Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com



DAKOTA DARKNESS: Reluctant farmgirl Jess (Kristen Stewart) — who has seen neither AMITYVILLE HORROR nor OKLAHOMA! — prepares to barn dance with the unquiet dead in THE MESSSENGERS.
The Messengers
Directed by Danny and Oxide Pang.
Movie website at Sony Pictures (Reviewed at Loews Boston Common Cinema, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007 for the Boston Phoenix: Print edition February 7, 2007)
Twin directors Danny and Oxide Pang, who explored the supernatural downside of cornea transplants in The Eye, unearth the ghosts of the Northern Plains states with stylish but mostly unfrightening results in their first non-Asian horror movie, The Messengers. Imagine Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma done as an ominous, tuneless, pastoral spookshow. In place of corn as high as an elephant’s eye, substitute a patch of droopy sunflowers grown as low as an elephant’s shin. Even a bumper crop yields a harvest of trouble for the Solomons, the broke Chicago family turned Dakota homesteaders, and for the film’s poorly hidden invaders, who must crouch in tilled fields and girl-don’t-go-in-there barns till harvest time
As clueless, handsome farmer dad (Dylan McDermott) sits astride his tractor, idly stoning crows, and oblivious farm mom (Penelope Ann Miller) scrubs black mold off the walls, a strangers emerge from the golden haze: a snooping banker (“The X-Files”‘ William B. Davis, channelling Former U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft) and a virile, shotgun-toting hired man (John Corbett, hilarious channelling Pore Jud Fry).
Only the dark-dreaming teenage heroine, Jess (Kristen Stewart) and her silent, oddly unclingy toddler brother (Evan and Theodore Turner) perceive threat amid the falling shadows. Soon grey-limbed apparitions are lurking in linens, muddying the dug cellar, fiddling with doorknobs– if you think they’re not approaching, the fibre in your ears and the hair on the back of your neck indicate otherwise: Eerie.
The Pangs (or maybe the screenwriters) are door-slammers too, smash-cutting to the next day, the next week, the next month—yet the family’s still marooned on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre estate as if hoping to meet Leatherface’s ghost.
Just as Oklahoma’s tomboy/virgin Laurey made a beeline for the local sociopath, then had to be rescued by Curley, Jess – a nubile rebel yell in a Sweet and Toxic T-shirt – is raring to confront ghouls but not the real, knee-high source of her anxiety. Not even the obvious juju jolts, which get sillier as the movie goes on, will steer Jess (or her peers, the PG-13 target audience) away from the down staircase, where – wouldn’t you know it? – the lights are out and everybody’s home.
[After the jump, marketing notes. SPOILER ALERT]

About the preview screening, which was held at the Loews Boston Common theatre, Thursday Feb. 1 – about 18 hours before THE MESSENGERS opened. The movie might have gone over better had it been projected even slightly in focus.
Matt Zoller Seitz of the New York Times got to see the movie projected correctly and had a better time. Until the ending.
A representative from Sony’s local PR company was present, as were the sponsors of the screening, a radio station. But no one went back to speak to the projectionist or the theatre manager. There were several hundred people present, including five or six reviers. This was the night before opening, and the only pre-release screening in New England. When projection problems occur at early preview screenings, reviewers will usually speak up and wait till the problem can be fixed.
The promo audience appeared be slightly older (college age) than the main PG-13 horror audience, who are believed to have an appetite for anything that sounds like it might be wicked cool and provocative and forbidden, but in the end, safe. (See: the skull and logo on the Jess’ T-shirt; the last three scenes of THE MESSENGERS: Down there, dirty, messy, puzzling, deadly. Up here: Clean. Cultivated. Mom, Dad, useless boyfriend and Jess, still carrying her mother’s son. Acknowledging her own wish for future children .. or jezum crow — whose kid is that?

Sony’s targeted the sensitive ears of the under 25 year old moviegoer with this tagline “There is evidence to suggest that children are highly susceptible to paranormal phenomena. They see what adults cannot. They believe what adults deny. And they are trying to warn us” — and a blast of Ultrasonic ringtones that are largely unheard by those with presbycusis, or ageing ear. You can test yourself to see if you can hear the mosquito-buzzes above 17kHz — past the age of 20, most people lose the ability to hear those tones.
The “fool your teachers” angle is kind of funny. Adults may be deaf to ringtones, but kids never seem to learn that no matter how good text technology gets, teachers do, in fact, develop 360 degree peripheral vision and Ninja reflexes, even when they are ancient and uncool.
They will see you answer the phone and send you to detention before you can say, “I didn’t do anything, I was just sitting here. What.What?

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon