House of 1000 Corpses

Between not being a big fan of Rob Zombie's music and seeing this film bounce between studios for 2 or 3 years (it was completed in 2000), I had expected a film that was being released for its notoriety and really belonged straight-to-video. What I got instead, however, was a film that (while not great) blended together influences of many great horror movies (as one would have expected given Zombie's oeuvre) while taking some pretty original chances. Zombie took the traditional horror-suspense plot of 4 teenagers getting lost, breaking down, and getting into some heavy shit, and mutated the idea enough to make it feel fresh. What really surprised me is that I expected a real gorefest, but the film was more of a psychological scare film than a grossout. Through the use of some original composition and editing, the fantastic use of lighting, and the use of several film stocks and video, Zombie created a very tense, off-putting atmosphere. Sometimes, however, Zombie's attempts at using Natural Born Killers/Come to Daddy-esque fast cutting as character exposition 'cheats' seems a bit forced. The movie's homage to films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the work of Dario Argento is sometimes painfully obvious and almost gives off a 'he is just ripping them off' smell. Giving the film a fair chance by forcing away cynical intuitions, the results can actually be something refreshing original, and possibly even disturbing. 
9623 Hits

a mighty wind

This is the third go-around for Christopher Guest's very talented improvisational troupe and follows in the footsteps of the mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and is based, in part, on a oft-forgotten SNL sketch "The Folksmen." An important folk concert promoter has passed away, and his children assemble a tribute concert which reunites three of the groups he helped: The Folksmen, Mitch & Mickey, and The Main Street Singers. While The Main Street Singers have been touring since the 1960s (as The New Main Street Singers and featuring none of the original members of the band), this tribute concert serves are a reunion for the others.
I already love the work by Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean (the list goes on and on). It has been hard for this troupe to let me down, so consider this a bit of a biased review. That said, I loved this film, and while some would consider Guest's troupe return to the mockumentary trough tired, I think they really hit their stride here. Out of the three, this film is less overt in it's comedy. A Mighty Wind doesn't feel as mocking as the prior two films, instead going for more subtle, character-based humor. Guest seemed to treat the subject of the reunion and folk music itself with a bit more reverence than his previous targets. That feeling of respect, which isn't as overt in his prior films, is what makes this film great.
Like the improvised nature of the other films, the cast also wrote all of the songs used in the film. While some of the songs have humorous references in them, or may seem a bit corny at times, they are very enjoyable. Taken out of the context of this film, they could possibly be mistaken for 'real' songs if heard on the radio (even when analyzing the lyrics). This film did have it's problems, however. While it is nice to see these familiar faces, seeing underdeveloped characters in near-cameo appearances sometimes feels a bit hollow and unnecessary. In addition, it seemed to me that there wasn't enough "middle" to the story, and it pretty much seemed to just jump into the concert. These are minor flaws though, and I almost feel guilty mentioning them.
The film ends with a priceless post-concert epilogue, and fans of Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, or This is Spinal Tap should not miss out. Even comedy fans who weren't into those films might find A Mighty Wind enjoyable as Guest's "tweaking of the formula" really sets this film apart from it's fore-bearers. 
9371 Hits

Willard

While Crispin Glover is considered by many to be merely a cult figure, he's always entertaining on the screen, and the top billing of him in a Hollywood studio film is enough to warrant some interest. The interest might have been weakened by the fact that this film is a remake of a less-than-savory horror film from 1971.

Much like Red Dragon, this film is a remake that didn't need to be made. I understand the studio's compulsion to cash in on nostalgia, or a trend, but I don't understand who was nostalgic for a movie about a guy who befriends a colony of rats, and then sings a Michael Jackson song that ALSO didn't need to be remade (the song, "Ben," was written for the sequel to the original version of "Willard," entitled "Ben").

Crispin always gets cast as the weirdo. This time, he, as the title character, is a complete pussy under the thumb of both his mother and his boss. His bedridden mother was apparently instructed by the director: "Act like the mother in 'Braindead' (a.k.a. 'Dead Alive'), but less zombieish." The boss was played by R. Lee Ermey, who did a great job acting like he normally does: a screamy drill-sergeant type guy.

