“In The Mouth Of Madness”: Masterpiece or Mess?

In-the-Mouth-of-Madness

The internet streaming service Shudder recently “Live streamed” (Their words of questionable accuracy) “The Last Drive In”, a 24 plus hour-long marathon of notable horror films chosen and with commentary by Joe Bob Briggs (The quasi-redneck crap movie reviewer persona embedded in John Bloom‘s body.)

I love (some) crap movies and Joe Bob Briggs so I navigated to the Shudder site a bit after the start time.   Shudder has a handy Xbox app and I was attempting to use that to view the stream.

The service seemed to be working fine.  Logged in, I navigated to the live feed.

Or tried to.

The feed just kept buffering and finally bailed with some arcane error. Another attempt caused the app to freeze.  I restarted it but couldn’t get it to connect.

I then tried visiting the website on my media computer.  The site would come up but just sat on a buffering screen.

Checking their Facebook page made it clear this wasn’t just my problem.  It seemed no one could get it to work.

Under normal circumstances this might have caused my head to explode.  But I had partaken of some really excellent herb and I was in a really nice place where these kind of frustrations seemed oh so very trivial.

It started working a few hours later and I enjoyed the marathon a little that Friday night and throughout the next day.

So what does that have to do with John Carpenter’s “In The Mouth Of Madness”?
Good question.

One of the movie’s streamed was Stuart Gordon‘s “The Reanimator”.  Mr. Briggs called this movie the best movie version of any H.P. Lovecraft story to date.
I really don’t have a big issue with that statement.  It is an excellent movie.  One might make a case for “Dagon”, also directed by Mr. Gordon, but overall “The Reanimator” is the better movie and is pretty damn faithful to the Lovecraft story.

But it did (for some reason) spur me to consider other movies, in particular movies inspired in some way by Lovecraft.

And that brings me to “In the Mouth Of Madness”.  Not based in any way on a Lovecraft story but obviously a homage to the Lovecraftian theme of old or elder gods banished from our world long, long ago and always searching, scratching, and clawing for a way back.

I’ve seen the movie at least twice before.  I remember liking but not loving it.
Seemed like a good time to give it another chance.

Through the wondrous blessing of the internet and various options I was soon watching a Blu-Ray quality digital copy of the movie.

(Full disclosure: I had again partaken of the excellent herb and I was in a great place to watch a scary movie.)

The premise of the movie is that a best selling horror author has gone missing just before his latest and greatest book was supposed to be completed and delivered. His publisher hires an insurance investigator to look for him.

Some movies, in particular horror or fantasy films, benefit greatly from viewing them not as a faithful reporting of actual reality but as a dream, vision, nightmare, or some other experience that isn’t necessarily grounded in objective reality. This perspective is extremely useful in the full enjoyment and appreciation of some movies and absolutely necessary for others. (“Videodrome” and “Suspiria” come to mind.)

“In The Mouth Of Madness” is best experienced using that perspective. It does have a strong story, but the things the viewer sees and hears, taken at face value, don’t seem to make a lot of sense.

But if you watch the story unfold as if it were a dream or vision from some reality only vaguely connected with our own it becomes something very effective and frightening.

Sam Neill plays Sam Trent, the insurance investigator. Mr. Neil portrays Trent as having an easy-going, almost playful attitude grounded in the belief that practically everything is a con or scam of one kind or another. He’s the perfect protagonist for this story as his seemingly firm grip on objective reality is called into question more than once.

The story wind through a changing landscape of the real and the unreal. It questions the nature of reality, it’s changeability and our ability to perceive those changes.  Trent’s grip on the real and the unreal is put to the test more than once.

Back to my initial question: Masterpiece or Mess?  I can’t really call it either.  It is a good movie and very much worth watching.  It’s not a mess as it really works very well.  The script, direction, acting, is all very good.  But I can’t really call it a “Masterpiece” for Mr. Carpenter.

Why not? Because it pales in comparison to Mr. Carpenter’s two actual masterpieces: “Halloween” and “The Thing”.  (One might make an argument for including “Escape from New York” as a masterpiece, but I can’t quite give it that high of a mark.)

