<p>Max (Max Records)&nbsp;looks on as Carol (James Gandolfini) sulks in the new film version of Maurice Sendak's classic 'Where The Wild Things Are'</p>

Max (Max Records) looks on as Carol (James Gandolfini) sulks in the new film version of Maurice Sendak's classic 'Where The Wild Things Are'

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Review: 'Where The Wild Things Are' roars and rumbles

Let the wild rumpus begin! A masterpiece has arrived

I don't use this word lightly, but "Where The Wild Things Are" is an absolute masterpiece, and it's the finest offering from any Hollywood studio thus far this year. 

It is a gorgeous, painful, heartfelt look at the turbulence of childhood, shot through with the wisdom that only perspective can allow, but told in a way that grounds us in the POV of a child.  It's smart, deceptively simple, and richly imagined.  I saw a rough cut of the film in 2007 at the now-infamous test screening, and even in rough form, it rattled me deeply.  But finished, the film is a miracle of sorts, a movie that authentically captures the experience of what it's like when you're too young to fully manage your own emotional landscape, but old enough to know you have no control.

It is also, in my opinion, the perfect model of what adaptation should be.

Maurice Sendak's book has been part of my life since I was a little boy, and the real power of his story is how much it suggests in less than 200 words.  The art, the choice of how he says what he says, and the dreamlike logic of the piece all combine to weave a powerful spell over both children and adults.  When my first son was born, "Where The Wild Things Are" was the first book I purchased for him, while he was still in the hospital with my wife, waiting to come home.  It felt important to me to have a copy of the book in the house, and as story time has become a nightly institution in the house, Toshi calls for the book at least once a week.  This and Dr. Seuss's "Oh! The Places You'll Go" are his two favorites, the ones we return to more often than any other, and when you consider the way Seuss has been treated by Hollywood, this movie seems like even more of a miracle.

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<p>Neve McIntosh plays a woman in the midst of the worst one-night stand in history in 'Salvage'</p>

Neve McIntosh plays a woman in the midst of the worst one-night stand in history in 'Salvage'

Credit: Jinga Films

HorrorFest 2009: 'Salvage'

English horror film fumbles intriguing ideas

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

Of all the horror films I saw at Fantastic Fest this year, "Salvage" may have frustrated me the most.

One of the things I love about low-budget horror is the way it forces invention out of necessity.  When you don't have a giant budget, you have to focus on all those pesky little things like "character" and "story" and "good filmmaking."  It's a burden, sure, but all sarcasm aside, it's also where real filmmakers shine.  You can tell when someone's got the goods when they make a movie for nothing and you never once think about the budget as you watch.

Lawrence Gough's got chops.  No doubt about it.  And "Salvage" is a premise that has a huge amount of potential to it.  He's good with actors, he makes the most of limited locations, and he's not afraid to hurt the audience if it feels appropriate.  As a director, I'd say he pretty much does everything he can do with "Salvage," but still, the final film is a mixed bag, and that all comes down to script.  Gough has a co-story credit with Alan Pattinson and Colin O'Donnell, with O'Donnell credited as the screenwriter.  It's a case where the script doesn't quite live up to the premise it sets up, and considering how close they come, it's a damn shame.

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<p>Stephen Graham and Danny Dyer head the ensemble cast of Jake West's gender-bending zombie comedy 'Doghouse'</p>

Stephen Graham and Danny Dyer head the ensemble cast of Jake West's gender-bending zombie comedy 'Doghouse'

Credit: Sony Pictures UK

HorrorFest 2009: 'Doghouse'

Jake West plays out the battle of the sexes with bags of blood

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

 This movie's got a wee case of "try-too-hard," and after a while, it sort of runs out of steam, but there's still a lot of "Doghouse" that I enjoyed.  I didn't care much for Jake West's first film, "Razor Blade Smile," and I haven't seen his second one, "Evil Aliens," but there's some good stuff in his new film, and it seems to me like he's come a long way in the last decade.

