The Haunting In Connecticut

Ghosts terrify me. Both the idea of them and the real thing. I firmly believe (“know,” really) that I’ve encountered what I’d have to call ghosts twice in my life. The second encounter was physical (I’m quite certain that it touched me) and was sufficient to send me running into the night like a scared little toddler. This is different, btw, from me saying that I have some solid theory as to exactly “WHAT” a ghost is in a spiritual sense or otherwise; there’s simply no other term to describe the phenomena I encountered on these occasions – and no other term to describe my reaction other than abject mortal terror. I am scared of ghosts like I’m scared of no other ‘unreal’ thing.

As such, bad ghost movies are my LEAST favorite type of bad movie, because they force me into a critical paradox: When it comes to horror movies, the question of whether or not it’s “scary” is generally supposed to be an all-powerful measure which can render all other issues moot – if it “works” at scaring you, then clearly the bad acting, directing, etc. didn’t “matter,” right? Problem is, I’m going to be “scared” by ANY ghost movie, even a bad one, which puts me in the unpleasant position of explaining how a horror film that terrified me was still crappy regardless. So, basically, if you want a four-word review of this film: Scared me, still sucked.

We’re in familiar “Amityville” territory, story-wise: A troubled family moves into an old dark house that does EVERYTHING it can to advertise itself as haunted even BEFORE they find out it’s an abandoned funeral home (complete with untouched, fully-stocked morgue!) and things start going bump (preceded, of course, by an on-cue drop in the ambient noise) in the night. They need the house because it’s close to the hospital where the eldest son is undergoing experimental Cancer treatments, a plot-device which does double-duty at keeping them from moving out AND explaining why people don’t believe the kid’s visions. Said kid, by the way, is REALLY asking for it: Following a nightmare in which he encounters a specter in the basement, he immediately decides thats where he’ll keep his bed. Not the smartest move he’ll make.

The “what’s going on” is predictable as hell, a half-hearted grab-bag of every haunted house cliche in the book including but not limited to grave-robbing, necromancy, wronged kids, seances, ectoplasm and excuses for the employment of the old spooky-old-timey-photograph routine. For what it’s worth, I can safely say the film also employs just about the stupidest excuse for getting the lights all turned out in recent memory. Virginia Madsen plays the mom, while Elias Koteas does what he can in a simply AWFUL role as a fellow cancer patient who AMAZINGLY turns out to be a ghost-busting priest. What’re the odds?

I Love You Man

Here’s one of those movies who’s screenplay seems to have come from a writer thumbing through “Us,” “People” or some other worthless checkout-counter pablum, reading about pop-culture non-words like “man-date” or “man-cave” and going “A-HA!” I’m not sure if that’s where “I Love You Man” came from, but that’s what it plays-out like. Is it funny? Sure. But much like the non-words forming it’s high-concept, nobody will remember it in a year or less.

Paul Rudd is playing a realtor named Peter who’s impending marriage has inadvertently sent him into a mini-crisis – amid his consideration of a “best man,” his family and friends point out that he doesn’t have (has never had, really) any close male friends; certainly not a “best” one. The reasons for this are easily divined: Peter is the Perfect Boyfriend, a one-man girl-drink-mixin’, chick-flick-toleratin’, problem-listenin’ machine who’s dedication to pleasing his ladyfriends has left him without a discernable male social life. Now, the poor guy is seeing pairs of Good Buddies everywhere he looks; so he embarks on a quest to “pick up” some Y-chromosomed compatriots.

So, it’s the “formula” of a romantic comedy applied to a story of platonic male friendship. There’ve been worse ideas. The film is at it’s weakest (though still amusing) early on as it name-checks the tropes of “man-dates” and expected gags – with the hysterical exception of Thomas Lennon (your go-to-guy for ambiguous homosexuality) as an “ideal” suitor who’s notion of “man-date” is significantly more literal than Peter’s. The film get’s to it’s “point” when Peter meets slovenly uber-masculine slacker Sidney (Jason Segel) and they hit it off… to the point that it starts to cause some friction with Peter’s regular fiancee-centric life.

