Monday, November 30, 2009

Bring Your Green Hat

By Chase Kahn

It's no biggie (and certainly not post-worthy) but I'm doing it anyway. This poster (and subsequent DVD cover for the recent Warner Bros. re-release) for Michael Curtiz's The Adventures of Robin Hood ('38), one of the best sword-adventures of all-time and certainly Errol Flynn's most recognizable screen role to date, depicts the titular action hero and folklore legend donning a green hat.

The only problem is that Errol Flynn's Robin Hood never wears a green hat during the course of the film, not for one second. I just watched it and it's brown throughout.

HBO Special

By Chase Kahn

"If it were not a Clint Eastwood movie, if it were not Oscar season, it would probably be directed to HBO, shown during Black History Month." -- from David Poland's Invictus review posted today.

The Invictus stale-readings went haywire especially after Jeffrey Wells' mixed-positive reaction on 11.27, when he called the film "second-tier" Eastwood and "a bowl of fettuccine." (i.e. good for what it is, mildly satisfying, but don't expect to be blown away, much less surprised.)

I've said this once and I'll say it again: Invictus will be the Frost/Nixon of this year - an historical drama that easily pleases and slightly stirs the over-50 crowd (especially those who want to be Clint Eastwood and cherish everything the man ever did or does) and critical output will be strong, but those who like real films that take real risks and don't conform to formula and easy-viewing will treat it like the plague.

"Lovely Bones" Consensus Getting Muddier

By Chase Kahn

The early word on Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones (Paramount, 12.11.09) was that it was in a bit of trouble (i.e. embargo-ignorant dissers and disinterested responses), but I'm sensing that with David Poland's surprisingly upbeat response posted yesterday, in addition to InContention's Kris Tapley raving about it over the weekend, that it's certainly going to be a divisive film - but one with a fair amount of believers in its corner when all is said and done.

Poland was even inspired enough to write a smackdown of every critic who inappropriately compares a film to its source material or vice-versa. I agree with every word of it. This isn't to say that the negative reviews have gone away - they're still there - but maybe there's some hope for it. After all, I pretty much had written the movie off last week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: 'New Moon' [C+]

By Chase Kahn

With full-bore teenage gawkiness and exploratory love-lust, Chris Weitz's New Moon is an amber-tinted, beefed up, awkward brew - neither an improvement over Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight or a franchise deal-breaker.

I found it by-and-large both flashier and far more tedious, both in equal measure. Like any sequel or procession in a series, it ups the stakes and broadens the scope, all the while exposing Stephanie Meyers' source material as it becomes increasingly more inane and seemingly illogical.

Nevertheless, the series continues to remain harmlessly produced and executed - unashamedly exploitative of its stars' mass sex appeal. It's also occasionally pleasurable in its own sort of way even as this installment seems to sulk and pout for its majority. (A Thom Yorke-inspired chase through the woods feels just inspired enough to appear out of place).

I hate to say it, because as much as I'm willing to bang the drum for Kristen Stewart (see Greg Mottola's Adventureland), the overnight sensation and envy of millions of girls across the country is genuinely bad in her second tour of duty as the latest victim of forbidden love, Bella Swan.

With infuriating indecision and incessant fly-trap eyelids, Stewart can't deliver a line without rinsing them through her mouth a couple of times before spewing them out. She sputters and blinks and contorts her brows to varying degrees dependent on her mood (which rarely wavers from near-suicidal brooding). No wonder Bella can't decide what to do - she can hardly speak.

After hearing from several close relatives who have thoroughly read through the entire "Twilight" saga (4 novels), this is a series that gets progressively far-fetched as it reaches its conclusion. The film adaptations may inevitably follow suit, but with Chris Weitz's New Moon, it hasn't quite gotten here. This isn't a train wreck, and as much as I'd like to completely hate these films, I can't. At least not yet, anyway.

Classic Rewind: 'Virginia City' (1940)

By Chase Kahn

Most people wouldn't agree with me, but Michael Curtiz's Virginia City ('40) is a dusty, sweaty, intricately-plotted early studio western, and for my money, it kicks the ass of the director's own Dodge City ('39) - which featured a lot of the same cast members and was ultimately a bigger hit for Warner Bros. and their leading man, Errol Flynn.

Not that I'm not a fan of Dodge City, but I much prefer the Sol Polito black & white lensing, the Max Steiner score, and the overall grand sweep of Virginia City - a sprawling war-time, reverently patriotic thing about a Confederate gold-smuggler (Randolph Scott) and a Union officer (Errol Flynn), sworn enemies, who square off in the waning days of the Civil War.

Some might find the final act of the film hokey, convenient or contrived, but I bought it. I bought the optimism and the portrait of humanity as the end of an era gives way to start a new beginning - which is summed up through the actions of our main characters by none other than a shadow of Abraham Lincoln. It has an air or quality to it reminiscent of the works of Howard Hawks or John Ford.

Plus, it also features a pre-Casablanca Humphrey Bogart as a Mexican bandit with a bad moustache and a bad accent, worth the price of admission (or rental/viewing/what have you.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Bowl of Fettucini"

By Chase Kahn

Clint Eastwood's Invictus (Warner Bros., 12.11.09), the Nelson Mandela-rugby biopic, is having its temperature checked through various media screenings on both coasts this past week and the near unanimous conclusion is that it's a well-drawn, predictably safe and performed historical recreation - a kind of flowery, no-scruff, inspirational Peter Morgan kind of thing. It's respectable in many ways, but no one will lay down for it.

Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere predicts Morgan Freeman will take home the Best Actor Oscar for his Nelson Mandela/Jesus performance as the uniting leader of a broken nation, but even he (a self-proclaimed Eastwood groupie) calls it a "second-tier" effort. I also love this quote:

"...a satisfying plate of pasta doesn't have to be 'brilliant.' It just has to be carefully prepared and well seasoned and made with love. Invictus is a very pleasant and mildly stirring bowl of fettucini with highly agreeable lead performance by Freeman. But it's not one of those ratatouille dishes that win awards and inspire raves from restaurant critics."

Variety's Todd McCarthy ("very good story very well told") and Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt ("temperate, evenhanded, overly timid") have both apparently broken the review embargo on the film, but have both offered more proof that Invictus is a warm, safe, predictable Frost/Nixon sort of thing.

That is, it will be adored by older viewers and journo-types and critics, likely nominated for a Best Picture Oscar because of its reverent overtones. But it won't stand a chance in winning and anybody and everybody under-35 who like their films more cerebral and slick will proclaim it as junk - you see it every year, and Invictus appears to be that film.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Short Take: 'The Road' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

John Hillcoat's The Road is certainly a capable and aptly-produced adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy best-seller. It moves, sounds, and feels fully functional -- thanks to the Nick Cave/Warren Ellis score and the Javier Aguirresarobe grayscale photography -- but like many have said before me, it never fully blooms and becomes something stirring.

