Mar 31 2014

Blu-ray: ‘Dead Kids’ (aka ‘Strange Behavior’)

Originally released in the U.S. under the name Strange Behavior, Dead Kids is the debut screenplay by future director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Bill Condon (he Oscared for Gods and Monsters) and the directorial debut of producer Michael Laughlin (Two-Lane Blacktop), two Americans who got their offbeat horror movie made by filming it as an Australian / New Zealand / American co-production in New Zealand. The title Dead Kids makes it sound like a slasher picture or a zombie film, and while there are some elements of both of those genres echoing through the film, it’s really a mix of mad scientist thriller and revenge movie dropped into a somewhat surreal recreation of small-town Midwest America.

Michael Murphy stars as John Brady, an easy-going chief of police (or maybe county sheriff?) in Galesburg, a small Illinois town close enough to Chicago to request help from the city’s homicide detectives. He’s a widower and a single father to Pete (Dan Shor), a smart, good-looking high school kid who wants to go to city college, despite Dad’s insistence he go to a major university and see a little of the world beyond this town. Dad has good reason to send Pete away: he blames a professor at the local college for the death of his wife. The professor is long deceased yet his legacy still hovers over the school through pre-recorded lectures and professors who continue his psychiatric research and experiments in behavior modification. Pete, eager to make a little extra money, signs up as their latest test subject in a vaguely-described study being run by the doctor’s protégé (Fiona Lewis, with an air of icy dominatrix about her). The project, of course, turns out to have a sinister side, as an outbreak of violent, inexplicable murders attest.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Mar 29 2014

DVD: ‘Young America’

Spencer Tracy gets top billing in Frank Borzage’s 1932 depression-era drama as Jack Doray, a hardware store owner with the wise-guy manner of a mug and the high-society lifestyle of an industry magnate, but Young America is really about an orphan named Art (Tommy Conlon). Art is a hard-luck saint among the kids of neighborhood, a good boy with bad judgment, and Conlon, a child actor in his first major role, plays him with the spunky spark of a well-meaning kid with a quick temper, a can-do attitude, and a weakness for taking unattended cars on impromptu joy rides.

Based on a play by John Frederick Ballard, Young America is a script built on clichés and contrivances to give us a kid whose generosity of spirit and loyalty to defenseless friends, notably skinny little creative genius Nutty Beamish (Raymond Borzage, no relation to the director), constantly lands him in trouble. “This boy has the reputation of being the worst boy in town,” says the old Irish cop of his neighborhood to juvenile court Judge Blake (Ralph Bellamy), one of those paternal authority figures who mixes compassion with tough love. Art gets his compassion, but it only gets him so far when his latest “good deed” gets him arrested for robbing Jack Doray’s pharmacy (to get medicine for Nutty’s sweet but frail grandmother, of course).

Frank Borzage makes good use of Tracy, who was a busy actor for the Fox Film Corporation in the early 1930s but not yet a major movie star. His Jack is both a street-smart businessman and an arrogant high-society gent whose time is too valuable to waste on a minor legal manner that drags him into juvenile court.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Mar 29 2014

Blu-ray: ‘The Prey’

France has been resetting the yardstick on international action cinema for over a decade, thanks largely to a successful slate of mid-budget action films from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp featuring the likes of Jason Statham, Jet Li, David Belle, and Liam Neeson, but that brand of slick, sleek, colorful continental thriller is not the only flavor coming from France. Eric Valette’s The Prey goes for rough-and-tumble grit over slick Luc Besson spectacle with mixed results. It’s a clever idea – a bank robber has to escape prison when he learns that his former cellmate is actually a serial killer who has targeted his wife and child – sustained largely on momentum and stunts that practically leave bruises on the screen. It’s the sloppy scripting that trips it up.

Albert Dupontel has an appropriately scuffed-up quality as Franck, a hard-luck bank robber serving out the last months of a sentence for a successful hold-up so he can walk out a free man and retrieve the hidden haul. He doesn’t trust anyone (he keeps the location of the stolen money a secret from his fellow gang members) but makes the mistake of asking his cellmate Jean-Louis (Stéphane Debac), a seemingly meek religious-fanatic whose claim of innocence seems born out when the case is overturned, to reach out to his wife. Once he learns the truth from an obsessed police detective (Sergi López) he turns a prison beat-down into an escape opportunity and the manhunt is on.

