#66 - Bang Your Head
1955 - 2007
Wow, I suck! Sorry for the paucity of updates to Ye Olde Electric Theatre of late. I have been working on a number of other things and as a result, my attendance grade at the Cineplex has dropped from Exemplary to Unacceptable. So to those of you who haven’t been able to function without knowing what I think of Beowulf or Enchanted, my sincerest apologies. For the record, I still haven’t seen either one but think Beowulf looks technically interesting but pretty dumb and Enchanted looks kind of cute.
But anyway, I don’t want you to think that Dr. Jahnke has completely abandoned the Electric Theatre, so how about a couple of relatively in-depth reviews of the two movies I did see over the Thanksgiving holiday? Will that make it up to you? No? Please? I’ll be your best friend! Honest! Ah, the hell with it. Here’s the reviews.
NOW IN THEATRES
Frank Darabont has deservedly earned a reputation as one of the premier cinematic interpreters of Stephen King material. Incredibly, he has done this without directing a single horror movie. Until now. Based on King’s novella, The Mist is a creepily effective tale, both on paper and on screen, about a handful of residents of Castle Rock (the most besieged little town in all of New England) who find themselves trapped in a supermarket after a thick mist rolls into town. The mist conceals some…things, Lovecraftian monsters from another dimension, who mean almost certain death for anyone foolhardy enough to venture into the fog. But the creatures aren’t the only things to fear. Faced with the creeping unknown, it takes almost no time for our band of shoppers to go all Lord of the Flies, turning on each other and giving in to their worst, most craven instincts.
For at least its first half, Darabont’s Mist is an entertaining, scary thrill ride and not much more. It reaches for more ambitious heights with unexpected conversations about religion, politics, and the dread of not knowing what’s coming. These are generally well done but that’s mostly thanks to the performances of Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones and the rest of the terrific cast. The dialogue itself, whether it’s from King’s pen or interpreted through Darabont’s filter, is a bit too arch and obvious. Still, Darabont directs the proceedings well enough that even overdramatic scenes like the group’s decision to offer a human sacrifice to the creatures in the mist are tense and effective.
But in the final act, an unexpected thing happens. Darabont nails the existential horror he’s been aiming for the entire time and crafts a final fifteen minutes that elevates the entire movie. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I’ve seen a mainstream genre picture end on such a note of despair. It’s this entire sequence that made me wish the entire film had been at that level. There is a genuinely great, original film lurking in The Mist and if only the entire movie had been handled with this degree of subtlety and artistry, it could have been a classic. As it is, it’s never less than entertaining but ultimately frustrating. On a technical level, this is a great movie. Darabont is a skilled director and the visual effects are convincing and often chilling. But Darabont the screenwriter needs to take more liberties with his source material. I’m a fan of Stephen King’s work but subtlety ain’t one of his virtues. The best films based on his material take what works (and admittedly, there’s a lot that works beautifully) and massage the more histrionic passages into a dull roar. The Mist is almost one of those Stephen King movies that one-ups its source. The fact that it doesn’t quite doesn’t make it a bad movie. Just a missed opportunity that still manages to entertain. (* * *)
NOW ON DVD
I am not the biggest aficionado of Japanese anime on planet Earth but there are two filmmakers working in the field whose movies I make an effort to check out. One is Hayao Miyazaki, director of Spirited Away amongst others. The other is Satoshi Kon. His film Perfect Blue is one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen and Tokyo Godfathers is also quite extraordinary. Paprika, his latest effort, is as breathtakingly gorgeous a movie as I’ve ever seen. That said, for virtually its entire running time I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Frankly, I’m still not sure.
As near as I can figure it, the story goes something like this. Some scientists have invented a device called the DC-Mini that allows its user to record dreams for later analysis. Paprika is a girl that appears in dreams being monitored by the DC-Mini as a kind of guide. So. The bad guys have figured out how to upload other people’s recorded dreams into new minds, which tends to drive people crazy and trap them in that dream state. Whether they’re doing this to prove a point or take over the world or just stop the DC-Mini from being used, I couldn’t say. Eventually the line between the real world and the dream world is completely obliterated and exactly what’s going on in the last 20 minutes or so, I couldn’t tell you.
Even so, Paprika is one of the most enjoyable times you’ll have being completely baffled by a movie. Imagine David Lynch directing anime and you’ll have a vague idea what to expect from this. Eventually, I gave up trying to figure out what this all meant and just lost myself in the imagery. And the images on screen are truly dazzling, utterly bizarre, and impossibly bright and colorful. If you’ve got one of them there fancy Blu-Ray players, this is a great movie to watch in high definition. At the end of the day, Paprika is probably an unsolvable puzzle of a movie. If you try to crack it on first viewing, you’re going to be stymied and will probably have a miserable time. But if it stays with you, as it has with me, you’ll be able to figure it all out later. On first viewing, just let it wash over you and lose yourself to Satoshi Kon’s remarkable vision. He’s doing something with animation that very few filmmakers have even attempted. Paprika may be his most challenging film to date but even if you ultimately decide that it’s not a challenge worth accepting, its virtues shine through. (* * *)