The House


Christopher KellyWhile it's not unusual for a critic to find cultural resonance in B- and C-grade horror pictures (critics have been doing that for generations, often with an unearned swagger that pretends Pauline Kael's Trash, Art and the Movies never happened) it is unusual to see one do a full-Kael press and defend such works as, first and foremost, good movies. Yet that's what Fort Worth Star-Telegram film critic Christopher Kelly does in Don't Expect to Escape Nightmares with a Smile on Your Face. Surveying the recent crop of glossy splatterflicks, Kelly starts with a proclamation that had me saying, out loud, to no one in particular, "You've got to be kidding me."

"The most gruesomely vivid, elegantly made horror movie in recent memory opened with little fanfare on Dec. 25, 2005 in approximately 1,500 theaters nationwide," Kelly wrote. "Titled Wolf Creek It's a low-budget shocker from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre old school, about three carefree twentysomethings whose hiking trip goes terribly awry after they are kidnapped by a maniacal serial killer in the Aussie outback. As is often the case with horror pictures, it was greeted by many critics like a Christmas present wrapped in soiled tissue paper. (Sample review, from Roger Ebert: 'There is a role for violence in film, but what the hell is the purpose of this sadistic celebration of pain and cruelty?') The fact that the movie announced the arrival of an immensely gifted new director named Greg McLean—whose patience, control and ability to play the audience like a very cheap fiddle would have done Alfred Hitchcock proud—seemed lost on most adult moviegoers."

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TAGS: assault on precinct 13, christopher kelly, don't expect to escape nightmares with a smile on your face, final destination 3, Greg McLean, hostel, i spit on your grave, pauline kael, straw dogs, the texas chainsaw massacre, Wolf Creek


Sundance Film FestivalAt Filmmaking for the Poor (via Green Cine Daily), blog proprietor Sujewa Ekanayake poses two provocative questions: Should film festivals share some of their ticket sales for a given screening with the maker(s) of the film being screened? And what are the festivals that currently give film makers a share of the ticket sales?

Further down in the comments thread, he explains the reasoning behind his questions: "The goal is not to put fests out of business but to try to get filmmakers some cash (only fair, 'cause: no indie films = no indie film fests) from screenings of their work."

Sounds great in theory, but unfortunately most festivals aren't as well-funded as, say, the one pictured below. And even the fests that appear well-fattened may be scrambling behind-the-scenes. There's a wide spectrum of economic health. Some festivals I've attended as either filmmaker or critic (not too many, all told; I'm a bit of a homebody) looked to have a lot of crucial expenses taken care of. But that's just my guess, based on a tourist's appraisal of screening venues, affiliated hotels and event locations, and other outward signs, such as transportation to and from events. (I.e., are guests shuttled about by professional taxis—as was the case when I attended the 2005 Independent Film Festival Boston—or by volunteers schlepping their own vehicles?)

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TAGS: 51 birch street, Doug Block, independent film festival boston, sujewa ekanayake, truefalse film festival


God’s Lonely Man

Taxi DriverScorsese, De Niro and Paul Schrader buffs will want to check out the documentary "The Plot to Kill Reagan" (11 p.m., The History Channel)". While it doesn't exactly resist the cheese factor common to History Channel docs, it does find a fresh way into its chosen topic: demented would-be assassin John Hinckley's fascination with Taxi Driver the film that he claimed inspired him to stalk star Jodie Foster and hatch a plot to murder President Ronald Reagan.

Mixing talking head interviews, news footage and plentiful re-creations, this special takes the docudrama format about as far as it can go within The History Channel's narrow stylistic constraints. The true subject isn't Hinckley's Foster fixation or his attempt to kill the president, but the interior life of an insane man who wants to fill his empty personality with a beloved onscreen fiction. To that end, the filmmakers mimic iconic scenes and even specific camera moves in their speculative representation of Hinckley's life, including the famous "You talkin' to me?" scene, which Hinckley re-stages with a hair dryer instead of a pistol. To read my Star-Ledger review, click here.

