Tuesday, September 30, 2008

IS THAT DUST IN YOUR SOCKET, OR ARE YOU JUST PISSED OFF TO SEE ME?

JULIA (Miriam Hopkins) : "It's the last thing in the world I wanted to do."

KERRY (Errol Flynn) : "Well... you're the only one that could've done it."


Boo-ya! Good one, Errol!

I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the clippity-clop, maybe it's the Texas in me, but I love that moment in westerns - especially westerns with a romantic bent - where one person on a horse trots up to another person on a horse and the pair starts having a conversation.

I didn't think Virginia City was so great. The end is overtly rah-rah goofy, and Humphrey Bogart as a Mexican with a pencil mustache was kind of disturbing, but I went old-Hollywood weak in the knees when Miriam Hopkins tried to apologize to Errol Flynn after reluctantly setting him up... and then he lays that sucker punch on her (while handcuffed, no less)!

I guess it was also kind of interesting to have a love story where the woman is torn between a Yankee and a Confederate. Think about that PRO/CON checklist when she sits down with her girlfriends, over skillet coffee and hard biscuits, to sort out which man is the better catch.

Monday, September 29, 2008

BURN AFTER READING

The Coen Bros. new film is a perfect breeze through my head after the conflicted debate I had with myself over No Country For Old Men. I feel comfortable saying that Burn After Reading is the most enjoyable experience I've had in a theater this year. Zooming in on Langley, VA like we're experiencing Google Earth via a classroom projector, we roll with the feet of John Malkovich down the halls of CIA headquarters and end up zooming back out to satellite POV ninety minutes later after J.K. Simmons closes a classified file. Boom, zip, stamp! And, oh yeah... throw on a rare Fugs song over the closing credits for good measure.

Burn After Reading subliminally pleases audiences that are feeling fatigued by the political moment. Everything from Campaign(s) '08 to the current bailout fiasco has made the average citizen feel unjustly separated from the officials that work for us. Ingeniously, the Coens snip that proverbial red tape and have made a slapdash, weird-ass comedy where trainers at a local gym can walk into the Russian embassy and tell empty suits to hurry it up because they've got an afternoon date to make. That the Coens have pulled this off by avoiding the typical soapbox sophistry we've come to expect from the body politic of cynical Hollywood just makes Burn After Reading all the more enchanting.

Coming off such a fresh viewing, it's difficult to nitpick and pinpoint anything significantly wrong with this film. If pushed, perhaps I would finger Richard Jenkins' performance as a soggy fitness center manager. In a movie that so depends on the delivery and expressiveness of its actors - and the unrelenting stamina in keeping those two elements steady - Jenkins is the only one that seems to mail it in. The momentum in Burn After Reading comes to a pause when he's on screen. Luckily it's such a short lull that you barely notice.

Save Jenkins, everyone is great in a slew of minor roles that make up the ensemble in Burn After Reading. Brad Pitt finally reels in that overreaching he did in 12 Monkeys and re-channels it into a manic, inspired performance that teeters in between the irritably cute and the embarrassingly adorable. George Clooney is never better than when he's with the Coens (he should leave behind his trite message movies and stick to doing comedies), and Tilda Swinton is finally, deservedly, reborn since her days with Derek Jarman. But best is John Malkovich. Going from buttoned-up & bow-tied to house shoes, boxers, and bath robe, Malkovich is a force of bald-headed bravado. He deserves to get nominated for it, but performances like that don't get nominated from movies like this.

Personally, I can't stop thinking about the moment when Tilda Swinton methodically taps her index finger while discussing finances with her accountant. It's one of those characteristically quirky Coen moments that is also cinematically rhythmic and evocative. In the past, I've been one that's struggled with the style of the Coens. For me, it confused and disrupted the genre experiment of Miller's Crossing and negatively contrasted with the warm, small-town setting in Fargo. But in Burn After Reading, it's a perfect match. And I can't wait to go see it again, because I know there's moments I missed while grinning giddily at the screen the way Frances McDormand does George Clooney during her second viewing of Coming Up Daisy.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TRAILER TRASH

I know a lot of friends and blogger buddies are high on the trailer for Gus Van Sant's Milk, but when I saw it today in the theater I was just annoyed. Admittedly, I have an anti-Sean Penn bias, but with that fake nose on it was hard for me to separate his depiction of Harvey Milk (whom he looks nothing like) from that of his Sam Dawson.

Still, that trailer was nice compared to the one for Revolutionary Road. I mean, really? They're going through with this? Sam Mendes remakes American Beauty in the 1950's?!?!

When the teaser scene of Kate Winslet whining about the conventions of suburban life rolled, followed by an image of her in slo-mo scream, I wished I had brought a friend along so I had someone to laugh with.

Oh... and then came the trailer for Doubt. Oy!... I thought the twenty minute reel of M&M commercials and inside looks at the next TNT drama were bad. But hell, I'm going back to my old plan of trying to time my arrival at the theater just as the previews are ending.

Don't get me wrong, I will be more than happy to eat my words if my notions about any of these movies are wrong. It's happened many times before. Still, one of them is directed by Sam Mendes, so I feel pretty solid about that one.

Friday, September 26, 2008

FANTASTIC FEST : MARTYRS

Martyrs is about a cult of nihilistic aristocrats who are searching for evidence to what lies beyond the void, so that, ultimately, they can find something to believe in before they die. They do this by studying the psychology of martyrdom; subjecting women to unheard of physical suffering in hopes that one of them will "let go" and give themselves over to horrendous punishment (ie "martyr" themselves) ultimately reaching a state of pain-induced spiritual euphoria that they can then report back to the group on.

The cult leader explains that they use women in their experiments because of the high tolerance for pain that females have. Of course, it's convenient that the women chosen are also cute, full-lipped, and wearing fruit-of-the-loom tighty whitey tanks and hip hugger panties. Nothing makes ninety-minutes of cruel debasement, urination, force-feeding, and violent head shaving more bearable than having some eye candy to gawk at.