It's a father/son, post-apocalyptic every-man-for-himself kind of thing, with a variety of supporting characters introduced along the way, including some memorable turns by Robert Duvall as a withered, lonesome old scavenger and Michael K. Williams as a desperate, yet vulnerable thief. The film is appropriately brutal, dark, cold, corroded and weathered -- with shots of soot-smothered areas of traditionally heavy human traffic lingering in order to heighten their effect.

I enjoyed Viggo Mortensen's bruised and threadbare performance -- it's desperate, it's weepy and it's dirt-under-the-fingernails gritty -- but not entirely to the extent that I felt necessary. It's a performance mostly comprised of live, on-screen endurance tests -- pain, fear, anxiety, survival, etc. It's nice and certainly no pushover, but give me Eastern Promises.

In the end, I didn't find The Road utterly aimless and hopelessly given the patchwork treatment (the Weinsteins did delay it almost a full year from its original '08 release date), I just found it a bit skinny -- not devoid of meaning, but devoid of impact.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bone Temperature

By Chase Kahn

Variety's Todd McCarthy has just panned Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones - due for platform release starting in December - marking the first major U.S. review for the highly anticipated and awards-season heavyweight adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestselling novel.

"Peter Jackson's infatuation with with fancy visual effects mortally wounds The Lovely rates as a significant artistic disappointment."

This pretty much confirms that the murmurs of Bones not being up to snuff have some added weight to them, although TIME's Richard Corliss (a bit of an unreliable pushover) feels otherwise and generally enthused.

Thanksgiving Wednesday

By Chase Kahn

Thanksgiving movie season starts tomorrow and the big studios are giving us Old Dogs and freakin' Ninja Assassin? I've seen weekends in early February that got me more excited than this. I think I'll be seeing John Hillcoat's The Road (despite mixed reactions) and Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The only reason I'm not including Fox in the Ninja/Old Dogs category of Thanksgiving leftovers is because it's only releasing on 2,000 screens and has been out in limited release for two weeks.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Second "Nine"

By Chase Kahn

Not much has been seen or heard of Rob Marshall's Nine, the broadway musical adaptation of Federico Fellini's Italian masterwork, 8 1/2. Well, there is this, an SAG gushy-gooey reaction at a screening in which some of the film's stars - Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz - were on hand for a post-screening Q&A, so take what you will of that.

Personally, I'm kind of iffy on this one. The starpower is overwhelming and the Italian/Fellini-esque, black-and-white vibe feels tangible through clips, trailers and stills, but I can't sit through Chicago (Marshall's own 2002 Oscar winner) for the life of me.

Classic Rewind: 'Jesse James' (1939)

By Chase Kahn

Darryl F. Zanuck, after purchasing Fox studios in 1935 and forming 20th Century Fox, contributed to the studio system blowout of 1939 with one of the year's most financially successful films, Henry King's Jesse James.

Now, upon the 1935 merger, Will Rogers died tragically in a plane crash while James Dunn and Spencer Tracy were dropped for heavy drinking. Therefore, Zanuck purchased the contracts of three young, up-and-coming leads who would be the face of the studio for years to come. They were Tyrone Power, Don Ameche and Henry Fonda.

Although the studio wouldn't experience any relevant level of popularity until after/during WWII, the biggest film of the studio's young infancy in the late 30's was, in fact, Jesse James -- which starred Zanuck's two greatest leads in Power and Fonda, and managed to create crowd traffic in a year populated by MGM's The Wizard of Oz, Columbia Pictures' Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and David O. Selznick's Gone With the Wind.

Shot in Technicolor, Jesse James is a horribly glorified and fictionalized account of the infamous outlaw of the post-war West, turning the titular gunslinger into a Robin Hood-type holy perpetrator of misdeeds for the greater good by making him a victim of railroad businessman corruption and greed. It's also paced like a NASCAR race with too many caution flags -- breathless and expedient one minute, meandering and lifeless the next. But I enjoyed it regardless.

I enjoyed it for the range of its vision, (from Jesse's transformation to outlaw to his death by assassination), and for its surprising lack of a score in an age when movies were overscored to a fault -- it was great to watch the assassination scene at the end not punctuate by a Max Steiner blow to the head. Despite its many faults (like the overnight proclamation of Jesse from victimized farmboy to notorious outlaw), it's a kind of an endearing movie in some ways because of its shameless audience pandering. For all of the nonsense, it's compelling, I'll give it that.

I also enjoyed Tyrone Power a lot more here than I did in Henry Hathaway's painfully dull The Black Rose ('50), although Henry Fonda, as usual, has the standout performance for me.

It's also notorious for a scene in which Frank (Fonda) and Jesse (Power), leap off of a cliff on horseback during a third-act getaway scene. Much to the American Humane Association's disapproval, the horse actually fell to its death. The first time that a Hollywood production came under fire for their mistreatment of horses. Don't let these guys see Andrei Rublev.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eat Your Grits

By Chase Kahn

One of the most fascinating projects that's been gearing up and unspooling in the news over the past month or so is the Coen brothers' reimagining of Henry Hathaway's True Grit. The 1969 western was adapted from a novel by Charles Portis, written one year prior, and earned John Wayne his first Academy Award for Best Actor.

News first broke of the casting about 6 weeks ago, as it was announced that Jeff Bridges would star as the legendary drunken Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) with news following that supporting roles would be filled by Matt Damon in Glen Campbell's role and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney, the killer of a young girl's father, who is subsequently tracked down by an unlikely threesome. You can read this Playlist script review of the new film, which appropriately (but perhaps too harshly) calls out the 1969 original.

The Kim Darby role has not yet been cast.

Hathaway's film is an easy sit, Wayne is spectacular, and the Colorado countryside is a spectacle, but most of the time, you can't help but feel like it's a good Sunday afternoon CBS serial that aired in the late 60's, watched by Bobby and Sally Draper in AMC's "Mad Men". It's a nice film, but Wayne can only sarcastically spit one-liners and slurp down jugs of whiskey for so long. Then when a kick-ass finale is needed, we're left sorely disappointed.

Although, I can definitely see why Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, with their misanthropic scruffiness and cultural perception, would find interest in this story. The upstream, downstream currents of the differing agendas between characters and the flawed nature of Rooster Cogburn should certainly prove as attractive as the promise of another Coen brothers entrenchment into an era of civilization unrecognizable by modern standards. (Think 90's snowbound Minnesota, 60's Jewish suburbs, 80's West Texas).

