Sunday, July 24, 2005

Movies: The Island

Genre: Popcorn sci-fi
Director: Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Rock)
Verdict: &&&&

The less I knew about The Island, the more pumped I was about visiting its shores. When I knew only that it stars Ewan McGregor and involves clones bred to keep humans healthy, I was ready to be first in line. When I learned it was directed by Michael Bay (Armageddon, Bad Boys) and peppered with chase scenes, I began to rethink my decision to skip War of the Worlds. But darn if the chase scenes aren't over-the-top fun: Bay has pulled off a surprisingly successful fusion of summer action blockbuster and thinking person's plot, much in the way I, Robot did. Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor, excellent, as always) is a clone in a sterile community optimized to keep the identical copies of paying clients in tiptop health and happiness; although fully grown, Lincoln and the others are actually only a couple of years old and kept in the dark about their purpose. The clones are led to believe the rest of the world is uninhabitable except for a small area called the island, and a few win passage to this paradise through a lottery. Although they are bred to be docile, unquestioning creatures, Lincoln is increasingly curious about his environment, wondering who washes the clothes that appear in his living quarters and why the cafeteria always serves tofu on a particular night. And for that matter, he wonders, what is tofu? Lincoln's inquisitiveness leads him outside the confines of his usual routine and ultimately to escape with his friend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson). The outside world thinks the clones are nothing more than vegetables, and the diabolical leader of the cloning enterprise will go to any lengths to keep it that way. Lincoln and Jordan manage to elude professional assassins in a spectacular highway chase and try to get to their human counterparts to expose the truth. Along the way, Bay deftly weaves in humor – some of the funniest scenes take place when the clones enter a bar shortly after escaping – and there are some surprisingly clever touches. For instance, the first time Jordan sees her human counterpart is when she's passing a storefront display with a television showing an actual commercial in which the actress appeared. While many viewers will predict elements of the ending before the film is half finished, the many inspired moments, such as the one in which Jordan stares at her own face in that TV screen, help make this island a worthy destination.

// Linkage //
Official movie website

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Books: Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Genre: Koontzian good vs. evil thriller
Published: 2003
Verdict: &&&1/2

If The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan were dead, his ghost would be haunting Haley Joel Osment, urging him to help exact revenge on thriller writer Dean Koontz. Not only does Odd Thomas, protagonist of the novel of the same name, see dead people, there's a twist – far less jolting than Shyamalan's – lurking at the end. It took, um, guts on the part of Koontz to shamelessly revisit such unoriginal territory. Nevertheless, nine years after reading my last Koontz, I decided this was the one that would bring me back to the fold. From the moment I read in a review that Elvis is one of the lingering ghosts, I wanted to read this novel. What turned me off Koontz around the Dragon Tears and Hideaway era was the numbing predictability; every novel had become the same basic tale of good versus evil with tedious chase scenes. The exciting spark of a Lighting or Strangers had gone cold. Here, Odd Thomas is a young fry cook whose "gift" attracts lost souls; like Sixth Sense's ghosts, they often want his help. He also sees entities called bodachs – slithery wisps that gather where death occurs or is imminent. The police chief knows about Odd's gift, which he uses to help subvert crimes. When a stranger in Odd's beloved desert town of Pico Mundo bellies up to the bar in his restaurant with an entourage of bodachs, Odd's sixth sense goes ballistic; he foresees impending doom. Much of the novel centers on Odd's sleuthing to learn the man's identity and what horrible crimes he plans to commit, and Koontz effectively layers on the tension and dread. There's also a sweet love story, but some of the writer's most moving prose emerges when he details the cruelty humans can inflict upon one another; the most brilliant scene of the novel may be Odd's encounter with his cold and troubled mother near the end. When the climactic confrontation between Odd and the villians finally arrives, it may not be altogether unpredictable. And this, too, is a basic tale of good versus evil, with a chase of sorts, to boot. But this is Koontz with spark.

// Linkage //
Official Koontz page

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Movies: Dark Water

Genre: Japanese-inspired horror
Verdict: &&&

Who'd get excited over another waterlogged, post-The Ring J-horror flick? Me, of course. After all, the original Japanese movie was director Hideo Nakata's next movie after Ringu, and the remake cast (Jennifer Connelly, Tim Roth, Camryn Manheim, Pete Postlethwaite) is as much as one can hope for in this genre. The setting is certainly creepy -- a monolithic, cold, almost industrial-looking apartment building on New York's Roosevelt Island. Newly separated and desperate for affordable housing, Dahlia Williams (Connelly) moves here with her adorable daughter, Ceci (brilliantly played by young Ariel Gade), and things predictably begin to unravel. A leak causes a nasty stain on the ceiling of Ceci's bedroom, and she hears voices at night. What Dahlia believes to be her daughter's imaginary friend is, of course, something more. Water is inescapable, whether from the unending rain storm, gushing faucets or tears. As the leaking ceiling worsens, it becomes apparent that the apartment immediately above is the source of the water and Ceci's visitor. In a classic "don't go in there" moment, Dahlia knocks on the 10F door, which pops open. The terrors cause Dahlia to confront memories of her cruel mother, and the conflict with her husband, Ceci's erratic behavior and unresponsive landlord push her to the breaking point. The family relationships add a human dimension that is sorely lacking in many creepfests, but the tension never approaches Ring-like levels, and many will find the conclusion sorely indebted to the Ring movies. Its scares may be more of a semicircle than a full Ring, but it's an admirable attempt at smart horror.