denver premieres for 1/30/09...and this time, it's personal.

Dude, see? See? Qui-Gon Jinn didn't die, dude! He's back! Qui-Gon's back!

The Uninvited - In a surprise bit of meta-casting, Elizabeth Banks reprises her role as Laura Bush in this kinda-sorta-remake of the 2003 South Korean chiller, A Tale of Two Sisters (which, by the way, is carried by all fine video stores throughout the Capitol Hill area, and is doubtlessly much cheaper to rent).(Dex)

Waltz with Bashir - This highly praised piece of experimental autobiography appears in wide release just as Israel ends yet another senseless attack on the Palestinian people, this time in the Gaza Strip - irony, thy name is award season.

That a movie which bothers to reflect on one of the most wretched episodes in a long, long line of wretched episodes in the history of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians can open in a nation hypnotized by anti-Muslimism and the apparent strategic necessity of "our staunch ally" is notable, but as with any sort of discourse involving Israeli crimes (and as always, U.S. culpability at some juncture) in the Mid-East, that's only the beginning, and things get more uncomfortable the deeper we go: would audiences (and indeed, critics) be as receptive to a cutting-edge docudrama told from the POV of the victims, or would they cry "extremist propaganda"? And does that fact that filmmaker Ari Forman's story of rememberence and guilt is an animated one help convey the surreality and nightmarishness of his memories, or just obscure the fact that the '82 invasion of Lebanon happened to real people, in a real place? Is it a teachable moment, or a chance to duck responsibility? This one may be worth catching, if only to get a sense of where the conversation - such as it is in this country - might go.(Dex)

Taken- You have probably seen the trailer for this film and , like me, thought, "What the hell is Liam Neeson doing slumming in this piece of crap?" Well, after taking a look at Mr. Neeson's "esteemed" career I have come to the conclusion that I was partaking in what the scientists who study the reasoning abilities of the human mind call selective thinking. In my mind I was convinced that Liam Neeson was an actor of serious intent, above wallowing in a C-grade genre picture just to make a buck. I mean, after all he played Oskar Schindler for crissakes! Looking at Neeson's page on Imdb though disabused me of my faulty thinking, and how! For every Schindler's List, or Rob Roy or Husbands and Wives there was a Krull or Next of Kin (with Patrick Swayze) or The Haunting remake. It doesn't stop there though! How about the movie Satisfaction, which was supposed to be Justine Bateman's big break after the TV show Family Ties where she plays a member of a Bangles-like girl band called 'Mystery' (oh my gahd is that like, Julia Roberts on Bass!?!) and Neeson playing a bar owner/Bateman's daddy figure love interest. To continue with a list of films like Nell, The Dead Pool, High Spirits, Star Wars Episode I and K-19: Widowmaker only proves the point further that Liam Neeson is not slumming in this new movie but rather following a well established career arc. He is a ham from the C-list that gets thrown an A-list bone every once in awhile. He must have taken career advice from Ben "you can only play Gandhi once" Kingsley while they were working together on Schindler's List because they both have walked down the same path of being acclaimed and respected actors all the while signing up for one piece of shit movie after another. Next time Kingsley puts out a movie I'll list some of the winners he has been in and it might amaze you to see that Neeson, although he has attached himself to some of the most mediocre-to-awful films (listed above) made in the last twenty years, is a piker by comparison. (Pike)

New In Town- Another stupid fish-out-of-water comedy, this time starring Renee Zellweger who plays a big city executive who comes to a little Minnesota town to get the ball rolling on the 're-org' her company has planned for the local manufacturing plant. At first she treats the locals like dirt in her sassy, superior big city ways but sooner or later those quirky locals break her down with all of their naive, corn pone Americana cuteness, and teach our girl how to live, love and be happy. If this sound like a movie you are going to go see, please do me a favor. When you buy your ticket, buy a ticket for anything else that is playing at the time and then sneak in to see this. You might feel a little guilty sneaking around but that will be nothing compared to the guilt you would have felt after purchasing a ticket to this movie and realizing, as the final credits roll, that the twelve bucks you just spent gave some Hollywood studio executive the go-ahead to insult you again a year from now with New in Town 2- Down on the Farm. (Pike)

Frozen River- A hit at last year's Sundance Festival and a 'best of 2008' pick by some prominent critics, first time writer/director Courtney Hunt's Frozen River is a story about two women who smuggle Chinese illegal immigrants into the U.S. from Canada across the frozen St. Lawrence River. Melissa Leo (who is nominated for an Academy Award for this picture) plays Ray, a woman with a high school aged son, a low paying job, and a husband who just split for Atlantic City with the money for their double-wide trailer down payment. On top of this, she finds her husband's car is being driven around by a local Mohawk woman (Misty Upham). Lila, the Mohawk woman, tells Ray that she knows a man on the reservation that will buy the car for well above resale value but when the women take the car to this man, they find they can make a faster buck, not by selling the car to the man, but by working for him to transport illegals across the border. This film, along with Waltzing with Bashir are probably the only things worth catching this week, so watch the trailer and see if it's for you. Besides, if the film does promote the idea that, "crime pays, social consequences be damned" as David Edelstein's review points out, then I'm all for that. (Pike)


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Samuel L. Jackson's latest film, Lakeview Terrace, promises thrills and excitement for fans of movies which successfully avoid showing crew members and cameras in reflective surfaces.

DVD releases for the week of 1/27/09:

- 10 Dead Men
- 42nd Street Forever Vol. 4
- A Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich
- Becoming Charley Chase
- Bread, Love and Dreams (staring Gina Lollobrigida and Vittorio De Sica)
- Cannery Row
- Dead of Night (1972)
- Demoniacs (dir. Jean Rollin)
- Door Into Darkness (presented by Dario Argento)
- Evil Under the Sun
- Exploitation Cinema: Horror High / Lurkers
- Exploitation Cinema: Nightmare In Wax / Blood of Dracula’s Castle
- Far From the Madding Crowd
- The Father (dir. Majid Majidi)
- Female Prisoner: Caged
- Fireproof (Starring Creepy Kirk Cameron)
- Getting Lucky
- Goodbye Mr. Chips
- Gutterballs
- Holly
- The Inveterate Bachelor (Starring Vittorio De Sica)
- Johan Van Der Keuken - Collection Vol. 5
- Killer Bees
- Kisarazu Cat's Eye 2
- Kiss Napoleon Goodbye (Starring Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins)
- Lakeview Terrace (dir. Neil LaBute)
- The Lucky Ones
- The Maniacs (dir. Lucio Fulci)
- Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Edition)
- The Masterworks of Mochizuki Rokuro Onibi (The Fire Within / Mobsters Confession / Another Lonely Hitman / A Yakuza In Love)
- Mercury Man
- Moses & Aaron
- The Night James Brown Saved Boston
- The Notorious Nobodies
- Open Season 2
- Pink Panther: Classic Cartoon Collection
- Pride and Glory (starring Edward Norton and Collin Farrell)
- Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate (dir. Kirby Dick)
- Redneck Zombies (20th Anniversary Edition)
- The Rocker
- Rocknrolla (dir. Guy Ritchie)
- Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
- The Sadist
- Schoolboy Crush
- The Secret Policeman's Balls
- The Sidney Poitier Collection (Edge of the City / Something of Value / A Patch of Blue / A Warm December)
- The Stewardesses (1969) (in 3D!)
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona (dir. Woody Allen)
- Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection (Palm Springs Weekend / Parrish / Rome Adventure / Susan Slade)
- Waterloo Bridge (dir. Mervyn LeRoy)
- Whirlwind
- Wholpin - Best of Wholpin: Issues 1-5
- The Yellow Rolls Royce (dir. Anthony Asquith)

Dex looks at The Lucky Ones:
I find Illusionist (2006) director Neil Burger's latest interesting not because it's good or bad - the Times gave it a thumbs-up when it was released to theaters last fall, as the reviewer wrote, because Burger managed to make a war film without stooping to politics - but because it illustrates how far mainstream filmmaking in the U.S. will go to comment on the war we make on other countries and the people we send to fight in them. With mighty few exceptions, cinematic soldier boys and girls standing as metaphor for a nation that's somehow been duped into spilling blood - again! - is about the farthest out Hollywood gets when it comes to the war picture, especially the ones about conflicts that have more to do with our cherished national ideologies and not so much with Fighting Nazis. Why stoop to politics?

