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Lawrance M. Bernabo RSS Feed (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota)

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I had my doubts about transferring this play to the big screen, but Shanley and company carry it off, December 26, 2008
I saw a touring company of "Doubt: A Parable" starring Cherry Jones in the role that won her a Tony Award for Best Actress, and when I came out of the show what impressed me even more than her mesmerizing performance was the way John Patrick Shanley's play achieved such a delicately balanced sense of ambiguity on the issue of guilt and innocence. Consequently, I was worried that even though Shanley would be both adapting his play to the screen and directing this film version, the careful calculus of the drama would be ruined.

Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is concerned about young Donald Miller (nee Muller), a 12-year-old student at the St. Nicholas school in New York City, is having an improper relationship with Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). She warns Sister James (Amy Adams) to keep an eye out for anything strange concerning the boy, and sure enough the young nun sees something that could be interpreted as being exactly what Sister Aloysius fears. Armed with a certainty that is the antithesis of the work's title, Sister Aloysius works diligently, if not pathologically, to confirm her suspicions and to rid her school of the popular priest.

There is an inherent impulse when a play is transformed to the screen to add characters and locations. You might recall how "Steel Magnolias" added an entire new gender to the movie version with success. But then there is the example of how the sense of claustrophobia so central to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was jettisoned by a car trip to a road house. Such pitfalls may well explain why Shanley decided to adapt and direct this movie. The play consists largely of scenes of Father Flynn talking to his congregation or the school's male students, with those in which Sister Aloysius confronts each character in turn in her office. Shanley has significantly reworked the former while keeping the latter scenes essentially the same, a precarious proposition because whereas the play tells us about Flynn's interaction with young Donald and the other students, the movie takes pains to show us several (but not all) key encounters. Usually the dictate is for films to engage in showing rather than telling, but that is problematic here the audience should be in the position of Sister Aloysius, trying to render a judgment on the basis of hearsay evidence. In reworking so many key elements of one half of the equation, Shanley does a masterful job of recalibrating his play for the screen. Despite the performances in this film, once again it is the playwright's craft that most impresses me because if "Doubt" does not walk that fine line, so that each side can look at the evidence contained within and justify their respective rushes to judgment, the play collapses.

The final hurdle is that audiences watch "Doubt" from a contemporary perspective in which the assumption, at least by late night comedians, is that every priest in the country has predilections to pedophilia. But that is why it is so important that Shanley's story is set in 1964, and not just because it makes pedophilia less of an obvious concern. It is because a key part of the dynamic here is that Sister Aloysius is old school while Father Flynn represents the tide of reformation in the Catholic Church mandated by Vatican II. I have little doubt that when Sister Aloysius watches "Going My Way" she sees Bing Crosby's Father O'Malley as the most troublesome priest this side of Thomas a Beckett. The fact that Sister Aloysius may be seen as having ulterior motives is another compelling complexity of the play, as is Father Flynn's attempt to demand blind obedience from someone who is only a nun in an organization that is the paradigmatic model of patriarchical order.

I was concerned when I saw the trailer for "Doubt" that Streep's approach was wrong for the character, but was relieved to see that within the context of her performance those lines that struck me as being odd all work. This is a performance when Streep's character is confined by the severe bonnet of her holy order, and the actress focuses her performance on her mouth, going through an impressive display of tight lips, puckers, and twitches to flesh out her characterization. The standout scene in this film comes between Sister Aloysius and Donald's mother (Viola Davis). The scene is critical because it is the first (but not the last) time that Sister Aloysius has to deal with somebody as a human being and not as a superior or subordinate within the strictures of the Catholic church. The scene is also a textbook example of how an actress can earn at least an Academy Award nomination, if not the Oscar itself, on the basis of single solitary scene. Davis is clearly the one to beat for Best Supporting Actress in 2009. Of course, you can anticipate Streep being nominated for the umpteenth time as well (Tell the truth: when she won for "Sophie's Choice" way back in 1982, did you not think Streep would have a couple of more Oscars by now?), and could hardly be surprised if Hoffman and Adams received nods as well, although such a clean sweep might be too much to ask for.