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Learning to read; The Second Time Around.

heart book

I can’t remember the first book I ever read for fun. One of the earliest I remember is “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E. L. Konigsburg. It’s about a young brother and sister who run away from home and live (without permission) in a museum.  It took me a couple of attempts to get through it. No fault to the book, my attentions span wasn’t the best.

I remember the glorious excitement of the book order brochures in school.  My bad habit was to cajole my mom into giving me money to buy the books, then not reading them when they arrived.  I did get over this and eventually read most of the books I had ordered.

Somewhere in there I picked up a terrible habit; skimming instead of reading. I’d burn through books very quickly but only because I was only hitting the the high points.

The probable reason for the happening is that my motivation for reading changed. As I had access to more and more once unattainable movies (my one true passion), reading became much less interesting.  Unless I was reading about movies.

Only within the last five years or so have I make real efforts to re-lean how to read effectively.  It’s not been an easy task.  I naturally fall into the habit of skimming through the words, not really absorbing the prose, regardless of it’s quality.

It’s a struggle I still have, but slowly, methodically, I’m getting there.

Now if I could just remember how to write.

The Magic of Music.

What some kinds of music means to me.

Oh My God.

This music has been filling my  head since seeing the movie. And I am very happy about that.  It fills me with a spontaneous and joyous excitement.

It’s not the only piece with that affects me.

Oh yeah.

The Asteroid Field is the first piece of music that affected my emotions profoundly.  Anytime I hear it, tears come immediately. My eyes close and the sweeping sound carries me up and down on a aural roller coaster of  pure adventurous joy.  It peaks at the 2:18 mark when the music builds to a shattering crescendo that is as near to a non-sexual orgasm as I ever expect to have.

More Magic.

The best Star Trek movie.  The best story, the best music, the best everything.

But that music.  In particular this scene.  When the music starts, slow and suspicious, you know you’re in for something explosive.

And then there’s The Doctor.

This music causes me to laugh, smile, and fills me with exciting anticipation. Something very fun is just about to happen.

But it’s not all joy.

This beautiful theme, haunting and ethereal, is somewhat sad even without the tragic association. But the deep emotional memory of profound pain and loss, even when fictional, reaches into my heart and tears it into tearful sobs.

Ending where we began (sort of).

While this doesn’t quite have the quite the emotional punch, it does always make me happy in a silly kind of way.

I believe in heroes which is to say I believe in heroism; the idea that a person can sometimes rise above their own abilities and, briefly perhaps, become something, someone remarkable. The characters that inhabit my imagination are emotional avatars of that possibility in everyone, even in me.  Believing in them, at least in spirit, gives me hope that I can become better than I am when the need arises.

That’s an important belief for all of us. Especially in these times.

 

 

Dawn Of Justice: Oh My.

Too long. Too slow. Too grim. Too much.

After my (mostly) positive experience with “Man Of Steel” I thought surely “Dawn of Justice” had to be better than I had heard.

I was wrong. I was very wrong. That was mistake one.

I chose to watch the extended version (or the “Ultimate” version). That was mistake two.

This version was three hours. That’s easily an hour and maybe an hour and a half longer than this movie should have been. That’s not actually fair. This movie should never have happened.

That’s harsh but there were just so many times during the movie when a supposedly intelligent character did something very stupid.

 

Spoilers Ahead

Here are a few off the top of my head:

Lois sees someone we know is a very bad person. We know that because we recognize him. She apparently does too because she walks up to him and says “Don’t I know you?” He turns to her and she’s terrified.  Why? Did she think he was someone else? This makes no freaking sense at all.

Superman must get Batman’s help to save his mother. Now let’s think about this; If you or I (or any sane person) needed someone’s help we’d go to them and lead with that. Not Superman.  He goes to Batman and says some stupid crap that’s beside the point.  Batman starts to fight.  He does this because he’s been 100% geared towards killing Superman from frame one of the movie. At no point does he seem to question his own conclusion that Superman, being powerful, must be destroyed. So they flail around for 20 minutes or so and Batman gets the upper hand. Just before he skewers Superman with a Kryptonite lance, Superman says “Save Martha”. And of course Batman gets all confused. We know this because we are now shown Bruce Wayne’s tragic childhood trauma again.  All of it, because we just might have forgotten just what drove Mr. Wayne to be The Dark Knight in the preceding two hours.

