Filmmakers Ronnie Bronstein and Joe Swanberg have been posting some fantastic “Sundance outsider” videos on the Spout Myspace page. One of the best so far is a passionate, probing interview with director George Romero. Man… somebody should give Bronstein his own talk show. What a great interviewer.
More Blood Discussion
This’ll be the last time I mention There Will Be Blood–I swear. It’s just that I’ve been having a fantastic time reading TWBB analysis and debate, and I’ve come across a great discussion on Filmbrain about the film’s themes, structure and links to Kubrick (a friend of mine picked up on the Kubrick connection instantly, and I’ve since been re-watching some of those films trying to see it for myself).
The Fly: The Opera
AMC’s Monsterfest Blog is reporting that David Cronenberg and Howard Shore have adapted the 1986 horror classic The Fly into an opera. For real.
And this ain’t just talk–the thing is actually on the Los Angeles Opera’s schedule, and will be conducted by Plácido Domingo. It’ll run for six performances only, beginning in September.
Hey–if Evil Dead the Musical worked so well, why not The Fly the Opera? I am seriously considering planning a trip to LA around this.
Reviewed: There Will Be Blood, Walk Hard, The Orphanage, Juno
As promised forever ago, here is a more thorough review of PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, which finally opens in Austin tonight.
While we’re at it, here are reviews for Walk Hard, The Orphanage and Juno from a couple weeks ago.
Favorite Movies 2007
1) There Will Be Blood
PT Anderson’s epic tale of greed and violence in the American West is, without a doubt, the best film I’ve seen in a long time.
Its gorgeous panoramas, chilling score and utterly brilliant performances only add to the already fantastic screenplay (based in part, on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!). It’s arguable, though, what the film is actually about. Personally, I don’t think it’s about religion or extremism at all. Rather, it’s about how shockingly ordinary greed and violence and misanthropy are, and how, since the very beginning, these things have been at the very core of the American experience. And, in a lot of ways, the American dream.
Daniel Day Lewis is a lock for the Best Actor Oscar this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Original Music Score nominations as well.
I’ve seen There Will Be Blood twice now (once in September, once two weeks ago), and I think it actually gets better with distance. I’m working on a full-length review for Austinist this week, so check there on Thursday if you’re interested.
2) No Country for Old Men
This one will be near the top of most people’s lists this year–and for good reason. It’s a violent, darkly funny return to the Coens’ Blood Simple roots after a stretch of not-so-great flicks. Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are all fantastic in their respective roles, and despite the violence and the nihilism and the overall intensity of the thing, No Country still manages to be very funny and completely entertaining. And did anyone else notice that there’s virtually no music though the majority of the movie?
3) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Julian Schnabel’s third feature (and third biopic) is devastating, inspiring and gorgeous all at the same time. Chronicling the last days of Elle Magazine Editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was almost completely paralyzed after a massive stroke, Diving Bell is told from the patient’s perspective as he dictates a memoir using only his left eye. Some have said that Schnabel is more interested in empty, gimmicky visuals than in insightful probing, but I just don’t think that’s true. And even if it is, I’m not sure it matters. I watched until the very last breathtaking credit.
Admittedly, I went into this movie wanting to love it. After all, it’s a biopic about a guy I admire (Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis) made by another guy I admire (photographer Anton Corbijn). But after seeing it a few times, I can tell you that my love for Control isn’t born of blind admiration–it’s just a great film. Far from the typical glossy Hollywood biopic, Control is closer to an honest character study than most movies dare to be. It makes no apologies for Curtis’ adultery or his eventual suicide–it only attempts to set out the events as they happened. Sam Riley is spectacular as Curtis, and the musical performances will give you goosebumps.
While I was waiting in line to see Helvetica at SXSW this year, a stranger asked me, “what is this movie about?” I answered, “well, it’s about a typeface called Helvetica”, to which she replied, “yeah… but what’s it about?”
