America, the Idiotic, and THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, a semi-review, but not really.

All right, that's it. I've had it with you, America, and your lame sense of being "entertained." Sure, I fall for Hollywood's tricks more often than not, becoming enamored with something because of this or that that reminds me of something I genuinely loved at one point, but no more! Thanks to Rob Cohen's THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, I have decided that you, m'lady, are full of rancid shit.
The movie itself wasn't horrible; mildly enjoyable adventure film, I'd say. Not the disaster that THE SCORPION KING was, but close enough to THE MUMMY RETURNS territory as to wonder what the hell the filmmakers could possibly be thinking. After a solid first half, the film derails from its fragile and hastily laid tracks by implementing an attempt at humor so egregious to anyone who halfway has a brain that they should wind up hating this movie.
In the midst of a fight with some bad guys, a few Yeti are called into action - okay, it's a fantasy action film and we're in Nepal, so why not? But can someone please tell me why the hell there's a sequence where one Yeti punts an enemy off the mountain, looks over to his friend behind him, and expresses pure joy when the observer pronounces his field goal is "good" by making the standard American football signal for it? HOW THE FUCK DOES A YETI, admittedly a fictional creature, KNOW WHAT THE FUCK AMERICAN FOOTBALL IS?!?!?!?
And why are YOU laughing at it, you standard American idiots I saw the film in an auditorium full of? Is that "clever" to you? I doubt it. I think you're just that stupid.



In the hope of actually giving a much more thorough trek through my recent viewings, I write mini-reviews/thoughts/etc. of those movies I just don't have the time to devote to writing up as a longer piece. I give you once again, an installment of "Blurbs":

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most exciting directors I’ve ever become enamored with. He doesn’t shy away from pop sensibilities, nor more artistic ambitions, and he is frequently brilliant in his horror/fantasty/action films. PAN’S LABYRINTH, certainly his best film to date, was a trailblazing experience, adopting all the wonderment that comes with the best told fables and fairy tales. With HELLBOY II, del Toro has fully stepped into his own creatively, fully realizing a fantastic world that doesn’t just come to life, but simply is; something that could conceivably exist within the parameters of our own reality. It’s not a film that is as successful or coherent as PAN’S LABYRINTH, but it is certainly a must-see film that delves into the characters and cares for them so much. HELLBOY II is a quirky, dark, lighthearted and ultimately thrilling film that seems like the work of an improv artist, and that, though it seems like it could fall apart at any moment, thankfully for the audience, it never feels like it is attempting to do something it just can’t quite accomplish. It is this sense of anarchy in the production - the hilarious asides, the frequent sense of amazement, and the exuberant energy of just about everything - that gives the film its real heart and purpose.

The biggest surprise is that THE INCREDIBLE HULK doesn’t suck. It’s not a great movie by any means - not even close to IRON MAN or THE DARK KNIGHT - but it pulls off what it sets out to do beyond anyone’s expectations. This is a re-booting of the franchise launched originally by Ang Lee in 2003 in an adaptation that has divided fans and critics, and which I think is a superb movie that bears the distinct mark of its maker. The latest outing is a much more action-centric telling. It’s the opposite side of Lee’s more cerebral take on the character five years ago. Edward Norton and Liv Tyler are servicable as Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, which is more than I can ask for, and there are some flashes of their true capabilities from time to time; if only they were given more to do. But, as I stated, the action is on center stage here, and not the characters. It's essentially a three-stage actioner that I didn't mind sitting through, and that gives a pretty good representation of the other, "smash"-ier side of the Hulk than previously seen.

This is a movie that I never in a million years would have picked up or watched (outside of it being on the Sci-Fi Channel at 3 AM), but decided to try after reading a couple of really positive reviews. Well, add my own opinion to the recommendation pile because this movie has it in spades. What is a well-worn genre is given a much-needed invigorating spike of juice in this taut, thrilling giant-animal-develops-taste-for-humans tale about a killer crocodile on a river in Australia. Radha Mitchell stars, and delivers a nice turn (I like listening to her natural accent) as an Aussie river tour guide, and the gore and effects are really well done. ROGUE was written and directed by Greg McLean, who delivered the delicious Outback horror film WOLF CREEK a few years back. This one's worth checking out, and I'm gonna keep my eye on McLean.



Wong Kar Wai has been called the world's most romantic filmmaker, and with good reason. His films CHUNGKING EXPRESS, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, and 2046 express the longing and desire of being in love while being wrapped up in stories and characters that feel fresh, exciting and new. They are lush films that fill their audience with sumptuous visions and delights. With his English-language debut, MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, he delivers a lesser film, a sweet ode, not entirely unlike the blueberry pies from which the film takes its namesake.

