Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Episode 8
Comedy Night

So either Spielberg and Burnett are merciful, or they just wanted to maximize that one hour for the week’s short films, ‘cause this time out, they apparently visited the contestants Wednesday last week and delivered the message that Jessica had the least number of votes.
Too bad, considering I thought there was something to the execution of “The Orchard.” And I do think Jess is a better director than some of the others left…
And on that note…

6 comedy shorts written, shot, and edited in 5 days.
Roll ‘em.

MY FAVORITE: Zach Lipovsky’s “Die Hardly Working”
That title alone takes the cake.
Bored office drones wage all-out war with each other, and Zach proves that with a winning concept, great camera angles, excellent sound effects, and effectively humourous performances, you don’t really need special effects (or the hefty budget those effects entail).

Will Bigham’s “Nerve Endings”
My favorite from Will so far, this one shakes up his image of the “charming” and “whimsical” filmmaker with a black comedy about a doctor, brain surgery, and an intern.
Yes, it’s got the kind of laughs that scream, “Oh, that is so wrong,” but this one’s a whole lot funnier than some TV hospital comedies out there.
And that is a killer punchline.

Shalini Kantayya’s “Dr. In-Law”
Funny little story about antagonistic in-laws at a doctor’s check-up.
For someone who thinks comedy’s out of her comfort zone, Shalini does a bang-up job here. I think this one’s my favorite from her too.

Hilary Graham’s “Under The Gun”
This one surprised me, considering I thought it was more effective than this week’s short from Adam (one of my favorites in the competition, while Hilary has had two of her previous shorts on my Un-Favorites shortlist).
A mother and her desperate daughter hold up a sperm bank: quirky concept that could actually sell in Hollywood as a feature film, and though I did have some problems with the pacing and editing, this one’s definitely Hilary’s best too.

Adam Stein’s “Discovering The Wheels”
High concept: a car alarm remote somehow sends a car back into the past, where some cavemen give ‘er a spin. Car then gets ‘ported back to the present, cavemen in tow.
Maybe this was a little too ambitious for a short, but this was definitely Adam’s weakest work in the competition so far.
Not that it was bad, mind you. It just wasn’t funny enough.

MY LEAST FAVORITE: David May’s “How To Have A Girl”
A couple want to have a child, but are at odds about the preferred gender.
The central conceit isn’t enough to sustain this short, which devolves into a wrestling match that seems longer than it actually is.
Ultimately, not very funny. (But at least, not an Un-Favorite.)

Pretty interesting batch of shorts tonight, with that Hilary surprise somewhere in there. I may not be as enamored and effusive as the judges were about “Under The Gun,” but it does prove Hilary can direct something that I’d actually be okay with seeing a second time.

Tonight’s guest judge, Mark Waters, who debuted with The House of Yes, and has since moved steadily towards the Hollywood mainstream with the Freaky Friday remake, Mean Girls, and Just Like Heaven. (It’s interesting to note that The House of Yes was the film Adrianna didn’t mention in her intro.)
Next up for Waters: enter the wonderfully lucrative world of kidlit adaptations, with The Spiderwick Chronicles. (With an interesting cast that includes: David Strathairn, Joan Plowright, Mary-Louise Parker, and Freddie Highmore.)

Next week: Horror Night.

(Contestant image courtesy of; Mark Waters image courtesy of

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Season 3 Episode 20
“Adios Amigos”

Offscreen, Vince ended up saying “No” to Yair’s indecent proposal in last episode’s cliffhanger, so the boys are back trying to find a Medellin financier.
Re-enter Nicky Rubenstein, who’s just turned 35 and his trust fund’s kicked in. Eager to finally emerge from his father’s shadow, he throws down $25 mil for the production. But that’s way below the estimated $60 mil budget, so E and Vince turn to the one man they know is brilliant and can stretch a film budget dollar: Billy Walsh.

It turns out Walsh is now working under the alias “Wally Balls,” and is directing porn (to “bring the 70’s class back”), his experience with Queens Boulevard a little too painful to relive.
Walsh turns down the Medellin offer first, until a threatened throwdown with E makes him stop and listen. He reads the script (“Get me a fluffer in the Green Room. I’ve got some reading to do.”), and he’s in.
But he wants $30 mil from Nicky (the “Trust Fund Baby”) and final cut.
Rubenstein’s ready to bail, but E does the Voice of Reason again and gets him to sign the check.
E’s just produced his first movie!

Meanwhile, E’s moving in with Sloan, since the boys have said “Goodbye” to the Aquamansion (a nice little scene there).
E’s also been canceling and postponing lunch and dinner because of the Medellin deal, so Sloan throws down a relationship gauntlet: If you’re gonna be gone for half a year to shoot this movie, figure out where we’re headed with this, so I know what I’ll be waiting for.
When Vince says to E, “You don’t have to go to Colombia for the shoot,” E says he wants to see this through.
“Sloan will just have to wait…”
“But what if she doesn’t?” Vince counters.
And E flashes that look: “Then she doesn’t.”

There’s a subplot involving Drama getting a new place, and when he finds a dirt cheap loft, Shauna (yay! Shauna’s back!) directs him elsewhere, since he can’t live like a “transient crack whore,” lest people think Vinnie Chase’s brother—and by extension Vinnie—is flat broke (which they are).
But a wrong address brings Drama to a $1.4 mil condo which he promptly falls in love with. Decimating his budget, he ends up paying $1.5 mil for it. (Hell, he’s in a hit pilot, right?)

And since the plot’s at the point where the deal for the latest movie is firmly in place, we all know the season is winding down. (Though they did pull the rug out from under us mid-season, sneaky buggers…)
Thus, the episode—and third season—ends with a toast, as the boys celebrate Medellin, while a Spanish-language version of “Hotel California” plays…

(But fear not, Season 4 premiered on June 17 with “Welcome To The Jungle,” where a behind-the-scenes doc shows us what went down in Bogota during the filming of Medellin!)

(Images courtesy of [vince, e, turtle & drama] & [shauna].)

Monday, June 25, 2007

reVIEW (5)

With Michael Bay’s Transformers looming on the very near horizon, I thought it might be good to resurrect this review of his previous science fiction effort, The Island. (The review was formerly known under its published name of “Tomorrow, With A Bang.")

I’ve only watched one previous Michael Bay film, Armageddon, and I found it by turns borderline cheesy and painfully laughable; none of his other films seemed interesting enough to me to make the effort for.
Then Bay decided to do The Island, and for once, I found myself actually looking forward to a Michael Bay movie. With its science fiction angle, The Island seemed to have the potential to be the first Bay film with any actual substance. And Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson aren’t exactly lightweight thespians, either.
So, was my excitement justified?
Well, to weigh in on the matter, The Island’s a good movie. Go out and watch it.
Now, if you’re here for the dissection…

The Island is the tale of Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Johansson), apparent survivors of some global “contamination” that has forced them to live in an isolated facility, their every action monitored, under the vigilant eye of Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean). The only break in the monotony of their daily routine is the lottery, which chooses one lucky individual every week to be sent to “The Island,” purportedly the last pathogen-free spot on the planet, a paradise for the blessed few.
Of course, if you’re a fan of these kinds of SF films (or, if you’ve seen the film’s trailer), you’ll know that all is not what it seems. There is a dark secret to the facility and Dr. Merrick, a secret that will be uncovered by the unusually curious Lincoln, a secret that will cause him to go on the run, Jordan in tow, in an attempt to expose the truth of this seemingly perfect (though perhaps a trifle boring) society.

I’ve always been a big fan of futuristic dystopias, from the literary (George Orwell’s 1984, William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy) to the cinematic (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, and Michael Radford’s adaptation of 1984), and the vision presented in The Island is an interesting one. The rigorous control, from social (close proximity between members of the opposite sex is prohibited), to dietary (chemical imbalances are monitored by urine-analyzing toilets, and rectified by a careful selection of solid and liquid intake), to mental (reading material is screened, and reading lessons are apparently limited to “Dick and Jane” primers), is frighteningly claustrophobic in this future-by-Adidas society.
And it is, of course, this society that Lincoln and Jordan must flee from when the horrible truth is revealed. It is also at this point in the film when the fact that The Island is a Michael Bay film becomes readily apparent.

There was a point in Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall when the film permanently left Philip K. Dick land and firmly entrenched itself in Arnie land. But, whereas Recall’s pivot point crippled the film beyond any hope of healing, The Island’s actually makes it a fun and agreeable thrill ride.
Bay’s bag of tricks—the adrenaline-pounding pacing, the car chases, the big explosions—is deployed to applaudable effect. This is Hollywood SF, surely, but it’s Hollywood SF that actually moves, that doesn’t get bogged down by its own hype or a spew of pretentious philo-babble.
The premise and SF scenario is just enough to make The Island more than a mere Michael Bay thrill ride (which it essentially is), while the themes—the objectification of the human being, man as the ultimate disposable product—though certainly not explored in any significant depth, are nevertheless present, also adding precious spikes of flavor to the mix.

