Cleaning Out The DVR: O (dir by Tim Blake Nelson)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  This could take a while.  She recorded the 2001 high school film O off of Cinemax on July 6th.)

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

O (Mekhi Phifer) is one of the only black students attending an exclusive high school in South Carolina.  Despite a past that involves petty crime and drugs, O appears to have his life on the right track.  As the captain of school’s basketball team, O is the most popular student at his school.  Everyone looks up to him.  Everyone wants to be him.  He’s even dating Desi (Julia Stiles), the very white daughter of the school’s very white headmaster (John Heard).  At a school assembly, Coach Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen) describes O as being like a son to him.  When O is awarded the MVP trophy, he shares it with his teammate, Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan).

Watching all of this with seething jealousy is Hugo Gaumont (Josh Hartnett).  Hugo is a teammate of O’s.  In fact, he even thought that he was O’s best friend.  That was before O shared his award with Michael.  Making Hugo even more jealous is that he happens to be the son of the coach.  For every kind word that Duke has for O, he has a hundred petty criticisms for Hugo.  Whereas O has overcome drug addiction and is proclaimed as a hero for doing so, Hugo is secretly doing steroids, trying to do anything to improve himself as a player and hopefully win everyone’s love.

So, Hugo decides to get revenge.  Working with a nerdy outcast named Roger Calhoun (Elden Hansen), he manipulates O into thinking that Desi is cheating on him with Cassio.  He also tricks Cassio into getting into a fight with Roger, leading to Cassio getting suspended from the team.  To top it all off, Hugo gets O hooked on drugs, once again.  Finding himself consumed by a violent rage that he thought he had under control, O starts to obsess on determining whether or not Desi has been faithful to him…

If that sounds familiar, that’s because O is basically Othello, transported to modern times and involving privileged teenagers.  Even though the whole modernized Shakespeare thing has become a bit of a cliché, it actually works pretty well in O.  Hugo’s obsessive jealousy of the “cool kids” feels right at home in a high school setting and director Tim Blake Nelson and writer Brad Kaaya do a fairly good job of transporting Shakespeare’s Elizabethan melodrama to the early aughts.

(Actually, O was filmed in 1999 but it sat on the shelf for two years.  After a spate of school shootings, distributors were weary about releasing a film about high school students trying to destroy each other.)

Admittedly, O has its share of uneven moments.  Martin Sheen, playing the type of role that always seems to bring out his worst instincts as an actor, goes so overboard as the coach that he threatens to sink almost every scene in which he appears and Rain Phoenix is miscast as Hugo’s girlfriend.  Even Julia Stiles struggles a bit in the role of Desi.  However, both Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett are perfectly cast as O and Hugo.  Phifer brings just the right amount of arrogant swagger to the role while Hartnett is a sociopathic marvel as Hugo.  Tim Blake Nelson’s direction is occasionally overwrought, relying a bit too heavily on a groan-inducing metaphor about taking flight and claiming the spotlight.  However, both Nelson and the film deserve some credit for not shying away from directly confronting and portraying the source material’s cultural and racial subtext.

O is hardly perfect but it is always watchable and, at its best, thought-provoking.

Halloween H20; ALT Title: They Stab Baby Boomers, Don’t They?


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Gentle Readers, Is it time for Michael Myers? Oh yeah.  Is it time for Halloween H20? Oh Yeah! You bet your ass it is!

Halloween H20 is a lot of fun and had a deep bench of talent.  Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg wrote the film and Veteran Horror Director Steve Miner helmed it. Robert Zappia went on to write for Children’s Television and Graphic Novels. Matt Greenberg later wrote “Reign of Fire” and “1408” – both films had good moments of suspense.  I wrote to Robert Zappia and he informed me that the rest stop scene, which I will discuss later was written by Matt Greenberg.  He and director Steve Miner knew what they were doing to jolt us without any jumpscares.  The casting was very well done and, it was, in fact a who’s who of soon to be Stars.  Here we go!!!

Langdon, Illinois.  October 28, 1998.  I just needed to smell the clove cigarettes,  see the flannel, and not see any cell phones to know it.  A simpler time.  For the uninitiated,  the 90s were a time when you met someone that you had attraction for in person. A Nurse is concerned that her office was broken into by a person unknown. We see younger Joseph Gordon Levitt (Pre-Looper).  He was not manly in any way, but a real heart throb in his “3rd Rock” days.  Of course, they have him playing Hockey … somehow.  Nurse asks Levitt to search her home.  He goofs around and steals some beers.  The Nurse realizes that her files were stolen.  Which files? Wait for it…. Laurie Strode’s.  She looks around for Levitt and his friend.  They were not so creatively killed with Hockey Skates to the face.  He kills her too and steals her car.  There is also a bit of continuity trouble with the daylight turning to night abruptly.  Let’s take a moment and think about this: Michael Myers is really good at intelligence gathering, stealing, and killing.  If only we could harness his skills for Uncle Sugar…..