Basically, "Doghouse" is a standard-issue zombie movie with a twist:  for some reason, the virus only affects women.  West uses that basic idea to set up what should be a wicked indictment of the "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" culture that exists to seemingly drive the genders apart, and in the moments the film gets that right, it's at its best.  When the film is "just" a horror movie, it's a little less successful because of the familiar nature of the material, but West is obviously a fan of the genre, and he fills the movie with little flourishes that keep things lively overall.

At the start of the film, Vince (Stephen Graham) is reeling from a recent divorce, and his mates decide they're going to take him for a holiday weekend in search of some dirty, uncomplicated sex.  One by one, as each of them is introduced, we see how they are henpecked or compromised by the women in their lives, and how they use their friends as a chance to vent about their feelings. 

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<p>Mr. Wilberforce, one of the bad guys in 'Under The Mountain,' a new horror film for teens from Jonathan King</p>

Mr. Wilberforce, one of the bad guys in 'Under The Mountain,' a new horror film for teens from Jonathan King

Credit: 120 dB Films

HorrorFest 2009: 'Under The Mountain'

Jonathan King's movie is a horror primer for young viewers

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

I've got some catching up to do this weekend, so let's see how many of these we can do today and tomorrow.

I think it's important that there be horror films aimed at younger audiences.  Or maybe I should say more general audiences.  Not everyone's going to hang with a "Martyrs" or an "Inside."  And that's fine.  They shouldn't have to.  Horror films can be like chili peppers, ranging from mild to insane, and I like the full range and crave it all at different times.  When I was very young, I watched a lot of "Creature Features" on Saturday afternoons in St. Petersburg.  Dr. Paul Bearer would introduce a double-feature each week, and typically you'd get one in black and white and one in color.  And they were always films that could play uncut on television.  They weren't showing bowdlerized R-rated movies.  They showed Hammer films and Corman movies and '50s alien invasion films and classic Universal monsters.  Those movies, which seem safe to some extent when judged by today's standards, were my gateway drug to the full psychotropic spectrum of horror films that I now regularly imbibe.

Which brings us to Jonathan King's new film, "Under The Mountain."  His first movie, "Black Sheep," was a splatterrific New Zealand horror/comedy cut from the same mold as early Peter Jackson movies.  I wasn't 100% in love with the movie, but I thought it was ripe with great bits, and it felt like an introduction to a really sharp new filmmaker.  I like that he zagged instead of zigged with his follow-up picture, which plays much more subdued than his first film, and which could easily be seen as a modern version of those gateway drug horror films, those milder, more subtle scares.  It's a film that feels like an '80s kids movie in some ways, and taken as such, it's a pretty solid and entertaining ride.

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<p>What sort of secrets does this 'Cabin' hold?&nbsp; You'll have to wait an extra year now to find out.</p>

What sort of secrets does this 'Cabin' hold?  You'll have to wait an extra year now to find out.

Credit: MGM

'Cabin' delays release for a year, announces 3D conversion

MGM's Joss Whedon horror/thriller gets an upgrade

On my trip last week, Devin Faraci and I had a couple of solid conversations about "Cabin In The Woods," the new film produced by Joss Whedon, who co-wrote the film with Drew Goddard.  Goddard is directing, which makes me happy because I think his work has been some of the strongest on each of the various shows he's written for in the last decade or so, and it's about time we see what he's got going on as a feature director.

So why, when you've got a film you like enough that you're already inviting journalists in to take a look at it, would you delay the movie's release for a full year?

Turns out, according to Shock Till You Drop's scoop this afternoon, MGM and the filmmakers have decided that they want to not only take you deep into the forest so they can rough you up, they want to do it in 3D.

Here's what MGM had to say about the shift in dates today when we asked them about it:

 

"Basically the early reactions to the film have been strong enough that we think going 3D can take it big.  3D conversion takes 6 months or so with VFX and the next viable 3D date track for the film is Jan ‘11."

