I have mixed feelings about Skyfall, the new James Bond film directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty).
Since 1963′s Dr. No, and until the current set of three (Casino Royale, Quantum of Silence and Skyfall), Bond films have given audiences beautiful people, cities most of us will never see, and fantasy. Evil geniuses hatched outlandish plots to rule the world, requiring ridiculous amounts of money, often wagered in elegant casinos full of tuxes and evening gowns, up-dos and bow-ties. There was always a seduction, with Bond making love to a dangerous goddess-like bad girl. He would growl and of course, she stretched and purred as the music crescendo-ed. Then, there was the action, involving Secret Agent gadgets, long stretches of chases, fights, dodges and jumps moving through exotic streets and narrow alleys crowded by costumed extras. All of it was played out by vivid characters, whose barely there emotions let us thrill to the stunt because we owed them no empathy when they met their cinematic ends.
We expected dreamy, gleaming surfaces that offered an occasional flash of something darker, a secret, a hint of the forbidden. Or at least we did until the last few with a new Bond, and a new kind of Bond.
James Bond has become emotionally complicated. Now he has a past. There’s still some fantasy. The chases, as always, are entertaining, but the convoluted plot, takes us to all those far away places for show, and they have little to do with what is at the heart of the Skyfall plot–betrayal and abandonment of both Bond and the bad guy, Silva, by “M,” whose cold pragmatism allows her to apply the cost/benefit dynamic to those who serve the Crown so valiently. The resulting blow-back (literally) is caused by Bond’s seeming death and Silva’s (Javier Bardem) transformation from a dedicated agent to a relentless enemy. Underneath M’s steely professionalism there’s a maternal caring that both Bond and Silva perceive. And that makes her betrayal and abandonment of each all the more painful–a pain we the audience can see and understand. No more mere glimpses of dark secrets, we learn of the sacrifices both men make and it makes us and them question M’s decisions.
And so I was never sure how to feel.
Javier Bardem, as usual, was the best thing in the movie. Daniel Craig is growing on me. I’d had my heart set on Clive Owen for the new Bond, but Craig has this battered charm that works. I wonder if the scripts are going to get even darker in tone, sort of in keeping with the reality of the world today. If so, the character may be named Bond, but he will no longer be the same tuxedo-ed hero we knew. I did like Judi Dench‘s “M.” Along with the crisp manner, she brought a light humor to the more recent Bond offerings, before they became so dark. Sorry to lose Judi Dench, (if you’ve made this far, I hope you took the spoiler alert seriously), but Ralph Fiennes can send me on a mission any time.
The script could have been way tighter. I did like the youth versus age and experience theme., but I found myself wanting to keep Bond a mystery. I hope they can find a way back to that cool spy and lover we found so irresistible, the man who was unknowable. As director Kevin DiNovis, recently commented, “There’s a place in the world yet for exploding pens and volcano lairs.” I agree, but perhaps that place lies in the “discovered country” of the movies that spoke to who we were–moviegoers relishing a new world that was breaking away from the rules of the past and we were breathless at the idea of all that glamor and sex. Change has sped up and it’s a little disconcerting. We may not be able to jettison the past so easily now.
For the time being, I’ll look for the gleam in those Arctic- blue Ralph Feinnes eyes and the steely pale blue gaze of Craig’s as the new “M” sends 007 out to save the world again.
Ah the mysteries behind those sexy blue eyes. In the next Bond film, I hope they reveal a secret formula or two.
I saw Cloud Atlas this weekend, and I recommend it, especially if you have read the book.
Before you read this review, I recommend you read my review of the book, Cloud Atlas.
Whether or not you enjoyed reading the book, (I enjoyed some of it but I still wanted to throw it against a wall at the end) I believe most people will enjoy at least parts of the movie without wanting to toss Tom Hanks off a highrise. I did not go into see this movie with high expectations. Okay, here it is–my reason for not expecting much: I hated The Matrix and Cloud Atlas was co-directed (with German director Tom Twyker who did Run, Lola, Run, a movie I remember liking ) and co-written by the Wachowskis who gave us The Matrix.. Go ahead and hate me. Although virtual reality stories hold special interest for me (see my The Thirteenth Floor review and marjoriekayesbabylondreams.com website) I found The Matrix pretentious and sophomoric. No way would anyone look that buff after spending a lifetime in a pod and those aliens using us to power their alien stuff didn’t make sense. We wouldn’t be cost effective. Plus the long coats, the dippy mysticism and all the martial arts got on my nerves. I could go on but it won’t convince anyone who loved Matrix the movie. Another thing, I should disclose that I briefly worked on casting the Matrix sequel (nothing fancy–just set up auditions for the secret service guys and you’d have thought we were guarding the secrets of the universe rather than a few pages of barely there script).
