Monday, November 30, 2009

"You're a..." "Say it" "Priest"

In 1922 German director F.W. Murnau brought the first vampire to screens in his partial adaptation of Dracula in the film Nosferatu. However, it is another Murnau film that informs Korean director Chan Wook-Park's newest film Thirst, this being Murnau's Sunrise. That older film, which looks at a relationship made fragile by the grim specter of lies and death is given a jolt of the extreme shock and awe that has made Park an international sensation in films like Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

The film, which would throw the fans of Twilight in a tizzy has built a complex artifice around a very primal morality play. In the film a well intentioned priest undergoes a radical treatment to aide in the curing of a rare blood disease. At first it appears that the disease is killing him but instead it has turned him into something beyond human. People having gotten word of his miraculous recovery and think he is truly blessed. The priest, Sang-Hyun (played by Sang Kong-hu) slowly becomes aware of what he truly is and in the course of his visits the sick he meets Tae-Ju (as played by Kim Ok-Bin). The woman is in an abusive relationship with her husband, or at least alleges to be in one. She's certainly very upset, something Park gets across in a scene that while the husband sleeps Tae-jun continues to jab cutting sheers towards the inside of his mouth and then removing them at the very last moment. A more conventional director would do this once and it would big moment. Park teases this out as she stabs down for almost a minute of screen-time. Park has always had an eye for faultless composition and artistic framing. He also knows how to produce a cut that is devastating to an audience. All these hallmarks are on display here. Though, I've no doubt Park could make a senses-shattering scary film, conventional scares is not quite whats going on here.

Instead of conventional scares Wook-Park is going for genuine human horror at what human-beings are capable of when morality is cast aside by the promise of power and lust. When Sang-Hyun's whose bloodlust is growing is asked for help by Tae-Ju he starts the two down a path that under Wook-Park's direction unspools into memorable moments of darkness. The film moves slowly, but this pacing lends power to Wook-Park's sudden swerves where characters behave in surprising ways and the plot rockets forward as our protagonists dig themselves into a deeper and deeper hole.
I'd like to go into more detail about the Sunrise comparison and the nature of these character's denigration but I feel it spoils a lot of the film's twists. I would be happy to go into more detail if its requested in the comments. Let me know.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

School Days

How comforting to know that at a time when the vacuous victim Bella Swan dominates the box office, the multiplex has room for a legitimate three-dimensional young woman. She may not be perfect, but she provides wonderful food for thought for the discerning film-goer. Meet Jenny Mellor, a young British girl growing up in an English suburb shortly before the Beatles made their first appearance and a new youth culture emerged. Jenny is incredibly bright (something she is never embarrassed or ashamed of) but yearns for more than just the stodgy world of academia where her every move has been calculated to get her into Oxford by her fuddy-duddy parents. But Jenny is conflicted. Once she pursues her life of letters then what? More academia. Living in a world where women haven't really transcended gender roles makes it difficult for her to see a life for herself beyond her schooling. Then, one day on the way home from rehearsing the cello she's caught in the rain and meets the dashing and much older David. What happens next gives Jenny an entirely new type of education in this well-crafted, very knowing character piece.
An Education comes to us from the festival circuit with much critical acclaim behind newcomer Carrey Mulligan who plays Jenny. When a performance gets this much hype one enters the film with very high expectations, or failing that, a mountain of doubt. Now this young ingenue must not only be good but defy my highest expectations. Miss Mulligan was going to have an uphill battle as some reviews have compared her to no less an iconic presence then Audrey Hepburn. What a relief and a pleasure that Mulligan not only meets expectations but surpasses them. From her first moments of the film, but especially once she is dripping wet in the rain, pins the audience to their seat with a battering ram of charisma and ethereal movie star looks. She also has that rarest of qualities in young actresses, a real life and intelligence behind her eyes. Mulligan is greatly aided in her portrayal by the deep characterization that author Nick Hornby imbues in each character in his screenplay. Jenny is bright and makes what she perceives to be good decisions. She's independent minded without coming off as whiny and immature, though she is not immune from behaving like a child. She is that wonderful swirling mass of well-realized contradictions that appears ever so rarely in films.
Mulligan may be the brightest light in this lamp, but she is hardly the only performer worthy of mention. Peter Sarsgaard is perfectly cast as David, who seems too good to be true. A cultured older man, always armed with the perfect quip, a cunning observation and a seemingly infinite number of opportunities to immerse Jenny into high cultures with trips to art auction, symphonies, night clubs and even Paris. Sarsgaard is well utilized here in that we in the audience can instantly see why he is appealing to Jenny while at the same time feel oddly uneasy about him. The same can be said for his companions as played by Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike. Good looking and pleasant but something vaguely sinister about them.
The film nimbly moves from coming of age story to a story of social mobility, a story of morality and living a fulfilled life. It would be easy to make the adults in this film simple archetypes; strict disciplinarians and easy-to-trick enablers but time and again Hornby's script peels back layers to the grown adults in Jenny's life. Director Lone Scherfig mines a lot of comedic moments from Alfred Molina as Jenny's father but as the film builds it becomes increasingly apparent that his actions and behavior don't stem strictly from a need to force Jenny into making defiant decisions. Emma Thompson as Jenny's headmistress is cutting and unforgettable in a few terse meetings with Jenny. The same goes for Olivia Williams who also shows up in a few brief spurts as a concerned teacher (and who has come a long way from the distant Ms. Cross in Rushmore). Hornby writes these characters with great panache and densely enough so that the film feels like a play, as would most stories that focus primarily on dialogue and ideas. However, backed by Scherfig, the plot is imbued with grand settings and sweeping moments to enable the audience to get swept up in the new world that seduces Jenny. Its a world I was glad to be taken away to and will likely be returning to it again in my end of the year list.

