Shattered Politics #49: The Dead Zone (dir by David Cronenberg)


The_Dead_Zone

So, it seems like every time that I write a review of any film based on a novel by Stephen King, I always have to start out by explaining that I think, while King’s success is undeniable, the fact that he’s overrated is also undeniable.  It’s a comment that I always make and then I have to deal with people going, “But, Lisa, everyone loves Stephen King!  He’s the most commercially successful author ever!  He’s a modern-day Charles Dickens!”

Bleh.

Make no mistake, I think that Stephen King is a talented writer.  However, I don’t think that he’s the greatest writer that has ever lived and that’s where I often come into conflict with King’s fans.  (Stephen King fans tend to be like religious fanatics when it comes to defending their belief.)  Having read both King’s earlier work and his more recent books, it’s hard for me not to feel that Stephen King has been growing steadily complacent.  There’s a certain self-importance to his prose and his plotting that, for me, is the literary equivalent of nails on chalk board.  If anyone is guilty of believing the most fawning praise of his biggest fans, it would appears to be Stephen King who, to judge from his twitter feed, appears to also believe that he’s our most important cultural critic as well.

(To be honest, I’d probably have more tolerance for King’s attempts at cultural and political criticism if he wasn’t so  predictable about it all.  Stephen King may write best sellers but that doesn’t mean he has anything interesting or unique to say about current events.)

Anyway, since I don’t feel like having to deal with all of that shit all over again, I’m not going to start this review by saying that I think Stephen King is overrated.  In fact … whoops.

Okay, so much for that plan.

Even I have to admit that The Dead Zone is one of Stephen King’s better books.  First off, it’s less than a 1,000 pages long.  Secondly, the hero isn’t a writer who spends all of his time whining about the political preferences of his neighbors.  Third, it deals with all of the “big” issues of faith, destiny, and morality but it does so in a far less heavy-handed manner than most of King’s books.

The Dead Zone is also the basis for one of the better films to be adapted from a Stephen King novel.  Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken, the film’s plot closely follows the novel.  Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a high school teacher who, after a horrific car crash, spends five years in a coma.  When he finally wakes up, he discovers that his girlfriend, Sarah (Brooke Adams), has married another man.  His mother has become a religious fanatic.  And, perhaps most importantly, whenever Johnny touches anyone, there’s a good chance that he’ll see either the person’s past or a possible future.

Needless to say, Johnny struggles with how to deal with his new powers.  After he helps to catch a local serial killer, Johnny goes into seclusion.  However, when he discovers that Sarah is now volunteering for ambitious politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), Johnny goes to a Stillson rally, shakes the man’s hand, and has a vision.  Johnny discovers that, if Stillson is elected to the senate, he’ll eventually become President and then he’ll destroy the world.

Much like The Shining, The Dead Zone benefits from being directed by a filmmaker who was both confident and strong enough to bring his own individual style to the material.  (Usually, when a King adaptation fails, it’s because it followed the source material too closely, as if the film’s producers were scared of upsetting any of King’s constant readers.)  Though the film’s plot may closely follow the novel, the movie itself is still definitely more of a product of David Cronenberg than Stephen King.  Whereas King’s novel devoted a good deal of time to Johnny and Sarah’s relationship, it’s treated as almost an afterthought in Cronenberg’s film.  Whereas King’s novel presented Johnny Smith as being an everyman sort of character, Cronenberg’s film gives us a Johnny who, from the start of the film, is a bit of an outsider even before he starts to see the future.  Whereas King put the reader straight into Johnny’s head, Cronenberg approach is a bit more detached and clinical.  Cronenberg’s Johnny is a bit more of an enigma than King’s version.

Fortunately, Cronenberg was fortunate enough to be able to cast Christopher Walken in the role of Johnny Smith.  King’s preference for the role was Bill Murray.  As odd as it may sound, you can actually imagine Bill Murray in the role when you read King’s book.  But, for Cronenberg’s more detached vision, Walken was the perfect choice.  People tend to spend so much time focusing on Christopher Walken’s quirky screen presence that there’s a tendency to forget that he’s actually a very talented actor as well.  He’s very likable and sympathetic as Johnny and brings a humanity and a sense of humor to the role, which provides a good balance to Cronenberg’s sense of detachment.