Regardless, in my opinion, Cloud Atlas the movie is better than Cloud Atlas the book.
The problems that I had with the book centered on Mitchell’s failure to adequately connect the six stories.
I felt like Mitchell the writer was showing off. I wanted more than he gave in terms of connecting the stories. It was all icing and very little cake. Then those last two pages of “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” the first and last story. They were the last frickin’ frackin’ two pages of the novel, and might as well have started with “So you see boys and girls . . .” The movie was able to stitch the stories together. Movies have more options in terms of pacing, plus visual and audio devices, something a novel lacks. As small a thing as a shiny blue button on a 1930′s vest that becomes a beautiful stone prized by a goat herder helped me connect. The music helped. Casting the same actors in different stories helped a lot and most of all, the editing, which blended the parts of each story, pacing them all to build and crest like music wove the narratives into a satisfying ending, an ending that differed from the book. The stories had been simplified, characters pared and the plots crafted to suit the film and it helped.
This film conveyed the message, the universal theme that Mitchell meant for us to discover in his novel. I felt Mitchell said it rather than showed it. The movie, on the other hand, did what movies do best. It made us feel it so that we could think it. The reviews I’ve read of this film have been mixed. At three hours, it is very long. All I can say is that I liked it, and so did the others in the audience. There was applause at the end, and I doubt many had read it. It didn’t matter. They felt it; so did I, shiny blue buttons and all.
Attention: Spoiler Alert
As I write this review, The House at the End of the Street is in theaters. I doubt it will stay there long before it sinks into the depths of Netflix one point five stardom. This film, directed by Mark Tonderal (Hush) with story by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3 and U-571) and screenplay by David Loucka (Dream House) offers a worthy cast headed by Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Shue and Gil Bellows.
The House at the End of the Street shows its cards in the first scene where it’s night and a woman hears a bump. She rises from her bed, and we see a figure and a mop of blond hair covering the face of whoever made the bump. One determined blue eye peers out from the mop as a hand takes a long sharp knife from the kitchen. Right before the woman encounters the business end of the knife, we see the mad determined gleam in the blue eye. Despite the efforts of all involved, we also see part of a face that could use just a smidge more estrogen. The woman says, “Carrie Anne? What are you . . .” We assume Carrie Anne, from her toned bicep, must be working out. Then it’s shower curtains as Carrie Anne’s knife meets the woman’s kidney. Soon, the woman’s waiting-in-bed husband becomes victim number two. Okay let’s jump ahead.
A woman (Elizabeth Shue) and her daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) move into a big house. Sitting in a rustic area with trees and a hint of wilderness, this prime real estate is a steal because of property values dropping in the neighborhood. The crime of the notorious Carrie Ann refuses to be forgotten. They never found her, you see. Now her brother (Max Theriot) lives there alone. The woman and her daughter are at odds. There’s been a divorce and rather than the absent rock musician father, the woman, a doctor, has custody of the daughter. Of course there’s lots of fighting and predictably, the misunderstood neighborhood boy living alone becomes the center of it all. The girl can’t resist the tortured blue eyes of her studly handsome neighbor, who wasn’t around when the murders happened. He went to live with an aunt when he was seven you see. Now, all he wants to do is fix the place up and sell it, he tells her. He doesn’t tell her about his sister, Carrie Anne, tied up in the cellar. They were twins, and he feels responsible for her. Unfortunately, crazy Carrie Anne manages to get away and he ends up chasing her down and killing her. In the meantime, the neighbor girl decides to seduce the tortured but cute neighbor, much to the distress of her mother and annoyance of various high school bullies, who make it their business to drive him out by harassing him. Poor soul, he’s all alone now that Carrie Anne’s gone. Or is she?
I kept waiting for something to surprise me in this pre-fab project. The lack of originality had me shaking my head as we see that those neighborhood punks had the right idea. Lonely boy finds another girl to be his crazy sister and it’s official, he was Carrie Anne when the murders occurred. It turns out that his mom and dad were so angry when the real Carrie Anne fell off her swing and died, that they forced him to take her place. Fed up, dealing with puberty as a girl, he killed them. Understandable. Predictably, neighbor girl figures his secret out and she and mom have to fight him off. The movie ends with him on Thorazine as he stares glassy-blue-eyed at a jigsaw puzzle.
