I’ve been slow with the dispatches of late, and I must apologize. The power cable for my laptop died, and since I ususally write these things in the evenings on ye laptop, well there you have it.

Tonight is Scott Glancy’s 35th birthday party. His girlfriend Jane has arranged a shindig here at our house. (Mitch Gitelman on our house: “I’ve been to the Pagan house. It’s all cat piss and speed loaders.” Ken Hite on our house: “It’s like a frat house for serial killers.”) I’m looking forward to it. Thanks to Jane moving in we now have a five foot tall Poppinfresh made of styrofoam. Poppinfresh–I’m not actually sure how you spell this–is the corporate mascot for one of those frozen-pastry companies. He’s the little plump white guy in a chef’s hat who giggles when you poke his belly, like some fallen buddha.

My girlfriend Karen has returned from three months abroad: Crete, Mongolia, and eastern Russia. She won’t be at Scott’s party tonight because, of course, she’s off climbing Mt. Rainier this weekend. Did I tell you that I’m dating Lara Croft these days? She’s a real action figure. Though she hastened to add that she wasn’t climbing to the top of Mt. Rainier. She’s part of a volunteer group who is spending the weekend replanting along the trails where the summer hikers have worn down the vegetation. So no sheer ascent using crampons, or other feminine hygiene products for that matter.

I’ve seen four movies lately, so it’s time to catch up on these things. I’ve applied to write a movie-review column for a local alt-paper; we’ll see what happens.

Ghosts of Mars

Inexplicably, John Carpenter stopped making good movies about a decade ago. I think Prince of Darkness was his last good film, though I may be forgetting one. His last film, Vampires, was dreadful and I went to Ghosts of Mars with low expectations. Indeed, I was planning to skip it altogether–as I skipped Planet of the Apes–but my friend Ray Winninger saw it and said it wasn’t half-bad. He’s right. Ghosts of Mars is a big improvement over Vampires, though it’s still a pretty mediocore movie overall. I suspect the reason why it’s not terrible is because it’s a pretty direct remake of Carpenter’s early film Assault on Precinct 13, a solid action thriller. This time Precinct 13 is on Mars, and it’s possessed miners instead of gang members, but otherwise it’s very similar. Carpenter does a good job building mystery and tension here, but his action scenes are lackluster. The fight choreography is vintage Mannix, and there’s very little actual menace created once the fight breaks out. Ho-hum overall, but if you’re getting dragged off to watch it you don’t have to struggle too much.

Jeepers Creepers

Damn, but this one caught me by surprise. Scott and I snuck into this after leaving Ghosts of Mars, and we didn’t really know what to expect. What we found was a very well-plotted horror flick with credible characters and an ending that holds onto its balls in a way few Hollywood horror flicks do these days. A brother and sister driving home for spring break encounter a weirdo dumping what appear to be bodies into a big old pipe that leads beneath the ground, next to a creepy abandoned church. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that for an opening. The early scenes with the two kids are really good, and they actually come off as credible siblings. There’s some real scares and tension here, and also some very deft composition and cinematic storytelling. The characters also do something rare in horror films: they actually break out of their hermetic cinematic horror-world and go straight to the cops, complete with evidence. The police get involved in sensible ways, but of course are ill-prepared to deal with the situation. Still, it’s an improvement over the usual horror flick where the characters never make contact with the police or the cops ignore them. This film actually lets the authorities get involved, and then finds creative ways of keeping the story going even so. Bravo. Towards the end, the movie lets us see the monster too much; but keeping it shadowy would have meant a very different third act, so at least they stuck with it and found interesting ways to unveil their rubbersuitasaurus. And again, the very ending is a gut-punch that I had to admire for staying true to itself. Good work all around. Not a great film, but a surprisingly well-crafted one that left me pleased.

Ghost World

I saw this film at the festival back in the spring and wrote about it then. But when Karen came home and asked what was the best movie she’d missed this summer, I said “Ghost World” without hesitating. It’s true–this is a really remarkable film, with genuine honesty and integrity as well as a great sense of humor and verisimilitude. My only complaint is that the final scenes feel jumbled. I think they should have dropped the last scene with Buscemi and found a more poetic way to stitch together the stuff with Enid and the bus bench. But that’s a minor complaint in the face of a really magnificent film that’s got more brains, heart, and humor than anything else out so far this year.

The Others

I think I reviewed this guy’s previous film, Open Your Eyes, which I quite liked. This one is even better. Nicole Kidman is really amazing as a woman living in a Victorian mansion with her two children on an English Channel island. A trio of servants comes to work for them, and strange hauntings ensue. The film is creepy and beautifully shot, and while I singled out Kidman for praise, the truth is the whole cast is just superb. Really, it’s a marvelous piece of work and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Well, that’s this dispatch from Revland. Hopefully I’ll get a new power cable next week and return to these in earnest.