Monday, March 31, 2008

DVD Review: The Mist - 5/10

I'm not really sure I should be calling this a review, as it's really more of a rant. However, a "rant" for The Mist will not attract search engines, and I would like to warn as many people as I can that no matter how happy you are when you start watching it, by the time you're done, you'll wish you'd rented something really cheery, like Pink Floyd: the Wall or 8mm.

Before I move on, I have to say that I love the movie. I read the novella when I was in my teens, then again in my twenties. I have a great appreciation for the Lovecraftian monstrosities, which are realized in the film to superb effect. I like being scared. I like monster movies. And I loved The Mist. I just hated the ending.

Hated it. Loathed it. There isn't a word in English for the contempt I feel for it.

It's different from the book. But that isn't what bothers me. I can deal with adaptation. I forgave the changes made to I Am Legend because they worked for the film in a way a literal adaptation of Matheson's novel might not have. It bothers me, because it's utterly hopeless. In fact, the last chapter on the DVD before the credits is aptly named "Hopelessness." (I'd footnote this point if I could, but the blog won't let me, so I'll settle for a bracket. The hopeless ending isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've seen films where it worked. The reason it doesn't work with The Mist is that there's no way in hell the main character played by Thomas Jane would have made the choice he did. He retains hope throughout the film, even when others lose it. So for him to lose hope right before his hope would be rewarded was like a kick in the nuts. It was cheap, and unoriginal. I said it about Silent Hill, and it still holds true. There's nothing original about bleak endings anymore, especially in horror films. Wanna be really original and subversive? Find a way for a happy ending to work in a horror movie. Another recent Stephen King adaptation, 1408 did. And, interestingly, so did John Carpenter when he made The Fog). I wish I'd known how crappy I'd feel after watching it. Which is why I'm warning you all.

It made me want to walk into the Blockbuster I rented it from and say, "This DVD doesn't work for me."

Of course they'd reply, "Well, we'll rent you another copy."

"I'm pretty sure that one won't work for me either," I'd say.

"How do you know? Did it skip?"

"Actually, if it had skipped, at say, 1:46:43, that would have been awesome."

"Well, we can rent you another copy."

"Does it have a different ending?"

Now I know, someone is out there saying, "You can't give a movie a bad rating just because you didn't like the ending!" And that's where you'd be wrong.

Watching a movie where the ending is utterly hopeless is a lot like going for a fantastically sumptuous meal, where the appetizer does what it should; it's not too large a portion, and it whets your appetite for the main course. The main course comes, and it's just as good as you hoped it would be. Your mouth waters with every bite. You sit, looking at the love of your life across the table, and comment on how incredible the food is, and how glad you are to share it with each other. Finally, the waiter comes to ask if you'd like to see the dessert menu, and you decide to share a decadent creation. As you wait for the waiter to return, you stare into each other's eyes and sip wine of a excellent vintage. The waiter returns, your anticipation mounts, and then he places an empty bowl on the table.

And takes a shit in it.

It's bad enough you're closing off the night with a bowl with a fresh steaming turd in it, but now you're wondering about the soup...did the waiter piss in it? What other abominations did you ingest over the evening?

A bad ending makes the whole film shitty. It's the last taste we leave with in our mouths, or brains, or whatever. After The Mist, I needed to cleanse my palette in the worst way possible. I'm not alone in my estimation that the ending ruined the experience. Ty Burr of the Boston Globe said the following: (Spoilers Ahead!!)

"Then, as if to underscore that he's above such silly things as sci-fi and horror, Darabont throws his curveball of an ending. (OK, last chance. Exit's that way. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.) Having escaped with three others, David and little Billy drive through the mist until their car runs out of gas. Around them are the shrieks of horrible things ready to pounce and rend. The five humans have a gun with four bullets; David does what he must and exits the car alone to await his fate. Two minutes later the army shows up. Bum-mer.

I don't think you have to be a parent to hate a movie that ends with the kid getting shot in the head by his dad. As a favor. And just think: All they had to do was turn on the car radio.

Someone must think such a finale is dark and daringly tragic and uncomfortable and cool. Someone is wrong. "The Mist" doesn't provoke further thought; it provokes active annoyance at being punished in the service of a pulp morality tale with pretensions. Even Hitchcock knew that: When he blew up the little boy in the bus in 1936's "Sabotage," he ended up having to issue a public apology. And Darabont, need I say it, is no Hitchcock."

Chuck Wilson of the Village Voice had this to say: "All this would be disappointing, but not infuriating, if the film's ending weren't so unforgivably bad ... which is so distasteful and untrue to all that's come before it as to be a slap in the face to characters and audience alike. The last word in King's story was "hope," and while Darabont certainly has the right to head in the opposite direction—in our own monster-filled world, happy endings are harder than ever to buy—he does so in a manner that's both pretentious and cruel. The Mist made me want to scream, but for all the wrong reasons."

