The Last House on the Left

Last House on the Left (1972) movie poster

(1972) dir. Wes Craven
viewed: 08/28/09

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Halloween (1978), & The Last House on the Left (1972), all “video nasties” as the English deem them, all 1970’s horror “classics”, all have been re-made in the past 5 years.   I don’t mean this as a comprehensive list, but a simple sampling to contrast the fact that Wes Craven’s first feature film, The Last House on the Left, while shocking and influential in its time, is really a piece of crap.

The film is a re-envisioning of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece The Virgin Spring (1960), which in theory, could be interesting.  Maybe that’s the reason that the film resonated so much despite sucking so much.  Because the film does suck.  It has this horrible soundtrack, by musician David Hess, singing of frilly soft rock ballads about love and peace and crap.  And the soundtrack is interjected in all these various situations, sort of implying rather than shock and horror, some sort of peaceful continuum of life or something.  Even when you’re raping, torturing, and murdering two young girls.

Beyond the soundtrack, Craven interjects lame humor in the police, who are dumb and run out of gas (why they don’t come to the scene until it’s pretty much all over).  Mixed with the scenes of familial bliss, countered with the abduction and capture of the two girls.  While I think the intention is to show the contrasts, to build the power of the pay-off, of the family avenging their daughter, it denudes the film of tension, and Craven is no Bergman, I’ll tell you that.

Actually, this movie is garbage.  There are a couple of characters that are better than others.  Jeramie Rain, as Sadie, the pan-sexual torturer is more interesting than her male companions.  I mean, you know that it’s a low budget shocker film, and there is a lot you can accept, but the bottom line, I don’t think there is anything in this film that warrants recognition, except perhaps the horrible music that is so inaptly played throughout.  I mean, the ending, a guy gets killed with a chainsaw.  There is no power or menace or pathos.  It just happens.

Anyway, I rented this film because I didn’t think I’d seen it before and was interested in seeing the remake.  While it’s easy to believe that the remake would be better by comparison, I have lost interest in it.  These re-makes of horror films, I’ll watch them, but they tend to be very shallow, lacking any genuine shock value.

Walkabout

Walkabout (1971) movie poster

(1971) dir. Nicolas Roeg
viewed: 08/25/09

After seeing the brilliant Wake in Fright (1971) in re-release in Sydney while visiting Australia, I was inspired to see Nicolas Roeg’s film Walkabout, which bested Wake in Fright in 1971 at Cannes.  Two great films about Australia released the same year, two films made by English directors.  Whereas Wake in Fright disappeared to near oblivion until recently restruck and re-released and celebrated, Walkabout has long been a film of note, made during director Nicolas Roeg’s finest period, in which he also directed Performance (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).  And that said, I don’t think I’d ever seen it.

Walkabout is the story of two English children, a 14 year old girl and her 7 year old (or so) brother, who become stranded in the outback in a strange and shocking way and are forced to walk in search of a return to civilization, surviving as best they can.  They are met by an Aboriginal boy who is doing a “walkabout”, which according to an intertitle at the beginning of the film, is a ritual that Aboriginal boys perform at the age of 16, going out into the outback on their own and hunting to survive, living off the land.  He befriends them and helps them along.

Roeg’s narrative style is effective and interesting, not giving a huge amount of background information, telling the story through the events, projecting ideas through juxtapositions and imagry.  There is a massive contrast between civilization and the purity of the Australian natural landscapes.  Roeg films just about every Australian animal you can possibly think of, representing the weirdness, the beauty, the danger, and freedom of the wild.

The “black boy”, played by the ubiquitous David Gulpilil, appears barely clad, but with numerous lizards hooked to his belt.  He hunts with a spear or a boomerang, he is a man at one with nature, teaching the two lost children how to literally drink water from the earth with a straw.  They quickly take to him, admiring the simplicity and purity of the natural world, stripping naked and swimming, becoming more and more at one with nature.  All this bridges a language barrier since Gulpilil speaks and understands no English and they understand none of his words.  Though eventually they learn a small amount, symbolizing an understanding of one another’s cultures and what those represent.

The film has a tragic, transformative quality, because as idealized and beautiful as the way of the Aboriginals are represented, the English/Australian culture is viewed as violent, artificial, and corrupting.  And while this point is made clearly, Roeg manages to evoke great power from his storytelling and the images of the children in the wild.

