Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Shirt

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Rite of passage: today I finally got---wait for it---the shirt. My official Megamovies T-shirt. No longer can I be considered a trainee now that I have the shirt, hehe.

Fitting, I guess, that I get it on this, the first Saturday evening I've worked, I believe. At the very least, it was the first time I flew solo in dealing with long lines, without having someone look over my shoulder and without me having to look over another's shoulder. I think I managed okay for the most part. It's really not that bad; as long as you don't get intimidated by the long lines, it's a cinch, really.

The thing is, of course: how long am I going to be needing the shirt, really? If I don't plan to work past the end of August, I'd be wearing the shirt for only about a little over a month.


My evening shift didn't exactly start out well, though. I was a little late; I tried to take a nap before work, but I woke up at exactly 5 p.m. and had to rush out of the house even as my brain was still trying to wake up. And, to make things worse, it started pouring out when I tried to get to my car to go to work. Whenever I wake up under such circumstances, I tend to feel rather aggressive, so I met this onslaught of rain with loud cries of "Shit!"


I wasn't planning to see Monster House (*** out of ****) today. This weekend I was actually planning to see either M. Night Shyamalan's new opus Lady in the Water or Kevin Smith's Clerks II. A friend of mine, however, expressed interest in Monster House---probably because the movie seems like it could be a Best Animated Picture Oscar contender, and he's really into Oscar stuff. Initially I resisted, but I noticed that it got some decent reviews from some of my favorite film critics---A.O. Scott of the New York Times seemed to like it a lot; so did David Edelstein, he of New York magazine. So I figured, eh, why not? It's not like I have to pay for a ticket anyway, since I went to see it at Megamovies. Huge perk for being an employee, heh. (My friend was able to get in for free too. See, this is the kind of connection I'd ideally like to maintain even during the school year.)

As it turns out, Monster House is actually not that bad. First good thing I noticed was the animation: it uses the same motion capture technology that Robert Zemeckis---who served as co-executive producer of this film with Steven Spielberg---used to so-so effect in The Polar Express a couple of years ago, and it actually seemed to work a little better here than it did in Polar Express. In the latter, the human characters seemed just a little lifeless and dead; here, the motion capture technology was able to capture nuances of facial expressions to startlingly convincing degrees.

But maybe it just seems that way because Monster House has such a snappy script, certainly much livelier than the silly power-of-belief-in-Santa-Claus solemnities of The Polar Express. What I found admirable in the film is that it actually seems to show an acute ear for how kids talk: the script---by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler, from a story by Harmon and Schrab---dares to treat the children in the film as innocent yet intelligent people. And while a few of the adult characters are treated in the typical kids-movie manner---characterized as overly strict, misunderstanding, or just plain scary---the characterizations of the adults are also handled with intelligence and sensitivity. One of them---Mr. Nebbercracker, the owner of the haunted house of the title---turns out to be a rather touching figure with a moving little backstory to explain how he and the house are related. Nebbercracker is played by Steve Buscemi in the film, and he's so effective---mining a similar kind of pathos that made his performances in films like Trees Lounge and Ghost World so memorable---that I almost wish that the film had focused a bit more on him instead of on the three kids.

Of course the film has to end in a noisy big-bang climax. In spite of its title and its Halloween setting, Monster House is meant to be more of a thrill ride scare picture rather than a straight-up horror movie. (It might make for a good amusement park attraction someday---if, of course, it hasn't already been turned into one.) On that level, it basically works. But the many flashes of wit, sensitivity and humor make it certainly a lot more fun than the other current big-budget special-effects blockbuster, Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

Is there a point to Monster House? I guess it's meant to express childlike fears of the unknown as well as suspicion or plain annoyance of authority figures (parents, babysitters, two bumbling cops played by Kevin James and Nick Cannon). But then, that's what a lot of kiddie movies do. I guess what I like about Monster House is that it doesn't beat you over the head with any kind of valuable "life lesson" or anything. The three kid characters don't necessarily grow in some deep way, although they perhaps do realize the onset of their puberty, and two of them do try to at least retain a hint of their old child habits by deciding to go trick-or-treating in the end, after saying to themselves "I'm getting too old for it." Both this and The Polar Express---not to mention that old classic of innocence, Peter Pan---seem to suggest that hey, it's not all that bad holding onto your inner child.

One last thing that struck me (spoiler warning): the "monster house" is eventually revealed to be possessed by the spirit of Mr. Nebbercracker's beloved wife, a fat woman named Constance whom Nebbercracker discovered at a sideshow and decided to set free. I dunno: how many other big-budget, high-profile movies have you seen that have dared to include a romance with an old guy and a fat woman---both usually considered the essence of "ugliness" in crowd-pleasing Hollywood terms---as part of its story, and, furthermore, taken that romance seriously? For me, that was probably the most touching thing of all.

No comments: