Monday, April 9, 2007

The Worst of All Possible Outcomes

Well, it happened... Grindhouse flopped.

The film's poor showing really wouldn't be all that disconcerting if it wasn't for the fact that the two films directly above it, Are We Done Yet? and Meet the Robinsons, are such utterly brainless confections as to not even warrant discussion. So with that, I'll leave them aside to address the real point at hand here: this was, for all intents and purposes, the worst of all possible outcomes for Grindhouse the film, for the Weinsteins, for Quentin Tarantino and, indeed, for all those who love movies.

Make no mistake here, what Tarantino and company tried to do, and what the Weinsteins surprisingly signed off on, was a long shot. It wasn't like there were audiences out there clamoring for a grindhouse theater revival. Certainly, there were folks, niche markets and fanbases who were excited by the idea. The sheer amount of attention that the media and blogosphere showed the film indicates that, at least at some level, Grindhouse sparked immaginations and curiosities.

But (and this is a pretty big but), it looks as though folks just weren't ready for this type of experiment, weren't interested in making Tarantino part of their Easter weekend, and perhaps worst of all, weren't really interested in engaging what amounted to a challenging film in a lot of regards.
A lot of outlets have spent a lot of time discussing how surprising this latest Weinstein failure has been. In all honesty though, the deck was stacked against success in this case. Grindhouse was long. And, despite the surreal amount of media attention over the final week or so, I still have the sense that not many regular people knew what this movie was actually about. (I use regular folks here to refer to those that don't have film releases written on their calendar six months in advance.) I had a number of friends and relations say things like, "Isn't that the movie that's like, two movies?" or just simply "I don't get it." Either way, too much of the publicity probably assumed too much knowledge about what constituted grindhouse cinema to actually be effective and not confusing.

So now the talk turns to releasing Planet Terror and Death Proof into two films, something that I think will probably increase the box office potential of the whole project even while it demeans its cultural significance. At its core, Grindhouse was about recreating a film going experience that really doesn't exist outside niche offerings at art house theaters. Every part of the 3+ hour experience played to that end, from the schlock-y editing and digitally manipulated film stock to the over-the-top trailers and goofy age guidelines. All that will be lost when the films are split.

Instead, we'll be left with two very interesting genre offerings. Rodriguez's film, a real zombie gore-fest, plays pastiche for generic criticism. This has become a staple of modern horror cinema, with virtually every competent director nodding at favorite films or scenes from the past. But few do it as ham-fistedly or for as many laughs as Rodriguez does in Planet Terror. Tarantino on the other hand has offered up what, if Kill Bill hadn't been released so recently, I might call the ultimate Tarantino film. Unlike in Kill Bill however, Tarantino showed almost no restraint for flexing his cinephile muscles. Drawing heavily on little known genre films (embarrassingly, even to me), he subjected viewers to a film that dragged at times when Tarantino's script clearly got bogged down in his own twisted intellect. That being said, Grindhouse's final half hour was among the most intense and exciting I've seen in quite a long time.

Which brings us back to the real losers in this whole mess: movie goers. As I said, Grindhouse was a bet, a pretty big one it turns out. And Hollywood hates losing bets. What Hollywood loves are Will Ferrell comedies, animated family movies and Ice-Cube shit shows that loosely resemble films. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen any of these movies, and therefore can only operate under the assumption that they are pretty worthless. Let's just say I feel safe with this assumption.) If not for rolling the dice with the combined release, the Weinsteins might have had two decently successful genre films. Instead, they are stradled with a ton of bad press and a poorly performing film at roughly 3000 theaters across the country. Unfortunately, this failure will only deter further risk and will lead to more "safe bets" and rehashes of already known entities. Is that the end of the world? Of course not. But it will make for some pretty boring weekend afternoons.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy Dead Silence Release Day!

Whew, did I need that month off!? Um, actually, no, I guess I didn't... But that's in the past, right? Great! Because today we have to celebrate something of an important day: the release of Dead Silence.

Sure, there's a couple of horror films that have dropped recently, and yeah, Zodiac probably packs more cinematic bang for your buck, but Dead Silence represents one of the few non-remake, non-sequel horror films that we're going to see all year. In my mind, that's something worth celebrating even if the studio isn't screening the film for critics (yikes!).

No matter how the masses react to the film, Dead Silence looks to be something of a creep fest. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the film comes from the same team that gave us the Saw series as they've obviously returned to the same well they've mined in the past with their use of terrifying looking dolls. I would even posit that this film can be seen as the generic offspring of doll-centered horror of old, which includes films like Puppet Master and the Child's Play series.

While the elements of the genre may be traced all the way back to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the prototype probably comes from the British horror anthology Dead of Night. In the film's most memorable segment, a ventriloquist is tormented by his doll, who may or may not have come to life. You can pretty much fill in the holes from there, but it's important to note that as far as I can remember, the doll in Dead of Night is never actually seen moving, meaning that all the action and behavior is implied. In many ways, this is much more unsettling than more recent violent dolls like Chucky, and it represents a lot of what makes horror, and particularly older horror films so powerful. It's probably hard to come by, but if you can get your hands on Dead of Night, savor it. They don't really make them like that anymore.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Epically Crappy Weekend and Roeper Returns!

I wish I could say that I have a great reason for the lack of posting over the last week, but the reality is that I'm simply still trying to recover from a weekend in which Norbit (staring Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy! and Eddie Murphy!!!) not only took home the top spot, but brought in $34 million. I would say that everyone who attended a screening of the film should be ashamed of themselves, but clearly, they have no shame.

Going into the February 2nd weekend I joked that we might be looking at a new all time low for combined Rotten Tomatoes scores among the weekend's top five films, the previous all time low having been set the weekend before at 23.8%. Well guess what, I was right. Headlined by The Messengers, my predicted number one, that weekend had a combined 18.8% on RT. Pretty good right?

But those poor films hadn't reckoned on the sheer awfulness of Norbit. Like a slow motion car-wreck, involving a fat-suit of course, Norbit led an even classier group of five films that captured audiences' attention with a combined 18.6% score at Rotten Tomatoes. Let me be the first to congratulate Norbit, Hannibal Rising, Because I Said So, The Messengers and Night at the Museum. You accomplished something terrifically crappy this past weekend, and now no one can take that away from you. (Sidenote: Night at the Museum somewhat artificially inflated each of the past two weeks scores with its 45% rating. Otherwise, the top four from both weeks would have come in at a staggering 12.3 and 12 respectively.)

It's also been some time since we visited with our good friend Richard Roeper. Now, it almost seems hard to believe, but Rotten Tomatoes has only uploaded five new Roeper reviews in the past month. What is this man doing all day? I mean, I understand he's a big time columnist and all, but doesn't he realize there's a nation of movie-goers who count on his sterling words of wisdom and insight? Even more upsetting is the fact that he wasn't sent to watch any of the real pieces of shit everyone seems so intent on paying money to see. No Epic Movie, no Because I Said So, no Norbit, not even any Messengers. Utterly unbelievable. But without further ado, here's a somewhat tardy version of This Week in Roeper:
  • Alpha Dog - "Justin Timberlake has what it takes to be a genuine movie star."