Shooting is slated to begin in March of this year, with a release in the fall/winter. This current stretch of Coen brothers output, beginning in 2007 with the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men and culminating into the masterful A Serious Man this year is proving to be rewarding for willing viewers. With the pair delving into classical western territory, it's must-see stuff.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Short Take: 'Antichrist' [B]

By Chase Kahn

Lars von Trier's Antichrist, probably the most divisive, controversial and violently provocative film of the year, is neither a complete triumph or a "art-film fart", as Variety's Todd McCarthy so bluntly put it this summer.

It's true that this is very abstract and avant-garde piece of filmmaking, something that, through its own incessant depictions of on-screen violence and morbid sexuality makes it all the more difficult to swallow or even care about.

Although I do think the film exudes a false sense of superiority in certain scenes as well as a false sense of what is appropriate on camera, I do think that, in the end, it's a succesful work because it's prying, inquisitive and curiously fascinating. You don't watch it, get up, brush yourself off and go about the rest of your day, and that's the film's greatest quality. (Although a final screen credit to the Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky was met with sneers at the Cannes premiere, probably deserved, Antichrist carries the same fundamental numbing effect upon its conclusion, as well as the same lingering, indelible imagery).

I'm not sure exactly what kind of work Antichrist is, or what von Trier is completely trying to say, but it's not entirely unjustified to label the work misogynist. I think Roger Ebert hit the nail on the head calling the film, at its most basic level, a mirror-world to that of Genesis and the story of the Garden of Eden, the creation of Adam and Eve. (The cabin that the couple, played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourgh, inhabit in the woods is appropriately named "Eden").

It is only logical to assume that this an alternative, satanical re-telling of the classic story through the film's overly implicit title, are two characters are nameless generalizations of their gender/sex and von Trier's implication is clear is one sense, yet almost too obvious to be absolute. There is also a twisted backstory involving Gainsbourgh and her now-deceased son, which is depicted in the opening black-and-white prologue shot in super slow-motion, plus a more elaborate, fictionalized religious fable that eventually manifests itself in our story with an appropriately demonized twist.

This is also easily the most seductively-lensed film of the year, Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography, even when depicting scenes of extreme visual discomfort, are stunningly appealing, especially during Gainsbourgh's hypnotic walk through the woods, which luminate like a bowl of milk. I won't even get into the performances of both Dafoe and Gainsbourgh, but both are awards-worthy if films like this were ever treated with the kind of respect that they deserve.

I don't expect films like Antichrist to be uniformly renowned, and there are times when its grotesquely repulsive or brain-numbingly abstract, but it is an undeniably audacious and provocative work -- not just in its shock-jock images, but in its implications and its craft.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lillie Langtry at Last

By Chase Kahn

I'm furiously consuming as many westerns that I can in an attempt to gain a stronger foothold in the genre, which will eventually turn into a giant "best western" list. I've seen a lot of great ones over the past week or so, but William Wyler's The Westerner ('40) isn't one of them.

It's a Gary Cooper-Walter Brennan fictionalized retelling of the Judge Roy Bean tale, with Cooper at his usual morally-guided, soft-spoken self intervening into the heinous, illegal trials of the Judge (a tremendous Walter Brennan), specifically his ongoing feud with neighboring homesteaders.
For an hour or so, it's a very light, comedic and ironic retelling -- Lillie Langtry, whiskey, double standards, etc. -- before turning into a private battle between Cole Harden (Cooper) and Roy Bean (Brennan) over the Judge's mistreatment of the homesteaders, specifically the Matthews family and their beautiful daughter, Jane (Doris Davenport).

It's a decent-enough diversion for the duration until the final scene, in which Cooper inexplicably turns mushy on the ole Judge. It's one of those early studio sound era bow-tie endings that you run into from time to time where the pedigree or persona of the actor/actress of the time is so large that it creates unearned sympathy for the performer, not the character. The same thing happened at the end of Irving Reis' The Big Street ('42) with Lucille Ball. It's what I like to call the "actor ending."
I suppose it worked, as Brennan earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Weekend - 11/17/10

By Chase Kahn

Well, it's New Moon weekend (or for many it will start tonight at midnight) and the sequel to last year's Twilight will no doubt make big waves at the box-office as predix are ranging from $70 million to $110 million. Apparently, director Chris Weitz loved the experience so much that he's contemplating retirement. Yeesh.

The Blind Side also opens tomorrow and I wouldn't touch this thing with a ten-foot pole. I get this acid-reflux, nauseated stomach thing when I see Sandra Bullock's oddly structured nose paired with her big blonde wig and Southin' accent.

A Sony/Columbia animated sci-fi flick comes out, Planet 51. So, there's that. I couldn't tell you anything about it except that it has green people in it. Opening in limited release is Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which I reviewed three weeks ago and admired very much for Nicolas Cage's wacked-out performance. Local opening near me are Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, the controversial horror/gothic/talking fox film from the Danish auteur, and Oren Moverman's The Messenger, the post-war societal grief re-entry drama starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.

I'll be seeing both on Friday most likely, and with influences and personalities outside of my control who like to take advantage of me, I will probably end up seeing New Moon at some point in my lifetime -- just not this weekend. I also want to catch up on Roland Emmerich's 2012 at some point.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Can You Do with $300 Million?

By Chase Kahn

I've tried long and hard over the past few months to convince myself that James Cameron's Avatar, his first film since Titanic, will be anything more than a big-budget, 20th Century Fox re-skin of the Star Wars prequels (i.e. epic and beefed up, but ultimately hollowed-out wooden junk).

The first teaser trailer disappointed, ("wait to see it in 3D," they said), the first poster appeared ("the Na'vi design looks ridiculous"), and now I've seen the second theatrical trailer for the film, in 3D, on a gargantuan digital screen, and I'm officially down on it. I like to think that I can gauge the pulse of a film by its advertising -- not just the "does it look good?" aspect of a trailer, but the mood, tone and the class of all promotional techniques -- and Avatar gets like a C- in my book.

I haven't seen anything that would lead me to believe that it will be anything but a huge, glossy, video-game level production. Which is to say that if it was made by Capcom or Infinity Ward and was set to release on 360 and PS3 this december (the licensed "Avatar" video game coming out doesn't count) it would be the talk of the IGN/tech/videogame crowd. As a film, it looks empty, fluffy and downright cheesy.

