Horror on TV: Friday the 13th: The Series 1.3 “Cupid’s Quiver” (dir by Atom Egoyan)


On tonight’s episode of Friday the 13th: The Series, a cursed cupid statue is causing trouble!

Now, I’ll just be honest here.   The idea behind the cupid statue is not a bad one.  The statue causes people to fall in love with the owner of the statue, with the unfortunate twist being that the owner is then required to kill them.  However, the sight of incel Eddie Munroe (Denis Forest) carrying around that statue is often unintentionally funny.

That said, even if this isn’t necessarily the strongest episode of the series, I wanted to share it because it was directed by future Oscar nominee, Atom Egoyan.  Friday the 13th: The Series was filmed in Canada and this was an early credit for Egoyan.  Later, Egoyan would go on to direct films like The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, and Where The Truth Lies, making him one of the most important Canadian filmmakers not named Cronenberg, Villeneuve, or Arcand.

This episode, the third of the series, originally aired on October 17th, 1987.

Film Review: Devil’s Knot (dir by Atom Egoyan)


After having spent close to a year hearing only negative things about it, I finally watched Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot last night.  On the basis of what a lot of critics had said about the film, I have to admit that I was mostly watching it to see if I needed to include it on my upcoming list of the 16 worst films of 2014.

But you know what?

Devil’s Knot really isn’t a bad film.  It’s just an extremely unnecessary one.

Devil’s Knot opens with a title card that reads, “Based on a true story.”  Honestly, the title card could have just as easily read, “Based on a true story and if you doubt it, there’s four other movies you can watch.”  The trial, conviction, and subsequent imprisonment of the West Memphis Three is perhaps the most famous miscarriage of justice in recent history precisely because so many documentaries have been made about it.  Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost Part Three are two of the most disturbing true crime documentaries ever made.

(As for Paradise Last Part Two, it displays a stunning lack of self-awareness as it attempts to prove the guilt of John Mark Byers by using many of the same techniques that were used to convict the West Memphis Three.  The less said about it, the better.)

The story is so well-known that I almost feel like retelling it would be like taking the time to inform you that George Washington was our first president.  But here goes — in 1993, 3 eight year-old boys were murdered in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas.  Three teenagers were arrested for the crime and, on the flimsiest of evidence, were convicted.  As is seen in the documentaries, their conviction had more to do with community hysteria and paranoia than anything else.  The supposed leader of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, was accused of being a Satanist.  Why?  Mostly because he wore black clothing.

Eventually — and largely as a result of the documentaries made about the case — the West Memphis Three would be freed from prison.  (However, their convictions would still legally stand, meaning that their exoneration would be limited to the court of public opinion.)  Devil’s Knot, however, doesn’t deal with any of that, beyond a lengthy scroll of “this is what happened after the movie” information that rolls up the screen after the final scene.  Instead, Devil’s Knot deals with the first trial of the West Memphis Three and the small town atmosphere of fear and hysteria that led to them being convicted in the first place.

And — though the film is surprisingly conventional when you consider the reputation of director Atom Egoyan — it’s all fairly well-done.  As a former resident of and frequent visitor to Arkansas, I was happy to see that Egoyan didn’t indulge in as many stereotypes as I feared he would.  (One need only watch the self-important Northern activists in Paradise Lost Two to see the attitude that I feared Egoyan would bring to the project.)  Reese Witherspoon is perfectly cast as the mother of one of the murdered boys.  Kevin Durand is properly intimidating at John Mark Byers.  Even Colin Firth manages to make for a convincing Arkansan.

But, ultimately, Devil’s Knot just feels so unnecessary.  It doesn’t bring anything new to the story and there’s ultimately nothing here that you couldn’t have learned from the original Paradise Lost.

Probably the best thing that I can say about Devil’s Knot is that it’s better than Paradise Lost Part Two.

Embracing the Melodrama #54: Where the Truth Lies (dir by Atom Egoyan)


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Atom Egoyan’s 2005 showbiz melodrama Where The Truth Lies is a historic film for me.

First off, it’s the first film that I ever saw at the wonderful Dallas Angelika theater, which would quickly become my favorite place to watch movies in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex.  And I have to say that, as much as I love the Alamo Drafthouse that opened up last year, the Angelika will always hold a special place in my heart.

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, Where The Truth Lies was the first NC-17 film that I ever actually watched in a theater.  In fact, I went into Where The Truth Lies knowing next to nothing about it.  I just saw that it was an NC-17 film that was playing in a “real” theater and that was pretty much all I needed to call up some friends and head down to Dallas.

I felt terrifically grown up until I tried to buy the ticket and I was asked to show ID.  I handed over my driver’s license.  The ticket seller stared down at it for what seemed like an eternity.  She looked up at me and then back down at the license a few times.  Finally, she said, “Are you sure you’re 19?”

