November 17, 2007

Guess who else is on strike?

New York City stagehands, that's who. And they have effectively shut down all of Broadway save for eight shows. Hahahahahahaha!! Ah, I support them all. The writers, the stagehands, all of them.

It pretty much sucks to be an American these days.

Well... not that it's ever been Utopian...

In a completely unrelated conclusion, I leave you with the following quote from Family Guy's enfant terrible Stewie: "And finally, anyone who uses the terms 'irregardless', 'a whole nother', or 'all of the sudden' shall be sent to a work camp."

November 15, 2007

So VampireNomad, how was Mr. Brooks?

Well, for those of you who hate to scroll, the Coles Notes review is this: It had an interesting premise that was needlessly complicated by unrelated plots. It actually sort of sucked. But Marg was great.
For those of you who want a bit more of an explanation, I aim to please...

Mr. Brooks

Mr. Brooks
was a movie comprised of what I assume was the writer's favorite premise and four distinctly separate and not very well developed plot arcs that were presumably woven into and around said premise in an effort to 'amp up' the story and provide 'twists'. Now if the premise had been left unsullied by all the variously unrelated plot threads and the story had focussed on said premise, thus allowing the main characters to fully flesh out their backstories and plumb heretofore unknown depths in their psyches, Mr. Brooks could have been a decent little movie. Even a good one.

The premise: Mr. Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is the successful CEO of a box-making company who is married to the lovely Emma (Marg Helgenberger) and has just been named Man of the Year. The couple have a seemingly well-adjusted daughter in college, a flash house with a pool, and an apparently affectionate relationship. However, Mr. Brooks has a secret side. He is also a killer. He gets off on murders. He is addicted to it, like one might be addicted to alcohol or porn, and thus, in his secret life, he is also the serial killer known as The Thumbprint Killer. The murderous part of his psyche operates as an invisible friend with whom he constantly talks and is played by William Hurt.

The plots:
1) Mr. Brooks is trying to quit his murderous ways and, after a two year break in his thumbprint killings, decides on just one more double-homicide to cap his career after which, to the dismay of Marshall (his murderous psyche as embodied by William Hurt), he will quit. However, things go awry when a voyeuristic neighbor of the murdered couple (Dane Cook) sees the killings and blackmails Mr. Brooks into taking him along on the next murder. Or else he'll tell the cops and Mr. Brooks' oblivious family.
2) The cop who has been tracking the thumbprint killings for years, Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), is a $60 million dollar trust fund baby who eschews her wealth in favor of gritty police work and is currently embroiled in a bitter divorce with her hunky younger soon-to-be-ex husband. She recently put away a serial killer called The Hangman who, you know, hanged his victims in creatively grotesque ways. The Hangman has recently escaped custody and is hell-bent on exacting revenge on Tracy and maybe on her ex-husband which prompts him to try to bilk more money out of the divorce settlement.
3) Mr. Brooks' daughter Jane drops out of college, reveals that she's pregnant by a married man, and moves home. In short order some out of town cops arrive on the Brooks' doorstep to interrogate Jane about an axe murder committed in her dorm at college. Mr. Brooks (and Marshall) discover that Jane has 'inherited' his murderous addiction which spirals him into both despair over having given his beloved daughter his curse and hope for the baby she hasn't yet decided to have. He decides to commit another axe murder at her college (which is across the country) in disguise which, since Jane is safely at home, would get her off the hook by way of an alibi.
4) Mr. Brooks and Marshall have differing opinions on whether or not Mr. Brooks is to blame for the murder Jane committed as well as on how Mr. Brooks intends to solve all the various plots in his life. Mr. Brooks doesn't want Emma to know he's a killer, he wants to stop killing, he wants Jane to stop killing. Marshall wants Mr. Brooks to keep killing and not take Jane's guilt onto himself and most of all doesn't want Mr. Brooks to blow off Dane Cook because in prison neither of them would get to kill anymore. Mr. Brooks actually doesn't want to stop killing either though he says he does. He doesn't want to stop talking to Marshall. He also doesn't want his daughter to end up in prison. Etc. Etc.