  • Arthur and the Invisibles - "Strange and kind of meandering."

  • Alone With Her - "Alone With Her plays like an extended voyeur video with nothing new to say about hidden cameras or stalkers or anything."

  • Catch And Release - "I was pleasantly surprised."

  • Seraphim Falls - "Though the chase threatens to go on too long, the suspense remains high because we don’t know which man is the real villain, or if there’s a villain at all."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

World War Z Wrapup

About a week ago, I finally got around to finishing Max Brooks' zombie fest, World War Z. Initially, I was really blown away by the book. It's unique in its structure as well as in its subject matter. As I discussed earlier, the author's depth of knowledge on the subject was impressive. Brooks literally thought of every zombie related situation imaginable and found a way to work it into the book. Because of its unique, interview-based structure, World War Z easily incorporates even the most bizarre or esoteric zombie hijinks.

Looking back, it's obvious that this structure--in many ways the books biggest strength--was also its greatest flaw. While Brooks spends a great deal of time on some parts of the war effort, specifically the US's early struggles and eventual victory, he spends few words describing others. Some elements like the descriptions of zombies emerging from the oceans to attack unsuspecting vacationers were cool, but never should have been fleshed out into whole interviews. Others probably could have shouldered a lot more of the effort.

In total, World War Z really stands as an encyclopedia of sorts, relating to all things undead. Brooks took such a massive scope with this work that its hard to imagine what he might have overlooked. But beyond simply rehashing zombie lore, Brooks' global spin also saw the creation of many new conventions and themes: ferals, quislings, chain swarms, etc. The scope of his vision also allowed for a followthrough with regards to how a zombie outbreak would effect the world that would be virtually impossible in film. Romero's Land of the Dead tackled the idea of a world beset with zombies, but still kept its focus fairly tight. It will be very interesting to see how Plan B Entertainment, Brad Pitt's production house that won the rights to the book in a healthy bidding war, will bring WWZ to the screen as Brooks did the screenwriters few favors.

Brooks' novel ends on something of a positive note. Unlike many of the films that draw on zombie conventions, the survivors of World War Z have reached the end of the tunnel. Each speaker is sure to point out that there is a ways to go and that they are irreparably scarred, but Brooks allows readers a sense of hope for the future. He also never positions the zombies as any sort of deus ex machina that brings about world peace. Instead, we see the zombies as just another challenge that faces humanity, in some cases bringing out the best, while in others, the worst. Brooks illuminates both in a prose that varies with his speakers, but never falters. And like many genre texts that have come before it, be they movies, games or books, World War Z provides much fodder for analysis for any who pick it up in the future.

Monday, February 5, 2007

It's a Bottle Opener, Duh.

By and large the commercials during last night's Super Bowl were a pretty sorry bunch. Unlike past years, there really wasn't any one spot that had everybody buzzing. One could probably make an argument for the Federline-fast food worker ad for Nationwide, but that would mean we'd already spent too much time thinking about K-Fed.

Bud Light did manage to pull together one that is worth a second look though. Were they trying to piggy-back off the modest success of the recent Hitcher remake? Maybe. But either way it's a good laugh.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Brilliant Recuts All About Genre

There's been a number of these recut trailers over the last year and a half. First The Shining, then Jaws and then Brokeback Mountain hit and the whole trend sort of jumped the shark.

At their most basic level, these trailer remixes are all about genre; about leveraging the semantic elements of one genre into the syntactic elements of another. In most cases the humor comes from the interaction between the viewer's knowledge of the original source film, or at least knowledge of that film's generic underpinnings, and the reversal of expectations that comes with the re-edits. Usually, music (a semantic element in and of itself) plays the key role in shifting the focus.

In two of the three above examples, popular horror films were recut to play more like comedies (The Shining as romantic comedy, Jaws as the generic buddy film). Even if you don't know the original films, the editing and original performances are usually good enough to get a chuckle. In the case of the video below however, the artist has recut When Harry Met Sally, one of the strongest examples of modern romantic comedy, to look and feel like a thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction or Sleeping with the Enemy. The trailer itself, devoid of prior knowledge of the film, is loaded with tension. But what takes it beyond the previous examples, in my mind anyway, is the manner in which the creator clings strictly to the generic conventions of the thriller and utilizes pitch-perfect cuts from the original, allowing the new and the old interpretations to play against each other perfectly. It's only within this context that the trailer shows its true humor.

And believe me, I realize that when you analyze things to this extent, they're not usually funny anymore, but watch it. It's still goddamn hilarious.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Hope You Weren't Planning on Hitting the Megaplex

Good sweet Jesus is this going to be an off week at theaters around the country. I certainly don't mean that in terms of box, although it might be that too, but it's shaping up to be a rare weekend in regards to the overall quality of movies that will be available to most of the country.

According to our old friend Rotten Tomatoes, not a single movie in last week's top five Box Office winners scored above a 45% (it takes 60% to be considered "fresh"). For the mathematically inclined readers, last week's top 5 averaged a pretty paltry 23.8%, led of course by last week's winner, Epic Movie, which clocked in at 3%. Yeah I know, I was shocked that 3% of reviewers liked it too. But, as I've said, I'm not one to quibble with audiences' viewing choices.

The real bad news for the discerning film going community is that it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. This week we have two releases, both of which have received a nauseating amount of advertising run-up. As of this writing only one of the films has received any RT love, and let's just say, you might want to stay home this weekend. I don't know if anyone keeps stats on these things, but we might be looking at an all-time box office top ten shit show when it comes to RT scores. 23.8 is the number to beat, but I think these films are up to it.
The first of these cinematic gems is Because I Said So, which might be the most laugh-out-loud bad title this side of porn. Everything I know about this film I've garnered from watching the preview, but my guess is it doesn't get a whole lot deeper. Apparently Diane Keaton (why, oh why?) plays an overbearing mother to Mandy Moore's rambuncious 20-something. There's some tension, and, gasp, BOYS! And mom and daughter probably butt heads a lot only to realize that they really love each other at the end of the day. Critics seem to be referring to this as a "chick-flick," the generic implications of which I won't even begin to address at this juncture, but I'd dare anyone to find me five so-called "chicks" who are interested in seeing this film. I goddamn dare you. Oh yeah, and just so we're clear, Because I Said So is currently clocking in at an Epic-Movie-like 8% right now over at RT. Good times.
The back end of this weekend's shows some potential. The Messengers is a horror film, which obviously curries favor with this writer, but it's also a Ghost House film (Sam Raimi's production house), so there's hope that it won't be a total waste of time. John Hodgman actually discussed The Messengers a fair amount in his NYT Magazine story "The Haunting", (sorry NYT Select members only it looks like) which looked at the current state of horror in the US. Actually a really nice article if you can get your hands on a full copy somewhere. But I digress. There's one glaring problem here, and it's probably the first thing that jumps out to any fan of the horror genre: a PG-13 rating.

