Wednesday, August 27, 2008


AFTERTHOUGHTS (102)
AUDITIONS OF MYSTERY!!!

How far can you go? it asks.
Can you transform yourself? it inquires.
Are you willing to do something new? it beseeches.
Let’s face it: it really wants to know.

If you’re 16 to 23 years old and are willing to be in the spotlight, there’re a couple of auditions for you this weekend on August 30 & 31, at 10AM, Unit 6H, 8101 Pearl Plaza, Pearl Drive, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.
Click on the image above to embiggen, for the details (what you need to do and bring for the auditions).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


ALL THE BOYS
LOVE MANDY LANE

(Review)

“There she is, boys. Mandy Lane.
“Untouched, pure. Since the dawn of Junior year, men have tried to possess her, and to date, all have failed. Some have even died in their reckless pursuit of this angel.
“I’ve invited her out to my ranch this weekend… my kingdom.
“So I ask you, gentlemen, am I the sh!t? To which I reply, ‘Yes, I am.’
“But will she come?”

Hidden Palms’ Amber Heard is Mandy Lane, the virginal object of lust for every straight Junior male at her high school, and she’s about to spend the weekend with a bunch of her new friends.
The weekend, however, will turn out to be wilder than anyone bargained for.


Jonathan Levine’s All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is an old school slasher flick, shot in a decidedly modern style by cinematographer Darren Genet.
To successfully meet its slasher credentials, it’s got the rabid, horny teens drinking and doing drugs and having sex (or trying to, at the very least), as well as the steadily rising body count.
That part of All The Boys—and its climactic surprise—is the part that works. Even though I twigged to the “surprise” as early as the tragic prologue that opens the film, it’s still pulled off credibly and with grim conviction in the film’s closing moments.
My biggest problem with All The Boys though (and I’d still have this problem, even if I hadn’t seen the twist coming), is the fact that the majority of the characters are shallow twits who just want to get a good buzz on and squirm into Mandy’s pants.


Other than Mandy (who is, of course, presented as the film’s Last Girl), there are arguably only two other characters who could possibly elicit our sympathy, one of whom is the first to bite the dust, and the other (the ranch hand, Garth, played by Conviction’s Anson Mount) presented as initially suspicious in that brooding, mysterious sort of way; Could he be some psycho cowboy? You may very well ask yourself. (There’s even mention of Garth’s back story to get the audience curious and alerted to the possibility that he could conceivably be effed-up.)
Other than these three, the rest of the characters we’re made to spend the film’s running time with are immature, self-absorbed, and largely obnoxious teens who you honestly don’t mind getting iced.
But that sort of slasher film—where the audience cheers the killer and not the would-be victims—is deservedly dead and gone and I don’t appreciate being tempted into a state of indifference towards a movie’s characters, so much so that I start to ache to see them drop like flies just so I can be relieved of their annoying presence.


As much as I appreciate the climactic swerve the script—written by Jacob Forman—takes, it’s that distinct lack of empathy for a majority of the film’s characters that throws me off about All The Boys.
Would it have been too much to ask that we’d been given a few more characters to care about? I think that would have made the film’s climax even more potent.
Or maybe if even just Chloe (Whitney Able), the resident b!tch, had been given a little more character development, then things may have played out a little better; of the other characters, it’s Chloe whose issues we’re given a glimpse of, but the script sadly doesn’t take it much further than that.

On the plus side, there are good performances all around, particularly from Heard, Mount, and Joan of Arcadia’s Michael Welch (as Mandy’s friend, Emmet).
Here, Welch thankfully makes up for the bad performance he gave in Steve Miner’s Day of the Dead remake.


My misgivings about the characters aside, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is still a noteworthy modern slasher flick that deserves a look-see, certainly more than many of the recent slasher remakes; Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas and Nelson McCormick’s Prom Night come readily to mind.
And being an original story, All The Boys also has the leg up on any of the recent slasher remakes, even the ones that had some merit.
At the very least, Levine and company are looking forward, instead of taking the Retrograde Express towards creative stagnation the way most of Hollywood seems to be headed.


Parting shot: Welch also has an on-screen reunion with his Joan of Arcadia co-star, Aaron Himelstein, who plays Red, whose family ranch is the setting for All The Boys’ bloody goings-on.

(All The Boys Love Mandy Lane OS courtesy of impawards.com [design by BLT & Associates]; images courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com and beyondhollywood.com.)

