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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Casting news: Gentlemen Broncos

Jared Hess' new project Gentlemen Broncos has attracted some pretty darn good talent. The film is about a teen who goes to a fantasy convention with his manuscript, only to have the manuscript ripped off by a famous fantasy author. The teen will be Michael Angarano, who starred in Snow Angels, which I am still excited to see; the author will be Jemaine Clement, and the main character of the book, who comes in book-to-life sequences, will be played by Sam Rockwell.

I really couldn't be more excited about this news -- Flight of the Conchords and Eagle Vs. Shark were two of my favorite comedy projects of the year, and I absolutely love Clement, and Rockwell is one of those actors I will go to almost any movie if he's the star. Angarano, though I don't know him, seems like a rising star with some talent. It looks like, from the talent, that Hess is moving away from Nacho Libre and back to legitimately funny, quirky comedy. I can't wait for this one!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Behind the scenes footage from Step Brothers!

Courtesy of Movieweb comes this hilarious video of b-roll footage from Step Brothers. Starring my two favorite actors, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, as two rivals whose parents get married, but then split up because of their sons' constant bickering. The two then obviously have to hatch a plan to get them back together.

With Semi Pro and then this, I'm so excited for the return of R-rated Will Ferrell in 2008. And seeing John C. Reilly attack him in skinny jeans, calling him a fucker, made me laugh big time. Step Brothers is the movie I'm probably looking most forward to this summer.

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Rainy Dog (Takashi Miike, 1997)

I don't have too much to say about Rainy Dog - Takashi Miike is one of my favorite filmmakers, and this, his experiment in noir, is hit and miss. It's marginally confusing in places, and devoid of almost any dialogue; as a matter of fact, one of the main characters is a mute child, and another is a prostitute who lies about herself on the internet. Miike does an admirable job stripping away the layers of these people, and revealing them for who they really are, or, at least, who they really want to be.

I wanted to blog about this film, because I found in it yet another scene "homaged" in Kill Bill. In the last scene (spoiler!), when the brother-in-law kills Yuji, and Ah Chen looks on, he tells the child that when he grows up, if he's still mad, he should come and kill him. Ding ding ding! Sounds like the exact same thing the Bride tells Vernita's daughter in the first volume. When I first saw Kill Bill, I was amazed at its ingenuity; four (right?) years later, after I've seen a lot more exploitation and Asian films, I realize that Tarantino really co-opts a lot of shit. More than any filmmaker should without acknowledging it. So while I appreciate Tarantino still, I think more people should be aware of that. Hey, just watch the originals that he stole his ideas from instead!

But back to Rainy Dog: 6.5/10

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

A little more on Heath Ledger

Here's where I get a little livejournal on everyone (this is actually an abridged version of something I did post in my livejournal), but I had a really visceral reaction to Heath Ledger's death, and thinking and writing about it really revealed a lot.

So I've had about 24 hours to think about this, and I'm ready to process why the death of Heath Ledger so profoundly bummed me out. There has been this sudden outcrying of "Why do you care?" Some have tried to play the socially conscious card (There are so many child soldiers dying in Africa every day!, I actually read someone comment on Gawker), and others, the plain old cooler-than-thou "You're stupid if you care" card. Let me address both of these seperately.

Yes, Ledger's death is no more or less meaningful than every single other person that dies every single day of the year. But did I have a (seemingly) personal connection with every single other person that dies? I did not. And personal connection is what this is about -- the more I explored my reaction to the death of one of my favorite actors, the more I realized that for someone who cares about and loves film like I do, the personal connection between actor and spectator is the most important, vital part of the experience. If there's no personal feelings for the character, and by proxy, the actor, film means almost nothing. And that's why I felt like there was something beyond celebrity worship behind my intense reaction to Ledger's death. One thing I resent about the cooler-than-thou crowd is, contrary to my belief that his death was no more important than the death of anyone else, they seem to think that because Ledger was famous, his death is far less important than the death of someone else. That's not right either.

After all, he was a public person whose livelihood depended on people liking him, or at least respecting him. I did both.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RIP Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger dead at 28, from an apparent drug overdose.

I've spoken several times about how Ledger, with his performances in Brokeback Mountain, Candy (now I could never watch that movie again), and most recently, I'm Not There, was one of the best actors of this generation. What a waste of talent, what a deep loss for the film community. Rest in peace.