Yes, it’s another scion of “Clerks” in which a guy’s rocky road to adulthood is impeded, commented-on and (maybe) helped by his wackier best bud. But it’s reasonably funny, even if it won’t likely be remembered as a high point in anyone’s career.

Duplicity (2009)

Most “twist” movies are thrillers, aiming to end on a “WHOA!” “Duplicity” is definately a twist-movie, but it’s content to end on an modestly-upbeat “Heh.” In exchange for the lack of thrills, we get a lot of very talented actors (AND Julia Roberts… ahem…) exchanging witty espionage banter that the film hopes we’ll find exponentially funnier through the magic of ironic juxtaposition, i.e. all the skullduggery is between rival cosmetics tycoons.

Roberts and Clive Owen (THE go-to-guy actor when the breakdown calls for “James Bond only not”) are a pair of rival spies (formerly CIA and MI6, respectively) who meet-cute again (or do they?) on opposite sides (or are they?) of the hired counter-intel teams for two New York cosmetics barons. One of the CEOs (Tom Wilkinson) is sitting on a secret miracle product (or is he?) sought by his rival (Paul Giamatti.) The pair of spies, who had a prior romantic encounter years ago (or is it ongoing?) hatch a plan to double-cross both sides and make off with the Big Money themselves. The timeline cuts back and forth between the present-plan and the past of the two leads, aiming to keep the audience guessing as to who’s been on who’s side and for how long.

It’s all suitably breezy and well paced, and it’s doing it’s damndest to recreate the “sophisticated” (read: “detached”) couples-sparring that informed oldschool caper/romance flicks like “The Thomas Crowne Affair” or “Charade;” but in the end it’s a house of cards stacked entirely too high for the flimsy material said cards are made of… though, it must be said, it MIGHT have helped to not hinge so much of the film on the concept of Julia Roberts as a source of potent sexual power. Nice effort, though.

Knowing

If you’re considering seeing “Knowing,” (the new Nicholas Cage movie) I reccomend that you do so AND that you do so immediately without reading any reviews whatsoever. It’s a solid, wholly watchable and entertaining thriller; but it’s REAL pleasures are in the fact that well more than HALF of it remains magnificiently unspoiled by the trailers – meaning that you here have the rare opportunity to be genuinely gobsmacked by WHERE a major studio movie actually “goes” and “ends up.” How often does that happen.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Cage is playing a college professor who discovers a child’s “drawing” of seemingly random numbers inside a 50 year-old Time Capsule recently unearthed; and shortly thereafter discovers that the numbers work out to a pattern that seems to predict the dates of the last 50 years of major disasters… and a few more to come. That’s ALL anyone should know going in, if anything. If this does any kind of business this weekend, people are going to be “WTF??”ing about it at every available water cooler all week starting monday, so you might as well get in on it NOW.

WATCHMEN VIDEO REVIEW

Because YOU demanded it, because YOU wanted it, because… eh… THEY were willing to put it up, here’s my full video review of the movie everyone will be lying about having seen in theatres and knowing was a classic “the whole time” about a year from now, once again courtesy of the fine folks over at The Escapist:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/embed/622

Once again, PLEASE visit The Escapist’s actual site after watching the video. These guys are fighting the good fight, bringing REAL intellectual debate to the geek universe, and they deserve your support: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/the-escapist-presents/622-MovieBob-Reviews-Watchmen

Hayter’s Letter

“Watchmen” co-screenwriter (from a draft or two back) and sometime video game voice actor David Hayter had an “open letter” to film fans that’s been making the rounds, you can read a good full copy over on AICN: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/40409

Basically, he’s asking not only Watchmen fans but also detractors, mixed-feelers and even not-carers to go see it (again) this weekend. His reasoning is sound: Hollywood math is all about how hard you drop in the 2nd weekend, and if “Watchmen” takes a Jonas Bros. level tumble in IT’S 2nd weekend the verdict will be in: Only “fanboys” care, you can’t make money JUST off them, next time cut it to a PG13, get Beyonce’ working on a theme song and hire Bret Ratner. I’m with Hayter on this one – a movie this uncompromising NEEDS to be seen as a success, to encourage more like it to be made.

