Little Miss Sunshine Cleaning Company

We have a lot of slacker comedies these days, but they’re not usually centered around women. This may be because slacker women aren’t funny. For instance, in the new dramedy (can I still use that word?) from the makers of Little Miss Sunshine, Sunshine Cleaning we have slacker sisters Rose and Norah, working as cleaner and waitress respectively, our girls aren’t really slackers because they just never grew up (as is the usual case with boys), but because of a tragedy in their early lives.

This swaps out some comedic potential for drama, which is ookkaaaay, I guess, but maybe a little, I dunno, cheap? (Drama is way easier to pull off than comedy, especially when you’ve got Amy Adams and Emily Blunt in a tragic situation.)

Anyway, in this case, we have the lovely and versatile Amy Adams in the title role, playing a normal person (as opposed to a nun, a wild ‘30s actress or a fairy princess) and there’s just no doubt that this girl can act. She’s a single mom having an affair with a married man (instead of getting her real estate license) and hard up for money because her son, Oscar, decided to lick things at school, and they don’t want him there any more unless they can drug him. (I didn’t know that the state could force you to “medicate” your child but, hey, way to go Big Pharm, if that’s the case. Nothing like hooking ’em young. I guess the tobacco guys knew what they were doing, eh?)

Her cop boyfriend hooks her up with a crime scene cleanup job, not entirely on the up-and-up, and Rose takes to it, dragging her recently fired sister along with her. The money is good and they begin to feel good about it, making some investments and getting the necessary training and certification.

There are about half-a-dozen subplots: Grampa (Alan Arkin) car-schools Oscar while buying things off the back of a truck and trying to sell them for profit; a romantic thread with the one-armed proprietor of the store (acting chameleon Clifton Collins, Jr.) where they buy their supplies; the affair with the cop; Rose’s high school quasi-reunion; Norah’s pursuit of a person connected to one of their cases; I think that’s all of them.

This keeps things moving, and everything builds nicely to a second act catastrophe. In a traditional three-act screen play, the second act ends with a disaster–the big disaster that knocks the hero down and gives him something to overcome in the climax in act three.

And that’s where this movie kind of peters out: The second act catastrophe is awesome. Just when it looks like Rose has finally got her act act together, Norah ruins everything. You just can’t see a good way out of this mess.

And then there’s some resolving of personal conflicts and–I won’t call it a deus ex machina, because it’s not, exactly, but for a movie that doesn’t bother to tie up half its loose ends (which is fine, things can be too neat), this main one is not tied up way too neatly and unconvincingly. (I can’t go into it without spoiling things.)

Overall, it’s an entertaining movie with good acting (including the aforementioned Emily Blunt of Charlie Wilson’s War, Steve Zahn as the cop boyfriend and Jason Spevak as Oscar) a few laughs from a broad spectrum of humor (that is some standard comedy fare, some darker), and quite a bit of drama.

We actually felt it could’ve been a little bit longer. It runs only 90 minutes, with about ten minutes cut from the European release. (That might’ve been another subplot, who knows?)

This movie isn’t all that much, in nature, like the contrived, sit-com-y Little Miss Sunshine, either. (I liked Little Miss Sunshine but it was terribly clich├ęd.) It shares a couple of producers with this movie, and you can feel their influence–like I suspect the filming location is part of that–and Alan Arkin is in both movies, but the earlier movie is a lot shallower and, yes, funnier.

And it was almost like the director and writer wanted to avoid the tidy wrapping up of loose ends enjoyed by the LMS crew and so left us with a lot more questions, and a little unsatisfied.

See, I’m having trouble ending this. The short form is: We liked it but wouldn’t recommend it unreservedly.

Duplicity: Nobody Trusts Anybody

The trailers for Duplicity initially positioned it as a super-serious spy movie. Then they had a run suggesting it was a romantic comedy. This dichotomy may have something to do with its tepid reception, because even while there’s an overlap in the audiences, there’s not much overlap in the urge.

That is, people don’t think “Oh, I want to see Sleepless In Seattle–but I guess The Osterman Weekend is just as good.” I mean, you might be in the mood for either, or both, but a strong urge to view one genre just isn’t going to be satisfied by a movie in the other genre.

