30 April 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed by: Samuel Bayer
Written by: Wesley Strick & Eric Heisserer
Full credits at IMDb

Producer and existing-franchise exploiter Michael Bay may have settled on a different director to helm his Elm Street sequel remake reboot—the guy who handled the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video!—but the product looks straight out of the Marcus Nispel School for Slasher Updates: grungy settings, more "teens" than the original, more gore, more CGI, more jolts. (Nispel himself graduated on to the upcoming Conan remake whatever.) But the Wes Craven classic was a different kind of horror movie than Friday the 13th or The Hitcher: it was never really just about slaughtering hordes of horny "teens" in too-tight tees for the purpose of sexual moralizing.

Pfft, whatever: that doesn't stop the new crew from casting models (Katie Cassidy), Gossip Girl rejects (Kellan Lutz) and Pattison lookalikes (Kyle Gallner) as the new Freddy fodder. The least attractive among them, Rooney Mara, stars as Nancy—do parents still name their daughters Nancy?—refigured as an artsy outsider who's not much of a nonconformist when it comes to her dreams: they're the same kind of nightmares her turning-up-dead classmates are having, featuring a bugaboo with a burned face, knives for fingers and an ugly sweater.

Keep reading at The L Magazine.

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Harry Brown

Directed by: Daniel Barber
Written by: Gary Young
Full credits at IMDb

In interviews, Michael Caine and director Barber have blamed the state of Kids Today on a failure of social institutions: education, housing, the foster care system. Their guilt might be liberal, but that doesn't stop it from manifesting itself as hysterically conservative in the pleasurable but bonkers Harry Brown, a rightwing revenge fantasy gussied up in a social-realism aesthetic. Caine plays the title character, a classic Liam Neeson role give-or-take ten or twenty years: a widowed, emphysemic pensioner who lives as a prisoner of sorts in his East End housing project, overrun with terrorizing young people addicted to drugs and for-the-hell-of-it violence—the kinds of kids who'll spit in your face, shove shit through your letterbox, smash your car window, kick the crap out of you, light your apartment on fire and then kill you if you complain. (Nights evoke The Omega Man stripped of its camp.) Brown becomes fed-up when his last friend is murdered and, finding no help from the police (of course!), transforms frustration into fury; a vigilante is born accidentally. 

You could call it Brown Begins, a kind of non-super hero's unlikely origins story.

Keep reading at The L Magazine

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In My Sleep

Written & Directed by: Allen Wolf
Full credits at IMDb

Thanks to the magic of editing, movies are uniquely equipped to grapple with issues of memory. So it's easy to get excited about any movie—but especially a thriller—that wrestles with the powers of recall. Especially a lack of them. Like, Memento. Or, like one about a known sleepwalker with a repressed and sordid childhood who wakes up with a bloody knife on his bedroom floor the morning after his best friend's wife was stabbed to death—and can't remember anything about the night before. In My Sleep, however—despite its tremendous score and a few solid performances—fails to outperform the expectations set by its made-for-cable aesthetic. 

It revolves around Marcus (Crusoe's Philip Winchester), a sex-addict, client-fucking masseuse, and parasomniac. "What's that?" one character actually asks. Well, it's a sleepwalker who retains a high-level of functionality while amnesically somnambulating, like a blacked-out drunk without the drunk. To keep himself out of any more trouble after he seduces his best friend's wife (Kelly Overton), he gets the upstairs neighbor-girl (Lacey Chabert) to handcuff him to his headboard at night. Yet he still tends to wake up unbound to find a few miles on the car's trip meter or his body covered in blood of a blood type different from his own. Is he a sleepwalking serial killer? Or the victim of a (probably vindictive) set-up? 

