Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
December 2008
A note from the author: My apologies for my recent hiatus from "At the Picture Show." It was only temporary, as I was in the middle of a cross-country move and a new job. But the hiatus is over and reviews will be forthcoming on a regular basis from now on. I appreciate all the e-mails from readers wondering about this column's whereabouts, and am happy to be back.

Playing catch-up

It happens every year. A film falls through the cracks and I either miss it, or don't get around to reviewing it. In the spirit of fairness, I offer amends by reviewing them, in capsule form, here. Unfortunately, I was unable to get around to see Saw V, meaning the long tradition of using the same exact headline for each installment of the franchise has come to an end. But I promise, I'll try my best to revisit it next year when Saw VI hits theatres.

Ghost Town
Paramount Pictures
Director: David Koepp
Screenplay: David Koepp and John Kamps
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Aasif Mandvi, Kristen Wiig and Bill Campbell
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 42 minutes
(out of four)

Over the years, I - and many others - have commented a lot about how many movies have great ideas, great premises, but squander them through poor execution or poor intellect. The much less common example is the movie with the not-so-great concept that turns out to be better than expected, or better than it should be.

But Ghost Town is one such movie. The premise - grumpy man gets visited by a ghost, who asks him to stop the impending nuptials of his widow - isn't anything to write home about. It's not a bad premise, it's just an average premise. On paper, it's The Sixth Sense meets every romantic comedy ever made.

But somehow David Koepp and a strong cast pull it off, managing to surprise us both with the direction the story takes and the attention to character - as opposed to stock-character gimmicks - that it pays. The great Ricky Gervais is Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic dentist who briefly dies while on the operating table, and as a result suddenly has the ability to communicate with the dead. All of them need Bertram to help them with something, of course, but the one who gets there first is the charming Frank (Greg Kinnear).

His old flame, Gwen (Tea Leoni) is about to marry the all-too-perfect Richard (Billy Campbell) and Frank is set against the idea, so it's up to Bertram, yada yada yada. The fact is the plot details don't do the film justice. Gervais, in his first lead role in a feature film, is as brilliant as always - and in addition to keeping the film's humor edgy, he flashes more of the subtle dramatic ability he's been able to put to good use in The Office and, in particular, Extras. He proves here he can carry his own movie - and in this case, thanks to Koepp's warm and surprising script, it's a movie worthy of Gervais' talents.

Eagle Eye
DreamWorks Pictures
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: John Glenn, Travis Wright, Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie and Ethan Embry
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 58 minutes
(out of four)

Eagle Eye is one of those empty, effortlessly entertaining crime thrillers that keeps you engaged in the moment but slips immediately from memory afterward.

It's enormously influenced by The Manchurian Candidate and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I'm not sure whether that means it has grand ambitions on that scale. My guess would be it doesn't because it's so obviously concerned with the popcorn elements, but I can't be sure. It certainly does try to have a Message.

We notice the message enough to think to ourselves, "Yeah, I see what you're doing there," but for the most part we can disregard it as the film literally cuts to the chase over and over again.

Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) have both been commissioned by an unknown entity - which communicates only through the voice of a woman, Aria ((Julianne Moore), who spouts specific instructions for Jerry and Rachel to complete to an uncertain end. Why they have both been chosen will be discovered in time.

What Eagle Eye does is demonstrate how our modern machinery and technology can be used to track us and control us - a fair enough point to make, I guess, and one that has been made more effectively many times over. The film does have its share of surprises, including what exactly Aria represents. Eagle Eye is compelling enough even as we see through its holes and correctly predict where it's going, but no doubt this same basic concept will be put to greater use sometime in the near future. Count on it.

Blindness
Miramax Films
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenplay: Don McKellar, based on the novel by Jose Saramago
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Maury Chaykin and Sandra Oh
Rated R / 2 hours
(out of four)

Blindness doesn't seem like a science-fiction thriller or horror movie . . . and in some ways, it isn't. Fernando Meirelles' directorial style is so grounded in a gritty, messy reality that we may not notice just how supernatural the event in question really is.

People suddenly, without clear cause or reason, begin to go blind. In fact, they apparently infect others. The "virus" spreads. People are quarantined, condemned to rot in prison-like hospitals and then ignored, forgotten, left for dead.

Naturally, the film uses this "blindness" as allegory, and one can think of a number of different interpretations of just how "blind" we are as a society to our own reactions, our own world. But its allegorical overtones are a central part of the problem - Blindness is a conceit in search of an answer that it simply never finds.

There are many powerful moments throughout, and Meirelles is able to tell this story through fascinating experiments with exposure, with light and darkness, but ultimately it always feels like he's fumbling around in the dark for a point.

At times, Blindness reminded me of Billy Wilder's great prison-camp epic, Stalag 17. At others, it reminded me of a toned-down Marquis de Sade. The overall effect is that of a sad, post-apocalyptic nightmare, as people - stripped of not only their sight, but of hope and basic means for survival - tear themselves and each other apart. Out of all this wretchedness comes the human spirit, embodied in a specific few who make up the soul of the film.

Meirelles has done better work - particularly 2002's City of God, but at the very least continues to make his work interesting. There are flashes of brilliance in Blindness - the entire opening sequence, for example - but a lot left unsaid as well, as if it were on the tip of the film's tongue.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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