This movie has only one thing going for it, and that is the stellar performance by Crispin Glover. If you love Glover, you have already seen this film. If you haven't, don't bother. And when I say "don't bother," I don't mean "wait for video/HBO", I mean simply don't bother.

9775 Hits

russian ark

This 96-minute film was shot in one take, using one camera, throughout the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. That one take brought the camera through 35 rooms of the Hermitage and has thousands of actors re-enacting events occuring across 4 centuries of history.
Russian Ark follows the Narrator as he explores the Hermitage (and we get to see his point of view through the camera). The Narrator doesn't know how he arrived there, but he soon realizes that he is in the 1700s. After wandering for a bit in the palace, seemingly invisible to the crowd around him, he runs into another person who seems to be sharing the exploration. The Narrator, along with the newly introduced Frenchman, explore the mansion together, travelling through many time periods as they move from room to room, seeing and interacting with many important events in Russian history.
Technically, this film is amazing. It is hard to imagine the logisitical nightmare it must have been to film this beast, and the director, cinematographer, and crew deserve to be applauded for pulling it off so well. Anyone who enjoys film or is interested in technique would likewise be appreciative . The subtitles seemed to be lacking in certain spots: while the dialogue between the Narrator and Marquis was pretty well covered, but lots of the incidental conversation behind them was completely lost. While this is to be expected in a subtitled film, there were streaks where the two primary actors were silent, the camera was pointed directly at actors engaged in dialogue, and no subtitles were to be found.
In addition, I think that some of plot was lost in the translation. Perhaps the plot was just as ambiguous in Russian, but at times the mere task of figuring out what was going on was easily distracting from the action on screen. Regardless of this minor bitching, this film is a testament to the quality of modern digital cameras—the 90 minute, no edit, runtime of the show was only made possible by today's digital "film" technology. It would be nice to see this film projected in a digital theater: while it was beautiful transferred to 35mm, it would probably be even more so projected from the digital master.
10001 Hits

Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

I remember watching reruns of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" as a child, as well as their short-lived revival in the late 1980s. While there was always a feeling of "before my time" to the shows, I remember thinking they were funny, but I definately don't remember them as risqué. So when I saw an article on this Bravo documentary, I became interested and rented the DVD.

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11859 Hits

Rivers and Tides

This was not a film I was terribly interested in seeing. From all description it sounded terribly dry and boring to risk my $9 on. I hedged back and forth on whether or not to join the group and see the movie, but a good bout of bad weather twisted my arm and I decided to give it a chance, and I'm very glad I did so.

Rivers and Tides is a documentary which follows Scottish "land-artist" Andy Goldsworthy to the creation of several installations and pieces of his unique art. Goldsworthy's current interest seems to be displaying how time can be used in an artistic setting, and he explores this concept with the many pieces documented in this film. He constructs beautiful sinusoidal sculptures with painstakingly placed bits of icicle and then watches it slowly fall apart as the sun rises and begins to melt the joints. Another piece was an almost spiderweb/spirograph form built out of blades of grass and reeds. I found that what sounded very dry on paper turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful when witnessed on screen.
One of the things that struck me most, however, was that several times in the film, Goldsworthy would be well into the construction of one of his pieces when the entire thing would collapse around him. The aforementioned reed/grass assembly being one of them. While these collapses were probably very frustrating to the artist, I found them some of the most beautiful imagery in the film (not to belittle the beauty of his successes).
I really can't recommend this movie enough, and unlike most documentaries, I feel that this one really deserves the big-screen treatment. 
9733 Hits

