By Joe Bendel. H-Town is way different from the Ewings’ Dallas, but there is still a lot of energy money there. That is indirectly why German corporate headhunter Clemens Trunschka is visiting. He is supposed to make a confidential offer on behalf of a client to a prominent Texas petroleum CEO without alerting his current firm. This turns out to be easier said than done in Bastian Günther’s Houston (clip here), which screened as part of the World Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Trunschka drinks too much, straining his relationship with his wife Christine. Perhaps sensing trouble at home, his son has been acting out at school. It is a problem his father is not inclined to face. In a way, the assignment to recruit Steve Ringer comes at an opportune time, getting Trunschka out of the house for a while. After missing Ringer at an exclusive European energy conference, Trunschka must follow him to H-Town. However, the combination of jet lag, liquor, and the blinding Texas sun seem to have a disorienting effect on the headhunter.
Since Ringer’s gatekeepers keep him locked up tighter than Rapunzel, Trunschka will have to get creative to reach him. The pressure is mounting, which has a further destabilizing effect on the German. However, a fellow guest in his hotel seems eager to help. Robert Wagner, the actor’s namesake as he is quick to point out, seems to be the perfect caricature of the loud backslapping American. In fact, he is clearly supposed to make viewers suspicious—about Trunschka.
While there is plenty to make viewers wonder about the firmness of the German protagonist’s grip on things, Günther’s approach is tightly restrained, dry even. Trunschka’s dark night of the soul is all about brooding rather than knock-down drag-out binge drama. Ulrich Tukur, best known for The Lives of Others and John Rabe is perfectly suited for the tightly wound, quietly cracking-up Trunschka. He can do a slow burn better than just about anyone. Likewise, Garret Dillahunt nicely hints at an unsettling undercurrent beneath Wagner’s aggressively good humor.
Cinematographer Michael Kotschi makes the most of Houston’s dazzling sunlight and the reflections off its glass and steel towers, creating a real sense of an urban wonderland. While strikingly composed, the entire film is too fixated on shiny surfaces, never really getting to the characters root cores. Nonetheless, some commentators will surely embrace the film as another critique of the capitalist system, even though it depicts a rather singular crisis—a self-destructive alcoholic’s inability to convey a lucrative job offer to a highly successful executive.
Houston looks great, but mostly offers empty calories, despite the quality of Tukur’s work. Still, it might be interesting to some East and West Coasters as a window into Europe’s perspective on the Texas state of reality. As a result, Houston is likely to get further festival play, particularly given the two well known German and American principle cast-members, following its world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: C+
Posted on February 4th, 2012 at 9:58am.
By Joe Bendel. India Stoker is sort of a female Hamlet. After her father died under mysterious circumstances, her mother is all eyes for her uncle. However, Uncle Charlie is more interested in replacing his brother as a pseudo-father-figure for India in Park Chan-wook’s first English language film, Stoker, which screened during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
India Stoker and her father were always very close, having bonded during their regular hunting trips. Yes, she is a gothic protagonist who can handle a firearm. Her relationship with her mother is another matter. Evelyn “Evie” Stoker is a woman so chilly and severe, by law she has to be played by Nicole Kidman. When Uncle Charlie shows up after the funeral, the widow turns to him for “comfort.” India is not impressed, rebuffing all her Uncle’s overtures of friendship. Kindly Aunt Gin appears quite alarmed by Charlie Stoker’s presence, but she disappears before she can explain why. People seem to do that around the Stoker family.
Stoker is exactly the sort of film Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows should have been, but totally wasn’t. Park’s mastery of mood is reflected in every scene, particularly in some visually arresting transitions. While the lurid nature of the material often approaches camp, Park emphasizes the repressed, brooding and eerie atmospherics. It also helps that Wentworth Miller’s screenplay tells a fully fledged story that mostly comes together down the stretch (rather than stringing together a series of gags).
It would be spoilery to explain why, but it is safe to say audiences have never seen Mia Wasikowska like this before. Yet in a way, India Stoker is something of a psychologically troubled cousin to Jane Eyre. Matthew Goode holds up his end, bringing all kinds of creepiness as Uncle Charlie. Although Kidman is often relegated to the sidelines, she perfectly delivers some scathing Mommie Dearest lines in the pivotal third act confrontation that audience members were quoting immediately after the screening.
