Just about everyone knows the story of Jesus already, so that’ll save me some time. But as Roger Ebert said, “A movie is not about what it is about, it is HOW it is about it.” You follow? Meaning you could give the same script to ten different directors and come out with ten very different movies of varying quality. So here is New Testament: The Movie brought to you in epic fashion by George Stevens. How does it fare?
I’ll say this first – I’m an atheist. I think all this stuff is pure nonsense and just happens to be one of the more recent myths in history that people still believe in. As long as it’s not overtaken by Scientology someday, maybe I shouldn’t complain. All that being said, I feel I can still look at films based on the Bible with unbiased eyes. I see them as movies first, ancient fables second, and a weird religion followed devoutly by millions third. I’ve seen a few other movie based on the same material and have had different opinions. I thought Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was mostly a waste of fucking time, but I could still appreciate on honest attempt at making a more “realistic” version of the crucifixion of Jesus. But in the end, I did not learn anything new about Christianity and I certainly wasn’t swayed by the buckets of blood to give Christ another chance in my life. However, The Last Temptation of Christ is a great movie. It doesn’t just come up with a new twist on the old story, it uses the twist in a way that gives Jesus’ sacrifice much more meaning. Willem Dafoe’s Jesus went through psychological and spiritual torture in his last moments, as opposed to Caviezel’s mere physical torture. What I’m trying to say is, I do give these movies a chance even though they’re about a pagan sorcerer zombie that a too-large portion of the modern world believes will bring them to paradise with bottomless ice cream sundaes when they die.
First thing I noticed about this movie was its three and a half hour running time. And it feels like three and a half hours. (Wikipedia tells me original US release was 2 hours and 17 minutes. This DVD release must be an extended 3:19 cut…) Immediately the movie hits you with all the stilted stagy dialogue one may have come to expect from Biblical epics. And it never lets up. The result is not a feeling of ancient time and place, but of a really long nativity play put on by the kids in the neighborhood church. Not that the acting is all bad; Max von Sydow as Jesus and David McCallum as Judas pull off the work as well as it could be. But the movie suffers from an overabundance of star power. Claude Rains, Telly Savalas, Charlton Heston, Martin Landau, John Wayne in an infamous one line performance (“Truly he is the son of God…pardner”), and many other stars of the era are sprinkled throughout the film. I bet I missed at least a dozen – looking at the cast list on IMDB I can see several more names I recognize even if I didn’t notice them in the movie (Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Shelley Winters). Still, what I saw was enough to take me right out of the movie time and time again. Why did they all sign on? Was it a studio desperate to make a 3+ hour movie more palatable to the movie-going public? Did all these stars beg to have a role – any role, no matter how small – just because it was a religious picture? I don’t know and I don’t care. They should have cut sixty pages from the script and cast people who made sense for their roles instead.
This movie simply preaches directly to the audience once adult Jesus shows up. He goes to see John the Baptist aka Caveman Charlton Heston, is recognized as the messiah, and gets his first disciples. Everything between those events and the end, whereupon Jesus is crucified, is merely a string of episodes where Jesus teaches his followers, heals the blind, and delivers all of the cliched Bible verses you can think of (Do unto others, Let he who is without sin, etc etc). I guess this is no surprise to readers of the Bible, for this is the story of Jesus. Perhaps I came to this movie looking for the wrong thing, a different way of telling the same old stories. But it is just the same old stories set to moving pictures.
The Last Supper scene continues the trend and manages to simultaneously avoid any sense of doom or even basic drama AND rip off DaVinci’s famous painting. A painting is a painting is a painting and there was no reason to record the scene the same way except to trigger the memory of it in the viewers’ minds. The Last Supper will hold a place in history as long as there is a memory of it. It is significant as a piece of art, but the film can only ape it. There have been many versions of the painting over the centuries by many different artists, but when I see a plain knock off like the one in this film, I can’t help but hold it in contempt. Instead of adding something to the scene to make it resonate, something as simple as real human emotion, George Stevens instead chose to mimic the popular image of the last supper. It does not mean anything in the film. The framing is all wrong, the staging and blocking is stiff, plainly it just doesn’t make any sense to film this scene in this way. Probably it was made this way because people expected to see it this way and I consider that giving in to the lowest common denominator.