My one complaint would be the use of sound and music, which seems more steeped in the technology and tonality of the time of the film.  Roeg uses contrasts and jump-cut-like juxtapositions, visually and aurally, but for some reason the visuals seemed more powerful and timeless.  Some of the noises associated with the animals, meant, I think, to be representative rather than natural seem more contrived.

This is a nit to pick, clearly, in a brilliant, fascinating film.  It’s so different from Wake in Fright that it’s hard to imagine how one measures one film against another for “greatness” or “significance”.  Wake in Fright is much more about the character of the people, a scathing depiction, metaphorical of hell, whereas Walkabout is much more an ode to the Edenic quality of the natural world and humankind’s ability to be at one with that.  The religious symbology isn’t too pervassive, but it’s there.  The two films are both brilliant, excellent visions, and it’s an interesting thing that they came out the same year.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) movie poster

(1964) dir. Jacques Demy
viewed: 08/23/09

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of those films that a lot of people love, and it’s one that I’d long planned to wait to see on the big screen, which wound up putting it out further and further from ever having seen it.  So, finally queueing it and finally seeing it, I can say indeed that I can understand how this film evokes such positive feelings, sad in many ways that the story is, this is a charming, lovely film, beautiful and in some ways, quite timeless.

It had been ages since I’d seen a musical, and I certainly can’t begin to recall when the last two films that I’d seen were both musicals, but it was a happenstance pairing with having watched the marvelous The Music Man (1962), and in some ways helps inform director Jacques Demy’s vision, his lushly colorful love poem ode to the Hollywood musical, but one made with a particular French sensibility, and taking a page perhaps more from opera than the traditional musical.  While this film is a musical, every line of the film is sung and often sung to rhythms and tunes, one would not say that there is necessarily a “song” in the film.  It’s a bit of a deconstruction in that.

That and that the story is a bit of a standardish sort of love story, girl meets boy, girl gets pregnant, boy goes off with the military (to war?), girl ends up marrying someone else…  Well, I won’t give the whole story away, but I use that sketch of the narrative to suggest that there is nothing outstandingly unique in the storyline, but the novelty of the music, the gorgeous set designs and cinematography, the amazingly lovely dresses and costuming, and Catherine Deneuve!  It’s eye candy of a different sort.

Unlike a musical such as The Music Man, there are no set-piece songs, no stagey dance numbers, and no talking in between to set them up.  In many cases, the story could have just as well have been spoken as sung, not requiring rhyme nor meter to pattern to the music.  But this film is charming and lovely, hard to not take a shine to.  And it’s easy to understand why it is well-loved by many.

I’m not so utterly familiar with Jacques Demy beyond the fact that he was married to the also amazing Agnès Varda (Le bonheur (1965), Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)).  Varda did make a film about her late husband, The World of Jacques Demy (1995).  Certainly there is more to see.

I would definitely say that this film is worth seeing on the big screen.  I would be interested still in seeing it that way, but I can certainly say that I enjoyed it.

The Music Man

The Music Man (1962) movie poster

(1962) dir. Morton DaCosta
viewed: 08/21/09

I grew up with The Music Man.  It was televised every fourth of July, and I’m not sure whether that was nationally or locally, though I suspect it was more a local broadcast.  It was one of my dad’s favorite movies.  He loved Paul Ford and Hermione Gringold as the mayor and his wife, loved the silliness and play with language, loved the songs and the whole thing.  It’s one of the few things of that type that I remember my dad having such positive feelings about.  And we’d watch it as a family.  It has always, probably resultantly, been my favorite musical, and one that just brings about happy feelings.

So, I’d been thinking of watching it with the kids for a while, to see how they would take to it.  It’s a far different film from any that they’d seen.  The only musicals that they’d seen had been Disney ones, like Mary Poppins (1964), and the whole singing and dancing thing…  I mean, you’d think that kids would like it, but you never know.

And they did like it.  Felix more so than Clara, but that’s probably more of an age thing, seeing as she gets dragged through lots more “older kid” experiences at a younger age out of circumstances.  And actually, I was surprised how much Felix liked it.  He actually was really impressed with “little Ronny” Ron Howard, who was just seven at the time of filming but looked even younger.  And it’s true.  He’s great.

