Wednesday, April 30, 2008

HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY

For all those rooting for this pre-summer comedy sequel to be the answer to the 2007 dramas that failed to tap into the conscience of post-9/11 America (instead, they just preened their own personal biases...), you're gonna have to wait a bit longer to celebrate.

Not that Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is a total loss. In its best moments, the film cuts through the juvenile humor and achieves a bit of South Park-esque moral clarity. While smoking pot with "President Bush" after 90 minutes of cross-country contretemps, our president says to H & K, "You don't need to trust your government, you just have to love your country". It's a sentiment that most Americans can agree on at the end of a red-faced, hair-pulling, name-calling political argument, and it's a timely semi-serious pause in a film filled with goofs.

But back to that juvenile humor...

If you read this blog - even occasionally - you'll know I appreciate the stuff, but the gross-out gags in H & K 2 feel dated and scatter shot in quality. This is likely the result of H & K 1 director, Danny Leiner, not coming back for round two (co-writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg do double-duty in the sequel, directing as well). Kumar blowing a load in his face, having explosive diarrhea, and getting peed on, are surefire ways of getting laughs, but when you see Eddie Kaye Thomas on screen (reprising the role of Rosenberg), you're reminded of how "American Pie" this is,... and then reminded again that American Pie was nine years ago.

What was charming about Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle was its blend of two buddies looking out for each other as they encounter cultural and social stereotypes on their way to feast on some traditional American fast food. Actors John Cho and Kal Penn expressed twentysomething insecurities and self-revelations with natural conviction, but in ...Guantanamo Bay - a film that takes place the morning after ...White Castle - the young men already feel like jaded thirtysomethings (maybe it's got something to do with Cho being 36... 36!!!... and Penn, 31). Outside of the female conquest cliche, there are no interpersonal discovery drives and denouements.

Sadly, Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay simply succumbs to being a sequel in all of a movie franchise's terribly typical ways.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

JOHN MALKOVICH IN THE NEW COEN BROS. MOVIE...

....IT'S ABOUT TIME!

His character's name is Osbourne Cox,... which just happens to be the combined last names of me and a good friend of mine,... which confirms my suspicions that the Coens rip me off when they write their scripts.

Monday, April 28, 2008

THE GREAT SONGS : # 62 "POWDERFINGER" by NEIL YOUNG

FROM 1979's:

Don't judge a storyteller by his reputation. Meaning, if someone says "Neil Young", a normal reaction would be "guitar hero". Fair enough. But I know kick ass fret work like I know quantum physics. So, to me, Neil Young is a song man. An assimilated troubadour from America's northern neighbor.

The sixth song on Rust Never Sleeps, "Powderfinger" starts with one of those iconic salvos that will pull a fan to their feet before the band even hit a note: "Look out momma/there's a white boat/coming up the river". Hear it more than once, twice, three times and you'll start bumping along with invisible riffs.

The character of the song is a 22 year-old country boy from an era unknown (it's a time when boats still delivered mail... if that's of any help). He's become the De facto man of the house because, well:
"Daddy's gone/my brother's out hunting in the mountains/Big John's been drinking/since the river took Emmy-Lou/So the powers that be/left me here to do the thinkin'"
In the last verse, having just popped his trigger finger's cherry, the young man feels transformed, proud, and rinsed anew:
"Cover me/with the thought/that pulled the trigger..."
Crazy Horse sings this line in full harmony with Young, giving the request a heavy, gospel tinged quality.

"Powderfinger" could be read as if the young man dies at the end of the song. That's up to you. I like to hear "Powderfinger" as a teen angst anthem for the short-lived youth of one hundred and forty years ago.

Friday, April 25, 2008

ON DVD : INSIDE

There is reason to celebrate the DVD release of French horror import Inside: it cements that this film never got a run at our cinema screens. On the downside, expect it to circulate around film sites, achieving cult status, until a relative of the sadistic "new" French horror craze out-shocks it to become the next Scuzz Du Jour. (The upcoming Fronteir(s) is getting a brief run in selected U.S. cities).
Although none of the horror web sites are brave enough to admit it, French horror is the worst thing to happen to the genre since Mondo. The fact that horror heads give it respect, and up-and-coming directors feel inspired by it, is cause to worry that this zero sum cinema will continue its creep into the mainstream. (It already has with Alexander Aja's edited theatrical release of Haute Tension (aka High Tension), and his remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Yet, in French horror tradition, those films now pale in comparison...)