In the final analysis I tend to think the film did not work as well as the play, but that could because this was the second telling of the tale for me. I still favor Jones' performance over that of Streep, but one of the attractions of this play is that each actress who assays the role has an opportunity to make it their own. Every actress within spitting distance of 50 is going to what to play Sister Aloysius at some point, and the four person cast should make this Pulitzer Prize winning play a staple of local theater for decades to come. The key is to judge Streep on her entire performance, because in her final lines there is a definite payoff to the way she has wound her character so tight. I really did have some serious doubts about how well this film version would play. Suffice it to say I have them no longer.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 16, 2010 10:23 AM PDT

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Writing the script for "Gone With the Wind" as a Marx Bros. movie, November 1, 2008
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In 1939 legendary film producer David O. Selznick had finally found his Scarlett O'Hara in Vivien Leigh, and filming had begun on the epic film "Gone with the Wind." But things are not going well, partially because his biggest star, Clark Gable, is not getting along with director George Cukor (known as a ladies' director), but more importantly because Sidney Howard's screenplay runs six hours. So Selznick fires Cukor, pulls director Victor Fleming off the set of "The Wizard of Oz" and summons to his office the best script doctor in Hollywood, Ben Hecht to rewrite the script. The only problems with this bright idea are that Hecht is supposed to be working on punching up the script for the Marx Brothers' "At the Circus and he has never read Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind". To be fair, Hecht has read the first page of the Pulitzer Prize winning and best-selling novel, but he dismisses it as "Moonlight and Magnolias." However, this does not preclude Selznick from locking Hecht in his office, while his secretary brings a steady supply of bananas and peanuts, and the producer and his new director act out the story for the new writer.

In this two-act comedy the setting is Selznick's Hollywood office and the imagination as to what happened during the five days in which Hecht wrought the new and improved screenplay for "GWTW" is mostly that of author Ron Hutchinson, who takes what little the survivors of this event revealed after the fact and runs with it. On the one hand it is clear that the more you know about the 1,037 page novel, the 3 hour and 53 minute movie, and the making of the movie, the more you are going to enjoy the various jokes and references that fly by during this farce. But on the other hand, all you really need to know is that Selznick's movie is going to be the biggest blockbuster in the history of the cinema (both in terms of number of tickets sold and money, once you adjust for inflation). Then again, the fact that Hecht was working on a Marx Brothers movie might be even more important, because "Moonlight and Magnolias" is more akin to their brand of zaniness more than anything else.

The main comic tension is that Hecht does not want to be there and the more he hears about the story, the less he thinks about the whole idea of the movie and its troubled heroine. In fact, Hecht considers Katie Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler to be an adulterous, two-timing, slave-driving heroine who is about to add child abuse to her resume when she starts beating on Prissy for knowin' nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies. Then again, the nicest thing Fleming has to say about the character is that she does not have enough class to be a hooker. However, despite these and other objections, Selznick keeps insisting Scarlett has to stay in the movie and the script has to remain true to Mitchell's novel. As much as Hutchinson likes to have fun with these characters, with Selznick fluttering around playing Scarlett, Fleming forced to give birth to Ashley's baby among other indignities, and Hecht devolving into a hysterical wreck, he also has a real affection for the real people and the great movie they produced. Chances are most fans of "GWTW" are never going to be able to see this play performed (although I did a couple of months ago), but if you have owned every version of the film that has been produced on videotape and DVD and are in double figures on "GWTW" collectibles, then you should definitely check out "Moonlight and Magnolias" for some laughs.

Ghost House Underground (Eight Film Collection)
Ghost House Underground (Eight Film Collection)
DVD ~ Jared Kusnitz
Offered by yourworld_book
Price: $64.68
16 used & new from $44.75

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You can get all eight of these films or just pick and choose the two good ones, October 31, 2008
Two years ago I went and caught the original After Dark Horrorfest in the theater. The bad news last year was that Horrorfest did not make it to the Zenith City and this fall the bad news is that the next edition has been postponed until January because as of this month are are only 5 and not 8 films 2 die 4. So, in order to ease our pain and line their pockets, not necessarily in that order, Lionsgate has released the Ghost House Underground collection of eight horror films this October. Here are the films, presented in the order I saw them because the order always seems to matter to the ranks and ratings:

"No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker": This is actual both a prequel and a sequel to an earlier film about the title character. The opening flashback is interesting enough, but this is a kitchen sink horror film where trying to make sense of it all is not worth the bother. Several recognizable faces in the crowd, but like "Crazy Eights," that hardly matters in the final analysis. (Ranked #6, Rating 2.4).

