I am he as you are she as you are me and we are all Inceptional?

The Thirteenth Floor: A review

***Spoilers***

thirteenth floor  The Thirteenth Floor, a film directed by Josef Rusnek, and based on the 1964 Daniel F. Galouye novel, Simulacron 3 was released in 1999. Although hard to follow, with a less than compelling conflict and plot resolution, this film was met with enthusiasm by sci fi buffs and it was nominated for the Saturn Award as “Best Science Fiction Film” of 1999. Unfortunately for The Thirteenth Floor, The Matrix was also released in 1999. Rats. I know that The Matrix is beloved by many, but I found it every bit as flawed as The Thirteenth Floor and with its “mysticism,” incredibly pretentious and sophomoric.

Because the intricate plot and guessing what’s going on is the whole point, I’m not going to reveal plot points. The film has a good cast, including Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D’Onofrio and Dennis Haysbert.

The Thirteenth Floor is not a good film but not entirely bad either.

Like Inception, a film much closer in structure and concept, the premise is difficult to convey and so the solution is to blend in another, more easily understood genre. Inception gives us car chases and shoot-outs in our dreams within dreams. The idea, I suppose, is that those who lack the patience to follow the film’s complexity, will understand the language of violence.

In hopes of not losing its mainstream audience, The Thirteenth Floor blends in LA noir and a murder mystery.

The result, like Inception, is a feeling of disorientation. We don’t get to know any of the characters or care about the outcome; we’re too busy trying to crack the code–guessing what’s what. I like the idea of computer-generated, sentient beings who believe they’re human. Their limited existence reminds me of another hybrid movie–Dark City. Like The Matrix, Dark City has an element of mysticism but I didn’t think it nearly as pretentious. Very weird (in a good way for me) but lot’s more entertaining than The Matrix.

The concept of virtual reality is such a rich one that I hope someone will make a film that explores it on its own terms, trusting the audience and attempting to answer some of the questions it poses, such as what defines a human being. Along with the Star Trek holodek, television has done its own spin around VR territory, including 1995’s VE-5 and the Syfy’s current offering, EUREKA. Science fiction writers have long mined the territory of virtual reality, including my own second book, Babylon Dreams, where a whole industry competes for the consumer dollar by offering “after-death” destinations.

If you haven’t seen The Thirteenth Floor, I recommend it, especially if you like science fiction. It’s worth the elevator ride.

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The Cabin in the Woods is like a fried Twinkie

The Cabin in the Woods: A review

***Spoilers***

cabin in the woodsThe critics and the fans said must see The Cabin in the Woods. So I saw.

I ignored the lone “worst movie I ever saw”– naysayer–there was only one. Now that I’ve seen it, make that two. This movie, written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard, looks like it was a lot of fun to write. I can see all concerned cracking each other up at the hilarity. I would have loved to sit in on the sessions that put together this script, a combination of office comedy and slasher-college-students-go-camping sadism. The office segments, centered in a high tech control room with lots of screens and tons of controls are smart and very funny. A couple of middle-aged men in white shirts and ties combat the boredom by shooting down slasher-movie conventions as they comment on the progress of the college students, whose story unfolds on one of a series of screens via hidden cameras. Different departments participate in a betting pool to see who dies and how.

We’re told that steps (spiked hair dye, pheromone mists, etc.) have been taken to ensure the students follow the intended course. Like the office, we’re meant to watch as the students struggle to survive. And like the betting pool, other than what we paid for the ticket, we have no investment. We spend the entire movie guessing the point of it all. Why is this happening? We’re given clues that point to a blood sacrifice.

By the time we learn that it’s either the college students’ deaths or the “end of the world” we’re still detached.

When one of the students begins to outsmart the puppeteers, there’s frantic damage control. We, the audience, continue to observe but not invest because the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together.

If you don’t care, you have time to be logical and the story collapses. Other than a mild curiosity, we don’t care about what happens to any of the characters. For example, early in the story, one of the office techs complains that his wife’s plans to get pregnant include child-proofing the entire house. Then he and the rest of the office complex bet on which group of young people dies a grisly death. Jarring but not quite believable because so little attention is paid to character–it’s all jokes and office politics; there’s no anchor–no place to establish a point of view.

Absurdism ala Mel Brooks this isn’t. Brooks parodies genre, establishing a setting and a narrative and commenting on the conventions. He doesn’t splice two genres together. When you’re guessing at the setting and confused about who or what to root for, you, like the office workers, are indifferent. The Coen Brothers make you laugh at the violence resulting from human folly, but you’re also horrified because they find the humanity as well as the absurdity.

There’s no humanity in this office. I thought perhaps they weren’t human–maybe the office was set in hell. It would have made more sense.

Clever performances and jokes can’t make up for the cynicism and indifference of the script. At the end, like the surviving college students, you shrug at “the end of the world.” To be scared, you have to care. Cabin in the Woods has a crisp outer layer of office humor with a sweet gooey center of college-students-sex-and-death. And like a fried Twinkie, it’s hard to swallow and just as indigestible.

The Devil Inside: Godzilla versus the Surfs

A Review

***SPOILER ALERT***

devil inside  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.

 

 Episode 50–The Devil (and my agent) made me do it.

Netflix, Netflix, Netflix … whaat WERE you thinking? I trusted you Netflix. You said two and a half stars! Nooooooooooo!

episode 50  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?