Respected genre enthusiasts/writers like Todd Brown at Twitch try to separate films like Haute Tension, Calvaire, Inside, and Fronteir(s) from their American sadist-horror brethren by arguing that films such as Martyrs are actually anti-exploitation in their exploitation (similar to the anti-violence by-way-of violence defenses of Kubrick & Peckinpah - which I agree with, btw - when they made A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs):

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"In fact you could argue that Martyrs is an anti-exploitation exploitation film, a film filled with incredibly extreme elements, true, but a film that has no interest in using those elements to titillate or fill the audience with vicarious thrills." (Twitch)
---

Wrong.

In fact, the shot in Martyrs that definitively sums up the veiled "titillating" intentions of this S & M horror flick - as well as the entirety of the French art-horror boom that misguided horror fans have naively labeled a "new wave" - is a scene where the leading actress is bound to a steel device while the skin of her body (except for that pretty face, of course!) is peeled away, leaving only fleshy muscle. Shot from below, director Pascual Laguier makes sure he fits the actress's young, nubile breast and nipple into the bottom of the frame. Further, the expression on the young woman's face falls somewhere between pleasure and pain, implying a sexual experience.

This used to be a woman.

And how about popular horror touchstone Bloody Disgusting's take on Martyrs:

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"The first comparison that will come out of everyone's mouth is that Martyrs is the next Inside, which it is. Both films are from France, both films are insanely violent, both films will give you nightmares and both films kick ass, but it must be known that there is a major difference between the two films. Inside is fun and literally is like a Disney movie in comparison to how tough Martyrs is to watch."
---

With blank insights such as these, it's no wonder horror devotees have been easily fooled into proclaiming France as the next fresh hub of horror. The cold, serious tones & artistic aesthetics of French horror confuse viewers even more. There is an impulse, say, to take a piece of poop seriously if it is presented to you on fine china or in a wine glass. You get seduced into thinking "ahh... this one is special" when really it's still just another piece of poop.

Simultaneously there is an impulse for directors to cover their tracks by claiming "social-commentary" as an excuse for the enjoyment of playing puppet master in a den of debauchery. Most famously - and hilariously - was Xavier Gens saying that Fronteir(s) was an indictment of France's treatment towards their immigrants. Yet, in an introductory sequence, Gens syncs up footage of the 2006 labor protests obviously meaning for it to draw upon the protests that followed the suburb riots of 2005.

Suffering is sexy!

When I was in line Tuesday to pick up my tickets for that day's screenings, I overheard two Kung-Fu film enthusiasts criticizing Fighter - the best film at Fantastic Fest this year - for being "too girly". It made me realize that perhaps a large chuck of genre movie fans don't care to move beyond the surface of a film and give-in to something that could make them feel. With that, I can make sense of the popularity of French-sadist horror. It's flashy, and slick, and "cool". Titillating for the eyes, but not the brain or heart.

"Torture"-porn has become an ineffective way to describe and dismiss this kind of stuff, but one thing's for certain... it's definitely porn.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

BACK ALLEY JUSTICE

I'm sure everybody from my generation on has experienced a "Fright Night" at an amusement park. You know: subpar haunted houses, cobwebs on the rails of roller coaster queues, janitors & carnies reluctantly wearing Spiderman get-ups at the behest of their boss.

One of the highlights was seeing park employees dressed up in Freddy or Dracula or Leatherface or Jason costumes randomly roaming the park, occasionally jumping out of a bush to try and scare us.

This trend will continue at Universal Studios this Halloween where there will be...

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...a "murderers' row" of Universal notorious celluloid creatures that includes The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, Chucky and "Psycho's" Mother Bates. (worstpreviews)
---

Oh yeah, and um... also the uh... those three idiots from The Strangers...

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The relentless masked killers from the horror-thriller hit, "The Strangers," (Pin-Up Girl, Doll Face, and The Man In The Mask) will make their theme park debut with vivid appearances in "House of Horrors: Meet the Strangers," one of many terror-filled mazes featured in Universal Studios Hollywood's "Halloween Horror Nights" event, beginning on Friday, October 3rd.

There will be no escaping "The Strangers" at this year's Halloween Horror Nights event. The deadly masked creatures will also be found stealthily roaming the dark byways of the park in their own "scare zones."
---

My treat this Halloween will be to fly to Hollywood with the purpose of confronting this trio of suck for their shit*y movie. I know they don't talk much so it should be a pretty one-sided argument, but if they try to cut me, ohhhhh boy... it's on!

I don't even care if 2/3 of The Strangers are women, because if a woman brings a knife to a fist fight, then a woman best be prepared to get hit.

That's right people. Nobody - not your parents, not your politicians, not your studio heads - is gonna do a lick about the poor quality of modern horror, so it's time to take action into our own hands.... starting with me. And I'm bringing Frankenstein's Monster along!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

FANTASTIC FEST : TOKYO GORE POLICE

One of the major themes of Fantastic Fest 2008 is the celebration of Japanese Pinku cinema. These were (and still are as evidenced by last year's Uncle's Paradise) films that used the cover of conventional storytelling to smuggle in erotic themes and imagery. This same sneaky pathway to perverted expression can be applied to some of J-Splatter's more artfully adventurous films, most notably Yoshihiro Nishimura's Tokyo Gore Police.

The plot of Tokyo Gore Police - the city's police force has been privatized and martial law is imminent; meanwhile, a gang of "engineered" (ie mutant) criminals are wreaking havoc - can be tossed aside, because the real purpose here is to let Nishimura flesh out his nutso daydreams and doodles. This is clear when the script pretty much puts itself on pause for a spectacular twenty minute underground sex-club sequence which reaches past the ceiling of surreal when a living flesh chair is brought out on stage to pee on an overeager audience.

