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Thoughts on The Mist Ending

This contains spoilers for the ending of The Mist. If you have already seen the movie or don’t mind being spoiled read on, if you do, then don’t. That clear enough?

The Mist movie posterWell Stephen King and Frank Darabont promised a shocker ending for The Mist and arguably they delivered. Where Stephen King’s novella The Mist ended on an ambiguous note with a vague promise of hope ala Cell, The Mist’s cinematic ending is somewhat promising and yet ominous for humanity, but utterly devastating for David Drayton. Overriding that, the sight of the marching troops is not really in contrast with Drayton’s devastating realization that he not only murdered his son and his friends for nothing, but that in the end the human impulse is no better at the individual level than it is at the government level.

I suspect that Frank Darabont got his idea for the ending of The Mist from the ending of Lord of the Flies, as the navy warships arrive to rescue the boys, who are themselves a microcosm of England and the world. So too the supermarket is in the end meant to be a microcosm of America. The army appears to have won against the creatures of The Mist but at a high price and the decisions they make are not likely to be any better than the decisions David Drayton or the rest of the people in the supermarket made. In the end we’re all human, all flawed and we don’t know what we’re doing.

An ending that completely devalues the journey the characters have gone through is also a bad ending because it jettisons any real reason to care about what went before. (As Stephen King should have learned when he ended the Dark Tower so miserably.) As the ending now tells us, all Drayton really had to do was keep quiet, keep his head down and he and his son would have gotten rescued. Is that really a message Darabont wants to send, especially for a political movie?

I would say that having Drayton howl a second time was a mistake. It’s redundant after the car howling and it would have been far more devastatingly effective and closer to real life, for him to stumble along joining and merging with the soldiers and refugees, shocked and stunned and walking toward a new life he doesn’t know.

To Shakespeare or Not to Shakespeare

Some of Britain’s most distinguished Shakespearean actors have reopened the debate over whether William Shakespeare, a 16th century commoner raised in an illiterate household in Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the plays that bear his name.

Acclaimed actor Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, unveiled a “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” on the authorship of Shakespeare’s work Saturday, following the final matinee of “I am Shakespeare,” a play investigating the bard’s identity, in Chichester, southern England.

“I subscribe to the group theory. I don’t think anybody could do it on their own,” Jacobi said. “I think the leading light was probably de Vere, as I agree that an author writes about his own experiences, his own life and personalities.”

No offense to any actors out there but it would really take an actor to make a statement that phenomenally stupid. If a writer, writes about his own life and personalities, then no writer today could ever produce a book about international politics, the civil war or being a person or another gender. That same kind of ludricious stupidity is motivating the attacks on Shakespeare’s authorship. Why argue that Marlowe could write the plays he did while Shakespeare could not? Volume is certainly not the issue. Nor quality. If Shakespeare’s plays must have been written by more than one author because of their quality and extraordinary talent, then isn’t that an argument for Shakespeare rather than against him?

It also points to his detailed will, in which Shakespeare famously left his wife “my second best bed with the furniture,” as containing no clearly Shakespearean turn of phrase and mentioning no books, plays or poems.

For goodness sake, was Shakespeare’s will really supposed to contain “turns of phrase” and does it really need to mention his works, which in any case he had no rights to as copyright did not yet exist? If Stephen King’s will doesn’t contain any monsters eating someone’s faces or long digressive reminisces of life in new england, does it clearly mean that he is not the author of his own novels?

The Last Legion review

The fall of the Roman Empire has always fascinated us in part as all disasters do, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, 90745_f260floods, tidal waves, collapsing buildings, because of the sheer concept of something so seemingly massive and indestructible as the world’s mightiest empire coming apart at the seams. But to a larger degree, the Roman Empire resonates with American and British fears of the collapse of their own “empires”. The Roman Empire was once upon a time the greatest world civilization of its day, much as we are today and despite the many horrors and atrocities of the Roman Empire, America and England have traditionally felt a certain sympathy with it. And that brings us to The Last Legion.

The Last Legion is an attempt to form a historical bridge between the end of the Roman Empire to the British Empire via Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur and in The Last Legion, also the sword of Ceaser hidden away in a fortress where the Emperor Tiberius once resided and to which the young Western Emperor Romulus is exiled.

The mythology of The Last Legion attempts to create a direct link between the Roman Empire and the British Empire and as dubious as the history is in this regard, it’s interesting to examine the underlying need for that kind of imperial continuity.

