Archive for the ‘Philosophical Writer's Guide’ Category

Thoughts on “An Unquiet Grave”

August 4, 2022

The change in my opinion of “Shudder” exclusives is amazing.  After watching the first two — “Party Hard, Die Young” and “Scare Package” — I was pretty much convinced that their exclusives were just pretty much stupid movies and I was hesitant to pick up any more of them.  And then I accidentally picked up a couple others — “Stay Out of the Attic” and “Shook” — that I found a lot more interesting, and then I followed it up with the decent “The Cleansing Hour” as well.  So I went from avoiding “Shudder” exclusives to being willing to pick them up pretty much automatically.  My impression of the channel itself also changed, from worrying about whether it would be worth getting to picking up a Roku box in preparation for signing onto it at some point.

I have three sets of “Shudder” exclusives to talk about over the next few weeks, and I’m going to start with “An Unquiet Grave”.

The basic premise here is that the fiance of a guy died tragically, and he and her twin sister head out to perform a strange ritual to bring her back to life.  What he didn’t tell the sister is that the ritual isn’t going to bring her twin sister’s body back to life, but will instead implant her “soul” in the twin’s body, taking it over and effectively killing her.  The ritual works, but when the revived sister learns of what happens she isn’t happy with it, and a grave and the body seems to be active as well, and so he ultimately has to reverse the ritual and he and the restored twin sister have to bury the body again, and exchange a meaningful glance right before the credits.

This isn’t a bad movie.  The performances are good for the limited cast they have, the plot makes some sense, and the characters work well together.  About my only real and solid complaint is about the ending, since the twin sister was not at all happy about being deceived into giving up her body, which she expressed quite clearly on a number of occasions.  So, at the end, what does that look mean?  They have serious issues with each other and it could suggest that she might try to kill him in revenge, but we don’t really get a resolution to that arc (and, to be fair, we don’t really need one).  So it hints at something more but doesn’t establish what that might be.  Ironically, if instead of this being a “take over the body” story it was a “came back wrong” story, then the ending would have been perfect, with them sharing a look of relief mixed with worry that maybe it isn’t actually over.  As it is, again it hints at something that isn’t interesting enough for another movie or to leave hanging but is too big to just forget about.

The strange thing is, though, that despite the fact that the movie wasn’t at all bad and was even quite enjoyable, I have no interest in watching it again.  There just wasn’t enough of a plot or enough interesting character interactions or strong enough performances to make me want to rewatch it.  It isn’t just the fact that the plot and character interactions were so simple and straightforward that I don’t think I’d find anything new or interpret things in a new way on a rewatch.  I rewatch movies that have those traits all the time.  No, despite the fact that it was perfectly enjoyable and worked well enough I just don’t really care about it enough to rewatch it.

My hypothesis here is that it’s following a model that hits a lot of modern movies in general:  it’s just pretty shallow.  I’ve mused in the past about movies simply putting the tropes in but not really doing anything with them, which usually means that the movies end up being not at all good.  This one, I think, is a more competent version of those sorts of movies, but again it ends up being somewhat shallow.  Now, of course, when we look at traditional slasher movies being shallow isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this is not a traditional slasher movie, and so is a movie based on a deeper concept.  And, again, all I can say is that it works fairly well but there’s nothing really special or interesting about it, which explains why I don’t want to rewatch it.

It’s a good enough movie that I might give it another shot at some point, and so it’s not going to go into my box to resell, but despite all the things it had going for it it’s not going into my closet for movies that I am likely to rewatch on a regular basis.  It’s still a pretty decent “Shudder” exclusive, though.

Thoughts on “6:45”

July 28, 2022

This is another movie that I was looking forward to, because it promised to be another horror time loop story in the vein of “Happy Death Day”.  Now, while even the sequel to that movie wasn’t actually a good movie, there’s a lot that you can do with such a premise and if you implement it properly you can make an interesting movie, or at least a movie that’s interesting enough to escape the box to get rid of at some point.

This movie didn’t manage to implement the premise that well.

The basic idea is that a couple that has been having some problems — he cheated on her, which is revealed later — goes away to a remote island that the back of the box proclaims has a secret, and where the murder of a young couple happened a few years ago.  As they wander around the island, they themselves get murdered in a similar fashion, but time resets back to 6:45 in the morning — hence the title — and they have to live through the day to hopefully break the loop.

Now, my thought before watching the movie was that this would be a great premise to set up some kind of ritual sacrifice thing like we saw in “Midsommar” or in “Death of Me” (neither of those being all that great either) where the islanders have that ritual to give them some benefit but the two of them manage to foil it in a way that creates the time loop, meaning that they need to find a way to break the loop without it ending with the two of them sacrificed, which would suggest that both of them know what’s going on and have to work together to break it.  Instead, only the boyfriend realizes that it’s a time loop and so he has to figure this out on his own, which means that they don’t take advantage of what could have been a somewhat fresh take on the premise, as usually the one person has to explain the premise to someone every time around to get help but here the two of them could be trying to work together to solve it.  Which at some point could reference the problems they’d been having as they wonder if that could be causing the time loop, and leading to frustrated arguments between them.  As such, it reduces itself to a pretty standard time loop story.

That’s done poorly.  The main thing about a time loop is that things should proceed exactly as normal, and the main character isn’t aware that time is repeating until they hit a couple of loops and realize that the things that are happening again are things that really shouldn’t be repeating, and so the only way that things change is when the main character does things differently, usually to test the theory that things are happening again or to try to break the loop.  Here, at the start of the second loop the main character seems aware that it’s a loop — and they splash a big day counter to let us know that — and without doing anything differently we see different things happening (telling a story about the murders, for example).  This loses the big thing that time loops provide which is the slow build to the realization that the day is repeating which then leads to the main character trying anything they can think of to break the loop.  Here, things change early and often.  Moreover, he builds to the extremely frustrated “blow it all up” stage really early, and then they do what I sometimes do with stories where while it seems like I should have more in there I get bored of it and then just rush to the end.  They jump hundreds of days into the future to resolve the movie, when what we really want to see is that slow build to overall frustration and then to a solution.  Jumping more days in between would have avoided that issue while still giving us the sense that he’s been stuck there for a long time.