“I’m going to be 20 in November,” I replied.

She squinted at me for a few minutes and then said, “If you say so,” before handing me my license and a ticket.

And so, on that day, I managed to cross one goal off my list (See an NC-17 movie in a theater) and replaced it with another (Buy a ticket for an R-rated or NC-17 movie without being asked for ID).  I’m still working on that 2nd goal but I have to admit that I’m starting to dread the idea that one day, I’ll be able to pass for an adult.

But what about Where The Truth Lies?

Well, the main question that I had, in 2005, as I sat down to watch this movie was why exactly was it rated NC-17.  Having watched the movie in the theater and then on cable a few times after, I still honestly have no idea why the rating was as harsh as it was.  Yes, there’s a lot of sex in the movies.  You see a lot of boobs and you see a lot of bare asses but — well, so what?  It’s really nothing wore than what you have seen in countless red band trailers for various R-rated comedies.  Add to that, in Where The Truth Lies, all of that skin is on display for a reason.  The film may be explicit but it’s never gratuitous.

As for the film itself, it’s technically a murder mystery but the mystery is really only an excuse for Egoyan to take a look at the seamier side of show business.  In the 1950s, entertainers Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) are the nation’s top comedy team.  However, after co-hosting a 39-hour polio telethon in Miami, Lanny and Vince fly to New Jersey to do a few shows at a hotel owned by a local mobster.  When the naked body of Maureen O’Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard) is found in their room, the scandal destroys both of their careers.

Fifteen years later, in the early 1970s, Lanny Morris has written a book about his life and career.  Vince decides to retaliate by writing his own book.  Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman) is hired to be his ghostwriter.  Karen, however, has her reasons for being obsessed with Lanny and Vince and she is also determined to discover whether Maureen truly did die of a drug overdose or if she was murdered.

Where The Truth Lies is, in many ways, an uneven film but I like it.  The mystery of who killed Maureen is intriguing and, unlike a lot of viewers (check out the film’s entry at the imdb if you really need to know how much some people hate this film), I actually appreciated Egoyan’s hallucinatory and disjointed approach to telling his story.  Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth both give excellent performances, both cast in the type of roles that you might not normally expect to see them playing.  As a character, Karen is frustratingly inconsistent but Alison Lohman does the best that she can with the role.

Finally, Where The Truth Lies does contain one undeniably brilliant scene, in which a drugged Karen watches as an actress dressed to look like Alice in Wonderland sings White Rabbit.  It’s a wonderfully strange scene, all the more so become it comes almost out of nowhere.

Where The Truth Lies is not a perfect film but, for my first experience seeing an NC-17 film in a theater, it wasn’t bad at all.

Where The Truth Lies

 

Trailer: Devil’s Knot


I think it’s a fair question to ask whether — after four documentaries and countless books — there’s really anything new to be said about the West Memphis Three.  That’s certainly the question that I asked when I heard that Atom Egoyan was making a narrative film about this case.

Having watched the trailer below and speaking as someone who has spent her share of time in Arkansas, I will say that Reese Whitherspoon appears to be perfectly cast while Colin Firth appears to be intriguingly miscast.

The 10 Worst Films of 2010


Sometime during the first week of January, I’ll post my picks for the top 25 films of 2010.  But for now, I’m going to go ahead and post the much more fun list, my picks for the 10 Worst Films of 2010.

10)  Knight and Day — Tom Cruise gets creepier with each film.

9) Robin Hood — Sorry, but that “I declare him to be an …. OUTLAWWWWWW!” line can only carry a film so far. 

8 ) Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps — Money may never sleep but Lisa Marie did.  Shia LeBouf as a financial genius?  Plus, any film that so completely wastes the talents of Carey Mulligan deserves to be on this list.  The Other Guys got across the exact same message and was actually entertaining.

7) Eat Pray Love — Finally, a film that tells us all how to find peace, enlightenment, and happiness.  First off, have a lot of money.  Secondly, be Julia Roberts.

6) Solitary Man — A superb performance from Michael Douglas can’t disguise the fact that this is yet another entry in the “Men-Just-Can’t-Help-It” genre of film. 

5) Hereafter — This is, quite frankly, one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen in my life.  And I’ve seen a lot of boring films.  This is also one of those films that attempts to convince you that it’s a quality production by making all the actors look as crappy as possible.  Seriously, did they just pump collagen into Jay Mohr’s face?

4) Clash of the Titans — Zeus must be turning over in his grave.

3) Chloe — Great director (Atom Egoyan), great cast (Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried), terrible movie.  I’m still trying to understand how this one came about.

2) The American — An homage to the French New Wave that fails because it is neither French nor new and there’s also a notable lack of waves.

1) Love and Other Drugs — What makes this film the worst of 2010?  The beginning, the middle, and the end.