Sadly, the performances by McGregor, Johansson, and Bean aren’t their strongest, as if they also know, instinctively, that all is in ultimate service to the Michael Bay-orchestrated action. Also, Steve Buscemi (like Michael Clarke Duncan, reunited with his Armageddon director), as McCord, Lincoln’s friend and confidante, has sadly limited screen time.
Shortcomings aside though, as I said earlier, The Island’s a good movie, a Hollywood SF actioneer that has just enough brains to make it an agreeable way to pass two hours and seven minutes of time.
Which is more than can be said for a lot of other movies being made these days.

Parting shot: For a mind-blowing approach to practically the same idea, check out the “An Orison of Sonmi-451” sections of David Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic novel, Cloud Atlas.

(The Island OS's courtesy of

Sunday, June 24, 2007

FAY GRIM (Review)

I’ve only ever really watched one Hal Hartley film before now: No Such Thing, with Sarah Polley and Helen Mirren, and I largely came into that movie because of those two brilliant actresses. I loved the film though, and thought Hartley’s take on the monster movie was insightful and one of those rare gems that any diehard film fan should be thankful even got made.
So, even though I’d never gotten to see Henry Fool, when Fay Grim came around the corner, and I understood that it was a sequel to Hartley’s well-regarded film, I thought to myself, Well, I’m still gonna try and see this one. After all, it had Parker Posey in it. (Like Polley and Mirren, an actress who’s tops in my books.)
Now, I really wanna see Henry Fool

Fay Grim takes place years after Henry’s flight from justice (apparently, he killed a man in the first film), and Fay (Posey) is a frazzled single mother in Queens struggling to keep her son Ned (Liam Aiken, from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) out of trouble. Meanwhile, her brother Simon (James Urbaniak, who played Robert Crumb in American Splendor and can be seen in the upcoming The Nanny Diaries and the troubled Across The Universe), noted “garbage man-poet” of Queens, is serving a prison term for aiding and abetting Fool in his escape.
Enter CIA man Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) and his partner Agent Fogg (Leo Fitzpatrick, who played Telly in Larry Clark’s Kids), who claim that Henry may have been involved in terrorism and who need Fay to help them retrieve a number of Henry’s journals—purportedly containing sensitive information about the U.S. government—and Fay’s life is overturned and upset, all for a man she claims she never wants to see again.

On the surface, Fay Grim is Hartley’s spin on the Hollywood spy thriller, as a single mother nearly at her wit’s end, is suddenly thrust into the labyrinthine world of spies and double agents, and if it were merely that, it would already have been a triumph.
But Hartley does a lot more in this film, taking us on a journey with Fay, as she travels the world while she finally comes to terms with her real feelings about Henry, a man whose secrets were apparently laid down before everyone to see, secrets that everyone (including his own wife) thought were a whole load of bullsh!t.
In all probability, if I had seen Henry Fool, the conceit of Fay Grim would have astounding resonance, as this is essentially a plot flip, turning everything we thought we knew about Henry from the first film, on its head; all the stories we thought were tall tales, were actually the truth.
As it is though, to a newbie, Fay Grim is still an exceedingly effective film, that is moving and heartfelt (as any good drama is), involving and intriguing (as any good spy thriller is), and funny and witty (as any good comedy is).
Like No Such Thing, it maps an intricate structure over the template of a familiar film genre, and through its characters, imparts subtle truths about relationships, yearning, and human nature.

Posey, being one of the few actresses I know who is able to find honest and genuine emotion in humor, is brilliant in Fay Grim. She’s always been good at portraying a real person amidst the laughter and the witty banter, and she’s in fine form here. And the chemistry she displays with Goldblum (who’s got some pretty tricky lines in this one) is the sort of palpable character interplay that needs to be bottled, mass-produced, and sold off to lesser films with less talented thespians.
Actually, across the board, Hartley’s ensemble acquits itself admirably, and the film, shot in HD with lots of Dutch angles, is all the stronger because of these performances.
Even when the more colorful characters (Elina Lowensohn’s stewardess/topless dancer Bebe and Anatole Taubman’s terrorist Jallal) come into the tale, there is still the underlying sense that we are seeing people here, real characters with real emotions and real lives and real relationships with each other.
Again, as with No Such Thing, no matter how extraordinary things get, we never lose sight of the fact that these are identifiable, sympathetic characters, and Hartley makes this gift to absorb the audience into his world look effortless.

From the sampling of two I have seen of Hartley’s work, I get the impression when someone says “It’s a Hal Hartley film,” it’s kind of like saying “It’s a David Lynch film,” or “It’s a Wes Anderson film,” in that one immediately knows the general characteristics of the film, its shape and the manner in which it treats its characters and the world they move around in, the sort of film where one can see the director’s signature on the frame, can hear his singular voice in the rhythms and nuances of speech.
The sort of film that could never have been directed by anyone else. The sort of film that is the anti-thesis of the work of the new breed of Hollywood director, slick and splashy monstrosities that are ultimately interchangeable with each other, where one is hard-pressed to note just exactly who the director is, and what unique point of view and mindset he brought to the film.
Watching Fay Grim, I could safely say, “Yes, this is by the man who directed No Such Thing.” And when you can make distinctions like that, can spot the qualities and the idiosyncracies, can identify the voice, then you know you’re in the hands of a capable storyteller, and not some hack.
You may not like the story in the end, but at the very least, it’s a story you won’t hear anywhere else.

(Fay Grim OS courtesy of

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Season 2 Episode 9

“Right To Die”
Written by John Esposito; directed by Rob Schmidt

Clifford Addison (Martin Donovan) is a dentist who’s just been caught cheating on his wife Abbey (Julia Anderson). The troubled couple are driving up to their cabin to try and work things out when they get into an accident, which leaves Abbey in an unresponsive coma, and horrendous third-degree burns over her entire body.
Initially filing for a Do Not Resuscitate Order, Cliff doesn’t anticipate Abbey’s vindictiveness, as she begins to manifest as a charred, skinless grotesque—looking a lot like the skinned Julia from Hellraiser II—every time she flatlines. To Cliff’s cold horror, he realizes he can’t let Abbey die, or she may come back as a ghost and just end up killing him (or worse).

In the second suggestively-titled entry of the season (after John Carpenter’s “Pro-Life”), Rob Schmidt’s “Right To Die” plays like one of those E.C. horror comic stories where the cheating spouse gets into a whole lotta trouble at the hands of their vengeful partner.
This one though, isn’t nearly as entertaining as some of those classics.

Not only is the idea tired and familiar, but the introduction of Cliff’s lover, Trish (Robin Sydney), turns things vaguely ludicrous. The woman is so annoyingly transparent (she actually called Cliff a “mercy f*ck”), one wonders what Cliff saw in her in the first place. Was married life with Abbey so terrible that he not only risked everything for a tumble with Trish, but resorted to the things he does at the top of the story?
And that’s the other, major crime of this episode.

Narrative omission can be a tricky thing, and if bungled, merely leaves the audience feeling tricked and cheated, which is exactly what happens here. There seems to be no good reason for the episode’s opening to be edited the way it is, just so we don’t get to see the whole truth.
After all, it’s not like the opening sequence was being narrated by someone, who could pick and choose what and what not to tell—and show—the audience. From start to finish, the episode’s narrative is third person omniscient. So why don’t we get to see the entire truth from the get-go? (And shouldn’t we have learned about Abbey’s condition at the hospital?)
It’s an annoying narrative choice that sounds the death knell on this episode.

Granted, Schmidt is responsible for the “nothing really new in here” horror in Wrong Turn, and screenwriter Esposito penned the forgettable adaptation of Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift, so I really don’t expect much from either of them. (And how exactly did they rate as “Masters of Horror”?)
You’d think though that Martin Donovan—who’s come out in some excellent indie fare like The Opposite of Sex and Saved!, as well as Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia—would have known better.
Not only is the episode itself sub-par, but he’s asked to play an entirely unsympathetic character who is not only ruled by his libido, but is stupid enough to have saved an incriminating video on his cell phone. And the excuse he spouts to Abbey is so lame, it’s laughable.
Oddly though, it’s almost as if Donovan was having some secret fun with this role, as if he was playing it as the blackest of black comedies.
Arguably, that could be some kind of saving grace, though it doesn’t change the whole “why didn’t you tell us the whole story up front?” issue, which then leaves us back at Square One: this wasn’t a very good episode.

Parting shot: Pixies die-hards may want to know that Joey Santiago did the score for this episode. (Though it really isn’t one to write home about. Sorry, Joey. Loved your work on Undeclared, though. And Robin Tunney shaving her head to “Free” is still one of the best scenes in Empire Records.)

(Right To Die DVD cover art courtesy of

reVIEW (4)
[2 of 2]

Walter Salles' English-language remake of Hideo Nakata's Honogurai mizu no soko kara, Dark Water, is finally upon us, and it turns out to be the most subtle horror film made since Fruit Chan's Dumplings.