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2008 Oscar nominations

As you've inevitably heard by now, the Oscar nominations were announced this morning. A few not-surprise surprises, mostly they're either boring or just kind of silly. My thoughts:

Best Picture: Obviously the not-surprise surprise is Juno, which is most certainly this year's Little Miss Sunshine in case we start to take ourselves too seriously with the other nominees. My personal feelings aside, if it does win over two of the best movies in years (There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men), I might faint. My pick: There Will Be Blood Likely winner: Atonement (to make up for the lack of Joe Wright nomination)

Best Actor: Does Daniel-Day Lewis have this thing wrapped up? I hope so. But Tommy Lee Jones, not for No Country but In the Valley of Elah?! Jesus, Academy voters have a Haggis fetish. My pick and likely winner: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress: I really, really think Julie Christie should win this business. Her performance in Away from Her was so powerful and painful and true that, being the grandaughter of an Alzheimer's patient, I almost couldn't watch. As much as Day-Lewis's performance is a loud, brash tour-de-force, this is a quiet, painful one. I'm predicting Christie (My pick and likely winner), but I wouldn't be shocked at an Ellen Page upset (making her, in the words of a Defamer commenter, "this year's Marisa Tomei").

Best Supporting Actor: Again, an actor (Javier Bardem) with a rightful near-lock on this award -- he's my pick and likely winner. But another upset could happen; I could see Casey Affleck getting it, both for his nominated work in The Assassination of Jesse James... and for the almost criminally neglected (so I've heard) Gone Baby Gone.

Best Supporting Actress: Let's just make it another one where my pick and likely winner are the same: Cate Blanchett for I'm Not There. I'm so mad that Haynes wasn't even nominated in original screenplay, at least. There was so much great writing and imagination in that movie, most of which came from the script.

Best Director: Jason Reitman?! Again, personal feelings aside, everyone's said that the movie's power is in its script and performances, not direction. Another feel-good pick, I suppose. I didn't like Thank You For Smoking (the few minutes I saw), either, so I'm not thrilled by this pick. My pick: Paul Thomas Anderson, likely winner: It's a toss-up in my mind between the Coens and Julian Schnabel. I'll narrow it down closer to awards time.

Best Original Screenplay: No real surprises here, except maybe Brad Bird (Ratatouille). My pick: I haven't seen any of them, so I can't really choose. I am interested in The Savages, though. Likely winner: Diablo Cody, Juno.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Again, no real surprises, except Sarah Polley, who I am ecstatic for. My pick: Paul Thomas Anderson, likely winner: the Coens.

And those are the major categories! It makes me want to vomit that Norbit was nominated, even if only for makeup, and that three songs from Enchanted were nominated and not one from Walk Hard (yes, the movie is a comedy, but those are seriously good songs). And even though I have strong feelings toward Diablo Cody/Juno, it truly warms my heart that four of the ten nominated screenwriters are women. We're getting somewhere!

But all in all, Radar is right: boring.

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News on PT Anderson's next project?

Even though this Bloody Disgusting news piece is disappointingly void of specifics, apparently they've learned that PT Anderson is considering making a horror film for his next project. At first glance, this might seem like a total WTF? moment, but at its core, There Will Be Blood was definitely a horror film about the effects of greed on the human soul. I hope this vague rumor is true, because he's already conquered the ensemble drama, the romantic dramedy, and the period piece. This might be a challenge, but one he's certainly up to.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)

By now, everyone (or at least $40 million worth of people) has seen this thing, so there are spoilers abound in my review. Be forwarned!

By now, there's been over six months of buildup for this movie. Strange that people (including myself) got so excited about a movie from the director of The Pallbearer and a writer from Lost, which I've never gotten into. But the viral campaign was so great, and so successful (at least at first), that plenty of people were inevitably disappointed in the movie. There are plenty of people on the imdb boards complaining about how the movie has no plot, how you don't see the monster enough, how there needs to be more explosions, etc. But that's exactly what I like best about Cloverfield: it's a horror/monster movie from the first-person perspective. We see what people on the ground see, not what the scientists or heroes fighting the monster do. At first, the hand-held camera motions make you sick on the big screen, but you get used to it ], even when it obscures the action and makes this almost too intense to bear.

The movie does actually have a plot, contrary to naysayers; Rob is leaving for Japan the next day, and his brother Jason, future sister-in-law Lily, best friend Hud, Hud's crush Marlena, and Rob's friend/lover/whatever Beth are all at a surprise party to say goodbye to Rob. Things start exploding in Manhattan -- at first, everyone thinks it's an earthquake, but when the Statue of Liberty's head comes flying at them on the street, it's pretty clear it's not. Rob becomes fixated on the task of finding Beth, who he fought with at the eginning of the night but got a phone call from saying she was really hurt in her apartment, and Hud, Lily, and Marlena end up going with him. It seems nonsensical, but I can completely understand why they would follow Rob instead of the military out of Manhattan. Rob has a plan, he's determined, and the rest of them are so confused and terrified that following Rob seems only natural. So their group wanders through the subway tunnels (rats! baby aliens! Both are terrifying), runs through the street, and generally just tries to avoid the monster in order to find Beth.

