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by Bill Gibron

19 Nov 2008


Blame Anne Rice. Blame her for being the literary stake in the original vampire’s heart. If it wasn’t for her spinster prose take on the entire horror fiction fallacy, we wouldn’t have to suffer through the post-modern monster mystique. And while you’re at it, blame Hollywood too. They’ve long since stopped making the undead bloodsucker anything but pseudo-sexy. And blame old world Goth classicism as well. Somewhere buried in between all the neck nibbling and wolf’s bane is an underdone allegory about repression, social taboos, and the busting of both. So perhaps old Nosferatu was never supposed to be anything other than a veiled metaphor. Fine. If that’s the case, however, then we should really blame the filmmakers who have no idea how to handle such symbolism.

Twilight is the latest example of this creative confusion. On the one hand, it is really nothing more than misplaced teen angst accented with occasional bows to literal inhuman guy/gal mood swings. It’s a misguided message movie in which displaced young women are told to stop worrying about peer pressure and, instead, hook up with the girly looking loner with the translucent skin and the kabuki façade. Simply because he craves what’s in your arteries doesn’t mean he can’t love what’s in your heart. In her four book (and counting) series, author Stephanie Meyer has made a killing out of retrofitting the old Stoker mythos for prissy post-modern tweens. That she could pick up a few nerd chicks and geek babes along the way says way too much about the over-romanticizing of the series’ dandy Dracula like leading man.

Sad thing is, at the core of Twilight is an interesting idea - the concept that kids, one isolated and alienated, the other immortal and prone to acts of fatalistic heroics, can come together to find soulmate sanctuary in the cutthroat Hell known as high school. But instead of embracing the darker side of this dynamic, Meyer (and now, her first movie directed by Thirteen‘s Catherine Hardwicke) does for the heart-dotted eyes in the mash note inside the well worn Hannah Montana trapper keeper what Rice did for unmarried career gals. Oddly enough, this past week saw the release of another pubescent inspired vampire film, one with many of the same Twilight traversed themes. But while everyone in Nicktoon nation will be lining up to see Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson bring the banal books and their YouTube world to life, Let the Right One In shows how a successful version of this same material could be handled.

Once again based on a novel (this one by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist), we are introduced to a young boy named Oskar. Highly imaginative and given over to flights of frightening fancy, his mother domineers while his absentee father provides the kind of well meaning mixed signals that totally confuse the 12 year old. Picked on mercilessly by a group of bullies at school, the pale youth dreams of killing his tormentors, spending long hours in the Stockholm snowdrifts pretending to avenge his pride with a large pocket knife. Into his life comes Eli, an enigmatic kid who is similar in age and stature, but far more wise as to the ways of the world. She lives with a quiet, unassuming man, and more or less keeps to herself.

At first, Eli tells Oskar that they cannot be friends. Even as they meet late at night on the frozen apartment complex playground, there is a strange, stand-offish quality to their budding connection. Sensing something deeper, Oskar falls for his new acquaintance, and soon Eli expresses a kinship with this nice, if needy, companion. Of course, everything changes when we learn the truth about the newcomer. She is a vampire, using the old man as a kind of rations-retrieving Renfield. He kills people and drains their blood so that Eli may live. Naturally, such inhuman acts can’t go on forever unnoticed, and when the sleepy little burg discovers a killer in their midst, Eli’s cover is threatened. So is the friendship between the two lost children.

From its sensational, almost stark style to its decision to illustrate supernatural elements in the most realistic and unassuming way possible, Let the Right One In runs rings around Twilight‘s proposed meditation on the fear and possible perils of growing up. Both poster boy Edward Cullen and young little Eli are never-changing answers to disaffected juvenile prayers. Twilight‘s Bella needs someone to save her from her sense of longing and loss of strong family ties. Oskar wants a superhero, a champion to inflict the pain he can’t. In both films, adults are viewed as ineffectual doubters, maturing past the point of caring about kids, their real problems, and the true terrors they face every day. Eli is Oskar’s salvation, showing him a possible way he may never have dreamed of before while explaining the consequences. Edward, on the other hand, is the answer to every lonely gal paranormal prayers, complete with dreamboat eyes. 

