Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

31 Films That Give Me the Willies

Happy Halloween everyone! To celebrate the season, I participated in Shoot the Projectionist's "31 Flicks that Give You the Willies", and it's interesting to see how the final results differed from my ballot (taken from a list of 100-some). Here's mine, and check out the final list for comparison. I've realized that I need to see more classic horror; or, classic horror doesn't scare me much.

31. House of Wax (Andre de Toth, 1953)
Not the Paris Hilton version, although that one did have its moments, too. Vincent Price is just plain creepy, and makes this movie.

30. Let's Scare Jessica to Death (John D. Hancock, 1971)

29. Haute Tension (Alexandre Aja, 2003)
Until the weak twist ending, this is a great film. Indeed, very tense and blood. Aja went on to make the Hills Have Eyes remake, which I thought was infinitely better and scarier than the original. I am so excited to see where he goes in his career - a Piranha remake?!

28. Jeepers Creepers (Victor Salva, 2001)

27. Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997)
Reviewed here. While I didn't love the film as a whole, the whole idea really gives me the willies. Any of us could wake up in a cube at any time! Freaky.

26. The Uninvited (Su-yeon Lee, 2003)
Another film I didn't completely love, but the atmosphere of dread throughout is totally willie-fying.

25. Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985)
Reviewed here.

24. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)
Jeff Goldblum is creepy.

23. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
I know this is the be-all end-all of horror movies, but perhaps because I'd always heard it was the scariest movie ever, I wasn't that freaked out. Plus, Satan isn't that scary to me, being a godless liberal. I thought Friedkin's latest, Bug, was far more intense and upsetting.

22. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
Reviewed here. A brilliant movie, and I am shocked that this one didn't make this list - it seems like one that psychological horror fans and cineastes alike can agree on. This just reinforces my view that this movie is not widely seen enough.

21. Seven (David Fincher, 1995)

20. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)

19. American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
Ask me what my favorite book of all time is, and I will tell you, without pause, that it's American Psycho. The book even my liberal parents literally warned me about, I read it my junior year of college when I lived in Chicago and almost threw up on the train. It's the most terrifying, disgusting, brilliant book I've ever read. Bret Easton Ellis is a genius; I even did my college senior thesis on gender roles and violence in the book. So, you make a move out of this book, and there's bound to be some disappointment. Frankly, I didn't want to see the movie be a faithful adaptation of the book, because there are plenty of things in the book I never want to see. But the movie is terrifying in its own right, depicting the coldness of Patrick Bateman perfectly. Christian Bale has really never been better, and having a woman, Mary Harron, direct the movie was the most ironically perfect choice. See this movie, then, if you've got the stomach, read the book.

18. Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1979)
I just saw this film two weeks ago for the first time, and it got this spot on the list because while it didn't necessarily give me the willies, iis so strange and disconcerting that I was almost disoriented after watching it.

17. Sixth Sense (M. Night Shymalan, 1999)
Gets an honorary spot on the list because I was genuinely freaked out when I saw it in the theater with my dad at 14 - the ghost are just scary looking. Didn't make the final list, which I think is a comment not on the film itself, but on Shymalan's output since. There's been such a (deserved, mostly) public backlash to his movies, but I really think he's talented and can turn that around with his 2008 movie, which seems like more a return to scary, thrill-driven form than his navel-gazing recent works.

16. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962)
Delusion is terrifying.

15. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
I obviously love Argento, and Suspiria is definitely one of his finest works.

14. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004)
I'm not at all surprised this one didn't make the final list; horror snobs like to scream bloody murder at the mere mention of a remake of any "classic" film. But James Gunn (soon-to-be ex-husband of Jenna Fischer and screenwriter/director of the excellent Slither, a film that definitely gave me the willies) took Romero's concept and made a completely different film about it. Same message, same settings (more or less), different film. Why can't it be taken as it is? But it never will be. There's more adrenaline in the first 10 minutes of this sucker than in any Romero film, more or less. Sarah Polley having to escape her husband and child, now zombies, is terrifying, as is the zombie birth scene. I own both versions on DVD, and really should have put this one higher, on second thought.

13. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
Honorary spot. Another whose remake I loved.

12. A Nightmare on Elm St. (Wes Craven, 1984)
These honorary spots sure do add up. But Freddy Krueger is probably the best horror villian ever; scary, sadistic, and funny.

11. Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo, 1964)
Another one I was sure cineastes would jump all over. When the mask doesn't come off, it's pretty damn scary.

10. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
I don't love this movie like most people I know do (but maybe they don't - here's another one I thought was a shoo-in that isn't on the final list), but the final 15 minutes are terrifying. I had my jaw clenched the entire time.

9. Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988)
Twins are creepy, Jeremy Irons is creepy, David Cronenberg is creepy, going to the gynecologist can be creepy. This was a sure shot.

8. Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
There are few things scarier than blank masks. Romero almost got it right with Bruiser, but Franju gets it exactly perfect.

7. The Devil's Rejects (Rob Zombie, 2005)
I saw this in the theater, and felt afterwards like I had been beaten up. Brutal.

6. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)
While Ed from Shoot the Projectionist might have gotten on his high horse a bit about how many votes this got, I think it was completely worth it. Those monsters! The claustrophobia! When I first heard of this movie, I ordered it from Amazon UK because I had to have it (and at that point, it had no release set for the US); the day it came, I watched it after a night of partying. I came home at 6am and put it in, planning on watching a few minutes until I fell asleep. I stayed up until 9am watching the movie, then processing it, that's how engrossed I got in it. It certainly sobered me up, too. A few stills I made from the movie can be seen here.

5. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986)
Reviewed here. It made me uncomfortable to watch, and still is uncomfortable to think about to this day.

4. Saw (James Wan, 2004)
One of the great modern horror films, I really believe. Another movie where the subsequent efforts have diminished the reputation of the first. Try to remember what it was like before gore was in every theater every weekend, seeing Saw. The traps seemed remarkable! However, it is responsible for every terrible horror movie since.

3. Dawn of the Dead (George A Romero, 1978)
One of my 20 favorite movies of all time. What's so scary about this movie is that it could happen, and everything Romero was trying to warn us about in the late 70s is still relevant today.

2. Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992)
Another social parable wrapped in a really scary movie. HOW COULD THIS HAVE NOT MADE THE LIST! The sexual element of Helen's obsession with the Candyman is skin-crawling. So are the bees.

1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Finally, I am in sync with the rest of the film blog-reading world. I didn't see the big deal about the movie (in its edited for tv form, admittedly) until I saw it on the big screen during a Kubrick retrospective at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago. I was glued to my seat with terror. Not only scary, but brilliantly directed, written, and acted. When I got out of the movie, it was dark, and I had to call my mom while waiting on the bus stop for my bus, so that I could be reassured that I wouldn't be murdered or possessed. Now that's getting the willies

Whew! Hope some of you at least read some of that. Have fun tonight, everyone!
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Monday, October 29, 2007

The House by the Cemetery (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

A family moves out to a country house for a break, where they are stalked by an undead killer who lives in the basement and has maggots for blood. If I've lost you already, you're immune to the charms of Italian gore-master Lucio Fulci. Fulci's movies are a perfect balance of horror thrills, gore, and trippy nonsense that make Italian horror such a treat. The Boyle family moves from New York City to a run-down country home (with a tomb in the hallway!) so that Dr. Boyle can continue some research. The thing is, one of Dr. Boyle's colleagues recently killed himself and his mistress in this small town, and all the natives seem to think they've seen him before. The first 20 minutes or so (after the initial killings) are a bit slow, with poor sound quality and little plot development. But once the family (complete with creepy blonde child) move into the house, the creepiness pervades the movie, and more and more blood is spilled.

Much like Dario Argento, Fulci's plots can often make little to no sense; the end of The House By The Cemetery is really a head-scratcher if you think about it too much. But the killings are pretty good and inventive, and when the Boyle family comes face to face with the killer, it's worth the 80 minutes it took to get there. In fact, the maggots-for-blood actually really grossed me out, and I even couldn't get it out of my mind when I was eating cereal 20 minutes later, and I'm someone who never really gets grossed out by anything. This is a great Italian horror/gore flick, and a perfect one for those last-minute Halloween pics.

Two fun facts about the movie: I haven't seen many posters as blatantly false as this one, even in American marketing of foreign horror films (thus why I had to post it): there aren't plural zombies, and the one that could be called a zombie isn't really demented or marauding. The IMDB trivia page for this movie reveals that the Henry James quote at the end of the movie was, in fact, made up by Fulci. This made me laugh heartily, and really represents Italian horror of the 70s-80s.


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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Images (Robert Altman, 1972)

This Halloween, it appears I am all about the non-traditional horror film. Robert Altman's Images stars Susannah York (who Netflix mistakenly credits for writing the script; it was Altman who both wrote and directed the film, while York is given credit for writing the children's story that features prominently in the plot) as Cathryn, a woman for whom reality is losing its edge. She and her husband Hugh return to the country home where Cathryn grew up with her grandfather, so that she can regain her composure; instead, Cathryn loses her grip totally and begins seeing ghosts.