The monster! I had read beforehand that you get disappointingly few looks at it, so I was actually surprised at the amount of close-ups of the monster we get from this supposedly hand-held camera. It's terrifying, worth the price of admission alone -- when you get the closeups of it right before it devours Hud, I almost couldn't look. Not only is the monster scary, but it drops lots of baby monsters, and their bite apparently makes you bleed from your eyes. Or something. (The imdb faq is very helpful on this account -- the monster's venom could cause the pressure in the body to become too much to bear, or it could be that the monster is like the alien from Alien, and tries to replicate through humans.) The entire movie, save the first 20 minutes, is so intense. It's the most intense experience I've had in the theater since Hostel. How was this thing not rated R?

Many reviews have brought up the inevitable September 11 connections, and while I did think of that when the first shots of buildings on fire were shown, the movie does such a good job of wrapping you up in this monster attack that I didn't think about it again. There is quite a bit of character development, or at least introduction, in the first 20 minutes, but I was more impressed by the growth of Rob's character throughout the movie. It's a hard situation in which to have a character "learn something," but Rob does, and not in an unbelievable way. The actors are all very authentic, which might have had something to do with the fact that they were all relative unknowns.

I'd definitely like to see it again, but I might wait for the second-run theater. It was almost too intense to take in again right away. And if you've seen the movie, but didn't catch the little surprise in the final scene with Rob and Beth on the ferris wheel (I did, I was too busy crying!), check out the imdb faqs. And apparently, after the credits, there's a whisper of "help me" that, played backwards, is this:

Sounds like a sequel is likely. I'll be waiting.


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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cloverfield in brief

Awesome. Not surprising it was the highest-grossing January opening ever (but boo for beating out Hostel, which I think had the record beforehand).

More soon!

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Husbands & Wives (Woody Allen, 1992)

I often end up watching movies in two parts, because my usual viewing time is before bed, but as I age, I can't stay up late every night anymore. The joys of having a real job. So last night, I watched the first half of Husbands & Wives and really wasn't enjoying it. I used to consider Woody Allen one of my favorite filmmakers (Manhattan still remains in my top 20 of all time, probably), but he hasn't made a good film in years (Match Point was about the time I gave up on him, and the fact that he's made the no-talent Scarlett Johansson his current muse isn't helping). As I watched the beginning of this film about upper-class married couples, I was completely turned off. Maybe a few years ago, I would have liked it a lot, but I've become less interested in the thinly veiled autobiographical whinings of a rich white man since then.

Today, I gave the second half a chance, though, because I do still have a soft spot for Allen. The second half isn't nearly as irritating as the first, but it's still not one of his better films. Allen and Mia Farrow and Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis play married couples who are good friends. Pollack and Davis decide to split up and begin dating younger people, something that effects both couples, and people around them, in myriad and profound ways. Well, sort of. It mostly effects them in the disenchanted rich people ways, which can certainly be entertaining to watch. Farrow in particular, as the passive-aggressive, seemingly nice Judy, is a pleasure to watch, although it's almost uncomfortable at times, knowing now that Farrow and Allen's relationship would go so sour so soon after, and that Judy is probably based on Farrow herself. How can an actor play a character written by someone they're close to, that's obviously based on themselves? That's a challenge all in itself.

But if you like Allen movies, with their snappy dialogue and hot young women (in this case, Juliette Lewis) throwing themselves at Allen, this movie is for you. It is certainly more grown-up in some ways than his 70s masterpieces -- divorce and infidelity are both here -- but in many ways, it's exactly the same. Not particularly great, but not a waste like I was afraid.


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Friday, January 18, 2008

There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

I saw There Will Be Blood this past Sunday, but I've been hesitant to blog about it. Not that it was bad - completely the opposite. It's too good that I really can't say too much about it. The film deals with almost every single universal theme: greed, family, power, you name it. The only thing the film doesn't deal with in depth is romantic love, but unlike other male-centric films, this one doesn't suffer from the lack of female presence. Daniel Day-Lewis is Daniel Plainfield, turn of the century oil prospector who has a habit of coming into towns, sucking them dry, and not paying what he promised. The first fifteen minutes of the film, which some have compared to the beginning of 2001, are wordless and transcendant. Daniel, on his own, tries to mine oil, even falling down a shaft once, breaking his leg, and dragging himself back to civilization on his back. This is truly a man discovering a new world all for himself.