Amber on Killer Bees (Satsujinbachi - kirâ bî)
Directed by Norihisa Yoshimura (Zero Woman: The Hunted), this 2005 entry is not to be confused with the two made for TV films by the same name.
“Death has a thousand stings - Get ready for a winged detour into toxic terror as a group of Japanese students on a field trip encounter a mutant strain of killer bees! Swarming, possessed of a mutant intelligence and deadly stings that cause the human body to explode from within, the bees seem to be hunting the surviving girls, picking them off one by one! But as horrifying as each venom-pulsing stab of death may be, the worst is yet to come!”
In my experience, killer bee movies tend to sound better than they actually are, but surely this one will be different. This one looks special. That’s right, kids! When you are stung by these baddies, you IMPLODE! Wow! Look for an entry in the field guide someday soon.
Editor's Note (2-6-09):
Having just wasted an hour and twenty four minutes of my life on this sorry contender for the worst movie ever made, I feel that it is only right that I warn you about Killer Bees. First, there are no bees in this film, only hornets. Second, there is nothing in this movie that even remotely suggests that these are "mutants". Third, this is run-of-the-mill Japanese V-Cinema crap that I'm certain no one can actually enjoy on any level. Lastly, and most importantly, THERE ARE NO IMPLODING GIRLS! I've been hoodwinked, dear reader, and it is my civic duty to warn all of you to avoid being suckered in. There are bad CGI hornets, terrible acting, and a few almost nasty-looking swollen sting-marks, there is absolutely no cinematography, no gory bits and no implosions or explosions to be found. Go watch something else.

Pike's 2 cents: This week is full of, if not great, then at least interesting titles. First I'll focus on the three titles that interest me the most, then I will round up a handful of others with a sentence or two.

Female Prisoner: Caged!- Not for the squeamish, Women in Prison (or WIP) films stand out as a brutal and depraved little exploitative sub-genre that, to be honest, rarely produced anything good. Don't get me wrong, there are some keepers in the genre like Caged!, The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, Bamboo House of Dolls and Meiko Kaji's Female Prisoner: Scorpion cycle (which this film is not a part of), but most of the films in the genre are a bore. When done well though, these movies can provide some set pieces that are jaw-droppingly over the top while causing mixed feelings of revulsion and titillation. What interests me most about Female Prisoner: Caged! though, is not the WIP content but rather that it came out of the Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu. In the early 70's Nikkatsu Studios fell on hard times and began making what it termed 'Roman Porno' (meaning Romance/Pornography) films to pull in some much needed scratch. These films were made for the exploitation crowd but normally were given a decent budget and a director with a gift for visual panache. The handful of films I have seen under the Nikkatsu banner are like hyper-visual pop art freakouts. The combination of a commanding visual style and a truly bizarre but involving storyline can almost make you forget that these films were intended as smut- 'almost' being the key word. The only hard and fast rule Nikkatsu forced their directors to comply with was that for every fifteen minutes of film, there must be a nude scene. Besides that bit of protocol, the directors could do whatever they wanted with the rest of the film. From this very lax environment sprung a strange little niche in the film world of almost experimental/arthouse/softcore pictures that included such minor classics as A Woman Called Sada Abe, The World of Geisha, The Watcher in the Attic, Woman with Red Hair and Flower and Snake (directed by Konuma Masaru, who also directed Female Prisoner: Caged!).

Becoming Charley Chase- After Harold Lloyd decided to leave silent films behind, Charley Chase slipped in to fill part of the void. Along with Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang, Charley Chase was one of the major comedy acts overseen by the big-time producer Hal Roach. This 4 DVD box set collects many of Chase's silent shorts of which a large portion were co-written and directed by by Leo McCarey (all of disc 2 and 3).

The Maniacs- I have read that many people in Italy remember Lucio Fulci's sex farces from the 50's/60's with more fondness than they do his late 70's/early 80's gore films. With The Maniacs we in America get to see one of these comedies for the first time with English subtitles.

This week we also get a good cross-section of films from off of the beaten track. There is a Thai superhero/martial arts film (Mercury Man), two comedies starring the Italian Neo-Realist director Vittorio De Sica (The Inveterate Bachelor and Bread, Love and Dreams), the most profitable 3-D movie ever (The Stewardesses) and a highly praised wartime weepie from 1940 (Waterloo Bridge) that took a second crack at the Robert Sherwood play after James Whale's 1931 version. Also released today is The Yellow Rolls Royce, the last film by Anthony Asquith who is probably better known by classic film buffs for directing the films The Importance of Being Earnest and The Browning Version.


Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: The Black Scorpion

The Black Scorpion (1957)
Critter: Prehistoric giant scorpions, Scorpionida rex, with special appearances from a giant inch worm with arms and a spider borrowed from the production of King Kong
Size: Unreported, estimate- 100 feet long
Modus Operandi: Grabs victim with claws, stings victim with venomous stinger
How the Menace Emerges: Earthquakes and volcanic action unleash underground threat
End Goal: Dinner

Like our Deadly Mantis, these scorpions are prehistoric and have been unleashed due to geological forces, not the misdeeds of humanity. While the locals think that a demon bull is responsible for the death and destruction seen around town, we know better. We’re not watching a movie called “Demon Bull”, after all. Setting the action down in Mexico lets Black Scorpion operate stylistically as a quasi-western. We have sombrero’d men riding horseback, cattle and of course, a sexy cowgirl rancher whose only purpose seems to be to worry about our hero. As extraneous and infinitely more irritating is the little boy, Juanito, whose purpose is completely unknown. Yet, the western feel of the cowgirl and the film as a whole quickly subsides, culminating in a superfluous romance over caviar in Mexico City.

Willis O’Brien of King Kong fame created the giant stop-motion arthropods, which have his characteristic realism in their movements. These baddies run on tippy-tarsi, just like the real thing, and when they punch their victim with a poison sting, I cringe. I’m overlooking the drool and lack of chelicerae in the close-ups, because good stop-motion animation is just such a joy to watch.

There are many signs in Black Scorpion that a lack of funds robbed this film of its potential greatness. There are a number of repeated scenes, the sound that the scorpions make was lifted straight from Them!, and the monster rampaging through the city scene was merely a silhouette, rather than the top-notch stop-motion animation seen in the rest of the film. Still, thanks to the work of O’Brien and crew, Black Scorpion is a fine entry in the giant-organism-attacks subgenre.

Nit-picking Science: 1) Dr. de la Cruz, an organic poison is still a chemical one! 2) Dr. Velazco, did you mean Triassic?


if an underworld prequel fell in the woods and didn't have kate beckinsale in it, would it make any noise? (denver premieres 1/23/09)

Zen master Rhona Mitra shows us what the star of a one-note action-horror franchise begging off a pointless third movie looks like. Oh, and the sound of one hand clapping thing. That too.

This weekend's releases are mystifying; truly, deeply mystifying, and their appearance in theatres this Friday has puzzled us so here at the Projection Booth that we've no choice but to seek out one of the great books of antiquity, the I Ching (at least, it's online version), in order to understand the penetrating mystery of this weekend's premieres:

"Oh I Ching, should our readers be bothered to see Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, which is supposed to be a sort of prequel to the first two Underworld movies, even with no MILFy Kate Beckinsale hotness in it, which I thought was basically the point of all that anyway?"