I think this scene is representative of the entire movie. Instead of delivering a religious experience, we are given Sunday school. Instead of seeing Jesus and his followers as real people going through a tremendous period of change in their lives and civilizations, we are given cardboard archetypes that only do what everyone already knows they’re going to do. Instead of trying to accompany the Bible and build on its messages, the movie is a coloring book copy of the Bible and its director dared not color outside the lines.
While some performances, especially von Sydow’s, may stand out, the epic loses points for A) trying to cram too many damn stars down our throats and B) not giving its real actors anything to do. The movie as a whole is stilted, solemn, and disengaging. I give it four Caveman Charlton Hestons out of ten, which I consider a gift. That rating is only slightly better than the actual Bible.
There’s a thing I always think about when watching found footage movies – who found this footage? And who put it together into a feature film? These are not practical questions to ask when one is watching what is obviously a piece of fiction. What then is the point of this found footage style in a movie like Chronicle? It’s surely too fantastic to ever seem REALLY real, so why bother? I can’t answer that question; you’ll have to ask Max Landis, son of John and writer of this movie for the real scoop. I suspect it’s just because it is still a trendy way to make a movie and this one is pretty darn cool. That being said, I think this movie would have been just as much fun even if shot as a traditional narrative.
“First do no harm,” says the cinema style guide (Are you reading this Joel Schumacher? You forgot that particular tenet with Batman & Robin so long ago and the world will never forgive you.) and Chronicle starts things off very well. All the usual problems with mock-docs are addressed in the opening scenes. Why is this kid videotaping everything? His father is violent and he keeps the man at bay by putting it all on camera. Also, he wants to put a barrier up between himself and the rest of the world that misunderstands him. Do these explanations hold up for the length of the movie? I was totally fine with it. To a point. So… Not totally, I guess. And the problem of never seeing the character behind the camera is solved when he learns how to take a more hands off approach to his videography.
To recap what the trailer tells us, three high school kids (who all look 24, naturally) find a big hole in the ground with a big glowy thing inside. They all get telekinetic abilities in exchange for some nasty nosebleeds. Adventures/hilarity/chaos ensues. Some people are really getting over this “normal people as superheroes” thing, with Kick-Ass, Super, Special, Defendor, etc all coming out over the last several years. Those movies were more about what would make a regular schmoe WANT to be a superhero. Revenge, inflated sense of justice, whatever. This one is better than most because it is about people who already have real lives when superpowers are thrust upon them. It is less a study of their motivation, more an exploration of what kinds of things someone might do with a little bit of unlimited power. The super popular guy, the average do-gooder guy, and the loner misfit guy. I know why they didn’t give any girls telekinesis – they would just have mental naked pillow fights all day and then make out with their mind tongues. I get it, Max, gotta leave room for a sequel.
Hijinks are enjoyed (fuckin’ FLYING!), overall popularity level at school increases, relations with females occur, but our lonely loser can’t seem to get things right. He’s got emotional problems due to Old Papa McDrinky, a slowly dying mom, mounting medical bills, bullies at school, and a complete inability to trust his few friends in the world. Throw in the ability to crush automobiles with your bare brain, you got yourself a real psycho cocktail. You can probably imagine how things go from there, so I won’t bother going on about it. The finish is big and satisfying, though the denouement (ooooh, fancy word) raises more questions as to the “found footage-ness” of the movie. Whatever. It still gets eight out of a possible ten bloody noses. Or we can call it 16 individual blood-soaked nostrils out of 20.
Just to be hypercritical, let me pick on the visual effects for a second. I don’t think there was a single visual effect that really SOLD me on what I was seeing. They had $12 million bucks and quite a lot to get through in the finale, so I guess this is what $12 million gets you. There was something about the quality of the effects, like the image was stuttering. Not the right amount of motion blur maybe, I don’t know. It was sort of like in older cartoons where the background was a smoothly painted image and anything that was animated was drawn in hard lines and solid colors. If you saw one of the hard-lined objects in the back of the scene, you just know that sucker is going to move at some point. It called itself out. Same idea here. Some magical moments were messed up in my eyes because the film suddenly said, “LOOK AT THIS CG SPIDER!” Still, I can appreciate the ambition of the movie. They tried to keep things as real as possible with such an outlandish set of circumstances, and for that I say thank you.