Skip forward 10 years, and Plainview is now a rich man with a real operation, trying to branch out to more communities. He meets Paul Sunday, who tells him about the oil on his family's land for $500. Plainview visits the Sunday ranch under the auspices of quail hunting, and meets the family, including burgeoning pastor Eli, twin of Paul (both played by Paul Dano). From there, the Sundays and the Plainviews are intertwined through tragedy and triumph, until the explosive ending. It would be a crime to spoil any of it for you, so I won't.

All I can really say is that Day-Lewis gives one of the best performances I have ever seen. In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Peter Travers likens this performance to Orson Welles' in Citizen Kane, and while at first, I thought that was a little ridiculous, now I agree. Day-Lewis, like Welles before him, completely loses himself in the role, until you forget it's a movie at all. Here's one Academy Award that will certainly have been earned. But in all the deserved praise for Day-Lewis, almost no one has mentioned the also great performance of Paul Dano. He shows a great deal of growth from even Little Miss Sunshine, and I think, with a few more meaty roles like this, he could grow into one of the better actors of his generation.

Of course, I can't not mention PT Anderson's writing and direction. The movie is epically beautiful, and on account of the breathtaking, epic landscapes, I can't recommend seeing this on the big screen enough. This is Anderson's masterpiece -- I really can't praise it enough. After seeing the film, my friend and I were unable to make meaningful conversation for about half an hour - it's that powerful. It's definitely the best film of 2007, and probably the best film of the decades. See it!


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Marcus Theaters not showing Cloverfield

For those of you in the midwest like me, Marcus Theaters won't be playing Cloverfield. This is a giant blow, as in the Milwaukee area, where I am, Marcus has a giant monopoly over theaters. There's probably 15 Marcus theaters, 2 Landmark Theaters, 1 big AMC theater, and then only one or two independently owned theaters.

Marcus has a problem with what Paramount charges for movies, as they refused in December to show Sweeney Todd. I obviously have a problem with a studio charging a theater exorbitantly for big movies, but I have a bigger problem with the theater chain, especially one with such a ridiculous monopoly as Marcus, basically dictating what movies most people in Milwaukee can and can't see. The only theaters that are showing Cloverfield this weekend are ones in pricey suburbs where everyone obviously can't go/isn't welcome. So both sides are wrong, but I'm angriest at Marcus Theaters, especially since I definitely want to go see Cloverfield this weekend (everything I've read said you've got to see the movie the first weekend in order to not ruin the surprise).

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Les Bonnes Femmes (Claude Chabrol, 1960)

That poster prepares you for a summery romp with some girlfriends. The director, Claude Chabrol, prepares you for a mystery, as most of his films (none of which I have been particularly enamored with so far) have been tense, Hitchcock-ian thrillers. The first half of the film prepares you for an exploration of the lives of 60s Parisiennes, all seeming shallowness. But nothing in Les Bonnes Femmes prepares you for the sum of its parts, a feminist (?!) commentary on the lives of young girls in Paris that even has a murder in it, and ends on an incredibly depressing note.

Click on the picture to see my entire post of stills.

Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita are Parisian shopgirls who live apparently different, but essentially the same, lives. Jane (seen above, played by the stunningly beautiful Bernadette Lafont) is a party girl, and in the first scene, takes Jacqueline with her while she goes to a restaurant, a nightclub, and eventually, the apartment of two creepy strangers. Maybe they're not so creepy, though -- in the first scenes, they seem that way, but as the movie goes on and we're introduced to more men, they're more annoying than anything else. Ginette lives with Jane, and has a secret life as a nightclub singer. Rita is a normal girl who is trying to escape the banality of the shopgirl life by marrying up in class, even though her husband-to-be is snobby and condescending (so are his parents -- in one great moment, Rita meets his mother, who is wearing a giant diamond ring outside of her gloves. "I would have worn it on the inside," she says, "but it was just too big."). Jacqueline believes in true love, and is being followed around town by a man on a motorcycle by whom she is equally afraid of an intrigued by.

Men are terrible, pretty much. Jane bounces between men, using whomever she can to buy her a drink and give her a good time. This was the beginning of the 60s, and girls had the choice not to believe in love, and to believe in themselves instead. This implied promiscuity is not what makes Jane's (and Ginette's) life so unfulfilling; instead, it's the life in the store (9am-7pm doing nothing, it seems), the way men don't take her seriously (no didn't always mean no quite yet), the way everything in the world is set up for a different person than her. The first half of the film is quite boring, but on purpose. It's boring because these girls' lives are boring. I love the tactic of making a film boring on purpose to make a point.

