Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

I know what you're thinking - that either this is a somewhat late tribute to the late Ray Bradbury or a surprisingly quick one, considering that I saw it on 35mm at a local venue. Actually, it's neither - the Harvard Film Archive ran a series of Jack Clayton films last weekend, and while I hoped to get to more than just this, it didn't quite work out. I suspect that a lot of places have been trying to book the print that the HFA got for this in the last few weeks, as it's not quite the only big-screen work he did, but the one which is most "his", from conception to screenplay.

But, since this series was about Clayton, it was followed not by another Bradbury story, but by Clayton's first short film as a director, "The Bespoke Overcoat". And, I've got to admit... It kind of knocked me out; after a thrilling finale with impressive visuals, a talky short film based on a Nikolai Gogol short story featuring a pair of Old Jewish Guys was not what my brain was calibrated for. It started off fairly interesting, but took a lot of it's half-hour running time to get somewhere.

Ah, well. Even if the intent was a tribute to Clayton, I was there for the Bradbury element, even if Bradbury has never exactly been my favorite of the "Golden Age" science-fiction authors. I tend to be an Astounding/Analog type guy, while Bradbury is sort of a Fantasy & Science Fiction author, loving all the technical/"hard" stuff that many of the appreciations of Ray Bradbury to be written over the past few weeks have praised him for treating as as rather secondary concerns. Still, I remember checking a book of his short stories out of the library in high school - a massive tome, collecting what seemed like all of them in chronological order - and even if it wasn't exactly what I was expecting and hoping for, the actual writing tended to be fantastic.

I'll miss him. Not like I miss Isaac Asimov, sure, but a whole lot. The man was unquestionably a titan.

(Wait, Disney's DVD is pan-and-scan and Anchor Bay's is out of print? That is some bull-crap! Get a nice new Blu-ray out now!)

Something Wicked This Way Comes

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2012 in the Harvard Film Archive (Jack Clayton, Between Innocence and Experience, 35mm)

It's been argued that one of the unplanned side-effects of the PG-13 rating is that it more or less put the kibosh on movies like Something Wicked This Way Comes; it's become such a hard target to hit that the last non-Harry Potter movie that tried to give kids an honest scare - the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - got slapped with an R rating (Super 8 was less targeted to kids than the parents who remembered its ilk). 'Tis a shame, for while Something Wicked isn't perfect, it tingles the spine nicely.

It starts, as these movies often do, with two young boys in a small town. Will Halloway (Vidal Peterson) is the bespectacled son of librarian Charles (Jason Robards), while Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson) is being raised by a single mother (Diane Ladd), his father having quite town years ago. They get into mischief - in this early part of the twentieth century, boys were allowed and expected to do so - but are generally good kids. This autumn, a carinval has come to town, which is odd (carnivals are summer events), but their snooping soon suggests that Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), the proprietor, is up to something unusually sinister - but who will believe the wild stories of two kids?

Not that they'd necessarily be able to explain it, even after everything went down. Whether it occurred while penning the original novel or while adapting it into a screenplay, writer Ray Bradbury leaves a great deal of Mr. Dark's motivation and mythology to be inferred. A great number of eerie, creepy, and downright chilling things happen, but as was often his wont, Bradbury focused less on explanation and the mechanics of the plot than he did on emotion and broad themes. In this case, everything is about how wallowing in disappointment and regret is self-destructive, and if you can't explain just what the deal is with the Dust Witch (Pam Grier) that way, well, that's too bad.

Full review at EFC.

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