Monday, March 30, 2009

Don't Tempt Me... This is Getting Ridiculous

The 20 Most Tempting
Titles of 2009


#11-15 here / #16-20 here

(6) Whatever Works
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Henry Cavill

Woody Allen's return year after year is a bit like Christmas for me -- a funny, philosophical, adulterous Christmas. Last year's Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a stupendously light and lustful surprise, and my favorite film of the year. With Woody's latest we'll be again seeing Patricia Clarkson turn her two minutes of screen time into another resonant stunner, and she's joined by Woody's neurotic match point, Larry David. The plot's Mighty Aphrodite-vibe links Larry to Evan Rachel Wood for a romantic and comic tryst once he decides to abandon his upper-echelon existence for something more bohemian... and blond. Whatever works, Larry.

And permit me to begin my "Don't Tempt Me 2010" list because Woody's already lined up an awe-inspiring cast for his next (untitled) feature that's definitely what's working for me: Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas and Josh Brolin! Swoon.

Evan Rachel wants nothing to do with Larry's banana. If she's anything like me she's holding out for Henry Cavill's.

(7) This Side of the Truth
Director: Ricky Gervais /Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Christopher Guest, Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor

Ricky Gervais is the rare television/film/podcast/standup mastermind whose talents and empire are actually deserving. As a comic genius he's also wise to surround himself with rival comic genius. Christopher Guest! Jason Bateman! Jeffrey Tambor! Tina Fey! No lie, this sounds like comedy heaven. It also acts as a potentially amazing placeholder for the Arrested Development Movie while it's still in development shackles.

In a world where no one ever tells lies, Gervais stars as the first man to exploit dishonesty for financial gain. A boldfaced move on his part that sets off a catastrophic tidal wave of deception and farcical falsehoods. The plot's promising enough on its own, and we already know how Gervais handles playing a socially inept cad. Maybe it's having re-watched The Office and Extras back-to-back, but if God were to come back as a British comic he'd look exactly like this:

Another "Don't Tempt Me 2010" addition: It's actually possible Gervais is working on something even more tempting with The Men at the Pru -- his first feature film collaboration with co-mastermind Stephen Merchant, the man at the side of Ricky's greatest successes. Even our British Comedy Savior needs his man behind the curtain.

(8) Please Give
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall
, Amanda Peet, Kevin Corrigan

Of the female directors working in America, Nicole Holofcener seems one of the most notable and still too unnoticed. Please, someone, give her consistent indie funding, and preferably her own HBO series starring Catherine Keener.
If we're ever to believe IMDb, this is the appropriately simple summary to her latest project: In New York City, a husband and wife butt heads with the granddaughters of the elderly woman who lives in apartment the couple owns.

Not so tempting in theory, but with Holofcener's films it's all about those ringing truths and small characteristic tweaks. I should never undersell her either: Friends with Money had Jennifer Aniston smoking weed and stealing vibrators and face cream, plus Frances McDormand refusing to wash her hair. In Holofcener's hands Catherine Keener's also been busted for underage sex with a minor, but as in her tradition of creating relatable scenarios, it was with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Friends with Munchies

Her work on cult faves like Walking and Talking, even episodes for TV classics Six Feet Under and Sex and the City, mark some of the more fully realized female arcs available in modern comedy, and some genuinely whip-smart and funny character pieces in general. Keener continues her collaboration, assuredly sharp as ever. She's joined by Rebecca Hall, who worked some sour/supple magic in Vicky Cristina Barcelona that actually seems in perfect fusion with Holofcener's films.

SO relatable.

(9) Nine
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench

A stunning cast is setting the stage for Rob Marshall's return to the movie musical post-Chicago. One of the best things about that film was Marshall's successfully cinematic showstoppers, which is perfect considering this film revolves around a filmmaker and the many women revolving through his life. So many promising setups and period style, and the perfection that is this cast. Nicole Kidman's returning to movie musical that treated her so well, alongside Oscar-winning follow-up performances by the mesmerizing Daniel Day-Lewis and Penélope Cruz. Some real razzle dazzle!

Somebody's been good to Mama, because Mama's been good to us!

(10) Nailed
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
, Catherine Keener, Jessica Biel, Paul Reubens, Jon Stewart, Kirstie Alley

I don't know if it's due to the abuses inflicted on his cast and crew, but David O. Russell knows great comedy. And since misery loves company, he also knows how to assemble an awesome ensemble. This time his oddball choice of casting Jessica Biel is softened by the blow of a nail to her character's head -- and it's actually a central plot device that sends her character to Washington D.C., dizzy with a cause and into the arms of a willing senator, played by the ever-nailable Jake Gyllenhaal. As Russell's done with I Heart Huckabees and Flirting with Disaster, there's a troupe of underused comic supporters. Among them there's the pleasant coincidence of Jake actually being reunited with his still Lovely & Amazing co-star Catherine Keener after all that nasty police business and him having hit legal age.