One of the biggest myths in horror film is the "social commentary" angle. Sure, the masters (Corman, Henenlotter, Romero, Craven... ) do it well, but to play that card is simply an excuse to justify unguarded brutality. And Inside directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury play it sloppily by placing their story amidst the French suburb riots of 2005. Because that event is given no context and understanding, the directors simply exploit it as a tone-setter for the action on screen. Even when an arrested Muslim youth enters the plot - and the opportunity for a smidge of relevance stares you in the face - the directors come up clueless and lobotomize the kid with a pair of scissors.

Mondo never wanted to scare or frighten audiences, only to make them turn away and grimace. (If that's your definition of horror... that sucks, man.) Inside is no different. A pregnant woman is the protagonist in this siege movie about a knowing stranger that wants the woman's baby for her own. The film's first shot is a CGI close-up of a baby in the womb during a car crash. On impact, blood fills the placenta. Near the end, Inside crescendos with a long murderous c-section sequence that results in a stillborn. I was mistaken in the above paragraph. Bustillo and Maury's film does have subtext : they hate life.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

STARS OF DAVID ARE ALIGNING

My two favorite Jews are finally working together : Woody Allen and Larry David!

Larry is in Woody's Untitled Summer Project. The level of comedic genius on set must be unbearable at times. Can you imagine? I would do anything to sit between those two during a lunch break.

More on this film later... I've probably already ruined it by fantasizing how great it could be...

Anyway... on to the good stuff:

Pics of Larry acting (acting??!?) with Evan Rachel Wood, bringing to screen some kind of Coney Island variation on her Lolita look that supposedly worked in seducing Marilyn Manson. (Is it really necessary to seduce Marilyn Manson? I can't imagine he has boundaries or guidelines.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ON DVD : RESERVATION ROAD

Neil Jordan's The Brave One and Reservation Road are similar in that they're both about uncontrollable vengeance uncommonly welling-up inside an upper-class North easterner after the sudden, tragic loss of a loved one. In the former, Erica (Jodie Foster) loses her fiance. In the latter, Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) loses his 10-year old son. The major difference between the two is that Erica's loss is from a murder, while Ethan's is from an accident. Both characters walk identical paths toward an intended conclusion, but choose differently when the crossroads come.

Central to Reservation Road is the father/son relationship. Director Terry George begins the film by juxtaposing images of Ethan and his son with Dwight (Mark Ruffalo) and his son. It plays like a collage of recorded memories, because, soon after, the two couples collide on Reservation Rd. and their idyllic lives are permanently changed.

The film then takes a risk by shifting into a sort of cat-and-mouse thriller (the accident is a hit-and-run, and Ethan didn't see the driver...) between the fathers. On paper, the idea of using a child's death to drive a suspense drama seems cheap, but Terry George, and especially the performance of Jaoquin Phoenix, bring a sensitivity to the pursuit. Keeping the two fathers apart, for most of the film, brings out sympathy for both of the characters. This approach makes the final confrontation between the two men even more wrenching.

Reservation Road rises above Hollywood convention by not assigning knee-jerk stereotypes to character. George, and screenwriter John Burnham Schwartz, show that the impulse of payback is not unique to a certain class, region, or occupation, but a universal human reaction. Ethan is a wealthy geo-political professor from Connecticut. Like public radio host Erica, in The Brave One, these aren't characters you would expect to see alongside, say, a Charles Bronson or Pam Grier.

Looking back on the poor movie year that was 2007, it's interesting that two of its better films were thoughtful takes on the eye-for-an-eye code of ethics. Without directly addressing the Iraq war, both films do a better job of tapping into the conflicted conscience of Americans than do garbage like In The Valley of Elah, Southland Tales, Rendition, Day Night Day Night, and The Bourne Ultimatum. Those films flaunt a knowing arrogance about themselves, not wanting to communicate with an audience but to simply put them in their place.

