Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Mist (Review)

Frank Darabont, writer/director of two of the best and most successful Stephen King adaptations ever has teamed up with the man from Maine a for a fourth time to adapt his novella The Mist for the big screen…he should’ve stopped at 3.

Actually the film, for all but the final reel, is a capable if hackneyed creep fest with several solid scare moments. Every character is set up in seconds…they are stock and thus don’t need any fleshing out. There is the manly hero with a heart & his very unmanly child, the antagonistic neighbor/judge up from NYC for the weekend, the town crazy woman, the local yokels of limited intelligence, the new woman in town, the take-no-shit grandma, the marines, the young kid with bravado, the girl next door, the store manager with authority and the local clerk with some very helpful skills in his past and you’ve seen them all before. This being a movie about supersized bugs… you shouldn’t really expect much more and they all, to a one, make dumb decision after dumb decision in the way that makes you want to call back at the screen (and many did…it was a good audience) as if they could hear you. The film tries to touch on social issues and psychology with these characters but its so hyperbolic that that it can't come up with anything of use to say.

So the mist comes in and everyone is trapped in a grocery store. One woman has to leave to get to her kids and she goes into the mist and we hear screams. After a scene in the loading doc where we first glimpse the creatures and someone dies they realize their predicament and the cliques form. The film then becomes a battle between the crazy woman (Marcia Gay-Harden) who proclaims herself a prophet and reads fitting lines from revelations, the judge (Andre Braugher) and his hatred for the townies and the hero (Thomas Jane) and the sane people who are trying to find a solution.

There is one perfectly unnerving scene during their first night when the giant flying bugs come and start to land of the store’s plate glass window that is the highlight of the film but once the window breaks the succession of genre clich├ęs becomes unbearable. After this, Harden’s overbearing preaching holds sway for much of the film and naturally the simpleminded folk join her fold leading to more death and showing us how terrible people can be without the restrictions of society. Finally, after a large confromtation, Jane escapes with his son and a handful of others, hops in his 70’s era Land Rover with 15 or so lights (looks really cool in the mist) and exits the parking lot while the lights wash over the faces.

If only the film had ended here. Instead we get this montage with an oppressive new age chant played at ridiculous levels and an ending that while screaming pathos rings cynical and hollow. This desperate attempt to rip your emotional core is just pathetic given the film that came before it and it is a total disconnect with the goofy interdimensional invasion plot. Why this grand attempt is here I have no idea – it was not in the novella from what I’ve read and feels like Darabont was just tired of people criticizing his tendency toward sap that he felt he would go completely in the other direction – neither work. Oh, and on top of this the woman who walked out is alive and well despite the earlier implication making the whole brutal stand in the store a useless exercise. This was one time when an ambiguous ending would’ve been perfect but instead it makes you realize that you will never get that 127 minutes back.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Control (Review)

If its fall it must be biopic time!

At least the arc of this one is different than most. Control is based on a book written by the wife of Ian Curtis and details his life and their relationship from 73 to 80.

The story of the band and the times in which they lived is part of the mythical annals of rock by now. The band was formed after the legendary Sex Pistol's show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in '76 and went on to sign with Tony Wilson's Factory Records and became the kings of Manchester. Two years later their debut album was released and two later again the band was done and Curtis dead by his own hand.

Much of this was already committed to film in 24 Hour Party People, an outstanding piece, but the tones of the two couldn't be more different.

The film is the first feature from Anton Corbijn, iconic photographer (U2, Depeche Mode) and music video director ("Heart shaped Box," "One - European Version") who has first hand knowledge of the people, scene and music in the film. The picture of Curtis portrayed in the film is much different than that in 24 HPP. He is a romantic poet who marries at 18, works contentedly for the British employment service whist not with the band and until his first grand mal seizure is a fairly upbeat person. Once he begins having fits though things turn south. His wife becomes pregnant and they grow distant while his is on the road where he meets another woman. He is also placed on a potent cocktail of medication in a (failing) effort to stave off the fits. Finally when faced with divorce and shame over his condition he hangs himself in his kitchen.

As one would expect from Corbijn, the film is in high contrast black and white and the composition of every shot is beautiful. What I didn’t expect (though perhaps should of) were the vast amounts of dry British sarcasm and dark humor that make up most of the film. The only time queues are at the beginning and end of the film but for the most part Corbijn keeps the pace strong and steady until the last act where we see Curtis falling apart. And as Curtis, Sam Riley (who also had a part in 24HPP) is stunning. He’s cool and tortured all at the same time and knocks out the vocals with eerie likeness.

Of course, the music (iTunes) though is the real highlight. JD’s tracks sound great and they are all performed by the actors themselves. Bowie, Iggy Pop, Sex Pistols, Velvet Underground, Buzzcocks, Roxy Muxic & John Cooper Clarke all make appearances and New Order (the 3 remaining members of JD) provides original scoring pieces as well.

A tragic story but a great film.



Check out the cast doing "Transmission" live from the soundtrack. (MP3)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

No Country for Old Men (Review)

Everyone has said it but...The Coens are back.

After two attempts to the mainstream the Coen brothers go back to their roots and ironically will likely get the BO success they so desired. But don't expect to be blown away by this film. It's been hyped way to much for that. This is a solid cat & mouse, western set in 1980 but it lacks the jaw-dropping moments of flash shown some of their earlier work. The Coen signatures are present again including a blacker than pitch vilian stunningly pulled off by Javier Bardem. He is after Josh Brolin who has stumbled upon a satchel of cash lost in a literal mexican stand-off. Brolin is also in top form as is the old cop on the case played by Tommy Lee. Aside from a fairly tired turn from Woody Harrelson the acting is top notch.

Of course much of that is due to the lines the are given. The script is vintage Coens. Though I don't know how much was in the source material, the dialogue is like west Texas's wet dream of it's quirky self... and the black humor that comes from much of it is priceless. Of course there is that ending, or lack there of. Much will be made of this - indeed the screening was closed with quite a few whiskey, tango, foxtrots - but I found it satisfying in a way that the sentimentality of 3:10 to Yuma was not.

Like Fargo reinvents the Noir (Film Blanc anyone?) this film takes a western and dresses it up in 80's K-Mart threads and Ford Broncos and it works just fine. They make the case that the west of the 1980 was bloodier and more frightening than that which had come before... echoing the times that we live in, especially here in Philly.


The Electric Soft Parade - Appropriate Ending

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

No Country for Old Men - Free Advanced Screening


11/7/07 in Philly. Click for details.