Better than Hugo from the same author, which was also a Christmas-release historical city-roaming kids’ adventure by a sometimes-favorite filmmaker. Ben, a 1970’s boy suffering recent hearing loss, runs away to New York, meeting a friend named Jamie and hiding out in museums. This is cut with scenes of 1920’s Rose (the magnificent Millicent Simmonds) in a similar situation, visiting some of the same spots. As soon as Ben meets up with grown Rose (Julianne Moore) the fun back-and-forth editing games end, and we’re caught up on the fifty intervening years through long exposition scenes, a shame. I also thought Personal Shopper did a better job dramatizing onscreen text (Ben and Grown Rose have to speak via notepad), but overall this was charming.

“I have the flu. I need cigarettes.”

Julianne Moore is an actress who sees ghosts, trying to get a film part where she’ll play her own mother in a bio-pic (like a terrible Clouds of Sils Maria remake). Evan Bird (of TV’s The Killing Remake) is a horrid child star, son of Rosemary Cross and new-age massage therapist John Cusack. Evan’s older sister Mia Wasikowska is out of an asylum and back in town, gets a job as Moore’s assistant and hangs out with limo driver Rob Pattinson.

Eventually connections fall into place, and people start dying. Moore gets the role because her rival’s son drowns. Evan murders a young costar who’s been upstaging him. Mia bludgeons her employer Moore with a film award. Rosemary Cross somehow catches on fakey digital fire. Then Mia and Evan creep away and take handfuls of pills. Throughout, the music and editing and shots are pretty unexceptional and I’d be worried about Cronenberg except that I read his terrific novel which released around the same time at this movie.

M. D’Angelo:

Mostly, though, it’s just an excuse for [writer] Wagner to depict “scathingly” bad behavior, as when Moore’s fading starlet leaps around her house with joy upon learning that a rival’s adorable little son has just drowned, freeing up the plum role that Moore had just lost to said rival. Cronenberg, for his part, shoots this cavalcade of random potshots as functionally as possible — this is easily his least visually distinguished film (and also, perhaps not coincidentally, the first film he’s ever shot in the U.S.). Hollywood may be a nest of vacuous vipers, but it deserves a less feeble takedown than this.

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991, Martin Campbell)

“Los Angeles, 1948. Everybody used magic.”

Nice enough TV-movie with some good performances and a great premise: a noir detective story in a world where magic exists. Our hardboiled hero Lovecraft (Fred Ward, the year after starring in Henry & June) who doesn’t use magic due to an incident that killed his partner is hired by a rich guy (David Warner, an HP Lovecraft fan judging from his IMDB resume) to retrieve his Necronomicon. Ward runs into ex-flame Julianne Moore (this might count as her first starring movie role), tries to avoid thug Raymond O’Connor and his zombie, and finally protects Warner’s unicorn-hunting daughter from Warner’s own convoluted world-dooming scheme.

Clearly influenced by Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a lower budget, magic creatures and spells popping up in every scene (accompanied by overdone cartoon sound effects). Campbell went on to make some James Bond movies


Witch Hunt (1994, Paul Schrader)

“For some of hollywood’s biggest stars and studio moguls, it’s time to name names.”

When I heard Schrader had made a sequel starring Dennis Hopper, I couldn’t get a copy fast enough. Unfortunately it’s such a bad movie, it makes me wonder if I didn’t severely overrate the previous one by calling it “nice enough”. This one has fewer puppets, more early (too early) digital effects. And I love Hopper, but he doesn’t seem right for the role, speaking too slowly, looking out of his depth.

Shakespeare is summoned as script doctor:

Eric Bogosian (writer/star of Talk Radio) is a slimy anti-magic senator, starts a literal witch hunt by arresting and arranging to burn Hopper’s witch neighbor (now played by Sheryl Lee Ralph of To Sleep With Anger) for defying “the unnatural activities act”. I don’t know if this is a prequel or what – Hopper has different reasons to avoiding magic than Fred Ward did, and Raymond O’Connor’s zombie is back from the other movie. Penelope Ann Miller (Edna Purviance in Chaplin) is love interest fatale “Kim Hudson”, there’s a movie-star lookalike whorehouse a la L.A. Confidential run by a transvestite lipsync artist, more characters with obvious names (a cop called Bradbury), and Julian Sands with a heavy fake accent. And morphing – remember morphing?

