Thursday, June 28, 2007

1408, Mr. Brooks, The Snake Pit, Dive Bomber

Due to a busy work schedule of late, I have not been able to blog as much as I would like, so here is a quick run down of a few films I’ve watched the last week or so.

“1408” is a pretty good adaptation of a Stephen King short story about a haunted hotel room in downtown Manhattan. Or as Samuel L. Jackson, manager of the hotel says, an evil hotel room. There are some pretty good scares in it, and it held my attention, but in the end I felt curiously unsatisfied. It could be I prefer my haunted scenes less expansive, such as when the room turns into a large ice cavern or water rushes from a seascape painting. I can only suspend my belief so much.

It’s pretty much a one-man show for John Cusack, who stars as a debunker of haunted places. It’s good to see a horror film relying on suspense and mood, much more difficult to pull off than gross-out torture scenes. There are no great revelations about why the room is the way it is. That didn’t bother me; I just assumed the room was “born evil.”

Jackson is absolutely mesmerizing in his big scene where he explains to Cusack why he should not stay in the room. If Cusack were smart, he would have fled the hotel, taken a cab to the airport and hightailed it back to California. But there wouldn’t be much of a movie if he did that, would there?

More entertaining was “Mr. Brooks” with Kevin Costner as the title character, a serial killer, egged on by his bad side, played with relish by William Hurt. “Mr. Brooks” is too long, gets downright wacko towards the end, and has some subplots involving cop Demi Moore that could have easily been done away with. If anything, there’s too much in here for its own good. But the performances are all fine, Costner is especially good as the model family man (on the outside) who can’t control his lust for killing. If the script needs tightening, it’s never boring, which is the cardinal sin of bad movies.

From the new to the old: In a classic film class I’m taking at the College of DuPage, we watched “The Snake Pit” (1948) as part of a class on social issues films. “The Snake Pit” stars Olivia DeHavilland as a mental patient in an insane asylum. While some of the psychology and treatment may seem dated today, it’s still pretty strong stuff. There’s a shock therapy sequence that’s hard to watch. DeHavilland is absolutely marvelous. When one thinks of the great actresses in Hollywood’s Golden Age, one tends to think of Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman or Katherine Hepburn, but DeHavilland is right up there. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 for “To Each His Own” and again in 1949 for “The Heiress”, so “The Snake Pit” falls in the middle of that period. Ingrid Bergman was originally slated for the role, but I don’t she could have pulled off the vulnerability that DeHavilland does here.

From the Errol Flynn Volume Two DVD box set , I watched “Dive Bomber” (1941). It’s an odd film. It’s long (133 minutes) and there’s no action in it. Despite what the title promises, “Dive Bomber” features no combat but concerns itself with aviation medicine. It’s almost a documentary on the treatment of such pilot ailments as blackouts. No big action scenes per se, but it held my interest throughout. There’s no love story to speak of. Alexis Smith shows up for a few scenes but at one point Flynn would rather sketch a design for a new piece of medical equipment on a nightclub tablecloth than romance Ms. Smith. The Technicolor photography is gorgeous, the flying scenes with the planes in formation are thrilling to watch, and historically it’s interesting to see Warner Bros. doing its part to prepare the nation for the war everyone knew was inevitable. The U.S. Navy allowed full cooperation, including allowing a film crew to film aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, one of the most famous ships of WWII. All this and a Max Steiner score, with a title tune so infectious it may cause you to enlist.

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