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16 posts from May 2010

May 28, 2010

Survival of the Dead

Only a Thread
Romero Loses His Credibility
By Cole Smithey

Survival-dead-poster-381x500 Sometimes nothing is better than something. George A. Romero's latest zombie retread demotes the 70-year-old filmmaker to a pale imitation of the groundbreaking director who invented zombie satire in 1968 with "Night of the Living Dead," and then shifted to full-on postmodernism with "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) and "Day of the Dead" (1985). This time around, anachronisms abound. On the Delaware island of Plum rival Irish families feud about how to handle their kith and kin after they've been infected by the ever-approaching rampaging zombies. A rogue military squad led by Guardsman Sarge (Alan Van Sprang) learns about the island refuge from a hipster boy (portrayed inadequately by Devon Bostick) they capture along with an armored truck filled with three million bucks. The team ends up embroiled in the crossfire of a family squabble after making their way onto the idyllic island. Strident patriarch Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) has no hesitation about killing anyone infected by a zombie bite, while his rival Shamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) would rather keep his zombie relatives on a short chain. Muldoon hopes to train them to eat animal flesh rather than human meat. Athena Karkanis plays Tomboy, the unit's token lesbian, whose chances of finding love are zero. Zombie blood gets gratuitously splattered, but there's nothing at stake in a movie that should never have been made. "Survival of the Dead" doesn't even qualify as a guilty pleasure.

Zombies represent hell on earth. Brueghel the Elder's 1562 painting "The Triumph of Death" shows a terrible vision of an army of skeletons attacking a village while dark fires burn across the sky in the background. It's much more than a nightmare. It's a scenario that no matter how much you study it, the more bewildering and frightening it becomes.

We have come to understand zombies very well. We know they are slow but tenacious, mindless creatures singularly obsessed with ripping apart live human flesh. Unlike Brueghel, Romero has lost sight of the nightmare of such an environment. He prefers to embrace it as more of a dream from which the viewer might not be bothered to be awoken for all of its comforting elements. There's no horror, and as such no satire.

The Viet Nam War weighed heavily in the gritty subtext of "Night of the Living Dead." Romero's commentary on race relations gave the film an unmistakable backbone of au currant import that hit you in the gut. "Dawn of the Dead" foreshadowed the military industrial complex and radical right wing extremism that have come to rule every spectrum of America's social and political spectrum.

By comparison "Survival of the Dead" represents a throwing in of the towel. It's a cartoon rather than a work of rigorous cinematic art. Rather than contextualize the breakdown of global societies (witness the current crises in Greece, Thailand, and the U.S.), Romero has written a story that would fit better into a '60s era "Star Trek" television episode. The film doesn't come anywhere near the thematic heft of a half-hour episode of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" (also from '60s television). 

Horror films shouldn't necessarily respond to the overwhelming circumstances of economic, natural, and social catastrophes, but when you are the progenitor of the myth, you do have a certain obligation to rise to the level you established. Where "Night of the Living Dead" was a tapestry, "Survival of the Dead" is barely a thread. 

Rated R. 90 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

Jean-Luc Godard's Socialism Poster


Winnebago Man

May 24, 2010

The 63rd Cannes Film Festival Awards


Palme d'Or
LUNG BOONMEE RALUEK CHAT (Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives) by Apichatpong WEERASETHAKUL

Grand Prix

Award for the Best Director
Mathieu AMALRIC for TOURNÉE (On Tour)

Jury Prize
UN HOMME QUI CRIE (A Screaming Man) by Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN

Best Performance for an Actor
Javier BARDEM in BIUTIFUL réalisé par Alejandro GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU

Elio GERMANO in LA NOSTRA VITA (Our Life) réalisé par Daniele LUCHETTI

Best Performance for an Actress
Juliette BINOCHE in COPIE CONFORME (Certified Copy) by Abbas KIAROSTAMI

Award for the Best Screenplay
LEE Chang-dong for POETRY


Palme d'Or

Jury Prize
MICKY BADER (Bathing Micky) by Frida KEMPFF

AÑO BISIESTO réalisé par Michael ROWE présenté dans le cadre de la Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