It turns out that a movie about a typeface can be just as good as a movie about, well, anything else. Through interviews with Helvetica fans and detractors, the film explores our relationship with the ubiquitous font, and examines the ways in which it has influenced design and culture. It’s funny and insightful–and way too entertaining for a documentary about something so seemingly esoteric.
Also, filmmaker Gary Hustwit is the guy who founded the kick-ass DVD label Plexifilm. I’m kind of sad I didn’t make an effort to meet him while I had the chance.
6) Sukiyaki Western Django
Takashi Miike’s surreal reimagining of Sergio Corbucci’s Django is a raging ball of violent, hilarious fun. In some ways, it’s the inverted twin of Kill Bill–rather than an American samurai film, it’s a Japanese Western, acted entirely in English, but subtitled anyway.
Though I’ll admit that this movie isn’t for everyone, the Midnight Madness screening at the Toronto Film Fest was quite possibly the most fun I had watching a movie this year.
As far as I know, Sukiyaki has only been released in Japan at this point, but it could see a North American release next year thanks to a cameo by Quentin Tarantino.
7) Eastern Promises
Awesome. Eastern Promises is dark, violent and ambiguous in a way that only Cronenberg knows how to pull off. What’s great is that while he hasn’t made any artistic compromises, this is probably his easiest film to swallow since The Fly. And, of course, there’s a brilliant nude fight scene that, on its own, is worth the price of a ticket.
Directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist), Bug is the story of a delusional war vet (played wonderfully by Michael Shannon) who convinces a lonely Oklahoma bartender that they’re both covered in tiny bugs–part of a secret government experiment gone haywire. And of course, things slide further and further out of control as reality clashes with paranoid fantasy.
Bug was originally written as a play, and it shows; the dialog is intricate, the whole thing takes place inside a hotel room and there are very few special effects. But a strong script and strong performances drive it toward a simultaneously hilarious and dramatic ending that even Ashley Judd couldn’t ruin.
Apparently, the distributors had no idea how to market this movie; they presented it as a horror film (which it’s definitely not) and it quickly came and went from theatres. Which is sad, because it’s really good.
9) Rescue Dawn
Rescue Dawn is a drama based on the life of German-born pilot Dieter Dengler who was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam war (a story Herzog had previously told in his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly). Christian Bale turns in an excellent performance as Dengler, and Steve Zahn (who I’ve never taken seriously) is surprisingly good as Duane, a captive American.
The film is broken into two halves: a semi-upbeat, Great Escape-esque first half, and a downbeat second half that feels more like the unvarnished last act of Grizzly Man. What I like about Herzog is that he can somehow conjure hope and hopelessness without either of them seeming wrong. It’s a long haul, but Rescue Dawn is worth it.
Seeing Grindhouse on its opening night in Austin was easily one of my favorite filmgoing experiences this year. Having a local grindhouse series (Weird Wednesdays), and having hosted Tarantino’s personal film fests for years, I think Austin was in a unique position to appreciate the kind of films these guys were trying to recreate (not to mention the fact that a good number of audience members worked on or starred in the thing). Needless to say, the crowd was wild, and we hooted and hollered through the entire 3-hours. I did think it was a poor choice to run the slow-starting Death Proof AFTER the high-energy Planet Terror, but I still had a blast watching them both. And isn’t that what movies are all about?
It’s hard to explain Frownland–a short paragraph can’t do it justice. It’s the kind of thing you have to see and process on your own. It’s a slow, detailed character study about an impossibly annoying, neurotic door-to-door coupon salesman, and it gives absolutely no clues as to how you’re supposed to feel about him. Recommended. [Frownland website]
Nicolas Bro gives the performance of a lifetime as a man spiraling toward obsessive, murderous insanity. This is the only movie in recent memory I could forgive for being shot entirely handheld. An intense, slow-building thriller that’s definitely worth tracking down.
King of Kong
This documentary about two world class Donkey Kong players is one of the most entertaining docs I’ve seen in a long time. Reality is, most certainly, stranger than fiction.