Also, the main character isn’t very sympathetic, which it turns out is because of how they wanted to end it, which I have problems with as well.  Eventually, he confesses the affair, she leaves and survives, the loop ends, he returns, and then the movie has him be arrested and implies that before he left he had killed her and so all of those events were some kind of hallucination or delusion.  That’s disappointing, but could be made to work.  Except he denies this to himself claiming that he was a hero and saved her when he didn’t actually do anything to save her, at least not anything heroic.  So all it does is serve to cement him as an abuser, which isn’t going to make us any more sympathetic to him, and his belief that he saved her is pointless and meaningless.  I think it would have worked better for him to have indeed taken a heroic action to save her, have them return and have her go off to talk to her mother who might have been worried when they couldn’t contact her for most of the day (the cell phone ran out of power) and then have him go back to the apartment and be arrested.  Then his protestations would have made some sense and we could wonder if it was all a delusion or if she had been killed by someone else while she was away and he was taking the blame.

As it is, we have an unsympathetic main character, a botched time loop story, and a nonsensical and uninteresting ending.  I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say that this one is going into my box of movies to get rid of at some point, the second movie in a row that I was looking forward to that ends up that way.

Thoughts on “13 Fanboy”

July 21, 2022

I probably should just stop anticipating things.  When I saw this movie, having liked the original movie, I was looking forward to seeing what they did with it, as it presented itself as linking back to the original movies through the original actresses (and one of the original actors for Jason himself).  That they were able to assemble these characters into one movie should really have been a boon for it as, well, where else were you going to get that?  All they had to do was come up with a decent story to tie all of this together and they’d have a pretty good movie.  Unfortunately, that’s what they failed to do.

The movie starts off pretty well, as it focuses on someone who wasn’t in the original movies but is set up as the daughter of one of the original actresses.  Her mother was killed by a strange stalker when she was a child, who threatened her mother and grandmother as well, before seemingly being killed by the grandmother.  Now, the daughter is being stalked by someone, and that stalker is also going after some of the original actresses, which then includes the grandmother.

This is where the movie loses it for me, because the last half of the movie focuses on the grandmother who is a much less interesting character than the daughter, and who also has a much less interesting connection to the original murders.  About the only interesting thing about her is that she has a more direct connection to Friday the 13th, but it turns out that she doesn’t have a personal connection to the killer, as it is revealed towards the end that the stalker and killer was the boyfriend of the daughter.  Or, at least, I think that’s what happened, because it’s dark, his face is different and, oh, yeah, the daughter doesn’t really react to it despite him trying to kill her!  In a movie where the daughter was the focus, this would have been a very dramatic and emotional event even if there was another killer (as there is).  But the shift to the grandmother makes this scene pretty much perfunctory.

I could have forgiven that if the link to the final killer was more interesting, but it wasn’t.  The ultimate killer is another actress from the movies who, I guess, wants to revive her own career and feels jealous of the others for getting more attention.  Her motivations actually aren’t all that clear, which makes sense because her being a killer and involved comes completely out of nowhere and isn’t hinted at except for perhaps one scene with Kane, who is her lover, that doesn’t really indicate anything because we don’t have much reason to think that Kane was involved as well, although maybe he was.  At any rate, it comes completely out of nowhere and so isn’t an interesting reveal in any way.  Now, you can point out that one of the things that I liked about the original movie was that the reveal of the killer came out of nowhere, but that was not because that reveal came out of nowhere but instead because the movie spent most of its runtime being studiously unconcerned with any of that.  No one really bothered to speculate about who the killer might be.  The hints and red herrings weren’t drawn attention to or even paid attention to for the most part.  That movie spent most of its time making it so that no one really thought about or cared about who the murderer is, so when it was someone completely unexpected we didn’t think “Nice twist!” or, given the evidence in the movie, “Huh?”.  We just accepted it and rolled with it in line with what the movie itself seemed to want us to do.  Here, the identity of the killer is the main plot and so to resolve in this way is, as usual disappointing.

I liked the daughter character, but disliked the grandmother character who gets the focus for most of the movie.  Add that to the twist ending that comes out of nowhere and isn’t properly developed, and this is a movie that I will not watch again, and so it goes into my box of movies to get rid of at some point.  It’s a shame, because given the premise and the fact that they managed to sign on so many actors and actresses from the original movies one would have liked them to be attached to a better movie.

Further Thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet”

July 19, 2022

So at the risk of doing precisely what I said that I wasn’t going to do — provide deep commentaries on Shakespeare — malcolmthecynic made a comment about this statement of mine in my first set of thoughts on the play:

Also, there’s a subplot where Romeo was in love with another woman first before meeting Juliet, but this doesn’t add much to the play and only makes us wonder if Romeo’s love of Juliet was more hormones than real love considering how quickly he shifts from one to the other.

His reply was as follows:

I will argue here that you are making the classic error. Romeo and Juliet’s love was NOT “cosmic true love”, was not MEANT to be “cosmic true love”, and it was in fact incredibly shallow.

This was the point. This is what the play is driven around. Romeo is a hopeless romantic and Juliet is a naive kid, and the follies of two youths who think their feelings are more important than the problems around them leads to tragedy.