This is, however, a romantic-comedy/spy movie. Though a little light on the comedy and more a caper flick.

The premise is that Clive “And Just When Everything Was Going So Well” Owen and Julia “They’re Called Boobs, Ed” Roberts are corporate spies who are managing a convoluted caper while trying to build a relationship.

Well, look, I’ve been bitching about how Romantic Comedies have gone from the struggle of two independent, strong-willed people to find a way to cohabitate, to being about neurotic women pursued by persistent and apparently not very bright men. So, I guess we have a compromise: Duplicity is about two, independent, strong-willed and neurotic people trying to find a way to cohabitate.

It works, sort of. The plot centers around a mysterious product that one company has and another company wants, and the revelation of that MacGuffin was pretty funny. The corporate spy angle makes it possible for the movie to be lighter than a traditional spy-game movie would be.

The narrative ping-pongs between current day and progressive flashbacks, and somehow I missed the first flashback cue, so I got a bit confused at first. But the plot’s actually pretty straightforward despite the other plot (the one the two are hatching) being ridiculously complex.

Naturally, The Boy and I were more intrigued by the business aspect of corporate spying, and with the two CEOs being played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, the Owen-Roberts relationship seemed a little…less so. (Giamatti is at his scene-chewing best while Wilkinson’s role is unfortunately tiny; you could see a really fun movie being made out of their relationship.)

I don’t think this is entirely a testosterone issue. These two characters are not very sympathetic. They constantly test and mess with each other, which they simultaneously seem to enjoy and revile. It’s a difficult task and writer/director Tony Gilroy (screenwriter for the Bourne series) doesn’t quite pull it off.

Normally, in a caper movie, you want the guys pulling the caper to succeed. (It’s a bit perverse, but we don’t expect movies to teach a moral lesson, do we?) And normally, in a RomCom, you want the two protagnoists to get together. This was not especially the case here. (And I give Gilroy credit for not making the ending too pat.) The whole thing ends up feeling a bit overly intellectual (Bourne has this in parts, too, I think) and unfocused.

I’m not a Julia Roberts fan, particularly–I find her looks distracting rather than engaging–but I thought she brought some warmth to the role, even though there wasn’t much room for it. I am sort of a Clive Own fan, but there was no room at all to gauge whether his charm had any genuine affection to it.

You can see why this undermines the romantic-comedy part; it also really undermines the caper part. And the whole thing ends up feeling overlong.

A shame, really.

Sweet Coraline

One important rule of making it in Hollywood is to always be working on your next picture by the time your last one opens, and to have the one after that all nailed down. That way, if the one at the box office flops, you have two more chances before your career is finished.

This is probably impossible if you’re doing stop-motion animation. And so it came to pass that the director of Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach went eight years between movie releases: the disastrous Monkeybone and the reasonably successful Coraline.

I had held off going to see this movie, as it The Boy wasn’t really in the target audience–too old–and neither was The Flower–if not too young, exactly, then not particularly inclined to the creepy. But it has hung on and made an unexpected appearance at our local art house this week, when all the Oscar dross finally got pushed out. (Yay!)

The Flower seemed pretty confident that, as this was a fairy tale (my description), that they would all live happily ever after, and therefore it would be okay for her to see. But why o why, she lamented, didn’t they just tell you the ending beforehand? Then you’d know if you wanted to go see it!

This led to a less surreal discussion than the one I posted here (which occurred after the movie) between her and the boy about whether the ending was more important than how you get there.

So, about the movie: This is, indeed, a fairy tale about a young girl who moves from the big city into a sub-divided house out in the boondocks with her preoccupied parents. In the house, she discovers a tiny door with only a brick wall behind it. But if her parents aren’t around (asleep, away), the wall becomes a passage. And on the other side of the passage is a mirror image of her world, only this world fulfills her dreams of the perfect life.

Her other parents are doting and entertaining, her neighbors aren’t crazy old coots but magically talented, the garden is a living world of lights, and even her room is fantastically enchanted.

The only apparent thing that’s “off” is that all the people in this mirror world have buttons for eyes. (This, of course, is just a warning sign of how off the whole thing is.)