But where Let the Right One In excels (and Twilight fails, miserably one might add) is in the accentuation of danger. Nowhere in this Lifetime-lite examination of love with a proper neckbiter is there ever a hint of growing dread. Since we know the series goes on for another three books, it’s a safe assumption that Bella and Edward will live on, even if along the way there are hints that our heroine would prefer an existence on the other side of the supernatural plane, so to speak. Let the Right One In never forgets it’s a horror film. It offers scenes of unsettlingly terror, as when Eli goes out “hunting” on her own, or during a disturbing cat attack, and the finale featuring Oskar’s stand-off against his tormentors is a classic of creepy understatement.

But of course, the Swedish scary movie doesn’t have a massive marketing campaign behind it, dozens of chick-lit driven fans foaming at a chance to see their favorite literary characters come to flat, dimensionless life - and more importantly, a studio savoring the possibility of another three films (and even more, if you consider backstory providing prequels) in a poised to be very profitable franchise. Of course, this doesn’t mean Twilight‘s commercial potential reflects its artistic achievements. In fact, for every dollar the movie will probably make, another percentage point of entertainment value and true aesthetic grace can be removed for the overall evaluation.

That’s because we no longer accept our vampires as monsters. We want them to be tragic, tenuous idols desperate to give up their wicked ways to return to normalcy and life among the rabble. Thanks to the onslaught of comic book movies in the last few years, a character like Dracula mandates a make-over to resonate with contemporary crowds. And with women making up a sizeable part of the paying audience, tossing in a little sizzle isn’t out of the question. Hey, Tim Burton’s been talking up a possible big screen Dark Shadows with everyone’s favorite leading man who looks like a leading lady Johnny Depp. Even Let the Right One In is being poised for the inevitable American remake, probably with more pre-teen anguish and less vein draining. 

And so the famed lothario of the living dead continues to be compartmentalized and clipped, turned into a symbol of unrequited love in a doomed, dour reflection of lust unbridled. As Ms. Meyer continues to profit off her reinterpretation of the genre (no stakes through the heart, missing mirror reflections, or “children of the night” in this version of the vamp), there will be filmmakers like Tomas Alfredson unafraid to truly take some cinematic risks. Let the Right One In succeeds because it’s not opposed to making its icon evil again. Ever since a certain reborn Catholic claimed Nosferatu as her own, the fanged fiend of our childhood nightmares has been remade into something akin to fantasy fodder. Now, how frightening is that?

by Bill Gibron

19 Nov 2008


He may be our most inventive living director - or at the very least, our must idiosyncratic. In his brief tenure as a feature filmmaker he’s made a Hitchcockian thriller (Shallow Grave), a daring dope fiend farce (Trainspotting), a less than routine romantic comedy (A Life Less Ordinary), a flawed idyllic allegory (The Beach), a revisionist horror film (28 Days Later), a feel good kiddie flick (Millions), a stunning sci-fi meditation (Sunshine) and now, a knotty little jewel called Slumdog Millionaire. When he succeeds, he does so royally (the last four films on that list, for example). When he fails it’s the most spectacular of stumbles (the less said about Life, the better).

Most filmmakers don’t often venture outside their own creative comfort zone. More times than not it’s both a personal and professional choice. The aforementioned Master of Suspense rarely tried anything outside the thriller. Steven Spielberg sticks almost exclusively with big budget blockbusters, or important themed dramas. Tim Burton is and will probably always be a good natured Goth goof, while Guy Ritchie has been making the same steak and kidney pie crime comedy since he first merged handheld camerawork with songs by The Clash. There are some who like the shake things up: Peter Jackson has gone from zombie gore to puppet porn to Oscar winning epics; The Coen Brothers often break the gap between genres, doing screwball comedy one opening, a nasty crime drama the next.

But Boyle not only jumps from type to type, he excels at them. Forgiving his flops for the moment, the man who made us believe in the viability of post-2001 serious science fiction, the Brothers Grimm grandeur of drug addiction, and the controllable terror of fast moving monsters so often broaches brilliance that to think of him in any other terms is just absurd. Again, when he’s good, he’s gonzo!  And yet there is that stumble in his catapulting career path, a pair of perplexing entries more concerned about their leading men (Ewan McGregor and Leonard DiCaprio, respectively) than the artistry he would show otherwise.

