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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: The Possession; The Dybbuk



THE POSSESSION (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Ole Bornedal, 2012 (Lionsgate)

We’re watching The Possession, another horror movie with religious overtones — or to put it another way, another knockoff of The Exorcist.   There’s this evil-looking box, see, with strange markings and Jewish symbols and little compartments with funny little keepsakes. And every time somebody opens it. starting in The Possession’s very first scene, bad things happen. Minor characters get killed, major characters get threatened, houses are vandalized, moths crawl out of everywhere, and little girls named Emily go crazy and attack their classmates, stab their daddy with a fork, and start talking like Mercedes McCambridge.

Daddy happens to be an  amiable but troubled  college basketball coach and North Carolina alum  named Clyde (played by Hollywood‘s favorite Javier Bardem look-alike, Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who’s in a messy divorce with his wife Stephanie (played by Kyra Sedgwick of “The Closer”), and only gets to see his daughters —  little Emily (Natasha Calis) and older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) — on scheduled visits, when Stephanie‘s smug orthodontist boyfriend Brett (Grant Show) is around.

Clyde’s biggest hassles: The fact that Emily picked up that box at a yard sale and now seems to be possessed (or at least to have very bad table manners) and the difficulties of treating that possession before Emily’s head starts swiveling and she starts describing indecent acts with Lucifer to everybody. He also has to do right by Stephanie and Hannah, and to drive all the way to Brooklyn to find a Hassidic exorcist — and the only one who’ll come back with him is Tzadok played by ex-Hassidic rapper Matisyahu, whose act I have yet to catch,  but who’s a good man with a  tschotschke and a dybbuk here.

The Possession may be a knockoff of The Exorcist, with dybbuks instead of devils and a Jewish rapping exorcist instead of Max Von Sydow. But  it’s more entertaining, and more fluidly visualized, well-acted and excitingly done, than most of the mishigoss that passes for horror movies these days. The script, by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, is too often mediocre and derivative and it drags the film down, especially at the end, when all Hell and several small hurricanes break out in Emily’s hospital, without anyone on the staff seeming to notice, or seeming even to be around anywhere.

But it’s actually a better scenario than most recent horror movies have (which admittedly isn‘t saying much), with more character and better dialogue, better acted. The direction by the Danish fright-meister Ole Bornedal (who did both versions of Nightwatch), is good, both visually and dramatically. So is the suburban cinematography by another Dane, Dan Laustsen. And there’s better than good music by Anton Sanko, an ex-accompanist (for Suzanne Vega) who delivers an excellent pastiche of Bernard Herrmann‘s Hitchcock scores.

The Possession isn’t particularly original, and that hospital scene is too much — or maybe too little. But if you’ll stick around for the final climax, the movie has a genuine shocker for you.. The filmmakers here, especially Bornedal, have skills and style and chutzpah. And they have a Hassidic exorcist who can double on rap, plus the best imitation Bernard Herrmann I’ve heard in quite a while. They just need a better scipt (like so many other movies these days), and maybe better table manners.

The Dybbuk  Four Stars.

(U.S.-Poland: Michal Waszynski, 1937) (Bel Canto).

 There are more dybbuks on film and in home video than you might suspect. The opera and classical music specialty label, Bel Canto, put out both DVD and VHS versions of the great Yiddish musical play The Dybbuk (by Ansky, with music by H. Kon), featuring performances by the legendary Russian-Polish chief cantor Gerson Sirota — whose concert performance  of “Celeste Aida” reportedly inspired Enrico Caruso to thank God the cantor hadn’t become an opera singer but “chose to employ his heavenly gift in a different field.” It’s a splendid film that deserves to be seen by more than classical music aficionados. Sirota, by the way, died in his 60s, in World War II, in the Warsaw Ghetto.  (In Yiddish, with English subtitles.)

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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