From a script by Rafael Yglesias (based on the Nakata/Takashige Ichise script, which was, in turn, based on the Koji Suzuki short story, “Floating Water”), Dark Water is the tale of Dahlia Williams (Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly), a woman in the middle of a messy custody battle with her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott of Ever After and Mission: Impossible II) over their six-year-old, Cecilia (Ariel Gade).
Forced by economics to move into a rundown apartment block in Roosevelt Island just outside of New York City, Dahlia's life quickly becomes harried and strained as the weight from her troubled childhood collides with the unsettling events that begin to take place in her new home.
Connelly (who is amazing here, just as she was in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream) submits an astoundingly naturalistic performance, and is merely the tip of an intimidating and effective thespic iceberg, which includes John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Pete Postlethwaite, and The Practice's Camryn Manheim. Even young Gade as Ceci is impressive.
And the kudos aren't just for the performers. There is the man behind the camera who must be commended as well.

What Salles has managed to do here is take his talent for presenting the audience with real, textured, and nuanced characters—as those in his Oscar-recognized Central do Brasil (Central Station)—and apply that strength to the ghost story template, producing a masterful work with potent emotional impact.
Taking the themes of Nakata's original—love and abandonment, and how both are not necessarily mutually exclusive—Salles gives us a horror film that manages to transcend the idea of horror as genre/marketing category, and enter the realm of horror as emotion. Salles' Dark Water isn't about the long-haired ghost and the sudden cheap scare to get the audience to jump in their seats. It's about the slow realization that horror (or at least the seed of it, its potential) is, in a sense, all around us, and that horror can wrench the soul just as much as grief can. Salles isn't interested in goose bumps and the shrill shriek followed by nervous laughter; he explores dread and anxiety, the fears we all face on any given day: will there always be someone who will love us, or will we be ultimately left, alone and alienated?

Now, if you're beginning to think this may not be your idea of a horror film, maybe you should listen to your instincts.
Since my exposure to horror at an early age (one of the pivotal moments, watching Richard Donner's The Omen in the long-gone and sorely missed Rizal Theater at age 8), I have had the distinct privilege of exploring its breadth and depth, in both film and literature, appreciating the shock metal grue of splatterpunk and the delicate atmospherics of quiet horror, and everything else in between; all the ghosts and psychopaths, werewolves and vampires, zombies and cannibals, and other assorted things that go bump in the night, which caper and twitter and twirl madly in the vast spectrum of the realm of horror.
Karen Berger, editor-in-chief and mother of DC's Vertigo line of comic books once said, "Horror is a great backdrop or platform to explore a lot of relevant modern-day issues. Neil [Gaiman] and a lot of the Vertigo writers used horror as a genre device to explore deeper things." She also went on to talk about using horror as a backdrop "... to explore the world in which we live, and the real disturbing aspects about society and humanity, and everyday life."
Horror is meant to be unsettling; it is there to jolt and jostle us out of our complacency, to counter-act the anaesthesized delusion of the Hollywood feel-good movie, where everything is solved by a song-and-dance routine to some golden oldie, and everyone is smiling and happy before the end credits roll. Horror opens our eyes. It imparts truths to us, however harsh or bitter those truths may be, in the hopes that we may have epiphanies, so we may better our selves and our lives.

Hideo Nakata, one of the premier talespinners of horror today, clearly understands this. Apparently, Walter Salles does too.
So, if you've an open mind as to what the word "horror" could mean to you, then get out there and take Dark Water in.
And if not, well, there's always the next horror film, complete perhaps, with long-haired ghost, ready to glide into the multiplex sooner than you think.

(The above review began life under the title “Seepage (Taking in Dark Water).”)

(Dark Water OS courtesy of; Dark Water DVD cover art courtesy of

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Episode 7

So, Marty’s sent home.
That was a bit of a surprise, and quick, as the news broke at the top of the show. Abrupt, but I guess ultimately, merciful, as two contestants didn’t have to endure the entire show before finding out whose time was up.
I did expect though that Kenny would go first, before Marty, given Kenny’s clearly non-blockbuster, non-mainstream brand of filmmaking.
And the other funny thing about Marty getting the least number of votes: how many blockbusting Hollywood thrillers out there are heaps of flash and style with the substance quotient—if any—coming in way behind? You’d think that there’d be a sizeable contingent backing Marty up. Unless it was Marty’s `tude that did him in.
Which brings me to a little something I’ve noticed.
I realize this is a reality show and there’ll always be a certain element of this going on, but some contestants are just playing up to the audience, when a lot of the time, they should just let the work speak for itself without having to try and garner votes by pushing buttons. Define yourself through your work and not your press, people.
And with that, let’s get on to this week’s batch of shorts.

Interesting batch tonight, and again, no Un-Favorite, so let’s kick it off, shall we?

MY FAVORITE: Zach Lipovsky’s “Sunshine Girl”
Another solid triumph for the wiz kid, this one is a heartbreakingly magical tale that manages to capture that elusive feeling of childhood in three achingly short and wondrous minutes. And the little girl gives one of the best performances of the night.
(Just go to and check this one out.)

Will Bigham’s “Glass Eye”
Like Will’s “Lucky Penny,” this one’s a nice little charmer about a man, his glass eye, and his dog. Props to Will’s wife, who sings Rigoletto in the background. (At least, Garry Marshall said it was Rigoletto, so I’m taking his word for it.)

Jessica Brillhart’s “The Orchard”
A horror short about a guy cutting a tree down to size.
Believe it or not, this one could have been a contender for My Favorite, but it lacked a punchline with teeth.
I mean, I get Jessica’s point, and the short looked great and she does manage to build mood and get some tension going, but I kept on hoping that tree would just b!tchslap the dude something fierce. (Or, you know, Evil Dead him.)

Jason Epperson’s “Blood Born”
Definitely better than Jason’s “Getta Rhoom,” this one’s about a drug addict who’s in a spot of trouble with some unsavoury people. Oh, and by the way, apparently, his blood can cure people of disease.
Interesting premise, even if the look was like bargain basement Marty Martin. And I get the irony too, that this gift is given to a lowlife scumbag and how that can rob the entire world of a miracle.
But the lead actor just didn’t have the chops, and Jason’s editing could use a little more work.

MY LEAST FAVORITE: Mateen Kemet’s “Lost”
Like last week’s “Beeline,” this wasn’t a bad short.
It was actually a rather good one, with some heavy mature material being dealt with (a couple confront some unresolved issues from their break-up). The dialogue was good, and the performances were better (along with the “Sunshine Girl,” the best of the night), but it just didn’t seem to have an ending that felt like an ending. (Or, as Carrie Fisher put it, “a third act.”)
We’re presented with the situation, but all we see are two people flapping their lips at a restaurant.
How do we know that the guy really has changed and that he’s got his priorities straight now? Because he says so.
How do we know that the girl really was being taken for granted and not just the really needy, clingy type? Because she says so.
Would it have helped if it had had a flashback montage of the couple in better times, with manipulative “cue the drama moments with some sad piano music playing” bits? Maybe, maybe not.
But at least we could have left that damned table.

Next week, six new comedy shorts.

Parting shot: I’m glad to see Kenny’s still in the game, though now, there’s no Marty for him to be the anti-Marty to…

Parting shot 2: It was also great to see Wes Craven, and though it’s been awhile since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a film he directed—Scream 2? Man, that was a while back—he’s one of those horror film icons who can sometimes still pull it out of the bag.
(I did enjoy Feast, on which he was an executive producer, as well as the Pulse remake, for which he wrote the screenplay. By the same token though, I did not enjoy The Hills Have Eyes 2 remake (review in Archive: April 2007), which he also produced and co-wrote the screenplay for…)

(Contestant image courtesy of; Wes Craven image courtesy of

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

reVIEW (3)
[1 of 2]

Hideo Nakata's Ringu opens with an image of the sea, waves moving in its ceaseless, eternal rhythm. His Hitchcockian psychosexual thriller Kaosu (Chaos) has its title card set against a shot of rain. Even his first Hollywood film, The Ring Two, opens with images of water. If opening images are anything to go by, Nakata seems to have a yen for water.
If there is any credence to this notion, then actually having the word in a film's title, and having it as a central image, might just have been inevitable.
Once again adapting material by Koji Suzuki, as he did with Ringu—this time out, the short story “Floating Water”—Nakata opens Honogurai mizu no soko kara with a credit sequence whose backdrop is filthy water, immediately submerging the audience in the medium used by the tale's supernatural menace to spread its sinister influence.

Appropriating as its English-language title the name of the Suzuki collection where “Floating Water” is contained, Dark Water revolves around Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki), a separated single parent raising a child on her own (as was the scenario in Ringu). This time around, the child is a little girl, Ikuko (Rio Kanno), who finds herself in the middle of a custody battle. And while this domestic crisis is on-going, mother and daughter move into a new apartment, where strange incidents immediately begin to occur, as a ghostly force seems to have found a target in little Ikuko.
What follows is a film with more ambitious aims than Ringu, and one of its triumphs is that Nakata succeeds in hitting the bull's eye dead-on.

