Saturday, January 20, 2007

Into The Sub-Conchis

The new issue of SIGHT AND SOUND features my review of THE MAGUS, now on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment -- go to your local newsstand and buy a copy, or read my review online here. When I was writing the piece, I didn't recollect the one thing people seem to remember the movie version of THE MAGUS for: namely, Woody Allen's quote that, if he had his whole life to live over, he wouldn't change a thing... except maybe, the second time around, he'd skip seeing THE MAGUS. I understand why he said that, but, to tell you the truth, I could say the same thing about MATCH POINT. No doubt about it, THE MAGUS is a failure... but some failures are interesting. Some failures are damned interesting -- not that THE MAGUS is one of those. Actually, a surprising number of my heroes could be considered failures from some perspectives.

But let's not go there.

Earlier this evening, I happened to catch Stuart Gordon's take on "The Black Cat," this week's installment of Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR, and was very impressed. The episode, scripted by Gordon and his frequent collaborator Dennis Paoli (like last year's "Dreams in the Witch-House"), necessarily covers some ground that's all too familiar from earlier adaptations of this oft-filmed story -- including the obscure 1966 Harold Hoffman version -- but it goes at the material with unusual vigor and sympathy, wrenching fresh emotion and agony from it. As a sometimes writer of dark fiction, I can also attest that it says some regrettably, embarassingly, incontestably true things about the drawbacks of being a writer and darkly imaginative that I've never seen dramatized before, at least not with such knowledge and sympathy. A nearly unrecognizable Jeffrey Combs contributes an outstanding performance as Edgar Allan Poe that may be the series' most impressive to date, and the shot of Poe walking by night down a city street, followed by the enormous shadow of a stalking cat, strikes me as an instant classic. Don't miss it.

This is the first time I've commented on MASTERS OF HORROR in awhile. I've been recording them and watching them when I can. I haven't seen Mick Garris's "Valerie On the Stairs" yet, but I've heard it's an improvement on his first season episode ("Chocolate," which I thought was decent). Rob Schmidt's "Right To Die," scripted by John Esposito, had its moments -- including a truly shuddery bandaged horror also shown voluptuously and gruesomely undraped -- but the surprise ending struck me as dramatically dishonest, rendering everything that came before it a deception... and not in a good way. Tom Holland's "We All Scream for Ice Cream" (adapted from a John Farris story by our friend, the wild wild David J. Schow) I found surprisingly involving, considering that the story seemed a Mr. Softee redo of Stephen King's IT. (For all I know, the Farris story could have preceded the King novel; somebody will clue me in. David, probably.) To DJS's credit, while the premise of voodoo dollops of vanilla was a bit off the Richter scale of believability, he kept me hooked by grounding the nonsense with canny adult dialogue and a steely view of childhood that was impressive and unusual in its determination to remain clear-eyed and unsentimental. The episode's success is that it dealt with the subjects of guilt and nostalgia without letting nostalgia get the upper hand.

Speaking of nostalgia, I couldn't decide what to watch tonight, so I drifted back to something semi-familiar. I picked Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes' ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, which I wrote about on this blog some weeks ago with enthusiasm. Perhaps it was my mood, or the amontillado aftertaste of "The Black Cat," but most everything about it struck me on this viewing as wrong, miscast, or miscalculated. I remembered it as brighter, funnier, more energetic, but this time it moved awkwardly and I laughed only once (when Prof. Okamura says "Another day, another dollar" -- not when John Malkovich says "I was one of the first," as would have been my guess). Perhaps it's because I watched the film alone this time; perhaps this time my heart went out to the characters a bit more, but something brought out the stifling darkness of the piece, which I can't imagine how I sublimated the first time around. It now seems to me as dark a film as BAD SANTA, though that eureka probably qualifies for a "duh." Even the closing shot, which I found so eloquent before, felt a bit too much on the nose. I almost feel as though I've lost a friend.

This is why Pauline Kael saw movies only once. She liked knowing where she stood.

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