Park’s accomplished hands have transformed a V.C. Andrews-ish yarn into an unusually stylish, dark fable. The Oldboy auteur’s admirers should be well pleased with his English debut and it also ought to earn Wasikowska a whole new level of fanboy appreciation. Elegantly sinister, Stoker is recommended for sophisticated genre patrons. It screened as a Premiere selection of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: B+
Posted on January 30th, 2012 at 11:10am.
By Joe Bendel. The blue Kevlar helmets issued by a Filipino armored car company identify their drivers as targets just as much as they provide protection. It is dangerous work, but it is the best opportunity for one desperate economic migrant. However, he finds himself in the midst of a risky game in British filmmaker Sean Ellis’s Metro Manila, which screened during this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
Exploited as rice farmers in the rural north, Oscar Ramirez and his family pull up stakes to seek work in Manila. Unfortunately, they fall victim to a series of cruel scams as soon as they get off the bus. With no other options, his wife reluctantly takes “hostess” work at a sex bar. Just as things look truly hopeless, Ramirez lands a job with an armored car company, thanks to his military background and some timely coaching from his prospective partner, Ong.
The veteran Ong definitely knows how to game the system, but he also seems to take an interest in Ramirez. After a few days on the job, though, it becomes clear the senior driver has a suspicious agenda, involving the recent hold-up that claimed the life of his previous partner.
Metro’s first act is unremittingly grim and naturalistic. Watching the Ramirez family suffer one indignity after another is tough going. Frankly, Ellis maintains the grim tone throughout, but really cranks up the tension as the crime drama takes shape. This is a smart, taut story, but like Ron Morales’ Graceland, Metro portrays Manila as a relentlessly corrupt and predatory metropolis (which some might raise some eyebrows coming from a Brit like Ellis). In a pointed example, the armored car company is just as likely to make deliveries for drug dealers as for legitimate banks. That is where the money is.
Jake Macapagal is very good as Ramirez, the Filipino Job, completely guileless but stretched to his breaking point. Nonetheless, John Arcilla constantly upstages him as Ong with his charismatically garrulous villainy. While completely convincing as a middle-aged ex-cop, he has an electric screen presence that largely pulls viewers through all the teeming misery and inequity miring the characters.
Metro fits a whole lot of plot into about a week’s worth of time. In fact, all the events transpire before Ramirez’s first payday—an important fact to keep in mind, given certain decisions he makes. Dark and gritty as anything screening in Utah last week, Metro will not be to all tastes, but it is a surprisingly powerful combination of class conscious social drama and the caper movie. Highly recommended for fans of Filipino cinema and verité-ish crime-in-the-streets films, Metro Manila screened in Park City as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: A-
Posted on January 30th, 2012 at 11:10am.
By Joe Bendel. And now Sebastián Silva presents the second part of Michael Cera’s Chilean vacation. This was the film they intended to make all along, but when the financing temporarily bogged down, they whipped up Crystal Fairy to pass the time. While Silva’s Magic Magic has a darker, more intriguing premise, it was probably too art-house for genre patrons when it screened as part of the Park City at Midnight section of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Alicia has come to Chile so she can visit her cousin Sarah, who is just so gosh-darned thrilled to have her there. Alicia seems a bit high maintenance, which is not what Sarah needs right now. Having some private business to tend to, Sarah pushes Alicia off on her boyfriend Agustín and some friends leaving on a coastal vacation. Something about Alicia brings out the absolute worst in the sexually confused expat Brink, but the shy and clumsy (perhaps deliberately so) Alicia gets on everyone’s last nerve. It is mutual. As Agustín’s friends mock and complain about Alicia behind her back, her mental state begins (or continues) to deteriorate.
Minor spoiler alert: By far the biggest disappointment of MM is the lack of a violent death for Cera’s Brink. Considering how unpleasant he is (just as annoying as his character in Crystal Fairy, if not more so), he really has it coming. In fact, Silva disregards most of the principles of EC Comics, avoiding genre scares in favor of slow brooding atmosphere. Something is definitely off in MM, but Silva lets it all emerge slowly.
In a weird way, MM closely parallels Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, right down to its ambiguous third act. However, the climatic event makes logical sense in the Romanian film, whereas in MM it rather comes out of left field.