Creepy, eh? Now, fairy tales are creepy and horrific, in general. This isn’t much different, thematically, than Hansel and Gretel and the gingerbread house, or Celtic stories of “little people”, who were always doing horrible things. But if you’re going to take a kid to see this, make sure they’re not freaked out by eye stuff. (The other really disturbing part of the movie, that of the fat old women running around in skimpy clothing, was in the “well, there’s something you don’t see every day” category. The Flower recognized the reference to Boticelli immediately.)

The Flower is primarily disturbed by unhappy endings, so no issue with the eyes for her, though when the illusion of the other world started to come apart, my arm was grabbed and stayed grabbed for quite some time.

And come apart it does as the mystery of the “other mother” unfolds.

Wonderful voice work by Teri Hatcher (who shall forever be Lois Lane to me) and Keith David (as a savvy cat nemesis to the “other mother”), as well as Dakota Fanning as Coraline, John Hodgman as Father, and the comedy team of French and Saunders as the crazy old ladies next door. Ian McShane, late of Kung Fu Panda, plays an old Russian guy training mice in his apartment.

Ultimately, this is a satisfying movie, with solid Fairy Tale logic. Everything hangs together. I would swear I’ve read the tale before in another form; certainly the concept of a fairy world where illusions make very mundane or even nasty things seem marvelous is not new. But I can’t remember any particular fairy tale that goes that way. (Fritz Leiber wrote a Fafhrd/Grey Mouser story called Bazaar of the Bizarre in that vein, and the theme of great-illusion-masking-horrible-truth was used in the 2000 version of Bedazzled.)

And Selick’s work is good here. He demonstrates (again) that much of the visual artistry of Nightmare Before Christmas was his, if you didn’t pick that up from James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone. (His pallette is less ruthlessly grey/white/red than Burton’s.) Since it was meant to exploit 3D–my brain doesn’t do 3D so we saw it regular-flat-style–it has more than a few moments that are conspiculously sticky-out-of-the-screen-y, but it’s not horrible in that regard.

And the stop-motion is very fine, indeed. It’s even more impressive to think that, in this day-and-age when computers can simulate this style of animation (or even more, that computers fulfill the needs stop-motion animation was originally meant to address), that there are teams of people out there moving little dolls around a millimeter at a time. And you get to marvel at the broken mirrors, the running water, and all the other little things that seem impossible with just stop-motion. (There are some parts that were surely computer animated, but not that many!)

The only caveat I have is that the movie is probably over-rated. It’s very good, but not a mind-blowing revelation. I think a lot of the hype comes from the fact that Neil Gaiman–a comic book luminary along the lines of Alan Moore or Frank Miller–wrote the story on which this was based.

It’s a fine story. And a fine movie. Part of the reason for both, though, is that it doesn’t have grand pretensions. It’s a nice, moral fairy tale. Enjoy it for being that.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Cannibal Women In The Avocado Jungle Of Death

This little known camp gem is the story of a–well, I’m not exactly sure, really, that it’s post-apocalyptic. All I know is that somehow, the Avocado Jungle has sprung up between San Bernardino and the Arizona border, it’s the only source of the apparently vital avocado crop in the US, and a hyper-feminist group of cannibals known as the Piranha Women are refusing to let the precious fruit (vegetable?) be harvested.

This is a profoundly ridiculous movie, part Apocalypse Now, part Indiana Jones, and a kind of kissing cousin to the Richard Chamberlain/Sharon Stone camp spoof Alan Quartermain and The Lost City of Gold.

Adrienne Barbeau (hi, Troop!) is Dr. Kurtz, leader of the feminists, while Shannon Tweed heads a crew consisting of Karen Mistal Waldron and–I’m not making this up–Bill Maher. There’s some very good chemistry between Barbeau and Tweed, and Karen Waldron is surprisingly good as the dumb blonde. (I mean that seriously, she looks like a bimbo, but she has good comic timing.)

Obviously, this isn’t Citizen Kane, but I laughed like an idiot. (“Like” he says.)

Actually, Bill Maher is the weak link in this, which surprised me at the time I saw it because I was a big fan of his. But the reason the movie works to the extent it does is because everyone is playing it straight, like a ZAZ movie, and Maher can’t stop smirking. That aspect of it is painful to watch.