Thank god for DVD culture. It allows us to stand back from the rush of year-end "what mattered" placement and reevaluate what was truly significant from cinema in that year. So forget about 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days... set that new 2-disc There Will Be Blood DVD to the side... in the long run, Reservation Road will be the one to fill their appointed slots.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

OH MOMMA! (OH МАТЬ!)

I'm not really a Blanchett fan, but yummy on the look she's working in Indy 4.

It's true, I have a leaning fetish for stern commie and/or fascist chicks... but that new bob on her is just too cute! I can't imagine a Kremlin Regiment or Stasi member was ever so sexually IN CHARGE as Cate is in that photo!


Because of this, you may think that The Night Porter is a private pleasure of mine, but no way! The power struggle in that movie is all screwed-up, creepy, and WAY beyond my own vision of sexual libertarianism.


BONUS:
Speaking of "bobs" have you seen the new Norah Jones?


There is something about her that always makes me wanna say AWWWWE :) ....

Monday, April 21, 2008

NEAR DARK (1987)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is my submission to a film club being hosted by Final Girl . Please click-on-over to her site and enjoy her own take on this classic... as well as many others! You now have no reason to be bored while you're at work. ENJOY!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Kathryn Bigelow has always held a studied grip on the ins-and-outs of film genre. It's born from her love of movies, but also a desire to create new stories within already established boundaries. Unlike Robert Altman, who liked subverting genres, Bigelow's intention is to leave behind her own flag posts for when the history books are re-written. THRILLER : Blue Steel (1990) ... ACTION : Point Break (1991) ... SCI-FI : Strange Days (1995). But her masterpiece, Near Dark, was a labor of love mash-up of genres: the western, the horror, and the classic Hollywood drama.

Bigelow's ability to seamlessly blend all three styles into one, within a 90 minute time frame, is an accomplishment in itself, but Near Dark also showcases, perhaps, the finest film performances in 1980's horror.

Adrian Pasdar's Tony Curtis jawline, and overall good looks, work like crossed-stars alongside Jenny Wright's pixie farmgirl. Their scene together in a horse stable is so rich with teenage lust and longing that John Hughes would be proud. Mae (Wright) tells Caleb (Pasdar), as she looks up at the stars, "when their light reaches earth, I'll still be here". The scene is echoed in Near Dark's final shot when Caleb comforts Mae from a glare and whispers, "It's just sunlight".

As for the rest of the actors, they are all flawless: The androgynous Josh Miller as a 40 year old vampire stuck inside the body of a 10 year old. Lance Henrikson as a vagabond vamp - since the days of the Civil War! - that's found some stability as the father figure of the gang. The bad ass Jenette Goldstein as a sort of crazed, off-the-farm ranch mother that does her best to keep the peace...

...And, most famously, Bill Paxton as Severin, the fearless Pomaded cow-punk hedonist from hell. He's the sort of on screen rebel that young vampires must idolize the way our fathers did Brando in The Wild One or Streetcar, and the way we did with Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back or Raiders.


The now classic bar scene from Near Dark, became classic because of him:
(wearing shades, about to chomp on a neck)

(pauses)

"I hate it when they ain't been shaved"

(back to neck... CHOMP!)

(coming up for air...)

"BELCH!"
What resonates the most when re-watching Near Dark, is a sense of the romantic pouring out from the screen. The care and attention Bigelow and crew shared in wanting to produce a horror movie that was more than the sum of it's dismembered parts. Sure, it's fun to take pleasure in well done special effects wizardry and over-the-top gore, but what's lacking in today's current pack of horror-boy directors is an appreciation of things past.

I'm not wanting a regurgitation of old ideas, no, but simply for directors to have touchstones that they can jump off of and refer back to. (And no, Rob Zombie and Alexander Aja, watching your own films over and over again is not that...) Sometimes it seems like Idiocracy's take on the law of diminishing returns is playing itself out live in the world of modern Western horror.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

ZOMBIE STRIPPERS

"Someone made a mistake... someone made a big f*cking mistake!" howls a member of a military unit, not ten minutes into the new comedy-horror film Zombie Strippers. Yeah,.. me too! For I thought maybe - just maybe - this b-movie could be a clever, much-needed tweak for a horror sub-genre that keeps repeating itself. You know... some "brain dead" dancers taking easy money from some "brain dead" horny fat men. That's a premise ripe for some slap-n-slash fun!