Keep reading at The L Magazine

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Open House

Written & Directed by: Andrew Paquin
Full credits at IMDb

Open House, an irredeemably nasty home-invasion film, revels in throat slittings and belt beatings. To what end? None, beyond that its repugnance reflects its emetic sexual politics. The debut for director Andrew Paquin, whose highest-profile credit to date was a producer on Renee Zellweger rom-com New in Town, the movie serves as a cautionary tale about the sexual self-realization of the female. The Hurt Locker’s Brian Geraghty stars as David, the unsmiling and doe-eyed facilitator of black widow Lila (Tricia Helfer), who likes to be secretly filmed fucking her prey before (literally) stabbing it in the back. (This might seem like a statement on voyeurism, but it’s not.) The couple, the nature of whose relationship remains ambiguous for much of the movie, has taken over the on-the-market house belonging to Alice (Rachel Blanchard), who spends the bulk of the movie held captive in a basement crawl space, like a secret pet the boyish David is hiding from his stern mommy. Though he was supposed to, David has kindly neglected to kill her, in contrast to her quickly dispatched biffle (played by director’s sister Anna; brother-in-law to-be Stephen Moyer also turns up for a quick death—it’s true[ly] blood[y]!)

Keep reading this dispatch from The Tribeca Film Festival at The L Magazine

27 April 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Directed by Steve Pink
Written by Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris
Full credits at IMDb

Hot Tub Time Machine—the silliest literal-movie-title since Snakes on a Plane—early on references a few recent and retarded Boy-Bonding movies: Wild Hogs directly, The Hangover allusively, with the suggestion that the main characters “steal a police car”. But the movie—about three middle-aged friends and (why not?) one college-ager who travel back to the 1980s via magic Jacuzzi—never approaches, and hardly tries to, the fun-loving camaraderie of those (awful) men-behaving-badly comedies. Were it not for a few accusations of homosexuality, a skiing accident and some projectile vomit, Hot Tub Time Machine wouldn’t qualify as a comedy at all. It’s actually really sad.

Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and John Cusack—getting Cusack in an ‘80s nostalgia movie is like landing Malkovich for Being John Malkovich—play the movie’s heroes, whom I expected to be middle-aged men disillusioned with their present condition, yearning for the glory of their youths not unlike Matthew Perry in 17 Again, another movie that makes no effort to explain its time-travel mechanisms. But there’re no fond remembrances to be found in Hot Tub Time Machine: in the present, Corddry is an epically angry and suicidal dickhead; Cusack is a lonely hangdog; Robinson is an exhausted cuckold. (Since this is a movie about time travel and the '80s, Crispin Glover also turns up, amazingly stripped of any eccentricity for the second time this year.) The moment the characters wind up back in 1986, they’re just as depressed as they already were.

Thanks to the (il)logic of the time-shifting conceit, the characters are simply forced to relive the humiliations of their youth, to re-confront past emotional pains. (Ignore the brief attempts to grapple with free will vs. determinism.) Their miserable present-day lives are the results of bad choices that were already in motion 20 years in the past. “We had Reagan and AIDS,” Cusack says, summing up the decade. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” Pain permeates almost every line and action in the movie—even the “happy ending” merely implies that money whitewashes suffering, if not buys happiness—but director Pink seems totally oblivious to it, treating the movie as a wacky comic throwback; it’s like he can see the actors in front his camera, but can’t hear what they’re saying. As such, the movie’s tonally fucked, neither funny like it wants to be nor depressing like it is on paper. Grade: C

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Everyone Else

Written & Directed by Maren Ade
Full credits at IMDb

Aside from its Godard-y opening credits and the Eden-ness of its sun-splashed Sardinian setting, Everyone Else (Alle Anderen), so Bergman-esque it could warrant the alternate title Scenes from a Coupling, isn’t particularly cinematic—it’s theatrical. Not only are its one-on-one scenes predominantly dialogue-driven, but it’s a through-and-through actor’s piece: two hours of talk and small, subtext-revealing gestures. Chris (Lars Eidinger) and Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) constitute the young, holidaying German couple around whom the film revolves; he’s a taciturn moodyman, she’s his loquacious girlfriend. With a forthrightness at odds with Swanberg and his ilk’s hemming hawers, the two engage in conversations that swerve from playful teasing to curt putdowns; their idylls curdle into spats born of selfishness that are soon forgotten. Or, are they? He becomes embarrassed of their private jokes and yearns for a “normal” girl; she wants a man who loves her, who doesn’t respond to her intimate confessions of affection with a passionate but promiseless kiss. The film unfolds in two acts, a love's rise and fall, though it’s easy to spot the fissures in the relationship throughout: you see it in certain glances, or hear it in certain inflections; you just know these kids ain’t gonna make it. The film's genius lies in its recognition of a cumulative effect: every scene builds on the last in not-so-obvious ways and leaves you thinking, “ah, yes! Perfect,” wincing with discomfort at the duo's subtle interplay. Everyone Else is so expertly and casually performed you’re left wondering: is its totally-nailed portrait of a relationship the result of brilliant scripting? Or carefully edited improvisations? To whom do we deliver the accolades? Grade: B+

