27 October 2007

Troma's "Poultrygeist" Reviewed At Movieforum

My review of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival's Toronto-premiere of Lloyd Kaufman's "Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead" is up at Movieforum. It's the usual Troma insanity, but this time with a lot more wit and panache than usual, plus, it's a musical! Check out my thoughts here.

Carpenter Talks Horror At EW

It's Halloween, so what better time to interview the man synonymous with the season? Entertainment Weekly offers a brief but surprising interview with veteran filmmaker John Carpenter here.

23 October 2007

Hey Doris Lessing...

Shut up (why? Read this). Take yer Nobel Prize and go away (and I didn't like "The Summer Before The Dark" either!).

22 October 2007

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2007: "An Audience Of One"

My latest TAD review: "An Audience Of One", a jaw-dropping documentary about a Pentecostal priest who--on orders from The Almighty--decides to make a big-budget, science-fiction version of the story of Joseph...with no money. Check it out here:

21 October 2007

TAD 2007: "In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale"

Dr. Uwe Boll, quite possibly the world's most hated director right now, debuted his latest video game adaptation at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival last night, and it's actually not bad! Read my review of the Tolkein-lite "In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" here.

20 October 2007

Toronto After Dark 2007: "Mulberry Street"

My review of Jim Mickle's "Mulberry Street", which debuted at last night's Toronto After Dark Film Festival, is now posted at my MovieForum site. I thought it was one of the most powerful horror debuts I've seen in years, and believe-you-me, I've seen waaaay too much of this stuff. This no-budget, New York-set shocker packs a more immediate, dramatic punch than most, and is well worth checking out if you have the stomach for an outbreak of a rat-spread zombie virus.

Check out my review here.

13 October 2007

Close-Up Blog-A-Thon: "Planet Of The Apes"

In honour of The House Next Door's Close-Up Blog-A-Thon, here's the close-up that shook my world at a very young age: the first appearance of a gorilla on horseback in Franklin J. Schaffner's original Planet Of The Apes (1968).

Up until this moment we're well-primed for something major: after listening to Charlton Heston's space age misanthrope George Taylor dismiss the human race to this flight recorder, badger his surviving fellow astronauts as they navigate a curiously habitable alien world, and make friendly with what Ash would call some "primitive screw heads" (excluding the stunning Nova, of course), a strange, forboding noise from the brush initiates mass panic. Suddenly, a relaxing skinny dip gives way to swishing blades, then mighty horses, then marching figures, which bring gun fire, hunting nets and then--

This guy!

Even though the premise is right there in the damned title, the simian soldier's entrance is still a stunner of a moment, rivaling even this film's notorious ending, IMHO. After literal dozens of viewings I still get that frisson of horror and enchantment when that a-rooooogah! horn blares from amidst Jerry Goldsmith's nerve-wracking percussion and the camera zooms in on this first reveal of John Chamber's astonishingly expressive makeup illusions--ushering in a too-brief wave of adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror cinema (along with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Roger Vadim's Barbarella, and George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead that same year) and securing my hopeless geekdom for life.

Close-Up Blog-A-Thon: #3

The chilling final close-up of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho--or is it Mrs. Bates from now on...?

Close-Up Blog-A-Thon: #2

Who can forget the unforgettable introduction of Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"?

It's the "Close Up Blog-A-Thon": #1

The House Next Door--simply one of the best hubs of opinion and criticism for current and classic film and television--is hosting "The Eyes Have It: Close-up Blog-A-Thon", which will run from Oct. 12-21.

THND's Matt Soller Seitz was inspired by Norma Desmond's lament, "We had faces then" from Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard:

"Entranced as I am by Ms. Desmond's fervor, I must respectfully disagree: yes, they had faces then, but we have faces now. And some of them are extraordinary. Therefore, I'm calling for a Close-Up Blog-a-thon to run Oct. 12-21. Your piece could be as simple as a series of frame grabs with captions, or a short analysis of a single close-up in a particular movie or television episode, past or current. Or it could be an essay about a certain performer's mastery of (or failure to master) the close-up. Or it could fixate on a director or cinematographer who is especially adept at pushing in to capture emotion."

