Secret Window


gen-x-review-secret-window-movie-poster.jpgPerhaps the most important point about Secret Window is that the appearance of Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) has the power to make women gasp again.

I’m convinced it will be at least five years before I’ll be able to see a Depp film without having to endure fawning fans’ moans of pleasure when Johnny talks or wipe their collective saliva off my shirt after he takes his shirt off.

Seriously: as the movie opened on Depp’s face, at least half the audience gasped, followed by female giggles and breathless sighs.

I’m happy for Depp, I really am, but people are cheating themselves by ogling his pretty-boy good looks because they’re missing the fact that he’s become a very good actor. He is so good, in fact, that he almost makes Secret Window worth the $8.75 ticket price. Almost, but not quite.

Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is an author plagued with memories of the night he discovered his wife and her lover at a motel neat their Maine vacation home. He and wife Amy (Maria Bello) separate following that explosive night, but Mort can’t seem to move on. Stuck on the first lines of a new novel, he lounges around his home in a tattered bathrobe and lives a quiet life of utter desperation.

One day a mysterious stranger appears claiming that Mort has stolen one of his stories for his own. Shooter (John Turturro) snarls his words in a Mississippi drawl and doesn’t seem particularly the author type, if you know what I mean, but the manuscript he gives to Mort is nearly identical to a story Rainey wrote for the magazine Ellery Queen.

Shooter cuts a path of violence through Rainey’s life that draws Amy and her lover Ted (Timothy Hutton) into the drama, while pushing Rainey to the brink of sanity – and beyond. Secret Window is a story about identity theft back when it was an existential crisis and not the act of some computer nerd who wants to get free porn off the Internet. It’s a film about how a story sometimes takes on a life of its own

The film is based on a short story written by Stephen King and contains the master’s usual ingredients – misogyny, creepy country folks, dumb small-town cops, etc. – but it’s a well-crafted work of fiction. It’s one of those great King stories that primarily takes place in the mind of the author. Unfortunately, it turns out this sort of narrative doesn’t convert well to film since artistic introspection in movies involves a lot of talking to ones’ self.

It also isn’t a story full of whatchacall character development. Or characters with defined personalities, come to think of it. The written story is a sort of Lovecraftian novella written in first person, and it didn’t suffer any for its lack of deep characters, but the film feels hollow because none of its characters are particularly interesting or believable.

The narrator’s sardonic wit made the written story seem edgy, but it undercuts Rainey’s credibility on screen. He doesn’t appear to understand the gravity of his actions and his deadpan humor was constantly interrupted by sophomoric giggles from middle-aged women in the audience who should understand irony and teenaged girls who frankly should be at Agent Cody Banks.

Erm, excuse me.

The cast does a lot with what little is given them, but this isn’t enough to recommend the film. With this much star power you’d expect – and deserve – something special, but Secret Window isn’t it, which isn’t to say it’s a terrible film: It’s not. It’s just very forgettable, which might be a bit of a crime given the talent gathered here. It’s sort of like powering a pen light with a nuclear power plant.

In the end Secret Window is a fairly basic film with quiet moments of classy horror and characters that don’t exactly sparkle with life. It would have made a great episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which tells you how good TV used to be and how mediocre films can be, even when they have impressive firepower and a solid story.

Secret Window will be a good movie to pick up in Blockbusters in three months. Nothing will be lost in the translation to small screen, and no one will be offended when you shiver with delight every time Depp appears.


The Passion of The Christ: A Uniquely Unsettling Picture

Although not a true believer, I have tried in my life to be sensitive to others’ religious and spiritual beliefs. So you can trust me when I say Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ is a film for religious weirdos, fellers into gay bondage and misanthropes who just want to see the Son of God beaten to a pulp.

From my perspective The Passion has as much to do with divine redemption as porn has to do with true love, which is to say not much. Like pornography, Gibson has laid flesh bare in an attempt to shock and titillate –a cheap imitation of passion – but if you are looking for a sign of the sacred or the divine I’d turn back to the scripture if I were you. All you will find in this film is suffering meat, the body’s ultimate disintegration and degradation, the death of the flesh. It owes more to the perverse psychological mindset of Marquis DeSade than the bible.

