Monday, June 28, 2010

LET'S HAVE A WAR: a review of "Green Zone"

"GREEN ZONE" Directed by Paul Greengrass
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

In my previous review of "The Book Of Eli," I focused strongly on the adverse effects of the over-utilization of cinematic style and tricks at the expense of the substance of storytelling, a constant theme here at Savage Cinema. Now, I'm going to take it a step further. Sometimes, when a director is known for a certain audio-visual style, it can either produce an attraction to seeing a filmmaker’s latest work or the thought of sitting through their new experience can actually repel you to the point of not wanting to relinquish two to three hours of your life, never to see it again. Director Paul Greengrass has quickly become a filmmaker that I would tend to place in the latter category. Not because I believe he makes bad films. Greengrass is the filmmaker behind “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007) and the critically acclaimed “United 93” (2006), yet I do not care for his films and am also reluctant to sit through any more of his work solely due to his cinematic style.

I have to say right up front that I am not a fan of the “Bourne” franchise. As I said, I do not think of them as bad movies, however, I have to say that I just do not find any of them very memorable…an ironic critique due to the plots of those three films. I have seen them all several times and I am hard pressed to describe more than a couple of events in any of the films, and truth be told, I just may have gotten all three of them, mixed up in my head. I mostly do not like the films because of Greengrass’ over-directed, hyper-kinetic visual style which is filtered through ADD editing and copious amounts of the handheld “shaky cam,” a technique when held Greengrass' hands is nausea inducing to the point where I just mentally check out of the experience. In regards to “United 93,” my desire to see that film was non-existent due to the subject matter as I did not want to buy a ticket to have a ride on the doomed 9/11 flight. That said, Greengrass’ involvement sealed the deal.

Now, we arrive at “Green Zone,” a political thriller set during the early years of the post 9/11 Iraq war. Unlike the highly stylized and ridiculous “The Book Of Eli,” plus my resistance to Greengrass’ earlier work, the film is a decidedly adult, intelligent, deeply resonant, vibrant and perceptive work that is actually enhanced by Greengrass’ aggressive visual aesthetics. "Green Zone" was a film that I was actually prepared to hate and it ultimately made for a surprisingly strong film-going experience.

Matt Damon reunites with Greengrass for the third time and gives another rock solid performance in the role of Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a soldier growing increasingly frustrated at his inability to discover Weapons of Mass Destruction in Baghdad, despite the intelligence he and his troops are receiving from the United States government. As Miller begins to question as to why no WMDs are being found anywhere, as they were presented as being one of the primary reasons for America’s invasion, he is met with great resistance and interference from Pentagon official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear). Yet, Miller has also gained the attentive interests of veteran CIA operative Martin Brown (Brenden Gleeson) and Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne, (Amy Ryan—underused but very glad to see her at all), as both are highly skeptical of Poundstone’s motives.

Miller’s trail grows increasingly more intense once he goes rogue from his troop as his investigative and decidedly moral pursuits involves the discovery of a mysterious Iraqi government official under the code name of “Magellan,” as well as an extremely important book that is of great interest to most of the film’s characters. As his search grows more dogged and labyrinthine, and the violence of the region escalates, Miller continuously searches the truth, not only concerning the whereabouts of the mysterious WMDs, but most importantly, the reasons for why we went to war in the first place.

As with “The Book Of Eli,” the plot of “Green Zone” is decidedly simple while containing complex themes. Yet unlike “The Book Of Eli,” Greengrass has taken his time to actually understand the implications of his material by having his characters and his audience ask the hard, necessary questions of the hows and why we went to war with Iraq. Miller, with blistering fury, shouts at Poundstone late in the film about the necessity of having valid reasons for ever going to war, it is as if Greengrass himself has wrestled with the ramifications of our still existing war, yowling his angry confusion from the pulpits.

Instead of presenting a film in the fashion Oliver Stone may have done years ago, I found what Greengrass and Damon have accomplished in the presentation of “Green Zone” to actually quite clever as well as being quite the gamble to attract audiences to material it has steadfast remained away from in the cinema. By utilizing a style nearly identical to their work on the “Bourne” films, perhaps this was a way to potentially attract fans of that series into the movie theater. Once those viewers were in theater seats, they would not be given “Bourne 4” but a highly charged political story that is bold and brazen enough to simultaneously critique the motives of United States government, sympathize with the Iraqi citizens and honor the soldiers on the ground every day.

The film’s story is set up quickly and brilliantly, its objectives are crystal clear without dumbing them down for mass audiences. “Green Zone” provides no easy answers yet asks all of the right questions. And what we end up with is a film that thematically has much less in common with the “Bourne” pictures and much more in common with Director Kathryn Bigelow’s recent Oscar Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker.”

Greengrass' kinetic style and concepts are in lockstep, and they should be. His relentless shaky cam and heavy editing are run rampant throughout “Green Zone” but instead of repelling me, it actually brought me closer to the battleground, enhancing the paranoia and life threatening urgency of the landscape. At times, “Green Zone” had the appearance of a documentary, with camera operators on the run alongside Miller and the soldiers, giving you a “You Are There” experience.

The style also brought me in closer to Damon’s tremendous and rightfully aggravated performance. By taking the genre clichés of the standard “Lone Gunman” character, Roy Miller is a terrific stand in for those in the military who may have become disillusioned with our role in our two continuing wars, as well as the confused, worried and frustrated family members and civilians here at home. You can see the sweat beads on his brow and feel his pulse quickening with each blind alley he is led downwards as he pursues the truth. His anguish at not knowing the full reasons for why the United States is at war with Iraq echoes the feelings of so many(including my own) and his Roy Miller made for a hero I was eager to follow as I want the exact same answers to his questions. In war, all of the details definitely matter as the lives of countless many are placed in jeopardy and how dare we place those lives in jeopardy for illicit reasons. I commend Greengrass and Damon for stepping this far into dangerous political territory for it is a creative risk worth taking.

Unfortunately, the risk backfired financially as “Green Zone” vanished from theaters this Spring fairly quickly. But, I do gently urge you to give this film a shot on DVD as Greengrass strongly balances his film on a tightrope with a heaping amount of action and political discourse on both sides where style and substance met each other brilliantly.


"The Book Of Eli" Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes
* (0ne star)

Once the last images of this film faded to black and the end credits began to scroll, I scornfully uttered to myself, “That was the dumbest (expletive) movie!!” I quickly ejected the disc from my DVD player, replaced the offensive item back into its protective case and placed it by my car keys, ready to then eject this painfully stupid movie from my home for good, leaving hopefully no trace of it (other than this review) behind in its wake.