Monday, August 25, 2008


SHROOMS
(Review)

“According to the ancient Irish druids, they believed it was like a border to another dimension. They gave the ability to commune with the dead, uncontrollable ferocity, shape-shifting, and, last but not least, foresight, the gift of premonition.”


Thus says Jake (Factory Girl’s Jack Huston, soon to be seen in the Vikings vs. alien extravaganza, Outlander) of the effects of ingesting the “dreaded Death’s Head fungi” (if, of course, it doesn’t kill you first).
See, Jake’s about to give a bunch of young Americans the trip of a lifetime in the cold forests of the Irish boondocks.
At least, that’s the plan, before things go horribly awry (as they often do in these types of movies), and people start dropping like flies (again, as they often do in these types of movies).


Now, with a premise that kicks off with a bunch of kids who travel all the way to Ireland just to get high on mushrooms, Paddy Breathnach’s Shrooms initially does nothing to endear itself to me.
As I’ve mentioned ‘round these parts before, I have little patience for characters who are simply asking for it. When you start munching on any old fungus that you find in the middle of a forest, or start tripping by yourself in the middle of the night, well, let’s just say I’d rather reserve my sympathy for pregnant women and scruffy orphans.
Throw in a local legend involving a Black Brother, a Lonely Twin, and a Feral Boy (which is told to a bunch of impressionable, and later on, drug-addled bunch of dead meat walking), and the results are pretty much as expected.


That also goes for the climactic twist, which is telegraphed rather early on in the film’s running time, and makes for an incredulous resolution to Shrooms’ goings-on.
Is the “twist” plausible? Perhaps. It even actually makes some sort of cautionary sense.
But with the manner in which the narrative unfolds, one has to wonder, Isn’t that putting a terrible strain on the laws of space and time?


Twist aside though, my problem with Shrooms is that it features characters that engender no sympathy, and thus, leave the audience without a care as to their welfare.
You know you’re in heaps of trouble when the would-be victims (who include Alice Greczyn from TV's Windfall and Step Up 2: The Streets' Robert Hoffman) start whimpering “This isn’t happening,” and “I should never have taken those mushrooms,” and all you can think of—rather uncharitably—is, Well, that’s what you get for being a bunch of raging gits.
Granted, Shrooms has its merits, primarily the rather good cinematography by Nanu Segal (who’s shot music videos for the likes of Soft Cell, Shed 7, and Super Furry Animals, and has also worked with Breathnach on a West Coast Cooler advert). But with characters that aren’t terribly sympathetic, the film soon degenerates into a visually agreeable, though largely unengaging cinematic experience.


What I find most curious about this entire enterprise is the fact that the first time I crossed paths with Breathnach, it was with Blow Dry, the comedy with the tag line “Love Is In The Hair,” about the British Hairdressing Championship, that had a killer cast which included Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Bill Nighy, and Rachel Griffiths. (Though they were partially off-set by the casting of Josh Hartnett and Rachael Leigh Cook…)
Blow Dry was a nice little comedy in that British feel-good underdog-emerges-triumphant school which includes entries like The Full Monty, Brassed Off, and Kinky Boots, to name a few. (It’s a telling point that Simon Beaufoy wrote both The Full Monty and Brassed Off.)
So it was odd to see Breathnach turn to horror with Shrooms, without even stopping at the horror-comedy midpoint. (Breathnach’s next film, Freakdog, is again apparently a straight-up horror entry.)


At any rate, Shrooms, like Jonathan Levine’s All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, is a post-millennial slasher that looks great, but has its share of problems. (Just for the record, I believe All The Boys is the better deal.)
And while Shrooms is a passable enough watch, with a few bits here and there that work, it isn’t quite the wild, balls-out trip I was hoping for.

(Shrooms UK quad courtesy of impawards.com [design by Hoo-Ha]; images courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008


THE HAPPENING
(Review)

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.”
-- attributed to Albert Einstein

Regardless of how I ultimately feel about any particular M. Night Shyamalan film, one of the things I can generally count on is the fact that the performances will be uniformly top notch.
For the first time though, it’s the performances I have a problem with…


Mark Wahlberg plays Elliot Moore, a high school Science teacher, who, along with wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), serve as the main protagonists of Shyamalan’s latest (and first R-rated) effort, The Happening.
In the film, a bizarre occurrence in New York’s Central Park sparks fears of a terrorist attack, and the Moores join Elliot’s best friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian’s daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), as they leave Philadelphia by train to join Julian’s mother, away from the city.


