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Archive for December, 2009

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…. has a new, effective poster. 

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What’s so interesting, and admirable, about Paramount Vantage’s unfairly-dumped-into-oblivion (limited theatrical release on September 4; forgotten about by the following day), now liberated on DVD, Carriers, is how it deserves so many tired parallels yet manages to subvert them all. Yes, it’s close in tone to The Ruins, and, sure, not unlike the structure of Zombieland. You could even toss some comparisons to The Road in for extended measure and not be overzealous. They’re all earned. But with that degree of “It’s like….” descriptions, it’d be easy for a film to buckle under the pressure and come across as a perfunctory trash-header. Carriers, written and directed by rookie brothers Alex and David Pastor, somehow rises to the occasion, and the end result is mute, personal and, despite its obvious shortcomings, rather satisfying. Continued after the jump: (more…)

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Sometimes I want to smack myself. Clench my fingers into a tight knot and shoot the fist upward into my jaw. All while saying, “What took you so long?”

One of those times was two nights ago, when, after work, I strolled my way over to a local AMC theater to catch the Coen Brothers‘ latest, A Serious Man. For those who don’t frequent acclaimed film blogs and critics circles (meaning the vast majority), A Serious Man has been nonexistent, riddled to a small pocket of major city screens. If you do visit the cinema-forward websites that I’m all over on a daily basis, though, you’ll currently see this one placing rather high on most heads’ Best of 2009 lists. It’s Joel and Ethan Coen, so naturally it’s praised in the highest of ways, and typically their two-sided name would have been enough to have me immediately  slurping down flat Diet Coke and overpriced popcorn. Something about A Serious Man hadn’t clicked with me, though. The excitement wasn’t there. Anticipation was vacant. The problem is, I’m still not sure why. Literally a week before the film’s trailer premiered online, I’d once again devoured Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing; resisting the latest picture from the fellas responsible for those two gems should never happen, right? 

The fact that I’ve finally seen A Serious Man and I’m quite the fan proves that my indifference was indeed foolish. We all go a little mad sometimes. Yours truly included. While most critics are claiming this to be the best film of the Coens’ career, I’m nowhere near as exclamatory; however, that doesn’t mean it’ll simply come and go in my head. In fact, the film’s lasting power in my thoughts is exactly why I dig it so much. Sitting there in the scarcely-populated AMC theater, I absorbed the film with quiet attentiveness, but never outright verve. A few chuckles here and there, but mostly casual entertainment. But then the morbidly poetic final shot came, and I was pretty floored. Initially, in a “What the hell was that? Are you kidding?” way, but then, no more than 20 minutes later, the last image stained itself in my brain. I couldn’t shake it. And that’s when I totally got it. I was right there with the Coens. It’s a alternately profound, ironic and fearless place to be.

Not the film's final shot, but those who've seen A SERIOUS MAN should understand.

The film’s closer tops their fury-causing, heavily debated No Country for Old Men ending, in my eyes. It’s just as maddening at first, but then equally as esoteric and poignant upon closer inspection. Much like as A Serious Man as a whole. 

Continued after the jump: (more…)

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If I ever catch myself downplaying horror sequels in the near future, I’ll be sure to remember The Exorcist III, and to then promptly quit the negativity. Written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of the original The Exorcist novel, The Exorcist III (1990) continues the first film’s story, only it’s 15 years later. The focus is on stone-faced, often sarcastic lawman Bill Kinderman (here played by the ever-imposing George C. Scott) and his efforts to pin down a killer that soaks his/her murders in a religuous foundation, and is mysteriously connected to the little McNeil girl’s nightmare.

Blatty, whose directing resume is all too slim, stages a handful of tense, damn chilly sequences; his M.O. for effective horror is a patient one, bent on sudden shock. There’s hardly a telegraphed scare in the entire film. The first lung-hitter is set in a confessional booth, and simply uses an unseen person’s gravely voice-from-Hell to signal the creeps. Near the film’s end, an oversize scissor and an unsuspecting teenager are Blatty’s key ingredients for a similar triumph. (There’s also a bizarre dream sequence complete with cameos from both Fabio and Patrick Ewing…. your guess is as good as mine). The crown jewel within The Exorcist III, though, is tonight’s Scene of Mine, and it’s a whopper. The entire sequence is actually nearly two minutes longer than what Youtube allows for here, so just imagine the quiet anticipation felt here amplified. I won’t say any more, in fear of spoiling anything; it’s such a blink-and-you’ll miss it image, but lord is it a slam dunk.