Naturally, there’s a reason behind his high percentage output. Boyle is clearly a humanist. Strip away the veneer of vibrance and showboating style from what he brings to a project, and his movies end up as very clever character studies. We care about the Scottish smackheads who have getting ‘clean’ - and finding a fix - down to a science (the better to get back on the wicked white horse) and worry about the random patient who wakes up in an abandoned, Rage-infested London. The roommates of Grave get our attention and swayed sympathy because of how rapidly they allow money to change everything - sometimes, fatally so - and the big idea elements of Sunshine still can’t overwhelm the individuals onboard, each one desperate to do their job to save a dying solar system.

His latest, Slumdog Millionaire, is a testament to his continuing affirmation of the dignity and worth of the human being. It’s bleak, bizarre, and often bereft of a single glimmer of hope. And yet in telling the tale of dirt poor Jamal, his brazen brother Salim, and the orphan girl Latika who comes to define them, Boyle brings such perilous poverty to vivid, unforgettable life. Even better, we get a real handle on how everyday existence is metered out in such horrific, merciless conditions. As he does with all his films, Boyle finds the shorthanded way of explaining the pragmatic precepts of making ends meet - scavenging for food, hustling for money, avoiding the law…even defying the laws of physics. We go into his movies as innocents. We come out with a wealth of real life lessons.

In addition, Boyle is a great believer in spaces, be it a ratty Glasgow bedroom/rehab center, the filthiest toilet in all of Scotland, an isolated slice of Thai paradise, or a spaceship’s observational “sun” deck. He uses his locations to illustrate the often unusual or outright odd situations in his story. They often provide a counterpoint to what is happening onscreen. In Slumdog, our characters seek refuge in an abandoned hotel, the proposed opulence overshadowed by its dusty, unused interiors. Similarly, the childhood ghetto of Jamal and Salim is turned into a set of luxury apartments, some of which appear carved directly out of the side of a mountain. It’s such a stunning juxtaposition that we forget all about the people involved - that is, until Boyle sets the last act of his drama directly in the middle of his stifling newly forged suburban sprawl.

But more than just people and places, Boyle is a filmmaker influenced by ideas. All of his films offer unique perspectives on the seemingly mundane - or if not ordinary, the everyman approach to the outsized. When England becomes a pseudo-zombie warzone, the reaction of the survivors is more terrifying than the creatures, while the same can be said for the greedy brother of the kind hearted lad at the center of Millions. Even the angels in A Life Less Ordinary are more workaday than the main characters. All throughout Slumdog, the good natured smiles of young Jamal and Salim annul the horrific squalor they live in, and even when they find themselves a part of an abusive beggar’s school, they remain convinced that happiness is just around the corner.

In fact, the final thing that can be said about Boyle is that he’s forever indebted to the forces of the feel good. His movies don’t always end on an up note, but they do tend to trip ever so closet over toward the notion of optimism. Sometimes, such suggestions are studio mandated (the alternate endings for 28 Days Later), while in many cases, Boyle’s approach to the material mandates same. Certainly characters make massive sacrifices to get us to these upbeat finales (Sunshine and Slumdog both moderate tragedy into tenuous joy), and in the end, the success might be temporary at best. But in a world where the downbeat and the dour tend to rule most missives, having someone cater to hope now and again is something worth noting. Where someone as clearly skilled as Danny Boyle goes from here will be interesting to see (there is talk of a Trainspotting sequel!). But whenever it is, he will surely make the journey more than worth our while.

by Bill Gibron

17 Nov 2008


The juxtaposition of instrumental music with actual songs seems almost antithetical to the movie soundtrack dynamic. After all, we view the score as something supporting the film, not focusing in on its themes (or lack thereof) or pimping particular sales lagging label mates. And yet over and over again, directors use individual tracks by known and unknown artists to amplify their own sense of aesthetic, while studios demand their placement for added marketing pizzazz. Of course, rare is the filmmaker who can successfully merge the sentiments of a specific song with the sequence it’s supposed to suggest. More times than not, the commercial tie-in is more viable that the proposed purpose. Luckily, some films use music as it’s meant to be - a celebration of life within a unique aural vista in which vision and sound are supposed to merge.

