"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" Bizarre Foreign Fairy Tale


Last Fall a strange little movie from Finland came out that plays like a fairy tale from hell. During an archeological dig, an American company finds the "real" Santa Claus. Far from the jolly 'ole Saint Nick we all know, this Santa is thought to be a giant child-eating beast. Frozen in an iceberg Santa's elves rush to unthaw him, along with rounding up all of the area children to appease their master.

The story is told through a boy and his father as they struggle to get by on a steady diet of milk and gingerbread cookies. Pietari is an odd but endearing little boy who has read some disturbing stories about Santa and realizes what lies in the mountain. As the area children and home appliances start to disappear Pietari gears up to try and save the day. His father Raunao is a stern strong-willed man who loves his son, but who also must keep their small family afloat. When the communities reindeer heard is murdered a skinny old bearded man is captured. Raunao and the neighborhood men interrogate the dirty naked old man but get nothing. Is this man Santa?

The ending makes a statement about the commercialization of Christmas and thoroughly explains the title of "Rare Exports". This is not a horror movie but a very creepy fairy tale that is sort of sweet and dreamlike. Its very well made and well acted. The story is quite strange but at its heart really seems to focus on the relationships of fathers and sons. It would be hard to find a target audience for the film, but if you like quirky foreign films you probably won't be disappointed with this one. It is available through some on demand services as well as DVD and Blu-ray

"Black Christmas" (2007) A Horror Remake Done Right


The recent trend of remaking classic horror movies is hopefully on the decline, but not without leaving several horrible films in its wake.  Very few ever come close the original but with "Black Christmas" in 2007 the filmmakers did a good enough job not to embarrass themselves, and actually make a decent movie.

Taking place within a sorority house the day before Christmas break a group of girls and their house mother are terrorized by a former inhabitant named Billy Lenz.  Billy has quite the backstory and its told in flashbacks throughout the movie.  Its extremely disturbing and involves murder, incest, and all those beloved family pastimes.  Born with yellow skin and rejected by his psychotic mother, Billy lives most of his life locked in the attic.  As a teenager, Billy is raped by his mother and she has a baby girl.  When he finally gets out he kills his mother and makes Christmas cookies out of her skin (Yummy!!).  His sister disappears and Billy is caught and sent to a mental hospital.  Years later he escapes (naturally) and heads back home to the now sorority house.

The girls start receiving prank calls and one by one they start to disappear.  The story had been modernized from the original 1974 version. Cell phones play a big part, as well as computers.  Although the characters and killings do bear some resemblance to the original.  Like a lot of horror remakes, this is more of a re-imagining of the story rather than a shot for shot remake.  A lot of horror clichés are used but are used effectively. The girls are pretty one dimensional and serve as victims quite well.  There is a big shock ending that makes you sort of rethink a lot of what you just saw.  Paying close attention to the flashbacks should help.  Unlike a lot of the recent remakes which water down the violence and gore to get a PG-13 rating  "Black Christmas" takes pleasure in making it R rated with gruesome kills and gory pieces all over.  The DVD includes a "making of" and Director's notebook features and is definitely worth a buy.  You can find used copies for very cheap all over the internet.  The original 1974 film is also available on DVD and Blu-ray and is essential viewing for all horror fans.

"Silent Night, Deadly Night " The Psycho Santa Classic!


I can't think of a better way to welcome December and the Christmas Season than with a sleigh full of Psycho Santa horror movies.  First on the list and most notorious of all is the 1984 slasher film "Silent Night, Deadly Night".  This movie enraged parents and critics alike.  Parents picketed theatres who showed it and even now it's hard to find since the DVD has been out of print.  With the success of the "Halloween" movies, every holiday was open season for a horror movie.  Should Christmas and Santa Clause be off limits? Of course not, as I'm sure most of the protesters never saw the movie to begin with.  Even now can this movie really be that bad for you?

This is the story of a boy named Billy.  On Christmas Eve he and his family visit their comatose grandpa in a mental hospital. Then on the way home, they stop along the road for a guy dressed in a Santa suit who is having car trouble. This is the same Santa who earlier robbed a convenience store and shot the clerk.  Billy's parents are then brutally murdered, but Billy and his baby brother escape and are eventually placed in an orphanage.  Over the years Billy not only has to deal with the repressed psychological trauma of what happened that night but the strict and stern punishments of the Mother Superior at the orphanage.  We flash forward ten years.  Sister Margaret helps Billy get a job at a local toy store and as soon as he seems to become normal and happy again, Christmas time comes around.  When the store's Santa can't come in, Billy is forced put on the suit.  Meeting his greatest fear head on really does not go well, not at all.  During a drunken Christmas party at the store, Billy finally snaps and goes on a brutal and bloody killing spree dressed as ole' Saint Nick.

Compared to many other horror films the story is actually quite good, and what happens is really quite believable.  It could also be why this movie is so effective. The kills are pretty sweet from a horror perspective and the effects are decent.  Since this is an 80s slasher movie there is the requisite bunch of gratuitous sex and nudity.  All of which Billy punishes for being naughty.  What is most disturbing about this movie is when Billy dressed as Santa comes in contact with little kids.  After killing a babysitter and her boyfriend, he gives a little girl a box cutter he used to kill a previous victim.  It is also believed that Billy will return to the orphanage to get revenge on Mother Superior.  When a Santa appears at the orphanage a police officer open fires and kills him right in front of all the children.  This turns out to be the wrong guy (oops!).  The officer just killed a priest (double oops!!).  The ending is a little anti-climactic and it does setup it up for a bunch of inferior sequels.  If you can find it, it's definitely worth a viewing.  PUNISH!

