The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979)
Watched to prepare for seeing and reviewing the remake this week. Unlike a lot of horror movies being remade these days, the original in this case really isn't all that good. It was a huge hit in 1979 but hasn't aged well, and is lumbering, slow and not particularly scary. It does have a certain true-to-life feel to it that lends an air of creepiness - the scares are low-key enough that you could imagine similar things really happening. But mostly it's just boring, and it all proceeds in an obvious and tired way toward the finale. Feels more like a TV movie-of-the-week ripped from the headlines (which is in a way what it was) than anything approaching a horror classic.
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
Very rarely do I watch a film once, end up dissatisfied, and then want to watch it again. But after seeing Donnie Darko the first time a few years ago, I was so disappointed and confused about what the big deal was that I felt it was worth seeing it again, in the extended director's cut. And guess what? I still don't see the appeal. I tried really hard to pay attention this time, and supposedly some of the things that Kelly has added to the director's cut illuminate the vagaries of the story. But I still left the film feeling let down, and I find the ending such an anticlimax that it's hard for me to credit all the things about the rest of the film that actually are quite good. Kelly does a good job capturing the stultifying dullness of high school, and crafts interesting teen characters in Donnie and his girlfriend Gretchen. The cast is superb, including both Gyllenhaals (Jake and Maggie, who is one of my absolute favorite actresses and, I admit, my biggest celebrity crush of the moment), Patrick Swayze putting his smarminess to good use, and the heartbreaking Mary McDonnell, who is just amazing as Donnie's mother and does more with a simple twitch of her mouth than most actors can do with their whole body. That said, the film really succeeds or fails on the sci-fi plot, which, despite ridiculously convoluted attempts to explain it by rabid fans (as I discovered online), is just a whole lot of mumbo jumbo that makes little sense. Donnie is a messiah figure? Big fucking deal. I saw the film this time with a rabid fan who's seen it over ten times; even she admitted that she keeps watching it over and over again because she always feels like there's something she missed. Any movie that can't make itself coherent in more than ten viewings isn't deep; it's just not very good.
Trekkies 2 (Roger Nygard, 2004)
I enjoyed the first Trekkies well enough, and the sequel is amusing if not quite up to the original's standards. There are only so many ways you can look at Star Trek fandom without repeating yourself, and Nygard seems to have been unable to find a good new hook, so the movie is a mix of looking at international Trek fans, catching up with some people from the first movie and finding a few more unique expressions of Trek love (including a number of Trek tribute bands). It's also shot on video, unlike the first movie which was shot on film, and on the whole has a more haphazard feel. But Trek fans are inherently interesting, and all Nygard really has to do is turn on the camera and let them talk, and I'm entertained. It's doubtful he'll find enough new material for a Trekkies 3, though.