Does a PG-13 rating preclude a film from being scary? No, of course not. But what it does mean is that a large number of the conventions of the genre will be absent or woefully nuetered. Gore, sex, extreme violence? Sorry, go see The Hitcher again. Obviously, films have done pretty well for themselves without all those goodies--Poltergeist and The Ring are just the two that come most readily to mind, Jaws somehow got a fucking PG--but it's an uphill battle. And those exceptions had one thing in common for the most part: decent direction by Speilberg, Hooper and Verbinski. The Messengers is being helmed by two Hong Kong stars, the twin Pang brothers, but what kind of work they'll turn out stateside remains to be seen.

What The Messengers will do is get those pesky teens to the theater. You know, the not-quite-ready-for-Rob-Zombie crowd who still likes a good spook and enjoys a night away from mom and pop? They'll be out in numbers I'd expect. Probably even enough to put Messengers into number one. No guarantees of course, but it'd be nice to see because it would get some good traction going for Ghost House, who will be dropping two more horror ditties on us later this year.

Monday, January 29, 2007

An Odd and an End from the Weekend

Two unrelated topics I wanted to touch on from this weekend, neither really worthy of a full post, so instead I'm just cramming them together, no matter how awkward the fit.
First and foremost, now we all know what happens when you don't read the Sunday Times on Sunday: you miss sweet ass articles like this one from Whitney Joiner. In her piece, Joiner gives readers the low down on Rodriguez and Tarantino's Grindhouse. For folks familiar with the film and its production history to date, there probably wasn't anything in the piece to knock your socks off. But what's important here is that A) it was in the New York freaking Times. They don't talk about any movie to come down the pipe. B) It's fucking Grindhouse for god's sake! I mean, this is going to be one of the messiest, bloodiest, most beautiful pictures of the year. And C) Joiner deploys a strong sense of the generic implications of the two films that make up this beast of a movie experience.

The set piece that kicks the whole story off is Rose McGowan's infamous prosthetic leg/automatic weapon. Joiner talked to both Rodriguez and Tarantino for the piece, and the former make a somewhat surprising statement about how he crafted the film:

“I thought, ‘Nobody’s ever thought of that [put an automatic weapon where a leg should be] before,’ ” Mr. Rodriguez said of his high-caliber epiphany during an interview at his Troublemaker Studios here last month. “Your mind just goes to the craziest idea to lure people into the theater, and then you write your script around those elements.”

This sounds a little reckless, but Rodriguez's feel for genre seems strong enough to make this kind of writing philosophy work. A little later in the piece, he mentions John Carpenter an awful lot, which sets a pretty damn high bar, but could mean great things come release date. A couple other points from the piece are worth mentioning:
  1. Weinstin Company is preparing their largest promotional push since their founding upon Harvey and Bob's acrimonious split with Disney.
  2. The directors, in their effort to create that true grindhouse movie going experience, will be randomly dropping reels from the films.
  3. Tarantino on developing his contribution: “Part of my fun in doing genre cinema, since everyone knows the rules well, whether unconsciously or not, is leading you down a road and giving you all the information that you’ve gotten in other movies, and then using your own information against you,” he said.
  4. The possibility of a sequel is put firmly into play by Rodriguez, but sort of brushed off by Tarantino.
We'll see what he says after the box office numbers start rolling in.

Speaking of box office numbers, my second point from this weekend has to do with Epic Movie's mildly surprising victory in its opening week. When your only real competition is Smokin' Aces, you probably shouldn't go around getting a big head when you open at $18.6 million. Now, that being said, this is the second time in less than a year that one of these spoof films has opened at number one at the box (Scary Movie 4 went number one in April). Epic Movie's draw was also almost identical to Date Movie's last February.

Certainly no one is going to argue that any of these three films is anything substantial. While I haven't seen any of this line since Scary Movie 2, it would seem that the team behind these films has the process down to something of a science, which isn't surprising seeing as that they are, at the end of the day, genre films, and the most derivitive type of genre films to boot.

The strength of each of these films' box office openings, however, speak to audiences desire to laugh through so many of the generic conventions that have succeeded in films that are usually still fresh in their minds. Especially in the case of the Scary and now Epic series, there really is no telling how far these films can go, since they can simply rely on the previous year's crop of films when pulling material together. Then, simply play the exact same set pieces that earlier filmmakers leveraged for drama or scares, only for laughs this time around. I'm not saying you need to like it, but it'd be silly not to respect the racket that this group of writers and producers has set up.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

This Week in Roeper

Apparently our friend Mr. Roeper got this week off because he hasn’t reviewed any of the new releases. It's a sin too as we're left to only imagine what he would have made of a treat like Epic Movie. But just because he didn't take on any of this week's releases doesn't mean he's getting off the hook. So in the interest of helping you feel just a little bit smarter, I went back a couple of weeks to find some new-ish literary gems for the latest edition of This Week in Roeper. Enjoy!
  • Curse of the Golden Flower - “It’s operatic in its feeling and there’s a lot going on here. And there’s murders and betrayals, and affairs that are illicit, and women on horse-back and great fight scenes.”

  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - “Hated this movie. Hated it.”

  • Miss Potter - “The story really grows on you and it’s very sweet and it’s beautiful to look at.”

  • Pan's Labyrinth - “Del Toro’s made a lot imaginative films. I think this is his masterpiece to date.”

  • The Painted Veil - “Sweeping vistas, period-piece sets, impeccable literary source, a little stolid at times, but ultimately quite impressive.”

Friday, January 26, 2007

Original Horror Making Waves at Sundance

So you've seen Black Christmas and The Hitcher, but you're slowly losing interest in the gradually diminishing returns of the spate of horror remakes invading movie houses across the country? Well, it looks like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel in the form of some new original horror cinema debuting at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Cinematical's resident horror guru, Scott Weinberg, has two pretty stellar reviews of two wildly divergent horror films that screened over the last week. Each sounds exciting in its own way, but more than anything, it's just good to see some original stuff from some new filmmakers.
The first of these two is Teeth, a coming-of-age story of sorts in which a young woman begins to explore her as of yet untapped sexuality. She runs into some trouble however, when it turns out that her vagina is loaded with something a little too unfriendly to the opposite sex: the film's eponymous teeth. As Weinberg discusses in his review, this unusual addition sets the table for some highly loaded scenes that explore our culture's insecurities with female sexuality and the vagina.