Though Yoshimi is just as harried a single mother as Reiko Asakawa was in Ringu, Yoshimi has abandonment issues from her childhood, that she is anxious she not repeat in Ikuko's case. Ultimately, this is a bitter irony, given what Yoshimi is forced to do to resolve the central dilemma of Dark Water. Also, Ikuko is a far more normal child than Ringu's Yoichi, who emanated an unsettling, other-worldly maturity in his demeanor.
With these telling differences, it is clear that Nakata strives to people the story with individuals, to steep the tale in as much reality as possible, before the supernatural slowly seeps into its fabric.
Structure-wise, he even does away with the gambit of the creepy opening set piece, as seen in Ringu. In fact, Dark Water could have been played with the tantalizing possibility that all the strangeness was taking place in Yoshimi's head, a ploy perhaps of her scheming husband to gain custody of Ikuko. This isn't Nakata's tack, however. But given that the story could have been told from this angle, pitting the tension of a natural, rational explanation against a supernatural, irrational one, becomes a testament to the authenticity of the scenario; of its reality.

While in Ringu there was already a strong feminine presence, with Reiko and Sadako (and, to a limited extent, Yamamura), in Dark Water, the masculine presence is nearly non-existent, with only Yoshimi's ex-husband, a helpful lawyer, and a couple of other males playing very minimal roles. As far as Dark Water goes, the feminine is near-ubiquitous, which seems only natural, considering the film's central image of water.
In the Chinese belief system, yin ("shaded") energies are feminine, as opposed to the masculine yang ("sunlit"). Yin is also water and darkness, while yang is fire and light. Thus, yin is the negative part of the equation, while yang is the positive, sadly reinforcing the sexist belief of women being the weaker gender. A proper balance between these two forces is believed to be a prerequisite for the perfect life.
So perhaps it is this imbalance in Yoshimi's life that brings down the misfortune in the first place, but what Nakata ultimately does in Dark Water, consciously or otherwise, is to short-circuit the whole yin/yang balance, proving that a problem can be faced and addressed without the need of a male presence. Yoshimi is able to protect her child, her maternal love giving her the strength to pay the hefty price for Ikuko's safety.

Nakata is also able to present us with one of the hoariest scenarios in horror, the haunted house, and still make the goosebumps rise. And he doesn't even need to rely on outlandish production design, as in Jan De Bont's terrible misfire, The Haunting, to make the setting a character in its own right. All we have here is an apartment building, run-down and gloomy. A cramped, creaky elevator here, a water stain on the ceiling there, a grotty water tank on the rooftop, and presto, instant creepy haunted house.

Another nice touch in Dark Water is that, ultimately, the ghostly presence isn't truly a malignant one: it is only because of its loneliness that it reaches out to the living, unknowing (or perhaps, unmindful) of the harm it is causing in its wake. This isn't some raging spirit who sets off a spiteful curse that claims lives indiscriminately, by pure chance. This is a wraith with very specific needs and desires, paradoxically making it that much more malevolent, even if its motives aren't.
In the process of telling his story, Nakata is able to raise the issue of just how damaging to a child's psyche abandonment can be. Again, ironic given the story's resolution; as in Ringu, the mother is forced to do all she can to protect her child, though safety in Dark Water comes at a far greater cost. Here is an ending that could quite possibly be a far more cruel thorn than Ringu's cold-blooded climax, due to the element of self-sacrifice involved.

It is evident that Nakata intended Dark Water to be a horror movie with substance, and that it is, an urban ghost story whose ultimate influence is far more subtle than the obvious effects of the Ringu Cycle, though no less potent and crucial to the evolution of modern horror cinema.

(The above review began life under the title “... And Not A Drop To Drink (Diving Back into Dark Water).”)

(Honogurai mizu no soko kara DVD cover art courtesy of; Dark Water collection cover art courtesy of

Monday, June 18, 2007

Season 2 Episode 8

“Valerie On The Stairs”
Teleplay by Mick Garris; based on the short story by Clive Barker; directed by Mick Garris

“`Valerie on The Stairs’ is about a house which has been given by a now-dead writer, a failed writer, over as a kind of hospice for failed writers. They take rooms and they can stay there and the moment they get a piece of work published, they're out, OK? I think in the story there are nine rooms; it's a big house and nine fervent and fevered and desperate imaginations working each in solitude can do strange things to houses...The thing that's fun about it is it's about writers and it's about the agony of it, really, it's about the pleasure of it and it's about the things that haunt you.”
-- Clive Barker

I’m a big Clive Barker fan, so hearing he’d written a 45-page treatment for MoH, well, that got me stoked. Apparently, it’s something he’s wanted to write for quite a while, but never got around to.
Sadly though, this isn’t a particularly strong episode. Maybe this conceit would have been effective on the printed page, with Barker’s exquisite and darkly melodic prose guiding us through the tale. As it is though, an hour-long MoH entry, it just doesn’t work.

Struggling, unpublished writer Rob Hanisey (Tyron Leitso, from the brutally cancelled Wonderfalls) moves into Highberger House, a residence for aspiring writers where they can write their masterpieces free of distractions. Taking a sudden vacancy (suicide in the wake of a sea of rejection slips), it isn’t long before Hanisey starts to hear and see things, chief among these phenomena, Valerie (Clare Grant, seen recently in Black Snake Moan), a beautiful young woman with a penchant for running around starkers, and being pulled into the walls by a menacing Tony Todd (looking like a citizen of Barker’s Midian, as seen in Nightbreed).

Playing like a writer’s version of Barker’s “Son Of Celluloid,” “Valerie On The Stairs” is ultimately about the monstrous egos of writers and the true power of the imagination. A lot of the time, this sort of post-modern story, where fiction intrudes upon reality (and vice versa), doesn’t quite have the power on the screen as it does in print. Past genre offerings that followed this tack, John Carpenter’s At The Mountains Of Madness and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, were both botched attempts at this kind of tricky storytelling.
And perhaps, like Carpenter’s Mountains, “Valerie On The Stairs” doesn’t work because it’s telling a story about the novel and writers and the written word; it’s being post-modern with a different medium, which has a different set of rules. (Having said this, the long-talked about film adaptation of “Son Of Celluloid” seems a more promising match for the silver screen. Set in a movie house, it’s about a sentient tumour which takes the mercurial shapes of Hollywood icons like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe.)*

Another problem which plagues this entry is a collection of half-hearted performances which badly need some raw infusions of honesty. Only Todd (who made a genre name for himself as another Barker creation, the eponymous Candyman) registers here, his darkly poetic delivery of the dialogue going a long way in making up for all the other off-key performances.
Even Back To The Future’s Christopher Lloyd (as Highberger resident Everett Neely) seems ever so slightly off his game here.

All that, and a climactic effects sequence which looks awkward and comes off flat due to its staging and execution (budgetary constraints are a real b!tch), cripple “Valerie On The Stairs,” leaving a hobbling mess that, like “Haeckel’s Tale” (another Barker adaptation, from Season 1), is a particular disappointment.

* Yes, you read that right.

Parting shot: More Barkerian news in Afterthoughts (11): Archive June 2007.

(Valerie On The Stairs DVD cover art courtesy of

Season 3 Episode 19
“The Prince’s Bride”

Drama gets a call from Brett Ratner’s people. They want to offer him a part in Rush Hour 3.
Stoked, Drama gets to Brett’s digs (which look like the Playboy Mansion on a more modest budget), but there’s been a mistake. Someone misread the Five Towns credits, and they actually wanted to offer the part to the kid who plays Drama’s younger brother.
But Drama’s already bragged like he’s got the part in the bag, so he refuses to leave till he gets a part—any part—in the movie.
Which he does. Kind’a.

Turtle gets his first date with Kelly, but an afternoon alone goes bust when Rufus, Mrs. Rufus, and Kelly’s brothers get back early.
Rufus goes down somewhere during Are We There Yet? and Mrs. Rufus tells Turtle to take Kelly and have a nice time.
They have lunch, and Kelly gets Turtle to take off his cap. (“I must really like you a lot,” he muses.)