The nail in the coffin is this just release French poster:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

$5,000 Three Ways

By Chase Kahn

Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur ('53) was the third of five westerns that the director collaborated on with Jimmy Stewart from 1950-1955. Although not as compulsively entertaining and rollicking as their debut effort, Winchester '73 ('50), this film shows the two operating on a different kind of level.

The Naked Spur is essentially a psychological road-western about a man (Stewart) who may or may not be a lawman escorting a criminal (Robert Ryan) back to Kansas for a $5,000 reward. The screenplay by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom, which focuses heavily on brain over brawn, was nominated for an Oscar and deservedly so. The way the five characters each interact with each other given their differing agendas and personalities makes for a better film than any high plains or back-alley shootout could ever duplicate.

It's a quaint, quiet, 91-minute thing, shot in the beautiful Colorado mountainside, and it's a gem - featuring one of Stewart's best performances as the morally compromised captor who must attempt to hang on to his goodness as well as his cargo (Ryan). Mann's westerns have a reputation of being stripped-down and perversely revisionist with their depth and darkly ferocious characters and The Naked Spur certainly falls under that heading.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tara Tomorrow

By Chase Kahn

Warner Home Video's Gone With the Wind Blu-ray comes out tomorrow and I'll be there bright and early to throw down the $50 to get it. This is a high-definition re-engineering of the biggest of all Hollywood classics in the best sense possible. This isn't a manipulation of the original product, it's a purification of it.

Similar to what Warner did with the Wizard of Oz Blu-ray that came out over a month ago, this is a back-to-vault cleansing. The Gone With the Wind that comes out tomorrow will look different (i.e. more pure, clear, true-to-form) than any version before it, it will be reborn. 1939 all over again, get excited.

Movies Playing Holiday Favorites

By Chase Kahn

I was making a mental list this morning of films opening on Thanksgiving Wednesday, usually a terrific time to see a load of films, and am now hopelessly depressed to find that, in a pretty good 2009 for movies (certainly better than '08), that there isn't much happening next week.

John Hillcoat's The Road and Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, the stop-motion animated Roald Dahl tale, are the only films opening that I have any interest in. Other than that, you get the repugnant male-comedy pulverizer Old Dogs, starring John Travolta and Robin Williams, and Ninja Assassin, which looks and sounds and feels too much like Blood: The Last Vampire to factor into the equation.

Meanwhile, Christmas looks heavenly with Tom Ford's A Single Man, Rob Marshall's Nine, Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces and Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, plus Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes if you're in the mood for some holiday 19th-century London shenanigans. Part of the problem was the Weinstein's decision to movie the star-studded musical Nine from Thanksgiving to Christmas, tilting the balance of power.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


By Chase Kahn

Of all of the February Criterion releases announced this weekend, the covert art for Steve McQueen's Hunger ('08) is easily the most striking and ingeniously designed.

Also announced for a Blu-ray release were Max Ophuls' Lola Montes ('55) and Gotz Spiellman's Revance ('08). Leo McCarey's Make Way For Tomorrow ('37) was given a standard DVD release.

Classic Rewind: 'Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde' (1932)

By Chase Kahn

Before Cecil B. DeMille repaired his image at Paramount, and in the early stages of the sound era, Rouben Mamoulian was the studio's edgiest director, a natural counter-programmer to Ernst Lubitsch's musical comedies of the early 30's. Beginning with work on the stage, Mamoulian moved to the big screen in 1929, where his subversive techniques and fluid camera movements culminated into the classic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ('32).

Starring freelance actor Frederic March as the titular bipolar mad scientist, the film has the same foggy, top-hat-and-tux 19th-century eeriness as Albert Lewin's The Picture of Dorian Gray ('45). Both films are about unintentionally evil protagonists, their inner struggles, and their insistence on keeping it a secret.

Beginning the film with an opening first-person tracking shot (beginning with the playing of an organ) we are first introduced to Dr. Jeykll through a trick mirror shot while he adjusts his cuffs and slicks back his hair. For a 1932 film, this is an impressive feat, and the film proves to be as technically on-par as Lewin's almost Hitchcockian Dorian Gray 13 years later.

In-house Paramount actress Miriam Hopkins plays a prostitute named Ivy Pierson whom Jekyll and Hyde both find extremely attractive, but whom only Hyde treats with utter cruelty as Dr. Jekyll is set to marry the rich and and royal Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart). It is during these scenes, and those of its era alike, where the film was opportunistic of its pre-Code condition. The Hollywood Code, which cut-down significantly on sexual and religious perversities like the ones seen here, was not put into affect until July 1, 1934.

Wally Westmore's makeup and the filming of the transition between Jekyll and Hyde, shot in a time-lapse form, is quite stunning considering the year. Frederic March is damn-near unrecognizable in his Quest for Fire get-up with a snarling rack of teeth. I haven't seen the Spencer Tracy/Ingrid Bergman 1941 version, but I plan to. Apparently, Mamoulian's is widely considered the best of the bunch. There is also a silent version starring John Barrymore from 1920.

Review: 'Precious' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

I wasn't sure what to expect from Lee Daniels' Precious, the current front-runner for a 2009 Best Picture Oscar and a box-office smash, but it wasn't the film I was expecting it to be. It's surprisingly unaffecting and even subdued in certain areas, dispelling notions that the film is overly manipulative or melodramatic.

What I wasn't caught off-guard by however, was the over-directing by Lee Daniels, especially in the first half, which consists of the introduction of the school and domestic life of Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and her tight-lipped, abusive loose-cannon of a mother -- played by the excellent Mo'Nique in what will be a Oscar-winning role come March, barring a late newcomer to the party in the coming months.

Here, Daniels, in-between mother-daughter fisticuffs and verbal undressings of increasing violence, decides to interject fantasy montages, gospel tracks, and still photographs into the scenes about as seamlessly as Rich Rodriguez taking over at Michigan. These scenes lose their vivacity and impact with Daniels' finagling and audience pandering, never letting this terrific cast operate on its own. Instead of a neo-realist effort with minimal hoopla and cinematic coating, we get a film that simply tries too hard when it shouldn't, lessening the overall impact.

I object to outcries of racial stereotyping by a small, vocal, minority -- spearheaded by New York Press curmudgeon and African-American critic Armond White in his 11.04 review -- but Precious does offer just a sliver of "opportunism and exploitation," as he describes, although I can't agree with much else.

I also had a problem with Paula Patton's radiating mediator character, Ms. Rain, who teaches a small alternative education class and immediately is drawn into Precious' story and exudes all manners of decency and maternal hospitality comparatively absent at home. Although Ms. Rain, with her slim figure, glowing smile and clean-cut clothes, is hopelessly artificial. To expose Daniels further, he washes a certain shot out in a glowing light as if a descent into heavenly waters when our title character walks into Ms. Rain's classroom for the first time.