If you, like a high-school-aged me, were once obsessed with the forgotten horror video game Clock Tower, this scene should hit especially hard. Scene after the jump: (more…)

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There’s no need to get on the “Foreign films get the shaft here in the states” soapbox; it’s already overcrowded with passionate overseas-horror lovers. In the case of 2007’s exceptional [REC], though, I’ll make an exception. Mainly because that heartstopper of a quasi-zombie flick, co-directed by Spain’s Jaume Balaguero´and Paco Plaza, is the quintessential big screen picture, a film that’s perfect for in-theater consumption. Shot in the same handheld camera style as Cloverfield, [REC] is actually superior to that J.J. Abrams-backed creature feature, which itself loses steam when watched on a television. The straight-to-DVD release of [REC] here in America was a huge bummer, frankly; it robbed me of the Loews experience I desired. I had to settle for the unnecessary, but at least well-done, remake, Quarantine. But, that wasn’t the same. Quarantine is rather solid, but still a carbon copy of the real Spanish deal. 

So imagine my delight when I discovered that [REC] 2 was to make U.S. impact during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Spanish Cinema NOW” festival. Knowing that it’ll only get another to-DVD unveiling here sometime next year, missing the sequel’s run in the great Walter Reade Theater was no option. And I’m glad to report that [REC] 2 didn’t disappoint. I’ve organized my thoughts into a review-thing over at Critics Notebook. Give it a peek, will ya? 

Review Link: Critics Notebook: [REC] 2 (2009)

Tomorrow I’ll be back with a [REC] 2 related tribute to a forgotten slice of Italian zombie-movie-cheese, Burial Ground. I, for one, can’t wait. [REC] 2 trailer, after the jump:

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Exhibit A……

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Prior to seeing the film, I was under the shameful impression that Jason Reitman‘s Up in the Air would be a lighter variation on 2007’s Michael Clayton, the dreary yet tightly written George Clooney success. Both star your mom’s favorite actor as a dream shatterer; in Reitman’s film, he’s Ryan Bingham, the guy hired by your backbone-less company to send your ass straight to unemployment, while he’s a law-firm’s prized “fixer” in Tony Gilroy’s ’07 Oscar contender. In both, he’s a problem-solver-for-hire. The Up in the Air trailer promised a self-evaluation, one leading to a realization that Clooney’s character needs personal change, similar to how his Michael Clayton came to grips with his role in indirect murders. The familiarity left me with minimal excitement for Up in the Air, frankly, even though every critic with a WordPress account had been hailing Reitman’s third picture as one of the, if not the, year’s best. I’m a fool like that, sometimes. 

I couldn’t have been further from reality. Up in the Air is its own compelling entity, a serious comedy full of heartbreaking levity. Reitman—-who co-wrote the film’s script with Sheldon Turner, together adapting a 2001 novel by author Walter Kirn—-directs with a remarkable hand. Stylish without overstepping the lines, subtle without losing any of his own creative identity. The dialogue is always sharp, at times downright brilliant (I’m confident in saying that “You’re a parenthesis” will go down as 2009’s most devastating insult). And George Clooney is at his best, in a role that allows him to flex his God-given charisma just as much as it challenges his abilities, demanding new facets of vulnerability and sadness that are foreign to one Danny Ocean. Not even Michael Clayton could transmit unseen tears as convincingly as Clooney does here, in a post-wedding-rehearsal chat between brother and sisters that drives home just how detached he is from those he should unconditionally support. The pain on Clooney’s face is expressive acting at its most effective.

I won’t shoot myself in the lip by saying he deserves the Academy’s Best Actor statue (it’s way too early for such hyperbole), but he’s secured a top-slot in my personal list, alongside Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), pending on the leading-man merits of Invictus (Morgan Freeman), A Single Man (Colin Firth) and one I’ve slacked off on seeing thus far, sadly, A Serious Man (Michael Stuhlbarg). I’m absolutely riding with Team Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), but he’s on the supporting side, anyway.

George Clooney and director Jason Reitman

 

Let’s lock in both Clooney’s and Reitman’s names in the nominees-for-sure discussions, shall we? Continued after the jump:

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If I had the luxury of my own “If You Like This, You’d Also Like This….” feature here, a write-up on the IFC Films-distributed, straight-to-DVD Belgian horror flick  Linkeroever (Left Bank) would preface mention of Ti West’s The House of the Devil. West’s inconspicuous descent into ’80s satanism still holds up as one of the year’s best horror films, perhaps even THE tops, once polls are finalized; what makes that film so damn effective is its patience. The House of the Devil saves the anarchy for its final reel, and everything that comes before the endgame insanity justifies the wait. Quiet creeps, gradual earning of sympathy for the heroine. A constant sense of something-just-ain’t-right; you know it’s going to end badly for the main character, a college-aged babysitter tending to a spooky old house in the woods, but it’s all a matter of getting there.

