Thursday, October 19, 2006

Movie Reviews -- Exorcist, Lake House, Zero K, SW4, Silent Hill, Edmond, Prime, Stay

I know, I know. I go and make a grand promise to keep up with the blog and finally start my how to articles... and then nothing. Well, I guess at least I can update the reviews. I haven't really been watching many movies lately since we've have been sucked back into TV watching, and now we are full-on obsessed with several shows. I may have to do something similar to the May Movie Diet I did this year, and put us on a month without TV before my brain goes to mush. Of course, if I do, it will definitely have to coincide with the Lost winter hiatus. But even with the current TV obsessions... I have still managed to see some movies over the last month. They are: The Exorcist: Restored, The Lake House, Zero Kelvin, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (original version), Silent Hill, Edmond, Prime, and Stay

The Exorcist: Restored (Friedkin, 1973)
A movie star mom is helpless and desperate when her little girl becomes possessed and starts displaying some unusual behaviors. Eventually, though reluctantly, the church comes to her aid in the form of Max Von Sydow and some other dude.
This is quite possibly the most important and highly acclaimed horror movie of all time. I'm not quite sure why it took me so long to see it, but I have heard for decades that this is probably the scariest movie ever made. It was, however, inevitable (as a lover of scary movies) that I eventually take a look. I chose the new, restored version, because I thought it would be presented with higher quality sound and image. What I didn't realize is that this is not the original, theatrical version. Many deleted scenes have been added. I wish I'd known this prior to having rented the movie, as I always aim to see the original version of a piece first. This additional footage, added to the fact that I was viewing this film on a 15" laptop display, and that I have years of scary-movie training (read: I have been desensitized), made this quite possibly the least scary movie I have ever seen. The pace was unbearably slow; the first act must have lasted a good half of the movie! And I must agree with some of this movie's critics when they say that the story was poorly constructed. Maybe this is because it was adapted from a novel by the novel's author, but this movie suffers from severe lack of focus. It rambles on about insignificant things and then eventually abandons these irrelevant plot lines. For instance, the movie begins, perplexingly in Iraq, where Max Von Sydow (the priest that eventually performs the exorcism) is busy overseeing an archaeological dig. We spend a significant amount of time in this location, and discover a statue of a demonic like face that Max likes to stare at contemplatively. But we never see this image again. Nor do we spend any further time whatsoever in the middle east or revisiting any theme begun in this segment. In fact, although we begin with Von Sydow, and we learn to see the world through his eyes, he ends up having an extremely small role in the film. Yes, we see him later on when it comes time to finally exorcise those pesky demons from poor little Linda Blair's body, but at that time, his part is so short, and almost insignificant, that it feels like a cameo. This is terrible storytelling. What a waste of time! Having said that, I did have to note how beautiful some of the shots were, and how seldom we see such wonderfully moody and stylish shots anymore. Furthermore, the special effects still hold up admirably. Sadly though, I was never once even nervous watching this movie, and I spent much of the time (once possession was finally in full swing) in horror wondering how Linda Blair's parents could consent to their daughter saying (and doing) such shocking things. What can I say? I am pregnant. Maybe I'm a little more sensitive to that stuff right now.

The Lake House (Agresti, 2006)
Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock find a love that really, truly stands the test of time. No I mean, really!
Ok, so we thought they were great together in Speed, right? So why not throw these two kids together in a love story and see if we can catch some of that spark again? Well, yes, if you threw them in a fun or spunky script, I think they could perhaps give us some of that chemistry again, but putting them in a "straight" love story just isn't going to swing. This combo can't cut it. Sure, the notoriously flat Keanu fared ok in Sweet November, but that was only because he had the exquisitely emotional Charlize Theron to counteract the very wooden Mr. Reeves. Sandra and Keanu together, and without that fun little script, just can't do it. Even if you were to overlook this dull pairing, there are some obvious story issues. You know, sometimes stories that use some kind of time-crossing device just don't work. Let this movie be 'exhibit z,' as if we needed it. Ok, there are some sweet moments, sure, and I was tearing up slightly at the end despite myself (have I mentioned that I am pregnant and hormonal?), but there isn't even enough good-quality fluff to make this movie a nice chick-flick. I've seen worse though, I mean it did pass the time for me on a flight, and it's probably better than airline food. So if you're into this sort of movie, you may just find a way to get into this one.