Certainly, this isn't the first film to broach this subject, in fact it's quite popular in the canon of horror cinema, it's just that Teeth, written and directed by rookie filmmaker Mitchell Lichtenstein, explores the subject matter with a literalness rarely seen, which will hopefully allow for intersting new allusions and metaphor. The reception has been so strong that apparently Lichtenstein is already in discussion to make a sequel or two.
The second of these films is The Signal, a mashup of techno-horror and zombie apololypse. For the film, three directors tag team on the three acts, detailing a fictional city in which a hypnotic signal that travels on TV and radio waves turns anyone who encounters it into a crazed killing machine. In the same breath, Weinberg praises both the film's gore as well as character development, which is often a tough duo to find in this genre.

Here again, the point is not that the themes in play (overreliance on technology leading to ruin) are all that new, but that these filmmakers are bringing their own, hopefully blood-soaked, perspective to them. In virtually every genre, the themes addressed haven't changed all that much since their inception. Instead, each filmmaker's contribution comes in the form of the elements and conventions that he or she chooses to highlight and the aesthetic sensibility that they bring to the project.

The best news of all is that both of these films have already secured distribution, Teeth through the Weinsten Company and Lionsgate and The Signal with Magnolia Pictures, and so they should be making their way to theaters sometime in 2007. With even more horror remakes on the way, both should provide a refreshing change of pace for discerning junkies everywhere.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Working for the Weekend

Moviegoers, this might be the weekend to catch up on some of those films from 2006 that you've yet to cross off your list. Offerings tomorrow look to rate from middling to poor.

First, Joe Carnahan is offering up Smokin' Aces, a film that seems to be gunning for the Oean's 11 strategy of "blind-em with the star power, hope they don't realize there's not much going on." Now that might be a little harsh on Sodebergh's film, but you'll have to forgive me, I've only recently learned that there's going to be a third, and let's just say I'm loosing my pateince. If you're looking for crazy guns and vertigo inducing editing, then this is your movie.

Then there's Blood and Chocolate, the soapy, horror flick about a secret werewolf pack, and the werewolf-human love that dare not speak its name. They're leaning really hard on the "from the producers of Underwold" angle for all the promotional materials, which probably isn't a bad strategy considering how that film fared. This one's more for the teens and tweens though, so if you're looking for a horror fix, best to stay away.

Catch and Release is a pretty crappy looking romantic comedy (is it even funny, the previews were kind of brutal?). It's got Jennifer Garner, who's been charming in the past, and Tim Olyphant, who has done nothing but plummet in my estimation, but that's mostly for the number of scenes he's fucked up on Deadwood.

Moving from boring to mind bogglingly stupid, we have Epic Movie. I could think of something to say about this one, but really, is it worth either of our time?

Finally, though, there's something of an interesting film in Seraphim Falls, a western that sounds to be much in vein of Outlaw Josey Wales. Liam Neeson--who rarely ever wastes your time, stars as a soldier who in the period after the Civil War seeks revenge on a man (Pierce Brosnan) who's perpetrated a heinous crime against the former's family (okay, so it sounds a lot like Josey Wales). The reviews aren't sterling, but it sounds to be loaded with action (the RT synopsis calls it a mix of First Blood and Cold Mountain, yowzers!), and it's pretty rare in this day and age to get any western love, so if that's your bag, you'll have to take it where you can get it.

For All Your Gaming Journalism Needs

If you feel like you've had an emptiness in your life recently, it's probably because you have yet to read my newest feature over at The Escapist Magazine. You can peep that here, but just a warning: This story reaches brave new levels of video game geekdom. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

If you're looking for more of where that came from, you can find some of my other features here and here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why Question Viewer Choices?

Kristen Thompson has a nice post over at the B & T Blog that analyzes the the ascertation by some movie industry pundits that 2006 saw "too many toons." She points out that the fact of the matter is that many animated features were very profitable, with 4 features showing up on one analyst group's top 10 films in terms of ROI. In fact, Ice Age: The Meltdown netted the number one spot.

As she notes, the bottom line is we need to just look at the bottom line. And this year, as in the past, folks turned up at animated, usually CGI, features. Some of the numbers are even more impressive because, as she mentions, many of the tickets being purchased for these films are more inexpensive children's tickets, meaning the actual number of viewers is actually higher than the B.O. alone would show.

CGI continues to be profitable, and so no matter what these industry pundits say, we're going to continue to see it. The same applies to another genre maligned more in the press than by the pundits. It seems that we are thoroughly ensconced in a cycle of horror films these days, and one of the particularly telling reasons for this is the genre's strong performance at the B.O., relative to the investment necessary to bring these films to the screen.

Films like Saw III ($80 mil B.O. on a $10 mil budget), Hostel ($47 on $4.8) and even a piss poor remake like When a Stranger Calls ($48 on $15), present low risk/high reward options to studios primarily interested in making a profit. Why else would studios be setting up specialty divisions just to work in this area? Of course not all horror features fare as well as those above, but virtually all make their money back, and in an era where DVD sales are playing an ever increasing role, that's really all one can ask.

Thankfully, those in charge of green-lighting films don't necessarily take every pundit's analysis to heart. They know better than anyone, that if something isn't broke, you don't go around trying to fix it. And often, as Kristen's post discusses, these pundits need something to talk about at the end of the year to validate their own existence, and thus will question just about everything. In the end though, you really can't debate box office returns, and so letting audiences vote with their feet should continue to be the law of the land.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oscar Wouldn't Know a Great Sci-Fi Movie if it Kicked Him in the Ass

Although the awards themselves often seem a showcase of just how stale and stuffy Hollywood can often be, the Oscars still carry a great deal of weight among those who actually work in the film industry. And so it seems that each year the media trumpets the announcement of the nominees to no small amount of fanfare, setting off several weeks of prognosticating and hand wringing.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this year’s crop is the lack of that true front runner. Dreamgirls, which had been seemingly crowned only weeks ago and then won the Best Picture Globe (worthless, I realize), garnered the most nominations with eight, but came away empty in virtually every major category. That number is also misleading because three of the eight nominations came in the Best Song category. The truth is Dreamgirls’ award season can be viewed as nothing less than a huge let down. That leaves Babel (7 noms), The Queen (6 noms) and The Departed (5 noms) as the odds-on favorites to pick up a great deal of the real hardware. But unlike in past years--Aviator, 11 noms, 5 wins in 2004; LotR: RotK, 11 noms, 11 wins in 2003; Gangs of New York, 10 Noms, a hilarious 0 wins in 2002--we didn’t see any films pick up a startling number of nominations, and we probably won’t see any real dominant films come awards night.

What we can see in this year’s nominees however, is a very strong bias on the part of voters for certain genres and against others. Some like political drama, historical drama, musicals and even crime films tend to do very well come Oscar time, hence the Academy chose The Queen, The Departed, Babel and Letters from Iwo Jima for their top prize.

