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Monday, September 24, 2007

Wunderkind-auteur William Friedkin who stormed the Hollywood gates with The French Connection and The Exorcist in the 1970’s enters the21st century with, Bug, a film that depicts the maddening descent into self-destructive paranoia. Adapted from the stage play of the same name, written by Tracy Letts and starring Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, Friedkin presents a noirish setting of a socially marginal characters inhabiting the outskirts of middle-America Oklahoma; which in this case is a lesbian bar and ramshackle roadside motel.

Shannon, who also starred in the stage play version, reprises his role as Peter Evans, an AWOL American soldier shows up at the motel run by Agnes White, played by Ashley Judd. Taking advantage of her rocky relationship with her abusive, ex-husband, Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.) and no doubt, the unbearable sense of loneliness in such a remote setting, the deceptively withdrawn, Evans seduces Agnes and convinces her that the American government planted a bug inside of him upon his return from the first Gulf War. What follows is the precipitous fall into psychotic breakdown, as Evans mutilates himself with the gullible connivance of Agnes, in order to purge himself of the "bug" as planted by his former paymaster.

Bug is largely an actor’s piece and the cast has plenty of material to chew on with tour-de-force performances by both leads. Shannon has the seductive guile of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. He appears to be the all too kind, seemingly harmless man willing to listen to the problems of troubled Ashley Judd and only to sink his teeth into her neck and her conscience. The character arcs of the principals however is a springboard for the larger issue of human paranoia and the strain of conspiracy thinking that still have potency well into the 21st century. Friedkin’s Bug cannot be dismissed as merely the extreme paranoid regurgitations of two crank characters. One need only look at the scene in which Peter sits Agnes down on the bed and carefully explains to her how a group of powerful men, called the Bilderburgers decided to control the social, economic and political status quo by means of thought control and how they proceeded to plant ‘bugs’ in the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Shannon’s character Peter Evans grafts what appear to be reasonable arguments that have a grain of truth in them and give the not-so-intellectual Agnes the intellectual certainty she needs to follow him on the road to ruin. The Peter Evans character will remind people of the likes of Branch Dravidian leader David Koresh or the Revered Jim Jones, both of whom led impressionable people down a poisonous path. Bug holds up the mirror to the audience and perhaps the many of us who have bought into the legion of Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

The DVD features two note worthy extras: BUG: An Introduction and A Discussion with William Friedkin, in which the legendary director speaks candidly on both his varied career and the changes, which have marked the film industry since he burst onto the scene. Friedkin surveys the evolution of film (and some may say decline of literary film making of his generation) to the more attention-deficit disorder-MTV-like movie making which has come to dominate the planet since the 1980’s. Friedkin aficionados will enjoy the long answers he gives, especially the ones that relate to his fall from grace; from the man who held the zeitgeist of the 70’s to pariah, who couldn’t get hired. He directs operas now as well and doesn’t care about what the zeitgeist is.

Bug is not the typical slasher horror film people may be anticipating but it provides an emotionally gut wrenching and dark view into a corner of the human psyche. Paranoia is a virus and it kills. Bug is a Lionsgate release and hits street September 25 on DVD.


# posted by Rupert Chiarella @ 9/24/2007 01:34:00 PM Comments (0)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

You either love it or hate it. So it shouldn’t be that hard of a decision if you’re even remotely considering buying this 2-disc DVD set, a vast improvement from the previous version released in 1999. If you love Taxi Driver, then this is a must-have. If you hate it…you actually might want to give it another go around…

So, ya’ll know the plot. OSCAR WINNER Martin Scorsese directed this cult-classic film about “honorably discharged” Vietnam-vet Travis Bickle (a brooding Robert De Niro) who returns home to a disheveled New York City and finds himself working graveyard shift for a taxi service, living in a scabby apartment building, condemning society and plotting mayhem. It’s an experience that envelopes you more and more in its dark shroud every time you watch it. So many scenes remain permanently ingrained in people's memory (for me it’s not so much the ‘mirror scene’ as it is the slow-mo shot of De Niro, grinning and pointing his finger like a gun toward his head as a bright-red stream of blood trickles off the tip).

It’s as visually arresting as it is perfectly scripted (by Paul Schrader) and expertly acted (De Niro is obviously gold, but so is Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle, Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster in her infamous child-hooker role). While I’m at it, the haunting jazz score by Hitchcock alumni Bernard Herrmann, his last, is possibly one of the most complimentary pieces of music ever composed for film.

It’s interesting to point out that for as much praise as Scorsese’s opus on loneliness received back in 1976, it received a seemingly equal amount of criticism - and still does today. Veteran movie critic Leonard Maltin, who is usually dead-on with his reviews, calls Taxi Driver the “gory, cold-blooded story of a sick man’s lurid descent into violence, ugly and un-redeeming.”

But so many disagree. Especially Oliver Stone, Roger Corman, Robert De Niro, and many others who pay their tribute to the film and its director in an extensive featurette entitled “Influence and Appreciation”.

