REVIEW: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

If you should happen to attend a showing of Tim Burton’s latest and notice a fellow patron with a manic grin, rubbing his hands together gleefully, don’t be alarmed: Chances are it’s just the owner of your local “Hot Topic” thinking about the new addition to his house that sales of “Corpse Bride” licensed merchandise to the emo/goth set is going to buy for him. “Can a heart still break once it’s stopped beating?,” one of the film’s signature lines, may as well be subtitled “coming soon to a sullen teenager’s diary near you.”

Yes, it’s a marketing phenom in the making. BUT, it’s also a fine, fine little movie, so all that is easily forgiven.

It’s been a banner couple of weeks for necrophilia, what with Mark Ruffalo falling for Reese Witherspoon’s ghost in “Just Like Heaven” and now this: Shy, sensitive Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) is betrothed to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) as arranged by their parents. His are newly-rich fish merchants (the setting is Victorian England) counting on the marriage to raise them into high society, hers are bankrupt aristocrats counting on it to bail them out of destitution. Luckily, the kids charm the heck out of eachother right away, but Victor has a rough time memorizing the lines for the ceremony. Taking a walk in the woods to practice them, he slips the ring onto a tree branch for a prop… only to discover that the “branch” is actually the skeletal arm of a dead girl in a wedding dress. Named Emily, the titular corpse bride (Helena Bonham Carter) claws her way up from the dirt and promptly accepts what she assumes to be Victor’s proposal of marriage.

All Victor wants is to get back to Victoria, but that’s easier said than done: Emily is a bit on the posessive side, travel between the world of the living and the dead is easier said than done, (for the most part,) a rival for Victoria emerges in Lord Barkis Bittern and, complicating matters, there’s a bit of mystery as to exactly how Emily wound up dead in the first place. But the real problem is that Victor does quite quickly develop feelings for the charming and distressingly attractive corpse bride herself.

Burton’s welcome return to the realm of stop-motion animation wisely avoids similairities to the earlier “Nightmare Before Christmas,” this time around the visual palette is playing heavily on design-as-metaphor: The world of the living is monochromatic, stiff and dark as a commentary on it’s rigidly-structured Victorian setting; while the world of the dead is a Jazz-infused, rollicking place rendered in full color. Minimalism is a constant theme, as sparse trees and lonely buildings dot smooth-hilled landscapes unafraid of betraying their model origins.

In a way, looking like a living play-set is necessary for the film to function: Rendered in live-action or a more fluid form of animation, much of the humor found at the sake of corpses, bones and bodies would likely be too grotesque to maintain the fairytale-like tone. Emily, for example, has one arm and one leg comprised only of bone, a pop-out eyeball, exposed ribs and a worm that lives in her skull. Yet here, amid a cast who are all exagerrated grotesques in one way or another, she’s able to look much more “eerie” than scary; and at times she’s even just plain attractive… as puppets go. (It’s worth noting that the modelers have invested both Emily and Victoria with oddly Maxim-esque figures.)

If the film has a flaw, it’s that it’s a bit too short. At 75 minutes, it stays on pace and gets about it’s business with great efficiency, but some of it does seem to rush by. Certain segments, such as Victor’s renunion with his deceased childhood pet or the visit by Emily’s fellow undead to the living world just seem to cry out for greater room to breathe (though the later DOES contain a really adorable gag that’s an instant classic of zombie comedy.)

Overall, though, this is everything so many were hoping it would be. It’s creepy, lovely, well crafted, a great piece for families and just plain fun to watch. Definately reccomended.


REVIEW: Flightplan

WARNING: It is my duty to warn you that this review may contain spoilers. It is NOT my duty to warn you that the movie kind of sucks, but I’m doing it anyway because THAT’S how much I care about my readers.

A thought occured to me last week somewhere around the middle of my ordeal enduring “Cry_Wolf:” Is it possible that, when it comes to “what’s-going-on-here” thrillers, audience expectations have actually come full circle? What I mean is… by now, we all “know” as filmgoers that it’s never “the most likely suspect” because that wouldn’t be very surprising. Yet, a few decades now of the person most likely to be guilty never being guilty may have finally grown old-hat… is it possible that, anticipating that very effect, writers of would-be mysteries are now assuming that our instinct to overlook “the most likely suspect” is powerful enough that to have that person actually be guilty of something can be considered a surprise?