But nope. Zombie Strippers is as basic and banal as its title and poster suggest: Jenna Jameson turns into a zombie, and you see her weird looking tits a lot. The unintended joke, though, is that Jameson looks more dead when she's "alive" with her new toothpick frame, plastic surgery stare, and grotesque platypus lips.

Oh sure... writer/director Jay Lee tries to give his movie meaning with D.O.A. socially & politically aware jokes, followed-up by forced references to existentialist philosophers Nietzsche and Sartre (apparently Lee was influenced by the Absurdist French play Rhinoceros), but the results are blush worthy embarrassing... like, well, like listening to a beard-puller attempting to impress by referencing Nietzsche and Sartre.

Prior to Zombie Strippers, I thought I had heard President Bush blamed for just about everything. Well, you can add "zombie outbreak" to that list.

The SETUP: George W. Bush - in his "4th term" - has created a virus that reanimates dead soldiers so they can fight his endless wars. Our President has also banned "public nudity" which has forced strip clubs underground [NOTE: Obviously Lee doesn't understand that stripping in a club is not "public nudity"... this is the brainpower we're working with here]. One of the soldiers at the compound, where the virus is created, gets infected and then stumbles into a strip club. PRESTO!

Knee-jerk reference points for horror fans will be Day of the Dead, Joe Dante's short film Homecoming, and the great Deathdream. Yet Zombie Strippers doesn't contain even 1/8th the smarts of those films. Lee invokes the military, war, Bush-bashing, conformity, and other hot button issues, not because he cares, but because it's fashionable to do so. The directors of the aforementioned movies did their homework, but with Lee you just get the impression he saw a newspaper once or twice.

An easy joke would be "How many men did Jenna Jameson have to sleep with to get this movie made and into theaters?". The sad truth is that you can answer that, and it's probably around 873. Jenna... sweetie... please just recoil, start a family, and take some time to take care of yourself. Cuz really, getting top billing in this piece of crap is way more degrading than that facial you got from Peter North in The Kiss.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

PONTIFFICATING...

I think I am repeating myself, but if the light and angle hit him just right, don't The Pope remind you of Robert Blake, circa Lost Highway??? (minus the Lil' Annie Oakley hat, of course...)



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK....

CLICK HERE FOR MORE... you know you want too!!!

It's ok, the Pope ain't watching... he's too busy eating birthday cake. And please, like he wouldn't look if he had the chance....pfffft!

Monday, April 14, 2008

CJ7

Stephen Chow is a classical artist in that he stands up for the plight of the poor without resorting to easy upper-class bashing and cliche. As Dicky (Jiao Xu) is told by his father (Chow) many times in CJ7: "We may be poor, but we don't steal, fight, or lie." His lesson is that the playing field of universal ethics and morals is a flat one.

This theme isn't new for Chow. It is central to his feel-good overcomers in Kung Fu Hustle, and Shaolin Soccer. Examining social mores without getting overly political comes natural to Chow, but somehow it's lost on many modern filmmakers. This could explain the shrugged reaction of audiences to many post-9/11 wartime films.

CJ7's first camera move is a slow overhead pan from the hood ornaments of a Mercedes-Benz and Rolls Royce down to Dicky's sewn together shoes. The three subjects have arrived at their destination in vastly different ways, but the implication is that the burden of class distinction - while still heavier on the less fortunate - is no excuse for segregation.

Nor should it lead to the path of resignation, as when Dicky's father and boss have a verbal back-and-forth of "I can manage... You can't manage... I can manage ... YOU CAN'T MANAGE! ... I can manage ... YOU CAN'T MANAGE! ... I can manage." That final retort is delivered with a pause and a grin from Chow, communicating to his boss that this struggle has already been had-out within,... and there ain't no changing his mind.

