A Review of Frank Darabont’s Adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Mist”

Misanthropes in the Mist, 27 November 2007
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

It’s official: Stephen King and Frank Darabont hate humanity. It’s almost impossible to fathom that these two were responsible for the life-affirming “Shawshank Redemption” when you consider their last two collaborations: the covertly vile and morally misguided “Green Mile” and now this bleak and hazy endeavor. Here they go back to King’s roots in this horror tale of a mysterious mist that falls on a small town and the group of people trapped in a grocery store who must survive the monsters lurking in the fog. Leading the cast are Thomas Jane as the artistic everyman (a stock King character), Laurie Holden as the pretty school teacher, and Nathan Gamble as Jane’s emotionally distraught little boy (another King archetype). Also along for the ride are Toby Jones as a spry and sensible grocery clerk, and Andre Braugher as an irate out-of-town lawyer.

Darabont is a director of considerable skill, and it’s pretty amazing what he is able to do with a small budget in his depiction of some truly horrifying monsters and well orchestrated bouts of gore. He builds suspense, creates likable characters to root for, and crafts a fun, scary ride for the better portion of the film. Like in all the best horror films, the creatures are symbolic for modern society’s ills. Here the filmmakers explore the current “culture of fear” that has been created in the wake of 9/11 by politicians and religious zealots. Like most of King’s works, humans are even scarier than the creatures as seen in the character portrayed in great over-the-top style by Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden. Her fire and brimstone preaching quickly divides those trapped in the grocery store down the lines of those who will be paralyzed by fear and turn to barbaric ways disguised as religion, and those who will do anything to fight for the right to survive. For the first one hour and forty-five minutes, the audience is treated to a well crafted, allegorical little monster flick, a throwback to those great creature features of the 1950’s.

*SPOILER ALERT!!!!! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU PLAN TO SEE THE FILM WITH AN OPEN MIND!!!!!*

With less than ten minutes to the credits rolling, Darabont decides to bash his political message into the back of our skulls with all the subtlety of the blunt side of an ax. “The Mist” is impossible to talk about without talking about the ending. After keeping the nut-jobs at bay and effectively escaping the grocery story, five of the characters travel in relative safety inside a car to see how far the mist has conquered and if anyone else survived. With the mist still all enveloping, the car runs out of gas.

Nothing Thomas Jane’s character says or does (with the exception of promising his young son that he will never let the monsters get him) lead the audience to believe he would do what he does when it seems that all is lost. All throughout the movie he fights and overcomes his fear, yet at the last minute, without even a second-thought, he does the unthinkable with a gun, four bullets, and five people, and is left to wallow in his own misery. His character, and those other people in the car, didn’t deserve that. Had he stayed true to his character, before agreeing to shoot everyone in the car after it ran out of gas lest the monsters savagely eat them, he would’ve stepped out of the vehicle to check things out one last time before giving up. Then he would’ve seen that the mist was now harmless and heard the army trucks coming. Or had the monsters come and eaten him, as they all feared, then there would still be the four bullets for the four left in the car. Instead we have to suffer through this complete betrayal and are left with images of the writer and director shaking their fingers at us, “See, you idiots! This is what could happen if you buy into this culture of fear. You become the monsters!”

Well, I don’t buy it. Next time, boys, don’t try to be so profound and just deliver us a good monster movie. We know you can you do it. You were so close here. You’re really good at writing horror stories, Stephen, and you’re an ace behind the camera, Frank, but sadly through “The Mist” your disdain for mankind shines brighter than your collective talents.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0884328/usercomments-176

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An Ode to Amy Adams

Amy Adams, you first came to my attention as the very talkative, very pregnant North Carolinian in 2005’s Junebug.  It was the type of scene stealing performance in a small indie film that critics gush over, and it rightfully earned you an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress.  While the film was forgettable, you were completely charming and reminded me of so many of those sweet-natured Southern belles I knew while living in North Carolina.  You next caught my eye in Talladega Nights, and your hilariously sincere “You are Ricky Bobby!” pep talk to Will Ferrell was honored in my inaugural Davies Awards in Film for Best Dramatic Reading of Comedic Line.  By this time, Amy, I was smitten.  You might even say that with your red hair, blue eyes, mischievous smile, and natural good looks, I was enchanted.