Mouseover to see Hopper vomit a crow:
image

The first couple minute are nice though, with clips from 1950’s industrial films recognizable from MST3K and a reference clip of Reagan testifying before HUAC.

The Haunting In Connecticut (2009, Peter Cornwell)
Unhappy teen tears his walls apart with an axe, finds plentiful dead bodies and flashback shock cuts. Is formaldehyde flammable? Apparently so, and unhappy teen lights the place aflame, pausing to transform into a green ghoul for a few seconds. I hope Martin Donovan is still alive. Oh nice, here he is along with Elias Koteas. Mom rushes in as the house, which seems to have literally been built out of dead bodies with writing on their skin, burns around them, blowing away ghosts with her mighty prayers. Nothing dumber than a true-story ghost movie, but I liked the poster art for this one. The director made cool stop-motion horror short Ward 13, one writer did The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera and the other created Revenge of the Nerds.

.com For Murder (2002, Nico Mastorakis)
Haven’t seen a thriller with VR glasses since The Lawnmower Man – or maybe these are the Silence of the Lambs night-goggles that this Tarantino-chinned quip-happy stalker is wearing. First she tries the Rear Window flash-photo trick, but he says “I’ve seen Rear Window too,” then gets blinded by lightning and falls down the stairs. Coda: Huey Lewis plays a cop! I don’t get where the dot-com part comes in. Mastorakis did other video nonsense like Ninja Academy and Death Street USA.

The Forgotten (2004, Joseph Ruben)
I really wanted to see this (and the similar-sounding Flightplan) when it came out but the bad, bad reviews finally led it here instead – shame. Julianne Moore just wants her son back, and Gary Sinise won’t help, but some boring guy admits that the son was kidnapped as an experiment to see if parents can forget their missing kids. Oh but the boring guy is an ineffective memory-erasing alien special-effect, and after she defeats him by endlessly repeating that she has a son, he’s sucked into the sky. Julianne gets her son back, and as a bonus, Dominic West. Director Ruben made Return to Paradise, which I liked, and writer Gerald Di Pego did Burt Reynolds flick Sharky’s Machine.

The Crazies Remake (2010, Breck Eisner)
Ah, the ol’ knife-scrape-against-the-wall tactic. Trying to steal a truck, Timothy “Dreamcatcher” Olyphant and Radha “Surrogates” Mitchell are laid low by gun-toting crazies. Movie has a good look to it, and not as schizophrenic as The Haunting In Connecticut. As the couple escapes, the town behind them is nuked (shout out to Return of the Living Dead, the original town-nuking Romero ripoff), but they survive inside the fridge, err truck, and aren’t blinded at all from looking directly into the blast. From the writers of Pulse Remake and Amityville Horror Remake.

Cabin Fever 2 (2009, Ti West)
Two heavy bleeders flee the school dance (I think) – the boy is detained and the girl is picked up by Mark Borchardt. Elsewhere a stripper spreads the Fever in various real gross ways. Now a poor cartoon with too much fake film-weathering effect shows the disease spreading throughout the world. No main characters, then? I continue to not share the internet’s love for Ti West.

Skyline (2010, Bros. Strause)
A sweet grey sparkly alien demon is threatening two tenacious teens (Eric Balfour of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake and Scottie Thompson), but fighter jets intervene. Nice 360 pan of the aliens winning, then the two kiss while being tractor-beam abducted. It’s all Matrix inside the ship, the muddy humans having their brains sucked out one by one. It’s gooey and neat looking, but the alien made from the apparently-pregnant girl’s dismembered boyfriend’s brain saves her. Seems super dark, with the end of humanity and all, despite the final teen-love-conquers-all message. The Strauses are renowned effects artists but unfortunately, so are the writers.

