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Moriarty on APT PUPIL and VAMPIRES!!

Published at: July 6, 1998, midnight CST by staff

Here Moriarty takes a gander at APT PUPIL and VAMPIRES, and all I can say is he's right on both accounts. But then would you expect any different from a criminal genius such as he? I didn't think so...

"Moriarty" here.

Hey, Head Geek...

I was just warming up my weather control machine (Sir August De Winter gave me some great pointers on it) and preparing to smite Sony for their ongoing shabby treatment of their FX team when they dispatched a special team of executives to plead for mercy.

I showed them into my inner sanctum, where they found themselves surrounded by my special Rottweiler guards, half men/half dog hybrids that could stop an elephant stampede. I lambasted them heatedly for the mass firings they've been indulging in (over 60 artists gone in the last month), and I was in the midst of nailing them over the fact that they're about to lose Ken Ralston (he's leaving as soon as his contract is up), when I had to pause for a breath. Knowing they were in deep, they produced prints of APT PUPIL, Bryan Singer's next film, as well as John Carpenter's VAMPIRES, and asked me to view them before making any final decisions.

Despite the fact that Sony can't really take credit for either film (APT PUPIL was produced by Phoenix, and Largo made VAMPIRES, which Sony just distributing both), I was curious enough to grant their request, and I immediately summoned five of my friends for a screening of both, starting with the newest entry in the Stephen King Cinematic Sweepstakes. Will it suck, or will it be great? I know that I was hoping for this one to work, based on my enjoyment of both USUAL SUSPECTS and the original novella.

Well, Harry, I wasn't prepared for how good the movie would be. It's great. It's superb. It's very, very, very sick, but it's superb. I can predict with confidence that between this and GODS AND MONSTERS, Ian McKellan is a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actor nomination next year. He's perfect as Mr. Dussander. Brad Renfro as Todd Bowden is a bit of a revelation here. He's got a real heavy young John Cusack vibe in this picture. He's really starting to look and sound like him.

I've read the novel, and was impressed with how tasteful the first half of the film was as an adaptation. Kudos to Brandon Boyce for really cracking this one. Adapting King is harder than it looks, but this guy really got it right. What surprised me is how radically different the second half of the film was than the book, and how much better it is for the changes. Singer and Boyce have woven a nasty, powerful little portrait of evil here. This is the real thing, black, heartless evil, close up and personal. It's far more subtle a portrait than the novella, but more affecting because of it. I was genuinely unnerved by this film's ending. I won't even hint at it, because I loved not knowing where I was going to end up.

Singer's work is even more confident here than in USUAL SUSPECTS, which is skilled, but still very flashy, show-offy. He vanishes into this film, simply guiding it with a strong, cinematic sense. Special note must be made of the outstanding work by editor/score composer John Ottman, who has crafted a fantastic film score here and done a bang-up job of cutting the movie. I would compare his work here to some of the work done in Kubrick's pictures. In fact, this strikes me as a very Kubrickean picture overall. There's the same kind of sick intelligence at work here.

I will warn now that fans of the novella may be disappointed by the film since Singer's adaptation is faithful in spirit but not in text. He's radically reimagined the ending, and there's some visceral kick that's missing. Some people will miss this kick, and it will ruin the film for them. As Frank Darabont said, "They let the cat out of the oven." This film isn't about physical violence as much as the kind of horrible social violence that Dussander's lessons impart.

I'd go into specific moments that I loved, but I don't want to ruin them. I will say that Elias Koteas, who does memorable work here, should play Wolverine for Singer. I hope they had a good experience here. Koteas was born for the role. I thought David Schwimmer did work that was surprisingly good. He really makes the most of his small role.

I know this one comes out late this year. I'm hoping critics really take it to heart and get audiences to see what will be one of the trickier sells of the year. Still, SE7EN found its audience, and was the last film I thought was this unrelentingly vicious. It could pay off and turn into a hit.

John Carpenter's VAMPIRES is a film that I've been equally excited about, if for very different reasons. Carpenter's the first person who ever allowed little baby genius Moriarty onto a film set, the first person who ever took the time to try and explain what a director does. Since that great afternoon way back on STARMAN, I've been a big fan (not that I wasn't before). With John's recent string of less-than-great movies, it was becoming harder and harder to work up enthusiasm for each new release. Well, VAMPIRES may be the antidote to that, since it's a really fun, nasty, dirty little flick that delivers the goods in almost every department.

James Woods is Jack Crow, of course, and he is suitably grizzled here. This is the Kurt Russell role, and if you know your Carpenter, you have a good idea what kind of guy Jack Crow is. He's genuinely sociopathic, and he's willing to do anything it takes to accomplish his goals, with no regard for who might get hurt in the process. His attitude (and the film's) towards the Church in Rome is pretty ballsy, if underplayed. This is definitely not going to be THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR's best film of the year.

His team is etched effectively, considering the size of their role in the picture. It's only Daniel Baldwin who really needs to count, and I found that he was the weak link in the picture. Sheryl Lee is great, feral and sexy and sleazy and burned-out all at once. There's a great wasted quality to her here, and she gives a better-than-average genre performance. It's almost like Carpenter didn't tell her she was in a movie called VAMPIRES.

I like the way the gore is used in the film. It's not excessive, but it's memorable. I'd actually be surprised if they had to lose anything to get their R. It's all so fantastic and non-reality based that they stand a good chance of getting it past the MPAA.

Thomas Ian Griffith, who I know primarily as an indicator that I should turn HBO off at 2:30 in the morning, is well-cast as The Master here, and might actually have a shot at being in some real movies again after people see this.

Overall, I like the simplicity of the picture, and I appreciate the almost intimate scale of the thing. I just wish Largo had kicked loose some extra money for the end of the movie. Not since DESPERADO has such a cool film ended so anti-climactically. If Carpenter was allowed to go in and redress that ending, this film could have really ferocious box-office legs. As it stands now, it'll be a great cult item that will have a couple of lively weeks this fall. It could also be just the thing to kickstart Carpenter's career again.

It is for the sake of these two films that I have decided to spare Sony my wrath. Well, them and ZORRO, which I am going to go on record and call "the best Batman movie ever made!!" However, if I find out they're going to let Demmerich make SPIDERMAN or the new James Bond film, all bets are off. Until then...

"Moriarity" out.

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