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Sam Raimi (#110 of 8)

Sinful Cinema 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

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Sinful Cinema: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag
Sinful Cinema: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

You can count Joe Pesci’s star vehicles on one hand, and people will tell you My Cousin Vinny is the only worthwhile title. Don’t believe it. Just when his post-Goodfellas bankability was starting to wane, and the Lethal Weapon and Home Alone franchises had lost their nineties-defining luster, Pesci landed the lead in 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, the most high-concept action-comedy this side of Snakes on a Plane. Written and directed by Tom Schulman, who won an Oscar for his snuggly script for Dead Poets Society, and otherwise penned a lot of family-friendly stuff like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, this is the work of a debut director itching to access his inner mafioso, but perhaps not quite knowing how. Where to start? Well, with a mob hit, of course—err, make that eight mob hits. Tommy (Pesci) is an old-school gangster hired by Benny (Joe Basile) and Rico (Anthony Mangano) to deliver the titular parcel to a boss named Big Sep (Howard George), who’d better get his heads within 24 hours or “more are gonna roll, capiche?” Tommy flies commercial air with his bag full of noggins, getting past security by slipping a handgun into an innocent woman’s pocket, then nudging his luggage across the floor amid the metal-detector diversion (ahh, 1997). He then takes a seat beside Charlie (Andy Corneau), your typical square who happens to have Tommy’s very same bag. Needless to say, when Tommy is forced to check his duffel due to its massive size (and the ironic fact that a medic needs to store live human organs in his overhead compartment), the wiseguy and the wimp eventually end up with each other’s goods, making things extra awkward for Charlie when he goes to meet girlfriend Laurie’s (Kristy Swanson) parents.

October DVD Roundup In a Glass Cage, Gurozuka, 42nd Street Forever, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, & More

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October DVD Roundup: In a Glass Cage, Gurozuka, 42nd Street Forever, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, & More
October DVD Roundup: In a Glass Cage, Gurozuka, 42nd Street Forever, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, & More

In a Glass Cage. Spanish director Agustí Villaronga delivers the grimmest of fairy tales for adults only: a perverse (and occasionally gorgeous) riff on ostensibly endless cycles of sexual and psychological abuse. Villaronga effectively transplants to his native soil the history of Gilles de Rais (a medieval French aristo who fought alongside Joan of Arc before being executed for the rape and murder of hundreds of peasant children), using a fugitive Nazi war criminal as his ambivalent embodiment of evil. After a failed suicide attempt, Klaus (Günter Meisner) is confined to an iron lung (the titular “glass cage”), a pathetic vestige of his former master-race self, left gasping for air like a landed fish every time the power dims. One day, the ironically named Angelo (David Sust) turns up at Klaus’s isolated estate, looking for a position as caregiver. Inevitably, it turns out that Klaus and Angelo have a prior history. But Angelo wants more than simple revenge. Villaronga’s film suggests at times a heady international brew of styles and themes, all the while remaining a distinctive individual vision: There’s a dash of Bergman’s stifling chamber dramas, heaping helpings of Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom for its forays into homoerotic sadomasochism, and more than a soupcon of Polanski’s insidiously claustrophobic psychological horror. (Cult Epics)

Poster Lab Oz: The Great and Powerful

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Poster Lab: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Poster Lab: Oz: The Great and Powerful

A swirling storm is the proper framing device for Oz: The Great and Powerful’s first poster, which heralds its film by tossing trademark elements into a kind of artful rinse cycle. Set for a 2013 release, this Sam-Raimi-helmed Wizard of Oz prequel appears devoid of Dorothy, yet packed with evidence of L. Frank Baum’s brand.

Seeming both introductory and contradictory to its immortal predecessor, the movie tells of its titular wizard’s rise as a magician and a man, promising an arc of self-discovery that doesn’t quite jell with the arc of Frank Morgan’s fraud behind the curtain. But, don’t fret, kids: there’ll still be a poppy field’s worth of faithful stuff to keep you comfy, and it’s presented here in a yin-yang approach that matches dark drama with glittering fantasy. The Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City, a swarm of tornadoes, and one integral hot air balloon fill this well-executed design, teasing a new adventure with unmistakable imagery. In another poster, the title almost certainly would have been made more centrally visible, but in this case, it’s hardly necessary. If the main man’s mode of transportation doesn’t wrangle fans, the gleam of all that Oz-ian architecture will, suggesting classic whimsy amid a tumultuous scene that also features some Avatar-esque landforms. The image invites viewers to return to a place they know while still being strangers in a strange land.

Poster Lab: The Possession

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Poster Lab: <em>The Possession</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Possession</em>

If you find yourself compelled to purchase the poster for Lionsgate’s The Possession, and need a clue about what to hang beside it, look no further than the fine print atop the film’s title. The latest body-snatching thriller to court an audience that keeps on buying tickets, The Possession is presented and produced by Sam Raimi, and its icky one-sheet is a retread of that for Raimi’s own Drag Me to Hell, with the volume pumped up to full gross-out decibels. No need to employ the scaly hands that delivered Alison Lohman to Satan; young Hannah (Madison Davenport) has a taloned creep right inside her person, who can ship her soul to hell without even opening up the earth.

The Possession poster isn’t anywhere near as handsome as its counterpart. It trades ironic gleam for what is believed to be heebie-jeebie envelope-pushing, presenting an anatomical nightmare that makes one gulp and shudder. But the truth is, this poster, albeit strikingly macabre, is far more disciplined than defiant. Unremarkable in every way beyond its specific bodily harm, it joins an overstretched line of ads that routinely showcase shocks, which shuffle through a bland template like a stomach-turning slideshow.

15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

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15 Famous Cabins in the Woods
15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

This weekend sees the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, the most anticipated and buzzed-about horror film in some time. The setup is indeed the same one you’ve experienced over and over: a group of partying, young-adult archetypes head to a remote getaway, only to find terrifying carnage. But the guys behind Cabin delve far deeper into the geek abyss than many viewers will expect, emerging with a gonzo, convoluted send-up that stirs the pot even as it flies off the rails (no spoilers here, kids). The titular locale is but a dilapidated entry point, and we’ve got 15 more shacks that have opened their doors for audiences through the years.

SXSW 2011: El Bulli: Cooking in Progress and Insidious

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SXSW 2011: <em>El Bulli: Cooking in Progress</em> and <em>Insidious</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>El Bulli: Cooking in Progress</em> and <em>Insidious</em>

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (Gereon Wetzel). Chances are, if you’re watching El Bulli: Cooking in Progress at a film festival, you probably have an idea of what type of restaurant El Bulli is and why you should know about it, but for the uninitiated, the film offers little help beyond noting that the restaurant annually closes for six months to perform culinary research and lab experimentation. The rest—the restaurant’s unique usage of food technology, its experience-oriented philosophy, its 30-plus course menu—is kind of gathered as the documentary’s events progress. That’s much more interesting than a series of explanatory title cards, but it’s still not enough to strongly convey the true El Bulli experience, which is a shame, since the restaurant’s head chef, Ferran Adrià (a bulldog of a leader), emphasizes that good-tasting food is not his primary focus, but rather creating unique eating adventures. Avant-garde restaurants, he explains, must be about the new and the magical, otherwise they’ve failed, which makes it all the more puzzling that this film would focus so much on the experimental process of El Bulli while never showing the customer’s final magical experience (patron reactions are so suspiciously absent that I can’t help but assume it was a shooting limitation).