But not scary, bloody ghosts; instead, the ghost of a dead lover Rene, who died in a plane crash years ago, but sure seems real to Cathryn. Another former lover, Marcel, and his daughter Susannah, also visit the house to complicate Cathryn's piece of mind. By the end of the film, the line between reality and delusion has become completely obscured: dead bodies are broken cameras, the vermouth is handed to Cathryn by a ghost, and, in the final twist, no one is who they seem to be in Cathryn's mind. Altman's clever juxtaposition of the character names with the actors' names is slight breaking of the fourth wall that he would play with some more in future films like The Player. And surprisingly, this being American independent film from the early 70s, there is no (or very little) insinuation that it's the man that's making Cathryn lose her mind; I was (surprisingly as well) relieved, because as much as I love feminist subtexts to films, it can be awkward where it doesn't really fit. However, the undertone of female doom in Cathryn's relationship with young Susannah, especially when Susannah tells her "When I grow up, I'm going to be just like you," is delicious.

Why this is one of Altman's lesser-known films, I'll never figure out. It is gorgeously directed, particularly the expansive exterior shots of the British countryside. When Cathryn sees her own self watching her from a cliff, it's chilling. Schizophrenia (which we can pretty safely assume Cathryn has, although it's never mentioned in the film) and other serious mental illnesses are truly scary, because you are ultimately defeated by something that is inside of you; how can you stop something that's a part of you? Images is a good predecessor to 3 Women, where a woman extrapolates her inner self onto those around her. When the final twist in Cathryn's story comes, it's tragic and scary, all at once. A fine, underrated gem from one of our all-time best filmmakers.


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Friday, October 26, 2007

Kissed (Lynne Stopkewich, 1996)

A necrophilia movie that's not Nekromantik?! Stop the presses! Kissed is the story of Sandra, who, throughout her life, develops an obsession with death. She's no goth, she's more interested in the spiritual and transformative power of it. As a child and young woman, she manifests this by giving solemn burial ceremonies to dead animals she finds; as a young woman, she begins working in a funeral home, and we see where this is going. It's nice to see this movie take such a non-judgemental view of such a taboo thing, but Stopkewich never goes far enough.

At a scant 79 minutes, we never see Sandra's home life, her school life, nothing that doesn't have to do with death. And that's probably Stopkewich's point, but what normal human (as Sandra does seem "normal" for the most part) doesn't understand the taboo nature of necrophilia? Sandra never once expresses any doubt or guilt about what she does, and neither does her boyfriend, Matt (who, in a move I was actually angry about, is informed by Sandra of her predilictions offscreen and just accepts it with no argument - how cowardly of Stopkewich, to refuse to show us what a natural, yet difficult, reaction would be). Again, Stopkewich is trying to portray Sandra as someone who is so in tune with death that she doesn't see this as wrong, but she has to know that it is, somewhere. So does Matt. And the ending is so contrived that I saw it coming more than a half hour before it did.

Despite the ridiculous amorality (not even that - the absolute ignorance of morality which is unbelievable), Molly Parker is radiant as Sandra. Stopkewich, for all the faults in the film, displays in the film a confidence in shooting that is rare in debuts. She shoots Parker's face with such light that it is almost overwhelmingly touching. The beauty, and Molly Parker, are the real reasons to see the movie. The rest is just silly.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Two very different vampire movies, part two: The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983)

If there's another vampire movie as diametrically opposed to 30 Days of Night as The Hunger, I'd like to see it. Whereas the vampires in David Slade's movie are animalistic, hungry predators, Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are chic, totally representative 80s predators. In fact, when I think about Euro-chic, Deneuve and Bowie are the first two that come to mind. They play Miriam and John, two vampires (although the word is never spoken) who have been together for hundreds of years. When John suddenly begins to age quickly, Miriam needs a new companion, and chooses Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a doctor who is doing research on anti-aging techniques, and whome John and Miriam both help can find a "cure" to John's problem.

My favorite thing about The Hunger is the way it reimagines the vampire myth; Miriam is a "true" vampire, who shares her blood with her lovers in order to gain a companion for the next few hundred years. Vampirism is a virus in the film; one scene shows doctors inspecting Sarah's infected blood, and two strains (one human, the stronger non-human) are fighting for dominance in Sarah's body. Miriam infects a lover, who them stays young and vampiristic for about 200 years (John, it seems, was recruited before the French Revolution), but then, they deteriorate rapidly; John ages from about 30 to over 100 in 24 hours. The catch is that none of the lovers die, no matter how old they become, they can still sense and feel and live. Miriam keeps her zombie-like former companions in coffins (ha!) in her attic, they are literally her secrets in the attic. This is never revealed by Miriam to her companions, and it (literally) comes back to haunt her.