I will not be posting about movies today in protest of SOPA and PIPA.
Tomorrow and many days after that, I will not be posting about movies because I don’t have time probably. Or anything even remotely intelligent to say about movies.
Anybody remember the string of Full Motion Video games in a variety of genres throughout the 90s? I’ve had one lying around for a couple years called Black Dahlia (starring Dennis Hopper!) and I installed it tonight only to find that I needed all kinds of fan-made patches in order to run it. I played for about 45 minutes before the dated interface which doesn’t even work right under Windows 7 caused me to quit in a huff and find the Let’s Play Black Dahlia videos on Youtube – in which a guy plays through it with a walkthrough in hand just to share it with the world. It made me feel a pang of nostalgia for the FMV games of yesteryear.
The first ones were arcade games if I recall correctly. There was a wild west shooter game that was terribly unresponsive to when and where you were shooting your gun. Seemed revolutionary at the time, it just wasn’t very much fun. But then the first generation of disc-based video game consoles came around – I’m looking at you Sega CD – and this technology became available AT HOME. WHOA. It’s too bad, again, that terrible fucking games were made with it. Night Trap remains a joke to anyone old enough to remember it. Sewer Shark was a lame rail shooter with low budget FMV cutscenes. But eventually people making adventure games found FMV and it nearly made up for past atrocities.
With new systems and computers that were capable of playing video, even if it was shitty looking 320×240 video at 15 frames per second, nearly a whole decade of awesome adventure games was made possible. Games with real actors (Margot Kidder! Teri Garr!) and scripts written by “Hollywood” talent. These were originally billed as interactive movies. And some of the early ones were little more than strings of video with a moment of interaction here and there. Sort of choose your own adventure movies. Other games sort of used the videos segments as rewards for finishing a level. The Command and Conquer games had video briefings in between missions and it was cool just to see a real movie playing on your computer screen. For me, that was the motivation to keep playing. Fun and interesting games, but just bring on the cutscenes! Same deal with a couple of the Wing Commander games. I never played them myself, but I know that Mark Hamill, John Rhys-Davies, and Malcolm McDowell were heavily featured on the box. That was back when I knew Mark Hamill more for The Guyver than for Star Wars.
But then Access Software made Under A Killing Moon and changed the scenery. It provided a 3D world to walk around in that was photorealistic (for the time) and video sequences that actually felt like you controlled what was happening in them. You weren’t meant to just sit back and WATCH, you had to stay involved. It helped that UAKM was a detective story, so you were forced to really investigate the 3D world and explore everything. That the characters were real people and not animated sprites helped establish a level of realism never before achieved. It was followed by The Pandora Directive, just about my favorite adventure game ever, and Overseer, not quite as good but notable for being the first game ever on a DVD disc. Another big release of the era was Phantasmagoria by Sierra. This one stirred up quite a bit of controversy because of its adult nature. Not only was it a gory horror movie in the guise of a silly computer game for the kids, but there was a violent rape scene about halfway through the game. Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, and Lethal Enforcers may get credit for the creation of the ESRB, but Phantasmagoria was held up as an example of the Board’s need for continued existence. I think. I’m just pulling this shit from my memory, so maybe Phantasmagoria never showed up in a Congressional hearing, but I seem to remember it was nearly banned. I played through it with a friend at the time and it was disturbing on many levels. It most certainly was not appropriate for a 13 year old. Where the fuck were my parents at this point? Who cares, I didn’t turn into a furry or anything weird. It was just an okay adventure game, but I don’t think the story was really ever the reason it got made. I think it was supposed to create a whole new market for adult gamers. Leisure Suit Larry existed, but it was not taken seriously. By anyone. Doom was violent and gory and earned the wrath of Christians for its demonic imagery, but it required no thought and was therefore still accessible to the young. Phantasmagoria was something fucked up and strange just for the grownups after the kiddies were tucked away. I couldn’t say that it created a new adult gamer market at the time. I think it helped inspire future game designers though, the impressionable youngsters who played it while their parents were out of the house, like porn without the shame. The people who played it then realized over the next ten years that it was possible to make mature, intelligent games that were still fun. And then we got Hot Coffee. Another good one from the 90s was Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within. A werewolf story set in Germany that felt very well grounded in the real world, despite the werewolves. These titles helped draw a line between kiddie games and serious games. If you managed to finish Phantasmagoria, you were a man.