As Brink, Cera is bilingually irritating, which is sort of impressive, really. As Alicia, Juno Temple is a perfect portrait of arrested development (if you will) and emotional neediness. She is just all kinds of trouble. She also takes the Sundance honors over Cera and Silva, having appeared in three films at this year’s festival (also including Lovelace and Afternoon Delight). To her credit, Emily Browning brings some presence to the underdeveloped role of Sarah, whereas the Chilean characters are even more undistinguished, seemingly on hand just to rub Alicia the wrong way.
Silva masterfully creates a mood of profound unease, but it never really pays off. Magic Magic is the sort of film that is more interesting to look back on than to watch in the moment. Given the big name talent involved, it is a cinch to play fairly far and wide after its premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: C+
Posted on January 30th, 2012 at 11:09am.
By Joe Bendel. Big Sur has a long history of inspiring artists, from Henry Miller to Charles Lloyd. Jack Keouac was also one of them, sort of. Adapting Kerouac’s autobiographical novel of his time spent along California’s scenic central coast, Michael Polish conveys an impressionistic sense of Kerouac’s language and the lonesome unspoiled environment in Big Sur, which screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
To protect the guilty (most definitely including himself), Kerouac changed the names of the Beat elite who appear in Big Sur. Polish changes them back, perhaps to make the film more commercial, but frankly there is no mistaking Kerouac or the Cassadys (or Ferlinghetti for that matter). Only a few years have passed since the publication of On the Road, but Kerouac is not dealing with success well. The literary rock star has come to California with the intention of holing up in Ferlinghetti’s Big Sur cabin to purge his soul. However, a typical Kerouac bender delays his arrival at City Lights.
Eventually, Ferlinghetti ensconces Kerouac in Big Sur, hoping his time spent in isolation will recharge his creative drive. For a few days Kerouac enjoys communing with nature, but he gets antsy quickly. Before long, he is reconnecting with Neal Cassady, launching into a doomed relationship with his friend’s soon-to-be-former mistress, and generally carousing with the usual suspects.
As plot goes, Big Sur leans to the sparse end of the spectrum, making it a real cinematic challenge. However, Polish arguably captures the rhythm and vibe of Kerouac’s language better than any other filmmaker, directly incorporating generous excerpts from Kerouac’s novel, read by Jean-Marc Barr in the persona of the author. Accompanied by images of natural beauty and underscored by a subtle but stylistically diverse score, Big Sur is not unlike a cinematic tone poem at times.
Yet the film is surprisingly peppy. Rather than hold one striking image for an interminable length of time, Polish shows the audience one after another, and yet another, in rapid succession. As result, Big Sur always feels like it is getting somewhere, even when it has little narrative business to show for itself.
A rich visual feast, Big Sur functions as a heck of a show-reel for cinematographer M. David Cullen (whose extensive credits include Jennifer’s Body). Barr also sounds great reciting Kerouac, but dramatically his work is something of a mixed bag. He lacks Kerouac’s considerable physicality and charm, but he certainly expresses the restlessness that defined the author, as well as his aura of danger and dissolute inclinations. Cullen’s lens also loves Kate Bosworth. Nonetheless, she is largely wasted as Kerouac’s increasingly exasperated lover Billie, but Anthony Edwards adds an appealing human dimension to the proceedings as Ferlinghetti.
With the choice to see one Beat Generation-related film from this year’s Sundance, it should be Big Sur rather than the over-hyped Kill Your Darlings. Granted, it might not completely pull it off, but Polish’s film comes far closer to translating Kerouac to the big screen than other recent attempts. There are even surprisingly playful moments that suggest the Pull My Daisy spirit. Recommended for Beat fans, Big Sur screened as a Premiere selection of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on January 30th, 2012 at 3:37pm.
By Joe Bendel. The post-Ewing era has been tough for Knicks fans. Time and again they have watched the organization bring in over-priced under-performing free agents, assembling a mismatched Frankenstein team with no room to maneuver under the salary cap. The only hope was for an unheralded bench player to explode out of nowhere. In February 2012, Jeremy Lin answered Knick fans’ prayers. Evan Jackson Leong follows his long hard road to overnight success in Linsanity, which screened during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
There are not a lot of undrafted Harvard alumni playing in the NBA. Lin is one. He is also obviously Asian American—a fact many in the professional basketball establishment have trouble getting a handle on (to put it generously). In fact, Lin faced adversity at every stage of the game. Casual fans might be surprised to learn that Lin’s prep career ended with a Hoosiers like upset state championship, largely powered by his playmaking. Yet, despite his stats, Lin was never recruited by an NCAA program.