Speaking of featurettes, I promised myself I would concentrate more on the special features than the actual film, but hey, I can’t help it. So, here’s the rundown:

- New Commentary by Writer Paul Schrader

- New Commentary by Professor Robert Kolker

- Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver (17 min) – Pure one-on-one Scorsese, exactly what you’d expect.

- Producing Taxi Driver (10 min) – The financial and timing difficulties of piecing the film together.

- God’s Lonely Man (21 min) – A probing look into Schrader’s own personal background and motivation behind his lengendary anti-hero story.

- Influence and Appreciation (18 min) - See above.

- Taxi Driver Stories (22 min) – Descriptive first-hand accounts of real-life NYC taxi drivers. Too crazy not to be true.

- Making Of Documentary (70 min) – Full-length collection of interviews with all those involved with this iconic film, including the entire supporting cast of Keitel, Foster, Shepherd, Brooks and the late Peter Boyle.

- Travis’ New York (6 min) – A glimpse into the grimy NYC of past times, before its rawness was replaced by ‘Disneyfication’.

- Travis’ New York Locations (6 min) – Side-by-side comparison of 9 locations from the original 1976 film verses 2006 footage, which is like viewing two different worlds.

- Intro to Storyboards by Martin Scorsese (5 min) – A concise insight into how to visualize a story.

- Storyboard to Film Comparison (8 min) – A step-by-step look into how Scorsese storyboarded the script. It’s amazing to see how many memorable scenes were sketched on paper before they were even shot. A must for film students.

- Animated Photo Galleries

- Original Screenplay

The Sony-released DVD is stacked. The only thing it’s missing is a full commentary by the man himself, Scorsese. If you really need more convincing than this, go over to Amazon where it’s being sold right now for an incredibly modest $18.99.


# posted by Jeff Kunze @ 9/15/2007 12:16:00 PM Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Love, loss and redemption are three words that best describe Marc Evan's Snow Cake. With excellent performances from Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss, the story follows Alex (Richman) who has recently been released from prison and is trying to put his life back together. Soon after picking up a hitchhiking teenage girl the two are in a car accident that kills the girl. Filled with grief Alex decides to visit the girl's mother (Weaver) and discovers she's autistic. He stays to plan the girl's funeral and in the process falls in love with the next-door neighbor (Moss), who has her own demons, and confronts his own dark past.

The performance by Weaver is one of her best in recent memory, but what makes it great is who's opposite her. Rickman is the glue to the film, mixing comedy and sorrow that brings the audience closer to the characters.

Though the film received critical acclaim when it screened at Berlin, Toronto and Tribeca last year, the theatrical release under IFC First Take was unimpressive only making around $1.4 million worldwide. But this touching film will hopefully find an audience on DVD.

The DVD is currently available through The Weinstein Company-owned Genius Entertainment for $19.95.


# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 9/11/2007 12:19:00 PM Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Today North America will get a chance to check out 71-year-old Ken Loach's penultimate film, and Palm d'Or winner The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Like all of Loach's films it's a dark dose of social medicine set against a rural backdrop. Unlike Loach's other films, the Emerald hues of Ireland produce a film that's not only dark and violent, but beautiful.

It's odd that the DVD release of this film was held until now. The film did very well at the international box-office and was recorded as the highest grossing independent film from Ireland. It's also one of the highest-rated films in recent times receiving an 88% freshness rating on rottentomatoes.com.

The film follows two brothers played by Cillian Murphy and Padriac Delaney first brought together in resistance of the British occupation, then torn apart after a peace treaty is signed plummeting the country into civil war. The film is based on true events and screenwriter Paul Laverty has stated that many of the characters are based on individuals involved with the conflict.

Although a few conservative critics attacked the film for being anti-British, the film really takes no side and offers no "answers." The Wind that Shakes the Barley is about how war brings out the worst in all of us, a message more filmmakers are attempting to communicate (Munich, Letters from Iwo Jima) and a message that the American viewing audience would do well to remember.

The DVD was produced through IFC which (thankfully) has been releasing some of the most interesting titles this year. The transfer is striking and if your friend has one of those nice, big, tricked-out TVs that film journalists can only dream of affording, make sure you take it over there. The extras include a commentary track from Loach and a featurette examining his criterion. The retail price is $19.95 which isn't bad for what you're getting so if you have the cash this is one for the collection, if not, it's definite rent.


# posted by Benjamin Crossley-Marra @ 9/04/2007 12:28:00 PM Comments (0)


If you, like me, are a big fan of Tom Verlaine and Television, and you've already scouted out Verlaine's various solo recordings and albums like the iTunes-available Live at the Old Waldorf, then you could do worse than check out Kino's new Tom Verlaine and Jimmy Rip: Music for Experimental Film. Largely recorded during a pair on concerts in Portugal and Spain, the DVD features Verlaine and Rip as they play alongside an assortment of early 20th century experimental film classics. The DVD includes seven films, including Leger's Ballet Mecanique and Man Ray's L'Etoile de Mer, and the music by the two guitarists is mostly poignant, lovely and perfectly timed to the emotional temperatures of the films.


# posted by Scott Macaulay @ 9/04/2007 01:03:00 AM Comments (0)

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