The Last Legion begins in a decaying Roman Empire as Aurelius (Colin Firth) has returned to lead the new Emperor’s guard. The new Emperor is a young boy named Romulus (14 years old in real life but his age remains unstated in the movie and though the actor is older, he appears much younger) whose first encounter with Aurelius comes when he draws the commander’s sword and is mistaken for a street thieft and nearly loses his hand.

Romulus’ father, Orestes, was in real life the commander of an army who overthrew the former Emperor to put his son on the throne. The movie however plays up the nobility of Romulus and Orestes’ line and avoids any mention of the series of coups that had preceded the last Emperor’s ascension aside from a brief throwaway line about “Five emperors in as many years”. The movie also insists that Romulus has Caeaser’s blood flowing through his veins. This may be somewhat true but Orestes was certainly not a descendant of Caeaser and Romulus’ only possible biological connections to Caeaser would have been through his mother’s side and even that is doubtful. By this point in time the Roman Empire had long since degraded and the Western Roman Emperors were little more than warlords coming to power and being overthrown culminating in the Gothic overthrow of Rome that is at the heart of The Last Legion.

The Last Legion obviously does not have the budget or the resources to show off Rome in the grand manner that Gladiator did but director Doug Lefler, a TV director who came out of the Hercules and Xena shows, manages a surprisingly decent job of compensating for the low budget by showcasing some gorgeous shots of vast landscapes and the occasional statue. A particularly striking shot has Aurelius waking up beneath the massive outhrust hand of a buried statue. Still the overrun of Rome is reduced to a brief battle in a palace courtyard reserving the attempt to stage a final battle for the movie’s climax.

As Aurelius, Colin Firth is better suited for playing a Roman than he ever was for playing a British Nobleman. He projects concentration and a preoccupation with honor along with the casual brutality of a Roman officer. Unfortunately The Last Legion also attempts to shove a romance into the movie and that is where it goes wrong. Colin Firth may be a romantic icon to the corsets and lace crowd but he projects almost negative warmth on screen. Intensity, yes. Remoteness, yes. Warmth, no.

The Last Legion got much of its publicity for bringing Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai to the movie as Mira, a martial arts enabled female warrior who works for the Byzantine Empire under Star Trek Deep Space Nine’s Alexander Siddig’s Theodorus. And Aishwarya Rai really eliminates any credibility The Last Legion can summon, both historical and dramatic. Aishwarya Rai’s Mira is basically Wonder Woman who can defeat a dozen heavily armed soldiers and do anything and everything. From a historical standpoint an Indian female martial arts warrior overturns any realism The Last Legion had managed to feebly gather up. And while she’s pretty enough, Rai’s casual breeze performance completely clashes with the intensity all the other actors are bringing to the table.

Meanwhile Ben Kingsley continues making his completely inconceivable movie choices with his appearance as a mysterious Celtic shaman slash tutor for Romulus who turns out to be a rather major mythical figure. Part of the problem is that in one the utterly terrible wigs much of the cast is forced to wear, Ben Kingsley looks more like a discount actor hired to do a Ben Kingsley imitation. Ben Kingsley does his best with a role that primarily requires him to be vaguely mysterious and yet spiritual but even he can’t redeem the ridiculousness of a scene that has him tossing CGI fireballs at an attacking army.

Thomas Sangster as Romulus by contrast turns in a fine performance, focused and prematurely mature, in a way that suggests what The Phantom Menace might have been had a genuinely talented actor been cast in the Anakin part. The role of Romulus could have very easily been handed over to a teen idol or some random 12 year old who can do an upper class British accent but Thomas Sangster along with Colin Firth is really all that The Last Legion has going for it.

At the end of the day, The Last Legion can’t decide if it wants to be Gladiator with its tales of Roman grandeur and warrior virtue or a footloose jog through a wacky mix and match of history for pure entertainment like Hercules or Xena. The Last Legion instead tries to be both and does neither well. The result isn’t a lot of fun and it’s hard to take seriously. Colin Firth and Thomas Sangster are in their own movie while Rai and Ben Kingsley are in their own movie and the two movies only meet occasionally.

Despite his background, Doug Lefler does a good job directing The Last Legion but he needs a better script and better discipline.

28 Weeks Later review

28 Weeks Later review

When 28 Days Later first came out it was striking because it tweaked the evil zombie genre enough to raise some 89682_f260moral and ethical questions while raising the horror bar by giving us zombies that did not slowly lurch toward their prey but ran howling like mad banshees. It managed to be a successful horror movie with an indie eye of the action that followed characters coping with a demolished world.