We’re goin back to Haddonfield to Haddonfield to Haddonfield …. Nah, I don’t think so! [sung]

Random California Town:  We see Jamie Lee Curtis fresh off from “True Lies”and the Headmistress of an elite boarding school.   She has a grown son- Josh Hartnett (Josh) who really really wants to go camping in Yosemite.  She won’t let him go.  Sorry Josh, you’re just gonna have to stay home and make out with Michelle Williams.  How will he possibly manage?!  Speaking of the 90s, we’ve got Michelle Williams (MW), Chicago Hope Guy (CHG), Jodi Lynn O’Keefe (Jodi), LL Cool J (LL Cool J), and Ally McBeal (jk on this last one…probably).  Through some not bad showing not telling, we learn:  LL Cool J is an aspiring trashy romance novel writer AKA as a Paaaaaperback Wriiiiiiter, Jamie Lee and CHG are k-i-s-s-i-n-g, Jodi is dating a guy way below her level of hotness, and we can tell Michelle Williams is on financial aid because she works in the kitchen and uses a dumbwaiter.

CUT TO: A Mom pulls into a rest stop.  We see the stolen car in the BG. This scene is pretty goddamn suspenseful! Well done, Robert Zappia.  MM isn’t there to kill, just steal the mom’s car.  Damn, MM is a great car thief!

Josh is all in lurve with Michelle Williams, sending her flowers in the dumbwaiter.  JLC and CHG make out again. These are the horniest baby boomers ever! Josh wants to go into town.  JLC says no. He convinces LL Cool J to let him sneak out. LL, I get it – Josh is dreamy, but you have a job responsibilities.  Plus, I don’t think he’s the supermarket romance novel kind of guy; Josh’s more of the porking Michelle Williams kind of guy. JLC is out with CHG and snakes a drink when he goes to the bathroom.  Good showing! She catches Josh off the compound…I mean school grounds.  He lets her have it.

Back to the school:  JLC releases the kids to Yosemite and her son so she believes so that the victims ….I mean residents….can be a …killable number.  JLC gets home and boozes up.  Josh has totally Dawson’s Creeked the make out basement area.  I’m with Josh on this one. I’ve been to Yosemite and Yellowstone and thye’ve got Old Faithful, but if Michelle Williams is your other option …I don’t even want to write choice because Old Faithful could get its feelings hurt.  I’m not saying that Josh isn’t planning on some regularly scheduled eruptions coupled with amateur photography, but it’s likely not at a national park.

JLC and CHG are making out … again. She tells him all about her brother being a murdering sociopath to set the mood and give herself an excuse to polish off more vodka.

This story has been pretty compelling, but it’s stabbing time.  MM finds the way too ugly to date Jodi O’Keefe guy, cuts his throat, and puts him in the dumbwaiter.  MM really likes things in their place; it makes you wonder if psychopathic murderers are OCD people gone to a terrible extreme. I knew a girl in college who would check her car doors to see if they were locked over and over.  Maybe she murdered people too?   Jodi looks for her BF and gets stalked by MM.  She flees to the dumbwaiter and is next to her dead BF.  She gets to the basement, but as she exits, MM cuts the dumbwaiter cord, the dumbwaiter lands on her leg, and her leg breaks horribly.  Josh and Michelle find their friends all dead.   They run to JLC.  She sees her brother – Yikes.  They must have the most awkward Thanksgivings! Seriously, it must be much worse than the year my girls and I wore Bernie Sanders shirts and my mom started quoting Ayn Rand over stuffing.  

They all run and CHG accidentally shoots LL J.  Bummer.  CHG gets stabbed for his trouble.  JLC ,MW, and Josh run, but he gets wounded and MW hits MM with a rock.  Michelle Williams might be perfect: smart, can cook, gorgeous, can fight … Call Me.  JLC badasses and sends MW and Josh off to safety as she gets an axe to deal with her brother. You go girl!   They confront each other in the dining hall.  It’s a pretty amazingly suspenseful scene.  Seriously, the writer and director really kicked ass with this and many other scenes.  Well done.  JLC gets the upper hand and stabs MM.  She’s ready to cut him up into bits when LL shows up, telling her he’s dead.  Word?  If only LL had been reading our reviews, he would know that this is not the end.