They also tabbed Little Miss Sunshine, in something of a surprise. Road films are not typically a genre smiled upon by voters, but Sunshine has elements of family drama, and was hilarious in all the ways that voters like a film to be hilarious. In the run-up to the announcement of nominations, there has been a lot of chatter about how the Academy typically craps on comedies in general, so this nomination reeks of a pick made just to show how “hip” the Academy still is--“Don’t worry kids, we like funny movies too!” Just don’t be surprised if Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t come home with anything more than a Best Screenplay statue, and maybe one for the supporting nods.

But getting back to my original point, two films ended up garnering a bunch of nominations, but remain eerily absent from any of the major categories: Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth (rating at 91% and 96% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes). One can only wonder how films so universally lauded by critics could fare so poorly with the Academy, especially when compared to Babel, which won over only 69% of critics (the other nominees all come in over 90%).

Looking over the last couple of decades woth of Best Picture nominees it's easy to see that Oscar voters don't harbor any fondness for several genres, and both Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth fall squarely into those categories. Fantasy and science fiction have never been strong performers, and other than the Lord of the Rings films in '01, '02 and '03 you'd be hard pressed to place any Best Picture nominees from the last decade in either of those categories.

Making this all the more ridiculous is that voters are more than comfortable to hand out nominations in any number of categories--screenplay is always a favorite--to films that draw more heavily from generic conventions. Pan's Labyrinth received a total of six nominations, as many as The Queen and more than Martin Scorsese's opus. Children of Men received three of its own. In the case of Guillermo Del Toro's film, the number of nominations alone points to the film's overall quality as well as the regard that many had for it, yet somehow voters just weren't able to place it in either the Best Picture or Best Director races.

Obviously this isn't a new phenomenon, or one that should really surprise anyone, but this year the quality of films like Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth have made the voters conservativism (if that's even the right word) all the more apparent. Here's hoping that each gets some love where it can, otherwise this might be another Oscar ceremony worth avoiding.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

This Week in Roeper

Regular readers of Rotten Tomatoes will know that there's a lot of random critics that have gotten themselves worked into the website's formula. This is part of what makes RT so much fun. For the truly snobbish however, the site still compiles a "Cream of the Crop" list of reviewers working for more established, highly regarded publications. Among these Cream reviewers, there's a lot of eloquent and thoughtful critics; men and women who understand film and know how to express an opinion that heightens their readers' understanding of a given film. And then there's Richard Roeper.

To recap quickly, Richard Roeper is a humor columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, a.k.a. the Chicago Tribune's ginger stepchild. After Gene Siskel's death left Roger Ebert without a partner, the producers of Siskel and Ebert gave a handful of folks a tryout to fill the empty seat. Roeper emerged victorious, despite a tragically inferior appreciation of film.

Now, I don't watch Ebert & Roeper, but I will read Roger Ebert's print reviews every once in a while. But conveniently, Rotten Tomatoes pulls a quote from each critic giving me a chance to experience a little bit of Richard Roeper every week. From what I can tell, he doesn't actually write any reviews, instead only delivering them orally, but that's no excuse for saying something that might as well have come out of the mouth of an eight year old.

Each Sunday, join me in enjoying the best of Richard Roeper, presented without comment to preserve it's original genius. So without further ado, here's This Week in Roeper:
  • The Queen - "It’s beautifully written and the acting is just pinpoint perfect."

  • Volver - "It’s very moving, It’s beautifully done."

  • Notes on a Scandal - "It is a chilling, memorable performance by Dame Judith, who will earn many award nominations, as should Blanchett. They are the perhaps the most impressive acting duo in any film of 2006. And Bill Nighy is their equal."

  • Night at the Museum - "It’s just so dopey."

  • Dreamgirls - "As much as I appreciated the performances from the terrifically talented cast -- as much as I liked Dreamgirls -- I didn't love it. Maybe it was just a little too slick and over the top for its own good."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How Not to Review a Genre Film

January tends to be the dumping ground for a lot of forgotten films. Studios want them out the door, and hope they'll make a little money, as they recoup the expenses of their end-of-year, award season marketing binges. While this type of thing might bother the Richard Roeper's of the world, it's a goddamn goldmine for horror film fans. This week we're treated to The Hitcher.

Now, I enjoyed the Hitcher, it wasn't the finest film ever made by any measure, but it was an entertaining little ditty that put you on the edge of your seat a number of times and served up a heaping spoonful of that sweet, sweet genre pleasure. I don't want to spend too much time talking about the movie though, because honestly, you know if you want to see it, and if you don't, there's not a whole lot that I can say that would change your mind.

What I am interested in however, is the critical response to the film, because it's in that response that we see a really pathetic level of understanding for how a genre film works, and what exactly it's supposed to do. This will be a common theme around these parts, and I'll try to spread the love evenly, but this week's offender is Jeffrey Anderson of Cinematical.

Mr. Anderson writes one of the silliest, most worthless reviews in recent memory. He also manages to wield a wholly undeveloped sense of the genre. More than anything else, it is this failing that undermines everything he writes.

Obviously, his review is negative, in fact it's resoundingly negative. But that really isn't the problem. As Harry at AICN shows, you don't have to like the film, but a valueable reviewer will at least examine it on its own terms. In the interest of thoroughness, let's take one paragraph, line by line:

In any case, we get one of those scenes in which the lovers cruise through the pouring rain at night, and they talk and the guy gazes over at his lady love for such a long time that you wonder: who's driving the car? During this moment -- predictably -- they nearly hit someone standing in the road. Jim wants to help, but Grace urges him to drive away. At the next rest stop Grace takes so long in the bathroom (a running joke -- ha ha) that the guy catches up to them. Guilty, they give him a ride this time, he tries to kill them, and they boot him out of the car. He winds up with Grace's cell phone, but the script forgets all about this potentially scary element.

This is just a sample from Mr. Anderson's incisive little ditty. The emphases are clearly mine, so let's look at each in turn.
  1. "One of those scenes" - Ok, nice start here. Anderson has identified a convention, and now he'll describe how it functions to heighten our pleasure. Oh, he doesn't do that? He was being facecious? That's a shame, for a second, I thought he knew what he was talking about.
  2. "Predictably" - Guess what. Predictability is the point. If, at some level, we as an audience didn't know and expect what was going to happen, then we wouldn't get the same kick. That scene's cache is premised on our expectation of that exact thing happening.
  3. "A running joke--ha ha" - Mr. Anderson, stop, god, your wit is killing me! Just so funny! Unfortunately, he created this whole thing in his head. Grace goes to the bathroom, an average viewer probably didn't even notice she was gone. She has to go to the bathroom. There's no gag. Move on.
  4. "This potentially scary element" - I don't even know what the hell he's talking about here. Grace loses her cell phone, it's a necessary plot element. It explains why they can't call anyone later in the film. I fail to see how this could have been scary at any level. Should Ryder have sent text messages to Grace's friends? That would have been scary!
It's pretty clear that Mr. Anderson has little to no understanding of how genre functions to inform our viewing of a movie like The Hitcher. But even more embarrassing, we can only assume that he went into this movie expecting not some run of the mill popcorn scare ride, but instead some sort of cinematic achievement. It's a fucking horror movie! Like any rational human, I would never argue that the movie is deserving of any Oscar nominations, but to fail to appreciate the movie as a successful purveyor of genre pleasure is just unacceptable. It's idiots like Mr. Anderson that pollute the world with uneducated opinions about things they just don't understand.

