Trailer: John Carpenter’s The Ward

It has been over ten years since one of the masters of horror has released a full-length feature film. Sure, John Carpenter has filmed episodes for two seasons of Showtime’s horror anthology, Masters of Horror. But it seemed like the bad experience he had in filming his last feature-length, 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, might have soured him in doing anything for the big-screen.

That was then and this is now 2011 and Carpenter looks to make his return to the big-screen with the horror film, The Ward. It will star one of the industry’s rising stars in Amber Heard with veteran performers both young (Danielle Panabaker, Lyndsy Fonseca) and old (Jared Harris) backing her up.

The Ward was first show in this past 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and the reaction to the film was generally positive with most saying this was a good return for one of the horror genre’s most admired and beloved filmmakers.

The film looks to be set in a 1960’s mental institution with Heard’s character the center of attention. Mysterious happenings involving the staff, current patients and the presence of a ghost seem to be the main plot of the film.

Will Carpenter’s bag of filmmaking skills remain as it was before he left feature-length filmmaking a decade ago or will he show that he’s learned a few new tricks to add to his considerable skillset? The film certainly seem to echo some of the Japanese-style gothic and ghost story films which still remains a staple of Japanese horror cinema. In the end, I’m just glad to see one of the masters of horror back in the driver’s seat. Time for him to show some of the young horror filmmakers nowadays how to do it.

Lisa Marie Does…Season of the Witch (dir. by Dominic Sena)

I have to write this review quickly because I have a feeling that, in another 30 minutes or so, my body’s immune system will succeed in destroying any trace of Season of the Witch.

In Season of the Witch, Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play two Crusaders who eventually get disillusioned with killing people so they desert the army, end up in a small village somewhere, and are informed that the town is being destroyed by the plague because a curse has been put on the town by a witch.  Cage and Perlman are then recruited by the local town’s cardinal (Christopher Lee, who is pretty much wasted under all of this really nasty plague makeup) to take the witch to a monastery that is located somewhere else.  You’re never really sure where any one location is in relation to another in this film, which is a bit of a problem since the majority of the film is taken up with the journey to the monastery. 

Anyway, the Monks at the monastery have this ancient book that apparently contains all these incantations that can be used against evil.  This book is the only one left in existence which leads to the question of why nobody ever bothered to make more than a handful of copies of all of these amazingly important books.  I mean, seriously, people.  So the idea is to take this witch to the monastery and read this book which will end the plague.

So, we go through the whole journey thing and a few unimportant characters are killed off along the way and Cage and Perlman discuss the meaning of life and faith and, at first, we’re led to doubt whether or not the accused witch is actually guilty but then she starts causing all of these supernatural, witch-like thing to happen so I guess the filmmakers got bored with that whole subplot early.

Then we reach the monastery and a whole other movie starts.  Seriously, I cannot begin to put into words just how massively the tone of the film changes once they reach the monastery.  The film actually becomes good in a kind of silly, over-the-top way as soon our knights are dealing with all of these flying demons and there’s disfigured monks all over the place, and the priest gets to say, “We’re going to need more holy water,” at one point.  (“Yay!” I nearly shouted out in the audience, “Catholic action movie one-liners!”)  The tone changes so massively that Season of the Witch actually becomes a really fun and entertaining little action movie but, unfortunately, just as soon as things start to get really fun — bang!  Movie is over.  Thank you for coming out tonight, folks.  Now get the Hell outta here.

Season of the Witch is, to put it politely, a mess.  This isn’t all that surprising as the movie is being released in January and January is, of course, reserved for either Oscar contenders going into wide release, films starring Jason Statham, or movies that are being released because the studio is contractually obligated.  Ron Perlman, being a veteran of both Guillermo Del Toro and Jean-Pierre Jeneut, knows exactly how play his role but Cage just rides around on his horse looking like he’s late for Halloween party.  Director Dominic Sena appears to have a mancrush on Zack Snyder and does the whole speed up the camera randomly then go into slow-mo even more randomly thing but it doesn’t really add up to anything more than just confusion.

Finally, I left this film feeling very betrayed because, seriously — how can you call your film Season of the Witch and not feature the classic Donovan song?

Film Review: Easy A (directed by Will Gluck)

For some reason, I didn’t see Easy A during its initial run even though it was one of those films that, every time I saw the commercial, seemed to be beckoning me to come down to the theater.  All of my girlfriends saw it and loved it and told me that I had to see it because apparently they sat through the whole movie going, “Oh, that’s so Lisa.”  And then, before long, every guyfriend of mine ended up seeing the film and they all came back to me and said, “You have to see this film because my date kept going, ‘Oh, that’s so Lisa!'”  Of course, when I heard that, it was time for me to start doing the whole talk-to-the-hand motion  and going, “Oh no, she didn’t!” because that’s what you do when a guy says that his girlfriend was talking about you.  Anyway, I got so busy pretending to be on Maury that I ended up missing my chance to see Easy A in a real theater.

