Saturday, March 28, 2009

Moviegoer's Journal - Part 4: Race to Witch Mountain, The Haunting in Connecticut, Monsters vs. Aliens, and More.

Mostly dominated by the multiplex at the mall, Cape Cod has limited offerings when it comes to indie and foreign films. There's a rundown five-screen cinema in North Falmouth - I call it the Old Moldy - but it's still showing most of the recent Oscar nominees for Best Picture. That's old. Then there's the 1930s single-screen theater in Dennis called the Cape Cinema that looks like a cross between a barn and a Congregational Church. Though you have to sit on old armchairs covered with wrinkled linen doilies, it is my chief source for cinema of the other kind. It gets the films weeks after they have been released, but its cinephile proprietor should be commended for his undying devotion to bringing quality cinema to the Cape. Nevertheless, my choices have been limited in the past month.

7. Watchmen (3/6)

8. Race to Witch Mountain (3/15)

In Race to Witch Mountain two teen-aged aliens crash land on Earth and take the guises of two blond-haired American teens (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) so they can retrieve data that will save their planet from environmental collapse – and our planet from invasion by their military (who would prefer taking over Earth). Helped by ex-getaway driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) and an alien-believing physicist (Carla Gugino), the teens engage in a constant battle to stay ahead of a Terminator-like cyborg alien and persistent Feds in black SUVs and dark sunglasses, led by a very anal agent named Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds – delivering a totally wooden performance) whose job it is to keep the truth about aliens from the public – I guess because revealing the truth would be admitting they had been wrong, or maybe because they don’t want to make UFO geeks happy.

This derivative, silly film is a steady stream of car chases, explosions, and shootouts instigated by the Feds, as well as chases, explosions, and shootouts instigated by the Terminator-like dude – but it delivers one fun image – when one of the SUVs crashes into alien teen Seth (who has the power to alter his density), and pieces of it fly slow-mo into the air. I believe the preview for X-Men Origins: Wolverine promises the same CGI “stunt,” but we saw it first in Race to Witch Mountain.

I saw this with Jane, and I don’t think she was very impressed: too much noise and action and no heart – and, she said, “Dwayne Johnson was much better in The Game Plan. Indeed, Johnson’s performance was painfully bad.

9. Knowing (3/20, 3/22, and 4/11)

SPOILER - unless you've seen the preview. The image below is from the plane crash sequence, and it proves one of the film's numerous logical errors that have been the topic of much enjoyable quibbling in the comments section of my post above. If you've seen the film, this image proves that the cop is looking in the wrong direction when the plane descends.

Now look at the preview.

Very interesting.

10. The Haunting in Connecticut (3/27)

The image to the left appears on the poster for The Haunting in Connecticut. What the hell is curling out of that boy’s mouth? I had to find out. I guess the poster did its advertising job on me because I went to see the film. I found out what’s coming out of the boy’s mouth, and although that’s only a minor element in the story, I didn’t regret seeing the movie; I only regretted seeing it on a Friday night in a theater whose entire front section was packed with middle-school-aged teens whose mouths and cell phones never closed.

Based, supposedly, on a true story about a house that used to be a funeral home, the film is carried along by talented performances by Virginia Madsen, playing a devoted mother determined to keep her cancer-stricken son alive; Kyle Gallner, who succeeds both at realistically portraying the agony of cancer and the terrors he undergoes in his demon-plagued home; and Elias Koteas, ever subdued in his vocal utterances, who plays a dying reverend who tries to exorcise the possessed house in Connecticut.

Unfortunately, the film focuses more on cheap frights – the weakest involving the young mother’s helper who should know better than to take a shower right after what seems to be a successful exorcism. And, too, the family owns a car, for God’s sake, so why don’t they get in it and get the hell out of there?

The film’s most intriguing, atmospheric scenes come in the brief, muddled flashbacks that tell the backstory covering a séance, the image above, and horrid rituals performed by a psycho mortician on cadavers stolen from a cemetery. But I wanted to know more about this boy, the stuff coming out of his mouth, and exactly what happens in that creepy embalming room.

The CGI rendering of that velvety helix curling from the boy’s mouth and the central performances are the film’s strengths. Of the three performances, given the thin story and its standard spooky-house elements, Madsen’s memorable portrayal of a mother’s dogged, loving care for a child dying of cancer is well worth the price of admission – but is it worth the price of admission to a theater plagued by American teen-aged demons? Depends on your mood – though you might feel like the boy on the poster.

11. Monsters vs. Aliens (3/29) is a tiresome movie filled with tired puns, tired allusions to classic 50s science-fiction films, and tired action cut right out of the we’ve-seen-this-before mold. It also includes a shot of a hairy butt and a reference to someone soiling his pants – the type of crude humor that seemed to be on the decline in animated films but tries to make a comeback here. Seth Rogen supplies mild humor as he voices Bob the Blob, one of the five misfit monsters – along with Ginormica (the Incredible 40-foot Woman, less one inch, voiced by Reese Witherspoon), Dr. Cockroach, the Missing Link, and Insectosaurus - whose job it is to stop an alien invasion.

Personally, I don’t find Dreamworks’ renderings of human figures aesthetically pleasing. They look very much like cheap plastic dolls, with thin plastic necks, plastic hair, and huge eyes. Thus, Ginormica is a gigantic rendering of a big-eyed plastic doll.

As for the action, as I said, it’s mostly tired and includes the requisite shooting, explosions, and chases one expects from a science-fiction movie – or parody of a science-fiction movie – though I appreciated the meticulous CGI depiction of the San Francisco area – including the precise depiction of a rather non-picturesque stretch of Highway 101 along the bay with Candlestick Park in the distance that I have driven many times. (Image to the left shows 101 looking south; look north and you'd see Candlestick Park.) The destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge by a gigantic alien robot is the film’s most impressive bit of animation.

Without offering any intimation of my opinion, I asked viewing partner Jane whether or not she liked it. “No,” she said. “It was stupid.” Ah, great minds think alike.

No comments: