Monday, June 30, 2008

A bit of good news

I have been chosen to be an entertainment blogger for the website for a(some) TV station(s) in North Carolina. Starting with this week's review of Wall-E, my work is being republished at this site:

Today the Wall-E review is on the front page under "features".

Sunday, June 29, 2008


While Wall-E is a feast for the eyes and ears, it's, first and foremost, a treat of good, old-fashioned filmmaking. If you see it in the theater, you will undoubtedly be bombarded with previews for other 3D computer-animated films featuring animals that scream, jump about, and act as obnoxious as the four-year-old sitting next to you. Though they leave me with the impression of having lukewarm high-fructose corn syrup drizzled onto my head, I know that these films have their place and provide some measure of enjoyment for undiscerning children and obnoxious adults (I, myself, was quite fond of the wretched Transformers: the Movie at a young age and am glad to say I grew out of it). Everything in these trailers is played big and loud--all the better to milk laughs from the audience--so, it's doubly refreshing when the feature attraction begins and nobody talks for a long, long time. Wall-E develops its story and characters with a minimum of dialogue, relying, instead, on the much more satisfying (and hundreds of years old) convention of editing meaningful bits of visual information together and letting the audience fit the puzzle pieces together.

Whenever I see a film use these tried-and-true cinematic conventions (usually it's when watching a well-made silent film, but there are other modern examples), I feel as if my brain is being flossed of the detritus of more pandering, shallow entertainments found on TV and in the multiplex. It's no different here; the opening passages of Wall-E are delightful for the elegant and earnest way they ladle out the exposition for the the titular main character and the world he inhabits. Wall-E is set in a distant future where the Earth has become a giant landfill, uninhabitable due to the heaps and heaps of garbage wrought by human industry. Humanity itself has taken to the stars in a giant spaceship named The Axiom, leaving the Earth to the care of a robotic cleanup crew. Wall-E is the last surviving member of these robots, and, some 700 years after the evacuation, he's still dutifully following his programming. Every day he gathers garbage, compacts it into cubes, and stacks the cubes into giant piles, some as tall as skyscrapers. As he undertakes the Herculean task of cleaning the Earth, it becomes clear that this robot has more to his existence than work. He has a penchant for collecting; while sifting through the garbage, something strikes his fancy--an egg beater, a Rubik's Cube, and, one day, a single stalk of plant life poking through the muck--and he takes it to his home where he places it amongst other treasured possessions. One of these is a VHS tape of an old musical, and, as he watches scenes of romance unfold, it becomes clear that this is one lonely robot. He yearns to dance and hold hands with a paramour of his own. All of this is revealed with an expert eye towards efficiency. The details of the world are tucked into the frame as we watch Wall-E on a day's work, until slowly the entire picture is clear. The animation is gorgeous to look at and evokes such a powerful feeling of loneliness and isolation, that it's almost a bummer when another robot named EVE shows up from outer space.

EVE is a probe, sent to find signs of life. At first she's as oblivious to Wall-E as he is smitten, focusing only on fulfilling her mission. But soon, they meet, strike up a budding romance, and, just as it seems Wall-E may have found a dance partner, they are swept away to the deliriously satiric confines of The Axiom. It's here that the film (inevitably) finds its way to a more conventional, yet incredibly endearing Chaplin-esque story rife with sentiment and good-natured comedy. If the second half of the film doesn't quite live up to the timeless, soulful quality of the opening moments of Wall-E's solitude or his courtship with EVE, it's nevertheless suffused with wit. As Wall-E begins to explore The Axiom, he finds that the humans onboard are entirely dependent on robots. They can't move around without assistance from robotic chairs, feed, much like babies, from cups with giant straws provided for them, and live lives dictated by well-timed advertisements ("Blue is the new Red"). They continuously watch television, and they don't even seem to know where they are or the history of how they got there. It's not so much different than watching people in a shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon. It's not the most brilliant or inventive satire of modern times I've ever seen, but it's certainly funny and has a deafening ring of truth to it. Wall-E, bumbling through this world, brings with him the promise of a real life--a home planet with work and problems and, above all, plants. It isn't long before the captain of the ship, delighted to learn of his history, is up all night asking the computer to tell him everything there is to know about this little planet named Earth. Even hoedowns. This leads to a revolution, of sorts, as passengers aboard The Axiom awaken to a larger purpose and reclaim their dominance over the rigid, unbending automatons that run their lives.

There's an underlying message here, of course, about waste and the ecological responsibility of the common man and moving beyond mere survival to something more fulfilling, but, thankfully, the movie avoids the hypocrisy of having a Disney film hammer home a didactic screed about the horrors of disposable junk. Wall-E is more interested in telling the story it wants to tell, and it does this with a deftness that looks deceptively easy. It's pretty much a perfect film, one that accomplishes everything it sets out to do. It scrapes the surface of greatness at times, but it never quite achieves this. I find this is often the case with films as tightly constructed and written as Wall-E; it's like they're powered by clock springs and, as such, there's delight and surprise and magic, but not enough spontaneity or, if you will, life to them. This is just a quibble, though, and a very minor one at that. This is a wonderful film. It earns its laughter and sentiment through quiet, thoughtful honesty about its characters. You will believe a robot can love.

Would Make a Good Double Feature with: Modern Times

This review can also be viewed at:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Get Smart

Dear Hollywood types,

I really don’t care if you feel the need to labor over the beginnings of Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Zorro, and all manner of superheroes, turning them into mournful, lonely souls whose isolation and despair lead them to carry out acts of vigilante justice. I’m cool with that. But could you, at least as a favor to those of us who enjoy a good chuckle here and there, refrain from burdening our iconic comedy characters with these troubles? Get Smart, the television show upon which this recent Steve Carell vehicle is based, was never, like, great or anything, but it was, for the most part, a consistently funny little cartoon of a show whose Maxwell Smart was a bumbler due as much to his indifference as his incompetence. He was cocksure, steady, and consistent in the face of all manner of troubles, and it was these qualities that led to some genuinely funny moments. In this film version, you’ve, for reasons I can only guess at, saddled Maxwell Smart with unrequited desires, a desperate longing to become a field agent within the spy agency known as Control, and turned him into a bookish analyst who is, we’re told, out of his depth in the field. So, as this wimpy, nerdy version of Maxwell Smart proves himself worthy of Field Agent status through the plot of this film, you’ve given us, yet again, a fucking origin story.

Now that you’ve shown us where Maxwell Smart comes from, what’s up next, guys? Do we get to suffer through 80 minutes of Groucho Marx’s father abandoning him at an early age, leading him to develop a caustic wit as a defense mechanism against a harsh world that clearly doesn’t want him? How about a Naked Gun prequel that details the young Frank Drebin’s ascent through a hilariously hellish Police Academy (Steve Guttenberg could play the tough, but fair instructor who passes the young Drebin because, while he’s stupid, he’s sure got a lot of heart!)? Or perhaps we get to see a jilted young woman wailing at the altar while her father holds her and says, “I love you, Lucy.” I heartily encourage you all to grow a pair. Plant your fucking feet. Please stop telling us how things came to be, and start telling us what happens after.

I didn’t hate this movie version of Get Smart, though it was all over the place. It had a funny bit here or there (most of them came from the original show, but I won’t blame you for sticking with good material instead of coming up with good, new stuff. That’s hard!) The action climax of this film was genuinely involving. It was well-done, the stakes made sense, and it had an exciting, even funny, kinetic energy that propelled it forward to a logical, again, funny, conclusion (I will note that it was way too loud; the blaring of the obnoxious score nearly ruined it). I really enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance. I thought she showed very well-attuned comic timing in her role as the straight woman to Smart’s bumbling and that she and Steve Carell had a very nice rapport. This, no doubt, led to my finding the climax being as involving as it was, despite the fact that, for most of the film, I was disappointed that the jokes were so stale and (since the comedy wasn’t working) the narrative was so pat. Good job guys!

But, I mean, come on. We’re here for the yuk-yuks, and most of your jokes seem like bits that didn’t make the cut from either Austin Powers or The Naked Gun movies. The Get Smart television show has a pretty clear ancestral relationship to both of these franchises, so setting the bar as low as you do and branding it with the legacy of motherfucking Buck Henry feels, not only pathetic, but somewhat malevolent. There’s a moment where Terrence Stamp as the ultra bad guy, tries to blackmail the United States for 200 billion dollars and, despite the fact that the moment is played entirely straight, you could pretty much feel everyone in the theater sharing a chuckle about Dr. Evil’s one millllllion dollars. Did you not care? Are you just tone-deaf? And what’s with the fact that your movie had absolutely zero target for satire? You weren’t lampooning anything, and, in fact, had some weird, almost didactic moments kind-of shoveled in there about understanding that our enemies are human and that being the key to success in war or something. But you didn’t think to, like, ever show the opposite view and how it’s doomed to (maybe, fingers-crossed, if you could be bothered, hilarious) failure? And, forgive me if I'm overstepping here, but why on Earth would you seriously try to play any of this film straight?

Look, I get it. We’re living in the Judd Apatow universe now, the one where it says that comedies require some underlying dramatic tension and honest character work. And this is something I, generally, agree with. There should be, at the very least, a certain amount of "dramatic relief" to the comedies you’re creating. And I’ll give you credit that you didn’t show a teary-eyed Maxwell Smart realizing what a boob he’d been and vowing to change or grow up or whatever, since it’s common for these modern comedies to mistake such unbearable treacle for conflict and resolution. But I also firmly believe that the drama should be absolutely entwined with the comedy you’re making. If you’re working in a two dimensional space, as the character of Maxwell Smart most certainly is, your drama must exist in that same space. Otherwise, you’ve made the mistake of trying to turn a cartoon into a real boy. I submit that you leave that nonsense to the Blue Fairy, and, next time, take aim at something--anything!--before you fire.

David Wester


Monday, June 16, 2008

Long Live Stan Winston

Just adding my voice to the fray. I can't even remember when I became familiar with his name, but his creature creations had a heavy influence on significant portions of my childhood and adolescence. Terminator, Aliens, and Edward Scissorhands would not have been the life-shaping experiences they were without his work. Hell, I even have a soft spot for his directorial effort Pumpkinhead and that beast from The Relic. Hearing that he'd passed was a gut-punch. It's incredibly odd to be affected by the death of someone you've only known through their work, who you would most likely never have known or met or interacted with in any meaningful way. It rings with a slight embarrassment, like remembering when you were a teenager and locked yourself away and cut yourself because The Beatles were breaking up, or something. And yet, the sadness remains, along with the knowledge that any chance you might have had to know, meet, or interact with this person whose work touched you and whose thoughts and insights might have taught great lessons is gone forever.

Thanks for the monsters.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Happening

From the moment Bruce Willis realized that he was dead in The Sixth Sense, most of M. Night Shyamalan's films have featured a rejection of an understandable, rational universe for a mysterious, magical one. In fact, Shyamalan's films seem anchored to this notion that there is more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophies. Thus far, he has not done much more with this notion but craft increasingly desperate cinematic pleas that we all share this viewpoint with him. His last film was Lady in the Water, and its ludicrous, unbearable fairy-tale plot demanded an entire apartment community believe in pixies or whatever so that a writer could write a book that would singlehandedly make the world a better place (we'll generously ignore the fact that this writer was played by M. Night himself to avoid labored armchair psychoanalysis). While this theme in Shyamalan's films has only worked for me once before (with Mel Gibson's spiritual re-awakening in Signs), these filmed pleas (even the wretched Lady in the Water) have been at the very least compelling, if not ultimately convincing. And so arrives, The Happening, a film where Shyamalan (inadvertantly, I'd wager) points in the opposite direction; the plot awkwardly takes the magical and renders it rational. Poorly.

About halfway through this terrible movie, I gave up. I stayed to watch the rest of the film, if only to witness the disaster, but struggled to keep from shouting obscenities while the movie's idiocy drove me bats. At this point in the film, the main characters, supposedly intelligent adults, tried to outrun a gust of wind. This cannot be repeated enough. In The Happening, a group of people attempt to outrun the wind. And, from all cues, the movie thinks that such a thing might be possible and that, indeed, an audience would be willing to root for its heroes to defy reality in such a way. It was here I realized that I could no longer keep a list of the film's shortcomings in my head. The Happening bested me. I would love to type out a laundry list of this film's failures, pointing out what's wrong scene by scene and cackle with schadenfreude the whole while. Alas, the movie short-circuited my brain with so much mind-boggling awfulness, that I can only shake my head in awe. So, from here, let's all just take it for granted that the plotting, dialogue, acting, and pacing are pretty atrocious for a mainstream release like The Happening, and everyone involved is or will be smarting from a collective spanking delivered by hundreds of thousands of millions of people once they see this movie.

