Saturday, September 19, 2009

Two To Forget - Whiteout and Jennifer’s Body

Well, here are two to forget. Spoilers here – because these films have already been spoiled.

In Whiteout Kate Beckinsale stars as Carrie Stetko, a Federal marshal investigating a murder in an Antarctic research station threatened by an approaching whiteout blizzard and six months of darkness. The story starts out promisingly in 1957 with the crash of a Russian cargo plane carrying a coveted box full of diamonds. But this standard investigation/mystery peters out in the end, and the raw whiteout conditions and threatening darkness are only slimly used to build suspense even though the film takes some time to show us a number of splendidly framed widescreen shots of awesome expanses of ice and snow.

Worst writing: When Dr. John Fury, played by a withered Tom Skerritt, explains that he went after the diamonds because he had grown tired of his mediocre pay and being ignored in the hierarchy of assignment locations, we are witness to an example of the laziest kind of screenwriting in screenwriting history – the old I-can’t-live-on-my-pension bit.

Most enjoyable but most needless scene: When we first meet Kate’s character, she has returned to the research base from doing something on the ice. She goes to her apartment and takes off her coat. We see her bulletproof vest and her badge and we knows she’s a Federal marshal. Okay. Enough shown. Then she takes off her vest and her undershirt. Lingering shot on her shapely body in bra and panties. She strolls around the apartment. She turns the shower on. She takes off her bra and panties. She gets in the shower. Lingering shot of her naked in the steam. Is this showing the contrast between how cold she felt outside and how warm she feels now? I think not. We never saw her outside, and when she comes in, she looks warm and cozy enough – not even a frosty eyebrow. Oh, I know why this scene is in the movie!

Meanwhile, Jennifer’s Body is a shoddily made, laughably poor movie that looks like it's going to be a sardonic examination of how a high school sex bomb traps lusting jocks and eats them (not in the sexual sense) but turns into a skimpy occult shocker, when Jennifer (Megan Fox) is turned into a human flesh-eating ghoul after a sacrificial death ceremony is botched by punk rock band members lusting for fame. What ensues doesn’t even amount to standard chills and gore; what follows is a poorly directed tale of retribution.

Megan Fox as Jennifer is miscast simply because she can’t act. Amanda Seyfried fares better. She plays “Needy,” Jennifer’s supposedly less attractive (dorky glasses can’t hide those beautiful eyes from me) and less socially adroit (she has a steady boyfriend) buddy since childhood who endeavors to stop Jennifer from being such a ghoul. Sadly, the film attains its best drama in its anti-climax depicted during the closing credits by means of some artfully staged still shots showing how Needy exacts payback on the members of the rock band.

Worst editing: Jennifer and Needy are in a bar watching a punk rock band perform. Cut to flames starting up from a power cord. Cut to audience members oblivious to the starting fire. Cut to the growing flames. Cut to audience members, including Jennifer and Needy, totally not seeing the fire starting. Cut to the fire licking up the cords. Cut to the oblivious audience again! In fact, the people in the bar don't see the fire until a flaming banner lands in the middle of a table between two drinkers.

Worst direction and writing (that would be Diablo Cody's department): What follows is a fire that looks like it’s supposed to be serious and a big tragedy: bodies burst into flame and run into the parking lot. But Jennifer and Needy don’t seem to be affected. Jennifer is laughing. I almost expected the fire scene to cut back to the bar – and all this was just in someone’s mind. But it’s a real fire and you don’t know whether to laugh or take it seriously. What’s the point here? How are we supposed to take this fire?

In an example of incomprehensible direction and bad writing, Jennifer prepares to eviscerate and gnaw on her first victim, a hapless beefed-up football player who can’t believe Jennifer has revealed her breasts to him, and they’re in the woods, and they get surrounded by bunnies and raccoons and deer and foxes. It’s so weird that we don’t know whether or not it’s supposed to be funny, especially since it would have been more appropriate for Jennifer the ghoul to be scaring all the animals away.

Throw in J. K. Simmons as a science teacher with a hook in place of an amputated hand who seems to be on the verge of guffaws when he delivers his speech about the horrible loss of the students in the fire, and you have a film so poorly directed you don’t know how to react to it. The campy Ravenous (1999) is much better than this trash.


Ed Howard said...

Whiteout sounds atrocious and pointless. FYI, it's based on a quite good graphic novel written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Steve Lieber. And its main appeal was its formalist, precise use of white in the art, so it's disheartening, to say the least, to hear that in the film, "the raw whiteout conditions and threatening darkness are only slimly used to build suspense." I really wonder why people bother adapting comics into movies if they're going to ignore the visual qualities that made the comic interesting in the first place. Whiteout the comic is a standard mystery story anchored by striking visuals; why adapt the story and discard the visuals?

I must admit, I'm curious about Jennifer's Body. Nobody seems to think it's a "good" movie, exactly, but even the super-negative reviews make it sound fascinatingly strange.

Hokahey said...

Ed - Thanks for the thoughts. I knew about the graphic comic basis of Whiteout and your observation is interesting - because the film is at its best when it's visual and outdoors - but it sinks too much into standard interiors and dialogue. I wanted a visual, physical experience, but the film does not deliver that.

Try FilmDr.'s post for some interesting analysis of Jennifer's Body. I almost walked out of this movie, but I was fascinated ... by something. One of the most interesting aspects is something that FilmDr. points out - Diablo Cody's use of Junoesque, cool teen language during some tense situations. Also, I was fascinated if not flabbergasted by what seemed to be some really poor direction and editing. Strangely, too, after the big climax, the film gets slick, well-cut, and well-directed as it lays out a secondary climax to the story. And, most fascinating since it is most inexplicable, is the furry friends of the forest scene that I describe here.

FilmDr said...

Nice post. I won't see Whiteout in part due to your review, but I still stubbornly think there's something to Jennifer's Body, in part because it is so different, with various inversions of the usual horror formulae, and it part because my estimation of Juno has grown over time. I agree that Jennifer's Body is clumsily directed. Your point about the fire scene is well-taken. Also, other horror films like The Hunger are much more coherent and artfully done, but I still like A. O. Scott's take on Jennifer's Body. It remains a thought-provoking unholy mess, but I look forward to moving on to Surrogates next week.

FilmDr said...

Also, thanks for the link!

Hokahey said...

Yeah, I think I'll move on to Surrogates. The posts on Jennifer's Body at least got me thinking about a movie I was ready to dismiss from my mind. I find the character of Needy compelling - and I love her transformation at the end. Message! But, as a whole, the film doesn't hold together for me.

As for the link, you are most welcome. I like your thoughtful comments on films - listed as numbered points - and I always love your pairings of images: the Big Face from Basterds with Oz - and how timely, it being the 70th anniversay of that classic. One of my favorite years in film history was 70 years ago! Wow!