Zero Kelvin (Moland, 1995)
A naive Norwegian author leaves his love-filled life with his girlfriend to spend a year in Greenlandic isolation with a couple of arctic fox trappers. What he gets is a little more than research for a new book.
I had absolutely no expectations going into this one. The only thing I knew about it was that it was in Norwegian (I got it for practice). I didn't even know until halfway through the movie that one of the trappers was played by none other than Stellan Skarsgard (the teacher from Good Will Hunting). Man is this actor genius! He seems to just become the essence of whatever role he needs to play. And he was just astonishing here. He was almost unrecognizable. The young author, played by somebody called Bjorn Sundquist, was kind of a nice surprise too. I think what was missing here was some intensity in the writing and editing. The movie hinges on the animosity that exists between these two characters and plays out in the lengths that this might take them to when they are so isolated, and sure, the actors play that hatred pretty well, but the stakes never seem high enough. Sadly, this means that the story feels a little slow. On top of this, I have to look at this from a post-colonial perspective, and I can't help but think of how this is really an old-fashioned story of how a man goes wild in a wild environment; the civilized become uncivilized. An extension of this then is to think of the people that are natives of this region. They, the people that spend their entire lives and are the very products of a wild and uncivilized land (like the tribesmen of an untamed Africa, or the jungle-dwelling "savages" in the Amazon), must also exhibit some of these same characteristics. This is dangerous thinking. And on top of that is how painfully obvious it was to me that and Greenlandic people were completely absent from this film. It's as if their presence is implied to me, but their existence is just wiped away. I am aware though of how much of a stretch this all seems to the rest of you, and though the hint of reductionism, colonialism, and racism is there for me, it is anything but overt, so it's easy to get past. In the end, this was a mixed bag for me. There are some problems, certainly, but overall, I still think it's worth watching.

Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope -- THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL VERSION!!! (Lucas, 1977)
A completely unretouched, un-color corrected, unchanged version of the much beloved sci fi fantasy featuring young Luke and his fight against the evil of the galaxies.
Lucas listened to Star Wars fans, and gave us what we wanted: our movies back, the way they were when we fell in love with them decades ago. And guess what? I HAVE MY MOVIE BACK! Sure, when you look at it in its raw 1977 form, it's clear that there are some lighting and sometimes even focus issues, and it certainly stands out as missing something against today's tastes for hyper-saturated colors and high-contrast images, but I have to say that it's still gorgeous. The special effects by and large are spectacular (without any CG help) and there are no annoying story additions and changes. Griedo doesn't shoot Han Solo first, there's no jelly-like Jabba, and the cantina scene is its old, charming self. The only thing I really, truly miss is sound. It has authentic 1977 sound. No surround, no booming subwoofing bass, just plain old-fashioned sound. I must say, I love my intense, 3-D, sound of the 2000s. But I will trade it. Because I have my movie back dammit! And I love it. Now, Lucas hasn't completely changed his spots. He's still sleazy enough to sell the original trilogy boxed together with the newer versions of each, and packaged as if the new versions are all that's contained (the original versions are on the bonus features discs), but it's all mind games. I'm sure it helps inflate his figures and his ego, so that he can continue to run around and talk about how much better the new versions are ("Look! The new versions are still selling like crazy!"), but who cares. Let him have his ego intact. Just buy it and use Disc 1 as a Frisbee or coaster. Or better yet, let's tell him what we think of the new versions and send them all back to Skywalker Ranch with nastigrams scribbled on them with Sharpees. If you happen to rent the movie instead, MAKE SURE YOU RENT DISC 2 ONLY IF YOU WANT TO SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION, otherwise you will only end up seeing that terrible new version uh-gain!

Silent Hill (Gans, 2006)
If your adopted daughter was doing some dangerous, cliff-edge sleep-walking and kept mentioning some place called Silent Hill, would you take her there? Even if you found out that it was a ghost town with a tragi-horrific past? Well this woman does. I wonder if she will pay for that decision.
Ignore those people who tell you that this one is surprisingly good. It's not. Decisions are bewilderingly stupid, characters are caricatures, and there isn't so much creep as mildly gross. It's not even so bad it's good. Also, I was well aware of the secret/twist at the beginning, so getting this to be spelled out for me on-screen was a little bit tedious. Skip it.