If you have ANY inclination to see this again, do it today or saturday. Take friends. Spend 7 to 10 bucks, and help make the movie world a better place.

WATCHMEN

You’ve read enough essays on this by now. Here’s my take (seen twice) in semi-bullet list form.

SPOILERS FOLLOW. BIG ONES. I’M NOT KIDDING.

– I don’t know if it’s better than “Dark Knight.” I FEEL that it is, but that could be shock-of-the-new. I DO know that it’s “part of the problem” that the first thing to compare this to is another superhero movie instead of filmmaking in general, but that’s another discussion. I CAN say with certainty that it’s a more exciting, vital, interesting, “alive” film than Knight by leaps and bounds. Don’t get me wrong, TDK still ought’ve been nominated for an Oscar and still ought’ve won in that case, but next to this it looks (even moreso) almost overly safe and – at worst – terrified of it’s own shadow. It goes to dark-“ish” places for a “genre” film, but only after a methodical removal of as many ‘Batman’ elements as can possibly be removed while still having it BE Batman… an understandable reaction to the excesses of the Schumacher era that, none the less, can sometimes create the feeling that the film is trying to gently lead a frightened non-geek audience (and critics) safely through the darks woods (“Shh! Shh! It’s okay, it’s okay. You’re soooo brave. See? It barely looks like a Bat costume at all. S’ok. S’ok. See? It’s a crime-thriller. You’re not really watching one of those awful superhero movies. That’s my brave, brave boy.”) “Watchmen,” on the other hand, is proud as HELL of it’s otherworldliness and has it’s colors flying right off the damn bat: “FUCK YEAH! THAT GUY IS BLUE, NAKED AND FIFTY FEET TALL, AND WE’RE NOT EVEN GONNA TELL YOU WHY FOR ANOTHER HOUR! CAN’T WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THAT? TOO FUCKIN’ BAD! “JONAS BROTHERS” IS PLAYIN’ ACROSS THE HALL, PROBABLY MORE YOUR SPEED. THE REST OF US HAVE A MOVIE TO WATCH!” And I ADORE it for that.

– The “new-ish” ending works. Period. Not only does it fit better in a practical sense into a singular film that can’t functionally follow an entire “other” whodunnit that doesn’t directly involve any of the main cast, but it strengthens the characters involved by adding an extra dimension of personal betrayal – Ozy doesn’t just use and hurt his former teammates in his scheme, he uses the public’s already-established fear and hatred of superheroes to his advantage. It’s a textbook-perfect lesson in proper adaptation: You don’t fabricate from thin air, you use what’s already there in a different way.

– Also regarding the ending and adaptation – it’s interesting to see the way a different medium imposes different needs and expectations. It’s one thing for the book’s Nite Owl to simpy, give up, “sell out” and let us down by surrendering to Ozy’s victory; as a drawing-and-text open to wider interpretation it’s possible to view him as a pathetic, vaugely-amusing schlub for whom this final flaccid innaction is just another addition to the MOUNTAIN of evidence that he never had any real business trying to be superhero… for THAT Nite Owl to get in a cathartic “screw you!” whack at Ozy would be a betrayal. BUT as a flesh and blood (onscreen) human who’s actual voice and expressions TELL US that he’s a decent guy, and let us see the real pain he has trying to relate to Laurie outside of his costume? Yes. It’s right and proper that THIS Nite Owl would take a shot and want to have SOME semblance of a final say.

– This is NOT an inaccessible film for non-fans or even non-geeks. Not by a longshot. You don’t need to have read this comic or ANY comic to “get into” this movie. All you need is an open mind free of genre-bias and a willingness to let a film explain itself slowly and not all-at-once. It doesn’t require any more familiarity with the source than any decent historical film or biography. If you could follow “Milk” without ever having been to Casto Street, you can follow this.