"Brotherhood of Blood" : Okay, so there are these vampire hunters and they capture a vampire, defang him, and try to talk him to death so that they can go rescue one of the other vampire hunters. This film cuts back and forth between the inquisition and the rescue mission. This is the movie with the big names--Ken Foree and Sid Haig from "The Devil's Rejects"--but they add nothing to the mix. Some interesting ideas on vampires, but there are the least cinematic part of the movie (Ranked #7, Rating 2.2).

"The Substitute": An alien comes to Earth to find out about love and takes the form of a strapping blonde substitute teacher, so it is up to a sixth grade class of Danish school kids to stop her. The best badly dubbed movie I have seen in many years, appropriately tongue-in-cheek, and with some decent special effects. The trailer gave me no indication that this movie was going to be this much fun (Ranked #2, Rating 4.0).

"Trackman": A group of bank robbers are holed up in abandoned tunnels with a couple of hostages and the title character, who collects eyeballs. This Russian film is supposedly their first slasher movie, which explains why it is a basic by the numbers type of the slasher genre. The result is technically competent, which is good, but nothing special, which is not so much so (Ranked #4, Rating 2.7).

"Dance of the Dead": Far and away the best film of the bunch to such an extent that you wonder how it ended up with the rest of these films, especially given that five of the eight are from Europe and four of them dubbed. Zombies are headed for the prom at the high school and the geeks have to stop them in this solid zombie comedy. That is all you need to know. If you liked "Shaun of the Dead" and/or "Dead and Breakfast, " then this one should be right up your alley (Ranked #1, Rating 4.5).

"The Last House in the Woods": Basic blood and gore on a par with the exploitation films of the 1960s, this inartistic Italian movie begs the question as to why anybody needs to go back and make another movie like that today. There is probably more blood in this one than the other seven put together, if that is what you want in a horror film (Ranked #8, Rating 2.1)

"Room 205": A woman moves into a college dorm room in which an earlier occupant died a nasty death, and now the angry ghost is after her and her dormmates. Another (dubbed) Danish horror film, this is the film with artistic pretentions as the motif of glass and mirrors matters to both the style and the substance of the film, which help to combat its Scandinavian sedateness (Ranked #3, Rating 2.8).

"Dark Floors": A young autistic girl is visiting a hospital for tests and when her dad tries to take her out . This film features the Finnish heavy metal band Lordi as the monsters. If you know about the band, who perform in monster costumes, then when they show up you will laugh. I had no clue, so I was able to take this one at face value, and it ends up in the middle. Watch Lordi's music videos first, and this one drops to the bottom (Ranked #5, Rating 2.5).

So, doing the math without decimals that is three 2's, three 3's, one 4 and one 5, which works out to an average of 3.0 on the nose. But that number is skewed because only two of the eight movies are rated equal to or greater than 3. Work out the average using the decimal numbers and it is 2.9, so I have to post a rating of three. As they say there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. My recommendation would just be to get the two best films here, "Dance of the Dead" and "The Substitute," and rent the rest for a look-see if you are compelled to actually watch everything in the set. When the two best movies in a series of horror films end up being the two funniest, and both are intentionally trying to be funny, that is not a good sign.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 8, 2012 12:56 PM PDT

Dark Floors
Dark Floors
DVD ~ William Hope
Price: $9.34
63 used & new from $1.39

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you have no clue who Lordi is, then you can get through this one without laughing, October 30, 2008
This review is from: Dark Floors (DVD)
The full title of this film is apparently "Dark Floors: The Lordi Motion Picture," which is important because Lordi is a heavy metal group from Finland that dresses up in elaborate monster-like costumes. I was not really aware of this and since I had never heard of the group before was not able to recognize them when Mr. Lordi, OX, Amen, Awa, and Kita starting popping up as the monsters in this 2008 movie (and, of course, they have recorded a new song, "Beast Loose in Paradise," for the end credits). This matters because since I did not know these guys from Adam, there were just monsters. Imagine, if you will, that this was "Dark Floors: The Kiss Motion Picture," and every time Space Ace, Starchild, Catman or the Demon popped up you would laugh you ass off (I say this remembering full well that the band popped up as superheroes in several Marvel comics, including both "Howard The Duck" and a magazine printed with REAL KISS BLOOD). Actually, Lordi looks more like GWAR, the thrash metal band than Kiss, but either way you understand the principle. For fans of Lordi, this movie has an inherent comic element that we ignorant types are not burdened. Also, know going in that while half of the Ghost House Underground films released on DVD this October are dubbed, "Dark Floors" is not.