You definitely have to have a taste for this style of camp, which was really huge in the low-budget direct-to-video ‘80s, but if you do, it’s one of the better ones. (And if you are, you should also check out Nice Girls Don’t Explode from the same era.)

Watchmen, the underlying truth

While my full review of Watchmen is up here, it seems to me there is an underlying truth to it. But expressing it might be a spoiler, so I’m letting you know up front. Somehow, this aspect of the film wasn’t particularly surprising to me, it was more of a “sigh”-and-a-“it figures”. But others may have been, so here’s your warning.

I’m not going to reveal any action that occurs, but if you think backwards from what I’m saying, you’ll probably be able to figure out where the movie is going.

Enough warning?

Last chance!

OK, the underlying truth to Watchmen is this:

If you give a leftist super-powers, he’ll act like a super-villain and still consider himself a hero.

Think about it, won’t you?

12 Angry Russian Men

I was in the mood to sit in a dark room and eat popcorn Thursday evening so I scanned for a movie of interest, and failing that–I just can’t muster any interest in The Class but maybe this will be the week!–settled on a little film called Phoebe In Wonderland, which is yet another teacher drama, but of the single student variety I think, rather than the teacher goes and teaches underprivileged kids variety.

But when we got to the theater, it wasn’t playing! I’m still not sure how I made the mistake, but when we got there the Russian movie 12 was playing. Well, excellent, I actually wanted to see that.

12 is a Russian take on 12 Angry Men. It lost out at last year’s Oscars to The Counterfeiters. Yay for finally getting 2007’s best foreign films in 2009. Just for the record, the other three films nominated were Mongol (reviewed here), Beaufort (which we skipped) and Katyn (which I still don’t think has come around).

Of course the original is a dramatic masterpiece, tight as a drum and gorgeously staged and composed, so remakers must beware. (William Friedkin’s mid-‘90s is a respectable update.) And, of course, it’s a distinctly American story.

Just to top it off, the original is The Boy’s favorite movie. (It was on-demand last summer and we watched it one night, and then he asked to see it again the next night.)

So, lots could go wrong here.

However, this isn’t really a remake. The framework is the same: 12 men are locked in a room in order to decide the fate of a boy who allegedly killed his father. The evidence is overwhelmingly against him, and a lone holdout keeps the argument from being settled quickly. In the end, he sways the other jurors, and a murderer goes free.

Wait, that might not be how it goes. (Interestingly, Greg Gutfeld mentioned on “Red Eye” a few weeks back that he thought 12 Angry Men was the turning point in the culture wars. He didn’t elaborate, but given that the authorities are wrong, and a bunch of people are about to send an innocent boy off to die, it makes an interesting thought.)

But where the American version is a tale of forensics against which the personalities of the jurors emerge and reveal bias and irrationality, this sprawling Russian version mostly skips the forensics. The jurors, in turn, reveal some personal story or aspect of their lives, and this sways voters to the other side. (Some of the deductive reasoning of the original surfaces, but at one point–when the twist is revealed–a character runs through the forensic points that were overlooked, a nice homage to the original.)

The pressure to convict quickly also comes from the authorities: The baliff is a comical figure who can’t believe they’re taking as long as they do, even as he makes long distance phone calls on the cell phones he’s appropriated from them. But the implication is that most deliberations are over in a couple of hours.

Russian culture and society is on trial here, too. In this setup, the boy is a Chechen, the adopetd son of a retired Russian soldier. The sequestration is broken up by flashbacks showing how the soldier came to adopt the boy, and also by shots of the boy (now grown) in his cell. (One of the jurors is Jewish, and anti-semitism comes into play, too!)

The whole movie is both heavily laden with symbolism and bogged down in the reality of the effects of a society that’s lived under the oppressive thumbs of dictators for as long as anyone can remember.

I kept thinking, “Wow, so that’s what a jury deliberation in a dead society looks like.” Not that this should be taken as a documentary, but the Soviets’ impact is still being felt, with absurd testaments to their waste and corruption everywhere. “Everyone’s in on it” a character says at one point. The despair is palpable.

And yet, this is a hopeful movie. It’s by turns moving, absurd, tragic, funny and grim. Very Russian, as one character says.