Young Mr. Theriot is playing Norman Bates in a TV production, Bates Hotel. Ah good plan.
For the life of me, I’ll never understand how projects like this are made and released while more worthy scripts are met with indifference. The plot and characters were indifferently written and trite. The actors, including Mr. Theriot will appear in more worthy projects. And if the writers and director do another one of these clunkers, I hope the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock haunts them, hopefully inspiring more original fare.
Right before I entered the theater to see Cosmopolis, a 2012 film written and directed by David Cronenberg from a 2003 Don DeLillio novel, a fellow middle-aged lady asked me why I had decided on seeing it. “I almost went,” she said, “but people kept telling me how boring it was, and so I decided on something else.” She said the name of the movie she had decided on; I forget which one.
I told her that I had heard the same thing, but I liked Cronenberg movies. I had read mixed reviews regarding Pattinson. Having worked in casting in a previous incarnation of my professional self, I was curious to see what kind of chops this young actor was sporting since he traded in his fangs.
Okay, let’s get this over with. The dialogue of the Cosmopolis script is dense, artificial, and extremely inaccessible. Do you think I came up with the “huge throbbing chainsaw” on my own? Nope, it was one of the script’s many gems. The whole script reminds me of those scenes I’d get assigned in acting class when I was at UCLA. Existential works are often assigned to nineteen-year old students, who spend a lot of time imagining their glorious futures. We’d mouth lines, pretending to know what was going on, and since most of our fellow students were as clueless as we, it wasn’t a total humiliation. In fact, this script might have worked better in a theater in terms of audience enjoyment. In theater, audiences are an active part of the whole experience.
Movies are inclusive, but the audience is passive. The aim is to immerse you in a point of view and in a world. For the most part, when watching films, you feel rather than think. That’s how movies communicate–by manipulating our responses.
I think that deprivation is the point. Cronenbeg wants us to feel like outsiders, straining to understand what is going on behind those tinted limo windows.
In Cosmopolis, a character remarks on how the future is cannibalizing the present, and time is broken up into infinitesimally smaller bits. People can’t keep up with how fast things change or deal with the necessary “creative destruction.” Eric Packer (Pattison), a self-made multi-billionaire recalls that when he was four, he calculated how much he would weigh on each planet of our solar system. The kid must have been interesting to potty-train.
One thing hasn’t changed. Eric, the protagonist of Cosmopolis, is every bit as bloodless as Edward the lovesick vamp. Most of the action takes place in the interior of a white stretch limo where Eric, a 28 year old self- made capitalist, holds court. Along the way, various minions enter the womb-like limo interior. We see all the symbols of wealth on numerous small screens, but the only tangible evidence is isolation from the damage caused by the machinations of the rich and entitled. Eric stares impassively through the bullet-proof windows at the rage of on-going riots. One by one, these employees report and/or perform. Reports he receives from two of his even younger male staffers reveal that Eric has lost all of his money, and all the capital of his clients. The news has no effect on him. He’s restless and bored. Two of the women, including his art dealer/mistress (Juliette Binoche) bask in his attention, reflecting back to him his narcissistic approval. One employee (Emily Hampshire) forced to interrupt her day off, strokes the nozzle of her water bottle as a doctor (inside the limo which hosts an ultrasound and mini-lab) performs what, for Eric, is a highly erotic prostate exam. Eric’s attention to the woman ends as the exam ends. He is only affected by the doctor’s comment that his prostate is asymmetrical.
I’ve known people like Eric. There’s an unspoken message: Impress me; entertain me. Make me care; make me notice. And the people in Eric’s small world do try. It’s not enough. Eric has a hard time feeling anything. His outer shell is a white limo that becomes increasingly defaced as it crosses through an urban nightmare. Several times, during the course of the day, he encounters his new wife, an equally bloodless blonde. Each time, he coerces her into having a meal with him. She rejects him sexually, saying that her writing (she’s a poet) takes too much of her energy. Her rejection is what he finds compelling.
When his “I deal in theory” servant (Samantha Morton) sniffs at the sight of a man self-immolating on a sidewalk, dismissing it as an unoriginal gesture (it’s been done), Eric wonders at all that pain to just make a statement, to say something.