Now, just to be clear, I’m not necessarily saying that the acting in The Happening is bad, but rather, I do think there’s been some serious miscasting here.
Wahlberg, Deschanel, and Leguizamo, as expected, all bring their own levels of quirk to their characters, and I can imagine Shyamalan wanted actors who could partially offset the grim scenario that unfolds onscreen.
What we occasionally get though, are performances that don’t seem to be taking place in the same movie. Strangely, there seems to be a remove here, particularly for Deschanel, who mostly feels as if she’s tuned to an altogether different frequency. (And I love Deschanel, so it kills me that she seems so out of place in The Happening.)
And mind, I’m not asking for extreme histrionics here, but rather, a little more emotional indication of the gravity of the situation.


Wahlberg is also oddly off-synch here for some reason. There are two particular scenes that stand out in my mind as bothersome.
One—in which Elliot falls back on his Science teacher mindset to push him into action—is unintentionally funny, while another—in which he tries to communicate with what he believes is the film’s central threat—is meant to be funny, but isn’t.
Again, I really think this is more a case of miscasting than anything else, and perhaps, Shyamalan looking for something in the performances that just doesn’t jibe very well with the film’s overall tone.


Also, by the very nature of the premise, we really don’t have any luxury to get to know the characters as well as we normally do in a Shyamalan film.
The scenario doesn’t afford the script any significant lulls in which to explore character in the way Shyamalan usually does, thus, there’s that nagging feeling that the Moores aren’t as well fleshed-out as characters were in, say, The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable.


Where The Happening does succeed though, is in the frightening and troubling scenario Shyamalan posits; the set pieces that showcase the havoc wreaked by the film’s central threat are wildly disturbing.
And the nature of that central threat is also alarmingly within the realm of possibility.
Man has spent centuries believing himself the master of his own destiny, when the truth is, very little is under our control; even our very own bodies have the potential to betray us, and at the very end, they do.
If we’re not even in complete control of our selves, how can we even dare to believe that we’ve brought the world to heel?


Any notion of man at the top of the hill, in the driver’s seat, or whichever metaphor you choose to use, is a dangerous delusion. We’ve raped and plundered the environment while enshrouded by that hubris.
We as a species are on a path that seems to be headed for ruin, oblivious—or worse, uncaring—of how our existence impacts on everything else around us.
Thus, when some horrible effect rises in response to the cause which is the human race, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Some schools of thought liken our species to a disease on the body of Mother Earth, and if that is true, then the antibodies have to kick in sooner or later, right?


The Happening may be flawed, but it’s nonetheless a chilling cautionary tale of an Armageddon all-too terrifying, and all-too plausible in its inexplicability.
If only for that reason, it’s a film that really should be seen, and just maybe, it’ll cause us to be a little more introspective of ourselves, before it’s too late.
Then, with any luck, we may keep on existing, there, but for the grace of Whatever Else Is Out There.

“Science will come up with some reason to put in the books, but in the end, it’ll be just a theory. We will fail to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding.
“To be a good scientist, you must have a respectful awe for the laws of nature.”

(The Happening OS courtesy of wired.com; images courtesy of empiremovies.com, beyondhollywood.com, and shocktillyoudrop.com.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


FEAR ITSELF
Season 1 Episode 3
“Family Man”
Written by Daniel Knauf
Directed by Ronny Yu

Now this is more like it. I guess it is true, that the third time’s the charm.


“Family Man” follows the travails of Dennis Mahoney (Eureka’s Colin Ferguson), a church-going, successful bank VP, with everything going for him, including a loving, doting family, who, after a near-fatal accident, finds that he’s switched bodies with Richard Brodigan (Capote’s Clifton Collins, Jr.), the infamous serial killer known as “the Family Man.”


What I feel is the strongest aspect of “Family Man” is the fact that this is a well-written, excellently-acted entry that I don’t think I would have seen on Masters of Horror.
“Family Man” is a psychological thriller that, while admittedly being disturbing and having spots of violence, also succeeds in delving into areas of the genre that don’t rely on on-screen gore or bizarre creature effects to elicit audience reactions.
If Fear Itself means to carve out its own identity removed from MoH, this is definitely a step in the right direction.