Edmond (Gordon, 2005)
William H. Macy is dissatisfied with his life, so he enters the underbelly of the metropolis and becomes his darker self. He even (almost inadvertently) goes on a murder spree and it all kind of goes downhill from there.
Within the first minute of the movie I was asking myself what was wrong with this movie. Something felt.... weird. The dialog felt... not right. It was, hmmm... doesn't this feel like a bad play? Yeah, it feels like a play. Then from there I was asking why it had to be so overwhelmingly offensive, the word "nigger" being flung around like mad was just the beginning of it. (By the way, WHM is so not convincing when he uses the word. It's like a bad, outrageous piece of fashion that wears him instead of him wearing it.) After further offensive material and strange, brutal scenes, and incessantly uncomfortable dialog, I had to turn it off. I just couldn't make it through. And then I discovered that it was written by none other than David Mamet and based on his play. I called it! (Just like I totally called it within the first few minutes of Closer.) And Mamet made the offensive material make some sense. I was force-fed his play, "Sexual Perversions in Chicago" when I was just barely in college. The man loves uncomfortably offensive speech. It's a wonder he has managed to write such decent screenplays such as The Untouchables, Wag the Dog, and Ronin, or even Hannibal. That one delved into the distasteful, certainly, but in a whole different way.

Prime (Younger, 2005)
A therapy patient discovers that she is sleeping with her therapist's son only, she finds out much later than her therapist does. Oh yeah, and there is a rather substantial age difference between the lovers.
From one miserably bad movie to another. Ugh. There was absolutely no comedy. I was almost embarrassed for Meryl Streep who was sadly over the top and ridiculous. And the young man in question was so flat he was almost concave. Let's not even get started on story. It was a one-liner with too much set up and nowhere to go after the payoff. Please. Stay. Away. From. This. Movie. Otherwise you'll wish desperately like I did for my two hours back.

Stay (Forster, 2006)
Ewan McGregor is a psychiatrist to an impenetrable and enigmatic Ryan Gosling. As if this wasn't difficult enough for any shrink to handle, there is an element of the supernatural that surrounds this odd patient.
I really do have a special affinity for movies that challenge perceptions of reality. I adored Dark City, The Sixth Sense thrilled me, and The Matrix was crazy fun. Any well-constructed movie that I see that gives me a little blur of reality and unreality (anywhere from the works of Charlie Kauffman to Finding Neverland) and that makes me think a little bit, is really one of my favorite kinds of movie experiences. This movie works well in this genre and I really enjoyed it. Before you run out and rent it, let me clarify. This isn't the kind of movie that will suck you into its world. It keeps you on the outside, always wondering what the heck is going on. For many people this is frustrating and intolerable. For me this is, at least in this case, intriguing. And when you add creative filmmaking and storytelling to the mix, it really gets my juices flowing. Some are left even after the movie ends wondering what happened. I don't think it's all that complicated, read the clues that the movie is giving you. It's pretty clear. Even if you fully get exactly what happens, you'll surely be thinking about the movie for hours after you see it. How great is that? Plus this movie has a fantastic scene in which the reality is peeling away and an argument between McGregor and Gosling has the characters spontaneously changing places with absolutely seamless editing. Wait, who is yelling at whom here? McGregor is the aggressor, no the victim, no the aggressor. Fantastic!! Forster, who also directed Finding Neverland, certainly has a knack for playing with that line between reality and fantasy, for him it seems to be more of an overlapping weave than a solid border.

Until next time... happy viewing!

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Teddi said...

Funny, I was supposed to get Lake House through netflix this week. I had moved it up to position 2 my queue, but fell asleep before saving it, LOL, and the next morning netflix sent out the stuff that was at the top of the queue. Urgh! I can fall asleep doing anything, hahaahaha!

Colleen said...

Okay, you sold me on it. I'm going to buy Star Wars (the first movie) so my son can see that Han Solo really was a bad ass and fired first.

I mean really - what the hell was Lucas thinking when he changed that?

I was actually thinking about getting Aunt Cathy "Lake House" as a Christmas gift, but now it doesn't sound like a good idea. She's tough when it comes to movies (no violence - at all). Bummer. I'll have to think of another one.

And hey - keep reviewing! I really look forward to these!!

Elisabeth said...

Thanks Cuz!

I will try to keep up a bit more. Was having a hard time with it even before I got preggers tho, and now, add the spaciness, and it's going to be hard to focus enough to get back into, but I want to try. I miss it.

As far as the Lake House thing goes... I think some people who like chick flicks for the sake of being chick flicks may still enjoy this movie, so who knows, Aunt Cathy might too. George liked Lake House more than I did. And I didn't HATE it. I just thought it was really lacking way too much for me to say I liked it. You could always watch it yourself and let me know what you think!!! :)


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