"The Uninvited" A Tale of Two Sisters Starring Emily Browning


"The Uninvited" is a remake of the 2003 Korean film "A Tale of Two Sisters" directed by Jee-woon Kim. Asian horror remakes are tough and usually come off as dull, boring and misinterpreted. This movie is also rated PG-13 which is a death sentence for any horror film. You usually end up getting a watered down, cliché ridden, bore fest. Although once in a great while a movie like "The Uninvited" comes along to challenge the theory.

Starring Emily Browning and Arielle Kebble as sisters Anna and Alex. We learn that their sick mother died in a boathouse explosion and Anna tried to kill herself landing her in the nut house for 8 months. She is released and comes home to find that her dad has fallen in love with his wife's nurse Rachel (played by Elizabeth Banks). She reunites with Alex and they talk about what's been happening since she's been gone. Anna becomes haunted by the people and events of her past. The sisters begin to suspect the worst in Rachel as she seems to have a dark hidden past. Their dad, played by the always reliable David Strathairn, is an accomplished author who is releasing his latest novel. When Anna's friend Matt is found dead, they suspect Rachel killed him because he saw what happen the night their mother died. Anna tries to tell their dad about Rachel, but he brushes her off and even threatens to call her psychiatrist and have her readmitted.

The film is told from Anna's point of view and we see all of her delusions and fears up close. She is small and physically strong but also mentally fragile and paranoid. Emily Browning perfectly captures Anna's psyche and becomes this girl fighting back the darkness and trying to recapture her life. Fearing Rachel has now targeted the sisters for her next victims they go on the offensive to and try to expose her for what she is.

"The Uninvited" has one of those mega twist endings, that when you rewatch the movie you realize how manipulated you were, but it is definitely a fun ride. You can see the original Korean version through Netflix Watch Instantly but will have to get the DVD if you want to see the remake. Watch this movie as part of a double feature with "The Orphan".

Kevin Smith's "RED STATE"


Every since "Clerks" premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival writer/director Kevin Smith has enjoyed a cult following like no other.  His ear for dialogue and endearing true to life characters make his films the voice of the twenty somethings.  His characters spout off "Star Wars" references and make childish dick and fart jokes, all while coming off as people you would like to hang out with.  Although recently he has had a string of pretty bad movies, "Red State" returns to the controversial territory that followed his 1999 film "Dogma".

Three high school boys go looking for sex on the internet and find an older woman willing to do the deed with them.  When they get to her trailer park home, they are drugged and brought into a radical Christian fundamentalist compound.  There we meet Reverend Abin Copper, played by the remarkable Michael Parks.  Abin's wife Sara (played by Melissa Leo) is the women who got the teens and now they must pay for their sins.  The cult-like group calls themselves the Five Pointers and the authorities are anxious to take them down.  It sounds a lot like David Koresh and Branch Dravidians from Waco Texas and their big standoff in the '90s.  Copper spouts off a fiery sermon with a guy shrink wrapped to a cross.  He equates gays to devils who should be executed on site.  The man strapped to the cross is shot in the head and one of the three teens is up next, but when one of them breaks free and finds the armory full of assault rifles all hell is about to break loose (but not in a literal sense).

When Abin murders a sheriff deputy who gets to close,  the ATF and local police encircle the compound and a violent confrontation ensues.  Smith deals with such modern issues as gay rights, religious extremists and domestic terrorism.  How well he deals with these issues is a little suspect.  Smith's forte over the years has been comedy and "Red State" feature mainly action and drama, but with a dose of dark humor.  The gunfights are tense and visceral and something you don't usually see in his films.  John Goodman plays Joseph Keenan and heads the ATF attack on the compound.  He has orders to treat the compound members as terrorists under the Patriot Act and to kill every last one of them. One of the imprisoned teens gets together with Abin's granddaughter in order to escape with the compounds little children.  We then hear a voice from above and things come to a head.

This is not the greatest film in the world even by Kevin Smith standards, but it has more than "Jersey Girl" or "Cop Out" had to offer.  The films he made earlier in his career really stand on there own and as he has even said took place in a different time in his life.  Kevin also has another special available on Netflix streaming called "Too Fat for 40" which is entertaining but extremely T.M.I. 

"Sleeping Beauty" Starring Emily Browning


Hot off this years Cannes Film Festival, Director Julia Leigh's debut film is striking, controversial, and a little I don't know what.  With famed director Jane Campion as a producer, this film is given automatic street cred. Starring the beautiful and fair skinned Emily Browning who has recently been seen in "Sucker Punch" and "The Uninvited", "Sleeping Beauty" seems to be lacking a certain something. 

Browning plays Lucy a disenchanted college student who drifts through life working several jobs.  She is a medical test subject, an office worker, and cleans tables at a cafe.  We never get to know Lucy and what makes her tick and she is never really happy.  She is extremely lonesome and seems to have suffered some sort of emotional trauma in her past.  Her alcoholic mother calls her at one of her jobs and asks for money, but that is all we hear about her family.  She answers an ad for a sort of waitress and is brought to a mansion that caters to a group exorbitantly rich perverts.  This shady business is run Clara and operates as a sort of brothel.  Lucy then agrees to be a sleeping beauty, which means she drinks a tea that knocks her out cold for a few hours while crusty old white men have their way with her.  Although with the strict instruction that she not be penetrated.

