Traditionally speaking, it's hard to mix horror movies and Christmas.
I still vividly remember the outcry over "Silent Night, Deadly Night" when I was young. People seemed outraged at the idea of a Santa Claus slasher film. Looking at it now, it's a very strange movie to get upset about, and I'm not entirely sure who people are protecting when they get indignant about people playing with the Santa iconography. Santa's not a religious figure… he's not real… and he's not sacrosanct. As with all mythology, I think all things Santa are up for grabs for anyone working creatively, and based on my own research into the origins of Santa Claus, I think there is some rich and fertile material that has never been used in any movie.
At least, not until now. "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" is a monster movie, a horror film, deliciously weird and filled with outrageous imagery. It uses the traditional Finnish Santa Claus mythology to set up a monster movie about a young boy who is the only one who knows what's going to happen when a team of explorers, allegedly a "seismic research team," decides to excavate a mountain nearby where Santa Claus is rumored to be buried.
One of them, anyway. See, in Norway, they have a wide array of Santas. 13 of them, actually, each with a different name, and each one behaving differently. The Santas of their traditional tales are creepy, vile things, cautionary figures for naughty children. It's about as far away from the Coca-Cola commercial version of Santa that we know today in our own culture as you can be. The real pleasure of watching "Rare Exports" comes from watching how Jalmari Helander, the film's writer/director, takes his country's mythology, the world's perceptions of Santa, and basic childhood fears, and combines it all into this particular story with such skill.
Traditionally speaking, it's hard to mix horror movies and Christmas.
The new trailer for 'Skyline' made it's way onto the web, judging by the poor audio quality, it may be a tad premature or a leak. That said, however, it looks like a lot of fun.
We see quite a bit more this time than in the "Stephen Hawking warned us but we didn't listen" teaser trailer that came out a while ago. Adding to the space ships and the giant people vacuums, we've got giant beast feet, tentacle action and some serious eye-zombification that happens whenever people look into the alien light.
Adding to the fun is some serious sci-fi "reaction acting" from stars Eric Balfour (Six Feet Under) and Donald Faison (Scrubs.) Balfour's reaction to the helicopter tentacling at minute 1:43 is pretty darned fantastic. And David Zayas (Dexter) uttering "Don't you get it, we're at war" is a harbinger of some zealously dramatic dialog.
I find it hard to believe "Rubber" exists.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad it does. I just have trouble imagining the chain of events that had to happen to result in a film as singular and enjoyable as "Rubber." This movie's been infamous since the first word of it broke online as "the movie about the tire that kills people," which may be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
And sure enough, if I was trying to describe this film to someone honestly, I would have to admit that it is indeed the story of a tire that wakes up, becomes mobile, realizes it has telekinetic powers, and starts to kill people. The tire doesn't have a face. It doesn't talk. It's just a tire that rolls around. And even so, it offers up a performance. It is billed as Robert in the closing credits. It is an actor, and part of what kept me riveted for the entire running time of the movie was the work it did, and trying to figure out "the trick".
But the film is more than that. Much more than that. The opening moments of the film feature one of the great set-ups for a movie I've seen in a while, but describing it to you won't really do justice to it. It's a long shot of a car driving up, parking, and a guy getting out and delivering a monologue. And then, once he's finished, he's back in the car and off again. It's completely self-aware, and it sets up the rules for what you're going to watch. Not in a subtle way, either… this is a movie that tells you right up front what it's going to be, and that it's going to be playing with you overtly every step of the way. It is hilarious and weird and smart and stupid all at once, and it's a very unusual example of a broad surrealist comedy, expertly accomplished.
The entire time I wrote at Ain't It Cool News under the name of "Moriarty," I was inundated with Sherlock Holmes knick-knacks and trinkets and toys and books and other Arthur Conan Doyle ephemera. People sent me truly amazing things over the years, all celebrating Sherlock Holmes and his most infamous of opponents, Professor Moriarty. Just recently, a friend gifted me with this stunning hand-crafted chess set using all of the characters in the stories to represent both sides of the board.
