Sunday, August 23, 2009

Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal) The ALAN SMITHEE COMMENTARY TRACK

Mr Sandman, bring me a dream!

As promised, the very special premiere of my first commentary track with Andrew of The Stop Button and our Alan Smithee Podcast: Just in time for - actually, a pre-emptive strike against Rob Zombie's Halloween II: The Sequel, our commentary is on Rick Rosenthal's 1981,Halloween II better known as "the one at the hospital"!

at iTunes

in MP3

Halloween II features great Dean Cundey photography and very Friday the 13th style everything else. While never scary, there's a ton of continuity from the first movie making it a fan favorite and as much as we make fun of it, we both agree the last 15 minutes are cool. It's one of the better 80s horror sequels that suck compared to the original, and good middling junk fun.

Join us as we revisit a quasi-slasher classic!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coming This Week! All New! HALLOWEEN II (1981, Rick Rosenthal) Commentary Track!

Hey, folks!

This weekend I will be recording my first feature length film commentary with Andrew Wickliffe of The Stop Button on a very special episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.

The film is the ORIGINAL Halloween II, in honor of Rob Zombie's Halloween II which opens August 28th. There are a lot of bad things to say and a few good ones too. We'll do our best.

Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, and stay tuned!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Orphan (2009, Jaume Collet-Serra)

The quasi-incestuous pedophiliac scenes of Orphan are already bound for footnotes in the downfall of Western Civilization. The sole unexpected moment in the whole move comes directly after (except the twist ending, which is only an explanation - we know she's evil pretty quickly - is whom is titular orphan Esther's second and final victim. Everything else is telegraphed miles ahead, even by the camera setups. In two hours, Alex Mace's story and David Johnson's screenplay use every minute to rip off every every killer kid klassic anyone has every seen and no manipulation comes as a surprise. Very little makes sense and happens only in service of the amalgamating the subgenre's beloved cliches, like the psycho who moves from family to family a la Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather and the psyching-out of terrorized children a la The Good Son. In the role of The One Person Who Knows The Truth But Whom No One Believes is Vera Farmiga, as the mom. Her character had a drinking problem, you see, and in a slightly clever deviation from cliche, Farmiga was the one who wanted to adopt in the first place. Of course you the viewer already know that Esther is bad news. A lesser movie might've killed a lot of time forcing the audience to pretend to guess at what we already know is happening, like when the first act of Child's Play pretends we don't know for sure if Chucky is alive because that mom is still figuring. Thankfully doesn't turn into a superpowered ass kicking machine in the final act, and holds her own dramatically in the face of her disbelieving idiot husband and psychiatrist who think her ravings about Esther are just a bad case of buyer's remorse.

CCH Pounder brings a lot more nuance to her role as the nun who signs the adoption papers, and the kids playing Farmiga's two previous children are also well cast. They feel like a real family, or a least a real TV family. The boy playing the son has an intriguing turn when Esther takes his place as the dominant child, and the girl playing the young daughter has the dramatically anticipatory handicap of being deaf, yet neither of these details pay off. Mace and Johnson packed so many plants so many setups that Collet-Serra can't even get through them all. Instead, thankfully, he embraces the formula at hand and focuses on drawing credible performances from the oblivious victims and a sinister one from his lethal little lady.