But then Jacqueline meets the man on the motorcycle, and the film's tone changes significantly. (If you haven't seen the film but want to, here's where I suggest skipping to the end of the review) He seems sent from heaven at first; he saves the group from the two creeps at the public pool (by the way, why aren't there pools open until all hours of the night here?) and takes Jacqueline on a romantic motorcycle ride into the country and out to dinner. That's where things start to take a sinister turn. He begins acting erratic and weird during the meal, and during their walk afterward, tries to warn Jacqueline that he might not have been following her out of pure love. Jacqueline, being pure of heart and completely naive, replies that she doesn't have any money, what else could he want from her but love? Now, it seems ridiculous that a girl would completely trust and fall in love with a guy who has been following her around for days, but Jacqueline is so desperate for attention and love that she will take anything that comes her way. And she dies for it -- not, I think, as punishment, but as what Chabrol sees as the obvious ending of a life that's been taken for granted. Jacqueline's death is sad and scary and shocking, but it's not surprising. And that's the worst part.

The film ends with another random girl, waiting on the side of the dancefloor for a man to get her. We never see the man's face, and the girl looks directly at the camera, confronting the audience in our participation and voyeurism in this episode. Who would have thought such a striking attack on the Parisian status quo and feminist statement would have come from Chabrol? By far my favorite Chabrol film, and one of my favorites of the French New Wave. If I were teaching a feminist film class, this might be one I would start with.


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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955)

Think all Ingmar Bergman films are depressing looks into humanity? This picture, one of Bergman's first internationally recognized films, is a light-hearted, witty look at the affairs of a group of people in turn of the century Sweden. Lawyer Fredrik Egerman is married to the much-younger Anne, and also has a son, Henrik, who is Anne's age and just finished his studies at the seminary. Desiree Armfeldt is an actress with whom Fredrik had an affair after the death of his first wife, and who he still has feelings for. Her other lover is Count Malcolm, who also has a wife, Charlotte, who's friends with Anne. The Egermans also have a maid, Petra, who is sort of having an affair with Henrik. Whew!

All these characters come together at a weekend get-together put on my Desiree, in order to sort all this romantic confusion out. And it does all get sorted out, rather neatly, but not before a lot of seriously witty banter is exchanged. Seriously, anyone who wants to write sexually tense dialogue needs to watch this movie first. After a 2007 of being disappointed by weakly wrought female characters, this was a definite upgrade, especially Petra. She's a sassy 18-year old maid who flirts with all the Egerman men (she even shows her breasts -- nipple included! -- to Henrik while trying to seduce him), at the same time keeping her dignity. She's not a hussy, she just knows what she wants and tries to get it. The scene of Petra and Anne rolling around on the bed, giggling about how terrible it would be to be a man, is one of the most honest, endearing portraits of female friendship I've seen on film.

Sure, Bergman is one of the best filmmakers of all time because of his searing portraits of individuals and couples, but Smiles of a Summer Night shows his brilliant lighter side as well. Check this out for a laugh-out-loud Bergman experience (I never thought I'd use that phrase ever!).


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

More on Cloverfield

So, the time for Cloverfield is almost here -- man, I remember when January 18, 2008 seemed interminably far into the future! Harry Knowles from AICN has seen the film and has a write-up here. I know that Knowles has a knack (to say the least) for going overboard about projects that he likes, no matter what, but damn, does his review make it sound good. Like, better than it has any right to be, being directed by the guy who did The Pallbearer and only produced by JJ Abrams, whose work I haven't really liked to this point anyway.

I guess I'm just a sucker for movies that take the typical (the monster movie) and show it from a different point of view (in this case, as Knowles puts it, in the eyes of the people running away from the monster, rather than the people trying to save the world). It's a much more populist view on the monster movie, and, in real life, would we even have any heroes like there are in most movies?

I'm going next weekend, for sure.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Day Watch (Timur Bekmambetov, 2006)

The bottom line on Day Watch (and the first movie in the trilogy, Night Watch, to a certain extent) is that it took me a long time understand what the hell was going on, but it was still a trippy, gorgeous ride. The story picks up where Night Watch left off, and, in fact, you pretty much need to see the first movie to understand anything at all about this one. There's none of the recapping that goes on in so many (every) Hollywood sequel, and for that, I'm both grateful and a little frustrated. I saw Night Watch in the theater way back sometime in 2006, so the details were a little fuzzy, but they came back (more or less) as I watched this movie.

Anton is back, working for the Light Side in upholding the truce between Light and Dark. He's joined by Svetlana, the woman from the end of Night Watch, who is now a trainee under Anton, but destined to become a great witch. They are also in love with each other, but won't admit it -- the ways in which it's revealed are clever and void of sentimentality, and I won't ruin it for you, but it involves people switching bodies and a shower scene. Anton's son Yegor has become the most important piece of the Dark side, and he is the one that could break the truce and start a war that could end the world.