This time around, SE&L‘s Surround Sound looks at three soundtracks that really can’t make up their minds. One wants to celebrate the sexy soul sounds of old school R&B, but yet can’t shake the exterior elements that make the movie it stands for sadly significant. Another tries to walk the fine line between beatbox and breakneck, and almost succeeds. Finally, we get the weird combination of New Age mood music and slightly underdone indie pop. In all three cases, the parts work better than the sum, and if you don’t mind digging just a bit, you’ll probably find more gems than jokes. Let’s begin with the best, for obvious reasons:


Soul Men - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 7]

With their deaths within weeks of each other, Bernie Mac and the Black Moses himself, Isaac Hayes, left Soul Men with a clouded legacy that no amount of cinematic sunshine could overcome. Even the movie itself, which turned out to be a gloriously raunchy, cliché controlled grab bag had trouble prying laughs out of the pall these tragedies produced. If anything, the sensational soundtrack to the film suffers even more. While Mac and co-star Samuel L. Jackson make a sensationally vulgar and viable ex-R&B act, their singing performances indicate a pair of incredibly talented (and brave) men. Though they only appear on three cuts - the John Legend led “I’m You Puppet”, the sensational Rufus Thomas cover “Boogie Ain’t Nothin’ (But Getting’ Down), and the show stopping finale “Do Your Thing”, their exuberance and professionalism lingers throughout the entire score. It also amplifies the sense of loss. 

As a collection of classic tracks, Soul Men sizzles. There are excellent takes on such Stax staples as “Comfort Me”, “Private Number”, “Water”, and “Memphis Train”. We even get such memory lane myths as “You Don’t Know What You Mean (To a Lover Like Me)”, “I Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” and “Never Can Say Goodbye”. But it’s the collaboration between Mac and Jackson that consistently stands out. Again, the voices sometimes strain to hit the notes, and there is a lack of pure professional polish that comes through, especially when placed side by side with someone like co-star Sharon Leal. Yet it’s the power of personality that wins over - that, and the undeniable perfection that is these old soul standards. Many may see this uneven comedy as an awkward swansong for two very talented me. But Mac and Hayes are the reasons Soul Men works, not the elements that bring it down.

The Guitar - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 6]

The Guitar gives off the vibe of an incomplete, or even worse, incoherent project. Early reviews of the film, a first time feature by Robert Redford’s daughter Amy, have argued for the maudlin movie as either inspired, or a work of manipulative junk. The half song/half score CD for the project produces a similar kind of disorientation. On the one hand, we get Space Age Bachelor Pad muzak in the form of “Glancing Lovers” by Johnny Saravino. On the other, there’s the subtle folkish fluff of Phoebe Jean Dunne’s “Cold Hands”.  Rock is rewarded with an Everyothers reading of David Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing” (good) and the band original “Dive With You” (raging, if kind of flat). By the time we get to the end of the tunes, Alap Momin’s slightly psychedelic “Arch Angel” and Deb Montgomery’s jagged “Fly Free” seem like proper finales.

But there’s more - 30 tracks more. Written by David Mansfield, the moody, ambient tone poems produced to supply The Guitar with atmosphere seem to work, for the most part. “Walking” offers an intriguing introduction to this composer’s concepts, while “Thoughts of Suicide” and “First Flashback” (with its thunderous guitar swirls) broaden the potential canvas. “Shopping” sounds like an ad for a high end PC, while “Nice Dress” is a country-tinged trifle. Things stop about halfway through, oddly enough, for another tune, the lo-fi oddity “Hard Way”. From then on, it’s more amplified angst, carefully strummed psychobabble, and a far amount of sublime sonic invocation (“Leaving” being a prime example). While the verdict may be out on Ms. Redford as a director, her choice in aural accompaniment shows promise - and some problems. As a result, The Guitar soundtrack feels unfulfilled.