Regrettably, I'm too busy to free up any time to write any form of a coherent, impassioned piece on my favorite screen closeup--the day job, the night course, and the upcoming Toronto After Dark Film Festival occupy whatever time I don't spend sleeping these days--so instead, I'll post a few of my favorites until the closing date. If you want to get involved, check out Seitz's details here.

Here's my first entry: Ben (Duane Jones) appears out of the darkness and chaos to save Barbara (Judith O'Dea) in George A. Romero's original 1968 classic Night Of The Living Dead.

12 October 2007

Harlan Ellison vs. "Jesse James"

Some stuff you just can't make up, even if you've written an Oscar-nominated screenplay for David Cronenberg.

Screenwriter Josh Olson, who adapted John Wagner's graphic novel A History Of Violence into the acclaimed 2005 film version, spins an amazing yarn for LA Weekly: at first glance, yet another warning fable about the perils of Internet relationships. But this one's a true L.A. noir, which manages to involve science-fiction icon Harlan Ellison, Hurricane Katrina, and schlock-rocker Dan Fogelberg, of all people.

What's most amazing is that it's true--although when you're done reading, Olson's tale of woe will have you questioning the term. Check out his amazing account here.
(thanks to David Hudson's Green Cine Daily)

11 October 2007

Ebert Reveals Himself As True "Pinhead" To Clive Barker...

Video games have been around for about three-and-a-half decades now (if you count The Magnavox Odyssey, which became commercially available in 1972), long enough to become more or less defined solely as an insidious social menace—right up there (or is it down?) with comic books and Elvis’ shaking hips.

But while fanatics like Jack Thompson (and Hilary Clinton, who really should know better and save her energy to save her desperate party) are campaigning to make sure no American child shall drive the virtual streets of Liberty City without a seatbelt, or plasma-blast a Covenant soldier without feeling remorse for their own intolerance of other cultures, and our soccer fields, hockey arenas, and baseball diamonds are reportedly barren as kids take up their Wii sticks in their trans-fat encrusted fingers (well, everywhere but Toronto, where there are reportedly still waiting lists to get into amateur sports leagues), yet another attack is raging, this one from the PBS tote bag circuit: can video games be considered art?

The only rational answer is “yes”, of course, because anything created by an artist or team of artists can be defined as such (ask Dali and his limp clocks, ask Herriman and his Krazy Kat, ask Duchamp and his monogrammed urinal). Behold the production design of “Gears Of War” (Goya meets Giger), marvel at the nuanced, multi-narrative threads of “GTA: San Andreas” that seem random but build to a satisfying conclusion. “God Of War 2” is a kick-ass way to learn some remarkably dense Greek mythology while slugging it out in some of the most painterly and immersive simulated environments ever realized. But what we’re really talking “High Ahhht” here. To which I will quote Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way: “Here come da pain!”

Amazingly, the most heated debate over the subject is currently raging between author/artist/filmmaker Clive Barker (yes, the Hellraiser guy), and critic Roger “Thumbs Up” Ebert of all people. The supremely-talented Barker (I admit it, I’ve been a fan since 1985’s ‘The Damnation Game” and have had the pleasure of meeting him in person several times) has been developing some interactive game properties of his own creation ("Jericho" is due for the Xbox 360 and PS3 later this month), and took exception to Ebert’s published remarks that video games aren’t-and-never-will-be “art”.

And just what qualifies Ebert to evaluate the aesthetic credibility of the results of all those little ones and zeroes? By his own admission: absolutely nothing.

For a man who expounds the joys of a medium that was once (and in some circles, still is) considered a lesser art form, he’s extremely short-sighted. When Barker accused Ebert’s woefully uniformed view as “prejudiced”, Ebert wore it like a badge of pride:

The word “prejudiced” often translates as “disagrees with me.” I might suggest that gamers have a prejudiced view of their medium, and particularly what it can be. Games may not be Shakespeare quite yet, but I have the prejudice that they never will be, and some gamers are prejudiced that they will.