You can draw your own conclusions about whether or not this applies to either “Cry_Wolf” or “Flightplan.” What I can tell you they share in common is the link of being dull, predictable “mystery” films that are too easy to figure out and don’t reward continued vieiwing after (or before, really) you guess who (if anyone) is up to no good.

Jodie Foster (looking about as depressed as I would be if I was a famous actress and this was apparently the only movie I could find to be in) toplines as a smart, tough, omnicompotent career woman who never takes guff from all the (always) much-taller males or (always) much more “made-up” women in her way… in other words, her go-to characterization ever since “Silence of The Lambs.” Here, she’s a recent widow flying to New York from Berlin on a giant-sized luxury plane, 6 year-old daughter in tow.

The next part has been obscenely well-covered in the promotion: She falls asleep, wakes up, the kid is missing. A search turns up nothing. An air marshall (Peter Sarsgaard) sticks close by. She starts to get crazy. Surprise! She is crazy: The kid is dead along with the husband, and she’s delusional.

The iron law of “everyone thinks I’m crazy” movies is that a lead character is only REALLY crazy if craziness is suggested in the third act, the later the better. If accusations of insanity are made at any point during or before the second act, it means that the more crazier the conspiracy the more likely it is to be for real.

And so, surprising absolutely no one, nefarious doings are underway. Fortunately, Foster’s character happens to be an aeronautical engineer who knows the construction of the plane inside and out, allowing her to John McLaine her way around the place while the film marks it’s time in between “she’s crazy” and “no, she’s not crazy.” Don’t expect me to be impressed if you’ve already guessed that everything comes down to a claustrophobic stalking sequence in which a badly-beaten but ultra-endurant baddie waves a gun and rants aloud details designed to patch gaping plot holes. A big ol’ No-Prize, though, for those who predicted that the film finds time to fit in preachy tableaus about post-911 airline paranoia.

There’s really nothing to see here. It’s dull, it’s not engaging as a mystery, it’s cast is largely wasted and it’s visually flat. Skip it.


REVIEW: Lord of War

The “Goodfellas” model for criminal rise-and-fall sagas gets yet another workout here and, will wonders never cease, yields yet another fine film. The simple but sturdy template of Martin Scorsese’s landmark gangland epic (in brief: streetwise, ambitious working-class kid climbs-to, overreaches-in and falls-from the top of seedy enterprise to the tune of generation-spanning popular music and historical-events backdrop) has been successfully wed to pornography (in “Boogie Nights”,) cocaine smuggling (in “Blow,”) and casino ownership (scorsese’s own “Casino.”) Now, in “Lord of War,” it is wed to black-market arms trafficking.

Nicholas Cage has the Ray Liotta role as Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant’s son turned illegal weapons dealer. Starting small but ever eyes-on-the-prize, Yuri struggles at first to win the respect of the top-dog traffickers but is rebuffed by gun-running “aristocrat” Simeon Weiss for being undiscerning. Weiss, played by Ian Holm, is a kind of idealist who rationalizes his criminal trade by only selling weapons to those who’s causes he believes in and supports, so Yuri goes the other way and becomes the guy who’ll sell to anybody. When the Cold War ends and (so argues the film) the world is plunged into gray-area chaos, it’s Orlov’s style that’s en-vogue and Weiss who’s suddenly, pardon the pun, very much outgunned.

Along the way, the screenplay gives Yuri the chance to hit most of the key notes from the “Goodfellas” playbook: He weds the beautiful girl, flashes cash to suspicious relatives, drags his little brother (Jared Leto) into his world, dodges a determined ATF agent (Ethan Hawke) and soon gets in over his head… or does he?