The Happening opens with a bunch of people in Northeastern America mysteriously killing themselves en masse. Though it is marked by the awkward staging and weird, bad acting that permeate the entire film, this is the only moment that actually connects. Images of a group of construction workers plummeting from the top of a construction site or a group of people in Central Park suddenly frozen in place deliver a momentary shudder. However, once the film cuts to Mark Wahlberg as a New York City science teacher, it's game over, man. Here, it becomes clear that the film is going to have something to do with science, but, as written, Shyamalan's conception of science is as confused as a young child's notions of what sex is all about. Wahlberg, in class, asks his disinterested students for theories on why bees are disappearing and when one of them ventures, "It's a natural phenomenon. We'll never understand it," this shaper of young minds replies, "That's right." He actually then goes on to state the creationist code phrase that scientific explanations for natural phenomenon are "just theories," and babbles about forces beyond our understanding. It's not that any of this is objectively false or that I necessarily disagree with it on a philosophical level or that I care what these fictional kids are taught in their fictional science classes. It's that it indicates that the writer-director of the film has no clue what the hell he is talking about. Scientific theories are more than "just theories," and anyone with a modicum of knowledge about science, much less an instructor, will bristle at such a blithe dismissal of the collected, ever-growing understanding of the natural world that science represents. Unless, of course, the Shaymalan twist (unseen in the film) is that Wahlberg is an Intelligent Design proponent, a fact that would make more sense of the character's idiocy and emotional immaturity.

What gets me the most, though, is the amazing, scary paternalistic world the characters inhabit. With strange frequency, Shyamalan points the camera at Wahlberg or John Leguizamo as the deadly happenings continue to befall the group of survivors that they've fallen in with. The two men grunt and sway under the pressure as every person in the group looks to them for leadership or guidance, despite the fact that they've done nothing notable to deserve such reverence. One scene, in particular, is crazily bad about this. As several people start dying, Wahlberg is struggling in his foolish quest to (hilariously) use the scientific method to determine the best course of action. The other people in his group who wish to help the affected, scream, "Tell us what to do!" or something like that and also, "People are dying!" at Wahlberg as he remains frozen in indecision. One wonders why these people don't just, you know, do something themselves if they're so invested? There's an assumption behind this, that large problems must be placed onto the shoulders of heroic martyrs. This sort-of thinking made some sense with Mel Gibson's ex-priest in Signs, not least because he was the oldest person around with children to care for, but here it's just nonsensical to watch men and women, presumably no less special than Wahlberg, look to him as if he is some sort of wizard.

All this has wasted too many words on the film. The crux of The Happening is that the plants of the world are suffering due to humanity's rape of the environment, and they've rapidly evolved the ability to make people kill themselves in order to repel this encroaching threat. Fine. While it's best, perhaps, if fantasists like Shyamalan and Roland Emmerich abstain from trying to teach ecological lessons, I'm not opposed to the concept in theory. However, you can call me misanthropic, but I need a reason to think that saving humanity, or at least the characters I'm watching, is a good idea. Judging solely from the whiny, idiotic people that populate this film, I'm content to set down the weed whacker and let the plants take over. At least they don't make movies like this one.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What's Happening?

So, uh... if you're curious about The Happening, just know that it is pretty rotten. At its core. It is rancid. It is poison. Save yourself. Run away from all the wind.

Full review on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Jumper is the kind of movie that plays much better on video than it ever would in a theater. It's a modest, relatively unpretentious (as far as these things go) science fiction action film, and, with the lower expectations, distractions, and confines that come with home viewing, it achieves a half-shrug of success. Its primary virtue is one of scale; that is, Jumper focuses on one character and keeps its stakes tied directly to its protaganist. At no point in the film is the fate of the entire world in peril--indeed, Jumper refreshingly attributes such "savior of humanity" thinking to its villains--nor does the film's conflict gain resolution via a punching match between two superdudes who differ only in the color of their underoos. So, while the movie's storyline is formulaic (boy becomes man through understanding superpowers? REALLY?) and the acting is shallow at best, I was pleased that this film knew exactly what it was about and scaled its running time to an appropriate 90 minutes. That's backhanded praise, to be sure, but it's a relief to see a film of this nature that is as light on its feet as Jumper.