My dear readers, it frustrates me to no end when filmmakers don’t try. The act, the art and the ability of being able and in the position of making a movie is such a privilege that it flabbergasts me when the opportunity is wasted. Filmmakers who happen to have a certain and relative luxury of time, as well as the possession of talent and artistry at their collective disposal, owe it to audiences and even moreso, to themselves and try to work at their absolute peak in creating a cinematic work of art. The results may not always pan out successfully but the honest attempt and passion for the art and the craft is essential to the success of the process as a whole. When it is a filmmaker of considerable talent and vision, any apparent jaded attitude is inexcusable to me. Earlier this year, I lambasted Director Tim Burton for his horrendous re-telling of “Alice In Wonderland,” and now, I turn my attention to Albert and Allen Hughes, twin brothers and filmmakers who blazed onto the scene with their highly influential and deeply resonant “Menace II Society” (1993). The Hughes brothers followed that tremendous debut with the 1970’s set thriller, “Dead Presidents” (1995), the documentary "American Pimp" (1999) and the gothic thriller "From Hell" (2001) starring Johnny Depp.

After lying cinematically dormant for 9 years, the Hughes brothers have returned with “The Book Of Eli,” an atmospheric post-apocalyptic pulse-pounder. While beginning with eerie promise and oozing with high style, the film is ultimately a painfully sluggish and empty enterprise made all the worse because by the film’s final moments, it claims to possess a significance and weight the movie hadn’t even bothered to present at any point during the earlier portions whatsoever. It is a pretentious, wholly false and sadly frustrating experience.

Since the plot line does indeed contain major revelations, I will do my very best to remain brief so as not to inadvertently produce spoilers. America has become a wasteland after a war-inflicted holocaust, all but ending humanity. Government is non-existent. Cities have been obliterated. Resources are few. Currency consists of all manner of odds and ends, including promotional coupons for restaurants that have long since been eliminated. The roadsides are littered with dead bodies and artifacts of long ago and in the shadows, lurk marauders, rapists and cannibals, all awaiting their next victims. As the film opens, we meet Eli (Denzel Washington), a traveler, hunter and guardian of a book, apparently the most valuable commodity in the land. As Eli explains late in the film, he has walked the Earth for 30 years with this book, searching for an unknown location “out west,” and he is determined to bring said book to its home by any means necessary.

After an opening skirmish, during which Eli dispenses several roadside bandits (beautifully staged in silhouette), Eli drifts into a small town, clearly evocative of classic westerns, for a glass of water and a bit of rest. The town is led by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who controls the saloon, his mistress (Jennifer Beals) and her daughter Solana (Mila Kunis) and a fleet of henchmen, who are all in pursuit of the very book that Eli is destined to protect.

That’s pretty much it, as far as the plot is concerned and it is indeed an excellent set up. The Hughes Brothers’ grim staging of the future is envisioned via a dusty topography combined with the familiar iconography of cinematic nuclear winter landscapes merged with the aforementioned classic westerns. The cinematography possesses a bombed out sepia toned palette making the film appear as if it has essentially been washed clean of actual color. It looks as if you are viewing the world filtered through tinted, melted sunglasses. Also notable is the film’s evocative, moody and dirge paced music score, partially composed and performed by Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor’s frequent collaborator in Nine Inch Nails.

Denzel Washington, one of our greatest acting treasures, works like the devil to transcend the pulpy genre stylings on display to create a memorable warrior of faith. As with the film’s mise-en-scene, he immediately evokes film’s past anti-heroes, like Mad Max and even moreso, Clint Eastwood’s iconic “Man With No Name” character. Like those characters, Washington’s Eli is an enigmatic drifter with lightning fast and unforgiving combat skills. He is the quintessential “army of one,” an avenging angel whose inner purpose is so wicked, and so unshakable that he is nearly supernatural.

But again, all of these film elements, and subsequent praise received from me, are all contained within the film’s set-up, which you can completely gather in the film’s first ten or fifteen minutes. To make the film resonate completely, it is entirely up to the filmmakers to engineer a formidable storytelling framework in which there are strong thematic concepts to probe. While those necessary elements are in place in “The Book Of Eli,” it is all for naught. Sadly, what could have been a powerful, adventurous voyage through a dark future-past landscape, with themes of literacy and faith firmly placed at its center, the Hughes brothers have created a film that solely exists as an exercise in style and atmosphere, making for a film that is deadly with its shallow pursuits and lugubrious pacing. It seemed as if after the Hughes brothers arrived at their set-up, they felt their job was complete, hoping the meticulous design would be enough. It wasn’t and they should have known better, especially as this film is just begging for a level of greatness that never arrives.

I invite you to please take a moment and think of Director Francis Lawrence's “I Am Legend” (2007), another recent entry in the post-apocalypse genre starring Will Smith in a “last man on Earth” scenario. That film had style to burn, but what made that film stick to the ribs for me, was Smith’s riveting performance which truly delved into the psychology of this fantastical and devastating situation. The film’s eerie, unsettling visual staging and decided lack of an intrusive music score, allowed the viewer to sit in the unnerving silence of oneness, loss and the desperate cling to sanity.

Or how about Writer/Director George Miller’s unforgettable and undeniably brutal Mad Max series, especially the still jaw-droppingly brilliant second installment, “The Road Warrior” (1982)? With small amounts of actual dialogue, and plot for that matter, it is incredible to think that Miller created an extremely violent, desolate future world with equally wild characters that was so complete in its vision. You instantly understood every character’s purpose and motivation. “The Road Warrior” depicted a time and place to fear even as you were caught in the whirlwind enthrall of creativity on display.

And again, I return to television's "Lost," which contained the genre aesthetics of science-fiction but placed religious and spiritual themes firmly at its core. It was blindingly obvious that the show's creators wrestled with the theology of the program in order to make their character's struggles tangible to all of us watching at home. It is one of the crucial elements that made that program resonate so beautifully and it would never have been the same or as fruitful without that inner journey.

The Hughes brothers, on the other hand, never got past the storyboard stage and seemingly didn’t want to. The cardboard dialogue is painful to listen to and so clichéd that you can utter the sub comic book phrasings even before the characters do…which I did quite often. Every less than paper-thin character only exists as an archetype and never, for even one minute, as a fully drawn out human being. Gary Oldman is wasted again as he plays yet another generic villain. Mila Kunis tries hard, but it is so difficult to exude humanity in a part that just functions as little more than the pretty damsel in distress. As for Washington, despite my earlier statements and the fact that he could never give a bad performance if he even tried to attempt one, he was ultimately unconvincing due to a veritable storytelling tragedy that came to light during the film’s final moments.