It’s funny how ingrained this movie is with me.  I couldn’t even tell you the last time that I’d seen it, though I don’t doubt that it’s been 20 years or more.  I remember listening to the album on our turntable, couldn’t begin to say how many times I’d seen it versus listened to the music.  And I still think it’s an immensely clever and funny movie, and has a number of pretty crowd-pleasing songs.  And the cast is terrific, from the inimitable Robert Preston as the travelling salesman shyster to “The Buffalo Bills”, the barbershop quartet that Preston’s music man is constantly tricking into listening to themselves harmonize.  And Shirley Jones, very beautiful and good as the “old maid” librarian.

But the songs and lyrics and repartee of the film are so much fun themselves.  Supposedly taking place in the early part of the 20th century, there is a lot of good-natured fun poking at the moral issues of the time: reading Balzac and saying such racy things as “Great Honk”.  The language and attitudes of the River City Iowans, all stubborn and grumpy, transformed by music is also amusing.  But Meredith Wilson’s music plays as well, theming songs over the rhythmic chugging of a steam engine to the chattering of chickens, and playing two styles in contrast and harmony, as well as using essentially the same tune for the theme “76 Trombones” and “Good Night, My Someone”.  The whole thing is lively and clever with music and language.

The film is still immense fun.  It’s one that I could watch over and again.  And the fact that it’s most contemporary notoriety is its referencing in the classic The Simpsons “Monorail” episode (the best episode of The Simpsons in my opinion), only sort of adds to its flair and character.  I guess that, while its not absolute in perfection, it really is one of my favorite films.  And it was great to share it with the kids.  And to tell them how much their grandfather loved it too.

Ashes of Time Redux

Ashes of Time (1994) movie poster

(1994) dir. Wong Kar-Wai
viewed: 08/20/09

There was a time, not too long ago, that Wong Kar-Wai was one of my favorite living directors.  From Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express (1994), Ashes of Time (pre-Redux) (1994), and Fallen Angels (1995), he managed, with some aesthetic direction from frequent collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, to create a strange mixture of urban loneliness and longing, amidst the glowing neon of nighttime, and a somewhat French New Wave influenced sense of abstraction while adhering to his stories.

And honestly, Ashes of Time was perhaps my personal favorite, though perhaps Days of Being Wild is now.  I liked the transposition of his characters and tonality into a period film, a sword-fighting film, which was something that I was also enjoying.  In many ways, it was quite anomalous in his films, as he is so urban.  But in other ways, it tied back, with assassins, lost loves, long stretches of yearning, and even centered around a restaurant of sorts.

The story with the “Redux” was that the original negative had been damaged or lost or something, and Wong Kaw-Wai had long wished to have either re-edited or represented his film.  So, this version, I think, is more than a tad modified, but is essentially the same film.  It had been so long, I couldn’t really say.

I had been drawn to the film with its themes of memory and forgetting and its stellar cast featuring both Tony Leungs, Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, and the late Leslie Cheung.  And the film is still a visual pleasure, mixing strange color tintings and interesting juxtapositions of close-ups and items like birdcages.  And the film does still evoke its mood, of people lost and mixed-up from their obligations and loves, strewn out across the world in a somewhat existential nowhere.

But it didn’t speak to me as strongly as it had in the past, and I don’t know if that is due to the new edit, or more likely just to my changing person.  It’s still an interesting film, still probably one of his most interesting.  Yet Wong Kar-Wai, perhaps, by not having really evolved deeply in the meantime, even his older, more thought-provoking work, seems a retread of itself.  A redux, if you will.

The Last Wave

The Last Wave (1977) movie poster

(1977) dir. Peter Weir
viewed: 08/18/09

After traveling to Australia, I got interested in seeing some of the Australian films that I’d seen in the past and I queued up a few, sort of at random.  I remembered Peter Weir’s The Last Wave from cable television in the 1980’s.  An apocalyptic film, which was a theme of the period, though perhaps a persistent theme even now, the film is most notable for its usage and portrayal of Australian Aboriginals and its focus on Aboriginal mysticism, which at the time of the making of the film was quite exotic and unheralded.

In the film, torrential rains begin to pummel Sydney, and an attorney, played by Richard Chamberlain, is pulled in to a murder case to defend several Aboriginals who are thought to have killed another Aboriginal man as they judged and executed him according to “Tribal Law”, as opposed to Australian law.  And also by pointing a bone at him.  Of course, Weir makes things interesting, mixing the mysticism and cataclysm, and imbuing Chamberlain’s attorney with visions of the coming doom.