Browning gives an extremely brave and fearless performance.  She is nude in several scenes an makes the best of the material given.  But nudity alone can't help that fact that the story is lacking in character and motivation.  Lucy is a very intriguing person and there is a lot going on inside her, but Leigh never shows or implies any of it on screen.  She is also involved with a terminally ill man named Birdman, their whole relationship is a little sketchy and underdeveloped.

Although I have to admit this movie is like a male film geeks paradise.  You mean Baby Doll from "Sucker Punch" is in it, and she has several nude scenes? Yes and yes.  The movie does have its faults and reeks of a first time director, but you really should see the movie for Emily Browning's performance because she really does do a great job. 

The 2011 Austin Film Festival Recap


Austin, Texas is one of the coolest and hippest cities in the country.  The capital of Texas and the "Live Music Capital of the World"  They hold other such notable festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW) in March and Fantastic Fest in the Summer.  This was my third trip to AFF (Austin Film Festival) and it is known as the "Writer's Festival" putting much of its focus on the art and craft of screenwriting.  Along with a full slate of movies, they also hold a weekend writers conference with panels from some of the biggest names in the business.

A few days before the festivities it was announced that Johnny Depp would be in attendance for the regional premiere of his new film "The Rum Diary".  With "Johnny Fever" taking hold of the city, I had my film badge and got in line for at the time was a relatively short line that quickly snaked through the streets of Downtown Austin.  After about a two hour wait I was able to secure a front row seat on the left corner.  After a bit, more waiting film critic Elvis Mitchell introduced Director Bruce Robinson and finally, Johnny Depp made a brief appearance. 

After the film, Elvis, Bruce, and Johnny came on stage for a Q & A.  Bruce seemed to have hit the backstage "refreshments" a little hard and was a bit out of it.  Johnny on the other hand was tack sharp with wit and humor.  Working the crowd like I'm sure he's has done a thousand times.  He described his relationship with "Rum Diary" author Hunter S. Thompson and the struggle to bring this film into fruition.  After a few audience questions, it was time to say goodbye.  A number of festival-goers rushed the stage for an autograph and his security team quickly turned them away, but Johnny stepped forth and knelt at the end of the stage and began signing.  I was able to get through and he signed my festival badge.  Quite the experience all around. 

As for the rest of the festival, I saw retrospective showings of Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan", and the animated classic "Toy Story" with Pixar frontman John Lasseter in attendance.  The documentary "Cinema is Everywhere" takes a look at how movies are made and viewed all over the world.  On Saturday night I saw "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" the new film from the indie favorite Duplass brothers and was the best film I saw at the festival.  Starring Ed Helms, Jason Segal & Susan Sarandon.  The last night I was there I was able to see the Sundance Film Festivals Grand Jury Prize-winning film "Like Crazy" Starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones.  About a British college student (Jones) who falls for an American student, only to be separated when she's banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa.

This is a truly a great festival and would highly recommended it to writers, filmmakers, or just plain movie lovers, but to be honest this is really the only festival I've been to so I am just a little bias. 

"The Human Cetipede 2 : Full Sequence"


When the original "Human Centipede: First Sequence" came out in 2009 it instantly becomes a cult classic.  You can see my review here.  Disgusting, wrong and sadistic are only a few of the nicer words critics have called it.  Director Tom Six is quite the showman of shock, having the audacity to create two of the sickest "mainstream" films in recent history.

Of course, with any sequel, it needs to be bigger, bolder, and shockier (yeah, I made that word up).  Since the great Dr. Heiter was killed at the end of the first film, we get a new protagonist in the form of Martin, a short and very rotund man who has lived a very disturbing life.  He is mentally handicapped and was severely abused by his father, his therapist has dreams of raping him and his mother even tries to kill him.  Martin seems to get by with an obsession with the original Human Centipede film.  He plans to create a centipede of his own but with twelve people instead of the original three.  Martin works as an overnight parking garage attendant and knocks out a bunch of people and keeps them in a warehouse.  While Dr. Heiter was a skilled surgeon, Martin is quite crude in his methods.

Every aspect of this film has been designed to shock and disgust to the highest degree and some scenes are just so outrageous you might find yourself chuckling.  Martin is spectacularly realized by actor Laurence R. Harvey, his name could be an alias since anything about him is hard to find, and there was another somewhat famous actor named Laurence Harvey in the 1950s and 60s.  I don't remember Martin ever saying a word, but his character and mannerisms are just so perfect for this role.  He is creepy, disgusting, dirty and utterly insane.  In a very interesting twist, Martin is able to get one of the actresses from the first film to show up at his warehouse with the promise of auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino film. 

Director Tom Six also had the grapes to present everything in black and white.  He knows how to push peoples buttons and everything is planned out to give a certain effect.  This movie is quite hard to watch even when you know what you're in for, and for people to pay money to see it, I'm sure it brings a huge smile to Six's face.