The movie is a journey. Ulysses, the character from Homer’s epic, The Odyssey (okay technically he’s Odysseus), as well as James Joyce’s novel inspired DeLillio. Both works (Ulysses) were also an influence on Mark Rothko, the artist whose “Rothko Chapel” Eric means to buy. Talk about entitlement; Eric assumes everything’s for sale. The trip is a slow crawl through Manhattan traffic, its street arteries clotted by a POTUS visit. “We (as in the royal we) want a hair cut.” Eric announces. The barbershop in question is across town. It is a space, that for Eric, means the comfort of the familiar–mirrored walls, swivel chairs, etc. He dismisses his bodyguard’s warning that someone means to kill him. This devourer of the future craves the illusion of the past.
Very little elicits an emotional response from Eric or from us, the audience. One sweet exception is a cream pie that gets smashed into titan boy’s face. The pie is wielded by a man with his own film crew. The man, who has smashed pies into the faces of countless heads of power, assures Eric that he’s nonpartisan. Castro got served too. So after a spectacularly bad hair cut, and an off the wall murder, Eric faces his end in a run-down building and a bare-foot, hang dog (even more than usual) former employee (Paul Giamatti). Before he was downsized, this employee went nuts trying to keep up with the rate of changes in the way things are calculated. How’s that singularity thingy workin’ out for ya? Now the man has no identity. For him, “no identity” means no appointments, no plans, and no credit card receipts.
Eric forgot, the man accuses him, that all the Universe’s symmetry and repetition means nothing without the isolated exception, an exception, like the asymmetrical prostate, a benign condition he and Eric both have. Worse, this man has a fungus between his toes, and it urges him to kill Eric. In the words of the long-ago church lady, “Isn’t that special?” Eric has failed to save him, you see, and so Eric must die. Eric doesn’t seem too concerned. Death is new; it’s something he hasn’t done.
We all have this in common. We all fear death and want someone to make it better. Some of us find comfort in religion and others in superheroes. No wonder vampires are so popular. Unlike zombies, you’re undead and you get have sex and you keep your marbles (smarts).
As far as Pattinson’s chops go, he’s got them. The vivid desperation of the other characters collides with the impassivity of Pattinson’s face. He’s a neutral so that the colors are more vivid. I’ll be interested to see what he does and how he is cast as he ages. I think he’ll welcome the chance to do character work, and I hope he can keep working.
Regardless, I suspect some of those scenes will be showing up in actor showcases. There are some things that don’t change.
Attention: Spoiler Alert!
PROMETHEUS, the prequel to the ALIEN films is now in theaters. Directed by Ridley Scott, who directed ALIEN, the first in the series, PROMETHEUS is one of two eagerly awaited science fiction movies of the the 2012 summer. The other movie is THE AVENGERS. Although there are other science fiction movies debuting this summer, PROMETHEUS and THE AVENGERS are the ones that fans have been waiting for. I saw THE AVENGERS and I didn’t care for it. What little I did like included performances by Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Because I wasn’t a fan of the comics and not familiar with the characters, I didn’t think it right to review it. On the other hand, I have seen every one of the ALIEN series and really liked the first two.
PROMETHEUS was a disappointment.
The opening is beautiful.
A bald, blue, giant man, stands on the edge of a precipice, and far below is a scary Niagra-like waterfall. He drinks from what looks like a coconut shell with little bean-like things in it. Not a good idea. He isn’t jolly and this isn’t a valley–ho, ho, ho. The blue skin starts mottling a nasty black spider pattern. He keels over and plunges into the water where we see images of organs and vessels pulsating. The images take us into his cells where we see his DNA breaking apart and blending, we assume with all that water.
Skip ahead with me to a new time and place,
where a pair of archeologists discover an ancient cave drawing of a giant being (with a bald head so start doing the math). It’s one of many drawings featuring giant men discovered in the artifacts of ancient cultures all over the world. Thousands of miles separate these drawings done by artists with no possible way to communicate. The discovery scene with the digging and brushing off the find, as well as the excitement of the scientist love-birds reminded me of the opening scene from JURASSIC PARK.
Now, we’re on a spaceship, off to an unknown galaxy.
The crew is in hyper-sleep, tended by an android played by Michael Fassbender, a good actor whom I find both creepy and sexy. The android reminded me of a baby-sitter where the kids are asleep and the absent grownups have a great sound system and supply of dvds. He walks around taking notes, peering into a female crew member’s dream (not nice) as he listens to music and watches old movies including LAWRENCE of ARABIA. His glowing yellow visor contrasts beautifully with the gleaming surface of the ship. Why did they put him in flipflops? That was odd. The beauty and serenity of this sequence reminded me of the opening of 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY. The android’s name is David. Remind you of anything–like maybe HAL’s friend, “Dave”?