The Coroners show up, but JLC isn’t having it! She grabs the van and proceeds to drive MM out to the woods and chop his head off.  Pretty awesome ending! I have to be honest this film is not really dated, it has terrific suspense, great writing, edgy directing.  I would recommend making this a staple of Halloween season viewing.

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Back to School Part II #38: Here On Earth (dir by Mark Piznarski)


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Here on Earth is a wannabe melodrama from 2000.  When I first started watching it on Netflix, I was convinced that I had never seen it before.  Sure, the name sounded familiar but I figured that was just because Here On Earth is such a generic name that it could have been used for any number of different films.  In fact, even as I sit here typing this, there’s a part of me that keeps wanting to call the film either Back On Earth or Heaven On Earth.

But then as I watched the film, I realized to my horror that I had seen Here On Earth before.  I watched it on cable back when I was in high school and, as much as I may not want to admit it, I think I actually cried at the end of it.

I didn’t cry this time, though.  In fact, I laughed.  Here on Earth is such a stereotypically melodramatic romance that it actually feels like a parody.  It didn’t help that the film starred Chris Klein, who goes through almost the entire film with this sort of steely look in his eyes.  No matter what emotion he’s supposed to be showing, Chris Klein’s impassive face remains frozen.  In fact, it’s tempting to wonder if his character was supposed to be a robot sent from the future.  Maybe Here On Earth was originally meant to be a Terminator film.

Here On Earth takes place in one of those little towns in Massachusetts where all of the poor townies resent the rich kids who go to a nearby boarding school.  (Judging from the movies I’ve seen, it appears that every small town in Massachusetts is also home to an exclusive boarding school.  A part of me suspects that this might not actually be the case.  Fortunately, several TSL writers are from Massachusetts so, the next time I get a chance, I’ll just ask Gary, Leon, or Pantsu if any of them grew up near a boarding school.)

Chris Klein plays Kelly Morse.  He’s a student at that boarding school.  He’s rich.  He’s snobby.  But he’s also really, really smart.  In fact, he was originally meant to be the school’s valedictorian until he got in some legal trouble.  See, Kelly was having a street race with a townie named Jasper Arnold (Josh Hartnett).  The street race led to the local gas station blowing up.  I have to admit that I started laughing as soon as that gas station went up in flames because … well, let’s just say that I imagine it’s a lot more difficult to blow up a gas station than this film makes it look.  Judging from this film, the gas station down the street from the office should be blowing up right now.

Anyway, that exploding gas station also causes a local restaurant to burn down.  Both Jasper and Kelly are sentenced to help rebuild Mable’s Table.  (That’s right, the name of the restaurant was Mable’s Table.  It’s a good thing that Mable rhymes with table.  If the place had been started by someone named Gretchen, I guess they’d call it Gretchen’s Kitchen.)  The judge literally says, “They’ll be building a restaurant but building character too!”

Okay, your honor, thanks for spelling that shit out for us!  Yay abuse of the justice system!

Anyway, Jasper has a girlfriend.  Her name is Sam Cavanaugh (Leelee Sobieski) and her father (Bruce Greenwood) is the town sheriff.  And guess what?  HER FAMILY ALSO OWNED MABLE’S TABLE!  This may seem like a lot of coincidences but these things happen when there’s only a dozen or so people living in a town.

Sam’s mother always tells her, “As long as we’re all alive, it’s nothing worse than a bad day.”  Because they’re poor but honest and that’s how poor but honest people talk, don’t you know?  Her father also tells her, every morning: “Good to be your father.”  “Good to be your daughter,” Sam replies.

BECAUSE THEY’RE POOR!

But honest…

In fact, they’re so poor but honest that they help Kelly come out of his snobby shell.  Soon, he’s opening up to Sam.  He’s telling her his secrets.  He’s revealing his inner self and probably asking her, “What is this thing you humans call pleasure?”  (Because he’s a robot from the future!)  Suddenly, they’re in a love…

But guess what?  Sam only has a few months to live…

Or I should say that she only has a few months to live here on Earth.  She’s at peace with the idea because she’s a saint and she has a pretty a good idea that heaven is going to kick serious ass!  Can she make Kelly into a better man before she dies?

Watch and find out!  Or don’t.  This is one of those extremely silly and misjudged melodramas that doesn’t really work.  The adult roles are played by dependable character actors like Bruce Greenwood, Michael Rooker, and Annette O’Toole but Chris Klein and Josh Hartnett go through the entire film looking like they’d rather be anywhere but here on Earth.  Leelee Sobieski gives the film’s best performance, bringing as much credibility as she can to an idealized role.  (She’s beautiful, she’s sassy, she’s saintly, and she’s dying!)  It’s a shame that she has since retired from acting but maybe she didn’t want to spend her entire career making movies like Here on Earth.