I will give the film credit for not completely selling Precious as a holy, Jesus-like wanderer of the Harlem ghettos. During the opening hour or so, where I was all to ready to dismiss the film, it depicts several scenes of indecent behavior. Precious steals food from a local diner, gets into fights and hurls obscenities just enough to buy into her character as a real-life portrait. Of course, it also helps that Gabourey Sidibe, in her first film role, is very true-to-life.

A film like Precious will undoubtedly garner audience sympathies and hearts alike, as it already has. I just don't think it's terribly convincing in its cause and is too showy without any cause for its actions. Director Lee Daniels, who produced Monster's Ball in 2001 and the murky Tennessee (which starred Precious co-star Mariah Carey) last year, has simply fallen into perfect situation. He hit on a few actresses, namely Sidibe and Mo'Nique, and futzed together the rest with half-hearted originality and inventiveness. This is the work of a man who isn't entirely sure of himself and for some reason, is reaping the benefits.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Classic Rewind: 'High Noon' (1952)

By Chase Kahn

There's something wholesome, almost hokey, about Tex Ritter's title song that plays over the opening credits (and then ad nauseum throughout) of Fred Zinneman's High Noon. Yet, it's one of my favorite title sequences of all-time and Ritter's song turns out to be a lynch-pin in this classic western, one of the most socially relevant parables about community self-reliance and blacklisting allegory to boot.

It's so beyond 'black hat', 'white hat' linearity and genre predictability, almost entirely devoid of saloon shootouts, horseback chases and any indulgence of typical western yee-haw fisticuffs in-between. High Noon represents an iconic western that doesn't flaunt, show-off or strut. It's in 1.33:1 B&W, it's 90 minutes long, it's leisurely-paced -- like Ritter, it's just sittin' back and hummin' along.

Through it's depiction of a town in crisis, just over an hour before the arrival of the native outlaw Frank Miller by way of the noon train, it brings resonant social truths to the surface about self-preservation and cowardice. As Marshall Kane (Gary Cooper) is preparing to face Miller and his three baddies, he goes on a seemingly door-to-door journey through the town attempting to find a suitor for his deputy badges. It's here where Kane discovers the "passive", "leave it alone" attitude of his fellow townsfolk, some of them good friends of his, who refuse to join arms and stand side-by-side for what's right. It's basically a journey into the heart of apathy and selfishness.

In fact, they can't even fathom why Kane, who has just married his quaker wife (Grace Kelly) and quit his job as Marshall, would even bother coming back to defend the town at all, they're so blind they can't even see the good deed at play. "After all, it's Kane that Miller's after", they retort. One of my idols, Jeff Wells at, had this to say about Zinneman's Western classic:

"The bottom line is that there aren't enough films in the world that say what High Noon says loud and clear, which is that average small-town people are mostly fair-weather sheep -- decent and friendly as far as it goes, but scared silly when push comes to shove, the heat's on and the chips are down. I love that High Noon isn't a true "western" as much as a parable about individual heroism and community cowardice.

Say it again -- most people are no damn good & lack the necessary backbone when a threat is hovering and their financial security may be threatened. If nothing else, may each and every person on the planet understand that in the end you have to depend on yourself and no one else to do the hard thing. Tell me of another film that conveys this basic reading of human nature with more clarity or force."

More historically speaking, of course, is the fact that High Noon was a definitive allegory against Hollywood blacklisting that was ongoing during the course of the film's development. Foreman wrote the film to illustrate how hollywood refused to stand up to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) while their friends, family and co-workers were being hunted down for thier political beliefs.

John Wayne and Howard Hawks were two figureheads in the movie industry adamantly opposed to Foreman's views and High Noon. After the film's release, Wayne called it, "the most un-American thing he'd ever seen," and thus, Foreman was blacklisted -- something that Wayne himself never regretted doing -- he even teamed up with Hawks for a rebuttal in Rio Bravo ('59). It wasn't until 1997 that Carl Foreman was finally reinstated. He died in 1984.

And so, High Noon is essentially about Marshall Kane's realization of this truth, which is universal even to this day, and how he responds to it, becoming the exception. Which brings me back to the title song, sung from Kane's point-of-view (with Ritter sounding similar to the deep-throated Gary Cooper) which has the same endearing homeliness and comfort of Kane's moralistic, saintly, dutiful character. Watching the opening two minutes or so with this context adds bounties of foreshadowing and cool-cut irony.

The baddies, assembling to ride into town and await the return of Frank Miller, are without their knowledge, riding to their death by the one man who had the decency and the effrontery to do what's right. The good side of human nature will win out in this end, and spiking the tin star in the dirt never felt so good.

You can watch the opening credits to Fred Zinneman's High Noon here. I'd embed here, but no codes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


By Chase Kahn

I was kind of interested in seeing Roland Emmerich's 2012 (Sony/Columbia, 11.13.09) two days ago when the first reviews started trickling in. As expected, they've taken an apocalyptic nose-dive to 39% on RT, and that's before the big city journo-types sink their teeth into it tomorrow, which should make for some interesting reading, by the way.

But the big news to me was the 158-minute running time for the film. Look, length means nothing to me usually, but I'm hesitant to sit through crap that I know is crap for over two-and-a-half hours. This just went from opening weekend deal to $5 Wednesday early bird/Blu-ray territory.

Review: 'A Christmas Carol' [B]

By Chase Kahn

It was to my delight, though not my aching eyes, to find that Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol was, despite a few scenes of indulgence, a really enjoyable digitized retelling -- probably the best animated film I've seen this year. (How this gets ripped to shreds and Dreamworks' repugnant Monsters vs. Aliens gets a pass is beyond me.)

This version is accurately ghostly and dark, both visually and sensually, and is easily the best film Zemeckis has made using his much-adored performance capture technology. Instead of the animation becoming almost a hindrance in Beowulf, or incomplete as in The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol is the best example that the director can summon as to how it can enhance a viewing experience.

Charles Dickens' classical tale of retribution and forgiveness proves to be a perfect match for the technology, capturing the chill, the era, and the coldness -- both of Ebenezer Scrooge and the seemingly sub-zero temperatures. The flesh tones of the actors re-constructed faces are splotchy, they exude steam from their mouths, they make crunching sounds in the snow -- it was about 80 degrees in the theater I was in and about the same outside it, but I actually felt that inescapable chill and shudder before the warm relief of a wool blanket.