Next we have the briefing of the crew.
They all sit around, joking and drinking coffee while Charlize Theron (one of the best things in the movie and is she ever on a roll this year) gives a presentation that includes graphics showing the similarities of drawings and how they point to a different creation process in terms of how we got here . There’s also an explanation of the mission by a holographic message. It’s the powerful Weyland, the ninety-something owner of the company. Weyland is played by Guy Pearce in the worst old-age make-up I’ve seen since the last eighth grade production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Really guys? That totally took me out of the movie. There are a lot of seventy plus name actors who could have convincingly played twenty years older. Pearce is at the most fortyish. This was bad casting as well as bad make-up. The whole scene with the wise-cracking crew reminded me of the Marine grunts crew-briefing in ALIENS. Where’s Bill Paxton? They could have used him. The hip black captain (Idris Elba) tried, but just couldn’t supply enough of the required “cool” factor with so many science nerds making lame jokes.
So the mission is for us to find “where we humans came from.”
Darwin was a quack and the bald men planted us on earth. Those drawings were an invitation, weren’t they? The planet landing sequence was cool. We see these big domes. And . . . they’re hollow! One by one, like an Agatha Christie play, scientists start dying–with a little help from Android David, and the stowaway–you guessed it! Guy Pierce who happens to be Charlize’s father–a plot line thrown in like an extra onion to the stew. Didn’t help. When it comes to an invitation, BYOB takes on a whole new meaning and all the aliens, alienettes and mini-aliens slithering in that dome consider the spaceship a giant kegger. At the end of it we find out that the big blue bald guys were cooking up weapons of mass destruction at a safe distance from their world.
Yes, they were in our little corner of the universe and yes, they are our daddies.
However, they weren’t satisfied with how we turned out and were planning to come back to re-do us using some of their other little works of art–the ones with two sets of razor-teeth. Unfortunately for them, someone didn’t mind the stove and there was an accident. All the aliens died a long time ago. Or did they? David the Android manages to not only spike the drink of one of the scientists with alien juice, but also intends to harvest a little alien bun-in the oven, planted in the unfortunate scientist girlfriend. She outsmarts him and does her own c-section before the little nipper gets too frisky. Okay then, David’s last trick is to wheel his old boss out to see the one remaining bald alien who has been in some kind of super sleep for a zillion years. David figures out how to wake him up. Ah, good plan! Does the alien give away any trade secrets–say to eternal life? The old man eagerly awaits. The big blue guy grins, kills Weyland and rips David’s head off. David isn’t particularly upset.
By now, what’s left off the crew has figured out that they need to destroy the big alien ship.
It was on its way to earth and after the long layover, the remaining alien will be off to off us. With a heroic “it’s been a privilege captain” every one blows up. Everyone, that is except the bald alien, who is finally killed by the “little bun in the oven” that’s all grow’d up. David (in two pieces now) tells the remaining scientist he has figured out how to pilot one of the small remaining alien ships. Does she want him to take her home? Nooooo. Of course not. She wants an explanation, so off they go to find ET’s home. She explains that because she’s human, she needs to know. Really? Just call me Data.
No Spoiler Alert!
As I write this review, SNOW WHITE and the HUNTSMAN, a 2012 release, is a currently in theaters. Directed by Rupert Sanders (first film) and co-written by Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock (director of THE BLIND SIDE), it stars Charlize Theron as Ravenna (the evil queen), Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Chris Hemsworth as the studly huntsman.
If you enjoy films with great visual effects, you ‘ll enjoy this film.The story, however, is muddled.
In my opinion, the movie’s too long. I became restless about three-quarters into it. The story meandered. It may be that the writers were working from other versions of the fairytale and we’re all used to the Disney version. Regardless, it seems that they failed to settle on one version. Unfortunately, the result is muddled and questions like why Ravenna doesn’t kill Snow White when she kills the King and who this Huntsman really is are not answered. We’re left with too many loose ends.
Where is Prince Charming? He’s been demoted. His name is “William” (Sam Claflin) and he’s the son of a duke. Ravenna’s overly devoted brother “Finn” Sam Spreull (Hamlet called and wants his hair back) keeps a handy supply of local maidens in the dungeon for those occasions when Ravenna needs a dose of youth to freshen up. Ravenna tricked the King, Snow White’s father, into marrying her. Ravenna has issues with men–and everybody else–and makes it her business to spread misery like a bad rash over the entire kingdom. Too bad she has no other outlets. Ravenna could do a mean blog and likely, the Facebook friend from hell.
