Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Round-Up#17

It's time for some more good stuff for you consideration.

Film review: The Box: Writer/director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland tales) continues to impress and aggravate with The Box, his third feature film. An astounding critical and commercial failure, and a film which boasts a pretty clever premise - a mysterious box that is delivered by a mysterious salesman to a middle-aged couple, and which has a button, if pushed, kills another human being and the couple receive a million dollar, tax free - The Box is a mind-boggling film.

Kelly has taken the short story Button, Button by Richard Matheson, and used it to make a film that is overly downbeat, frustratingly pretentious, and occasionally, just plain bad. Despite a deeply philosophical and intriguing premise, Kelly's direction, which is strangely style-less and lethargic, turns the story into a heavy-handed, melodramatic morality tale, delivered in a manner reminiscent of a passable Twilight Zone episode. Decent performances from Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and Frank Langella, can't save the film from being an incoherent, lifeless, if admirably bizarre, mess.

The only redeeming value: The ending, which despite being heavy-handed, is shocking and grim.

Time will tell if this is the turning point for Richard Kelly, a filmmaker who is admirably uncompromising when it comes to realizing his vision, but who also doesn't show improvement in his storytelling abilities.

Film review: Halloween (2007): Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's classic slasher film, is a strange beast. It tries to distance itself from the original's aesthetics, yet generously borrows from that film's plot devises, especially in the third act. Add to that a mediocre first act, a trashy second act, and liberal doses of gratuitous violence and nudity, and you get a mostly uneven film.

That is, until the climax.

Zombie takes the ending of the original, combines it with a plot element from the sequel to Carpenter's original (also penned by Carpenter), and delivers a whopper of an ending.

Also, Zombie's take on Sam Loomis' character (the Van Helsing-type character that was Michael Myers' psychiatrist and, later, the one who hunts him down) is interesting and edgy, and is bolstered by Michael McDowell's charismatic and touching portrayal of the character.

So, is it better or worse than the original? The answer is: it is a stylish, effective, shocking addition to the Michael Myers mythos, and it's way better than most of the sequels to the original.

Extra! Victoria by Ruby Jean Jensen: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel Victoria by Ruby Jean Jensen. Although the plot is simple (and a little thin), this is a tremendously atmospheric novel, with a couple of truly memorable sequences that chill the blood. It also packs a very effective and frightening ending. A forgotten gem for fans of atmospheric, quiet horror.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Round-Up#16

Hi there. Let's start the new year with a couple of some very interesting books, films and other goodies that you don't want to miss.

Here we go.

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes: Take one of the most versatile and charming actors to come out of Hollywood in a couple of decades (Robert Downey Jr.), a brilliant British actor who is obviously having loads of fun playing the side-kick (Jude Law), a fresh take on one of the most famous - if not the most famous - detectives in literary and film history (Sherlock Holmes), a director whose films are always kinetic and full of energy (Guy Ritchie), a rousing score by Hans Zimmer, and this is what you get. An engaging, thrilling, entertaining film, that, contrary to what the promotional campaign would like you to believe, is surprisingly reverential to the source material.

Downey Jr.'s Holmes is much darker and ebullient than the original, but, as with almost anything that the actor tackles, he makes it work admirably well. Jude Law as Watson seems to relish his role, and manages to make his supporting role shine without stealing the show, striking just the right balance. Director Guy Ritchie's flashy and energetic direction is stylish and effective (much more so than most of his previous films).

Although the plot, which involves the supernatural, deviates from Arthur Conan Doyle's mythology, it provides for an entertaining, if slight, mystery. But it's all fodder for a group of talented actors and filmmakers who are more interested in thrills and atmosphere than in intellect, which might not be totally loyal to Doyle's original intentions for the stories and character, but it makes for a very good film. And the ending, which promises great things to come for Holmes aficionados, is pitch-perfect.

Extra! Robert Palmer's Clues: This edition's Extra! selection is the 1980 album Clues by Robert Palmer. Ever underrated as a musician, this seminal 1980 work is vintage Palmer, before his uber commercial, and at times underwhelming, work in the mid to late 80's. From the irresistible electro-afro beats of the opening track, to the masterful cover of Gary Numan's I dream of wires, to the haunting closing track Found you now, this is one of the most experimental albums by the late Palmer, one of the best albums of his entire career, and one of the best new wave albums of the 80's. A forgotten gem.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.