Saturday, June 10, 2017

Three Films Make A Post: Its victims become maniacal night creatures

The Shipping News (2001): Swedish director Lasse Hallström aims for some sort of North American magic realism with elements of the (Northern?) Gothic here. At times, the result is compelling with scenes that suggest an element of near-cosmic/spiritual awe surrounding life on Newfoundland, making the more melodramatic turns of the plot feel fitting; at other times, he lays the BIG EMOTIONS on so thick they begin to feel more silly and contrived than the fated he is probably aiming at until even some of the expertly (perhaps too expertly) added lighter moments can’t always distract from the artificiality of plot, place and characters.

Always, though, the actors – which isn’t exactly a surprise with Julianne Moore, Kevin Spacey and Judi Dench only being the tip of the iceberg of talent - are doing a great job with whatever the script gods throw at them.

Cooties (2014): Summer school teachers led by Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson and Alison Pill have to fight off the attack of zombie-fied (well, virus infected) elementary school kids. Hilarity and/or brutal violence ensues. Well, sometimes, for about half of the jokes in this one are actually funny while the other half falls a bit flat thanks to the script’s complete lack of originality. The same thing also hampers interest for the characters, though there is one surprise that changes up at least one of the rules of how characters in this sort of movie live and die a bit.

Some of the suspense scenes are rather on the effective side – original or not. Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion tend to play most of these scenes straight, which works out well for the film. Despite its imperfections, this is a likeable little movie, not the sort of thing that’ll shift any paradigms but certainly worth a watch.

Into the Night (1985): Ed (Jeff Goldblum) suffers from insomnia, learns that his wife is cheating on him and is bored to death by his job. How lucky for him that he lives in a John Landis movie, so he meets professional mistress Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) and gets dragged into a comedy thriller plot that involves killings nobody in the film seems to feel much about, a bizarre rogues gallery of character actors, directors and even David Bowie, and an improbable romance. It all adds up to a skewed and loving portray of Los Angeles by night (like in the old chestnut with “the city is a main character”, but true), with quite a few clever thriller bits, many more funny jokes than unfunny, and a series of encounters with all sorts of strange people, neither starting nor ending with Diana’s Elvis impersonating brother. Actually, there’s also a thematic throughline concerning trust and self-knowledge that is more complex than the film’s general pace and grinning even in the face of murder suggest, which only helps turn a film that is already a joy to watch that decisive bit better. Well, the film’s ending is a bit rough and awkward but I’ve come to expect endings that don’t quite come together from everything Landis puts out.

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