Superman’s earthly dad keeps telling him he was sent here for a reason. But then he also tells him don’t do anything that will reveal what you can do. Make up your mind Mr. Kent.

Luthor engineers a brilliant plan to destroy Superman. Of course, if the giant Kryptonian “Doomday” monster had killed Superman, (and we all know that Superman isn’t really down for the count.) what then? There’s no indication that Luthor had any plan for dealing with this god killer. This movie goes to great pains to be as realistic as a superhero movie can be about people’s motivations. Superman is wracked with conflict. Batman is obsessed with killing Superman. Why does Lex do what he does? He’s murdered countless people just to set Superman up as the bad guy. But there’s no contingency plan if that plan fails. So you’re telling me that someone who can successfully set up Superman, kidnap Lois, kidnap Martha, manipulate Batman into stealing and weaponizing Kryptonite, and create a Kryptonian god-killer can’t come up with some kind of plan b? This is just too dumb for words.

And there’s just so many more annoyances. I got really tired of the choir coming in over the already overblown score to remind me that something important was happening. I got really tired of apparently important scenes being dramatized by slow motion. Once, sure. Twice, no problem. But not ten times. Please.

The best thing about this movie is Wonder Woman. And yet even her involvement isn’t without it’s annoyances. We see scene after scene of her seeing information about what’s happening between Superman and Batman. And she does nothing other than look concerned. It basically take the crap hitting the fan and every news channel basically saying “There’s a god monster about to destroy the world.  Superman and Batman may not be able to stop it. Oh if there were only some other superhero around!” to get her involved.

The operative word for this movie is dumb. My wife can tell you that I have a bad habit of screaming at the television when the characters or story make no sense. I spent a lot of time screaming at this movie.

 

 

Man of Steel: Flawed but impressive.

And yes, I know I’m very late to this party.

I finally took the time to watch “Man Of Steel”.  It’s amazing to me that it took me this long to see it considering my overall love of the Superman character.

But reviews were not overly positive and a part of me was afraid that seeing this beloved character portrayed badly would somehow damage my feelings.

Luckily, there nothing to fear.

Overall “Man Of Steel” was completely true to my understanding of Superman. The characters were magically brought to life and the majesty and awe of this super being. The story ambled but in a good and deep way.  Nothing seemed forced or dissonant. Overall I liked the movie very much.

Spoilers Below

Yes, I know this movie has been out for years.  And it’s amazing that I managed to somehow not know the particulars of the story. But I did and I’m glad of that.

The story of how Kal-El came to Earth is no mystery.  But the Krypton here is very different from the one with which I grew up. I suppose I get the concept that Krypton’s flaws are what drove Jor-El to send Kal-El to Earth; not to simply save him but to potentially save Earth from Krypton’s mistakes. It’s an interesting idea but I think it actually muddles the story a bit.

And then there’s General Zod and his grand plans. This is where the film begins to stumble. It’s just too much. There’s just too much story here. Superman’s introduction to the earth would have been better served and cleaner if he were to defeat a home-grown or non-Kryptonian threat.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the spectacle.  I did.  And that’s just what it was; a big, loud show of force, danger, and might. Watching Superman defeat the last vestiges of Kryptonian hubris was thrilling. Watching Superman and Lois embrace after was perfect.

And then I realized that there was a lot more time left in the movie. So we now have a showdown between Superman and General Zod. It’s big and pretty and loud.  And it was fun to watch. But I was really ready for the movie to be over before it started.

This is another reason this particular conflict would have been better saved for another movie. “Man Of Steel” would have been a better, cleaner movie if the threat had been something not quite so epic.

But that’s where we are now. It’s always the end of the world.  And I can’t say I care for it.

This idea can be most clearly seen as the primary difference between the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” movies versus the television shows.

The Enterprise and it’s crew weren’t saving the universe in every episode.  They were going about their mission and that was almost always enough.