Helmed and written by Andrew Niccol, the film is well-made, well-paced and highly well acted. It’s also bleak, bitter, largely devoid of preachiness and cynical as all hell. These qualities will turn a few off, I speculate, but I found them greatly refreshing: Niccol trusts that most of us will understand already that illegal arms smuggling is wrong and doesn’t turn the film into some kind of politicized message movie: A bad guy’s crack about the 2000 U.S. elections and a title card informing us of statistics about arms dealing by UN Security Council members are the closest we come, and both are as couched in everybody-sucks cynicism as the rest of the film.

It’s also about as subtle as a jackhammer, which at first threatens to become a problem but remains fun thanks to a consistency of tone: “For What It’s Worth” plays over a sequence showing a bullet’s journey from the factory floor to a victims skull. The sound of AK-47 shells discharging morphs into a cash-register ka-ching before Yuri’s ears. A montage of cocaine use is set to, yes, “Cocaine.” This kind of go-for-broke bluntness I usually enjoy in it’s own right, but it’s great to see it working towards a better film for a change.

The film really hits it’s stride when Yuri strikes up business with African dictator Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker) and his gold-plated AK-47 carrying psycho/cannibal son. The film’s welcome cynicism about it’s primary subject extends (perhaps even increases) to his African clientel, and the films renderings of despotic, tribalistic war zones bludgeon the glossy fable of “The Constant Gardener” with it’s saintly third world victims and guilt-ridden, martyred Westerners. Yuri’s quick-fix solution, at one point, to the imminent capture of his planeload of contraband is so strikingly un-PC I nearly clapped for joy. So many films treat the chaos in Africa (Western-made, self-made or otherwise) with such delicate gloves, terrified to render native African characters as anything but one-dimensionally noble, that it’s a real joy to see one where these characters are afforded the same dimension and moral complications as the leading-man American…

…who is, of course, an almost-completely ammoral but imminently-likable guy. As played by Cage, Orlov is the sort of character who starts out complicated and only gets moreso, but eventually can be defined by a simple trait: He does what he does because he likes being good at something. It’s villiany as a matter of pride, and like any rise-and-fall antihero worth his salt it’s both his strength and fatal flaw. You may or may not wind up rooting for him to get away with what he does, but chances are you’ll be entertained watching him try.

Time will decide if “Lord of War” gets to be as enduring as “Goodfellas” or it’s other kin. But for now, it’s an extremely good, entertaining movie very likely playing near you, and you should definately make a point to see it. Reccomended.



“Venom” isn’t a good film by any means, which is the BIG reason why you haven’t seen it advertised or promoted hardly at all. The other reasons are more due to bad luck than bad filmmaking: It has the misfortune of being an R-rated slasher opening against the PG-13 rated “Cry_Wolf,” of being distributed by the soon-to-be-no-more Dimension Films and of being set in the swamps of Louisiana which, you may have heard, are “sensitive material” right now. A run of lousy luck like that would be a lot for a good movie to overcome, and it’s certainly too much for “Venom.”

And yet, bad luck and all, I’m surprised to find I can’t really give this a wholly bad review. Taken entirely on it’s own merits, which is to say as a B-grade slasher with a voodoo/zombie tweaking, it’s largely functional. It’s principal cast is inoffensive and earnest, it’s “monster” is amusing, it’s gore is well used and it puts just enough novel spin on the undead-stalker-of-rural-teens formula to qualify as a genre-entry of note in it’s own right.

The victims-in-waiting here are a gaggle of Louisiana teenagers (played, in a pleasant surprise, by actors who actually look like teenagers.) The “main heroes” are a nice guy who’s content to live out his small town life and his girlfriend who pines for the big city. The evil MacGuffin is a suitcase housing a pair of magical snakes that had been used to suck out and contain the evil energy of countless murderers, criminals and sadists in voodoo last-rites ceremonies. Through various complications, the local Redneck Meanie (a garage mechanic) drowns in the swamp, gets nibbled by said snakes and transformed into a super-powered killer zombie who takes off on a killing spree, using tow-truck chains and his trusty crowbar as weapons of choice.