This was not meant to be an accurate history lesson of FMV games, just an expression of my appreciation for them. I miss them. They could be doing this shit in HD today, but people would rather get the new Uncharted or some other lame crap. And so no one makes FMV games anymore. They do everything with 3D models instead. L.A. Noire is going in the right direction for sure. 3D representation of a real actor’s performance, brilliant. I wish I knew the first thing about game design because I’d be all over it. FMV games are partly responsible for my decision to get into filmmaking as a career. I grew up not just watching great movies, but PLAYING some too. Really, it spoiled me forever. Nothing will ever be as good as tackling that serial killer in The Pandora Directive. And so I close another completely and utterly pointless post.
Hey, readers. (I know you’re out there, you’ve just cleverly hidden your page views from me.) I have my editing reel online now.
Please send it to people who can employ me.
If there’s one thing I know about making movies, it is to never give your critics an opportunity to be lazily snarky about your movie. You want to stay away from negative words like “atrocious” so some asshat critic on the internet can’t write a one-word review: “Yup!”
But I won’t do that. I’m nicer than that. Besides it’s not even an accurate description of the movie in my view. It’s bad, not atrocious. That is to say, it is NOT good. And it only runs about 75 minutes. If what we’re seeing is the best of what they shot, then this should be under an hour long. It’s a fancy episode of Tales from the Crypt or something, but without the humor. It is not a feature film.
“Found footage” horror movies hold a special place in my heart. Since I was a teenager I’ve wanted to make movies with a similar conceit – that a horrible tragedy occurred and cops can only only try to piece together the events with video evidence left behind. The Blair Witch Project. FUCK. That movie really got to me. While I knew by using my brain that it was a fictional story starring actors, it brought up all kinds of memories of camping from my (even) younger days. That movie would scare me if I watched it today. Paranormal Activity was a special case too. I saw an advance screening of it before anyone knew what it was, before there was a trailer. Again, I knew it was just a movie, but fear doesn’t always listen to the brain. After that screening I was afraid to go home. That had never happened before.
So here’s another Spanish found footage horror movie, others being Rec and Rec 2. A family of five goes out to a house in the middle of nowhere for Easter vacation. (Oh, how I wish they had all been slaughtered by a killer Easter bunny.) The eldest child is a videographer, sadly, and is the reason this movie exists. His younger sister also tapes a lot of stuff, I guess because they make videos about urban legends? A problem with most shaky cam movies is that the character with the camera has no reason to be filming this shit and has every reason to be running the fuck away without lugging that camera around. In Atrocious, we have a couple of main characters who videotape themselves walking through the forest endlessly, videotape themselves watching TV, and videotape each other VIDEOTAPING EACH OTHER. There is so much videotaping going on that the camera’s function as a night vision scope seems like an afterthought in one scene. This douchebag would have brought the camera even if it couldn’t see in the dark. No one on earth videotapes this much pointless bullshit. NO ONE. No, I will not believe such idiots are alive and real even in the YouTube generation. The endless forest parts make sense to a point – it is a giant forest maze after all. However, I don’t think 30 minutes of a 75 minute movie should be devoted to shaky shots of the ground and tree branches. There is no there there.
There’s a spooky story to go along with the spooky maze. Apparently there’s a ghost of a girl who died in the well out there who can help you if you get lost in the maze. Nothing too frightening about a friendly ghost, but the storyteller warns that there are lots of other versions of the story and some aren’t so nice. Now we’ve got a big old house, we’ve got a crazy forest maze, and we’ve got a ghost on the loose out there who may or may not be malevolent. The dad gets called into town for business and before you know it the family dog is missing. Kid #1 was conveniently taping out his window all night pointed right at the area where the dog was barking his head off without end. Right outside the gate to the haunted maze. Unfortunately, Kid #2 just as conveniently pulled the plug on the camera sometime in the night. Inexplicably. For no reason. Well, I guess the only reason was because if they saw a video of the whole night they not have had a movie because the kids would then be onto something. But we can’t dare have any real mystery in this movie, just an empty plot an as excuse to have video cameras with people attached to them run through a maze at night.