I Ching: Advantage will be found in the southwest, and the contrary in the northeast. It will be advantageous to meet with the great man. With firmness and correctness, there will be good fortune.

"I Ching, what bet do you think Brendan Fraser lost that he has to keep making these green-screen heavy action pics, and do you have any notion as to whether this new one, Inkheart, which is apparently based on a kid's fantasy book, will be better than the 3-D remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth?"

I Ching: It is required that the culprit's guilt be exhibited in the royal court, along with a sincere and earnest appeal for sympathy and support, with consciousness of the peril involved in cutting off the criminal. He should also make announcement in his own city, and show that it will not be well to have recourse at once to arms. In this way there will be advantage in whatever he shall go forward to.

"Oh I Ching, I've seen the trailer for Azur and Asmar, opening this weekend at Starz, like twice now. Pike Bishop says it looks like King's Quest IV, and I can't understand all the accolades it's getting for the visual style either. What say you, I Ching?"

I Ching: It will be advantageous to be firm and correct.

Well, I know I'm clear on this weekend's premieres - how about you?

Also opening this week at Starz is Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains, about a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane - ah, well, crashed on the mountains, the Andes Mountains to be precise, and the survivors of the accident who were forced to eat the ones who didn't make it in order to pull through. Sure to spur those "What would you do?"-type convos in the lobby on the way out, but for me, the real question is this: did they get to have sex with any of the bodies before chowing down?

Remember to stop by next week, when we'll be using the ancient calendar of the lost Mayan empire to help us understand Renee Zellweger's New in Town!


in my queue

Poor Glinda - I bet she never suspects that it's
her dad who's going to murder her.

I thought I'd give Pike and Amber - who've been doing yeoman's work, posting original content regularly, week after week (if you haven't seen Amber's Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film, you not only don't know what you're missing, you also suck, and suck bad) - a short breather and post a check-in to see what's on tap for Boothers who (like myself) have been otherwise distracted with a new school year, job, and other blah-dee-blah.

Me, I've got a copy of the HBO film Recount (2007) to see, as well as the Iranian-not-noir Crimson Gold (2006), and a remastered edition of Wild At Heart (1990) that was included in David Lynch's new boxed set, Lime Green I'm curious about.

Und du?


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Does this picture make you want to see Max Payne? No? Not even with Mila Kunis, back there in the back? No? What if Mark Wahlberg came to your house and personally made you a nice spaghetti dinner? How about then?

Hey kids, here they are: this week's fabulous new DVD releases!

- Boogeyman 3
- Children of Huang Shi
- Children of the Stones
- El Norte (Criterion Collection directed by Gregory Nava)
- The Express
- George Wallace
- Igor
- Magnificent Obsession (Criterion Collection directed by Douglas Sirk)
- Max Payne
- On Each Side
- President Barack Obama: The Man
- Repo! The Genetic Opera
- Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World (Riccardo Freda)/Ali Baba & The 7 Saracens
- Saw 5

Patrick on Magnificent Obsession -

A reckless playboy (Rock Hudson) is responsible for blinding a beautiful widow (Jane Wyman). He's so wracked with guilt that he decides to become a surgeon and restore her sight. It's not only not the first film where the love of a good woman redeems a good-for-nothing man, it's not even the first time Douglas Sirk toyed with the idea. A while back he played out the same skeleton of a story in A Scandal in Paris, where a thieving rogue reforms himself (much to the chagrin of his partner in crime) for a woman he's fallen for and somewhere along the way applies for Christian sainthood. The same thing happens here, right down to the highly Christian overtones. But the primary way in which it differs (aside from George Sanders's superior performance as the scoundrel, the more humorous tone of the earlier film, and of course the wildly disparate settings) is the dazzling color photography (plus Jane Wyman's superior performance as the object of desire). You may think these things don't matter but they do - adds a depth and resonance to the film, reflecting both the emotional tone and the artificiality of some scenes - and I'm going on the assumption that Criterion will do a fine job mastering/restoring things to the high level of design of which Sirk is capable.

Dex on Saw V:
These flicks used to bum me out - it's like a repertory company putting on a series from Donald Rumsfeld's Copper Green documents - though in my dotage I think I may have come around from my previously blaise take; and while I have no desire to see Saw V (indeed, I haven't been able to do more than 15 minutes of the first one) and can find no reason to suggest that anyone out there in blogland should either, I find myself cheered somehow that people younger than I will have their own craptacular cultural touchstone, a thing they can claim they had a hot make-out session at in a theater or their first experience with substance illegale during. So I toast you, Saw V, and however many of you come after! Long may you be the thing that was on when a teen was doing something he/she shouldn't have been!


Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Phase IV

Phase IV (1974)
Critter: Ants, multiple species within the Formicidae family
Size: Varies, but usually less than an inch long
Modus Operandi: Chewing through wires, building geometrical shapes with reflective qualities, enters mammalian bodies by boring three holes into the flesh. Very intelligent and work in groups.
How the Menace Emerges: Some sort of cosmic planetary alignment changes ant behavior
End Goal: To overtake the Earth as the dominant species, or is it?

Phase IV is the only full-length feature film from legendary title and credit master Saul Bass. It is such a visual masterpiece, that I wonder why he didn’t make another. For a sense of the sheer genius of design in this film, look here for a nicely organized series of screenshots.
The strength of this film is its strongly visual style that, while certainly not subtle, is somehow capable of imbuing ants with a human depth without resorting to absurd baby-talk voice-overs. When the scientists use “100% yellow” pesticide defense, we see the suffering of a trapped ant mirrored in the motions of a trapped man. Watching the trials of a series of ants dragging back a chunk of pesticide to the queen so their little sisters will be immune is a touching display of teamwork, persistence and sacrifice. The funeral scene after a human counter attack is sad: dead ants laid out in neat rows, black-clad mourners with mandibles open in anguish and a choral soundtrack with creepy, ant-like squeals. Although these sequences are filmed by National Geographic’s Ken Middleham, their stunning anthropomorphism is a far cry from stale documentary fare.

Although the ants steal the show, we have a nice pair of scientists and a younger gal to flesh out the human side of the story. James, the game theory grad student, remains humane and curious in his attempts to understand and communicate with the ants as Hubbs, the senior biologist, becomes increasingly mad, savage and keen to wage war. All told, what is intersting in this film is its atmosphere, implications and visuals, not its sparse, but interesting story. Phase IV stands out from the shlocky 70s crowd as a dignified, bizarre and artfully rendered sci-fi tale.

Just so you know, although most of the conversations we humans have had with ants have been chemical, ants really do make sounds.

Nit-picking Science: 1) Dr. Hubbs, millipedes don’t feed on ants; they eat rotting stuff. 2) That’s no queen ant! That’s a wasp in some sort of pregnant termite costume!


i love it when you call me blog posta: denver premieres for 1/16/09

In a surprise ending to Notorious, the mall cop Paul Blart is revealed as Biggie's murderer.

Pike Pike Pike can't you see - sometimes your blogposts just hypnotize me!

Notorious - Proof positive His Bigness knew he was going to die! What's that? You still don't believe? Well, if he didn't use his hip hop powers to divine a Biggie-less future, then how come he wrote the perfect tagline to this posthumous biopic all the way back in 1993: "If you don't know/now you know."