 

 

I've read the script, and I think there's certainly potential there for "Cabin In The Woods" to be a big clever high-concept breakout hit for the studio.  But I'm a little curious about the timing on this one, and I'll explain why.

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<p>Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, and Peter Sarsgaard star in the coming-of-age drama 'An Education' that has been getting raves since Sundance</p>

Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, and Peter Sarsgaard star in the coming-of-age drama 'An Education' that has been getting raves since Sundance

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The M/C Review: 'An Education' launches Mulligan to stardom

More than that, though, it's a cutting social drama with real soul

That picture says it all.

I saw this film at Sundance in January of this year, and I caught another look at it at Toronto.  It's an exquisitely-crafted character study based on a memoir, and what it boils down to is that moment when a father looks another man in the eye and says to himself, "Okay.  This is the guy I'm trusting her to.  This is the guy I think can make the life she deserves."

What if that father is wrong?

In a way, I'm glad both my kids are boys.  I can't imagine having to survive the early years of dating, worrying about the intentions of each new kid sniffing around my little girl.  I was a teenage boy.  I know exactly what sort of depraved freaks they are.  I have every reason not to trust a one of them.  Still, there's a relationship between father and daughter that I'll never experience, and I'm sure it is rewarding in very specific ways.  In "An Education," Alfred Molina plays Jack, the demanding, overbearing father of Jenny, played by the luminous Carey Mulligan.  She's getting ready for university, and he pushes her hard, expecting her to find a place at Oxford.  Molina takes what could be a fairly flat role and invests it with layers of identifiable human anxiety.  He's worried that she won't get into the right school, which won't give her the right advantage in life after school, but beneath that, he secretly hopes that she's going to meet "the right man" before she ever has to finish school, with her education serving simply as bait for "the right man."  The film's set in the '60s, just on the verge of the sexual revolution, and Jenny is in a social position where she is defined by her relationship to men.  And it's obvious from the moment we meet her in the film that this is a person of consequence, someone who should only be defined by herself.  Reaching the point where she can make that stand is the entire focus of the film, and it's a journey that is absolutely worth sharing with her.

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<p>Leatherface as he appeared in the original '70s classic 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'</p>

Leatherface as he appeared in the original '70s classic 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

Credit: Vortex/Dark Sky Films

'Chainsaw' gets Twisted in 3D

The company 'Saw' built gets ready to take Leatherface to another dimension

One of the best part-time or temporary jobs I ever had (and I've had a bunch) was when I played Leatherface for the Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.  So much fun.  People are absolutely terrified of that character if you're a big guy, and there's something liberating about hiding your face away and spending a few weeks scaring the holy hot damn out of as many people as possible.

Leatherface is one of the most recognizable and durable of all the modern horror icons.  He's survived sequels, remakes, and more corporate reshuffling than seems reasonable.  And now, it looks like Twisted Pictures is planning to dress him up and take him out one more time, and they're planning to do it in 3D.

Inevitable, wasn't it?

Stephen Susco's a solid horror writer, and I'm curious to see what riff or bent he'll add to the character.  The only real reason to do this is if you've got something to add, something that twists it or recontextualizes it, and I mean something beyond the technical trick.

How did Twisted end up with the character?  Well, here's what Variety's Michael Fleming reports:

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<p>Venom, the Spider-Man villain who appeared in the third film, is set to star in his own Sony Pictures spin-off from the director of 'Dave' and 'Seabiscuit'</p>

Venom, the Spider-Man villain who appeared in the third film, is set to star in his own Sony Pictures spin-off from the director of 'Dave' and 'Seabiscuit'

Credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Comics

Gary Ross set to rewrite and direct 'Venom'

'Spider-Man' spin-off still moving forward

I'm not sure I buy Venom as a character who can serve as the star of his own film, but I'll give Sony Pictures credit for giving it the college try.