Nobel Son - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 6]

From the opening chug of Nobel Son‘s title track, an electro-fied rave-up with Middle Eastern tints by Spitfire, you get the distinct impression that you are about to enter one of those oh-so-hip self-referential efforts where the director, Randall Miller, is about to channel his inner Guy Ritchie. Reading over the plot synopsis for this darkly comic thriller, one feels the fit will be a little more complicated. The story involves the kidnapping of a Nobel Prize winner by members of his own dysfunctional family. The remix heavy soundtrack, peppered with several instrumental tracks by popular trance DJ and recording artist Paul Oakenfold, is very reminiscent of the man’s contributions to other fast-moving missives like Speed Racer, Shoot ‘Em Up, and The Matrix Reloaded. Oakenfold is definitely the star here, his knob twirling and disc twiddling on such cuts as “Thumb Time”, “Roasted Pig”, and “Screwing Around” showing off his style magnificently.

Unfortunately, this fellow CD space savers consistently let him down. The Bad Apples “Let Me Be Real” is so derivative of flaccid FM rock that it starts to sound dated the moment the lead singer opens his bemoaning craw. Spitfire’s tracks aren’t bad, but they too suffer from a sort of “been there, heard that” recognizability. Emjay and the Atari Babies do their best Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets T. Rex cock stomp with the interesting “So Clear”, while “Hum” from the Groove Armada starts out strong, and then never builds into anything. Only the Chemical Brothers contribute something special, their brilliant “Come Inside” suggesting all the reasons the band was once considered the “next big thing” in music’s ever-changing landscape. If a collection of songs can be indicative of the type of film they complement, the hit and miss redundancy of Nobel Son‘s soundtrack doesn’t bode well for director Miller’s motives.

 

by Bill Gibron

16 Nov 2008


1965 was a transitional year for international icons The Beatles. It would see the release of their artistic “breakthrough” album, the pot-inspired mostly acoustic gem Rubber Soul. It marked their turn from pop music phenoms into actual artists, dispensing with the cover songs and collective cutesy routine that made up the majority of their marketability. In its place was a growing sense of self, a realization that the mania began on their little British Isle was spreading, unabated, across every aspect of popular culture. And it was the year they reluctantly starred in their second feature film, Help!   Hoping to capitalize on the success of A Hard Day’s Night, director Richard Lester kept the eccentric English humor intact. Gone, however, was the carefree innocence that seemed to spark their first foray into film. In its place was a workmanship and ethic that, while winning, provided portents of careering things to come.

After receiving a ring from an adoring fan, Beatles drummer Ringo finds himself locked in a life or death struggle with the notorious Kaili worshipping cult. Seems the piece of jewelry is one of their sacred ornaments, and whoever wears it will end up a human sacrifice to their god. Trying to avoid the murderous motives of High Priest Clang and his henchman, the boys seek help from a jeweler, the employees of an Indian Restaurant, and a crazed scientist named Foot and his bumbling assistant Algernon. Unfortunately, the only person able to help is fellow cult member Ahme. She seems sweet on Paul, and wants to return the ring to its rightful owner. With the help of Scotland Yard, the band records under heavy military guard, travels to Switzerland to avoid the thugs, and winds up confronting the perplexingly persistent fanatics on the shores of the Bahamas.

It’s a shame that Help! is constantly saddled with the “second best Beatles film” moniker. When compared to the rest of their output—the maddening Magical Mystery Tour, the next to no involvement in the decent Yellow Submarine, the dark and bitter aura of Let It Be - it’s faint praise indeed. Certainly A Hard Day’s Night set a cinematic bar so high that not even the most important band in the history of modern music could compete with it, and compared to other rock and roll film showcases of the time, it’s an unbridled masterwork. But for some reason, when placed along an equally fictional version of a ‘day in their life’, The Beatles’ East Indian romp gets some substantial short shrift. Frankly, it doesn’t deserve it. Fault it all you want for being a refashioned farce (the script was originally meant for someone else) or a marijuana soaked semi-spectacle, but the film contains some of the best onscreen work the band ever accomplished. It also features some of their most astounding songs of the pre-psychedelia/Sgt. Pepper period.

