DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC (Gold Cap Films…Not Rated…86 min)
It is summer time and that means Hollywood big budget studio films galore. It’s that time of year where, popcorn in hand, moviegoers turn off their thinking caps and gush of oversized onscreen fun. But if you prefer smaller and quirkier films of the indie variety, you may want to give Desperate Acts of Magic a try.
Co-directed by Tammy Caplan and Joe Tyler Gold, the film stars Joe Tyler Gold and tells the story of a magician who competes in an international magic contest where he goes head-to-head with a female street magician he has fallen in love with.
According to the filmmakers, Joe was inspired to write Desperate Acts of Magic from many real events in his life. With his background in both magic and theater, he noticed the subservient role that women play in most magic acts. Time and time again they are portrayed as servants parading around in skimpy outfits with no real purpose except to carry the magician’s props or be butchered by him in some horrific illusion. And although women in that role may be appropriate in some performances, it seemed odd to Joe that women were seen in that way most of the time. Joe wanted magicians to think more creatively about how women can be integrated into magic routines and not just standing on stage in a glittery leotard.
While the film looks low-budget at time, it’s a soft-hearted and appealing story. Also, the magic was accomplished without any special effects or camera tricks. Whenever possible, the magic was shot and edited in one continuous take without any cuts, which is impressive.
POLISSE (Sundance Selects…Not rated…127min…In French with English Subtitles)
While American film fans may think of The Artist as the breakout foreign film of the year, France’s Polisse, winner of the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, bested it with 13 Césars (the French Oscar) nominations.
The gritty film by Maïwenn, who co-wrote, directed and co-stars, follows the daily lives of a tightly knit (and tightly wound) team of men and women working in the Child Protection Unit (CPU) of the Parisian police. Based on real child investigation cases, Polisse shows the ins and outs of these officers’ lives, including how they deal with the high stress of their work and the inevitable fallout in their personal lives, think breakdowns, divorce and adulterous affairs within the unit.
“I happened to see a TV documentary on the Child Protection Unit and was deeply moved,” Maïwenn says of her inspiration to pen Polisse. “The next day I immediately called the TV channel and said I wished to contract the documentary director. I wanted to know how to meet up with the CPU police officers.”
The film comes off like a fly on the wall in a very disturbing room, as the CPU officers deal with abusive parents, child molesters, busting underage pickpockets, and confront the excesses of teen sexuality all during the course of a normal day. Business as usual here never gets boring. Personally, you may not want to look so closely at our disturbed little world, but the film, which offers an unflinching approach, keeps it real and makes it hard to look away, even when you really want to.
Polisse hits theaters, including The Landmark in West L.A., on May 18 and plays On Demand beginning May 25.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
(Lionsgate…Rated R…95 min)
Based on a very familiar horror film premise, the tag line for The Cabin in the Woods is extremely simple: Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad thing happen.
It doesn’t get more basic than that when it comes to splatter films. But there’s a very clever twist at play with The Cabin in the Woods. From the minds of producer Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and “Cloverfield” writer Drew Goddard, comes a mind blowing horror movie that attempts to turn the horror genre inside out, literally.
A cross between Evil Dead and The Truman Show, The Cabin in the Woods begins like any generic horror film might: a rambunctious group of five college friends head out for a weekend of debauchery in an isolated country cabin, only to be attacked by horrific supernatural creatures during a night of endless terror and bloodshed. But then the story takes an unexpected turn, which offers laughs and eventually, even more thrills and chills.
“On one level,” says first time director Drew Goddard, “Cabin functions as your classic horror film. It’s the sort of movie where you grab your popcorn and hold your date tight while you watch five teenagers head to the woods and encounter terrible things. But it’s also our version of that type of movie, which means things get a lot more insane than you might expect.”
The film stars Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame, as well as Jesse Williams of “Grey’s Anatomy,” newcomers Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchison, and Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”) and Richard Jenkins (“The Vistor”) who both steal the show.