Instead, I had to settle for seeing in a dollar theater on Thursday and can I just get off topic here for a few minutes?  Can I?  Will you indulge me for just a second for me to speak the truth?  Okay, I know that some people kinda think I’m a film snob because I’m always raving about the Angelika and finding excuses to mention that I don’t have the read the subtitles when I go to a French film.  Well, so be it.  Call me a film snob because I am now convinced that Dante’s Inferno is a dollar movie theater.  Seriously, until I saw Red and Easy A this week, I just assumed that people with really bad hygiene just didn’t go to the movies.  Now, I see that they just hang out at the dollar theaters.  And here’s the thing — even though they’re only paying a dollar, they still can’t show up for the freaking movie on time!  Seriously, what is the deal with these dumbfug toadsuckers who just want to come in to the theater 30 minutes late and then spend 10 more minutes wandering around in the dark looking for a seat.  Look, you can look in a newspaper, you can look online, you can call the mutherfracking theater — IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO FIND OUT WHEN YOUR FREAKING MOVIE IS STARTING, PEOPLE!    And then, you  not only show up late but you bring your own food with you because, of course, who doesn’t want to spend an hour listening to you trying to open up one of those loud, crinkly bags of Sun Chips while everyone else is trying to pay attention to the movie?  I mean, you’re already late, you only paid a froking dollar to get in — JUST BUY SOME FRICKING POPCORN, YOU SELF-CENTERED, MYNA BIRD-LOOKING, DUMBFUG MOTHAFRACKER!  I MEAN…GAWD!

I’m sorry…where was I?

Oh yeah, Easy A.  It’s a good movie, probably one of the best high school films I’ve ever seen.  How good was this movie?  I still loved it even though I was watching it in Dante’s Inferno.

Emma Stone plays Olive, a high school student who — in order to get out of going on a weekend camping trip with her best friend — tells a lie about having a date with a boy named George.  (And I can’t blame her because seriously, camping?  BLEH!)  The next Monday, Olive is asked for the details of her imaginary date and her inability to give anything more than the vaguest of details is interpreted to mean that she lost her virginity over the weekend.  (Vagueness being interpreted as sluttiness happens far more often than most of us like to admit.)  Olive’s story about losing her V-card is overheard by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) and soon the entire school is aware that Olive is no longer hymenally challenged.  In short, Olive is now … a girl with a reputation! (Cue ominous music and Vincent Price laughter.)

Soon, Olive — previously a perfectly content wallflower — is the most notorious student at school.  Popular boys want to talk to her.  Unpopular girls want to be her.  At first, Olive tries to tell people the truth, that she was just telling a story.  After people refuse to believe her, Olive starts to go with the flow and enjoy the benefits that come from being extremely popular.  After her gay friend asks her to pretend that she had sex with him in order to help him survive the homophobic world of high school, Olive finds herself being given money and giftcards from other boys in school, all of whom are paying for the right to say that they’ve had sex with her.  Olive decides to embrace her new role of faux-fatale by dressing like she’s on the CW and stitching an A (a la the Scarlet Letter) on all of her clothes. 

And then, she starts to discover the truth about having a reputation in high school.  A reputation makes you both popular and an outcast at the same time and Olive finds herself trapped in a web made up not so much by her lies as by everyone else’s assumptions.  Can Olive escape and find happiness?  Can she find true love with Todd (played by Penn “Oh. My. God! He’s so freaking hot!” Badgley)?  Will she get a chance to have the pointless musical number that she assures us, at one point, her story truly does need?  Will Emma Stone receive an Oscar nomination for her performance as Olive?

Well, the answer to that last question is probably no (though she did receive a Golden Globe nomination) because Easy A is not the type of movie that usually gets nominated for Oscars.  And that’s a shame because Stone gives one of the best performances of the year here.  In the comedic scenes, she manages to generate a hundred more genuine laughs than Annette Bening did in The Kids Are All Right and in the dramatic scenes, she proves herself to an actress of true range.  If you want to see some truly great acting, just consider the scene where Olive goes on her first actual date since becoming known as “the school slut.”  Staring out nervously talking too much and giddily laughing at her own private dates (one of the many scenes that made me go, “Oh my God!  I do that too!”), Stone effortlessly transitions to having an emotional breakdown in a parking lot after discovering that her date has no interest in her and is only with her because he heard she would be an easy lay.  I don’t think there’s a girl over the age of 15 who doesn’t know how painful that feels, to be reduced only to what strangers think of you.  It’s a pain that stays with you and Stone captures it perfectly and, silly as it may sound and at the risk of going all girl power here, I almost felt that when I saw Olive triumphing over it that there was hope for me and for everyone else.

Easy A rang very true to me, not the least because I was one of the girls with a “reputation” while I was in high school.  Then again, I don’t think there’s many girls who didn’t have a reputation for something in school.  Some of us had a reputation for doing it and some had a reputation for not but in the end, it was usually all used to keep us in the same prison of insecurity, resentment, and entrapment.  To its credit, Easy A not only captures the negative side of having a reputation but also realizes and show that having a reputation can be fun and liberating as well.

Even beyond such larger concerns, Easy A is an entertaining, funny movie that not only rings true but is genuinely likable in way that a similar film like Juno never was.  I mean, I loved Juno but in the end, you couldn’t hep but feel that the film was mostly about screenwriter Diablo Cody trying to make herself into a cooler teenager than she actually was.  (And that’s not meant as a criticism, just an impression.)  Juno was almost too perfect and too brilliantly sarcastic.  You liked her but never quite believed in her.  Olive, as played by Emma Stone, is a normal teenager who doesn’t always say the perfect thing and, who most of the time, is just as much of a dork as the rest of us.  My favorite sequence in the whole film is one where Olive ends up spending a weekend growing obsessed with the song “Pocketful of Sunshine” and it wasn’t because it fed into some sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy.  Instead, it was because it was a scene that made me very honestly think, “Oh my God, I’ve done that so many times.”

Easy A is a surprisingly thoughtful and intelligent movie that just happens to be disguised as a breezy, teen comedy.  That high school, in general, is a world full of fucked up ideas and attitudes about sex is no great secret but Easy A is smart enough to realize that the real world is pretty much just one big high school.  I saw the movie too late to include it on my list of the Top 25 Films of 2010 but it is one of the best films of 2010.