I never considered anyone who argues in favour of the merits of expanding one’s tolerances (which Barker is trying to do) as prejudiced, but I’ll remember that, Rog, when you suggest I waste any more hours of my life on the dated, New Wave stunts of Jean-Luc Godard, whose validity as an artist today is purely due to the nostalgic longings of people who never got over their first screening of The Conformist (which was a Bertolluci film, of course). When Barker praises the range of experiences and the potential for interactivity that (so far) only the videogame can provide--

We should be stretching the imaginations of our players and ourselves. Let’s invent a world where the player gets to go through every emotional journey available. That is art. Offering that to people is art.

--Ebert grips his vintage leather-bound Dickens volumes and sniffs:

If you can go through “every emotional journey available,” doesn’t that devalue each and every one of them? Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices. If next time, I have Romeo and Juliet go through the story naked and standing on their hands, would that be way cool, or what?

Ah, so Ebert hath decreed that Art should lead the viewer/reader/listener to only a single conclusion. Hmm—I’m pretty sure that once upon a time, it was firmly held by the intelligentsia of the time that art could never be anything but representational, and concerned only with religious iconography. But what do I know? He even closes with a tiresome Pauline Kael quote, which you can read here, because I can’t be bothered recounting it. It was parodied, once, on SCTV, during the Dr. Tongue remake of Midnight Cowboy.

Barker shot back (perhaps a bit inelegantly) calling Ebert “a pompous, arrogant old man” (I think Clive was too kind). But one has to admire his progressive vision and glee in partaking in a genuinely unique and innovative creative enterprise, something Ebert would know little about.

I think Ebert is one of the better film reviewers working today—he seems to enjoy a greater variety of movies than most of his insulated brethren and they don’t hand out Pulitzer Prizes for nothing—but this is the same man who once dismissed Night Of The Living Dead (to his credit, he later recanted) and did much damage to the reputation of the already-maligned horror genre when he and the late Gene Siskel turned their weekly series (PBS, of course) in early 1980s in a hysterical (and one-sided) anti-slasher rally (going so far as to urge moviegoers to boycott Paramount releases because they distributed the Friday The 13th series).

I don’t really care if sticks-in-the-mud like Ebert dig video games or not (admittedly, I’m only a casual player, but I would definitely define the best of them as art, just as I would with painting, film, music, theatre), but I’m just more than a little tired of these cranky aging Boomers who worship at the altar of Altman and who think that artistic progress stopped when the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 1980.

Ebert would do well to keep on partying like it’s 1974 and leave the rest of us--obsessive, yes, juvenile, perhaps—alone to partake in the invention of a bonafide new art form, which is likely only in its birthing stages. He should remember people once saw The Jazz Singer as just a “talkie”—a passing fad. I’d like to think we ain’t heard, or seen, or experienced, nothin’ yet.

©2007 Robert J. Lewis

02 October 2007

"Deadwood" Dismantled

It looks like we can forget about those Deadwood movies--according to recent reports, The Gem and The Bella Union are coming down.

The complex and unromanticized Western serial was cancelled by HBO due to low ratings and creator David Milch's desire to pursue another series: the metaphysical surfer ensemble John From Cincinatti. But we were assured Deadwood would to return in the form of two feature length films (to air on HBO) that would wrap it all up.

This past June, while promoting Live Free Or Die Hard, Timothy (Seth Bullock) Olyphant told Coming Soon: "don't hold your breath...the fact that show existed at all for as long as it did (three seasons, all available on DVD) was a miracle of sorts."

And last week Ian (Al Sweargen) McShane told Cinematical: ""I just got a call on Friday from ... a dear friend of mine, who told me that they're packing up the ranch. They're dismantling the ranch and taking the stuff out. That ship is gonna sail. Bonsoir, Deadwood."

Today, the site follows up with responses from other cast members: Jim (Ellsworth) echoed McShane's news, and W. Earl (Dan Dority) Brown confirmed that HBO's lease for the sets is up, but he wants back his "hat, knife, and gunbelt."

With John From Cincinatti having gotten the pink slip from HBO, I'd hoped Milch would return to the Black Hills at least one more time to wrap up the Hearst plot and give fans a proper ending as planned.

But to paraphrase Al Swearengen: Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God--or clueless network executives--laugh...