As setups for “Friday the 13th” lifts go, thats not bad. The only “duty” left to the film after that is to provide good death scenes (it’s largely successful) for engaging characters (it’s less successful.) The Bayou provides a nice change of scenery from the usual suburban schools and campgrounds in these movies, and as an honest-to-god slasher film it’s much better than the bloodless (in every sense) “Cry_Wolf,” while as a voodoo-tinged shocker it’s got more real suspense than the classy but never-ever-scary “Skeleton Key.”

It’s the little things that make the difference in these movies: I like the use of a crowbar in place of the usual machete or hunting knife. I like that the characters (for the most part) don’t meet their ends in the order I was expecting. A pair of kills involving a forked-road and a sandblasting machine are inventive. The baddie (named Ray) is clever and more resourceful than usual. A section in the middle, involving a makeshift voodoo ritual, is about the most creative “stop the monster” weapon since the paper-folding in “Tales From The Hood.”

It ain’t “good,” but if you need to see a new slasher movie this is the one to see.


REVIEW: Just Like Heaven

I know some of you are seeing the trailers for this and thinking, “wait.. didn’t this already suck once as ‘Ghost?'” I know this because I was thinking the same thing, and I’m rarely quick enough to have told a joke first.

Either way, we were both wrong. Totally wrong. Here, instantly, is one of the best romantic comedies of the year. And I say this as someone who typically loathes romantic comedies. Each day comes with it’s surprises.

This much you know from the trailer: Reese Witherspoon is Elizabeth, a workaholic do-gooding doctor who’s skooshed in a car crash in the opening moments of the film. Mark Ruffalo is David, a depressed but good natured guy who rents a furnished San Fransisco apartment only to discover it’s haunted… by Elizabeth’s ghost. After some slapsticky playacting in “Beetlejuice” territory as to her innability to admit her own death and the first of three surprise plot twists, the real story is up and running: Solving the mystery of why Elizabeth hasn’t crossed over and why David is apparently the only one who can see her now. Oh, and falling in love with one-another, of course.

Help on all these tracks comes in the form of an occult bookstore owner (Jon Heder, late of “Napolean Dynamite”) who drops by to explain the film’s hook: Elizabeth is way too alive to be dead, and for a live person David is way too dead inside. Get it? Also on hand is Donal Logue as David’s psychiatrist buddy, who helps out in the third act when some lightly-illegal slaptick rescuing is required.

Yes, it’s all just too cute for words. But it works, because the leads are good at this, because the supporting cast is efficiently used and the script is a great deal smarter than it needed to be. The supernaturality of the plot is actuality it’s main non-romance focus, as opposed to a contrivance. The result is that, while it certainly works as romantic comedy, this is actually one of the more accutely spiritual movies to rear it’s head in awhile.

About the actual plot not much more can be said. The film turns on a series of surprise revelations about the circumstances of it’s protagonists, the “big” one of which I personally found a little easy to guess but the second of which really caught me off gaurd and changed the nature of the film for the better. (A third, concerning the possible extra identity of a supporting player, is saved for the coda.)

There’s really not much more to say other than… what a nice surprise. I really enjoyed this one, highly reccomended for the date crowd or otherwise.


REVIEW: Cry_Wolf

“You’re not as smart as you think you are,” the unnervingly Val Kilmer-esque Westlake Prep journalism professor played by Jon Bon Jovi cautions Owen, the nominal hero of “Cry_Wolf.” He could just as easily have been describing the film itself, yet another too-clever-by-half teen slasher entry with pretentions of parlaying self-awareness of it’s own genericism (genericity?) within the genre into a kind of postmodern hipness. File it under “Scream,” with an asterixed notation that at least “Scream” took almost half a decade to get tired and dated, while “Cry_Wolf” accomplishes the same before it’s even finished it’s running time.

Owen (Julian Morris) is the new kid (from Britain, even) at Westlake, a postcard-perfect prep school somewhere in the Northeast. It’s big, it’s old-looking, and it’s stuck in the middle of a deep dark woods. Chasing the affections of resident hottie ice-queen Dodger (Lindy Booth,) Owen gets mixed up with a Scooby Gang of friends who pass the time playing mind games. When Owen’s Sherlockian observational skills render their original games overly simple, they begin a new one: Using the recent murder of a townie girl as a basis, they start a rumor via an Email chain letter that a not-Jason-Vorhees serial slayer called “The Wolf” is stalking the students. Almost immediately, threatening AIM messages are getting sent, wierd doin’s are transpirin’, and someone dressed up like The Wolf (neon ski-mask and cammo jacket, *yawn*) is following the main cast around in the dark.

