WHOS MINDING THE STORE 19
It’s a battle between fact, fiction and the forgotten this week. A pair of excellent documentaries deconstruct their contentious subject matter while an Asian master battles an experimental icon for symbolic old school supremacy. Toss in a decent indie drama, a blood-drenched horror sequel, and an attempted return to action/adventure prominence by a couple of former A-listers and you’ve got the best that 23 January has to offer. To start things off, here is our clear SE&L Pick:
This Film is Not Yet Rated
Other Titles of Interest
Yojimbo/Sanjuro: The Criterion Collection
And Now for Something Completely Different
The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume 1
A really mediocre week. Save for the two Criterion releases, there is not much here of real cinematic substance. You could opt for a nice selection of cutting edge cartooning or one of the summer’s less successful efforts. Then, of course, there are two terrible titles representing the year’s absolute worst. Consider your coinage carefully this week. You may end up with a nasty case of DVD buyer’s remorse. For the second week of January, here is our SE&L Pick:
Other Titles of Interest
The Animation Show: Volumes 1 & 2
Border Radio: The Criterion Collection
Employee of the Month
Mouchette: The Criterion Collection
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
And Now for Something Completely Different
The Red Skulls
A new year – a new look. Instead of focusing a great deal of attention on several releases each week, SE&L is going to take a different approach when discussing the most recent DVD titles of 2007. Every Tuesday, we will pick a prominent disc – something we think you should be paying attention to – and then go on to highlight a few more significant selections. We’ll then discuss an offbeat offering for those unimpressed by your typical mainstream merchandise. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea on how to spend your digital dollars, and provide a more productive forum for discussing the latest home theater treats. For the first full week of January, here is the SE&L Pick:
Other Titles of Interest
I Trust You to Kill Me
Murder Set Pieces
The Night Listener
And Now for Something Completely Different
Nude on the Moon/Blaze Starr Goes Nudist
Ouch! Not so loud! SE&L is still nursing a massive holiday hangover, a pain perpetrated from processing all the potential titles one could count on to bolster their gift giving acumen this festive fake-out. Not only that, but we’re also trying to decide what to do with the iridescent blue tie, the Rocky Balboa party mug, and the “World’s Greatest Weblog” statuette we got as part of our Christmas swag. While the thought of returning such fine, thoughtful gifts would never cross our mind, it’s interesting to note how the crack commercial distributors have held back on three big summer releases for just that very reason. Don’t like the matching potholders your aunt insisted would perk up your kitchen? Horrified by the pair of plaid wool socks your spouse thought would make your season bright? Bewildered over how to respond to the ‘Fat, Bald and Sexy’ t-shirt your kids gave you? Easy, trade in said tacky trinkets and head on over to your local brick and mortar for a little digital healing. Nothing says self-satisfaction better than a DVD you picked out for yourself. So wake up early, get in line, and contemplate these 26 December releases. It will help make the lack of legitimate customer service that much more bearable:
Brian DePalma, once a Hollywood heavyweight with his Hitchcock homage style, has fallen on some substantial hard times as of late. Going back to 1984’s Body Double, his career has been loaded with fine, if flawed, efforts (Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way) and outright cinematic stool samples (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Femme Fatale). Resting somewhere right in the middle is this LA Confidential retread, a routine reading of James Ellroy’s novel about the mysterious murder of a Hollywood starlet. The true story is so riveting, so loaded with ominous ideas of death and dismemberment (the ‘Dahlia’ was found cut in half, face lacerated from ear to ear) that to have it take a backseat to more ‘good cop/bad cop’ showboating seems silly. But that’s exactly what this movie does. The Dahlia murder is more or less an after thought, thrown in randomly and resolved in one of the kookiest, over the top denouement’s ever filmed. Not a total waste of time…nor a return to form.
Like Borat a while back, SE&L just doesn’t see what the rest of the movie going public perceive about this Neil Marshall mess. The storyline has potential – a group of friends decide to explore a series of mysterious caves – and the set up has some startling notions about friendship and loss. But once our heroines go spelunking, the narrative literarly falls apart, moving through a series of false scares, claustrophobic contrivance, and attacks by creatures that are as unispired as they are hard to see. Marshall obviously believes in the Spielberg theory of shocks – he barely lets us witness any of the terror we’re supposed to experience. Instead, this is a creature feature as shell game, a one dimensional diversion that’s neither as scary as the hype projected, or as inventive as many fright fans have claimed. It’s just a routine thriller disguised as something more daring. About the only truly masterful element of the entire movie is the stunning soundtrack by David Julyan.