The Dead Zone is a good book and it was later turned into an occasionally good (and, just as often, not-so-good) television series.  However, the film is still the best.

And here’s the latest previews for Ted 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron!


Did I like the first Ted?  I think I may have liked it, if just because the teddy bear was cute and I usually like Mark Wahlberg.  But, to be honest, I really can’t remember that much about Ted and I’ve kind of reached the point where just the sound Seth McFarlane’s voice makes me want to throw something.

(I may not remember much about Ted but I do remember A Million Ways To Die In The West and …. well, I don’t want to talk about it.)

But anyway, here’s the trailer for Ted 2 and it looks … well, it looks like more of the same.  Morgan Freeman’s in it because apparently, Morgan Freeman will be anything nowadays.

After sitting through that, you know what I really need?  I really need to watch the latest tv spot for Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I’m going to show you something beautiful.  Even better, Seth McFarlane’s not in it.

 

 

 

Trailer: Child 44


I’m looking forward to seeing this movie.  The trailer looks intense and it’s got an amazing cast.  Not only do we have Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy reunited for the first time since Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy but you’ve also got the original (and still the best, regardless of what the Fincherites say) Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace!

It’s Turbo Kid!


PCAS

Just judging from this short teaser, the upcoming film Turbo Kid looks like something that quite a few of our readers might enjoy.  It certainly got a good reaction when it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  It’s a post-apocalyptic adventure film that features some familiar Canadian actors.  In the role of Turbo Kid, we have Munro Chambers, who is best known for playing Eli, everyone’s favorite bipolar, aspiring filmmaker, on Degrassi.

From some of the same people who brought you Hobo With A Shotgun, here’s the teaser for Turbo Kid!

 

Shattered Politics #48: The Kidnapping of the President (dir by George Mendeluk)


Kidnapping_of_the_president

Agency was not the only Canadian film to be made about American politics in 1980.  There was also The Kidnapping of the President, a low-budget political thriller that, because it has since slipped into the public domain, can currently be found in a few dozen DVD box sets.  In fact, you may very well own a copy of The Kidnapping of the President without even realizing it!

Don’t worry if you do.  The Kidnapping of the President is a fairly harmless little film.

U.S. President Adam Scott (Hal Holbrook) is visiting Toronto when he gets handcuffed to a South American revolutionary named Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes).  Assanti locks President Scott in an armored car that is wired with explosives and then demands a hundred million in diamonds and two planes.  (Though the film never explicitly states it, I imagine that Assanti was primarily motivated by jealousy over the fact that Che is on a million t-shirts while Assanti remains fairly unknown.)  It’s up to secret service agent Jerry O’Connor (William Shatner) to negotiate with Assanti and rescue the President!  Meanwhile, the ethically compromised Vice President (Van Johnson) is left as acting President in Washington and struggles to keep things calm while his ambitious wife (Ava Gardner) plots for a brighter future.

Overall, the Kidnapping of the President is okay for what it is.  It’s neither exceptionally good nor memorably bad.  It just sort of is.  Hal Holbrook is always well-cast as a President and William Shatner gives a typical Shatner performance, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on how you feel about William Shatner.  And, for that matter, Miguel Fernandes is a properly unlikable villain though he never really seems to have the charisma necessary to make him believable as the dynamic leader that he’s supposed to be.

Probably the most interesting thing about The Kidnapping of the President is that it doesn’t try to pass Montreal off for being a location in the United States.  Instead, the film was not only filmed in but is actually set in Toronto as well.  When Jerry attempts to deal with the local authorities, that means that he ends up talking to a bunch of very polite men in red uniforms.

But what’s strange about this is that the people of Toronto are so excited about the arrival of the President.  You half expect to hear one extra say, “I never thought I’d live long enough to see the day that a leader that I can’t vote for and who has next to nothing to do with my everyday life would come to visit Toronto.”

Don’t get me wrong.  If you follow me on twitter, then you know that I am unashamed to declare my love for all things Canadian.  And obviously, as neighbors, Canada and the United States do have a close relationship.  But would people in Toronto really be that excited to see the President?