Not that the film is all that great. The main character, played by Hayden Christensen (he doesn't ruin the movie), has the ability to open wormholes (or whatever), allowing him to jump to any location he wishes. He discovers this super power as a teenager and uses it to flee from his abusive home in a small town to the big city. Once free, he learns how to control his jumping and robs a bank by jumping into the vault, setting himself up (financially, at least) for life. The character lives an easy life, jumping around the world to exotic locales while scoring with the local women and supplementing his income with further robberies. Even though he ignores whatever impulse he might have to use this power for selfless acts, it's clear he's the hero as he's guilt-laden enough to leave IOUs at the scene of the crime, and, you know, the casual sex is made acceptable by showing it as joyless. He's still pining for the girl from high school that he left behind. These are easy, pat answers to making this criminal philanderer an engaging hero, and I wished that the film had embraced the protaganist's hedonism in a more honest, delighted way. It's not as if audiences won't embrace a pleasure-seeking antihero who learns hard lessons (oh, hello Iron Man). The longing for the high school sweetheart, in particular, set my teeth a-grinding, since this fellow has gone all around the world but still can't see what a dullard she is. Love is oblivious, I guess, but dramatic action shouldn't be.

A bigger problem with the film are the villains. Represented by an unsurprising, growling Samuel L. Jackson, they call themselves "Paladins" and, for reasons that are never compellingly explicated, they track and kill jumpers like Christensen. The reasoning, it would seem, is that they believe all Jumpers will go bad, and human beings are not socially or morally equipped to handle the responsibility of this great power. This is a nice flip-flop of the usual comic book movie paradigm (the usual film would have featured the Paladin tracking the Jumper) but not much is done with it. Jackson screams, "There are consequences to your actions!" at Christensen in one scene, but, really, what consequences he's talking about aren't explicated at all. It sounds like he's talking about more than just the victims of a bank robbery, but whatever it is, the movie's too coy to tell. This coyness about the mythology of the movie's superhumans (and the normies who chase them) runs throughout, and it's both a boon and a weakness by the end. It's all intriguing enough at first, but after a while, with no answers, it just makes everyone seem as if they're jumping around and shouting at each other for no reason.

Still, if you're willing to overlook these (glaring, I'll admit) flaws, Jumper has some charm. As mentioned, it's well-paced, moving efficiently through its plot, never lingering too long on the angst of its characters. Furthermore, I confess, I found the "Jumping" visual and sound effects to be endlessly delightful; they're simple and elegant, moving the jumping characters out of the visual space with a minimum of bombast, but with plenty of real-world kick to them--the world around the transporting character reacts to the disruption. I've grown so sick of arbitrary, loud effects that defy any semblence of real-world viability, that these well-considered treatments of the magical elements of the movie's premise were nearly enough to win me over single-handedly. And, truth be told, there's a fun fight and chase between two superdudes about 2/3 of the way through. Christensen and another jumper hop from place to place, hurtle objects from one space into another, and lead the other into spacetime-related traps. It's inventive and comes to a satisfying conclusion, the stakes are clear and personal, and the editing and staging are top-notch.

Around the time of this chase, I realized that I was enjoying Jumper the same way I enjoy certain B-movies from the past. I took the stilted acting and obvious plotting as a given; it's clear enough early on that there will be no relief from these things, after all. But for all its problems, there's an honest-to-God beating heart behind this movie and, even with all the sci-fi hokum, it's plainly presented with a minimum of show-off artistry. All of these observations are, of course, born of the lazy eye with which I watched the film. But if ever a movie was made to satisfy the viewer while watching TBS on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it's Jumper. Take that how you will.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

_Space for Rent_

Nothing will be posted today, family obligations. Will have a review up on Wed.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Strangers

In a lot of ways, The Strangers is a throwback. It's first and foremost a fright film/rollercoaster, designed and built to scare you and nothing more. The plot harkens back to the hard-edged horrors of the seventies, particularly Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. Both of these previous films share with The Strangers a certain pointlessness; the plot of all three could be accurately summed up with the phrase, "Sometimes, bad shit happens." That there is no reason, theme, or message other than the randomness of violence, feels, in this case, more like a limitation of the rollercoaster genre than the film, and, really, it is enough that The Strangers is well-made for one of these vehicles. In the interest of full discolsure, I will admit that for a good fifteen or twenty minutes it had me right where it wanted me: a quivering mass, shielding my eyes from the horrors onscreen and inwardly shouting advice to Liv Tyler, trying desperately to save her and myself from further encounters with terrifying masks. Additionally, The Strangers recalls a time when great directors cut their teeth and announced themselves by raising the stakes in the forgiving, formulaic horror genre. It would not surprise me if Bryan Bertino, the writer/director of this movie, went on to greatness, but, whatever his future, he's certainly put himself on my radar. While the film ultimately trades in too many cliches and emerges as too-familiar an experience to be branded an undisputed classic, it's still quite a ride and finds a surprising amount of clever riffs on its well-worn formula.