And, it has a twist ending. Right about the time the original ends, there’s another character who starts arguing back the other way! And he makes an excellent point! Actually, there are about four points where it seems like the movie is going to end, and the last two endings seem rather gratuitous.

All-in-all, a fairly captivating 2 ½ hour flick. The Boy was pleased. And I got to practice my Russian ears. So, win-win.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Watchmen

I would hate to judge an author by the film adaptations of his work, but if I were to do so for Alan Moore, I would say he was a nihilistic misanthropist who was far enough left to make Chosmky blush. And also that he was an idiot. But while the latter would probably be true of assessments made of most authors based on screen adaptations, there may be some merit to the former.

This is the guy who gave us V for Vendetta after all. Also League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I have to believe that’s not as stupid as it sounds, and it couldn’t possibly be as dumb as the movie made it out to be. I just have to believe that, if I’m to have any faith in humanity at all.

Let me back up a bit and just talk about the movie: This is a decent superhero action flick, surprisingly entertaining for its length (two-and-a-half hours, not counting credits). The story takes place in an alternate 1985, and the premise is that masked heroes started appearing ca. World War II, and a second generation appeared in the ‘60s and helped the USA fight (and win!) the Vietnam War. (As if we lost that war for military or even enemy morale reasons.)

This win, and apparently the use of our five superheroes by President Nixon allows him to seek a fifth term–1968, 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1984–and somewhere around his third term, he makes masked vigilantism a crime. So our heroes are retired (a la Incredibles, which probably took a little inspiration from here) and either working clandestinely or not at all.

The story begins with one of the heroes, the Comedian, being killed. The Comedian’s kind of a psychopathic Punisher type who really enjoyed Vietnam, and in one appalling scene opens fire on a crowd of protesters while screaming about the American Dream having come true. Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a fine job playing this “nuanced” character.

The hyper-violent Rorschach, who most reminded me of The Question, suspects foul play. Or rather, suspects fouler play than just a random burglary. He warns the Nite Owl, reminiscent of the Blue Beetle, but really evocative of a clunky Batman (complete with lots of money and toys), and the Nite Owl warns Ozymandias, now a super-successful businessman who’s working on a cheap power source with the help of Dr. Manhattan.

Dr. Manhattan was exposed to some super-science thing that allows him to see into his own future and past, and apparently to give others the same power. Like his girlfriend, the Silk Spectre, who seems to be the only hero who inherited the position from her mother. Anyway, Dr. Manhattan’s superpowers don’t include giving a damn, which puts a strain on their relationship.

Anyway, there’s lots going on, and director Zach Snyder keeps the action coming so that the story never gets bogged down. I’m always amused by the sort of critical reception of movie like this gets: Apparently it confused the poor dears. It’s actually not at all confusing; it is, however, high volume, and some things are done shockingly poorly for such an A-level production.

The acting is largely top notch. I mentioned Morgan as the Comedian, but Patrick Wilson (most known to me as the guy who gets tortured by Ellen Page in the neat little horror flick Hard Candy) does a very fine job as Nite Owl, and Billy Crudup does well with a difficult role as the subtly emotional Dr. Manhattan. I found Malin Akerman, who plays the Black Canary-esque Silk Spectre, a little grating and occasionally radiating a kind of bimbotude, which was just tragically wrong for that part.

Once again, though, newly reborn Jackie Earle Haley (Bad News Freakin’ Bears!) just kicks ass as the uncompromising terror, Rorschach. And he does it, for the most part, through a completely opaque, featureless mask. (Featureless except for the shifting pattern on it.)

So, while the acting is overall quite good, there is some wicked bad makeup. The makeup for the Nixon and Pat Robertson characters, for example, is just ostentatiously bad. Carla Gugino, who plays the original Silk Specter, does a fine job, but her old age makeup reminds me of that episode of the Brady Bunch where Peter plays Benedict Arnold. (Maybe I’m just hyper-critical of old age makeup and maybe I was turned off by the Nixon caricature after Frost/Nixon, but that’s how it seemed.)