Help! is actually a hard movie to hate. The Beatles may be a tad dispirited here, less hyper and more humbled by what was rapidly becoming a cultural cocoon trapping them within their own fame (the next year—1966—would mark their decision to stop touring and concentrate on writing and recording only), but they make a perfect proto-punk Marx Brothers. While Ringo is the supposed star, perhaps because of the glowing notices he received from Night, it’s actually the entire foursome that truly shines. The reconfigured screenplay gives every member a standout sequence, from Paul’s amazing adventure ‘on the floor’ to John’s constant taunting of every authority figure in the film. The main narrative still centers on the emblematic drummer with the tendency toward ostentaceous jewelry and a large neb, but the other three turn in delightfully deadpan performances as well. It helps sell the rather clumsy, crackpot concept.

Equally endearing is the superb supporting cast. Made up of many then UK luminaries, Leo McKern and Eleanor Brom are excellent as opposing sides of the killer cult. Handling the pigeon English elements of his role with class and creativity, the future Rumpole of the Bailey never registers a single false note. Brom, on the other hand, is a strange choice for a romantic lead. Dark, imposing and very focused, she is a million miles from the hippy dippy flower children that were coming to mark the midpoint of the ‘60s. Returning to the Beatles camp for a second cinematic go round, Victor Spinetti is the perfect nonsense spewing mad scientist. Along with soon to be inseparable sidekick Roy Kinnear (the two became synonymous because of their brilliant chemistry here) they literally light up the screen. The sequence where they put Ringo into a metal expanding machine is a classic of screwball science shtick. In fact, there is a wonderful balance between physical and intellectual comedy here, something that definitely differentiates Help! from Night’s more normative approach.

And then there’s the music. While different entities love to claim the title of “Originator of the Music Video”, the Beatles will always remain the format’s grandest champions. Unlike Night, which used a performance based paradigm almost exclusively to showcase the songs, Help! creates little mini musical montages that form the foundation for everything MTV would do two decades later. While the title track purposely recalls the previous film, the next number, the fabulous pop tone “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” sets the new standard for such presentations. Playing in a dimly lit studio, their silhouettes barely visible through the fog of cigarette (?) smoke, the boys bang out one of Lennon’s best, a catchy little number with a tantalizingly tough lyrical line. Indeed, most of the songs in Help! would avoid the June/Moon/Spoon musings of their Tin Pan Alley take on rock and roll to enter into realms that are dark, confrontational, and dismissive.

With titles like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (a nice nod to new buddy Bob Dylan), “The Night Before” and “Another Girl”, The Beatles were proving that they’d matured, and indeed, one of the main reasons some fans don’t like this glorified goofball lark is that it posits grown men, ready to explore the mysteries both inside and outside their insular world as juvenile jokesters. Many of the gags are aimed at the lowest levels of wit, and even some of the smarter material is offset by a clear cut cartoonish ideal. Still, there are incredibly clever moments (the opening sequence where we see the boys’ fictional living quarters, the police inspector’s spot-on Ringo impression) when the group’s inherent intelligence shines through. In fact, aside from the standard action film finish which finds the gang involved in car chases and foot races, the verbal humor is on par with anything Night had to offer.

As part of the long awaited DVD presentation from Capital Records and Apple Corps, we learn about the difficulty director Richard Lester had in coming up with another Beatles project. Popularity was demanding the boys’ return to the big screen, but since another mock documentary about their career was out of the question, something slightly more surreal had to be created. On the second disc of added content (sadly, sans current input of the remaining band members) we hear stories about the infamous amount of ganja on set, the description of a disastrous sequence that didn’t make the final cut, and confirm what many at the time were already quite aware of—the Beatles were chaffing at their continued closed-off existence. It was almost impossible for them to travel anywhere—even on set—without crowds of screaming fans isolating them. It’s clear that what seemed exciting in A Hard Day’s Night was becoming more and more unbearable by Help!