Ninja Links

Lots of cool stuff this week. Enjoy these links as you unbuckle your pants and sink into your food coma.

Funny: Kevin Smith's merits as a director are certainly debatable (he'd be the first to knock himself, no question). But as an emissary for the Geek world, well, few are as eloquent and hilarious. Check out this recently dug up clip of him breaking down why Twilight is invaluable to the larger sci-fi/fantasy community.
Speaking of Smith, here is part two of an EXYTEMELY candid interview with the man himself.
Here are two very cool very handy guides to defeating movie villains as well as what you need to know if you ever find yourself trapped in the past.

Analysis: A marvelous video essay on Truffaut's 400 Blows. Those guys at the House Next Door never fail to impress.
With the release of Me and Orson Welles cinematical has provided this handy guide for Welles beginners. God I love Welles.

Lists: Devin over at CHUD made his own list for Thanksgiving. This one features his top ten turkeys (which is to say-absolute crap films).
Cracked has compiled a list of 7 popular chick flicks that secretly hate women.
Here's a list of top 14 fictional movies within other movies.

And with the holidays fast approaching you probably want gift ideas for the nerd in your life (you must have at least one in your life if you're reading this blog). No worries, Quint of Ain't It Cool News has your covered here, here and here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful in 09

In honor of Thanksgiving I've come to realize that whats great about this holiday is the opportunity it grants us to stop and realize all the little, subtle things we should be thankful for that we often overlook. Here is a list of cinematic delights that I'm thankful for in 2009. Warning VERY LIGHT SPOILERS to follow.

The dance number in (500) Days of Summer
I'm all for graphic, intimate sex in film but sometimes a clever cut can tell you everything you need to know about how the previous evening went. The number to Hall & Oates "You Make My Dreams Come True" is a highlight even if you thought the movie was too twee. Get Jospeh Gordon Levitt in a musical pronto.

Sy Ableman in A Serious Man
There are a number of Oscar worthy performances in this thought provoking Coen brothers flick. But anyone who saw the film instantly knows we're "talking about character" (to quote another Coen character) when you mention Sy Abelman as expertly played by Fred Melamed. Truly worthy of standing alongside Jesus Quintata. Big Dan Teague and Sydeny Musburger in the pantheon of great Coen antagonists.

The subtlety in Adventureland
It'd be so easy to make this into a dumb sex comedy with laughable losers, wry slackers and hiss-able jocks. Greg Mottola's script and direction never let it happen.

Paul Schneider's wardrobe in Bright Star
In this sturdy, period romance the moments of levity are few and far between. But every time Charles Armitage Brown makes an appearance you know something delightful is about to happen. If you ever wondered what it would be like if an un-mauled Joker let himself go in the time of romantic poets, look no farther.

That crazy vaginal canal/tunnel in Coraline
When Coraline is birthed into another world she is really birthed into another world.

The Godzilla fight in Crank 2: High Voltage
At this point the film had surpassed the original and was just now beating its predecessors corpse with sticks.

Cat food in District 9
Or as the Prawns call it...maise.

The goat in Drag Me to Hell
When I first saw that goat be led into the seance I turned to my man-date for the film and said excitedly "Oh man they are definitely going to do some crazy shit to that goat." I was not disappointed AT ALL!

The fun time for grown-ups attitude in Duplicity
Not all movies need to be marketed to thirteen year old boys. Sometimes a movie can just be cool and slick and tricky and fun. Duplicity is all this and more.

David Koechner in Extract
Has there ever been a better annoying neighbor in the history of cinema? No seriously, I'm asking, I may want to do a list.

Raaaaaaaandy in Funny People
Need I say more.

The Pit in G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra
Your inner ten year-old mind is blown. They've got a shooting range and an undersea training area, and a launch pad and a command center and a martial arts training area and an armory and....

The contents of the trunk in The Hurt Locker
Since the preview ruined one of the film's most arm-rest squeezing surprising, I was grateful for this reveal and the craziness that ensues.


Greg Levine as Hailey's Date in I Love You, Man
This young actor won audience hearts because, to quote the director's commentary, "He looked like a guy who would be on a blind date."

The English Language in In the Loop
For being used as a brutal weapon, to deceive, to inspire and to amuse. Also for gems like; "You know, if I could, I'd punch you into paralysis!" and "It's difficult, difficult lemon difficult"

Colonel Hans Landa's pipe in Inglourious Basterds
Its brilliant, intimidating, outrageous and silly all at once. Just like the movie.

Adam Brody in Jennifer's Body
Really wish they'd beefed up this part because he just slays with every line.