The concluding 30 minutes of “The Book Of Eli” sails the film as a whole into a pretentious abyss from which it is not only unable to return from, it is a decidedly lost cause. I do have to express that I did not have an issue with the identity of the book, something I am certain you an guess for yourselves simply from the film’s title. Once that piece of information had finally been revealed, it was fitting as well as being the most obvious choice.

The issue I had with this film, was the film’s final reveal concerning Eli himself. Aside from a few feeble characteristic hints, there was nothing, absolutely NOTHING, in the film up to that point that could have suggested or supported a reveal of such significance. It was a reveal meant to upend and challenge any perceptions of everything you had seen thus far. Like the very best cinematic mind-benders, including recent examples like Director Christopher Nolan’s “Momento” (2001) and of course M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “The Book Of Eli “ goes so far as to suggest that this was a film experience designed to demand a second viewing. But, it just isn’t. It’s just half-baked, idiotic, ill-advised, tacked on and a tremendous afterthought. It was the definition of a cheat. Let me amend that statement. It was even worse than a cheat. It was the cinematic equivalent of almost any story's most innocuous conclusion: “...And then he woke up.”

I realize that what I am trying to explain may not make complete sense as I don’t want to spoil, but the thematic, religious and spiritual implications inherent in such a revelation were not explored for even one moment during any point of the film beforehand and the film disintegrated completely as a result. It's just not enough to have Eli carry around a certain book, mutter a few cryptic statements from time to time and have the ending this film has. I cannot express enough how much this ending did not work for me and if the Hughes brothers didn't care enough to do the heavy lifting to ensure that ending would work, then why should I care. And if I shouldn't care about those things, then why should I even watch this film at all? Once you get past the pretty pictures, there's nothing left and it showed.

And it's just so sad, because it is obvious to see exactly what could have been, if the Hughes brothers had only made the same effort conceptually as storytellers as they are as stylists, this would've have had one of 2010's best and most original films. As it stands, "The Book Of Eli" is easily one of 2010's very worst.

You know, here's another thought I had. Do they really want me to believe that Eli has been walking across America for 30 years just to get "out west"? 30 years?! On foot?! I guess he was walking in circles...kind of like the movie itself.

Destination: Nowhere.

Monday, June 21, 2010

ALL THINGS MUST PASS: a review of "Toy Story 3"

“TOY STORY 3” Directed by Lee Unkrich
A Pixar Animation Studios Film
*** ½ (three and a half stars)

Dear readers, we have now officially reached the mid point of our movie going year. Unfortunately, I have to say that the cinematic selections presented to all of us, as a whole, have been desperately lacking. My announcement tends to be a somewhat standard complaint I have concerning each movie year as I am consistently unable to understand why the films of the very best quality tend to be released between November and December. Qualifications for Oscar season notwithstanding, it is unfathomable as to why cinematic greatness cannot be spread around more than it typically is. 2010 is sadly no exception to the norm and in fact, this summer’s offerings have been painfully weak. The terrible glut of remakes, empty sequels, and uninspired material, entirely devoid of originality, enthusiasm and creativity has been disheartening, to say the least.

Of course, there have been a number of films released this year that I have enjoyed and endorsed whole-heartedly but it is saying something when the very best live action feature length selection I have seen this year was found on free television! Furthermore, I am equally astonished that the most humane films of the year so far have both been computer generated animated features. The first was the extraordinary “How To Train Your Dragon,” and the second is “Toy Story 3,” the latest gift from the wizards at Pixar Animation Studios. This joyfully presented feature is another rare sequel that (mostly) gets everything so right and continues to extend its universe in so many surprising, touching and extremely challenging ways that I was again amazed that these artists have been able to accomplish and repeat this level of greatness.

The film opens on a note of delicate bittersweetness as young toy owner Andy is now 17 years old and days away from leaving home to head off for college. The beloved toys of his childhood, including Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), remain in his room but for quite some time have lain dormant in Andy’s toy chest, due to the inactivity that occurs when children perform the inevitable task of growing older. With Andy’s imminent departure, it is, of course, time to perform some house cleaning. Andy’s Mom has prepared a series of boxes and garbage bags, all designed for Andy to figure out which of his belongings will be stored in the attic, donated to a nearby day care or thrown into the garbage to be lost forever—a decision which undoubtedly causes all of the toys tremendous anxiety. Despite the loss of Wheezy the penguin and Little Bo Peep to previous family yard sales, faithful-to-the-end Woody reasons that Andy would definitely intend to keep them all in the attic, to potentially be played with again when he has his own children. Yet, this is a sentiment the remaining toys, including Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger) and Rex (Wallace Shawn), are not as emotionally secure to believe.

Through a series of jointly hilarious and nail biting events, Woody is destined to accompany Andy to college while the rest are indeed destined to exist in the attic—but, somehow, end up in a garbage bag by the curb for trash pick-up! Woody’s rescue attempt succeeds but ultimately derails the toy crew from Andy’s home and leads them to be donated to the Sunnyside Day Care center, where the possibility of being played with by the preschoolers of the Butterfly Room once again fills their plastic spirits. Yet, upon meeting the duplicitous strawberry scented toy bear kingpin Lotso (voiced by Ned Beatty) and his disturbing baby doll henchman, our toy heroes quickly discover that life at Sunnyside is a dark and dangerous affair as they have all been relegated to the Caterpillar Room, home to toddlers whose developmentally destructive play leaves them all run through the ringer. The nights are even worse under Lotso’s tyrannical rule, as the toys are placed in caged toy bins and unruly toys are dispatched to the covered playground sandbox. The toys quickly decide to plot their escape and return to Andy, a task made even more difficult under the watchful and ever present security eye of the cymbal-bashing monkey!

With the very best films I have reviewed for you, to reveal much more about the hows and whys of the plot would be unfair and would ruin the consistent delight on display. The emotional drama of “Toy Story 3” is set up immediately and executed with the genius of storytelling and technological skill that we have come to expect from a Pixar feature. But, somehow, by the film’s mid point, I was not completely sold. While there is nothing in “Toy Story 3” that would constitute an outright creative stumble, I do have to admit that there were a few quibbles I had with the film that decidedly began to slightly hinder the experience, and produce a bit of seat shifting during its somewhat padded midsection.