Charlize Theron makes a believable evil queen–very intimidating. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. This actress is good in just about every role she does.
For some reason Ravenna keeps Snow White alive as a permanent dungeon resident. That is until The Mirror announces Snow White is “the fairest in the land.” Ravenna is not happy (she never is). Especially when she learns Snow White can kill her. There is good news though. Snow White’s heart is a permanent beauty treatment. If Ravenna eats it, there need be no more messy maidens.
Kristen Stewart is okay as Snow White. She simply isn’t compelling. There’s a heaviness to her acting. No perceivable sense of humor.
When Finn comes to collect Snow White’s heart, Snow White escapes. Then Ravenna sends out the Huntsman and one thing leads to another, including Ravenna impersonating William and handing Snow White the poison apple. She bites, falls dead and guess whose kiss wakes her up. Not wimpy William–it’s Hunky Huntsman.
So now Snow White is really annoyed–that apple was the last straw. The result– Snow White leads an army and storms the castle to end Ravenna. The huntsman and William, and six of the seven dwarfs (one dwarf dies) join in the battle. Several well-known non-dwarf actors hi ho it to the castle including Bos Hoskins and Ian McShane. The dwarf scenes have lots of bathroom humor and though funny, they’re not in sync with the tone of the narrative. Not surprisingly, this cast was a major issue for working actors who are in fact dwarfs. Of course they win and Snow White kills the queen. Kristen’s soulful Twilight stare helps Ravenna into the light.
This reworking of the Snow White fairy tale sounds a feminist note. It ends with her coronation. Who is going to be Mr. Snow White? Will it be the devoted William, the tormented rough-around-the edges Huntsman, or maybe a dwarf? Wait for the sequel. One thing for sure– no white charger, no “Some day my prince will come” for this girl. She has a kingdom to rule.
Netflix, Netflix, Netflix … whaat WERE you thinking? I trusted you Netflix. You said two and a half stars! Nooooooooooo!
EPISODE 50, a 2011 release, has 2.5 stars from the Netflix fairy. This 2011 “offering,” written and directed by Joe and Tess Smalley begins benignly enough with yet another “found footage” paranormal premise. This time it’s for a paranormal reality (think Ghost Hunters) show–only these guys are out to show us the smoke, mirrors and faulty wiring that panic folks into thinking their places are haunted. These dudes (and one dewy-eyed dudette) are out to shine a light on superstition and vivid imaginations. Their purpose is to put this poppycock silliness to rest so that “real science” will get more attention. When a dying rich guy who fears going to hell offers them the chance to investigate the West Virginia Lunatic Asylum, the site of several unexplained and gruesome deaths, they see “Season Finale” or “Episode 50!!” So they load up the van and head for West Virginey–visions of Emmys dancing in their heads.
Trouble (along with a ghost in the window) arises when they encounter a rival group called “ASK” (don’t ask) a trio of God-fearing folks from UCLA. ASK is convinced that the Devil is real. So of course the two groups start circling each other like the Sharks and the Jets until the dewy eyed dudette calls a halt while her counter-part in the ASK group, a rather mousy medium looks panicked at the thought of picking up whatever signals the asylum is beaming. They agree to work together–or rather the TV show crew will work and the church people will take notes. The rest of the film devolves from the formatted “Ghost Hunters” to a plot mess more complicated than three seasons of “Dark Shadows.” Towards the middle of the film we’re treated to music supporting the “found footage” and ghosts start staggering, crawling on the ceiling, and locking people in rooms that just happen to contain the files that help the investigators to figure out that it’s just one bad guy-ghost (a serial-murderer, what a surprise!) who is holding all the spirits there and not allowing them to “go into the light children.” There’s a gate to hell and it’s not even at the hospital; it’s in an old prison. And so off they go to the old pokey. Right. My favorite line was “I never pay attention to crap like ‘The Exorcist.’” Oh reeeally? You mean that ole’ black magic movie? This masterpiece ends with a show-down–mano vs cloven hoof as the “Devil’ (the Devil looks like a bare-chested guy with a mean set of horns) guarding an old gate with flames, etc. The big bad Devil is vanquished by the skeptic TV guy wielding a crucifix (after the church guy dies heroically). Priceless. Netflix—how about half a star?