I'm a sucker for a wrapped-up ending, and this movie definitely has it (how are they going to make a third?). The visuals are often beyond amazing, and most of the reason I recommend seeing this movie. Plus, it doesn't have any of those gimmicky subtitle tricks that Night Watch had, which I'm grateful for. This is the highest-grossing movie in post-Communist Russia, and even though it's really confusing and problematic, I only wish Hollywood made more awesome looking movies like this.


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Monday, January 07, 2008

French Sex Murders (Ferdinando Merighi, 1972)

Produced by schlock-master Dick Randall, French Sex Murders has the funniest name of almost any movie I've ever seen -- if there was ever a movie that laid it out on that line as to what the film contains, this is it. It's also one of the worse giallos I've ever seen. I read the special feature "About the movie" on the DVD before watching it, and I'm glad I did. It explains, in no-holds-barred text, how several different B-movie stars were hired, and all had different purposes in the film, thus why there's no sense of cohesion whatsoever. Anita Ekberg (who had appeared in, among other things, La Dolce Vita) was hired because she wasn't getting any work and she had a name for the marquee, Rosalba Neri (whom I was shocked to see after just being impressed with her in 99 Women) was hired to be sexy, and Robert Sacchi was hired because he bears an uncanny resemblance to Humphrey Bogart -- as a matter of fact, an alternate title for the film is The Bogeyman and the French Murders. Perhaps some viewers were fooled as to the film's actual star, and only after they had spent their money would they realize that Bogart would never be in a movie like this.

The plot is virtually nonexistant, but what is there, is this: girls in a brothel are getting murdered. Who's doing it? I have never seen a movie stretch for time this much (even at only 85 minutes) -- there are scenes where Sacchi makes several phone calls, but doesn't say anything until the final, important one. There are outdoor shots that are 15 seconds long when they only need to be 5. Seriously, it's pretty ridiculous.

But I don't want to necessarily discourage anyone from watching this. If you love giallo like I do, there are far worse ways to spend 90 minutes. Be forewarned, though, there's no real gore anywhere in the movie. There are terrible-looking effects that are repeated in five different colors. Trippy and cool-looking, but completely unnecessary. Watchable for only diehard fans of the genre.


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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Favorites of 2007

It's here! But I was looking at the spreadsheet I made of movies I watched in 07 (I know, nerdy), and there really isn't a solid top-10 list there. Sure, there are plenty of movies I enjoyed watching, but surprisingly enough, not 10 I could say were bar none the best. So I give you, my favorite movies released in 2007 (click on the poster for my previous review):

Smokin Aces (Joe Carnahan)

It seems like this movie was so long ago, but it was indeed January of 2007. There's so much vitriol for this movie, but I think it's a wham-bam, funny, violent action picture. Jeremy Piven is great, as is Ryan Reynolds (this is the role that made me realize I don't hate him).

300 (Zack Snyder)

Again, lots of recent backlash toward this one. I honestly think that Snyder only meant to make a cinematic, epic film that was as close to Frank Miller's graphic novel (as xenophobic, homoerotic, etc, as it might have been) as it could have been. In that, he definitely succeeded. I have no idea how I am going to hold out for another year and a half for Watchmen.

Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez)

I decided to limit myself to the better of the two films of Grindhouse, but that was the best experience I've had in the theater last year. Until the two films are released together on DVD (with the trailers intact), Planet Terror is the one I would recommend. Plus, bonus points for these films being the inspiration for Eli Roth's next project, Trailer Trash.

Hostel: Part II (Eli Roth)

Speaking of Mr. Roth, this was the most memorable film experience I had in 2007. Eli Roth is such a cool, friendly, smart guy, and the box office failure of this movie (paired with that of Grindhouse) really disheartened me.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters (Matt Malliero & Dave Willis)

I can't believe I didn't review this at the time, but for my money, this was the most laughs per minute in any movie this year. Sure, WTF-worthy laughs, but laughs nonetheless. A great DVD, as well, one certainly worth buying.

The Ten (David Wain)

Second-funniest movie of the year. I can't remember many of the jokes, it's a DVD that's definitely on my list to buy. It was so nice to see most of the members of The State back on screen again (twice, if you count Reno 911!: Miami).

I'm Not There (Todd Haynes)

The first "serious" movie on ths list! A great experimental indie film, and definitely American at its core. Plus, I like this (Italian?) poster way better than any of the American ones I've seen.

Black Book (Paul Verhoeven)

I still can't believe that this film, and Carice van Houten's performance in specific, are being so passed over in this awards season. They was robbed!