Extrapolate from there on out, and you’ll probably imagine a movie at least slightly better than what’s actually offered. We’ve been through this too many times: Everyone thinks everyone else is behind it all, friendships are tested, allegiances are formed and reformed. Yes, red herrings are swimming all over the margins of the frame at all times. Yes, various characters are only able to absolve themselves of suspicion by revealing deep, dark secrets about themselves. Yes, there are montages in which various scenes we’ve already witnessed are replayed with “but then THIS HAPPENED!!!!” extra endings. By the end, the only fun to be had is guessing which cliche of both the prep-school-drama and teen-horror genres will make it’s appearance next. Cladenstine teacher/student copulation? Check. A costume party making difficult the pursuit of a costume killer? Check. Fogged-up mirrors? Don’t even have to ask. This is tedious, plain and simple.

It didn’t have to be. The slasher film has endured precisely because it’s formula is basic enough to be tweaked interestingly by seemingly minor variations. Merely coming up with new and creative murder-weapons has kept “Friday The 13th” undead and kicking for eleven movies and counting. Absent that option (and blessed with the sacred PG13 rating for the trouble) there’s still room to grow by stocking the film with intriguing or unexpected characters. Instead “Cry_Wolf” has only the usual mandatory grab-bag. Roll call: Good Guy, Redneck, Fat Guy, Freaky Guy, Black Guy, Slut, Geeky Chick and Hot Bitch. Everyone’s present and accounted for.

The film even lacks in the realm of theme and narrative design. In spite of all the PDAs, cell phones and AIM connections that figure so prominently, no attempt is made to spin this out into some kind of commentary on techno-age detachment. The closest we get is the use of AOL Instant Messengers signature (and obnoxious) “bee-doomp!” alert bell as a kind of product-placement substitute for “one, two, Freddy’s comin’ for you.” This is either the most bloodless slasher film ever, or the most violent infomercial ever.

Skip it.


REVIEW: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

WARNING: The new film “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” nominally presents itself as a mystery, and thus any serious discussion of the film and it’s merits (or lack thereof) will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned.

Here is one of the great consistent ironies of the modern cinema: The horror genre, subsisting as it does largely on violence, sex and demonic imagery, is generally tops amongthe genres hated and cited as cause for censorship by religious organizations. However, the horror genre also subsisting as it does largely on the “reality” of demonic forces, good-versus-evil and the power of religious symbology, is the most consistently devout of modern film genres. To date, “The Exorcist” remains the most bluntly pro-religion film made by any major studio in the modern era, crucifix-masturbation and all.

So it’s not really a surprise that “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” though it’s being marketed as a straight horror film and maintains self-illusions of a courtroom drama playing out the grand questions of secularism versus faith, can only retain it’s pretense of open-mindedness for so long before it collapses into both the traditional hokum of genre cliche’s and, perhaps also, a work of only semi-intentional propaganda on behalf of doctrinaire fundamentalism. It’s a film that seems to struggle, ultimately in vain, to remain a serious exploration of both sides… but is ultimately defeated both by a desire to be an effective scary movie and deliver a religious message, BOTH of which demand a single-mindedness that makes serious exploration impossible.

But first to the movie itself…

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: despite what the film’s promotions, trailers and even it’s final codas tell you, this is NOT A TRUE STORY. There is no Emily Rose, there never was, and that’s that. The “based on” in “based on a true story” here refers to the 1976 case of German teenager Anneliese Michel, who believed herself posessed numerous demons (Hitler and Nero among them) and who was “exorcised” often multiple times in a day by a succession of multiple priests. When this experience eventually killed her, the priests and her parents were charged with negligent manslaughter and subsequently found guilty.