The familiar let’s-open-an-action-scene-with-a-pop-song approach takes a beating here, too. The Hendrix version of Along The Watchtower is used, for example, and it fell flat with me. Worst of all–people are talking about this one a lot–was the use of Leonard Cohen’s version of Hallelujah.

People, it was a dubious choice to have Leonard Cohen singing in the documentary about his own life, I’m Your Man. Putting his voice and the ridiculously clunky Hallelujah Chorus Singers that grace his recording of that song over a sex scene–not subtly in the background but loudly and insistently–was ridiculously tin-eared.

The other thing I’m on the fence about is the fact that, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, they’re all just regular heroes, not super heroes. That is, they have no powers. Except that they sort of do. I mean, in the opening scene where The Comedian is fighting his assailant, walls and furniture get smashed through. Rorschach scales walls as though attached to wires. Ozymandias is faster than a speeding bullet. And so on.

I dunno. A certain amount of “super” heroism is pretty much standard in action films. It was better than bogging down the film with a bunch of origins stories. (I had a minor but similar sort of feeling about the technology used by the Nite Owl. It was so clearly of today and not of the ’80s; I would have liked to see future tech as imagined in the ’80s.)

Overall, a flawed, but engaging movie.

The Boy pronounced it “Entertaining. But it had a message, and I don’t know what it was. It would have been better without it.”

But, of course, I knew what the message was, and I’m sure it seemed so incredibly profound back in ’86 when this was written, that a lot of people are clinging to the story’s “greatness” now without observing the irony that it was terribly, self-indulgently wrong. See, the authors proceeded from the standpoint that the human race was on the brink of destroying itself in ’85, and built themselves a story around that concept.

Man’s capacity for self-destruction is, of course, a fond topic for writers, as well as how to diver that energy elsewhere. Ray Bradbury wrote an upbeat little story called “The Toynbee Convector”, for example on how a time machine saved humanity. This wouldn’t be that story.

No, this is a story where imperialist America goes unchecked and–you know, when you get down to it, the villain is none other than Richard Nixon–brings the world to the brink of destruction.

Heroes are made from sadists and neurotics and mass-murderers, and the desire to create a “nuanced” story turns–as it always does–into a soap opera’s celebration of pettiness. Dr. Manhattan gains incredible knowledge and wisdom, and as a result becomes detached from his humanity–not so detached that he can’t cheat on his wife with a younger woman, but detached enough that he can’t decide whether humanity is worth saving. The climactic scenes work–they vary from the graphic novel–but they don’t bear much thinking about.

It’s not that there aren’t a lot of conflicting messages here, because there are, and there are supposed to be. You’re supposed to make your own moral, which is what good artists allow the viewer to do. But the backdrop that that decision is supposed to made against is false, and rife with ugliness and ennui.

I haven’t read the graphic novel; The Boy and I both eschewed that, feeling that the movie should stand on its own, and I think it does. Ultimately, whether the grim world view presented–and the few upbeat notes therein–are the influence of Moore (who had his name taken off the production) or Snyder or Gibbons (who illustrated the comic) doesn’t really matter.

It’s so very ’80s, though, like Blade Runner, American Psycho and The Dark Knight Returns. The ’80s generation, in its own way, is insufferable as the ’60s generation was: Faced with unprecedented wealth and the demise of the great threat of our time, everyone was just so freaking convinced the world was coming to an end. (At least the Dark Knight embraced the notion that hard times meant heroes had to be even more heroic, on an even larger scale.)

Just in case you thought it mattered which Republican was in the White House.

So I give it a reserved recommendation–but you might find yourself a little embarrassed. There was talk of a sequel–I don’t think the movie will do as well as predicted–but that would only be slightly less stupid than a sequel to Snyder’s last film: 300.

Kirk Fury!

The Fury is on right now. This was the first movie I ever saw where someone got “blowed up real good”. My mom took us to see it without really knowing anything about it. (We were up in the woods, and the only theater was a second or third or fourth run joint.)

Not a great movie (though maybe one of De Palma’s better ones). But Kirk Douglas is in it, and whatever his acting skills, he’s 62 years old in this thing and jumping around in shorts like a kid. Looks ten years younger. (He’s 64 in Saturn 3, where Farrah Fawcett plays his girlfriend at 33–and she looked a lot younger, too.) At 70 he would be in Tough Guys with the also preternaturally vigorous Burt Lancaster, though Lancaster (at 73) was starting to show his age.