Gerry

Gus Van Sant "returns to his indie roots" with Gerry, a film starring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. Notice the statement above is surrounded in quotes. That quote is generally followed a few sentences later by some prose comparing Gerry to The Blair Witch Project, Waiting for Godot, or even an Ansel Adams photo. Unfortunately, what these reviewers often forget to tell you is that Gerry nicks the bad parts of these films without adding anything good back into the void.
Gerry has a simple plot: Two pretty boys go for a hike in the desert to see "the thing," decide there are too many people on the trail and come up with the brilliant idea to leave the trail and make their own route. Now, as they veer off the trail you think to yourself that no sane human would ever think to do this, or that these two actors are better suited for the plaid carpeting of Abercrombie & Fitch as opposed to the desert trails of the southwest. Obviously, the two simpletons get lost and then we get to follow them around for the next 103 minutes.
The real problem with this film isn't that it never goes anywhere; it's a "high concept" art film and we are supposed to suck it up and accept the fact that the director can fuck with us as he pleases. No, the problem is that in the 103 minutes that Mr. Van Sant takes going nowhere he also fails to present anything provoking or compelling, and instead, much like Ansel Adams, takes some amazingly beautiful shots of the southwestern US that any joker with his mom's miniDV cam could have taken.
The film holds interest for about an hour, but after that passes I found myself wishing for the main characters to die. Do yourself a favor and pass on this one when your hipster indie-film friend suggests it. If I haven't managed to dissuade you yet, do yourself a favor and view the short cut of the film (a.k.a. the trailer). - 
9456 Hits

Punch Drunk Love

The Adam Sandler movie for people who hate Adam Sandler movies.
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11127 Hits

The Truth About Charlie

I don't want to know what happened to Johnathan Demme. I used to like him. He made not great, but certainly affecting, films. He seemed to care about the audience, and giving them something to appreciate, to believe in. And suspension of disbelief, a requirement for all film and theatre experiences, was not a problem for Demme's films, as he created a whole world where anything was possible. 'The Truth About Charlie' is quite frankly the worst film he has ever been involved with. The fact that he co-wrote and directed it makes him complicit in every way, and I couldn't help but shake my head the whole time I was in the darkened theatre. The fact that it's reportedly a remake of the Cary Grant starrer 'Charade' is almost a mockery of the original. Thandie Newton, as annoying as humanly possible as a British tramp, excuse me, wife of an art dealer, is shocked to discover that her husband is not the mild-mannered workaholic romantic he portrayed himself as, but yet, well, it's not really clear. He was at one time the member of an ultra secret invasion force for extracting prisoners and hostages, but there is never any explanation for what he does now. Or did, as he's dead in the film's first five minutes, and Newton spends the rest of the movie badly acting, er, trying to figure out why someone wanted him dead, who these new people are that are popping into her life seemingly every day, and where the great sum of money her husband reportedly had ended up. The rest of the support cast—Tim Robbins, Mark Wahlberg, Lisa Gay Hamilton and others Demme's used before to good effect—are lifeless caricatures with horrible lines to recite. The film is void of explanations on many levels. Wahlberg's motivations are in question because of his character, but in the end his motivations are fairly transparent. It's his methods that puzzle us. Robbins puts in the worst performance of his career by far, as a spook who wants to help. Furthermore, the script has holes, strange occurances with no clear meaning, and dialogue that first-year film students could better in their dreams. The last fifteen to twenty minutes are drawn-out pure drivel. It's almost like Demme was trying to make a tribute to his favorite foreign films and directors, and went completely nutbag while filming it. Elements of Truffaut, Fellini, and others mark the film, but at poorly-executed surface level. The real disappointment comes at the very end, though, with the dedication to Ted Demme, Johnathan's nephew, who died of a cocaine-fueled heart attack at a celebrity basketball tournament. As sad as it sounds, even the director of "Who's The Man?" deserved a better tribute than this.

 

10338 Hits

The Transporter

Jason Statham, who played Turkish in "Snatch" and Bacon in "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels", also a former Olympic diver, tries and mostly succeeds in reinventing himself as an action hero in this poor, poor excuse for cinema. "The Transporter" is the story of a former US Special Forces soldier - with a British accent, natch! - who moves to France after getting out of the service and opens up shop as a courier, willing to move goods for anyone for the right price.