Un Certain Regard Prize – Fondation Groupama GAN pour le cinéma
HAHAHA by HONG Sangsoo

Jury Prize
OCTUBRE (Octobre) by Daniel VEGA & Diego VEGA

The Prize for Best Performance Un Certain Regard
Adela SANCHEZ, Eva BIANCO, Victoria RAPOSO in LOS LABIOS (The lips) by Ivan FUND & Santiago LOZA


First Cinéfondation Prize
TAULUKAUPPIAAT (The Painting Sellers) by Juho KUOSMANEN

Second Cinéfondation Prize
COUCOU-LES-NUAGES (Anywhere out of the world) by Vincent CARDONA

Third Cinéfondation Prize
A VEC JESAM SVE ONO ŠTO ŽELIM DA IMAM (I Already am Everything I Want to Have) by Dane KOMLJEN

The Jury of the CST awarded the "PRIX VULCAIN DE L’ARTISTE-TECHNICIEN" to :
Leslie SHATZ, for the sound of the film BIUTIFUL by Alejandro GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU.




LOUIS, a silent film directed by Dan Pritzker and starring Jackie Earle Haley, Shanti Lowry and Anthony Coleman, will premiere in US cities in late August with live musical accompaniment by Wynton Marsalis, renowned pianist Cecile Licad and a 10-piece all-star jazz ensemble, including Sherman Irby, Victor Goines, Marcus Printup, Ted Nash, Kurt Bacher, Vincent Gardner, Wycliffe Gordon, Dan Nimmer, Carlos Henriquez, Ali Jackson, and conductor Andy Farber. Marsalis will play a score comprised primarily of his own compositions. Licad will play the music of 19th century American composer L.M. Gottschalk. The group will perform live with the film in a series of special performances in New York City, Chicago, Washington DC, Detroit, and Philadelphia August 25 - 31.Partial proceeds from the five concerts will benefit Providence Saint Mel School in Chicago, IL in honor of Paul J. Adams III
Shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond as a modern re-imagining of early silent film, LOUIS is an homage to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, beautiful women and the birth of American music. The grand Storyville bordellos, alleys and cemeteries of 1907 New Orleans provide a backdrop of lust, blood and magic for 6 year old Louis (Anthony Coleman-pictured above; photo credit: Peter Sorel) as he navigates the colorful intricacies of life in the city. Young Louis's dreams of playing the trumpet are interrupted by a chance meeting with a beautiful and vulnerable girl named Grace (Lowry) and her baby, Jasmine. Haley, in a performance reminiscent of the great comic stars of the silent screen, plays the evil Judge Perry who is determined not to let Jasmine's true heritage derail his candidacy for governor.
"The idea of accompanying a silent film telling a mythical tale of a young Louis Armstrong was appealing to me," says Marsalis (pictured below; photo credit: Frank Stewart).  "Of course, calling it a silent film is a misnomer -- there will be plenty of music, and jazz is like a conversation between the players so there'll be no shortage of dialogue. I look forward to playing with Cecile. The contrast between Gottschalk's music and jazz can be a revelation to those unfamiliar with Gottschalk's music and jazz."  
"The combination of Cecile playing Gottschalk and Wynton and his ensemble playing jazz reflects the wide-ranging nature of the American musical landscape," notes Pritzker. "LOUIS came about when I was writing a screenplay about Buddy Bolden, the first jazz trumpeter of New Orleans, and I took my mom to see Chaplin's 'City Lights' with the Chicago Symphony performing the score. It was without a doubt the best movie experience I ever had. The challenge of trying to tell a story visually, without dialogue, was compelling. I thought that if I was going to shoot one film, I might as well try to shoot two -- the second being a silent film that picked up where BOLDEN ended. And it put Vilmos and me on even footing -- he'd never made a silent film before either."

LOUIS is a companion piece to Pritzker's BOLDEN, starring Anthony Mackie, Wendell Pierce and Lowry. BOLDEN will be released theatrically in 2011.