– It’s funny, though… For all the talk of it “confusing” non-fans the only two things that I can imagine would give the uninitiated pause don’t seem to bother many people, particularly the critics who’re otherwise soooo sure this is for-fans-only: The film never bothers to explain how or why Rorscharch’s mask works like it does, nor where the hell Ozymandias got Bubastis (the big purple kitty,) but it doesn’t seem to “bug” anyone but me. I think this might be where Zack Snyder’s over-criticized stylization helps out: It’s a realistic film, but he bathes it in a gloss of comic book hyperrealism that I imagine innoculates it against a lot of “wait… the hell did he get THAT!?” that might be present in a more “verite” approach.

– Incidentally, i.e. Zack Snyder: It’s settled. He’s a genuine talent. A REAL visionary with the kind of eye for pop-art-AS-ART that we haven’t seen emerge since the early films of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. I NEED to see him tackle an original film now – one that isn’t an adaptation or remake. His vaunted skill at fidelity still betrays a real artist with a clear vision of his own – I want to see it unleashed. He’s proved his mettel. That said, let’s be clear: “Watchmen” is his FIRST genuinely excellent film. “Dawn of The Dead” and “300” are both fun but ultimately empty exercises – no deeper meaning, no real humanity, just money shoots and mood (especially “Dawn,” the prettiest NOTHING THERE zombie movie outside of Resident Evil.)

– Also on Snyder: Guy is a diabolical GENIUS at subconscious audience-manipulation. Watch how the leering, objectifying, dehumanizing cheesecake closeups on Carla Gugino’s breasts and ass give way to the leering, objectifying, dehumanizing gaze of The Comedian, who seems to be “thinkin’ what we’re thinkin’, eh boys?”… right up until he beats her up and sexually assaults her; thus implicating the whole audience (or at least 90% of the men and 60-70% of the women) in her objectification and near-rape. That’s ballsy, evil and effective. See also: EVERY shot of the NYC skyline has the (still-standing since it’s 1985) WTC towers unmistakably visible – an image almost no one can see without thinking of 9-11 on some level. This happens almost a dozen times, a dozen nudging whispers of “remember that?” to the audience, all to make sure it’s right up near the front of the brain for the 3rd act’s “9-11 times inifinity” money-shot. Yikes. The man has chops.

– Regarding Jackie Earl Haley, aka “Rorscharch” – I FUCKIN’ TOLD YOU SO. Could he have BEEN more perfect in this? At my second showing – the “regular audience” screening, NOT the fan-filled midnight show – the crowd burst into applause at “You’re locked in here with ME!!!” They’ll be throwing cash and “charismatic scary dude” roles at him like no actor since Anthony Hopkins post-“Silence,” and he deserves it.

– Regarding Dr. Manhattan’s penis: Grow up.

Guess what I just got back from?

Bob’s Journal: Friday, March 6th 2009.

Stupid dog in the hallway today. Every day. Scratched at door. Woke me up. Gave him snausage. Still awake too early. The suburbs are afraid of me. I’ve seen their true face.

Work bad. People rude. Foul-smelling. Stupid. They’ll look up and cry “can I get a price check on this?” And I’ll whisper, “No.”

Saw “Watchmen.” Midnight show. Gorgeous theatre out in the boonies. Overflow house. Fans in costumes. One girl dressed as Silhouette. Astonishing figure. Breasts you could call as evidence before God as to why humanity deserves to avoid Judgement Day for another few decades. Five to one prediction in reality she’s a bookstore clerk or a grade-school art teacher. Dresses modestly neo-hippie. No clue how hot she actually is. Surrounded by army of mostly-male, similarly-dispositioned friends who’d leap swords-drawn into the abyss at her command but are too timid to ever actually make the romantic advance they’ve been plotting-out in their heads since the day each met her; a condition she does not acknowledge either out of naivete’ or sadism. Second option more appealing.