The film is made up of shadows and light; sometimes, the film is so black that it's hard to tell what's happening. This movie is probably a cornerstone of Goth culture: from Bauhaus' opening performance and the couple's seduction of young punks to the distinctly Eurotrash vibe Miriam and John give out to the Ankh necklaces they use to slit their victims' throats, this film embodies everything that has come to be typical of goths. The dialogue can be cartoony and unbelievable at times, but the visual experimentation makes up for that. There's not nearly enough David Bowie in the movie, and the ending doesn't make much sense; not surprisingly, the studio wanted a more traditional ending where the "bad guy" is punished, which both Scott and Sarandon, in the commentary, are not pleased about. However, if you're looking for a hot vampire-on-Susan Sarandon sex scene (plus some pretty cool effects), The Hunger is for you.


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Two very different vampire movies, part one: 30 Days of Night (David Slade, 2007)

Halloween is fast approaching, so I will be turning my attentions to mostly horror movies for the remainder of the month (not too taxing, I admit). I caught the first showing of 30 Days of Night (one of my 10 to look forward to for the remained of 2007, and I am trying to see all these films in the theater when possible) on Friday before I had to leave town, and I was a little surprised that the theater was way more full than I expected for a 10:30 Friday morning showing. But this movie is, indeed a crowd pleaser based on an ingenious premise (and adapted from a graphic novel which I will now have to read): in Barrow, Alaska, the sun sets for thirty days straight, and the town is left without transportation in or out (the airport is closed and there are no roads) for that entire month. Much of the population seems to leave for Fairbanks or Anchorage for that time, in order to be able to keep working, but some, like the sherriff, Eban (Josh Hartnett), don't have that luxury.

Eban's estranged wife Stella (Melissa George, who is gorgeous and capable) is in town for the Fire Marshal, checking out Barrow's supplies, and unfortunately cannot get a plane out of town in time. When strange things start happening in the town - the power goes out, the phone lines go down, and a creepy stranger (Ben Foster) show up - Eban and Stella go out to check what's going on, only to find that there's a group of animal-like vampires (what they come to realize are vampires, at least) preying on the town, and there's no hope of the people getting help. After the first half hour, when bodies upon bodies are piled up in Barrow (the overhead shots of the snowy town soaked in blood are amazing), the survivors, including Eban, Stella, Eban's little brother, and other assorted townsfolk have to find a way to make it through the entire month; not only are there vampires everywhere, they have to keep themselves warm and fed as well.

Much of the criticism of 30 Days centers around the claim that there's very little character development around the secondary (non-Eban and Stella, mostly) characters, but I don't see this as a flaw at all. Sure, most of the other people are more bodies than characters, but in survival mode as these people are in the purest sense, who is really an engaging character? The characters (including a young woman, a crotchety truck driver, and a senile old man and his son) are not empty shells, but they're not developed because, well, there's no time to develop them while they're trying to stay alive. Plus, since when have we been obsessive about character development in a horror film? Josh Hartnett isn't totally boring, for once, and the other leads are equally good in their roles. Much has been made of Foster's turn as the stranger, which I thought creepy and effective but not transcendent. The vampires are the real stars, however - they are the antithesis of every movie vampire I've ever seen. They're barely human, with almost feline structures to their faces and all pointed teeth. They have their own screeching language, which, I have to agree with other reviewers, translates to some embarrassingly "goth" lines. But they're intimidating because we simply cannot relate to them in any way. Whereas most vampires have some human sense of pity, these creatures do not. They're terrifying.

I truly hated director David Slade's last film, Hard Candy, so I was glad to see this movie have such an energetic yet dark sensibility about it. It's been compared, inevitably, to other graphic-novel-to-film adaptations like Sin City and 300, and while I didn't love this movie like I did those two, as it wasn't nearly as visually innovative, the scenes do often look like they were ripped right from the page of some scary book. If you're looking for something that's not incredibly cerebral, but has its wits about it more than the average horror film, 30 Days of Night is for you.


Up next: a vampire film that's the complete opposite of 30 Days of Night...

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Lars von Trier double feature

The Boss of It All mainly made films news when it was released because of von Trier's revolutionary (sort of) camera technique "Automavision," where von Trier decided the best position for the camera in a given scene, and then let a computer decide where to tilt, pan, and zoom, and then the scene is shot. von Trier has taken much of the human directorial aspect out of filmmaking, something he is obviously very interested in - being as contrarian a director as possible. Automavision, then, fits in totally with the theme of The Boss of It All, which is as anti-comedy a comedy as you'll ever see.

The plot is as (purposefully) generic yet nonsensical as any comedy's might be: the boss of an IT company hires an out of work actor to portray the "boss of it all" to the Icelandic investor that wants to buy the company, since the actual owner has been lying to his staff about who the boss is in the ten years he's owned the company. At first, Kristoffer (aka "Svend," the name of the fictional boss) is hired by Ravn just to sign a contract to sell to the Icelandic investor, but things go awry and Kristoffer has to pretend to be the boss for a whole week. In that time, he goes to staff meetings and tech conferences, all the while having no idea about any IT terms or even what the company does. Kristoffer's ineptness isn't, as it might be in a straight comedy, played for laughs; instead, the joke is on the employees, who never suspect a thing, even when "Svend" doesn't know a single thing about IT. Lise, played by High Fidelity's Iben Hjejle, takes his incompetence as an act, just as "Svend"'s emails about being gay. In fact, Ravn has made Svend into whatever each employee needs him to be, from a gay man who tells Lise to take care of Ravn, to a joking man who asks another employee to marry him, to a cruel man who fires another employee's husband, who consequently kills himself.

There are a ridiculous amount of layers to von Trier's films, and this one is no exception. On the surface, it's a satire of the modern comedy - von Trier narrates the film, interrupting once in a while to remind the viewer that it's a movie! Everything will turn out alright and you will be able to walk out of the theater and forget it within minutes! Von Trier has a clear contempt for comedy, so why did he choose to make one? In some commentary I read on the film, the comedy genre is just another obstruction - von Trier makes it hard on himself to make a film. He makes it hard on us, too.

But underneath the veneer of pure satire and contempt of the situational comedy movie is contempt of the complacent audience. We shake our heads in disbelief that the employees just buy Kristoffer's completely unconvincing act as Svend, but don't we, as the audience, do the same kind of buying into false, unbelievable realities when we watch a movie, comedy or not? On first watch, The Boss of It All is a biting satire of comedy, but on further inspection, von Trier is just as disdainful of his audience. He's one of the most challenging filmmakers working today, and I put The Boss of It All, his "light" film, on par with his other masterpieces, Breaking the Waves and Manderlay.


Speaking of difficult, Medea, made for Danish TV, is certainly difficult, but not in nearly as enjoyable a way. von Trier took a Carl Theodor Dreyer unfilmed script of the Euripides play and made it his own. The film is grainy, and it's often hard to hear what's going on. Does the poor film quality (done purposefully) enhance or detract from the film? It's hard to tell.

I've never been very interested in Greek drama in the first place, so the only reason I sought this out was the von Trier direction. Filmed the year after Epidemic (which I also didn't like that much) in much the same visual style, the movie is only 80 minutes long, yet nothing happens in 60 of those minutes. Medea, abandoned by her husband Jason, who is remarrying to Glauce, roams the land with her two sons, swearing revenge on Jason, until something terrible happens. Udo Kier, soon to be a staple in von Trier movies, plays Jason, who has very little to do except look conflicted. The real star of the movie is Kirsten Olesen as Medea, who takes the experimental, dialogue-light role and makes it something beautiful. Her Medea is scary, yet somehow sympathetic.

Although I didn't love the movie, the final 15 minutes contain some of the most beautiful and painful scenes I've seen. There are wide-ranging shots of a horse running across wet sand for miles and miles, that's so gorgeous and a little preview of what's to come from von Trier. When Medea and her children come to their prescribed end, it's almost too much to watch. von Trier brings a different kind of emotions, deep connections with the audience, to Medea, and it's just about enough to make this worth the rent.



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10 worst twist endings ever

Here they are, according to

I thought it was a pretty good list, although I certainly would add The Village to the list - the person I was seeing it with, halfway though, whispered to me "Wouldn't it be funny if *twist here*." Turns out it wasn't funny, just true.

Any ones you would add to the list?


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Faces of Death: Close-Ups in The Rules of Attraction

When I read about The House Next Door's Close-Up Blog-a-Thon, I knew I had to do one of my favorites. I also knew that I already had a film from my top ten of all time capped and ready to go - The Rules of Attraction, Roger Avary's tragically underrated 2002 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' debut novel. The story is about a group of young people at a liberal arts college in the 80s, all of whom are effectively dead or killed on the inside.

The film opens on Lauren's face. "'s a story that might bore you, but you don't have to listen, because I always knew it was going to be like that."

Shannyn Sossamon's face in this still is one of the most memorable moments in film ever. Lauren, who has been saving her virginity for the boy of her dreams, is raped while drunk at a party, and thrown up on. She always knew it was going to be like that, you can see it in her eyes.

James van der Beek basically says "Fuck Dawson" as Sean Bateman, Patrick's little brother who is almost as bad. His face bruised from a beating at the hands of his drug dealer, Sean is prowling the End of the World party in search of a freshman girl he can take advantage of.

Rupert Guest, Sean's drug dealer, is a complete nutjob who sticks a gun in Sean's face when we first meet him. This shot is as much a closeup of the gun as it is of Clifton Collins Jr (who would go on to be great in Capote), a portrait of Rupert's amorality and plain old insanity.

Lara, Lauren's roommate who also (presumably) ends up being raped, has leaky pipes and got off the pill because it made her gain weight.