Now, with your lead role in Disney’s Enchanted you’re receiving the most enthusiastic rally for the old “A Star is Born!” title since Julia Roberts waltzed into our collective hearts in Pretty Woman.  While the film I have not seen is the type of bubble-gum flavored tripe I typically avoid, I couldn’t be happier for you.  Stardom couldn’t happen to a sweeter, more talented gal.   Continue reading

A Review of Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf”

Chasing the Dragon, 18 November 2007
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*The following is a review of the digital 3D version showing at select theaters:

Robert Zemeckis has always been a trailblazer with film technology. He was among the first to utilize CGI in “Death Becomes Her” and with his adaptation of the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language, he perfects the life-like digital computer animation he first experimented with in “The Polar Express”. Like his canon of films over the years, “Beowulf” is an eye-popping mixed bag of cinematic tricks.

The animation has come to a point where it is eerily life-like. In “Beowulf” every blade of grass, every tree branch, and every strand of hair has been painstakingly detailed. And while it is hard to tell the difference between the digital Angelina Jolie and the real Angelina Jolie, there’s still something about the human face, the nuances of the muscular features, the emotion running beneath, that this technology will never capture. It still depicts hollow, cold clones of real human beings that could never fully replace 3D flesh and blood.


What makes “Beowulf” so entertaining is the digital 3D technology. It creates some breathtaking vistas where you feel as if the landscapes are moving through you. In some of the more horrific scenes with Grendel, you’ll find yourself jumping out of your skin. Zemeckis is like a magician with this technology. He’s able to bleed something out of nothing by knowing how to get the reactions he wants from his audience with just the right sound effect, camera angle, and quick-cut to complete his trick. It’s often ugly, but quite breathtaking.

Zemeckis loses some ground when he relies too much on juvenile machismo grandstanding to further character development. Sure, I love a good death by chandelier scene or a man getting ripped in half by a monster bit as much as the next guy, but all the bawdy humor wears thin. Even lamer was the scene where Beowulf fights Grendel in the buff, which contained almost as many laugh inducing sight gags as the scene where Bart skateboarded nude through Springfield in this summer’s “The Simpsons Movie.”

The mixed bag of tricks and sometimes slow build-up, however, eventually lead to a totally thrilling finale where Beowulf does battle with the dragon his misdeeds begot. In 3D, it’s nerve-shattering fun. As an action adventure film, it makes the mark.

Ultimately you realize why this story has survived over 1200 years. “Beowulf” makes legendary the idea of a hero’s fallibility and the global consequences of the sins of the father. These are universal themes that have been sung again and again in everything from Shakespeare to this year’s best film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” While the technology used to make this film may seem dated in a few years, the story will live on, and this just may be the definitive “Beowulf” for high school English teachers to use in their lame attempts to connect with their students. The savvier kids won’t be fooled, but there’s worse ways to pass the time in class.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0442933/usercomments-110

A Review of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men”

Blood, not so Simple, 12 November 2007
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A Vietnam vet (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and casually takes off with two million dollars that a psychopathic bounty hunter (Javier Bardem) will do anything to get back. Meanwhile, a Sheriff nearing retirement (Tommy Lee Jones) strolls behind the mayhem always a few steps behind. Set in Texas in 1980, “No Country for Old Men” is a meticulously crafted misfire from the Coen Brothers and adapted for the screen from the Cormac McCarthy novel.

Roger Deakin’s stark cinematography matches perfectly the brilliant mise-en-scene and signature Coen Brother’s pacing. The audience is also treated to a revolving door of quirky side characters and dark deadpan humor in the dialog that have become the trademarks of a Coen Brothers’ dramatic production. It would seem to be a return to form, but there’s a wandering coldness to the film that leads to grave dissatisfaction.