And while the body switch is another tried-and-tested notion, what makes “Family Man” work like gangbusters is the noteworthy acting by Collins and Ferguson.
Since I had already been impressed by Collins’ amazing work on Bennett Miller’s Capote, I expected much from him, and wasn’t disappointed.
The pleasant surprise here was Ferguson, as I wasn’t quite sure if he’d be up to the task. Eureka, after all (and no offense meant), isn’t a vehicle that particularly asks much of its actors.
In “Family Man,” Ferguson plays Brodigan-in-Mahoney’s body as the unstable, potentially abusive spouse, the dinner scene a decidedly unsettling sequence.
I’d perhaps first need to watch all 26 MoH episodes again before making a definitive pronouncement, but I think it’s safe to say “Family Man” boasts some of the best acting in the history of the show (“the show” being Masters of Horror/Fear Itself).


Written by Daniel Knauf (who’s written for Carnivale and Supernatural) and directed by Ronny Yu (whose Bride of Chucky was a thoroughly enjoyable entry in the Child’s Play franchise), “Family Man” is the Fear Itself installment I’ve been waiting for, the one that says this is a show worth your time, a series capable of showcasing horror effectively on the small screen.
And if the show continues on this winning trajectory, it may just serve the cause of horror more potently than MoH’s spotty record did.

(Images courtesy of nbc.com.)


BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Season 4 Episode 6
“Faith” (Part 2 of 2)
Written by Seamus Kevin Fahey
Directed by Michael Nankin
(WARNING: SPOILERS)

Twelve Cylon models
Seven are known
Four live in secret
One will be revealed

“Thus will it come to pass.
“The Dying Leader will know the truth of the Opera House.
“The missing Three will give you the Five, who have come from the home of the Thirteenth.
“You are the harbinger of death, Kara Thrace. You will lead them all to their end.
“End of line.”

Okay, another tough one to get through. Whoo!
This one’s divided into two major subplots, the Demetrius mission, and President Roslin’s cancer.


Even as Laura has completely lost all of her hair, she’s left a large amount of her office’s responsibility in the hands of Toaster Tory.
And while Gods know what that murdering cyberslut is up to, Laura takes some rough rounds of treatment in the infirmary, where she strikes up a friendship with Emily Kowalski (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Nana Visitor, who is also set to appear as Jason’s mum, Mrs. Voorhees, in the upcoming Friday the 13th remake), also stricken with cancer.
Laura engages Emily in a debate on religion, sparked by Emily’s listening to Baltar’s pirate broadcasts.
What emerges from the discussion:
If this is indeed the One True God that Baltar is preaching about, then He is a God for everyone, not just the Cylons.
Laura actually still thinks of the gods as metaphors (though how she can reconcile metaphors and her belief in the prophecies, I’d like to hear).
In an incredibly moving scene, Laura talks about her mother, also a teacher, also taken by cancer, who firmly believed in the gods.
We are also told that Emily had a dream about being on a boat, on a river, and about seeing her deceased loved ones, waiting for her on the shore. (A river that, incidentally, Baltar preaches about, the river that separates life from death.)

Later on, Laura has the same dream, and she first sees Emily join her loved ones on the shore, then sees her own mother and her own loved ones, likewise waiting for her, though she tells them, I’m not yet ready.
Waking from the dream, Laura finds Emily’s bed empty, the teeny radio transmitting Baltar’s words to no one.
She then has a conversation with Adama, where she professes there may be something to Baltar’s preaching. Adama begins to despair of all he has lost, and all he may still stand to lose (the Demetrius is overdue).
In one of those great tender Roslin-Adama moments, Laura tells him, I’m here. And we’re going to find Earth. Together.
Adama muses that at the beginning, Earth was just a carrot he dangled in front of the fleet, to give everyone a sense of purpose. Now, though, it’s a reality, and it’s because of Laura’s belief that Adama has changed his mind.

Meanwhile, on board the Demetrius, the Helo-led mutiny is short-lived, as Sam ends up shooting Gaeta in the leg. The serious injury makes Starbuck realize she would be putting everyone in danger if Leoben turned out to be a big fat lying Toaster.
She decides to let the Demetrius return to the fleet, while she takes Leoben on a Raptor to jump to the coordinates of the allegedly damaged base star. Sam volunteers to go with Kara, who also needs Athena, since she’s walking into Toaster territory. Helo doesn’t like it, but Athena says she’ll go. Also along for the ride, Barolay (Alisen Down), who’s apparently always been a firm Starbuck believer.
Helo ends up giving Starbuck and crew 15 hours before he has to jump back to the fleet. This, however, puts Felix in a very iffy position: the longer he goes without serious medical attention, the bigger the chances that when they do get back to the fleet, he’ll wind up losing his leg. (Felix makes Helo promise not to let Doc Cottle take his leg…)