Danny McBride and Jorma Tacone's chemistry in Land of the Lost
When McBride says "Come on Chakka, lets go work on our business model" you laugh because he really means it.

Amelia Earheartt's "keester" in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
The rest of the performance is the only worthwhile thing in the film (obviously) , but the movie's best special effect is au natural.

That you believe in the new crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek
The fact that Star Trek succeeds based more on cast chemistry and cinematic alchemy then the script is a major miracle that I am grateful for. I only ask that they build something a bit meatier and sturdier in the next outing.

The "What Do Tiger's Dream of" song in The Hangover
Sure "We're the three best friends" got featured in the commercial ad nauseum but Ed Helms takes a low point for the characters in the film and turns it into an audience high with his delightful voice.

The score of the Informant!

The fact that Russell is kind of a pain in the ass in Up
Just like a real kid, you still like him anyway.

Discovering that Larry David is an ideal Woody Allen surrogate in Whatever Works
Two great tastes that go surprisingly well together. Though the part was originally written for Zero Mostel, David plays Allen's greatest crank in some time like a pro.

The fort in Where the Wild Things Are
It's going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen. Also its going to have lasers that cut off the heads of people you don't like.

Twinkies in Zombieland
Because he hates sno-balls. Its the coconut. Its not the flavor, its the consistency.

That's my list. What are the little things in movies you're thankful for in movies from 2009? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Like a Bunny

I have been remiss in my duties readers. I like to think when a new trend or movement in cinema comes up I at least have a handle on it. I'll see one or two films to get a feel for it or do some research in its origins, or try to consider the context from which it sprang forth. However, in regards to the mumblecore movement which began a few years ago in 2002 I have been shamefully uninvolved and unconcerned. In taking the indie grunge aesthetics of the late 80's and early 90's (your Sex, Lies and Videotapes, your Reality Bites) with the bare-bones, "real" approach od Dogme 95, combined with a do-it-yourself spirit, the style has taken off in art houses. it has also begun to produce a number of crossover figures that are slowly but surely entering the mainstream (I'm thinking specifically of Mark Duplass who can now be seen weekly on FX's The League and Greta Gerwig who just showed up in House of the Devil and replaced Amy Adams in the forthcoming Greenberg with Ben Stiller).
Well if my first forray into this movement is indicative of the core emotional truths this style can dig into I will definitely be checking out more mumblecore. Lynne Shelton's Humpday plays sort of like an Apatow film stripped down to its barest elements. I mean this as a compliment for both sides. The difference being that in Shelton's film the emotional moments are pitched more toward verisimilitude as opposed to earnest sentiment. The film starts off as a sort of winking take-down of gay panic and beta males and then cannily evolves into a story about character's attempting to reveal their true selves and struggling with how time has changed them and whether its for better or worse. In most films this would be pretty gregarious, hand-wringing stuff but under Shelton's direction and the actors nimble and knowing performances it comes off as charming and frequently hilarious.
The film centers around Ben (Mark Duplass) who is settling in to being a 9 to 5 city planner and growing accustomed to his new marriage with Anne (Alycia Delmore). The couple is planning to have a baby and this would symbolically mark the transition into more mainstream domesticity for both of them. In a very revealing early moment the two are snuggling in bed, both clearly tired when one of the partners grudgingly admits that they're too tired for sex. The answer is not disappointment or insults, but relief from the other. Its such a refreshing turn of events for the viewer to see that the film is not going for obvious spins on this material. It'd be so easy to make Ben a barely getting by slacker, or turn Anne into a hen-pecking shrew, but the film has too many shaggy layers and too much vested in these characters.

The would-be normalcy of this couple is disrupted at 3 AM when out of nowhere comes Andrew (Blair Witch's Joshua Leonard), an old friend of Ben's that he's not seen in years. Ben is a sort of aimless wanderer, he's still living like he's an idealized artist type in his twenties and the film bounces back and forth between looking at his lifestyle with equal parts envy and derision. It nicely echoes Ben's own feelings towards his friend. Anne is frustrated by Andrew's intrusion in their life and how Andrew's presence effects Mark, but she never descends into shrewish caricature, she's willing to give Andrew a chance and never hurls any marriage ending ultimatums at Ben. She also has wonderful moment where Ben expresses his desire to not be the buttoned-down married type that he's become and her retort is phenomenal. Its as though someone took Leslie Mann's rant to Paul Rudd in Knocked Up and dug several miles deeper.

The central dramatic question the film hinges on comes at a moment when at a boho party Ben is dragged to by Andrew and during a discussion of real-lifer film -fest Humpday, the two suggest making a film where they, as two straight friends, will have gay sex. What ensues goes in a number of thought-provoking directions. You could spin out a couple different interesting films from this premise, but I don't think any of them could be described as subtle. Shelton, however, never allows this question to be a one-joke premise. I wouldn't dream of spoiling what the film turns into after the two decide to make the film or how the news is broken to Anne. I will say though that a lot of thought went into the exchanges and character reactions to the implications of these two friends in this situation. For some this may come off as navel gazing, but I would argue that there is gold in them thar navel.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mostly a Treat