I know everybody is loving on Superbad, but I personally think Knocked Up was a much funnier, much smarter, much more durable movie. Not sure I buy into the recent accusations of Apatow’s supposed misogyny either–though I certainly wasn’t looking for those things when I saw Knocked Up way back in March.
No End In Sight
This is the best of the Iraq war docs sofar–a sober look at a tragic, frustrating situation.
Bloody, fun and inventive, Murder Party is the story of a man who’s kidnapped by a group of art school students intent on murdering him as a form of artistic expression. So much fun.
It’s too bad that this movie never got a proper release, because it’s very funny–especially for a stoner comedy. It may even transcend the genre at some points. Anna Faris is hilarious as the inadvertent stoner, and it’s hard to believe that this is Director Greg Araki’s follow up to the wildly different (but also awesome) Mysterious Skin.
Killer of Sheep
Though Killer of Sheep is brilliant, I wasn’t entirely comfortable including it here, as it was finished in 1977. At any rate, it’s absolutely deserving of the praise it’s received.
I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed by Hot Fuzz on first viewing. Shaun of the Dead was a lot to live up to, and Hot Fuzz is a much subtler movie. But after some time and repeated viewings, I’ve come to like this cop movie parody quite a bit.
Easily the one of strangest movies I saw this year (and that’s saying a lot), Dai-Nipponjin is a mockumentary about an underappreciated Japanese superhero who grows to Godzilla-like size when exposed to electricity. Bizarre and awesome.
Ratatouille has its issues, but it’s a fun ride regardless. I love Patton Oswalt, and I love movies about food. What can I say?
I just saw Sweeney Todd yesterday, and I haven’t completely processed it yet, but I definitely loved it. It may even be one of the best Burton movies yet.
Interviews With People: Lloyd Kaufman
This week, I had a chance to chat with Troma Films kingpin Lloyd Kaufman. You probably know Kaufman best as the director of The Toxic Avenger. But you might not know that’s he’s also a Yale graduate, an outspoken advocate of independent film, and a heck of a smart guy.
We had an awful phone connection [my fault], so we didn’t talk as long or as casually as I’d hoped–most of the interview was me yelling, and Lloyd struggling to hear me. But it still came out okay, I think.
This Is The Way The World Ends: Fantastic Fest Days 1, 2 & 3
So here are my notes from Fantastic Fest–more than a month after it happened. Sorry for the notes-style format, but I didn’t have time to write it all up proper. Enjoy!
George Romero’s Diary of the Dead opened the festival this year, and the theater was completely packed as Romero himself introduced it. I’d seen it at TIFF a couple weeks prior, so I just jumped in to watch the intro, then headed over to theatre #1 to catch the Japanese mystery / suspense / comedy Wicked Flowers. The film was described as “Lynchian”, though I don’t think that’s completely true–it certainly has some strange and startling imagery, but unlike the average Lynch film, it’s all tied up neatly at the end, pretty much eliminating my desire to reexamine it once the credits rolled. I liked it just fine though, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the sequel.
We (Austinist) had been running a “Bruce Lee Lookalike” contest with the folks at the Alamo, but the response was really, really weak. So I wasn’t completely surprised (but still kinda sad) to walk into theatre #3 and find that nobody had dressed as Bruce Lee for the Finishing the Game screening. But Alamo programmer Lars made the best of a bad situation by adapting the contest on the spot, and we still had a lot of fun (you can see the results here). The film itself was just okay. It’s a mockumentary about the search for a Bruce Lee lookalike after his sudden demise during production on Game of Death. Finishing the Game had its moments, but didn’t get much more than a few chuckles outta me.
I was excited about seeing End of the Line, partly because it’s a Canadian horror film, and partly because it just sounded really cool. It’s an apocalypse horror about a group of subway riders who find themselves trapped underground with a murderous doomsday cult. The first half hour was great…full-blast, straight-faced scares and a genuinely creepy tone. But after the actual cult members showed up, I felt like things got a bit too hammy to be scary. I heard a lot of people in the lobby say they loved it though, so maybe I was just in a bad mood.