If you didn't know - now, NOW, you'll know. Eh? Eh? (Dex)

Pray the Devil Back to Hell - Probably, the only film opening this week that isn't a waste of time is this documentary playing over at the Starz FilmCenter. Their synopsis reads:

"Shortly after warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was elected in 1997, Liberia erupted into civil war for the second time in a decade. Child soldiers ran rampant through the streets of Monrovia, terrorizing the local population, while the opposition group—Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy—moved in, destroying much of the countryside as they went. After more than 250,000 people were killed and upwards of a million displaced, thousands of women from around the country banded together to achieve what their male compatriots could not: an end to the killing and a movement toward peace. Mothers and daughters, grandmothers and sisters, Christians and Muslims, all dressed in plain white, gathered together in protest every day for months along President Taylor’s official route, singing and brandishing picket signs. Eventually, peace talks commenced in Ghana—but when even those appeared on the verge of breakdown, these brave women surrounded the building and refused to let the negotiators leave until a deal was brokered. Gini Reticker uses an eye-opening combination of archival footage, international media coverage, and interviews with the activists to create not only an uplifting portrait of human courage in the face of dire circumstances but a record of transformation for an entire nation. Following the culmination of the peace talks, Charles Taylor fled the country and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first female president of Liberia."

As for the rest of the movies opening in theaters this week, well, what can I say? Initially I was going to fill this post with some hateful, obscenity-filled bile aimed at these films and the people who made them, but as the inauguration of our next president, Barack Obama, is coming up next Tuesday, I feel we as Americans must turn over a new leaf. It should no longer be acceptable for us to just sit back, nonchalantly resigned to apathy, bitching and blogging about the woes of the world. We must get involved! We must step up to the plate by either providing new ideas to explore or by generating some alternative solutions to the problems of today. So, with that in mind, I will now make my first baby steps into this proactive new world by offering not the angry complaints of yesterday but some helpful alternatives for today. Below I have provided a basic description of the movie being released, the type of film it is aiming to be and an alternative film that I can guarantee will be a more enjoyable viewing experience. Oh, and yes, you are welcome.

Hotel for Dogs - A group of plucky kids build a fantastically automated hotel for dogs while Don Cheadle goes slumming for a buck.

The movie this movie wanted to be: a decaffeinated version of Spy Kids

A better alternative: Babe: Pig in the City

My Bloody Valentine 3-D - Patrick Lussier, Wes Craven's favorite editor (and a director in his own right with such classics as White Noise 2, The Prophecy 3 and Dracula 2000 under his belt), jumps on board the horror remake train. Choo choo, all aboard!

The movie this movie wanted to be: My Bloody Valentine

A better alternative: Pieces

Paul Blart: Mall Cop - Adam Sandler produces and Kevin James stars in this comedy about a mall cop who must thwart a mall break-in.

The movie this movie wanted to be: The Die Hard of mall comedy

Better alternatives: Dawn of the Dead and Chopping Mall

Defiance - Fuck do I hate Edward Zwick! He is one of the most middlebrow, doughy, white-bread, half-assed, Hollywood faux-liberals who, apparently, doesn't realize that his tales of "conscientious" white men embroiled in the plights of various non-white ethnicities are about as reprehensibly racist and backhandedly anti-humanist as you can get. I hope he dies in a horrible car accident. Oh, I'm sorry, I did some backsliding there. What I meant to say was that this is a movie about the Bielski partisans who, formed by three brothers and thirteen of their neighbors, saved 1200 Jews during the Holocaust by hiding them in a dense forest near their home. But come on, do I really need to point out the alarmingly condescending way that the films Glory, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond treat their non-white characters?

The movie this movie wanted to be: Schindler's List with more shoot-outs

A better alternative: The Battle of Algiers (or if Nazi resistance is your thing then try Andrzej Wajda's Kanal)

Last Chance Harvey - Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) goes to London to attend his daughter's wedding but once there finds that his daughter has chosen to have her stepfather give her away in the ceremony. Dejected, Harvey ends up in an airport bar where he runs into a prickly woman named Kate (Emma Thompson) with whom he will soon begin a life-altering relationship.

The movie this movie wanted to be: Lost in Translation for the AARP crowd

A better alternative: In the Mood for Love

Yonkers Joe - Joe (Chaz Palminteri), a cheating gambler, is looking to pull off one last score with a set of loaded dice but finds himself pulled in two directions when he is forced to take care of his son Joe Jr., a 20-year-old with Down's Syndrome.

The movie that this movie wanted to be: Rain Man

A better alternative: Robert Altman's California Split

Chandni Chowk to China - An Indian cook goes to India to be a kung-fu fighter with all of the Bollywood trimmings in tow.

The movie this movie wanted to be: The Hindi Kung-Fu Hustle

A better alternative: Lagaan (aka: Once Upon a Time in India)


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Audrey Hepburn, version Funny Face Centennial Collection,
waits for someone to spin her right round,
like a record baby right round round round.

Appaloosa - A melancholy Viggo Mortensen and tightly-wound Ed Harris (who also directed) are a couple of "cleaners" - lawmen for hire - who take up duties at a tiny mining town someplace in the Four Corners after the shifty Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) brutally dispatches the original sheriff and deputies. Naturally, Viggo and Ed are too good at what they do to maintain relationships with anyone save each other; naturally, there is a woman (Renee Zellweger) who threatens this long-term relationship as well as their short-term attempts to arrest Bragg (who is rumored to think he can shoot whomever he likes out in the western territories because he once met President Chester Arthur). Harris' film is a solid, "actorly" movie, though fans of the genre should note Appaloosa is less a Western than a melodrama with a Western backdrop. Also stars Lance Henriksen and Timothy Spall.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Centennial Collection)
Brideshead Revisited (2008)
Choose Connor
Father of the Kamikaze
The Free Will
Funny Face (Centennial Collection)
My Best Friend’s Girl
My Bloody Valentine
The Order of Myths
Roberto Rossellini’s History Films: Renaissance and Enlightenment (Eclipse Series 14 includes: Blaise Pascal, The Age of the Medici, Cartesius)
Swing Vote
The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Criterion Collection directed by Roberto Rossellini)
Taxi Blues
Tokyo Gore Police - If you take the 'new flesh' theme from Videodrome, along with the privatized police force sub-plot from Robocop and edit them around a continual discharge of arterial spray, you pretty much have Tokyo Gore Police. Financed by the state-side dvd company Tokyo Shock and made primarily for the western market, Tokyo Gore Police is a decent entry in the Japanese Cyberpunk sub-genre with some good over-the-top visuals and a healthy streak of sarcasm. I was hoping that the film would be a great combination of Nightmare Detective-like atmosphere aided by Meatball Machine-style gore effects but it never quite hits that sweet spot. I would recommend this more as a rental than a buy, but I have to say I liked it significantly more than the previous Tokyo Shock produced camp-fest, The Machine Girl.

Yellow Fangs


look under the (re)cap to see if you've won

If there is any justice in this cruel and unforgiving universe, two-thousand and eight will fade from the collective consciousness and the interval between 2007 and 2009 will heretofore be recorded as "Not 2006," 365 days of nothing happening: a time when nobody had their heart broken, lost a job, committed incest, got their a bike stolen, or all of the above.

However, Not 2006's film's still linger - some sweet, some not so sweet. Here's what we liked best of Not 2006 (aka 2008):

* Amber's top flick was Inside, which she said was a "top-notch scary splatter flick that also happens to contain a (maybe too) well-hidden socio-political backbone."

* I loved Werner Herzog's latest doc, Encounters at the End of the World, and thought it "humbly, humanly, but unblinkingly considers" the all-too-present and all-too-real notion of the end of human civilization, as well as embracing as much of "the full range of emotions it stirs up as one person can."

* Patrick says numero uno was Gus Van Sant's Milk, and for him, "[Sean] Penn is great....never once did I think 'Here's Sean Penn playing a gay man' - and the rest of the cast is terrific as well. And heavy-handed or no, I got teary during the fight against Prop 6 and the candlelight vigil even though I knew about them going in to the film."