This is not to say that the film is any less sumptuous in any respect, but that the impact is a much lighter one, and is easily resolved without too much heavy digestion afterward. This worked fine for me, as it was what I wanted at the time, as opposed to a less airy film. Sometimes you want the full meal, and sometimes you just want coffee and dessert, right?

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is essentially a road movie, though a lot of the conventions of the genre are largely missing, like most of the scenes that tend to take place traveling to and from places. It starts in New York City, where cafe owner Jeremy receives a phone call inquiring about a customer. Before long, Elizabeth shows up with a set of keys and a message for her boyfriend. We learn it was her on the phone, and that she is in the area because he lives nearby. Her boyfriend is cheating on her, and she is feeling rejected. In one of my favorite "meet-cutes" in a long time, they have the following exchange about the pie that no one ever eats:

Jeremy: Hmm. It's like these pies and cakes. At the end of every night, the cheesecake and the apple pie are always completely gone. The peach cobbler and the chocolate mousse cake are nearly finished... but there's always a whole blueberry pie left untouched.
Elizabeth: So what's wrong with the Blueberry Pie?
Jeremy: There's nothing wrong with the Blueberry Pie, just people make other choices. You can't blame the Blueberry Pie, it's just... no one wants it.
Elizabeth: Wait! I want a piece.

Before long, Elizabeth is visiting the cafe regularly to talk to Jeremy and eat the pie that is always left at the end of the night. There is no real mystery about who is going to end up with who here, even though Elizabeth does take the keys back and decide to try it out one last time with her boyfriend, and even though Jeremy's ex-girlfriend pops in at one point only to check on the cafe and friend she left behind all that time ago.

One night, after seeing her boyfriend with another woman in his apartment window, Elizabeth leaves town and heads west. The film picks up in Memphis, where she, now going by Liz is working days in a diner and nights in a bar, and where she meets Arnie Copeland, an alcoholic police officer separated from his wife Sue Lynne. Arnie and Sue Lynne enter Liz's world slowly, and she witnesses their destructive behavior while attempting to figure out her own self. It's clear to her that Arnie and Sue Lynne care about one another, but that they have fallen out of love; at no time more evident than when she smacks him after he beats up her boyfriend and he threatens to kill her with his pistol if she walks out the door.

Again we jump forward to Nevada, where Elizabeth has taken up another job waiting tables, this time at a small-time hotel and casino outside of Vegas. There she meets Leslie, a gambler who is never playing even. Out of money and out of a high stakes poker game, Leslie gets Elizabeth to finance her re-entry into play, with her car as leverage. After losing the money again, the car is Elizabeth's, but she must take Leslie to Vegas first, though she doesn't seem to want to go there, as we learn later, due to her estrangement from her father.

After these vignettes about relationships and the nature of love, Wong Kar Wai brings us and Elizabeth back to New York, where she reunites with Jeremy and everything works out beautiful and melt-y, just like the slice of blueberry pie with ice cream that keeps popping up in extreme close-up. It may be a hammy metaphor for love, but its a delicious looking one, and one that is perfect at describing the warmth that comes from the emotion.

The film is not perfect, but the perfomances are, with Norah Jones making her debut as Elizabeth, and veterans Jude Law, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn, and Rachel Weisz all turning in top-notch work. The cinematography, also wonderful and impressionistic (as always) is perfect, with enough gloss and sheen that the cafe Jeremy owns is filled with lush blues and pinks and reds, usually with a hint of neon from the signs that adorn its windows. MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is a wonderful little film about learning life's lessons, and how even when you journey far from home, sometimes the thing you want the most, and the person you want to be, is right under your nose.


Watching INSIDE is akin to running a marathon, albeit a marathon through a house of horrors so unimaginable that it's difficult to breathe during or afterward. Like ILS (THEM), and FRONTIER(S), it is a film that is relentless in its pacing, and unflinching in its horrific brutality. Another win for the French horror filmmakers, I guess.

INSIDE is without a doubt one of the more disturbing films in recent years, concerning not only its subject matter, but how far it is willing to push the envelope with its violence and cruelty. As a horror film, it succeeds on every level, creating an atmosphere of dread that becomes blood-soaked very quickly, and with a series of events and an ending that left me, and no doubt will leave you, feeling like I had been bludgeoned and stabbed myself. I haven't felt as uncomfortable watching a film in quite a long time.

The film is about a mother-to-be named Sarah who, four months after a car crash killed her husband, is about to deliver her baby. The day before she is to deliver, a strange woman comes to her door, knowing
Sarah's name, and that her husband is dead. Sarah calls the cops, but the woman is nowhere to be seen. Promising to check in periodically, the officers leave Sarah to go to sleep, assuring her the woman probably fled when they show up. What follows the police, I'll leave you to discover, though it's all very bloody, elaborate, and utterly realistic.