Frankenstein (2004, Marcus Nispel)
Michael Madsen as “Harker” (wrong novel) aims to kill a woman with a melon baller but shotgun-toting detective Parker Posey scares him off. Flashlight chase scene in an abandoned factory, booo-ring. Hulking hooded guy (Frankenstein? Vincent Perez of Time Regained) dispatches Madsen, later turns up at Posey’s house to set up a sequel that never came. From the director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake, Friday The 13th Remake and Conan The Barbarian Remake.

full title:
Emma Stone-starring Soulmate-seeking Rom-com Drive-In Double-Feature

Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

From the co-writers of Cats & Dogs and Bad Santa, and also the writer of Tangled. Emma Stone has big eyes, and we didn’t know what she’s doing in the movie, but figured we missed that while in traffic on Moreland for the first 15 minutes of the film. Turns out it’s the surprise ending that she’s Steve Carell’s grown daughter, and the joke’s on poor Steve since his sweet daughter is dating Ryan Gosling, the sex machine who irrationally befriends Steve and gives him dating advice. Steve needs this since he’s divorcing Julianne Moore for sleeping with coworker Kevin Bacon. Steve’s son Bobo is infatuated with a 17-year-old Analeigh Tipton. Thanks to twitter, I know that the night Katy and I were watching this movie, Analeigh was reading Ender’s Game and watching Oliver & Company while sick in bed. But in the movie she takes nude photos of herself, prompting Zodiac killer John Carroll Lynch to attack Steve, starting a big comedy fight, after which Steve and Julianne are perhaps hopeful that they can maybe be friends again or something, because they are soulmates, just like Gosling and Stone, Bobo and Tipton, and everyone has exactly one soulmate, whom they will definitely meet and have a chance to date, and if you let that person go you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

Friends With Benefits (2011, Will Gluck)

Emma Stone was in this too, but who was she? Let’s see… it was past midnight and Katy and I bought pops. Ended up not raining, which is good, but too humid and lethargic to do anything but watch the stupid movie. So Emma Stone, not positive who she was, but Justin Timberlake (who has alzheimerin’ dad Richard Jenkins) is wooed to New York City by hottie headhunter Mila Kunis (who has drunkie undependable mom Patricia Clarkson). Justie and Mila become best buds, then no-strings-attached fuck-buds (Katy says this beat the actual No Strings Attached, which starred Ashton Kutcher, so duh). They both have huge commitment phobias because of their wacky parents but it turns out they are soulmates, and they know if they let each other go they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives. Shaun White appears in a would-be-funny cameo if anyone gave a shit about Shaun White (Tony Hawk is way cooler).

More interesting than the romance and the carefully-positioned cameras and sheets to conceal nudity was the movie’s subversive commentary about the pretty young idle rich. A spate of recent documentaries make out fashion and magazine/newspaper businesses to be unforgivingly high-pressure, but Justin is the art director of GQ and seems to have plenty of time off, as does Mila, who’s the kind of person who places high executives at GQ and Amazon. The only “work” we see Justin do (besides discussing typefaces with homosexual sports editor Woody Harrelson – times new roman?!) is deciding between two things presented before him – this cover or that cover? This article or that article? Both times his decision is reversed by someone who is not his boss, and a photo shoot is turned into a gay dance party by homosexual sports editor Woody Harrelson, making Justin seem increasingly like Tim Robbins in the Hudsucker Proxy, a highly-paid poster boy, grinning and pursuing his soulmate while the real work is being done elsewhere.

From the director of Emma Stone’s breakthrough Easy A (though it was Crazy Stupid Love that was full of Scarlet Letter references) and the cowriters of an upcoming film about “a relationship expert who cannot keep his own love life in order.”

I’d never heard of Steve McQueen (the Hunger director, not the actor) or Tom Ford before their latest movies came out, but I sure expected to enjoy the work of “acclaimed visual artist” McQueen more than fashion designer Ford. So as usual I like all the wrong things, because I thought Hunger was alright and this was excellent. Shame about the ending though – Firth decides not to kill himself then has a fatal heart attack moments later, the kind of twist that would’ve seemed well-worn in 1962 when the film was set. But hell, that’s probably from the novel (from the writer of Cabaret, though I didn’t see that mentioned on the posters). Katy says it sounds like a typical literature ending.