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More about Diablo Cody

This article from Cinematical about Diablo Cody (I have such a love-hate relationship with Cinematical; on the hate side, they're often abjectly misogynist -- remember the Katherine Heigl debacle? -- and they kiss Cody's ass more than any other blog I currently read) give me even more reason to wrinkle my nose at everyone's fawning over Juno.

In short: Diablo Cody, even though she came to fame through her blog about her experiences stripping, and subsequent book deal about the same subject, is no longer allowing people to ask her about her time stripping during interviews. Actually, it's questionable whether it's Cody's decision, or Fox Searchlight's. In any case, this gives me pause.

On one hand, Cody's made her career on her sexuality and stripping, even though I have even more problems with that; she's admitted that she only started stripping so she'd "have something to write about," and her writing on the subject reeks of slumming (how disrespectful to women who actually have to strip to live). She brought to a broader public that a woman can be in-your-face sexual and still talented and smart.

But now, she won't talk about it. Apparently, there are Fox Searchlight handlers at all her interviews, and if you get even close to the topic, they shut the interviewer down. I've heard talk that there were even nude photos of Cody on her blog, but they mysteriously disappeared once she got a book deal. So apparently, a woman can be sexual and smart, but only if she refuses to talk about her sexuality once she makes it big. I don't at all agree with the ine of questioning AMC's Peter Bart put to Cody ("When are you going to be a normal woman and have children?" among them, according to Cody), but why should she be so offended at the questions about stripping? It's salacious and borderline dirty for a male interviewer to ask her about it, to be sure, but she has admitted that she would only be in her current position because of her blog/book. Where is the line between shame and modesty? Diablo Cody honestly seems like a cool, talented woman; I just wish she wouldn't keep giving me reasons to dislike her.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Crazy Love (Dan Klores, 2007)

I have seen few documentaries about stranger, more compelling people. To tell the entire story would be to ruin at least part of the joy of watching this movie (the utter disbelief in some of the actions), but I'll just introduce these people to you in the hopes you'll want more.

Burt Pugasch is a big deal in 1950s New York - he's a lawyer, film producer, and a night club owner. He sees Linda Riss one day, and decides she's going to be his. He woos her, and eventually, they do date, although as some of Linda's friends say, she seems to be more impressed with him than she is in love with him. He flaunts his wealth by taking Linda to New York hot spots (with Johnny Mathis, among others), and even getting she and her friend on a private plane ride with him, something unheard of at the time. But after a while, Burt's riches just aren't enough for Linda, and then she breaks up with him. Burt is absolutely heartbroken, to the (literal) point of insanity.

And then the strangeness begins. I hadn't heard at all of the story of Burt and Linda before watching the film, and I'm glad I hadn't. There were several points in the film in which I audibly gasped out loud. This film isn't particularly disturbing, although there are some shocking points, but instead a commentary on the often strange nature of love. Dan Klores does a pretty good job in pulling some punches; he keeps the right things secret until they have to be divulged, and the second half of the film is riviting. The first half, however, is a little dull, and brings down the movie as a whole. But for a look at two truly interesting people, I recommend watching Crazy Love


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Friday, January 04, 2008

Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady, 2006)

Fittingly enough, I watched Jesus Camp, a documentary on middle/southern American children who go to an Evangelical summer boot camp, only days before Mike Huckabee took America by surprise and won the Iowa Republican Caucus. But after watching Ewing and Grady's movie, I wasn't really that surprised at all; Huckabee's smiling face of evangelism is growing more and more powerful in this country, but after all, he is really more similar to the fanatics in this film than he would have us believe. As in their previous film, Boys of Baraka, which I truly loved, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady present a cultural phenomenon dealing with children, one that is overlooked in popular culture.

Youth pastor Becky Fischer holds the summer camp for youths of evangelical (born again) Christians, most of whom seem to be home-schooled (no suprise). This is a sort of training camp for "the army of the Lord," a disturbing phrase that is used more than once. Fischer is quite a character; one moment, she is condemning Muslim countries for making their children into suicide bombers and radicals for Allah, but the next, she says that Christians in American need to be more like them in order to flourish. In this way, she and others teach the kids at the camp how to be a solider for Jesus, which includes praying for "righteous judges," praying to end abortion, praying to never be hypocritical in their faith, and pretty much praying and crying about everything. If you've read this blog before, you can probably tell I'm a hardcore feminist, so the section where the pastors were blatantly lying to children about abortion really got under my skin. News flash: a fetus isn't a tiny, perfectly formed baby like they told the campers. The amounts of misinformation and propaganda thrust at these children before they're even old enough to understand the nature of religion, or any complex political issue, is astounding. This might as well have been a reeducation camp.