Meanwhile, the Aquamansion’s been sold and E and Vince need someone to finance Medellin, so Ari finds Prince Yair and his ex-Ukrainian soap star wife, Nika.
And though Yair wants Sly Stallone to play Pablo Escobar’s father in the film, he’s also willing to pony up $60 mil. But Vince’s Spidey sense kicks in and he knows Nika wants in his pants. Ari and E don’t see it, but Vinnie’s convinced.
And it turns out he’s on the money, and Yair just wants to keep his wife happy, even if it’s to pay a hot Hollywood actor $60 mil to sleep with her…

(Images courtesy of

Saturday, June 16, 2007

reVIEW (2)

The Ring Two, the English-language debut of noted Japanese director Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Kaosu), is, just to establish the verdict up front, an excellent horror movie. It isn’t perfect (there is a contrivance here, a convenience there), nor is it Nakata’s best—that honor still belongs to Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water). Nevertheless, it’s a well-crafted, atmospheric piece that serves to validate and fortify some of the lamer aspects of Gore Verbinski’s unimpressive remake of Ringu, The Ring.
And, lest you may worry that The Ring Two is merely Nakata revisiting his own Ringu 2, rest assured he doesn’t do that here; though the climactic set piece is ostensibly similar to that of Ringu 2, the films’ stories aren’t the same. (Actually, if there’s a film Nakata revisits in The Ring Two, it’s quite possibly Dark Water; but more on that later.)
Returning from The Ring are mother and son protagonists, Rachel (Naomi Watts) and Aidan Keller (David Dorfman), and evil video ghost-child Samara, who’s now interested in more than just scaring young, photogenic, pimple-free American adolescents to death. She’s more ambitious this time around, our Samara.

What Nakata achieves in The Ring Two is a creepy and effective follow-through on Verbinski’s slick though terribly flawed The Ring. This is to be expected though, given that Nakata originated the entire filmic Ringu cycle, and his presence on this production not only assures masterful horror film artistry and craftsmanship, but also apparently supplies Ehren Kruger with enough inspiration (or perhaps input) to deliver a script that is far better and more substantial than the one he slapped together for The Ring.
Here, not only is the theme of maternal love and responsibility—how far would you be willing to go for love of your child?—explored more deeply than the surface-scratching lip service we witnessed in The Ring, but the ideas of the original are studied in much closer detail, allowing the audience an increased level of scrutiny, as well as a clearer understanding of why Anna Morgan (Shannon Cochran) murdered Samara in the first place (a reason more complex than the “we-must-kill-the-bad-seed” motivation provided in The Ring). Issues of abuse, neglect, and abandonment within a mother-child relationship are also considered here.
Additionally, the larger Hollywood budget allows Nakata to push the visual elements of the tale, gracing the screen with some of the most eerie and impressive paranormal effects scenes in a movie of domestic horror since Poltergeist, incidentally, also one of the earlier proponents of the television-as-an-appliance-of-doom idea.

Naturally, Nakata’s leitmotif of water, found throughout his body of work, continues here, where we are made privy to what water means to Samara, again forming mental connections to some of the elements in The Ring, almost as if part of Nakata’s agenda was to make Verbinski’s film make more sense in retrospect.
There’s also a scene here, recalling a similar sequence in Richard Donner’s The Omen, which serves to bolster the entire equine epidemic subplot in The Ring, which, in the sole context of Verbinski’s film, was digressive and rather pointless.
If anything, The Ring Two ends up making The Ring look like an interesting prelude to the real, substantial story, as if all this time, Verbinski’s effort had actually been a prologue disguised as a feature-length film.
The Ring Two can also be seen on a certain level, to be a further explication and elaboration of some of the themes and ideas found in Nakata’s Dark Water. Which is not to say that this is a rehash; The Ring Two is still very much its own animal, a slick horror film with atmosphere and depth, a rare breed in Hollywood.

So, while we await Nakata’s next English-language project, we have the director’s successful first dip into the raging waters of American moviemaking. Here’s hoping Nakata’s Inhuman (apparently his next Hollywood project; see The Director’s Chair (1): Archive June 2007) will be another specimen of that rare breed of Hollywood horror film The Ring Two belongs to.

(The Ring Two review began life under the title “Round and Round We Go Again.”)

(The Ring Two OS courtesy of


(Hideo Nakata and the Hollywood Game)”

A good movie from Hollywood is like a ghost: you hear about them, but you hardly (if ever) actually see them.
Hideo Nakata… now he’s a man who knows his ghosts.
I’m sure you know the story.

The cursed videotape. Sadako of the long black hair, whose unquiet spirit lives in a well, who emerges from television sets to literally scare her victims to death.
I’m talking, of course, about Ringu, Hideo Nakata’s chilling adaptation of a Koji Suzuki novel, a movie which single-handedly ignited the Asian horror film scene, paving the way for film-makers from Korea (Kim Ji-woon, Park Ki-hyung), Hong Kong (Kuo-fu Chen, Pou-Soi Cheang), Thailand (the Pang brothers), and Nakata’s homeland, Japan (Norio Tsuruta, Takashi Shimizu), to strut their spectral stuff on the silver screen.
The boom was so resounding, it was heard all the way in Hollywood, which has gone on a feeding frenzy, purchasing English-language remake rights to even the most lame and tepid of the recent entries.
Thus far, there’ve been two Rings (the second brilliant, the first not)*, two Grudges (both ultimately disappointing), a Dark Water (brilliant), and a Pulse (again, brilliant), with more still ‘round the corner: The Eye, One Missed Call, Mirrors (from Korea’s Into The Mirror), and the long-in-development redux of Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters).**
Even Sigaw is being remade as The Echo, with Jesse Bradford (of Bring It On and Swimf@n) in the lead role.

This entire redux frenzy can largely be traced back to Nakata’s door.
With low budgets and simple stories, Nakata is able to infuse the screen with atmosphere and character, two things Hollywood has difficulty grasping. He expertly crafts confidently-paced tales, exploring themes of abandonment and betrayal and love, of the elusive power and nature of the feminine. All this, and he scares the hell out of us too. What more could you ask for?
Directors of the caliber and talent of Walter Salles (who directed the Dark Water remake) and Jonathan Glazer (see below) interested in revisiting his work: surely this must be a strong testament to the integrity and craftsmanship of the originals. Sadly, it’s these same characteristics that evaporate into the rarefied, climate-controlled air of the multiplex when the remake is particularly clumsy and inept.

There is also the inherent problem of the test screening.
The release date for Salles’ Dark Water was bounced around a lot due to the issues raised by unsatisfactory test screenings, which forcibly reshape a film, sometimes even changing its ending to better suit the audience’s tastes. (Famously, films like Fatal Attraction and Pretty In Pink had their endings revised due to this process.)
More and more, a Hollywood film is Art by Committee, if you can still even call it “art” when the final fate of a film is left in the hands of test audiences across America.
Subjected to this process, a film becomes a cold, calculated thing, designed to cater to the least common denominator, engineered to take the particular form of its essential self that would probably rake in the greatest amount of cash. It’s sickening. I’m sure Hideo Nakata didn’t approach Ringu like that.
But such is the beast called Hollywood.

Other Asian directors have tried: Peter Ho-Sun Chan directed The Love Letter (with Kate Capshaw), before returning to Hong Kong and establishing a production company instrumental in the making of Gin Gwai (The Eye), and pan-Asian horror anthology, San geng (Three, where his elegiac “Going Home” is contained), as well as its sequel, Three… Extremes.
Whatever his reasons, Chan walked away from Hollywood.
We can only hope that Nakata, fascinated as he is by water (a recurring image in his films), can expertly navigate Hollywood’s turbulent seas; for his English-language films to ultimately have the same distinctive stamp of his earlier works (and The Ring Two was a fine start).
Perhaps then, on the inside, he can help subvert the establishment, and show Hollywood just how to catch those ghosts.

Parting shot: Since The Ring Two, Nakata’s name was floated in connection to the remakes of The Eye (ultimately landing in the directorial hands of David Moreau and Xavier Palud) and The Entity (the based-on-a-true story film of a woman who is repeatedly raped by an invisible presence), as well as an adaptation of Japanese suspense novel Out.
While things went back and forth on those projects, Nakata directed Kaidan back in Japan, and is currently at work on the Death Note prequel, L (much to my consternation; see Afterthoughts (5): Archive April 2007).
Recently, he’s been reported to have reunited with Ringu producer—as well as his co-writer on the script for Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water)—Taka Ichise, to tackle Inhuman, a horror movie pitch made by Eric Heisserer, loosely based on a Japanese murder case.

* Nakata brought to the Dreamworks sequel the slow, measured tread and creep so blatantly absent from Gore Verbinski’s slick The Ring, which was crippled even further by an unnecessarily busy script by Ehren Krueger.

** And though not a horror movie the way the others are, Nakata’s Kaosu (Chaos), a film with Hitchcock’s shadow long and dark over it, with its twists and turns and reversals, was once also being considered for the remake treatment by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth).

(The above article is a revised version of a piece previously published under the same title.)

(Image courtesy of

Thursday, June 14, 2007


11.1 They’re like the coolest comic book team-ups ever! Seriously.
I mean, Guillermo Del Toro and Clive Barker?! Guillermo Del Toro and Neil Gaiman?! Awesomeness!
Awesomeness on a level so high, this wasn’t even on my most fevered wish list.
Oh. Right. Sorry.


Like directors Luc Besson and Michael Bay, Guillermo Del Toro has, of late, made himself mighty conspicuous on the producing end of things, with films like Cronicas (Chronicles) and El Orfanato (The Orphanage).
Now, among the film projects Del Toro is currently producing are two of particular note.