Tom Ford (whose IMDB photo looks like a digital mash-up of Keanu Reeves and Kevin Spacey) is fond of jump cuts, slow-mo and focus tricks. He keeps the colors desaturated only to pump them up when his lead character’s emotions are sharp, plays with focus, edits whenever he damn well pleases, and throws in subjective fantasy scenes (like the bomb shelter above), but it all hangs together well, never calling dramatic attention to technique. I guess I could credit cinematographer Eduard Grau (the upcoming Buried) and editor Joan Sodel (Glass House 2) for the technique, but I’m surely not going to. Shout out, however, to Shigeru Umebayashi, whose music grabbed me right from the start (but only returned rarely – he’s just the “additional” composer, damn it).

Firth goes to work on the last day of his life (because he plans to kill himself), teaches his class and inspires spooky student Nicholas Hoult (the boy About a Boy was about) to stalk him. He also wishes death upon his whitebread next door neighbor (Ginnifer Goodwin of that awful movie) and her family, gives some free cash to a hustlin’ Spanish dude (Jon Kortajarena) he meets in the liquor store parking lot beneath an awesome huge Psycho poster, talks to longtime boyfriend Jim (Matthew Goode of Match Point) who died months ago in a car crash, and has a private party with old friend Julianne Moore who’s always had a crush on him. Lots of people have crushes on Colin Firth in this movie.

Shades of American Beauty… the period suburbs (actually Los Angeles but it felt like suburbs) featuring women with perfect hair while solitary men with hidden pain were threatened by gun violence and creepy young men with pointed eyebrows (Wes Bentley/Nicholas Hoult) lurked. Firth was up for an acting oscar but lost to The Dude. I thought the movie was nominated for best picture, but even after having seen both of them, I’m still confusing it with A Serious Man.

Julianne Moore gets down:

Here are three that’ve been hanging about for the last couple months because I haven’t felt like watching any more awful movies lately.

Seven Pounds (2008, Gabriele Muccino)
After flashing-back to the time he killed his wife and six other people because he wouldn’t stop looking at his cellphone, Will Smith lowers himself into a bathtub full of ice and jellyfish. I think he died and donated his heart to Rosario Dawson, because she wakes up seeming all sad then goes and hugs Woody Harrelson in the park. Seeing all these people cry makes me wanna cry. The director made The Pursuit of Happyness which would probably also make me wanna cry, and the writer once did an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Blindness (2008, Fernando Meirelles)
I wasn’t expecting this jaunty Thomas Newman-sounding music (it’s not by him), nor this confused, fuzzy montage-looking filmmaking – hmmm, it’s from the guy who made City of God, so maybe I should’ve. This movie would seem to call for more straightforward direction, like Seven Pounds, which looked totally reasonable, but maybe Meirelles doesn’t know how to be straightforward. Anyway, Julianne Moore leads everyone to her house, Danny Glover has an eyepatch and tells some girl he loves her, and then Yusuke Iseya (who ruled as the white clan leader in Sukiyaki Western Django) can see again and everyone is glad. Just like the book, but blurrier.

Swing Vote (2008, Josh Stern)
Montage: two cute girls (Costner’s girlfriend[?] Paula Patton of Mirrors, and daughter Madeline Carroll of Resident Evil: Extinction) are reading mail to scruffy Kevin Costner in front of a whiteboard while media types are gathered outside his trailer. Arianna Huffington has some awkward dialogue, then there’s a Texas debate between Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper staged just for Costner, but then why is Costner doing all the talking? Why, it’s a big patriotic speech to America, in which he declares himself an enemy of America for being a crappy citizen all his life. Hopper didn’t get to say a single word, and we don’t see who Costner votes for – booo! Director Stern previously wrote an Amityville sequel and directed an absolutely star-studded fantasy movie I’ve never heard of called Neverwas.

Happy 10th anniversary to the funniest comedy of the 90’s!

In honor of this anniversary, I intended to post pictures of Jeff Bridges’ smiling eyes, but the DVD crashes my VLC player on both computers, so I will abandon this post before I am tempted to start quoting lines.