Starbuck and crew make the jump, and find the floating debris of base stars, corroborating Leoben’s tale of civil war.
When they spot the base star, it turns out to be the comet in Kara’s vision.
On board the base star, there’s understandably a whole lotta tension.
Natalie disapproves of allowing Starbuck access to the Hybrid, but Kara shoots back with, You want an alliance, I get to see the Hybrid.
Athena is also approached by the Eights, who—looking on her as the first to have ever gone against the Cylon Plan—actually ask her to lead them in a revolt against the Sixes (who they feel have made one mistake after another). Fairly disgusted by this turn of events, Athena tells them, “… you pick your side and you stick! You don't cut and run when things get ugly. Otherwise you'll never have anything. No love, no family, no life to call your own!”

Meanwhile, plans are made to link the base star to the Raptor, so they can all make the jump, but that would require unplugging the Hybrid.
There’s also a couple of violent deaths, as one Six kills Barolay, who apparently murdered her back on New Caprica. Incensed, Sam holds a gun to the Six’s head, refusing to stand down as Starbuck is ordering.
Realizing they’re at a stalemate, and with time running out, Natalie takes matters into her own hands. Understanding, the Six tells Natalie, I’m glad it’s you, before being given a kiss, and getting shot in the head as Natalie squeezes the trigger for Sam.

And at the Hybrid’s chamber, Starbuck listens to the endless stream of prattle, completely unable to decipher its meaning.
Finally, it’s time to unplug the Hybrid so the jump can be made, but even as an Eight is doing so, the Hybrid screams, and the nearby Centurion shoots the Eight. As the Eight’s blood seeps into the Hybrid’s bath (sorry, not entirely sure what they call that gunk), Starbuck asks, What do you want from me?
And she is treated to the quote above.
A quote that, if the on-screen analysis is spot-on, seems to say, that they do need to unbox the Threes, as D’Anna can identify the Final Five, who, gasp, come from Earth!
Laura will also apparently discover the significance of her Opera House dream (a dream she shared with both Athena, Caprica Six, and Hera).
Oh, and Kara will lead everyone to their doom.
(Which makes me wonder though, if the Cylons present heard the Hybrid talk about “the missing Three” and “the Five,” didn’t they also hear the part about Starbuck being “the harbinger of death”?)

There’s also a bit with the dying Eight, who reaches out for Athena, who very nearly takes her hand, but in the end, doesn’t, letting it fall to Secret Cylon Sam to be there for the poor Eight as she died for the very last time…
(Secret Cylon Sam also tried to interface with the base star at one point, but was interrupted by Kara…)

Back at the Demetrius, the clock is running down, and it looks like they’ll have to make the jump back to the fleet, leaving Starbuck and her crew behind, but even as the clock runs over, the Raptor and the damaged base star appear…


So faith and mortality loom large in this episode, not just because of the cancer subplot, but also on board the base star, as the Cylons, isolated from the Resurrection Ship, are facing true deaths, and we lose a Six and an Eight.
But what really intrigues me though, as far as the base star goings-on are concerned, is the Hybrid’s apparent claim that the Final Five originated from Earth.
Does that mean they’re the true humans? Or does that mean they were created on Earth, which would then mean that the Earth is already at a point in history where technology allows the creation of advanced life forms. (One of the big questions, of course, about Galactica’s imminent Earthfall is, what year will it be on Earth when the fleet gets there?)

And, having mentioned the fleet, I’m still not completely sold on Baltar’s conversion, and thus, his message is still suspect to me.
I do love the fact, however, that here, in this episode, we see the old Laura, the one before the “I’m above petty laws and conventional morality now ‘cause I’m dying and can’t be bothered by all that” Roslin. This is the Laura I know, the Laura I’ve come to care about.
So why am I being convinced now, more than ever, that the Final Secret Cylon will turn out to be Laura? She did have that Vulcan mind-meld with Caprica Six and Athena. And why else did she respond so well to the blood transfusion from Hera?
Honestly, at this point, I’m not entirely sure how I feel if this turns out to be the case.
Cylon or no, all I do know is, I’m so not looking forward to a Roslin death scene…
After everything she’s gone through, I just want her to see Earth. I want that bit of the prophecy to be wrong…

COUNTDOWN: 14.

