Saturday, April 25, 2009

OBSERVE AND REPORT - the second "comedy" in a month to feature a rape scene*

Director Jody Hill seems to have a talent for taking talented comedians and putting them in deeply unsuccessful vehicles viz. Danny McBride in THE FOOT FIST WAY and now Seth Rogen in OBSERVE AND REPORT. Apparently, Hill's aim was to create a dangerously subversive black comedy that captured the tragic loneliness of human existence a la TAXI DRIVER (I kid you not.) Such a movie would've been superb, if not highly derivative of Scorsese and de Niro's own KING OF COMEDY. But Jody Hill's film is neither black comedy nor conventional comedy. It's just poorly written, ill-concieved and boring. It takes a special skill to make comedy that is truly bleak but still entertaining. Ricky Gervais pulled it off with his TV series THE OFFICE, and in film, IN BRUGES and BAD SANTA were funny but tragic at the same time. It takes a writer who can finely judge the balance of tone and who is unafraid to mine human vulnerability. No matter how self-interested and callow David Brent is, we have to still like him, still see ourselves and our own vulnerabilities in him, otherwise, he just becomes an unlikeable idiot and we switch the TV off.

The first problem is, then, that Seth Rogen's character isn't likeable or sympathetic. In fact, he is singularly unpleasant chap. Like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, he's an out-of-shape security guard who dreams of being able to use firearms and to win the hot blonde chick of his dreams. Unlike Paul Blart, he's demeaning to co-workers, lacks any self-awareness and drugs, then rapes the girl of his dreams. (Yes, she may drunkenly ask him to continue, but someone who has taken a bottle of pills and vomited on the pillow is in no position to give informed consent.)  Even if it weren't for this decidedly unpleasant plot turn, the movie would be a failure because it simply generates no laughs. I swear the only time I even smiled was when Aziz Ansari, playing a retailer, has an argument with the jumped-up mall cop and calls him out for his racist, bigoted attitude. The pacing is slow, Ray Liotta is on auto-pilot, there isn't enough of the brilliant Anna Faris, and there's too much offensive bullshit.

Jody Hill needs to watch THE OFFICE, BAD SANTA, IN BRUGES and KING OF COMEDY before being let near a script again.

*The first was THE BOAT THAT ROCKED. Because if trying to trick a girl to have sex with Boy Y when she thinks she's going to be fucking Boy X isn't attempted rape, what is?

OBSERVE AND REPORT is on release in the US, Canada, Iceland and the UK. It opens on May 8th in Estonia and Romania; on May 14th in Australia, Russia and Lithuania; on May 22nd in Norway; on May 29th in Finland and South Africa; on June 11th in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria; on June 18th in Germany; on July 10th in Italy; on September 4th in New Zealand and on September 25th in Sweden.

Friday, April 24, 2009

IN THE LOOP - superb British political satire

IN THE LOOP is a British political satire written and directed by Armando Iannucci - one of the best comedy writers in Britain today, with TV shows such as THE THICK OF IT, BRASS EYE, the ALAN PARTRIDGE series and THE DAY TODAY. Iannucci's specialises intelligent, excoriating, raucously funny depictions of the British political elite and the commentators, spin doctors and civil servants who surround it - the so-called Westminster Village. IN THE LOOP is his first feature film, a spin-off of the TV show THE THICK OF IT. It shows how ministers of state on both sides of the Atlantic are bounced into a war (clearly Iraq) by spin doctors, over-eager journos and the machinations of their superiors. Politicians are shown to be callow; spin-doctors manipulative and crass and the whole lot of them incompetent and self-serving.

The resulting film is shot with the bare minimum of competence on what was all too evidently a shoe-string budget. It could've easily been shown as an extended TV special. But no matter. My friends and I were laughing out-loud uproariously from start to finish - sometimes at the filthy language - more often at the Pure Comedy Gold. Admittedly, the pace of the film slackens in the second half, and a good twenty minutes could've been cut from the run-time. But despite this, we truly laughed from start to finish and were quoting lines and scenes on the way home. Particular praise for Tom Hollander as the British politician with a proclivity to say something controversial when faced with the press and for Peter Capaldi as the foul-mouthed, pugnacious spin-doctor. On the other side of the Atlantic, Zach Woods is particularly funny as the vitriolic, arse-licking aide. Oh yes, and there's a brilliant cameo from Steve Coogan as a disgruntled constituent.