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The White Meadows

Written & Directed by: Mohammad Rasoulof
Full credits at IMDb

The White Meadows, a stinging neo-realist fable, looks like it’s set on an ashen, alien salt-planet of milky seas, white-sand deserts, caves like slavering animal mouths, and beaches so blank they must be purgatorial. But the allegorical criticisms that emerge from this lunar, lacunal landscape are clearly aimed at the real world—an impression buttressed by the news that director Rasoulof was arrested in Iran this March as part of a post-election program of intimidation.

Rahmat (Hasan Pourshirazi) sails the pearly pale seas of Lake Urmia, hopping between islands in his rickety rowboat, collecting the locals’ tears in a playset-sized pitcher. And there are no shortages of tears...

Keep reading this dispatch from the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival at The L Magazine

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Tribeca Film Festival 2010 Dispatches

The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Directed by J Blakeson
This darkly comic abduction-thriller is so matter-of-fact in its details it could function as a how-to: buy this much sound-proofing, this many cell phones, and these kinds of locks if you want to collect the ransom on a rich man's grown daughter. You've seen kidnapping movies before, yeah? But this one, so tightly contained it could be a play, mixes its cliches with upending twists: exploitation turns into empowerment, machismo into homosexuality. It's at times hilariously surprising, but the narrative zags amount to little more than stunt plotting, hustling to sucker-punch a been-there audience. Would that Blakeson had worked as hard to overcome the film's pervasive nastiness or cool misogyny: just because a movie leaves the last girl standing doesn't mean it has undone the beatings and humiliations that led up to it. Co-starring Eddie Marsan, who played the driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky.

Directed by Tarik Saleh
This dystopic, animated technonoir traces the development of an ordinarily unhappy everyman into system-smashing revolutionary in a post-peak oil future: Europe—portrayed as smog-shrouded industrial ruins—has been united by a pan-continental super-subway; bicycle riding is illegal. Also, corporations are using shampoo to control minds and the Metro can read your thoughts. Cast in subterranean grey, the animation is very PlayStation, blending hyperreal design with the skittery motion of a South Park episode. And it's appropriate: the herky-jerky, gloomy-futurist aesthetic is as disquieting as the movie's advertising age conspiracy and surveillance state nightmare.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Jeunet, of Amelie renown/infamy, delivers another entry in his career-long series of grating Live-Action Cartoons For 11-Year-Olds. This one concerns a gang of junkyard irregulars, consciously modeled on Toy Story's chestful of oddballs, righteously warring with weapons manufacturers. Its in-your-face whimsy, Luhrmann-esque tone, and goofy ethic and aesthetic make it triply hard to take seriously its political message about the cruel indifference of arms dealers, their implicit culpability in murder. Jeunet is not without virtues—the film is wordless when it can be, and uses an old Max Steiner score to great effect—but Micmacs still comes off like Paul Blart trying to pass as Art.

Directed by Lee Yong-ju
Lee cut his teeth as an assistant director on Bong Joon-Ho's Memories of Murder, but his directorial debut shows he learned little from the Korean master: rather than reinvent a genre, Lee cranks out a formulaic blend of two—K-Horror and police procedural—that's efficient in its jolts but less than convincing in its assault on religious devotions, from superstitious shamanist rituals to Christian fanaticism. (The Korean title transliterates as Hell of the Non-Believers.) Be sure to bring the outrage towards Organized Religion that you cultivated as an adolescent; you'll be rolling your eyes without it.