(Images courtesy of SCIFI Channel and twitchfilm.net.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


HANCOCK
(Review)

For the moment, Peter Berg’s Hancock is a strong contender for Most Surprising Film of the Year.
Ostensibly, it’s about John Hancock (the global box office behemoth that is Will Smith), an apparently misanthropic superhero taken to bouts of drunken, destructive hi-jinx that only vaguely resemble the usual do-gooder acts of your average spandex set.
Hancock’s turbulent life takes a turn though, when he crosses paths with Ray Embrey (Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman, reunited with Berg, his director on The Kingdom), a struggling PR man who decides that the only way he can show his gratitude to the troubled hero is by rehabilitating his public image.
Ray’s decision to give Hancock an image do-over also brings the superhuman into the orbits of Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), and son Aaron (Friday Night Lights’ Jae Head).
It’s from this basic set-up that Hancock takes off, and, much like one of the hero’s intoxicated flights, does some interesting and unexpected twists and turns over its surprisingly short, but awesomely sweet 92-minute running time.


As he is wont to do, Smith grabs the audience’s attention and sympathy with a moving and humourous performance as the embattled Hancock, informing the despised superman with both a gruff, powerful presence, and a bruised, brooding vulnerability.
And, alongside Smith, Theron and Bateman also submit noteworthy turns, grounding the narrative’s fantastic comic book premise with a tender (and, when required, comedic) humanity, making Hancock, among other things, a surprisingly moving film.


The blueprint for all of this though, is most definitely Hancock’s script, written by Vincent Ngo (who wrote for the BMW The Hire shorts and TV’s The Hunger) and X-Files alum Vince Gilligan; Gilligan’s involvement is one of the biggest reasons why I was curious to see Hancock.
Outlining a very atypical comic book-inspired film, Gilligan and Ngo’s script constantly subverts expectations, taking Hollywood’s current summer tentpole of choice—the superhero film—and playing some daring games with its conventions, ultimately bringing it to places—both emotional and imaginative—it hasn’t really been to before.
It also hits, rather spot-on, the notions that true heroism requires a certain amount of self-control and self-sacrifice, and that a dream to change the world for the better is never a bad thing, no matter how distant and unrealistic it may seem.


In this day and age when comic book superheroes have become big budget mainstream entertainment, Hancock is a wonderful antidote to the multitude of less-than-inspired cinematic spandex adventures that tend to crowd the multiplex, middling movies where every mask and cape is merely another tool designed to ring the global box office tills and move some merchandise.
Hancock is also a superhero film for our cynical times, an enjoyable rollercoaster ride that entertains, moves, and inspires.


In bucking the trend and going for the untried and untested, Hancock is exactly the sort of superhero film that Hollywood needs more of, if it hopes to keep the movement vibrant and alive.
Could I have asked for more? Yes. I could have done with some more running time, so we could get to see more character reactions and interactions on screen, making the narrative’s emotional arc a smoother ride.
Still, even with that imperfection, Hancock is a pleasant, solid surprise.
After all, better this than an Nth installment of some tired, overextended spandex franchise, right?


(Hancock U.S. and Japanese OS’s courtesy of impawards.com [designs by BLT & Associates]; images courtesy of beyondhollywood.com.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008


THE SIGNAL
(Review)

“Anna, I don’t know if you know this, but there is some seriously insane sh!t going on out there right now. People are losing their minds.
“There’s a bad sector in the electromagnetic spectrum which is causing a rift in logical thinking. Rational behaviour has given way to primordial action.
“We’ve reached a critical juncture in the consistency of everyday living. Societal norms are being completely abandoned. Anarchy has replaced etiquette. Chaos is the ruling class of this civilization.”


It’s New Year’s Eve in Terminus, and a strange signal of unknown origin is broadcast over TV, the phone lines, cellular networks, and radio, a signal that causes anyone exposed to it to suddenly behave irrationally, and more often than not, violently.
That’s the sweet and simple premise of The Signal, a sharp, ballsy, and terribly smart addition to the burgeoning ranks of apocalypse cinema.


The Signal is told in three sections (or “transmissions,” as they’re called) which ultimately tell one story, chronicling the effects of the eponymous signal on civilization in microcosm, as it impacts on the lives of husband and wife Lewis and Mya Denton (AJ Bowen and Anessa Ramsey) and Mya’s lover, Ben (Justin Welborn).
It’s an ambitious narrative structure, tackled by three writer/directors, David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush.