IN THE LOOP played Sundance 2009 and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in the US on July 24th.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

STATE OF PLAY - derivative, badly made, dull political thriller

I love political thrillers, and have liked the previous work of the writers behind STATE OF PLAY - Billy Ray (FLIGHTPLAN), Matthew Michael Carnahan (LIONS FOR LAMBS), and Tony Gilroy (DUPLICITY, MICHAEL CLAYTON,THE BOURNE MOVIES & THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE). Unfortunately, these collective talents have turned in a script that, if one were being kind, might be accused of excessive nods to genre tropes, and if one were honest, would be accused of being derivative, lazy and predictable.

Russell Crowe plays an investigative journalist called Cal McAffry, who works on a Washington Post-style paper. We know he's a maverick reporter because, in lazy movie-shorthand, he's overweight, he needs a haircut and shower, his desk is a mess and he's mean to a newbie blogger, Della Fry, played by Rachel McAdams. He has a ballsy, fearless, old school, harrassed editor - is there ever any other type? - played by Helen Mirren. We know she's got balls of steel because she swears a lot. Then again, as soon as the cub reporter starts whimpering because she's being demoted, the apparently hard-nosed editor caves in. Where's the subtle power of Ben Bradlee is ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN - a movie that STATE OF PLAY overtly aspires to be? Cal McAffry has a friend who is a US Senator, Stephen Collins, crusading against the military-industrial complex, as represented by a Blackwater style company called Pointcorp. We know he's serious, earnest and a politician because he has a square jaw and bags under his eyes. His wooden acting may also be a marker of the essential superficiality of the political class, if we were still being generous. Cal and Stephen both dated a woman in college who Stephen later married, and cheated on with an intern who has since been found murdered. The wife is played by an age-appropriate delivery device - Robin Wright Penn - the intern is played by a red-head so we'll be able to pick her out easily in the CCTV footage.

From all this information, and given that I've told you that the writers are in awe of the great paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s, you should be able to piece together the plot. The politician is implicated in death of his young lover. Both were investigating multi-billion dollar government contracts. Could it be that greedy capitalist bastards did it? The movie is very much a standard-issue jigsaw puzzle. I knew whodunnit because I'd seen the infinitely superior British TV serial on which this movie is based. Doctor007 knew whodunnit about thirty minutes in because he has a brain and he's seen enough films like it.

Apart from the predictability and laziness of the plot and characterisations, I was deeply disappointed by the casting decisions and the production values. Russell Crowe, Robin Wright Penn and Ben Affleck are meant to be college contemporaries but Crowe looks a decade older than Affleck. I was sad to see the role of Dominic Foy cut down so much (although Jason Bateman was rather good in the role) and I was sad to see Ben Affleck's role become more two-dimensional. Worst of all, there was a lot of sloppy tech stuff that pulled me out of the film. Look out for some particularly ham-fisted photo-shopped pictures of Senator Affleck as an Iraqi war soldier. My god-daughter could do a more believable job of cutting and pasting a photo of one man's head onto another man's body. 

All in all, this movie is a cheap, serviceable thriller at best, and a pretentious, dull, derivative thriller at worst. Avoid.

STATE OF PLAY is on release in Canada, Iceland, Spain, Turkey, the USA and the UK. It opens in Egypt, Greece, Italy, South Korea, the UAE, Finland, Norway and Sweden next week. It opens on May 22nd in Japan and on May 29th in Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, New Zealand, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Lithuania, Mexico and Romania. It opens on June 5th in Estonia; on June 12th in Singapore and Brazil; on June 18th in Argentina, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal; on June 24th in France and on July 1st in Belgium.

SPOILER: Also, did anyone else find it a tad disappointing to have a movie aim at indicting the military-industrial complex but end up as a movie motivated by sexual jealousy?

Monday, April 20, 2009

GOOD - compelling study of moral corruption

Cinema sells stories of monsters and angels - Hitler and Schindler. Rarely do we find a movie that shows us the unpalatable truth: most people are, when nudged by a little flattery, likely to take the easy path of self-interest. We are callow creatures, but as Ripley put it, "Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn't it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they're a bad person."

GOOD is a facile title for a movie that deals with precisely this complicated, unpalatable truth, in the most savage of circumstance, Germany in the 1930s. Handsomely shot and beautifully acted, the movie deftly shows us the moral deterioration of a well-meaning but ultimately easily corruptible academic, played by Viggo Mortensen. As the movie opens, he's an uncomplaining, but frustrated middle-aged man, struggling to please a depressed wife, care for a chronically ill mother and manage his children. His personal struggle is reflected in a novel he writes about euthanasia for the chronically ill.