Writer/Director Frank Darabont, has been responsible for adapting two of King's works into film with the greatest success accorded any filmmaker who has undertaken the task. We all loved The Shawshank Redemption Frank. You know why? You didn't change the ending. We all loved The Green Mile Frank, and you know why? You didn't CHANGE the ENDING. It's a little ironic, because you mention in the commentary at the end of the film that the composer was humble enough to "get out of the way" and allow you to use a Dead Can Dance song. He didn't think he was better than Lisa Gerrard. He knew a master musician when he heard one. Maybe you should have done the same. Stephen King isn't the bestselling writer in America because he makes stupid choices. He ended The Mist the way he did for a reason. You should have done the same.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Did you hear about my famous book?

Ever since Ray Yungen and his legion of copy-paste clones took my article "Desert Youth Worker" and quoted it ad nauseum for their anti-contemplative campaign, I google my name once a month just to see what new shit is being slung in my direction.

Imagine my surprise when this month's search warranted a YouTube video. Imagine my greater surprise when I found out that I had written a "famous book" called "Disciplines, Mystics and the Contemplative Life." I guess I wasn't so much surprised that I'd written a book, as it's something I've always wanted to do, but I was a bit shocked at what a lackluster title I'd chosen for it. I'm also very chagrined that no one's sent me my contributor's copy...

Load this video up and scroll through to 7:54 to hear Richard Bennett mispronounce my last name and announce that I live in "Alberta, Canada" as though the province were the only geographic marker north of the American border to delineate my location (Hey Richard, I live in Edmonton, the capital city of the province of Alberta. You could have googled my name and found that out). Hear Richard Bennett quote my "famous book" and claim that I'm offering you all some sort of spiritual honey that is "... deadly, infected with the disease that Satan would have you imbibe and take into your system." Wowzers.

I really wanted to leave a comment, clarifying that yet again, the research has not been done, but the comment function was disabled. Big surprise. Can dish it, but not willing to take it? The same quote, likely copied and pasted, shows missing a word. I have never written a book on this subject, just one article. And morons like Dickie Bennett take all the time in the world to string me, McLaren and our other evil brethren up, but don't seem to have the time to investigate our entire corpus of writing. How come I'm never quoted for my article on Dungeons and Dragons? Let's face it, if you want to crucify an Evangelical Christian, that would be your quickest route.

To quote Marvin the Martian, "they make me verrrry angry!" Maybe I should go meditate...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Movie Review: Cloverfield - 8/10

I really liked this film. Not in the way I like Lord of the Rings, where I'll watch it once a year until I got to my grave, or how I like Gangs of New York because I admire the quality, or even how I like other monster movies like last year's The Host or classic Toho Godzilla movies. I like it because it succeeds in doing something no film has done since the original black and white Godzilla was released. It conveys the horror a monster of massive size would produce.

Godzilla worked as a piece of horror in Japan, not because Japanese audiences were expecting a colossal lizard to stride up out of the Pacific Ocean, but because the mayhem the monster produced was strikingly familiar. The path of destruction left by Godzilla in that first, starkly monochromatic film (in a franchise that became ridiculous to the point of self-parody) bears a strong resemblance to footage from Hiroshima after the Bomb fell.

Cloverfield achieves a similar sense of horror both out of a similar memory of destruction; New York has always been a favorite American city for filmmakers to lay waste to. The American version of Godzilla took place there, which begs the question, why does one film succeed where the other failed? Cloverfield evokes its sense of memory, not simply from locating its monster in New York, but also through the mise-en-scene of YouTube. The lack of manipulative music and slick special effects lends the film a sense of verisimilitude. If Cloverfield had been filmed with multiple cameras, greenscreen effects and a bombastic soundtrack, it would have been reduced to the same campy dreck as the American Godzilla. Despite whatever nauseating effects such a decision has on audiences, it was the right one to deliver this sort of story.

As I've openly stated before, I like movies about giant monsters. Hell, I even want to see D-Wars. But Cloverfield is something special in a genre known mainly for its special effects and creature design. The film is ultimately like a good disaster movie, in that it focuses on a small group of people trying to survive the earthquake, the sinking ship, the burning building, or in this case, the giant monster. In truth, you never get a decent look at the monster. What you get are a lot of scenes listening to the characters talk, while the sounds of battle and destruction boom ominously in the background. And while it won't keep me up tonight for fear a giant monster is going to lay waste to my city, or any one on the planet for that matter, it makes for some very tense viewing nonetheless. And to boot, it's a hell of a metaphor for the chaos life hands us and the ways in which we are wont to react to it.