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Strangers in the Night (2002)
Hilarious horror spoof!
This is a very funny short film that spoofs zombie movies (and horror films in general). The plot basically involves a security guard who must fight for his life after zombies invade the office building he works in. In addition to the zombies, he also encounters a gun-toting babe and the scientist who started it all.
What makes this ridiculous film work is the clever way it lampoons cliches from just about every horror movie ever made; title cards actually check off the cliches as they are played out (The Love Interest, The Twist Ending, etc.) and the actors are clearly having fun with the material.
Highly recommended: head on over to atomfilms.com and check it out!
Whoa! And I thought I had problems...
I saw this bizarre, unsettling horror film from India at the Seattle International Film Festival. The woman who introduced it described it as "one of the most mystifying films I have ever seen." I don't know if I'd agree with that assessment, but I can certainly understand it.
The story takes place somewhere in the Indian countryside, and involves a landowner who seems to have it all- a productive farm, a loving wife and child- until one morning he wakes up to find a mole on his chin. At first the mole is merely a puzzlement, but soon it gradually begins to grow into a large, oozing wart that both he and his family worry about night and day. Soon he can think of nothing else, and when his wife pleads with him to go to the doctor to get it removed, he stubbornly insists on only using traditional methods (such as herbal remedies) to heal it, and they are ineffective. Eventually the wart bizarrely begins to take on a mind of its own, and threatens to envelop and destroy him.
From there, the movie dives headfirst into horror territory, and the gentle earlier scenes between the man and his family give way to something resembling a grotesque nightmare. Having seen it, I am not quite sure what to make of it. Is it intended as a straightforward horror film, a fable, or a dark satire of the Indian caste system, in which rich landowners are seen as people who stubbornly hang on to useless traditionalism, and who unnecessarily obsess over things that don't really matter, until those things envelop them?
An argument could certainly made that the film is intended as such a satire- it echoes the British film How To Get Ahead In Advertising, in which a man's sins are personified by an evil boil on his shoulder. But this argument is belied by the gentleness with which the main character is portrayed: the rich man is not selfish or vain, and genuinely cares about his family and the servants who work on his farm, which makes him an unworthy target for ridicule. Indeed, we can see very little that he has done to deserve what befalls him, and what happens to the man in the second half of the film resembles a biblical curse rather than an earned punishment.
Interestingly, the audience I watched the film with had a variety of reactions to it. In the early scenes, some audience members laughed at how the man and his family talk ceaselessly about the mole, while others did not. Later, as the film got creepier and nastier, some were clearly disgusted, and others sat silently mesmerized at the bizarre spectacle on screen (and, no doubt, with feelings of sympathy at how this gentle but flawed man is thoroughly victimized by his affliction).
In conclusion, I found this to be an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying film because its makers are never clear on exactly what they are trying to say with it, if anything. Are they trying to tell us something about Indian society, or simply to creep us out? (If their goal was the latter, it definitely worked- I walked out of the theater wanting to go straight to the doctor and get every mole removed from my body). If you see the film, perhaps you will be able to accept its ambiguity of meaning better than I could. It is certainly an unsettling, challenging film, and in that it has its rewards, but it is definitely not for everyone.
Excellent show that never got a chance
Traps was an excellent cop drama that, like so many other intelligent, well-written shows, was cancelled by its timid network before it ever got a chance to make an impression with viewers. And that's a shame, because after seeing the first few episodes, I for one was hooked by the compelling acting and impressive writing displayed on screen.
The plot: after a highly-decorated detective is killed in the line of duty, his twentysomething son Chris (Dan Cortese, currently seen in Rock Me Baby), also a cop, must carry on with his life while dealing with the professional pressures of inevitably having to measure up to his great father. He is aided in this by his father's former partner (Bill Nunn) and his grandfather Joe (the late great George C. Scott), who is a retired cop that is nevertheless doggedly investigating some of the cases that he never solved during his career (there is a touching scene where he calls the mother of a murder victim to let her know that he still hasn't given up; this scene makes it very clear how much police work means to Joe).
What really made this show stand out was that it fully developed its characters and took the time to explore the greater meaning of what being a cop was (unlike most cop shows, which simply give you your daily fix of mystery and thrills, and nothing more). In the pilot episode, for example, Chris must deal with a corrupt cop in his own department, while most other cops simply want to look the other way. This is a standard plot line for a show like this, but the episode ends not with a cliche shoot-out scene, but instead with a moving speech by Scott's character about how the then-recent scandals (Darryl Gates, Rodney King etc.) had soiled the reputation of policemen throughout this country.
