September 30, 2006


Well lookee what we have here: a sneak peek at the upcoming "Richard Donner Cut" of Superman II. This 5-minute sequence is how the sequel was originally supposed to have opened; the footage was scrapped and never re-shot by replacement director Richard Lester. Although Donner gave his blessing but not his assistance in preparing the new version of the film, I think you'll agree that it works like gangbusters compared to almost anything in the theatrical release.

The DVD streets in November. Whaddya think? My optimism just doubled.

September 21, 2006

Your Calls Will Be Answered in Sequence, Please Stay on the Line

This has wound up being a week of decompression for us (albeit not a very relaxing one), and we appreciate your tolerance for the staggered updates and radio silences. A couple of quick notes:
  • R.I.P. screenwriter Gérard Brach and cinematographer Sven Nykvist, co-conspirators of Roman Polanski and Ingmar Bergman, respectively, though Nykvist actually worked with Polanski, too, on The Tenant. (A movie scripted, conveniently enough, by Brach.) Both were so prolific it's almost impossible to imagine a world in which we'll no longer see their names on anything new.
  • Outlaw Vern's Get Rich or Die Tryin' diatribe is essential reading.
  • Speaking of brilliant criticism, our own Alex Jackson recently reviewed Eaten Alive.
  • "The Film Freak Central 2006 Annual" is now available at Amazon USA, Amazon Canada, Barnes & Noble, and still other online retailers.
Hard Candy (at last), Down in the Valley, some Bogart, and the last leg of TIFF capsules in the pipeline. Oh, and some TV on DVD, apropos of which: what are your early impressions of the new fall TV season? I missed/subconsciously-avoided "Studio 60", and the only thing that has me truly on pins and needles is the return of "The Office".

Update (09/26)
Walter catches up with The Science of Sleep and Jet Li's Fearless. Meanwhile, my TIFF coverage wraps up with a capsule review of Paul Verhoeven's Blackbook (Zwartboek); a quick plug, though, for the curiously spellbinding On the Trail of Igor Rizzi, which took the Citytv Award for Best Canadian First Feature: I'm not sure I could do it justice with a cap, but do see it when it comes out. You'll be glad you did.

September 14, 2006

The TIFFing Point

Two more days until I turn back into a pumpkin (or something like that), probably for the good of not only my health, but also that of FILM FREAK CENTRAL. Anyway, some more stopgap coverage for you...

FAY GRIM (d. Hal Hartley)
As far as this unlikely sequel to the brilliant Henry Fool is concerned, those hoping for a Before Sunset should brace themselves for a Texasville. The movie feels like it came out of Hartley sideways (or, conversely, all too painlessly), and it never really catches fire until Thomas Jay Ryan makes his long-delayed cameo as Henry Fool. By then, it's too little too late. **/****

BLACK SHEEP (d. Jonathan King)
A thoroughly superfluous mutant-sheep splatter flick that nevertheless hums along nicely. Due homage is paid to old-school Peter Jackson, Aliens, and the werewolf and zombie canons, but it's a lot better paced than the similarly-derivative Undead. **/****

BLACKBOOK (Zwartboek) (d. Paul Verhoeven)
Returning to Holland for the first time in over twenty years, Paul Verhoeven proves that while you can take him out of Hollywood, you can't take Hollywood out of him. It was kind of a relief to see a movie-movie after a string of homely indieprods, but I wonder how many more variations on the Anne Frank and Mata Hari stories I can sit through before I stop flinching in Pavlovian disgust at Gestapo iconography. (There's an unfortunately fine line between ensuring we "Never Forget" and desensitizing us.) If there's at least a flimsy rationale behind the homage to Basic Instinct, a "Three's Company"-style contrivance late in the game is merely indefensible. **/****

Keep an eye on the mothersite for more capsules as well as Walter's review of The Black Dahlia.