Dicky isn't an unpopular kid, but he's shunned by the ones with the cool toys. The latest fad is a robot dog called CJ1. Like every child, Dicky wants one, but it's out of his father's price range. One night, while rummaging and salvaging through a garbage heap, Dicky's father finds a neon green rubber ball as a replacement toy. The ball ends up becoming an alien dog, and Dicky names it CJ7.

It's this simple "kid film" set-up that has critics dismissing CJ7 as hokum instead of celebrating it - at this point - as 2008's best film. This isn't surprising, given how lazy and intellectually incestuous critics circles have become, but it's disappointing. To go on Metacritic and see that Cloverfield, Teeth, and... Christ almighty!!! ... Doomsday, have higher ratings than CJ7 is just plain embarrassing and shameful. It makes you understand the joke behind Stephen Chow's naming of his production company... A Star Overseas.

The critical reception Chow gets is akin to the seasonal dismissal of post-80's Spielberg as "sentimental" and simple-minded. I bring Spielberg up because CJ7 has been widely compared to E.T. And, yes, while both films share sentimental (GASP! oh no... not that!) sensibilities, Chow's film has more in common with the Looney Tunes freak out cinema of Joe Dante... albeit, less demented, and less obsessed with the macabre. Like Dante's groundbreaking use of animation in his segment of Twilight Zone : The Movie, Chow's use of CGI, since Shaolin Soccer, has been a revelation.

Unlike the way, say, a post-Frighteners Peter Jackson or a Spider Man-era Sam Raimi use CGI to fill-in cinematic gaps and bring a phony realism to impossible shots and stunts, Chow embraces the artificiality of CGI and uses it to add absurdity. In it's best moments - the final soccer match in Shaolin Soccer, the Landlady and Landlord's kung-fu showdown with The Beast in Kung-Fu Hustle, and the schoolyard fight between two bodyguards in CJ7 - Chow's CGI adds real-life emotional heft and intensity to otherwise fantastical situations.

Seeing a film like CJ7 in the theater is exciting. It makes you cheer on the possibility that the poor quality of film, bleeding over from 2007, may soon scab over. In movie terms, 2008 is just a baby, but like '07, it's had an underwhelming start (besides CJ7, Diary of the Dead and Be Kind Rewind are 08's only superstars...). If the movie gods are watching, they should send down a giant CGI flood - Chow style, of course - to wash away last year's still lingering residue so bright seeds like CJ7 may sprout, and spray their influence widely. Let the backlash begin!

Friday, April 11, 2008

ON DVD : BORDERLAND

It would be easy to dismiss the annual 8 Films To Die For DVD series as just another Showtime Masters of Horror dump heap, yet in 2006 the program produced two pretty-above average films: The Abandoned (another example that the future of horror may reside in Spain...) and Takashi Shimizu's Reincarnation. True, the series primarily serves as yet another cash generator for Lionsgate - walk down the DVD Horror aisle at Best Buy and see the stocked shelves - but if film fans can get some art out of it, now and then, it could be a win-win situation for years to come.

So... how is the class of 2007 faring thus far? Well, Borderland was # 1 of the 8 that I plan to see, and if it's supposed to serve as some kind of sign, then it's a no good, very bad, terrible, DO NOT ENTER sign!

Borderland is based on the late 80's satanic-cult killings of Adolfo Constanzo and his gang, in Matamoros, that blew-up stateside when a young University of Texas college student was found dismembered and buried at a ranch with 11 other victims. The details of the deaths are grueling and grisly, and it is in these accounts taken from the confessions of Constazo's gang, that filmmaker Zev Berman finds inspiration to pen his grandest guinol of scenes.


But like the recent French horror film Them, this brings into question the ethical judgement behind using gruesome real-life tragedy to drive a film. We're not talking "true story" as in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Amityville Horror, no, the story behind Bordlerland is factually true.

What is worse:
the recent rolling tide of horror remakes, or filmheads that become so bereft of original ideas that they resort to true accounts of brutality in order to frighten the audience? (I use the term "frighten" loosely. There is nothing in Borderland that makes you curl up and gasp... unless you count yawns as gasps.)