He has basic rules: the deal is the deal, no changes or augmentations; no names; and never open the package. When he defiles the last rule and finds a beautiful woman in the bag he is transporting, he takes mild pity on her and allows her to drink some liquid so she won't be entirely uncomfortable. And that's when all hell breaks loose and the film's plot falls to absolute schlock. That's right, folks: this is a BAD movie. I'm sure most of you could tell be watching the trailers, much like I could with "Pearl Harbor", but with Luc Besson's name on it and Statham attached, I figured "How bad could it be?" The answer is ridiculously bad. I've never laughed so much in an action film in my life. True, they're not known for their dialogue, but the lines here are not unlike a seventh-grader's short story in his English class journal.

The performances, with the exception of the French police investigator and aspects of Statham's, are horrible. Certain situations in the film (oh! what a convenient place for scuba gear!) and whole relationships are without substance or truth. The car chases are like John Frankenheimer's only organized by a hack. And Stanley Clarke's score sounds like it was made up of tracks he left on the cutting room floor from other movies he worked on. Plus, the rap and R&B numbers add nothing to the proceedings. In fact, the only thing that makes this movie stomachable is the fight scenes. I don't know what training Statham has had, but he pulls off some moves that would make Jackie Chan blush, and all with a certain menacing grimace he's never had a chance to show before. Unfortunately, this doesn't save the film from making my Top Three Worst Films ever, behind "Kid" starring C. Thomas Howell, and "Terminal Bliss" with Luke Perry's acting prowess. This film reeks, especially in the last five minutes.

Don't waste your money at the theater or on a rental, don't watch it on cable, don't support it at all. Not that you were planning on it. I'm just a sucker who's ten dollars poorer.

 

9505 Hits

bowling for columbine

I can safely say that this film has effected me the most out of any film I can remember in a very, very long time. Director Michael Moore has essentially taken aim on the culture in the country which both he and I live in that seems completely unstoppable. This film, however, is, deceptively enough, not an anti-gun, anti-NRA effort nor an anti-American government effort. Instead, Moore personally and graphically shows many close-up faces of the media, militia, criminals, victims, and organization leaders—all of which who seem to, as he would like us believe, unknowingly contribute to the biggest epidemic of all: fear. It's this all-encompassing fear which the media and advertisers prey upon, the fear that we are instilled upon from elementary school, the fear which our very own government shoves down our throat. This fear, he has deduced is what separates the US from a number of other countries who, like us, also have a history of violence and an abundant availability of guns, but have drastically lower amounts of gun murders. Ironically, he also perpetuates this fear by the mere existence of this movie—shoving loads of statistics down our throat which gives me a simply revolting feeling (even now, long after watching the movie), and adds to the number of reasons NEVER to have children in this country. As director, you can play god, especially in a "documentary." For example: I wonder how many people in Canada he asked said "yes, I do lock my doors," until he arrived at the handful of people whose footage he did choose who said "no." [I, Jon Whitney, have a number of Canadian friends, people whose houses I have been to, all of which lock their doors!] Positively, however, Michael Moore serves as an example of how things can actually get done if people try. I applaud him for the whole K-Mart stunt to get them to cease the retail of ammunition, however, I would really like to know the outcome, and feel the film needed some sort of factual follow-up. Embarassingly enough, I reluctantly admit that for the first time I think I actally possess some amount of respect for Marilyn Manson. He basically said what my friends are sick of hearing me say for the last few years: the fact that a big problem is that people simply don't listen to what other people are saying. Despite its arguable flaws, I highly recommend anybody with a thinking brain to see it and make up their own minds on the subject. Be warned, however, as you will see people being shot, people brought to tears on camera when recounting traumatic events, and world leaders, who, by their own words demonstrate how disasterously wrong it is for them to be in power.

