Monday, February 23, 2009

Epi-Cast: Episode 6 - "An Oscar-batory Exodus."

Hey there y'all, how's this for speed! No sooner had you de-stickified yourself from the couch apolstery after the 3.5 hour Academy Award television event, than myself and Tom Wytrwal have another shiny new Epi-Cast flyin' right at you, running down the highlights and lowlights of this years Oscar-fest! Sweet Moses Magnum is right!

Epi-Cast: Episode 6 - "An Oscar-batory Exodus."
In this rambling, disjointed, somewhat shorter (52 mins) affair, Cam and Tom throw their usual format out the metaphorical window and get down to Oscar-related biz-ness! Their thoughts on Sean Penn suplexing Mickey Rourke's golden dreams? On Slumdog Millionaire's hallelujah winning streak? On The Reader becoming a god-damned Oscar winning film? On Beyonce's seemingly larger-than-life presence? On Hugh Jackman's singing-est, dancing-est hosting job yet? They're all here, along with a multitude of exhausting, weird tangeants and beyond-lame insults. Consider this your OFFICIAL post-Oscar companion. Well, besides anti-depressants and liquor, that is...

To download, right-click and save on the green episode title above and then listen/suffer to your heart's content.

P.S.: We are also now available on dandy ol' iTunes as well. Simply do a store search for "Epi-Cast" and BINGO-BANGO, there we be! Oh, we're the film-yak show, not the God-babble one.

Film Review - FRIDAY THE 13TH: Kill-Kill-Kill Yawn-Yawn-Yawn...

I suppose once one has trekked to New York, Elm Street and into the farthest reaches of space, doing bloody battle with the likes of hyperkinetic teenage girls, Freddy Krueger and Kevin Bacon along the way, there isn't really anywhere left to go but home again. So throw out the "Welcome" mat and sharpen the rusty machete, because Mr. Jason Voorhees has returned once more, to stake his claim on Crystal Lake, in the Michael Bay-guided "re-imagination" of the 1980 slasher-shocker Friday the 13th. All horny, nubile youngsters - and those hoping for good cinema - should consider themselves forewarned...

Opening with a brief black-and-white flash-back to the beheading of crazy ol' Mrs. Voorhees, Friday the 13th quickly jolts forward, tossing viewers into the creakiest of Slasher-film set-ups: the drunken camping party in the woods. A group of hip-talkin' youths, in search of an elusive much-rumoured marijuana crop, gather around a fire and tutor the audience and each other in the brutal, blood-spattered history of Crystal Lake. Nevertheless, no sooner do they finish their stilted, forbidding exposition before breaking off into duos to investigate, intoxicate and copulate. Three guesses what happens next.

Fast-forward to six weeks later, where we're introduced to the dogged Clay Miller (competent straight-man Jared Padalecki), a strapping young man in search of his missing sister. Having no luck with the local half-wits, who are iron-willed subscribers to the age-old rule that silence is golden, Clay fatefully crosses paths with a group of party-animal twenty-something's who are setting up shop in an expansive lakeside beach house. As is traditionally the case though, little merry-making is done before the lurking presence of Jason Voorhees descends on the hapless good-time goofballs. As the butchered bodies start piling up, it's up to our intrepid hero and obligatory nice-girl Jenna (perky Danielle Panabaker) to try to find help and elude the marauding combat-booted boogeyman lurking in the pitch darkness.

If this all sounds a little familiar to those of you who have endured any of Jason's eleven previous eviscerating exploits – I've made seven tours myself – you'll find precious little to celebrate with this new Friday the 13th. Perhaps wary of offending the legions of dedicated Friday-philes, who collectively fumed with irritation over the low-rent campy capers Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, new series producers Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller and director Marcus Nispel have gone to great self-conscious effort to deliver a generic grade-C product virtually devoid of depraved imagination.

While layered story-telling in the Friday universe is obviously a big no-no, the best series instalments have depended on a kicky-cool mix of deliciously sadistic kills, carnal glee and sicko humour to build momentum. This new film, however, proves as lumbering and unwieldy as Jason himself. With a flat-lining pace and a grab-bag of slaughter-scenes which are undermined by their lousy editing and lack of ingenuity, the film often feels far longer than it actually is. Additionally, while the filmmakers have wisely packed this Friday the 13th with excessive amounts of unnecessary nudity and graphic sex, these childishly diverting moments are surrounded by so much plodding monotony that their impact is harshly dulled. Only one moment, featuring a topless water-skier being skewered under a dock, manages to strike the perfect balance of winking sensationalistic sadism and repulsive cruelty.

The actors, by and large, struggle awkwardly to deliver lazily written dialogue which often sounds like really bad amateur improv. A scene featuring Aaron Yoo, playing a blissed-out stoner named Chewie, endlessly fumbling around a work-shop, prior to being speared with a household implement, feels like an extended out-take in which no one bothered to yell "Cut!". Likewise, Arlen Escarpeta, the film's lone African-American presence, appears, based on interactions with the rest of the cast, to have been shipped over from another movie entirely. Only Jason himself, played by Derek Mears, seems to be investing any real effort, erasing the memories of Jason's zombie-like past incarnations with his hard-charging animalistic physicality.