Apart from the violence, there is some interminable suspense and mystery that oozes through the film, mostly regarding the woman, who she is, and when she will strike. Beatrice Dalle, who plays the woman - that's the character's name, as she is never given one proper - is no stranger to French horror, having herself starred as the woman afflicted with cannibalistic desires in TROUBLE EVERY DAY. Here she plays a largely emotionless killer who is obviously faced with bouts of rage and denial about what she is doing and what has happened to her (especially noticeable after the "twist").

Speaking of that twist, I think I should point out how well it is executed within the film's story, and how it makes perfect sense, but is something that isn't put together far in advance based on the clues of what the woman says or does to Sarah. Once it hits, though, before the film's climax, it makes everything that happens afterward a bit more horrific, and after an hour of being subjected to things I thought I would never find anything more terrifying than, this one thing pushes the last bit just that much farther. I was truly disturbed by the film's finale. I'll leave it at that, because to say anything more would give it away.

INSIDE is not a film that should be seen by everyone. In fact, I would wager that it would not appeal to the vast majority of viewers. But for a horror fan, or a fan of films that disturb, provoke and leave one's head filled for days afterward with questions, images, and just in general shake someone to the core, this one's for you.


Stephen King and the Adaptation to film

I found this in an article about Stephen King's new "motion comic" that will be released online through Aug. 29, based on a short story of his. While I'm looking forward to the comic itself, I find his observation on the nature of adaptations of his work rather amusing.

"I've got my own work to do, and all this is something else," he says. "To me, when I finish with something, it's like dead skin. And if people want to make dead-skin sculptures, that's fine. Just give me my cut."

I'm not sure why, but when I read that, I laughed out loud. At work. I think it was the combination of morbidity and biting wit that did it for me. That's the largest reason I think he's so fantastic as an author. He's honest - often in the most bizarre ways - and that's something you just have to respect.

I know he has been deeply involved in and critical of his own adaptations from time to time, but I think he is probably being very honest here, taking less interest in those projects he hasn't been asked to be involved in, and going in full-steam ahead for things he has co-adapted (the mini-series adaptations, comics, etc.)

I love Stephen King. Maybe Alan Moore could learn something about this approach instead of coming out against everything on principle.



ILS (THEM) is a French horror film that fits only somewhat into the French Transgression, the current mode of horror filmmaking that is having its heyday right now that insists on explicitly exposing the human body in every way imaginable. Most films in this genre are ultra gory [see my brief write-up on FRONTIER(S) for an example] and subject their main characters to what amounts to torture, for better or worse, and with varying effects on the viewer. Some are amazing works, satisfying and layered explorations of what it means to be a certain thing - in this case, human [FRONTIER(S), IRREVERSABLE, TROUBLE EVERY DAY]. Others are mere exploitation, or just can't seem to get over the trappings of their own mechanics to achieve that greatness, as is the case with the much-lauded HIGH TENSION, a film that manages to be scary, gory, and all sorts of other wonderful before falling apart with what must be the worst ending to a good film I've experienced in many years of seeing horror films in theaters, or with any of the American attempts at the same experience [HOSTEL, VACANCY, et al].

And so, we have now THEM, a film set in Bucharest that tells the story of the terrorizing of a French couple in the middle of nowhere by someone in and around their remote house. It is basically the plot of a million other movies (the recent American release THE STRANGERS has the same exact story, if it moves in a completely different direction), but that doesn't matter, because THEM is a film entirely about the execution. For 70 minutes, it is a rollercoaster of creep-outs, the majority of them taking place in the humongous house the couple, Clementine and Lucas, owns in Bucharest, where she is a teacher.

Also like THE STRANGERS, THEM is allegedly based on a true story, though like anything claiming to be so this must be taken with a grain of salt. I tend to err more on the side of the Coen Brothers' FARGO when it comes to adapting "truth", and believe that the statement only serves to enhance the film's capability if it is pulled off well. And THEM certainly is pulled off. Clementine and Lucas are believable characters, and they don't act like idiots throughout their assault, so that serves as a plus right from the get-go. Even when they do behave like morons, it's at least in a way that is believable and grounded in reality, and not some mere setup for them to get into more horrific shenanigans like so many characters in your run-of-the-mill schlock.