From here we move to a scene where an engineered woman's legs turn into the jaws of a crocodile, thus making her vagina - yes - the swallowing throat of a ferocious reptile. Don't be offended ladies, Nishimura takes a dig the at the men as well when he turns a engineered man's penis into a giant canon that shoots lethal shrapnel out of its tip. Of course, none of this lunacy, blood, and tearing of flesh would work had Tokyo Gore Police not been so cartoonishly absurd in its presentation. I don't think it's too far reaching to compare Nishimura's film to the work of cult artists like John Waters, Frank Henenlotter, or the "lighter" side of Japanese peer Takashi Miike.

Calling Tokyo Gore Police "over-the-top" would require having to retire that cliche and inventing a completely new phrase to describe something which goes beyond the limits of even the most whacked-out gonzo horror fan. The only equivalent I can think of is Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. Jackson's film and effects are more elaborate, but consider that Nishimura made his film within the confines of a two week schedule and, I'm guessing, with much less money than Jackson had to work with.

Tokyo Gore Police is overlong, and by films end you feel fatigued by the onslaught of slapstick debauchery and firehose bloodletting. Nishimura is still learning. He doesn't have the directorial or emotional chops to rival his make-up/effects wizardry. Despite the grand effects, some of TGPs camera work reaches the level of irritation that crap such as X2: X-Men United and Greengrass's Bourne movies gave the world. Also, some of Nishimura's humor feels more mean-spirited than funny and his social observations beg for more wisdom.

Still, as a first film, Tokyo Gore Police is promising, and it literally promises more, when in bright bold letters preceding the end credits it says "MORE GORE COMING SOON!...".

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

FANTASTIC FINDS

Among the many movies playing at Fantastic Fest, there are some very geeky things to buy. I really want two of these things:

I want this...

That's right. A t-shirt decal of Brian De Palma's name in the form of the Def Leppard logo. I want it on a shirt, and I want it now. I want to wear it every day.

And I also want this...

In sweet hardback edition. It's thick and dense like your 10th grade U.S. History book. Lovely. And even lovelier when you can touch it live in its tangible state. It weighs heavy in your hands like a bag of gold.

***So, please send money to TRACTOR FACTS so I can buy these. You can get my address by sending me an e-mail. Thank you.***

Monday, September 22, 2008

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 4

My theory was correct: the festival would get better the deeper we got into the days. This is probably an obvious intention of the programmers to have the fest hit it's peak during the weekend mountain of attendees... I was just a little worried post-Day 1.

Today (Sunday) was a great day. Not only did I see my favorite film of the festival (Fighter) but I also got to see my friend premier his movie (Zombie Girl : The Movie!) in front of a packed audience. It's a great documentary, and it moved an audience of typically snide fanboys and girls to tears.

But first up was Fighter.

This movie brought in the Kung-Fu heads, but it sounded like a disappointment to a few of them as we exited the theater. Mind you, you shouldn't mind these guys, because they are the ones who rate films on body counts and stunt work.

At its core, Fighter is a great teen film. Aicha is a Turkish immigrant in Denmark. She is obsessed with Bruce Lee and wants to be a martial artist. Her traditional parents want her to become a doctor and have an arranged marriage.

Director Natasha Arthy is fully aware of the "fight" Aicha faces at home as well as the gender walls put up against her in the ring. Fighter's most powerfully visual moment takes place in a recurring dream sequence where Aicha battles a ninja. In the final dream we finally see the eyes behind the ninja's covering and they are that of a female behind a veil.

Arthy's film is full of culturally aware moments like these that fight for the right of women without denigrating the religion of Islam (a criticism I have already predictably heard from fellow festival goers... SIGH...).

Ms. Natasha Arthy's Fighter is the best film at Fantastic Fest I've seen so far, and it's gonna be tough to knock it off that mantle.

Next I went to see the premier of my friend's film Zombie Girl : The Movie!

You may call "bias!" on me for praising a film of my friend's, but if you do, I would advise you to talk to some of my other friends & relatives about that. I don't give people free passes. If it's good, it's good, and Zombie Girl is good.

This years-in-the-making documentary is about a 13 year old (she's now 16) girl names Emily Hagins that decided to make a zombie movie called Pathogen after seeing the Australian zombie flick Undead at Harry Knowles' annual Butt Numb-A-Thon.

Directors Aaron Marshall, Justin Johnson and Eric Mauck follow Emily's journey from initial casting to eventual premier, but at the heart of the film is a touching relationship between Emily and her mother Megan. Refreshingly, the directors refrain from the modern documentary trend of mocking their subjects and manipulating the footage to tell their own story instead of displaying the events that are unfolding in front of their eyes.

Zombie Girl : The Movie! deserves distribution, and if it doesn't, it will just go to show you how ethically corrupt the documentary markets are. It's time to back away from the decades long sensationalism that has infected documentary culture and get back to appreciating films that care for their subjects more than their own stardom.

What we watched next was some kind of special experience. The film is already getting heavy buzz from other festivals and the film is called JCVD.

J-C-V-D stands for the iconic Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the film is a meta-movie autobiopic of sorts. Van Damme plays himself, and, by chance, he is thrust into a robbery at a post office. The set-up gives Van Damme a chance to explore his career and the portrayal/exploitation of himself in the media.

JCVD is utterly watchable, and I want to see it again once it hits theaters, but my initial reaction to this film is that it is kind of whiny. Still, there is little doubt in my mind that this movie is gonna shake-up discussions among cinephiles when it comes out. Beyond my quibbles with it, there is something quite unique about this film.

Cargo 200 was an artfully shitty experience. It takes place in 1984 Soviet Union, and supposedly it's based on some true event, yet I've been unable to find information on said event yet.

