April 28th, 2013

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1949) **

Here’s an obscure Edgar Allan Poe adaptation from England that was made more than a decade before the more famous Roger Corman production. Fans of Poe may be a bit divided on it as it’s not really faithful to the source material. And while it’s not exactly good or anything, it’s an interesting enough curio piece that at least has a handful of atmospheric moments.

An oddball brother and his hot sister are suffering from a mysterious disease. His buddy comes to visit them and after a bunch of standing around and talking, they discover a curse has been placed upon their bloodline. And the only way to end the curse is to decapitate their zombified mother who lurks in the family crypt.

The cinematography and camerawork are really well done, but the movie itself is rather lifeless. A few creepy shots aside (like the close-up of the old hag in a mausoleum), The Fall of the House of Usher is mostly dull. All the stuff with the killer crone works the best, but not much ever really HAPPENS. The opening sequence where a bunch of old men sit around telling each other spooky tales is pretty cool though. (It was probably the inspiration for Ghost Story.) But other than that, The Fall of the House of Usher is only worth a look if you absolutely HAVE to see every Poe movie ever made.

BROTHEL (2008) **

After the suicide of her husband, Serena Scott Thomas (who looks a little like Nicole Kidman) decides to move to a small town. She buys a rundown brothel with the intention of turning it into a bed and breakfast. While she’s fixing the place up, she begins seeing the ghost of the former madam in the hallways. More ghosts of dead hookers show up and Serena slowly withdraws from the real world to hang out with the poltergeist prostitutes.

Most of this flick is filmed like an episode of Red Shoe Diaries. Other times it resembles a first year film student’s attempt at a David Lynch movie. I really wouldn’t mind that except for the fact that the film is kinda slow moving and is at times way too arty for its own good. I mean if you’re going to make a movie about ghost prostitutes… MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT GHOST PROSTITUTES! Don’t get all artsy-fartsy with it.

I guess they were going for a “dreamlike” quality with this one. That’s all well and good, but whenever you’re unsuccessful at this sort of thing it winds up being bad for all involved. It also doesn’t help that the storytelling gets more fractured as it goes along. On the plus side, Serena Scott Thomas has a couple of pretty good nude and sex scenes, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

THE BIG WHITE (2005) **

Robin Williams stars as a travel agent in Alaska who is struggling to make ends meet. He wants his missing brother pronounced legally dead so he can collect on the insurance money. When Williams finds a dead body in a dumpster, he tries to pass it off as his brother’s corpse. A wild-eyed insurance investigator (Giovanni Ribisi) tries to poke holes in Williams’ story so his company won’t have to pay up. Naturally, trouble brews when the brother (Woody Harrelson) shows up looking for a cut of the dough.

The Big White is a case where everyone is trying too hard. It’s one of those hip kinds of comedies where the writers give the characters quirks instead of personalities. Holly Hunter plays Williams’ wife with Tourette’s syndrome, so there are scenes where she cusses at little kids and it’s supposed to be funny. Alison Lohman plays Giovanni Ribisi’s psychic girlfriend, because you know… it’s funny to have a psychic girlfriend. And of course, like every comedy that’s trying way too hard, there is a pair of wisecracking hitmen that enter the fracas and complicate everybody’s lives.

Williams does his usual “Look, I’m trying to play a normal guy, but I’m still funny” routine, which as we all know, isn’t funny. Hunter struggles with her woefully underwritten role, which requires her to bark obscenities at people and very little else. In fact, her appearance here (along with Tim Blake Nelson as one of the hitmen) is the tip-off that the filmmakers were going for a Coen Brothers feel and fell flat on their faces. Overall, there are a couple good lines here and there, but the cast deserves much better and the ending is ridiculously drawn out.