Lars Von Trier's Epic "MELANCHOLIA"


Writer/Director Lars Von Trier is one of the most polarizing and discussed filmmakers working today, and a lot of it has nothing to do with his movies.  Is he a genius or a pompous douche bag?  An endlessly talented artist or egomaniacal freak?  The Danish director has had several internationally acclaimed films from "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark" to "Dogville" and "Manderlay".  His most controversial film has been 2009's "Antichrist" (which I have also reviewed).  His Cannes Film Festival press conferences have been the stuff of idiotic legend, as he can't seem to stop making bizarre and offensive remarks.  I'll let you Google the rest of the story if you're interested, let's get down to business with "Melancholia"

"Melancholia" is his latest opus and while not as controversial as "Antichrist" it keeps some of the same dark and disturbing themes.  Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress at Cannes this year for her role as Justine, a severely depressed woman who is getting married.  Justine's sister Claire is played by "Antichrist" star Charlotte Gainsbourg.  The cast also features Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling & Stellan Skarsgard.  The film is presented in two parts named after the sisters with Part 1 being "Justine" and Part 2 being "Claire".  All of the drama is held under the threat of global destruction as a rogue blue planet named Melancholia is on a collision course with Earth.  

Everything takes place within a gigantic estate that seems cut off from the rest of civilization.  The tone and feel of the film is pretty heavy and dark.  Justine's extreme depression has been a burden on everyone for years, with Claire being the only person to really take care of her.  With the wedding being a last ditch effort to bring joy and happiness to her life.  The first part of the film takes place during the reception. 

The only thing Justine takes solace in is that the world will soon be ending.  With the planet Melancholia visible in the sky, getting bigger as it approaches, Justine seems to form a sort of cosmic bond with it.  Could this be her savior?  Claire, on the other hand, is married to John (Sutherland) and has a little boy.  She is racked with terror and anxiety at Earths impending doom.   John is a sort of amateur astronomer and keeps telling her that the threat will pass, knowing full well that we are pretty much screwed.

"Melancholia" like a lot of Von Trier's films is filled with symbolism and layers of meaning.  Two sisters colliding, two planets colliding.  Justine's severe depression also closely follows Von Trier's own such proclaimed depression.  Justine at one moment tells Claire "The Earth is evil" "Life on Earth is evil" "Nobody will miss it".  This movie is dark, depressing and oddly beautiful and intriguing.   To see this movie it is showing on several on demand services and will be coming soon to theatres.        

"Trust" Clive Owen, Catherine Keener & Liana Liberato


There have been several movies made about internet predators preying on young girls, most of them having there own unique angle. I reviewed the Ellen Page film "Hard Candy" a few years ago, in which she turns the tables on the guy. "Trust" takes another different angle in looking at how an attack affects the dynamics of a family.

Directed by David Schwimmer and starring Clive Own and Catherine Keener as the parents of Annie played remarkably by Liana Liberato. Liana, in her first major film role, is not the usual twenty-something playing a fourteen-year-old, but an actual teenager playing the emotionally complex role of a girl dealing with the aftermath of being raped.

Set in an upper middle-class suburb of Chicago. Annie starts a chat room relationship with a guy named "Charlie" a supposedly 16-year-old guy from California, who quickly becomes 20, then 25. Annie is angered by his lies but still continues to chat with him. When Annie's parents drive her brother to college, she meets up with Charlie at the local mall. She is shocked and embarrassed to find out Charlie is at least 35, but for some reason, Annie doesn't run away screaming. They get ice cream together and she eventually agrees to get to a hotel room with him, where she is raped. This all happens within the first 30 minutes of the 106 minute film. Annie tells her best friend what happens who then tells school officials. The news spreads like wildfire and soon enough everybody knows. She is taken to a hospital and examined as well as interviewed by police.

Recognizing that we live in such a youth obsessed culture the filmmakers try to find someone or something to blame for what happens to Annie but find no easy answers. The major theme of the film is that you can only do some much to protect the people you love and really bad things do happen, people will fall down, but its how you get up and the support of other people that can you through it. Clive Owen plays her father Michael and in a bit of obvious irony is an ad exec who's company exploits teen sexuality to sell clothing. Most of the second half of the film deals with Michael's misplaced anger and frustration at a man who seemingly doesn't exist. Charlie is an old pro having done this to at least three other young girls. The FBI works very hard and diligently with what evidence they are given, but with so many similar cases backlogged its hard to make any progress.

The mother played by Catherine Keener is seriously underused, and it's a shame since she is such a great actress. Liana Liberato did win the best actress award from the Chicago International film festival and is the real star of the movie. The film overall feels like a well produced movie of the week or a Lifetime style movie. There are scenes of extreme melodrama and predictability but the film as a whole plays pretty well.

Take it Sleazy with "The Babysitters"


“The Babysitters” could be classified as a Lifetime style movie mixed with a big handful of Cinemax sleaze, but is it ever fun to watch. It’s quite the guilty pleasure, but also a disturbing view of seedy suburban life.

First time writer/director David Ross creates a world where seemingly every man is a depraved, sex obsessed creep. One such man (the most “normal”) is Michael played by John Leguizamo who is going through the proverbial mid-life crisis. Married with two young boys he begins an illicit affair with the babysitter, Shirley played by Katherine Waterston. She is a tall brunette who is smart, beautiful and has good business sense. When Michael tells his friends about Shirley’s “services” they want her to babysit for them too. So she gets a few of her hot friends to help out and all of a sudden she is running a prostitution ring and getting a 20 percent cut.

She tells us in the beginning that she is a regular girl from a non-dysfunctional family and has never been abused or anything. She just likes the money and giving head isn’t any more humiliating than flipping burgers. There is no morality in this film and the main characters realize this as Shirley mentions to Michael that they’re both going to hell for this. The most outright uncomfortable and disturbing scenes take place at a cabin where all the middle-aged married guys get together with all the underage babysitter prostitutes for a big party. Everybody has taken ecstasy and bad things are close behind. During a bathroom scene, we are shocked back to reality as to what these people are doing. This is really the only point where we see any consequences from this whole ordeal.