Jim Carrey's performance as Scrooge is top-notch. I think it's a shame that most people won't even know that Carrey is doing more than just lending his voice here (which is literally unrecognizable at times), he's physically performing the facial expressions and gestures of the infamously misanthropic curmudgeon -- the same expressions which are picked up by Zemeckis and his animation team with such astonishing detail as to put to shame all that came before it.

But besides the animation, I really am surprised to find that some (if not most) critics found the film emotionally cold and hindered by the digital sheen. Perhaps it's because I'm not too familiar with the other screen adaptations of this classic story (I need to see the Alastair Sim '51 version), but I thought that Scrooge's madness and his subsequent and predicatable life-affirming roundabout were handled delicately and well.

Now, yes, I do agree that Zemeckis indulges himself in one-too many "exciting fabrications" in an attempt to either justify the ludicrous budget or keep the fidgety ones half-awake, but they feel exactly that -- unnecessary. For the most part, this is a refreshingly morose, quiet and dimly-lit tale that when the gushy finale arrives, it feels completely earned. It's the first time I've watched one of the 57-year old director's performance capture animated films and marveled at the technique as it benefits the product. I'm like my own Ebenezer Scrooge in that regard -- seeing the world with a fresh perspective! Although I forgot, my eyes still hurt from the RealD 3D glasses.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Taglines Elude

By Chase Kahn

Louis Leterrier's Clash of Titans (Warner Bros. 03.26.10) looks predictably like an aggro-rock, skateboarder update of Desmon Davis' terrible 1981 original. I kind of hate this just-released trailer, but I don't think the film looks terrible and I'm actually as interested as I was before seeing it. I'm a bit of a believer in Sam Worthington (Perseus), and this remake also stars Liam Neeson (Zeus) and Ralph Fiennes (Hades) -- plus, Leterrier did alright by me with Universal's reboot of The Incredible Hulk, starring Ed Norton two years ago. He's one of the few French director's who have made the Hollywood action leap to not embarass themselves.

This is the third year out of the last four where Warner Bros. is slated to release a major action tentpole in the month of March. (Zach Snyder's 300 and Watchmen came before and the director's upcoming Sucker Punch will take the spot in 2011.)

I'm grateful for the apparent use of actual location shooting, opposed to Snyder's 300, which was filmed entirely in front of green screens.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Classic Rewind: 'Shane' (1953)

By Chase Kahn

George Stevens' Shane ('53) is a classical Technicolor Western about a mysterious gunfighter (Alan Ladd Jr.) who becomes protective of a small mountain community against the vicious landowner tag-team of the Ryker brothers. Later remade by Clint Eastwood into Pale Rider ('85), this original is more tender and calculated and resists cartoonish indulgences.

Beautifully lensed with the Wyoming mountainside ever present in the background, it has this unusually welcome lodgehole-pined, fringed-sleeve, Pacific-Northwest setting with its blueish-purple skies. (Scenes of the Starrett Ranch were filmed around Grand Teton National Park.)

What I really love about the film (in what is an apparently very close adaptation of the source novel by Jack Schaefer, written in 1949) is the way that Shane (Alan Ladd) so clearly longs to be in the shoes of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) who has a wife, a kid, a piece of land, the dream. He's a gunfighter at heart and the film is essentially about his inability to escape the past, his true character at heart. The closest he'll ever get to having a family is in the final hour or so when he decides to protect the Starrett's home from the ruthless Rykers and their hired gun, Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).

The situation is delicately handled -- there's no forbidden kiss or obvious suggestions between Shane and Marian (Jean Arthur) -- it's simply known by the subtleties of the performances, the gestures, their actions, etc. The only other Western that George Stevens ever directed was Annie Oakley ('35), starring Barbara Stanwyck -- Shane remains one of the director's greatest achievements and one of the crowning works of the genre.

An interesting note that I read was that, upon the film's release, it was projected in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio at first-run venues, despite being shot at the Academy standard ratio of 1.37:1, the ratio that we know to this day. Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn were originally considered for the roles of Shane and Marian.

Tsumanis at Disneyland

By Chase Kahn

Roland Emmerich's 2012, which finally comes out on Friday (Sony/Columbia, 11.13.09), is obviously the director's biggest apocalyptic get-off movie of his career and seemingly a life-affirming kind of feature and culmination of all his sub-par blockbuster extravaganzas (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) leading to this point. Nevertheless, it looks like it will keep in tune with all of his previous works -- monument demolition, tidal waves, presidential speeches -- with an updated, 21st century digital sheen.

The first reviews are in (83% RT) and the consensus is clearly, even in the early stages, that this is a megaton disaster flick selling preposterousness and mindless detour for anyone who's willing. Yes, 83% is high, but all of the positive reviews indicate that 2012 is more of guilty kind of fun, reminding me of the early reviews for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Emanuel Levy chimes in with his [C+] review:

"Puncuated by eight or nine big, expensive CGI set-pieces, the shamelessly derivative narrative makes sure to include every possible catastrophe imaginable, setting the action scenes on the air, under water, on the ground -- you name it. In the course of the film, the hero (John Cusack) drives every vehicle imaginable through fire, earth, ash, clouds, earthquakes, and water."

"The movie unfolds as an adventure ride, sort of a day spent and Disneyland, samplin all the attractions you can stomach, without takinga break or a pause to breathe. Opinions will differ as to what extent 2012 is a pleasurable joy ride or an endless series of crashes, earthquakes, and explosions. Throughout, intentionally or unintentionally, the movie walks a fine line between the darkly humorous and the outrageously risible. The dialogue needs to be heard to be believed."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

UK Times 2000-2009

The UK Times listed their 100 Greatest Films of the Decade list today. Of course, with 2009 being the last year of this first decade of the twenty-first century, we're going to see a ton of these lists in the coming months - including one by me. My only question is: why not wait until December/January, because this crop of '09 films is pretty damn good, in my opinion, and I haven't seen Up in the Air, Nine, Avatar, A Single Man, The White Ribbon, etc, etc.