Years later, and this good man is seduced, first by an adoring young student (Jodie Whitaker) and second, by a clever Nazi official who, with a few charming words and reassurances, persuades the academic to write a paper advocating euthanasia of mentally and physically handicapped. After all, isn't it better to be inside, influencing policy, rather than carping on the sidelines? Mark Strong, in a cameo role, is petrifyingly efficient as the recruiting officer. Even more interesting is the character played by Steven Mackintosh - a brutal SS thug who will organise "spontaneous" anti-Semitic riots with a boyish charm and vulnerability that challenges us to with-hold our sympathy.

What makes this film compelling is that it treads the fine line between empathy and sympathy. I don't sympathise with the "good Nazis" but I do empathise. It's all too plausible to see "good men do nothing", or rather think that they are doing nothing when really they are actively enabling a regime they know to be evil. The only truly sympathetic character is that of the Jewish psychologist, played by Jason Isaacs. It's a brilliant performance in a memorable role.

GOOD played Toronto 2008 and opened in Hungary, the US and Brazil in 2008. It is currently on release in the UK and in Australia. It opens in Spain on May 22nd; in New Zealand on June 4th and in Argentina on October 1st.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

SYDNEY WHITE - paint by numbers teen comedy

SYDNEY WHITE is a harmless, mediocre, teen rom-com vehicle for Amanda Bynes, who I typically like but is not stretching herself here. The movie is not so much a contemporary re-telling of the Snow White story as a conventional rom-com with a few casual links to the fairy-tale. Bynes plays the eponymous heroine, who goes to her dead mother's alma mater and tries to join her sorority for sentimental reasons. When the bitch in charge rejects her out of jealousy - because Bynes may be a comic book reading geek but, hey, she still looks good in a mini-dress - Bynes takes refuge in a house full of losers. And, as in movies such as OLD SCHOOL, THE HOUSE BUNNY and ACCEPTED she transforms the geeks into popular kids, through sheer vim and vigour.

All of which is so much derivative, lazy, nonsense. Normally, I'd say that Bynes' charm elevated the material and made it watchable, but this stuff is getting tired and Bynes needs to move on.

SYDNEY WHITE was released in 2007 and is available on DVD.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE - ridonkulous

Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is an East End hitman who inexplicably lives in LA and dates a ditzy stripper called Eve (Amy Smart). In the original CRANK flick aforementioned triads injected him with an adrenaline-inhibitor. As a result, Chelios had to run round town after the anecdote, periodically re-charging his heart with adrenaline by, among other things, engaging in random outdoor sex. In this sequel, the triads are so impressed with his capacity for survival, that they decide to transplant the famous Chelios heart into an aged gangster (David Carradine). Chelios wakes after surgery, wired up to an external battery, with only a few hours to get his old heart back and into his body.

The one good thing about CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE is that it knows, nay it glorifies, in how ridiculous it is. It's a movie that is deliberately designed to be balls-out ludicrous - more guns, more violence, more insane out-door sex, more crazy Asian gangsters, more revenge. It even has the juvenile wit to cast Corey Haim. It's like watching a live action video game on fast forward. There's little plot and less care for political correctness. Asians are Chinks, women are whores, and the audience is expected to laugh when a stripper gets shot in her fake tits and they deflate.

I laughed.

But I didn't laugh as much as I laughed during the original movie. Call me sentimental, but some of the innocence has gone. CRANK 1 was a simple low-budget cheap-thrills action flick starring Jason Statham. Statham's career is simply absurd: he's basically a skinny bald kid from Essex who can't act but has somehow muscled up and become a B-movie star. CRANK was the perfect vehicle for Statham - mirroring the absurdity that is his continuing success with its drug-induced aesthetic. Still, for all that, it had a semblance of a plot, and there was the thrill of getting to know these absurd characters. The sequel is just more of the same, but so much more that it's dizzying and, finally, boring. The movie builds to a crescendo with an open-air sex scene and then becomes plain dumb. The precise depth of dumbness is achieved in a pointless Jerry Springer parody sketch with a young actor failing to replicate Chelios' East End accent and Geri Halliwell aka Ginger Spice as his ChavMum.

CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE is on release in the UK, US, Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Taiwan and Greece. It opens next weekend in Iceland, Bulgaria and Romania. It opens in Turkey on May 8th; in the Czech Republic on June 23rd; in Sweden on July 31st; in France and Australia on August 20th; in Belgium and the Netherlands on September 10th; in Brazil and Spain on September 18th; and in Argentina on September 24th.