The film tells the final 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s first life. It does not explore his teachings or the events leading up to his capture, but is primarily concerned with showing the beating he suffered in his last hours. The Pharisees accuse him of blasphemy in these final moments, he is sent first to the Roman governor Pilate then King Herod, and then returned to the Romans to be judged by a crowd of Jews, where he is condemned to death. 
What follows is perhaps the most sadistic string of scenes seen this side of Faces of Death IV. This is the movie you want if you’ve ever wondered what the New Testament would be like if it was performed as a WWF operatic event.

Who is Gibson’s Christ? A body accepting all the pain of the world, taking on the sins of others to transform them into ultimate redemption? A figure that shows the all-loving lord I’d heard about in Sunday school? A man sacrificing himself to a religious ideal? No. This is the suffering son of god, a body torn asunder in a constant reminder that humanity sucks the big one. A sanctimonious vehicle designed to elicit guilt… from the guy who played saints like post-apocalyptic outlaws and bloodthirsty Celts no less.

The Passion is as extreme a film as has ever appeared in mainstream cinema. It is a uniquely unsettling picture of one man’s particular religious views, and so is a very personal sort of movie. This is not Peter, Paul and Mary’s take on the bible, kids. Don’t expect the lord of light who sends angels to look over your children while singing “I believe I Can Fly.”  The Passion is the crucifixion on steroids, a bloody little nightmare that could only be torn from the mind of a complete whacko. 

Yes, Mel Gibson is nuts – in an unpleasant David Koresh sort of way – but I don’t think he is anti-Semitic. I think he hates each and every one of us, regardless of our race, color or creed. He’s an equal opportunity asshole, happy to bring toothless ugly Jews and toothless ugly Romans together to show us that in each one of us hides a despicable inner sinner who should be punished. His framing of the narrative certainly shows the Pharisees at their worst, but Gibson’s ugly world is populated by mostly ugly people doing mostly ugly things, so I’m inclined to believe he just hates all of us – including the audience itself, whom he assaults at every turn.

The crucifixion signifies our salvation as much as our guilt, but strangely The Passion is not concerned with deliverance. It is too theatrical and superficial to try to depict the reasons behind Christ’s sacrifice. The marks on his body point to nothing but our capacity for brutality and violence, the fundamental, wicked flaw in each of us. I kept waiting for the moment when Gibson would show me the true sign in Christ’s flesh, illustrate in some way the full meaning of his suffering. Without this evocation to the divine the film feels nothing more than brutal, sadistic and violent, stirring little else than mild revulsion.

The Passion is an art-house snuff film masquerading as religious fable. Directorially, it is the work of someone with more money than creativity and a tendency to exaggerate rather than allow a story to move its audience. Its repeated use of slow motion and gory special effects owe more to the Nightmare on Elm Street than The Ten Commandments and its repetition is awe-inspiring. Christ falls down, spewing blood, gets up, is punched in the face, spat on, whipped, and falls again, in slow motion so you can see the droplets of blood around his mouth, just like in Rocky.

Directors use special effects when they cannot evoke true emotion from their narratives, but there’s no excuse for falling back on cheap gimmicks when recounting arguably the most moving story in Western civilization.

But Gibson takes the most direct route to his subject, erasing any subtleties that may be embedded in the story while shocking us with shameless dirty tricks. Gibson uses Christ as a weapon against his audience, literally drenching it in the blood of the savior. It is his passion we see on the screen, not the passion of Christ, and all it really signifies is his uniquely weird feelings of guilt. It’s his cross, not ours, and god gave us the freedom to choose between good and evil, or in this case, between good and really, really, really bad, since The Passion is a historically bad film working in uncommonly bad faith.

I don’t know if I believe in the Christ fable, but I know I wouldn’t want to go to the place that Gibson sees when he meditates on the crucifix, and I pray that he will never get the chance to make another bible epic.

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