Anyways, here are the Times Top 30 of the Decade:

01. "Cache" (Michael Haneke, 2005)
02. "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004 and 2007)
03. "No Country For Old Men" (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2007)
04. "Grizzly Man" (Werner Herzog, 2005)
05. "Team America: World Police" (Trey Parker, 2004)
06. "Slumdog Millionaire" (Danny Boyle, 2008)
07. "The Last King of Scotland" (Kevin Macdonald, 2006)
08. "Casino Royale" (Martin Campbell, 2006)
09. "The Queen" (Stephen Frears, 2006)
10. "Hunger" (Steve McQueen, 2008)
11. "Borat" (Larry Charles, 2006)
12. "The Lives of Others" (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
13. "This is England" (Shane Meadows, 2007)
14. "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
15. "Downfall" (Oliver Hirschbeigel, 2004)
16. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (Michel Gondry, 2004)
17. "Brokeback Mountain" (Ang Lee, 2005)
18. "Let the Right One In" (Tomas Alfredson, 2007)
19. "United 93" (Paul Greengrass, 2005)
20. "Donnie Darko" (Richard Kelly, 2001)
21. "Good Night, and Good Luck" (George Clooney, 2005)
22. "Far From Heaven" (Todd Haynes, 2002)
23. "Man on Wire" (James Marsh, 2008)
24. "28 Days Later" (Danny Boyle, 2002)
25. "Dancer in the Dark" (Lars von Trier, 2000)
26. "Minority Report" (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
27. "Sideways" (Alexander Payne, 2004)
28. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
29. "Being John Malkovich" (Spike Jonze, 2000)
30. "Irreversible" (Gaspar Noe, 2002)

First off, where are David Fincher's Zodiac (2007) and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood? Not in the top 30? When Slumdog Millionaire, Team America, The Last King of Scotland are?

And, I admire and respect the Bourne movies to a certain extent, and they unquestionably rise above the traditional summer blockbuster mold, but putting them #2 is embarrasing. Perhaps the editors couldn't seperate the two because they're exactly the same film - they have the same flow, the same beats and rhythms, the same pulse, etc.

I'll be making my "Best Of Decade" list sometime in early February/late January after I've finished by 2009 "Best Of" list.

Review: '(Untitled)' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

The lovely Marley Shelton pretty much saves Jonathan Parker's (Untitled) from obscurity and the same high-class nonsense that it's attempting to skewer. As the seductive, sexy Madeliene Gray, an art gallery owner who uses a close friend to fund her underground aspirations, she is devilishly cool and confident -- plus one of the few people who seem to understand the adventurous "music" by composer Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg).

It's essentially a full-blown satire about the modern age of contemporary art and the artists, faux-intellectuals and exhibitors who occupy it. Gray (Shelton) is a believer in her work, she runs shows in her gallery that are as demented and abstract as the artists that produced them, but Gray refuses to reform, sticking to her instincts as a talent scout, so to speak, someone who believes that misunderstood art is great art, perhaps to a fault.

She also seems to pick her bedmates, not by looks, not by personalities, but by artistic capabilites. She sees nothing in the commercial works of Josh Jacobs (which comedically all look the same), but gets off on the sounds effects, tonalities and bucket-kicking of his struggling brother's abstract orchestrations. Adrian (Goldberg) seems to get off on Madeliene because, well, she's good-looking -- he's completely lost of meaning inside of her sterile, pristine studio.

(Untitled) is a clear immersion into the world of these 30-something New Yorkers with linear, thick-headed ideas about art and interpretation whose intellectual ideologies don't match up. Jonathan Parker (who co-wrote the script with frequent writing partner Catherine DiNapoli) plays it for comedic results initially, to varying results, before stepping back and casting a more concerning eye. For all of its shrewd comedic perceptions and misfires alike, its an examination of perserverance and the meaning and burden of being an artist, no matter the medium.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Current Formula

By Chase Kahn

Marc Lawrence's Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Sony/Columbia, 12.11.09) looks like the biggest give-up of a romantic comedy I've seen in a long time. It's the story of a Manhattan couple (Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant), on the brinks of separation, who witness a murder and are forced to lay low in rural, small-town Wyoming.

Was there any thought to this? How many times to we have to get the city girl-in-the-country hilarity up and running? You've got Mary Steenburgen in a cowboy hat cocking a shotgun, horse-riding, bears, marital bickering, Hugh Grant's twitchy eyebrows and motormouth schtick, Parker's horse-face, etc. Let me guess, through this backwoods hilarity, the couple will somehow rekindle their love?

This will be a failure of epic proportions. It might make money in its opening weekend, but this is single-digit tomatometer stuff -- mark my words. When nothing in the trailer even remotely resembles a well-written scene or genuinely funny moment, it has no shot. When all you have is a Hugh Grant/bear face-off, and that's the best you can do, you might as well not even show up.

Review: 'The Box' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

Richard Kelly's The Box is even crazier and supernaturally driven than I expected, and that's entirely meant as a compliment. It's strictly wacko science-fiction lore, steeped in philosophy and otherwordly activity -- any attempt by the film's trailer to play up its horror elements is misleading. It's basically a two-hour Twilight Zone episode.

Kelly is a stylist, without question. Ever since his debut, Donnie Darko, he's established himself as a perpetrator of dangerously illogical narratives, leaned on by an overwhelming sense of style and nerve. He's also thoroughly obsessed with quantum physics, alternate dimensions, destiny and choice. Often, his films play out like mash-ups of trashy science-fiction novels played with the utmost sincerity.

However, The Box is just weighed down far too often by these deep, metaphysical detours and forked roads. I welcome them, it's what gives this film an edge over most PG-13 films of its ilk, but this is an example of Kelly overload. For Darko, he wrapped a time-traveling spin around a 80's teenage coming-of-age drama that was essentially about second chances. By the time the film ended, despite the excesses, it worked. Here, it seems Kelly is just trying to throw things against the wall to see if it sticks. We don't need NASA backstories and Mars expeditions for a simple social experiment, do we?

Despite nearly busting at the seams throughout various points of the film, there are several reason why The Box still half-works. One are the respectable performances of both Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, who are never played for idiots. The other is Kelly's smooth, exacting and potent direction.

Contrary to what his wild script is digging up, his camera is unflinching and effectively steady and sure-handed. Each frame seems to linger and suggest the worst, matched stride for stride by the delicate, suspicious original score by Win Butler, Owen Pallette and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire.

Like the clean-cut, imposing package sent to Mr and Mrs. Lewis at their doorstep, The Box is formidably and indelibly composed on the outside. Underneath (contradictory to what is found to be inside) it's a mess of superfluous wires and circuits and motherboards -- after all, why do we need all of this just to press a button?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Review: 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' [C]

By Chase Kahn

Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats, not unlike Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! in the way that it turns a real-life account into a farce, is a slight and off-kilter work in comparison. It's sporadically amusing, but desperately thin and tirelessly aimless -- lacking both the sure-handed specificity of Soderbergh's direction and the terrific, bulbous performance of Matt Damon.

I can recall on numerous occasions when George Clooney's terminally loopy Lyn Cassidy made me chuckle with his naive stupidity, or the look on Ewan McGregor's face trying to decipher if he's just taking him for a laugh, but I remember more vividly being completely beaten-down and sleepy-eyed by its repetitive, frivolous whirlwind of a narrative that's about as comfy as a shopping cart on a gravel hardtop.

