Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fantastic Four

There's not much to say about Tim Story's inept adaptation of the legendary Marvel Comic. It is with not much surprise that I came out of the theater underwhelmed and wondering at what might, and could, have been. Though certainly not my favorite comic book, the Fantastic Four always had a great sense of camaraderie and fun about it. This new adaptation is sorely lacking in nearly everything that made FF such a blast. It's poorly acted, written and directed. It's, essentially, an unmitigated disaster. I have nothing more to say about it. Avoid it.

Grade: D-

Land of the Dead

George A. Romero is perhaps the most underappreciated filmmaker of his generation. Sure, he is beloved amongst the horror fan community, but academics have all but ignored his cinema, and his lesser known works (Bruiser, The Dark Half, Two Evil Eyes) have been pushed aside. Only his Dead films (Night, Dawn and Day) have garnered much critical attention. To read an interview I did with Mr. Romero that attempts to reverse that trend, please read this.

His latest entry into the Dead franchise, Land of the Dead, continues the tradition Romero has kept going of gritty gore, concise social commentary and biting humor. Land follows Day of the Dead in the chronology of Romero's zombie universe. In it, human's have confined themselves in protected cities. The zombies appear to be nearly the dominant species. Living humans are the minority, but in the world of Romero, social castes still govern and separate the haves from the have-nots.

Land of the Dead is probably the best-directed film in Romero's canon. It is a stunningly crafted genre work, a film of potent political import. By breaking a whittled down group of surviving humans into social classes, Romero seems to have lost all faith in mankind's ability to withstand its own innate cruelty. Land of the Dead posits the zombie population as the put-upons of the film. They seldom venture near the human cities, content to live out their (admittedly inane) existence in peace. It's only when the humans venture out into zombie territory for provisions that their evolution becomes apparent. One zombie, Big Daddy, becomes a kind of revolutionary, leading the zombie population to the walled-in city to seek vengeance upon the humans who have encroached upon his land and his people. It's a sweeping indictment of contemporary American colonialism and the inability of Americans to deal with their current political problems at the true source: their own xenophobia.

And, hey, it's also a hell of a lot of fun, with plenty of blood and guts for the everyday horror movie nut. But it sure is nice to have such a potent expression of politics from genre cinema's most accomplished and brilliant artisan.

Grade: A

Dark Water

I've never been a fan of Walter Salles' cinema. I find it meandering and uninterestingly ponderous. And the current trend of J-horror remakes has become the most annoying Hollywood trend since the "independent" movement of the 90s.

So it was with great surprise that I found myself sucked in early on by Salles' remake of Hideo Nakata's Dark Water. The story of a newly-divorced, mentally unstable woman (Jennifer Connelly, remarkable), who is forced to move into a squalid apartment across the river from Manhattan. A victim of abandonment and childhood trauma, Dahlia (Connelly) and her daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) soon find themselves at the center of a mysterious ghost story, and a riveting tale of loss and parenthood.

And then everything fell apart. To the detriment of everything that has come before, Salles' Dark Water abandoned what was an intriguing dramatic narrative and wasted it on what seemed like four climaxes, none of them in service of what came before. Salles' patient style was perfectly suited to telling the first three-quarters of the film; the last quarter couldn't have been saved by anyone but the most talented of auteurs.

Grade: C-