Unlike the recent set-in-Mexico gore film, The Ruins, you won't take nary a cheap gooey thrill from Borderland. Its not just punishing in its trauma scenes, but in the exposition that sleeps in between the blood lust. One extended sequence follows the boys out on the town after dropping LSD. Apparently the camera man took some too, because the next five minutes is shot with blurred lines and purposeful mis-dubbings. With the hypersaturated photography, this is the one time where a critic could lay down a "It's like Tony Scott on acid!" missive and literally mean it.

Rider Strong is in Borderland. Sean Astin is too. You gotta feel for the guy. He plays a 18-wheeling serial killer from "San Antone". I mean, why!?! Did he blow all the money he made from LOTR?!? Or did he really think he was making a good career choice here? Now, that is scary.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

MARK E. SMITH + TED NUGENT = BFF ... (ANIMAL COLLECTIVE FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES)

Rock n' Roll's classiest frontman, Mark E. Smith, is in trouble with British animal rights activists after claiming to slice up some squirrels that were eating his fence, and for promoting the underground sport of running-over-seagulls-with-your-car. (You'd be surprised... it's like dog fighting to those cockneys!)

---
"Squirrels mean nothing to me. I killed a couple last weekend actually. They were eating my garden fence," Smith told Uncut magazine, although it was unclear whether he had confused the animal with their more prevalent American grey cousins.

The singer, whose group has gone through 50 different members and produced 27 albums in their career, also said he "wouldn't have a problem" with people purposefully driving over seagulls in their cars.

"The comments made by Mark E. Smith are extremely irresponsible and he has basically admitted to committing an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act by killing two red squirrels," the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said.
---

People aren't seeing the real reason for Smith's hostility here. It ain't about the fence. He can use that excuse ALL DAY LONG, but I know the real reason!

He's jealous!

Jealous of the squirrel's healthy, beautiful chompers! :

Hmm... in hindsight, perhaps there's some interspecies feud going on... YIKES!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

MI AMORE, UWE BOLL

This is hilarious. The fan boys can't stop twisting in the wind so Uwe just keeps spinning them like a bunch of pinwheels.

They really just don't get it... which makes this doubly funny.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

SEX AND "THE RUINS"



While I was watching The Ruins yesterday, I couldn't stop thinking about "The Raft" episode of Creepshow 2. Not only because both contain the man vs. possessed nature angle to them, but because both made me feel sexually uncomfortable in the face of a character's oncoming death. I don't know about you freaks out there... and I love you freaks, I do!... but sex and gore don't mix for me.

I first saw "The Raft" episode when I was in junior high. For the unfamiliar, let me quickly set it up... Four high school kids (2 boys, 2 girls) go rafting on a lake. The lake has a blobby tar-like substance below its surface that swallows the kids whole. Well... there is a scene where one of the boys cops an illegal feel on one of the girls ("illegal" because she's asleep). Morally repugnant? You bet. Sexually arousing at the age of 14? ... uh huh!

But then the softcore Mischief/My Tutor-era erotica is disrupted when the blob comes through the raft and attaches itself to the girls face. Was this simply a clever scare set-up, or, sinister allegory for every sexually frustrated male teen that can't quite get what he wants. BUMMER man! And yeah, and I watched it again and again (yay for the pause button!...) and yeah, the result was always the same. :(


In The Ruins, the hot girl is Laura Ramsay. Most of you will recognize her from She's The Man as Amanda Bynes' nemesis . Director Carter Smith knows the luck he's been dealt from casting, and - depending on your take - either exploits Ramsay's beauty, or, uses it like a dangling carrot through the film's least interesting moments.

I forget how it happens, but Ramsay somehow ends up in panties and tighty-whitey tank after the four teens (2 boys, 2 girls) find themselves surrounded and screwed atop a centuries old Mayan temple. I guess the skimpy attire assists in letting the audience see the squirming creepy crawlies that have infested Ramsay's body,... and I guess somethings wrong with me for still looking at her body during these moments.

Even in her last gasps, as Ramsay limps for a knife in order to cut out any remaining demonic vines from her body, I found myself staring at her backside and thinking: "nice butt".