The escape sequence, while beautifully fashioned like a classic slapstick heist picture, does indeed go on a bit too long, with its multi-part sections and wide array of characters who all demand a certain level of screen time. The satirical romance between Barbie (voiced by Jodi Benson)and Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) also feels a bit over-stuffed, which makes some of the humor lose its initial bite. Most of all, and very surprisingly, I was not expecting the film to contain a level of pop culture jokes that is more than typical of a Pixar feature. While not wall-to-wall by any means, the amount was enough where at times, “Toy Story 3” felt a little less like a Pixar motion picture but perhaps one that was created and released through the Dreamworks Animation studios, the creative team that has released the lucrative and pop-culture driven “Shrek” series.

Perhaps after so effectively challenging audiences, as well as themselves, and attaining new artistic heights that raised the bar for all other American animated features through “Ratatouille” (2007), “Wall-E” (2008) and “Up” (2009), it would not be unfair to wonder if the Pixar creative team decided to simply return to the well and just create a feature that was purely entertaining. In fact, it would be highly understandable because they have more than earned the luxury. That said, for all of its artistry and entertainment contained throughout with its extremely funny, brisk, breezy and light pace, I couldn’t help myself but to wonder if “Toy Story 3” was possibly a bit too light for its own good.

But then, the toys arrive at a landfill…

Before I go any further with the third installment, I wanted to return for a moment to the second installment of this wonderful series. I feel that the moment when Pixar truly arrived and announced itself as a creative entity willing to not only go the extra mile in visual presentation but in storytelling conception was during the sorrowful sequence where Cowgirl Jessie recounts the tale of how she was loved and discarded by her former owner. As I sat watching that film for the very first time, witnessing Jessie’s evolution and ultimate pain set to that melancholy Sarah MacLachlan selection, I began to feel myself choking up at this toy’s dilemma, a feeling which I then began to laugh at myself because I was so emotionally wrapped up in the odyssey of this plastic object. After a time, I realized how the journey of these toys have been utilized to mirror the human condition itself, and how could I not feel sad for Jessie as we have all experienced the pleasures and heartbreaks of loving and losing that love.

For “Toy Story 3,” the Pixar filmmakers have effectively tended to the seeds planted in that earlier sequence by essentially creating a film about our collective life cycle, with aging and mortality, at the core. All of the characters, from toy to human, are experiencing the painful steps to the next phases of their lives. Andy’s Mom faces her first-born leaving her home. Andy’s is on the precipice of adulthood, effectively leaving childhood passions behind. And then, there are the toys, not ready to stop playing and being played with. What is the Sunnyside Day Care Center to the toys but a mirror of the human elderly communities’ view of a retirement village perhaps? It is a final resting place before the final resting place, and the anxiety produced in these sequences in palpable.

As I have previously stated, the final third of “Toy Story 3” begins at the sight of a landfill and it is at this point where all of the themes of this entire series come to a head and produces a sequence of stunning and unquestionable peril for our heroes. That lightness that was beginning to almost undermine this experience is washed away immediately during this uncompromisingly harrowing, and profound sequence. Without going into any details, the existential crisis at the heart of the series, for the toys and human characters for that matter, is placed center stage, forcing us all to take a few moments to ponder our collective existence and inevitable outcomes and the effect is daring, intense and sobering. I have to applaud the filmmakers for allowing themselves to go to this place, almost providing the audience a sense of pause to question, ponder, and fully take in the fragile nature of our collective existence.

And then, with a sprinkle of magic that is Pixar's trademark, the film rebounds into more light-footed comic action and then, effortlessly segues into a final sequence featuring Andy, that brings the film and series as a whole, full circle with a bittersweetness that dangles ever so tenderly into heartbreak. There were many audible adult sniffles and sobs in the audience I saw it with and I am certain that "Toy Story 3" will leave many more adults dabbing at their eyes and the adults to be will likely do the same in the future.

The filmmakers, artists and storytellers of Pixar have consistently expanded the notion and possibilities of what "children's entertainment" can be and they have achieved this feat once again with "Toy Story 3." I urge you to not let my very slight reservations towards this new chapter deter you from reuniting with Woody, Buzz and the entire "Toy Story" gang or to even allow you to feel that the overall quality has been diminished. This is a reunion well worth having.

For all of the fantastical adventures and high comedy these toys endure, it is their humanity that shines brightest through all three feature films. Their familial bonds and collective sense of loyalty, duty and love for each other, as well as Andy, gives the "Toy Story" series a sense of wonderment that is rare in modern Hollywood. The series, in my mind, has even reached a new and higher philosophical level as "Toy Story 3" quite possibly asks of us to ponder if these inanimate objects actually do possess spirits and souls simply because we have loved them and have intertwined our lives with them.

"Toy Story 3" is yet another masterful achievement from Pixar's astonishingly high level of film releases and frankly, it should serve as a lesson to all of the live action filmmakers glutting our theaters with one sub par feature after another.

If you are going to bother making a sequel, then THIS is how you do it!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Piggybacking upon the most recent reviews I have given to you, I now present the latest edition of "Short Takes," as I have reached into my archives to deliver four shorter reviews that delve into the horror and rock films genres.

"HEAD" Directed by Bob Rafelson (1968)
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

If there were an alternate title to this movie starring Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, it could be called, "The Death Of The Monkees." This surreal escapade is NOTHING like their television show as it takes a flying leap into psychedelia, satire against the Vietnam war and the dismantling of their prefabricated image. There is no story or plot; just one vignette crashing into the next. From Mickey Dolenz's suicide leap into mermaid filled hallucinogenic waters, to the foursome becoming specs of dandruff to their repeated attempts to escape the confines of a box (get it?), this is one film where you could begin watching it at any point for 99 minutes and it wouldn't matter (despite ending credits)--and that's a good thing. Co-written with Jack Nicholson, this cult film is completely worth seeking out.

Originally written sometime in 2007

"PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" Written and Directed by Brian DePalma (1974)
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

On Halloween night, nearly a week and a half ago, I saw a vision on the Fox Movie Channel so bizarre that I actually sat through it twice!! Yes friends, I now present to you "Phantom Of the Paradise," a freaky rock opera written and directed by Brian De Palma, who would later create cinematic landmarks like "Carrie" (1976) and "Scarface" (1983) starring Al Pacino.