* Pike Bishop says that Still Life was aces, and "what makes it [his] favorite film of the year is how it mixes humor, humanism, and playfully anachronistic layers of images into an enjoyably rich and complex document of the day-to-day lives of the people who are left in transition while China constructs the largest hydro-electric power plant in the world."

Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Deadly Mantis

Deadly Mantis (1957)
Critter: Prehistoric giant praying mantis, Order: Mantodea
Size: Unreported, estimate- 100 feet tall
Top Flight Speed: 200 mph
Modus Operandi: Bats at or grabs buildings, airplanes and buses with forelegs. We are told that victims are consumed, but we never see how. A solitary hunter.
How the Menace Emerges: Earthquakes unearth frozen specimen
End Goal: Dinner

Deadly Mantis attempts to convince us of its scientific spirit with its opening line “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton, now, that’s science! The narrator is awfully fond of the wonders of surveillance and communication technology within the military complex. The first 6 minutes of the movie show us maps and stock footage of construction in the Arctic. Seriously, I have no idea why the makers of this film thought that we needed to know this much about radar or constructing an Arctic outpost. I do suspect that Universal approved of the savings generated by stuffing this flick with stock footage, a common low-budget practice in the 50s. As a cold-war love song to the might of the American military, Deadly Mantis suffers from its fetishistic treatment of military lingo and procedures.

Rather than the sharp lady scientist, Deadly Mantis gives us the unnecessary magazine photographer Marge Blaine (Alix Talton) who is supposedly driven by a hankering for a good scoop, but instead settles for a man. When she shows up at the all-male Arctic outpost, a sweaty, stuttering young chap tells us that she’s a “woman, a female woman. I thought they’d stopped makin’ ‘em.” If this were made in later times, I’m certain rape would have entered the picture here. Rather than the spunky gal who helps solve the case, our Ms. Blain is the second variety of 50s sci-fi gal: built only for romance and screaming.

Although the characters and story are lacking, the critter effects are pretty good. If they could have spent more time with our mantis than with the brass, Deadly Mantis could have been a great film. The mantis is obviously small-scale, and suffers from a lack of interaction with human victims on screen, but the iconic Washington monument scene features the real thing climbing a miniature model. The monster-makers didn’t look closely at their real mantis before they constructed the model. If they did, they would have recognized that mantises have a pair of mandibles, not a hinged jaw. Still, the full-body flight scenes are great, especially when paired with the roaring Navy jets.

Nit-picking Science: Dr. Jackson, pshaw! 1) Insects are animals too! 2) Insects are covered in an exoskeleton made of chitin not cartilage. 2) That’s no ant; it’s a stag beetle. 3) Maybe you could explain what “geometrical patterns” in “living protoplasm” are before you go on to explain how they change at death.


Ten recent reviews

Murder! (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1930) -

A person wrongly accused and condemned to death; another seeking out the guilty party - it's an early prototype of what would become the Hitchcock standard for decades. And with good reason, it's a durable idea and is executed here as enjoyably as many of his later films, if perhaps with less flair in the area of making grand set pieces. However, this comes immediately on the heels of the silent era and set piece or no, Hitch has a total command of how to structure things visually without the heavy reliance on dialogue that became the norm later. It's not a great one, even for the period, but it's totally enjoyable, crisp and well-made and certainly a worthwhile piece of his catalog to check out.

Longtime Companion (dir. Norman René, 1990) -

Way better than the rank and file of gay-themed films I've seen and - ending aside - a good, solid film overall. It's one of the earliest American films to really take on the AIDS crisis as its central theme and I really appreciated the (almost complete) absence of melodrama in favor of serious talk, well-drawn characters, and a realistic look at a particular group of (mostly gay, mostly white, mostly affluent) men and how the crisis impacts on them and their group of friends.

It's helped immeasurably by its episodic structure - following one story through beginning to end would probably be too schmaltzy to tolerate, but checking in with the people periodically is a good way to follow the situation which is, in reality, the central idea of the film more than any individual character. I have to say, I expected the worst and I liked it quite a bit. As films that voluntarily place themselves into the gay-themed section of most video stores, it's top of the heap. As a film-film, pretty good stuff.

The Pianist (dir. Roman Polanski, 2002) -
Of course Roman won the Oscar, because this is the kind of film the Academy loves - serious in intent, well-made on all levels, and nothing that's going to challenge your preconceptions (unless you believe that every single person who was associated with the Nazi party was thoroughly evil and had not a shred of sympathy or humanity, in which case you'll be stunned by one character introduced late in the film). Watching it, I was drawn into the drama, the story, and Brody's excellent work in particular (he's in pretty much every single scene), but I feel like this was a relatively unchallenging film about the Holocaust, bringing nothing new in particular to the table, to the growing body of work of films about the subject. I respect it, it was an interesting story to tell and lest I be read wrong here I don't see any problem with continuing to tell variations on a theme - as long as something unique and new is brought into the world, which is the only place where I think Polanski failed. If you haven't seen a lot of films on the subject of the Holocaust, this one will be a powerful experience. If you have, you may be subject to a feeling of deja vu, in spite of the best intentions of everyone involved.

Detour (dir. Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) -

I nodded for a moment or two when I first saw this last fall, as I am prone to, so I rented it again to see if it was as fucked-up as I remember and yeah, Ann Savage is absolutely amazing as the femme fatale of the picture. I mean, even by the standards of noir femmes, she's wacko and absolutely carries the energy of the film since Tom Neal's Al character is one step from being a total void - he's not likeable or disagreeable; not handsome, nor is he ugly; he doesn't get too heated over the situation, yet he doesn't totally lie down and go along with things. But with a budget approaching zero dollars and a couple unknowns, Edgar G. Ulmer crafter a fine little thriller long on mood and anxiety, short on all other amenities, and therein lies its charm.

Le Boucher (dir. Claude Chabrol, 1970) -

After seeing Chabrol's latest film and enjoying it without loving it, I decided to jump back and see one more or less agreed upon as a masterpiece - this one - and found that I also liked it without loving it (though Roger Ebert's rave review on his website leads me to believe that this has depths that I haven't begun to get near). I did love the placidity of the French countryside and the mundanity of the events interrupted by the murders of the film - it's almost like they don't really matter much, more like discussion points between the characters than reasons for feeling afraid. And though Hitchcock can be felt in the proceedings, Chabrol never lays too heavily on the suspense until the end, when it seems that Stephane Audran's character actually has moved from her carefree provincial life into real danger. It's certainly not the savage view of the bourgeois that I've heard about Chabrol's films but not yet seen, but it's also certainly interesting enough to keep me going further into the catalog. Oh yeah, and the score is fucking amazing as well.

The Body Snatcher (dir. Robert Wise, 1945) -

Boris Karloff again turns in a terrific performance for this Val Lewton vehicle as the title character (or is Henry Daniell's Dr. MacFarlane the title character?) in which a doctor sanctions grave robbing and possibly murder in the name of furthering medicine and science. It's no place we haven't been elsewhere and better, but it's still an enjoyable slice of the macabre, directed by the fine, steady hand of Robert Wise, thus ensuring a skillful way with both visual aspects and actors, though even he has a hard time making Russell Wade as the spineless intern anything to get excited for or about. And though Bela Lugosi is second-billed, his role is small. It's fine, pivotal even, but both Wade and Daniell have heaps more screen time and more to do with the plot. Central plot could move along a little faster for my tastes, but it's still fun and when Karloff's purely sinister John Gray stalks one of his victims down a dark alley, it's a truly effective moment of suspense in a film that I feel could've been pushed further into the realms of the creepy and nerve-wracking, but still makes for some engaging entertainment.