Movie excellent. One-ups “Dark Knight” by being darker, meaner, sexier, deeper AND by proving that you CAN do all that without throwing out the color and the otherworldliness. PG-13 Batman movie terrified that a Lazarus Pit might blunt it’s “realism” suddenly seems almost cowardly in face of R-rated Watchmen movie that sends a blue man-god to Mars AND has roles for actors playing Nixon, Annie Liebowitz and Pat Buchanan. Malin Ackerman finally good in something. Jackie Earl Haley a revalation. Does the impossible. Makes you regret that Rorschach ever puts his mask back on, once you see how great a facial/physical performance he gives when relieved of it. Will be approached for every “creepy guy” role for forseeable future. Has probably ALREADY been offered Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare remake. Jeffrey Dean Morgan terrific. Expect to see lots of dark-humored couples going as Comedian and Silk Specter I this Halloween. New ending (content-swapped ending, really) works, though could stand to be bloodier. Subtley set up via background details to kick anyone not “ready” for it square in the fucking gut. You’ll know what I mean when you see the “money shot.” Shot of Silhouette in opening credits sequence one of best things I’ve ever seen. “Conservative” critics will hate the whole film for that one shot. People need to get the fuck over Dr. Manhattan’s junk. You can see his penis clearly in-frame maybe three or four times, otherwise it’s BARELY visible since he’s all blue, glowy and semi-transparent. You’d think people had never seen a dick before. I christen Zack Snyder: “Michael Bay But With Actual TALENT.” Earns lifetime benefit-of-doubt otherwise only afforded to Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and Paul Verhoeven.

Bed now. Tired. See movie again tommorow. NEED to see how plays to regular Friday night movie crowd that doesn’t know every twist that’s coming. Also see in morning some point. Want to see horrified (or elated?) reactions of younger audiences brought by ignorant parents. Need sleep. Never compromise. Even in face of unemployment.

Seeing "Watchmen" tommorow night

Seeing Watchmen midnight show Thursday Midnight. Fingers crossed that A.) it’s good and that B.) IF it’s good, the non-geek public responds similarly to Dark Knight. Probably not on that second one, given that it’s bound to be both a downer and a heavy-thinker, but you never know. I’d LOVE to see it become a major hit, just to see what kind of effect it would have on the genre and action-filmmaking in general.

Oh, Also…

Incidentally, no one NEEDS to go see “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” – it’s AWFUL – but you might want to just so you can watch a movie literally come apart at the seams. It’s pretty remarkable in that regard. It started out as part of an ambitious project to do a series of “origin” movies for various Street Fighter characters and then bring them together in a single massive “Street Fighter” movie for a climax; but that plan was seemingly jettisoned midway through and they were left to cobble what they’d already signed into a low-budget action vehicle for Kristin Kreuk with various characters running around with the names and “Mark I” costumes of Street Fighter bit-players.

For the fans: Neil McDonough and Michael Clarke Duncan are M. Bison and Balrog, Robin Shou (Liu Kang from the “Mortal Kombat” movies) is Gen and Chris Klein is Charlie Nash (the “Charlie” who’s murder Guile is supposed to be investigating.) Vega turns up approximately twice, lamely. It’s a weirdly schizoid adaptation, on the one hand trying to “Dark Knight-ize” the franchise by eschewing the game costumes and grounding the main backstory amid a ghetto-gentrification real estate swindle in Bangkok; but on the other hand Gen teaches Chun-Li to throw magical fireballs and Bison gets a REALLY icky origin story to explain super powers… that he never actually uses. FWIW, Nash survives the movie, presumably saving his death for the never-to-be-filmmed “Legend of Guile” movie. Quick mention at the end of a “Street Fighter Tournament” that Mrs. Li ought to investigate, and a “Ryu somebody.”

The screenwriter on this was Justin Marks, currently just about the hottest writer in Hollywood apparently owing to his ability to turn out functional scripts for “fanboy” properties at a good clip thanks to a near-encyclopedic knowledge of – and legitimate enthusiasm-for – the material (he’s also behind the initial scripts for the planned “He-Man,” “Supermax” aka “Green Arrow in Prison” and “Voltron” movies.) For what it’s worth, he DOES seem to have a knack for building a working narrative out of the largely-incidental backstories of properties like this. Whether or not his stuff can lead to GOOD movies remains to be seen, though I’ll note that THIS one would’ve at least been campy fun if they’d been allowed to wear their game costumes.

Oh!, and here’s the newest OverThinker:
http://gameoverthinker.blogspot.com/2009/03/episode-twenty-open-letter-to-nintendo.html