Aside from reimagining Michel as Emily Rose, the film also relocates the story to present-day rural America, reduces the number of priests and exorcisms to just one and leaves the rest of the Rose family out of the charges. Thus, the courtroom drama which frames the film is able to serve double-duty, “Inherit The Wind”-style, as an open forum to argue out the broadest possible competing points of religiousity and secularism: Accused of negligent homicide in the death of Emily Rose, (Jennifer Carpenter,) Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is sent to trial. Campbell Scott is the devoutly-Christian prosecutor Ethan Thomas (as in “Doubting Thomas?”) and Laura Linney is agnostic rising-star defense attorney Erin Bruner who takes the case for the career boost.

So, yes, the non-believer is representing the priest who’s guilt or innocence largely depends on one’s commitment to the spiritual, while rationality and the law of the strictly-physical is represented by a churchgoing Christian. Such irony! Can’t you just see the screenwriter grabbing a celebratory second muffin to congratulate himself for such cleverness? In any case, here’s the meat of our conflict: Father Moore is unafraid of verdicts or jail-time, he desires only his attorney’s promise that he be allowed to use his testimony to tell the world “the truth about Emily.” However, the Catholic Archdiocese paying for his defense would prefer he not say anything and just let the matter pass with minimal publicity.

Which track will Erin take? Will her lack-of-faith be tested by possibly-demonic encounters of her own? Will the innevitable resolution of this conflict cause an otherwise intriugingly ambiguous mystery story to go off the rails into 3rd-act speechifying? Are the courtroom scenes increasingly stacked in favor of one side? Do you really need to ask? (What I really need to ask is who told Campbell Scott it would be a good idea to play his role by doing an impression of Tom Skerritt.)

Despite a clunky opening, (Linney gets one of the most laughably exposition-dense character introduction scenes I’ve ever seen,) for the most part the film settles into a well-executed, comfortable pace for the most part: The courtroom scenes are well acted and efficient, even if it does all play out like “Law & Order: Satanic Victims Unit.” We see the events leading up to Emily’s death in flashbacks, often from both “believer” and “skeptic” viewpoints, and relative newcomer Carpenter throws herself into the Linda Blair role with gusto: Her Emily Rose; wild-eyed, clad often in a sopping-wet rustic nightgown, gifted with remarkable contortionist skills, shrieking in Aramaic and eventually Stigmatic, recalls both the beasties of “Evil Dead” or (to me, anyway) a pinup fantasy for Mel Gibson.

All of this stuff works really well, helped greatly by a talented cast of (mostly Canadian) top-tier acting talent. But they can only do so much, and soon enough the problems start to pile up. That the courtroom drama stacks the deck in favor of the defense is kind of innevitable, but it gets too far out of hand too soon: A witness giving the “skeptical scientist” side for the prosecution is, of course, an oily creep with subtly-gray fleshtones and a cold stare, while the defense counters with a spiritualy-inclined scientist played by Shoreh Agdashloo (“House of Sand & Fog” and “24”) as an ethereal multi-culti Earth Mother archetype (this actress deserves better, she’s mostly here to name-drop Carlos Castaneda for all you smarty-pantses in the audience.)

But the film doesn’t really slip up until it’s final act, the discussion of which warrants yet another MAJOR SPOILER WARNING…

…Come the last act, “the truth” comes into play and the film basically drops all pretense of being an objective observation of a debate-as-story. It’s eventually not enough for the film to argue that Father Moore might not be crazy in his beliefs, it has to turn the whole case (and the movie) into a referendum on the need for spirituality in the modern world; “will Father Moore be found innocent?” morphs inexorably into “will the jury realize the need to let Father Moore go in order to strike a blow for faith against the tyranny of the scientific age?” without a second thought.

A final twist, involving a piece of evidence clumsily hidden from the audience until the last possible moment, gives the film a coda that would be shaky in a Bobsey Twins opus: That Emily’s posession, her death and the resulting trial have actually been a grand piece of human theater staged by God as a way to remind people that Demons and, thus, their Angel enemies are still very much real. Seriously, that’s what happens: God “dunnit,” multiple deaths and all, in a bid for our attention. Evidently, appearing in misshapen pastry and on the back of Mexian highway signs just isn’t cuttin’ it anymore.

