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Films I Neglected To Review: ''Don't Go Into The Woods!"
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "California Typewriter," "Gerald's Game" and "Woodshock."

When I turned 7 years old, my birthday bounty included a kid-sized but fully operational typewriter, a gift that might not have gone over well with a lot of kids that age but which I would still consider one of my all-time favorite gifts. From that, I taught myself to type (when I took a required typing class in high school, I was by far the fastest in my class but the teacher still sent home a failure notice because my feet and fingers weren't properly situated--echoes from the subsequent bellows of my mother towards said teacher can still be heard to this day) and then moved on to an old Royal Underwood and a couple of electric typewriters before I was all but forced to make the switch to word processors and computers. Obviously, typewriters are now impractical for what I do for a living but there is still a part of me that can't help but wish that there was some way that I could somehow shift back to a typewriter, if only for the satisfying ''CLACK'' whenever a key hit the paper.

I mention all of this to show that there is virtually no way that I can give a fully unbiased review to ''California Typewriter,'' a charming new documentary from Doug Nichol that looks at a group of amiable obsessives who still feel a powerful connection with typewriters despite the technological advancements of the last few decades. The subjects range from famous faces like Tom Hanks (because of course), Jack White and the late Sam Shepard to ordinary people who still use, buy and sell the old machines and as they talk, you can hear a genuine love and excitement that you never quite get from someone talking about their cell phone. Admittedly, those who have never used a typewriter before may not quite understand the fascination but others will come away from it with a cheerful sense of nostalgia for an era that is not quite as gone as some might think (hey, vinyl records came back) and, at least in my case, and a powerful urge to dig their own old typewriters out of the basement and try to clean them up and get them working again.

The last few weeks have seen a mini-renaissance of films based on the works of Stephen King with the recent releases of the disastrous ''The Dark Tower'' and the uneven redo of ''It.'' Now comes ''Gerald's Game,'' an adaptation of his 1992 novel that is premiering on Netflix--a shame because it proves to be a far better film than either of its immediate predecessors. Carla Gugino stars as Jessie, a pampered and seemingly happy woman who has gone off with her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), to their remote lakeside hideaway for a romantic getaway. Gerald has the bright idea of spicing things up between them with a sex game involving him handcuffing Jessie to the bed but she is not especially into it and in the ensuing squabble, he has a heart attack and drops dead at the foot of the bed, leaving her still cuffed to the bed. With no hope of anyone happening by other than a stray dog who quickly begins snacking on Gerald's corpse, Jessie, helped and hindered by the voices in her head, tries to figure out a way out of her seemingly inescapable plight but to do that requires her to finally confront some horrifying personal demons that she has kept at bay for decades as well as a strange and monstrous figure that may be another figment of her fractured mental state. . . or maybe not.

Those who have read Kingís original novel will agree that it is one of his most unusual works as well as being possibly the one least suited for cinematic treatment--how exactly does one visualize a story that is almost entirely an internal monologue delivered by someone chained to a bed for pretty much the duration? Director Mike Flanagan, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Howard, has managed to do just that with a couple of inspired tweaks to the material--instead of the seemingly random collection of voices that Jessie is hearing in her head, they have them physically manifested by imaginary versions of Gerald, who gives her the pessimistic perspective, and a spunkier version of herself that presses her to keep fighting--and by the strong performance by Carla Gugino as Jessie. One of those actresses who has always been a highlight of whatever film she is in without ever quite breaking through into the top ranks, her work here is pretty incredible and if the film was getting a conventional theatrical release instead of going the Netflix route, I could easily see it making an impact in the various year-end awards. (Horror fans should not fret because there are a couple of nasty bits of business here that are frankly more squirm-inducing than anything on display in ''It.'') The only time that ''Gerald's Game'' really steps wrong is during the mystifying and borderline silly final scenes, though to be fair, the ending does more or less stays true to the equally dubious conclusion found in King's book and it did not work very well there either. Despite that hiccup, ''Gerald's Game'' is one of the better Stephen King screen adaptations to come along in a while--the kind that even those who usually shy away from any manifestations of his work may find worth watching.

If you ever wondered to yourself what a Sofia Coppola joint would be like if it were directed by someone with no discernible talent for filmmaking whatsoever, then you--and pretty much only you--may get some kind of kick out of ''Woodshock'' but even that admittedly select group is liable to find it to be a pretentious disaster that all but dares viewers to make it to the end without screaming out of frustration or laughing at inappropriate moments. Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa and as the film opens, she assists in the suicide of her mother by giving her a joint laced with some kind of poisonous substance. When the story picks up a little while later, she and her husband (Joe Cole) are living in her motherís former house, a sprawling and isolated estate near the California redwood forests that he cuts down for a living. Theresa is now in a seemingly inescapable funk, moping around the house and occasionally showing up for her job at a local medicinal marijuana dispensary that her boss (Pilou Asbaek) also employs as a clandestine assisted suicide center that distributes those laced joints to those desperately in need. One day, her mopiness causes her to pull a Mr. Gower and give one of the deadly smokes to an unsuspecting customer (Jack Kilmer) with whom she has been engaged in an extremely low-key flirtation, a move that makes her sink even further into depression and despair that only becomes more bizarre and horrifying thanks to the Lebowski-like levels of pot that she is constantly smoking.

''Woodshock'' marks the filmmaking debut of fashion designer sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy and indeed, there are any number of arresting images to be seen throughout. However, when it comes to bringing those images to life via a compelling story or intriguing characters, they are completely clueless as to how to achieve any of those goals. Even though the film clocks in at a relatively short 100 minutes, it is so somnambulistic in its pacing and so shaky in regards to its story and characters that it feels at least three times longer than that. Watching Dunst flit about in a stoner haze as she fails to communicate with her husband, racks up quite the body count and literally hugs trees is simply tedious beyond belief and when the film inexplicably shifts its tone via a violent conclusion, the bloody outburst is so out of left field that it comes across more as inadvertent comedy than anything else. However, between this film and the recent art-house freakout ''mother!''--a movie I didn't care for but which is miles ahead of this because it was at least made by someone who knew what they were doing and what they wanted to say--I must say that I have learned one thing when all is said and done: getting married to a fabulous-looking blonde and moving to a sprawling and isolated home near a vast forest is apparently not all that it is cracked up to be.

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originally posted: 09/29/17 11:11:57
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