I replied myself with some additional comments, and malcolmthecynic replied as well, at which point I realized that there was a lot more to talk about and examine here than I could reasonably do in a comment, and so I decided to take the time and write a post about it.  So let me summarize what I think are the differences in our positions here.  I definitely take what is the classic and typical interpretation of the play, which is that Romeo and Juliet were each others’ true loves and it was the feud between their families that ultimately and primarily caused the tragic outcome of the play.  Malcolmthecynic, on the other hand, seems to feel that they were reckless young people overcome by their emotions into a terribly ill-advised relationship and marriage and ultimately that’s what causes the tragic outcome of the play.  Malcolmthecynic has specifically noted that the feud played a role in the outcome, and I will concede here that Romeo and Juliet did indeed act recklessly at times and too quickly, so the main debate is over what is more responsible for the tragedy:  the heated and bitter feud between the families or the young couple’s reckless insistence that that didn’t matter.  Note that we also need to tie this back to my original comment, which is that the play would have been better if they had left out Romeo’s original love interest and that that didn’t actually add anything, which I will claim can be true even if malcolmthecynic is right about the issues being more about the couple than about the families.

One thing to clear off the decks first, which is this comment about Romeo and Juliet from the second comment:

Right, but that’s part of the issue – Romeo and Juliet fall for each other without knowing anything about the other EXCEPT that they are from the one group of people they absolutely can’t marry.

But as I noted in my comment they actually fall in love with each other at first sight, when they didn’t know who the other person was.  Considering that it was at a banquet for the members of her family, there was no reason for Juliet to think that Romeo was from the other family until she was told and was already interested in him, and Romeo didn’t know who she was either, and could have expected that it was someone from another family and not the daughter of the greatest enemy of his family.  Why I raise this is that this comment can imply that a big part of the attraction was that they were the “unattainable fruit” because of the feud, and I don’t think this is the intention, especially since Shakespeare immediately has them deny it by talking about giving up their family names to be together.  So whatever they were feeling, it wasn’t just aiming at what they couldn’t or shouldn’t have.  They were feeling that in spite of them being from feuding families, not because of it.

Now, I think I agree, on reflection, that Shakespeare is subverting the typical story here, but I don’t think I agree that he’s subverting it in the way malcolmthecynic thinks it is, which is that these were naive kids ignoring the real world in search of romantic ideals that probably don’t exist.  The first reason I think this is that the typical way to show that would be for the two of them to think that if they got married in the eyes of God their families would have to accept that and that it would solve the problems, and then once they announce their wedding they would discover that, no, the families don’t have to accept it and it solves no problems, which would then lead to the other options being taken, which would lead to the tragic outcome.  But here they don’t even get to announce the wedding before things go sour, and they go sour from the actions of others (mostly) with Romeo actually being somewhat thoughtful and trying to avoid an incident that might mean that the families could not unite over their wedding, which ultimately gets Mercutio killed and leads to the cousin’s death at Romeo’s hand.  This isn’t something that follows from the wedding or relationship itself, but is mostly unrelated to it (I think it is implied that the cousin at one point has heard about Romeo’s designs on Juliet and is going after Romeo for that reason, but it is also made clear that that cousin, in particular, is looking for an excuse to attack and he doesn’t know about the wedding yet).  So the first step that could be taken to show that it is their naive view that is causing the issue is one that Shakespeare neatly sidesteps.

The other issue is that the more reckless actions that are taken — like the whole plot to fake Juliet’s death — are caused by events completely outside of the marriage itself and are suggested and supported by people who arguably would be the ones to know better.  The friar himself suggests the plan to fake Juliet’s death, and puts it into action, which is the same person who said that he thought this would end in tragedy.  To return to the original comment, he also doesn’t call out Romeo on being inconstant in his affections and is willing to rush to marry the two despite the fact that, at the time, there is no reason to rush the wedding, and again they don’t announce it for another day or two.  The friar could certainly have told Romeo to wait given how fraught that marriage would be with peril but he doesn’t even try.  So we don’t get the impression from him or from the nurse that the two are rushing into something that isn’t valid or that they shouldn’t rush into, which leads me to feel that we are expected to feel that whatever they have for each other, it’s a valid love for people of that age in that time, the sort of love that could, indeed, lead to a long and happy marriage in those times.  So we definitely shouldn’t think that the two should just never get married, and likely that the relationship should be something that they should have the freedom to explore except for the feud between their families.

Another issue here is that what gets in the way of their relationship are not things that follow from them being reckless, but from things outside of their control.  The feud between their families started long before they were born.  Them being able to announce the wedding would have certainly changed things, but Romeo killing the cousin means they can’t do that.  Even the plot to fake Juliet’s death was foiled by a sudden plague that prevented the monk from delivering the letter to Romeo before he heard of Juliet’s death, which leads to him discovering her seemingly lifeless body and deciding to kill himself because of that.  It isn’t unreasonable for him to return to see if she is really dead when he hears about the news, despite being exiled, and while one can argue that committing suicide over one’s lost love is more unreasonable, it’s also incredibly standard in drama, and so if Shakespeare was trying to subvert that he would have definitely needed to make it far more obvious that in this case, at least, it was unreasonable.  But the two of them act like the typical lovers you see in drama, and the tragedy seems to come about from things that aren’t related to their actions.  Their actions only set the stage for the tragedy, but it is things unrelated to their actions that ultimately cause it.

