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October 2009

Friday Links


Criminally, “Monsters vs. Aliens” will not have a sequel (LA Times)
Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron join “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Moviehole)
Photos from the Lucasfilm Halloween party (Star Wars Blog)
Enjoy an interview with the mistress of the dark, Elvira (AV Club)
Play Milton Bradley’s “Spider Wars” board game (X-Entertainment)
All your “Indiana Jones 5” confirmations in one video (YouTube)
Wil Wheaton wrote a book on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (Wil Wheaton)
RiffTrax takes on “Titantic” -- three hours of jokes (RiffTrax)
4-year-old girl dresses as Jareth from “Labyrinth” (Twitpic)
Why your car has mysterious dings and scratches (Fail Blog)

Film Review - The House of the Devil

HOUSE OF THE DEVIL Jocelin Donahue

“House of the Devil” is a throwback horror film that actually makes an effort to look and sound like a bygone era. Granted, 1980’s genre nostalgia is nothing cinematically revolutionary, perhaps even clichéd, but writer/director Ti West keeps to the task at hand. Forgoing irony or vile retro winks, “Devil” plays it straight. While that doesn’t generate the most riveting suspense piece of the year, it does deliver a hugely satisfying chiller that’s effectively minimal and marvelously made.

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Film Review - The Horse Boy


In 2004, Rupert Issacson and his wife Kristin found out their little boy, Rowan, was suffering from autism. Traditional medicines and therapies weren’t helping the child, who fell further into fits of tantrums and incontinence. Raising Rowan they best they could, Rupert and Kristin faced a bleak future with a boy unable to break free from his mental containment. And then Rowan met Betsy, a neighboring horse, and he opened up in ways his parents never thought possible.

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Film Review - An Education

AN EDUCATION Carey Mulligan

“An Education” is a sharply crafted ode to the loss of innocence, boasting top-shelf performances and evocative cinematography. It’s also material about two tantrums and a “Gossip Girl” cast member away from becoming a Lifetime Original event, making the nuanced accomplishments of the feature shine all the more brightly. It’s a wildly predictable film of extreme formula, but there’s a special effort made to confront that numbing familiarity, showcasing a mature, level-headed take on a frightening coming-of-age journey.

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Film Review - Michael Jackson's This Is It

THIS IS IT still

The title is not “This Is It,” as in the hottest ticket in town. It’s more “This Is It,” admitting a scarcity of content. Marketed as the final goodbye to the self-proclaimed “King of Pop,” this hastily assembled performance film seems less like a eulogy and more like a chance to cover the losses incurred when Jackson died during rehearsals for his pricey comeback tour. The stank of opportunism is all over this baby, and while I wouldn’t begrudge the average superfan their chance to publicly mourn, “This Is It” takes Jackson’s musical legacy and squeezes it for every last remaining nickel.

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DVD Review - Stunt Rock


Oh, what a bizarre film “Stunt Rock” is, but its oddity is a gift. More of a bruising cinematic experience than a narrative-driven feature film, “Stunt Rock” is the 1970s packaged up to near perfection, combing the hurricane forces of daredevil filmmaking and shtick-laden heavy metal. Brian Trenchard-Smith’s masterpiece of stackable-amp cinema is such a carefree, tinted-shades delight, it’s nearly impossible to convey its widescreen enthusiasm on the page. It’s a shapeless experience, but an exceptional ride that offers thrills, grins, and an impressive argument for the supremacy of Australian cinema during the 1970s.

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Blu-ray Review - Hardware

Mark 13

When “Hardware” slipped into theaters in the autumn of 1990, I was much too young to see it, unable to properly grasp its European cinema homages and suffocating future shock textures. I simply hated the thing, tremendously disturbed by its brutal imagery and salacious appetite for perversity. Fortunately, I wasn’t unable to flush the feature out of my system. With time and maturity, I grew to value Richard Stanley’s feature as a fierce, enthralling depiction of utter ecological and social anguish. “Hardware” slowly became a personal favorite, and nearly 20 years later, it’s finally arrived on a format that permits clarity to the fine details and piercing discomfort Stanley busted his hump to produce.

