Thursday, September 25, 2008

Movies: Lakeview Terrace and Ghost Town

Last weekend, I caught both Lakeview Terrace and Ghost Town in the theatre, which is admittedly a diverse bill, but it helps to see Terrace first and Town second to inject a little levity after the downer of Terrace.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy Lakeview Terrace, I did, but it was a complicated kind of enjoyment. Samuel L. Jackson’s cracked cop isn’t the enjoyable kind of insanity to watch, it’s uncomfortably realistic in a few places. The movie sits in the awkward area between thriller and political commentary. It’s difficult to enjoy it as a pure thriller because of the inclusion of Abel’s two children. it’s hard to sit back and enjoy the unfolding pathos when you’re reminded constantly that these two children will have to live with the horrible consequences of the film’s climax. And while the film does aspire to some interesting political commentary on mixed marriages and racial politics, it’s oddly one-sided. We’re only shown reactions from the black community, never the white. Mixed-race couples often face derision from both sides, and the movie feels incomplete – almost unfair – just commenting on the one side. It’s also interesting to note that the television spots for the movie all seemed to dodge the racial issue entirely, making Lakeview Terrace out to be a standard Cape Fearish stalker yarn.

The repeating imagery of encroaching California wildfires work well as a visual reflection of the plot’s increasing tension, though it lacks subtlety. But it’s nice to see any kind of repeating imagery in a movie these days, it seems to be a fading technique.

Overall, my quibbles with Terrace are small. I enjoyed the movie, the script was tight and the cast was superb. I firmly support any endeavor that puts Ron Glass on the screen. I like that it’s not just about one thing. Race issues, crazy psycho neighbor from hell, and even some baby boomer baby angst are thrown into the mix, but it all felt organic and cohesive. Lakeview Terrace won’t change the world, but it’s a pleasant film diversion for a cooling September night.

And speaking of pleasant diversion films that aren’t breaking any old molds, there’s Ghost Town. There’s not much we haven’t seen before, of course. The “misanthrope grows as a person by (being cajoled into) helping other wayward souls” story is as creaky and dead a premise as the ghosts haunting Town, but Ricky Gervais injects it with new life thanks to his offbeat, and endearingly off-putting, brand of humor.

Ghost Town is really funny. Really, really funny in quite a few places, with humor that’s completely unexpected. I remember there were a few times when I thought I knew where a joke was going, and it instead took a totally unanticipated turn into weirder, funnier territory. It’s got a great deal of heart as well, with some nice emotional stuff that had me and my friend sniffling in the theatre. It’s definitely a Must See, though it can probably wait for Netflix. Ghost Town succeeds purely because of the cast, who keep this from being the movie we’ve all seen before. Téa Leoni and Greg Kinnear are fantastic, and of course Ricky Gervais is a marvel. At the outset, he’s a self-centered, self-loathing little black raincloud, and when he does start trying to act the part of human being, he gets to put to use all those awkward tics he perfect in The Office. EW did a great article on him that's a fun read, and between Ghost Town and his hilarious bit on the Emmys, one of the highlights of the program, I hope audiences on this side of the pond will start giving this Brit his due.

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