Hippo Manchester
October 20, 2005

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The Fog (PG-13)
by Amy Diaz

An evil fog comes on little cat feet and then turns a bunch of townsfolk to smoldering skeletons in The Fog, a remake of the 1980 film by John Carpenter.

Actually, apologies to Mr. Sandburg, this fog isn’t so much tentative kitten as it is pack of hungry feral cats. The fog in question is a CGI haze that comes charging up on Antonio Island, a cozy-creepy little town somewhere on the northwestern coast. The island may be small but it has all sorts of fun amenities, including a radio station run by the local easy-girl Stevie (Selma Blair), a himbo in the form of fisherman Nick (Tom Welling) and an impending celebration lionizing the town forefathers. Nick’s skittish sometimes-girlfriend Elizabeth (Maggie Grace) shows up to round out the cast of recognizable characters and then night falls and the fog shows up. First it terrorizes a few drunk kids on a boat, killing everyone but the black kid, who is instantly a murder suspect even though it’s pretty obvious he was in no condition to commit the crimes (it’s so amazingly cliché I was actually shocked the movie didn’t mock it). Then other people start to die. Which people? Ah, don’t try to remember, everyone who dies early is expendable — the main cast members, especially the girls, are terrified by strange noises and happenings many times before any serious threats are made on their lives. (The rule of this kind of movie is that at least one of the girls has to conduct a prolonged investigation of a suspicious sound in her underwear before she can be eligible for death.)

There is, of course, backstory to the fog. Its more corporeal aspects seem to suggest seafaring folk of 100 years earlier are some way connected to the evil it visits upon the island folk. But, history lesson aside, the nemesis in this movie is, essentially, water vapor. Ooo, spooky.

Forget the questions of acting, plot or dialogue — this sort of movie rises or falls on its ability to give you the wiggins. If a movie of this caliber can do that, its inability to succeed by any regular movie standards (the aforementioned plot, believability, etc.) becomes less important. It’s only when a cheap horror movie fails to give you any cheap thrills that the rest of its failures become so evident. Unfortunately for The Fog, it is wiggins-free. 

Everything Is Illuminated (PG-13)

Elijah Wood stakes his claim as go-to oddball in this story of an American boy looking for his grandfather’s Ukrainian past in Everything Is Illuminated, a movie that marks Liev Schreiber’s directing debut.

I mention the Schreiber factor both to excuse some showiness in the direction — look, creative framing — and because I’m a fan of Schreiber’s even though he is perhaps best known for horror such as his bit part in the Scream movies and his supporting role in Manchurian Candidate. He turned in a decadent Orson Welles in RKO 281 and a damn fine Laertes in an otherwise silly Hamlet and he’s been barrels of entertainment in an assortment of indie movies.

Wood, in many ways, channels parts of Schreiber in his quiet performance. Jonathan Safran Foer (Wood, playing the book’s author and main character) wears round glasses that make his eyes seem to pop out of his head. He seems to watch the world with owl-like intensity and keeps what he sees close to him via his collection — a room full of small artifacts most of which have some connection to his family. When his grandmother dies, he gets only his second artifact of his grandfather’s life — a photo of his grandfather with a woman named Augustine in his hometown in the Ukraine before World War II. With that photo and a pendant featuring a cricket in amber, Foer heads to the Ukraine to find the town and perhaps even the woman, without whom, according to family legend, his grandfather would never have escaped the Nazis.

Once he arrives in Odessa, Foer hooks up with a “translator” named Alex (Eugene Hutz) and his grandfather (Boris Leskin), who despite claiming to be blind will serve as Foer’s driver and tour guide. Alex’s grasp of English is extremely shaky (though his grasp of American music and hip-hop culture is fairly good) and he speaks to Foer in a combination of slang and absurdly formal language. (No one sleeps, they are in repose.) Together, the three search the countryside for a town — Foer short of shocked into silence by the foreignness of it all, the grandfather harboring dark sentiments and even darker memories of his own and Alex excited to glean from Foer any bit of Americana that he can.

It is not easy to make a movie that touches the Holocaust and contains believable uplift. Not easy and perhaps not advisable, as hipster-geek coming-of-age stuff seems a little too frothy to pair with the unfathomable horror that is the death of millions of people and destruction of the daily lives of millions more. I must guiltily admit, however, that I enjoyed not only the darker moments of Everything Is Illuminated but also the moments that are perhaps a little too cavalier with the country’s bleak history. There is something soothing and sort of sweet about generational confusion and mystery and about attempting to understand the past via the small relics Foer collects. The movie is pretty and, without being precious, very delicate in the way it builds its story and its characters.

Ultimately everything is not illuminated so much as it is shown the hazy sepia of memory but even when the movie overshoots its abilities it creates a nice warm glow in the dark theater.