I watched this movie, courtesy of Redbox for $1.23. THE DEVIL INSIDE is a film directed and co-written by William Brent Bell (2006′s STAY ALIVE). The narrative style of this film is a cross between “found footage” and documentary. A 2012 January release, the story begins in 1989 as a 911 call and a blotchy videotaped police investigation of a triple murder. A woman with a deep, weary and rather sexy voice calls into 911 saying, “I killed them all.” “Them” means two priests and a nun, casualties, we discover, of a botched exorcism. In this case, the devil is in the details–details the script fails to share because the story jumps forward to 2009 and the woman, an American wife and mother, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) is now an inmate in an Italian hospital for the criminally insane.
Naturally, Maria’s daughter, Isabella, an attractive young woman in her twenties wants to know what happened to land her mother in the funny farm in a different country. Isabella, whose father died shortly after the murders, hasn’t seen or spoken to her mother in over ten years. So Isabella, camera crew in tow-of course she’s an attractive twenty-something so she’s going to have a camera crew, decides to visit Mommie Weirdest in the old country. Maria now spends her life in a white room and she draws odd pictures, including upside-down crosses etched into her skin. Suzan Crowley, the actress playing Maria strikes me as one of those very good actresses, toiling for years in forgettable projects, and never getting a chance to show her acting chops. That’s unfortunate for the film. What little we see of her stands in stark contrast to the rest of the principal cast. Maria growls and purrs; the coiled menace within her is the only real scare this film has to offer. Her voice brings to mind Mercedes McCambridge‘s demon voice emanating from Regan, the besieged eleven-year old in THE EXORCIST. It’s insinuating and truly creepy. The young actors playing Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), the “documentary guy” (Ionut Grama), Father David, the doctor-priest (Evan Helmuth), and Father Ben, the exorcist-priest (Simon Quarterman) can’t conjure up enough scare for a campfire ghost story. When you’re dealing with “The Devil,” or devils, you want to see him fight in the right weight category. Pitting these four against a really big baddie supernatural is like watching the Smurfs take on Godzilla. It’s hardly a fair fight. The rather bland unfocused Isabella seems confused more than desperate. Father David likes to help out on exorcisms but only if they don’t get him in trouble. Father Ben pouts and whines about how the Church won’t condone exorcisms unless there’s super duper proof of possession–but he’s gonna do them anyway–so there, Monsignor Meanies! To your self-respecting demon, these four are as challenging as drowning a bag full of kittens.
The plot spins its wheels, going nowhere, until it just stops abruptly. You get the feeling the production either ran out of money or film. Whatever. Regardless, the appetite for devil movies being what it is, the film’s earned over 50 million. Maybe someone made a deal with the devil after all. By the way–the weird nun on the cover is an extra–not a character in the story.
My sister is a gamer and has been for years. I stopped after Mario 2; I killed Toad and retired on my laurels.
For many years I worked in casting—mostly atmosphere and low budget films and one of the things that fascinated me was the different worlds–cultures and sub-cultures, each with its own lingo, go-to people, unwritten rules, who was cool and who was lame and so on. For example, I had to find a nine to twelve year old girl who was middle-eastern and an accomplished rider for the movie, THE YOUNG BLACK STALLION. Of course I went the usual routes of agents but my search also took me into the various worlds of horseback riding–camps, schools, competitions, etc. I developed contacts in the Arab American community and placed ads in Arab newspapers and television stations. When you do this type of work, you realize, as I suppose sociologists do how each culture and sub-culture is a world unto itself.
Many times, my sister has attempted to explain the complexity of the games she plays and why she finds them so engrossing. She knows it’s a lost cause. It looks way too complicated to understand without playing. After reading my blog, she recommended I check out THE GUILD. Besides being a YOUTUBE offering, currently, the first five episodes are on Netflix. So last night I spent a couple of hours with THE GUILD, specifically, two of the segments from 2007. As far as I can tell, THE GUILD is still going strong.
THE GUILD was created by Felicia Day who has written most of the episodes and stars as “Codex” the Priestess (aka Cyd). Day is supported by a great cast including Sandeep Parikh as Zaboo the Warlock gnome, Jeff Lewis as Vork, Robin Thorsen as Clara,Vincent Caso as Bladezz and Amy Okuda as Tinkerballa. The Guild consists of a handful of gamers who team together as The Knights of Good to play a game we never see in action. The first thing we notice is how addictive the game is. Day conveys this with sly humor and a self parody of this social culture. As I watched these characters play their roles, their solitude becomes secondary to the identity they assume for the game. Day mines this commitment for humor by highlighting the chaos around them. Codex’s psychiatrist is dropping her because she devotes too much time to playing and as she argues this decision, Codex puts the shrink on hold to make a play. Clara, the mother of three small children, ignores their cries as she pumps breast milk with one hand and works the keyboard with the other. Vork lives alone, subsisting illegally on his dead grandfather’s social security. Convinced that Codex and he are a couple (she flirted using several semi-colons) Zaboo, (whose mother breastfed him until he was eleven) shows up on Codex’ doorstep.