There aren’t a lot of big moments in this picture. Some family members go running off into that maze in the middle of the night, and then there’s a big finish. Even the night in the woods is fairly uneventful. (There was definitely a moment a character screamed out like she saw something, only there was nothing there. Just like those reality shows…) Everything else is build up. I think the filmmakers need to take a writing seminar all about Tension vs. Release. They try to tense things up for so long we forget we were supposed to be tense, then when the supposed release comes along, it is ineffective. I’ll try to avoid MAJOR spoilers now, but I believe the biggest problem is simply the choice of what’s out there in the woods being creepy. It’s a big problem that creates many smaller problems such as making it impossible to have a steady paranormal threat looming over the characters. Because it’s not paranormal. You want paranormal shit going down, go watch the Paranormal Activities or any of its ripoffs. Also, at a couple different points, our characters should have absolutely known what the deal was, but noooooooo… But I shall say no more.
This one gets four out of ten bloody wells and it should feel lucky to get that. I’m in a good mood. It is not a terrible setting or premise for this style of film. The trailer looked awesome and the movie showed promise early on. The scenes right after the dog goes missing are pretty good stuff. It’s not enough to make up for the cliches of the subgenre being put on display, though. Unnatural characters living in an artificial world saying words and doing things I suspect were specifically designed to annoy the audience easily take 6 off the score. I wanted to be scared by this movie. I was on the verge of being scared by this movie. Then the movie blew it by keeping things just a little too down to earth and predictable. A damn shame…
Looks like my last post did the trick. Netflix has heard my (our) cries and reversed its decision to split off into Netflix for streaming and Qwikster for discs in the mail. It’s all turning out like I predicted so far. Now I’m just waiting for the spin to happen. ‘Yeah, we jacked up our prices for no good reason, but we sure put a stop to that Qwikster nonsense!’ They want to look like the good guys even though everyone is paying 50% more than they were a couple months ago.
My membership is already on hold, so this stuff doesn’t really affect me anymore. I’m curious what their next move will be. Netflix desperately wants to be a streaming-only service, so what will they do to piss off their customers next? It’s going to happen, I just don’t know what it will be…
Netflix stock has been dropping ever since they announced higher prices starting this month. I don’t know if it’s new management or the same people as always making strange decisions or what. Don’t care. The internet has been full of criticisms of Netflix regarding the price hike, so I don’t really need to add to it. To get one disc at a time in the mail and partake in their streaming service, it now costs me 50% more than it did last month. I ain’t happy about it, but it’s a few bucks a month. Even though I’m unemployed, I love watching movies enough to pay the extra. I’ve got my big ass queues on there and that pretty much defines what I’ll be watching for the next decade. I’m settled there. It feels good. I don’t even need to mention that competing services don’t offer the same selection or convenience.
Today, one of the head honchos at Netflix sent out an “apology” email to every subscriber. Apologizing not for hiking their prices up for no good reason (as far as we, the public, know), but apologizing for poor communication. For not letting us in on their big plans. It was sort of hokey with a ‘I’m not just the president, I’m also a member’ feeling. I didn’t like reading it.
I think I’ve kept up with Netflix news pretty well since it’s creation. Ever since the streaming part of Netflix was introduced, the people in charge over there have been saying in interviews that it was a much bigger success than they had anticipated. They originally intended it to just be a little bonus for subscribers. I remember that at its beginning, you were limited to a certain number of hours of streaming per month depending on how expensive your plan was. Soon enough, the streaming was unlimited for all subscribers, yay! Then Netflix started saying things about how DVDs were already an aging medium, the future is in streaming, etc etc. And of course, the profit motivation explains that train of thought. It takes a lot of money to purchase DVDs for the purpose of renting, they have to store them, they have their big warehouses full of employees sorting all the incoming and outgoing discs, postage costs are always about to be raised, the red envelopes they ship the discs in cost money. If their primary business became streaming, the only investments would be in server space and licensing fees. Brilliant! So ever since they’ve been talking about streaming being the big deal instead of DVDs, I’ve been waiting until they simply stopped the DVD mailing service. In a sense, that day has come.