Oddly, it’s the kind of movie that is perhaps a bit more interesting in retrospect, or maybe just sits better in retrospect.  As it played out, it felt a bit clunky, and the faces of the Aboriginals, their stoicism (many of them) is used to speak of some grander depth of perceptual reality.  When Chamberlain finally gets to the point of seeing that “the last wave” is coming, it’s all a bit more suggested than spelled out, but the bottom line is that there is something more powerful in the culture of the mystics than in normal humanity.  How and why Chamberlain?

It’s odd, but I do kind of like this film.  I think Peter Weir for a long time was making many interesting films including Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Galipoli (1981), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), and then Witness (1985).  Though he’s had a couple of lulus on his filmography, Dead Poets Society (1989) and Green Card (1990), even his more recent films have not been overly unfortunate: Fearless (1993), The Truman Show (1998), and Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (2003).  He’s drawn to interesting material largely, and perhaps this period from the late 1970’s through the 1980’s, especially his Australian-oriented films, are the most thought-provoking.

I am inspired to watch more of his films to help clarify my feeling.  It’s been years since I’ve seen any of his films, and with my Australian film kick, I will probably see a few more.

Ponyo

Ponyo (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
viewed: 08/16/09 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

Ponyo is the latest film from the great, wonderful, amazing Hayao Miyazaki.  It’s the softest and gentlest of his films since My Neighbor Totoro (1988), the most G-rated and little kid-friendly.  His range in his audience is not necessarily huge, but this film is on the extreme end of accessibilty and identification with small children, and at the same time, open and wonderful to all as is true with all of his wonderful films.  And Ponyo, while it’s not quite Totoro, or Spirited Away (2001), is a wonderful film itself, featuring many characteristics about Miyazaki’s world that amaze and enchant.

Ponyo is a revision of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson, but in this case, the heroine is not a mermaid, but a goldfish with a human face and magical powers.  And her father is some alchemist technician who struggles to keep the sea in balance, her mother is the ocean itself, embodied by the image of a human godess.  Ponyo falls in love with a five year old boy, Sosuke, for whom she wants to transform herself into a human.  The story is less about a purely romanticized love, but a love that seems to transcend everything, ultimately symbolizing a binding of humanity and nature, a nature simply alive with anthropomorphication, living waves, living bubbles, fish of all kinds.  It ties in with other themes of Miyazaki, the spirit world of traditional Japanese beliefs in which spirits inhabit everything, and thusly, everything is more or less alive, especially if not specifically, the natural world.

Miyazaki creates images that no one else could.  Ponyo is constantly metamorphizing via her magic, growing chicken-like arms and legs, occasionally like some blob thing more than fish, but ultimately, one of the film’s most stunning images is her running across the giant waves, racing after Sosuke and his mother in their car.  She has a joie de vivre, a spark of love and life and energy that is vibrant and magical, a really lovely, fun character.  The strangeness of the sea and of some of the images that Miyazaki dreams up, he spawn-like little sisters, her father’s watering can system, the weird ships and strange simple technologies he loves to dream up.

And the film has a sweetness for the elderly, something that occurs frequently in his films, mostly notably in his last film, Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), with the young girl becoming old and the ability to hang onto or lose one’s youth.  In Ponyo, it is the children and the senior’s center, more a vague Greek chorus than important figure.

Ponyo is lovely.  We are very lucky to have Hayao Miyazaki’s films, that he continues to make such amazing, creative, unique work.  There is charm, joy, love, and a deep appreciation for the magic and metamorphosis in animation, the ability to instill the anthropomorphism that is in essence his sensibility of nature and traditional Japanese values that agree with that belief.  And to create characters and instances, images, and actions that are simple, yet true, true cinema.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) movie poster

(1954) dir. Jack Arnold
viewed: 08/15/09 at the Red Vic Movie House, SF, CA

As I’ve oft-noted, I grew up loving “monster movies”, as I called them as a kid.  So, when I saw that Creature from the Black Lagoon was playing in 3-D at the Red Vic, I put it on my calendar and was eager to revisit it.

This is 3-D in the original, with the red lens and blue lens in a light card frame shaped into “glasses”.  I am not really a fan of 3-D, but this is 3-D from the original 3-D era and seems an appropriate way to go.  The effects are more akin to showing vague depth-of-field, rather than feeling a real sense of the creature’s claw reaching out for you.  Maybe it’s my eyes and the best tricks don’t work so well on me.