Anyway, Here on Earth made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.  Maybe it will do the same for you!

 

Film Review: The Lovers (dir by Roland Joffe)


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The Lovers played in theaters earlier this year but don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it.  I hadn’t heard of it until I came across it on Showtime.  The Lovers — much like Veronika Decides To Die — is one of those films that spent a while sitting on the shelf until it was almost grudgingly granted an extremely limited theatrical run.  With little publicity and no critical support, The Lovers came and went and now it’s been relegated to cable and Netflix.

And watching The Lovers last night, I could see why some studios might be hesitant about it.  The Lovers is an amazingly messy film, one that seems to randomly careen from tone to tone.  Sometimes, it’s a romance.  Sometimes, it’s an adventure film.  Sometimes, it’s an attack on colonialism disguised as a history lesson.  And then, occasionally, it’s even a science fiction film.  It’s perhaps the messiest mishmash of themes since Cloud Atlas and that’s saying something!

And yet, despite all that, I still liked The Lovers.  In many ways, I enjoyed the film despite some of my better instincts.  I’m still not sure what the Hell’s going on in 50% of the film and don’t even get me started on trying to explain how the film’s multiple story lines are supposed to be connected.  There’s so much that I could criticize about this film and yet, when it was over, I was not at all unhappy about having taken the time to watch it.

The story … well, it’s a little bit hard to explain.  The film begins with a God-like being forging twin rings.  We then jump forward a few centuries, to the year 2020.  Two marine archeologists, Jay (Josh Hartnett) and his wife, Laura (Tasmin Egerton), are exploring the sunken wreck of a colonial British ship.  In the wreckage, they comes across the two rings.  They mention that someone named “D.E.” drowned while clutching onto the rings.  When Laura gets trapped under some debris, Jay rescues her but ends up brain dead as a result.  In a generically futuristic hospital, Laura has to decide whether to use machines to keep Jay alive or to let him go.

However, we don’t see much of Laura and Jay in that hospital.  This is because, after Jay goes into his coma, the film’s other storyline starts up.  Suddenly, we’re in India.  The year is 1778 and Josh Hartnett is playing a Scottish captain in the British East India Company.  When we first see Hartnett, we naturally assume that he’s playing the mysterious “D.E.” but instead, we learn that this character is named James Stewart.

(It’s not much of a spoiler to let you know right now that we never learn exactly who D.E. was or why he or she drowned with the rings.)

At first, I assumed that Jay was dreaming about being James and that the India storyline was meant to run parallel to the 2020 storyline.  That, however, quickly turned out to not be the case.  My next guess was that James was meant to be Jay in a past life and I still think that’s a possibility.  But the fact of the matter is that the film itself never makes clear how James and Jay are related or even why we’re seeing both of their stories.  In general, I like films that are willing to be ambiguous but The Lovers took it a bit too far.

James is assigned to escort an Indian princess to the capital city.  Along the way, James has to protect her from both rebels and assassins.  He also falls in love with one of the queen’s warriors, the beautiful Tulaja Naik (Bipasha Basu).

It’s the scenes set in India that make The Lovers worth watching.  Full of opulent palaces, gorgeous costumes, fierce battles, and sexy chemistry between Josh Hartnett and Bipasha Basu, these scenes are a visual feast.  Even if they don’t always make much sense, they’re fun to watch.  When The Lovers concentrates on India, it’s the epitome of an enjoyably over-the-top romantic melodrama.  It’s only when the film leaves India for the near future or those Godly ring forgers that its inherent messiness becomes a problem.

In the end, The Lovers is not as bad as you might think.  Just enjoy it as a visual treat and don’t worry about making sense of it all.

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #100: Pearl Harbor (dir by Michael Bay)


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“And then all this happened…”

Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Pearl Harbor (2001)

The “this” that Evelyn Johnson is referring to is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  You know, the date will live in infamy.  The attack that caused the United States to enter World War II and, as a result, eventually led to collapse of the Axis Powers.  The attack that left over 2,000 men died and 1,178 wounded.  That attack.

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, that attack is just one of the many complications in the romance between Danny (Ben Affleck), his best friend Rafe (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale).  The other complications include Danny briefly being listed as dead, Danny being dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was (and yet, later, he’s still seen reading and writing letters with absolutely no trouble, almost as if the filmmakers forgot they had made such a big deal about him not being able to do so), and the fact that Rafe really, really likes Evelyn.  Of course, the main complication to their romance is that this is a Michael Bay film and he won’t stop moving the camera long enough for anyone to have a genuine emotion.