Seriously, Kirk is like swinging from signs and jumping across trains. Not as many stunt men as you might think.

Random connections: Director De Palma, of course, got his big start from–and gave a big start to–Stephen King with the iconic Carrie. The Fury was written for the screen by John Farris, who adapted it rather faithfully from his novel. It’s the story of a couple of telekinetic kids who are chased after by the government and ultimately taken to a black ops hideout for military purposes. Kirk Douglas plays the father of one of the kids and he uses his talents as a super-agent to try to break them out, even as they’re tearing up the installation.

Later, Steven King would write a book called Firestarter about a pyrokinetic kid who is chased after by the government and ultimately taken to a black ops hideout for military purposes. George C. Scott would play the super-agent who befriends the kid with the ambition to kill her, even as she starts tearing up the installation.

I read about three of Farris books right in a row back in the ‘90s and all three were similar to books that Stephen King would write several years later. Not making plagiarism accusations, mind you, I just thought it was interesting. It’s probably more indicative of a “horror gestalt”, revealing our collective fears, or at least what horror writers think those fears are.

Farris would publish a sequel to this book in 2001 (but before 9/11) wherein terrorists would attack America (with airplanes, even, if I’m not mistaken), as part of a master plot to make Americans give up their rights out of fear.

Other digressions: The Fury features an early role for Dennis Franz, a small role for 18-year-old Darryl Hannah and Alice “Large Marge” Nunn. At 25, Amy Irving is completely convincing (and quite lovely) as the ostracized high school girl.

Camorra, Gomorrah

The Boy was recovered enough to take a trip to the movies, though the pickings are slim, with the Oscar films still clogging up the screens. It’s hard to sell even the high rated films that are out now: Two Lovers, Bob Funk, Medicine for Melancholy (some asshole ripping off Bradbury’s title again), and Must Read After My Death (“Imagine if Revolutionary Road had been a documentary!”). There are a few mainstream releases out we haven’t seen, but he’s very particular about those. (I don’t know that he makes the distinction in his mind, but he’s at an age where he has an aversion to stupid, and that rules out a whole lot of movies.)

Then there’s Gomorra, a mixed-reviewed gangster flick about the Naples crime syndicate. Well, The Boy likes himself a gangster flick, though I myself run cold on them.

And, well, it’s a sprawling mess of a film, unfocused and a bit hard to follow, not because any individual scene is complicated but how they tie together is. The movie concerns: A gang war with “secessionists” trying to split from the Camorra, a boy who wants to join the gang, a couple of phenomenally stupid young men who are trying to be independent outlaws, a dress counterfeiting operation, a toxic waste dump operation, and a man who either collects the protection money or distributes retired gangster’s pensions (or both).

You could’ve made this a miniseries, with the six stories each being its own 22-minute episode–or you could have fleshed them out into 48 minutes for an hour show. This would’ve worked better, I think, because the stories didn’t really overlap, so telling them cut into pieces just made them hard to follow, without any added dramatic benefit.

The movie runs two-and-a-quarter hours, but even so, you don’t get a satisfying resolution to the young kid’s story. Here’s how it could’ve been better: The boy delivers groceries to a woman who is also chummy with the money carrier, and has some connection with the secessionists, or at least is imagined to. The boy is also trying to get chummy with the local, low-level Camorra thugs. This woman could’ve served as the focal point of the whole story, crossing paths with the tailor and the toxic waste managers–I think she was actually connected to one of the idiots doing random thuggery.

She could’ve been a good anchor for the story which, unfortunately, comes off as sort of “inside baseball”.

There is no beauty in this film; where the Godfather saga dressed up mob antics in gorgeous colors and impeccable fashion in opulent surroundings, the ruffians in this film wear cheap track suits or t-shirts celebrating sports teams of other countries, and live in housing that would embarrass trailer trash. I don’t recall any music whatsoever. There’s no dramatic lighting and the camera work is straightforward, though fortunately avoiding the dread shaky-cam.

I suppose then, this is a “realistic” film. But a little artifice could’ve gone a long way to make it a truly great film.