There are sequences in the film so terrifying and claustrophobic, like a masterfully executed pursuit through a corner of the house under renovation, that I felt like I was under attack myself. Clearly, these are filmmakers who know their territory, and they don't even use an overabundance of blood and gore to do it (which is why I say it barely fits into the current wave of French horror). On the flip-side, however, there are places where the film is lacking. I felt it should have been a bit longer, perhaps showing more of the dynamic of the titular characters as the film enters its final third, and its final chase, beneath the town, and through an elaborate and wonderfully creepy tunnel/sewer/aqueduct system. But this is a minor quibble about a film that managed to nonetheless make me feel uneasy from beginning to end, and which was truly unpredictable in its details.



I love the Coen Brothers something fierce, and I'm sure I won't be disappointed by their latest effort, which comes out extremely soon (Sept. 12). With a lot of their usual crew along, they aim to wrap up their "Idiot" Trilogy with Clooney, and from the looks of it, it should be done with some gusto.

I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan, but I do enjoy the film series, and I really can't wait to find out what happens - I know, everyone should already know this, but screw that...Anyway, here's the new trailer, and I'm excited about learning more about Lord Voldemort.

This is Baz Luhrman's long-awaited follow up to his wonderful MOULIN ROUGE, and it's set in the Australian outback. The trailers are always a poor indication of what to expect from him, but nonetheless, here it is, and I'm sure we're in for more than a few surprises come time of the film's release.


"You're high as a fucking kite!" That line is uttered by the mother of twenty-five year-old stoner Dale Denton's high school girlfriend at a dinner where he tries to explain the absurd situation he has found himself in, and the immediate danger to his girlfriend and her family. The thing is, at that moment, he is telling the truth; it's just that it sounds like some outrageously paranoid delusion that only someone stoned out of their mind could concoct. And so goes the entirety of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, a film so sublimely off-kilter and outrageous that it seems like the wet dream of its two main characters after having a smoking binge on the couch after watching too many action movies before passing out.

The film, scripted by Seth Rogen, who plays Dale, and his buddy Evan Goldberg (the pair that also wrote last year's fantastic SUPERBAD), is directed by David Gordon Green, a filmmaker who, until now, has specialized in low-key indie fare, and has been quite adept at it. His films GEORGE WASHINGTON and ALL THE REAL GIRLS, for example, are two of the few examples of truly incredible work in independent film. With PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, Green shows he more than has the chops for the big-time, and that he probably deserves the opportunity to import more of his own brand of drama and humor into the mainstream market.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS follows Dale Denton, who goes on the run with his pot dealer Saul after witnessing a murder by a powerful drug lord. The two are tracked by hired hitmen based on the rarity of the weed they were in possession of (that Dale dropped at the murder scene) - called Pineapple Express - and through constant botched logic, end up getting into some rather serious shit. The film plays like a stoner comedy with action movie plotting, succeeding in combining some seemingly incompatible genres, and in pointing out the ridiculous nature of most "serious" films, much like last year's more brilliant HOT FUZZ.

When the drug lord comes on, it's like gangbusters, and the pair find themselves in car chases, shootouts and fistfights that defy logic and common sense, but fit perfectly within the realistic fantasy-milieu of the film. The best of these sequences, the car chase between Rosie Perez's corrupt police officer and Saul (also in a police cruiser), and the climactic battle on the pot farm that, literally, pulls out all the stops are so brutal yet flat-out hilarious that just to fathom them in their entirety is an ordeal in and of itself. Seriously, these things could have only been dreamed up by an inebriated soul.

If there's one standout thing in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, it's definitely James Franco's performance as Saul, which is achingly hilarious, and definitely as awards-worthy as Heath Ledger's Joker. Any fan of FREAKS AND GEEKS will tell you that he is more than capable of carrying comedy, but after a film career of being cast in somber roles, Franco is finally showing that spark that he had all those years ago, and is really hitting his stride. As Saul he is lovable and carefree, and every moment spent away from him is a lesser one. He provides the heart of the film - searching for a friend, looking after his grandmother - and eventually pulls Rogen's Dale back from the self-destructive cynicism he employs earlier on, and grows out of by the end of things.

The final scene, in which the duo, along with their injured friend Red, a mid-level dealer who originally was ratting them out, are eating breakfast is true to form. After all, what would stoners do after such excitement except reminisce over pancakes and omelettes? Hell, I do that after simply seeing a movie in which all of that happens. Then, they leave the restaurant in Saul's grandmother's (Bubby) car and they need her to drop Red by the hospital. Fitting, no?

In short, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is a fun way to end the summer season, even if you're not a stoner, because there's a lot to laugh at here. Franco's performance is a winner, and that alone is worth the price of admission. And don't let the silly premise fool you into thinking it's not that good. The film is a fresh concept in a glutted comedy landscape, and, to paraphrase one of the film's best lines, its like God's vagina.