“I thought at first it was a sort of grade A, Defcon 5 horror movie,” says Whitford of the Cabin screenplay. “But the more I thought about it, there was something very funny and smart about it. It’s such a clever way to deal with the genre.”
And it’s that cleverness that keeps the story from getting tired and stale. There’s always an unexpected twist ahead, which makes this a smart and turbo charged ride. This is a fun one for moviegoers that doesn’t like their films quiet or sedate.
Based on the horrifying crimes discovered in Snowtown, Australia in 1999, where police found dismembered bodies rotting in barrels, The Snowtown Murders, which marks the directorial debut of filmmaker Justin Kurzel, is a dark journey into a violent subculture surrounded by welfare dependence, addiction, domestic violence, brutality and sexual abuse.
We first see a single mother raising her three boys in Adelaide's poor northern suburbs. After her latest boyfriend displays pedophilic tendencies she takes up with a new man, the charismatic John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), hoping for security but instead winds up welcoming an even more vicious predator into her home.
Bunting is the moral compass among a circle of friends who hold self-appointed neighborhood watch meetings at the kitchen table. Fueled by cigarettes and beer they cast judgments on those living around them. Bunting enlists his crew in acts of sadistic vigilantism on those he considers deviants takes He soon pulls his girlfriend’s 16-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) under his wing. In a mix of misdirected hero worship and terror, Jamie becomes an accomplice to a spree of torture and murder.
Director Justin Kurzel is originally from Gawler, not far from where the murders took place. “I felt a great sense of trepidation about being involved in such a dark story,” Kurzel said. “However after reading Shaun Grant's screenplay, and the books that inspired the film, I soon found myself becoming drawn to the story and, in particular, the community in which it is set. [The script] brought to life a very complex father and son relationship between John Bunting and Jamie Vlassakis. With its raw brutality and surprising tenderness the script revealed a corruption of innocence unlike anything I had read before.”
Amazingly, the film introduces us to two new actors in its male leads. The Snowtown Murders marks the first feature film for Daniel Henshall and Lucas Pittaway, who both make extreme expressions with their powerful performances. Pittaway looks like a young Heath Ledger and has a great sense of innocence about him. Henshall, on the other hand, delivers a blistering performance and is a force to be reckoned with onscreen.
Dark and disturbing, some have called The Snowtown Murders a horror film, which isn’t true, although the true story it tells is quite horrific. The film is unflinching and pulls no punches delivering a story that is sadistic and tough to watch at times, but nevertheless is an excellent filmmaking foray.
Opening in theaters everywhere February 24, Tyler Perry’s Good Deedsstars Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, Brian White, Rebecca Romijn, Jamie Kennedy, Eddie Cibrian, Jordenn Thompson, and Beverly Johnson with Phylicia Rashad and Gabrielle Union.
Perry plays a successful, wealthy businessman who has always done what’s expected of him, whether it’s assuming the helm of his father’s company, tolerating his brother’s misbehavior at the office or planning to marry his beautiful but restless fiancée, played by Gabrielle Union. But he is jolted out of his predictable routine when he meets Lindsey (Thandie Newton), a down-on-her-luck single mother who works on the cleaning crew in his office building. When he offers to help her get back on her feet, the chance encounter with someone so far outside his usual circle ignites something in him. This one good deed may finally spark his courage to exchange the life that’s expected of him for the life he’s always really wanted.
A SERBIAN FILM
CONTOVERSIAL FILM AVAILABLE ON HOMEVIDEO Invincible Pictures • NC-17 • 104 min• Serbian with English Subtitles
Billed as the “most controversial film ever,” filmmaker Srdjan Spasojevic's incendiary A Serbian Filmis finally available for brave and hardcore filmgoers to see.