I imagine that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to duplicate the success of Titanic, by setting an extremely predictable love story against the backdrop of a real-life historical tragedy.  Say what you will about Titanic (and there are certain lines in that film that, when I rehear them today, make me cringe), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had genuine chemistry.  None of that chemistry is present in Pearl Harbor.  You don’t believe, for a second, that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are lifelong friends.  You don’t believe that Kate Beckinsale is torn between the two of them.  Instead, you just feel like you’re watching three actors who are struggling to give a performance when they’re being directed by a director who is more interested in blowing people up than in getting to know them.

Continuing the Titanic comparison, Pearl Harbor‘s script absolutely sucks.  Along with that line about “all this” happening, there’s also a scene where Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) reacts to his cabinet’s skepticism by rising to his feet and announcing that if he, a man famously crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair, can stand up, then America can win a war.

I’ve actually been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  I have gone to the USS Arizona Memorial.  I have stood and stared down at the remains of the ship resting below the surface of the ocean.  It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling site, one that leaves you very aware that over a thousand men lost their lives when the Arizona sank.

I have also seen the wall which lists the name of everyone who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and until you’ve actually been there and you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you really can’t understand just how overwhelming it all is.  The picture below was taken by my sister, Erin.

Pearl Harbor 2003If you want to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, going to the Arizona Memorial is a good start.  But avoid Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor at all costs.

Penny Dreadful Season 2 Trailer


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“When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone.” — Vanessa Ives

It would be an understatement to say that Showtime’s Penny Dreadful was my favorite new show of 2014. I can honestly say that it was the best new show of 2014.

John Logan was able to create a show that probably sounded like a Victorian gothic version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on paper, but once seen ended up being both mesmerizing and hypnotic for those willing to travel down the dark, shadowy twists and turns the series took from beginning to end.

We now have the latest trailer and a release date for the second season premiere of Penny Dreadful and it looks like it’ll continue the storyline about Vanessa Ives’ past of demon-possession and exploring it’s ramifications further. We also get the return of a bit player from season 1, Madame Kali, returning to a much more expanded role and if the trailer was to suggest or hint at her role we might be seeing the series’ version of Countess Bathory (I pray to all the fallen angels that this becomes a reality).

If Penny Dreadful season 1 was just the opening appetizer course then here’s to hoping that season 2 will be a satisfying and meatier course.

Penny Dreadful season 2 will have it’s premiere on Showtime on April 26, 2015.

Back to School #59: The Virgin Suicides (dir by Sofia Coppola)


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For the past three and a half weeks, I’ve been taking a chronological look at some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable teen and high school films ever made.  We started with two films from 1946, I Accuse My Parents and Delinquent Daughters.  Therefore, it seems somewhat appropriate that we close out both the 90s and the 20th Century by taking a look at a film about both delinquent daughters and accusatory parents.  That film is Sofia Coppola’s 1999 directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides.

Much like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola seems to divide viewers and, in many ways, for the exact same reasons.  You either get her films about upper class ennui or you don’t.  Everyone seems to love Lost in Translation but viewers and critics seem to be far more polarized when it comes to rest of her films.  It seems the people either love them or hate them.  Well, you can count me among those who love her films.  (Yes, even Somewhere.)  To me, Sofia Coppola is one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today and the dismissive reaction that many (mostly male) critics have towards her films has little do with her talent and much more to do with her gender and her last name.

So there.

In The Virgin Suicides, Coppola tells the story of the five Lisbon sisters.  They live in an upper middle class suburbs in the 1970s.  Their parents — math teacher Ronald (James Woods) and his wife (Kathleen Turner) — are devoutly Catholic and very protective.  The Lisbon sisters are rarely allowed to leave the house and, as a result, the neighborhood boys are obsessed with them.  (Though the film centers on four unnamed boys, there’s only one narrator, voiced by Giovanni Ribisi,  who continually refers to himself as being “we,” as if all four boys are telling the story in the same voice.)  When the youngest Lisbon daughter commits suicide, Ronald and his wife become even more protective.

At the start of the school year, the oldest daughter, Lux (Kirsten Dunst), meets and starts to secretly date the wonderfully named Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett).  Lux is even allowed to attend the homecoming dance with Trip but, after she breaks curfew, Mrs. Lisbon reacts by pulling Lux and her sisters out of school and basically making them prisoners in their own home.

(In one of the film’s best moments, we flash forward to see present day Trip talking about his date with Lux. Needless to say, Trip did not age well.)