It’s more stunt silliness from the incredibly successful MTV madmen. Taking his inspiration from Tom and Jerry cartoons, and the adventures of one Wile E. Coyote, Johnny Knoxville has once again abandoned the Hollywood mainstream to attempt more scatological silliness for the extreme skate rat demographic. While the execution remains the same, some elements originally intended are missing here. Prior to his arrest on pedophilic-like charges during a Colorado appearance, Don Vito, Bam Margera’s etiquette impaired butterball of an uncle, was heavily featured in several set piece skits as part of this financially mandated sequel. Now, his scenes may or may not be part of this DVD release. In addition, so much footage was shot for the redux that a direct-to-digital offering or another big screen presentation is being considered. It just goes to show you that people can’t get enough of guys acting inappropriate and showering their private parts with potentially deadly ideas. Toilet humor was never so entertaining.
The reigning prince of post-modern male ennui, Zach Braff, stars in this tale of a mid-life crisis sped up by twenty years. Facing the fact that this longtime girlfriend is now pregnant (presumably with their child), Braff’s architect decides the best way to face his pending responsibility is via a roll in the hay with a local co-ed. He now must deal with the quandary such a triangle creates – baby or booty, biology or the dirty boogie. In the less than capable hands of actor turned director Tony Goldwyn, what wants to be incisive and deep ends up being intolerable and dreary. It’s not bad enough that Braff is having these growing pains so late/soon in life (it’s a human hissy fit usually reserved for the 15/45 year old demographic); no, he must whine about them incessantly in the kind of Paul Haggis scripted screeds that make you want to slap some sense into the character. Spending two hours with such a wuss is not worth anyone’s time.
The Legend of Boggy Creek*
For many a kid growing up in the ‘70s, this was one exploitation creepfest that really sent the spine into massive shivers. Drive-in moviemaker Charles B. Pierce crafted a docu-drama doozy out of an Arkansas style Bigfoot and a lot of bayou atmosphere, telling the tale of the notorious Fouke Monster and his skunk ape spree among the residents of a blinkered backwater burg. Perhaps the most effective element of the movie, the various shots of the Sulfur River swampland where the beast typically treads are accented by a supposed beastie bellow that’s so unsettling, it still makes the hairs stand up straight on the back of one’s neck. Over the years, this movie has fallen out of favor with fear fans, many dismissing it as another example of Pierce’s problematic oeuvre (he’s also responsible for The Town that Dreaded Sundown and The Norseman). But there is something unnerving about the way in which he handles this material, making schlock turn to shock with undeniable effectiveness.
Monarch of the Moon/Destination Mars*
Setting itself up, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra style, as a recently discovered lost remnant of the 1940’s cinematic serial scene, this dandy Dark Horse production has its issues, but actually does a bang up job of recreating the episodic feel of the long lost genre. Sure, some of the jokes are obvious – the Yellow Jacket character appears to be spewing speeches lifted directly from a certain George W.‘s jingoism – and there are moments when the lampoon looses its focus and disintegrates, but like a recent release from Tempe Entertainment – the terrific World War II superhero homage Project: Valkyrie – Monarch makes its devotion to the past both sincere and symbolic. Sure, all the “undiscovered artifact” advertising can grow a bit tiresome (some of us are still smarting from all the Blair Witch bullspit), and no one can accurately recapture the look and feel of films made over 70 years ago, but the effort put into this pleasant production more than makes up for the publicity propaganda.
What Alice Found
Borrowing elements of the Dogma ‘95 school of filmmaking with the seedy story of a lost woman forced into a life of truck stop prostitution, A. Dean Bell’s independent effort is all the more impressive for the cinematic standards it fails to embrace. With subject matter this tawdry, one would expect a scatological softcore sleazefest overloaded with crudeness, corruption and carnality. Instead, thanks to lead actress Emily Grace’s braveness, and her title character’s dogged determination, it’s all more dramatic than dirty. Through the use of digital video and a series of found locations, Bell brings a coarse realism to his tale, an authenticity that many movies of this sort more or less miss. While some have complained about the length of scenes and Alice’s inherent naiveté, what remains most effective is the sense of hopelessness and despair among the characters. Even the individuals responsible for Alice’s awful lot in life have issues that make them both disgusting and desperate.