Most recently, the writers of "Zombieland" were the guys charged with cracking the code that would get this spin-off franchise off the ground, and while they were working on their script, Gary Ross was brought in to polish "Spider-Man 4."  Sony must like what they see in Ross's work so far, because now they've hired him to rewrite "Venom" and possibly to direct it as well.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like a strange fit to me.  Ross has always created movies that have a strong humanist bent to them, movies like "Big" and "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit" and "Dave."  These are warm movies, with an innate sweetness.  Before he got stuck in Spidey's web, he was working to develop a Lance Armstrong biopic for Sony, which sounds like the sort of thing I'd expect him to be making.  But "Venom"?  Really?!

I think the part I'm having trouble with is that Venom is, best-case scenario, an anti-hero.  He's a monster.  In Marvel's early incarnation of the character, there was nothing good about him, but now, somehow, he's being turned into a character who defends the innocent, according to Variety's report on Ross's hiring.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Junction Point and Disney Interactive Studios are collaborating on a major revinvention of some of their icons as part of the new Wii exclusive game 'Epic Mickey'</p>

Junction Point and Disney Interactive Studios are collaborating on a major revinvention of some of their icons as part of the new Wii exclusive game 'Epic Mickey'

Credit: Junction Point/Disney Interactive Studios

'Epic Mickey' looks amazing... but what is it?

A new game breathes fresh life into Disney's biggest icon

I've been seeing design work for the new game "Epic Mickey" online for the last few months, but I had no idea what it was.  Evidently, neither did anyone else until news broke this week over at Game Informer.

I'm fascinated by this project and by the mere potential of it becoming a film, which isn't totally unlikely considering Pixar is one of the partners on it.  One of the things I find most interesting here is that suddenly Mickey Mouse is in play again, something which hasn't been true for quite a while.  As the face of the Disney empire, Mickey has long been relegated to a position of inertia out of the fear that the wrong project featuring the character might damage his overall branding.

Now, thanks to Warren Spector and his Junction Point game company, there's a chance that Mickey Mouse might be involved in one of the most inventive uses of the company's overall iconography ever, and one that serves in some ways as a wry commentary on the way we devour and then discard pop culture as a whole.

[more after the jump]

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<p>One of the greatest monster movies of all time, 'An American Werewolf In London,' finally makes its BluRay debut</p>

One of the greatest monster movies of all time, 'An American Werewolf In London,' finally makes its BluRay debut

Credit: Universal Home Video

HorrorFest 2009: 'An American Werewolf In London'

One of the genre's greats makes its BluRay debut

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

You can blame Belfast, Danny McBride, and Universal Studios for the fact that I've gotten off schedule on this one.  I was doing just fine at Fantastic Fest, but this week's travel has well and truly screwed with my system, and I am barely able to tell up from down at this particular point in time.

When I am back in LA, I will be working to catch up and make sure that at the end of this month, there are 31 entries in this year's HorrorFest for you to enjoy.  I've got at least the first 14 planned out already, and notes are made, and reviews are in progress.  Some of them are films I saw at Fantastic Fest.  Some are new BluRays or DVDs that have been sent for review.  And towards the end of the month, I'll bust out a few classics that I don't feel get their fair due, and we'll discuss those, too.

Today, though, I am inspired both by the recent BluRay release and by yesterday's tourist drive through the lovely green hills of Northern Ireland to write about one of my all-time favorite horror films, a movie that I have somehow avoided writing about for the last 14 years I've been online.  Crazy.

Maybe it's because I've been a fan of the film for so long that it feels like a given to me, something so fundamental that explaining it is pointless.  But that's lazy thinking on my part.  The movie is 28 years old at this point, older than some of you reading this.  So why not take advantage of the moment and this particular series of articles to finally put down some of my thoughts about the film?

[more after the jump]

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