(On Cable TV, August 2015) I am, as noted elsewhere, an almost-helpless sucker for movies about writers. Notwithstanding my own delusions of authorhood, my decades-long involvement in science-fiction fandom in two separate languages means that I’ve met and befriended a lot of writers, giving me a bit of insight into the profession. As such, it’s hard to watch Author Anonymous without noticing the very broad stereotypes used in the film, the dumb jokes, the rather unidimensional ways the writing characters are presented, and the somewhat acid conclusion. The premise has something to do with a documentary about a Los-Angeles-based writer’s group, but there are serious issues with the useless mockumentary conceit – the film isn’t all that interested in keeping that illusion going, and the interview-with-the-writers material could have been presented more elegantly. Still, Authors Anonymous does have plenty of small chuckles to offer, mostly playing off the delusions of the characters: The military guy (Denis Farina, in fine form) idolizing Tom Clancy and resorting to self-publishing; the brooding young man emulating Bukowski without ever writing more than a page; the bored housewife seeing writing as an affectation; her enabling husband (Dylan Walsh, effortlessly charming) confusing ideas with actual writing; and a bubblehead (Kaley Cuoco, playing her own sitcom role) who manages to put a book together without having read one before. There is a protagonist of sort played by Chris Klein as an honest author afflicted with writer’s block and being jealous of an unlikely success, but the film doesn’t really care all that much about him. As you may imagine, this is the kind of weakness that can limit a film’s success, and Authors Anonymous is perhaps more tolerable as a string of cheap jokes and stereotypes about writers. Never mind the conclusion or some of the ways it gets there. Non-writers may or may not appreciate the film as much as writers will or won’t.
(In theatres, October 2009) There’s a market for “fill-in movies”: Those utterly average instances of their chosen genre, serving no higher purpose that to keep theatres in business as we wait for the next worthwhile films. So it is that The Stepfather, remake of an eighties film I now have even less interest in, exists: to present a familiar story in an even more familiar way, entertaining compliant audiences in rote fashion. There’s little about the film that can’t be deduced from the trailer: Teenager comes back home after a lengthy absence to find his mom remarried to a mysterious stranger with mood swings and old-fashioned family-first morals. But the titular stepfather is worse than your usual garden-variety Republican: he’s a serial killer who regularly disposes of his step-families, although that isn’t much of a spoiler given how the very first scene of the film leisurely establishes that plot point. There isn’t much left to do than to sit back as the film goes through the expected plot beats (sometimes more than once) and concludes with the final fight between protagonist and villain. There’s a final flourish that, frankly, will make audiences angry at the filmmakers: The Stepfather simply isn’t good enough to deserve its off-kilter ending. This being said, it’s not all bad: Dylan Walsh (looking like about a dozen different other actors) is pretty good in the lead role, the direction is a bit better than you’d expect for a middle-of-the-road thriller and a few modern touches update the story to 2009. But that’s not much than a bit of polish on a deeply unimpressive result. The scares are obvious (including the requisite meowing cat), the antagonist has big overdone flaws (and yet, little motivation), the twists are non-existent and the obviousness of the entire film just makes it seem to last even longer. For those who really want to see a thriller now, The Stepfather is just a bit better than straight-to-DVD releases… but not by much.