It is inevitable that the producers of the big giant "Sherlock Holmes" series for Warner Bros. are going to bring the good Professor into the films. In the first one, he has handled as a shadowy figure, with only his hands showing. There have been any number of rumors about who would play the part in the sequel, with names including Brad Pitt and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Now it looks like the role has officially been filled, and the choice is somewhat surprising. It seems like they're not trying to just find a big movie star for the part, but have instead gone with an actor whose onscreen intelligence will be a fair match for Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. That's the key, since you have to put someone in the part who will seem like a righteous challenge for the character, and since Moriarty is the only person who Holmes is intellectually challenged by, we have to sense that onscreen.
If you've seen the BBC's recent series, "Sherlock," then it's obvious that these characters still have a lot of flexibility left in them. You can refigure them in many different ways, as long as the core relationships are intact and as long as you're playing with the classic version of the characters for a reason. What I liked about the Guy Ritchie film is that it's a very modern take, but in a period setting, and they're not running from the history of the characters, but they're also not just telling the same stories that Holmes fans already know.
Sally Menke may have cut her first feature in 1983, but it was with the release of 1992's "Reservoir Dogs" that her star really began to climb. Little wonder, then, that the rest of her professional life was largely defined by the work she did as the editor of every single film Quentin Tarantino directed, including his segment of "Four Rooms." Menke was an important collaborator for QT, as big a part of his voice as his distinctive screenplays or his eye for casting.
Sadly, Menke passed away unexpectedly in Los Angeles yesterday, and according to published reports, her body was found around 2:00 AM in Beachwood Canyon, one of the neighborhoods near the Hollywood sign. The police are still investigating the cause of the death, but early indications make it seem like yesterday's brutal heat wave in Southern California may have had something to do with it. She was hiking with a friend yesterday morning, but the friend gave up on the hike and went back, while Menke and her dog continued the hike. When police found her body, they also found the dog, who appeared to be unharmed.
A death like this is doubly upsetting because it's so inexplicable. Menke was only 56 years old, and for her to pass away like this is incomprehensible. Beyond the sorrow of losing a valued friend, the people closest to Menke have got to be reeling from the bizarre random nature of this. I can only imagine the impact it's had on Tarantino, who has always treated the time he spent fine-tuning his films with Menke has one of the most important parts of his process. Menke's always had an adventurous touch as a cutter that reflects the best qualities of Quentin's work as a writer, and she had impeccable taste in terms of rhythm and pace.
Jody Hill, alone with his frequent collaborators Danny McBride, Ben Best, and David Gordon Green, has spent the last few years building a body of work that represents a very particular world view. His sense of humor is a deadly weapon, and he wields it like a drunken samurai.
I love both "The Foot Fist Way" and "Observe and Report," but my favorite thing he's been part of so far is the HBO series, "East Bound and Down." The story of Kenny Powers, a former Major League pitcher who returned home in shame, "EB&D" is a raucous, demented ode to the way our culture gives celebrities permission to indulge their own worst natures.
HBO sent over the first two episodes of season two of the show and then set a time for a quick conversation with Hill about this season's episodes. I told him my first thought watching the episodes was a simple These guys are deranged.
Hill laughed as he said, "I'd be disappointed if you said anything less."
The first episode of the season is a totally unhinged detour for the show featuring a guest turn by Deep Roy that has to be seen to be believed. "It's almost like the first one is a pilot again where we've just like, 'Okay, here are none of the characters that you know and love. Just when you thought that this was an easy show to swallow, here's something that's totally going to make you change the channel.'" He laughed again as he pictured people's reactions to the episode's excesses. "I just hope people dig the new setting. We waned to try something that hasn't been done in TV, so we figured changing everything completely is the way to go."
I have no idea what to expect from "Paranormal Activity 2."
I liked the first one. Hell, I reviewed the first one two years before it played theaters, and strongly advocated for the studio to put it out and not just remake it. I love indie horror. I love when something homegrown becomes a phenomenon. I was delighted to see the film blow up last year into a genuine hit.
This new one was made with the same people in charge, but with a different director, and with an entirely different level of expectations attached to the end result. Can you surprise an audience in a horror sequel? Seems tough, because now they have some idea of what the rules are, of what you will and won't do. Now the audience is ready for you, and that can be deadly for a horror film. You don't ever want the audience to be ahead of you, just waiting for you to get around to something. It's the opposite of fear.
So I like that I haven't seen a ton of footage from the sequel yet, and that I'm not even really sure what story they're telling. Is that the same house? Is that Katie Featherston in the footage from the new film? And director Tod Williams isn't gonna hurt that baby... is he?