Left Bank, directed by Pieter Van Hees, succeeds on that same level. Budding track star Marie (gifted actress Eline Kuppens; she’s a pro at the woe-is-me face) gets smitten by suave Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), and, against the wishes of her over-protective mother, moves into her new suitor’s Left Bank-located apartment building. The film’s first 80 minutes are entirely dedicated to establishing a mood; it’s understood that Marie is in for something unpleasant, but just what she’s destined to experience is kept in the dark, until an explosion of cult-sacrifice fun.

Van Hees’s pic isn’t as across-the-board triumphant as West’s picture, mainly due to screenwriters Christophe Dirickx and Dimitri Karakatsanis’s story’s all-too-brief and none-too-revealing payoff; that aforementioned explosion is more like a firecracker job. The film has been met with some of the same “Roman Polanski-esque” claims by critics as The House of the Devil, and such lofty compliments aren’t unfounded. Left Bank, in fact, owes more to Polanski than West’s work; Left Bank—-set in a sinister apartment complex that rests above a mysterious black pit, accessible through a dark, dreary basement walkway—–is close in setting to Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. The climax that Van Hees’s film  inches toward, a strange exercise in Pagan rebirth rituals, is more in line with The House of the Devil, though, so, in that sense, the film’s aesthetic quality is a curious amalgamation of Polanski and Ti West,. I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Hees has never even heard of one Ti West, but he should, because they seem to operate in the same genre headspace.

Left Bank does have its share of problems. The underlying theme, for one, isn’t fully realized, leaving interpretation not only open-ended, but littered with holes that a NJ Transit train could zip through untouched. There’s a midway slideshow presentation that informs Marie and her one ally of the apartment building’s shady history, central to which is some mumbo-jumbo about a woman-eating dragon that lives underneath and devours its latest female every seven years. Thankfully, no fire-breathing Reign of Fire rejects co-star in Left Bank, but the big reveal surrounding Marie’s sketchy lover, Bobby, is nonsensical and too vague; is he somehow connected to the dragon? Why does her assailant look like a lady’s private part during that time of the month (sorry about that)? And does that resemblance connect to the film’s several references to Marie’s troubling inability to have necessary periods?

I’ll leave these questions to the decision(s) of whomever gives Left Bank a chance of their own. Oddly, the film has been overlooked by the various horror websites that typically promote foreign movies of this ilk. Which is a shame, because Left Bank—-mostly a winner despite its narrative trappings—-is certainly worth a gander.

Left Bank trailer, after the jump: (more…)

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Hottest actress in the game. No question.

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Sometimes I wonder if I watch horror films with a different type of eye than others. Not to sound pretentious. I just tend to react to horror films that others loathe with a special devastation, a floored quality that snooty film critics experience when watching the latest Coen Brothers picture. I’m not talking dreck such as H2; I’m on the wavelength of this year’s The Last House on the Left remake, specifically. Courtesy of the used DVD bin at the local Blockbuster, I picked the DVD up last night, after weeks of self-debate over whether I should plunker down 20 beans or not. I loved the film in theaters, but it’s Christmas season, kiddies—-would spending two 10-spots on the DVD be justified now? Lumping it into a two-for-$20 deal, however, made it fair game. I sat with director Dennis Iliadis‘s remake after last evening’s witching hour, and, yet again, I fell in love. Which feels wrong to say, since its such a dreary, brutal film. But, as far as I can tell, Iliadis gives the production such flair and heft that I’m left to consider The Last House on the Left for my forthcoming Top 10 of 2009 list. Yes, it’s like that.

Back in March, I explored my appreciation of Iliadis’s Last House for the original blog-hub, “Barone’s World.” Check that out here:

The “early Wes Craven was a Hack” Analysis

This morning’s rumor (which is sketchy until legitimized) that Iliadis is close to officially taking over the long-gestating The Birds remake is all the more timely, thanks to last night’s impromptu living room Last House screening. He’s stepping in for Martin Campbell, the talented fella behind Casino Royale and who’s currently mapping out his Green Lantern film; Campbell reportedly has issues with the script for the Alfred Hitchcock winged-assailants redo; so far, the film’s script has gone through three writers, none of whom have been able to slam it home. With Campbell exiting, I’d imagine that this means we’ll no longer see Naomi Watts as The Birds lead, which would be tragic.  