No doubt atrocities occurred in the oppressive grip of the USSR in 1984 (as they do in modern Russia), but what is on display here is more like an atrocity exhibition instead of any real heady or damning or angry condemnation of an ugly history that the recent Transsiberian said can only be uncovered "by using a shovel".

Sure, ugliness can be used in films in powerful and meaningful ways, but the way Cargo 200 is structured makes you question the director's intentions. The terror builds and builds and builds, not creating a satisfying tension, but a how-much-more-can-I-take tolerance test.

When a naked woman winds up handcuffed to a bed with two dead men in it (one of whom just raped her) while another man reads her love-letters from a dead husband, it's just too much, and the creators of Cargo 200 have lost my efforts to piece together something meaningful out of this.

The midnight movie tonight was Wild Man Of The Navidad.

Festival programmer Tim League introduced this film by saying that it accurately nailed the aesthetic of 1970's low-budget horror. He's exactly right, but I would like to expand on that. Wild Man... not only goes after the look of cheap 70's horror, but pins down the tone and unintentional humor of it as well. What's doubly special about that is that the humor is not mocking of the small-town Texas locals that act in it, but a celebration of their eccentricity. Further, Wild Man..., like Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz stays away from genre parody or spoofiness, and exists as loving tribute.

To me, this is what "independent film" is about. It's not Steve Buscemi's next directorial feature, or Steven Soderbergh trying to go "underground" with his shitty, shot-with-real-people Bubble, but about directors/writers/actors/editors/EVERYTHING! Duane Graves and Justin Meeks pushing their regular lives to the side and sacrificing weekends of leisure for self-funded film making.

This movie may not be for everyone, but I loved the hell out of it. If you look between the cracks of the fun that's happening on screen, you will see the product of two filmmakers that absolutely love what they are doing and have a totally non-cynical respect for the medium in which they work.

Lucky for you, IFC Films has just picked this film up for DVD release. Perhaps this means that IFC will finally get back to what their acronym initially stood for.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 3

I left early today because I stayed late yesterday and plan on pulling a 2:00PM - 2:00AM monster day tomorrow.

But leaving early left me with a smile. On the way to our car we passed Amy Smart. You may think I was geeked just because she's attractive, but no, I was geeked because she was IN FREAKING CRANK WITH FREAKING JASON STATHAM!!

Day 3 was far and away the best day yet: Minimal confusion, good food, friends visiting from out of town, even a short nap in between features. And I got to see Amy Smart.

We made it for the before noon features today, and we chose Estomago : A Gastronomical Story.

This Brazilian dark comedy is a character study about Nonato, a country-boy (or, "redneck white-butt" as he's referred too in jail...) who ventures into the city and, quite literally, stumbles upon the culinary arts. It's said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and Estomago stretches that philosophy to argue that the way for a man to gain prominence is to silence the hunger pangs of those around him.


Joao Miguel -
looking like a younger, South American Roberto Benigni -plays Nonato. Miguel sports the coy expressions of an "innocent" con man while his physical subtleties project a naivete that fools you into putting your guard down while he's really sizing you up for a jam.

Estomago sputters a bit towards the end when it too frequently cuts between two existing storylines, but it ultimately ends up a winner, and a great way to start a morning. And I shouldn't exit this mini-review without mentioning a scene that should satisfy the fantasy of every chef : Nonato gets his girlfriend doggy-style while she enjoys a plate of his food. It's a new kind of double penetration, and honestly, it's done rather tastefully.


Next was a compilation of animated shorts called Fear(s) Of The Dark. I don't really know how to react to stuff like this. First of all, I'm an admitted dunce when it comes to appreciating the art of animation, and second of all, I've never been a fan of short comps.

To my untrained eye, Fear(s) just looked like a bunch of stuff I'd already seen before, from the days of Liquid Television to Persepolis. To be honest, I kinda zoned out on this one and stared at my food more than the screen. I also zonked out a bit to refuel for the remainder of the day.

Oh, and we were given a sneak tease to 10 minutes of the new Disney film Bolt. I don't know, I guess it was whatever it was supposed to be. I don't know. I thought Ratatouille was pretty dull. You people seem to like that stuff. I don't know.

The Chaser was an appropriate title to the film that followed Fear(s), because I needed something to wash that blandness out of my mouth.

I'd previously professed my excitement for this film (
as well as my love for all things Korean cinema) HERE, so you can imagine my excitement as I was about to be treated to this movie before it gets it's limited theatrical run in the near future.

The Chaser is two-hours of tightly-wound, well-made, finely-acted, tense, and humorous entertainment, and if it get the right amount of buzz, it could do a some damage in the American market. Why? Because it's a very American influenced film. From police procedural TV shows to films as far ranging as Beverly Hills Cop and Blue Steel, The Chaser is a product of genius research and reference teams.


Still, I couldn't escape the feeling that something massive was lacking. Without having had a chance yet to fully think on The Chaser, my gut tells me that it's a product of the meager fanboy criteria: slickness trumps feelings. This is why nobody really takes the Star Wars of Lord Of The Rings films seriously, and why David Fincher has yet to make a great film. Hey dude, call me when you want to be an artist instead of just a talented technician.


Before it has it even had its first screening, Let The Right One In was already the most buzzed about film of the festival. People were even pulling the old school sit-in-the-aisle thing to see this film.

Let The Right One In is a coming of age vampire movie with a European art house tone. So, think Near Dark (with preteens) meets Trouble Every Day (without the brutality). Director Tomas Alfredson has something special in the friendship between Oskar and Eli, but he makes the mistake of veering away from that center and into subplots which carry no meaning, and can't even stand on their own.

I liked Let The Right One In, but it's the kind of film that leaves you wishing that the producers had leaned on the director to cut about 10-15 minutes out. Then Let The Right One In might not have been just good, but great.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 2

Sorry for the delayed update on Day 2, which, if you're going by CST, was two days ago... but if you're calculating via "festival-brain", it feels like only a while ago.