Banned by Netflix and too provocative for domestic in-theater distribution, the film tells the story of Milos, a retired porn star, who is struggling to make ends meet to support his wife, Maria, and six-year old son Petar in tumultuous Serbia. A sudden call from his former colleague Layla changes everything. Aware of his financial problems, Layla introduces Milos to Vukmir - a mysterious, menacing and politically powerful figure in the porn world. A leading role in Vukmir's production will provide financial support to Milos and his family for the rest of their lives. A contract insists on his absolute unawareness of a script they will shoot. From then on, Milos is drawn into a maelstrom of unbelievable cruelty and mayhem devised by his employer, "the director" of his destiny. Vukmir and his cohorts stop at nothing to complete his vision. In order to escape the living cinematic hell he's put into, and save his family's life, Milos will have to sacrifice everything - his pride, his morality, his sanity, and maybe even his own life.
A winner at the 2010 Fantasia Film Festival, in addition to screening at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival and the 2010 Sitges Film Festival, A Serbian Film is a hotbed of controversy. It was banned by a San Sebastián (Spain) court for "threatening sexual freedom" and could not be shown at the XXI Semana de Cine Fantástico y de Terror (21st Horror and Fantasy Film Festival). It was also banned in Norway for its sexual representation of children and extreme violence. And in May 2011, a Roman Catholic organization complained over a pair of scenes involving the rapes of a young child and a newborn.
Inspiring outrage and debate since its premiere, A Serbian Film has become one of the most notorious, shocking, discussed and controversial films in recent memory. While the film slowly builds, taking its time to actually build its story, it actually made me doubt if it would be as shocking as all the hype that has surrounded it. Sure, there are adult, i.e. “porn” elements to the film, so it wasn’t out of nowhere when there was graphic onscreen nudity and sex scenes, but when the action turned towards the extreme, an onslaught of challenging and in-your-face maelstrom of violence overwhelms and decimates anything as controversial that Hollywood can even dream to muster.
With elements of portraying a snuff film, along with vivid child rape and necrophilic scenes, A Serbian Film pushes the boundaries of what is “art” and what is acceptable as entertainment, event outdoing a film as ghastly, and revolting to some, as The Human Centipede (Full Sequence).
While filmmaker Spasojevic says his film is a comment on life in Serbia, it will surely outrage many, even people who will actually never see the film but will want to voice their opinion. There’s no way to see this film and not discuss what is actually going too far, and if they indeed cross the line. Watch at your mind’s own peril.
The film will be available in stores, on Amazon.com, at the film's official site and on FlixFling.com, a new online streaming service.
HAPPY HAPPY Magnolia Pictures • 88 min • Rate R • Subtitled
Winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Happy, Happyis described by some as a “warm comedy” from award-winning Norwegian filmmaker Anne Sewitsky. If this is considered “warm,” I’d hate to see that the Norwegians consider dark.
More drama than comedy, the film follows two families who have just become neighbors. Landlord Kaja soon becomes obsessed by her new tenants, whom she considers to be the perfect couple. They even sing in the church choir. Of course, nothing is as it seems.
Kaja, an eternal optimist, leads a ho-hum life, trapped with his husband who pays her no mind – he’s happier hunting with the boys than having sex with his wife, whom he tells her “isn’t particularly attractive.” A quick and awkward kiss with Sigve, the husband next door, soon clears up the fact that Kaja can indeed give a good blowjob, no matter what her husband says.
As Kaja and her husband become attracted to the well-built Sigve, things turn awkward. That, and the fact that Kaja’s little boy likes playing “slave” with the neighbor’s adopted Ethiopian little boy, and, well, try and find where one gets “warm comedy” from this slightly twisted, yet thought-provoking foreign film.
“I wanted to tell the story of an insistently happy person,” says director Anne Sewitsky. “No matter how hopeless and tragic the world may be, she smiles. Kaja lives through others, wants to be like everyone else, maybe for want of individual foundations. Her driving force becomes happiness; she’s made joy her survival strategy.”
The film is being mentioned among possible Best Foreign Language frontrunners. Definitely worth watching, you won’t be bored, that’s for sure.