Which is where I think Shakespeare is subverting the normal rules of tragedy.  As I’ve noted before, tragedy often tends to follow the same structure as the Batman Gambit:  we in the audience can see how their tendencies and actions cause the tragic outcome, and sometimes even the main characters can see that, but they must be true to themselves and so walk, willingly or unwillingly, to their tragic doom.  For example, it’s easy to argue that Hamlet’s indecisiveness causes his downfall, unwilling to commit to taking direct action against the usurper until it is too late.  Here, though, other than falling into dramatically romantic love with each other what Romeo and Juliet do isn’t directly responsible for the consequences and no one reasonable could have seen that things would turn out that way.  Other tragic ways, perhaps, but not these ways.  And so it does seem like the idea of them being “star-crossed lovers” seems to fit, as it really does seem like Destiny itself was out to get them.  Their families are not only feuding, but violently feuding, so much so that the ruler of the city has to take harsh measures to get them to tone it down.  Before they can announce their marriage, a cousin instigates an incident that causes more hard feelings between the families and gets Romeo exiled by that very ruler of the city.  The plan to reunite them in exile fails due to a sudden — and it seems somewhat short-lived — plague.  None of these were things that they or those helping them could have foreseen.

So in some sense I think that the key is what Shakespeare spoils at the beginning and returns to at the end, with the statements of the chorus:  their love and their deaths was the only thing that could end the feud between the families, and so Destiny itself set them down that path and kept them on it precisely to do that.  In much the same sense as the one that Jolee Bindo talked about in Knights of the Old Republic, of the Jedi who thought he had a great destiny and set out to do a great deed, and was unceremoniously killed by being tossed down an exhaust hatch, which caused the engines to explode and did bring peace to that area, and thus did a great deed.  While theirs is a more serious situation, while in general we’d think that the destiny of these lovers is to be together, it turns out that their destiny is to bring the families together and get them to end their feud.

In order to do that, we don’t need the two of them to have a genuine true love (although, again, the chorus strongly implies that).  All we need is for them to have something legitimate that we would think that, under normal conditions, they should have the chance to explore.  As Londo Mollari said about another such couple, they are children and children should be allowed to dance, and the feud tragically takes that away from them.  Thus, even if we are supposed to feel that their love is not at all smart, adding in the love interest for Romeo doesn’t add anything to that.  The “love at first sight with the enemy of my family” would work well-enough, and implying that she didn’t feel the same way about Romeo only works against malcolmthecynic’s comment that he’s charismatic and a bit of a bad boy, which is why Juliet likes him.  If this was followed up on, then it could have worked, but it still would add nothing to the idea that they should at least have been able to try this out to see if their relationship could have worked out and it was the feud that got in the way of that, which is necessary for the two families to reconcile instead of blaming each other for their deaths (the Montagues have a very good case against the Capulets to argue that the cousin’s instigation was responsible for the exile and their rush to marry Juliet off was responsible for the outcome).

So, to me, Shakespeare subverts the story not by taking a realist take against the romanticism of the lovers, but instead by subverting the idea that such loves are destined and the lovers are destined to be together, and that Destiny will work as hard as it can to achieve that.  Here, Destiny works to end the love tragically in service of reconciling the families, leaving their love as merely a means to a very different end.

I will end here by addressing malcolmthecynic’s comment that part of what supports his interpretation is how comedic the rest of the play is.  While given my opinions of the other comedies I’m probably not the right person to say this, but I didn’t find the rest of the play comedic as opposed to just being light, and I see the lightness as having very different purposes.  The light banter of the two retainers at the beginning is necessary to contrast with the street brawl that almost breaks out immediately after.  The light conversation between Romeo and Mercutio and the other one is to build up that relationship, which is important later when Romeo’s attempt to keep the peace gets Mercutio killed.  This is also important to making Romeo likeable, so that we can find his and Juliet’s deaths tragic.  We have to like the characters or else we don’t find their deaths tragic and emotional — especially given how their families feel about them — and so while we might not have wanted to see them die we aren’t moved by them either.  There’s also, of course, something to be said for lightening the mood so that we don’t get tension and drama overload and exhaust ourselves.  I, personally, don’t see it as being anything more than light and mildly humourous conversations that we see in other dramas (Babylon 5 is a good example of these sorts of conversations) that establish characters and relationships and provide an emotional break before the real drama begins, but again as I said given my opinion of Shakespeare’s comedies so far I am likely not the best judge of that.  Then again, the banter is less comedic than I’ve seen from him so far and from what I recall seeing in his more famous comedies, so I might well be on the right track.

Anyway, that’s my take on “Romeo and Juliet”.  As already noted, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is up next which is, perhaps sadly, another comedy that I may not be qualified to judge.

Thoughts on “Graveyard Shift”

July 14, 2022

This is the last of the movies in that four-pack of Stephen King movies, which means that I’ll talk about the entire pack at the end of this post.  This is King’s version of a vampire story — although not the same as “Salem’s Lot” — but it features a much more animalistic vampire, in the sense that it seems to be an actual vampire bat that can control rats in some way instead of a more human-like vampire.  In theory, that’s something that you could do something with, but the monster doesn’t appear until the very end of the movie and the details of it aren’t properly explored.

Which is a shame, really, because the main flaw in this movie is that it’s just so incredibly boring.  We start off with a long sequence showing a death from rats and/or the monster, but for the most part the rest of the movie devolves to a jerk boss, small-town bullying of strangers and people who are different, and a sequence where they are trying to clean up part of the cotton mill where people have died and trying to keep the rats away.  The bullies are there and are annoying, but the protagonist and his love interest aren’t all that interesting of characters either and don’t really do anything.  Towards the end, we get the actual attack with them running for their lives, but since most of the characters aren’t all that sympathetic and the others are boring we don’t really care that much about it, and the flight and attack itself isn’t all that interesting.