The Knights of Good decide to meet in person and it’s interesting to watch them try to continue the roles that they play on line. You get the feeling that as much as the game takes in terms of time and relationships, it also gives these characters a sense of self and purpose and although they may appear isolated they are anything but. There’s a community that they know and unless you are a gamer, you’ll never understand.
I plan to watch more episodes. All the actors, especially Day are appealing and I think that as we spend more and more time online, it’s good to know to have friends in high places like my sister, resident of SWTOR (Star Wars the Old Republic).
BIG SPOILER ALERT
CHRONICLE is a 2011 movie that I rented from Blockbuster. Sorry Netflix. I love sci fi and the trailer looked interesting, so I ditched you. CHRONICLE uses the “found footage” device and in the case of CHRONICLE, it detracted more than added. Horror films like BLAIR WITCH and the PARANORMAL series have used this device very effectively. Ghosts and the unseen are even scarier when they pop up on a home movie.
The first “found footage” sci fi movie I saw was 2008′s CLOVERFIELD, a film that used the device very well. What I really found effective in CLOVERFIELD was the “you are there” bewilderment and disorientation of the characters. This was a pure third person narrative–we knew only what the characters did. We’re in the middle of New York City at a millennial generation going away party. There’s a lovers quarrel brewing when suddenly, all that angst comes to an abrupt stop. The city is being attacked by aliens that range from Godzilla-like tall as sky-scraper monsters to three foot icky skittery spider things. Because we already know something about the characters, we identify and as they find out bits and pieces of what threatens to turn them into bits and pieces, so do we.
CHRONICLE was directed by first time director, Joshua Crank. The story involves three teenaged boys, all high school seniors. They discover and explore a deep hole in the ground–the result of a large meteor. Everything about this crater screams Invaders from Mars–lots of glowy rocks and strange beeps. Andrew (Dane DeHaan of HBO’s In Treatment) is the geek of the group. Andrew’s mother is dying and his “on disability” ex-fireman dad takes it out on Andrew. Not surprisingly, Andrew is a virgin. Andrew’s good-looking cousin, Rick (Michael Kelly) is the popular kid and our surrogate. And then there’s Rick’s friend Steve (Red Tails‘ Michael B. Jordan) the wealthy, charismatic high school jock, who tolerates Andrew because he’s Rick’s cousin. Exposure to the crash site results in some interesting and disturbing side affects. All three develop telekinetic (they can move things using their minds) powers, as well as the ability to fly. They also have nose-bleeds and can communicate somewhat, telepathically. Being teenagers, it never occurs to them that they should let someone know about the truly weird changes and so they play around, cracking each other up, using their new-found powers to play super-catch and to pull pranks. Of course, nothing this cool is free. Andrew’s rapidly collapsing world includes a dying mother, an abusive father and total humiliation when he barfs on a girl just as he’s transitioning from virgin to man of the world. When his bedridden mother writhes in pain and there is no money for pain medicine, Andrew whigs out big-time.
The presence of a camera, in Andrew’s hands, Rick’s would-be girlfriend’s hands and various security videos rarely adds anything. It’s a device and we are aware of it. The only time it worked for me was during the flying sequences which put you up there with the giddy boys, who soar a mile or so off the ground as they toss the football to each other. That was exhilarating–and for me, also frightening; I have issues with heights. Predictably, Andrew’s powers, I assume, because they are enhanced by all that anger and libido, mushroom and at last, express themselves Carrie style. No prom? No problem! Along with all those high school meanies and his nasty dad, Andrew decides to take out the whole town. Poor Rick (Steve dies trying to do an intervention as Andrew floats in a swirl of storm clouds) has to put Andrew down. After neutralizing his cousin, a sorrowful Rick flies away, ala Superman, until the sequel.
I RECOMMEND CHRONICLE
There is some nice work in this film. Despite the Carrie-esque formula and the awkwardness of the “found footage,” the actors, especially DeHaan, are appealing and first time director Crank shows a real flair for working with them. The playfulness of the scenes where the boys explore their new powers is fun and has a freshness to it. If there is a sequel, I hope the footage isn’t “found,” unless it’s floating up there somewhere in the clouds.