The days of the anthology horror film seem to have gone the way of the musical and the western. A once much beloved genre that takes a gasp of fresh air every couple of years and then sinks to the bottom of the forgotten pop-cultural consciousness. Just because its not popular doesn't mean its not worthwhile. Trick R Treat is raucous fun thats jokey enough for horror fans who will be whooping it up the whole time and scary enough to give you a good case of the heebie-jeebies. Writer/director Mike Dougherty takes a number of hoary old tropes and gives them fun spins. He's very knowing of genre entertainment both horror and non-horror and has lots of fun slick little meta-moments. Battlestar Galactica fans will enjoy watching Tamhoh Penikett trick or treating as a robot (ha HA!), indie film fans will dig Dylan Baker lecherous lording of a small child and True Blood fans will be QUITE surprised at the twist Anna Paquin's character takes in her vignette.*
The film is light and breezy. Dougherty who last muddled through scripting duties on the labourious Superman Returns, has made a sharp film that connects several spooky stories in a fractured chronology that is bound by a bag-headed, jack-o-lantern kiddie named Sam. As soon as one story begins it takes a few fun twists and turns playing with familiar tropes and then dashing our expectations. The tone nimbly bounces from fun to frightening and then back again. Dougherty, reverential of Carpenter's Halloween, perfectly captures the creepy autumnal New England suburbia. But instead of making the housing tracts empty and desolate he crams the frame with activity, thus making it all the more surprising when cries go unnoticed. It stands to reason, why would anyone think someone is ACTUALLY getting killed on Halloween?

Reminiscent of the best Tales from the Crypt episodes or best bits from Creepshow, Trick or Treat gooses its pulp origins with top notch sets, make-up and most importantly performances. Brian Cox plays an addled Halloween hating Scrooge type with a dark secret. He has very little dialogue but speaks volumes with his ominous cackling and mumbly shuffling. Anna Paquin (cast here prior to her starring in True Blood) perfectly captures the blithe ingenue spirit until things go very, very wrong. And creepster character actor deluxe Dylan Baker takes his Happiness character to its logical end-point. Baker is so unfailingly square and clean-cut he can't help but give casual viewers the shivers. With these actors anchoring their various segments the viewer is fairly engaged, only one piece with a bunch of unknown child actors fails to completely deliver, though thankfully Dougherty doesn't shy away from exposing kids to violence (which is probably what prevented the film getting into theaters).
Trick R Treat has no greater truth, its aim is to scare and become part of the venerable cannon of Halloween horror movie favorites. In this it succeeds spectacularly. Horror fans both new and old-hand in the genre would do well to hunt down this film. The holiday of Halloween deserves more than just a Shatner-masked slasher to represent it in cinema, why not nasty little Sam too?

*I'm surprised someone hasn't taken screen grabs from the film and posted them as TB season 3 spoilers and royally mess with some fans heads.

Rock Actually

What is Richard Curtis driving at? Where is this body of work going? Curtis, when motivated can write deep, thoughtful grown-up characters with complex relationship dynamics. Hell, he can even make Julia Roberts basically playing herself seem down to Earth and relate-able. But his last couple of projects have been scatter shot and not particular whole. By which I mean Love, Actually and his newest film Pirate Radio. Are they enjoyable entertainments? Absolutely. Does he create memorable characters? Certainly. But the movie, which is trying to scratch at some sort of truth about love and music and the unique experience of the swingin' sixties comes off as a bunch of good-natured baby boomer wankery. I yearn for the real genuine humanity on display in his Girl in the Cafe.

This is not to say that Pirate Radio is bad. On the contrary, its quite entertaining. I take issue with the fact that someone of Curtis' considerable talent doesn't push his audience a bit more, he'd have no trouble getting them to follow. He begins to scratch the surface of the pain and regret that was the flip-side of all that free love by having his most lovable lothario character, Dave "The Love Doctor" (Nick Frost, scene stealing as always) pull some genuine dick moves on our young lead character. However, in a tidy little piece like this, the young lovers are easily reconciled if you wait long enough. Something similar happens with Rhys Ifans character and another loser type as well.

Curtis fills the boat with a series of weirdos, scoundrels and hippies who above all things value rock and roll (and maybe sex in a close second). Chief among them is Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Count, which is sort of a riff on his playing Lester Bangs, who's arc features him in a sort of posturing contest with Ifan's Gavin. Our entry point character is young Carl as played by Tom Sturridge. There's nothing especially remarkable about Sturridge who's mother (Emma Thompson) has sent him to the pirate radio station ship that is broadcasting round the clock rock (a major taboo in the UK in the 60's) in order to get closer to his godfather, slick as always Bill Nighy.

For someone who has written some particularly multi-dimensional female characters the women are a bit thin in the film. Primarily used as objects, the film's sexual politics are at best surprising. January Jones, Gemma Arterton and Emma Thompson don't have much to do since woman are only allowed on the ship once a month for sex (except for the token lesbian who's their maid). The same can be said for the film's antagonist as played by Sir Kenneth Branagh who is really just riffing on John Cleese's uptight Basil Fawlty. A lot. He also has an associate named Mr. Twatt and yes, that got a laugh every time. The antagonists are so over the top hiss-able and terribly ineffectual that the only real threat to the boat comes when it gets a hole in it and begins to sink in the final act. At that point the film becomes a storybook version of Titanic with records instead of the poor in steerage as casualties.