Leong probably should win this year’s right-place-at-the-right-time award at Sundance, having begun to document Lin well before he became a Garden sensation in that fateful February. Clearly, he won over the trust of Lin as well as the player’s parents and brothers. As a result, viewers get an intimate look at the central roles Lin’s close relationships with his family and his Christian faith play in his day-to-day life. In a sport filled with show-boaters, Lin emerges as one of the good guys.
However, Leong seems a little too diplomatic in his coverage of the many problematic responses to the sudden outbreak of “Linsanity,” as it was soon dubbed. While the filmmaker lumps it all together, there seemed to be a peculiar resentment from some commentators, reflecting an attitude of racial proprietorship over the game of basketball that allowed for goofy looking Euro players like Dirk Nowitzki but not homegrown Taiwanese-American talent like Lin. Those are indeed torturous waters to navigate, so Leong understandably takes the better part of valor. Still, he forthrightly addresses the overtly racist taunting directed at Lin from supposedly tolerant Ivy Leaguers during his Harvard away games.
Linsanity pulls off the near impossible, getting viewers to root for a Harvard grad. He captures the electric excitement that swept through New York, re-awakening the City’s passion for basketball. It was short, but intense and we still appreciate Lin for it. Even those who do not follow the NBA will understand why after watching Leong’s doc. Recommended for basketball fans and those who enjoy Horatio Alger stories, Linsanity screened as a Documentary Premiere selection at this year’s Sundance.
LFM GRADE: B+
Posted on January 30th, 2012 at 3:36pm.
By Joe Bendel. She was paid $1,250 for a film that reportedly grossed $600,000,000 and that paltry sum was entirely pocketed by her husband-manager. That might sound like the deals musicians usually get, but she was the original porn star, whose cautionary tale is told in Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s Lovelace (clip here), which screened as part of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Linda Boreman had the profound misfortune of marrying Chuck Traynor, an aspiring pornographer who could turn on the disingenuous charm when he wanted to. Submissive by nature, Boreman, under the stage-name Linda Lovelace, was forced to perform in explicit films, including Deep Throat, which surely everyone reading this only knows as the inspiration for the code name of Woodward & Bernstein’s Watergate source. However, at the time it was quite zeitgeisty, becoming a major pop culture phenomenon of the 1970’s.
Initially, Epstein & Friedman portray the dirty movie business relatively benignly, but in the second half of the film they reveal the physical and emotional abuse Traynor employed to bend her to his will. Much has been made of the decision to cut Sarah Jessica Parker’s appearance as Gloria Steinem, implying that the film ignores Lovelace’s later anti-porn activism (like, say, ending Schindler’s List when the German industrialist decided to open a factory exploiting camp labor), but this really is not the case.
Frankly, cutting SJP as Steinem sounds like a perfectly defensible call from multiple standpoints. Regardless, the film clearly casts Lovelace as the victim of Traynor and culminates with a cathartic media appearance in which she tells all. Hardly another Boogie Nights, porn is bad in this film, plain and simple.
It is hard to tell from her Wikipedia page, but the brunetted Amanda Seyfried looks like an okay but not uncanny likeness for the tragic Lovelace. She radiates vulnerability, almost suggesting Lovelace was mired in a state of arrested development. Peter Sarsgaard’s Traynor might just be the most unsettling white trash figure seen on film in years. With his mullet and tank tops going on, he might be the least pleasant to look at, too.
However, much of the ensemble seems to think they are in some groovy period piece, such as James Franco’s blink-and-you-miss-him appearance as Hugh Hefner. Hard on the heels of About Cherry, Franco also produced two other Sundance selections this year: kink and Interior. Leather Bar. Hmm, don’t you wonder what he collects? Still, T2’s Robert Patrick has some fine moments as Lovelace’s confused ex-cop father. Conversely, though quite unrecognizable, Sharon Stone is still way over the top as her shrewish caricature of a mother.