 

9451 Hits

Secretary

At a first glance, the plot may seem like hardly more than a fetishist's b-film delight: a young woman takes a job as a secretary for a domineering lawyer, and their relationship quickly morphs into sexual sadomasochism. However, Shainberg, who liberally adapted 'Secretary' for the screen from a Mary Gaitskill short story, manages to create a panoply of dysfunction and depth in his characters that transcends the surface overtones of B&D and S&M.
Lee Holloway (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), the title character, is an emotionally unstable young woman fresh out of a mental institution. On her first day out, her father's alcoholic outburst at her statuesque older sister's wedding proves to be too much for her, and she immediately lapses back into her private rituals of self-mutilation.
In an attempt at a "normal" life, she seeks a her first job as a secretary in the small law office of E. Edward Grey (played by none other than the quintessential '80s wasp, James Spader). After a hilariously awkward interview (Shainberg punctuates the film with consistently brilliant touches of darkly comedic moments), Lee is offered the position. Grey himself is uneasily coming to terms with his divorce from a tyrannical ex-wife, whose photograph he still keeps in his desk. His constant humiliation of his new secretary as a result of her typing errors, slightly unkempt appearance, and meek mannerisms turns into a calculated spanking one morning, after he has ordered her to bend over his desk and read aloud the letter she has just typed for him, riddled with mistakes. Despite her initial shock, Lee enjoys the experience, which comes across through a subtlety in direction that is skillfully managed in such a powerful scene.
The relationship between Lee and Grey quickly intensifies in kink as well as psychological complexity, building up to a frantic (ahem) climax. Gyllenhaal's performance is masterful; her charming smile only halfway masks her deep emotional (and physical) scars. Meanwhile, she effortlessly brings a comic spark to Lee as she throws herself wholeheartedly into her newfound passion for being a sexual submissive. Spader hasn't given this sophisticated a performance since 'Sex, Lies & Videotape', and has truly bounced back after a decade of largely forgettable films. His E. Edward Grey is all-at-once disgusting, endearing and pathetic. Both actors bring a frustrated passion to their roles that would be nearly impossible to duplicate. There are several good turns from the supporting cast as well, including Lesley Ann Warren as Lee's loving yet clingy mother, and Jeremy Davies as her befuddled boyfriend.
Steven Shainberg's approach to his subject matter is refreshing, and his treatment of bondage, discipline and master/servant relationships is even-handed. The film is complimented by an appropriately quirky score by David Lynch favorite, Angelo Badalamenti. Any hopeless romantic jaded by theaters full of 'Autumn in New York's and 'Sweet Home Alabama's will doubtlessly find 'Secretary' a welcome breath of fresh air.

 

13089 Hits

"made in sheffield"

Sheffield Vision
This documentary chronicles a time in Sheffield, UK between 1977 and 1982, the time when adventurous bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, and ABC were making local names for themselves, creating their own noise machines, twisting and turning sounds into ordered chaotic electro punk. While this only focuses on the time between most bands inceptions until the time when all of them seem to break big in the mainstream, there's a certain lack of material collected to really make this really complete. Appropriate 25 year-old city footage is absent. In it's place is current footage of a cosmopolitan town completely unlike the Sheffield described by a number of the interviewed musicians. In addition, only a small handful of people were actually interviewed: quite noticably missing are Sheffield resident Richard H. Kirk and any member of Def Leppard! Die-hard fans of these bands would probably want something like this for their collections, but for the moderates on the fence, I honestly feel this film really could be a lot more than a 52-minute VH1 Behind the Music-esque short.

 

9498 Hits

The Piano Teacher

It's funny, actually. I would have ignored this movie based on title alone. 'The Piano Teacher' could have slipped past my radar altogether if I hadn't scanned over a review of it in New York magazine, a gossip-slanted publication that offers exceptionally detailed movie and theater listings in New York City. Instead of the 16th-18th century French prodigy film I had expected, the article portrayed it as an artful take on sexual inhibitions and sadomasochism.

