are sheriff and deputy, citizens and civilians caught in the ever escalating chaos engulfing their town.

Missing from Eisner's Crazies (again for the most part more, on that later) are the broad strokes used to paint every last soldier. In one scene David unmasks a soldier only to realize that he's a young man from their town who'd gone off to boot camp long before the events of the movie. "We didn't even know what state we were in until we saw the license plates," he tells him. Admitting also that he was disgusted with what they'd been sent there to do. Gone too are the characters Colonel Peckem and the constantly threatened Dr. Watts. I'm sure many fans of the original will find these subtractions upsetting, but I think in the end it's done to uphold the metaphor. As with the addition of the characters I'll call the Hunters, it's clear that the goal is to flush out and maintain this take on the subject matter. Something I feel they shouldn't necessarily be faulted for.

I say all this with a grain of salt however, as it seems that the creative minds behind the film ran out inspiration (or time or money) before they could wrap up their product. So a movie that seemed as though it was purposefully turned slightly away from such, quickly leans on the old "Evil government, soulless military" standby to wrap itself up. The entire finale struck me as a bit off kilter. Though the final scene is a reference to the original and I accept it as such, the rest of the ending struck me as simply lazy, though I must give it points for refusing to let the audience off the hook in terms of intensity.

So does it work? Well, I would say at the basic level it does. The picture being painted is a clear, though only moderately affecting, one. While the scares are straight and true, the horror angle is not well served by the many alterations to the story, which may end up leaving a great many members of The Crazies audiences disappointed.

As for the performances, I would preface any comments with the thought that dialogue is most obviously not a prevalent concern of The Crazies. Though in the ongoing time of terror they pass through it makes sense that the characters aren't yacking, at times it seems like more of an afterthought. Like they storyboarded the entire piece, then set about pounding out a script to support their set pieces. Still, under written though they may be, Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell carry their roles, David and Judy, as best they can- rendering the few moments of pure and true drama palatable, if not enjoyable. Joe Anderson offers the same treatment to Clank, managing to build a tenuously believable buddy-buddy relationship with David. All of the leads sing for their supper however when it comes time to be scared- and as that's a great deal of the point, I'd say they eat well.

I foresee nothing but mixed reviews for the exit poles on this one. It's identities seem to clash audibly throughout, which keeps it from every really being able to say what it is. As a horror movie, The Crazies is a by the numbers and underdeveloped run through of all the old creepy standbys. As a political commentary, it's a respectable effort that losses it's footing before the finish line and goes down for the count. But as just a movie, who's only goal is entertainment, The Crazies is a formidably made good time. I think the truest view of this movie lays somewhere between the two- something that perfectly aligns it with it's predecessor.

Watcher X says:"It's like a zombie movie- but with less of the eating."

Reel Deal Recomends:
Dream Catcher: The leads in this sci-fi horror are beautifully acted, Olyphant included.
Man On Fire: Tony Scott's thriller with Mitchell as a distraught mother.
Across the Universe: The critically acclaimed musical, with Anderson as Max.