Dick! Dick's scene in the restaurant is the most memorable in the film, and it's worth a rent if only to see him tell off his mom and his mom's friend. "FUCK YOU, PRETTY BOY!" was a catchphrase at school. Dick is actually one of the most likeable characters, though, because even though he's a total asshole, he tells it like it is.

The only actual death in the movie, the girl who had been writing Sean love letters, only he was too blind to see her, made Harry Nilsson's "Without You" a song almost too painful to listen to. The most upsetting suicide in a film, ever - it's made several people I've watched the movie with unable to look at the screen. Not graphic, just immaculately acted and photographed.

Sean thinks he's trying to kill himself, but he's already dead. He's faking death, as he's faking any kind of human life.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Shekhar Kapur, 2007)

It's that time again, Oscar-bait season. This weekend, three movies opened in wide release that could all conceivably get nominations, We Own the Night (which I have no real interest in), Michael Clayton (which I will probably rent because I have a soft spot for Mr. Charming, George Clooney, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the sequel to 1998's Elizabeth, which was Cate Blanchett's breakout role. This movie has all the elements to be another award-worthy film: cast of well-respected actors (Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen), a period drama about one of history's most intriguing leaders, and the same director (Shekhar Kapur) as the first film. But even the most well-intentioned of movies can sometimes go awry, and something to that effect certainly happened here.

First, the good; Blanchett is the complete center of attention every time she is onscreen, something to be completely expected when playing Elizabeth I. She is the saving grace of this movie. Some of the lavish visuals are breathtaking, especially the scenes near the end of the movie where there is a gigantic battle at sea; the fire imagery contrasted with the clear blue sea makes for some amazing eye fodder. The scale of the movie is really big and beautiful, and you have to give Kapur credit for trying ideas that are actually pretty outlandish.

Now, the bad: everyone but Blanchett is either mis- or under-used. Geoffrey Rush basically has three scenes, and Clive Owen (my favorite actor) as Sir Walter Raleigh, on whom the queen basically has a crush, has a lot of really silly lines. He delivers them with as much grace as possible, but when your character has the most important leader in the world at the time screaming over you like a fourteen year-old girl, there's only so much you can do. Abbie Cornish, who I rather liked in Candy, does nothing here but offer some pretty hot cleavage. Samantha Morton is good as Mary, Queen of Scots, but has no interaction with Elizabeth, something that could have benefitted the movie greatly. They have strong feelings toward each other, but in theory only. Between Elizabeth acting like a pre-pubescent girl over her crush on Raleigh and a hormonal ruler screaming at the Spanish ambassador (don't get me started on the ridiculous portrayal of the Spanish leaders), she's almost completely unbelievable.

Sure, Kapure was trying to juxtapose the emptiness of Elizabeth's personal life with the tumult of her political career, but did he have to use so many spinning-around-the-subject shots? And so many awkward visual metahphors equating Elizabeth with some kind of messiah figure? Apparently this movie was way more Hollywood than history, but since I'm not up on my British history, that didn't bother me as much. What did bother me was the wasted potential of a great cast, great story, and great set pieces.


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Friday, October 12, 2007

Well this made my day

Eli Roth's Trailer Trash to be released August 22!

I didn't expect this, since Hostel: Part II tanked and Roth was (rightfully) pissed about piracy ruining his movie's chances - didn't he post something on his Myspace about how you wouldn't see an Eli Roth film in theater for a few years? Thank god he got over that. I think this movie is coming out so quickly because it will take only a few days to film and is really more of a fun project than anything.

Can Roth do comedy? The Thanksgiving trailer was basically my favorite thing of this entire year, so I think so. But I'm sort of a fan-girl. Thoughts?

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Autumn (Ra'Up McGee, 2004)

If the prospect of an American-directed French homage to American film noir sounds messy, take comfort in the fact that Ra'Up McGee handles it gracefully in Autumn, a 2004 film that just recently got a DVD release in the US. Starring Laurent Lucas (my favorite French actor) and Irene Jacob as Jean-Pierre and Michelle, childhood friends who went through a traumatic event together and find each other years later. Both of them, as well as a third friend, have clearly been shaped by the event, but McGee never beats you over the head with the fact that Jean-Pierre is a hitman and Michelle moonlights as a bomb assembler probably because of what happened to them twenty years ago.

When Jean-Pierre and Michelle find one another again, it's love. Again, McGee's clever screenplay saves the audience from the usual cinematic archetypes of the long-lost love, now found; there are no falling in love scenes, and in fact, they go from a brief conversation in a restaurant to the bathtub together, as comfortable as ever. There are several gaps like this in the film, but rather than detract from the story and characterization, they enhance it by letting the viewer make up his or her own mind. If only more movies were so optimistic in their audience!