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Film Review - Saw VI

SAW VI still

I walked out of a screening of “Saw” in 2004 absolutely appalled with the movie. Not for the sadomasochistic violence the film would soon popularize, but for the cruddy production value and the laughably abysmal performances -- Cary Elwes should be gifted a national holiday for his whimpering, career-smothering work, effectively neutering the repulsion of the ultraviolence. I loathed the film, yet watched with some degree of surprise as the franchise developed a defensive mainstream following; kindly folk who cheerfully hurdled generous filmmaking clichés and further acting decimation to bathe in the warm pools of blood, sucking up the suffering with a bendy straw as if the nightmare were Cherry Coke.

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Film Review - Amelia

AMELIA Hilary Swank

There’s a power of mimicry and lavish flight photography that keeps the bio-pic “Amelia” in the air. This is not a strong motion picture, nor a particularly informative one. Instead, it’s a finely polished soap opera from a wonderful director starring fantastic actors, and nobody can quite connect the ambition of the piece with the execution. Moments of midair ecstasy hold it together and without those peaceful pauses of expression, “Amelia” is simply mawkish entertainment, stable and worthwhile for the average moviegoer, but it never finds a comfortable altitude.

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Film Review - Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant


The projectionist could’ve run this film backwards, and I don’t think I would’ve noticed. “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is a Hollywood attempt to massage author Darren Shan’s 12-part saga of vampires and teenagers into a viable, cash-cow franchise. Spanning the first three novels, “Assistant” doesn’t tell a story as much as it hurls everything that isn’t nailed down against the wall to see what sticks. Labored and often tedious, the picture is a friendly stab at Burtonesque macabre antics, but director Paul Weitz is in way over his head trying to juggle huge portions of the grotesque and the epic.

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Film Review - Astro Boy

ASTRO BOY flight

Adapted from the celebrated, long-standing manga series, “Astro Boy” aims to make a big dent on the big screen with this CG-animated spectacular. Boasting glossy visuals, red-hot action, and a sparkling cast of voices, the film is ready to please, but the end product is perhaps a step too bizarre and cartoony to leave a lasting, awe-inspiring impression. It’s a great character and an impetuous movie, but with all the attention placed on keeping the animation energetic and the actors satisfied, someone forgot to straighten out the erratic tone of the picture.

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Film Review - Good Hair

GOOD HAIR Chris Rock

It all started with a little girl. When five-year-old Lola Rock asked her father, Chris, why she didn’t have “good hair,” it sent a powerful message to the comedian. Curious about the business of the black hair, Rock and a camera crew traveled around the globe to discover why so many African-American women endure a daily battle with their head, tolerating chemicals and weaves to perfect a look that goes against nature’s stubborn intention.

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Review - Halloween Horror Nights 2009 (Universal Orlando)

Halloween Horror Nights 2009

I visited Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights for the very first time last year (recap here), and while entertained and awed, the sheer force of bodies and bratty behavior made me carefully consider returning for 2009. It’s one thing to have a haunted house attraction that welcomes giddy hordes of eager horror enthusiasts, it’s another to encourage said fanbase to booze up to a point of sickness, treating the Universal layout like an elaborate frat party. Granted, it doesn’t always reach a point of distaste at HHN, but I’ve made a few visits to the event this year, and again, while exceptionally themed and executed, the experience can be awfully trying at times. This year registers as extraordinarily irritating.

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Impulse Buy - KISS M&M's


To help celebrate the release of their new album, “Sonic Boom,” superband of the land KISS decided to undertake a rare publicity move, issuing some kitschy merchandise to help create an ambiance of gotta-have-it excitement. The price? Well, to retrieve luxury items such as $5 T-shirts, Mr. Potato Heads, and fleece blankets required a trip to Wal-Mart, the satanic figure of Western mass merchandise stores. The horror. The horror.

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