September 09, 2006

My TIFF So Far

Seems we're all a little constipated right now but rest assured reviews are on the way; here's a quick rundown of TIFFpix screened thus far by yours truly.

BABEL (d. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
It coheres better than 21 Grams, but Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are really spinning their wheels at this point. A few funny extratextual lessons are imparted: never take a Fanning to Mexico (Elle has almost as harrowing an adventure there as sister Dakota does in Man on Fire); and never trust a director who includes a post-script dedication to his children. As with 21 Grams, though, Babel doesn't make room for any intentional levity, eventually desensitizing you to all the calculated anguish. *½/****

HALF MOON (Niwemung) (d. Bahman Ghobadi)
Ghobadi has really honed his craft since the dire A Time for Drunken Horses; his use of 'scope here--thinking of the opening cockfight, or a tableau of exiled Iraqi women serenading a band of Kurdish musicians as they leave town--is particularly cinematic. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't find its "Waiting for Godot"-isms a little draining. **½/****

THE HOST (Gue-mool) (d. Bong Joon-ho)
I'm no scholar of the Man in Suit genre, but I feel pretty confident in saying that this is the pinnacle of giant-monster cinema. A Spielberg movie that doesn't wuss out (and that traffics in the kind of black humour that used to be his métier), The Host has a shot at becoming South Korea's first real crossover hit--so long as its American distributor doesn't do something stupid like remake it instead. ***½/****

Rather than grow with the demographic that helped make "Generation X" part of the vernacular, Douglas Coupland is like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, still courting the slackers because even though he gets older, they, with their disposable income and impressionable minds, stay the same age. A disingenuous sermon to the choir on the cul-de-sac of working a cubicle job that has the gall to hate money and Vancouver's film industry. */****

Click here for capsule reviews of Torn Apart (La Coupure), The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de pages), and After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet).

September 03, 2006

The Trench

- Did an introduction/screening as the sub for NPR’s Howie Movshovitz at the monthly Tattered Cover Film Series at Denver’s Starz Filmcenter tonight for King Vidor’s almost-socialist Our Daily Bread. It comes midway through a particularly strenuous time for me as I do about four speaking engagements a week for four consecutive weeks – a schedule that, in addition to all the stresses these presentations entail – impinges on my ability to do the day-to-day of screening/writing and, so, increases my stress in those areas, too. Bitch, bitch, bitch. It’s still not turning a large crank, I understand, but it being what I do – it leaves a mark.

- People like Jeffrey Lyons hiring interns to watch films on his behalf suddenly becomes understandable if not any less appalling.

- Tom Cruise apologizes to Brooke Shields this week. I’m sure he means it. The Church of Scientology reveals that it was prepared to back Tom Cruise’s production company should no other studio step in. I’m sure it meant it, too.

- I love King Vidor – the most underestimated director of that period, I think, and unfairly ranked behind John Ford and Howard Hawks for the kinds of movies they did. His autobiography is a must-read – as is the interview conducted with him by George Stevens Jr. Our Daily Bread is a stirring work, the last two reels devoted to an interesting homage to the bio-automatism of Eisenstein, with a score by Alfred Newman so rousing that Zanuck resurrected it just a year later for his Les Miserables. The real find of the picture is Karen Morley as the everyman wife Mary. She started her career as the moll in Scarface - and ended it a victim of HUAC with a failed lieutenant-gubenatorial run in New York as a member of the Labor Party.

- The story behind the making of the film (including a chance encounter between Vidor and the star of his The Crowd which led with a lifelong obsession for the director with the actor’s fate) holds rich parallels with the film itself.

- Joseph Stefano has passed away – the writer of Psycho and co-creator of “The Outer Limits”.

