Notes from the back row 

1408 a surprise summer hit

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First the bad news. The new Angelina movie, A Mighty Heart , is not opening in Whistler this Friday. It has a limited release and will be showing in Vancouver. Don’t throw yourself off the bridge yet though, I’m sure it will be given a wider release after everyone realizes how great it is — true story, verite-style director, talented actress in a serious role. All the ingredients for success.

Now the good news, 1408 drops Friday and (like Popeye’s chicken) it’s frickin awesome! Based on a story by horror master Stephen King ( The Shining, Stand by Me, Carrie, the list goes on) 1408 is an old-fashioned paranormal psychological thriller with a good-sized pinch of “holy crap that was freaky.” John Cusack stars as a writer who loses his daughter to disease, and then loses his faith in life, God, and especially the afterlife. As a writer, he cynically discredits ghost stories, saying he’d like to believe but hasn’t seen anything yet to convince him.

Then he gets a postcard from the swanky Dolphin Hotel with “Don’t go in room 1408” scrawled on it. So he does, and that’s when the poop hits the oscillating device.

Samuel L. Jackson co-stars as the hotel manager that warns Cusack about the 50+ people that have died in 1408, but he just won’t listen and soon he’s trapped in a shape-shifting, nightmare-world mash-up of his past, the room’s bloody history and all the paranormal things he’s been not-believing in for so long.

Director Mikael Hafstrom ( Derailed) does a stand-up job, his numerous close-ups of mundane things like boots and door locks fits King’s detail-driven prose style perfectly and builds a charged atmosphere that keeps you interested and nervous throughout the 96-minute film. Cusack is fantastic in this genre picture, bringing wit, humour and empathy to the role, we really side with him right from the beginning.

1408 is gonna be one of those out-of-nowhere, surprise hits of the summer. Rather than rely on shock and fetishized gore like much of the horror flicks of late, Hafstom, working from King’s text, has crafted an ominous mindf*ck of a film that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, life and death, and horror and thriller. It’s well paced, and it’s creepy, but in a believable way. This is a perfect summer movie.

Evan Almighty , on the other hand, is unbelievably not-perfect, it’s not even close.

Perhaps the most expensive comedy ever (over $175 mil is what I heard,) Evan Almighty is about a present-day politician who is appointed by God (Morgan Freeman) to build another ark, like Noah did in the bible. Evan is played by Steve Carrell ( Anchorman, 40-Year Old Virgin) and, even here, he’s a funny guy. Not funny enough to save the movie though, cause the rest of it stinks worse than the animal-poop and hammer-hits-finger jokes that are supposed to be carrying it.

From Evan referencing the book “Ark building for dummies” (the real dummies are the saps in the audience, as if you couldn’t tell this was gonna lick bag just from watching the previews) to the fuzzy, happy CGI animals, to the heavy religious preaching in the latter half, to the PG-13-ness of the whole thing, Evan Almighty ends up being actually shittier than Bruce Almighty . If you go to Sunday school and you’re five and half and bored with summer then this is the movie for you, otherwise it’s just a shameless example of Hollywood trying to cash in on the religious right. I bet even God hates this. Skip it.

AT VILLAGE 8 June 22-28: Evan Almighty; 1408; Ocean’s 13; Fantastic Four; Knocked Up; Pirates of the Caribbean; Surf’s Up; Shrek 3; Nancy Drew. Starting June 27: Live Free or Die Hard.

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