Monday, April 07, 2008

LEATHERHEADS

Under the guise of the birth of professional football, George Clooney continues his fascination with media, and media figures, in his new film Leatherheads. His political message goes down easier because it's infused with comedy. Leatherheads is like Tim O'Brien's "How To Tell A True War Story" mixed with the screwball, machine-gun-mouthed, manners comedies of Howard Hawks and George Stevens. But where Clooney really wants to live is in that special, reserved corner where Preston Sturges is enshrined. He's got quite a ways to go - Clooney isn't keenly aware of society the way Sturges was - but Leatherheads is a fine first step, and by far, his best film.

It should always be preferred that Clooney stick to comedies. His eyes can sell you on ridiculous lines, and that seductive natural playfulness brings out the best in his co-stars (see Renee Zellwegger and John Krasinski... both on point in Leatherheads). This is why one coughs, and remains unconvinced, when Clooney shows up bearded and bellied in those serious turns in Solaris, Syriana, and Good Night, and Good Luck. Contrast those with Three Kings, Out of Sight, the Oceans movies, and Intolerable Cruelty (his best performance thus far...) and tell me which performances stand out the most. Sure, the Academy rewards the "serious" Clooney, but the Academy has been wrong, 80% of the time, since 1954.

But back to Leatherheads....

Clooney was right in getting sports humorist and journalist Rick Reilly to pen the script. Reilly knows how to balance serious sports love with the inanities that come along with it. Yet, at movies mid-point, Clooney shifts focus to the ginned-up war record of national golden boy Carter Richards (Krasinski), and let's go of the whimsy that was working so well early on. Carter's fabricated persona is a storyline that could work (again, Sturges would've pulled it off...) but Clooney brings Leatherheads down into a area of tedium that betrays the lightness of the film's first half (a climactic scene in the football commissioner's office is especially awkward and clumsy). It's a hint that the political cynicism of the 00's may start corroding outside of the typical thriller and action genres.

Clooney's objectives are well-intentioned, and, if anything, Leatherheads is a sign that he may end up having a decent directorial future. Perhaps, with his upcoming role in the Coens political comedy Burn After Reading, Clooney will take notes, and learn, from living legends instead of pining after ones that are already buried.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

THE MOVIES IN THEIR HEADS

On our trip home to Houston this weekend, we went to a hip poster gallery b/c I had read that one of the owners has a collection of Polish movie posters, specifically by Jan Lenica.

Most movie nuts have heard the story of these wacky film artifacts, but it was a hell of a bunch o' fun to look at them up close!

Here are the ones we saw....

WAGES OF FEAR (1953)


KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962)

REPULSION (1965)


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)


PLATOON (1986)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977)


SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)


THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976)

Friday, April 04, 2008

HAMLET 2

There is that breed of comedy that is "the Sundance comedy". Distributors drool over them like low-budget horror films. They are cash cows for small scale theater chains residing within 5-10 miles of a college campus. And, they usually carry a cult following that will start blogs/fan sites dedicated to their "new favorite movie". Members of this sub-genre are: The Tao of Steve, Thank You For Smoking, American Movie, Little Miss Sunshine, The Squid and The Whale, Thumbsucker, Saved!, and Garden State.

Focus Features is betting on Hamlet 2 to be 2008's addition to that group. Before it's nationwide release in August, Hamlet 2 has already generated buzz because of a $10 million dollar deal it hooked immediately following a screening at Sundance. The movie tycoons know what they're doing. With small-time quirk comedy at an all-time bankable high - following Best Picture noms for Little Miss Sunshine and Juno - Hamlet 2 is a safe bet on becoming a money maker. Just like the surefire box office power of horror and sci-fi films, it doesn't matter if these comedies are quality. Cuz, be warned... Hamlet 2 is not!

Steve Coogan plays a high school drama teacher with a bad haircut, a goofy collection of slacks, and a wife that resents him for his low sperm count. He also rollerblades to school because he's gotten one too many DWIs (yuk, yuk!). His only pupils are a fundamentalist Christian gal, and an overzealous gay guy.... STOP RIGHT THERE.... Yes, all of the tired and obvious jokes about fundies and gays that you just thought of are recycled in this film... RESUME... After an inner city school is consolidated, a group of Hispanic students transfer in and mistaken the school's stage area as a hangout.... STOP!.... Yes, all of the tired and obvious jokes about latinos and whites that you just thought of are recycled in this film....