If this show had been allowed to build an audience, it might have been another NYPD Blue. As is, it exists merely as a reminder to those few who had a chance to see it of what it could have been.
The O'Reilly Factor (1996)
Seeking the truth in a world of spin
I know that a lot of people don't like this show, and its host has been labeled as arrogant, mean, and self-centered, among other things (it has been hilariously spoofed on Mad TV and The Daily Show, among others). However, as a loyal viewer for the last few years, I'd venture a guess that a lot of the people who are bashing it have never seen it, or have just briefly glanced at it in passing. If they took the time to sit down and actually watch it, they'd realize why it consistently gets better ratings than any other cable news show out there- it's an intelligent, witty analysis (not report) of the daily news, and host Bill O'Reilly no-nonsense approach is refreshing and honest.
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about this show that are simply not true. One misconception is that O'Reilly himself is a harsh, arrogant host who rudely interrupts his guests and acts like he's always right. The reality is, Bill is not mean, he just has no patience for BS, or "spin" as he calls it. When a guest tries to dodge one of Bill's questions by changing the subject, distorting the facts, or just plain lying, Bill refuses to let that continue. Yes, interrupting is rude, but so is lying, and if Bill allowed guests to BS all day (as most talk-show hosts do), he would be cheapening his show's integrity and doing a disservice to his viewers. As long as his guests are straight with him, he treats them with respect and courtesy.
Example: shortly after 9/11, he had poet Amiri Baraka on the show; Baraka, an outspoken anti-semite, blamed Jews for the attacks in a ridiculous diatribe. Bill (rightfully) told Baraka that his opinion was wrong-headed and unsubstantiated, but he never interrupted him, raised his voice, or told him to shut up (in my three years of watching the show, I can only recall hearing Bill say "shut up" a couple of times, and the people he told it to definitely had it coming).
As for the charge that he is "always right," at least once a week I see a guest change Bill's mind on something, usually by offering a point of view that makes him admit that "I hadn't thought of that."
Just to be clear, I'm not trying to convert anybody into a fan here. I'm simply trying to point out that many of the labels this show has received are unfair and simply untrue. I've never read Bill's books and I certainly don't agree with all of the things he says (who could?), but what keeps me watching is his straightforward demeanor and no-nonsense attitude. Like him or not, this man seeks the truth and has no room for spin and in the modern-day American media that makes him truly unparalleled.
Session 9 (2001)
Here's a concept: a genuinely creepy, effective horror film
Made on a low budget, this brilliant horror film succeeds because it doesn't fall back on any cheap gimmicks, like special effects or "shock" moments, but instead provides an eerie, forbidding atmosphere and genuine, three-dimensional characters. Writer-director Brad Anderson allows each of the characters to be an individual, to develop and play off each other, so we become genuinely interested in who these guys are, and then he allows the horror to grow out of their personalities and the world that they inhabit. This is a genuinely effective approach that recalls some of the more brilliant horror films of the past (The Shining, The Exorcist) before they were replaced by cheesy slasher movies and self-mocking teen horror flicks.
The plot in a nutshell: five men are hired to remove the asbestos from a condemned mental hospital (the movie was filmed on location at Danvers State Hospital, a place so disturbing that many of the actors reported hearing and seeing strange things during filming). As the week continues, they each begin to be affected by the place, and it's clear there's a presence of some kind there...
Each of the five main actors has a distinct style; Mullan is sullen and unsettled, Caruso is dark and intense, Sexton is hyperactive and talkative, Lucas is loud and cocky, and co-writer Gevedon is quiet and introspective. Their distinct styles allow these men to emerge as having very different personalities, and they play off each other wonderfully, with friendly banter at the beginning and as they argue and conflict with each other as the plot wears on and fear gradually sets in for each of them.
As far as the film's ending goes, let this much be said- Anderson deserves credit for willingness to follow his dark vision to the intense and unsettling end. It was probably necessary for this to be an independent film, because any major studio would have forced the filmmakers to abandon their brilliant style and add a contrived, Hollywood-style ending. Like the great horror films of yesteryear, Session 9 powerful, frightening, and most of all uncompromising.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Terrific filmmaking- a comeback for Kevin Reynolds
Kevin Reynolds started off great, making well crafted, high-energy adventures like "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." Then his career went into a major sag with movies like "187" and "Waterworld" that were incoherent, incompetent, boring, and worst of all, mean-spirited. He has finally found his comeback and redemption with this wonderful film. He moves the adventure along at a brisk pace, gives us great and involving characters that we can cheer and jeer enthusiastically, and (in the third act) creates beautiful set pieces that are nothing short of feasts for the eyes. Watching the colorful and energetic party in Rome that Mondego's son attends and the lavish parties that the "Count" hosts to reel in his enemies, I wanted to stay forever in the world that this movie creates. (Sidenote: if you appreciated the gorgeous set pieces this movie creates, you absolutely must see the 1996 Robert Downey Jr. movie "Restoration"). And the final 30 minutes of this film are spellbinding: as Edmund's revenge plan is carried out like clockwork, the viewer must take a certain amount of guilty delight in how thoroughly and perfectly he exacts his vengeance. With all the crap in theaters right now (Crossroads, Slackers, etc.), seeing this movie made me feel like... well, like Dantes does sitting on a sunlit beach after escaping 15 years in that dark, torturous prison.