SO, SO relatable.

COMING SOON: The 5 Most Tempting Titles of 2009!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cult Oddities Double Feature


A double feature to tear your darkest fears to pieces and leave you screaming like a schoolgirl!


What's your reaction to the description "Suspiria meets Charlie's Angels?"

Exactly. Although technically this predates both of them, with a fresh-faced Cheryl Ladd and evil-faced Kate Jackson in a private school similarly shrouded in occult mystery. Girls are suspiciously dying in what appear to be suicides once they've found out certain not-so-scholarly secrets. Like Suspiria there's a secret doorway, an ominous faculty, and plenty of eerie goings on. Unlike Suspiria, this film doesn't really allow style to envelope the slim storyline, and those shocking bouts of violence are replaced with fade to commercial breaks.

Martha Sayers flees in terror from the Salem Women's Academy (get it?) to the safety of her sister's secluded home, where an unseen evil still finds her. Martha's sister Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin) goes undercover to investigate her sister's untimely "suicide" -- and gives herself up embarrassingly fast. She befriends the offbeat girls, and is especially drawn to a loner classmate's sinister painting of her sister Martha, pale and terrified at the entrance to a cellar door. Elizabeth's art class also becomes useful in revealing who'll die next since her very teacher has ties to the hellish (and kinda pointless) legacy.

There's more unnerving atmosphere and respectable acting than you'd expect from a TV movie, let alone a horror movie produced by Aaron Spelling. Look to the 2000 TV remake with Shannen Doherty and a Kate Jackson cameo for that depressing conceit realized. The surprising thing is that a TV movie of Satan's School for Girls caliber remained in people's minds long enough to bear a TV movie remake. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising since the networks are clearly desperate, and it was precisely my childhood memories that led me to dig for this title in those devilish discount DVD bins. It's actually a lot of work wading through Jackie Chan's career.

I know better than to always trust childhood whimsy, but thankfully Satan's School for Girls turned out to be exactly what I remembered and forgot. There are one or two genuinely creepy moments, and the story is odd and compelling enough with that irreplaceable 70's horror vibe. It's also pretty lame and lackluster, which I can still respect. Sure Satan is evil and all, but if all he's capable of is a novelty cape and a faculty position in the arts department, I'd be remiss not to question his leadership -- in the occult, watercolor and otherwise.


The best horror movie about puzzle making?

I'd wager yes, since Pinhead would take far too much pleasure in the pain of putting together his nudie puzzles. This killer takes his horny hobbyist hell out on the young nudie girls of the local campus. After his mother catches sight of his perverted jigsaw passion and flies into an "unclean" frenzy, the burgeoning psycho responds with an axe to her face. Years later he's found his old puzzle and inspiration hits. His weapon of choice is a chainsaw, just to make clear how much he's compensating, but I'd never dare ask for grindhouse subtlety.

Director Juan Piquer Simón must have intended the comedy, or at least most of it. It's too scattershot not to know better. And it certainly dwells and takes pleasure in its sickest moments: a splashy waterbed slaughter and several bodies shred into... pieces, for example. Admire the simpler things. And on that nostalgic note, how much do you miss the 80's-horror-meets-Flashdance-era that gave us such embarrassing gems as Lucio Fulci's Murder Rock?

This serial killer loves his dance! Blame the parents... His mom trauma also gave him a shoe fetish to match his psychosis. He's clearly painted as gay since he's so eager to give this completely random confession about someone else: "Professor Brown, you see, is a homosexual. I found about him some years ago. But as long as he doesn't break the rules that's his affair. Brown seems a bit more upset about his affliction than I am." Pretty inane psychology, but then completely random is this movie, with a script that's in tatters, not pieces. How else do you explain moments like the Kung Fu attacker's case of "bad chop suey" or the stupid/senseless double ending? And yet what would Pieces be without them?

The killer has his fetish for footwear, as I have mine for bad dialogue. Thus I leave you with these classically quotable Pieces. Impress a pretty young coed.

"Excuse me, Sir. Can I ask you something? What are the pectorals? My friends all laugh at me. They say mine are funny."

"The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time."

"The hell with the book! The book says get the killer."

"Oh it's my Kung Fu Professor! What's the story, Chow?"

"I wanna do it underwater. See you in the pool."

* Club Silencio is not responsible if your darkest fears have been torn to pieces and/or you screamed like a schoolgirl.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day of the Retro Posters!

What ever happened to noogies and hair pulling?

Maritime fetishists contain yourselves...
It's good "this film (has the) answer,"
because this poster leaves a lot of questions.

"If you can't have the real thing...
you do all kinds of unreal things."

His attempt to braid her hair was deadly!