Friday, April 17, 2009

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - Strange and beautiful

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a movie that sits on the boundary between art-house and mainstream, much in the manner of THE SHINING. The movie is based on the successful novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, lazily referred to as the Swedish Stephen King, but director Tomas Alfredson has shot it with a lingering, stylised beauty that belies its violent subject matter. In a wintry Swedish sink-estate, a shy, thoughtful boy called Oskar meets a strange, self-confident girl called Eli. She gives him the confidence to stand up to the school bullies: he is her first real friend in years. Many years. Eli is, in fact, a vampire. As the movie unfolds we see Eli come out of hiding to protect Oskar, and Oskar accept Eli's vicious nature. It's a story of first love and willing suspension of disbelief that is beautiful to contemplate despite its gory denouement.

As I was watching the movie I felt like I was in the same position as Oskar - so mesmerised by the strange, fairy-tale tone of the film that I was willingly ignoring the many questions the movie raised - and the many plot points it was skating over. Who was the father figure Eli was commanding to kill on her behalf? What was with the strange scene showing an apparent castration? What did the final scene really mean?

Since then, I have read the novel, which is indeed more graphic and more disturbing. Oskar has far more vicious tendencies - Eli's past is fully explained - and the issue of "grooming" is explored. It adds up to a more complicated, more thought-provoking product. I couldn't help but regret that the movie had sacrificed this darker material to achieve it's dark fairy-tale tone.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was released in Norway, Sweden, the USA, Poland, South Korea, Finland, Germany, Denmark and Australia in 2008. It opened earlier this year in New Zealand, Italy, Russia, France, Singapore, Lithuania, Mexico, Greece and Estonia. It is currently on release in the UK and Iceland and opens next week in the Netherlands. It opens in Portugal in May 7th and in Argentina on July 23rd.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

FAST & FURIOUS - no alarms and no surprises

The latest installment in the FAST & FURIOUS franchise is a slick but vacuous affair, with none of the authentic drift-racing of part 3, TOKYO DRIFT, and none of the self-mocking ridonkulousness of CRANK 2. The movie plays with all the earnestness of a tragic love story despite the MTV visuals, misogyny, auto-eroticism, wooden acting and risible dialogue. Other than a quite brilliant lorry heist in the opening ten minutes, the movie is unwatchable. Basically, we're back in LA, with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker reprising their roles as a street racer and a Fed respectively. They both compete in a street race to win slots as drug mules for the infamous Mexican drug lord Braga. It's not entirely clear why a major drug dealer would want to draw attention to himself by organising big-ass illegal street races, or why he would want to ferry H across the border in day-glo cars. But what am I saying?  This is a movie of which it would be impossible to under-intellectualise. 

FAST & FURIOUS is on global release.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I LOVE YOU, MAN - lame

Another day, another piss-poor Hollywood comedy. Do not be fooled by a cast list including members of hit comedies like ROLE MODELS (Paul Rudd) and FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (Jason Segel). This movie is tame, formulaic and just plain dull.

Paul Rudd plays against character as a dorky metrosexual who discovers, pre-wedding, that he doesn't actually have any close guy friends. He turns to his gay brother (Andy Samberg) for advice, a character presumably only written into the movie to defuse any puerile quips from the audience. Eventually, the dork meets a cool guy (Jason Segel), they hang out, the fiancee gets jealous, people argue in an attempt to create some dramatic tension, but it all ends happily.

Jason Segel seems like a genuinely likeable guy. It would be good to see him in more flicks. Paul Rudd is over-exposed. And he also needs to stick to his core strength, which is being a dead-pan wise-ass rather than a low-self-esteem metrosexual. The only thing that kept me from falling asleep was an early cameo from J K Simmons. 

Seriously disappointing.

I LOVE YOU, MAN is on release in the US, Iceland, Romania and the UK. It opens next week in Australia, Germany, Hungary, Brazil, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Mexico and Spain. It opens on May 15th in Italy; on May 28th in the Netherlands and New Zealand; on June 4th in the Czech Republic; on June 11th in Belgium, Argentina, Portugal, Russia, Norway, Sweden and Turkey. It opens in Singapore on June 18th; in Chile on July 9th; in Denmark on July 10th; in France on July 29th; and in Finland on August 7th.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

17 AGAIN - crimes against the R8

First up, I may not be the target demographic for this flick (teen chick) but I am a great fan of body-switch comedies like FREAKY FRIDAY and BIG, and I also really liked Zac Efron in HAIRSPRAY and the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL flicks. Therefore, I came to this film predisposed to like it.