The movie, at least, is also inconsistent wrt the boss character.  He’s a complete bully and set up to be a jerk, and yet at one point in the movie he is rather brave in attempting to fight the monster, and failing in the attempt.  But he also, before that, also goes nuts and tries to kill the two main characters, in a scene that seems to do nothing more than gravely injure the female lead.  Having that sort of shift in character isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but as noted the movie seems to build that character to have the traits and to act the way it wants him to act rather than in ways that follow on from the character as established.  I can’t help but imagine that in the original work King made the character more ambiguous and the movie just really didn’t manage to bring that all together at the end.

That being said, again, the big flaw in the movie is that it’s just terribly and incredibly boring.  There is not enough action and not enough characterization to keep the audience engaged and engrossed in the movie for its entire runtime, which given that it’s only an hour and a half long is not a good sign.  I came out of that movie not wanting to ever watch that movie again … and decided that about half way through.  I don’t know if it’s the story, the adaptation, or both, but this movie really didn’t work.

From the four-pack, then, “Silver Bullet” is the most entertaining, but isn’t really anything special.  “The Dead Zone” has its moments and is again well-acted, but again isn’t all that special and has its own issues.  “Pet Sematary” is more confusing than anything else and so isn’t all that entertaining.  “Graveyard Shift” is just boring.  Still, as a Stephen King pack I will put it on the shelf with my main movies, at least until I run out of room.

Next, I return to individual movies for a bit, leaving series and Stephen King aside for a while.

Thoughts on “Pet Sematary”

June 30, 2022

So, now I return to that four pack of Stephen King movies that I put off talking about until I got through the “Carrie” movies with “Pet Sematary”.

The plot is that a family moves to a somewhat rural house beside a busy highway that a lot of transport trucks drive rather quickly down, and because of that their neighbour — Herman Munster, as it turns out — shows them the local “Pet Sematary” just down the path from their house, where the pets and even strays that were killed on that highway are buried.  Soon after, while everyone except the husband is away their cat gets outside at night and is killed, and so the neighbour talks to him about another burial ground far deeper into the woods that doesn’t just bury animals, but also revives them.  The husband makes the trip and revives the cat, but the cat acts a lot meaner and smells badly and so something isn’t quite right with it.  At any rate, eventually the young toddler gets away from the family and gets hit by a truck, which devastates the family.  When the family is away, and despite being warned that he should never try it, the husband tries to bring the child back from the dead and succeeds … but the child is a horribly evil and murderous creature — and is hinted at being possessed — and starts to kill everyone.  Spurred on by a ghost that appeared earlier in the movie, the wife comes back to try to help but is rather unceremoniously killed off by the child.  The husband kills the child, and then comes to believe that the issue was that the child was dead for too long and so takes his recently deceased wife to the same place to revive her, at which point she also returns and kills him, at which point the movie ends.

There isn’t that much plot in the movie, and so it feels like it’s stretched out a bit.  However, for all of that there isn’t really enough exposition to explain what is going on or how it all works.  The husband, for example, seems totally convinced about his conclusions about the other cemetery that revives people, including that time matters, but in-movie we aren’t given any reason to think that he would know any of that or would come to that conclusion, especially in the case of his wife.  That being said, we can forgive the movie for that last one, at least, because he’s clearly emotionally distraught and it’s reasonable to think that he’d be grasping at straws and trying to rationalize his move, so it doesn’t really have to make sense.

The wife’s subplot, however, cannot be so easily forgiven.  Since she’s guided back home by a supernatural entity that claims to be trying to help and works to get her there at that time, that she’s killed off so perfunctorily doesn’t work.  What we’d expect to happen is that either she’d return, try to help, but ultimately fail — the spirit actually says that it could only get her there and that she might not succeed but it needed her to take the chance — or else to reveal that the spirit was actually trying to deceive her and only wanted to get her back there to die.  As it stands, she comes back to die so that she can be revived and kill the husband, which would be a bad enough move on its own but is even worse when such a big deal is made out of the possibility that she could stop everything and essentially stop a great evil.  With such a set-up, the movie really doesn’t deliver on that at all.

Beyond that, though, there isn’t much to say about the movie, which might be the thing that most damns it.  It’s not particularly interesting and doesn’t have a really interesting plot, and as I noted seems to be trying to stretch the plot it does have to fit into a movie-length feature.  Given that, I don’t hate it and maybe could watch it again, but don’t think I’ll be watching it again any time soon.

Thoughts on “Carrie(2002)”

June 23, 2022

I actually think I would have enjoyed this movie a bit more if I hadn’t watched it so close to watching the 1976 version, because both of them are trying to adapt the same work and seem to be trying to follow it fairly closely, at least in its big events.  What this means, then, is that there are a lot of similar or even downright identical scenes in the 2002 version as there were in the 1976 version, and so it seems repetitive.  There’s another reason why that’s a problem, but I’ll talk about that at the end.

At any rate, this version really seems like it was made as a TV movie or miniseries, mostly because it seems to stop the action at specific times and specific ways that suggest that we were about to be sent to commercial, in the normal way of building to some kind of crescendo or mystery or twist so that we will want to come back after the commercial break, even if what is revealed afterwards isn’t all that interesting.  Movies often have hard cuts like you see when watching a DVD of a TV show, but in general they don’t try to build to any kind of “interesting” plot point before doing that and in general don’t do it at regular intervals.  Being a TV movie, it’s also a bit longer than the original movie was, coming in at just over two hours, which gives it more time to do things, which in my view is usually an advantage.

However, what this movie does is use that time to graft on a framing device (which might have been in the original work, for all I know).  The framing device is that Sue Snell — the girl who set Carrie up with her own boyfriend as a date to the prom — and some others are being questioned by a police detective about the events that night, which is then used to depict the events leading up to it and what actually happened.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to set up those events all that well and aren’t that relevant to anything except, perhaps, to the very end, which could have been done without appealing to the framing device at all.  Even worse, Sue comes across as far more arrogant than she does in the entire rest of the movie, which makes it look like she has something to hide even though she doesn’t and seems like character derailment given, again, how she acts in the rest of the movie.  It was pretty jarring given that she rarely talked back to any authority figures in the story but is challenging the detective here.