With the Lisbon sisters even more isolated, the neighborhood boys become even more obsessed with them.  One day, the boys get a note from the girls, asking for their help in escaping.  The boys go to meet the girls, leading the film to its haunting conclusion…

Full of themes of sin, sexuality, repression guilt, redemption, and martyrdom, The Virgin Suicides is one of those films that you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate but it probably helps.  James Woods, Josh Hartnett, and Kirsten Dunst all give good performances while Sofia Coppola fills the movie with dream-like and sensual images, all designed to challenge the viewer’s perception of whether or not we’re watching reality or just the idealized memories of someone still struggling to comprehend a mystery from the past.

The Virgin Suicides is the perfect movie to end with the 90s on.

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Back to School #52: The Faculty (dir by Robert Rodriguez)


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Have you ever wanted to see Jon Stewart get stabbed in the eye with a hypodermic needle?

If you answered yes, then 1998’s The Faculty might be the film for you!

The Faculty takes a look at what happens when a new alien species happens to turn up outside of a painfully normal high school in Ohio.  By painfully normal, I mean that Herrington High School is just as messed up as you would expect a suburban high school to be.  The teachers are all underpaid and resentful of their principal (Bebe Neuwrith).  Prof. Furlong (Jon Stewart) is the overqualified science teacher who will perhaps be a little too excited about the chance to examine a new alien species.  Coach Willis (Robert Patrick) is the emotionally shut off coach of the school’s losing football team.  Mrs. Olson (Piper Laurie) is the drama teacher who struggles to promote creativity in a school that’s more interested in blind conformity.  Miss Burke (Famke Janssen) is the teacher who cares too much.  And, finally, there’s Nurse Harper (Salma Hayek), who looks a lot like Salma Hayek.

And, as typical as the teachers may be, the students are even more so.  We get to know a few and they all neatly fit into the expected stereotypes.  Casey (Elijah Wood) is the nerdy outcast who is regularly picked on by … well, by everyone.  Deliliah (Jordana Brewster) is the status-obsessed head cheerleader who has just broken up with her boyfriend, Stan (Shawn Hatosy), because he quit the football team.  Zeke (Josh Hartnett) is the school rebel, the kid who is repeating his senior year and who sells synthetic drugs out of the trunk of his car.  Stokes (Clea DuVall) is an intentional outcast who pretends to be a lesbian and has a crush on Stan.  And finally, there’s Marybeth (Laura Harris), a new transfer student who speaks with a Southern accent.

These students would seem to have nothing in common but they’re going to have to work together because the entire faculty of Herrington High has been taken over by aliens!  Fortunately, the aliens are vulnerable to Zeke’s drugs, which is something that is learned after Jon Stewart takes a hypodermic to the eye…

When one looks over the top Texas filmmakers (director like Terrence Malick, Richard Linklater, Mike Judge, and David Gorden Green), Robert Rodriguez often comes across as being both the most likable and the least interesting.  Like his frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez fills his movies with references and homages to other films but, unlike Tarantino, there rarely seems to be much going on behind all of those references.  However, Rodriguez’s referential style works well in The Faculty because, along with acting as an homage to both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Faculty also manages to tap into a universal truth.

Teachers are weird!

Or, at least, they seem weird when you’re a student.  Now that I’m out of high school, I can look back and see that my teachers were actually pretty normal.  They were people who did their jobs and, as much as I like to think that I was everyone’s all-time favorite, I’m sure that there have been other brilliant, asthmatic, redheaded, aspiring ballerinas who have sat in their class.  My teachers spent a lot of time talking about things that I may not have been interested in but that wasn’t because they were obsessed with talking to me about algebra or chemistry or anything like that.  They were just doing their job, just like everyone else does.

But, seriously, when you’re a student, it’s easy to believe that your teachers have been possessed by an alien life form.

Probably the best thing about The Faculty is the fact that the aliens cause the teachers to act in ways that are the exact opposite of their usual personalities.  For most of the teachers, this means that they turn into homicidal lunatics.  But, in the case of Coach Willis, this actually leads to him not only becoming a happy, well-adjusted human being but it also turns him into a good coach.  Suddenly, Willis is getting emotional about the games, his team loves him, and he even gets a win!

Go Coach Willis!

As for the film itself, it’s not bad at all.

Lisa’s rating: 7 out of 10.

8 Quickies With Lisa Marie: 13 Assassins, Bunraku, The Double Hour, Jig, Meek’s Cutoff, Of Gods and Men, One Day, and There Be Dragons


As part of my continuing effort to offer up a review of every 2011 release that I’ve seen so far this year, here’s 8 more quickie reviews of some of the films that I’ve seen over the past year.