So if you happen to find yourself bored one night, grab a few beers, a bag of chips, lock the door and watch “The Babysitters”.

Takashi Miike's Horror Masterpiece "Audition"


Japanese auteur Takashi Miike burst into the American consciousness with this 1999 horror film. Miike cranks out the films like no one else by directing a staggering 86 titles over the last 20 years. Films like “Audition”, “Ichi the Killer”, “Full Metal Yakuza”, and most recently the samurai epic “13 Assassins”

“Audition” stars Ryo Ishibashi as a lonely single father who decides to start dating years after the passing of his wife. The way he goes about finding this new love of his life is either brilliant or cold and heartless. One of his friends works for a movie studio and sets up an audition to interview young actresses for a non-existent movie. I have to say that I’m no expert on Japanese culture, but the depiction of men and women and their roles in society makes quite a glaring message by Miike. During the audition, Ishibashi’s character of Aoyama looks like he is shopping for a new car rather than a woman. The last girl interviewed is Asami, a meek an introverted former ballet dancer. She is beautiful, mysterious, and Aoyama quickly becomes obsessed with her. His friend gets some serious negative vibes off her and warns him to go slow and that something is just not right with her, but he ignores him.

Aoyama calls her and they start a respectful relationship. We also get some more background on Asami as we see her in her apartment and there is indeed something not right with her. The film is well paced and intriguing throughout with a climax for the ages. The last half of this film is not for the weak of heart and/or stomach but really does deliver the goods. Asami’s past is revealed as well as what she does to Aoyama. Asami is her own women who has suffered through some serious tragedy and abuse in her past but is still extremely disturbed.

There are several DVD editions out there and I would have to recommend the unrated and uncut version to get the full effect that Miike intended. Check it Out!

"The Exploding Girl" by Bradley Rust Gray


This little independent drama is written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray definitely has a niche audience. Made on a shoestring budget and filmed “guerilla style” on location in New York City. It seems to be a throwback to the 1970s when these kinds of movies were made more frequently by people like by John Cassavetes, Bob Rafelson, and others

Zoe Kazan plays Ivy, a basic girl next door type who is home for spring break. Al (Mark Rendall), a childhood friend, asks to stay with her and her mom as he has nowhere else to go. Their relationship is like any other boy-girl “friends” situation. It can be awkward and strange at times, and there are moments when you think there could be something more going on. This is pretty much the entire story in a nutshell. Zoe is above all “real and honest” in her portrayal of Ivy, who also suffers from epilepsy. She has a boyfriend back at school (Greg), but when he is involved in a car accident with an old girlfriend as a passenger, their relationship is the next victim. This is one of “those” movies that are heavy on feeling and atmosphere. Its structure is plotless and meandering, but you really can’t seem to pull your eyes away from the screen as these characters really start to grow on you. There is no music or score to the film and many of the scenes are filmed at a distance, letting the characters interact with there real environments. The authentic feel of this film really puts it at a different level than most films. Nothing feels forced or made up to serve a greater good, things happen and the characters react. The people at Oscilloscope have put out a DVD package that is available, but I would first recommend seeing it on Netflix watch instantly.

Like I said at the beginning this movie is really aimed at a very specific audience but if you’re ready to disconnect from a summer full of CGI Robots, Aliens, and big budget garbage, give the Exploding Girl a try and thank me in the morning.

"The Myth of the American Sleepover"


The coming of age story is a staple genre in film that seems to come and go with the times. The mid to late 1990s had “American Pie” and other such imitators, along with a revival of the teen horror movie. “Myth of the America Sleepover” is an independent drama that won a Special Jury Award at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival for Best Ensemble Cast. The cast is populated with mostly real teens and non-actors, giving it a very real and authentic look.

Set in the early 1990s in a middle-class Midwestern town, this film looks like it could be an autobiographical account of director David Robert Mitchell’s formative years. The story meanders through the lives of several teens on the last days of summer vacation. Everybody is searching for something in one way or another. Looking for adventure, a girl seen in the grocery store and for new friends. Mitchell’s film is not exploitive of its characters and rarely resorts to cheap stereotypes. Although minorities are pretty much absent, we are given the usual token black person. This being said the authenticity of the film is quite impressive and similar to what I experienced myself.

This movie, unlike most, treats its characters like real people living real lives. The thoughts, anxieties, and pressures are all there. This is a time before the internet and cell phones when everything was more personal and “real”. But no matter what generation you grew up in there are still basic fundamentals of growing up that are universal. “Myth of the American Sleepover” is available on demand from Comcast and as always check it out!

Before "The Kids were all Right" There Was "High Art"


Before “The Kids are Alright” writer/ director Lisa Cholodenko made a name for herself with the highly acclaimed and award-winning 1998 film “High Art” starring Radha Mitchell and Ally Sheedy.

Radha’s character of Syd is an assistant photo editor at a New York City photography magazine called Frame. She lives in a small apartment with her plain and boring boyfriend James. Something is missing in her life and she soon finds it by accident. When the bathroom ceiling starts leaking she visits the neighbors upstairs and finds Lucy (Sheedy) and company. Lucy’s apartment is filled with framed photos that catch Syd’s eye. Unknown to her at the time but Lucy was a famous photographer who left the scene about 10 years ago. Syd wants to help bring Lucy back and Frame is willing to give her the cover of their next issue if she does.

