Sunday, November 06, 2005

And in theaters...

The Bissettian computer work area/studio/library room is now completely sheetrocked and painting begins tomorrow; the outdoors work in and about the house was completed yesterday (including the creation of a rock-tiered area in Marj's garden and burial of Sugar with the ashes of her feline compadres PT and Shadow); and I'm back to work on two writing gigs I tabled for a time as weekly CCS prep and other commitments asserted themselves.

Still, I've stolen a couple hours here and there to see movies on the big screen, and here's the rundown, for what it's worth. As my stepson Mike's pal Chad puts it regarding food, "I'm an Opportunivore," and that goes triple for me and movies. Missed Serenity, though, which I did want to catch, and Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Mirrormask is nowhere in driving distance:

THE CORPSE BRIDE: It was intoxicating to see, in the same week, two stop-motion animation feature films on the big screen (the other was Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, natch). I wish I could have contrived to see them back-to-back, as a double-feature. This latest Tim Burton confection was a sweet slice of Gothic cake, effectively and efficiently telling the tale of a timid groom's (Johnny Depp) ordeal with a family-arranged marriage tipping inadvertantly into an impromptu wedding to a dead woman (Helena Bonham Carter), opening the door for him into the realm of the dearly-departed (a favorite theme of Burton's since Beetlejuice and arguably Vincent and Frankenweenie). The ensuing melodramatics are executed with high humor and marvelous visuals, graced with sterling vocal performances and some stunning atmospherics and set pieces, and in its way this was far more accessible on first viewing that Nightmare Before Christmas was. The faux-Peter Lorre voiced maggot provided the most vivid link to the old Rankin-Bass stop-motion chestnuts (recalling most of all Mad Monster Party, with its faux-Lorre character), but those creakers never had the vast resources of budget, time, or talents that Burton's stop-motion productions enjoy. This was quickly eclipsed at the box-office by the subsequent release of Aardman's more populist and popular canine & master duo, which is too bad: Corpse Bride didn't even limp into the Halloween season hereabouts, when it would have been a pleasure to revisit it.

DOMINO: Tony Scott's latest, based on Richard Kelly's adaptation of a 'true story' (the genuine Domino Harvey pops up before the final credits; alas, in real life, she was dead by the time the film was released) about a contemporary female bounty hunter (played with mucho attitude by Keira Knightley) and her meteoric rise and fall, brought to the screen with Scott's typical lavish overdrive. As many have noted, Scott completely adopts the textures, tone-shifts and kinetics of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers; what they don't say is this is also damned close in tenor, tone and nihilistic alchemy to Rob Zombie's uneasy summer opus The Devil's Rejects. However, Domino and her cronies shower a tad more often and have better teeth, but they're just as lethal, sociopathic, and ultimately remote emotionally, as is the film. Still, fun to see Knightley and Lucy Liu spar a bit, more fun to see Mickey Rourke again (though this isn't a star turn as in Sin City) and Christopher Walken lending his always bemusing reptilian opacity to a network exec, and one of the reasons I always try to catch Tony Scott's work in theaters is win, lose, or draw, damn it, you always come out knowing you saw a fucking movie. It's always a cinematic experience, however shallow the well. While Domino's celebrity mum has a fleeting onscreen life here as a character (played by Jacqueline Bisset), the canny use of images/sequences from her dad Laurence Harvey in the original The Manchurian Candidate is compelling -- alas, it would have been far more appropo to the emotional landscape to include clips of Harvey's desperate, impoverished final role and directorial debut, Welcome to Arrow Beach aka Tender Flesh, which anticipates the despairing narrative, landscapes, and threnody Domino really is.

DOOM: I went with zero expectations (which is how I try to approach every film I see), and was rewarded with something more entertaining than I had any reason to hope for. It's light years away from the nadir of both House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, the turds of the video-game movie sweepstakes, and for 90 minutes, that was a blessing. Still, it's a video-game movie stripped to the bone: its virtue and vacuum. The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) is, well, the Rock, embodiment of the steadfast lethal efficiency of this particular vehicle, though the supporting cast (led by Karl Urban and Raz Adoti) is better than he is throughout. Rosamund Pike is distinctively out of place (as female characters almost always are in these machofests) but holds her own despite her thankless role. 'BFG' does not mean 'Big Friendly Giant' in this universe, which is one we've all grown up with. Ever since Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby invented the claustrophobic sf/military horror/sf subgenre with The Thing (from Another World) (1951), it's been a distinctively American breed. James Cameron amped the archetype into overdrive and its definitive contemporary mode with Aliens, the very permutation the video game Doom adopted into its distinct medium; Doom the movie brings that all full-circle, jettisoning some key aspects of the game's narrative (such as it is) but lapsing in its final setpiece into an obligatory literalist cinematic adoption of the game's first-person shooting-gallery POV -- yawn. Until then, director Andrzej Bartkowiak pulled it off as well as anyone would or could.

THE FOG: I'm no fan of director Rupert Wainwright's inverted Exorcist opus Stigmata, and once again the studio remake cycle lavishing $ and gloss on revamps of 1970s and '80s low-budget gems adds up to "more is less," emphasizing how back in 1980 top-of-his-game John Carpenter was hands-down the better filmmaker (working with a fraction of the means lavished on this remake). This shambling, staccato remake of Carpenter's modest gem of a ghost movie doesn't cut it, hampered by a rather misbegotten Cooper Layne script that tosses the rotting little baby out with the fetid bathwater once too often. Alas, this lurches to-and-from revisionist versions of a few of the original's key setpieces without ever finding its own sealegs or satisfactorily emulating or resurrecting the first film's narrative logic, arriving at a clever final twist that falls flat because (a) there isn't the narrative thrust to lend it gravity and (b) star Maggie Grace (of Lost) is such a cipher in her role. She barely changes expression, whether she's looking into Tom Welling's frat-boy eyes or staring death in the face. But it's the failures of Layne's adaptation that did this in for me. For instance: we once again have the lighthouse radio station and female DJ protagonist deftly established in the opening moments, but the events never arrive at or envelope either. The lighthouse setting is essentially shrugged off, the DJ discarded as a key character with maladroit recklessness, and nothing supplants either, thus derailing the adaptation in ways that undermine the entire venture. The fog itself is never the malignant presence it was in the original, nor are its ectoplasmic occupants, and nothing flows -- there's no cohesive sense of place or geography, and hence no suspense. Like the fog herein (how did they shortchange the fog as an effect, having CGI at their fingertips?), the film moves in fits and spasms, spinning wheels sans momentum. While individual characters and sequences occasionally work, the whole never coheres into its own identity, much less a dim shadow of the original. Too bad. Did I mention Maggie Grace delivers the lamest performance in recent memory in any film? Oh, I did? Sorry. The only welcome ghost here is the screencredit for the late Debra Hill.

More tomorrow!