LAFF 2007: Just Joshin'

If you’re going to talk during a movie, really do it. I’m talking like they do at the Magic Johnson theater. Yell out something like, “Oh no you didn’t!” or “Bitch, don’t go in there!” That can be fun.

DON’T sit down beside me, and spend the movie murmuring stuff just loudly enough to annoy me, especially if your observations are such gems as, “He did something to her,” or “I like the score.” Thanks, dummy, we were all on pins and needles wondering if some random jerk thinks the music is effective. This was the guy to the right of me during the screening of JOSHUA; I told him to shut up, and that lasted maybe 30 minutes. To my left, my lovely companion, and to the left of her, a bald Persian dude who complained about her text messaging (which is fair game to complain about) only to engage a running commentary throughout, at one point even kinda dancing in his seat, or something.

None of this would have been a problem if the festival people had simply let us sit where we wanted to sit, but even though the theater was maybe half-full at best, they still had to herd us into little designated areas just so the volunteers “can keep track.” I opted to forego the critics’ row near the very back, and apparently therefore got the “Obnoxious a-holes who imagine they’re hot shit just because they purchased a Film Independent membership” row.

(Film Independent is a fine organization that does a great job with the festival...just so we’re clear. But joining them doesn’t automatically make you cool.)

As for the movie -- why is it so hard to make a scary flick about evil kids these days? The Omen remake was pretty hilarious, and Joshua is ridiculous, though they are apparently attempting to re-position it as a “black comedy,” despite the fact that it was conceived as straight horror. We call this the Tommy Wiseau strategy. (Congratulate yourself if you get that reference; rent The Room on DVD if you don’t.)

Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga, acting gods both (I’m not being sarcastic on that point), play a rich New York couple who have just had a baby girl. Sam works one of those generic movie suit-and-tie jobs where he gets on the phone and says stuff like, “Ten million’s the minimum,” without ever really being clear about what exactly it’s the minimum for, or why. That and he plays squash, which seems to be the game of choice for NY rich guys in movies, maybe because golf courses are scarce in midtown.

The new baby is their second kid -- the first is a piano-playing prodigy named Joshua who, right about the time the movie begins, suddenly and secretly turns evil for no reason. Conveniently, mommy has a history of mental illness and postpartum depression, so Joshua can play mind games on her and people will believe him. Oddly enough, we know mom has that crazy history because they actually keeps home movies of her freaking out and being nuts back in the day. This family’s home movie collection is odd in more ways than one -- later in the movie, Joshua actually records hard evidence of his own misdeeds on the end of a family tape, and dad sees it, but doesn’t bother to save it or show it to anybody! Then again, this is a family that has a painting of a giant straight-razor hanging in the living room.

You might think to yourself that this is an intentional comedy, especially when Michael McKean shows up, or when Joshua offers a homeless guy $5 to have a rock thrown at him. Could be, but there are too many boring bits to truly recommend it for laughs. “Scares” tend to be of the “Let me leave the large refrigerator door open, and then when I shut it I’ll be surprised to see someone standing right there” variety. Farmiga, bless her, does her best to look ugly and crazy, even while doing her obligatory bare-breast scenes (which in this film involve lactation pumps -- insert your own joke about milking her performance dry here), and gets really weird a time or two, as in one scene where she cuts her foot and tries to paint red boots on her legs using the blood. Seriously.

The director of the film is George Ratliff, who did the documentary Hell House, so of course he can’t resist giving Joshua a grandma who’s a crazy fundie Pentacostalist that says things to Sam like “You’ve been playing city long enough.” Too bad for her Joshua isn’t Damien, and therefore isn’t scared of churches or baptism. He’s the type who’ll get baptized just to piss off his parents. But without spoiling the ending, his big master plan is pretty fucking stupid, and inexplicable to boot.

I love Sam and Vera, but Ratliff doesn’t know what to do with them.

In other news involving horror movies that aren’t scary, Russia apparently hasn’t yet received the news that the “J-horror” films as a trend are over, hence DEAD DAUGHTERS, a rip-off of The Ring/Ringu in which the ghosts of three drowned girls will kill you three days after you encounter their last victim, but you’ll be spared as long as you don’t commit any evil or wrong acts, though the parameters for such are unclear, and about two-thirds of the way through the film we’re told that the girls like to cheat and break their own rules anyway, so it’s all pretty random, though beautifully shot by Fedor Lyass. Writer-director Pavel Luminov gave an amusing, rambling, broken-English-on-meth introduction, so I wanted to like his movie, but, well, blah. Oh, and there’s a Hollywood remake in the works, because a remake of a ripoff of a dead trend is just what we need.


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