The first, the long-awaited film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Death: The High Cost of Living.
Having languished in what Gaiman calls “… a kind of weird `getting-it-made’ hell” for quite a while now, this one’s gradually coming together at long last, and will reportedly contain scenes Gaiman had to cut out of the comic book due to the limited page count. Shia LaBeouf is also reportedly in the running to play Sexton Furnival, in what will be Gaiman’s feature film directorial debut.

The second, Daniel Simpson’s Born, a horror film starring Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, with Del Toro and Barker in two of the producing chairs; Barker also co-wrote the script.
It’s about a stop-motion animator whose creations begin to live out some horrific nightmare in the real world.

What did I say?

11.2 And while we’re talking about Clive Barker, there’re some more Barkerian projects coming down the pike.

First up is the currently filming Midnight Meat Train (based on the Books of Blood short story of the same name), starring Bradley Cooper (Will Tippin from Alias) and Bullet Tooth Tony himself, Vinnie Jones. Also in the cast are Brooke Shields, Roger Bart (hilarious in The Producers and Frank Oz’s The Stepford Wives, and I’m guessing not so hilarious in Hostel: Part II), and Popular’s Leslie Bibb (soon to be seen in Trick ‘r Treat and Iron Man).
This one’s got the excellent cinematographer Jonathan Sela (John Moore’s The Omen remake and Martin Weisz’s Rohtenburg: review in Achive: June 2007) on-board, and is being directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (who helmed the bizarre gangsters and zombies flick, Versus).

Also in development are two other Books of Blood tales, Pig Blood Blues and The Book of Blood.
Additionally, Barker has penned the script for the upcoming Hellraiser remake.
There’s also the long-in-gestation The Thief of Always, which has been knocking about for a yonk’s age. It was recently reported that Shrek 2 and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron helmer Kelly Asbury, was taking the director’s chair.

Meanwhile, I honestly have no idea as to the status of Barker’s Tortured Souls, which seems to have fallen into the same “`getting-it-made’ hell” The High Cost of Living was in till recently.

Ah, well. There’s Midnight Meat Train to look forward to first.
And Born.

(Images courtesy of [Guillermo Del Toro]; [Neil Gaiman]; [Clive Barker]; [Born OS]; and [Midnight Meat Train image of Vinnie Jones as Mahogany].)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Episode 6

So Trever’s sent home. If you’ve been reading my On The Lot reactions, you’ll know that decision doesn’t sit well with me. It really isn’t anything personal against Hilary, but her films just haven’t made any sort of positive impression on me. I hope she sees this as dodging yet another bullet and somehow, pulls a good one out of the bag in the next challenge.
Adrianna also neglected to mention which of last week’s shorts was Box Office Champ, which left me a tad miffed.

As for tonight’s batch of five shorts, as I don’t really have an Un-Favorite this time out, we’ll just go from my Favorite to my Least Favorite, and top it off with a Special Mention.

MY FAVORITE: Marty Martin’s “Dance With The Devil”
Yeah, the style does threaten to overwhelm (and I’m not 100% sold on the text appearing onscreen; a little too Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, where Scott just ODs his audience with gobbets of over-indulgent and headache-inducing style), and the characters are rather one-dimensional, and the confidence-always-threatening-to-spill-over-into-arrogance doesn’t really help either, but this one definitely looked the best, and was absorbing.
But dude, try not to be too defensive with the judges.
(And while on the subject of Tony Scott, wasn’t his BMW short titled “Beat The Devil”? Just wondering out loud…)

Andrew Hunt’s “Polished”
The office pariah, the janitor, takes vengeance on his co-workers with some floor wax and hamburgers.
Funny, yeah, but the pay-off doesn’t quite make up for the lengthy build-up.
(In Andrew’s defense, he did direct this short while in the midst of wedding preparations, so he was multi-tasking…)

David May’s “Love At First Shot”
A cellphone-carrying Cupid helps out with some geek love.
Again, funny, but like “Polished,” the pacing leaves something to be desired. (To its credit though, it was funnier than David’s previous effort, “File Size.”)

MY LEAST FAVORITE: Shira-Lee Shalit’s “Beeline”
A single mother does her darnedest to keep her sex life a secret from her extortionist son.
Two out of three judges liked this one, but it just didn’t rev my engine. And please note, it’s not an Un-Favorite, so I didn’t hate it; it’s just the one that left the least impression on me.

SPECIAL MENTION: Kenny Luby’s “Edge On The End”
It would’ve been so easy to just say this was my Un-Favorite, but it would’ve been for the wrong reasons.
In this one, a young man turns to alcohol to ease the sting of grief at the passing of his father.
A dramatic enough premise, but Kenny chooses to execute it in an experimental short film/music video style that makes actually accessing honest emotion a little difficult. So much so that when the epiphany comes and the grief-stricken young man turns his back on the bottle, I didn’t feel the catharsis.
But it by no means is a bad short film; it just doesn’t seem to quite fit in with the rest of the shorts.
There’s a place for a Kenny Luby in the film world, but that place may not necessarily be On The Lot

Having said that, it sounds like I think Kenny should be sent home from this batch, and that’s definitely not the case. The competition’s that much more interesting with Kenny—I think of him as the anti-Marty—in it.
Given that “Beeline” was my Least Favorite, I’d then have to say I think Shari-Lee should go home, though if the judges’ words have any weight with the voting public, she’s probably safe. And to be fair, “Beeline” isn’t bad; it’s just not my speed.
Which should make next week’s eliminations pretty interesting…

Tonight’s guest judge, director of The Devil Wears Prada and the Entourage pilot, as well as Season 1 episode, “The Scene,” David Frankel. (Frankel's also done some Sex and the City and a couple of Band of Brothers. Heh. That sounds funny, doesn't it?)

(Contestant image courtesy of; David Frankel image on the set of The Devil Wears Prada, courtesy of


Given Hollywood’s sometimes annoying penchant for the redux, I’m starting this irregular series wherein I’ll be doing two things: either go back and re-watch a film I haven’t seen in a while and finally write a review for it, or, in the case of films I’ve already written reviews for, exhume said reviews, touch them up for public viewing, then have them zombie-toddle onto the world wide web, where they shall hopefully entertain and enlighten, as they were always meant to do.
These reviews will, of course, be of films that have remakes headed towards a multiplex near you.
And first up, Shutter

Looking back…


In the still-burgeoning Asian horror scene, Thailand is best known for having produced the Pang Brothers, who gave us Gin Gwai (The Eye) and its sequel, as well as Bangkok Haunted.
There are, however, other Thai directors who have also contributed to the movement, such as Nonzee Nimibutr, who brought us Jan Dara, as well as the “The Wheel“ segment of the pan-Asian horror anthology, San Geng (Three).
And then there are Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, with Shutter.

Photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham), along with his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), is coming from the reception of a just-married friend, when an apparent accident kicks off the supernatural happenings of the film. Cue the by-now standard long-haired female ghost of the genre, and Shutter goes into full swing.
One of the film’s shortcomings though, is that it doesn’t swing quite as much as one would hope. Though Shutter is pretty evenly-paced, that pace may be a bit too leisurely for its own good. A sense of tension and danger is traded in for a steady, measured creep that falls short of weaving the veil of atmosphere and dread you’re fully expecting it to build up to.
Instead, Shutter seems more interested in wrangling what it can out of its central conceit of spirit photography, than paying closer attention to its story and that story’s pacing. Though the old flip book trick with the photographs is still utilized with creepy effectiveness here, and Tun with the Polaroid towards film’s end is a nice tense sequence with a nifty and macabre pay-off, the other photo-related scares are rather run-of-the-mill.

What cripples Shutter even more is the fact that Tun doesn’t come across as a sympathetic character, and the penultimate reveal makes him even less so. Jane is pretty much a cipher as well, content to play the role of concerned girlfriend caught up in the story’s events simply by association.
Presented thus with characters who aren’t readily identifiable and engaging, the audience is left in the position of impartial observer, like the photographer behind the lens, waiting for just the precise moment when all the elements feel right, and the instant is one worthy of posterity. Sadly, that moment never comes, and we’re left with our thumb hovering over the button, unsatisfied and vaguely annoyed.
Thus, with that buffer between the audience and the story, most of the scares feel filtered and muted. The fact that many of them are old hat doesn’t help either.

The film’s pace and Tun’s likeability as a character are assaulted even further by the decision to leave a chunk of the supernatural goings-on (those not occurring directly to either Tun or Jane) off-screen. When Tun discovers what the ghost has been up to beyond his (and the audience’s) purview, it only serves to make him seem painfully self-involved, making the viewer ask himself, What kind of a friend and person is Tun, really? A question answered towards film’s end, sounding the death knell for whatever little sympathy we may have managed to scrape together for poor Tun.
Ultimately, Shutter isn’t horrible nor is it unwatchable. It just doesn’t rise very much from the merely passable. And though that is better than being pedestrian and mundane, it doesn’t quite cut it in the veritable monsoon of Asian horror films that continues to flood multiplexes from Hong Kong to Tokyo, from Seoul to Bangkok to Manila.