Happy, Happy is playing at the Landmark's Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles and Regency's South Coast Village 3 in Santa Ana.
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAVE TO GO BACK TO THE MOVIES ‘PIRANHA 3DD’ SEQUEL IN THE WORKS
There’s something in the water . . . again. And this time no one is safe from the flesh eating fish as they sink their razor sharp teeth into the visitors of wild summer attraction, The Big Wet Water Park.
Dimension Films has started production on the sequel to PIRANHA 3D. Principal photography is now underway in Wilmington, NC on PIRANHA 3DD being directed by John Gulager (Feast).
The ensemble cast includes Danielle Panabaker (The Crazies), Matt Bush (Adventureland, “Glory Daze”), Chris Zylka (The Amazing Spiderman), David Koechner (Anchorman), Meagan Tandy (Unstoppable), Paul James Jordan, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Hector Jimenez, Adrian Martinez, Clu Gulager and more cast to be announced soon.
PIRANHA 3DD is a Dimension Films release, produced by Mark Canton, Marc Toberoff and Joel Soisson. Executive producer Chako van Leeuwen; Co-Produced by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg.
PIRANHA 3DD will show its teeth in theatres nationwide on November 23, 2011.
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST Music Box Films – 148 min; Rated R Swedish with English Subtitles
The last installment of a brilliant Swedish trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nestfollows groundbreaking thrillers The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire based on the best-selling novels written by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson.
In this last installment, badass goth chick Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the pierced and tattooed genius computer hacker, lies in critical condition, a bullet wound to her head in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she’ll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for three murders. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), she will not only have to prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.
Anyone who has already seen the first stellar two films must be salivating to see this last installment. If you haven’t seen any of these films, do yourself a favor and run to your video store ASAP and catch up before viewing The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nestthat will not disappoint.
It will be very interesting to see how the upcoming American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher (Seven, The Social Network) and starring Daniel Craig and newcomer Rooney Mara (Erica Albright in The Social Network) as the daring Lisbeth Salander, will play out. The film is too daring and provocative for a Hollywood release and hopefully we will not get another watered down English language version. But for now, we at least have the relentless The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nestto thrill us.
HATCHET II SLASHES TIES WITH MPAA; FILM TO BE RELEASED UNRATED NATIONWIDE OCTOBER 1ST
Kicking off the Halloween horror movie onslaught, filmmaker Adam Green’s Hatchet IIwill slice & dice its way into AMC Theaters nationwide on October 1 unrated, the widest release of any unrated film in more than 25 years.
AMC Theatres, under its AMC independent program, will be exhibiting Hatchet IIin the top 20 markets across the country. Vitagraph Films is serving as theatrical distributor. The film cast features a cavalcade of horror familiar faces including Danielle Harris (Halloween), Tony Todd (Candyman), R.A. Mihailoff (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th) reprising his role as serial killer Victor Crowley.
Billed as a ferociously fun tribute to the old-school horror sensation slasher movies of the 80's, the film is the follow-up to the popular original film, which was released theatrically in 2007 and became a sleeper-hit, gaining a wide following on DVD. Hatchet II is having its world premiere this week in London at Fright Fest, the UK's premiere horror and fantasy film festival.
Director Adam Green said: "Having a movie as graphically over-the-top as Hatchet IIcome out in major theatres unrated is an absolute dream come true -- not only for the genre fans but for the entire make-up effects crew who normally have to watch their amazing achievements get sliced and diced for theatrical release. This is an important event for the horror genre and I hope the real horror fans support Hatchet IIand help change the way genre films are released theatrically from this day forward. Kudos to Dark Sky Films and AMC theaters for truly honoring the spirit of old school American horror and doing this right. Gorehounds won't know what hit them!"