These plot threads all tie together in only the loosest of manners. The cop, Tracy, has entirely too much of her own story going on in a movie called Mr. Brooks. The divorce from her ex-husband and the Hangman storyline felt like parts of another movie that didn't get made but that the director really liked so decided to splice into Mr. Brooks. The filming style even looked different which was unnerving, to say the least. The connection is explained away by Mr. Brooks and Dane Cook's voyeur neighbor seeing the Hangman in a parking lot while they are out stalking their intended random victim who may (or may not as the filming wasn't exactly clear) have actually been Tracy's ex-husband. Tracy doesn't actually have any input into the Mr. Brooks storyline despite the fact that she is the primary investigator on the Thumbprint Killer cases. She spends the entirety of the movie alternately pursuing Dane Cook's character and getting battered emotionally by her ex and physically from the escaped Hangman. Daughter Jane's storyline is completely removed from both the Mr. Brooks/Dane Cook blackmail murder angle and Tracy's dual stories. Jane's story has more in line with Mr. Brooks' murderous inclinations as embodied by Marshall but because there is so much going on in the other plots, little development is given to Jane herself outside of her father's angst over her apparently similar deadly addiction.

The problem of Marshall is the most significant and irritating in the film. While I like the idea of having the murderous psyche physically embodied for narrative purposes, it's neither an original idea nor a well-executed one. Norman Bates did it far better in Psycho, by way of example, and what Hitchcock has already done should never be attempted by lesser directors with hackneyed scripts. Moreover, the split personality killer angle has been done so many times that Adaptation pokes fun at it through Nicolas Cage's character: "The only idea more overused than serial killers is multiple personality."
If you're going to do it, though, at least think it through. William Hurt as Marshall is never explicitly explained away but one gets the idea that he embodies the murderous or at least the ethically damaged part of Mr. Brooks' psyche. In that respect his first appearance is the most accurate wherein he nags at Mr. Brooks from the backseat of the car to just go see the couple he's been watching but trying not to kill. One would expect to only see Marshall either when Mr. Brooks is actively preparing for a killing, while he is pulling the trigger, or directly afterwards when he is basking in the high of the kill. One would perhaps also see internal debates personified when Mr. Brooks is alone - with Mr. Brooks trying to extricate himself from Marshall's control. But that is precisely where things go awry. Instead, Mr. Brooks and Marshall are inseparable with Marshall present even in discussions that have nothing to do with murder and in locations in Mr. Brooks' public life where his secret would be actively hidden. Additionally, Marshall never pulls the trigger nor is he responsible for the bulk of the planning. Instead he is a sort of reference for Mr. Brooks who selects victims on his own and carries out the killings with Marshall as more or less just a buddy along for the ride.

There's also what I call the Family Guy problem with Marshall. He's in the backseat of the car when Mr. Brooks and his wife Emma are driving home after the Man of the Year banquet. Mr. Brooks engages in conversation with Marshall and even adjusts the rearview mirror to avoid meeting his eyes, but his wife doesn't notice a thing. It's accepted that she wouldn't be able to hear Marshall - he doesn't actually exist outside of Mr. Brooks' head - but wouldn't she be able to hear her husband's responses to him? And wouldn't things adjusted by Mr. Brooks be noticeable to those in the real world? Family Guy perpetually plays the Stewie/Brian relationship for laughs as Brian seems to be the only one in the family who can understand Stewie unless plot demands that suddenly Lois hear something Stewie said. It works in an animated comedy setting but in the instance of Marshall and Mr. Brooks it's just distracting.