It's hard to fathom why, after investing all the money and effort into resurrecting Jason, the filmmakers have so stubbornly refused to try to spin their kick-started Friday the 13th into anything more than a lethargic, dated retread. The Slasher genre is ripe with opportunities for transcendence and reinvention, an avenue which Rob Zombie has explored with wildly mixed results, and it would be refreshing to see an iconic killer such as Jason Voorhees taken in a thrilling new (non-sci-fi) direction. Because, as evidenced by the lifeless compilation of lacklustre stabbings, filletings and impalings in this Friday, it's definitely time for Jason to find himself a script a little more on the cutting edge.

2 out of 5

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Feb. 23rd, 2009.

Film Review - THE INTERNATIONAL: A Political Thriller That's Fairly On The Money!

Nobody in North America is particularly enamoured with the banks at the moment, so what better time to release a high-concept political-minded thriller featuring a dogged quest to end the sinister machinations of a terrorist-funding financial institution? Especially one which features the roguish, dark charms of brooding Brit Clive Owen, and the concentrated, sprite-ly pluck of Naomi Watts, packing heat, taking names and pounding the pavement? Why, if I were a studio executive I’d say The International was guaranteed to be money in the... Umm, well, you get the drift.
Playing Louis Salinger, a strong-willed, bedraggled Interpol agent, Owen is at his Children of Men-intense finest, battling tirelessly to expose and topple the Luxembourg-based International Bank of Business and Credit. It seems the IBBC counts, among a plethora of assorted illegal interests, selling armaments to Third-world countries in order to create astronomical debt as a viable and lucrative business opportunity. However, after the bank stealthily murders Salinger’s American colleague in Berlin, he finds himself perilously close to being in over his head.
In teaming with dedicated Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (an underused and underwritten Watts), Salinger finds a partner as strong-willed and resolute as himself. As the two investigators begin the pain-staking process of tracking and uncovering the morally shady participants (led by the intensely slimy Ulrich Thomsen) behind IBBC’s bold, deadly power-play, they quickly find the degree of threat towards their personal safety escalating. Nevertheless, in slowly discovering the implications of the conspiracy’s true intentions, which also involves political assassination, Salinger and Whitman must choose whether to stay on the straight-and-narrow or to attempt to beat the bank at its own dishonest game.
While The International aims for lofty levels of political relevance and insight, it’s actually far more superior, and accessible, as a down-and-dirty espionage vehicle. Director Tom Tykwer, who earned our undivided attention with 1998’s pulsating attention-grabber Run Lola Run, has crafted a sharply engaging paranoia-drenched slice of labyrinthine fun. With tension-dripping dramatic scenes, such as the aforementioned assassination attempt, as well as an extended section of the film, which owes a great dept to The French Connection, following Owen and two NYPD colleagues as they trail an IBBC-funded hired gun, Tykwer holds our attention (and breath) with the skill of a sharpened professional. He also shoots the architecture of the film’s steel-edged buildings and European cobble-stones with a travelogue-maker’s passion and flair.
Adding considerably to the suspense and intrigue is the grounding presence of the hard-edged Owen, really engaged and on his game here, as well as an ace supporting cast of great-looking faces and personalities. Armin Mueller-Stahl, who last shone as a Russian mob godfather in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, provides a weary, cynical charisma to the film, playing an emotionally-conflicted IBBC conspirator. Also grittily efficient are the realistic performances of Jack McGee and Felix Solis, as the NYPD cops who aid in the show-stopping hitman-trailing set-piece, who look and feel like genuine tough-talking Big Apple flatfoots, as well as the peculiarly threatening Brian F. O’Byrne as their clean-cut, yet shadowy prey.
Where The International invariably fumbles unfortunately, is in the resolution of its globe-spanning story. Following a nail-biting scene of undercover surveillance at the Guggenheim, the film inexplicably turns a bizarro corner into James Bond-ian territory, with half-a-dozen uzi-packing assailants turning the gorgeous interiors into a landscape of bullet-holes and shattered glass. The scene, while gripping, and expertly directed and edited, feels at complete odds with the events leading up to it. One almost has to wonder if it was simply added on to jostle viewers with short attention spans. Likewise, a final confrontation in Istanbul with IBBC head-baddie Thomsen feels underwhelming and needlessly complicated, providing no real sense of satisfaction or conclusion.
To be sure though, the sheer abundance of slick film-making proficiency helps overcome these slightly disconcerting problems, as well as the obvious preposterousness of the plot. Ultimately it’s a decent film aimed at those who enjoy a good political-based yarn full of straight-faced performances, edgy intrigue and clipped, complex dialogue full of detailed jargon and strong declarations. So, if you, like me, are growing tired of the profusion of juvenile junk currently crowding into theatres, you could do immeasurably worse than investing your time and money into The International.
3 out of 5
*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Feb. 23rd, 2009.