While I'm here at Fantastic Fest, I'm staying with friends, the way I always do in Austin, and a package actually showed up at their house for me, despite me not being listed as being here, and no one having my friend's address. Inside was a simple yellow envelope, and inside that, a flash drive.
You know Fantastic Fest is really underway when one of the secret screenings has already happened.Â There are always several peppered throughout the schedule, and the one on Friday night turned out to be the new Korean film "IÂ Saw The Devil," which I had picked as one of my three favorite films from this year's Toronto International FilmÂ Festival.Â I'm thrilled it played here, because it means I get to talk about the film with all my friends now, and I'm eager for that conversation to also include the general viewing public as soon as possible.
If you are a serial killer, can I offer a little advice?
Based on the evidence of the remarkable "I Saw The Devil," I would say it is a good rule of thumb that you should not brutally murder the fiance of a top secret agent for South Korea, because if you do, he is going to make you suffer.Â And suffer.Â And suffer.
And then Kim Ji-Woon will make a movie about it, and it will be awesome.
That's because everything Kim Ji-Woon makes seems to be awesome.Â I didn't realize it at first, because his films have never been the "OMG, stop the presses!" moments of their respective years, but have instead just been consistently great.Â "A Tale Of Two Sisters" is a meticulously built horror film, where what you aren't told is just as important as what you are told, a brain-bender more than a gross-out.Â "A Bittersweet Life" seems at first glance to be a John Woo style story of men and honor and guns and the like, but he makes the genre feel brand new, like he invented it.Â And then "The Good The Bad And The Weird" seemed to be a reinvention of the filmmaker as a Spielberg-like purveyor of set-pieces and spectacle, a spaghetti western that could easily play to fans of giant Hollywood films like the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" movies.Â He seems to be capable of pretty much whatever he sets out to do.
The original "Mother's Day" was made in 1980, one of the earliest Troma films, and I think it's a disgusting movie. I love exploitation, but having said that, I still have very strong feelings about what does or doesn't work, and what I will or won't tolerate in a film. The script by Charles Kaufman and Warren Leight (who has gone on to be an acclaimed playwright and screenwriter with nothing else that looks like "Mother's Day" on his resume) is about a group of women who go camping only to get attacked and abducted by some crazy brothers operating under order from their mom. It is, to say the least, a profoundly rapey movie, and it works hard to mix horror and humor and, to my mind, fails equally at both.
But there is a good idea in the way the dynamic works between mother and sons in the original film, and that one idea seems to be all the groundwork that was needed for Scott Milam and Darren Lynn Bousman to build what is essentially a whole new film, using the original "Mother's Day" as a mere jumping-off point. That's the smartest way to approach this material, and Scott Milam deserves credit for cracking the new way into the film. Now it's the story of Ike (Patrick Flueger), Addley (Warren Kole), and Johnny (Matt O'Leary), three brother who rob banks together. When a job goes wrong and Johnny gets shot, they head for their family home, hoping they can go to ground and hide out. What they don't realize is that their family home isn't theirs anymore. It's been sold to Daniel (Frankl Grillo) and Beth (Jaime King), who have been in the house for a few months now. They're having a party with friends when the boys break in, and the misunderstanding turns into an extended night of hell for everyone involved.
It's been a long time since I cared about Robert De Niro's work in a movie, mainly because it feels like it's been a long time since he cared.
I don't mean De Niro's a hack, and I'm not trying to be insulting. It's just that there was a time when De Niro's name meant something more than just "very good actor." He was one of the most driven performers on the planet, a guy who would resculpt himself, physically and spiritually, from role to role. I grew up in awe of De Niro, and I'll never forget the thrill that came with each new role. Somewhere along the way, though, two things happened that changed my feelings about him as an actor and that altered the way the industry viewed him in general. First, someone told him he was funny. The truth is that he was much, much funnier before Hollywood realized he was funny. The second thing is that he just seemed to settle into one general De Niro look, one basic character that he plays from film to film. For the longest time, there was no "real" De Niro, and now, it seems that's all there is.
Walking into "Stone," I was very curious based on an interview I did at SXSW this year with Edward Norton. He talked about the experience on this film as one of his favorites, and in particular, he talked about how great De Niro was in his role. I wasn't fond of the last film Norton and director John Curran made together, "The Painted Veil," but I was willing to give this one a shot just based on Norton's extreme enthusiasm for it.