28 Weeks Later by contrast may begin in a Rage infected cottage in England with all the familiar zombie attacks but quickly shifts to the Green Zone, a NATO controlled territory in London that has been prepared for resettlement in the aftermath of the destruction of mainland England. With 15,000 people returning and US troops locking down the area, there is a clear attempt to create parallels to the US Occupation in Iraq but it is an attempt that flounders more than anything else.

28 Weeks Later might have taken a lesson from George Romero, godfather of the modern Zombie movie, in his attempt to try and tie modern elements of the War on Terror to zombies in the disastrous Dawn of the Dead. Sadly it did not and the plot leaves it unclear what the message is or if there even is one, aside from “All Rebuilding Projects Are Doomed to Fail.” 28 Weeks Later positions Scarlett, the army medical officer and Doyle, the sniper, as the moral voices in the military in opposition to the military command and its ruthless tactics but by the end of the movie the ruthless tactics of the military appear to have been proven right while Scarlett’s and Doyle’s sacrifices have not only been useless but outright destructive, causing the infection of France and possibly the right of the continent. A pro-military message if there ever was one.

But clumsiness is the hallmark of 28 Weeks Later. Written and directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and without the return of either Danny Boyle or Alex Garland, Fresnadillo, a director with really only one serious film behind him, was given the charge of an ambitious project and falls short at each juncture.

Where 28 Days Later began by allowing us to focus on and identify with Cillian Murphy’s Jim waking from a coma and exploring a strange and disturbing new world, 28 Weeks Later offers us no such easy character identification. The closest to a main character we have is Robert Cayle’s Don, who might potentially have served as an interesting main character but the attention quickly shifts to his children, brooding sullen Andy and his sister Tammy. Robert Cayle has little left to do but look vaguely guilty around his children in the brief screen time he has left before he is turned into a zombie.

The children are the focus of the movie but their performances range from the mediocre to the terrible and their actions set the virus loose again resulting in the deaths of thousands. Indeed 28 Weeks Later focuses on a family that is responsible for destroying the rest of England and costing the lives of thousands. That makes it a little difficult to sympathize too much with them. More to the point their acting might suffice for an afterschool special but not for a major motion picture.

The Americans in the movie are even worse. The actors playing Doyle, Flynn and Scarlett are adequate enough, sometimes even better than adequate but they are hopelessly cliched. They are not people, they are cardboard cutouts where people are supposed to go. They have nearly no screen time and even less chance to develop personalities. Scarlett is thrust into the usual role of playing the “scientist” warning the military about their actions and appearing to be right at every turn, except she proves to be tragically wrong. Doyle does things for no particular reason but he has the weight of personality that no one but Don does in the movie. A version of 28 Weeks Later that featured Don and Doyle on opposite sides with Don searching for the wife he left behind might have made 28 Weeks Later a great movie. Instead Doyle is reduced to wandering aimlessly until the time comes for him to die. As Flynn, Harold Perrineau has even less to do than usual and spends virtually all his time on screen agitated and shouting at the camera.

The Rage zombies appear only at the beginning and at the end and the steadicam shooting that marked 28 Days Later by 28 Weeks Later has simply devolved into wildly swinging the camera around until we can’t tell what we are seeing anymore. To make matters worse 28 Weeks Later tosses in night vision scenes producing scenes that are exquisitely pointless in their boredom. No one has yet manage to make horror scenes shot in night vision exciting yet and 28 Weeks Later doesn’t even come close with an absurd scene on an escalator that ends with a zombie bouncing off the night vision scopes for a moment that’s supposed to be horrific but is instead unintentionally hilarious.

Worst of all 28 Weeks Later looks cheap and feels rushed. Where 28 Days Later managed to make the most of its limited resources by telling a small story that felt big, 28 Weeks Later tries to tell a big story that ends up feeling hopelessly small. From the single building the military seems to be focused on to a small command center to a supposed NATO presence that consists of a few American military personnel and one British officer (NATO consists of Twenty Six countries), 28 Weeks Later is trying to tell a story about a military occupation that winds up barely registering. Like 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later’s best scenes take place in the abandoned debris and deserted shops and homes of London. It is only there that the movie at all comes alive and yet the movie spends so little time there. In trying to make some sort of point about occupation and reconstruction, 28 Weeks Later aims too high and crashes down to earth hard. If 28 Weeks Later has a message about the perils of hubris, it is a message that perhaps the filmmakers should have kept more closely in mind.

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