Motel Hell (dir. Kevin Cooper, 1980) -

Pure fun that intimates more serious matters without throwing them in your face. All the leads - excepting our female heroine (and assuming of course that your heroine is not Nancy Parsons as Ida) - have a great time chewing the scenes and camping it up and making this about as funny-yet-disturbing as they possibly can. And like the best satires, it succeeds as the (scary) thing it's making fun of while givng chuckles a-plenty, such as watching John Ratzenberger as a member of a punk outfit called "Ivan and the Terribles." I'd love to hear the record. Anyway, smoked meats made of human quarry are the norm in the innocuously named "Motel Hello" and Farmer Vince lives a simple, quiet life, recycling people into food and thereby reducing waste - that's how he sees it anyway. He is also living with Ida, and when the nature of their relationship is casually dropped into the story, it adds just another whole creepy level to the proceedings. The film takes a central premise but keeps throwing in ideas from way out in left field to keep you intrigued, keep things off-balance, and keep you involved. I can't say it ever really wraps up into a coherent statement (they seem to be avoiding going too heavily with anything serious here), but as a good slice of the weird, the funny, and the creepy, it does me just right.

Diabolique (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzout, 1955) -

Superb thriller from Clouzout brimming with the usual group of completely sour human beings, pessimism about mankind's motives in dealing with other humans, and a cold touch of realism brought to bear on some grisly proceedings. A school headmaster openly holds a mistress whom he contemptuously showers with affection in front of his wife. The wife and mistress plan to kill him while the school is on a break and that's whee it starts to get interesting. Things build slowly - perhaps a touch too slowly, though it didn't really bother me - up to the stunning finale, as good a ten minutes of screen time as Clouzout ever filmed. There is, of course, the comeuppance in the end that I think takes the picture down a tiny bit, where in other films of his sinister deeds would - or could, anyway - go unpunished. The film has greatness in it that it doesn't quite achieve (except in the closing scenes, which are absolutely brilliant), but it's pretty damned effective regardless and a fine addition to his catalog nonetheless.

Cure (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997) -

I got about 25 minutes into this film before I realized that I'd already seen it. Fitting, I suppose for a film about an amnesiac who may or may not be responsible for motivating people to murder, but it didn't speak well for the film that I didn't remember it. This time though, I've got total recall of the scenes and the way the film works its effective and scary premise right up to the showdown between the two main characters. A good thing, strangely paced by American standards, but really effective in the way it draws you slowly and inexorably into the world it's created - something not too far off from the real world maybe (nothing here that's gonna dazzle you with shocks or special effects), but just "off" enough to be really unsettling. A sleeper, yes, but no pun intended.

Porcile (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969) -

Worst transfer ever! Bad print, reel changes are apparent every single time, and unless Pasolini's up to some sort of tricks, two reels are even switched late in the film, jumbling the chronology of this obscure film even more - but that's not really his style so much, even if indirectness is. So this one was evocative, despite my issues with the transfer, and the roughly contemporary interview with Pasolini in the bonus features offered up this nugget that helps explain not just this film, but his whole approach:

Pasolini: "I've never wanted to make a conclusive statement. I've always posed various problems and left them open to consideration."

Makes a hell of a lot more sense in watching this film that alternates between a historical story of a cannibalistic warrior and a that of a contemporary bourgeois family torn by political beliefs, neither of which lay their intentions on their sleeve or move in any sort of normal or predictable way (especially when suddenly you've moved ten minutes ahead in things and have to jump back later due to a reel switch). I finished the film wondering just what and why I had watched, but the comment above frames the whole thing - and other more obscure works of his - quite well, giving a key perhaps as to how to view them next time I want to make the effort. It's evocative and interesting, sure, but don't come to this one looking for any easy answers. Only Teorema and Salo are more inscrutible in his catalog, and maybe not even quite as much as this one.

an alcoholic wrestler, a demonic twin, and some laotian immigrants walk into a wedding party of feuding brides: denver premieres for 1/08

I'd like to think that Gary Oldman got to take that scarf home after doing this movie.

Oh, Denver Premiere Friday! Pike and Dex love you so!

The Wrestler - Darren Aronofsky, licking his wounds after the critical and commercial failure of his new agey magnum opus The Fountain, returns with a scaled-down character study in The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke (in a role that will either re-focus his acting career or put a cap on it) stars as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, an over-the-hill professional wrestler whose time in the lime-light has long since slipped away. With his star faded, Randy begins to reassess his life and finds that his denial of the reality outside of the ring has left his world in shambles. If only someone would come along and give him another chance in the ring. By gosh! He'd show 'em- he'd show 'em all that 'The Ram' still has some fight left in him! If you can't see where this movie is going from here, then what can I tell ya. As Michael Lerner's movie mogul character says in Barton Fink, "It's a rastlin' picture! What do you need, a road map?" To be fair though, how many ways can you tell a story about the human need for redemption? I mean, even Jesus needed a big comeback to make his story worth telling.(Pike)

The Unborn - It's good to see that in one form or another, the same brand of salesmanship for C-grade genre offerings will always be with us: scantily clad hottie on the artwork (or, as BucsFan 3812 wrote on imdb.com, "HOLY $H!T NICE A$$ ON POSTER!!!!!" )? Check! Slumming name actors (Gary Oldman, James Remar, Carla Gugino)? Check! Creepy demon little boy? Check! Clips from the big exor-scene at the end in all the teevee trailers? Check! And hey, one of the The Dark Knight guys - maybe you've heard of that flick, yeah? - one of those guys wrote and directed it! Yeah...so...hey, did you see the nice a$$ on the poster? (Dex)

The Betrayal -This documentary opens at the Starz FilmCenter on Friday. Their synopsis reads:

Filmed over the course of 23 years, The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) is the story of a family's epic journey from war-torn Laos to the mean streets of New York. Thavisouk Phrasavath tells his own story of the struggling as a young man to survive both the war and the hardships of immigrant life, as well as his mother's astonishing tale of perseverance. Renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras' directorial debut is a remarkable collaboration with co-director Phrasavath-a poetic deeply personal film about the hidden, human face of war's "collateral damage."

Bride Wars - Instead of a proper preview, I will only offer you this thought-provoking koan from the Zen Buddhist text, The Gateless Gate:

"No matter the cheap and threadbare nature of its being nor its contempt for human joy, this movie will make more over the coming week than you and your friends will earn in all of your combined lifetimes."

Now go and contemplate the sound of one hand clapping, young grasshopper.(Pike)


friday classic film blogging

Sullivan's Travels (1941). Written and directed by Preston Sturges. Starring Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Robert Warwick and William Demarest.

Preston Sturge’s 1941 classic Sullivan’s Travels is one of those rare films that combine serious social commentary, slapstick comedy and unflattering Hollywood self-reflection into a remarkably great movie. Joel McCrea stars as the director John “Sully” Sullivan who, despite his success in light-hearted comedies like Ants in Your Plants, wants to make serious films about the plight of the downtrodden in 1940s America. Since he’s always lived the privileged life, he decided to head out into the underbelly of America disguised as a hobo to get a taste for the poverty he has admired from afar. Along the way, he bumps heads with the studio system, meets Veronica Lake, learns that being poor isn’t as glamorous as he imagined and decides that laughter ain’t so bad after all. The dialogue is sharp and witty, but much of the message in this film resides in the unspoken. Like the best satire, Sullivan’s Travels is cynical, sweet, hilarious and humane in equal measures.

Fans of the Coen brothers take note. This film is the source of the title "O, Brother, Where Art Thou?". That was to be the name of the hobo epic that Sully Sullivan wanted to make based on his experiences on the road. Hmm, it may also be the source for Barton Fink's obsession with the Theatre for the Common Man.


how the dead live: savage grace

Miz Julianne Moore models the classic "little incest dress": cocktails at happy hour, seduce your son after the theatre!