Sad to say, I didn't just NOT laugh, I was positively squirming in my seat for most of the film. This is because screen-writer Jason Filardi (no previous work of note) has totally mis-conceived this movie. The whole point of body switch movies is that you get a double-comedy. On the one hand, we see a young kid act preternaturally mature, which is cute. (viz. Fred Savage in VICE VERSA or Jodie Foster in the original FREAKY FRIDAY). On the other, we see a grown-up goof off, which is adult wish fulfillment (the best example of this is Jamie Lee Curtis rocking out in the FREAKY FRIDAY remake).

But 17 AGAIN breaks this fundamental rule. Instead of a body switch comedy, adult loser Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) is magicked back into a 17 year old body (Zac Efron). In said body, he gets to turn his teenage son (Sterling Knight) from loser to basketball team member and comfort his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) when her school bully boyfriend dumps her. Instead of being preternaturally mature in a cute way, he preaches abstinence in an awe-shucks absurd manner, kills the reputation of the Audi R8, and makes eyes at his adult soon-to-be ex-wife (Leslie Mann). I found the love story between the 17 and the 40 year old deeply, deeply disturbing to watch.

Because there's no statutory adult-goofing-off in this movie, the writer has had to invent a comedic sub-plot all of his own. Accordingly, he casts Thomas Lennon as Mike O'Donnell's geeky, infantile, adult best friend, and shows him wooing the similarly geeky school Principal (Melora Hardin). It's a piss-poor attempt at humour.

And what of the target demographic? I took The Kid and she was similarly unimpressed. And the cinema of mostly teen girls squealed at the opening shot of a topless Zac Efron shooting hoops, but after that, ominous silence.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is on release in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Iceland, South Africa, Sweden and the US. It opens next weekend in France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Estonia. It opens on April 20th in Spain and Romania and on May 6th in Belgium, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Greece and Lithuania. It opens on May 14th in Egypt, Germany, Italy and Japan and on May 28th in Russia and Bulgaria. It opens on June 5th in Finland, on June 19th in Norway, on July 10th in Brazil and on July 23rd in Portugal.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

AFGHAN STAR - compelling doc about Afghani cultural tensions

AFGHAN STAR is the debut feature length documentary from Havana Marking. It's a 90 minute movie chronicling social tensions in contemporary Afghanistan as they coalesce around the TV show Afghan Star, loosely modelled on TV talent shows like American Idol and X Factor. After years of Taliban rule, where music, dancing, TV and radio were outlawed, Afghanistan is starting to thaw. TV is legal - so is music. In Kabul, men are clean-shaven and women, while veiled, don't wear the full burkha. On Afghan Star men, and even some women, sing songs of teenage heart-break. The Afghanis SMS their votes, learning democracy, and even start to vote for contestants who don't come from their own tribe. The show's producers talk about bringing Afghanis from guns to music and one of the top contestants sings songs of national unity. On the face of it, the show is a major success. Ratings are monumental, the country is in a fever over the final: music has returned.

And then comes the more conflicted reality. Kabul may be comparatively liberal, but Kandahar, where one of the finalists - a woman - comes from, isn't. The Taliban tolerate her success out of tribal pride but threaten her when the show is over. Another contestant, a woman, dares to actually dance on stage. Nothing provocative by Western standards, but as she dances her veil slips. The death threats roll in. Her fellow contestants are disgusted with her. But she is courageous and defiant. The Islamic Council - a government sponsored body that pronounces on Sharia Law - has all dancing on TV banned.

The resulting documentary shows Afghanistan deeply conflicted. The younger generation, especially those in Kabul, are desperate to have their share of modern culture and to resurrect the pre-war Afghanistan of hip teenagers of both sexes at University. But the country is still in the grip of the Taliban and, more subtley, of self-censoring conservatism.

I found AFGHAN STAR fascinating, insightful and well-put together. It deserves wider distribution than it currently has.

AFGHAN STAR played Sundance 2009 where it won the Audience and Director award in the World Cinema - Documentary category. It is currently on release in the UK.