(The Mummy's Shroud)
Spoiler: The mummy's shroud is for
that embarrassing growth on his head.

(This day has been brought to you by the visual splendors of Wrong Side of the Art and Moon in the Gutter.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 90's Guide to Stealing Lives

I'm not surprised at the recent rise in identity theft. I saw it coming in mid-nineties, when thrillers airing on late-night cable were teaching me how simple it really was... if you were a woman. That and how it's possible to use people for sex and still pocket some cold hard cash.

I figured since everyone's impersonating everyone else and stealing things that don't belong to them, I could exploit this for a post on 3 Easy Steps to Stealing Another Person's Life. Think of it as a checklist.

  1. Respond to ad
  2. Dress and style exactly like Bridget Fonda
  3. Kill everything she loves
  1. Befriend a lonely outcast
  2. Off her mother (make it look like suicide)
  3. Fuck her father for everything he's worth

  1. Avenge dead husband with cushy nanny position
  2. Steal new family's love / Abuse wife's health
  3. Raise new family to resent you
  1. Swim away from abusive OCD husband
  2. Start new life as Iowa librarian
  3. Live in decidedly messy home with gay drama teacher

What these identity theft types don't seem to recall is that three out of four times they end up violently dead. Usually in very ironic fashion, just to make it that much more degrading.

Only Julia Roberts gets away (relatively) clean, but then her case is the sympathetic one with the domestic abuse and all. Plus all she really does is fake a name, which is a simpler method than murder and probably better for sanity.

The lesson seems to be that even a new identity never really changes the person, but sometimes - sometimes - it buys you nicer things.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where Do You Think You're Going?

Club Silencio
will never become one of those blogs that is always apologizing for its lengthy absence of posts. At least not directly.

...See what I just did there?

Well, while outside film writing occupies my time, I divert your attention to posts I'd neglected to distract you with earlier. Over at Film Experience continues my "Signatures" series. I say that as if it's like a new line of luxury cars, when really it's a poor excuse to fawn over actresses and post awkward still photos.

SEE Gena Rowlands on the Sauce!

SEE 2008 Best Actress Nominees Claw to the Death!

SEE Ellen Burstyn on Speed!

SEE Edith Massey in Bra and Crib!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cult Oddities: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet
is Dario Argento's "lost movie." Never really lost, just misplaced. Swallowed by legal rights and edited prints, this follow-up of sorts to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Cat O' Nine Tails has finally been given its first DVD release. It allows us to clear away the cobwebs of old bootlegs and cast fresh eyes at one of Argento's early experimental efforts: a messy, meandering, and moody bit of Italian mystery.

A rock drummer is drawn into a dire game of cat and mouse with a masked maniac who frames him for a crime he may not have committed. All the pieces are set, and all the set-pieces are grand, in this bizarre case of shifting identities and guilt by association.

A sensible plot, nuanced dialogue... uneven to say the least. Atmosphere, mood, and stunning visuals on the other hand are here to the hilt. Quite literally in the menacing and mesmerizing execution dreams that reoccur throughout the film; a stylish non-sequitur within the story that becomes a reminder of our lead's guilt and paranoia, and an eerie ratchet of tension.

A roving camera through red curtains and telephone wires, disturbed dreams of death, animals (both alive and dead), awkward music cues -- it's all pretty typical of Argento's golden age. It's an especially notable precursor to his classic Tenebre, another uniquely progressive and stylized giallo. It's also a precursor then to his seminal Deep Red, released only four years later, in which a musician is pulled into a mystery that melds gender and childhood trauma into another kind of prog-rock puzzle.

In the world of Dario Argento playful and happy children are a bad omen, and the usual gay side characters are crude stereotypes that are still surprisingly relevant... considering the complete irrelevance of their characters. There's certainly some simplified (and pivotal) gender dissection going on here, among a wealth of other "issues," but it's all the makings for a refreshingly off-kilter world.

"Oh you heterosexuals... I don't suppose you've ever had a homosexual experience? Yes, we are men too, you know. Just a little different."

It's a progressive movie all around. Progressive in the sense that it was the first film to discover that through giant lasers and science we could actually see the very last image captured upon a dead person's retina.

What's that? You've never heard of such a feat? This film isn't set in Medieval times? It's ridiculous, absurd and mildly stupid you say? Then about as progressive as cheating on your girlfriend with her cousin.

The confining and wide-open spaces, elegant photography and oddball humor, combined with Ennio Morricone's classy musical accompaniment, make Four Flies a film that's classically Argento. It's an impressive but modest thriller of its own esteem - using the tics of the genre to flesh out a more psychological and ambiguous sort of mystery in which the actual reveal seems secondary to the terror inflicted. It's this playful, improvisational style that gives the film its jazzy free flow.

And who besides Dario Argento films horror with such glittery, cutting edge precision?