Look if you're looking for an afternoon at the movies you can go see with a date or family members where everyone will have a good time and enjoy a pretty throughly excellent soundtrack you can't do much better than this. I just wish the film could do a bit more with its ample resources.

PS-Flight of the Conchords is clearly getting a lot of recognition and traction as Rhys Darby's (who plays Murray on Conchords) entrance and subsequent lines got huge reactions from the crowd.

New Link: Part of the Twilight Saga

Ugh, craaaazy week you guys.

Reviews are a comin', promise.

Interviews: Michael Chabon talks about genre. Not that first time he's done it, but its good to know that one of the best living writers of fiction loves comics and crap.

Videos: Every death from Total Recall. To which I say "GAR NOT QUAID!"
For those of you who haven't seen it yet Jason Segel performed with the Swell Season. Phenomenal.
This compilation of every time a werewolf or vampire has danced in a film ALMOST makes the release of New Moon worth it. Almost.
The 101 best music videos of the past decade. WARNING: don't click this link unless you have a bunch of time on your hands.

Analysis: Devin at CHUD wrote a wonderful piece on fantasy and realism in films. I whole heartedly agree with him (except for the part about 300 being good).
The lovely Kim Morgan wrote a blisteringly good piece on Fight Club and its lasting impact in honor of the film's recent Blu-Ray release.
FX rant looks at the cinematography of recent masterpiece, Let the Right One In. Seriously WATCH THIS MOVIE!

Random coolness: Some Kirby inspired artist did a variety of Marvel-esque covers for an Inglourious Basterds comic. Gorgeous
Want to know how long the line rides are going to be at Disneyland? There's an ap for that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ugh sorry, I suck

Ok so I have a conference and this means the following: No new posts until Wednesday night (at the earliest).

Reviews will be forthcoming of Pirate Radio and Trick R Treat. Also the Last Waltz and should things go according to plan Fantastic Mr. Fox.

You can make fun of me in the comments.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the Red: A Morning of Exploitation

Netflix served up a double helping of exploitation related material and like last time really dug one, didn't dig the other.
The Haunted World of Superbeasto: I'd long anticipated Rob Zombie's return to original material. I enjoyed The House of 1,000 Corpses though deemed it a bit too frenetic and reverential to prior films for its own good. I LOVED The Devil's Rejects in which Zombie compellingly followed the exploits of a gritty band of marauding murderers and shockingly made us care about them. Rejects shows a director with remarkable stylistic control who manages to shock and awe with brutality. Then the remake gigs came. Bad enough he should remake indisputable classic Halloween but to then do a sequel after specifically promising not to? For shame. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto though, an animated film following the adventures of an egotistical luchadore and hi sexy eye-patch wearing sidekick in a world of monsters, how could I resist? Unfortunately the film did not meet my expectations. The film starts off with an homage to an animated uncle Carl Laemmle appearing before the audience to warn them the following film may be too scary (as in the original Frankenstein). Off to a good start but then what follows is a series of John K. inspired gags that would've been tossed off after the first draft in the adult swim writer's room.

Want gratuitous nudity? The film starts with porno auditions. Want gross? A wave of rats are evacuated from a man's ass. Want violence? How about rows of nazi zombies being mowed down? Yep, plenty of it. Unfortunately there are no sympathetic or even fleshed out characters for the viewer to invest in. Each character is paper thin and the good gags are spaced so far apart its difficult to get into the sound and fury that's signifying nothing. I can see the fifteen year old version of me enjoying this, but it's entirely disposable. Not even game voice work from Paul Giamatti (as needy Dr. Satan) and Brian Posehn (as a horny robot) manage to bring life to the proceedings.

Not Quite Hollywood: The Story of Oz-ploitation makes for a really fun evening guaranteed to get you to fire up the netflix q or hit up amazon to find the titles on display. The doc runs down the history of genre cinema in Australia in a brisky hour and forty minutes, but I would've been content to watch hours more of this stuff. Aussie luminaries like George Miller and Brian Trenchard-Smith join "fan" Quentin Tarantino and a band of colorful rogues in this enticing exploration of a tragically unheralded area of cinema. The film gives you a bit of historical context and the need to for Aussie filmmakers to break the powerful grip of censors and then shows off a variety of great, fun looking films in various sub-genres. Among the areas explored are sex comedies, horror, cars and assorted other forms of action. Viewers get a chance to scope out Razorback (Jaws with a wild boar), Stone (an ultimate Aussie biker anti-hero), Patrick (a terrifying looking comatose psychic killer), Roadgames (a sort Rear Window/Duel hybrid) and Dead End Drive-In (a post-apocalyptic crazy car mash-em-up with a drive-in prison camp). Viewers will get all sorts of new names to admire and track down. Check out the trailer below.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Link

Lots of cool stuff worth sharing this week.

Great vids: One of the best trends that have been developing virally is the use of classic footage to represent modern films. This use of Chaplin footage to replicate the Matrix is awesome, check it here.
Star Wars and I have been on a rocky road for a LONG time. The bulk of internet material produced on this franchise is by-in-large dreck. However, every once in a while you get something like this.