By Friday morning, it was time to face facts: Night (Day) 1 of Fantastic Fest was a let down. Last year, my second screening of the fest was the overnight sensation Timecrimes (which is finally getting a theatrical release this December, btw... so keep an eye out for it), but this year it went swinging strike (Late Bloomer).... foul ball (How To Get Rid of the Others) .... called strike (Art of the Devil 3).

Though that poor showing may have been from my own poor scheduling/decision-making of what movies to go see.

So, odds were definitely in favor for the first film I saw on Day 2 to lift me out of my low. But to praise The Substitute based on those merits alone would be unfair to this charming Danish, sci-fi film.

As the wife correctly pointed out, The Substitute calls on your nostalgia for 1980's PG-13 sci-fi films like Invaders From Mars. And just as Louise Fletcher dominated in that creature-teacher role from Invaders..., Paprika Steen steals the show in The Substitute. Her first moment on screen - a battle-of-the-wits interrogation with her new students - is possibly the film's high point.

Without Steen, The Substitute may not have worked. Not only does her presence drive the film, but she pulls out the best from a largely preteen cast. The ending is a bit of a shrug, but the final moment is touching. (NOTE: the wife thought this moment was sappy... so, there ya go!)

What happened next was a bit of a panic...

We wanted to go see Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance, but since the mini-diva decided to reserve a bit too many seats for her film, many of us were shut out (sadly, Papa Lynch wasn't one of the "reserved". If so, I wouldn't have been as irritated).

So we bounced over to Eagle Eye instead.

I was a fan of Disturbia's retelling of suspense conventions through the devices of a perpetually logged-in generation, so it was a major disappointment when Eagle Eye fluttered and crashed as badly as it did. Straight-up? Man to man? : This film is pretty stupid. Where Caruso successfully repackaged thriller trickery for a younger audience in Disturbia, Eagle Eye attempts to do the same for political espionage, but falls flat on its beak instead.

Jerry Shaw (LeBeouf) is a down-on-his-dreams, five o'clock shadowed burnout haunted by the shadow of his more ambitious twin brother. When brother dies, Jerry gets forced into a role of citizen foot-soldier by a random woman on a cell phone. Soon, Eagle Eye tailspins into a variation on 2001's HAL meets Harrison Ford in Air Force One.

The "no f*cking way!" moments are off-the-chart, and the subtext underneath Eagle Eye's "assassination plot of an entire administration because of errors in Afghanistan" is numb and amateurish. (Though, to be fair, that reading may come from seeing this movie in Austin, where invoking assassination fantasies is bound to get cheers).

Because the filmmakers for the next film we saw, The Wreck, were sweet people, it's difficult for me to write anything too negative about it.

Despite my dislike of this film - about a married (and pregnant) couple trapped in a crashed car in the middle of nowhere - it did have a fingers-in-the-dirt, DIY glow to it. Listening to the Q & A afterwards only confirmed that.

The Wreck is a minor film that replays a lot of the twisting corners that our post-Saw horror movies have put us in. The film's appearance at Fantastic Fest is likely its first and last hurrah, so why dig in against a film whose journey is probably already at completion?

I hated Wrong Turn, so it was by scheduling default, last year, that I saw Wrong Turn 2 : Dead End. I was glad I did, not only because it was a throwback to the slapstick hyper-gore of yore, but it was also a total tonal departure from the original. It made me realize that horror sequels no longer represent a continuation of any previous storyline or aesthetic, but simply an established vessel for a young director to flex his beer belly in.

Well, I didn't like Feast, so I thought perhaps I would score with another sequel in Feast 2 : Sloppy Seconds. Nope.

There's a reason Feast 2 was given the 11:55 PM slot. It's a movie that should appeal to the drunken & stoned fanboy that likes to have a movie on in the background while he downloads his daily porn updates. There are midgets with 2 foot wieners, monsters pooping, monsters farting, monsters ejaculating, feline fu*king, vomiting, boobs. Yes, I realize some of you may be saying "OMG, that sounds awesome! ", and if so, I would refer you back to the second sentence in this paragraph.

However, I will give Feast 2 the compliment of having shown me something that I'd never seen in a movie before, and that is an utterly bizarre sequence of an infant in distress that truly goes out-of-bounds and into the surreal. And the way it ends, well... let's just say that if you thought baby splatter was the one place that horror heads wouldn't go, well, you'd be very wrong.

DAY 2 DONE! UPDATE ON DAY 3 COMING SOON!....

Friday, September 19, 2008

FANTASTIC FEST : DAY 1

I shouldn't already feel so wiped out, but I do. That will be remedied though. A long night's sleep and a day off of work with the knowledge that I will be in the theater all day can do wonders for a sleepy head and lazy bones.

The big kickoff film tonight was Zach and Miri Make A Porno, but since I don't care for Kevin Smith, and I don't care for porno (......), I decided to take the take the low-budget road tonight.

First was Late Bloomer, a barely there, digitally shot Japanese film about a mute, disabled man named Sumida that is so disfigured on the outside it makes it difficult for caretakers to tell how he is doing inside. [UPDATE: I passed out writing this last night, but now I am back!] Sumida uses a speak-n-spell to communicate words, but the tonal emotions are still mute. Is Sumida happy, content, on the edge of madness, a serial killer?

This makes for an interesting character study, but it's hard to discern if director Shiboto is using the actor's real life disability to create a complex character or not. I don't think the intention was to exploit... but then again, it's kind of hard to tell.

The film is shot with shakey hand held, and has disjointed schizo-editing sequences that match up with the Drill N' Bass music. Late Bloomer ends powerfully, and tragically, disgustingly beautifully, but was the movie as a whole a success? It's hard to tell yet...