The plot is a dark satire of the music business crossed with horror as well as an amalgam of "Faust" and "The Phantom Of the Opera." We are introduced to mild mannered songwriter, Winslow Leach who begins his nightmarish odyssey by having his pop cantata of "Faust" stolen by the satanic record producer/mogul of Death Records (think Led Zeppelin's label Swan Song), known throughout the land only as Swan (played with Machiavellian relish by the diminutive songwriter Paul Williams who also wrote the film's songs and score).

Leach's continuous attempts to retrieve his stolen work not only results with him falling in love with the innocent songstress Phoenix (Jessica Harper in her debut performance), but also by being framed by Swan as a dope peddler, incarcerated, having all of his teeth extracted and replaced by metal chompers, having his face disfigured by running afoul of a record press machine and ultimately, selling his soul to Swan.

Wanting to exact revenge--and to somehow, someway, protect the integrity of his music opus--Leach dons a bird-like mask and cape and with his electronically altered vocals, he begins to terrorize the Paradise, Swan's new theater in which he hopes debut his bastardized version of "Faust," starring the coked out, homosexual, glam rock singer Beef!

Songs are wailed and tragedy ensues through a kaleidoscopic audio/visual feast that actually PRE-DATES 1975's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and one of my absolute favorite films, Ken Russell's "Tommy" also from 1975. What is there to really say about all of this except that this is a film with confidence, high style and doesn't blink for a second, no matter what is tossed at the viewer. The songs, which I have discovered were nominated for Oscars (!), do find a way to burrow into your subconsciousness. And upon further rumination over the movie itself, De Palma has issued a heartfelt and impassioned plea against a business that is willing to suffocate the life out of art in pursuit of the dollar--a message I feel resonates even more in 2008.

But hey..are you going to watch this film for the message or for the crazy songs and visuals? Like I said, I sat through this film twice that night--mostly because I just couldn't believe what I was watching. Now I realize that I wasn't tricked and I'm surprised at how much I actually enjoyed this wild, subversive treat!

Originally written October 31, 2008

"ACROSS THE UNIVERSE" Directed by Julie Taymor (2007)
**1/2 (two and a half stars)

I am a lifelong fan of the rock musical and one featuring some of the best songs ever written would just have to be an obvious winner. Unfortunately with "Across The Universe," the possibility is just not meant to be but not for lack of trying...and trying very hard.

Director Julie Taymor creates a not terribly convincing love story with the events of the '60s as backdrop and Beatles songs as soundtrack. While there are many scenes that work (including a pastoral sing-a-long of "Because" and a flat out gorgeous underwater sequence), there are other sequences that are simply dreadful (Eddie Izzard's "Mr. Kite" is an embarrassment). Ultimately, there are too many points where the film just drags due to the inclusion of songs that feel monkey-wrenched into the plot, even when they make absolutely no narrative sense whatsoever.

And perhaps I am over-thinking this film but it felt odd to me to have a story that takes place in a very real 1960's where Vietnam and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. figure strongly into its' plot yet The Beatles are nowhere to be seen or even mentioned. It's like the film is taking place in an alternate 1960s where the Beatles never existed despite the fact that most of the film's characters are named after Beatle lyric characters and their songs are sung from one end to the other.

That said, it is a unique film that was unlike anything else in 2007 and that has to count for something. But, I'm afraid (and I am certain that I am alone with this opinion) that the universally maligned 1978 "Sgt. Pepper" film with Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees fares better.

Originally written November 2007

"SWEENEY TODD" Directed by Tim Burton (2008)
**** (four stars)

"I don't have dreams. Only nightmares."
-Johanna from "Sweeney Todd"

Director Tim Burton has always danced with the dark side but with his latest film, he takes a flying leap into the abyss, with his greatest collaborator Johnny Depp, and emerges with a beautiful nightmare cloaked with the cold bleakness that is also on display in The Coen Brothers' "No Country For Old Men." There are no sentiments extolling that "Evil is vanquished," or "Everything will be alright." There are no glimpses of hope or loopholes for the audience to cling to. Throat slashings and cannibalism aside, everyone is corrupt able, violated, punished and tormented to varying degrees.

While this all sounds like an ugly filmgoing experience, the disturbing nature (which is still sinking in for me) is lifted by the grandeur of the music, the epic set design and Johnny Deep's seething and vengeful performance. Of course, most credit belongs to Tim Burton who has not only crafted a challenging musical (I'd say about 80% of the film is sung.) but has allowed the source material to assist him with the presentation of a tight narrative-not always Burton's strong-suit. If his achingly heartfelt "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) represents one end of Burton's pendulum, "Sweeney Todd" is its dark equal. Man...they should've called THIS movie "There Will be Blood"!

Originally written December 2008

Monday, June 7, 2010

HOWEVER MUCH I BOOZE, THE SHOW MUST GO ON: a review of "Get Him To The Greek"

“GET HIM TO THE GREEK” Written and Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Based upon characters created by Jason Segal
Produced by Judd Apatow
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

"I didn't mean to let them take away my soul..."
-Pink Floyd
"The Show Must Go On"

My wife shared a funny, albeit pathetically funny, story she recently read in the news with me. It turns out that two University of Wisconsin-Madison students woke up one morning to find a 20 ft maple tree sitting in the middle of their apartment living room. They also found Madison police officers also standing in their living room ready to question them. How did the police officers find the two culprits? By simply following the trail of dirt, which led from the spot of the unplanted tree all the way across the street into the living space of the two students. The boys were not only issued a hefty set of fines, they also suffered the humiliation of dragging the maple tree back to its former home for re-planting.