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12205 Hits

101 Reykjavik

The biggest self-centered dirtbags always gain the most sympathy from an aduience when the story is narrative from their point of view. Such is the case of Hlynur, a young man around 30, living with mom in a tiny apartment, looking like an adult version of Max Fischer from 'Rushmore,' who rarely ventures outside the postal code of 101 Reykjavik and has absolutely no ambition to get a job and make something of himself. "We're dead after we die, we're dead before we're born, life is just a break from death," he claims, as the film centers around this young man's life who feels everybody dies every weekend after the parties are over. We often find Hylnur alone, falling asleep in the snow, almost longing for a death which never comes. Hylnur has a number of issues including pent-up aggression towards his family coupled with sexual/attachment issues that keeps him from sleeping next to a girl he's just fucked. All this changes when he seems to fall in love with his mom's new lover, a gorgeous Flamenco dance instructor from Spain. Basically while mom's dealing with the issues of coming out, Hlynur's dealing with issues of having sex with her new "lesbian" girlfriend. Toss in a psycho fling who's completely obsessed with Hlynar to the point of lying about a pregnancy and a bunch of drunken party scenes and you've got a marvelously entertaining comedy with a ton of really great, punchy lines from first time filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur Baltasarsson. My favorite scene has got to be the kids shooting fireworks at the Domino's delivery guy—easily one of the funniest scenes I've seen in a long while! Two years after its release, it's finally making some rounds in North America, best of luck trying to see it.

8996 Hits

Trouble Every Day

Catch 22: reading movie reviews takes away some of the surprise of movies, yet not many people are interested in seeing movies that they haven't read reviews of. That was my flaw entering into 'Trouble Every Day,' a self-described "art-house horror film" that debuted at Cannes to aghast filmgoers, including a few who couldn't keep their foie gras down.

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8700 Hits

Scratch

Director Doug Pray has easily made one of the most entertaining documentaries since his own 'American Pimp' and possibly the most entertaining musical documentary ever. 'Scratch' explores the hip-hop world of the DJ and turntablism (sorry, no Otomo Yoshihide or Thomas Brinkmann here), with interviews of legendary superheroes Afrika Bambaataa, DXT (Herbie Hancock's "Rockit"), Jazzy Jay (Soulsonic Force), and GrandWizzard Theodore (who many point to as the inventor of the scratching) as well as some of today's superstars Mix Master Mike, Q-bert, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, and Rob Swift.
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8656 Hits

Donnie Darko

Hard to imagine I have been completely blown away by two incredible movies this weekend but it happened. The film is the first motion picture from young writer/filmmaker Richard Kelley and takes place in a rural Virgininan town in the month before the Presidential election of 1988. Donny Darko, the middle child of three is being medicated for emotional issues after burning down some house.
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8427 Hits

odishon (audition)

After over two years of making the film circuits in Asia and Europe, Takashi Miike's horror/thriller finally touches down in North America. In a small review I saw somebody say "David Cronenberg eat your heart out." I can understand why. The film is very very slow on the uptake, a widower, Shigeharu Aoyama, has been suggested by his grown son that it's time to find a new woman or wife. Aoyama, who has strong ties to the Japanese film industry, is given the idea to hold auditions for this new unfound woman. After picking out a much younger woman, Asami, the plan seems to go ahead smoothly, but as events unfold, things just get completely fucked. They meet a few times, they have dinner, they go away for a romantic weekend in the mountains. Suddenly, she vanishes without a trace, and Aoyama is left to put together the pieces. Little does he know what terror awaits him. Those familiar with Miike's other works might expect gorey horror, but the cultural elite at the Brattle Theater on Friday night weren't prepared for it. It was amusing to watch swarms of them quickly leaving as the brutality levels were cranked way up. In a demented way, it was cute (while completely frightening) as the petit, cute, sweet Japanese girl was transformed into a domineering sadist. While the last 1/4 of the film was definitely more exciting, I'm wondering if the build-up was really worth it. If you choose to see this, I highly recommend staying until the end no matter how freaked out you get. Just don't see it on a full stomach.

 

9238 Hits

Amelie

When Amelie opened it was up against the money maker Harry Potter. Leaving Amelie, I saw the lines for Harry Potter and said that all of those people should go see this one instead. I saw my sculpture instructor in line and demanded that he skip Harry Potter and see Amelie. He said that he'd been waiting in line for 30 minutes and wasn't about to leave it. A week later, he told me that he wished he had taken my advice. Amelie is one of the most outstanding films in the past 10 years, I haven't been this moved by a film since 1999's American Beauty.

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8328 Hits