For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Well, it left this fan with an unpleasant aftertaste.
At first, I was uncertain who the doc was for. While it certainly is accessible enough for the uninitiated, those people aren’t likely to run across it or even be interested if they do. And since I didn’t learn anything from it, the already converted aren’t likely to feel as if their time was well-spent.
Gradually, the answer became evident: It’s for the superfans. I don’t mean people who were onboard with AD since its first episode, like me, or people who own the series on DVD, like me; I mean the people who have memorized it, who quote it endlessly, who lord their knowledge for it over the heads of others, who believe they love the series more than anyone else and just might come to blows if you told them otherwise.
In other words, some of those people interviewed in the thing, who read too much theory into the show’s plots (hearing “microcosm” is always a red flag), who dismiss everything else on TV as “all crap” (despite much evidence to the contrary), who perform the chicken dance during the end credits.
While it doesn’t start out this way, the doc becomes an insiders-only party to which you’re not invited. Superficial and self-serving, it also felt to me like a Kickstarter project (afterward, my research confirmed that), which only contributes to its insular nature. It suddenly becomes not about the show, but about the people who obsess over it, but to the point where exactly which show being mentioned becomes pointless. One could fill in the blank with Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly or Veronica Mars and so on — all low-rated critical darlings.
That’s a shame, because director Jeff Smith deserves major kudos for getting almost all of Arrested Development’s core cast to sit for interviews; only Michael Cera and Jessica Walter did not participate. Jason Bateman and Will Arnett are as hilarious as expected.
So is David Cross, although he appears to have little patience for his interviewers. That doesn’t stop him from cracking wise, however; in the segment where everyone bemoans how America just didn’t get it, he says, deadpan, “America Ferrara? The girl who plays Ugly Betty? I don't know if she watched it. Huh.”