Alice Taglioni is the beautiful and tough-as-nails Detective Claire Linné, the kind of female cop who goes undercover as a hooker so she can break out in badass mode while dressed like a tart.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Mar 28 2014

Animals to Arks, How ‘Noah’ the Movie Compares to the Bible

The new movie Noah, director Darren Aronofsky’s $130 million epic retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, carries this advisory: “While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.”

Russell Crowe in Darren Aronofsky's 'Noah'

Noah has been banned in some Middle Eastern countries, and attacked by some Christian critics for taking liberties with scripture. Aronofksy told the New Yorker that “Noah” is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” hardly the kind of comment to calm the faithful

Fair disclaimer, but it’s likely not one that will reach all filmgoers who see “Noah” with the expectation that the Aronofsky’s version will closely mirror the biblical series of events. For a little scriptural background and film fact-checking, Steven D. Greydanus, a film critic for the National Catholic Register and his own website, Decent Films, and a Bible student at the Archdiocese of Newark viewed the film before its release. The experts’ general verdict: there’s a lot that closely mimics the epic story, but some liberties are taken. Warning: Spoilers for the film obviously follow.

Is the word God missing from the film as some critics have charged?

No, says Greydanus. “For the most part, God is referred to in the film as ‘the Creator’ and this is a creative choice that I think does a lot for the film. It helps to defamiliarize the language somewhat, it makes the figure of God a little more mysterious to us.” But His name is clearly spoken when Ham, second son of Noah, says to Tubal-cain: “My father says there can be no king. The Creator is God.”

Continue reading at NBCNews.com

Mar 27 2014

Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to muscle his way from action hero to actor

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the savviest stars of his era. He carefully cultivated a screen persona built on his distinctive physique, his instantly recognizable Austrian accent, and a self-aware sense of humor behind his imposing muscles.

'Sabotage'

His characters were all variations on a theme. Whether he was Conan, the Terminator, the Last Action Hero, or a cop going undercover as a kindergarten teacher, he was still simply Ah-nold. It was a winning formula for a good long run, but Schwarzenegger’s star power was already fading when he turned to politics in the early 21st century, a dated relic in a movie culture looking for younger, fresher models.

So he’s trying something different with “Sabotage” (opening Friday), a hard-edged urban action thriller from David Ayer, who wrote “Training Day” and directed “End of Watch.”

Continue reading at Today.com

Mar 26 2014

‘Man of Iron’ on TCM

Not to be confused with the 1981 award-winning Polish drama of the same name by Andrzej Wajda, Hollywood’s Man of Iron of 1935 is the story of a well-liked shop foreman in a thriving machine works plant who is promoted to the front office and gets distracted by his new affluence and the plotting of a jealous rival. Based on the 1934 novel Story of a Country Boy by Dawn Powell, it stars Barton MacLane, a familiar face in Warner productions of the thirties, in his first starring role and co-stars Mary Astor and fellow contract players Dorothy Peterson (memorable in Hitchcock’s wartime thriller Saboteur, 1942), as the salt-of-the-earth wife that attempts to keep him grounded, and John Eldredge as the dandy of a front-office schemer. It runs a brief, busy 61 minutes.

Warner Bros. had just launched a low-budget unit under the supervision of Bryan Foy, one of the “Seven Little Foys” of vaudeville fame. Foy had left the stage for the movies in the 1920s, churning out comedy shorts and inexpensive features (including Warner Bros.’s first all-talking picture Lights of New York, 1928), and earned the name “The Keeper of the Bs” when he was promoted to the head of the B-movie unit at Warner. Man of Iron was one of the first films released under Foy’s watch.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Thursday, March 27

Mar 26 2014

Videophiled: Asghar Farhadi’s ‘The Past’ and Bruno Dumont’s ‘Camille Claudel 1915′

Past

The Past (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital, On Demand), Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, relocates from Iran to Paris to tell an equally nuanced story of the complications of marriage, romance, family, and communication. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned to Paris from Iran to finalize a divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and steps into a family drama involving his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s new man (Tahar Rahim), their angry and resentful kids, and a mystery that is really none of his business, which he investigates with a gentle remove that allows him to gloss over his own baggage until he, too, must confront his own issues and failings.