Actually, it does turn out that she has something to hide.  The movie tries to hint that her secret is around her trying to set Carrie up, but as in the first movie that didn’t happen.  However, this movie differs from the first movie in that it has Carrie survive the night, which is the secret that Sue is hiding.  She then arranges to get Carrie on a bus to I think Florida.  There are a couple of problems with how this was done, however.  First, the movie gives us no reason for Sue to actually do this, especially after her boyfriend was killed at the prom.  It’s easy to believe that she wanted to get Carrie to come out of her shell without having a real explanation for that, but it’s a lot harder to believe that she was willing to hide someone who killed a lot of people and trashed the town with her supernatural powers, including possibly almost killing her.  So we needed a reason why she’d do that, and the movie never established that.  The second issue is that while Sue is driving Carrie to the bus station Carrie starts having hallucinations of her tormentors and manages to clamp down on them towards the end, but this sets her up as someone who is extremely dangerous and is probably going to lose it again, at which point we aren’t going to feel happy that Carrie is going away and aren’t going to think Sue particularly smart for helping her get away, but the structure of the scene is such that we don’t really seem to be expected to condemn her at the end either, so it seems like a pointless scene to add drama that it never relies on.

Carrie herself is mostly portrayed as some kind of disturbed person, but in a strange way.  She’s far more destructive, since as already mentioned she trashes the entire town just walking back to her house from the prom.  However, at the prom instead of portraying her as being delusional and seeing people laughing at her when they weren’t the movie instead seems to have her completely going away, and all that happens afterwards — even to the point where she runs water into the tub to clean herself up — is just her running on automatic or perhaps being possessed by some other personality.  Once she cleans herself up, she seems to snap out of it and has no idea what happened, so it really does seem like her consciousness was submerged when she went into shock.  So to what extent she was at all in control of her actions is definitely open to debate.

Commenter Tom noted on my post on the 1976 version that King himself seemed unsympathetic towards Carrie and towards Sue, and so in that sense this version is closer to what he thought than the 1976 version was.  However, this movie also clearly shows that Sue didn’t have any hidden motives for helping Carrie and that Carrie herself isn’t just a sociopath lashing out in anger, so it doesn’t line up that much with what King purportedly thought.

I will give the movie credit for spending more time focusing on Carrie and letting us get to know her instead of focusing on the villains.  However, most of those scenes are indeed ones that the 1976 version had as well, so it’s not that much of an improvement.  The movie also makes the female antagonist more sympathetic and less willing to humiliate Carrie, at the cost of making her boyfriend a complete and utter psychopath which adds nothing to the movie and ruins the overall tragedy of the movie where a nasty prank causes all that destruction and death despite it not being intended to garner such a reaction, and so where normal, everyday bullying and revenge has unexpectedly tragic consequences.

So, then, what do I think of the three movies in this pack?  Out of all of them, and despite its flaws, I think I’d be more likely to rewatch “The Rage” than any of the other three.  It was a bit mediocre, but as a full movie I think it worked the best.  I think that out of all of them the best crafted movie — for all of its extraneously long scenes — is the 1976 version, which is what makes the 2002 version pale in comparison to it.  I’m just not that interested in rewatching that movie.  And given what I’ve seen and heard, I suspect that the 2002 version is the closest to the original work, even as it likely has differences that might grate on people.  So, where is this pack going to end up?  That’s a bit of a trick question, because I have some Stephen King works that I would definitely rewatch — “Rose Red”, for example — and since there’s room for movies in the closet where I keep the movies I want to rewatch I think, for now, that I want to keep all the King stuff together there.  We’ll see what happens when it gets full.

Next up, I will finish another four pack of King movies and then move on to newer stuff.

Thoughts on “The Rage: Carrie 2”

June 16, 2022

When I saw that this movie was in that Carrie three-pack, I thought that it was a movie that was much closer in terms of time to the original movie than to the 2002 remake.  However, this movie was made in 1999, much closer to that movie than the 1976 original.  Which suggests that since they made an actual remake three years later that it was well-received enough to think that the idea had some legs but not well enough to continue in that style of movie.  And that seems to make sense given my impression of it.

The movie is set twenty years after “Carrie”, and starts with an opening scene where a little girl has telekinetic powers to her mother’s fear, except here the mother is considered insane and the girl is taken to a foster home.  It then fast-forwards to her in high school, a bit of an outcast with foster parents who care more about the money they get for keeping her than her, but she goes to school with her best friend who talks about having lost her virginity and wants to introduce her to her new beau at lunch, but it turns out that this was in general part of a game that the players on the football were engaging in and after being mocked for liking her the guy bails on her and she, devastated, commits suicide by jumping off the school roof.  We then discover that the counsellor at the school is the girl that survived the events of “Carrie”, and she tries to end the bullying from the football team and from a couple of in-girls who take a dislike to the main character when she seems to be attracting the guy that one of them wants, but then discovers that the main character has telekinetic powers and eventually comes to understand that her father was also Carrie’s father, explaining where she got the abilities.  This all leads up to a prank that explodes in an orgy of violence, just like in “Carrie”.

I’ll talk more about the ending later, but to start the most distracting and interesting thing about the movie is that the main beau is played by Jason London, which wouldn’t be all that interesting in and of itself, but he’s the twin brother of Jeremy London, who played Griffen on “Party of Five”, so I spent most of the time he was on-screen trying to figure out if it really was Jeremy London or someone else that looked like him.  It didn’t really impact my viewing of the movie itself, but the fact that it was the most memorable thing to me is probably not a good sign.