Dark Sky Films' Greg Newman added: "We are thrilled that audiences will not have to wait for a director's cut or unrated version of Adam Green's Hatchet II. On October 1st fans will have the opportunity to see Hatchet IIin theaters exactly as it was intended to be seen: full-on, uncut and uncensored! We hope that this unrated release of Hatchet IImarks a new trend in providing an uncompromised theatrical experience for genre film lovers nationwide."
Just as the 80's had their signature murderous maniacs-Halloween’s Michael Myers of Haddonfield and Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees of Camp Crystal Lake- the original Hatchet marked the arrival of the latest and most lethal of the genre's stalking murderers: Victor Crowley, a crazed backwoods killer stalking the bayous of New Orleans.
The sequel picks up right where the 2007 original film ends, as Marybeth (Danielle Harris from Halloween) escapes from the clutches of the deformed, swamp-dwelling killer Victor Crowley. Marybeth returns to the Louisiana swamps along with an army of hunters to recover the bodies of her family and exact her revenge against the savage serial killer.
Filmmaker Rob Reiner has a knack for telling wonderful, nostalgic stories. He did it with the classic coming of age Stand By Me and now he has returned to somewhat familiar territory with the goodhearted, young romantic comedy Flipped.
Responsible for helming some of the most popular and influential films of the past two decades, Reiner’s films include This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, Misery, A Few Good Men, The American President, and most recently The Bucket List. A first-rate director who knows how to tell a captivating story with well drawn out characters, Flippedis the story of two adolescents who go to the same school and live across the street from one another who meet when they’re in the second grade. Immediately young Juli Baker flips for Bryce Loski, the boy with “dazzling eyes.”
“The first day I met Bryce Loski,” Juli says in the film, “I flipped. It was those eyes. Something with those dazzling eyes.”
“It was the beginning of more than half a decade of strategic avoidance and social discomfort,” is how Bryce recalls it. “All I ever wanted was for Juli Baker to leave me alone.”
Based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, Flippedis an excellent film with something to offer everyone. Good family fun, it definitely covers all the bases and will entertain all.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME (Disney – 116 min) Rated PG-13 IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE
It used to be that movies were crafted from an original idea or based on a novel or real life event or person, then we were mired in movie versions of television shows and now it seems the trend is basing a film on a popular video game, hence Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon, Con Air, Pirates of the Caribbean), you know the scope of the film will be grand and that chances are it’ll be more style than substance, luckily director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enchanted April) reels in the some of the over-the-top elements and adds some fine touches of humor and sincerity.
Starring a buffed out Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is eye-candy galore with the Prince showing off his chiseled abs and the lovely Gemma Arterton as the inevitable love interest. Set in sixth-century Persia, the film is a fantasy, action-adventure love story with a time travel element.
A lot has been made of casting the hunky Gyllenhaal as a middle eastern, even with a quasi tan, the Anglo actor is never believable as a Persian but I’m sure most moviegoers won’t make an issue out of it, however watching the venerable Ben Kingsley (a fine actor) darkened with a cheap tan does border on offensive.
A Bruckheimer movie-by-numbers ‘popcorn film,’ the film is too long and its story predictable. Personally, I prefer the Donnie Darko Gyllenhaal but he does make for a dreamy action hero, if only the story were better thought out.
KICK-ASS ANTI SUPERHERO MOVES KICKS MAJOR ASS (Lionsgate – 113 min) Rated R
If you’re thinking of dismissing Kick-Assas just another hokey teen comedy, think again. This is one riotously hilarious and ultra violent film that doesn’t hold back any punches, or gunshots or swinging blades. Think Watchmen without being so long and boring, X-Men without being so geeky and part Kill Bill comic fun (with equal bloody body count) and part Reservoir Dogs with its unapologetic sense of style and tone.
When an ordinary New York teen, tired of being picked on and bullied, dons a green and yellow wetsuit he bought online, he becomes the no-nonsense vigilante Kick-Ass, who still manages to get the crap beaten out of him. But he’s not the only crime fighter in town, the father/daughter duo of Big Daddy and Hit Girl have their act together and they leave carnage and corpses wherever they go in their attempt to permanently shut down local crime boss Frank D’Amico. As self-imposed superheroes lay the smackdown on criminals everywhere, it’s good vs. evil in the ultimate death match.
