Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Ghost Town' deserves more box office receipts!

Ghost Town (2008)
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear
Director: David Koepp
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

After misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus (Gervais) dies during an operation and is brought back to life, he gains the ability to see and speak to the spirits of the dead. One of them (Kinnear) badgers Pincus into breaking up his widow's new relationship because he fears she is marrying a gold digger. In the process, Pincus finds himself falling in love with the widow (Leoni) and finally starts living life. But can love find a way when the spirits of the dead are being pests?

"Ghost Town" is a touching film about living life when we can and recognizing love and taking advantage of it when it comes our way. It delivers its messages in quirky and very oblique ways, with the love between Pincus and the widow first starting to bloom over the mummified remains of an Egyptian prince and Greg Kinnear's character only discovering how truly to love after he's already dead.

Although it deals with weighty subjects, the film keeps a breezy pace and an upbeat atmosphere throughout, an atmosphere that's enhanced by the inherent charm possessed by and on-screen chemistry generated by the the film's three stars--Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear and Tea Leoni.

Gervais and Kinnear play characters who aren't terribly likable, yet the charm of the actors is such that the audience spends the film wanting them to reform their ways and find the happiness they both need. It is also infused with humor that ranges from subtle to borderline slapstick, with every single scene offering something that will at the very least have you smiling but more often than not have you chuckling or laughing loudly. (Even the tagline brought a grin to my face: "He sees dead people... and they annoy him." It's funny and it's also a perfect summary of the movie!)

If you're a lover of ghost movies, the film is also worth checking out due to its unusual ideas for what causes hauntings. Given the last ghost movie I saw from David Koepp--"Stir of Echoes" (click here to read my review)--was pretty traditional, it was a pleasant surprise to see something fresh and original here, a twist in keeping with the overall themes of the story but still one that comes as a surprise.

"Ghost Town" had an undeservedly weak opening weekend, debuting in 8th place in the US box office. I recommend you check it out before it's gone. (That recommendation goes twice if you've complained about the lack of good, well-crafted and intelligent movies in the the theaters recently. If you don't support the good movies with your dollars, we're just going to see more and more crap showing up on the big screen.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

UFOs, mysticism clash in 'Black Harvest'

Black Harvest (2007)
Story and Art: Josh Howard
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

An investigative journalist (for a blog) comes to a small Texas town to witness an annual display of lights in the skies that have elevated the area to a Roswell-like reverence among UFO enthusiasts. When he almost runs over a young woman in the road--a young woman who vanished without a trace three years ago and now has returned under equally mysterious circumstances--he finds himself tangled in a web of treachery, deceit and unholy bargains where the payment is coming due.

"Black Harvest" is an excellent graphic novel from the pen of writer/artist Josh Howard, the creator of the zombie series "Dead@17" and "The Lost Books of Eve". Like those other works, this book incorporates touches of Christianity (although less than "Dead@17" and far less than "The Lost Books of Eve") into a creepy tale that will remind you of "The X-Files" television series at its best.

Howard continues to refine both his writing and artwork since the debut of "Dead@17" and here he delivers a perfectly paced story where he creates a dark world where aliens, supernatural horrors, secret socieites and dark secrets can and will consume entire communities. Howard's story is sharpened by skillfully written dialogue that gives each character a unique voice and personality, bringing them fully to life and making us care about their fates.

Unfortunately, while Howard does a fabulous job at building tension and juggling several mysteries, midirections and disparate elements that would clash and create a jumbled sloppy mess in the hands of a lesser creator (like what happened with "The X-Files" at its worst), he doesn't quite manage to deliver a finale that's worthy of the build-up. The end of the book is a disappointment and something of a cop-out. I was left asking myself "That's all?", but not in the way that had me wondering if there was going to be a "Black Harvest 2".

The weak ending aside, "Black Harvest" is a well-written, well-drawn book that will be an enjoyable read for anyone who likes a little dark conspiracy and strange beings from beyond with their horror fiction.