It’s been a few days since my last dispatch -- blame that on time and an aversion to lugging this laptop around. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to tell you about, so let’s get started with a movie I was curious about -- and in a lot of ways, am still curious about -- Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem. I’ve been a fan of Zombie since his first film, House of 1000 Corpses, a movie that’s ultimately more interesting than good. But it’s a film that showed promise and ambition, something Zombie seemed to get away from with his exploitation drive-in flick The Devil’s Rejects and his disappointing Halloween reboots. The Lords of Salem, however, is a move toward something more ambitious. Sure, it’s basically Michael Winner's The Sentinel by way of Kubrick, with heavy, heavy doses of Ken Russell’s Altered States -- and even some aesthetic leanings taken from Russell’s The Devils -- but it’s a damn entertaining amalgamation of those films. There are fewer in-references this time around, and Zombie’s often distracting cavalcade of cameo has been chopped down drastically. There are tons of actors -- Udo Kier and Clint Howard come to mind -- who are listed in the cast on the film’s IMDb page but were ultimately cut from the film. There’s little plot, since this is a basic haunted apartment story (a really neat apartment, complete with George Melies wallpaper), where creepy stuff happens to our heroine (played quite well by Sherri Moon Zombie), but none of it’s sadistic or ugly, and nothing really kowtows to today’s current horror movie trends. The creepy stuff -- and this movie is smothered in atmosphere, even down to realizing how creepy The Velvet Underground can be -- shows some weird imagination (the weird giant fetus man should be everyone’s Halloween costume) and very little CGI, while the film’s Altered States climax shows the first echoes of the bizarre music video interludes in House of 1000 Corpses. It’s not the greatest or most original horror movie, but it’s fun -- and thankfully a return to promise for Zombie.
Another film that’s infinitely interesting is the Lana and Andy Wachowski/Tom Twyker collaboration Cloud Atlas. I’ve never read the David Mitchell novel the film is based on, but it’s apparently a big, sprawling book, and the film’s trailer made it look much the same. Spanning different periods of human history -- including the future -- the movie looked to be a huge, glorious mess, something none too surprising coming from the combined talents of the directors of Speed Racer and Perfume. But I loved those movies (as I love so many big, glorious cinematic messes) and was looking forward to the same from Cloud Atlas. Surprisingly, even at three hours, the film isn’t a mess, as there’s enough plot -- with its interconnected plots -- to keep things moving at a quick pace, and it never meanders too much with its philosophical leanings. Some of it’s exciting (there are heavy doses of sci-fi and fantasy), while some of it’s beautiful, like the heartbreaking story of a young composer (directed, presumably by Twyker) that’s innately and gorgeously human (and owes just a little to Ken Russell’s A Song of Summer). From what I understand, the film is a fair adaptation of Mitchell’s book, but strips all cynicism from the story. And this will be the greatest issue so many "serious-minded" filmgoers will have with Cloud Atlas -- it’s simply unabashedly romantic. I have zero problem with this, but if you’re the type that finds art only in "nasty medicine," you will have no use for this.
Then there’s The Impossible, the follow-up to The Orphanage from director J.A. Bayona about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Focusing on a vacationing family’s ordeal, the movie has moments of spectacular filmmaking. The tsunami itself is worth the price of admission, while the aftermath is surprisingly horrific. But there’s a level of schmaltz and contrivance in the film that's difficult to get past -- even more than Argo -- and The Impossible suffers for it. As filmmaking, it’s immaculate. As storytelling, it’s lacking. It says a lot about a film that this is all I have to say about it.
Speaking of lacking, there’s Imogene, starring Kristen Wiig and helmed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the duo that brought you American Splendor and the excellent The Extra Man. Like The Extra Man, there’s a heavy attempt at quirk in this tale of a failed playwright and her dysfunctional family. But it’s more odd than quirky, and feels like a movie ten years past its prime. Wiig manages to keep it watchable, and it is often funny, but it’s such a minor little comedy, Imogene is hardly worth getting worked up over -- a pity considering the filmmakers' other works.
And lastly, there’s the French-Canadian production from director Manon Briand, Liverpool, the first film I’ve picked to watch knowing next to nothing about. Think of it as a romantic crime drama for hipsters and the social media age, and you get a general idea of the wavelength Liverpool operates on. Featuring an opening act filled with energy, intrigue, and enough quirk and affectation to keep things interesting, there’s a certain quaintness to the movie that feels welcoming. But Liverpool has a tendency to get bogged down in plot, making for a film that’s at least 20 minutes too long, and a bit too sincere in the end. When its working, however, Liverpool is a welcoming, modern take on the mystery film.