I’ll be keeping close eyes on this project; fingers crossed that Iliadis gets his shot and that it happens in the near future. As I’ve done in the past, and I’ve always enjoyed, let me Naomi-Watts-potential-replacement-name into the invisible ring: Ashley Judd. Just watch the great-even-if-most-are-oblivious Bug and see how well-equipped of an actress she still is; she just needs the right roles. I say, let her step into Tippi Hedren’s beak-pecked shoes. 

The Birds news spotted over at:

/Film

Bonus related videos, after the jump: (more…)

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Discovering a sick piece of cinema previously foreign brings an awesome level of excitement, doesn’t it? Sure does around these parts. Especially when its a late-game scene in an old horror film that, up until said part, has been somewhat dull; strange and incomprehensible, sure, but still proceeding as a bore. For the first hour of The Sentinel (1977), I was scratching my head, wondering, “Am I missing something here?” I’d read all the praise, and even the hate, for writer-director Michael Winner’s bizarre horror flick (an adaptation of Jeffrey Konvitz’s 1975 this-Brooklyn-apartment-building-is-the-gateway-to-Hell novel), which was considered to be Universal’s inferior answer to the success of The Exorcist; I was expecting, at the least, a few sick thrills. But, nothing, other than one rather ferocious bit involving a shirtless zombie dad chasing his sexy daughter (wearing lingerie, I should add) as dead-daddy’s two fat, naked zombie sex partners are sprawled on a nearby bed; the now-adult, commercial-model daughter (Christina Raines, who at the time had a face as dynamite as Olivia Munn does today) even gets a few knife slashes in on pops, producing some splendidly cheesy gore—–the kind of fake ’70s blood that’s brighter than tomato-red, that almost neon look.

That scene is less than two minutes long, though; otherwise, the film’s remaining highpoints—-before the grand finale—-are a birthday part for a cat and a young Beverly D’Angelo getting herself off on a couch [see right]. Yup. So when today’s Scene of Mine finally kicked in, the film’s climax, I was sucker-punched from both sides. And I kinda loved it. Tell me how this sounds to you: a hammy Burgess Meredith leading a horde of deformed undead through a spooky apartment building as they chase a beautiful woman. That’s exactly what you get with The Sentinel‘s closing bit, an incoherent mish-mash of Shelley Duvall’s dash within the Overlook during the end of The Shining and the authentic weirdness of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic Freaks

It’s after the jump. The fun really begins at the 4:00 mark. Note that this isn’t great horror, by any stretch; just underappreciated insanity that’s a total hoot. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m off to research this thing to find out if those are actual deformed people, or simply actors covered in top-notch makeup effects: (more…)

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Who does Guy Ritchie think he is? William Castle?

Ten theaters across North America are equipped with special seats that will simulate the action during the upcoming [Guy Ritchie-directed] Sherlock Holmes thriller film screenings, to be released December 25 through the D-BOX Technology.

Audiences can experience the film from seats that move simultaneously with the onscreen action. The sensations of motion occur during specific scenes, while seats will stay still for dialogue-driven scenes.

William Castle

William Castle, for those who don’t instantly get the parallel, achieved infamy back in the late 1950s/early ’60s when he rigged theaters with interactive gimmicks, as his campy-good-fun horror pictures (including House on Haunted Hill13 Ghosts, and The Tingler) played. For The Tingler (1959) about a creature that lives on spines and can only be killed by screaming at it, Castle laced seats with buzzers that went off during the film’s climax, to give the impression that the Tingler had been let loose in the theater, followed by an employee commanding the audience to collectively scream for their lives; 1958’s Macabre had taken the hype a step further, with Castle having given each ticket-buyer a $1,000 certificate for life insurance, in case he/she died from fear—–there were even nurses positioned in the lobby, and hearses parked outside. 

This Sherlock Holmes trick falls directly in line with The Tingler. Frankly, I dig it. I’m far from optimistic about the Robert Downey, Jr. flick, so doing something that reminds me of the Castle days (an era I wish I was alive to experience firsthand) is a nice start toward the win-over. Chances are, the actual moving-chair bit will be more annoying than enjoyable, though. We shall see, come Christmas.

News spotted over at:  The Independent

Bonus William Castle videos, after the jump: (more…)

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