Starting in a few months, Netflix will be a movie streaming service exclusively. People who want DVDs in the mail will soon be members of Qwikster. Fucking QWIKSTER. One member has already said on Netflix’s official blog that the name sounds like a chocolate milk dispensing machine and I tend to agree. But that’s just a brand name – the service will still exist at least. I bet a lot of brand names sounded funny at first. In fact, I thought Netflix sounded kind of dumb back in the day. I had long since ceased calling the internet the “Net” and I had rarely ever called movies “flicks.” But look, enough people use it and now it’s a household name. For the record, however, I’ve had to look back at the new Qwikster name three times to remind myself what it was. It does not immediately catch the imagination or easily roll off the tongue. Regardless, as long as I can keep getting Blu-Rays in the mail, I’m fairly happy. Unfortuantely, with a new company comes a new website. I hope at least that I’ll be able to keep my lengthy queue I’ve built up over several years, but the email today made it clear that Qwikster’s site will not cooperate with Netflix’s. From a user’s standpoint, that’s just a bad design decision. Just about all the movies that are available in streaming form are also available on disc. Sometimes I want to get the disc version for the extra features. As it is now, I can easily compare the different versions of a movie (blu-ray, dvd, streaming) and choose which one I want to get. Now I’ll have to do that same comparison over two websites. Not impossible, just a slightly bigger pain in the ass from a company that’s already asked me to pay 50% more for the exact same product and level of service in very recent memory. Qwikster will also offer video game rental, which I’ve always seen as unclassy for some reason. Maybe it’s because if you only get one disc out at a time, and you have that game for two months trying to beat it, you just paid $30 for the game, which is a good price for a new game, but you don’t get to sell it to someone else after you’re done or keep it around in case you get a hankering to play it again someday. It feels like a good deal, but it ain’t. I don’t like game rentals, but I guess a lot of people like to do it. Well, go read their blogs then.
Who knows what other changes will take place over time now that there will be two separate companies. Far as I can tell, they won’t even be under the same Netflix umbrella. They will be SEPARATE companies. Maybe Quikster will start removing discs from its library as a cost-cutting, profit-maximizing measure. The discs are physical objects that can degrade, get lost or damaged, go out of print, and so forth. Maybe Netflix will fail to secure certain licensing and their selection will shrink. Apparently, their negotiations with Starz haven’t gone well and that could remove a LOT of recent releases from the library before this Netflix/Quikster split even happens. And even though the email said there wouldn’t be any new price hikes, I bet it’s a lot like Bush the First’s line, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Prices will always go up. There’s no reason for them to go down. Millions of people have dropped their subscriptions to Netflix from the price hike, and many more will do so when the company splits. But the people that stay will be enough to stay alive and they’ll manage to get new customers.
I guess what it comes down to is a question of who this maneuver serves. Who in the world is pleased about this Quikster crap? Not Netflix customers. Not Netflix stock holders, the stock continues to fall today. What’s in it for the CEO? It seems to me like it’s just a way for Netflix to screw you from two different directions. I’ll be putting my account on hold for a while before I get charged for another month. I don’t know if I’ll be back, but I still don’t know of a better deal for the time being. Blockbuster does the DVD by mail thing for the same price as Netflix – $9.99/mo for one disc at a time. The perk with them is you can drop them off at a store and trade right away for a different movie that they have on hand. Amazon has a limited selection of free streaming movies if you’re an Amazon Prime member for $80 a year or $6.67 a month. The Prime membership has other things going for it, like free 2-day shipping on all orders, but I just don’t order enough from Amazon to make that count for something. Some quick searching for titles in my Netflix instant queue on Amazon reveals them to be lacking many, many titles that Netflix has.
So here’s my plan: I’ll put Netflix on hold at the end of the month until this corporate divide happens. I’ll sit back and see if the whole thing implodes. In the meantime, I’ll go through all the movies I have at home that I haven’t watched and all the discs with features I haven’t explored. And if I want to see something else, Odyssey Video just up the street has $1 rentals a couple days a week. And there’s a second run theater in town that sells tickets for $1.50 every Tuesday. And there’s Hulu. And maybe I watch too many goddamn movies anyway.
Note: I realize this is all a big First World Problem. Some people are slowly starving to death right down the street from me, I bet, but we all knew this was a website about movies when we came in here, so lay off. I’m doing what I can about the homelessness problem in America, but I’m unemployed. I need time.