Overall Mr. Brooks would have benefited from having two of its four plots excised completely to allow for the characters to be developed past the point of mere suggestion and for Marshall's appearances to have been given some sort of structure so that his role is more accurately defined. It also would have benefited from a lead other than Kevin Costner since for the entire first half of the movie he spoke in this haltingly precise diction that sounded like somebody still learning English reading aloud for the first time. William Hurt was wonderful as Marshall - sarcastic, needling, and distinctly unsettling - but ultimately wasted without proper definition. Demi Moore is a sort of bitter and pointless version of what I assume she'll actually be like in a few years when she's going through an ugly divorce from Ashton Kutcher. Dane Cook has the on-screen charisma of a wall. I'd rather watch Keanu Reeves. Marg Helgenberger, in the few scenes she had, was beautifully natural as the loving and oblivious wife. However I have to say that the film actually would have been better served by a no-name actress in the role because Marg is most recognizable from CSI and in a killer movie where police procedural and forensics are so obviously ignored it's grating to have an actress known for crime solving and capable analysis relegated to a simpering support role.

I don't give stars unless they're warranted anymore. Not even for the purposes of ratings. So I'll just say that I've definitely seen worse movies but that's not a recommendation. This is an overdone premise that doesn't really shed new light on the genre and badly needed an editor.

November 14, 2007

If the writer's strike doesn't end, eventually all movies will be silent reels of only semi-related images of celebrities narrated by that annoying mouth-breather who sits in the middle of every theatre and offers inane commentary in between chomping popcorn. So every theatre experience will become that much more special. ('Special' like the short bus, not 'special' like you've always been told by your parents you are.)

"Oh man, Jack Nicholson is totally the bomb. Whatever the fuck, Leo! Whatever the fuck, he's such a pansy. DUDE! Did you like see Bourne Supremacy? That rocked. Matt Damon totally rocked in that... WHOA! Shot him in the face. Saw that coming. But it was still like BAM! Cool shit, man."

That would be your experience in The Departed, by way of example. Only smellier. And with less leg room.

Tomorrow I am voluntarily going to see a movie that I anticipate will more or less largely suck. Why? Because I'm a loyal fan, that's why. The same reason I went to see On The Line. Okay, that was temporary insanity but this is different. This is for a much more worthy cause. Marg Helgenberger. That's right, I'm a big Catherine fan. (Balthazar snickers every time he hears her name because he thinks it sounds like 'Mark Hamburger' which is just childish. But it's also why I've started calling her Catherine even when she's not on CSI.) Anyway, Catherine is in the Kevin Costner vehicle Mr. Brooks as his loving wife, Emma Brooks. So no, she's not playing Catherine. But there is death in it! However I doubt very much that she will interrogate a suspect by unbuttoning her blouse or saucily use reverse forensics to solve a crime. The movie is all about Kevin Costner being a serial killer whose murderous impulses are embodied by William Hurt. Or something. Anyway, it will very likely be terrible but I love Marg so I'm going to see it. Because being a fan is like being a friend - it's cheap to only be there in the good times, you know? The bad times are when they need you the most.

That said, I will not be supporting the 'Tom Cruise And Xenu Take Over Hollywood One Cliched War Movie At A Time' effort Lions For Lambs even though Meryl Streep is in it. I hope Meryl can forgive me but I just... can't. I swore after War of the Worlds I was through with Tommy Boy and I stand by my convictions. I'm already voluntarily subjecting myself to Kevin Costner. What more do you want from me?!?!

Perhaps if the writers do stay on strike my favorite actors will take up silent screen careers. (I said 'silent screen' not 'mime', Skotty. I know you're just acting out because I'm voicing support for Catherine again. Who, by the way, is a REDHEAD.) I'd like to see that, actually. Long epic films with just scores to back them and no dialogue to get in the way of all that beautiful acting. It would also put Botox out of favor because one can't act silently without facial expressions unlike now when you can sort of ignore the lack of feature mobility by focussing on the overly dramatic vocal intonation.

I'll let you know how Mr. Brooks is. By the way, it also stars Demi Moore as a hard-boiled detective and Dane Cook as a weird voyeur. So if you had any charitable thoughts about it before that last sentence, you can banish them now. I know what I'm in for.