Directed by Jack Arnold, a true quality name among the lesser-known B-movie makers, Creature is a good romp, if not a great romp, a sort of subgenre of its own, that of The Lost World (1925), an image of the Amazon jungle, of South America and its rainforests, hiding the last unknowns of the Earth.  Even Anaconda (1997) in the modern sense, and even Pixar’s latest Up (2009) seeks the “lost” and living fragments of the yet undiscovered.  Perhaps it’s one of those increasingly dated images, that “out there” lives something great and tremendous that humans have yet to classify.  Because while new species are discovered quite a bit, it’s very unusual to discover anything of great size or significance.  We’ve just covered most of the globe by now.  But even so, the fantasies persist.

Oddly enough, my last trip to the Red Vic Movie House was to see Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space (1953), also shown in old-fashioned 3-D.  Kinda ashamed I don’t make it there more often.   It’s a great place, with the benches and the re-usable plastic glassware and popcorn bowls.  It’s a co-op and it’s unique in this city.  And if you live here, you should go there when you can.  One of my favorite films, Dead Man (1995) is playing there this week.  I am hoping to figure out how to get there for that.

For Creature, I think that the best thing about the movie is “the creature” himself.  Now, this may be debateable to a modern audience, but I think you have to look at the pervassiveness of his image among the other classic monsters of the Hollywood classics to say what an impression his image has made.  I personally think the design is quite cool, and they must have thought so at the time too because he gets a lot of screen time compared to some beasties of the movies, hidden a lot so that you can’t see the flaws in their effects and design.

Additionally, I always had a crush on Julia Adams, the damsel in the film who fills out her one-piece bathing costume with great flair.  I had this Creature Features board game, which played like Monopoly, but instead of properties, you bought movies, and instead of houses, you bought the monster and the stars.  I often bought Creature from the Black Lagoon so that I could have Julia Adams to look longingly at.

But the Creature is an icon, and I think rightfully so.  And I think Jack Arnold and Julia Adams have earned their respectful places in my subjective and seemingly-random heart.

District 9

District 9 (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Neill Blomkamp
viewed: 08/14/09 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

The “stealth” movie of the summer, shot on location in Johannesburg, South Africa, starring a guy who was a friend of the director’s and promoted with some “on the sly” types of print ads that don’t really tell you much, District 9 is also the movie of the moment.  And Peter Jackson helped produce it.  The stealth is gone, the buzz is up, and the film is in theaters.  I’d read both good buzz and good reviews and wanted to see it before I became to aware of too much about the film.

So, beware a bit in reading this because I might tell you a bit more than you want to know about the story if you want to go see it.

The film’s premise is this: a huge spaceship appeared over Johannesberg 20 years ago.  When investigated, it was filled with a million half-starved lobster-like aliens (Hello, Dr. Zoidberg, I think you have a lawsuit on your claws!) who are taken in as “immigrants” to South Africa, but since they are not well-integrated, instead are housed up in a big slum in the center of the city.  They speak in clicks and tones but understand English and over the years have become the most denigrated species/people on the planet.  As the film begins, a 3rd party company has been brought in to move the “prawns” as they are known epithetically, to a new space outside the city, just another slum, but less visible.

The Apartheid metaphors are clear, and the film is shot with a mixture of hand-held camera, shot for television, filmed on security camera, as well as a general omniscient camera (which tends toward the hand-held as well, perhaps to help even out the visual tone), but is not as committed to the whole idea of a faux-documentary or “caught on tape” sort of approach, though there are many talking head interviews who help flesh out the story and the back-story.

It’s an entertaining film, which sort of evolves into a more traditional story of one character identifying and befriending another cross-species.  The villains are the multinational corporations who want to capitalize on alien weapons technology, far advanced and destructive, but only usable by the aliens themselves.  Of course, they’re willing to use and destroy anyone to get what they want.

There is a lot of mystery about the aliens, about why they were there in the first place.  And the film is left open with a clear path to sequel.  The themes about the quarrantining of the aliens, the abject poverty and the misunderstanding of cultural differences, exploited by criminals and criminalizing could be more heavy-handed but are blunted perhaps by the speed and complexity of the details.  It’s all very fast-moving.  You don’t really have time to dwell on any one aspect of the broader metaphor.  Is this a metaphorical perception of an outsider, though?  Of white South Africa post-Apartheid?  Does the metaphor ultimately hold water?