Aside from the seamless manner in which one transmission flows into the next while folding back in on themselves over the course of the film’s running time (ala Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction), what is particularly audacious about The Signal is that one of its transmissions—Gentry’s Trans: 2.0, “The Jealousy Monster”—not only takes a comedic bent to the material, but also serves as an effective metaphor for the intrusion of the signal on society’s equilibrium, as we enter the confines of a house in the midst of preparations for a New Year’s Eve party.


As I’ve mentioned before ‘round these parts, horror and comedy don’t always make a good marriage, but in Gentry’s transmission, they not only get on like gangbusters, but “The Jealousy Monster,” laughs and all, also works in concert with the other transmissions—Bruckner’s “Crazy in Love” and Bush’s “Escape From Terminus”—giving the audience a slight tonal reprieve from the grim scenario of The Signal, while simultaneously pushing the narrative forward and doing that metaphor thing.
And hey, it’s got the most effed-up New Year’s Eve party on film. Ever.
If that doesn’t seal the deal, I don’t know what else could.


The performances by the three principals, as well as those of Scott Poythress and Cheri Christian (who we both meet in “The Jealousy Monster”), are also uniformly excellent, the actors getting to the emotional core of the material even as they’re slathered in fake blood and doing some pretty brutal things to each other.
And of course, aside from the actors and directors, the scripts are also spot-on, with Bush’s “Escape From Terminus” boasting some tricky—and at times, cruel—reversals.
A cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” by Ola Podrida, is also used to fantastically moving effect, so that should be a plus, yes?


In an age where the information stream has become a veritable deluge—where television continues to blare out what we need to buy and how we need to look; where the latest celebrity meltdown (and its attendant freight of all-too-real human misery) is considered news; where the ubiquity of the Internet, with its digital morass of truth, emotion, rancour, rumour, and outright lie churning 25/8—The Signal as a whole is also a potent metaphor for how man as a species struggles daily to process all that stimuli; how we, as a people, exist under the post-millennial burden of maintaining our mental health while under incessant media assault.
These are all the bits and pieces that we absorb, that influence our personal mindset, and ultimately shape our worldview. And they come at us in dizzying volumes and speed, whether we’re able to cope or not.


The awful truth is, the signal has already been broadcast; it’s already out there. It’s pulsing right now, even as you read this review.
Worse, this review is part of the signal.
We’ve all been exposed, have been for a very long time.
The question is, what are we gonna do about it?


Parting shot: Bruckner, Gentry, and Welborn all previously worked together on the interesting curiosity which is Psychopathia Sexualis; Bruckner was the film’s cinematographer, while Gentry and Welborn were actors on the production.

(The Signal OS courtesy of impawards.com; selected images courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com; The Signal wallpaper courtesy of signalmovie.com.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008


LA TERZA MADRE
(MOTHER OF TEARS:
THE THIRD MOTHER
)
(Review)

If you haven’t read my reviews for the first two chapters of Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy—Suspiria and Inferno—you may do so right now, as some of my comments in the review below could reference them. (Both reviews can be found in the Archive.)

I met the Three Mothers and built three houses for them, one in Freiburg, one in New York, and one in Rome.
I discovered too late that these houses hide obscene secrets: it is from here that the Sisters spread pain, tears, and darkness throughout the world.
-- The Three Mothers by E. Varelli


A foreboding discovery at Viterbo Cemetery finds its way to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome, where Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) becomes inextricably linked to the blood-drenched storm of chaos fast approaching, as Mater Lacrimarum, the Mother of Tears (Moran Atias), makes her bid to reign over the world of man.

It was with this premise that “The Three Mothers” trilogy finally came to a close last year, a full three decades after it kicked off in Dario Argento’s classic work of phantasmagoric cinema, Suspiria.
After all this time though, I’d honestly thought the trilogy would never be completed, since the director’s close personal and collaborative relationship with Daria Nicolodi (who forged the mythology behind the films with Argento) had been severed long ago.
There was, however, one very concrete and substantial link between them: their daughter, Asia.
It’s quite possibly that aspect of La Terza Madre that is the most noteworthy, that it is, in a manner of speaking, an ersatz family reunion.
Beyond that however, the film itself is a rather muddled and dissatisfying affair.


