Movie Reviews: THE SPIRIT, 1408, and TOWELHEAD

Will Eisner's classic character comes to the big screen.

Will Eisner's classic character comes to the big screen.

I’ve seen a bunch of movies lately and figured I’d post some quick reviews:

THE SPIRIT

I saw this Friday night after I saw THE UNBORN. Nobody wanted to see THE SPIRIT with me, but I’m a Frank Miller fan, and the trailer looked okay to me, so I went. Even though every single review has been negative. But hey, I’ve loved movies before that everyone else hated (DOMINO and MOTHER OF TEARS, anyone?)

However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved THE SPIRIT. But I sure did like it. After sitting through THE UNBORN, which was pretty bad (I just finished my review of it for Cinema Knife Fight this afternoon), I thought THE SPIRIT was a breath of fresh air.

THE SPIRIT is based on a comic strip by Will Eisner that started in the 1940s. It’s the story of Denny Colt, (Gabriel Macht) a true-blue boy scout of a guy who becomes a cop, gets killed, and comes back as The Spirit, a crime fighter who can’t be killed. No matter what you throw at him, he heals up. Of course, Denny has no idea how he ended up this way.

The Spirit’s arch-enemy is the underworld kingpin The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who also cannot be killed, and who knows how the Spirit got the way he did. But he’ll tell him in his own time. In the meantime, he’s happy to make the Spirit miserable, lord over the underworld of Central City (he literally lives underground, beneath the sewers) and search for the fabled blood of the demi-god Heracles, which will make him immortal and god-like.

Helping the Octopus is super-scientist Silken Floss (Scarlett Johanssen) and an army of cloned henchmen (all played by Louis Lombardi), created in a lab by the Octopus and Floss.

Coming between the two enemies is Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), an international jewel-thief who used to be the Spirit’s girlfriend when they were kids, but is now a dangerous criminal with a heart of gold. She turned bad when her cop father was killed, but even now she donates large sums to police stations after a heist.

After Sand steals two crates – one holding the mythical Golden Fleece that Jason and the Argonauts once sought, the other holding an urn holding the blood of Heracles that the Octopus so desperately desires – she becomes a crucial piece in the final chess match between the Spirit and the Octopus. Of course, the Octopus steals one of the crates – but it’s the wrong one (the one with the fleece), and Sand Saref barters for an exchange.

I’m not sure how faithful the movie is to the comic strip/book, because I haven’t had a chance to read much of the original series. However, I do know that most of the supernatural elements have been added for the film. Also, Will Eisner, the Spirit’s creator, was a mentor and hero of Frank Miller’s, and he’s been wanting to bring Eisner’s hero to the screen for awhile now.

For those who don’t know Miller, he is a comic book icon due to 1980s work like his run on the Marvel comic DAREDEVIL, which added a real edge and style to the character, as well as his work on the seminal DC miniseries THE DARK KNIGHT that showed us a dark, cataclysmic future where Batman is old and at the end of his career. Miller is also the creator of the excellent and stylish SIN CITY series as well as the graphic novel 300, both of which have been made into movies.

Miller clearly remade THE SPIRIT in his own image, since it bears a strong resemblance to the look of the SIN CITY movie (which Miller co-directed with Robert Rodriguez). Using lots of green screen and computer effects, we are transported back in time to a Central City that is a mixture of film noir and classic comics. The dialogue is dated and hokey, but entertainingly so. Some people have said that the movie is unintentionally funny, but I beg to differ. There is a strong sense of humor that runs throughout the movie like a vicious scar. From the dialogue to the over-the-top fight scenes, to the fact that the Octopus’s henchmen all where shirts with their silly names on them. If anything, THE SPIRIT feels like a mix between SIN CITY and the campy 1960s BATMAN TV-show starring Adam West.

Probably the funniest thing in the film, though, is Samuel L. Jackson, who, as the Octopus, chews up the scenery like a shark. Every time he is onscreen, the movie lights up, even in a totally over-the-top scene where the Octopus is dressed in a Nazi uniform (I kid you not).

There are flaws to the movie. Its pacing seems off at times, and some scenes drag a bit. And often-times, there’s this feeling that something just isn’t right. (Maybe it’s the fact that this is the work of a novice director). And the dialogue is downright wince-inducing at times.

But the acting and the pure bigger-than-life feel of it kind of make up for its shortcomings.

THE SPIRIT might have its failings, but at its best it’s entertaining as hell. And I may be the only critic who liked this thing.

***

1408

I finally saw this one on cable this weekend. Based on a Stephen King story, 1408 is the story of writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who writes books debunking supposedly haunted houses, and his stay in a supposedly haunted hotel room in a New York City hotel called the Dolphin. At first, the hotel manager (Samuel Jackson again) pleads with him not to enter the room, even offering him expensive gifts and an offer of telling the world he was in there even if he wasn’t, if he will just abandon his plan. Of course, Eslin sticks to his guns. He’s never seen a haunted house yet that convinced him ghosts are real, and he isn’t about to start believing in them now.

The rest of the movie involves Enslin’s night in room 1408, where he sees everything from ghosts jumping out of windows, to sea paintings exploding with waves of water, to the return of his dead daughter. While the scenes where he confronts the ghost of his daughter are somewhat effective, for the most part this movie is pretty hokey. It almost seems like a weaker, less-developed version of THE SHINING.

I didn’t even think Cusack’s performance was up to his usual standards. And Jackson is hardly in the movie long enough to make an impression.

Despite this, I didn’t hate the movie. It was entertaining enough in a silly way. But it certainly wasn’t one of the better Stephen King adaptations.

***

TOWELHEAD

Directed by Alan Ball (who also wrote the screenplay for AMERICAN BEAUTY, and who created the great shows SIX FEET UNDER and TRUE BLOOD for HBO), and based on the novel by Alicia Erian, TOWELHEAD is a coming of age story about an Arab-American teenager. Not your typical subject matter, but then Ball isn’t your typical director.

When 13-year old Jasira (Summer Bashil), asks her American mother (Maria Bello)’s boyfriend to show her how to shave her privates, and her mother finds out, she is shipped out to Houston to stay with her strict Lebanese father (Peter Macdsisi) .

Her father tries to control her with an iron first, but Jasira wants to be American and she finds out she is very sexual. Just looking at the porno mags in the house of the family she babysits for gives her orgasms. And she begins relationships with both the adult neighbor next door (Aaraon Eckhart), as well as a boy from school, Thomas (Eugene Jones), who her father objects to because he is black. When her father finds out that he is sexually active at such a young age, all hell breaks loose, and she goes to stay with a concerned neighbor, Melina (Tony Collette).

Despite the controversial subject matter of a young girl’s sexual awakening, TOWELHEAD is a powerful, well-made film. While I don’t think it will make many critics’ “best of 2008” lists due to its touchy subject, it was clearly one of the best movies I saw from 2008.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: