Archive for February 20, 2011

"The Roommate" Movie Poster

Just when PG-13-rated teen horror looks like it might be finally — and, at this point, mercifully — on the way out, some Hollywood suit thinks there might be some life in the old dog yet and a second-tier outfit like Rogue Pictures or, in this case, Sony’s Screen Gems division, decides to inflict one more of them, like The Roommate, on us for what we’re sure just has to be the last fucking time.

And, of course, it never is, because bored fools like me with nothing better to do on a late Saturday morning decide “ehhhh — what the hell?” and plunk down five bucks to see it even though we more or less know beyond any shadow of a doubt that all we’re doing is wasting not only our money but about an hour and a half of our lives that we’re never going to get back.

So, yeah, I’m stupid. I freely admit it. And so are hundreds of thousands of other people, apparently, because this rehashed pile of shit was number one at the box office a week or so back.

Want the rundown? Okay, since you asked for it. Nice little Des Moines farmgirl Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) wants to make it big in the world of fashion design and enrolls at the fictitious Los Angeles University (LAU for short), where her dorm (and by the way, these are the most unrealistic college dorms you’ll ever see — the common areas especially look more like something from a luxury high-rise) roommate, Rebecca (Leighton Meester — Jesus the names of these late-teen stars-in-training  are brutally pretentious and/or insufferably lame) makes a good impression at first but in due course turns out to be a possessive, psychotic bitch.

Seen this before, anyone? Sure you have — it was called Single White Female and it wasn’t very good at the time. It’s even worse, however, “updated” and filtered through a collegiate lens (see? I can be pretentious too, it takes absolutely no effort). There are, however, a few key differences besides the age gap between this film and the one it was pretty much ripped off from completely. The girls don’t take in a stray dog that psycho-roommate later kills, they take in a stray cat. Psycho roommate doesn’t just disguise herself as nice roommate and then fuck nice roommate’s ex-boyfriend, she disguises herself as nice roommate and then fucks and kills nice roommate’s ex-boyfriend. Psycho roommate doesn’t have a sister who died in early childhood, nice roommate has the sister who dies in early childhood. Nice roommate doesn’t have a gay male best friend, she has a gay female best friend. Nice roommate isn’t hit on by a lecherous, perverted work boss, she’s hit on by a lecherous, perverted college professor (played by Billy Zane who I, and I’m sure every other rational human being on the planet, hoped had just gone away for good, but apparently he hasn’t). Oh, and nice roomate has, of course, a nice frat-guy boyfriend who’s in a band and treats her better than you’d expect a guy in his position would (played by Cam Gigandet — another stupid-ass name).

So you’ve seen this before, quite literally, it wasn’t any great shakes then either, and it’s even worse now. It’s directed by some guy named Christian E. Christiansen and his name is about the only thing of even passing interest that he adds to the proceedings. You now have in your grasp all the information you could possibly need to know about this film, and probably quite a bit more. Life is short. Go make the most of it. Even if the weather’s shitty (which it is here today).  Anything you can do with your time is better than watching this. You’re either gonna thank me later or wish you’d listened to me if you decide to ignore my advice — the choice is yours.

"The Rite" Movie Poster

Okay, I admit it — I’m a sucker for exorcism flicks. Always have been, always will be. Ever since William Friedkin’s original The Exorcist burned itself indelibly into my memory as a kid, I’ve never missed a movie about some hapless schmuck in a robe trying to drive demons out of people.

And there sure have been a lot to choose from lately, haven’t there? Midway through the decade just passed it looked like this once-sort-of-mighty horror subgenre had finally run out of gas after the two different versions of The Exorcist prequel bombed at the box office, but now it’s  come roaring back with films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, last year’s indie-horror mini-sensation The Last Exorcism, and now this latest Anthony Hopkins starring vehicle, The Rite.

Of course, you don’t go into a movie like this expecting anything new per se (or at least you shouldn’t), the only question is whether they’ll serve up a familiar dish well. I’m pleased to report that for the most part, director Mikael Hafstrom and co. get the recipe right. And eating seconds (or thirds, or fourths, or fifths, as the case may be) isn’t the end of the world if the dish itself still tastes pretty good.

I haven’t eaten yet today. Can you tell? And I probably should, but before I do let me just say a few brief words about The Rite because an in-depth cinematic analysis really isn’t all that necessary here, just a glossing-over the relevant points so you can decide whether or not this is worth a handful of your hard-earned dollars a couple hours of your life.

First off, Hopkins is solid. As Welsh exorcist (can’t be too many of those around)Father Lucas Trevant he’s pretty much mailing it in for the first two-thirds or so of the film, but once he gets demon-possessed in the final act (whoops, gave something away there) he really pulls out all the stops and delivers one of his signature blood-curdling performances. Fun stuff all around.

The other nominal lead, young (and dubious, and reluctant — of course) exorcist-in-training Michael Kovak, is handled by an actor I’m unfamiliar with named Colin O’Donoghue. He’s got all the charisma of three-day-old pizza and if you give a flying fuck about him you’re engaging in a serious bit of charity, because there’s just nothing notable about his performance whatsoever, but you’re not going to this to see him (if you’re sane) so I guess in the grand scheme of things his painful lack of acting ability hardly matters all that much.

Hafstrom, who seems to have a pretty solid visual eye as a director and keeps things stylishly bleak and mysterious without venturing too heavily into music-video territory  or anything like that, has assembled a respectable little supporting cast that includes the always-awesome Toby Jones as the headmaster (or dean, or Father Superior, or whatever they’re called) of the seminary Kovak is nominally still attending (he’s trying to quit), Ciaran Hinds (last seen around these parts in Todd Solondz’ Life During Wartime) as a second-tier Vatican priest/functionary, the rather fetching Alica Braga as Kovak’s European fellow student-exorcist (evidently the Vatican is willing to go co-ed in this field — who knew?)/sort-of love interest, and Rutger Hauer, who it’s just plain always great to see in anything,  as Kovak’s mortician father.

The plot, such as it is , concerns our intrepid young not-really-sure-he-wants-to-be-a-priest going to Rome to learn the ins and outs of exorcisms in a last-ditch attempt to, frankly, have some faith scared back into him since his meter’s running pretty low in that regard, and along the way he teams up with Father Lucas and learns that all this demonic possession shit is for real and a nasty demon entity migrates its way from a young girl into Lucas himself (I gave that away already, so no need to shout at me twice or anything). Basic stuff, supposedly “inspired by true events,” since the old standard disclaimer of “based on a true story” is probably a bit too much of a reach in this case.

Have you seen it all before? Of course. Have you seen it done better? No doubt.

And frankly, in recent years, you’ve seen it done a lot worse, too. The Rite isn’t out to shatter your view of reality or leave you with indelible nightmare images of a world you’d rather not face or anything of the sort. At least I hope that wasn’t the film’s  intention, because it sure falls well short of the mark as far as that goes. It seems more likely to me that it’s just out to do a solid, competent job of telling a story we’ve seen dozens of times over and are sure to see dozens of times again. It succeeds well enough in that regard, and since that’s the absolute most I was hoping for anyway, I’m prepared to give it my — uhhmmmm — blessing.