Despite its tonal inconsistencies, Lovelace mostly feels earnest and well intentioned. It does not make viewers curious to check out Deep Throat, which is a real test of such a potentially sensationalistic film. Former documentarians Epstein and Friedman keep it all moving along relatively briskly enough. The end product is highly watchable with little resulting guilt, but hardly essential. Recommended for those with a deep personal interest in the subject, Lovelace screened in Park City as a 2013 Sundance Premiere.
LFM GRADE: B-
Posted on January 30th, 2012 at 3:34pm.
By Joe Bendel. Ushio Shinohara knows how to show a canvas who’s the boss. His wife Noriko knows how to do the same with Shinohara. However, it was not always thus. Their relationship has evolved over the years. Zachary Heinzerling documents the artists as they prepare for their first joint show in Cutie and the Boxer, which screened during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Ushio Shinohara’s unique brand of abstract expressionism involves paint soaked boxing gloves. One of the more cinematic artists to watch at work, Shinohara created several of his boxing paintings live in Park City for suitably impressed festivalers. He also has a considerable body of sculpture, but it is the painting for which he is best known. Alas, “known” is a relative term. Despite a burst of media attention when he arrived in 1969, lasting success has eluded the boxer.
Meeting Shinohara in New York as a naïve art student, Noriko put her career on hold to raise their son and to serve as her husband’s assistant. However, she is poised to eclipse his limited renown with her autobiographical comic art depicting the tempestuous relationship of the often naked “Cutie” and her alcoholic husband “Bullie.” “Ushi” is the Japanese word for “bull,” but the name perhaps holds a double meaning here.
Life with the Shinoharas sounds much quieter now that he has sworn off drinking. Unfortunately, their adult son seems to have picked up his father’s bad habits—a not uncommon phenomenon for children of alcoholics. Their interfamily dynamics are definitely complicated, but Heinzerling gives viewers enough contextualization to pick up on most of it.
Ushio Shinohara’s working process is interesting to watch. Noriko Shinohara’s work is interesting to read and absorb. That gives Heinzerling quite a bit material to shape into a film, particularly by the standards of most quietly contemplative art docs. Just Ushio Shinohara’s status as an eighty year old struggling artist lends the film ample dramatic tension.
Serving as his own cinematographer, Heinzerling gives C & B the straight forward observational doc treatment. However, the music of experimental/jazz/classical composer and Bach interpreter Yasuaki Shimizu adds a layer of aesthetic richness to the film, while sensitively accompanying the on-screen action. Whether or not the film will make Ushio Shinohara’s art more collectible, it should move quite a few Shimizu CDs (or downloads).
C & B examines the downside of hipsterdom, but it has a strong element of hope that will surely resonate with audiences. The Shinoharas keep doggedly plugging away, remaining faithful to their artistic visions. Hopefully, Heinzerling’s film will help spur wider recognition for them. Recommended for patrons of art documentaries and contemporary Japanese art, Cutie and the Boxer screened in Park City as part of the U.S. Documentary Competition at this year’s Sundance.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on January 30th, 2012 at 3:33pm.
By Joe Bendel. If you were to list corporations arrogant enough to initiate the Terminator franchise’s Skynet apocalypse, Google would have to rank at the top. In fact, they might be the entire extent of the list. Ben Lewis documents enough characteristic weirdness and secrecy surrounding the company’s controversial book-scanning initiative to provoke all sorts of paranoia with Google and the World Brain, which screened as part of the World Documentary Cinema Competition during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
It sounded innocent enough during the early stages. Google approached some of the greatest academic libraries, offering to scan their collections. For librarians, it offered the opportunity of digital preservation, without taxing their institutional budgets. However, many were surprised to find Google selling the resulting e-books online, including a considerable number of titles that were out-of-print, but not out of copyright.
To the considerable number of authors affected, this constituted theft of intellectual property. Yet, many tech tea leaf readers were even more concerned about the big G’s ultimate aim. Although not confirmed by the company, the book-scanning project is largely considered to be part of a larger undertaking to create a “World Brain” artificial intelligence.
Lewis employs the words of World Brain proponent H.G. Wells to introduce the concept, but you do not have to wear a tin foil hat to be uneasy with his “paternalistic” rationalizations. Likewise, given the big G’s history of collaborating with the Chinese government (briefly addressed in the doc), one does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to be uneasy with the company potentially keeping tabs on what books people read in the future.
