#53 - A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh...
1938 - 2007
Welcome back to the Electric Theatre. Please turn off all cell phones and pagers and in consideration of others, please do not talk to your neighbors while the films are in progress. Particularly since you’re probably sitting alone at a computer right now and if you start talking…well, that’d just be creepy. Should be a quick one this week so let’s get to it.
NOW IN THEATRES
The A-Picture - 1408
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a good movie based on Stephen King’s writing and even longer since we’ve seen one that was supposed to be scary. Happily, 1408 delivers the goods and then some. It’s a taut, well-constructed spook show that’s infinitely more interesting and quite a bit creepier than the recent glut of torture-paloozas masquerading as transgressive horror these days. John Cusack stars as an author making a living writing guidebooks to supposedly haunted landmarks and hotels. He, of course, doesn’t believe in ghosts or much of anything else since his daughter died and he abandoned his wife. When he receives an ominous postcard warning him to stay away from room 1408 of New York’s Dolphin Hotel, he can’t resist checking in. Samuel L. Jackson turns up briefly, doing his Samuel L. Jackson thing as the Dolphin’s manager. But for the most part, the whole show is Cusack and that room. Cusack is ideally cast and director Mikael Håfström tightens the screws slowly but assuredly, ratcheting up the tension bit by bit. But while it would be tempting to give Cusack and Håfström all the credit, that would shortchange the invaluable contributions of the rest of the crew, especially the top-notch set created by production designer Andrew Laws and art directors Stuart Kearns and Doug J. Meerdink. Room 1408 is the other main character and it comes alive in more ways than one. It’s been so long since we’ve seen a movie like this that it would be easy to overpraise 1408. But at least there’s something here worth praising. Genuinely scary, haunting and thoroughly entertaining, 1408 is one of the best movies so far of this tepid, overbaked summer season. (* * * ½)
Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Evan Almighty
2003’s Bruce Almighty was not a particularly good movie and the few laughs I got out of it were courtesy of Steve Carell as news anchor Evan Baxter. So when I heard that Carell would be taking the lead in the sorta-kinda sequel Evan Almighty, I was optimistic. More fool I, for Evan Almighty is in fact several shades worse than its predecessor. This time out, God (still played as a benevolent sadist by Morgan Freeman) commands Evan, now a congressman, to build an ark in preparation for an impending flood. It’s all cloaked in a pro-family, pro-environment message vague enough to win over even the hardest of hardcore Inconvenient Truth haters. By the time God starts messing with Evan’s physical appearance, you’ll either wonder why He’s going out of his way to make Evan look like a crazy person or, more likely, you’ll have stopped caring. Evan Almighty is the crappiest live-action comedy Disney never got around to making in the early 1970s with Carell dutifully going through the motions in the Fred MacMurray role. The best efforts of its extremely talented supporting cast, including Lauren Graham, John Goodman, John Michael Higgins, Wanda Sykes and Jonah Hill, might have been enough to save it. But everyone looks as though they realized their best efforts would be wasted here, so their A-games are left at home. Evan Almighty invokes the story of Noah but the audience feels more like they’re trapped in the Book of Job. (* ½)
NOW ON DVD
John Byrum’s Inserts is a film that probably could only have been made in the 70s but it’s been all but forgotten in the wake of that decade’s better-known classics. That’s a shame because it’s well worth seeking out. Richard Dreyfuss stars as a washed-up silent filmmaker referred to only as the Boy Wonder. He lives in isolation in a Hollywood mansion slated for destruction to make way for a freeway, churning out stag films for sleazy money-man Bob Hoskins. The entire movie takes place in that house and the cast is limited to five, including Veronica Cartwright, Jessica Harper and Stephen Davies as a dumber-than-dirt actor called Rex, the Wonder Dog. Because of this, Inserts feels very much like a play although its use of the camera makes it difficult to imagine how it could work on stage. Not entirely successful and filled top to bottom with explicit sexuality that will likely discomfort some, Inserts is still an underrated, often fascinating comedy-drama that does a fine job capturing the period and boasts five excellent performances by its outstanding cast. (* * *)
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
Alan Arkin’s recent Oscar win rekindled my interest in catching this dated but frequently very funny curio. A Russian sub accidentally runs aground on a New England island during the off-season. Its crew desperately tries to secure a boat to tow them off the reef without arousing the locals and starting World War III. Arkin is terrific and funny bits are contributed by Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, and the great Brian Keith. Norman Jewison’s direction is a bit too restrained for the madcap material and a subplot with Russian sailor John Phillip Law falling for an American girl (played by blank slate Andrea Dromm) goes nowhere slowly. But at its best, this is fun, entertaining stuff, a reminder of a style of comedy that has vanished from filmmaking. (* * *)