Lucy has been involved in a long relationship with Greta, played by indie favorite Patricia Clarkson, a washed up drug addicted German actress who moved to the States to be with Lucy. Greta is like a lead balloon and is bringing Lucy down with her. Lucy also has self-confessed “drug problem and a love issue, or is it the other way around?” It's only when she meets Syd does her artistic fire and passion return. Greta is crazy jealous of Syd as she starts consuming more and more of Lucy’s time. Lucy has also requested that Syd be her editor for the magazine piece, giving her a big promotion.

This film relies heavily on art world stereotypes and clichés and is the only thing that holds it down. Frame Magazines chief editor is a guy with a ponytail and dark rimmed glasses, with his assistant being a cold dark haired French woman. Of course, both of them are egocentric douches. The glamorization of drug use is also played up but it in one scene Lucy mocks this after Greta shoots up. This film is really about the love triangle that forms between Syd, Lucy, and Greta and how they use each other to get what they want. Love, trust, loyalty and devotion are the main themes of “High Art”

The film has a typical downer ending but is also hopeful. Like most movies “High Art” isn’t perfect but the brilliant performances really make it one to see. This was a break out role for Radha Mitchell as she has since starred in “Finding Neverland”, “Silent Hill”, “Pitch Black” and Woody Allen’s “Melinda and Melinda”. Ally Sheedy also won numerous Best Actress awards for her role. This movie is currently available through Netflix watch instantly, so check it out!

Get "Buried" with Ryan Reynolds


*Contains Spoilers*

When it comes to minimalist filmmaking Rodrigo Cortes’ 2010 film “Buried” takes the concept to new levels, all while making a very intense and psychologically draining movie. Starring Ryan Reynolds and only Ryan Reynolds for 95 minutes, although there are voiceovers from several phone calls, this is essentially a one-man show.

Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, an American truck driver working over in Iraq and as the title states he has been taken hostage and buried in a wooden coffin. This concept has been done before, but not quite like this. We never leave Paul and his tight confines for the duration of the film. He has a Zippo lighter, a cell phone, and a few other small objects. He deals with a number of people who are trying to help locate him as well as the kidnapper who demands five million dollars for his release. Since he is able to get a signal on his phone he is told he must not be buried very deep.

While we spend the entire movie with Paul, Director Cortes has deliberately added a few shots that completely take the viewer out of the story and breaks the illusion and claustrophobic environment. The camera pulls away from the coffin and just keep going until were well above the action. While this is an artistic choice from the director there are some problems that Paul gets into that will really test the movie's limits of believability. He obviously has a limited supply of air and the lighter he uses continues to suck it away. In the movies most preposterous scene, he wakes up after taking some anti-anxiety pills to find a snake slither out from inside his pants. He then douses the reptile in alcohol from a flask he has on him and lights it on fire. I’m sure this alone would kill him at least twice. But was this a hallucination? Near the end of the movie, he imagines the coffin door opening and being bathed in sunlight.

Paul is in constant contact with Dan Brenner who deals with contactor kidnappings and is in charge of coordinating his rescue. Dan tries to keep his spirits up but they both know it is very doubtful he will be found. Paul is also in contact with the kidnapper who keeps making more demands. Although “Buried” has its problems it is really quite intense and maintains a strong sense of panic and terror throughout. Ryan Reynolds really gives the performance of his life “so far” in this movie. It reminded me a little bit of Tom Hanks in “Castaway” although without the extreme body transformation. “Buried” is a movie you fully experience once and that’s enough.

"The Fish Child" Starring Ines Efron from XXY


“The Fish Child” or “El Nino Pez” is Argentinean director Lucia Puenzo follow up to the critical hit “XXY”. Puenzo once again casts Ines Efron to star in this story of a family in the rich upper-class suburbs of Buenos Aries.

“The Fish Child” is more ambitious and sprawling in its storytelling which also contributes too many of its faults. While “XXY” was a small character drama focused on the struggle of one person's search for identity “The Fish Child” reaches for a broader almost soap opera like style. The story is told in a fractured non-linear style making the first viewing somewhat of a challenge.

It is a modern day love story between two young women Lala (Efron), the daughter of a judge and, Ailin the family maid. They plan to run away together to Paraguay and live in a house on the shores of Lake Ypoa. The problem is they have no money. Lala’s father is about to retire and write a scathing memoir about the rampant corruption within the police force. But before he can do any of this he is murdered but by who? Lala and Ailin have their motives as do others.

The story is told from Lala’s point of view and mainly focuses on Ailin. She is accused and arrested for the murder and send to prison. The story flashes back and forth in time to give us a background on the characters, but when it comes to the third act the plot is just too bloated and overstuffed. We find out a bit more about Ailin’s past and an anticlimactic resolution to who killed Lala’s father. Needless to say, they escape to Paraguay and live happily ever after or something like that. Obviously, not the greatest movie but the acting of the two girls is pretty decent and will appeal to those who scour the foreign films section looking for something different.

"Insidious" is the Best Scary Movie of 2011!

**Contains Spoilers**

Insidious is the new horror movie from James Wan and Leigh Whannell who brought us the original “Saw” movie and the 2007 movie “Dead Silence” which was also reviewed on this blog. Insidious is the best scary movie of 2011 so far. It is not gory and bloody like “Saw” but returns to the basics how to really scare you in a deep and authentic way, without resorting to cheap violence.