“They are around us,” or so the tagline for Shutter claims, referring of course, to ghosts. But in this day and age, they may as well be talking about Asian horror films. Shoulder to shoulder, their ghosts stand, features obscured by the ebony fall of their long, dark hair. The homogeneity must be broken though, the hair pulled back from the wraiths’ faces, that we may appreciate them in their particularity, rather than the gradually-blurring collective they are becoming, the group picture of them that is losing its color and detail, as the months and years go by.

Since then…

The directing tandem of Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom saw the release of their follow-up horror effort, Faet (Alone), this past March in Thailand.
Haven’t been able to see that one yet, though I am curious…

Looking forward…

The English-language remake has its setting moved to Japan, with Rachel Taylor and Joshua Jackson as the young couple in peril. Taylor can be seen in the WWE horror movie See No Evil, and in the upcoming Transformers, while Jackson is of course, best known as Pacey from the Creek, and has appeared in past horror movies, the so-so Urban Legend and the appropriately titled Cursed.
Also in the remake are Ando himself, James Kyson Lee, Roy from the US redux of The Office, David Denham, and Matt from Nip/Tuck, John Hensley.
It’s directed by Masayuki Ochiai, who gave us Parasaito Ivu (Parasite Eve) and Kansen (Infection), neither of which I was terribly impressed by, but I do hope Ochiai manages to improve on the original, particularly in the lead character department.

(The Shutter review began life under the title, “Out of Focus.”)

(Shutter OS courtesy of

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A few introductory words…

This is the inaugural voyage of reVIEW, where I’ll be running reviews of past films for any number of reasons.
For example, for this particular installment, I’m resurrecting an old review of Tim Story’s Fantastic Four, as its sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, opens tomorrow in the local multiplexes.
Will it be better than its predecessor? I certainly hope so…

reVIEW (1)

Since 1998’s Blade, Marvel has glutted the multiplexes with film adaptations of their comic book superheroes: inclusive of Blade, an even dozen in 7 years. Sadly though, I've only fully enjoyed three of these: Guillermo Del Toro’s Blade II, Bryan Singer’s X2, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. (I actually have a lot of issues with X-Men and Spider-Man 2, so they're not on that particular shortlist.)

The rest, well…

So where does that leave Marvel’s latest, Tim Story’s Fantastic Four? Biting a whole hell of a lot of cosmic dust.

Brilliant and bankrupt scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, King Arthur’s Lancelot) approaches long-time rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, from TV’s Profiler, Charmed, and Nip/Tuck) to fund a space mission to research the effects of a cosmic storm on the genetic structure of organisms. Along for the ride are Richards’ best friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, TV’s The Shield), his ex-girlfriend, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), and Sue’s brother, Johnny (Cellular’s Chris Evans).
In grand comic book tradition, the irradiation they suffer in a freak accident causes genetic mutations (CGI, ahoy!) which, though apparently giving Doom precisely what he wants, pisses him off so much, he goes after the media-dubbed Fantastic Four, intent on putting their budding superhero careers to a quick and sudden stop.
Now, fair warning, I’m not exaggerating when I say that that’s the whole movie. No frills, no nothing. Just that.

On the heels of Marvel’s recent stinkers, Blade: Trinity and Elektra, I was truly hoping that Fantastic Four would at least have some of the kinetic energy all comic book films should have as a matter of course.
Instead, it’s a pretty standard and unimpressive tale we’re treated to. Which is doubly frustrating for me, as Four’s script was co-written by Mark Frost, who co-created (with David Lynch) my all-time favorite television series, Twin Peaks, and wrote the excellent period thriller The List of 7. I’m not exactly sure what Frost contributed to the script, but I’m hard-pressed to find anything of significant redeeming value.
The plot, as I outlined above, is a bare-bones comic adventure of the old school, with characters that never manage to rise above the two dimensions of their four-color pulp origins.

In the nearly two hours of running time, we are told who these characters are, without the plot actually presenting any opportunity for us to see what they’re really about.
We’re constantly told how smart Reed is, but never actually see Gruffudd come across as frighteningly intellectual; he seems more uptight and distracted. Ben’s loyalty to Reed seems hardly sketched in. Alba (making a bid to join the ranks of Genre Pin-Up Girls) meanwhile, also doesn’t register as the genetics expert she’s supposed to be. Assertive woman, sometimes. Brainy, no.
The only one who manages to come across is Evans, who even cuts the figure of a superhero in the body-hugging costumes designed by Jose Fernandez and Wendy Partridge. (Partridge also designed costumes for Del Toro films Blade II and Hellboy.) Of course, Johnny Storm is the most shallow of the quartet, so his let’s-have-fun-with-this philosophy gets really old, really quick.
And McMahon’s Doom, though certainly not as dismal a villain as Dominic Purcell’s Drake in Blade: Trinity, is still a painfully flat and uninteresting character.
Thus, saddled with these cardboard cut-outs moving through the paces of a threadbare plot, nothing in this film seems of any particular consequence, and the climactic battle unfolds as obligatory pantomime, the closing celebration like a cartoon ending with all the heroes smiling and laughing, and the sinister coda a painful telegraph of “Sequel!”

Once more, Marvel, in its rush to get its properties on the silver screen, has apparently handed material over to writers and directors who don’t seem to know what to do with it.
There is nothing particularly fresh in Fantastic Four to make the film worth the audience’s while. This is stale and leaden, yet another sign of Marvel’s acceptance of the mediocre for the end result of character recognizability (which translates into revenue from the myriad media tie-ins, including of course, the comics from which the characters stem).
In the end though, it is Marvel’s seeming lack of respect for the film medium which leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Comic book characters may be one of Hollywood’s hot properties du jour, but all bubbles burst, and, with what Marvel’s doing these days, they’re shortening the bubble’s half-life in fantastic leaps and amazing bounds.

(This review was originally published—yes, as in printed on paper made from dead trees—under the title, “Can’t Seem To Get Past Four.”)

(Fantastic Four OS courtesy of

Monday, June 11, 2007


Round 6 of the on-going clash with the After Dark Horrorfest line-up and my iguana goes down!
With only one previous win on After Dark’s record (Nacho Cerda’s The Abandoned), my iguana goes in to take the measure of The Butcher Brothers’ The Hamiltons, is taken completely by surprise, and gets the floor wiped with her tush.

The Hamiltons follows four siblings fending for themselves after the deaths of their parents some years back.
David (Samuel Child) is the eldest suddenly burdened with the responsibility of watching over his family; Wendell and Darlene (Joseph McKelheer; and Harmony from Greg Harrison’s Groove, Mackenzie Firgens) are the troublesome twins; and Francis (Cory Knauf) is the youngest and most disenfranchised of the four, still missing his parents terribly, and needing to find his place in the scheme of things.
You see, Francis believes he’s unlike the rest of his family, believes he doesn’t belong here, with them.
The thing is, his family has the ugly habit of abducting innocent women and chaining them up in the basement, where something wild and feral they call “Lenny” is kept under lock and key.

There are two central mysteries that run the length of The Hamiltons’ running time: why exactly do they keep these women chained in the basement, and what the frak is “Lenny”?
And though the seasoned horror vet will at least probably hit upon the truth of The Hamiltons as a possibility in his mental shortlist, it is to the credit of The Butcher Brothers and co-writer Adam Weiss that the pay-off is an interesting and effective one, and turns the film into something I hadn’t quite anticipated: a coming-of-age tale.

Clearly the odd-man-out in the family, Francis becomes the audience proxy, as he videos the bizarre goings-on in their home, ostensibly as a “school project.” As a narrative device, the video documentation of Francis’ home life (complete with voice-overs delving into Francis’ thoughts and feelings) isn’t anything necessarily new or terribly inventive. It does, however, lend an air of earnest emotion to the material, something rarely seen in indie horror, where the main concern is usually how to get as much realistic gore onscreen on the severely limited budget at hand.
Though he was once close to David, his older brother has become the surrogate father, more the Enemy now than the Confidante he once was. And Wendell and Darlene, like many sets of twins, are a unit in and of themselves, a clique of two impenetrable to an outsider, even one already within the filial borders.
Isolated, alone, Francis has no one to turn to, but Sam (Rebekah Hoyle), one of the current prisoners in the Hamiltons’ basement. And in showing tiny kindnesses to Sam (bringing her a Coke, letting her eat a hamburger), Francis realizes his dilemma: he wishes his family were caught, and yet when faced with the opportunity to call the police in to do just that—as well as save Sam—he wonders, Who will take care of him? Where will he go? To whose collective shall he belong?
As extremely dysfunctional as his family is, it is the one to which he belongs, and his mother always believed that family was the “heart of everything.” Even existence.