The thing bounces back and forth from 1983 (the initiation of the New Earth Army -- or psychic soldiers -- by a hippied Jeff Bridges) to present day 2003 where bruised Ann Arbor reporter Bob Milton (Ewan McGregor) and Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) are both in the midst of a "mission" deep into the sprawling deserts of Iraq. Some of the performances are relatively appealing, but none of the characters register a blip. Jeff Bridges' Bill Django is the most outrageously pinned-down and enticing, but like the rest of the film, it goes nowhere, reveals nothing, has nothing.

It also has an unfortunately ill-timed scene where a soldier, as a result of a psychic experiment performed by Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), nakedly wields a gun, firing into a crowd of soldier's barrack. Unfortunately, the film happened to be released the day after yesterday's Fort Hood shootings. Whoops. Still, the poor timing with recent events conveniently overshadows the fact that the scene isn't funny to begin with.

Clooney's Lyn Cassidy, a one-time prodigy amongst the initial New Earth recruits, describes himself as a "Jedi warrior" throughout the film, referring to his apparent ability to control people with his mind, fight without guns, and yes, stare at goats. It soon becomes painfully ironic, of course, that the only person not in on this whole "jedi" business is Obi-Wan Kenobi himself (Ewan McGregor). Like everything else, the jokes are as painfully obvious as the incessant Star Wars references. If The Informant! is the watermark of true-life farce, than The Men Who Stare at Goats is The Phantom Menace.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Kill is Kiss"

By Chase Kahn

Bruce McDonald's Pontypool, an independent Canadian horror film released earlier this year, is an original, bold work -- knowing and unique, without an ounce of regurgitation -- but ultimately, it proves to be an over-hyped, overpraised one-set zombie film with a third-act revelation that proves extremely tough to swallow. It's crazy enough to distinguish itself and attract a small fanbase and loyal internet followers, but it's too crazy to actually work.

Taking place almost solely inside of a snow-barricaded radio station, with three principle actors, it chronicles the mutation of a zombie outbreak in the small town of Pontypool simply through the words and reportings of on-air personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) -- what he knows, we know. And it does this to relative success in the first hour or so before, as I said, hitting a wall of hypocrisy which has been mistaken for headiness by many-a-reviewer.

Also, as a knowledgeable person on this front (I worked as an intern for a local radio station here in Dallas for a year), I know that a producer would never, ever talk as much in the ear of the on-air personality as Lisa Houle's character does here, even in the midst of an apocalyptic news report. McHattie's Grant Mazzy, being the laid-back, cowboy'd up, deep-voiced personality that he is, would have either called her out over the air to shut the hell up or yanked his headphones off, no question about it. Sometimes things drive me crazy for no reason in films and this was a prime example. It threw me out somewhat at first, and then, upon conclusion, left me extremely disappointed.


By Chase Kahn

Tom Ford's A Single Man (Weinstein Company, 12.11.09), a 60's film about a in-crisis homosexual (Colin Firth) with a fedora-smoky, dreary "Mad Men" vibe, has its first poster released today. The film received extremely high marks out of Venice and Toronto and by all accounts should provide Colin Firth with a Best Actor nomination. Can't wait.

Clearly, the marketing team at the Weinstein Company is trying to play down the "gay" angle -- this poster makes the film out to be a mumblecore movie with Julianne Moore and Colin Firth.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jake Through Time

By Chase Kahn

I remember vividly playing "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" for the Playstation 2 back in the cold months of '03, but not even a heavenly dose of nostalgia could convince me to enjoy Mike Newell's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Buena Vista, 05.28.10), which had its trailer debut a couple days ago -- Monday night, I believe.

The 2003 Ubisoft game was a critical and financial success (spawning several sequels) as a kind of platformer/puzzle/action game mold. Nobody played it for the story, nobody played it because the Prince was a great character, and thus, the film should be no different. Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney are tackling this thing, which means it should have all the wisdom and under-the-hood goodies of a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

Don't get me wrong, I dig Jake Gylenhaal with his weird British accent, but everything -- Ben Kinglsey, Alfred Molina, some really tan hot chick, the sepia tones, the camera wizardry, etc. -- just looks like a product of Michael Bay's long lost half-brother. Jerry Bruckheimer name means, "I want money, and I'm going to give you the most dim-witted, soft-served, down-easy crap I can put together for $150 million."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Classic Rewind: 'Cimarron' (1931)

By Chase Kahn

The first adaptation of Edna Ferber's epic historical fiction novel (published in '29) was Wesley Ruggles' Cimarron ('31) for RKO, starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. I watched it for the first time recently and, like most big-budget, early-sound era spectacles of the 30's and 40's, I found it engrossing and engaging on a historical-film level, yet obviously and unmistakably compromised by the heightened showbiz and silent-era amplification that took place with many of the films of that period.

It's a indisputable early sound achievement, still bearing marks of a silent picture glossed with yet to be refined transitional glitches -- muffled dialogue, pounds of make-up, stage acting, etc. It's a film that depicts the fourty years between 1889 to 1929 as an ever-changing landscape and it does it in a half-convincing manner.

Is it a great film? No, it's too played-up and put through the Hollywood romanticized wringer, but I was attracted to the idea that Yancey, an adventurer at heart, couldn't keep himself hitched in one spot and was seemingly beckoned by the unclaimed lands to the West and the life of open-range spontaneity. The flip side is portrayed when Yancey is forced to kill an old friend (The Kid) for shooting his town of Osage. "I used to ride with him, sleep with him," he says.

Like The Great Zeigfeld ('36), another "dated" Oscar winner, I found it easy to admire and slip into this as a piece of history and frankly don't understand any adamant disregard or malignant attacks against it to this day. Yes, I'll give you that Richard Dix's performance is poorly animated and hammy and that Isaiah, a teenage African American servant to Dix's Yancey Cravat, is embarrassingly stereotyped as a goofy, hard-labored, watermelon-chomping "yessum", but any claims of improper and blatant racism is simply misplaced, in my mind.

I just find it hard to believe that Cimarron is a purely racist film when Yancey (Dix), the film's protagonist, is portrayed as such a radical equal rights activist in certain scenes. He mourns the death of a black character halfway through, he lets a Jew sit front-and-center at his sermon, allows his son to marry a Cherokee Indian and then practically derails his marriage over a difference of opinion in regards to Indian rights in Oklahoma.

The facts are that not only was 1931 a drastically different era in terms of racial equality, but so too was (and even more so) the turn-of-the-century land rush in which Edna Ferber's source novel takes place. It was a different time and a different place -- old people are racist no differently than old films and old literature are.