The one aspect of power beneath it is having filmed in the slums of Johannesberg.  The slums bear some of the verity of the story, shantytowns that are characteristics of poverty more pervassive and extreme than anything in the United States perhaps, something hard to imagine, but real.  But again, the oppression of the “prawns” seems kind of strange to such an extent.  It seems that over 20 years there would have been one or two that would have managed via scientific study or academic research of culture and language to have helped to “explain” more of their situation, help humans to understand the why of their being.

It’s not always a good idea to prod the surface of such thing as a plot point.  But if the film was going to have great power in examining a metaphor of racism, segregation, Apartheid-style cordoning of a “people” by the government, it has to at least have some depth to its narrative.

I don’t mean to pick it apart.  It’s a good film, with some surprising elements, some adventure, some fun.  And while a lot of people saw it over the weekend and a lot of people will see it in the coming weeks, it’s certainly a more interesting film than most of the other summer action fare.  And those weird South African accents, Dutch meets English sounding Welsh or Australian or…  Now that is an alien sound all its own.

Knowing

Knowing (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Alex Proyas
viewed: 08/11/09

Knowing that Knowing was not going to be a very good film, I was still up for it because of my liking for bad Nicolas Cage movies.  I’d read in the San Francisco Chronicle, and critic Peter Hartlaub (one of the only Datebook writers that I like at all) noted “If you see only one bad movie this year, definitely make it Knowing.”  I think that Peter Hartlaub has a similar appreciation for pop culture as I do, for bad movies as well as good.  And maybe that is why I like what he has to say compared to the other reviewers.

Anyhow, Knowing is a super-silly movie with a super-silly premise and super-silly plot twists and ultimate commentary.

Fifty years ago, a girl in a possessed state wrote a series of numbers on a page that was then put into a time capsule.  On finding the letter via his son’s school opening the time capsule, Cage, a astrophysicist at MIT (see, I told you it was super-silly) recognizes the pattern as one that has predicted numerous major catastrophes in the past 50 years, with three left to occur.  He then tries to avert these catastrophes, until he learns that the final catastrophe is the destruction of all life on Earth.

Let’s just say I’m giving away all the plot here.  You kind of know that the lurking people in the shadows are going to turn out to be aliens.  And they do.  They’ve got a Noah’s Ark plan for Earth, saving two of each species (though not so explicitly every species), and the warnings, encoded in the numbers via some mental telepathy, were meant to weed out the two most apt to keep the species alive.

It’s kind of interesting in a couple of ways.  For one thing, for a summer disaster movie, the whole world is ultimately destroyed.  Earth is burnt to a crisp.  Apocalpse is now.  Nobody stops it.  Kind of a bummer.

The film has a strong Christian religious theme throughout, about either the random meaninglessness of life or the predetermined Christian belief in something more powerful beyond death.  Cage is the site of this conflict, his father a pastor and he the non-believer widower scientist.  Faced with the predictions and the tie-in with religious meaning, he accepts a belief in the beyond, where all meet up again.  And it’s his son who is delivered to the new sci-fi Eden at the end.

Directed by Alex Proyas, who started his career with The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998) and has additionally directed the Will Smith vehicle, I, Robot (2004), he’s got a lot potentially going on here.  But there is a strong center of emotion that he seeks, between Cage and his son, familial ties, reuniting with his father himself.  But a lot of that is kind of lost in the chaotic noise of the unfolding of the story.  As Hartlaub noted, there are scenes that are quite striking, like the plane crash and scenes that are laughable (super-silly) like the vision of the burning moose.  It’s somewhat of a grab bag of themes, ideas, attached to a plot that is pretty hilarious in a lot of ways.

I personally didn’t enjoy it as much as I have some other bad Nicolas Cage movies, such as Next (2007), Bangkok Dangerous (2008) and Ghost Rider (2007).  I guess it’s the hamming and yet the commitment to the character that he has.  I don’t know.  But I’d say this is one of those movies that you should have a good reason for watching.  Mine was Nicolas Cage and I was satisfied with the goofy, “End of Days” story, and probably a little more moved than I should have been about his relationship with his son.  But Ghost Rider and Next are a lot more fun if you want to go slumming with Cage.