Insidious is a story that crosses two popular horror sub-genres; the haunted house and demonic possession. With this film director, James Wan has created some of the creepiest and nightmare inducing images to be seen in a long time. Along with the musical score by Joseph Bishara (who also acts as the main villain) they have created a truly frightening film.

The Lambert family has just moved into your typical dark and foreboding new house. The doors creak, the attic is cold and dark, and things just don’t feel right as the family of five starts settling in. When Dalton, the younger of the two boys, has a mishap while exploring the attic he seems fine but doesn’t wake up the next morning. After a trip to the emergency room, he checks out to be perfectly healthy but in a sort of coma. Over the next few days the mother, played by Rose Byrne, is freaked out by the strange things going on inside the house (think “Poltergeist”). When she is attacked by a ghost, she begs her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) to move. They do, to a smaller and happier looking place. But the ghosts and spirits seem to have followed them. They have a paranormal team investigate and find out that “The house is not haunted, it’s your son”. This plot twist and how the rest of the movie unfolds has alienated some viewers, but if you’ve come this far, you might as well strap in and enjoy the ride.

Dalton is stuck in an otherworldly dimension called the “further”, a sort of purgatory for demons and lost souls. Lin Shaye plays Elise a paranormal medium who seeks to bring back Dalton to his earthly body before it is taken over. The premise is no doubt out there, but the filmmakers know this and really go for it. There are not cheap scares in this movie, no cats jumping out of the dark, no flocks of birds hiding in the shadows. They’ve created a roster of truly frightening baddies in the Old Woman, the Lipstick-Face demon, and the Doll Face girls. What’s more amazing is that this film was made for only one and a half million dollars and grossed over 58 million in theaters.

The movie was also produced by the “Paranormal Activity” people, but “Insidious” actually delivers on the scares.  So see it today!

Get to know "Vera Drake"


Why don’t you “Put the kettle on” on and read this review of director Mike Leigh’s 2004 drama that is very engaging and very British. He won numerous awards along with actress Imelda Staunton, while also being nominated for dozens more.

Taking place in early 1950s London, Staunton gives a jolly good performance in a career defining role as Vera Drake, a woman who “helps” out other women who can’t manage. This helping involves performing illegal abortions. Before you start judging her, we see her as the absolute model of perfection. She cleans houses, cares for her elderly mother as well as her own family. She has a husband and two grown children (Ethel and Sid) who all live in a cramped flat with barely enough room to turn around. Vera is so kind, loving and generous you are reminded of Mary Poppins. Repressed childhood trauma and a need to help people led her down this path.

She has done this for many years and has never taken any money for doing it. Her longtime friend Susan brings her the address of a woman in need and Vera arrives with her bag of tools. “First thing we do is put the kettle on”. We see Vera visit a number of women all of whom deal differently with their situation. Some are doing it for the first time, while some disturbingly use to it. Vera rationalizes her actions by feeling she is doing good and helping women at the direst hour.

When a young girl becomes ill and needs to be hospitalized, Vera’s life and spotless reputation are about to be aborted as well. During her daughter’s engagement dinner, the police come knocking, and Vera has a huge “oh shit” moment. The film then takes a strong emotional turn as her family has to deal with this secret life of hers. At the police station, she admits to everything and signs a full confession. For the rest of the film, Vera is in a state of shock and disbelief. Her bail is posted but her family life will never be the same. Her son Sid is disgusted by what she has done and refuses to be in the same room with her, while her daughter is sheepish but supportive. Her husband is torn and bewildered but remains supportive as well. This brings us to a very awkward Christmas celebration in contrast to the very joyful and lively engagement party from earlier (before the police crashed it). Vera eventually goes on trial and is sentenced.

Although she does perform these abortions Vera is not a monster, she is not a leftist radical. She is a sympathetic mother of mercy to countless women. Because of the subject matter, this film will no doubt divide people but the character of Vera Drake is one to remember.

In recent years Imelda Staunton can be seen playing Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies.

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" Must be seen Today


A winner of numerous international awards, including the Palme d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, this film is quite the jarring an emotional experience. Set in 1987 Romania the title 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days refers to how far along the character of Gabriela is before she gets an illegal abortion. Aided by her best friend and college roommate Otillia, they risk their lives to end the one growing inside her.

What is uniquely different about this film is that the story is told from the friend’s point of view and not the woman who is getting the illicit procedure. Gabriela, or Gabita as she is referred to, is a meek and quite girl from a decent family who decides to get a back alley abortion from a man who goes by the name of Mr. Bebe. He has done this many times and requires that a number of rules must be met in order to avoid arrest.

One by one of all the rules and requirements and broken by the women. They couldn’t get a room at the right hotel, Gabita lies about how far along she is and they don’t have all the money that is required. Mr. Bebe is a dark and mysterious fellow. While quiet, cold and very regimented it feels at any moment he could burst into a fit of violence. After all of his rules are broken he scolds the girls and gets up to leave when Otillia offers herself to him. Now that is a friend!

The procedure is done and the camera does not shy away, although not exploitive or gratuitous, you are like a fly on the wall experiencing this life altering event. During the early hours of her recovery, Otillia has to go to her boyfriend’s mother’s birthday celebration. This is quite the juxtaposition of scenes of two birthdays. During a big dinner scene, the camera focuses on a despondent and withdrawn Otillia as she ponders what could be going on back at the hotel. She finally ditches the party when Gabita doesn’t answer the phone and races back to the hotel. Gabita is in a sort of catatonic state lying on the bed. Otillia finds the fetus on the bathroom floor and wraps it up in a towel and puts it in her bag. Mr. Bebe did give them instruction on how to dispose of it in his usual cold and heartless manner. Otillia follows through.