But the movies were all about defeating something monstrous that was an imminent threat to all life as we know it.  And they were less about the entire crew and more about Captain Picard and Data.  And that made them so much weaker.

It’s interesting that movies have become more and more about spectacle and less about story. Thank goodness for the many varieties of television.  Be it cable, internet, or even the networks, they’ve taken up the mantle of being the perfect medium for the long narrative. That’s where you’ll find the stories being told.

Why I love “Wonder Woman”.

Some things can only be understood with your heart.

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)

I don’t feel any great need to apologize for allowing myself to be captivated by any form of media. I remember watching the old “Adventures of Superman” TV show with awe and wonder. I didn’t understand it completely, but there was something magical about seeing and hearing that beloved opening.

“…who fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way…” Those words were magic to me then and now.  They mean something.

And years later, when Superman was reborn in “Superman – The Movie” I had to come to terms with a terrible reality: I would never actually become Superman.  No one would.

This sounds trivial and silly.  It wasn’t trivial and silly to me. It hurt and it changed my life.

It was a hard part of growing up, of leaving behind some of my childhood.

But I never gave up on the idea of the hero, the savior, the protector.  I never will.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually expect anyone to magically or by using superhuman abilities to protect me.

But I do cling to the fundamental belief that there is a hero in all of us.  There is some part of us that strives to do the right thing against all odds.

And that is why I love Wonder Woman.  I’m not going to argue film technique or the particulars of what does and does not make a great film.

I’m going with my heart on this one.  And Wonder Woman made my heart sing.  It moved me to tears again and again.  It filled me with the same childish innocent joy and hope I felt when I watched George Reeves fly across the screen and save the day.

It allowed me to, without reservation or hesitation, believe that there are great, good gods in the world and they are looking out for me.

And I want to believe that.  A part of me needs to believe that.

I believe in you Diana.  I believe in you Kal-El.

I will always believe.

Wonder Woman – Why we need her right now.

DC (finally) does it right.

I feel a particularly wonderful kind of joy when the concept of selfless heroism is portrayed well in a movie.  The first time I can recall feeling this was in Star Wars when Luke grabs Leah and swings across a chasm in the Death Star.

I’ve felt it many times since. Just hearing the intro for Doctor Who (any season) sends me into a giddy, joy-filled state.  In most movies, I get to enjoy this feeling maybe once or twice.

I spent nearly the entire time watching the amazing “Wonder Woman” movie feeling this profound joy. This movie may not be perfect for everyone.  But it is perfect for me. I loved the story, the characters, the pacing, the visuals, the sound design, the music.  There’s no part of the movie that felt wrong to me. I can’t wait to see it again.

If you haven’t seen the movie, please be aware that I’m going to drop a serious spoiler next.  I’d strongly suggest you go see the movie now.  I mean RIGHT now.

SPOILER AHEAD

We learn that Diana is no ordinary Amazon.  She is a god (or perhaps a goddess). She is the god-killer Zeus created to protect the world from Ares.

This is a critically important idea in a universe that generally disputes the very idea of supernatural beings with enough power to be called a god. In the comic book universe (or perhaps the super hero universe) super heroes have supplanted the overall purpose of gods.  The cries and pleadings of the weak and powerless go not to the gods but to Superman, Batman, Spider-man, etc.  These new gods are expected to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

And yet into this world comes a true god.  And not just any old god, but a female god. One who looks at mankind and sees the darkness and potential for great evil and does not turn away.  Diana understands her purpose. It’s not enough to simply protect the weak, imperfect creatures of the Earth.  She must also help them understand and manifest the positive, the strong, the hero in their own lives.

And this is why this message is so very important right now.  We need Wonder Woman now because we’ve become lost in an endless cycle of disappointment and betrayal. We’ve trusted our leaders to make the right decisions to turn this troubled nation around.  And they have failed time and time again.

Diana understood that doing the right thing was not something someone else could or might do.  It was what she had to do. Because she could.

We must accept the responsibility of our own future…our own destiny.  We must make our own way.  And we must begin to make our own way today.