Of course, it is hard to say just what the big G’s intentions are because they are not particular talkative about that. Despite his efforts, Lewis only gets a bit of corporate flackery from an official spokesman and some less than illuminating comments from the rather confused sounding head of Google Books in Spain (who evidently did not get the memo). One thing comes through loud and clear in G & WB:f you want to talk to the big G about a cup of coffee, you will quickly find yourself signing non-disclosure forms.
While not exclusively about the court challenge to the big G’s settlement agreement with the Authors Guild, this is unquestionably Lewis’s strongest material, becoming the dramatic backbone of the film. Plenty of those objecting to the arrangement talk on-camera about the complex court case and their wider reservations. We also hear from the usual futurist suspects, essentially picking up where they left off in Welcome to the Machine.
Further distinguishing it from other tech docs, G & WB sports some surprisingly cool graphics that nicely serve the film’s narrative clarity. In a minor quibble, the film commits a fallacy of composition when it lumps together several ongoing court cases related to e-books that are really more about commercial practices than control of information.
It takes guts to question a company with the resources and self-righteous image of the big G. In doing so, Lewis tells a great David vs. Goliath story and raises some pertinent ethical issues for the information age. Well thought out and lucidly presented, Google and the World Brain is recommended for the Wired set and book publishing dinosaurs as it makes the festival rounds following its world premiere at this year’s Sundance.
LFM GRADE: B+
Posted on January 29th, 2012 at 8:26pm.
By Joe Bendel. There was one film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival 100% guaranteed to turn a profit. We can tell this by the fact Roger Corman serves as its executive producer. Although Corman was the subject of Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel which was a selection the 2011 edition of the festival, director G.J. Echternkamp’s Virtually Heroes marked Corman’s Sundance debut as a filmmaker this year in Park City.
Sgt. Books is a fully aware character in a Rambo style video game, who is getting increasingly frustrated with the futility of his existence. His sidekick, Sgt. Nova, is far less so; the impulsive Nova still enjoys the in-game killing as well as the post-fight preening.Books is only interested in Jennifer, the “sexy lady reporter” who has been captured by the Viet Cong, or whoever. Unfortunately, she is always plunged back into jeopardy right every time she and Books start to share a moment.
VH largely repeats the same one-joke premise over and over, as Books and Nova work their way through successive levels of the video game. Still, it is rather clever to have Mark Hamill, Mr. Videogame Voice-Over, appear as the mysterious Buddhist Monk. And from Corman’s perspective, it was a brilliant opportunity to re-use his old jungle exploitation action footage, with no need to worry about pesky continuity issues.
Obviously Corman was not about to fritter away good money on name actors, either. At least Robert Baker looks the part of the brooding, square jawed Books. And for his part, Brent Chase earns a lot of points as the over-the-top testosterone-charged Nova, understanding full well his role in the mayhem. Katie Savoy’s reporter is about as down-to-earth as is possible in a film like this, while Kiana Kim, the future Mrs. Pete Rose, adds further cult-camp appeal as a sleazy stripper (believe it or not).
This is definitely a meathead movie, but it tries hard. Screenwriter Matt Yamashita clearly gets the gaming mentality, but too often VH resembles the first-person shooters it is lampooning. While the film maintains it energy, the wit and originality flag over time. A so-so midnight offering, Virtually Heroes still holds the distinction of bringing the Corman brand to Sundance. Expect to find it coming soon to a Syfy Channel near you.
LFM GRADE: C-
Posted on January 29th, 2012 at 8:25pm.
By Joe Bendel. To this day, French is still more widely spoken in New Orleans than people realize. Unfortunately, an expecting married couple is not fluent. If they were, they might have picked up on the neighborhood’s macabre names for the fixer-upper they just purchased. They soon learn just how grossly they overpaid in Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon’s Hell Baby, which was a Park City at Midnight selection during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Vanessa is pregnant, so we know what that means. As soon as she and Jack move into the House of Blood, she starts to act like Signourney Weaver in Ghostbusters. Not yet panicking, Jack takes her to see her psychiatrist, who is brutally murdered and crucified shortly thereafter. This is certainly a suspicious turn of events, but Jack is preoccupied by the house’s supernatural box stacking, a desiccated old lady who will not stay dead, and F’Resnel, the friendly derelict crashing in their crawlspace. Help, dubious as it might be, is on the way. Vanessa’s Wiccan sister Marjorie is determined to perform a cleansing ritual and the Vatican has dispatched two investigators.
