Archive for January, 2010

Over at the fulltime grind, I’ve somehow found a way to merge two passions of mine in a completely random and maybe-too-esoteric way. See, I took my all-week duty of one rap-music-specific blog per day and wrote a Shirley Jackson remix, combining hip-hop’s cherished “battle rap” practice with the iconic author’s brilliant short story “The Lottery.” Music and literature, a treacherous pair. 

I’m not entirely sure if my idea congeals well enough, but I’m, at the least, happy with the execution. Check it out for yourselves and let me know, please?

LINK:  XXLmag.com – The Hip-Hop Witch Project: Don’t Throw Stones in Rap Houses

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This goes out to all nine of my loyal readers. You all complete me. And shock the hell out of me.

2010 begins an interesting diversion, the windy path to notoriety within the online film-covering community. Earning respect, one post at a time. That’s the goal, at least. So far, I’m on two channels: this here one, which will continue to be home to all random film musings, free-spirited reviews and reactions to pictures both new and old, and other me-centric writings that, honestly, have no other fitting home; and Critics Notebook, where I regularly contribute in-depth reviews of new films, whether independent, obscure or mainstream. Here, the reviews are raw; there, much more controlled and self-edited.

Which leaves a place for me to cover a healthy smattering of film news, and that’s where my new outlet, Reel Loop, comes into play. Though its still in its upstart stage, Reel Loop shows tons of potential and, most importantly, spunk. Not that dry news, but lively updates and an occasional creative remixing of the hard-news approach. The site’s tagline is “Face-Punching Film News,” so there you go. They’ve welcomed me into their fold, and I’m quite grateful. Still learning the system, yet to master the flow, but ready to soak up game and solidify my name.

These are crazy, closed-door times for those hungry to kick in hinges, especially in the film journalism circuit. I’m a year older, and recharged. Down for whatever. More passionate and studious toward cinema than ever before. Just how I like it.

Now, about nixing that surname and upgrading this into a legit dot-com…..

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It’s the quintessential Academy Award job, a brave and vicious turn from a critically-beloved actress known for her vintage class. The kind of work that leads to writers typing, “Who knew she had it in her?” Not unlike Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning descent into ugliness and despair in 2003’s Monster, when the stunning, radiant actress morphed into a schlubby, disgusting prostitute-turned-murderer. If you went into that film blind and there’d been no opening credits, Theron’s name would be most likely remain silent when it came time to play the guessing game of “Who’s that star?”

It’s similarly difficult to accept the fact that it’s Tilda Swinton on screen while watching Julia, a nobody-other-than-critics-knows-it-exists independent thriller from last year, directed by French filmmaker Erick Zonca. In an otherwise strong but flawed film, Swinton is grade-A. Written by Zonca and Aude Py, Julia is a dark look at one desperate, 40-year-old woman’s frantic downward spiral, which she brings upon herself by kidnapping the 8-year-old son of her fellow Alcoholics Anonymous groupmate, a mentally-unstable Mexican woman. She promises to give Julia (Swinton) buckets of cash if she helps steal her estranged son from his grandfather, an electronic tycoon who hates the fact that his grandson’s mother is of Mexican descent. Julia’s life is a series of drunken hookups and flimsy values, made worse after she’s fired from her job. On the edge of hopelessness, she orchestrates her own swipe-the-kid plan that goes completely to hell, though she does end up with the kid, not for lack of scaring the piss out of him (wearing a creepy black mask, she puts a pistol to his head and then tosses him into her trunk). The rest of Julia’s idea devolves into a nightmare of debt, crime, and run-ins with con men in Tijuana.

Throughout all of the film’s realistic intensity, Swinton is dynamite. The role of “Julia Harris” is a sharp left turn from the Scottish actress’s recent work; earning heaps of praise for her co-starring gigs in Michael Clayton, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Burn After Reading, she’s proven to be surgical when embodying uptight sophistication. Which is why she’s such a revelation in Julia; here, Swinton is indistinguishable, talking with a sailor’s mouth one second, telling a sleazy gun-toting delinquent “I wouldn’t wipe my ass with you!” the next. There’s hardly a 10-second stretch in the film without Swinton in sight, and she holds the production down with pure muscle. ‘Julia Harris’ starts off as a wretched low-life, escalates into a menacing degenerate, and then unexpectedly upgrades into a sympathetic misfit—–As conceived by screenwriters Zonca and Py, the character is ticking timebomb beaming with dimensions, and Swinton nails them all. Even when the film itself enters an over-the-top climax, one that demands suspension-of-belief to accept its absurdity (how Julia and the little boy survive a few moments is anybody’s guess), Swinton literally saves face.

