The first was Van Helsing. I didn't want to see it, but verticale was clinging desperately to the idea that it might have been a half-decent flick. So along I went. Turns out that it was pretty fucking horrible.
Van Helsing is a cornucopia of themes based on modern occult literature and sensabilities (Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Wolf Man, etc.), wadded together without any respect toward the original works. The writer/director seems to believe that the Gothic tone of the movie is set by the very incorporation of these elements -- it isn't, and the movie is without any sort of ambiance or emotion. There's a storyline buried in there somewhere, but it's lost in the din of non-stop action and the roar of battle. The entire move is a dozen or so (very long) action sequences with five minute respites in between where the so-called "plot" is hurriedly and desperately untangled, usually by means of a character yelling over loud noises or mumbling to themselves. There are three epilogues proceeding the actual subject matter of the movie, but they confuse the movie by bogging it down in a needlessly complicated -- yet horribly simple -- story that goes nowhere. The movie could do with half the action sequences, each of which are twice as long as need be. By the end of the movie, it's played every tired old "action movie" trick in the book, all of which lead up to the invariably cliche face off with the arch villain -- in which hero and villain pound the crap out of each other to the brink of death until Van Helsing barely pulls it out of his ass and saves the day.
Interesting to note, however: Hollywood is a plastic world. It delivers plastic writing; unrealistic scripts with unrealistic characters in unrealistic environments acting in unrealistic ways. It's fitting that Hollywood has now perfected the plastic, unrealistic look. In Van Helsing, you can count the number of non-CG scenes on one hand. The way the camera's always angled to get the "coolest" and most impossible shot of the over-done and perfectly articulated CG monsters and environs kills any atmosphere in this movie.
The second movie we saw was Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, which is a lot better than I would have given it credit. Part of me thinks it might have been a comedy, or a romantic comedy, or a head-fuck flick, or even a thriller in some ways. It was all of these things. I agree with David and Margaret from The Movie Show, who agreed that the movie was a little bit shallow, while trying to present itself as a cerebral affair. We saw it with my folks, and my elderly dad (well, 65) said he had trouble keeping up -- alhough he also admitted getting confused when watching Groundhog Day. Kinda an odd link, because Eternal Sunshine got in my head and started playing tricks like Groundhog Day did the one time I saw it. All of a sudden I feel like I've forgotten about some past love with sexy tight jeans, a baggy jumper and oddly coloured hair.
Ultimately it's a very sad movie. I walked out feeling like I'd lost something, or that I at least knew how it felt to lose something. That should probably the benchmark of a good movie, but the emotional response I felt was no different to a day time soap tear-jerker. It's a little but too easy to remind an audience of past loves lost -- really, all Eternal Sunshine did was pick at peoples scabs so that their emotional wounds came undone a little. That's an easy target.
But at least it wasn't obnoxious about it. Rather than slap you upside the head with emotions, it gets you intimate with it's characters, then tears that world apart (not in that order.) Elephant did a similair thing -- but it was smarter, and I think you learnt a thing or two as a result.