The whole movie hangs on Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan, and she's good enough. Some adoption agencies protested the film's advertising, which teased "There's something wrong with Esther, and you too if you're an easily offended bastard in a basket." The poster mirrors one half of Fuhrman's face to achieve a subtle creepy effect, athough her porcelain skin is practically normal by the pore-shrinking standards of modern movie poster photoshoppery. This and the other tagline, "Can you keep a secret?" both imply a lot more pretension and annoying guessing games than are actually in play - none whatsoever. Collet-Serra is refreshingly eager to please with his creepy kid and her bad behavior and everything is as it seems. Every escalation of danger happens comfortably by rote and with only two victims the film relies mainly on Esther's intimidation and manipulation of others for entertainment. This alone makes Esther one of the more memorable horror villains in a decade when the genre has sorely lacked good performances. What keeps her and the film far from classic status is that for as many fun killer kid kliches she embodies so schizophrenically well, there's nothing new to see. Having the girl simply be a manipulative psychopath and not the vengeful spirit of Farmiga's stillborn (as the dreamy prologue depicts) is a deliberate throwback after the recent epoch of creepy little Asian ghost girls. Like her predecessors, this evil tyke doesn't need special powers to get away with murder. Only an array of astonishingly stupid adults, the kind who have sex in the kitchen while their kids are in the other room.

That Collet-Serra's setpieces, all ripped from other movies anyway, have any excitement at all is a shocker considering how predictable everything is. Occasionally descending to complete tastelessness, as in the aforementioned seduction, Orphan is joyfully reverent to the cliches killer kid fans expect and plants its feet on each visible cue mark proudly.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Moon (2009, Duncan Jones)

The young lady behind me at Moon couldn't stop giggling at the Kevin Spacey smiley face robot. His voice comes out of a space age trash can on an arm that more resembles a piece of hospital bed apparatus than R2-D2, and the small LCD screen mounted in front like a blood pressure monitor instead displays a yellow smiley face that makes a lot of chatroom emoticon faces. Spacey's mellifluous voice is the only other co-star in terms of screen time besides Rockwell, more than the people he talks to or watches on a video screen. Films as solo acting performances are either boisterous or dispassionate, and fortunately Rockwell's bizarre non-reaction to discovering a duplicate of himself creates the mood of a great existential mystery. The film's other niche of the duplicated actor film hasn't been used this way before and the effect is successfully otherworldly. In space anything can happen in the movies, and while the ultimate revelation isn't transcendental, the curiousness of Rockwell literally finding himself in the same place at the same time - breaking the first law of physics - is allowed to linger for a while before the rather humdrum explanation. Rockwell isn't particularly easy to empathize with, but he's believable in a role that demands a lot of creation from silent discovery and contemplation.

Jones has made a refreshingly simple science fiction movie bereft of all the cliches which turn science fiction into action. The story would've been at home in paperback form, and possesses a subtlety occasionally interjected by the smiley face robot or great looking views of the alien lunar surface. Rockwell, having previously sullied himself in the long awaited, instantly forgotten The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy acquits himself admirably in holding convincing conversations with pieces of plastic, and actors who aren't there, even when they're him. Paranoids way wish to observe Rockwell's character in Hitch-Hiker's had two heads. When seen living in Moon's lunar space station, Rockwell feels home. The production design correlates to the bone dry humor of Rockwell having lived there brilliantly by fashioning the architecture out of modern IKEA inspired minimalism. The pristine phoniness recalls 2001, both films could be travel brochures for commercial space living except Rockwell keeps a pile of dirty laundry and belongings against the wall of his private quarters. His world feels more plausible than any grungy cyberpunk sci-fi dorm room. Outside the station, the miniature and model work of the moon's landscape is superb during some extensive moon buggy driving sequences.

Jones' fable of a clock punching astronaut bears a lot of resemblance to the long allegorical chapter about "Space Monkeys" in ultra feminist Susan Faludi's 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man: for all the hype surrounding the few men who had "the right stuff," ultimately they live as gears in a gigantic vehicle and life support machine. The appearance of a twin suggests thematically a loss of individuality, which is intriguing since the isolation of space is so all consuming, as is the weight of importance when there may only be a few dozen human beings in space at any time. Moon never lets on exactly how far in the future it takes place, only far enough for Rockwell to do the farming. By successfully hanging on Rockwell's performance, both blank and identifiable, Jones strikes the tone of his themes early and loudly enough to echo past the relatively uninspiring resolution. Despite a lot of empty space, the mood passes by with the quality of an old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.