Tour dates for LOUIS w/ Wynton Marsalis & Cecile Licad
Partial proceeds from the five concerts will benefit Providence Saint Mel School
in Chicago, IL in honor of Paul J. Adams III

· Wednesday, August 25: Symphony Center, Chicago, IL

· Thursday, August 26:
Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, MI

· Saturday, August 28: Strathmore Center, Bethesda, MD

· Monday, August 30: Apollo Theatre, New York, NY

· Tuesday, August 31: Keswick Theatre, Glenside (Philadelphia), PA

For additional information, please go to www.louisthemovie.com

Shrek Forever After

Shrek Matures
Bourgeoisie Critics are Opposed
By Cole Smithey

Shrek_forever_after_final_poster The fourth installment in the animated Shrek franchise is the most polished example of the series. There's a dearth of children's films to which parents can take their little ones before repeatedly watching the DVD until the kids incorporate every line of dialogue into their daily speech patterns. Fortunately, "Shrek Forever After" is on target, filling the void. Even audiences new to the franchise will enjoy the slapstick tone and comic timing of these easily likable characters. The premise is simple enough. Finally and happily settled down with his ogre wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three babies, Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) starts to yearn for his bachelor days, when every person and animal in the community feared his brutish gaze and stone-rattling roar. Shrek's ennui presents a perfect opportunity for Rumpelstiltskin (wonderfully voiced by Walt Dohrn), the kooky little fantasy–maker and con man. Mr. R convinces Shrek to sign away a day of his childhood in exchange for living a day free of all familial constraints. Naturally, the deal is a dirty trick played by the conniving Rumpelstiltskin, who plots to take over as king of the Far Far Away kingdom forever after. The film's theme--appreciating what you have while you have it--is supported, if only half-knowingly, by Shrek's loyal pals Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and a considerably chubbier Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). Although the film's 3D effects seem extraneous, the spunky vocal characterizations are enjoyably spot-on and the jokes funny enough to elicit laughs from kids of all ages.

There's a tendency among elitist film critics to pooh-pooh the Shrek franchise based on its longevity. They're ready to put the final nail in the coffin of a successful children's series ostensibly because they're embarrassed to have loved it so much when they were younger, and now feel obliged to distance themselves from it.

Shrek's status as a workaday dad who pines for his more vigorous youth must surely signal a disconnect between the filmmakers and the young souls these kind of movies typically cater to. It's an instance where post-modern meets retro reality. There's a supreme satisfaction in hearing the returning cast members' voices. Mike Myers underplays his current incarnation of Shrek, while Eddie Murphy lets loose at every opportunity. Cameron Diaz gives a more throaty delivery, and Antonio Banderas injects little comic touches into every word that Puss speaks.

It's possible that co-screenwriters Josh Klausner (writer on "Shrek the Third") and Darren Lemke have elevated the franchise into a territory of maturity beyond a threshold that bourgeoisie critics can stand. "Unnecessary" is a word used to describe a children's movie that by definition is quite necessary if you, well, have children. Which brings us to the film's broader appeal. Here is a Shrek movie with barely a fart or poop joke that speaks to a universal theme of appreciating the friends and family you have. When Shrek convinces the oblivious Donkey that he's his best friend, we feel recognized in the same way. When the fat little Puss drags sideways down his scratching post to greet Shrek, it's all the more funny because we know he's showing off for his pal. And when Fiona drops her she-warrior act long enough to allow a kiss from the ogre she was destined to be with forever after, we get that special kind of romantic charge that reminds us about why and how intimate relationships are important.

Rated PG. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

May 17, 2010

“DOUCHEBAG” Gets Picked Up




Douchebag movie image LOS ANGELES (May 17, 2010) - DOUCHEBAG, the edgy comedy about two brothers whose reluctant reunion after years of estrangement takes them on a riotous pre-wedding road trip, has been acquired for U.S. distribution by Red Dragon, it was announced today.  Founded in 2008 by entrepreneur investor Franck Dubarry, Red Dragon will partner on the project with former William Morris Independent head Cassian Elwes, along with Mark Urman, whose company, Paladin, will handle the film’s theatrical release and marketing.  A September release is planned.