Like A Separation, The Past is a beautifully observed portrait of people who fail to communicate and the assumptions that accrue in the void of understanding, and a sympathetic presentation of flawed people who don’t always make the right decisions and aren’t even always honest with themselves, and he takes his time weaving defining details through the fabric of their lives. Bérénice Bejo, so bubbly and bright in The Artist, is remarkable as Marie, struggling to work through her own resentments after four years of separation with Ahmad.

In French and Farsi with English subtitles. The Blu-ray+DVD release features both formats in a single case plus commentary by director / writer Asghar Farhadi, a filmmaker Q&A from a screening at the Directors Guild of America and the featurette “Making The Past.”

Camille11915

Juliette Binoche stars in Camille Claudel 1915 (Kino Lorber, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Bruno Dumont’s portrait of the artist during her imprisonment in an insane asylum and based on her correspondence with her brother Paul Claudel, a poet and Christian mystic whose compassion for his fellow man appears more theoretical than practiced. As Camille, famed sculptor and one-time lover of August Rodin, she is an anxious storm of anger and loss, racked with paranoia (she’s convinced that Rodin and his cronies are engineering her imprisonment and trying to poison her). But her greatest loss is not freedom but the ability to express her artistic drive and she is lucid compared to the other, seriously mentally challenged inmates. Her expression reveals an instinctive revulsion for these fellow patients, no doubt in part for the implicit suggestion that she is one of them, but also a compassion when she faces not the patient but the vulnerable human in need of help. The staff sees it in her too and they trust her to look after one or another of the patients at times. The savage duality of so many of Dumont’s characters and cultural collusions from previous films are seen here, but there’s also caring and compassion, at least until the film shifts to her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and the insufferable piety that commits service to God at the expense of those on earth. French with English subtitles.

More new releases on disc and digital, including The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Beauty, and The Punk Singer, are at Cinephiled

Mar 25 2014

Review: Larry Fessenden’s ‘Beneath’

Beneath was one of the best horror film of 2013. But most people never heard about it.

Produced by Chiller, a horror-themed sibling to the SyFy cable network still struggling for name recognition and access to cable systems, Beneath is the first feature in almost a decade directed by Larry Fessenden. It played a few film festivals and received a limited (very limited) release in July before hitting cable on a channel that few viewers know exists. Which means that hardly anyone has had an opportunity to see the film. With the movie coming out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, that should change.

'Beneath' - There's a monster fish in the water. Let's poke it with a stick!

The limited coverage it has received so far, at least on the horror-centric sites, seems to have missed the point, or at least became so complacent in their own superiority to the conventions of the genre that they never noticed how cleverly Fessenden, who has been turning classic horror genres inside out for over twenty years, and the screenwriters transformed the conventions of this genre—notably the idiotic behavior of potential teenage victims—into defining elements of story and character.

Beneath is both a tribute to monster-in-the-woods and the creature-under-the-water horror (the opening dream sequence turns the “Jaws” prologue into a teenage wet dream) and a genuine indie drama in the guise of a horror film. It springs from Fessenden’s love of reimagining classic genres in modern terms and real-world situations, and for using the conventions to tell character stories. And it was accomplished on a commercial cable movie budget.

Continue reading at Indiewire

Mar 25 2014

From Nollywood to New Nigerian Cinema: Obi Emelonye interviewed

Nollywood—Nigeria’s direct-to-video industry of scruffy, cheap films cranked out on hurried schedules and dumped onto the market at low prices—became the third largest producer of movies in the world in the 1990s. Obi Emelonye is one of the filmmakers challenging the Nollywood paradigm with the New Nigerian Cinema, a concerted effort to create domestic films strong enough to bring audiences back to the cinemas and good enough to be exported to other countries.