The Entrance was a lot of fun. Another Canadian horror, it’s a kind of Exorcist / Seven / Saw mashup about a cop who’s kidnapped by Satan’s jester. Or something. In any event–it’s a fun watch, with some good scares and great performances. It runs too long, but not long enough to completely ruin it.
I ditched out early on Friday and headed to the Dobie to meet some friends for a screening of Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, which I completely loved, but wasn’t an FF screening, so I’ll stop talking about it.
Maiko Haaaan!!! is a nutty, over-the-top Japanese comedy about a man whose obsession with Geisha houses drives him to become a successful businessman in order to support his habit. Starring Japanese TV funny man Sadao Abe, Maiko Haaaan!!! is all kinds of weird–but in a hilariously Japanese way. It’s an off-the-rails comedy that Japanese film enthusiasts will definitely enjoy.
Alone is a Thai ghost story about a woman whose dead twin sister returns to creep her out. It’s pretty great at first–suitably gloomy and foreboding, with plenty of jump-scares. But after a while, the scares get a bit redundant, and the big twist becomes fairly obvious (and I’m not one of those “I sooo figured out the ending” guys either). Overall it’s not bad, but not great.
Southland Tales, Richard Kelly’s long-awaited second film, was the first ultra-packed AICN secret screening. I remember not liking Donnie Darko all that much the first time I saw it, but then absolutely loving it on second viewing, so I was prepared to hate Southland Tales from the outset. But I actually found myself immediately liking it, and thinking I might like it even more the second time around.
Make no mistake–this thing will be roundly hated by popular audiences. It’s just too…out there. Too intentionally abstruse. There’s a scene where one Hummer humps another Hummer; a full-length Killers song lip-synced by Justin Timberlake; an evil Jon Lovitz; a flying ice cream truck. It’s just extremely difficult to parse, and it seems to be that way on purpose. It’s a string of “what the eff?” moments held very loosely together by a story about the impending apocalypse, and in a way it’s kind of insulting.
But then again, I don’t think Southland Tales was intended for a popular audience. In fact, it’s partly a dissection of popular culture–though I’ll admit that I’m not exactly sure what it reveals. The cast is culled from a deep cross-section of pop culture figures, not necessarily playing against-type, but certainly playing strange roles for their skill sets. At some points, the casting is actually distracting, with nearly every single character played by someone you recognize, but don’t expect. Justin Timberlake; The Rock; Sarah Michelle Gellar; John Larroquette; Jon Lovitz; Christopher Lambert; Wallace Shawn; Sean William Scott; Kevin Smith; Cheri Oteri; Mandy Moore; Cirtis Armstrong… the cast is so strange that its intrusiveness could be part of the point. I mean, these are all popular figures at varying ratios of success and respectability–but how much candy can you eat before you start to feel sick?
Again, I’ll admit to not understanding all of the allegory here–like Donnie Darko, the film involves time travel, an alternate universe and the end of the world. It also involves violence and war and technology, but I just wasn’t able to process enough of it to tell you much more than that. But Kelly himself sometimes seemed at a loss to explain things during the Q&A, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
In any event, I’m eager to see this a second time when it opens this week. If you’re a Donnie Darko fan, I’d recommend going…but don’t expect a DD2, because Southland Tales is definitely not it.
Offscreen was one of the festival’s biggest surprises for me. I wasn’t all that excited by the synopsis, but I’d already seen the other films screening during that slot, so it won out by default. And I’m glad it did. In a festival full of gory effects and gratuitous violence, this film (which is essentially the handheld video diary of one man’s descent into madness) emerged as the most disturbing.
Real life Danish actor Nicolas Bro plays himself in this tense thriller about a man who becomes intent on making a documentary about himself. But when his obsessive filming drives his wife and friends away, he quickly begins to lose his marbles and becomes unable to separate the viewfinder from the real world.