If so, I think we really owe the people of Canada an apology for not knowing more about their government.  At the very least, we should definitely invite Stephen Harper over for lunch.

Shattered Politics #47: Agency (dir by George Kaczender)


Agency

“Who are the other two lugs on this poster? And who’s the dame? Baby, I just don’t give a damn…” Robert Mitchum in Agency.

Like a lot of writers who occasionally have issues when it comes to balancing ambition with time management, I’ve discovered that it helps if I listen to music while I write.  For instance, while writing the majority of the reviews for Shattered Politics, I’ve been listening to Big Data’s Dangerous.

And that choice of music has actually turned out to be extremely appropriate.  No, not just because it’s dangerous to write about politics.  But also because the official music video for Dangerous deals with advertising and, more specifically, how sex and violence are used to sell everything from shoes to politicians.

Now, I don’t know about you but, whenever I see that video, I feel like I’m ready to put on a sports bra, running shorts, and of course my Big Data running shoes so that I can take control and headbutt my way through life!  A good commercial can do that.  (And don’t even get me started on what I’m going to do to the next person I see eating a hot dog…)

Interestingly enough, the 47th film that I’m reviewing for Shattered Politics also deals with the power of advertising.  First released in 1980, Agency stars Robert Mitchum as Ted Quinn, the mysterious new owner of a major ad company.  Out of all of the old school movie stars, Robert Mitchum is one of my favorites because he was not only a great actor but he was also a very honest one.  If he didn’t give a damn about a role, he wasn’t going to try to fool the audience otherwise.  Instead, he was going to deliver his lines and kind of smirk with his eyes, his way of subliminally asking the audience, “Are you actually watching this shit?”  And while this may have led to Mitchum giving several performances that were unworthy of his talent, it also means that if you see Robert Mitchum actually invested in a role than that means the film must be something really special.

Unfortunately, Agency is not one of those “something really special” films.  And Mitchum’s bored performance reflects that fact.

"Just try to make me care." Robert Mitchum in Agency.

“Just try to make me care.” Robert Mitchum in Agency.

Anyway, under Ted Quinn’s leadership, the ad agency is doing commercials for all the usual clients.  The movie starts with one of those commercials — a leather-themed, disco-scored short film extolling the virtues of No Sweat deodorant.  And then there’s also the big chocolate energy drink commercial.  However, copywriter Sam Goldstein (Saul Rubinek) suspects that Ted might have sinister motives.  After a right-wing  candidate comes out of nowhere to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, Sam suspects that the deodorant commercial may have contained subliminal messages…

That’s right!  It’s exactly like that episode of Saved By The Bell where Zack Morris brainwashed Mr. Belding by giving him that subliminally-spiked tape of the Beach Boys.

Well, before you can say “Zack Morris is a blonde Tom Cruise,” Sam has been murdered and it’s up to Sam’s best friend, Philip Morgan (Lee Majors), to reveal the truth about Ted’s sinister agenda…

Like many U.S.-set thrillers from the 1980s, Agency was actually a Canadian film.  Montreal stands in for an unnamed American city where it frequently snows and the supporting cast is full of actors with noticeable Canadian accents.  Mind you, that’s not a complaint.  I love Canada, I love Canadians, and I especially love Canuxploitation films.

That said, Agency is probably one of the least interesting Canadian thrillers that I’ve ever sat through.  (I should add, of course, that I saw Agency on a very low-quality DVD that was released by Miracle Pictures.  And I really do have to say that this was absolutely one of the worst transfers that I’ve ever seen.  It appears that the DVD was copied from an old VHS tape.)  It’s not so much that it’s a terrible film as much as it’s just not a very interesting one.  With the exception of Rubinek, the actors go through the motions with little enthusiasm and the story plods along.  Maybe back in 1980, the whole idea of subliminal advertising seemed exciting and relevant.  But seen today, it just all seems incredibly silly.

So, in the end, Agency did not make me want to headbutt my way through life.

Sorry.

(I still love you, Canada!)

(And you too, Robert Mitchum!)

"Baby, I just don't give a damn."  Robert Mitchum in Agency.

“Baby, I just don’t give a damn.” Robert Mitchum in Agency.