Capsules: Dead Boy, Animals and a Sleazoid

This blog has been a bit quiet lately because I’ve been busy. In the future, you might just see a major movie made from a script I co-wrote. But that’s news for another time. Here are some capsule reviews of recent films I saw.

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR

The biggest problem with this horror movie set in India is its xenophobia. It reminds me of Dan Simmons’ breakout horror novel Song of Kali, a deeply terrifying story also set in India, that unfortunately stems from a xenophobic view of Asia. It’s another play on the usual tropes about Asia being a weird place full of weird culture and weirder people. You’d think Hollywood has gotten over this with the end of the Shocking Asia era and the world being so much smaller. But the fear of anything foreign seems deeply etched in the American psyche ever since 9-11 and Homeland Security doubled the fear of foreigners and foreign lands. Movies like Hostel, Taken, No Escape and others saw Americans going to foreign countries and getting into trouble. This movie sees a couple who live and work in India, who lose their son in an accident. The kindly Indian servant in their house takes pity on the wife’s grief and tells her about a temple deep in the jungle where she would be able to communicate with her dead son. But the wife breaks one of the rules of supernatural engagement and hell literally breaks loose in the end. If you can get past the xenophobia and the minimal jump scares, the movie yields some interesting results, especially the final shot that you should see coming from a mile away but you somehow won’t.

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ZOOTOPIA

With all the positive buzz surrounding this Disney animated movie, I thought it would at least be an entertaining time. Alas, it turns out to have the same effect as Pixar’s Inside Out for me. There is a lot of good ideas here, and a rich theme, just like Inside Out. But like that other movie, it’s also too much promise but nothing we’ve never seen before. The annoying thing for me yet again is how, like most American animation, the characters just can’t shut the hell up for even one second. Using the various animal species as a stand-in for human diversity, Zootopia tries to deliver an important missive about unity and the evils of prejudice. It’s fine. I love that idea. But do the characters all have to spew taglines and self-help mottos? Some have argued with me that this is a movie for kids, but I believe its intentions are more suited for adults because we all know children are not racist. It’s the adults who teach them to be so. But I must say, the animation here is astoundingly beautiful.

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NIGHTCRAWLER

I’m late to this one, having only seen it on DVD recently. But what a film this is. Nightcrawler has all the spirit of Scorsese’s seminal Taxi Driver, with its starkly disturbing character study of an almost mentally-unhinged loner. But while Travis Bickle is a misfit who means well but allows the world around him to define him despite his best efforts, Lou Bloom is a psychopathic manipulator who exploits the world around him. In that way, Bloom is a closer cousin of Daniel Plainview and Nightcrawler almost a companion piece and a modern-day sequel to There Will Be Blood. Jake Gyllenhaal is appropriately greasy and perverse, and sometimes channels Donnie Darko’s uneasy alliance between reality and the world inside his head. Bloom is, from the outset, painted as a guy who will do anything to get ahead. He finds the perfect avenue for his ambitions when he discovers the joys of being a freelance crime-news gatherer. As time wears on, he becomes more audacious in his methods, more daring and less caring. The film is really an indictment of the dog-eat-dog media that profits from others’ misery, and even each other’s misfortunes. But like There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler‘s heart-stopping downward spiral into the abyss shows that the American Dream has never been darker.

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