Collegiate “Tom Foolery” notwithstanding, the extreme acts a person undergoes while in the deepest throes of inebriation is something that has always fascinated me, especially as I have typically been the type of person who would not partake in exorbitant amounts of illicit substances. Now my relative abstinence has not been due to the cause of any pious “Just Say No” stance. It is simply the fact that I never really liked the idea of becoming out of control. I never liked the idea of finding myself at the point where my mind, body and spirit where completely at the whims of whatever was traveling through and compromising my system. As I think about those two boys, I not only wondered exactly what substances they had obviously consumed as well as just how much. I mostly wondered how and when they jointly arrived at the point in their thought processes to actually decide that unplanting a maple tree and hefting it into the middle of their living room would be a hysterically brilliant thing to do. That precise and extreme amount of hedonism, and the emptiness it leaves behind lies at the heart of the latest Judd Apatow production, “Get Him To The Greek,” a consistently laugh-out-loud and surprisingly perceptive spin-off film from 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

Russell Brand reprises his role as rock star Aldous Snow, leader and driving force behind the band Infant Sorrow, whom we last saw leaving the idyllic Hawaiian islands and his relationship with television actress Sarah Marshall (Kristin Bell) very far behind. In “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Snow was proudly clean and sober but in “Get Him To The Greek,” we are shown Snow’s spectacular free fall from his seven year sobriety as well as the artistic heights of his career. As “Greek” opens, we find Snow, now married to pop star Jackie Q. (Rose Byrne) and Father to young Naples, on a music video set preparing to unleash his latest album, “African Child,” unto his hungry fan base. Although Snow expects his star to climb even higher after the release of his latest musical opus, he is thrown for a loop when “African Child” is met with disastrous album sales and voluminous critical savagery (one magazine even claims the album is the worst thing to happen to Africa since Apartheid). Snow’s career and marriage completely fall apart; two acts that culminate in Snow’s return to a level of drug and alcoholic excess that makes him constant tabloid fodder for flogging and desecration.

Meet Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), an employee of the Pinnacle record label, run by music mogul Sergio Roma (an outstanding Sean “P. Diddy” Combs). During an extremely tense staff meeting with the volcanic Sergio, Aaron arrives with the idea that perhaps Pinnacle could convince the disgraced Aldous Snow to give a comeback rock concert to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his landmark gig at the Greek Theater. Aaron reasons that the concert could be simulcast on cable networks, and Snow’s back album catalog could be resurrected, creating an endless cash cow of which Pinnacle could reap the rewards. Convinced of this idea, Sergio enlists Aaron to travel to London, obtain Snow and bring him back to New York City to announce the comeback concert on the Today Show, which will occur a few days afterwards in Los Angeles. This is no an easy task especially with an unpredictable rock star with a worldwide reputation for endless narcotically fueled debauchery. Yet, Aaron claims he is up for the task, the success of which will undoubtedly elevate his own status in the music business. But, as Sergio exclaims, sweet and guileless Aaron has to become the master of “mental manipulation’ (although Sergio uses a more vulgar colloquialism) in order to have Snow bend to his will and arrive on time for the concert.

Further complicating matters is Aaron’s relationship with Daphne (a lovely Elisabeth Moss from television’s “Mad Men”), his live-in girlfriend and overworked medical student, who is herself trying to obtain a hospital residency position in Seattle, a move which would force Aaron to leave his star struck musical dreams in Los Angeles behind.

“Get Him To The Greek” is another comedy with a “race against time” screwball plot where a seemingly simple task flies apart in spectacular fashions. Throughout, I thought of films like John Landis’ classic and still influential “The Blues Brothers” (1980), the definitive high octane comedy featuring loads of music at the center and impetus. But it specifically reminded me very much of the character driven road comedies like John Hughes’ wonderful Thanksgiving themed romp “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987), Hughes' underseen and underrated road comedy "Dutch" (1991) and even Martin Brest’s brilliant action comedy, “Midnight Run” (1988) starring Robert DeNiro as a bounty hunter assigned to reign in accountant and embezzler Charles Grodin.

Furthermore, like this year’s raucous “Hot Tub Time Machine” from Director Steve Pink, it beats last year’s “The Hangover” at its own game hands down by creating a collective of characters you not only wouldn’t mind spending time with, but characters who continuously reveal themselves as the film moves along. Yes, “Get Him To The Greek” is frequently hilarious but as with several of Apatow’s best productions, of which Stoller’s “Marshall” is a particular high point, the film creates a canvas that allows itself to broaden into deeper and darker emotional territories. While this may be oft putting to those who just want to laugh, I found the additions, meanderings and undercurrents made the experience more sustaining.

In “Marshall,” we were privy to the secret world of men’s insecurities, foibles, sexual confusions, failings and romantic woes. With “Greek,” Stoller has created a film that has more on its mind than just providing strong laughs and one drunken rampage after another (although it contains plenty of those and uproariously so).

In addition to being a strong romantic comedy as well as presenting the tenuous dance between fan and star, so brilliantly and beautifully explored in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” (2000), “Get Him To The Greek” could actually be more spiritually linked to Apatow’s sprawling comedy drama from last year “Funny People.” Like that underseen film, Stoller also depicts a world where the concept of enough does not exist and people souls are held in the balance at the expense of making millions upon millions of dollars. We see how the music industry and all of its excesses are making Snow an increasingly empty shell of a man whose musical legacy has been outweighed by his controversies. In fact, it seems as if Stoller has decidedly toyed with possible perceptions of Snow’s band name, Infant Sorrow, to plum his inner world of infinite sorrow, which is held at bay as long as he continues to over-consume. Now I am not trying to make the film sound more serious than it is. That said, I just greatly appreciate those extra details, attention and depth Nicholas Stoller gave to this material which elevated “Get Him To the Greek” from a film that could have been an enjoyable yet forgettable comedy into something truly memorable and one I am looking forward to re-visiting.

Russell Brand again finds the humanity of Aldous Snow, making this man almost compulsively watchable. He takes what could have been a mountainously tiresome caricature and, along with Stoller’s screenplay and direction, injects several layers to make him a full-blooded, three-dimensional character. Aldous Snow is depicted as being one of the last great self-destructive rock stars. His lithe, serpentine and wildly exaggerated eroticism is presented through an occasionally flickering tongue and shirts that are apparently impossible for the man to button. He suggests the form and stage presence of Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop or even more recently, Liam Gallagher of Oasis. It seems the film asks you to imagine the artistic downfall any of those three real world rock stars would endure if they released the type of globally influenced, overly self-conscious and self-congratulatory “art” album that either Peter Gabriel or Paul Simon would make, yet without any true understanding of the world and inherent musical influences of the material. And how does one, no matter their legendary status, publicly face down an artistic disaster of that magnitude? Beyond that, we are able to gather a window into his personal world through his addictions, his relationships with his divorced parents (Dinah Stabb and a great Colm Meaney, respectively), his heartbreak over Jackie Q. (which contains some surprising revelations) and his budding friendship with Aaron. Yet, it is during one of the film’s rare quiet sequences set in the wee early morning hours in Snow’s New York apartment as Aldous sits quietly in the dark wrestling with his bottomless loneliness and the fact that he is essentially a world famous junkie. All of those elements plus Brand’s unusual comedic rhythms keeps the character of Aldous Snow from ever becoming insufferable and it is amazing just how endearing he actually becomes.