Young Sarah (Skye Bennet) is autistic and with health problems, but the hospital cannot come up with any answers, so her father, Ben (Noah Huntley), wants to take her out of there. But the elevator breaks down and they, along with the others in the elevator, find that when the doors open the hospital is deserted. and we quickly get the feeling that we are not in Helsinki any more. Lordi, no. As they move from floor to floor, things get progressively more decrepit and more dangerous. Of course the ability of any of this group to get out of the hospital alive relies on Sarah, because she is autistic, and what we do not know about autism can work as the deus ex machina in any horror movie. Besides, when people check out the phones in this hospital there are whispered requests demands for the girl, so even the people in the movie know that Sarah is the key. The other characters along for the ride are Emily (Dominique McElligott), who is clearly a bit smarter and braver than the guys she is stuck with, which are Jon (William Hope), Walter (Philip Bretherton), Rick (Leon Herbert), and Tobias (Ronald Pickup), the crazy old coot who is the only one with a clue and who handles the requisite exposition duties.

The working title in Finnish for this film was "Punainen liitu," which translates as "Red Chalk," and actually is more appropriate for the plot here since the floors in this film are not particularly dark (and when they get dirty so do the walls and ceilings). I think that the vibe this movie was going for was like "Silent Hill," with the whole "what the hell is happening here?" vibe, more than any other recent horror movie that comes to mind. My complaint with Lordi is not that these are heavy metal guys running around in monster costumes, because since I had never seen them before that was easy to forget. Instead my problem is that the movie ends up being like a fun house at Halloween, where you go through the thing and periodically monsters jump out, you jump, they disappear, and you keep going. Being the monsters in a horror movie would appear to be self-indulgent at face value, but the five band members pretty much have the smallest roles. Director Pete Riski does not come up with anything special for this horror film, but then there is nothing special being set up by Pekka Lehtosaari's script.

The bottom line is that if I knew who Lordi was then I probably would have laughed every time one of them showed up, but I did not, so I was able to actually take this movie at face value. There is very little blood and gore, and the oppressive atmosphere quickly dissipates because there is no real sense of moving towards a climax because why this movie telegraphs from the opening moment that the little girl is going to save the day, there is no real sense of what she is saving them from. I suppose a case could be made for the horrors of existentialist angst, but there is just grabbing for straws to try and make sense of this film. Besides, because of the limitations of the young actress playing Sarah, the character works best when she is not saying anything, so she is unable to carry the off the big finish when she has to start talking. The end game reminded me of what I thought was the best film of 2006, which is why I round up on "Dark Floors," but I do not want to ruin the best part of the film if you decide to check it out (I think it will be obvious). This is not the best ("Dance of the Dead") or even one of the better ("The Substitute") DVDs in this GHU collection, but it is definitely in the middle and not one of the really bad ones.

Room 205
Room 205
DVD ~ Mira Wanting
Price: $7.50
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A slow moving and sedate Danish ghost story with some effective moments at the end, October 29, 2008
This review is from: Room 205 (DVD)
I have been looking forward to seeing "Room 205" because when I rented "The Last House in the Woods" the enveloped did not describe that film, but this film, and since that film was so bad, I figured this film had to be better. The only thing these two Ghost House Underground films have in common is that they are both dubbed, in which case "Room 205" really ends up being paired with "The Substitute" because then are both from Denmark. The original title in Danish is "Kollegiet" translates as "The College," which apparently makes Danish film fans think horror film, a premise reinforced by "The Substitute," which also taking place in a school, although that is really more of a science fiction film (apparently schools are really scary places in Denmark).