I’m actually wondering if the filmmakers realize what is being suggested by going this route. Do they even realize that they’ve essentially made a film who’s message is: “The Lord works in mysterious ways, so don’t question the actions of priests or anyone else carrying out his orders no matter how wrong they look to us mere mortals.”?

This isn’t to say that, if indeed the film is taking the form of an argument in favor of hardline religious fundamentalism that it’s automatically “bad.” In fact, it’s overall a solid bit of work and, after all, “Birth of A Nation” and “Triumph of The Will” are still both important works of cinema despite championing the Klu Klux Klan and Nazism, respectively. The problem, rather, is that you need to be a filmmaker of incredible skill to make a climax this out-of-left-field work, and that’s just not the case here. Every argument, no matter how ridiculous, can be made… just not by everyone.

Much like the similarly-afflicted “Frailty” of a few years back, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is an extremely interested, well-made and well-acted film that just isn’t good enough to justify the extraordinary reach it asks a thinking audience to make. What begins as a clever fusion of courtroom drama and horror show ends up looking like a “Perry Mason” fanfic scripted by Pat Robertson, and the quality nosedives into strictly-average territory. But while the good parts last, they’re good enough to justify a look.


Marvel to make it’s own movies

This has been floating around in the ether for awhile now, but to see it “confirmed” is pretty interesting none the less:

The gist of it is that Marvel Entertainment (formerly Marvel Enterprises, formerly just Marvel Comics) will now be self-producing it’s own superhero movies as opposed to farming out characters to other studios (as has been the case with “Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” etc.) Also announced is that Paramount will handle the distribution.

The lineup that Marvel boss and exaggerator-extraordinaire Avi Arad has been announcing along with this is probably purely theoretical, but it tells a lot about what Marvel thinks is going to work and what won’t. Included are…

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Looks like a no-brainer until you actually try to make it work. The fact is, the title alone means you can kiss most of the international boxoffice goodbye unless you’ve got the shrewdest marketing campaign in history to make it work. Mums the word on what this will actually be about: The character started out as one of many WWII-era patriotic adventurers, but for the majority of his existence (since the mid-1960s to the present) “Cap’s” stories have centered around his being frozen just before the end of the war and unthawed in the modern world, and his attempts to readjust. Domestically, this could be a MASSIVE hit for them, which is why it’s being named as the most-likely candidate for the first of this wave to get made.

THE AVENGERS: This is kind of a cheat, as it’s already been announced that the adaptation of the superhero team book will actually be a direct-to-DVD animated feature based on “The Ultimates,” which reimagines the Avengers characters through the prism of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Big mistake, if you ask me.

NICK FURY: Kind of an American James Bond, in the comics a WWII-era hero kept young via a youth serum. Left unsaid is whether this will be the “original” Nick Fury or the “Ultimates” incarnation of the character who’s drawn as a dead-ringer for Samuel L. Jackson. Bruce Willis has been mentioned for this, I think the eyepatch would work for him.

BLACK PANTER: This would be interesting. Lead character is chief of an African tribe. Not only is he a superhero on the side, his “tribe” actually maintains a super-advanced city under their jungle and only use the spears-and-war-paint routine as a cover. If this is seriously on the table, it could be a starmaking turn for the right actor. Me, I’d hope for Djimon Honsou.

ANT-MAN: I really doubt they’d really make this any time soon, but it could be fun. Lead guy is Dr. Henry Pym, who can shrink himself and uses a special helmet to talk to ants. Really. In the books, Pym is notable for stretching the secret-identity bit to the extreme: He’s ALSO “Giant-Man” when the shrinking-process is reversed AND for while he changed costumes and called himself “Yellowjacket.”

CLOAK & DAGGER: Seriously? Okay, whatever. This was a late-80s/early-90s bit that was more noted for being ahead of it’s time than really good. Heroes are a street-tough black guy/super-hot white chick team. He has a big flowing cape that contains a kind of black-hole in it’s folds, and she throws light waves at people and wears a spectacularly revealing (for an 80s Superheroine) costume.