The cinematography and directorial prowess is really remarkable for a first-time feature director like McGee. Laurent Lucas is, as always, a great asset to the film, as is Irene Jacob; not only do the two leads deliver great performances, but their chemistry is believable and authentic. The main story is that of lovers on the run, trying to figure out why, exactly, they're running with this suitcase of mystery, but the secondary plots, about Jean-Pierre's hitman boss and colleagues, are just as subtle and engaging as the main plotline.

Polaroids are the main motif of the film, as Michelle takes pictures of everything she wants to remember, a la Memento, but it is sentimental rather than necessary. It is a beautiful touch to the story of two people who remember too much about their pasts. The reviews I read claimed the movie has no heart under its film noir veneer, but if you're not moved by Jean-Pierre's mad dash on the subway platform near the end of the film, I don't know what to tell you. If you're interested in seeing more stills from the movie, check here, and I couldn't recommend this movie more.


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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Spun (Jonas Akerlund, 2002)

In the world of drug movies, the meth-addled Spun is the polar opposite of the manic-depressive cocaine and heroin world of Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream. Whereas Aronofsky's 2000 film is so bleak that I could barely watch it once, Akerlund's movie is a visual wonderland, an amoral playground that I can barely wait to visit again. Jason Schwartzman (who I have never really liked but absolutely adored here) is the centerpiece of the ensemble cast as Ross, young meth addict who becomes chauffeur for The Cook (Mickey Rourke, as great and sleazy as ever), major meth dealer, and his girlfriend Nikki (Brittany Murphy) and runs in and out of intertwining plot lines on the way, such as Spider Mike and Cookie, Frisbee and his mother, and reality-tv cops, as well as hilarious cameos by Debbie Harry (as Ross's super-butch neighbor) and Eric Roberts (as...well, I'll let you see that for yourself).

The visual style is frenetic, with parts animated and lots of lighting and camera effects. As with Requiem, visuals are repeated (or echoed) each time a characters gets high; the world spins up or the character is in the sky or some other visual interpretation of drug use. You feel panicky and jumpy when the characters are, an accomplishment in both writing and directing. The movie is actually funny, too, something that is hard to manage in a movie about serious drug use. Meth isn't funny, nor is it a drug that makes people more likeable. But Ross and Nikki are two people that I really wanted things to work out for - they're obviously sleazy and morally bankrupt, but they're not unlikeable, for some reason. Even when Ross kept April tied up for four days, it really seemed like something a person would do, and not sadistic and crazy somehow. Another thing that's not easy to do in a movie about drug abuse.

And while the movie is funny and the characters are actually likeable, meth use isn't glamorized in the least. I think the key in having the addicts be real people is the exclusion of people who aren't meth users (until the very end, in a terribly sad scene with Ross and his "girlfriend"). The audience gets wrapped up in this world with little alternative. Rourke and Murphy and especially Schwartzman are incredibly effective in that very act of audience inclusion. Akerlund is an extremely talented director (his music videos are fantastic) , especially considering that this was his first feature. According to imdb, his second feature, The Horsemen, is due this year, with a few Spun castmembers in tow; I cannot wait for it.


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Friday, October 05, 2007

Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Sand is terrifying. I never thought that before seeing Women in the Dunes (or Women of the Dunes, as it's known in Britain), but now, drowning in sand is as viable an option as drowning in the ocean. Set in the isolated sand dunes of rural Japan, a teacher/amateur etymologist is trying to find rare sand bugs when he finds he's missed the last bus out of town. A friendly local man tells him he can stay with a woman who has lost her husband and daughter, but as he lowers himself into her hole in the sand where her hut is, he finds himself isolated with the woman, who seems pleasant enough but makes several cryptic comments about the length of his stay. Eventually, he comes to realize that he is being kept a prisoner of sort, in order to keep their village alive. He tries to escape, and all the pent-up emotion of being in the inescapable dunes comes to a head in the final 20 minutes.

Rarely, if ever, have I seem cinematography as beautiful as in this movie. The beginning sequence, where the man is studying bugs scuttling across the sand, is exquisite. The shots of sand falling like waterfalls onto itself are almost hypnotic, and reminded me of passages in The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates, the novel I'm reading now about the hypnotic power of Niagara Falls. No wonder the locals want to stay in this place, where it's quiet and beautiful, instead of Toyko. In fact, when the woman asks the man why he wants to escape back to Tokyo so badly, he scoffs, but doesn't come up with an answer. The man's masculine pride is his downfall, and the subservient seeming woman really comes out on top. Or does she? Does anyone?

The water, the eroticism (the first sex scene, where the two wipe sand from one another, is one of the single most erotic moments in film I can think of), the gendered power struggle: all these things add up to a beautiful, contemplative film. My only complaint is that it could have been cut by half an hour (2 1/2 hours long!), but then again, would that lose some of its beauty? This classic, recently re-released by Criterion, is a definite must-watch.