Interviews: Legend Ben Gazzara, delightful Teri Garr, Jake Gyllenhaal & uber-hottie Gemma Arterton, and then there's Britcom guru Richard Curtis. Oh and several bigwigs (Scorsese, Stallone, Sayles and Shatner to name a few) talk Roger Corman.

Lists: Tim Curry's career has been nothing if not prolific and varied, check out 10 of his strangest roles here.
Oh movies that are way more racist then they think are, you're racist.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Update: Dates will be upped

So I can't review or praise or snark about anything tonight because I will be chilling in the green room at Jimmy Kimmel Live because my good friend, Amir, is going to be a guest. Y'all should tune in 12:06/11:06 central. Who knows, last time the put me in the audience for the band and you could kind of see me, tonight, who knows? Also if the thought of seeing Amir and maybe seeing me wasn't enough, Frank Reynolds himself, Mr. DANNY DEVITO will be the first guest. So come on. Tune in.

Looking ahead we've got Friday Links and hopefully I'll get out to theaters to see one or more of the following; Fantastic Mr. Fox, Pirate Radio (ne the Boat that Rocked) or An Education. Who knows maybe I'll try to track down Antichrist (CHAOS REIGNS!). Also I've recently gotten a passel of Blu-rays and I'd love to let you guys pick which one I'll review for the site. Please leave your vote for one (or more) of the following in the comments:
Monsters, Inc.
North by Northwest
Trick R' Treat

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bad Blog Day

Tomorrow will be better but I just can't muster up the strength after watching the Extraordinary Measures, Clash of the Titans and Date Night previews all in one sitting.

A couple quick words on each:

Extraordinary Measures: I like Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford and I'm sure this film will get a little juice from their names but what on Earth makes this film cinematic as opposed to a Lifetime movie?

Clash of the Titans: Digging the monster design but let me just join the chorus of internet nerds in mocking the tag line of "Titans will Clash." Ugh. Really someone was paid to think of that. Let me run some others off the top of my head. Lost arks will be raided, blood will be there, Halls will be Annied, Clubs will be fought, Ghosts will bust. Money please.

Date Night: Hey middle America, you know the stars of those two shows on NBC you don't watch? I KNOW its hard to watch a sitcom without a laugh track to tell you when the funny parts are so instead we put them in a movie where everything is gonna be HI-larious. Don't worry, we got a bunch of zany antics that you've seen a billion times before, thats it, just buy the ticket and laugh and laugh and laugh at the silly people. All the Nick Krolls and James Francos in the world can't gild this turd.

Caveat: Obviously all films are the end product of countless hours of dedicated individuals working not only to provide themselves and their families with a living but strive to entertain everyone regardless of what coast they live on. Everyone deserves to be entertained not just people in New York and LA with film degrees. Ok, OK! God, leave me ALONE! Its just my feelings on the trailer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In the Red: We're off on the Road to...

In this new feature I'll be writing short (well, relatively short) capsule reviews of what I've been wtaching on netflix. Todays films have two things in the common. One, they're both 2009 releases and the other is that they're both road trip films. From the charming adventures of Bing and Bob to the hopeless ambling of Fonda and Hopper, the road trip has long been a staple of the American cinema. Of these two new films only one really offers some new wrinkles into the genre while the other feels as spent and old as the road it travels. Ugh, its hackiness has worn off on me. So without further ado my look at Harold Ramis' Year One and Sam Mendes' Away We Go.
For a number of years Judd Apatow has ruled the comedy roost with nearly unmatched success. While even Apatow is subject to the periodic box office bomb, the films are at least compelling and funny (I'm thinking Funny People and Walk Hard in particular), but Year One is Apatow's first real out and out dud. The fim, which follows the exploits of slacker hunter/gathers Michael Cera and Jack Black is disjointed and poorly conceived. Sequences come and go with no rhyme and reason which COULD be excused if any of them were even remotely funny or creative. They aren't. Black and Cera's shtick works well against each other but at this point it has such a feel of been there done that. The rest of the cast barely overcomes the feeling of "earning a paycheck", even David Cross. Only Oliver Platt hits the glorious excess needed in a broad farce like this as a high priest for whom the phrase hedonist does not begin to describe. Even the unrated Blu-ray I watched didn't really yield any content that shocked or disturbed me. Ramis is just placing the camera and shooting giving none of the punch or keen eye for great comic moments thats shown up in earlier films. If I never think of this film again I won't be surprised. Save yourself the money and watch History of the World Part I.
The other film I saw was Sam Mendes Away We Go and it may be my favorite Mendes film. Its certainly his breeziest. I think this can be in part attributed to the airy, though not entirely weightless, script by real life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. The film follows a young couple played by Maya Rudolph (who is something of a revelation in the film with a strong anchoring performance) and John Krasinski. Rudolph's character is pregnant and the film is in a place where they discover there's no reason for them to stay put (as his parents, the reason they moved, are going to be absent for their birth). It's a film that very adroitly captures the feeling of wanderlust and uncertainty that a couple that has hit a certain level of socio-economic comfort can face. In the couples odyssesy they come across a variety of family unit types in the form of relatives, friends and colleagues. The script reveals each family to be more than the broad types a lesser film would try to pigeon-hole them into being. Each sequence provides a good pair for our young, fun couple to play off of and Eggers and Vendela's script deserves kudos for sketching so many rich characters in such a short amount of time. For a quirky, but not too quirky, character piece about the challenges of finding your place in the world its well worth the rental.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The two of us need look no more