Friday, January 19, 2007

When Sportswriting Goes Bad

It may surprise some readers, but when I'm not watching random horror movies, I sometimes take in an occasional sporting match. And like any other warm-blooded American male, I like to read about sports. For the last five or six years, Bill Simmons, ESPN's "The Sports Guy" had been one of my favorites. Well, my friends, that's all over.

In reality my interest began to wane maybe a year and a half ago, a year, something like that. Whatever, Simmons still wrote some stuff every once in a while that I could get behind and appreciate.

But this week, a week in which he put out two pretty sizable pieces, I've decided that I no longer like Bill Simmons, and won't be reading any of his future columns. To illustrate why this is the breaking point, I offer just a couple of organized, rational points:

1. Simmons writing, because it is so infrequent at this point and because he doesn't spend half as much time following sports as he claims to, has become less and less timely and more and more irrelevant. Case in point, his piece from Tues or Weds about the Suns. Seriously? This is a topic that has been written on ad nauseum at ESPN! Many, many, many blogs have talked about the Suns much more eloquently and more immediately, yet Simmons's writing about it as if he's breaking new ground.

2. In this same piece he makes CONSTANT references to the 80's Celtics and Lakers. You know what? I get it, those teams were good. But the last time I checked, that was 20 fucking years ago. Jesus Christ. I challenge someone to find a basketball column written by Simmons ever in which he doesn't mention one of those two teams (Bird's Celtics and Magic's Lakers). I fucking dare you, because I doubt it can be done.

3. Let's get down to the real meat and potatoes though, shant we? In his most recent piece, where he discusses the Patriots (really, that's weird, he never writes about them!), Simmons compares the Pats to the Yankees.

On the surface, this is a pretty crappy argument, or at least a very lazy argument, but it's in his reasoning that I really lose all respect for the man. Basically, he asserts that because the Patriots' story lines are so played out, non-fans are starting to hate them. (This is a drastic simplification, I know, but I couldn't even stand to finish the piece, so too bad).

Here's the problem, the number one offender in this regard, is the SAME FUCKING CORPORATION THAT SIGNS HIS FUCKING CHECKS! I mean, really, Bill, really? How in the name of god can he look in the mirror and take himself seriously at this point? I'm going to guess, by the headline of the article, and remember, I stopped about a third of the way in, that Bill wants to bitch about how "hate" became such a strong part of sports.

Now I come from Philadelphia, so that shit's built into us from day one, particularly for the Braves and the Cowboys. But I would argue, and it's not a hard argument to make, that ESPN is the single entity most responsible for generating hatred for x, y or z among fans. With their incessant idolization, and their sappy, poorly produced features and their idiotic, talking-head commentators, ESPN pushes tired story lines, 24 hours a day until the only emotion we can respond with is hate. There's just no other way. Well Bill, you're part of the fucking problem. So shut the fuck up.

4. Did I mention that the Sports Gal has an archives page now?! I didn't? Well, she does, in a sports column. Awesome huh? I wonder what quirky trend, already played out in the blogosphere, she's going to dazzle us with today!

5. Finally, some folks will argue, and it's a fair argument, that Bill Simmons laid the ground work for blogging, and a new kind of sports journalism, with his witty pop-culture references. You know what though, pop-culture isn't static, it moves. And while it has continued to move, and at a rapidly increasing rate, Simmons continues to reference the same TIRED ass movies, shows, bands, etc. He still talks about Pearl Jam. (Sorry, you might need Insider for that one, but trust me, Pearl Jam.) He made a reference to Godfather II today. Move the fuck on! And yes, I realize that sometimes he'll talk about new shows, like the Wire or Friday Night Lights. But it's usually just to mention that they're good or that folks should be watching them.

When he's actually writing, and leaning on these references, which is quite often, they're always from one of a handful of movies or shows that, for the most part, weren't all that great to begin with. The saddest part, at least from my perspective, is when he prints actual emails from "actual readers" and they reference the same shitty stuff. He's created a language around sports, that in my opinion anyway, is stupider and more simplistic than real sports dialogue can and should be.

I'll stop there, but believe me, I could go on. This is really all an offshoot of the whole "ESPN-has-ruined-sports" arguement that's been gaining some steam lately. The saddest part though, is that it wasn't all that long ago that Simmons was the freshest and strongest voice in sportswriting. Now, he's no better than any other bogus ESPN personality. Of course the only way things are going to change is if people stop visiting, and I just don't see that happening anytime soon. I can still hope though, and if that doesn't work, at least we'll always have Jason Whitlock.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Initial Thoughts on World War Z

When I first purchased Max Brooks’ World War Z I knew very little about the book. Subtitled “An Oral History of the Zombie War,” however, there wasn’t all that much else I needed to know.

Zombies? Sounds good to me.

What interested me most was how Brooks would handle the minutia of what the title of his book implied. We know what zombies are, and having seen enough zombie movies, we have an expectation of how they should act and behave. In a book though, a lot of the smaller details that films tend to glaze over would be much more difficult to hide.

Where did the first zombie come from? What exactly causes the zombiism? What physically happens to the body after contamination? Questions like this can be left to speculation in a film filled with exploding heads, tearing limbs and spouting blood. Books, for the most part, don’t have these corporeal distractions, or at least they can't rely on the same graphic depictions. So Brooks presumably wouldn’t be getting by on camera tricks, editing and gore.

Over the last couple of days I’ve managed to get through the first 75 pages or so, and I can gladly report that Brooks delivers on all those questions, and many, many more. In fact, Brooks has created a text that is vastly more interesting and engaging than any zombie film I’ve seen, and I really like zombie films.

The magic comes from World War Z’s brilliant structure. Instead of crafting a straight narrative, Brooks relates the story of the zombie war through short interviews with people around the world whose lives were affected in some way. To do this, he imagines himself a researcher working for a government agency after the war has ended. He is tasked with compiling an analysis of what went wrong from the emergence of the threat all the way through to the war’s end. NPR printed the book’s introduction online, which you can find here.

While Brooks deals with all the particulars of the zombie lore more than adequately, what is perhaps more interesting, especially in the early going is the descriptions and depictions of the world’s reactions. Through his interview structure, Brooks maps the how’s and why’s of the spread of the zombie virus (yeah, it’s a virus). This same structure also provides an easy mechanism by which Brooks can seamlessly blend exposition on the current state of affairs and foreshadowing for where things are headed. When interviewees off-handedly use terms like “The Great Panic,” you can’t help but get excited to see just how great it’s going to be.

