Thursday, December 20, 2007

Catsup, Part 1

Whoah! Dusty in here. Smells funny, too. That's what happens when you leave a blog sitting out for so long, I guess.

Gonna attempt to cover all the movies I've seen since the last update, going in reverse chronological order, why not. Everything will get at least a sentence, in the approved Michael Atkinson mode, but that might be it.

WARNING: Some films may be SPOILED ROTTEN, of course.

No Country For Old Men (2007, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen) [82]: Terrific film, yada yada yada. Let's get to the real debate: Who's the protagonist? Now, understand that I'm talking about "protagonist", a pretty specific and wonky term (so be warned), used here in the context of studying screenplay structure, so I'm not talking "main character", "key character", "lead" or "supporting" characters or anything like that. And I say it's the Brolin character, if only for the simple fact that there's no story without him. The inciting incident (finding the money) and the first act twist (getting caught by the drug dealers) are about him. Without Brolin, Bardem has nothing to do but flip his gorgeous locks, and Jones can only putter around and philosophize. (Oh wait, that's what he does anyway.) That's what makes the last part so discombobulating. It's almost like the film itself starts looking, across space and time, for a protagonist to hang itself on, like a amnesiac child on a cosmic quest. Are you my protagonist? No, I'm just the wife of the protagonist, a side character. Are you my protagonist? No, I'm the antagonist, and all I can do now is kill side characters and get offed myself, now that I have no purpose. Are you my protagonist? I should've been, sonny, but I couldn't find the nerve.

(Of course, Martin McClellan will come in and destroy this argument. And God knows what Todd Alcott's gonna say when he gets around to it.)

The Mist (2007, Frank Darabont) [77]: Nice to see Darabont back to doing disreputable genre work, even if it is another goddamn Stephen King book. Script isn't as tight as his job on the 1988 remake of The Blob, and the "Do We Need The First 10 Pages" question rises again. (I left the theater during a preview to complain about the volume -- the trailer for Awake fuckin' shook the seats -- and when I got back, the family was outside with the tree. Didn't get a proper intro to the characters, but plotwise, nothing lost.) Tense and exciting, but Acting saves the day -- Braugher's character is incomprehensible, but holds it together through sheer talent, and Harden makes an intolerable character tolerable by playing to the cheap seats. Neither performance should work, but do. And great cinematography as well -- verité in the accepted shaky-cam style, but keeping spacial integrity, so fuck you Greengrass. Unfortunately, the ending doesn't work -- the decision comes too quickly, too easily, and then lead Jane is left to express something that's quite frankly inexpressible, yet gives us a rather unimaginative and empty Wail O' Anguish anyway. But 50s-inspired giant bugs are good enough.

Spider-Man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi) [73]: Why the hate, yo? So much better than number two, which was so tonally inconsistent it may as well have been South Korean. Feels like a random issue of the comic book, pulled off the rack circa '81, with a central conflict (Parker and Mary Jane's trouble relationship) that sings compared to the previous one, which was about... what was that about, again? Bitching about the landing of the black goo is stupid; it's clear that Pete's gone dark long before the suit does, making its arrival the period at the end of the sentence. Grace and Howard are well-cast, the former for his ingratiating smarm, the latter for her empty-headed cheer.

Hairspray (2007, Adam Shankman) [55]: More cheeky than I was expecting -- Watered down, if you will -- but Blonsky is awful. She has one look (naive wonderment), one move (a shoulder shake), and no presence at all. High school musical, indeed. Speaking of which, that Efron kid is the real deal (so I get why all the gay five year olds are crazy about him), and I like Bynes all grown up, thank you very much. (Not sure about the deep tan, though -- a foreshadowing of her character's sexual awakening, or just too long at Desert Sun?) Also: no dedication to Divine? For shame, filmmakers.

Mr. Brooks (2007, Bruce A. Evans) [57]: Hi, my name's Bruce A. Evans, and I have directed a feature film called Mr. Brooks. Perhaps you'd like to hire me to direct your next film? I can do low-key drama (roll scene of Costner and wife bantering in car), psycho thriller (roll scene of Costner killing couple in bed), action (roll scene of Moore fighting killers in van), stylized action (roll scene of Moore shoot-out in hallway) and wish-fullfillment (roll scene of Dane Cook getting throat slashed). And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, when you think "directing", think Bruce A. Evans.

Grave of the Vampire (1974, John Hayes) [37]: I've seen this shitty movie three times. Three times. Why. Why. It's Danny Peary's fault, actually -- the glowing write-up in Guide for the Film Fanatic writes checks the movie can't cash, especially in the awful public domain version that seems to be the only way to see it. It's a good premise, admittedly. (Note to writer, Sopranos creator David Chase: Make this your next TV show.) But the Poverty Row production values, stiff acting, and point-and-shoot direction from John "Fomaldehyde Zombies" Hayes just sinks the entire show. One good bit, which we can blame on Chase: the half-vampire son opts to romance not the attractive, age-appropriate woman but the matronly, less pretty one -- yet it's clear to us, if not him, that he's just trying to get back at Vampire Dad.

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