Friday, April 03, 2009

MONSTERS VS ALIENS - nothing special

MONSTERS VS ALIENS is a rather didactic, sporadically funny CGI animated film from DREAMWORKS - the studio that brought you SHREK. In contrast to SHREK, the incessant pop-culture references have been toned down, as have the fart jokes. Indeed, this movie makes a stab at being sweet and relying on old-fashioned physical humour in the manner of PIXAR movies. What hasn't changed is the classic DREAMWORKS didactisim. If SHREK is all about not being superficial and having self-esteem, MONSTERS VS ALIENS reads as a proto-feminist tract on female self-empowerment. Now, I'm the last person to object to such material, but it should at least be leavened by a steady stream of jokes. And on that score, MONSTERS VS ALIENS is well behind MONSTERS INC or THE INCREDIBLES, if not as out and out dull as BOLT 3D.

Reese Witherspoon is typically charming and engaging as Susan - a woman transformed in size and strength when hit by a meteor. She is sequestered by the government with other monsters, renamed Ginormica and asked to take-on an alien invasion by Gallaxhar, who covets her new powers. The movie is about Susan learning to embrace her strength and not to underestimate herself. It's also about her dumping her callow boyfriend (Paul Rudd) who can't cope with dating a woman who is more famous and powerful.

Where the movie does well is in its set-piece action sequences. I also loved Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie and Will Arnett as the Monsters; Rainn Wilson as Gallaxhar and, most of all, Kiefer Sutherland as General W.R.Monger. I was less impressed by Stephen Colbert as President Hathaway (although that may have been due to his part being under-written - the scene where the President greets the alien probe is painfully unfunny.) But my biggest criticism is that the movie's moral message was just very heavy-handed and got in the way of the fun.

Finally, a quick word on the increased use of 3D. This movie uses 3D in the old fashioned "stuff coming out of the screen at you" manner rather than the pretentious "immersive" technique used in BOLT. I'm not convinced that either add anything to the movie-going experience. Rather, aren't we all convinced that it's just a cynical ploy to foil the pirates? The only recent movie I've seen where 3D actually enhanced the experience was Gil Kennan's brilliant MONSTER HOUSE.

MONSTERS VS ALIENS is on release in on global release.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT is a very tame, very workmanlike horror movie. A family crippled by medical bills rents a house near the hospital where the teenage son is being treated for cancer. Mum is willing to overlook the fact that it used to be a mortuary because the rent is cheap. The kidmstarts hallucinating: turns out the old inhabitants were binding spirits and said spirits are mad. Medium-bad things ensue (after all, this movie is rated 15 not 18).

The production values are just fine, and the movie benefits from above-average horror casting with Virginia Madsen as the desperate mother, Martin Donovan as the falling-off-the-bandwagon father and Elias Koteas as the priest with the magnetic (don't ask) crucifix. The problems are the same as with all haunted-house horror: why don't the family just leave the house? On top of that, why did the previous owners go to all that trouble? It doesn't seem to me that they got much reward for their labours. Two simple rules of economics might have saved all parties a lot of bother: cost-benefit analysis and the price revelation mechanism.

THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT is on release in the UK and US. It opens on April 17th in Brazil and Iceland; in Sweden on April 24th; in the Netherlands on April 30th and in Finland on July 3rd.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Overlooked DVD of hte month - MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES is a documentary by directer Jennifer Baichwal and DP Peter Mettler that attempts to translate Canadian still-photographer, Edward Burtynsky's photos to cinema. Burtynsky's specialises in landscape photography. But, radically, instead of photographing pretty pastoral scenes, he focuses on landscapes that are the results of human consumption - rivers polluted with industrial waste; garbage dumps; gigantic factory floors in new Chinese industrial towns; American hills ravaged by open-cast mining. The shocking thing is that his pictures are stunningly beautiful - perfect balance, great colours - until you look closer and realise that you're looking at a heap of old electronics components or a polluted river. The work is powerful in terms of this disturbing play between beauty and destruction, and in terms of its scale.

By translating the stills into cinema, Jennifer Baichwal allows the viewer to look into the pictures and to, occasionally, hear Burtysnky's interpretation of his work. Just the sheer time it takes for a camera to traverse a gigantic Chinese factory floor is powerful. And the close-up of a woman's hands rapidly assembling a power-breaker, dexterous, monotonous, takes us to a place beyond stills photography. The resulting film is beautiful, disturbing, thought-provoking and transformative without being overtly didactic. To that extent, it reminded me a lot of OUR DAILY BREAD, which put the industrial food business under the microscope.

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES played Toronto 2006 and Sundance 2007. It opened in Belgium, the US, the Netherlands and France in 2007 and in Spain, the UK and Japan last year. It is on release on DVD.