Frighteningly intimate (and brilliantly acted by Bro), Offscreen is both a slow-burning dramatic thriller and a terrifying comment on the ways in which technology is degrading natural human interaction. It’s tough to stick with it at some points, but it’s completely worth the effort.
Postal, a comedy based on the popular video game, is Uwe Boll’s frustrated middle finger to everyone who’s ever criticized his films. Starring Dave Foley and Zack Ward, Postal is a string of intentionally crude jokes string together by a story about a plot to steal a bunch of popular children’s toys. Boll has said that the entire film is intended to “piss people off”, and while I admire that reasoning, it turns out that the most offensive things aren’t always the funniest.
Despite a strong start, Postal just isn’t all that funny. Most of the time, the intentional crudity overshadows any potential comedy, and I got burnt out on all the forced offensiveness. I mean–gunning down a pack of schoolchildren could be very funny if it was part of a larger, smarter joke, but on it’s own it just feels like childish nose-thumbing. Boll doesn’t seem to understand that subversive, offensive and hilarious are not necessarily equal concepts, and ultimately I felt like Postal was a complete waste of time.
The best part of the screening–maybe even the most memorable part of the entire festival–was the Q&A with Boll and an extremely intoxicated, aggressive Zack Ward. Boll actually seemed like a very smart, likable guy, and again I admire his ideas about pushing the limits of social acceptability and destroying institutional censorship. But Ward was the star of the show; he was all kinds of belligerent, and his extended tirades were so embarrassingly funny that I couldn’t leave my seat, despite the fact that it was like 3am. This youtube clip (here) is just the tip of the insanity iceberg.
Zombie Film Festival This Week
This week, the Alamo Lake Creek will host the first (hopefully annual) Dismember the Alamo Zombie Film Festival. I’ve just finished a run of festivals and I’m severely wiped out, so I probably won’t make it out to much–but I’m really excited about Wednesday’s screening of Sugar Hill, a blaxploitation horror that first popped up on my radar through a 70s trailer compilation. It was made by the same folks who produced Blacula, but it’s not available domestically on DVD, so I’m excited to see an actual print of it instead. I’m a little put off by the PG rating–but tell me that trailer doesn’t look good!
I’ve done a quick rundown of the festival’s program over at Austinist (here), if you care to read it. But since then I’ve been trying to come up with my own “dream lineup” for a Zombie film fest. It’s tougher than it sounds, because in order to keep things interesting you need to balance the comedic films with some dramatic and horrific selections. Here’s what I’ve come up with sofar… but keep in mind this is just my personal list, and is subject to the late-night limitations of my brain:
1) Zombie Honeymoon
This film seems so strangely serious about itself that it’s creepy and confusing. As a dramatic zombie love story, this film should, by all rights, be a spoof. But I love the fact that it isn’t. Surely a strange, disorienting film to start off with.
2) Shaun of the Dead
What can I say about this one–funniest zombie film ever. It may even be the best horror spoof ever. And after Zombie Honeymoon, you’ll need something a little more straightforward.
A zombie martial arts film? Trust me–it works. It’s super funny, and violent enough to keep the most avid horror and action fans paying attention. It runs really long, but for the most part it keeps you entertained throughout.
4) Pet Sematary
At this point, we’d need a bringdown. This movie freaked me the hell out as a kid, partly because it quite earnestly deals with issues of fear and loss and selfishness, and partly because Fred Gwynne gets his achilles tendon slashed. This one sticks with you, as any film involving so much familial death will. And while it’s not a traditional zombie flick, it does involve reanimated corpses, so it counts.
5) Cemetery Man
Now that you’re bummed, you need to come back up a bit. Cemetery Man is a film that’s deliberately funny without being a spoof–but it’s also kind of a serious love story. It’s a beautifully detailed film (director Michele Soavi is an Argento protégé), and it walks the same tonal tightrope that Zombie Honeymoon does, with fantastic results. Plus, it fills our Italian Horror requirement.