DR. STRANGE: Goody! Think Alastaire Crowley as a superhero. Former surgeon practices the occult, uses it to fight demons and crime. Could be great, could be ridiculous, but I want to see them try.

HAWKEYE: Now this is puzzling. This guy fights crime with a bow and arrow, wears a purple costume. VERY similar to DC comics’ “Green Arrow,” who fights crime with a bow and arrow while dressed like Errol Flynn-as-Robin Hood. An archer-vigilante movie would be cool, don’t get me wrong, but what makes this a head-scratcher is that Marvel very publically killed this fellow off a few months ago.

POWER PACK: And now we know why Marvel brought these guys back. A family of cute little kids who all get super powers. It’s pretty basic stuff, more popular in it’s day for the incongruity of it’s preteen heroes interacting with the increasingly-dark grownup heroes of the Marvel catalogue. As a family feature, though… sure, why not?

SHANG CHI: They’ve been talking this one up since “Blade” came out. This was a popular 70s book. Hero is a martial arts master, ongoing story has connections to the Marvel Universe incarnation of Fu Manchu (or am I thinking of someone else.)

Other names you might be looking for, (Iron Man, Silver Surfer, etc.) are, of course, previously-engaged to other studios.

REVIEW: Transporter 2

By all justice left in the world, the original “The Transporter” should be remembered as the definative “guy movie” in it’s year of release. Unfortunately, the concept of “2002 guy movies” are haunted by the fetid spectre of the infamous Vin Diesel abortion “XXX.” After audiences reacted largely with (charitable) apathy to that would-be “this guy is cool!” franchise-starter, the prospects for another “this guy is cool!” actioner were understandably limited. Still, enough action fans turned out for it to turn a respectable profit, and on word of mouth it wound up as a DVD smash hit.

Part of the reason for that is that it was a truly great action film, an expertly paced showcase of stunts, fights and chases anchored by a stiflingly cool lead performance from Jason Statham… perhaps the unlikeliest actor to emerge as a martial-arts star in recent history.

But a bigger part, I believe, was the curious way in which the film chose to define it’s lead character, Frank Martin (Statham.) Specifically… he’s not “defined” much at all. His surface… the shaved head, the cold stare, the impeccable black suit and the superhuman kung-fu skills… suggest a crossbreeding of Bruce Willis, James Bond and Jackie Chan, yes. But as far as details go, we learn ONLY that Martin is a BSAF veteran turned ultra-efficient wheelman-for-hire who likes schedules, luxury cars and comfortable living. Beyond that, he’s nearly a perfect cipher, and I believe this to be the key: It’s incredibly easy for the mind’s eye to replace Martin with oneself, and it elevated “The Transporter” from just another action piece to a kind of vicarious-enjoyment dynamo.

This sequel finds Frank unchanged but the environment completely new: He’s relocated from France to Miami, and scored a legal assingment as chauffer for the preschool-aged son of the U.S. Drug Czar (Matthew Modine.) The ruthlessly-efficient screenplay has the poor kid kindapped almost immediately, leaving Frank on the run as the prime suspect and, of course, bound by his famously unbreakable word to rescue him.

The real culprits are… well, thats actually sort of a surprise, as is the motive in what turns out to be a fairly twisty plot. Just know that Frank will be provided plenty of hired goons to tear apart in ever-more-creative ways (choreography by Corey Yuen of the famous Yuen stunt family,) including a sociopath female asassin who does her fighting while dressed like a moderately-priced crack whore. And he’ll once again have back up of sorts from the original film’s comic-relief French cop, who cuts his Miami vacation short to lend a hand and provide winking references to the original film (these DVDs need to start coming with coupons for madilene biscuits.)

As with before, the big showpieces are the unlikely but none the less impressive action and fight sequences. Truth be told, nothing can really hope to top the original’s famous “oil fight,” but this one gives it it’s best shot. A firehose battle, a fistfight on a crashing plane and Frank’s creative solution to a bomb on his car earned applause at my screening, I can report.

Audiences in general and action fans in particular have had to endure a lot of mediocrity this summer, but here’s at least an actioner that delivers the goods with minimal hiccups. Reccomended, especially for fans of the first.