Emelonye, who practiced law in Great Britain for two decades, returned to Nigeria to follow his dream of filmmaking. His 2011 feature, The Mirror Boy, was a critical and commercial success and one of the few Nigerian films to be seen in film festivals outside of the country and his follow-up, the homegrown disaster film Last Flight to Abuja, was one of the top-grossing films in Nigeria in 2012. Unlike the fast, cheap, and out-of-control melodramas cranked out by Nollywood, Emelonye’s films took on more complex stories, complicated characters, and themes that cross cultures.

Last Flight to Abuja

Last Flight to Abuja follows the model of Airport and other American and European disaster dramas of strangers tossed together in a crisis, but frames it within a distinctly Nigerian context. Though inspired by real events, it tosses a bit of everything into the ensemble: romance and marital conflict, comedy and crime, a murder, an affair, a little Nigerian star power (and it’s clear who the stars are simply by their confidence and command on the screen), and of course a crisis on an airplane. And along with the array of stories and experiences, the film presents something not seen in many Nigerian films: strong, confident, successful women in the professional world.

Emelonye took Last Flight to Abuja to film festivals all over the world, including the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, where the film made its American debut, and along with discussing his film, Emelonye showed a shrewd and necessary understanding of the business and culture of Nollywood, the efforts to create a cinema culture in Nigeria and the challenges in taking on the entrenched Nollywood industry.

Keyframe: I understand that before you started directing films you were a lawyer in Britain. Is that right?

Obi Emelonye: It’s more complicated than that. I actually studied theater and drama and film in Nigeria before I went to the U.K. And when I arrived in the U.K. I discovered that it was a bit impractical to make a living as a theater artist starting at the lowest of the lowest ranks, so I had to make a pragmatic decision to find a different career that would allow me the time to still practice my craft and also that would have transferable skills. And I thought law was that. I learned my trade and honed my skills as a filmmaker while still practicing as a lawyer until a few years ago, in 2008, when I decided to concentrate on filmmaking. So in a way I’ve gone full circle with a different career. A friend of mine says ‘Everything we are goes into everything we do.’ The more varied my life experiences are, the more varied my skill set and my knowledge is, the better I will be at whatever I decide to do. In this instance, it makes me a slightly better, more complete, more eclectic filmmaker.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Mar 24 2014

Watching with Larry Fessenden, director of ‘Beneath’

Larry Fessenden Premier

Larry Fessenden

Larry Fessenden loves horror movies. As a director he has brought his own unique approach to the classic horror stories and conventions in such films as Habit, Wendigo, and his animist ghost story / environmental thriller The Last Winter. Through his production company Glass Eye Pix his has produced or co-produced dozens of films, including Kelly Reichert’s Wendy and Lucy and Night Moves, Ti West’s The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, Jim Mickle’s Stake Land, and the recent documentary Birth of the Living Dead, a tribute to one of the holy grails of modern horror.

Apart from an episode of the horror TV series Fear Itself, Fessenden hasn’t directed a film since the 2004 The Last Winter, an eco-twist on the ghost story in the culture of big oil, so the arrival of Beneath, about a group of teenagers, a rowboat in the middle of a lake, and a giant, hungry, man-eating catfish looking for its next meal, is reason to celebrate. It begins as a classic tale of teens behaving badly, and more importantly stupidly, but what first appears to be a lazy set-up to stake out its victims for the movie menace turns out to be an insidious insight to the true nature of its characters and the basis for the real conflict of the film. It’s a smart, savage film that plays with the familiar conventions and then twists a knife in them, and it’s all done with a small cast, a confined space, and a script that reveals the worst in humanity.

While it received a brief theatrical release, Beneath was actually financed by and produced for Chiller, the cable horror channel sibling to SyFy. You say you’ve never heard of Chiller? Yeah, that’s the problem. The film just hasn’t been seen by many folks. Now that it is available on digital and VOD platforms and this week arrives on Blu-ray and DVD, I hope more people have an opportunity to discover one of the most surprising and insidiously clever monster movies of the last year. On the occasion of the disc release, I had a chance to speak with Fessenden about his career as a director, his love of old-school special effects, the real horror of Beneath, and of course what he’s been watching.