6) Wild Zero
This one is just plain fun. Starring the Japanese rock band Guitar Wolf, Wild Zero takes the best elements of Warped Ones, Terminator 2 and 28 Days Later and throws them all into a blender. Then it pours that high-octane mixture into the gas tank of a jet-powered motorcycle and… okay, now I’ve gone too far. But it’d be a fun way to close things out!
Remakes Are The New Horror
Several weeks ago I saw a new, independent horror film called Hatchet, introduced by Director Adam Green. Before the movie rolled, Green asked the audience how many of us were frustrated with the state of modern horror–naturally, we all cheered. “Yeah, fuck studio horror! It’s all remakes and sequels!” But as soon as the cheering died down, Green asked a second question: “How many of you went to see the new Halloween?” And we instantly realized what hypocritical jerks we were.
Studios are obsessed with “remakes and sequels” because that’s what we, the horror fans, are paying to see. And so long as we keep shelling out for awful, dumbed-down “re-imaginings” of existing films or Americanized versions of perfectly good foreign films, Hollywood will keep sending them down the chute. Why hadn’t I realized this before?
Anyway, this revelation has completely changed the way I think about moviegoing. For real. I’ve decided I’m no longer going to pay for movies that should never have been made in the first place, no matter how curious I am. So it’s painful to hear that Dimension’s long-planned remake of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is actually moving forward (though it’ll be without the participation of Barker or Doug Bradley, the chief architects of the original’s awesomeness).
I’m a big fan of Barker’s novels, and though I can’t fathom why in a million years anyone would see the need to remake the original Hellraiser, I’m sad that I can’t go see this when it comes out. I mean, it’s Pinhead! But I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not Barker’s Pinhead, it’s Hollywood’s–and I care too much about the genre to let it die such an ignoble death. So count me out, Weinsteins. I won’t be rewarding you for this one.
…having said all that, I completely loved Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. So I’m trying to find a satisfying way to reconcile that with my new philosophy. And I’m not at all sure how to feel about the remake of HG Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore, a film that was never intended as a piece of art in the first place. Can you co opt something that was essentially a cash-grab to begin with? (In case you’re interested in Lewis, I interviewed him earlier this year, and he’s a brilliant guy.)
The Pixar Story
Last night I caught a promotional screening of Leslie Iwerks’ fantastic new documentary The Pixar Story. Leslie is the granddaughter of legendary animator Ub Iwerks, who (depending on who you ask) is said to have created Mickey Mouse.
I’m a huge Pixar fan, and the film is a really fun watch, especially for anyone who’s interested in the history of computer animation. The creative folks behind the company (namely John Lasseter and Ed Catmull) are true visionaries in a lot of ways, and their passion for pushing the limits of animation–especially early on, when the company was losing Steve Jobs $1M a year–is truly inspiring.
But the thing that struck me most when watching The Pixar Story was the sheer volume of copyrighted footage and music that appears in the film–most of it owned by a company whose chairman once said, “when it comes to intellectual property, you can’t be too litigious.” During the Q&A, Iwerks talked about “assuming” that they had the rights to certain bits of footage, which leads me to believe that they paid very little for most of the clip clearances. (I believe the film is also being distributed by Disney, which further suggests that they were as much a partner as a subject.)
Don’t get me wrong–I loved watching all the insider interviews and rare archival footage. They’re what make this documentary so great. But I have to wonder what it would have cost for someone who wasn’t Iwerks to make a remotely similar documentary. Or if it would have even been possible to make such a documentary with a differing viewpoint–perhaps one that’s more journalistic than fawning.
I mention this partly because I like to be negative about everything, and partly because I just finished watching this clip of John Landis talking about the ridiculous, arbitrary cost of clearing clips for his new documentary about Don Rickles (which is screening this week at the Austin Film Festival).