The Danish How To Get Rid Of The Others was the most promising of the first day films. Indeed, it does think it's too cute at times, but it is gutsy enough to take on a premise that many American filmmakers would shy away from (except for, perhaps, Trey Parker).

Overly socialized Denmark has become a haven for a percentage of people that drain the welfare system and weigh down the safety nets so much that the government has decided to take action: EXECUTION!. You take disability only to load up on booze? DEAD. You head the arts commission and produce nothing of cultural substance? DEAD. You get pregnant by a person you can't remember the next morning? DEAD.

How To...'s politics are all over the place, or, at least it seems too. An American audience may not connect directly with the satire as would a European.

The final solution of a rebel faction to rip it all up and start again in Africa is though-provoking. Maybe the solution to Africa's pain is for successful westerners to immigrate there, instead of vice versa. Still, the final shot eerily made me think of the slave trade in reverse. A boat of white people sailing toward Africa. It's evokes Plymouth Rock all over again.

I won't beat around the bloody bush: Art of the Devil 3 sucks. I haven't seen AOTD or AOTD 2, but I have a feeling there isn't much variety between the three.

Simply, this Thai import is about black magic. Like a porno film, the first section is a half-ass acted set-up just to get to the what the audience paid for: money shots. And like a bad porno film (.....) staring your favorite actress (.....) Art of the Devil 3 left the audience of sickos with nary a blue ball. The disappointment in the long-haired, black-jeaned audience as the moped out was more than palpable.

I guess the one compliment I can give this film is that it walks a weird line between family drama and torture set piece. A bizarre mix for sure. Most bizarre is a sequence where a husband gets so excited about his wife's positive pregnancy test that he can't stop smelling it and from getting his family to smell it as well. Then twenty minutes later his pregnant wife's stomach explodes because a scorpion was forced down her fathers mouth by a witch. I don't know... I don't really care... today is a new day and I will have forgotten about Art of the Devil in about and hour when I see my first of four films for the day.


I expect more from today, and the entire weekend.... STAY TUNED... if I have a chance to post inbetween films, I will...........

Thursday, September 18, 2008

SUNDANCE CANNES SUCK IT

My brain is already pretty wonky, but it will likely get wonkier over the next seven days.

Tonight begins Fantastic Fest , which means I will pretty much be living at the Alamo Drafthouse for the next week, eating the same food, and peeing next to the same people, day after day. (This is especially awkward when, on the third or fourth day, people start recognizing each other and feel that they are then in the clear to discuss movies while their pants are unzipped.)

In the meantime, it's doubtful that I will be bringing any new reviews on future classics like Lakeview Terrace or The Women 2.0 or giving light commentary on Diablo Cody vs. The Haters , but I will be bringing as many festival updates as possible so please return daily! I also hope to take my camera so I can post some freaky things for ya!

KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED!! MORE TO COME VERY SOON....

**BTW... if you do want some takes on Lakeview Terrace go here, here, & here. They all think Neil LaBute is just the best!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MAINTAINING BROKEBACK

"Why?"

I knew fan fiction was all the rage within fantasy nerd circles, but who knew that an Annie Proulx short story about two gay cowboys - made into a vastly overrated Ang Lee film, Brokeback Mountain - would inspire a whole new circle of jerks to send out their limp purple prose.

---
"There are countless people out there who think the story is open range to explore their fantasies and to correct what they see as an unbearably disappointing story. They constantly send ghastly manuscripts and pornish rewrites of the story to me, expecting me to reply with praise and applause for 'fixing' the story. They certainly don't get the message that if you can't fix it, you've got to stand it." (Independent UK)
---

Having had a short obsession with reading online erotic fiction myself, I can only imagine the sludge that Ms. Proulx received in the mail. I mean, sure, it's fun to write... I don't mean to dis the fans for doing their own thang, but to send it to her like "hey... you should've done it this way". Huh!?!?

It would be like me gathering up some friends to reshoot the last half of Indy 4 because it didn't meet my expectations and then sending it to Spielberg. Ok, yeah... I'm sure he gives a sh*t!

I do kind of admire people with egos large enough to send their favorite author a writing sample. It must be kind of self-affirming in an ignorance-is-bliss sort of way. Cuz lord knows when they don't receive that letter of adoration back from Ms. Proulx (or whomever) said pseudo-writer will just stand in front of the mirror and say, "Whatever. She just doesn't get my brilliance!"

These people grow up to be Jeffrey Wells.

Monday, September 15, 2008

COONSKIN CAPRIO

Will someone please knock that raccoon off Leonardo's face? Seriously! It's bugging the crap out of me!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

Woody Allen's forty-second feature comes off as uninspired as the notes-on-a-napkin title he gave it. A cinematic lifer, Allen's had his ups & downs, his periods & interests, but the current era seems to be the one where our director is truly floating adrift. Save for the underrated Scoop and parts of Melinda and Melinda, Allen hasn't made a good film since 2000's Small Time Crooks. This judgment isn't coming from a Woody hater, far from it. I love the guy. I will go to war for his 90's films that critics often slag off.

What I think he's done - specifically from Match Point on - is taken the redundant criticisms to heart and tried to reinvent himself as a "mature" filmmaker. Perhaps it is Allen's filming in Europe that's stunted the independent instincts he once held as an American artist. It is much more charming to watch Allen's homages/tributes to European film (September, Interiors, Stardust Memories etc.) than it is watching him try to be European. Notice Vicky Cristina Barcelona's forced Gaudi, Catalan acoustic guitar, and Spanish poetry references, then compare that to the New York city buildings, Jazz, and E.E. Cummings inclusions in Hannah In Her Sisters.

