Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A Blockbuster A Week: Part Eleven

I did a double-feature this week, which I don't do as much as I used to. There was a time when I was fresh out of college–waiting tables and working at Blockbuster to pay off my credit card debt–that I'd always take Fridays off, to check out the new release slate. Once, when a friend of mine couldn't reach me at home, he drove over to my local multiplex and talked his way into the last 10 minutes of Major League II, because he figured that's where I'd be. And he was right

There's been a lot of talk about whether the theatrical experience has become obsolete in a time when DVDs and widescreen TVs often trump nights at the movies marred by cel phones, unskilled projectionists, and teenagers who snap their gum and talk through the movie and shuffle past you en masse even though you're sitting alone on the end of the aisle and the other end is wide open. (Or maybe that last bit just happens to me.) But pulling a double or a triple at a multiplex is still it's own kind of kick, fraught with the sweet tension of figuring out the best way to sneak from theater to theater, and sitting through the end of one movie while fretting over when the next one's about to start. Spend a day at the movies and you see the same trailers over and over, you find details from one movie creeping into the next, and sometimes you even forget what you're about to watch until the opening credits start. It's a mass-media bliss-out.

I can't say I found too much crossover between Lady In The Water and Monster House, except that both of them are pretty weird for would-be blockbusters.

Enough has been written–positive and negative–about Lady In The Water, so let me just say that I was astonished as always by M. Night Shyamalan's unconventional framing, I admired anew his willingness to risk embarrassment for the sake of saying what he feels, and, naturally, I was frequently embarrassed by how silly the end result is. That said, there's a lumpiness about this Lady that's kind of lovable, and Paul Giamatti holds a lot of it together (especially the late-film mini-twist). The audience I saw it with scoffed some–with good reason–but they also jumped at the scary parts and laughed at the intentionally funny parts. I think this is the kind of movie that's going to wear better over time. Whatever his apparent arrogance, it's hard not to have a loony affection for Shyamalan, who makes movies that look and feel unlike anyone else's.

As for Monster House, up until it's cacophonous climactic action sequence, it comes pretty close to being the best kids' movie of the year. (With the caveats that, for one, there haven't been that many good kids movies this year, and for two, Monster House is more for the 10 and up crowd than the wee ones.) It's one of the most distinctive-looking computer-animated films I've seen, with a lot of "handheld camera" shots, and a tight frame urging a sense of depth. I'm not entirely sold on the motion capture technology, which makes the characters look like sauté pans with eyes, but there's an appealing naturalness to the way the kids in Monster House talk to each other.

Actually, strike that. It's not "natural" so much as "Hollywood natural." The kids in the movie talk like kids in movies. But good movies, by and large; and not, so to speak, cartoons. There's a none-too-subtle subtext to Monster House, having to do with how puberty drains away (or at least re-focuses) a child's imagination. So a lot of the story revolves around the kids just hanging out, kicking around ideas. It's like the computer-animated version of Stand By Me. (Well, sort of.)

It's also one of those movies firmly nested in suburbia, taking for granted a world of cul-de-sacs, mini-malls and, yes, multiplexes. It's where I've spent most of my media (and literal) life, and I find comfort there, especially during a weekend that's hotter than July.


This week's trailers are as odd as the features in a lot of ways:

The best of the bunch is The Prestige, and not just because it's got a solid director (Christopher Nolan), a good leading cast (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale), and a fine premise (adapted from Christopher Priest's novel about rival magicians in the Victorian era). The trailer is also a good example of how to pitch a movie to an audience, with lots of exciting images and a simple explanation of what the story's about (and what the title means), without giving away too much. After watching the trailer, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to see this.

I'm less impressed with the trailer for Alfonso Cuarón's Children Of Men, based on P.D. James' novel about a dystopian future where all women have become infertile, save for the one pregnant teenager that government agent Clive Owen has to spirit to safety. I generally like Cuarón–though it's odd it is to see a movie touted as "from the director of Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban"–but the tone of this trailer is really heavy, portending something painfully pretentious. I hope I'm wrong.

Then there's a couple of pieces of faux-Oscar-bait, The Pursuit Of Happyness and A Good Year, the former with Will Smith as a single dad who risks everything to become a stockbroker, and the latter with Russell Crowe as a stockbroker who risks everything to become a layabout in Provence. Both look like standard autumnal middlebrow fare, full of life lessons and showy lead performances, bound to be forgotten by the time the real award-worthy fare rolls out.

On the horror side, I saw previews for The Descent and The Reaping, the former of which looks legitimately terrifying (especially if, like me, you're a little claustrophobic), and the latter of which looks really silly (though I liked the part where the woman in the swamp asks Hilary Swank if she's there to kill her daughter, and when Swank says no, swamp woman moans, "Why not?"). And on the kiddie side, I saw the preview for A Night At The Museum, a Jumanji-esque "inanimate objects come alive" adventure with Ben Stiller and cameos galore. Could be good … but will it be Monster House good?

Next week: Miami Vice wraps up the project, save for the epic epilogue.