In the face of the carnage that Harvey Levin's stargazey/starfucky/semi-reality trash of TMZ makes nightly of decency, taste, good sense, and whatever continues to make television worthwhile, something like Kenneth Anger's “Hollywood Babylon” - a catalogue of weird sex, death, and Tinseltown dementia put out about 25 years ago - looks like pleasantly quaint camp (though I’m sure that Anger had to know that to merely put out his book was a challenge to some future aspiring media huckster). But the soft core fascination/revulsion with rich and/or famous people and their scandalous lives Anger's tome embodied had been a major theme for filmmakers for a long time, even before he managed to give it a handle: Peyton Place (1957), Valley of the Dolls (1967), Star 80 (1983) to name a few, with maybe the highest (or most tolerable) manifestation being Barbet Schroeder’s re-telling of the Sunny and Klaus von Bulow melodrama, Reversal of Fortune (1990), which netted Jeremy Irons an Oscar for his icy portrayal of suspected wife-poisoner Klaus (though most people assume it was a “make-up” Oscar for his stunning turn a year or two before playing the uber-co-dependent twins, Elliot and Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s classic 1988 film Dead Ringers).

Despite cast and crew assurances that Savage Grace is a “smart” and “whole” movie about real people, Tom Kalin’s look at the pervy loves and lives of the Bakelands – heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune – slides neatly into the middle of the chintzy Hollywood Babylon sub-sub genre pack: Brooks Baekland (Stephen Dillane) is a handsome, terse, and learned WWII-vet as well as sometime “adventurer” to far-off places (who digs anal and seducing comely young women, even if they’re dating his son), Barbara Daly Baekland (Julianne Moore) is a MILFy sexpot with ambitions for herself, occasionally her painting, and her son’s place in high society (who also loves her boy so dearly that she’ll share boyfriends with him, or just throw him a nice fuck once in a while), and Antony Baekland (Eddie Redmayne) is a milquetoast layabout who toys with the idea of writing, or do something kinda laybouty and artistic (and got into the habit of having sexy sleepovers with neighborhood boys at about eleven, and just hasn’t quit it since).

There’s a low buzz of decadence throughout, and all sorts of accusations about who’s sleeping with whom and what that actually means, and that’s basically Savage Grace: lurching from one scene of decadence to the next, one accusation to the next, until finally a little bit of drama happens, near the very end, though I won’t ruin it for any scandal porn junkies out there (though I’m sure if you are a scandal porn junkie, you probably already know all about this story – you wouldn’t be a scandal porn junkie otherwise, now would you?) Still, I have to wonder why Kalin felt as though this was a story that needed to be told, because there’s very little to learn from this odd little love triangle – and very little for his actors to say or do in this grumpy little movie - save to marvel at their great taste in bed partners (who they don’t seem to enjoy bedding very much at all), their clothing, (tres chic!) and vacation villas (oo-la-la!).

david lynch thursday!


get yr release on

That's all it takes, brother - one post-adulthood Mary Kate Olson movie and just like that you're a creepy old man.

Babylon A.D.
Bangkok Dangerous
The Battle Wizard
Blind Mountain
Cyrano de Bergerac (2008) (starring Kevin Kline)
Disaster Movie
The Grocer’s Son
He Likes Guys
Kung Fu Killer
The Lizard
Opium and Kung Fu Master
Pineapple Express
The Plot to Kill Hitler

Michael Powell Double Feature (includes: Age of Consent and Stairway to Heaven) – Haven't seen Age of Consent yet but Stairway to Heaven (AKA A Matter of Life and Death) is generally regarded as one of many high points in the Powell/Pressburger partnership, a masterpiece that began their purple patch of releases (their next two film were Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes). Story concerns a pilot due in heaven when his aircraft crashes but he never makes it, creating a problem for his soul-takers who must then review his case and decide his fate. In Powell & Pressburger's hands though, the film, which could easily have become a treacly mess, stays on the right side by keeping their characterizations realistic, believable, and witty throughout, even when they're lampooning American or British stereotypes. A great one, and if Age of Consent is only half as good, that will be just fine with me. (Patrick)

Righteous Kill - A cop thriller thingy made under the presumption that many of us still care about what Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro are doing. I'm willing to give ground to DeNiro with the idea in mind he's attempting to build a financial base made out of the blood money he's getting for all these crap movies for his Tribeca Films company, but Al Pacino was long lost to us a more than a few "hoo-has!" ago (as much as I enjoy Michael Mann's Heat, much of the cast who have to share scenes with Pacino in that flick look as though they're waiting for him to start biting them). Like The Wackness (see below), Righteous Kill will no doubt give viewers a romantic approximation of gritty New York living, but in this film you get holograms of a pair of famous (and once-respected) actors to boot, so maybe it's a rental bargain. (Dex)

The Wackness - Not only do I never remember hearing the word "wackness" back in 1994, the appearance of a film anywhere, anyplace, regaling audiences with a tale of innocence lost and experience gained back in the halcyon days of the middle 1990s makes me feel the way Ben Kingsley looks in this movie: really fucking old.(Dex)


Introducing- A Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Them!

Just so you know I’m one bug-crazy gal. While the internet is full of movie lists, I’ve found that my particular niche is less represented than I’d like. So here goes, A Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: a weekly series about bug movies for the invertebrate-inclined. Just to satisfy my geeky need for proper terminology, I have to tell you that spiders, worms, snails, crabs, crayfish and centipedes are not insects, nor are ants, bees, wasps or grasshoppers truly bugs. Still, this little projection booth series will be devoted to all of the things you less entomologically-inclined folks might call bugs that show up in movies. Bug movies come in all shapes and sizes, but rarely do they hit grades above B. Some movie bugs are nature’s revenge for human misdeeds and some are evil critters from other worlds. We also have bugs which are the result of mad scientists overstepping the bounds of good taste or used as tools for clever murderers. Just as an aside, when I say movies, I must confess that I have no intention of ever covering kid’s movies or lame comedies with bug themes. I’m going to stick to the underbelly of the movie world: sci-fi, horror, giallo and the like. I just feel more at home there.
First off the bat, I’d like to introduce you to what I think is one of the most successful insect flicks around:

Them! (1954)
Critter: Atomic mutant carpenter ants, Camponotus vicinus var. gigantusmutantis
Size: At least 9 feet long
Modus Operandi: Bites victims with huge mandibles, fills wound with formic acid. Work in groups.
How the Menace Emerges: Nuclear testing spawns genetic mutants
End Goal: To overtake the Earth as the dominant species, of course!

Them! is one of the first atomic age films of the 50’s that dealt with fears of radiation, and arguably the best. As common in the genre, science is both the mutating mother of the on-screen terror and the heroic agent that returns us to safety. Early in the film, we are introduced to the good side of science-based technology in the form of a report on the radio: scientists have told the World Health Organization that deadly diseases such as malaria, cholera and sleeping sickness have been eradicated from many areas of the world. Still, the moral of the story is one cautioning us to fear advances in science and technology, brought to us by Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn). At the end of the film, he tells us “When man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”

The other voice of science in this film comes from another sometime staple of 50s sci-fi: the smart, but hot lady scientist, Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon). Although her first introduction to us is via her legs, Pat is the crack entomologist on the case, second only to her father, the world famous myrmecologist. She’s feisty and smart, snapping “Look, Bob. There’s no time to give you a fast course in insect pathology. So, let’s stop all the talk and get on with it.” in response to the G-man’s attempt to shelter her “or any other woman” from danger. This snappy dialogue is one of the strengths of Them!. While other 50’s sci-fi films drag, Them! moves along at a clip, with science, humor and tension delivered smartly enough to keep even today’s jaded audience engaged.