Our heroine is Katrine (Neel Rønholt) has recently suffered the death of her mentally ill mother, and has moved into a dorm at a university in Copenhagen. Katrine is assigned Room 205, where it turns out that something not very nice happened there once, which would explain the apparition that she starts seeing in the mirror. However, Katrine's immediate problem is that she has gotten on the bad side of Sanne (Julie R. Olgaard), after sleeping with her boyfriend. The precipitating event is a mean spirited prank that goes awry, and then things start to happen in this 2007 movie, which is good because the first half develops at a lathargic pace and the dominant tones of brown and yellow start to ware thin on the eyes. The dubbed voices are emotionally flat, but I have to admit that matches the sedate Scandanavian personalities of the characters (although I must acknowledge that when this movie was dubbed for American audiences they did not also tack on a bunch of heavy metal music to juice things up, but stayed true to the original artistic vision). The combination of these elements might be enough to have a lot of horror fans hit the eject button before we get to the hour mark, but that is actually when things pick up, relatively speaking.

Eventually we get the two requisite elements for a ghost story like this one, namely the exposition of the rules for ghosts and mirros provided by Rolf (Mikkel Arendt), who is certainly Katrine's match in terms of being low-keyed, and the backstory on what happened to the girl who died in Katrine's room. I sort of expected all of these college students to start turning on each other as the paranoia gets wratched up, but the ghost has no serious competition in this film. I do not know if the credit goes to director Martin Barnewitz or writer Jannik Tai Mosholt, but the motif of mirrors and glass does add some distinct touches to this movie. More imporantly, "Room 205" is one of those increasingly rare horror film that reverses the usual pattern and has a much better ending than a setup. This movie is more about tension and atmosphere than it is about blood and gore (with the elevator scene being the exception that proves the rule), and when it comes to having motivation to come back from the dead and kill people, this ghost has it in spades. Plus I like it when the heroine is smart enough to now the end is not the end, reversing one of the most hackneyed of horror movie cliches. However, most of you will probably find the ending to be too little, too sedate.

The Last House in the Woods
The Last House in the Woods
DVD ~ Daniela Virgilio
Price: $12.32
66 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It is not the house or the forest that is going to get you, it is that chainsaw, October 28, 2008
This review is from: The Last House in the Woods (DVD)
When I got "The Last House in the Woods" in the mail it turned out the description on the sleeve was not for this Ghost House Underground movie but for a different one, namely "Room 205." Since that one is about a college student moving into a haunted door room and this one has parents driving with their young boy out in the country, it was easy to tell this was not that movie. After watching "The Last House in the Woods" I was wishing this had been the other movie, because despite my limited knowledge of the laws of probability I have to believe it is way better than this one, which currently has the distinction of being the worse of the six GHU films I have checked out on DVD so far this month.

Rino (Daniele Grassetti) has broken up with Aurora (Daniela Virgilio), but as he tries to get back on her good side the unlucky couple are attacked by a trio of thugs. The good news is that the parents with their son come along, rescue the couple, and take them back to their house. But since this is clearly the last house in the woods, this is really bad news. Ultimately, what I am remind of are some of the exploitation films from the 1960s I have seen, like "Wizard Of Gore," in that "The Last House in the Woods" is trying to provide a similar level of blood and gore. The problem is that we are almost a half-century past that approach, so I have to wonder what is the point? If you have never seen a good old fashioned exploitation film with buckets of blood, then this one will get you back up to speed. But at least exploitation films were always trying to come up with some distractions, no matter how weird or inane, to justify all the blood and gore. This one just has a single-minded "kill, baby, kill" mentality that is so rudimentary it is ultimately boring.

Written and directed by Gabriele Albanesi, this film's original title in Italian is "Il Bosco fuori," which translates as "The Forest Outside" and makes no sense as the title of this particular horror film since almost all of the horror takes place in, well the last house in the woods and not outside in the forest. The PAL version of this movie actually calls it "Italian Chainsaw" and that is ultimately as good a two word encapsulation of this 2006 film as you can have, and as soon as that is said I have to assume that everybody has seen better chainsaw movies, whether we are talking an original or a remake. Yes, it is probably absurd to accuse a chainsaw movie of being inelegant, but even bad artistic pretensions are better than none.

In terms of DVD extras, the cupboard is not completely sparse here. Albanesi provides a commentary track along with his short film "L'Armadio" ("The Closet"), where how the little kid acts after the "punch line" is revealed does not jive with his actions prior to that point. You also have a backstage featurette and the trailer (the trailers for all of the other seven Ghost House Underground films are at the start of the DVD, and it is more interesting to go back and look at them after you have seen the movies to judge how well (or not) they set up these films (at which point you will learn that what they thought would be the hook for this one was something other than "chainsaw").