2010: The Year In Film So Far


Everyone views history in their own individual way.  Some people remember past years by what they saw on the evening news (hence, 2004 becomes “the year Bush was reelected”) but I define them by what was playing at the nearest movie theater.  Ask me when I was born and I won’t tell you, “1985.”  Instead, I’ll tell you that I was born the same year that Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was butchered by Sid Shienberg.  For me, the quality of a year is determined by the quality of the movies that were released during those twelve months.  You may have hated 2009 because of the economy.  I hated it because it was the year of the overrated movie, the year in which otherwise sensible people ignored great films like An Education, A Serious Man, District 9, and Inglorious Basterds (which, praised as it was, deserved considerably more) in favor of Avatar and The Hurt Locker.

2010, however, is shaping up to be a far better year.  Though a final judgment can’t be passed on 2010 until 2011, here’s a few thoughts on the year so far.

Best Film (so far): Exit Through The Gift Shop, a quasi-documentary that might just be one of the most perfectly executed mindfucks in modern history.  Runners-up: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fish Tank, Please Give, Winter’s Bone, A Prophet, Toy Story 3, and Inception.

Best Male Performance of the year so far: John Hawkes, in Winter’s Bone.  Hawkes has been overshadowed by Jennifer Lawrence but he dominates every scene that he appears in.  Just consider the scene where he “talks” his way out of a traffic stop. Runners-ups: John C. Reilly in Cyrus, Ben Stiller in Greenberg, Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception and Shutter Island, and Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2.

Best Female Performance of the year so far: Noomi Rapace as the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire.  Rapace is my new role model, a Ms. 45 for the 21st century.  Runners-up: Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Katie Jarvis for Fish Tank, Rebecca Hall in Please Give, Greta Gerwig in Greenberg, and Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass.

Best Ending: The final shot of Inception.

Best Horror Film: The Wolf Man, which should have been oh so bad but instead turned out to be oh so good with Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving both giving brilliant supporting performances. 

Best Bad Movie: Sex and the City 2.  Yes, if I’m going to be honest, it was a horrible movie.  But it was fun. the clothes were to die for, and the film managed to bring new depths of shallowness to the examination of the oppression of women in the Middle East.

Worst Film Of The Year (so far): Chloe.  Oh, Atom Egoyan, poor baby, what have you done, sweetheart?  You made a trashy, campy softcore movie and then you forgot that these things are supposed to be fun!  Runner-up: Robin Hood, because the entire freaking movie was a lie.  However, it did feature Oscar Isaac screaming, “Outlawwwwww!” and that saves it from being named the worst.

Worst Horror Film So Far: The Black Waters On Echo’s Pond.  So.  Fucking.  Bad.

The Get-Over-It-Award For The First Half Of 2010: The makers of Prince of Persia, who just had to try to turn an otherwise entertainingly mindless action film into yet another half-assed cinematic allegory for the Invasion of Iraq.  Ben Kingsley will probably be playing thinly disguised versions of Dick Cheney for the rest of his life.  I was against the Invasion of Iraq from the start but seriously, I’m so bored with every movie released using it as a way to try to fool the audience into thinking that they’re seeing something more worthwhile than they are.

The Read-The-Freaking-Book-Instead Award: The Killer Inside Me.  A lot of viewers are disturbed by the violent way that the main character deals with the women in his life.  I’m more disturbed by the fact that all the women in his life are presented as being simpering idiots.  The original novel is by Jim Thompson and it is a classic.

The worst ending of 2010 so far: Splice with the Killer Inside Me as a strong runner-up.

Future Film I’m Not Looking Forward To: Roland Emmerich’s Gusher, an ecological thriller based on the BP oil spill, starring Will Smith as the President, Dev Patel as the governor of Louisiana, Paul Bettany as the head of the evil oil company, and Ben Kingsley as Dick Cheney who will be seen cackling as oil-drenched doves wash up on the shores of California.  (How did the oil get to California?  Emmerich magic.)  Of course, the nominal star of the movie will be Jake Gyllenhaal as the young engineer who says stuff like, “This well is going to blow!” and who is trying to reconcile with his estranged wife (played by — does it really matter?  Let’s just say Emily Blunt gets the role this time around).  And let’s not forget Robert Duvall, who will play a grizzled old-timer who says a lot of grizzled old-timer stuff.  Look for it in 2012.

My prediction for which film will be the most overrated of 2010: The Social Network, which has not opened yet but Sasha Stone at awardsdaily.com seems to think that it’s a slam dunk for greatness which is usually a pretty good indication that the end result is going to be a predictable, bourgeois crapfest.

So, that’s 2010 so far.  It’s shaping up to be a good year.  I’m still looking forward to the release of Blue Valentine, Animal Kingdom, Get Low, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Last Exorcism, Wall Street, and the rerelease of Godard’s classic Breathless, which is one of my favorite movies and now I’m going to get a chance to see it in a theater!  Life is good.