I’m proud to say it – I was alive during the birth of the mainstream internet. Back when it was all AOL, Prodigy, and Geocities. My dad had only installed our dial up modem (which was roughly 355 times slower than my current cable modem) a few days days before I saw a commercial for this movie, The Long Kiss Goodnight. I noticed that a funny code was included at the end of the commercial – http://longkiss.com – I knew it was one of these new-fangled website addresses, so I checked it out ASAP. My mom assumed I was looking at porn because I was 14 and it was longkiss.com ferchrissakes. Obviously the studio’s website there has been removed by this point, so the real surprise to me is that it hasn’t been taken over by a porn site.
As I understand it, Stargate was actually the first movie to have it’s own website, but I didn’t ever go to that one. This is not the story of the early internet, in fact, it is the story of my life and the movies in it. And longkiss.com was the first promotional website for a movie I ever went to. 1996. The good old days of Bill Clinton, cloned sheep, and Nintendo 64.
So there I was in my second month of high school when this movie came out. All I knew about it was that an amnesiac hot blond chick was shooting lots of people to regain her memory and her sidekick was a BLACK GUY. Pretty badass, right? Little did I know that Black Sidekick was actually Samuel L. Jackson – already known to be a badass thanks to Pulp Fiction and Die Hard With A Vengeance. But I was a kid and not as into movies then as I am today. I knew Geena Davis was the hot blond and I just thought she did girly movies back then. I wanted to see it, but it was clearly too violent for a freshman and I never ended up seeing it. I don’t think I saw more than a commercial for it before today, when I sat down with another Renny Harlin flick because it was about to expire on Netflix Instant Play.
So Shane Black wrote this! I like many of his other movies, so expectations were fairly high from the opening credits. Throughout the movie Black’s script keeps it coming light and fast, a thing I am generally grateful for in explosion-filled action movies. It’s gotta be fun, or else it’s no fun. The plot is pretty basic – woman was found unconscious on a beach eight years ago, has no memory of her previous life, now she’s got a nice quiet suburban life… until she finds out she’s a trained killer. Sort of a Regarding Henry meets Bourne Identity kinda thing, you understand. Jackson plays a guy hired to help Davis find out who she is. What do you know – as soon as she gets a decent lead on her identity (and starts ginsu-ing the shit out of everything in the kitchen like a pro in one of the more memorable scenes) some bad guys realize she’s still alive and come back to kill her AGAIN. Mostly it’s a chase movie with lots of gunfire interspersed.
It’s been a long, long, LONG time since I watched Die Hard 2 (Die HardER? Truly?), but I’m gonna go back and give it its fair shot because of this movie and Renny Harlin. Even though Die Hard 2 wasn’t written by Shane Black. Still, I can easily imagine this script getting fucked up at various stages by a lesser director. Let me not say “lesser” because this ain’t high art. Let me rephrase it – a DIFFERENT director. There are those who would try to solidify this movie a little too much in reality and that would be a mistake on a movie that originally included a scene where the heroine got three upside down head shots on three guys in a moving vehicle on a frozen pond while in the middle of a double axle flip on ice skates. The scene was cut because special effects technology of the day/budget would not allow it. It was too much to even fake on a $65 million budget. That’s where Shane Black was coming from and Harlin is right there with him. There is a sense of adventure and fun in the movie – I’ll mention again the vegetable chopping scene in the kitchen. Davis is discovering a hidden talent for cutting things really fast, really precisely. She thinks she was a chef in her forgotten past. Then she throws a tomato up in the air and skewers it to the cupboard door with perfect accuracy. “Chefs do that!” she claims. While some dream sequences hint at a sort of evil alter ego, she isn’t very disturbed by this revelation – it’s FUN! The bad guys are ludicrously bad, unrealistically bad, but something short of moustache-twirling bad. These bad guys are of the James Bond variety in that the heroine must be locked in a room alone or strapped to a weird torture device whenever they get their hands on her. Also, they only hit a target with their guns when it is time for a plot point.
