A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Ides of March (dir. by George Clooney)

George Clooney’s new political film The Ides of March opened last Friday and so far it appears to have mostly gotten positive reviews that are more respectful than enthusiastic.  Well, I saw The Ides of March on Tuesday evening and all I can say is “Don’t believe everything you hear.”  That should be a given but it’s always worth repeating.  The Ides of March is a slow, ponderous, and at times completely annoying movie, a minor work dealing with major themes.

The film is based on the play Farragut North and it’s about Stephen (Ryan Gosling), a political consultant who is working on the presidential campaign of Gov. Mike Morris (George Clooney).  Morris is a typical Hollywood Democratic politician in that he gives a lot of speeches attacking America’s dependence on foreign oil and he’s not ashamed to admit that he’s an atheist.  Anyway, despite the fact that Morris comes across as being smug and something of a sexist, he’s the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination but only if he can win the Ohio primary.  For all of his attempts to be as cynical as his mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman, giving a typical Philip Seymour Hoffman performance), Stephen truly believes in Mike Morris.  However, Stephen comes across some information that could potentially destroy Morris’ campaign and he soon finds himself a pawn in a game between Morris, the press (represented by Marisa Tomei, who looks terrible in this film), and the opposing campaign (managed by Paul Giamatti).

Yes, The Ides of March has a lot to say but it’s absolutely nothing you haven’t heard before and, quite frankly, it’s kind of annoying how the film seems to think that this is the first time that anyone’s ever suggested that maybe politics is a dirty business.  The film’s not a total waste because there’s way too many talented people involved here for the film not to have the occasional good moment.  Gosling and Clooney both give strong performances and play off each other well.  They have a scene where they confront each other in a deserted kitchen and for a few brief seconds, the film actually gets interesting.  Playing an emotionally unstable intern, Evan Rachel Wood shows once again that she’s one of the best actresses working today and it’s just a shame that the film treats her more like a plot device than an actual human being.  At the same time, I have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever seen Paul Giamatti actually give a performance that can only be called bad.  Seriously, how could the same actor who was so brilliant in Win Win be so terrible in this movie?

Ultimately though, the film fails because — once you get past all the glamour on-screen — what you have is a very predictable political film that, especially in these days of Tea Parties and Occupy Movements, feels rather quaint and forced.  This is yet another one of those films where, apparently, the only way that the main character can learn a lesson is for a supporting character to commit suicide.  There’s a lot of would-be cynical dialogue and Clooney manages to include references to Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report but ultimately, the whole film feels as false as the romantic short stories I used to write in the 8th grade.

The film’s name is obviously meant to carry hints of Shakespeare but perhaps a more honest title would have been Much Ado About Nothing.

Horror Review: The Serpent and The Rainbow (dir. by Wes Craven)

The word zombies conjures up the flesh-eating variety popularized by George Romero’s horror films and the legion of films from others soon after. Prior to 1968’s Night of the Living Dead the word zombies was synonymous more with the gothic-like horror films which took the Haitian voodoo folklore about the recently dead being brought back to life by voodoo priests to act as mindless slaves. It’s this version of the word zombie which Wes Craven decided to explore with his 1988 film adaptation of the Wade Davis non-fiction book The Serpent and The Rainbow. Wes Craven’s film fictionalizes the ideas and treatises put forward in Davis’ book and creates a film which tries to put to light the true horror which lay behind the voodoo folklore regarding zombies.

The film introduces us to the ethnobotanist character of Dennis Alan (played by Bill Pullman) who’s approached by a major pharma-corporation about researching the scientific origins and cause of the voodoo “zombie”. He heads off to Haiti at a time when it’s going through a political upheaval that would lead to the subsequent revolution that topples the dictatorship of that country’s leader, Francois “Baby Doc” Duvalier. During his time in Haiti he investigates story of a patient named Christophe who was reported dead 8 years past but seen recently walking about in a dazed manner. It’s while trying to get a handle on how Christophe was declared dead by authorities but then “resurrected” years later which brings Alan in contact with the local witch doctors who question Alan’s motives but also ridicule him for his narrow viewpoint regarding things which science cannot answer. But through persistence he finally gets one local to assist him in procuring the so-called “zombie powder” used to bring the dead back to life.

The Serpent and The Rainbow shows the real horror about zombification when Alan’s investigations and persistence to acquire the “zombie powder” brings the attention of the country’s secret police (the Tonton Macoutes) and one of it’s leaders and reported voodoo priest in Captain Dargent Peytraud (played by Zakes Mokae in a chilling performance) who warns him repeatedly not to continue. Repeated verbal warning and threats soon become more direct and physical as Alan finds out first-hand why no one in the country dares to speak of “zombies” to an outsider and why Captain Peytraud and his Tonton Macoutes were feared as if they were agents of the evil spirits of their voodoo faith.

Craven does a very good job in taking Wade Davis’ non-fiction book and creating a thrilling and suspenseful piece of horror which suggests that the lead character of Dennis Alan has stepped into a world that was steeped not just in the realm of science but also in the supernatural. The film includes some great scenes which shows Alan experiencing some very horrific nightmares which seems indistinguishable from his waking moments and vice versa. Unlike Craven’s previous work in horror which were imbued with some dark humor but always brutal in it’s depiction of everyday horror, this film rarely goes the gory route though the scenes of torture should make even the most hardened and jaded horror aficionado to squirm in their seat.

The true horror revealed by Craven’s film is the very human figure of Captain Peytraud and his Tonton Macoutes who use the local populace’s fear of “zombification” and how Peytraud has taken advantage of these people’s voodoo beliefs to control the public and keep themselves in power. It’s horror that many recognize and understand yet heightened even more with the addition of a local religious practice that’s relatively unknown and misunderstood by outsiders (especially by those in the West). The film never truly answers the question raised in the beginning of the film of whether the practice of “zombification” is wholly scientific and pharmacological in origins and cause or does religion and the supernatural has a hand in making the process occur. Even after the climactic encounter between Alan and Captain Peytraud in the end of the film only brings more questions which Craven seems to relish in not letting his film answer on either side of the discussion.

The Serpent and The Rainbow is one of those films during the 1980’s which never really got a fair shake from critics and the audience but has since gained quite a following in the years since it’s release. It’s actually one of Craven’s more subtle works during that period of time where violence in the film was the exception instead of the rule as in his past films. It’s a film which continues to gain fans as more and more younger film fans discover the film. Sometimes the word zombies doesn’t conjure up the typical flesh-eating variety but instead one even more horrific since it’s one based on real-life. Sometimes reality can be scarier than what we can conjure up in our minds. The Serpent and The Rainbow is one film which does a great job in supporting that.

Quick News: The Avengers Trailer Released

Marvel has just released the trailer for The Avengers, which is viewable on Apple’s Quicktime Site. The trailer showcases what looks like a big battle within a major city. It also seems like some of the focus in the film is the team having to deal with each other’s issues to work together as a unit. So far, it’s looking pretty good, but I’m noticing they’re really keeping The Hulk under wraps. There’s also a nice use of Nine Inch Nails “We’re in this Together” off The Fragile album.

Very interesting work there!

EDIT: Below is the HD trailer on YouTube if people can’t get the Apple QT site to work.