The most disappointing aspect is that there’s a near perfect forty-five minute “mini film” riddled with white knuckle suspense involving the cat-and-mouse shoot-em-up between Bardem and Brolin that is lost inside yet another dour opus where Tommy Lee Jones plays a grizzled but good-hearted authority figure philosophizing about the sad state of the world for the umpteenth time. While Bardem and Brolin are sensational, Tommy Lee Jones seems to be playing an on-screen persona that has trumped his ability to show any type of range. He’s typecast, and his character is made moot. Meanwhile Bardem gives a career-defining performance as the psychopath working with his own warped sense of morals. In what may prove to be ironic in the future, it’s exactly the type of portrayal that risks making Bardem typecast in the same vein Anthony Hopkins was after his Hannibal Lecter character was born.

The brooding tension built around Bardem’s unforgettable villain and the inevitable showdown with Brolin’s wayward cowboy is completely wasted in anti-climactic fashion with no resolution that leaves the film to meander in philosophies that ultimately signify nothing. Coming off three straight comedies (the last two of which, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers”, were abysmal) the Coen Brothers have clearly lost their footing in trying to get back to their roots. “No Country for Old Men” boasts many of their popular hallmarks and an instantly classic turn from Javier Bardem, but it lacks the moral fiber of “Fargo” and the dramatic climax of “Blood Simple”. Coming home, it seems, isn’t as easy as it looks when the roads are dusty and lead you nowhere.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0477348/usercomments-26

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Check out my review of “Fargo”:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0116282/usercomments-316

A Review of Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

Do you Mind if I Call you Chico?, 5 November 2007
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Two dysfunctional brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) get tired of competing for who is the bigger f***-up and who Daddy (Albert Finney) loves more, so they hatch a hair-brained scheme to rob Mommy and Daddy’s jewelry store so that they can clear their debts and start fresh. Sounds like a great plan except that this is a suspenseful 1970’s style melodrama about a heist gone wrong, and boy, do things really go wrong here for our hapless duo and everyone involved. Lasciviously concocted by screenwriter Kelly Masterson and classically executed by director Sidney Lumet, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” uses the heist as its McGuffin to delve deep into family drama.

Contrary to popular belief, Sidney Lumet is not dead. At age 83, he has apparently made a deal with the Devil to deliver one last great film. Lumet was at his zenith in the 1970’s with films like “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico,” and one of my favorite films of all time, “Network”.  He has somehow managed to make a film that bears all the hallmarks of his classics while intertwining some more modern elements (graphic sexuality, violence, and playing with time-frames and POV’s) into a crackling, vibrant, lean, mean, and provocative melodrama. One can only hope that some of the modern greats (like Scorsese or Spielberg) who emerged during the same decade Lumet was at the top of his game will have this much chutzpah left when they reach that age.

Lumet is a master at directing people walking through spaces to create tension and develop characters. As the cast waltzes through finely appointed Manhattan offices and apartments his slowly moving camera creates a palpable sense of anxiety as we never know who might be around the next corner or what this person might do in the next room. Also amazing is how Lumet utilizes the multiple POV and shifting time-frame approach. The coherent and classical presentation he uses makes the similarly structured films of wunderkinds Christopher Nolan and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu seem like amateur hour.

Of course, what Lumet is best at is directing amazing ensemble casts and tricking them into acting within an inch of their lives. Philip Seymour Hoffman has never been, and most likely never will be, better than he is here. Albert Finney’s quietly searing portrayal of a father betrayed and at the end of his rope is a masterpiece to watch unfold. Ethan Hawke, normally a nondescript pretty boy, is perfect as the emotionally crippled younger brother who has skated by far too long on his charms and looks. The coup-de-grace, however, is the series of scenes between Hoffman and Marisa Tomei, eerily on point as his flighty trophy wife. Lumet runs them through the gamut of emotions that culminate in a scene that is the best of its kind since William Holden taunted Beatrice Straight right into a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in “Network.”

The Devil of any great film is in the details, from Albert Finney’s tap of his car’s trunk that won’t close due to a fender bender, to the look Amy Ryan (fresh off her amazing turn in “Gone Baby Gone”) gives her ex-husband Ethan Hawke at his mawkish promise to his little girl all three of them knows he won’t keep, to the systematic unraveling of a family on the skids, to the dialog begging for cultists to quote it (my favorite line being the hilariously threatening “Do you mind if I call you Chico?”) to the excellent Carter Burwell score. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is the film of the year. If something emerges to best it, then we know a few other deals must’ve been brokered with Old Scratch.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0292963/usercomments-12