- Did a two-and-a-half hour lecture on four 1970s Gene Hackman films: The French Connection, The Conversation, Night Moves, and Superman. Notable exclusions include I Never Sang for my Father and Scarecrow - the drive was, generally, that all of the decade of the ‘70s could be distilled through Hackman films and, more, that the Donner Superman, while being very much a product of the darkness of that decade, predicted the cinematic wonderland of the eighties. Hackman’s father issues in life reflected the loss of security in traditional institutions in the seventies. He’s not the only one, but he’s central to the zeitgeist of that era. No wonder his turn as the father in The Royal Tenenbaums feels like full-circle.

- Saw screenings of Hollywoodland and The Science of Sleep this week as well as sneaking in a late show of Neil Labute’s The Wicker Man. I wondered why the new film from Labute was being released without so much as a proper critic’s preview, it was answered by the picture itself that isn’t dumb enough to please a certain demographic and not quite smart enough to please the cultists and purists. What’s left are a lot of fond memories of the brilliantly disconcerting original film and of Labute’s own scabrous early work.

- Hollywoodland is dreadful, deadening period hoohaw and if Ben Affleck is perfect as George Reeves, it’s because Ben Affleck is this generation’s George Reeves.

- The Science of Sleep is fitfully engaging but mostly puerile and scattershot while mainly a reminder that a Charlie Kaufman movie without Charlie Kaufman is just exactly what it sounds like.

- Intro’d Tampopo and a little Argentine flick called Bolivia for the Vail Symposium, as well. Can I say that I now officially hate Tampopo? Bolivia is a sad snapshot of Argentina right before the collapse of their economy in 2001 – the same collapse that has made it nigh impossible for all the promising voices rising at the start of the millennium from that industry to helm follow-up projects. In of itself, not so much, but as a product of a time and place it can start an interesting conversation.

- Continue the DPL documentary series this coming Tuesday with the hard-to-watch Brother’s Keeper, then the following Tuesday with Bright Leaves. This coming Friday will find me in Gilpin County with Peter Weir’s Fearless while the next two Wednesdays I’m back in Vail with first Delicatessen, then Big Night.

- The suggestion that Spielberg might be collaborating with Zhang Yimou on an adaptation of Journey to the West is something that makes me want to weep, spontaneously, with joy. Debunked by Spielberg this week, just the idea that this work could become a major film is something that makes me weak in the knees.

- Teaching The Conversation for the first time since I brought a 35mm print of it to show at a long-ago Denver International Film Festival was something like a dream for me. Showing it on DVD with a clips presentation. . . man oh man. David Shire’s amazing piano score for the film (coupled with a brief discussion down below) raises the question of the best scores in film. Not the best from a musical standpoint, necessarily (I’m not a music critic, after all), but the best in terms of how it jibes with the film that holds it. Quick thoughts are the Goblin score for Suspiria, the Philip Glass for Candyman, Ennio Morricone’s work with Sergio Leone, and John Williams’ trio of rousing variations on Holst’s “Planets”: Jaws, Star Wars,, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A few of this week’s letters:


I have just read your review on last years film Dreamer. I think, along with many others, that calling a horse 'great glue' is extremley offensive. A lot of people work hard to stop healthy horses going to the knackery, and saying something like that would really hurt them. I really hope it was just a horrible atempt at a joke.

Please don't try to offend people, and have some more respect for horses. They have lived on this planet for a long time and lived and died as they need to, rather than being trucked to knackerys to have their legs chopped off as they are still alive, shot in the head, then have their neck and head sliced up.

I don't like jokes about that torture.


(RE: Your review of Equilibrium)

Before you bash a movie, make sure you understand it.All emotion is not banned with the drug. It is clearly stated that the "highs and lows" are destroyed. So there can still be jealousy, pride, and the other things you mentioned, in moderation.Also, Taye Diggs' character is not on the drug, which is why he shows so much anger and pride.And what scenes were taken from the Matrix?

John Daly

What would happen if I understood Equilibrium and still didn’t like it? Maybe you could also explain the parts about the puppy.

As to what’s been taken from The Matrix, I guess nothing except for the costumes, the general look, and the bullet time.