This is perhaps why the film feels strained to some. The madcap mop tops who captured everyone’s hearts a year before had become slightly dampened slaves to their incalculable success. The notion that they were now international trend setters, mocked and mimicked by every group looking to ride the cresting British Invasion must have manifested itself in ways that, subconsciously, snuck onto the celluloid. It is clear that the fun loving blokes we see cascading down the Alps to the glorious sounds of John Lennon’s classic “Ticket To Ride” would soon become introspective—and independent—parts of an unique whole. They would go on to make albums that transcended the medium, offering timeless examples of composition as art. But Help! remains a wonderful testament to a time when being a Beatle was still satisfying—at least, on the cinematic surface.   

by Bill Gibron

13 Nov 2008


It’s a strange weekend for film fans. Unless you’re enamored of a certain British secret agent and his contemporary post-modern reimagining, you’re actually fairly stuck for something to see. Clearly convinced that Bond will dominate the box office, the studios have steered clear of this date, restricting the releases to a bare minimum. Indeed, unless you’re lucky enough to live in one of those limited viewing areas that see award season surprises before the rest of the anxious, overwrought public, there’s nothing else new. Leave it to SE&L then to suggest 10 alternatives (five films, five DVDs) that easily replace 007 and his hyper-action epic. While some will seem obvious, there’s a few oddballs tossed into the mix as well (click on the title to find reviews, when available/applicable):

In Theaters:

Slumdog Millionaire
One of 2008’s best films, without question. Sadly, this critic is unable to add anything further, having been specifically embargoed until the movie opens proper in mid-December. This amazing multicultural take on an Indian boy’s horrific life will have you wincing and cheering at the same time.




Zach and Miri Make a Porno
Don’t let Kevin Smith’s past cinematic indiscretions and naughty by nature attitude turn you off of this winning, effective comedy. Sure, there’s some scatology involved, and the material may not be perfectly suited for the uptight, but there is as much heart as horniness in this unlikely love story.




Rachel Getting Married
Jonathan Demme is back - and apparently, few in the fanbase truly care. The movie is receiving raves, the acting is impeccable, and yet the audiences aren’t coming. Do yourself a favor and see this amazing movie about familial dysfunction and betrayal before it slowly slinks out of your local Multiplex. You’ll be well rewarded.




W.
Oliver Stone’s even-handed, sometimes sympathetic view of the sitting lame duck President is one of 2008’s shrewdest political statements. All sonny boy wanted to do was impress his overbearing, power hungry poppa. Ruining the US in the rest of the world’s eyes is apparently the way to do it.




RocknRolla
Guy Ritchie is given over to certain solid self-indulgences - and some of us love him for it. Now free of the ball and chain known as the Material Girl, he is able to return to and revel in them, delivering a devastating return to UK ruffian form. Includes a career-making turn by Toby Kebbell (remember that name).





On DVD:

Stuck
Stuart Gordon, the man behind Re-Animator and From Beyond, takes a true story about a homeless man trapped in a car’s windshield after a hit and run (the driver simply ignored him) and turns it into one of the most visceral statements about our sour society circa the ‘00s you’ve ever seen.




Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Ok…ok…Guillermo Del Toro is a geek. We get it. That doesn’t mean he can’t make masterpieces now can it? First there was The Devil’s Backbone. Then the brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth. Oddly enough, this underappreciated summer standout is one of his best, most personal efforts. It’s grandeur on a groovy scale. 




Sukiyaki Western Django
Takashi Miike is best known for taking the Japanese Yakuza film and its genre gangster offshoots into sickening, violence strewn territories. For this fabulous left turn homage to spaghetti oaters, he decides to cut down on the blood and instead flood the screen with gorgeous, pseudo-psychedelic imagery. And it works wonderfully.




Mil Mascaras: Resurrection
Mexico’s fascination with the legendary Luchadore wrestlers is given a contemporary makeover by confirmed old school fanboy Jeffrey Ulhmann. The result is something that pays perfect respect to the sensational schlock of the past while perfecting same for the new millennium.




Dante’s Inferno
Looking for something really unusual? How about an urban update of the famous Divine Comedy, acted out by carefully constructed and imaginatively manipulated paper puppets? Sound insane? Well, thanks to creative genius and certified whack job Sean Meredith, it actually turns into something quite profound.

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