Who was Michael Jackson? Consummate entertainer? Creepy pedophile weirdo? Emotionally stunted recluse? If the answers are out there, This Is It doesn't provide them. What This is It does convey is brief glimpses of a Jackson kept hidden from the public. The visionary showman who was something of an affable taskmaster. Make no mistake, This Is It is a film that reaffirms Jackson as a talented singer and dancer who even in struggling through illness and pushing fifty, dances as lithely as he did decades earlier. His voice is no longer full, though this can probably be attributed to the fact that This is It is cobbled together fromrehearsal footage. Despite the fact this is a rehearsal Jackson performs with energy and enthusiasm. The footage was originally intended for the aborted This Is It concert series that was set to premiere in London shortly before Jackson's death as conceived by High School Musical director and choreographer Kenny Ortega.

Fans of Jackson's music will not be disappointed as the film covers a good deal of the greatest hits cannon (sadly "Ben" is omitted), which includes a package of Jackson 5 songs (which is unsettling given the contrast between Jackson then and now). The film is presented as a make-shift concert and the performances and design concepts behind each song are strong enough to keep the viewer invigorated even though they're likely to be very familiar with everything they're seeing and hearing. Ortega and Jackson try to keep the provceedings fresh. a 3D re-imagining of "Thriller" being one example. Even when the choreography doesn't feel especially new the general aura of enthusiasm that permeates the dancers stage crew, band and Jackson himself give the film a nicely propulsive energy.

Jackson is most likable when he's performing or getting into a groove, though he's at his most interesting when you see him fiddling with the intro arrangement of "The Way You Make Me Feel" or arguing that he'll "just know" when he needs to turn on cue during "Smooth Criminal." This is the most riveting stuff in the film, the unguarded imperfect moments where we see Jackson as both a perfectionist and a bit of an oddball artiste. There are other inspired flashes, brief interviews with Jackson's longtime music director, a rather brusque Russian choreographer reviewing with the dancers and others. These are nice moments that provide insight into the whole process of putting together a large concert like this but the film is more contented into getting into the next song or video.

I certainly wish the film gave more insight into Jackson, showed more revealing moments or taught us more about the people that surrounded him. I don't need a smear job or more recontextualizing of Jackson's death. There's been plenty of both. I'd be content to learn more about Jackson the performer as the film is in such a unique position to show off the world of one of this centuries most popular showmen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Links: Based on a novel by Saphire

Hey new and returning viewers, its Friday and that means time for my weekly link round-up.

No time to waste, here are the links.

Fans of 80's cartoons (surely thats a good chunk of my readership), would do well to check out, which is hulu for people who woke up early to watch Nickelodeon, old school Fox Kids and KCOP. Come on people, Super Mario Brother Super Show (AND Link). is in and of itself an amazing repository for film-related links but one of my favorite daily features of thiers is daily cool stuff and this Tuesday was no esxception. Look at this cool, yet uynderstated Godfather t-shirt here.

Harry Knowles over at has a tendency to getover-enthusiastic, though there are some occassions where this is called for. How about interviewing Rick Baker on the set of The Wolfman? Yeah, I'd say thats worth a little gushing.

My purchase is validated as none other than Martin Scorsese compliments the process' exquisite quality here. Speaking of Scorsese he lists his favorite scary movies here.

If you're like me you're fascinated by the insanity of crypto-zoology. has found a taxidermist who has made some...well...see for yourself here.

Tune in tomorrow for a review of a certain rehearsal doc that everyone has been talking about.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise

What if you made an instant connection with someone? An instant chemistry unlike you'd had with any other person ever? What if you met the love of your life only through speaking to that person and then, before ever having met them they died? This is the question that the lovers in the superb A Matter of Life and Death. The film by the collective duo known as the Archers (Michael Powell and Emric Pressburger) may be my new favorite love story ever captured on film.

In the fury of a World War II, airman Peter Carter (David Niven as the ultimate Englishman) connects with American radio operator June. Unfortunately its as his plane is going down. Peter dies, except because he is in deep fog the heavenly host has a bit of a bureaucratic snafu and instead of dying and going to the afterlife Peter meets June face to face. They hit it off as well in-person as they did on the radio and all seems right in the world. Then the after-life corrects their error and try to take Peter. But Peter is obstinate and insists since he's still breathing he has no business in the afterlife. This movie is as impressive as much as for what it is as wha it isn't. Though it deals with the afterlife the Archers keep it fairly non-denominational. Their afterlife is shot in a pristine monochrome. Whereas Earth is shot in vivd three-strip technicolor. Its a bold and telling decision to choose these color schemes. Their heaven may look pristine and art-deco gorgeous but it can't compare to the sensual, detailed color of real life.

