The Who, What, and Why (Version 2.0)
This review column started back in December with the lofty goal of reviewing TV Series that have a rather adventurous, even pulpy feel, and providing all the review goodness possible. Although the man in the hat, me, is still watching series, I have decided that this column is better suited to another purpose. So, bear with a bit of a repeat of an introduction for this new direction. Some is old, but most is new, so read it all…
Yes, That’s what the title says. This is a column about something a hat watches. Well, for some it may as well be. The Fedora in said title is Tommy Hancock. An award winning writer, Tommy is partner in Pro Se Productions, a publishing house specializing in Genre Fiction and New Pulp. He is also an editor for various companies, has written articles for multiple locations, and is in the process of relaunching his own Book centered site, Bibliorati.
You’ll notice there’s no fedora mentioned anywhere in Tommy’s name. The appellation of a hat applied to a person comes from the fact that, at least professionally, Tommy has rarely been seen without wearing a fedora. Not always the same one, although the brotherhood of hats has only had a few members, but usually always wearing one. On rare occasions two at the same time. The hat is so identified with Tommy that, indeed, many simply refer to him by the hat’s type-Fedora.
As to the What The Fedora Watches – This column will be all about movies, at least for a long while. But not just any movies. The purpose of this column is to find movies that have the potential to be pulp movies. What does that mean exactly? Well, that would take a whole column in itself to explain, the ‘definition’ of Pulp, so the Fedora figures that the easiest way for you to learn that is just to follow the column and he promises you will have a good idea of what he thinks Pulp is and whether the movies he covers qualify or not.
Now, finally the Why – The why of switching to movies and trying to point out their pulpiness or lack thereof boils down to, first, the Fedora’s personal interest in doing so. But it also has a lot to do with various questions over the year about Pulp Fiction transitioning to movies, not just in adaptations, but in original scripts and such. Some believe it can’t happen because Pulp is just always going to be only the stories that appeared in magazines from 1896 through the mid fifties. Others believe that Pulp has always been a part of the cinema, even before we called it Pulp. The Fedora doesn’t know about that second point, but he definitely believes Pulp has transcended the yellowing pages of a magazine and can be found in all sorts of venues today. And yes, even things that predate Pulp can be ‘pulpy’…so the purpose of this column is to identify what makes some films pulp and others not and hopefully reveal pulpy gems to those of you who haven’t seen some of these…
So, with all the ado out of the way, let’s get right to WHAT THE FEDORA WATCHES…
Directed by Stephen Sommers
Written by Stephen Sommers based on the novel by Dean R. Koontz
Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin), and yes, that is his real name, is a short order cook in a sleepy little California town, not incredibly far, based on the final scene, from Las Vegas. There is more that makes Odd different, however, than his name. He has abilities of a psychic variety that allow him to see the recently dead. He uses these skills to help the silent ghosts (the dead don’t speak once they’ve passed) to wrap up loose ends and get on their way. He also can see demon like translucent creatures he calls bodachs, which appear to feed on the pain of death, especially of the mass variety.
Although he makes no real money from it, Odd works at helping the deceased like it’s a job, and he isn’t alone in his vocation. His longtime girlfiend, Stormy (Addison Timlin), is fully aware of her boyfriend’s unique abilities and acts as his partner and anchor to things of the real world. Also, Police Chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe) knows Odd’s secret and works to keep it for him, not just because he benefits from it often, with Odd helping the police out.
That’s how the film opens, with Odd finding a murderer/rapist of a young girl and pursuing him with an intensity the character maintains throughout the movie. After catching the killer and seeing the ghost on her way, Odd goes to work, only to see a handful of bodachs show interest in a man with interesting colored hair. Odd can’t show a reaction to the creatures, because if one acknowledges they see a bodach, then they, well, die horribly. The sighting of bodachs around the man Odd comes to call Fungus Bob also intrigues him because of the interest they show in Stormy, who works in the same diner Odd does.
This is the real beginning of the heart of the movie. The number of bodachs Odd begins seeing concerns him, giving him the real sense that the creatures are expecting a large amount of death soon. This coupled with a dream Odd has concerning a faceless gunman shooting up the mall where his job is sends the focused psychic on the trail of Fungus Bob, with Stormy and Porter at his side and hovering around the edges when he needs them.
What Odd discovers in his investigation only makes his premonition of mass death stronger and more real for him. As a friend turns up dead, Odd has to dodge an unknown killer, two rookie cops Porter brings into the case, and the bodachs, who go from four or five to, well, a lot more really, really fast. All of this while romancing Stormy and stay one step ahead of a frame up from beyond.