This false sense of self comes through in Vicky Cristina when Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) settles into domestication with Juan Antonio. The narrator says, "Cristina considered herself an expatriate, one more in tune with European culture and now less affected by American materialism." (Hmmm, funny how her and Juan Antonio live in a house full of furnishings and niceties...). Thing is, I don't think Allen meant for this to come off as a sly joke.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona tells a fable of two NYC twentysomethings who set off on an international quest for clarity yet end up back at square one once the fun is done. BFF, but polar opposites when it comes to love, Vicky first enters our frame in black dress, while Cristina is in white. Vicky craves grounded commitment, while Cristina is a bit of a skank. But instead of exploring the benefits/trappings of these paths, Allen simply sets them up as prey for the Latino lover, Juan Antonio. Yep, he scores the Madonna and the whore. Mix in the schizo-sexy weapon wielding ex, and my man is hitting for the Triple Crown.

Yet here again, Allen is out of his league. He's not an erotic filmmaker. There are no sparks when Allen crafts a three-way darkroom kissing scene between Scarlett, Javier, and Penelope. In fact, this moment - shot under red lights - makes you yearn for the scene in Annie Hall where Alvy tries to spice up sex with Annie by putting a red light bulb into the bedside lamp ("I brought a little erotic artifact to give the place a flavor of old New Orleans... and, of course, we can develop photos afterwards.").

In the end, it's hard for me to really care where Woody goes from here and/or what he decides to do with his career. He's already established himself as a godhead, in my book, so if the man wants to make an seven-hour biopic about some jazz legend, so be it. He's the cinematic equivalent of R.E.M. to me. I'm already sold, the seduction is complete. The name's been etched on the golden challis above my bed. The love will never be perfect, but it's unconditional.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

PLEASE, NO CRACKS ABOUT THE MARKS ON HER KNEES...

I can't believe Scarlett Johansson is still only 23! She's like that kicker on your favorite college team that mysteriously seems to be playing into his sixth year. (BTW... shout-out to my man Morten Andersen who, last year, was still kicking at the age of 48 (!!) and who always kept it real with that pre-1980's two bar facemask.)

These new pictures actually kinda creep me out. It's not just the vacant look on Scarlett's face that bugs me, but the overall dankness in the photos...

The first shot is mildly degrading with that "bruised kneecap" sex-kitten look... the second shot seems to imply suicide by hanging... and the negative space in the third is taken up by a cracked, mildewy, dry-blood looking wall. The eroticism is dry...

... unless you're into that kinda thing, which, as long as it's consensual, hey, whatever you're into man. Lord knows that others wouldn't jive with the going-ons in the corner of my mind either.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ON DVD : BEFORE I FORGET

The best of recent gay-themed movies seem to focus on youth; the beauty of it and the ignorance in it. Time To Leave, The Witnesses, Garcon Stupide, Broken Sky. I suppose Gods and Monsters is an exception, but still, Ian McKellan spends most of his time in that film drawing and dreaming about young, naked men. Sure, we get a little self-reflection in his James Whale depiction, but nothing like the stark portrait of Pierre that director Jacques Nolot gives us in the wonderful Before I Forget.

Pierre is a sixty year old Parisian ex-gigolo not only staring down the twenty-four year long reality that he is HIV +, but dealing with the loneliness that came as a result of his loose lifestyle. These were men drawn together through love but ultimately driven apart by lust, an inability to stay monogamous. Nolot hints at something here that has, so far, gone untouched in gay cinema: the trial of being sexually loyal while emotionally committed to one partner, and, specifically, how that has left many homosexual males alone in the later stages of their lives.

Nolot's name may be an unfamiliar one, but to those familiar with French cinema, his face shouldn't be. A regular in the films of Techine, Denis, and Ozon, Nolot's mug is a handsome one, but in that stereotypically froggish way. His skin sags, and he wears over-sized suits, but he carries a wise sexuality about him like only an aging Frenchman can. His gaze and patience communicate a million emotions. We watch Pierre on his shrink's couch, fingers crossed, confessing frustrations and stories of his past. Pierre is looking away from us. There is no movement, just words. Yet the physical communication in this scene is incredible.

Before I Forget starts with a simple visual metaphor that recalls the entirety of Derek Jarman's meaningful blue-screen stunt, Blue. In silence, a black dot appears against a white screen. The dot slowly grows in size, eventually saturating the entire screen. We next jump to a shot of Pierre (Nolot) and his lover admiring their cemetery lots, and the message is clear, these men - victims of an AIDS epidemic they didn't see coming - are in the final stages of their lives. There is no anger, no push back, just acceptance.

The title itself implies a race against time, not only to cement the memory of one's existence, but to artistically capture a specific human condition before the moment is lost. I don't know if Nolot himself is HIV +, but in the way he portrays a human life living with it (both in Before I Forget and the his 2004 film Porn Theater) means that he's at least been close to some who were.

I don't think Before I Forget ever got an official American release, but - in addition to it's recent DVD release - the film has been screening at various Gay & Lesbian film festivals. If it travels to your town, go see it, because humanist filmmakers like Nolot need our support.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

MARK RUFFALO : DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS?

Movie news, rumor, and picture hub Worstpreviews.com put up an odd story yesterday:

"Mark Ruffalo Cannot Afford To Send His Kids to College"

Er, what?

The site said they got this piece of information from an interview with Ruffalo at the Toronto Film Festival. However, I don't know how they infer that from the quotes they posted.

---
"If I can make a living to support a family of three in Los Angeles, I will probably be doing a lot more theater," said Ruffalo. "It's my deep love."

He continued: "Right now I am just doing films, and like I said, I got to get these kids to college and it's expensive." (Worstpreviews.com)
---

Um, all he's saying is that college is expensive and that he makes more money doing films so that's what he's doing right now.