The film goes from love story to court-room drama as Carter employs friend of June and recently deceased Dr. Frank Reeves (Archer favorite Roger Lievesey), who believes that Peter's raving about heaven trying to take him is all in his head. Here the Archers sneak in both a sharp critique of English Imperialism as well as a impassioned defense of British values as Reeves eloquently tries to make the case that Carter should live. The prosecutor, played by Raymond Massey defiantly argues that bringing Carter back to life is a pointless gesture as their cultures are too different and a couple that's known each other so briefly can't truly be in love. It is here that film daringly becomes about the then budding world power of the US and the in decline British empire. The film never loses sight of the love story, but its refreshing to see a film present and challenge the viewer with something so different than what they've seen before.

Though they share very few scenes together Niven and Hunter have electric chemistry with one another. Niven, ever the model of unflappable British wry humor delivers his lines with expert precision. "I love you, June. You're life, and I'm leaving it" he signs off as his plane goes down. Hunter on the other hand is all big emotion, but never veers into cloying obnoxiousness. Livesey as Dr. Reeves orates with confidence and quiet power in his big moments though his performance here can't compare to the absolute masterwork in the Archers later film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
The film compliments its rich storytelling and splendid performances with exquisite and creative production values. The film's alternate title, Stairway to Heaven is in evidence as a massive escalator is used at several points in the film as a passage-way between heaven and Earth. This escalator appears infinite in scope and deftly conveys a genuine sense of other-worldliness in a seemingly very mundane, commonplace object. The Archers continuously play with perspective, space and time. The film is loaded with gorgeous push-ins and pull-outs. For example the heavenly host is assembled in court-room for judgment and the camera pulls back to convey more and more people in attendance that the courtroom become an amphitheater, then almost a stadium and then further still into a seamless matte painting of a vast series of similar stadiums in a vast heavenly mountainscapes. These epic backdrops provide an intriguing contrast to the very intimate love-story on display. Its a love story that fans of great love stories should rent as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Universally Beloved

A preface: This blog isn't about to get populist or mainstream, but I want to foster a dialogue and be accessible to new readers so here we go.

In a recent discussion with a friend I was asked to name my top five movies. I did my usual hemming and hawing about how it was like choosing a favorite child and blah, blah, blah. Then I named my five and perhaps not so surprisingly, she'd seen none of them and heard of only two of them. It got me thinking about the gulf between popular and good and the list in this article is an attempt to bridge that gulf where the two meet.

So what are the movies that everyone, critics and civilians alike, can agree on? What are the movies that everyone loves? I started thinking about this and have narrowed it down to a master-list of five. Obviously with millions of films to choose from I'm going to be stepping on some toes but that's part of the fun (and what the comments section is for). Before I get started here are some that I'm intentionally leaving off the list.

Any Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Super-hero film didn't make the cut. By their very nature these films create very niche communities, some of these communities can be large but has your grandma seen them? Your girlfriend? Your cousin? Your teacher? The same goes for musicals (again, not my choice but some people can't get around the major conventions-namely people breaking out into song and dance). Same goes for horror, some people just refuse to be scared.

I think the real reason for this list is to try to find common ground in the movies that unite us. I will proceeed each title with some good follow-up films that you can recommend to the not as adventurous viewer.

Here's what I came up with.
Ghostbusters-Funny but not raunchy, scary but not too scary and at the end of the day just plain fun. Everyone who watches Ghostbusters loves it and the workmanlike attitude gives the outlandish premise a solid foundation that anyone can plug into.
Princess Bride-Its sweet, but never sentimental, the frame-story prevents that from ever happening. There's romance, there's adventure and lots of comedy. That's a full meal of cinema right there.
Wizard of Oz-Musical yes, but the sheer innovation and universality of the story makes this a sentimental favorite for just about everyone. Whether you want to read it as a critique of the antebellum South, a young woman's journey to maturation or an appreciation of home and hearth, Oz resonates across all lines. It taps into the child in us all.
Back to the Future-Perfectly structured, charming and ironically enough timeless. The story of Marty McFly resonates because it echoes within us our desire to know where we came from and the desire to shape our destiny.
Annie Hall-The perfect romantic comedy. Endlessly inventive and innovative, some things are just so in their perfection. Even Allen haters need to give it up for this one.

Ok so where did I go wrong? What do you think qualifies in the universally beloved cannon? Put it in the comments.

It's Alive, ALIVE!

Don't call it a comeback. Ok, call it a comeback. After a year of hard-work and career re-shaping the Sickness cinema has dug its way up out of the more of internet inertia and has sprung back to life. I am your host, the Sickness, and I will be here reviewing, critiquing, commenting, snarking and most importantly LOVING the world of film. So much has gone on since that fateful last post in 2008 and I'd love to sit around and reminisce about what we missed discussing, but as of today this site is about looking ahead about what's going on with me and the amazing world that flashes by at 24 frames per second. I've been discussing some feature ideas with fellow twitter'er @twunder and I'm really excited about interacting with old fans and getting some new ones.

Ok so, what sort of things will we be doing. Well, first and foremost I'll be doing some criticism-that means netflix rentals, Blu-Ray purchases (oh yes, we've moved onto Blu-Ray) and of course good old fashioned going to the movies. Friday Night links will be back as will birthday inspired thoughts. There will also be new features, lists and all kinds of exciting stuff. Check back here DAILY for updates.