Friendship and loyalty are the cornerstones of this story while the abortion and politics of the Iron Curtain era in Romania are used to dramatize it. Obviously, this movie isn’t for everyone, but it is a beautifully portrayed character study of a story about issues that are universal. I’d also recommend watching the 2004 film Vera Drake by Mike Leigh.

"XXY" - An Intersexed Teens Battle for Acceptance


This is the powerfully moving story of Alex, played by Ines Efron, a teen looking for acceptance and belonging in an often cruel and unjust world. XXY is chromosome combination for a person having been born with both male and female reproductive organs. Previously know as hermaphrodites, but now use the more P.C. term intersexed. Any time a movie goes into this territory it has a chance of become exploitive and unrealistic. Director Lucia Puenzo’s is conscious of this and really hits home on many universal themes such as identity, parental love and belonging.

Alex is fifteen years old and has been living as a girl all of her life. She takes hormones and supplements to keep developing this way. Her parents are obviously very protective of her secret and have had to move around a lot to avoid the unrelentingly curious public. After yet another move to a small coastal town in Uruguay, Alex seems to have had enough and stops taking her meds. A more aggressive Alex starts to emerge and after a fight with her best friend (Vando, a boy) she falls into an abyss of sexual confusion and loss of identity.

Alex’s parents could have elected have a surgery at her birth to “correct” the situation, but her father Kraken refused, simply calling her “perfect”. Kraken is marine biologist by trade and a model of pure love and tolerance for Alex. Alex’s mother is hurt and disappointed that she has decided to stop trying to become a woman and fears what might become of her. They invite a surgeon and his family to their home for a few days to get a sort of second opinion. They have a teen son named Alvaro who is also trying to find his own way.

Alex asks Alvaro point blank if he will have sex with her, but he declines as he is dealing with some issues of his own. He suspects she is different but not to what extent. When Alex forces the issue and they finally get together, Alvaro is in for quite a surprise. Kraken accidentally witnesses part of this and his deepest fears start to surface. The fallout from this event is emotionally painful and embarrassing for all of them. When a group of teen boys hear a rumor about Alex and decide to find out for themselves we get one of the more heartbreaking scenes in the film. They hunt her down on the beach and hold her down while one of the boys pulls down her shorts. She is eventually saved by Vando and taken back home. Kraken is conflicted as to weather or not to got to the police as it could bring even more unwanted attention, so he leaves it up to Alex.

Alex and Alvaro’s relationship allows them to use each other in order to find out who they really are. Alvaro confirms that fact that he is gay and must deal with his intolerant father, which is another gut-wrenching scene. As Alvaro and his family get ready to leave, he confronts Alex about his feeling for whoever she decides to become. Alex is skeptical about his motives and asks if he wants “to see” and he leaves it up to her. She shows him and the film thankfully holds back the urge to give the audience a sort of genital money shot and leaves it to our imaginations. This film is beautiful, tragic, hopeful and so many other things. It is a must see and is available through Netflix Watch Instantly

More than "8MM" of Action with Nicolas Cage


Nicholas Cage always seems to have about a half dozen films released every year, with very few ever deserving a second look.  But for every 5 five cheesy action flicks he does, he’ll show us he can still act by doing a small engaging character drama.  The nephew of famed Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, Cage delivered arguably his best performance in Leaving Las Vegas.  A role that earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1996. 

8MM was released in 1999 and has been a sort of lost gem that does deserve a second look.  A talented supporting cast of Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini & Katherine Keener kicks this film up a few notches.  Although the plot and subject matter might turn a few people off.  8MM refers to an old movie reel that is found in the safe of a recently deceased wealthy industrialist.  It’s a snuff film, where a person is killed on film after being possibly raped or tortured.  The elderly widow calls on Cage’s character of Tom to investigate the authenticity of the film.  Tom is a suburban family man with a wife (Keener) and a baby daughter.  He works as a private investigator and after viewing the disturbing film, decides to take the job.  Cage usually inhabits these crazy, eccentric characters, but with Tom, he grounds him with quiet professional dignity.  As he and a young adult bookstore employee Max California (Phoenix) dig deeper into the world of underground pornography and fetishism Tom will risk going down a dark path that some people never return.  There is a great quote from Max that goes “There are some things that you see, and you can't unsee them. Know what I mean?”

Tom and Max start investigating porn producer Eddie Poole (Gandolfini) and find that he is connected to the making of the snuff film.  Tom then visits the murdered girls mother and this is where the film really gets a lot of its heart.  The girl was Mary Ann Matthews; a real person and not just some statistic.  She is not a forgotten runaway, but a lost girl who drifted too far away from the people who loved her.  Tom wants to find the people responsible more for the girl’s mother, than for the job he is being paid for.  I won’t get into the ending or any spoilers, but it could be looked at a few different ways.  The plot and story in general needs to be taken as entertainment only.  It tries to be real and authentic, but it does take place in a “movie world” and not the “real world”.  If any of that makes sense.  As I write this Nic Cage is on a streak of terrible action movies so he is due for a winner and soon.

8MM was directed by Joel Schumacher, most known for a bunch of 90s action movies like Batman & Robin, A Time to Kill and The Client.  A straight to DVD sequel was released in 2005 and only uses the original title to con people into renting a shitty movie.