DOUCHEBAG debuted in competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival to wide acclaim from audiences and critics alike, and marked the second feature for director Drake Doremus, whose first film, SPOONER, debuted in competition at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival.  DOUCHEBAG was produced by Jonathan Schwartz through his Super Crispy Entertainment shingle (which also produced SPOONER), along with Marius Markevicius. The film, which stars Andrew Dickler and Ben York Jones as the brothers, received rave reviews from top critics, including Los Angeles Times' Kenny Turan, Entertainment Weeklys Owen Gleiberman and KCRWs The Treatment critic Elvis Mitchell, among numerous others.

About the deal producer Schwartz says, Drake and I are ecstatic to have Mark Urman and Franck Dubarry pushing this film and believing in it so much. Mark has always had amazing taste, and we’ve seen his success in the past with Sundance films like HALF NELSON. Its exciting to have people on board who share our enthusiasm for the genuine laughs and emotions that our beloved DOUCHEBAG provides.

Urman adds, “I am extremely excited to be teaming with Franck and Red Dragon, as well as Cassian, who brought us all together, in such an innovative distribution arrangement, which is only fitting given how fresh and original DOUCHEBAG itself is. Drake is a very accomplished filmmaker, wise beyond his years, and I think we are pretty wise ourselves for helping him further what will doubtless be a great career.

The deal was negotiated by UTAs Independent Film Group, which represented the film on behalf of the producers, along with attorney Lawrence Kopeikin of the firm Barnes Morris.


Red Dragon Independent Film Company is focused on the creation, development, and production of genre films, particularly thriller and action, in the $10-$35 million range.  The company has already completed the production of Gela Babluani's 13 with Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone, and Sam Riley.  It is currently developing Alex Litvaks penned action story FIVE AGAINST A BULLET.  Also in development is a psychological thriller FOCAL POINT scripted by Craig Garber, as well as the Israeli spy thriller LAND OF OUR FATHERS, written by Soo Hugh and based on a true story.


Formed in the summer of 2009 by independent film veteran Mark Urman, Paladins first release was the award-winning DISGRACE, based on the acclaimed novel by Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee, and starring two-time Oscar nominee John Malkovich.  Other titles distributed by the company include Tennessee Williams THE LOSS OF A TEARDROP DIAMOND, starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Ellen Burstyn, THE GREATEST, starring Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, and Carey Mulligan, HANDSOME HARRY, starring Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, Campbell Scott and Aidan Quinn and, coming in July, Angela Ismailos documentary, GREAT DIRECTORS, starring Bernardo Bertolucci, Ken Loach, John Sayles, and Agnes Varda, among others. Paladin recently announced the May 21st release of KITES, a Bollywood romantic adventure that it will distribute in association with Reliance Big Pictures, followed by the May 28th release of the English-language version of the film entitled, KITES: THE REMIX, which Brett Ratner supervised and will officially present.


DOUCHEBAG producer Jonathan Schwartzs Super Crispy Entertainment produced previous Sundance and critical faves WRISTCUTTERS A LOVE STORY and Michael Hanekes FUNNY GAMES, as well as three other films this year, including THE WAY BACK, directed by Peter Weir and starring Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, and Ed Harris, and the Cannes-bound KABOOM directed by Gregg Araki.


United Talent Agency is one of the entertainment industrys premier talent and literary agencies, representing many of worlds most widely-known figures in every current and emerging area of entertainment, including motion pictures, television, books, music, digital media and live entertainment.  The agency is also globally recognized in the areas of film finance, film packaging, corporate consulting, branding & licensing, endorsements and the representation of production talent.  The DOUCHEBAG sale marks the fourth Sundance deal this year for UTAs Independent Film Group which also sold Rodrigo Cortes BURIED to Lionsgate, Sebastian Jungers RESTREPO to National Geographic, and David Michods World Cinema Jury Prize winner ANIMAL KINGDOM to Sony Pictures Classics.

May 16, 2010

The American

May 10, 2010

David Carr and Steampunk

In his New York Times article on Ridley Scott, David Carr erroneously calls the look of Scott's "Aliens" and "Blade Runner" films "steampunk."

To quote Wikipedia:
"The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used — usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England — but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage's Analytical engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality."

Tony Scott doesn't know what neorealism is, and David Carr hasn't a clue about steampunk.

So much for corporate film critics.

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