DECEMBER 25, 2009
Merry Christmas, Hollywood! I am supporting indie fare like Deadwood Park and then heading to the New Bev for a double feature (of the Muppets!) instead of the multiplex for whatever reboots, remakes, or squeakquels you have bequeathed upon us for the holiday. You can go to hell, Tinsel Town! Though I do like the lack of traffic that always comes with the holiday (everyone leaves town). Yesterday I drove to a store 10 miles away and it only took 20 minutes to get there instead of the usual 40.
Anyway, Deadwood Park is an OK movie. With better actors and maybe 10-15 minutes shaved off of the 117 minute running time, it would be a really good one. The script is good and fairly original, combining the usual sort of “Guy returns to his hometown and is haunted by ghosts literal and figurative” story with that of a vampire that has been around for 60 years. Very old-school Stephen King-y. And I liked the locales, particularly a burnt out amusement park that director Eric Stanze keeps cutting to and ultimately stages a ten minute scene at, as well as the creepy basement that we see a few times (and is the background for the really odd DVD menu).
But that locale, as well as a few others, suffers from one of the film’s main problems - roughly 5% of this film consists of lingering establishing shots. The scene in question would probably only last 5 minutes tops, but he doubles it by constantly cutting to burnt out sections of the roller coaster, overgrown grass covering up worn out signs, etc. You begin to lose focus of what the scene is about because half of it is made up of pointless establishment, as if he was trying to beat us over the head with the fact that he found this really cool location. He also cuts to it in between scenes that that take place elsewhere, using it to depict the passage of time instead of a single shot of a sunset or whatever. Hilariously, on the commentary track he admits that an “established filmmaker” (he doesn’t say who) that he has really admired for several years told him the same thing, and yet he didn’t listen to him either, so I guess if he’s reading this review it won’t change his mind any when he makes his next film.
But the real problem is the acting, which is pretty lousy across the board. I don’t expect Olivier from these things, but the two leads have some of the most awkward “chemistry” I’ve ever seen in a film, and the supporting characters pretty much all seem like they are reading their lines from memory without actually even thinking about what they mean. In a movie built more around character and plot than visuals and scare scenes, it’s crucial to get convincing actors in the important roles, but whether it’s due to a lack of resources or just a really poor casting director, I don’t buy anyone in any role.
Again, though, it’s a good script. I really dug how it combined two different types of movies in a fairly seamless and believable way, and also how the flashback scenes kept going further and further back in time, with the oldest one giving that final piece of the puzzle to the audience so they can know the full extent of what has transpired (as opposed to having the modern day bad guy deliver all of the information in a flurry of exposition). And the production value is quite good, from the aforementioned park to the period costumes/props for the WWII scenes, everything feels right (except for a scene where the heroes listen to a psychiatrist’s recording, where we can plainly see that the tape is just some band’s licensed cassette tape and not a “blank” tape that one would use to record audio on). I also really dug a sad little moment where the hero sees the “height chart” in his childhood home, and we see that his brother’s stops prematurely (having been killed by the vampire - spoiler!). It’s a nice little touch.
There’s also a hilarious bit where the hardware store owner begins talking to our hero about the town, the mystery, his house, etc. All fine, but there are at least two guys in line behind him, waiting as the clerk goes on and on. Can you imagine going to the store to buy a hammer and having to wait while the clerk and the guy in front of you discuss the history of one of their homes? I’d fucking flip! But the dude in line just patiently waits, as if their little history lesson wasn’t holding him up. Folks just have way more patience in Missouri, I guess.
The DVD has a few outtakes (zzz) and a music video along with the aforementioned commentary, which Stanze does solo (for the first time, he points out; this is his 3rd film). It’s pretty boring, he talks about all of the usual stuff (shooting locales, praise for the actors, etc) but only admits faults for minor, “who cares?” type things, like a scene where he talks about how he dislikes the color of a coffee mug. He also alludes to another commentary as well as a documentary that are not featured on the disc, so I dunno what happened there. He also doesn’t really address why the movie was shot over a period of 8 months and not released for over two years after filming was complete (NOTE - I did doze off for about 15 minutes (at 2 in the afternoon on a day that I got up at 10 am - just sayin’), so maybe all of these things were included there. Somehow I doubt my luck is that bad, but you never know).
A while back I watched an indie called With You, which was similar in tone and execution. I didn’t care much for it, but it had its heart in the right place. Same deal here - it’s not a great film by any means, but as Stanze points out, his goal wasn’t to make a horror movie that would “fit” with the others of the time (i.e. torture films) but to tell the story he wanted to tell. And whether you like that story or not, you have to admit that his goal was an admirable one. I’ll take a dozen “bad actor/good story” movies over yet another well-made/acted “A car full of college students breaks down and they run afoul of a mutated murderer” one.
What say you?