The movie correctly focuses more on the main character, allowing us to sympathize a bit with her and understand her a bit more than we had in “Carrie”.  However, the failing of this movie is that everything here is actually pretty perfunctory.  While we follow the main character around a bit, her life isn’t really bad enough for us to really feel sorry for her.  Her foster parents don’t seem to like her that much, but other than the father slapping her when she was sneaking back in at night they don’t seem all that bad, and she never seems to want any real revenge on them either.  While she’s not in the cool crowd, it also doesn’t seem like she’s a complete outcast either.  While the in-crowd are indeed a bit nasty, they aren’t nasty enough, in general, for us to really hate them and so be happy when they die at the end.  Even the link to the original movie is perfunctory, referencing the powers and the father but for the most part none of that really matters.  They even call back to the line of “They’ll all laugh at you!” from the original movie when the main character is indeed being laughed at, but that was never a warning that anyone gave to her and so not something that she should have been thinking about at the time, so it seems like it’s just there to make a link to “Carrie” that they never properly established.

And the ending maintains that feel.  The prank was cruel — they hint that her beau only had sex with her to score points for their game and then show a video of that on the TV in front of an entire party’s worth of people — but it also seems a bit pointless and while she’s humiliated it doesn’t really seem to justify the roaring rampage of revenge that she goes on.  The counsellor — the survivor from “Carrie”, remember — is killed trying to get into the house by accident as the main character impales someone else on a spear and it goes through the door to kill her, leaving her mother who the counsellor sprung from the insane asylum to go to the injured girl and then reject her, after she killed off the bullies.  But the biggest issue is when the beau comes in and she wants to kill him but he eventually convinces her that he loved her — he said it on the recording while she was sleeping — but she had loosened the roof which was about to fall on him and she pushes him aside, which traps her in a fire, and while he wants to stay she tosses him out of the house and he survives to adopt her dog and dream about her.  The thing is that early on they had him talking about “Romeo and Juliet” and there was a line about how the only way that lovers can never be separated was in death, and while it wouldn’t have been properly set up I thought that it would have been cool if they had both died together, cementing that “true romantic” notion that was set up earlier.  But instead the movie seems like it was just hitting the notes that it was supposed to hit and then getting out of the way, missing a glorious opportunity.

Ultimately, that’s my overall impression of the movie.  There’s nothing really wrong with the movie.  The performances are fairly good and there’s nothing obviously wrong with the plot, except that most of it doesn’t seem to matter in any way or is resolved.  The link to “Carrie” is perfunctory and under-utilized, and the entire subplot with the counsellor and the mother goes nowhere.  The foster parents are referenced but don’t matter.  The entire plan and set up for it isn’t really needed either, nor was the suicide at the beginning.  So what it seems like we end up with is a bunch of loosely or unconnected scenes that end with the roaring rampage of revenge, but because of how disconnected everything is it doesn’t have the emotional heft that we need in a movie like this.  So, as noted above, it all seems so perfunctory, like the movie is going through the motions of the plot but not really developing it.

As such, it’s not really a movie that I want to watch again, even though I probably could.  The main character is just sympathetic enough that it’s not a movie I’d hate watching, but the lack of emotional heft is such that I’m not interested enough in anything to actually do it again.  Thus, a movie that I might watch again but am unlikely to watch again any time soon, and yet I am more willing to rewatch it than the original “Carrie” despite the fact that the original movie is, in my opinion, the superior movie.  It doesn’t screw things up like that one did, but doesn’t do anything interesting either, and so ends up as a serviceable if mediocre outing.

Next up is the remake, then going back to fill in the other Stephen King works that I’ve already watched, and then something else that currently is too be decided.

Thoughts on “Carrie”

June 9, 2022

I have three more Stephen King movies watched to talk about, but I want to skip over them for now and turn to “Carrie”, because that pack has the other two movies — the sequel and the remake — and I want to write about this one before I start to watch the others so that the later ones don’t impact my view of this one.  Anyway, “Carrie” is the well-known story of a young girl who is bullied at school who develops her telekinetic powers and ends up going on a rampage at her prom when one last prank on her triggers her overwhelming rage.

For me, the interesting thing about this movie is that I had kinda seen it once already, as way back in the day it was out on Laserdisk and the convenience store nearby had them for rent so we picked it up and “Star Trek:  The Motion Picture” to watch.  However, either we did it wrong or else the person who rented it previously loaded the disk back in the case wrong and so we actually started with the last half instead of the first half, which kinda spoiled the ending a bit since we didn’t know what it was that was spilled on her — I think we thought it was paint — and so her reaction seemed a bit extreme.  This time, I watched it from the start.

This is one of the Stephen King adaptations that is the best received, and the others that seem to be well-received are the miniseries, not the motion pictures.  This one spawned a sequel and a remake, which the other King adaptations didn’t really get.  So I was looking forward to this one to see, presumably, an adaptation that got it all right.  However, it didn’t really work for me, and so I’m first going to say why that was and then comment on why I think it was well-received anyway.