1) 13 Assassins (dir. by Takashi Miike)

The 13 Assassins are a group of samurai who are gathered together to assassinate a sociopathic nobleman in 19th Century Japan.  As directed by Takashi Miike, this is a visually stunning film full of nonstop, brutal action and Miike powerfully contrasts the old school honor of the 13 Assassins with the soulless evil of their target. 

2) Bunraku (dir. by Guy Moshe)

There are some films that simply have to be seen to believed and Bunraku is one of those films.  In the aftermath of a global war, guns have been outlawed but this attempt at social engineering has just resulted in greater societal collapse.  Nicola (Ron Perlman) is the most powerful man on the East Coast but he lives life in paranoid seclusion and instead sends out nine assassins to enforce his will (his main assassin being Killer No. 2, played by a super stylish Kevin McKidd).  Two strangers ( a drifter played by Josh Hartnett and a samurai played by Gackt) arrive in town and, with the help of a bartender played by Woody Harrelson, they team up to destroy the nine assassins and ultimately Nicola himself.  Bunraku, which comes complete with an ominous narrator and sets that look like they belong in a Lars Von Trier film, is a glorious and fast-paced triumph of style over substance, an exciting and fun celebration of the grindhouse films of the past.  With the exception of a miscast Demi Moore (playing Perlman’s mistress), the film is very well-acted but it’s completely stolen and dominated by Kevin McKidd, who can poke me with his sword any time he wants.

3) The Double Hour (dir. by Giuseppe Capotondi)

It took The Double Hour about two years to make it over here from Italy and when it did finally play in American arthouse theaters, it really didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.  That’s a shame because the Double Hour is a pretty entertaining mystery-thriller that’s full of twists and turns and which features an excellent performance by Kseniya Rappoport as an enigmatic hotel maid.  It hasn’t been released on region 1 DVD or blu-ray yet but apparently, there’s some interest in doing an American remake which will probably suck.

4) Jig (dir. by Sue Bourne)

Jig is a documentary that follows several competitors at the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships held in Glasgow in 2010.  I always try to be honest about my personal biases and I have to admit that one reason why I absolutely loved this film is because I not only love to dance but I love Irish stepdancing in specific and, as much as I love ballet, stepdance will always hold a special place in my heart.  I’m not quite sure how to put it into words other then to say that it just makes me incredibly happy as both a participant and a  watcher.  For me, Jig captured that joy as well as showing just how much dedication and sacrifice it takes to truly become proficient at it.  This film — much like Black Swan — made me dance.

5) Meek’s Cutoff (dir. by Kelly Reichardt)

I’ll never forget going to the Cinemark West Plano and seeing Meek’s Cutoff last May.  The theater was nearly deserted except for me, Jeff, an elderly couple, and two women who were, in their appearance and manner, almost stereotypically upper middle class suburban.  As the film’s frustratingly ambiguous conclusion played out on-screen and the end credits started to roll, one of the women angrily exclaimed, “WHAT!?  Well, that won’t win any Academy Awards!”  In many ways, Meek’s Cutoff is a frustrating film.  Based on a true story, it follows a group of 19th century settlers as they try to cross the Oregon Trail while following a guide (Bruce Greenwood) who might be totally incompetent.  Plotwise, not much happens: the settlers kidnap an Indian and demand that he lead them to water, Michelle Williams plays a settler who doubts that any of the men in the party know what they’re doing, and everyone continues to keep moving in search of … something.  The film is, at times, really frustrating and I think it’s been overrated by most critics but, at the same time, it remains an oddly fascinating meditation on life and fate.  Add to that, both Greenwood and Williams give good performances and the film’s cinematography is hauntingly beautiful and desolate at the same time.

6) Of Gods and Men(dir. by Xavier Beauvois)

Of Gods and Men is a quietly powerful and visually stunning French film that’s based on the true story of 7 Trappist monks who were kidnapped from their monastery and murdered by muslim rebels during the Algerian Civil War.  The film imagines the final days of the monks and attempts to answer the question of why they didn’t flee their monastery when they had the opportunity to do so, but instead remained and chose to accept their fate as martyrs.  This meditative film also features excellent performances from Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale and avoids the trap of both easy idealization and easy villainy. 

7) One Day (dir. by Lone Scherfig)

This is another one of those films that was dismissed by almost every critic except for Roger Ebert and you know what?  For once, I’m going to agree with Roger.  I absolutely loved One Day and I think that all the haters out there need to take a chance on romance and stop coasting on the easy cynicism.  One Day follows the love affair of a writer (Anne Hathaway) and a TV personality (Jim Sturgess), visiting them repeatedly on the same day over the course of 20 years.  The film starts with them as college students having a wonderfully awkward one night stand and it ends with Sturgess and their son walking up a beautiful green hill and it made me cry and cry.  Hathaway and Sturgess have a wonderful chemistry together and the film also features some good supporting performances from Patricia Clarkson (as Sturgess’ dying mother) and Rafe Spall (bringing humanity to the thankless role of being the “other guy.”) This is one of the most deliriously romantic films that I’ve ever seen and I loved it.  So there.