Thus far, Brooks has delivered on all of my expectations, and has even provided a solid dose of the classic gore (fingers bitten off, brains splattering, etc.) that makes zombies so much fun. His book is a terrific blend of genre based excitement and genuinely well crafted fiction. It may seem hard to believe, but it's been a little while since I've encounted a page turner quite like this.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Lost, Serialized Drama and The Sandman

This morning, Erin Martell over at TV Squad threw up a post about how it might be a good thing that the Lost producers may be working toward a planned endpoint. Apparently I missed this announcement from their TCA coverage a couple of days ago, but what surprised me was the implication that it was ever okay if the show didn't have some preplanned endgame.

After season 1 ended, most viewers probably would have agreed that Lost was a great show. Now, in the middle of season 3, you'd be hard pressed to argue it as anything better than just good. Maybe I was being naive, but I always gave the benefit of the doubt to the creative staff behind the show that they knew what they were doing, they knew where things were going and that eventually, we'd all get swept back up into their grand design.

Of course, the news that now they are considering working towards a "planned endpoint," indicates that in fact that was not the case. On one level that makes me a little angry, for having bought into the show under the assumption that I wasn't just along for some wild ride filled with one red herring after the next (Martell makes mention of the four-toed statue). But what it has done more than anything is destroy a lot of the mystique that the show had built up.

That's really the problem with any of the serialized dramas. To keep things tight and to keep viewers interested and excited, they really need to be completely scripted from day one. Now I've heard that when Abrams pitched the show, he did so with a completed arc, but that would be impossible without some sort of endpoint. Now maybe he told them the end, said it would run 5 seasons, and they decided after the first that they wanted to make it 7. I can see that happening, and I'm sure the writers and probably most of the producers had absolutely no say in it. But either way, in that kind of money grab, the viewers are the folks that really lose out.

It was a conversation that I had with a friend and former professor, Jim Thompson, that really pulled this into perspective for me. We were talking about Neil Gaiman's Sandman, which I just completed a couple of weeks back, and he made the point that Gaiman had the whole thing planned before he wrote the first page. Having read the series, that much is pretty clear. No one creates what he created, no one produces a piece of literature like that, without knowing every step (or virtually every step) before setting out.

If anything, the shear scope of Sandman is much larger than that of Lost. The plot arc might be shorter, it's impossible to say, for reasons made clear above. But what's important is that Gaiman showed that creating a massive yet tightly wound serial fiction was very possible. It's all a matter of biting off enough, and having the foresight and talent enough, to be able to spit something out the other end that is capable of sustaining an audience's attention. If we look at Nielsen ratings, we can see that Lost has been losing steam, and at something of a quick pace, considering the fever the show originally induced. Maybe viewers have been getting a little tired of feeling like their being jerked around.

I guess, in the long run, this announcement can, as Martell argues, be seen as something of a win for viewers. But to get to that point we have to let the creators of Lost off the hook for the ride they've already taken us on. If they come back strong after this most recent break, maybe forgetting won't be all that much to ask.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sometimes They Come Back: Black Christmas

On as much of a regular basis as can be expected, I'll look at genre films, primarily horror, that have been remade in a reoccurring segment called "Somtimes They Come Back." Discerning horror fans will recognize the title from the mildly amusing short story in Stephen King's Night Shift, which was turned into a film in its own right and spawned two very ill-advised sequels.

Anyway, in this first installement I want to look at Black Christmas, which opened on Christmas day to some small hoopla by religiously minded folks.

Knowing I'd be venturing out to see the new film, I purchased the original version a couple of months back. I was only vaguely familiar with it at the time, but learned a couple of surprising bits of trivia. First, it was directed by Bob Clark, who helmed another, slightly less terrifying holiday film: A Christmas Story. Amazingly, Clark was also behind Porky's 1 and 2, and more recently, Baby Geniuses 1 and 2. What a career!

The original film, made in 1974, also carries the mantle of progenitor of the slasher sub-genre. I realize that choosing any film as the first is silly (sure there's half a dozen films that could lay claim to the lineage, and Peeping Tom and Psycho are both significantly older), but I, like a lot of people I would guess, took for granted that Halloween was the first slasher, and Black Christmas, which predates Carpenter's film by four whole years, clearly demonstrates that that is just not the case. Let's just call Halloween the classic slasher and move on.

So, while not tremendously highly regarded, the original film had a lot going for it. What I found particularly interesting when watching the film were is all the elements, both syntactic and semantic, that were intact by 1974. I won't waste time listing each here, this isn't an academic paper, but it is important to note that Clark at least appeared to know what he was doing from a genre standpoint. Just as interesting were the elements that didn't function as well. Black Christmas doesn't operate with the same sexual politics as later films, and thus the whole "final girl" convention is sort of wasted. It should be noted that Jess does survive to the film's conclusion, but she certainly does little if anything to thwart the killer, and in fact, mistakenly suspects her boyfriend and adds him to the body count herself. We never see her confront the killer, revealed only in the film's cryptic ending to be named Billy.

Thirty-two years separate this original from this season's remake, and what the 1974 film does with sublety, the 2006 edition does balls out and with tongue thoroughly planted in cheek. The basic elements of setting remain virtually untouched: giant sorority house; day before Christmas; suburban, wooded surroundings. Many of the plot elements remain as well. The characters in the 2006 version are influenced heavily by the original (the sassy, drunk sister; the naive Southern belle; the goofy house mother; etc.), and their order of demise holds relatively true to the source.

It should be noted that Black Christmas represents the sophomore effort for director Glen Morgan, whose previous feature work was itself a remake, the 2003 version of Willard starring Crispin Glover. Morgan's no rookie though, having cut his teeth primarily in TV, on two cult programs, The X-Files and Millenium, as a writer and producer.

In most of the ways that count however, the 2006 film looks and feels nothing like its predecessor. The most omnipresent of the changes stem from Morgan's decision (he also penned the film) to flesh out the character of "the killer." As mentioned above, Clark's original gives us virtually no information about the entity perpetrating the slayings. We get a first person shot of his ascent into the attic, one we see repeated in this year's version, but otherwise Clark tells us nothing of the killer's character or motive.

Morgan, however, puts the villian front and center, even going so far as to treat us to a genesis story that intertwines with our own narrative. This has been a strong trend in many of these remakes, opting for more explanation rather than less. Quint mentions this in his discussion of Rob Zombie's Halloween remake over at Ain't It Cool, but Black Christmas really might be the most egregious offender.

Billy, the film's Michael Myers stand in, grew up locked in an attic, unloved and virtually uncared for. There's some incest (of a particularly nasty variety I might add), there's some matricide, and finally Billy is taken away to the hospital for the criminally insane. Here's the shocker though, the house where Billy grew up, is the same house occupied by the delicious ladies of Delta Alpha Kappa! The sorority even embraces the killer's legend by wrapping a gift for him under the tree.