Sentimental Engine Slayer
Directed by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
"El Paso" is credited alongside the actors during the end credits, because this aggressively artsy fever dream is as much a portrait of a place as it is of a person. As unstable as its baby-faced hero (34-year-old Mars Volta guitarist Lopez), the movie is a hallucinatory, logic-less tour through desert roads and houseparties that charts the insecure and frequently violent fantasies of the possibly homosexual virgin: sex, sex, humiliation, retributive violence, and sex. Though essentially about (maybe?) getting a kid laid, it's less Superbad than a Mexican-American variation of Loren Cass, with sex replacing race-violence; or, it's like Donnie Darko without wormholes or rabbitmen.

Read more at The L Magazine's Tribeca Film Festival Preview

16 April 2010

Pornography: A Thriller

Written & Directed by: David Kittredge
Full credits at IMDb

"You like to watch?" Yeah, Pornography, kind of pretentious, is one of those movies. Kind of amazing, too, it's also the Citizen Kane of gay porn ghost stories. Told in three distinct and uroboric acts, it revolves around the years-ago disappearance of a male-porn star (Jared Grey) and its present-day effect on a Brooklyn writer (Matthew Montgomery) and an L.A. adult film icon-turned-adult-film director (Pete Scherer). The first is working on a Social History of homosexual pornography, the other a screenplay that looks a lot like the first third of the movie we're watching: that is, Pornography's last act concerns the creation of its first—by a character with a tangential role in the second—which might explain why, for its first few reels, it self-consciously mimics the stilted line readings, hard-working dialogue and contrived set-ups of a dirty movie refigured as straight-to-video horror-noir.

Keep reading at The L Magazine

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09 April 2010


Directed by: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Written by: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo & Jakub Korolczuk
Full credits at IMDb

Christina Ricci, looking at her pale, putrefying body in a mirror, asks, "Why do I look like a corpse?" "Because you are a corpse," her undertaker answers. After.Life is so funny! But, sigh, if only somebody had told the director; Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo plays that comic exchange for tears instead of laughs. Throughout her feature debut she repeatedly tries to wring significance from a script (which she wrote with Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk) that's inherently full of conspicuous camp: A policeman turns up at the morgue to peek under the covers and ogle corpse-tits; Justin Long beats up a little kid in an elementary school hallway. And she wants us to gasp in horror?

Keep reading at The L Magazine

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The Square

Directed by: Nash Edgerton
Written by: Joel Edgerton & Matthew Dabner
Full credits at IMDb

A gripping—if nothing else—neo-neo-noir, The Square offers no fresh insights into genre or humanity. But what’s wrong with just spinning a good yarn once in a while? The debut feature of recently Times-profiled Blue-Tongue Productions, a loosely knit, Australia-based moviemaking-collective, the film offers N.Y. audiences their first chance to see Joel Edgerton (who also co-wrote the script, with Matthew Dabner) since he yowled for Stella in BAM’s Streetcar last December. He and the rest of the cast work to humanize familiar archetypes: the graying hangdog, the irascible cuckold, the spacey girlfriend, the femme fatale. Everything about The Square feels, ostensibly, as familiar as those characters: following a Postman-esque narrative, it depicts an affair between Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom), who struggle to raise cash illicitly so they can run away together. But Best Laid Plans etc. etc. etc.

Keep reading at The L Magazine

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Breaking Upwards

Directed by: Daryl Wein
Written by: Peter Duchan, Zoe Lister Jones & Daryl Wein
Full credits at IMDb

The most significant emotional experience of a young man's life is often his first big break-up, which might explain why we see so many separation movies starring twentysomethings—"my specific heartbreaking story must be told!" It's particularly the case in the indies, where emerging artists are encouraged to indulge their Deepest Feelings. On the more mainstream, and shallower, side, there was last year's (500) Days of Summer; on the indier, sincerer side, there's the alternately endearing and exhausting Breaking Upwards. Both deal with unremarkable Millennials working through unremarkable problems. The question is, do they do so remarkably?

Well, in the case of Breaking Upwards—sort of. (For the former—no way!)

Keep reading at The L Magazine.

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