Since 2004, Ruffalo gave at least $11,000 in political donations. That doesn't sound like someone who is hurting to save money. Further, this is the same Ruffalo that said, "We're actors, man; we get paid way too much. It's like 'Wah, wah, wah' to me to hear an actor bitching and moaning when they get paid as much as they do and we have a pretty great life." (Defamer)

So, I've got myself scratching my head over what Worstpreviews is really on about here. Are they taking a tongue-in-cheek shot at Ruffalo? Did they just go National Enquirer overnight?? Are they trying to make an Election '08 statement about the cost of higher education???

Monday, September 08, 2008

MOTIVATION

I was thinking about making a run at the 2012 Olympics in London, but then I was like "eh... what's the point? I'd rather blog!"

Then my coach sent me these photos:

And you wonder where the female stereotype of "gold digger" comes from?

p.s. Is it me, or does that girl in the green bikini have some lumps in her trunk???

Sunday, September 07, 2008

DEATH RACE

Death Race is the latest in the action sub-genre where humans from a dystopian future get hooked on hyper-violent TV game shows: The Condemned, Battle Royale, Wrong Turn 2, The Running Man, Series 7, and the original Death Race 2000. Same story, same dull result. They just keep pushing the fictional time stamp up... 2000... 2012... 2017. It's humorous that none of these films ever whip themselves around with enough edginess to take a look at this "social commentary" from the audience's perspective. What we're left with is the director getting off on showing us his gameshow kill daydreams.

[NOTE: To be fair, the original Death Race is a fine film and does the best at tackling this conceit, poking fun at media personalities - commentators, sportscasters - and their phony objectivity].

Paul W.S. Anderson helms this remake, and just like his Resident Evil trilogy the best thing about Death Race is in the casting of the lead. Jason Statham, like Milla Jovavich as Alice, is a sexual force of an action star with a moral code that rides up his spine. Lately, he's had a bad run with In The Name of the King, War, The Bank Job, and now Death Race, but he's been entertaining in all. (With Transporter 3 and Crank 2 coming in late '08 or early next year, Statham is sure to rebound. Those two franchises are ideal for his type of soft-shelled machismo.)

Anderson is similar to fellow fanboy whipping post Uwe Boll (really, shouldn't the fannies aim for someone like George Lucas, instead of Boll or Anderson, at this point?) in that the amount of leg work put into writing, producing, and directing his own projects is admirable. However, the finished products always come off so listless. Honestly, there's not much separation between Resident Evil and Death Race; take the shell off and you've really got identical innards. Once again the villain is "the corporation" - this time with a boring Joan Allen as the capitalist svengali behind the online subscription juggernaut.

Like other divisive buzz words ("neo-con", "socialist", "evangelical", "muslim") that are often misused and tossed into screeds and salvos to ignite uproar when the speaker/writer has lost their way - or never had one - , "the corporation" has become another boogeyman term that makes one's eyes roll with each heavy-handed dose. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if upcoming generations start taking "the corporation" for a proper noun... like, the Earth, the Grand Canyon, or the Tim McGraw.

Had a pop impresario like Louis Leterrier, Jon Chu, or Pierre Morel directed Death Race it could've kept its preachy tones while still having fun. Further, I think of someone with slapstick sophistication like Edgar Wright following in the footsteps of the original and even improving on it. Ah well... it's bad, but harmless bad. You could do worse, like Pineapple Express.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

STUPID NETFLIX!* : PRIVATE PARTS (1972)


*When Netflix let's me down, on the DVD shelves, a film must be found...

Paul Bartel must've been viewed as the black sheep of the Roger Corman clan. While Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorcese went out fishing for Academy Award nominations, Bartel was just fine obsessing over perverts and crafting unrealistic death scenes. Rumor has it that even the I'll-shoot-anything Roger Corman refused to finance Bartel's film, Eating Raoul. Now, if Roger freakin' Corman doesn't wanna produce your film, then you might just be a pariah in a city where even street walkers get smiled upon once in awhile with godliness. (Coincidentally,the self-financed Eating Raoul turned out to be Bartel's biggest success.)

However, it's hard to say what kept Corman away from Eating Raoul. To be fair, it probably wasn't Bartel's depraved sense of humor since he gave him the Death Race 2000 gig after seeing the psycho(tic)-sexual Private Parts.

Bartel's first film is about Cheryl Stratton, a young girl of uncertain age that moves into her aunt's hotel after a roommate kicks her out for peeping on her and her boyfriend. The hotel - The King Edward - houses drunks, gay priests, models, and senile sunbathers, but its most curious denizen is George, an androgynous photographer so good looking that women forgive his fetishes and subjugating demands.

Bartel squeezes out sympathy for George by informing us that his mother, Cheryl's aunt, has sequestered him in the hotel for years in order to prevent George from falling prey to the sexual controls of women. However, to satisfy his biological needs, George's mother gives him blow-up dolls.


It's in one of these "sex scenes", that Private Parts reaches an odd moment of transcendent beauty among the otherwise typical b-movie hokum. Upon orgasm, George injects a syringe of blood into the doll instead of following through with usual ejaculation. It's creepily sweet. A deep recluse's reach at achieving intimacy by attempting to animate the inanimate. Also, though the film is pre-AIDS, you can't help but connect a dark symbolism to this scene.

But truly, the only reason to watch Private Parts is to experience the creation that is George - specifically his scene with the blow-up doll. In fact, while watching Private Parts, I mostly just felt bad for young actress Ann Ruymen who plays Cheryl Stratton. Looking something like a tiny hybrid of Margot Kidder and Shelley Duval, Ruymen's flimsy frame topped with black locks and a tweeny smile made her an obvious fill in for a low-budget film that wanted to showcase a little T & A.

Private Parts was Ruymen's first job, and since then it's been random TV episodes. Who knows, maybe she's happy... I just couldn't help but project onto her that cliched story of a young starlet that skips over to Hollywood only to end up on the ugly side of Sunset because of one poor decision.