Horror, as a genre, is not usually about story. That is to say, that when we're watching a horror flick we're not asking questions like, "Hey, wasn't that the guy who said that thing about the other guy?" or even "Why is he stabbing all those people?" Horror is about a lot of things, but it's not usually about story. That being said, there's obviously a bare minumum of story that is necessary to carry the action, and more importantly, highlight the themes. We can't just have random murder and mayhem, well, we could, but that's a whole different argument.

What I'm trying to get at here is that the two Black Christmases are really at two ends of a spectrum within the genre of slasher horror. On one end we have the original, which is so bare bones that we are given next to no information about the killer. He likes the attic, and seems pretty indescriminate in his task, but, unless I'm mistaken, he's never even revealed to us as anything other than a disembodied hand or perhaps a lurking shadow.

On the other end of our spectrum is Morgan's film, which by comparison would seem a hulking mess of a film. We're literally treated to so much information about Billy, our psychotic antagonist, that we really don't know what to make of all the details. His mother hated him. She killed his father. He fathered his own sister, Agnes (who is mentioned in the original's cryptic ending). All this is before he digs out his sister's eye and eats it, chops up his mother and step-father and makes cookies out of them. I hope I'm making myself clear. This is all backstory. Backstory: that which comes before the story. While amusing and mildly entertaining, this amount of plot pulls the whole film into a swirling vat of molasses.

To be fair, Morgan's direction is adequate enough that my attention never really waned, but Jesus, he was challenging me. My point is that while the original left a lot on the table in terms of plot, leaving the viewer feeling somewhat shafted in the genre pleasure department, the new film tried to give us so much of this genre pleasure that we just felt full and sort of bloated.

This is where films like Halloween, Friday the 13th and even Scream work on a level unto themselves. The plot is nothing more than a dressing that the filmmaker can use to play through the slasher's conventions. We, the film viewers, know and expect this (well, they probably didn't expect it with the first Black Christmas as audiences probably weren't that versed in the genre themselves).

We don't need to know every slight and every wrong that turned Billy into the mess of human he has become. If anything, this information only serves to demystify the monster, to pull the curtain back on the proverbial Wizard. Looking back, Clark really didn't give us enough to work with. On the other hand, Morgan gave us enough for a whole slew of films. The sad part is that somewhere in between the two Black Christmases is a really terrific movie.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hey! Did You Know that the Golden Globes were on Tonight?!

Guess what! Tonight was the Golden Globes and everyone on the Red Carpet looked so rad! God, it was just such a magical night, I thought my head was going to explode with magic!

In genre news, Ugly Betty, which draws heavily from the coventions of Latin telenovelas, really cleaned up. Hugh Laurie also took home a GG for House, a fine television program. Othewise, I can't even muster the energy to care about any of the other awards.

Tomorrow's headlines today:
Blah, blah, blah, Helen Mirren.
Blah, Blah, Blah, Dreamgirls.
Blah, Blah, Blah, Scorsese.

But how bout that movie Grindhouse? That's some shit, huh? If you're suffering from serious indigestion after accidentally viewing a portion of the Globes, or even just thinking about viewing them, the only real treatment is watching this teaser like 8 times. Trust me, I've read about being a doctor.

And just so we're clear:

Golden Globes:




You Might Say I'm a Little Excited for this One

Horror remakes are all the rage these days, and with the surprisingly high quality of these retreads, it seems like everything that is old can be new again. More on that later though. For now, enjoy this pretty sweet trailer which I saw running in front of Black Christmas (itself a remake) this weekend. It's actually more of a teaser, but who am I to split hairs.

The clip is for the upcoming Hills Have Eyes 2 (3/2/07). It's that rare remake sequel, otherwise known as a requel, and it looks like it's also the feature writing debut of Craven the Second, Jonathan.

By all appearances, the new film doesn't look to share any similarities with the original sequel, instead opting for the time tested generic standby of military vs. monsters. Bringing in the big guns is always a great way to kick the violence up a notch (see: Day of the Dead, ROTLD 3, among others). Anyway, enjoy!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Going Forward, Looking Back

We're already two weeks into 2007, but I thought, what better way to kick things off here at Genre Matters than by pulling together a list of my favorite films of 2006. This list is in no way final or complete, and keep in mind it only includes films that I actually saw, so there's definitely some quality films not making an appearance.

Now, I was going to make this a top 10, but I couldn't come up with 10 films that I loved, so instead, here's a top 5 with some trimming at the end.

  1. The Departed:
    There was so much to love about this movie, that I hesitate to mention any one thing. An excellent cast from top to bottom, fine direction, violence galore: this one really did have it all. I feel like it will have to be the Best Picture front runner come February, but who the hell knows at this point.

  2. Children of Men:
    In my mind, this film's biggest success was a realistic and chilling vision of the future that seemed entirely plausible. Cuaron created a riveting fiction and then surrounded it with a spectacular script, with some of the year's best suspense. Bonus points for having an agenda but not slamming audiences in the face with it (ahem, Bobby).

  3. Pan's Labyrinth:
    Between the brutal conflict of the real world and Ofelia's truly horrifying fantasy excusions, Del Toro wove a tale that cut deep and spared no remorse. Like Cuaron, Del Toro chose a genre that can easily come off hackneyed and silly, and proceeded to turn in a true stunner.

  4. Brick:
    This rookie effort is the proud winner of the Genre Matters' "Genre Film of the Year." Bringing a traditional noir storyline to a California high school, writer/director Rian Johnson made perhaps the freshest, most invigorating film of the year.

  5. Half Nelson:
    Maybe I'm just out of the loop, but I was pretty sure Ryan Gosling was selling used cars in the Midwest. And then all of a sudden he comes out of nowhere with this gut-punch of a film and looks like the next big thing. Of course Gosling's co-star held her own as well, and for all you Shareeka Epps fans, good news, you can catch her in AVP2 later in 2007!

With the top five out of the way, here's my other notables, in no particular order:
  • The Descent: A pretty creepy little film, and then the mutant, flesh-eating cave dwellers show up.
  • Little Miss Sunshine: Favorite comedy of the year.
  • Prairie Home Companion: Altman's last hurrah worthy of a mention for its music alone.
  • Lucky Number Slevin: Definitely the most pleasent surprise of the year, really came out of nowhere on me.
  • Borat: I probably would have responded much more to this film without the ridiculous amount of PR run-up.
  • Casino Royale: I don't like Bond films, but Daniel Craig actually has me pretty pumped for another go around (that's number 22 for all of you counting).
So, take that for what its worth. I plan on expanding my discussion on some of these films, particularly those meaty in the genre department, as I go forward. Let's just call this a jumping off point.