There’s a strange perfunctory air to the proceedings here, as if—as seemed to be the case with Inferno—Argento (who co-scripted his story with Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch) is going through the motions of serving up some of what he feels the audience may expect from a “Three Mothers” film.
The gruesome, gory deaths are here. The sinister score is here (by Claudio Simonetti, who’d also worked on the Suspiria score). The convenient exposition is here (some of which is provided by the one and only Udo Kier, as exorcist Father Johannes).
What is sorely lacking though, aside from the brazen, visual flair of Suspiria, is any sort of genuine menace and urgency, and a main protagonist worthy of our sympathy and respect.


To begin with, Sarah, though a character intimately tied to the “Three Mothers” mythology, seems a lukewarm lead. She’s largely ignorant of her role in the grand scheme of things, and even though she’s given a crash course of what she’s capable of (by Nicolodi, in the little screen time she’s afforded), Sarah never really comes into her destiny in any significant way.
She really only displays one particular Jedi mind trick, neat though it is.
Mostly, there’s just bungling and much casting about from one resource person to the next, sneaking off shoeless into the night (so as to avoid detection by the film’s Evil Monkey; yes, La Terza Madre has one of those), and delivering a vaguely excruciating, half-hearted performance.
Verily, have I described Asia Argento in the past as “terminally hot,” and I did like her recent performance in Olivier Assayas’ Boarding Gate. Here though, she’s a bit of a mess. And the script doesn’t do her any favours either.


Her father, meanwhile, doesn’t really seem to inform La Terza Madre with any of Suspiria’s inspired “infernal atmosphere.” Even Inferno, which I really don’t much care for, had about it a transitory sense of an inexplicable nightmare.
All La Terza Madre can boast of having are the aforementioned gory deaths, some brief (and ultimately gratuitous) lesbian action, a brief (and ultimately gratuitous) shower scene, some nudity and boobage, and lots’a witches with wild hair and bad make-up.
There’s also a parade of Grand Guignol grotesqueries towards film’s end that plays like nothing so much as a low-rent carnival funhouse.
If however, that sounds like your kind of thing, well, the film’s got all that, and, oh yeah… the Evil Monkey.

If I’m sounding glib and snarky here, it’s only because this was such a disappointment.
I really was looking forward to Argento rediscovering the dark territories of his glory days.
But he messes it up here.
He flubs it with the script, which not only displays a distinct lack of anything remotely resembling tension, but also has characters like Detective Enzo Marchi (Cristian Solimeno, from TV’s Footballers’ Wives and Strictly Confidential) who don’t really add anything substantial to the mix, yet inexplicably seem to understand there is more here than meets the eye; characters who are largely off-screen, and yet conveniently surface in the film’s climax to play frustratingly negligible roles.
The film’s riddle (“What you see does not exist, and what you cannot see, is truth.”) and the house’s secret—narrative fixtures in a “Three Mothers” film—are also equally negligible, worse than merely being throw-away. And that’s saying a lot, considering those featured in Inferno weren’t all that substantial either.


La Terza Madre seems to be nothing so much as a catalogue of missed opportunities.
There’s never any real sense of a city tearing itself apart while under the malign influence of Mater Lacrimarum. What could have been disturbing set pieces of violence and carnage (think M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening or The Signal) merely wind up being haphazard, lackluster depictions of pseudo-mayhem. (Admittedly though, the two baby bits are quite nasty.)
Argento likewise misses out on a chance for some interesting narrative symmetry, choosing to end La Terza Madre by earth, instead of fire, which closes both Suspiria and Inferno.


Some of the casting choices are also somewhat dubious, as model turned actress Atias brings nothing (beyond her beauty and boobage) to the role of Mater Lacrimarum, and Jun Ichikawa (who plays Katerina, one of Mater L’s witchy lackies) is so glaringly over-the-top, it’s embarrassing. Not even the needlessly—and inexplicably—brutal method of dispatch Sarah uses on Katerina can make up for the truly awful performance.
And that curiously hysterical ending…
Talk about inexplicable and embarrassing.


I must apologize for the tone, truly.
But I really wanted this one to be good, not just so the trilogy could close triumphantly, but also because I’ve been waiting quite a while for Argento to once again make the cinema a dark and disturbing place where nightmares breed.
And maybe he’ll do that with his next effort, Giallo.
For now though, La Terza Madre is a distinct and resounding disappointment that merely makes the cinema a dark and sad place where dreams are gutted, and die rather messily.
Ironically enough, just like a victim in an Argento film.

(Mother of Tears OS and images courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com and shocktillyoudrop.com.)

Thanx to Jeb, for bridging the language barrier.