ODD THOMAS hits on so many levels for me as a pulp movie. Let’s talk about a few of those-
Pulp Movies need a strong central character. Notice I did not say ‘hero’ because of its obvious connotations. Pulp movies can be focused on bad guys, anti heroes, joe or jane schmoes, etc., but whatever the character type, that figure needs to be one that a movie can revolve around. Odd is in every way that kind of character (and a hero to boot). Played to perfection by the late Anton Yelchin, Odd is simultaneously a young man seeking to find his place and happiness in the world and a badass psychic with an almost unnerving drive to save the world. Yelchin’s performance is one of both damaged innocence and determined, nearly obsessive focus. Odd’s character is very clear in the first fifteen minutes of the film and although he develops, the core of who he is doesn’t waver, allowing for a solid, fast paced story to be built around him.
Pulp movies have a usually fast paced plot. I make that clarification of usually because there are always exceptions. For the most part, though, a movie that is pulpy will essentially move quickly, starting not long after the opening credits end and only slowing down as the final credits roll. Pulp movies also have consistent pacing, like any good film. ODD THOMAS does a pretty decent job of achieving this as well. The movie opens with Odd pursuing a child murderer and ends with one of the most satisfying endings to a paranormal action with hints of comedy thrown in that I’ve seen in a long time. There is a slight breakdown in the pacing about midway through the film, where Odd is putting all the pieces of the mystery together, but it’s not enough to pull someone out of the movie.
Pulp movies are larger than life in some way. I don’t think it’s hard to tell that ODD THOMAS is definitely larger than life, what with the subject matter and all. But that ‘rule’, albeit a slippery one as any of the rules for what makes a pulp movie are, also extends to the lead character, as it will in many pulp movies. Odd’s passion in using his ability shines through and makes him a very larger than life character from almost the beginning. It is no surprise that Koontz wrote a book series on Odd, if the character in the book matches the movie version at all (Haven’t read any of the books.)
Also, though, other characters qualify in this way as well. The lynchpin that this whole movie spins around, Fungus Bob, is almost as unique as any villain Dick Tracy ever faced, even though he says next to nothing in the movie. And Stormy is more than a girlfriend or sidekick. She provides a lot of the insight that Odd uses to work his way through the movie and is just as ready to step into the fray as ‘Oddie’ is.
Now, one point where the movie fails in this aspect is how they failed to use Willem Dafoe. Known for being larger than life in many roles, Dafoe plays Porter as just a regular police chief who cares about Odd and takes care of him. It’s not a bad performance, but I have to admit that I kept waiting for him to get possessed by something or be the guy causing it all. So, on one hand I don’t feel like the actor was used as well as he could have been. On another, what happens to Porter in the course of the story was handled very well and gives the impetus for the viewer to hang in.
Pulp movies have a concrete conflict at their center, usually a battle of good and evil. Now, again, there are exceptions to that last bit, but a pulp movie must have a real concrete conflict that the central character is working to overcome. Abstract goals like finding oneself or learning the secret of life can be secondary, and at least one of those is such in ODD THOMAS, but there must be a real battle take place, a real ‘attack’ of sometime to confront. This movie has that in spades.
Now, there are other things that can contribute to what makes a movie pulpy and we’ll get into those in future columns.
Overall, ODD THOMAS is a pulp movie and a pretty decent film other than that as well. The performances of Odd and Stormy are spot on and although I think Dafoe was wasted, he does a good job. The cast beyond those three is a typical low budge movie/tv film cast, so that’s not a good thing, but fortunately the focus is largely on Odd throughout the movie. The special effects are good enough to make viewers worry when the bodachs are around and to believe that Odd is afraid they will discover he sees them.
The story is strong overall and well paced, except for the point toward halfway where things get a little choppy. The movie also doesn’t just gloss over the emotional aspect. The story of Odd and Stormy, as well as Odd’s place in the world, figures heavily into the entire film, but doesn’t overshadow the action and horror aspects at all, instead complimenting them. So, that aspect lends to ODD THOMAS being more of what many consider a New Pulp film, a term referring to pulp being written today, inspired by the stories of the past but focusing more on things like character development than some classic Pulp tales did.
So, is ODD THOMAS a pulp movie? Yes. Don’t really have a rating system for this and probably won’t have one. But in terms of characters, pacing, conflict, and general enjoyment factor, this movie has everything I like a good pulp story in any medium to have. If you like your supernatural action mixed with mystery, a little pathos, and some natural humor, ODD THOMAS will not be a waste of your time.