Jonah Hill again shows why he is one of Judd Apatow’s key repertory players while additionally bringing out his quieter, more charming yet no less anxious persona in the role of Aaron Green. He deftly suggests a young man caught in various stages of an adult world he is not quite yet ready for through his demeanor and ill-fitting clothes. He simultaneously appears like an eight year old with his hand caught in the cookie jar as well as a young man who desperately just wants to do the right thing by all involved yet somehow keeps tripping over his own feet. His love story with Elisabeth Moss shows honest warmth, playfulness and even provides a surprising rooting interest when his adventures fly off the rails and heads into an unpredictable experience with Aldous Snow late in the film. And his comedic chemistry with Brand and Sean Combs (more on him shortly) is undeniable.

All of the aesthetics of “Get Him To The Greek” are first rate. The celebrity cameos from Meredith Vierra, CNN’s Brooke Anderson, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and even Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy of the “Harry Potter” series) are all unforced and contain strong, genuine laughs. Best of all are the songs behind these fictional rock and pop stars. Keeping within the tradition set by Infant Sorrow's lascivious "Inside You" from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and also owing a healthy debt to Rob Reiner's iconic "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984), the music is very deceptive as the songs could all pass for music that could be easily heard on the radio today. All of the songwriting is tight and presented extremely well via the highly convincing vocals by Brand. Yet once you listen to the actual lyrics, you will be blissfully amazed with their satirical filthiness, some songs ("The Clap," "Furry Walls," and all of Jackie Q's downright unfiltered and nasty nursery rhyme pop tunes) being more blatant than others.

Sean Combs is the film’s comedic smart bomb!! The character of Sergio Roma is easily and obviously inspired by Combs’ own persona, especially during the first season of his MTV series “Making The Band.” If you have seen that series, the moment that firmly comes to mind was when Combs historically, bombastically, and hysterically instructed his wannabe pop stars and starlets to venture from midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn for the sole purpose of purchasing his favorite brand of cheesecake…and ON FOOT, no less! Sergio Roma is cut from that same cloth. Every single word out of his mouth is fall down hilarious yet he also conveys a believable command over his underlings who cower at his every gaze. In many ways, Roma is also cut from the same cloth as Tom Cruise's brilliantly repugnant Les Grossman character from Director Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” (2007) as both men represent the soullessness of their respective industries where lies are the truth, money is the ultimate touchdown and humanity is nowhere to be seen. Combs nearly steals every scene that he is in and I just wanted even more from him throughout.

When Judd Apatow and his band of merry compatriots are at their wicked comic best, we are given the gift of movie comedy gold, a genre that typically does not gather much respect but is indeed one of the most difficult genres to pull off successfully. "Get Him To The Greek" is no exception as Writer/Director Nicholas Stoller mixes riotous comedy, a tender love story, even more tender male bonding and satirical swipes at all areas of the rich and famous into a terrific rock album of a movie that I believe you could enjoy under the influence or not.

Which I was not, by the way...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

THE ONES THAT NEARLY GOT AWAY #1: a review of "Drag Me To Hell"

For the premiere installment of my new series, which will offer BRAND NEW reviews of films that had previously passed me by, I am happy to begin on a high note. I hope you enjoy it!!

“DRAG ME TO HELL” (2009)
Written by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi
Directed by Sam Raimi
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

I am going to inform you right up front that I am not a fan of horror films. While I do willingly place myself into a filmmaker’s capable hands for all manner of emotionally visceral thrills and excitement through a wide variety of film styles and genres, the genre of horror is one I tend to give a wide berth. I do not enjoy the act of being frightened, scared or placing my senses into a state of needless panic--via giant movie screens and THX audio systems--solely through the images and sounds a filmmaker chooses to hurl at me. On rare occasions, however, I will take the plunge into deeper and scarier cinematic waters, allowing myself to be led, either by a favorite filmmaker, a curious intrigue to a film or storyline that I cannot seem to keep myself from or even through something as inane as peer pressure. I hope you will permit me to indulge you for a few moments before the “main event” of this review…

Nothing of this world or any other would have kept me away from Steven Spielberg’s 1982 haunted house epic, “Poltergeist” (a film I saw exactly one week after his astounding "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial"). Written and Produced by Spielberg and Directed by Tobe Hooper (who helmed the 1974 horror classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), “Poltergeist” presented the mundane of everyday, anytime suburbia and transformed those sleepy streets into a voluminous nightmare. Spielberg and Hooper took their sly critique of our over-consumption of television and combined it with the sights of ravenous trees, demonic toy clowns, disembodied voices, ominously light bathed inner-worlds of closets and of course, the constant chilling presence of off-air television channels drenched in electronic “snow.” By the time the film concluded with a cacophony of rising skeletons, an ocean of screams and the unprecedented vision of an imploding house, “Poltergeist” was the definition of an experience. It was a film that supremely worked me over, whose intensity has been unforgotten and quite possibly remains my favorite horror film.

Curiosity afforded me tentative yet highly successful trips to films like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973), Brian DePalma’s high school Hell of “Carrie” (1976), Stanley Kubrick’s psychological descent of “The Shining” (1980), Ken Russell’s hallucinogenic “Altered States” (1981), Wes Craven’s original “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (1984) to more recent fare like M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999).

Aside from having my arm twisted to endure a sneak preview showing of “Arachnophobia” (1990), (a screening that I am still amazed that I was able to exit without having had a stroke), I instantly recall a peer pressure moment from 1978 when I was nine years old. During a visit with relatives, my cousin was pushing valiantly to venture to a screening of “Jaws 2,” the thought of which terrified me to no end. Fearing, even more than a man eating shark, was the potential of the endless amount of teasing from said cousin, so I dumbly decided to raise the stakes with a bluff by announcing that we should go see the Satanic sequel “Damien: Omen II.” I was certain that my Uncle would obviously see my bluff, relent and take us to see something considerably tamer. Unfortunately, no. My cousin and I sat shuddering in that darkened movie theater, viewing one Luciferian evisceration after another, all set to the relentless sound of that shrieking demon choir, wishing that we had perhaps seen something different…or even remained safely at home with our comic books.

Now I arrive at this moment in time, considerably older and seemingly more able to handle fictional shocks and scares. But, like I said at the outset, I still tend to give these movies proper space. If I don't bother them, they won't bother me.