Veterans of MTV’s The State, Garant & Lennon recently exposed a bit of the Hollywood system’s sausage-making in their bestseller How to Write Movies for Fun & Profit, so they might be doing some short-term indie-genre penance. While Hell Baby primarily goes for dumb gory laughs and is hardly shy about returning to the gag-well over and over again, it is safe to assume it is funnier, smarter, and more aesthetically rewarding than the latest Wayans’ horror “spoof,” sight unseen.
Indeed, Hell Baby’s comedy scatter gun is loaded with blood, vomit, nudity (both the hot and gross varieties) and the violent deaths of a fair number of major characters. Still, Garant & Lennon find clever ways to poke fun at genre conventions, such as the practice of compulsively startling the protagonists.
As hapless Jack, Rob Corddry is very funny while venting and whining. He was also a joy to work with, according to Hell Baby’s impish Sundance junket send-up. Garant & Lennon are strictly shticky as the Italian priests, but Keegan Michael Key has some amusing moments as the ever present F’Resnel. However, Riki Lindhome probably deserves the most credit for being a good sport during her scenes as Marjorie, which must have been chilly – even in New Orleans.
Almost entirely shot in NOLA, Hell Baby’s demonic story might not sound like the best advertisement for the city, but Garant & Lennon compensate with some big time Po’ Boy love. Hearing a bit more from the local music scene would have been even better, but so be it. Its broad comedy hits the target more often than it falls flat and the wild exorcism scene should satisfy horror fans. Sure to find a theatrical afterlife given the names attached, Hell Baby delivered what midnight patrons expect at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on January 29th, 2012 at 8:22pm.
By Joe Bendel. Nuclear energy does not burn fossil fuels, nor is it intermittent. Appreciation of these obvious, incontrovertible facts led documentarian Robert Stone and five well known environmental activists to reverse their longstanding opposition to nuclear power. Stone convincingly lays out their green case for nuclear in Pandora’s Promise (see clip above), which screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
Stone made his name with the anti-nuclear doc Radio Bikini and would further burnish his green credentials with Earth Days. Very concerned about global warming, Stone could no longer accept the environmental movement’s unrealistic claims about solar and wind power. As his primary POV experts argue, any power plan with a significant wind or solar component will by necessity be heavily dependent on big, dirty fossil fuel plants as a back-up. The simple truth is that the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow, but coal burns 24-7.
To his credit, Stone tackles the Fukushima disaster right up front, rather than let it fester in the minds of skeptical audience members. While the devastation of the area gives pause to noted British environmental author and nuclear convert Mark Lynas, the background radiation levels they record are considerably less than what anyone flying on a transatlantic commercial flight would be exposed to.
Stone’s battery of experts cogently explains the safety benefits and relative cleanliness of nuclear. Yes, radioactive waste is a potentially inconvenient by-product, but the volume is a fraction of what the public widely assumes. Furthermore, next generation reactors will increasingly be able to recycle the existing nuclear waste, as is already happening in France. Of course, there have been disasters, but Chernobyl was the worst by far. A sterling example of Soviet safety engineering, the Pripyat plant completely lacked any basic containment dome, whereas Western reactors have multiple domes with elaborate, built-in contingency systems.
Surely some will try, but it is impossible to dismiss Stone as a right-of-center partisan. Clearly the Pandora contributors are entirely satisfied global warming is a very real and alarming phenomenon. Indeed, that is largely the impetus for their nuclear apostasy. Considering how many cold shoulders Stone, Lynas, and company are likely to get from former comrades at cocktail parties, their conviction cannot be questioned. Their logic is also sound and consistent. Highly recommended for anyone with an open mind who self-identifies with the environmental cause (broadly defined), Pandora’s Promise screens again on Saturday (1/26) in Salt Lake as a Doc Premiere at this year’s Sundance.
LFM GRADE: A
Posted on January 24th, 2012 at 11:07pm.