Monday, March 31, 2008

Movie Mon. - When a Talking Cow is Your Movie's High Point, There May be a Problem . . .

The Mist: From the writer/director team that brought you The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile comes a move that has nothing to do with prison whatsoever! Perhaps not coincidentally, it also held no hope of winning an Oscar. This time around, Darabont has chosen to adapt a Stepehn King novella about a small Maine town which becomes cloaked in a mysterious mist, which brings a host of strange and deadly creatures with it. The previews seemed to stress either the conflict between the characters trapped in the grocery store, with a few showing snippets of the creatures, but the creatures are prevalent throughout most of the film, as is the carnage they bring. A much, much bleaker look at the human condition than either Shawshank or Green Mile, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending.

Atonement: Well-crafted period piece set in the 1940s about Briony Tallis, an upper-crust British girl whose not-so-innocent lie about a servant's son (James McAvoy) winds up ruining his chance at a normal, happy life, and the lengths she later goes to to atone for his selfish act. Excellent, if mostly bleak, film, with some outstanding performances, especially from the young Saoirse Ronan, whose turn as the young Briony garnered her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. I also have to mention the excellent, Oscar-winning score, which is one of the few times that a movie's score -- in this case, a constant deluge of staccato percussion representing the frantic typing of aspiring writer Briony -- has been such an integral part of the film's tone and mood that I found myself thinking "Dang, the score is awesome." So, yeah, good stuff. Dark and mildly depressing, but good.

Wristcutters: A Love Story:
Oddball comedy about an alternate universe inhabited solely by suicide victims, and the quest of one such victim (Patrick Fugit) to find his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) after he finds out she also offed herself after his demise. There are moments where it's easy to forget that this is a supernatural film, and then you have someone walking around with a hole in their head as a reminder of their shotgun suicide, or someone causing an object to change colors with a touch because in this post-suicide world such minor miracles are common, or the fact that underneath the passenger seat of one car there is a literal hole to another world down which all dropped items never return. A strange film that has some entertaining moments, but which I probably would have enjoyed more if it had spent more time exploring the dynamics of a world populated by suicides outside of "nobody smiles" and "things are even crappier here than back home."

The Kite Runner:
Adaptation of the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini about an Afghan immigrant to America who returns to his childhood home in order to atone for the mistakes of his youth. From what I can recall, this is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel, which I read a little over a year ago; but, while I enjoyed the book a lot, the movie left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, and I'm not sure why. I believe a part of it might be that the book managed to immerse me in a land and culture with which I wasn't previously familiar, whereas the film barely skimmed the surface. I can't point to a single thing in the film that was sub par -- except possibly the kite-fighting scenes, which, to my mind, failed horribly at evoking the proper sense of tension and/or excitement -- so maybe the underwhelmed feeling was just a byproduct of my mood.

Convoluted caper film about a former convict (Jason Statham) whose desire to put the screws to the man apparently responsible for his incarceration (Ray Liotta) gets both sidetracked and strengthened by the interference of two mysterious loan sharks. I have to admit, I feel a bit cheated by this film, if for no other reason than I found out that the version I watched was the highly edited U.S. cut, which excised huge sections of character history and the final confrontation between Statham and Liotta from the original UK cut. From what I've read, I think the UK version would have been a much more satisfying experience.

Ils (Them):
French horror film about a couple who are terrorized in their secluded home by a group of shadowy figures. This is one of those that I rented because of a lot of positive reviews online, and after finishing it could only think "What was all the fuss about?" It may just have been a product of me watching this during the day, with the curtains open enough for sunlight to be streaming in, banishing any gloom, but yeah, not a single moment of true tension or suspense in this one for me. Well, except for the scene where the girl puts her eye to the hole in the door, and you just know something's going to happen to her . . . still, one moment in a feature-length film does not an enjoyable horror film make.

Mildly predictable, cliche-ridden, yet somehow still enjoyable horror flick about a group of American tourists in Ireland who start tripping on shrooms, only to find their planned psychedelic weekend derailed by a psychotic killer. You know, it's really an ingenious idea, having a slasher stalk a group of drugged-out kids, since it means that any time the kids do one of the stereotypical "Don't do that, who in their right mind would do that?!?!?!" moves so prevalent in horror flicks, there's a built in reason for their brainless behavior: they're stoned out of their gourds! Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but likable performances from the cast and some ambiguity about the nature of the threat throughout the bulk of the film -- not to mention the wonderful talking cow sequence -- kept me entertained, even if I didn't care for the ending all that much.