The work of Writer/Director Sam Raimi has not crossed my cinematic path often and frankly has mostly been represented through his uneven “Spider-Man” series. I have known many people who swear up and down to the brilliance of his “Evil Dead” trilogy, yet I have stayed firmly away, not wanting to venture into that world. When Raimi decided to return to his horror film roots with last year’s “Drag Me To Hell,” I have to admit that my interest was piqued, through the amount of high praise from critics, the strong word of mouth from friends and truth be told, the film’s PG-13 rating, which told me the film wouldn’t go “too far” for me. I toyed with seeing it several times but backed off. I circled around the DVD at my local video store, even almost renting it on a few visits, only to place it back upon the shelf. And then, like an incantation from beyond, the film showed up on one of my cable movie channels and I began to watch…

“Drag Me To Hell” tells the tragic story of Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a sweet and lovely young woman who lives alone with her kitten, currently dates the charming and supportive Professor Clay Dalton (played by the always engaging Justin Long) and is employed as a Loan Officer at a bank. Christine desperately hopes for a promotion to Assistant Manager yet she is in competition for the title with her smarmy office mate Stu (Reggie Lee) and is essentially told by her boss (David Paymer) that she just is not tough enough to make the difficult decisions necessary for the position. Then, one day, the twisted hand of fate arrives in the form of Sylvia Ganush (played with enthusiastic horror by Lorna Raver), a gnarled old gypsy woman with slimy dentures, one healthy eye and a humble request for a third extension on her mortgage as she is struggling with money issues. Christine, discovering the moment in which to prove herself worthy of the job promotion, denies Mrs. Ganush the extension. The old woman begs and pleads with Christine for the extension, grabbing the hem of our heroine’s skirt in mercy, a move which startles Christine to back away and call for security. Christine's reaction shames Mrs. Ganush publicly and she is ultimately exited from the premises. That evening, as Christine begins her trek homewards, Mrs. Ganush suddenly appears in the back seat of her car and the two women embark upon a hysterically violent struggle, which concludes with Mrs. Ganush stripping a button from Christine’s coat, muttering a spell and handing the button back to Christine before vanishing into the night.

After speaking with the police about the attack and being cared for by Clay, Christine impulsively decides to venture inside of a Fortune Teller’s parlor for assistance. The Teller (played by Dileep Rao), eventually informs Christine that a curse has been placed upon her and that if she does not find a way to appease herself to Mrs. Ganush and have any sort of atonement granted, she will be dragged into Hell for eternity by the demonic presence of the Lamia in three short days! Christine, feverishly attempting to reverse the curse and save her soul from eternal damnation via animal sacrifices and seances among other means, is thrown from one terrifying moment (dark dreams, nose bleeds, more attacks and a nasty, pesky housefly) to the next, all the while trying to keep her boyfriend, job, and sanity in the process.

To say much more or divulge exactly how all of the disparate parts fit together would be to ruin the surprisingly amount of fun “Drag Me To Hell” actually is. It is a lean, frisky, grotesque, and compulsively watchable horror film that never strays from its premise. It heads clear eyed and rock steady towards its dramatic finish while providing a healthy amount of shocks, jolts and at times, equally unexpected comedy along the way. It is fast paced without becoming frenetic. There are several twists and turns to the plot but the story never becomes bloated and no material is superfluous. There are gross-out shocks that never fall into unadulterated gore. Every element feels exactly correct in the presentation.

Alison Lohman makes for a game ingénue as she creates a character with a strong rooting interest--I mean—who would really want to see this charming, pretty, soft-spoken girl dragged to Hell? While the performance is not remarkable, by any means, it is her unshakable willingness to endure the needs of the story as well as whatever strains of gross-out material Raimi tosses her way, that sells this film completely.

Lorna Raver is a formidable adversary, also not without a snaky sense of humor, as her unyielding and ruthless persistence for vengeance casts a wide shadow over the entire film. Great credit goes to her and especially to Raimi for dolling our the terror and humor in equal dollops, sometimes within the same scene (that aforementioned battle between the two women in a car is simultaneously scary and downright hilarious). It often reminded me of John Landis’ classic horror comedy, “An American Werewolf In London” (1981), which accomplished this same feat magically.

And that same dark magic is at the heart of this terrific film. Watching “Drag Me To Hell,” made me catch a glimpse into what fans of Sam Raimi respond to so well with his work, as this film was highly entertaining while also being effective with its brand of horror which does leave a disturbing aftertaste. Perhaps being released from the shackles of the big budget, high expectation stranglehold of the “Spider-Man” series was freeing for Raimi as his film was creatively playful and experimental in ways that the “Spider-Man” trilogy could not afford to be due to the expectations of fans and the bean counters at the Hollywood box offices and studios. Whatever the reasons, it was obvious that Raimi was having a blast of fun behind the camera, and because of that sheer glee, I had fun as well. It was almost watching that proverbial kid in the unattended candy store, seeing what he can get away with while the authorities aren’t watching.

Have Sam Raimi and “Drag Me To Hell” provided me with a cure to my irrational fear of horror movies. No, but I will say that if horror films were presented in this fashion, I quite possibly would see more of them more frequently.

And maybe I should give those “Evil Dead” movies a whirl…

…or maybe not.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


We have officially reached the half-year mark for Savage Cinema and I could not be any more amazed when I look back through all of the postings that have been delivered into cyberspace since the site's inception in late December of 2009. It has been so rewarding and such an immense pleasure to be able to compose my musings for your reading pleasure and I sincerely hope you'll continue to stick with me.

Here's what is in store for you for this coming month...

1. At long last, I will review the latest Judd Apatow production, "Get Him To The Greek."

2. This month will also see the review of "Toy Story 3," the latest from the wizards at Pixar.

3. Quite possibly, if I am able to have the time to do so, I just may squeak in a review of "Knight And Day," the latest starring vehicle from Tom Cruise. As you all know only too well, life has its way of making its own plans for you so, if that one does not appear until early July, do not be surprised. That said, it is on the docket.

4. Now that my archives are nearly depleted, I have decided to embark upon a new series, of which I am still fumbling over the title. I am pondering entitling it, "The Ones That Nearly Got Away," or even "The Goalie Series," (if you have a better idea, I'd love some suggestions). What this series would entail are simply reviews of films that had previously passed me by, for some reason or another. The films in question could be fairly recent or even ones from the past. Essentially, these are all films I had been curious about or had even wanted to see but somehow they all slipped past my radar...until now. The first in this series will be Sam Raimi's "Drag Me To Hell," from 2009.

So, there's the latest and greatest for you and I'll see you when the house lights go down...