The problem I had with this movie was that it focused too much on the antagonists, setting up why they were going after her and what they were planning to do.  It also set up a subplot where two other characters are set up to be antagonists but ultimately are trying to help her, which then has a tragic subtext when the boyfriend — who the girlfriend told to ask Carrie to the prom — is knocked out and likely dies in the fire of the gym and the girlfriend is one of the few to survive the outburst, on top of the fact that the girlfriend was trying to stop the other two from dousing her with pig’s blood and would have done so if the teacher that was on Carrie’s side hadn’t thought that the girlfriend was trying to do something bad to Carrie and hauled her away and kicked her out (which is the only reason she survived).  But the key to movies like this is to focus on the young, bullied person so as to make us understand them and really sympathize with them so that the outburst seems tragic, and this is especially important given the ending here where Carrie dies from her own abilities or due to her own grief, and especially since the reason she goes off is that she thinks that her classmates are laughing at her when only one of them was and even one of the ones involved in whole mess seems shocked and appalled by what happened.  To get the full sense of tragedy, we need to see the gap between her perceptions and the reality but also to understand why there is that gap.  Most later movies following that model do focus on the protagonist, which means it really reminded me of “It’s a Wonderful Life“, as one of the first or at least the first movie of this sort to gain mainstream popularity but where later movies got and focused on what was important more than it did.

I also didn’t care for how the movie often dragged scenes out for no real reason, other than maybe fanservice — the long scene with the girls exercising as their punishment for bullying Carrie, for example — long past the point where the scene had done what it needed to do.  We didn’t need that entire long scene to get why the girls might want to get back at Carrie, and in fact the scene could have been cut entirely and summed up with a short conversation and we wouldn’t have missed a thing.  The only place this works is at the end right before and when Carrie loses it, and even there it seemed to go on a bit long and so dragged a bit.  An hour and a half movie should never feel like it is dragging, and this movie did.

Okay, so given this, why is this movie so well-regarded?  Am I just being a curmudgeon here and being overly critical?  Well, I think there are some reasons why this movie is well-regarded even as I didn’t care for it that much.  First, the story is actually quite good and was probably fairly unique for the time.  As I noted, later movies tended to do it better, but at the time the story was original and interesting enough to draw interest.  Second, the end scenes are actually really effective, as the first scene at the gym — the most famous scene — builds the suspense well and shows us the direct consequences of her uncontrolled rage, while her mother attacking her builds in an excellent emotional component and leads to her final breakdown and death, and the end sequence with the girlfriend even has an excellent jump scare that shows how devastating this is for that girl who legitimately wanted to help and ended up contributing to the tragedy.  A really good end sequence can make up for a lot of less than stellar stuff in the middle of a movie.

Still, ultimately, I didn’t like it all that much even though it’s not terrible, so I could watch it again at some point but can’t see myself rewatching it any time soon.

Thoughts on “The Dead Zone”

May 19, 2022

So after I pondered in my discussion of “Christine” how I’d feel about a Stephen King adaptation that followed the work but that I hadn’t read, the very next Stephen King adaptation is “The Dead Zone”, which seems to fit the bill.  And, yeah, I definitely felt like there was more to the elements in it than the movie was portraying, which led to an add experience while watching it.

The basic plot here is that someone who is about to marry a fellow teacher on a stormy night, but as he heads home he gets into a car accident and is in a coma for I think a few years.  When he awakens, it seems like he can at times see the future, mostly by touching people.  He also discovers that his girlfriend has gotten married to someone else and has a child.  Eventually, he has a vision about the leading candidate for the Presidency that says that if he is elected he will eventually start a nuclear war, and has to decide if he can change the future and prevent it from happening.

Now, when I talked about “Midway”, I noted that it felt like it was trying to reference war movie tropes but didn’t develop them properly.  “The Dead Zone”, it can be argued, is a movie that does the same thing.  After all, while it’s more of a drama trope than a horror trope, having his girlfriend marry someone else but having them rekindle their relationship — they make love once before she leaves to go back to her husband — and in fact the entire thread where that happens and then they meet again as her husband is a key worker on the Presidential candidate’s campaign that happens to come to the main character’s neighbourhood is indeed a standard drama trope (although there it usually ends with the girlfriend returning to him).  And how he ultimately averts the terrible future that he foresaw is not by killing the candidate, but is instead by having him hide behind the child of his girlfriend which exposes him as a coward, which is creative but again could follow from the relationship.  But why I don’t think that’s what’s happening is because the events seems to have, in-universe, far more significance than the movie presents.  The scene where the main character and his girlfriend get together is lengthy and and seems to be hinting at a number of elements both before it and after it, so it’s easy to imagine that it’s a scene that was lifted from the book but that was better developed.  Even the ending didn’t need to be her son but could have been any child, but it being her child specifically seems important in a way that the movie just doesn’t reference.  So the overall impression I had is exactly what I was wondering if I’d have while watching “Christine”:  a sense that these events were supposed to be more meaningful and had more weight to them even though what we saw in the movie didn’t support that weight.  Because the scenes aren’t simply scenes that ape common tropes but seem to be expanded from what might at first glance be common tropes, it’s easy to imagine that in the book the scenes did follow from a deeper examination that the movie didn’t have the time to explore.  And given that from the other works I actually know that that’s the case for Stephen King works, that impression seems confirmed with what I know of how these sorts of things actually work.

That, I think, really does explain why Stephen King adaptations are in general not as popular or well-regarded as you’d think they be given how many of them there are and how famous he is as an author.  My impression is that the best regarded ones are “The Stand” and “It”, which were not two hour movies but were instead miniseries.  But even they have some issues following through on what is best in Stephen King novels, which is the individual relationships and internal thoughts of the people involved.  That sort of thing is very difficult to do in a movie and take up time that even miniseries don’t have the room to do, which led to my being disappointed with the miniseries of “The Stand” when I watched it after having re-read the book first.  King’s works are just really, really hard to adapt to a movie or even TV miniseries.

As for “The Dead Zone”, I think the performances are good and the ending is clever and a bit unexpected, but as already noted much of the movie depends on emotions that were probably developed in the original work but that weren’t developed properly in the movie.  In general, these movies make me want to read the book instead of watch the movie, which end up being “Meh” at best, which is where this one comes in.  I could probably watch it again, but won’t do that any time soon.