8 ) There Be Dragons (dir. by Roland Joffe)

There Be Dragons came out in May and it didn’t get much respect from the critics.  I’ve also read that it was considered to be a box office failure, which is odd because I seem to remember that it was actually in theaters for quite some time.  Anyway, There Be Dragons is an oddly old-fashioned war epic that attempts to mix the fictional story of a Spanish revolutionary (played by Wes Bentley) with an admiring biopic of the founder of Orpus Dei, St. Josemarie Escriva (played by Charlie Cox).  The two stories never really seem mix and instead, they just coexist uncomfortably beside each other.  It doesn’t help that Wes Bentley gives one of the worst performance of 2011.  On the plus side, Charlie Cox gives a good and believable performance as Escriva and the film looks great.  The film is so sincere in its desire to make the world a better place that its hard not to regret that it doesn’t succeed.

Quickie Review: 30 Days of Night (dir. by David Slade)


30 Days of Night is pretty much a siege movie with heavy elements of horror and gore. Siege movies always succeed and fail depending on whether the tension and dread built up from the beginning of the film suspends the audience’s disbelief. Siege films like The Thing and Romero’s Living Dead trilogy works well because right from the get-go we see the tension build not just on the location the cast are put in but within the besieged survivors as well. Survival becomes that much more difficult due to human frailties and an inability to work together bringing the whole group down. The monsters outside are bad enough, but sometimes it’s the survivors themselves who must share the blame.

David Slade’s (director of the excellent Hard Candy) movie does a very good job of bringing the initial tension and dread the comic brought to life in its first chapter. The story takes place in Barrow, Alaska which happens to be located within the Arctic Circle. This location allows it a very peculiar yearly event of having pitch-black night which lasts for a period of an entire month. The movie begins just as the town of Barrow prepares for this month-long prolonged night. Most of the town decide to move down south for the month where the night doesn’t last as long, but enough stay in Barrow to give it a semblance of life and activity.

The build-up of the characters in 30 Days of Night marks one of the weaknesses in the film. There’s barely much characterization in distinguishing one Barrow, Alaskan from another. The lack in character development from all the characters whether human or vampire doesn’t invest the film with anyone we want to see make it out through the night and into dawn. Even Danny Huston, a very underrated and overly capable actor in past films fails to elevate his lead vampire character Marlowe beyond it’s genre trappings. Known only as The Stranger in the credits, Ben Foster’s Renfield-like character edges between caricature and genuine creepiness in his performance. Foster knows he’s in a genre movie and has fun with the character. He’s the only one to truly take on his character and roll with it.

I now get to the subject of the vampires themselves. Most vampire movies seem enamored in portraying the vampire as some sort of seductive, fashion-obsessed, or in the case of the Anne Rice-type anachronistic in their dress, with an unnatural immortality they either live as hedonistically as possible or bemoan their cursed existence. Then there’s the more recent trend that Twilight has brought into the vampire mythology and it’s not good.  There’s never been a true portrayal of the vampire as a pure, hunger-driven monster with an appetite to match their status as one of folklore and legend’s top-tier boogeymen. Slade goes for speed and agility in his vampires instead of hypnotizing and mesmerizing their victims. The vampires in this movie owes much to the frenetic and over-amped infecteds of 28 Days Later.

The attack itself and the subsequent siege worked well enough in the early going. There were some great overhead shots of the town’s people losing it’s fight during the initial feeding frenzy as the camera shoots the scene high overhead. The only thing Slade had a misstep in terms of the siege itself was after those first couple of nights. The rest of the 30 days didn’t seem to show enough desperation on the faces and bodies of the last few survivors. Really, the only way the audience even knew a couple weeks have passed were the caption telling them how many days into the month-long night has passed. I think with some better editing and a better sense of structure in the middle section of the movie to show time actually progressing the movie would’ve been better on so many levels.

All in all, 30 Days of Night was just good enough to be a fun watch. The premise itself was original and put a new spin on the vampire genre that has rarely been tapped. The performances were pretty average with no one bringing the whole film down with a misstep performance or raising the bar with a great one. The final product had a chance to be something great, but just ends up being a good and original take on the vampire story with elements of Night of the Living Dead.