Which brings us to the other important theme of The Hamiltons: monsters are people too, and even monsters need a family to belong to.
Now, we’ve seen the idea of a group of monsters as a community, more specifically, a family unit; Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, The X-Files’ “Home” episode.
But in all of these, the monster aspect was always the more dominant, and the characters not really meant to be relatable.
In The Hamiltons, we are shown a family that resorts to gruesome behaviour, but really only because this is something they need to do for their survival. What Francis perceives as cold-blooded homicidal actions are simply things that need to be done, and his siblings’ attitudes towards the acts (particularly the twins’) perhaps coping mechanisms for dealing with what they need to do simply to maintain their existence.
And in Francis’ climactic epiphany, he comes to realize this is truly what he is, and his family is here because they need each other. And in that realization, he also understands that this is where he is meant to be. As David points out after Francis has taken that first step towards maturity and filial responsibility, their father would be proud.

Now, though this idea of the filial possibilities of a monster’s existence has been done to potent effect in literature (particularly by Melanie Tem, in Desmodus—vampires—and in Wilding—werewolves), I’m hard-pressed to think of a precedent in film. And though by the very nature of its premise and the average budget of an indie horror production, The Hamiltons is far more grounded and limited in scope than either of Tem’s novels, it certainly manages to carry its own weight, and much like The Abandoned, is decidedly unlike your average horror movie of the moment.
In point of fact, given that I can’t think of a film precedent in terms of The Hamiltons’ theme and approach, it’s quite unlike your average horror movie of any moment.
Which is why it won this round, and is, in my estimation, the best of the half-dozen After Dark Horrorfest titles I’ve seen thus far.

Which is not to say it’s perfect, mind you.
The script could have used a wee bit more tightening, and the performances could have been more nuanced (the fact that the twins seem to be ready to accept more filial responsibility at the same time Francis has his epiphany is quite possibly due to the fact that this is a big thing, their younger brother’s coming of age, but somehow that doesn’t quite come across, and the timing seems a tad convenient, as if we needed them to straighten out just that much, so we could have the ending that we do).
But in the big picture, those are merely suggestions that may have resulted in a better film. As it is now, The Hamiltons is already an exceptional piece of modern indie horror, and was acclaimed at both the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the Malibu Film Festival.
And, as with some of the horror movies I’ve reviewed here, this is the kind of film that may confound those who come at the term “horror movie” with certain preconceived notions. But if you love your horror, you should at least give this one a shot.
If not for me, then for my iguana. It’ll comfort her to know someone else got their clock cleaned by The Hamiltons.

Parting shot: Reviews of the After Dark Horrorfest titles The Abandoned, Dark Ride, The Gravedancers, and Wicked Little Things, can be found in the Archive.

(Image courtesy of

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Season 3 Episode 18
“The Resurrection”

It’s the day of the premiere of Five Towns on NBC, and the reviews are out, but Drama wants nothing to do with them, so he spends the day trying to relax. But it’s as he’s getting a “massage” that he succumbs to checking out the Variety review, much to his aggravation.
One confrontation with a TV reviewer later, and Drama’s in a proper funk.

Meanwhile, Turtle picks up Drama’s car, which the boys have had restored at Rufus’ Body Shop (Rufus, who got them their home system in Season 2, is now into cars, apparently). While waiting at the shop, Turtle meets Kelly, Rufus’ daughter, who’s also a sneaker freak. (Turtle later describes her as “… like me, but with tits.”)
One minor car crash later, and Turtle’s got himself a date.

Meanwhile still, Vince and E head into Ari’s office, and though Ari thinks the boys are back, they’re really only there to tell Ari to resuscitate Medellin. Knowing this is the one way he can get Vince back as a client, Ari ropes in Joe Roberts, producer of Matterhorn, the film Vince passed on way back in the Entourage pilot.
Apparently Matterhorn hasn’t gotten made yet, as Colin Farrell (who signed up to star in it) broke his arm weeks before filming was to start. So, seeing Vince’s fervent desire to do Medellin, Joe proposes a back-scratching: Vince does Matterhorn first, then they do Medellin.
But Vince still doesn’t want to do Matterhorn, and Roberts announces he’s considering buying the Medellin script. So Vince does what he can do: he decides to buy the Medellin script, with the long-term plan of producing the film himself. In what is one of the best scenes in the episode, E puts up every penny he has behind Vince’s scheme, once again confirming the depths of his friendship with Vince, and his faith in him.
And Vince is willing to put the Aquamansion up for sale just to buy the script.
One call to Roberts later (in which he talks about his days as a P.A. on Apocalypse Now), and Vince is the proud owner of 150 pieces of paper, and Ari’s got the prodigal client back.

Oh, and one pilot premiere later, and Drama’s in a hit TV show.

(Image courtesy of

Saturday, June 9, 2007


As if to pay homage to the granddaddy of all “loony in a motel” films, Vacancy opens* with what can be viewed as the 21st-century descendant of the Saul Bass-designed title sequence from Hitchcock’s Psycho, a sequence which coolly segues into the license plate of the car of Amy (Kate Beckinsale) and David Fox (Luke Wilson), a couple under the strain of an impending divorce.
It’s late, they’re lost, and the car’s beginning to look like it could be trouble. After apparently getting some help from a mechanic (Ethan Embry, goofy stoner Mark from Empire Records and the Jennifer Love Hewitt-yearning Preston from Can’t Hardly Wait), the Foxes eventually end up at the Pinewood Motel, overseen by its weirdo manager, Mason (Frank Whaley, fantastic in Keith Gordon’s A Midnight Clear and Thomas Carter’s Swing Kids).
They’re forced to spend the night at the ratty Honeymoon Suite, and when David can’t find anything on TV, he sticks in a VHS tape.
That’s when the fun starts.

Much as Eli Roth’s Hostel did, Vacancy uses the idea of torture and violence as a commercial venture as the springboard for its plot, and succeeds in giving its audience a tense and engaging thriller.
This is doubly interesting to me, as the film’s central idea is also a reflection on the fact that this kind of horror film (alternately called “torture porn”—from a phrase coined by New York Magazine’s David Edelstein—or my personal preference, “gorno”) is proving very profitable for Hollywood.
If the baddies of Hostel and Vacancy can make a quick buck off the misery and torture of hapless innocents, than why can’t Hollywood rip off audiences the world over with shrill screams and fake blood?
For any of you out there though who may take offense at anything called “torture porn,” let me assure you, Vacancy’s on-screen gore quotient is minimal in the extreme. There is violence of course, but not the sort of splatter movie violence where we see dismemberment and eye gouging and disemboweling. Vacancy is more thriller than gorno, and it’s a taut little bugger too.

What makes Vacancy even more effective is the fact that you become embroiled in this sullen, largely toxic relationship between husband and wife, played effectively by Beckinsale and Wilson. You feel the tension and the regret that this couple share, and you sense the spectre of the love that was once there.
You sympathize with them so much, that when the fit hits the shan, it’s actually a relief that they don’t devolve into hysterical recrimination. (After all, isn’t the fact that your lives are in danger far more important than anything else?)
It’s also a relief to see Beckinsale in something other than body-hugging black leather making out with Ben from Felicity, so if just for that, Amy Fox is a singular triumph.

If Vacancy has a weakness though, it can arguably be found in an ending that both soft pedals what came just before it, and perhaps in striving for realism (no protracted “psycho gets up after being stabbed/shot/mortally wounded to relentlessly stalk his victim” sequence here), director Nimrod Antal (Kontroll) and writer Mark L. Smith wind up crafting a climax that feels somewhat truncated.
That last shot had a feeling of: What?! That’s it?
Still, all in all, the ride getting to that final shot is worth it.
And if you’re not gonna give me much more than a good story about people in extreme, life-threatening situations (ie. no social or political commentary amidst the grue), then I’d much rather see an effective, if somewhat flawed, thriller than scene after scene of pointless blood and gore.

* It’s a savvy title sequence that’s one of the most interesting I’ve seen this year. (And that one sheet just slays, too.)

Parting shot: I love the conflation “gorno” (gore + porno), as it has that sleazy vibe to it, and a majority of the sub-genre’s titles strike me as violence for violence’s sake.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good horror film. Always have, always will.
But once you’ve seen Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, seeing other films of extreme violence (or, Heaven help me, seeing remakes of these classic films of extreme violence) just seems rather pointless, if they have nothing much more in their celluloid beyond the gore and grue.
Unless the point is to make a ton of money on a relatively low budget, which seems to be the case a lot of the time.
Now, when the film is a Hostel or a Saw, then I get it, and these are two of the films that give gorno its good name.
But when it’s a Turistas, or a Saw sequel, or a Texas Chainsaw remake (or prequel), or a Hills Have Eyes remake (or sequel remake), then these are the sort of films that give gorno its bad name.
And as you can see from the above sampling, they outnumber the goodies, believe me.

(Vacancy OS courtesy of