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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)

No director who has only made four films in nearly 35 years is as acclaimed as Terrence Malick. While I don't necessarily have a problem with that (for once), I am a little confused. Sure, his movies (I've seen them all but The Thin Red Line) are beautiful and contemplative, but I've never thought they had enough character development to be considered true masterpieces. Badlands is the same. Malick's debut, a film he almost seems to remake with Days of Heaven 2 years later, focuses on Kit Carruthers, a violent 25-year-old garbageman who meets Holly, a 15-year-old girl, and they fall in love. Well, they fall in puppy love, but when Kit kills Holly's father ("We'll have to talk about that sometime" is my favorite line of the film), they run away together across the badlands, a desolate place where Kit kills four or five other people and Holly watches.

The most fascinating part about the film is the total lack of awareness in Holly, played blankly (and perfectly) by Sissy Spacek. She is 15, it's 1959, so there is undoubtedly going to be a sense of naivete about her, but she doesn't even question Kit until it is far too late. Most any person with as solid a relationship as Holly seems to have with her father would have been destroyed by her father's murder by her boyfriend, but Holly doesn't even cry. She just follows Kit (Martin Sheen, as a killer who is not even sure why he's killing) as he lights her house on fire and leaves town forever. Holly is not a real person, a girl in her most formative stage; she mentions in the film (and it's even on the poster) that she doesn't really have any friends, so perhaps she's just grateful that someone loves her as she is? But she never seems desperate for love, just passive and willing to go with the flow, no matter what happens. Until it's too late. Holly's resistance near the end of the film is what brings their run to its end, a surprisingly strong statement from a girl who had yet to do much of anything in the film.

The movie is a comment on restless youth (Kit is compared to James Dean more than once), on female roles (Holly is always a companion to either her father and then Kit), on the desolate nature of the American wild and the American spirit, and one that is infinitely more interesting to think about than actually watch (as I've realized while writing this). Malick uses his simple characters to convey the complexities of the American self, class differences, violent nature, and all.


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Monday, October 01, 2007

That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Bunuel, 1977)

Bunuel's last film is about the eternal battle of the sexes: the frigid, manipulative female against her older, horny sugar daddy. No wonder I had a few problems with it! Now, the film isn't as simplistic as my statement makes it seem, neither is it particularly misogynistic. But I had the problem with this film that I have had with many others over the course of the past few years; how can you say you like a film when you detest the two main characters? The only two real characters, in fact? Not that I need every film I see to be filled with likeable characters doing nice things, far from it. But it is hard, in such a "he said, she said" movie as this is, to choose sides or even enjoy the fight as a bystander when you couldn't care less about either participant.

Mathieu is an older, rich man who, at the very beginning of the film, has his butler burn some bloody clothes and then boards a train to Paris, when he sees a young, bandaged woman outside of the train following him. True to his surrealist roots, Bunuel has Mathieu dump a bucket of water on her at the train pulls away (although she boards anyway). The passengers in his car are unstrandably curious as to why he did that, and he tells them the complicated story of his relationship with Conchita. She came to him as his maid, ran away after his advances, and after a remarkably coincidental encounter in Switzerland, becomes close with him. They are in love, it seems, but she just will not have sex with him. Thus begins the conflict of the entire movie; Conchita is coy, a tease, and Mathieu is overeager and sure, in his masculine bourgeoisie way, that Conchita's virginity can be bought with a nice house and presents. They fight, part, and reconcile, until the final frame, when we can (almost) be sure the story is over.

Bunuel seems to be certain that relationships between men and woman are exclusively about sex; while Conchita's manipulative games are annoying, so is Mathieu's insistance on her feminine subjugation. Do I applaud Conchita for staying true to herself and getting what she can out of the relationship, or do I condemn her for toying with Mathieu in the most vicious of ways? Well, neither. Or both. Mathieu and Conchita's relationship reminds me of a couple I knew in high school - they didn't belong together, they were wrong for each other, but somehow, they thought they were perfect together, no matter how many fights and breakups. Who wants to watch that for two hours? When Bunuel directs it, though, it's more entertaining than most.

Two actresses play the role of Conchita; I thought Angela Molina was far better than Carole Bouquet, in her firey, particularly Spanish demeanor. While some claim that this decision was made in a nod to Bunuel's surrealist past, others said that Bunuel fired Bouquet halfway through, but couldn't afford to refilm the whole film and hired Molina for the second half, and still another story goes that Bunuel just could not decide between the two actresses. Whatever the real reason was, the trick of having two actresses play one character is a clever one; as is the terrorism motif always present in the characters' lives. A good film, but not an unflawed one.



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