This is a very exciting, involving, fun movie, but it has its problems, as most do. Number one for me on this list is the pointless inclusion of a voiceover at the beginning of the movie. It does not ever come back. I hate when movies do that. If you’re gonna use a voiceover, make it PART of the movie instead of a cheap shortcut to get some exposition out of the way. There are good, valid, creative ways of conveying that kind of information. At least it was conveying information. The opening narration for Spider-Man, if I recall, doesn’t even set anything up. Anyway, the voiceover device here is stupid and it is horribly read by Geena Davis. Like, high school level voice acting. Did Renny just use the first take and call it a day? Whatever.
This movie commits another action film sin in my eyes – gun fights that are nearly void of suspense because we already know who will win. In this movie and many others (Mission: Impossible 2 gets a shout out here) we see the hero(ine) confronted with a room full of gun-toting henchmen and we know what will happen in rough order. There will be some gymnastics and pyrotechnics along the way to dazzle our eyes, but it’s just action without much of a point. Black and Harlin do make good endings to action scenes though. The race down a hallway to escape an exploding grenade is thrilling if implausible. That they jump out a window at the end of the hallway is ridiculous. That Geena Davis machine guns the icy water below them enough to break their fall is awesome. And I bust out laughing when somebody later on got exploded out a window and straight through a big hotel sign.
It’s time for favorite quotes!
Nathan: Alice, please. Your dog, Alice. It and my appetite are mutually exclusive.
Alice: Well, what’s wrong with the dog?
Nathan: Simple. He’s been licking his asshole for the last three straight hours. I submit to you that there is nothing there worth more than an hour’s attention. I should think that whatever he is attempting to dislodge is either gone for good, or there to stay. Wouldn’t you agree?
Henchman on walkie: I’m hurt real bad. I think I’m dying.
Timothy: Continue dying. Out.
Alley Agent: Hey, honey, this is a real big fucking gun.
Mitch Henessey: This ain’t no ham on rye pal. *sticks gun in agent’s face*
Charlie: What the hell are you doing?
Mitch Henessey: Saving your life. I would have been here sooner, but I was thinkin’ up that ‘ham on rye’ line.
Hot damn, I do love Shane Black sometimes. This is an above-par action movie and I’m glad I finally saw it. In the end, it’s a very simple tale of revenge and justice and a case for settling down with a family. With ‘splosions. That’s all it needs to be I suppose. For keeping me thoroughly entertained without ever becoming more than what it was about, I give The Long Kiss Goodnight seven chopped carrots out of ten. Excelsior!
Me and my sister saw a part of this movie when we were kids – like 7 and 10 respectively – and it scared the bejeezus out of us. We didn’t see more than four minutes of the movie and we were both marked for life. I could mention it in passing today when we are 29 and 32 years old and she would probably shudder from the memory. The scene in question is the one where the psychic girl begins to exude ectoplasm from her hands. It’s really not that scary, but it’s easy to see how it once was. The same can be said for the whole movie.
It’s got a great atmosphere and some pretty cool practical effects. And a possessed black cat. And that shadow in the shower that isn’t really there. Chained up corpse behind the wall? Check. Impending sense of dread and doom? Absolutely. Legitimate scares, though… Well, those are pretty light. The creepiness reaches its height when all we see are doors opening and closing and the bed sheets getting pulled back by an invisible hand. I watched this with my girlfriend and we both wondered why this woman would willingly sleep in that bed knowing there was a rapey ghost about. There’s some other stuff where the spirit(s) attack the lead scientist in charge of the psychic researchers at the house, but that felt like the movie was blowing its good material too early. Exploding fireplaces, flying flatware, levitating dining tables! And then at the climax we get indoor gale force winds and a dude shouting insults at the evil over the noise. Sort of goofy and the conclusion comes on a little too easily and quickly. Our nervous hero puts the clues together just in the nick of time, but I kept on wondering how he could make such huge leaps in logic and still be correct. Maybe this was something that the book covers in more detail.
There is enough happening in the story to get me interested in the original novel by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend). This does seem like an early example of Science vs. Paranormal Shit and that intrigues me to no end. I’d like to see what a 1971 Richard Matheson thought ghost hunters were like. Unfortunately, the movie glosses over a lot and we are simply meant to go with the idea that these are scientists.
For good (great even) special effects and creepy atmosphere, but sort of a silly, pointless ending, I give this one 6 possessed cats out of 10.