Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cigarette Burns

Apparently, it's pick on Moriarty week here, which is too bad, because I like Drew. I met him a few years ago and he's a smart, funny guy.

Unfortunately, the script he wrote with Scott Swan for Masters of Horror is an abomination.

Maybe I'm getting curmudgeonly. I certainly was surprised to hate King Kong, but then I enjoyed Luigi Bazzoni's The Fifth Cord , so I'm not yet unable to enjoy movies.

There is very little in John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns to warrant praise. The one thing worthy of praise is Udo Kier.

Strangely, this episode got solid, occasionally even glowing, reviews from the horror press, so clearly I'm out of step. But as a big fan of John Carpenter, not even one who excludes his newer movies from the ones I love, I found this easily the worst thing I've seen by him, replacing either Christine or Village of the Damned.

This was filled with so many holes in logic, I don't even know where to begin.

Ok, well, let's try from the beginning. Our hero is led into a room featuring an imprisoned and mutilated angel and reacts to it with less surprise and revulsion than most people would a marble statue of a dog puking. He then takes on the job of finding a one of a kind movie that the client has been in search of for decades, for a mere $200,000, the exact amount of money he owes his late girlfriend's father.

He goes back to the movie theater he owns and discusses his projectionist's habit of cutting one of the "cigarette burn" reel markers from movies. This leads to one of these irresponsible conversations where people who know about movies make a movie about people who are supposed to know about movies and state wrong information about movies casually. The projectionist explains that the "cigarette burn" reel markers mean "something's about to happen" and he cuts one frame of them out because then you have "chaos". Ok, the "cigarette burn" reel markers last more than one frame. They don't mean anything in particular interesting is about to happen, merely that the reel is about to change. And if you cut them out, you don't get "chaos", you get a very specific, predicable reaction of the reel running out and the film stopping. Not one word of it even resembles the truth.

Then we learn about one of his two "obsessions", his junkie girlfriend who killed herself and her father who they borrowed money from to buy the theater he runs. They went to him to borrow money in complete junked-out disrepair, having not bathed or taken a small maintenance dose or anything that all but the lowest street junkie would have been able to do, certainly not people trying to build themselves and a movie theater into something.

He then goes to meet a reclusive film critic in a house filled with reams of paper that he manages, with almost no reason, to guess is one single review. Then he goes to the French Film Commission and talks to someone who is supposed to be an old friend, but whose hand he has apparently never seen. His friend then forgets which of them had described the image of a "cigarette burn" less than a minute previous. Mind you, the image above is what the supposed "cigarette burns" look like, a much more distracting image than anything I've ever seen mark the reel in a movie I've seen.

I've spoiled about half the story there and I won't spoil the rest, except to say that he is supposed to become "obsessed" with finding the film, but it splits its time with his "obsession" with the dead girlfriend so never takes any overwhelming power. He is the expert on finding lost films, but never does anything or suggests any insight that even the lowliest amateur who'd never seen a movie in their life would have brought to their quest for a lost film.

In fact, despite some threats and a brief scene of violence - involving a mysterious billow of smoke that was only visible from one direction - his quest is so remarkably and anti-climactically easy that it's impossible to believe his decades obsessed client - who had found the angel from the movie, ferchrissake! - couldn't have done the same himself. This is, in fact, the biggest flaw of the episode is this lack of a story. The writers and director demonstrate no interest at all in search itself, even though that's what most of the running time is dedicated to. The movie is conceived without any real story in the big, fat, juicy middle section there.

Mind you, after paragraphs explaining how poorly conceived this whole affair is - and I haven't even covered the completely wooden and obsession-free performance by the usually reliable Norman Reedus - and I'm still this close to recommending it on the basis of Udo Kier's performance and his ultimate reaction to seeing the film.

This close.

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