Saving the best for last, there are the ants. Atomic extra-largeness aside, Them! expended more effort than most to have a plausible scientific grounding. They even provide a short primer on ant morphology and behavior, for those of you who didn’t already know that ant queens lose their wings after mating and other fun facts. Using giant mechanical models, rather than stop-motion animation or green-screen live shots, the ants in Them! are larger-than-life-sized horrors that must have scared the pants off of your average movie-goer in the 50s. Perhaps their wobbly movements look a bit silly to us now, but the level of detail: full-body shots, textured exoskeletons, shiny, multi-faceted eyes and real-time interaction with actors, lend the ants in Them! a credibility not seen in the many subsequent films that tried to cash in on its success.

Nit-picking Science: Stinger, Dr. Medford? Carpenter ants don’t sting. They bite and then spray the open wound with formic acid.


Patrick's Top Ten for 2008

Like others, I am fudging the 2008 rule here. A couple films I saw at a festival in 2007 but didn't get a U.S. release until 2008, and one I saw at this year's film festival will come out in 2009. But I saw it this year, and that counts for me. That said, I will also echo the theme of disappointment with this year's selections. Nothing I saw thrilled me in its entirety, though "Milk" came close and the first half hour of "Wall-E" is fantastic. Nothing else got more than an 8 from me on IMDB - and for me that rating stands for a solid, well-made entertaining film but not much more. As a side note, I tend toward mainstream cinema when I go out to the movies and at home watch the stuff I want to watch for my own study and satisfaction, not really worrying too much about keeping up on new films. So if my list is slanted toward the American multi-plex and more mainstream entertainment, oh well - it reflects the new films I saw this year, with a few curveballs thrown in.

1. Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant) -
The least flawed film I saw this year! Not exactly the ringing endorsement I would want to give my #1 film, but it's true. That said, my complaints are minor, mainly revolving around a few scenes that get a little too heavy-handed, but the positives far outweigh them. Penn is great here - never once did I think "Here's Sean Penn playing a gay man" - and the rest of the cast is terrific as well. And heavy-handed or no, I got teary during the fight against Prop 6 and the candlelight vigil even though I knew about them going in to the film. Anyway, Van Sant's hand is light here, though he marks the film with subtle touches of his own and the overall concerns fit right within the thematic thrust of his recent works exploring the violent damage caused by homophobia and (by extension) the real danger of repressing one's own sexuality. A very good film, but short of being great for me. And still it ranks the best of what I saw in a lightweight year for films.

2. Wall-E (dir. Andrew Stanton) -
That first half hour, while Wall-E and Eve are on the planet is pure magic. When they get to the ship, the spell dissipates some even if it never goes away altogether. I love that they trusted their visual sense to carry the story in the beginning without ever losing the audience. And the rest if fun too, if not quite so spectacular; a great little robot love story, way better than Heartbeeps. And as a side note, I think that reading this film as a message film about capitalism or ecology is absurd - it's the backdrop of the story, not the story itself. The cutest and smartest of several cute, smart, animated films I saw this year.

3. Diary of the Dead (dir. George A. Romero) -
Less ambitious than Romero's Land of the Dead and perhaps more successful for attempting less. Easier to riff on our fascination with media's obsession with tragedy (or zombie apocalypses) and offer a hopeful alternative about mass communication via the internet than it is to create a display of the overthrow of capitalistic society via a zombie-led proletariat revolt. Still - it's fun going, like all the Dead films and just because I think it's easier to make this idea work doesn't mean it's not a good idea.

4. Chop Shop (dir. Ramin Bahrani) -
Two kids working their hustle to make ends meet however they can in NYC's mean streets. Sounds like a total downer, but the film actually avoids a lot of the cliches about hard lives lived on the hard streets, keeps its youth youthful and its tone hopeful. I give it a lot of props for that, when it would've been easy to make it a big bummer.

5. Standard Operating Procedure (dir. Errol Morris) -
Errol Morris let me down here, but it's still a solid viewing experience, even if it left me wanting. The film's title announces its intent - to expose a way of existing within which the dehumanization and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was, in fact, standard; nothing out of the ordinary. And the best way to depict that, the way that the "Bad Apples" he interviews in the film keep suggesting, is to keep moving up the chain to find the parties - or culture - responsible for creating those circumstances. It's here that the film falls short, stopping figuratively and (visually) literally at a closed door that Morris can't get through to interview anyone above a certain level. The Bad Apples come off as scapegoats, but each one to a person accepts responsibility for their actions and suggests that what lies beyond those closed doors is a hundred times worse than what they did. Going in, I figured the people held responsible were part of a much larger picture, and that's what the film insinuates without drawing that picture that I would have liked to have seen.

6. Let the Right One In (dir. Tomas Alfredson) -
I wasn't sure about this at first, but once the wheels are underway and it starts fusing its vampire story and its coming of age story, it gets really good. Never picks up the tempo, which stays at a poky pace throughout, but it keeps throwing in unexpected moments that keep it lively and fascinating - scarring by acid, attacks by cats, a great swimming pool scene, a school trip gone awry, a vampire trying some sweets to please her sweet, etc. I've never seen a vampire film quite like this, though it sticks to the conventions; I've also never seen a coming of age film quite like this, though it also sticks to those conventions. My Bodyguard meets Interview With A Vampire? Well, sorta, only not quite.

7. A Girl Cut in Two (dir. Claude Chabrol) -
Enjoyably perverse attack on the values of two wealthy men who both attempt to woo - no wait, "possess" is a more appropriate word - the same woman and use every bit of influence and power at their disposal to do so. Benoit Magimel is particularly entertaining and over the top in his portrayal of the disturbed bon vivant Paul Gaudens, but François Berléand is no less creepy as famed author Charles Saint-Denis. Their never-satisfactorily explained rivalry also amuses, while Ludivine Sagnier is fine as the naive waif advertised in the title.

8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (dir. Nicholas Stoller) -
The best flat-out comedy I saw this year, edging out Tropic Thunder by a hair. Maybe my love of all things stemming from Freaks & Geeks clouds my judgment here, but there's also something funny and almost charming about Jason Segel's self-pity that could easily have become depressing and pathetic in other hands. Or maybe it's that he knows that self-pity is depressing and pathetic and is willing to joke about it that makes it good. Or maybe it's that he's got a lot of other good players - especially Russell Brand - to bounce off here. Regardless, the loose approach to plot that Judd Apatow seems to encourage in his stable of proteges (if it's funny enough, who cares if it advances the story?) works well here for me. I had no idea I'd been waiting this long to see a fully staged puppet musical about Dracula.

9. The Duchess of Langeais (dir. Jacques Rivette) -
Rivette isn't exactly what you'd call a plot-oriented filmmaker - he introduces his main characters and then lets their relationship(s) build, over four hours if necessary. Here, over a mere 137 minutes we meet the Duchess (Jeanne Balibar) and her object of fascination - Armand de Montriveau (Guillaume Depardieu), a war hero of Napoleon's army whose somewhat cold and brutish demeanor seems to attract and repel her in equal measure. The film is built around a sort of dance between them in which they play it now-hot, now-cool but keep the embers of an affair always burning. That's pretty much it as far as story goes, but Rivette has a way to spin something grand out of seemingly simple materials. Note - saw this at a film festival in 2007, but it's listed as a 2008 release for the U.S. so I count it here.

10. Iron Man (dir. Jon Favreau) -
This and The Dark Knight are pretty damn similar prospects, but I'd have to give this the edge for its sense of humor, something utterly lacking in the Batman movie (though to be fair, the title probably should've given me a clue). Robert Downey Jr. is as fun to watch here chewing up the scenery as Heath Ledger is in the Bat-movie and the repeated nods to Robocop and possibly even the Venture Brothers (HELPeR seems to be in this film disguised as a mechanical arm, if I'm not mistaken) add to things for me rather than detracting. I mean, yeah, I've seen a movie or ten about an arrogant lout growing a conscience before, but this one's funnier than most all of them. For my entertainment dollar, the most fun I had at a "big" movie all year, except maybe Wall-E.