Too bad she won’t snag enough nominations over the next two months, let alone win any statues. Julia received a lowball theatrical release last May on its way to a second life on DVD, yet even in that market it hasn’t ignited. No real Oscar push for Swinton is underway, though she totally deserves one. Some critics have pegged this performance as a dignified actress merely slumming it, grappling with a down-and-dirty assignment simply to show that she can, that she’s not above the grime. Some critics, in that same breath, are delusional. Julia would be an intriguing premise undone by too many implausabilities, and not much more, if guided by another star.

Whenever Meryl Streep is on stage accepting trophies for Julie & Julia (it’ll probably happen more than once), know that there’s another Julia better known as Tilda Swinton out there who never got a fair shot. After all, awards season has never been prone to justice.

Julia trailer, after the jump: (more…)

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I figured that it’d take longer than a eight days before I began steaming over my Best of 2009 list, but, alas, the ocho is upon me. Lone Scherfig’s An Education is lucky, because had I seen Oren Moverman‘s The Messenger before New Years Eve, it would’ve most certainly edged An Education off the list (The Last House on the Left, which placed tenth, had the 10-spot secured, lock and key, regardless; that ninth position was the flexible one). A steadily hectic schedule kept me from seeing Mr. Moverman’s sobering and fresh look at war-time grief, and that’s a shame.

The film sprinkles a variety of emotions, all landing right in the middle of the pie. Moverman, along with the script’s co-writer Alessandro Camon, knows when to relieve the tension with perfectly-executed humor; there’s some of the most earned levity in this film that I’ve seen in some time. The domineering sensation is that of a heart being wrenched, though, particularly in four scenes that show U.S. Staff Sergeant, and medal-holding hero, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) and Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) carrying out their patriotic duties: they’re both Army soldiers turned Casualty Notification Officers, meaning they’re the troopers stuck with the somber task of informing a recently-killed comrade’s next-of-kin about his or her death.

Whenever this specific job requirement comes into play, The Messenger devastates. Foster and Harrelson knock on one home’s front door and greeted by a grumpy middle-aged man; they’re looking for his daughter, though Harrelson has requested her by a different last name. Turns out, she recently married an Army guy whom her pops disapproves of, behind his back. What starts off as a father’s heartbreaking realization that his kid has broken his own heart shifts into violent sobs from her and daddy being forced to swallow his pain and console. Moverman keeps the camera mere inches behind the daughter’s back, showing her father’s teary eyes as he hugs her in the foreground, and the holding-back-their-own-tears, crumbling expressions of Foster and Harrelson. It’s extremely taxing. Continued after the jump: (more…)

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Right before the holidays, I spoke with author Scott Snyder, for a freelance magazine assignment. He’s published a collection of short stories, Voodoo Heart, and he also currently teaches creative writing at NYU, Columbia, and Sarah Lawrence College. None of that was what we talked about, though; in March, a new comic book series that he created and co-wrote, along with the almighty Stephen King, hits shelves, called American Vampire. So, naturally, the bulk of conversation revolved around the vampire lore, everything from Bram Stoker to Max Schreck to Edward Cullen, with some Sookie Stackhouse thrown in for balance. We both agree that Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) is incredibly badass and under-appreciated, and that vamps shouldn’t sparkle, ever (take that, Stephenie Meyer). Or, just keep counting your dollar stacks and live comfortably. I am a realist, after all.

Something tells me that Snyder will dig the latest entry into the vampire realm, Daybreakers. Why I feel this way can be found over at Critics Notebook, where I’ve reviewed the film (opening today in wide release). Give it a go, would you?:

Critics Notebook: DAYBREAKERS (2010)

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It’s The Violent Kind, an indie horror film that’ll be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in a couple of weeks. About some unfortunate bikers fighting for their lives while pit-stopping in an off-the-beaten-path farmhouse. That’s really all I know about it, story-wise. This one-sheet is just what the film needed to ignite excitement. A la last year’s The House of the Devil; here’s to similarly met expectations with this one. 

Spotted over at: Bloody Disgusting

There’s also this, a choice still from The Violent Kind:

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