Fischer calls in to liberal Christian Air America host Mike Papantonio (who provides liberal balance to the evangelicals, in the absence of any narration) and tells him that she isn't aware of any political bias to her camp at all. Apparently, we didn't see the camp the way she did. And maybe that's at the heart of the matter; evangelicals could look at this film and be proud, while liberals like myself could be totally horrified. True, there is no narration, but you can pretty easily guess Ewing and Grady's slant through editing and music choice. And because I agree with them that this is a scary, underestimated force in American politics. I am glad to have seen this film as a wakeup call of sorts, and am more confused than ever as to the political future of this country 10-20 years down the road.


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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2007)

When I finally get my act together and make my best of 2007 list (this weekend!), Paul Verhoeven's Black Book will certainly be on there. It's marvellously photographed and epic in scope, but the best part, above all, is the performance of Carice van Houten in the role of Ellis (formerly Rachel), the Dutch Resistance fighter during World War II whose task it is to seduce a member of the gestapo, in order to learn the Nazi's secrets. van Houten as Ellis is smart, wily, brave, and incredibly sexy, in an almost every day kind of way. She's a woman you want to be; when she flashes her legs at the Dutch soldiers near the beginning of the film, it's one of the most endearing gestures in recent film mystery.

Rachel is hiding in the Dutch countryside from the Nazi occupation, but when she gets a chance to escape with her family, they all take it. There are terrible consequences, and brunette, Jewish Rachel has to become blonde Ellis to hide herself in plain sight. She falls in with the Dutch resistance, and agrees to seduce Ludwig Muntze, Nazi officer. She does so, with ease, and soon gets closer and closer to Muntze, as well as to Hans, another member of the Resistance. van Houten fills Ellis with life, with relatable, though paradoxical, emotions and decisions, and makes her one of the most memorable characters in 2007 film.

One thing I did notice, however, was the nagging similarities to Lust, Caution. Both films star beautiful, talented women, have these protagonists fall in love with questionable men on the other side of morality, and have graphic but not exploitative sex scenes. Ang Lee's film is based on sexual tension, but Verhoeven's tension explodes rather quickly (no pun intended) and then the rest of the film explores the results of the sexual and emotional connections. How strange that two high-profile sexy espionage epics came out in 2007, but they're both great movies.

Verhoeven did a remarkable thing in this movie: made a sexual, fierce, amazing female protagonist who certainly has flaws but is still remarkable and believable, and van Houten does a near-perfect job playing her. In a year that's been riddled with dubious portrayals of women, van Houten's is a performance that is being sadly ignored in this awards season.


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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

99 Women (Jess Franco, 1969)

Whether they know it or not, 99 Women is certainly what Tarantino and Rodriguez were trying to emulate with Grindhouse. Certainly my favorite women-in-prison flick I've ever seen, 99 Women centers on a remote Spanish island prison, where all the inmates have been wronged or were simply revenging themselves. Marie (Maria Rohm) is the newest, titular inmate, who gets punished and pushed around and eventually decides she can't take it anymore. Throw into the mix some truly gorgeous fellow inmates (especially Rosalba Neri as Zoe, a former stripper who killed her jealous boss in self defense), a corrupt superintendant and governor of the island, and a new, idealistic superintendant sent in by the goverment after too many deaths at the jail, and you've got an exploitation classic.

But the thing I like best about Jess Franco is that he truly is an auteur -- he can take the most commonplace women-in-prison plot and make an underground classic out of it. Some of the shot composition is as good as you'd see in any "serious" foreign film of the time. The sex scenes are erotic, but never sleazy in a bad way. In an interview on the DVD, Franco talks about how this movie was financed and written on the fly, which makes it even more impressive that it's anything more than campy. But Franco sometimes pulls genius out of his ass. Check out this trailer and tell me you really don't want to see this movie (and that it just as easily could have played in between the Grindhouse movies).


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364 days of posts

Welcome to 2008, readers!

One of my resolutions this year is to make this thing bigger and better, and that mainly means posting at least once every single day (except in extenuating circumstances, like being 300 miles from home with an all-day hangover, as yesterday). That means more reviews (another, lesser goal is to watch 365 movies -- we'll see), lists (my best of 2007 is coming this weekend!), rants, news, and lots more.

I'm finally going to really figure out this damn film blogging thing. Stick around.

To start things off, Sacha Baron Cohen, one of my favorite actors, is apparently set to star as Abbie Hoffman in an upcoming Steven Spielberg movie about the Chicago 7. Cohen is hilarious (and a hottie, hah), but can he do dramatic? And didn't Vincent D'Onofrio already do this? I think it's a good, if risky, move for Cohen from the comedy ghetto to "real" acting.

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