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TAGS: history channel, jodie foster, martin scorsese, paul schrader, robert de niro, ronald reagan, taxi driver


Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

In this week's New York Press, I rave about Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. This cartoon fable offers one comic-epic splendor after another; at its best, it recalls the Chuck Jones classic What's Opera, Doc? in its ability to both mock and satisfy the conventions of its source material—in this case, the symbolically charged epic journey movie. "This is not just a decent sequel, it's a cartoon animal comedy about fear of annihilation; in essence, War of the Worlds for kids."

The biographical documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston unnecessarily hypes its mentally ill musician-artist hero as a genius, but director Jeff Feuerzeig still delivers a penetrating and often stylistically striking nonfiction feature. "Bending the very structure of the film to reflect Johnston's worldview—which was fractured over time by schizophrenia and assorted drugs—'The Devil' feels like something a brilliant schizophrenic might produce during a rare period of clarity," I write. "Johnston's signature image, a bloody eyeball pulled free of its socket, describes the filmmaker's aesthetic: a hellishly funny vision, unmoored from reason's shell."

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TAGS: armond white, brick, chuck jones, ethan coen, ice age 2 the meltdown, joel coen, new york press, rian johnson, shes the man, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, war of the worlds, whats opera doc


Around the World in 80 DaysFor weeks now, my esteemed colleague Edward Copeland of Edward Copeland on Film has been soliciting ballots for his poll of the worst Best Picture Oscar winners of all time. Be a dear and help him out, won't you?

All you have to do is look through the list of Best Picture winners (Copeland helpfully provides one on his own web site; click here to see it) and then list the ten worst movies on that list, with 1 being the worst; then email your ballot to Mr. Copeland at eddiesworst@yahoo.com. You needn't have watched every Best Picture winner to vote; just assess what you've seen. Final deadline is midnight on Friday, March 31, after which point he'll begin tabulating the results.

You can read my ballot, followed by a whopping comments thread, by clicking here. Other posted ballots include:

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TAGS: academy awards, around the world in 80 days, braveheart, edward copeland, going my way, ordinary people, raging bull


Veronica Mars

UPN's teen detective series Veronica Mars, which airs a strong new episode tonight at 9, at times seems unaware just how much of its energy is bound up in the relationship between Kristen Bell's title character and her ex-boyfriend, the wealthy, Byronically depressive antihero Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). This second season has been frustrating in a number of ways, but I keep tuning in each week hoping for one more scene between Veronica and Logan, who share one of the weirdest, deepest bonds on network TV.

"Brilliantly played by Dohring, who has the young Mickey Rourke's self-aware swagger, Logan is one of the anchors of UPN's Veronica Mars, a drama about a high school student in fictional Neptune, Calif., who moonlights as a gumshoe with help from her dad, Keith, an ex-cop turned private eye," I write in today's Star-Ledger. "Logan is Veronica's chief antagonist and perhaps her true soul mate. Like the tough dame Veronica, who navigates the town's treacherous social ladder to solve crimes each week, Logan is a teenager with an old soul, tragically aware of how cruel people can be, including himself. Veronica and Logan's prickly relationship holds this show's plot-crazy second season together even when it threatens to scatter like a jigsaw puzzle hurled against a wall."

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TAGS: Jason Dohring, Kristen Bell, mickey rourke, upn, veronica mars


Bad Lieutenant The movie that made Harvey Keitel an icon at last, and without sacrificing a molecule of his mulish integrity, Abel Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant" (1992) was a high watermark for both men—an autopsy of a man's ruined life, and an examination of appetite and its consequences that fixed hell's location inside the human heart. The Lieutenant—whose real name is never revealed—is a worst-case scenario of hypermasculine weakness, a crooked, boozing, dope-shooting cop who hustles around New York trying to track down a couple of teenagers who raped a nun while simultaneously trying to avoid getting killed by gangsters to whom he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling debts. Judged purely as a spiral into darkness, it was damned hard to beat. Ferrara and Keitel were Bertolucci and Brando doing "Last Tango in New York," only this time, the suicidal hero fucked himself.