Just who is it you’re angry with or about? Either that or you've got some sort of difficulty with life because I just read your review of Finding Forrester (better late than never as they say) and you come across in your writing like you know it all. You remind me of those two clowns who used to review films on television and then one of them died. Either way, you're no better than those two clowns in terms of your review accept for the fact that you're extremely obnoxious. You must be from Britain or New York, but your writing seems pompous enough to warrant a Briton.Just thought you should know how much you stink. –Jimbo

Hazarding a guess: aside from the looks you get spending your time defending stuff like Finding Forrester, I’m thinking that what you’re angry about has something to do with being named “Jimbo” that or believing, maybe rightfully, that literate people who dislike Dead Poets Society knock-offs are most likely foreigners.

- Just got a press release from publicity, by the way, that Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left is being remade. Here’s the release:

A remake of The Last House on the Left, the 1972 horror classic that established Wes Craven as a filmmaker, is being developed at Rogue Pictures for production in early 2007. Mr. Craven and longtime producing partner Marianne Maddalena will produce the new version with the original film’s producer, Sean S. Cunningham. Rogue co-presidents Andrew Karpen and Andrew Rona made the announcement today.

Rogue will hold worldwide rights to the remake, for which a director is being sought. The new film will hew closely to the plot of the earlier version, which tracked the fate of a group of murderers as vengeful parents of the victims mete out punishment to fit the crimes.Another of Mr. Craven’s early works, The Hills Have Eyes, was recently remade; Mr. Craven co-produced the remake with Ms. Maddalena and Peter Locke. That film became a boxoffice hit earlier this year; a sequel, written by Mr. Craven and his son Jonathan, is in production for release by Fox Atomic in March. Martin Weisz is directing the sequel, which is again produced by Mr. Craven, Ms. Maddalena, and Mr. Locke.

Mr. Karpen and Mr. Rona said, “We’re excited about working with this talented team of filmmakers to create a new take on this seminal movie that will scare the wits out of a whole new generation of filmgoers.”

Rogue Pictures ( is devoted to producing and distributing high-quality suspense, action, thriller, comedy, and urban entertainment with mainstream appeal and franchise potential.

Hot Off the Presses - 9/3/06

Bad communication on my part resulted in me stampeding over Bill's post, there - apologies - let me underscore:

The Book is here, at Amazon. Although the best option shipping-wise for Canadian customers - know that we get a bigger bite on sales from Lulu. In either case, though, your support is much appreciated. Look for a wider roll-out as time goes on.

September 02, 2006

Book Gone Wild

As promised, a quick word to let you know that THE FILM FREAK CENTRAL 2006 ANNUAL is now available for purchase at Amazon. As I said in the comments section two posts back, if you buy our book at Lulu, we actually make $7, whereas a standard retail purchase (Amazon, et al) nets us $1. As Amazon is cheaper and more convenient for most (especially Canadian customers), I'm completely sympathetic to sticking with them (and I'm not one to believe in disposable income besides), but if you're picking up the Annual less for your reading pleasure than to donate to the cause, as it were, getting the book through Lulu is ultimately a bigger pledge.

And, if you've already picked up a copy, by all means rate or review it (either at Lulu or Amazon) should you have a spare moment. So far, it's received Lulu's highest rating from two customers, which is not only encouraging, but also great advertising.

Sorry for the radio silence around these parts of late, it's been a particularly chaotic month. As of Thursday, I'll be away covering the Toronto International Film Festival; of the handful of this year's festpix I've seen thus far, I kind of dug a French riff on Leave Her to Heaven called The Page Turner, starring Déborah François, late of L'Enfant. (She sure cleans up good.) Anyway, keep an eye on the mothersite for capsule reviews of TIFF selections, and be sure to check out Walter's (scathing) review of The Wicker Man--he's one of the only critics who bothered. Any movies you're deathly afraid they'll remake next?