My Long Weekend
Last week, I took off from work for a couple of “sanity days,” and had a nice, long–and occasionally strange–four-day weekend.
Sunday kept us on our toes, with a line of storms coming through Central Illinois only two weeks after a tornado caused major damage in Springfield. This time, the twister(s) came closer to Champaign, and while our own home was spared any damage, a car wash near my workplace was partially demolished and the siding was torn from the my favorite bar and grill. I’d expected to find huge branches all over the place, but aside from a couple of reports of downed trees, driving to work I saw very little evidence that we’d even had bad weather. Still, it was enough to knock WILL-TV off the air and temporarily cut the power to our home, leaving us cowering in a pitch-black basement with only the Teeny Flashlight of Disaster Ill-Preparedness to protect us.
Sunday was also odd in that I got more wrong number calls in one day than I had in the past month. One caller wanted to buy my barstool, but that was perfectly normal compared to the rather threatening voice that rang later that day to insist that I had stolen its phone.
I spent the long weekend catching up on movies both at home and at the multiplex. First up was V For Vendetta, a near-future tale of revolution based on a comic book series by Alan Moore. Moore is a strange creation: he looks like Charles Manson and comes off downright misanthropic in interviews, yet writes incredible prose, including the most affectionate, touching Superman story I’ve ever read.
Moore hates what has been done with his work, especially when it comes to Hollywood adaptations. (These include From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.) This time, angered by publicity suggesting that he approved of the movie version of V, he removed his name entirely from the credits and gave away all money he earned from the project.
That’s odd, because V For Vendetta is actually quite good. While I haven’t read the original, I certainly felt that I could hear Moore’s authorial voice coming through, especially in his use of flashbacks and parallel storylines. Stopping by the bookstore on the way home from the theater to confirm a plot point I’d missed when I went to the restroom, I found that while there were changes between the graphic novel and the film, entire scenes appeared to have been lifted verbatim and, unlike The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a film I enjoyed despite its butchering of Moore’s complex work), appeared to get the gist of the overall work.
V is the name of a masked revolutionary who sees himself as the catalyst in the toppling of a totalitarian, right-wing society that has risen up in Britain. Hugo Weaving gives a surprisingly strong performance given that he is never once allowed to remove his mask, and Natalie Portman, free from George Lucas’ dialogue, finally seems capable of…well, acting.
The film got somewhat mixed (though overall positive) reviews, but I suspect that the negative notices had more to do with politics than the film’s merits. Some folks were uncomfortable with the idea of a terrorist as a heroic figure.
Another strong film currently playing at a theater near you is Slither, written and directed by the guy who penned the excellent remake of Dawn of the Dead. It’s an old-fashioned monster movie that mixes in humor and self-awareness, much like Tremors. However, its more obvious predecessor is the little-known Night of the Creeps, another horror fest in which alien slugs turn townspeople into zombies.
Nathan Fillion as a South Carolinian sheriff brings the same style of deadpan humor he demonstrated in the short-run sci-fi TV series Firefly. Also notable is Michael Rooker as the alien’s first victim, a hulking guy named Grant Grant (not a typo) who is only slightly less scary before he turns into a tentacled, slithering mass of goo. (Make no mistake, this is a very gory film, even if it is usually so far over the top that the grossness is comical.)
Ironically, Slither bombed at the box office this weekend (there were a grand total of nine people in the Saturday afternoon screening I attended) despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, while a plethora of dead teenager movies that were so bad that they avoided press screenings–including the most recent, Stay Alive–have all performed moderately well.
I also caught up with some home videos, including Space Amoeba, a Japanese giant monster flick that played drive-ins in the ’70s as Yog, Monster from Space. As with Slither, the invader is another alien force which inhabits the bodies of Earth creatures, but because this is a Toho Studios production, it turns them into titanic versions of a cuttlefish, crab and turtle. I bought it mostly for the sake of completism–I’ve been collecting Toho’s monster flicks–and as you might expect, most of the scenes not involving colossal cuttlefish were kinda dull.
Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit was last year’s Oscar-winning Best Animated Feature, and deservedly so. It’s another one which underperformed at the box office, but hopefully should find a long life on home video. As with the previous W&G short subjects, it’s enormously charming and sweet, impeccably timed, and loaded with terrible puns.
Finally, I saw Cigarette Burns, directed by John Carpenter. This is actually an episode from Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology series, but given its pedigree, it comes off more as a mini-movie. The plot involves a lost horror film (“La Fin Absolute Du Monde,” or “The Absolute End of the World”) which is said to have such terrible power that its only public screening resulting in a homicidal riot. Carpenter has previously toyed with the notion of a creative fiction with the ability to reshape reality in In the Mouth of Madness, but I didn’t enjoy this one as much.
For one, when we learn early on that watching (or even getting close to) the movie causes people to go murderously nuts, it’s little surprise when precisely that happens by story’s end. The screenplay tips its hand by giving up its most interesting revelations too soon: for example, we learn that the collector obsessed with obtaining a copy of “La Fin Absolute Du Monde” has one of its “props,” an angelic being whose wings were cruelly hacked off during the filming, chained in his basement. Finally, because it would be impossible to show us anything that would live up to the legend of the film-within-a-film, we mostly hear about how awful it is. Outside of some especially disgusting gore–a character literally runs his own intestines through a film projector–there’s not much to disintguish it.