I first saw this movie when I was writing movie reviews for the Dallas Observer, and it didn't just impress me, it wiped me out. I believed then, and still believe now, that it's a classic, possibly Ferrara's purest and most direct statement of who he is and what his career has been about. In the repertory house of my imagination, I'd put it on a double bill with "Raging Bull," another study in rage, sexual dysfunction and Roman Catholic attraction-repulsion in the face of sin. Ferrara, I wrote in 1993 when the film finally played Dallas, "...is a spiritual man, but not traditionally religious. Raised Catholic, he has few good things to say about the church. Like Martin Scorsese, he's fascinated with sin, spirituality and redemption, but aside from that, he has little in common with Scorsese (except, perhaps, for the street milieu). Scorsese loves visual representations of sin; they make for gorgeous images, and he alternates between embracing them and jumping violently away from them. The visceral artist in him conflicts with the moralist, and this clash makes his detractors (and sometimes even his fans) livid."

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TAGS: abel ferrara, bad lieutenant, harvey kietel, martin scorsese


Andrew Braugher Criminals try not to take their work home with them, but somehow it sneaks in anyway. From the heist crews in Michael Mann's "Heat" to murderous family man Tony Soprano, they all have to learn this lesson the hard way. It'll be learned again in "Thief" (10 p.m. Tuesdays, FX Network), a somber but promising drama from writer-producer Norman Morrill ("The Visitor") about hard men trying to live respectable lives of crime.

"No houses, no exceptions," barks crew leader Nick Atwater (Andre Braugher), when his gang of fellow thieves shows up at his handsome New Orleans home to console him during a wrenching personal crisis. The crooks politely insist they were right to break the rules to help their leader. But Nick knows he's right, and sure enough, by evening's end, he's washing blood off his patio with a garden hose.

This is oft-trod terrain, and tonight's pilot, directed by up-and-coming Scottish filmmaker Paul McGuigan ("Gangster No.1"), isn't shy about admitting it. Many of the plot twists and visual devices are familiar from previous films and TV shows, from the opening split-screen montage of a heist in progress (a gimmick perfected in the original 1968 "Thomas Crown Affair") to the Zen pulp atmospherics (a Mann act), to the "Godfather"-style, business-vs.-private arguments that keep breaking out between Nick and his crew (a convincing bunch that includes Malik Yoba of "New York Undercover," Yancey Arias of "Kingpin" and Clifton Collins Jr. of "Capote").

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TAGS: Andre Braugher, Dina Meyer, homicide, linda hamilton, Mae Whitman, norman morrill, paul mcguigan, the visitor, thief


Alex Karpovsky

Boston-area filmmaker Alex Karpovsky's debut feature "The Hole Story," which I really, really like, will play at the Harvard Film Archive at 7pm this Friday, March 31. To find out more about the movie, or to watch the trailer, visit the official website. My review of "The Hole Story" is here. Critic Chuck Tryon's review is here. The address is the Harvard Film Archive, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 24 Quincy Street, in Cambridge, Mass. Admission is $8 ($6 for students and senior citizens). Karpovsky will be in attendance.

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TAGS: alex karpovsky, chuck tryon, harvard film archive, the hole story, uncategorized


The Sopranos

The most important scene in Sunday's Sopranos episode came during Carmela's surprise visit with Tony's therapist, Dr. Melfi. Poring over her conflicted feelings toward Tony, who was still incapacitated from a gunshot wound, Carmela admitted that from the very start of their relationship, she knew he was a criminal. But she chose not to think about it. "I don't know if I loved him in spite of it, or because of it," she said.

Throughout the show's long run, fans have periodically been forced to ask themselves that question—but rarely for long. David Chase's series, a rude social satire disguised as a gangster soap, was usually so preoccupied with power plays, domestic melodrama and cavalier injections of comic sadism—and so inclined to let its murderous heroes err on the side of crackpot lovability—that you couldn't stay conflicted. For all its metacritical self-analysis, in the end The Sopranos was usually content to be seen, first and foremost, as a bloody good show, emphasis on show.

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TAGS: david chase, edie falco, frank capra, hbo, j.t. dolan, james gandolfini, recap, the sopranos, Timothy Daly







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