While newcomer Aaron Johnson delivers a solid performance as Kick-Ass, it’s Chloë Grace Moretz (soon to be seen staring in Let Me In, the American remake of Sweden’s glorious vampire film Let The Right One In) as Hit Girl and Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy that steal the show, along with Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin from Superbad as superhero Red Mist).
Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass comes across as the straight man amongst all the unrelenting, rabid onscreen mayhem that Big Daddy and Hit Girl create. And even Cage’s cheesy superhero homage to Adam West’s Batman is cheeky, over-the-top and priceless.
“Big Daddy is my ode to Adam West who, for me, is the only Batman,” Cage explains. “I grew up watching Adam West and he still has yet to be topped, in my opinion. He had this odd rhythm to his delivery, and I just wanted to tip my hat to him a little bit, to actors like him and William Shatner, who I think really started a whole cultural movement.”
An onscreen love letter to comic books, Kick-Ass is the opposite of what most comic book movies end up being…watered down versions of the original. These are not your cookie-cutter superheroes. And although it’s not as dark and epic as the latest batch of Batman films with Christian Bale (arguably the best superhero films made), this is a fun, sick & twisted thrill ride. First rate fun!
If you find yourself not in the mood for an over-the-top, special effects-driven movie this week, you might want to give Don McKay, a dark thriller with a twisted sense of humor, a try.
Starring Thomas Haden Church as Don McKay, a high school janitor who fled his hometown 25 years ago after an unfortunate accident, who comes back home to rekindle a romance with his childhood sweetheart (played by Elisabeth Shue) who says she’s dying and wants to set things right by marrying him before her eminent death. Of course he finds way more than he ever bargained for upon his return and murder, blackmail and lust collide head on.
Also starring a top-notch cast of solid character actors like Melissa Leo, M. Emmet Walsh, Keith David and Pruitt Taylor Vance, the film marks the impressive debut for writer/director Jake Goldberger.
“I really wanted to make my version of what I observed a ‘film noir’ to be, but an unusual and original one,” Goldberger points out. “A noir that would jump the tracks before it had a chance to fully develop, sending the story into even more of a bizarre tailspin than it would have ended up in originally.”
This is perfect for fans of seedy, slow moving films like Blood Simple, Fargo and Clay Pigeons, films that don’t need to be too obvious or right on the nose, where quirky and disturbing are what it’s all about.
A phone rings in your motel room waking you up. You don't know who is on the other end of the call, yet you start a conversation. Eventually it leads to phone sex. Interesting premise, no? That's how Easier With Practicebegins as short story author Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty of The Hurt Locker) is on a book tour along with his brother making a road trip out of it.
Soon enough, Davy can only relate to his mysterious caller. Phone sex in a motel room becomes phone sex in a dark alley to eventually sex in the front seat of his station wagon. But over time he longs just for conversation and less time with sticky hands. Of course he doesn't know really know anything about the girl that calls herself Nicole. Her number comes up 'restricted' on his cell phone caller ID and she won't give him her digits. Eventually she confesses she has a boyfriend and when Davy starts dating it seems she gets jealous. This doesn't make for the world's healthiest relationship. It seems Davy is happier living in his safe fantasy world where there is no actual contact or real responsibilities or pressure. But once the two finally decide to meet, things turn completely unexpected.
For Geraghty, riding a good wave to success with The Hurt Locker and currently so-starring opposite the great Martin Sheen in "The Subject Was Roses" as the Mark Taper Forum through March 21), he's becoming a very good leading man. He offers a sweet, sincere performance that really draws you in. Easier With Practice plays like an indie film critic's fave but don't let that deter you. This is a good, little honest movie and I mean that in the best possible way.