And Now for Something Completely Different:
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 26 December:
The cover art says it all – and it has to, since it’s near impossible to find any information on this film either on the Internet Movie Database or the World Wide Web in general. One source confirms that this is a tale about a desperate couple searching for a mad scientist responsible for the creation of some mutant mice. Cool! Indeed, how can you resist a DVD that offers a large, menacing rodent head, a beady evil eye, and the caption “The New Sound of Terror”. In general, most killer animal movies are awful, more campy than creepy and overloaded with amateurish acting and derivative directing. Scratch could be guilty of all these filmic flaws and many, many more. Still, the notion of reprobate rodents getting their gory groove on has a genuine genre jive to it. So lock up the wee ones, break out the popcorn, and cuddle up on the coach – this will either be a horrifying hit, or a hilarious hoot. Here’s betting on the latter.
Christmas crunch time, people. You really need to stop all that present-buying procrastination and, to paraphrase a line from Total Recall, get your ass to the mall. With only six full days before a certain St. Nick is supposed to show up with many material goods to illustrate just how much you love your faithful family members, consuming, not time, is of the essence. Luckily, those marketing wizards over at DVD Central have stockpiled a few first-class titles to tempt you back into the unruly shopping hordes. Of the seven featured films discussed, at least two are major must-own offerings, with another couple completely acceptable, depending on your love of football and/or failed fairytales. There definitely is some digital dung out there too, especially in the realm of romantic superhero comedies and ridiculous remakes of past horror classics. Add in an unique animated sci-fi thriller and you’ve got something for everyone on your “buy or die” list. And with less than a week, slackers can’t be choosers, right? So break out the billfold and line up like lemmings as 19 December delights you with the following prospective giftage:
Somehow, Hollywood is stuck in a discernible cinematic rut when it comes to sports movies – even one’s supposedly “based” on a true story. There always has to be an underdog, a cause worth fighting for, and a last act contest or confrontation that challenges the mantle and make-up of the characters we’ve watched for the last 80-plus minutes. In the case of this footnote in the career of coach Dick Vermeil during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, we see bartender/team walk-on Vince Papale live out the dream of every drunken football fan in America. Anyone familiar with the tale will tell you that in the City of Brotherly Love, where Vermeil was hired to turn around a failing franchise, those open try-outs were both a blessing and a curse. The city has never forgotten that singular season where they felt really connected to the players. Sadly, it’s a sentiment all but lacking in the multimillion dollar era of the sport.
It was either the biggest leap of filmic faith ever made by an up and coming superstar director, or the sloppiest example of uncontrolled hubris ever exhibited by a yet to be fully established filmmaker. Angry that Disney would not develop his latest script (a project they feared would flop) M. Night Shyamalan pulled up production stakes and turned his talents over to Warner Brothers. Of course, the competitor was more than happy to have the man who helmed The Sixth Sense and Signs under their moviemaking moniker. Then, just to pour cinematic salt in the wounds, Shyamalan cooperated with a book blasting the whole House of Mouse approach to his project. Unfortunately, what got forgotten along the way was the movie. And in this case, the film is a frustrating, forced fairytale that takes up too much time establishing its parameters with not enough effort going toward enchanting the audience. While it has some interesting moments, it’s Uncle Walt’s world that’s having the last laugh now.
Ever since it hit movie screens more than five months ago, this delightfully deranged comedy/road film has really been racking up the respectability. Even at this late stage in the award season game, the story of a little girl named Olive Hoover and her desire to hold the title…title is ensemble excellence at its most satiric. Sure, our plucky heroine is surrounded by one crazy, dysfunctional family, but thanks to the amazing acting by a terrific cast – included Greg Kinnear, Toni Collettte, Steven Carell and Alan Arkin – and sound direction from the famed team of Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, we never once view the Hoovers as anything other than your typical post-modern mob. They wear their identifiable idiosyncrasies like brazen badges of honor. Such smart filmmaking has always been the benchmark of the independent effort and Sunshine is no different. It proves that characterization more than anything else can successfully sell any storyline.