A root canal is more fun than this movie.
I would say that this movie is the biggest piece of crap I've ever seen, but that would be an insult to pieces of crap. Yes, I, a guy, sat through it- looking back, I don't know how I did it. Possibly a combination of strong sedatives and handcuffs. Why did I go see it? Simply put, my girlfriend dragged me to it, kicking and screaming. That's the only logical reason for any guy to see it (or any human being, for that matter). This was evidenced by the fact that the theater I was sitting in was comprised of 90% giggling girls between the ages of 12 and 17, and the last 10% was guys who had been dragged there and had the same deer-in-the-headlights look on their face that I no doubt had on mine.
This movie is god-awful in so many different ways, but let us begin with Titney, I mean Britney Spears. Her acting ability is about on the same level as her singing: boring, unoriginal, completely devoid of talent. Her idea of a Southern accent is to throw in a "y'all" here and there (does anybody on this planet actually use that word?). She flashes her bare midriff, her cleavage, and her plastic smile every five seconds. Yes, she is good-looking and all that, but that doesn't stop her from being annoying and talentless in this movie. What else does the movie do wrong? Other than Dan Ackroyd, there isn't one member of the cast that doesn't look like a model (even the school "nerd" has perfect abs); every character is a broad caricature (the Handsome But Mysterious Guy, The Spunky Black Girl, The Perfect But Insecure Class Valedictorian, etc.). I could go on and on. Put simply, there isn't one moment in this movie worth watching, so PLEASE, don't waste your hard-earned money on it like I did.
Rodrigo D: No futuro (1990)
Stunning, visually striking, devastating
This is a brilliant movie about Rodrigo and his friends, a group of punks who wander the streets of Medellin, getting high, stealing cars, listening to Punk and Heavy Metal music. They're stuck in lives of poverty, with no opportunities and no motivation to try to improve their lives. Their routine is interrupted only when the cops catch up with one of them (which is really an inevitability for all of them, sooner or later), or they get into a fight. Rodrigo dreams of starting a rock band, something that might give his life some meaning (he has no education beyond the 1st grade, has no job, and basically sits around the house all day listening to his family complain about how lazy he is). The movie depicts the world of Rodrigo and his friends with harsh realism, accompanied by striking cinematography, pulsing rock music, and a script with an ear for how these people communicate. While this movie is clearly influenced by "Los Olvidados," it also bears a resemblance to Alex Cox's great "Sid and Nancy" - we are invited to see the world in which these young rebels live, and to understand the ways in which it can destroy them.
sharp and funny satire of machismo
The action takes place in a small town in the Andes, as news spreads across town that the mild-mannered local schoolteacher and the local butcher are going to have a duel this afternoon. The filmmakers use this event as a weapon with which to skewer Latin machismo and the strict, old-fashioned code of honor by which these people live. It is never made clear why they are duelling or who challenged who, and neither man wants to fight the duel, but they both feel obligated because it's "a question of honor." As the morning progresses, both men go about trying to put their affairs in order in case they die, sometimes hilariously (the schoolteacher gets stuck at City Hall all morning, trying to pay debts on his own future death, thanks to red tape). There are some other nice potshots at the hipocrisy of the Catholic Church (the local priest offers the butcher more salvation the more money he is given, and roots for the schoolteacher to be killed because he is an atheist) and the local political system (the mayor, rather than stopping the duel, takes bets on it). All in all, this is a very funny and meaningful film, that anyone would enjoy. Try not to have a smile on your face as the duel plays itself out.
Should be mandatory viewing for those who rip on Sly
This got some of the best reviews of any recent Stallone film, and after seeing it, I understand why. It's an absolutely hilarious, wonderful movie that shows one of Sly's best performances, and a great supporting cast. It was a long time before I got around to seeing it, but man, am I glad I did. I haven't laughed this much in a long time. And to those of you who jump on the negative hype bandwagon and make fun of Stallone like a bunch of lemmings, check this one out.