The Strangers opens with a nice, intriguing setup, giving us a quick summary of what we are about to see. As a 911 call plays and a woman screams about intruders in her house and blood on the walls, two boys walk through what remains of the caller's home. There they find a wrecked car outside, a bloody knife, blood on the walls, and a turntable revolving endlessly. The inhabitants are gone. It's a low-rent, William Castle version of The March of Time sequence in Citizen Kane, showing the basic outline of the plot before diving in, but it's quite effective for a time. After the film flashes back to show how the house came to be in this state, a character puts the needle down on a record and it raises the tension in the theater. When the record needs to be flipped and the needle put down again, it's suddenly clear that the record player is part of a game, and The Strangers is toying, cleverly, with its audience. We're aware that, eventually, the characters will put the needle down for the last time, but not which time. Each instance of this otherwise innocuous act seems like it will bring on the intruders and the knife and the blood. Eventually, maddeningly, though, this conceit wears thin and what was a fun, sadistic game becomes a dull grocery list of things that must occur before the movie can end. Blood on the wall? Check. Knife on the floor? Check. And so-on.

After giving us the layout of the carnage, the film flashes back to a young couple making their way to this very same remote country home in the middle of the night. These opening beats are nearly perfect, depicting the awkwardness between lovers whose relationship is undergoing a new strain. We learn (far too soon, and, disappointingly, in another flashback) that he's proposed to her and she's said no. The awkwardness, tenderness, and animosity between the two characters is wonderfully played by Tyler and co-star Scott Speedman. He, in particular, captures the well-meaning, sensitive facade that jilted men often use to mask their hostilities. Unfortunately, and equally maddening, the scenes between the two of them, go on for an excruciating amount of time and keep repeating the same dramatic beats. They keep telling each other, essentially, "We don't know who we are as a couple or how to be with one another anymore after this shake-up," over and over again. It's soggy with heartfelt, one-note, bleary-eyed scenes, and really betrays the elegance of the opening moments between the characters.

Luckily, Liv Tyler runs out of smokes, the beau gallantly offers to pick some up for her, then there's a SPOOKY knock at the door (all knocks are spooky when it's four in the morning). The titular Strangers have arrived to save the film from the sort-of unearned schmaltziness and repetitive writing that stinks up Kevin Smith films. So begins the fifteen or twenty minutes that make this a film worth seeing and one that has me still jumping at noises four days after seeing it. Moments after this sequence range from good to amatuer, but none match the sheer power and delightful filmmaking found when the Strangers begin their attack. Decked out in genuinely scary masks, they aren't so much trying to harm Tyler in these moments as they are trying to terrify her. They toy with her, knocking at the doors and windows, moving objects in the house around, popping up in unexpected places, and converging on her without directly harming her. What's happening is scary, but seems ludicrous and unreal. Each moment builds on the next until a chilling critical mass is reached. My own brain, trying to rationalize through my own fear, started wondering if what was onscreen was "real" or if the film was pulling a Repulsion-style meditation on feminine vulnerability and employing an unreliable narrator mindfuck (it wasn't).

A single shot in this sequence is almost worth the price of admission alone. In this shot, Tyler busies herself in the foreground while a masked man emerges from the darkness behind her. She, unaware of his presence (or of the fact that he's wonderfully balancing the frame), continues her business until this "Stranger" disappears back into darkness. The use of a masked figure stalking the edges of a widescreen frame (and balancing it, thus giving us what we unconsciously wanted all along) is nothing John Carpenter didn't do 30 years ago, but this works all on its own. Scarier than the figure is the figure's disappearance. He disappears before Tyler sees him, and the darkened doorway now contains multitudes, dredging up all manner of childhood boogeymen. This is masterful horror filmmaking. It's a prefect combination of elements, coalescing into an iconic, classic image that speaks to the fragility of existence and the fear of the unknown. I wouldn't hesitate to call this moment in this otherwise commercial, manipulative movie a work of art. As such, it makes all of the moments in the film when the movie employs cliched, cheap scare techniques (something pops up and the soundtrack makes a loud noise... two for flinching!) or, worse, false scare techniques (same as previous, but as it turns out it was just the cat!) seem even more shoddy and manipulative than they usually do, the way the sheer speed and noise of an old wooden roller coaster will sometimes put to shame its shinier, loopier counterparts.