Most filmmakers will tell you – casting is crucial to the success of any entertainment endeavor. Someone should have reminded director Ivan Reitman of this fact when he was filling out the cast for this feeble, unfunny flop. You’d think the man who produced Animal House and helmed Ghostbusters would know better than to stick Luke Wilson in role seemingly written for a Jack Black style of actor, or to toss Rainn Wilson in as the sidekick when all the genial performer has is a one-note Office-ready routine. Granted, Uma Thurman is a natural as the anxiety-riddled super-heroine who doesn’t take getting dumped all that well, but there is no support around her. Even Brit wit Eddie Izzard, as a criminal mastermind with a personal reason for being displeased, looks more fed up than fiendish during his brief moments on screen. With more of a spotlight on the superhero angle, this could have been good. Instead, it’s desperately dull.
A Scanner Darkly*
In blending Philip K. Dick (author of the book upon which this film is based) with the stunning computer generated rotoscoping animation he used in Waking Life, director Richard Linklater has reinvented both serious science fiction and the visual viability of 2D cartooning. Relying on that time honored plot of a super-addictive drug and the people who use and abuse it, Linklater utilizes his unusual cinematic approach to completely blur the lines between fantasy and reality, making the trials and turmoil experience by our hero – undercover cop Bob Arctor – that much more compelling. With Keanu Reeves in the lead, and a supporting company including Robert Downey Jr. Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson, Linklater follows the author’s storyline to a fault, proving that even something written in the 1970s can have cultural resonance today. Along with the trippy pen and ink imagery, Scanner becomes a manipulative mindfuck, a movie adverse to giving away its secrets and requiring an audience to really think to discover its designs.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts*
While this devastating documentary is considered a TV mini-series (it premiered on HBO), SE&L cannot avoid a mention here, since it guarantees you will not see a better fact-based film this year. Spike Lee, who worked his moviemaking magic on the story of 4 Little Girls (about the bombing of an Alabama church during the Civil Rights movement) and Jim Brown: All America, takes on the Federal Government, George W. Bush and the lack of effective emergency relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and provides a ballsy blueprint for EVERYTHING that’s wrong with America circa 2006. Moving, infuriating and loaded with unconscionable criminality (one critic said it best when they opined that, upon seeing the film, they hoped someone would be arrested), the most shocking thing about this four hour visual essay is how unfinished and open-ended it feels. Indeed, Lee has publicly stated that he intends to continually follow-up on the New Orleans story, similar to how Stephen Spielberg used Schindler’s List for the Shoah Project. This masterful movie is a sensational start.
The Wicker Man (2006)
Neil LaBute, best known for his small, ensemble dramas like In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors was definitely an unlikely candidate to helm a remake of this well regarded 1973 British occult thriller. And his decision to turn the focus away from the original’s male-dominated domain to a realm overrun by women seemed like a logical revamp move at the time. But somewhere between the idea and the execution, this film got way off base. Nicholas Cage plays a cop who investigates the disappearance of a young girl in a remote island village. He soon discovers that there is more to this place than its unusual atmosphere and pagan ways. Totally lacking in anything similar to suspense and constantly undermined by a script that makes very little sense, even LaBute’s best bet – the matriarchal society – is underdeveloped and unexceptional. Considered by many to be one of the worst movies of the year, the original cult classic needn’t worry over having its cinematic mantle usurped anytime soon.
And Now for Something Completely Different:
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 19 December:
The Illustrated Man*
It was one of Ray Bradbury’s most intriguing creative conceits – the story of a man whose tattoos come to life, showing the unsuspecting viewer one of the author’s many inspired and imaginative tales. With Method madman Rod Steiger in the lead, and Claire Bloom as the lady responsible for the enchanted body art, what we really have here is an anthology film wrapped up in some very intriguing linking material. Bradbury’s tales told here include “The Veldt”, “The Long Rains” and “The Last Night of the World” and many find the interpretations charming, if rather routine. Indeed, it’s odd that Bradbury is not used more often in these days of CGI and advanced moviemaking technology. His works are loaded with the kind of inventive intricacy that your average F/X whiz loves to linger over. Perhaps not as powerful as it was upon its initial release, this is still an intriguing look at one man’s meaningful literary influence, and the frequently flat efforts made from it.