You know where I'm going with this, and so you should know where the movie ends up going as well. Coogan, especially, is a chore. He seems to have misread 40 years of American comedic acting and thought he could roll-with-it the way he does with his English material. However, the biggest disappointment is that, as a teen comedy, Hamlet 2 offers nothing humorous, touching, or relatable about the teen experience.

True, the version of the film I saw is an early one, and perhaps there is some final tweaking to be done before August. But unless the makers and producers get together, cut 74 minutes, dub over the scenes with new dialogue, and insert some post-production cameos of Ellen Page and Abigail Breslin, Hamlet 2 is destined for the 4 for $20 movie bin at Hollywood Video.

.... but it'll make some money first.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A TALE OF TWO POSTERS

Speak of the devil, and he appears...

One day after poking Xavier Gens in the belly (see below post) over the upcoming release of his scuzz horror film Fronteir(s), a new one sheet for the film popped up:

WHAT ARE YOUR BOUNDARIES...

My boundaries?? Don't really know. But, X, I'm sure you're just the next one up that thinks he's pushing them.

[NOTE: Look for critics to blindly praise and excuse Frontier(s) "brutal truth" as a response to Sarkozy's France.]


On the other hand, the topical teen dramedy Towelhead looks like it could be promising... I think. It's a film I'm anxious to see b/c the plot synopsis alone makes me feel that it's riding that fence between green grass and gravel:

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About a 13-year-old arab-American girl (Summer Bishil), shipped from her Caucasian mother (Maria Bello) to her strict and at times physically abusive Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi). It details her sexual awakening, including not entirely consensual acts with a man next door that she baby-sits for (Aaron Eckhart), and a black boyfriend her age (Eugene Jones) who her father is opposed to because he's black. Almost nobody in this film is entirely good or bad lots of shading.
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Alan Ball writes and directs, which makes me worry that it could end up being American Beauty 2.0. We shall see.

ON DVD: THEM

Aesthetically, Them shares a lot with its French sadist-horror film contemporaries: a cold & steely tone, humorless, and artfully shot. Yet, co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud aren't interested in letting the camera linger on scuzzy brutality like in Haute Tension, Sheitan, Inside, or In My Skin. (Look for Xavier "Hitman" Gens to continue that trend when his import Fronteir(s) hits theaters this July). Nor are they interested in Haneke-style cutaways. At it's core, Them hearkens back to classic cat-and-mouse horror.

Because of its basic plot - a couple under siege in their home by a group of hooded hoodlums - Them is able to keep its focus on the building anxiety, and literally, the anxiety inside the building. The house is storied and spacious, yet when the uninvited charge in, the corridors tighten up and the attic becomes the only exit. The sound effects, especially, are effective in giving some shape to the faceless killers... and geez, for the first time since, maybe, Vacancy, the film actually shakes the nerves.

Still, after the 77 minute buzz, Them leaves you empty. If it's simply a visceral experience you're after, you'll be temporarily satisfied, but if you demand more of your horror films, hold out for George Romero's Diary of the Dead... coming soon to DVD. It's no longer a question of "if", but of "how long", this tail spin of European and American horror films will last. Were it not for their Asian counterparts, the genre would be off its decade long life support and waiting for a dark prince to come kiss it awake.

Finally, what of the "based on a true events" that introduces and epilogues Them? Sure, it gives the film a bit of the it's-NOT-only-a-movie, it's-NOT-only-a-movie... edge, but it should also make one question how ethical this tragedy turned into entertainment equation is. It's unclear how true to the actual events Moreau and Palud kept their film, but if the script was born from the testimony of the teens, then it's a pretty sick undertaking (no pun intended...). It reminds me of Rob Zombie's Halloween. Zombie's only goal was to get as close as he could to visually replicating what a real true-crime murder was like. This ain't scary, this ain't horror, it ain't even good ol' slashing and goring b-moving fun! This is boring pseudo-snuff.