Beneath

I have a 14-year-old kid who loves movies so we watch a little of the old and a little of the new. We’ve seen all the Oscar stuff and we also watch movies from the seventies and I get him up to speed on Scorsese and Polanski and the heroes of my youth. Oddly enough he doesn’t care for horror so we don’t watch those except for the occasional time. Myself, there’s only so much time in the day so I’m more going on the journey with him. But recent films: Let the Right One In, District 9, The Mist. Those are all a little old but they are recent favorites.

And genre films too. When you are watching for yourself, are you going back to horror films?

Oh yeah, I’m pretty entrenched in genre movies. I grew up watching the old Universal films and it’s fun to watch some of these things again—and again and again—because they really are iconic. The imagery is truly… it’s what I grew up on and it’s interesting to watch them now as you’re older and try to understand what struck you, because of course we’ve become more sophisticated so the images don’t have the same impact, but they do have a strange quality. I love, for example, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, such a strange, beautiful creature design there. I like all kinds of movies.

What inspired you to take on the classic horror movie themes in a series of movies that turns the stories inside-out?

It’s exactly just what I was describing. I grew up on the old Universal films with Frankenstein played by Karloff or Dracula played by Lugosi and obviously then came the Hammer films and whatever, these were the movies you saw on TV when you were a kid in the seventies. But then I also became incredibly turned on by the cinema of Scorsese, these more realistic portraits of people’s psychology and the violence became more visceral and I wanted, in my own mind, to revisit the movies that I loved so much, like Dracula, and put this modern seventies spin on it.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Mar 24 2014

Videophiled Cult: The Troma-tic ‘Return to Nuke ‘Em High’

ReturnNukeHighV1

Return to Nuke ‘Em High, Volume 1 (Troma, Blu-ray, DVD), the first feature directed by Troma founder and spokesman Lloyd Kaufman in almost a decade, revives the mutant high school series he launched in 1986. He builds this new chapter quite literally on the ruins of the previous films, with an organic food factory resting on the bulldozed remains of the old nuclear power plant. In the words of guest narrator Stan Lee, “What could go wrong?”

This being a Troma film, you get plenty of gratuitous sex, exposed boobs, radioactive waste, mutant creatures, melting bodies, spontaneous combustion, non-stop fart gags (you can’t get out of a scene without the soundtrack slipping into flatulence), rampant bullying and a student body without the common sense not to eat the glowing green tacos in the school cafeteria. Kaufman has always had an affection for nerds, misfits, and outcast heroes but his romantic heroes this time around are two girls in love and they are easily the most well-adjusted protagonists in his canon. Lauren (Catherine Corcoran), the dizzy rich girl with a runaway pet duck, and social activist blogger Chrissy (Asta Paredes) are opposites whose antagonism quickly heats up into lust, numerous topless scenes, and a mutant rampage that just seems like a bad dream to them.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Mar 22 2014

‘Kiss Them for Me’ on TCM

Cary Grant was nearing the end of his career when he made the World War II comedy Kiss Them for Me (1957) but the charismatic leading man was still one of the most debonair actors on the screen as well as a deft comic player. Kiss Them for Me, which he made between An Affair to Remember (1957) and Indiscreet (1958), leans more on the comic than the debonair.

Based on a 1944 Broadway comedy (itself adapted from the novel Shore Leave by Frederic Wakeman), it concerns three naval fliers recuperating from injuries in a Pearl Harbor hospital who finagle a last-minute shore leave (their first since entering combat) for four days of escape from all things military. Grant is the ringleader of the trio, the wheeler-dealer who secures the leave with nothing more than a verbal okay, arranges transport to San Francisco on a cargo plane, and whips up a party out of nowhere in a lavish hotel suite. “I came here to get drunk and chase girls and that’s what I intend to do,” he proclaims and he studiously keeps to his goal even while he’s pressured to make public appearances as the “war hero” to rouse the patriotism of homefront workers.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Monday, March 24

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