Dance of the Dead (Ghost House Underground)
Dance of the Dead (Ghost House Underground)
DVD ~ Jared Kusnitz
Price: $7.70
67 used & new from $1.60

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is time for these geeks to kick some zombie butt when the dead rise and crash the prom, October 27, 2008
It is prom night at Cosa High School and charming slacker Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz) has struck out trying to get a date to the dance, but that proves to be the least of his problems when the dead start rising from their graves. Fortunately, Jimmy is not the only dateless geek on prom night. There is the fetching Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick), the vice-president of the student body, Gwen (Carissa Capobianco), the cheerleader who needs to be saved, Steven (Charlton Derby), the nerd who would like to save her, Nash (Blair Redord), the angry leader of a local band, and the tag-team of Jules (Randy McDowell) and George (Michael V. Mammoliti), who belong to the school's Science Fiction Club. You might ask: Why do the dead starting exploding out of their graves? Well, because this is a zombie movie, which means it might be the town's nuclear reactor or it could just be because the script says that they rise from the dead. So do not ask wherefore art their zombies, or why the only adult authority figure left standing once the zombies run amuck is Coach Keel (Mark Oliver), who has watched way too many action films. Just enjoy one of the best tongue-in-cheek zombie comedies to come down the pike in recent years.

When it comes to zombie movies I still prefer the original "Night of the Living Dead" with the traditional slow moving Old School zombies over the new and impoved frantic flesh eaters of the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, "28 Days Later," et al. More to the point, I liked "Dead and Breakfast" more than "Shaun of the Dead," and I really liked "Shaun of the Dead." Given that particular set of predilections it is probably not surprising that I am willing to round up on "Dance of the Dead," when most people will not (and, yes, I am looking forward to "Zombie Strippers"). There might be a correlation between these two principles simply because it is hard to do a zombie comedy if they are running and you are running. When it is more "The zombies are coming! Walk away! Walk away!" there is way more time to make with the smart aleck remarks (and to go out for pancakes).

"Dance of the Dead" is apparently a movie that was a decade in the making, since the writer and diretor met up in film school at USC, which might explain in part why it works so well, because the script by Joe Ballarini exhibits evidence of fine tuning. The same can be said for the special effects put together by director Gregg Bishop "The Other Side," who manages not to over indulge in the handheld camera work that so often distracts me (or threatens to make my head explode) in contemporary horror films (i.e., "Cloverfield"). But I think a big part of the success for this 2008 release is that this film follows the Franco Zefferelli approach of going out and hiring actual teenagers to play teenagers, which is why so many people make John Hughes references when talking about this film. The young cast, many from Georgia since that is where "Dance of the Dead" was filmed, give it a certain charm (e.g., when Lindsey leads the group in prayer before the ensemble has its requisite "Buffy The Vampire Slayer movement of striding purposely down the hallway with their array of weaponry, a moment that serves as the backdrop for the DVD's menu). That also means this film has the advantage of featuring unfamiliar faces instead of twentysomethings from television shows slumming in splatter flicks.

I have no idea what "Dance of the Dead" is doing in the Ghost House Underground series of horror films that Lionsgate has put out to distract horror fans from the fact that this year's Horrorfest has been delayed until January (they still only have 5 and not 8 films 2 die 4). This is far and away the best of the six of eight films I have seen so far, and if there is something better than "Dance of the Dead" still out there, that would be really sweet, but I doubt it is going to happen. This DVD also sets the standard for special features in this series, with audio commentary by Bishop and Ballarini, a featurette on the making of the film, a special look at "Blood, Guts, and Rock 'n' Roll: Effects and Stunts of Dance of the Dead," a handful of deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by the director), Bishop's short film "Voodoo" (also when commentary, because apparently you cannot stop Bishop from commenting, you can only choose not to listen), and the trailer (which contains the film's one flaw: which is that the best line in the trailer is actually two lines cobbled together, in reverse, from the end of the film).

The Given Day  (Coughlin, Book 1)
The Given Day (Coughlin, Book 1)
by Dennis Lehane
Edition: Paperback
441 used & new from $0.01

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boston in 1919 was more than just Babe Ruth hitting home runs..., October 26, 2008
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Any novel that begins with Babe Ruth getting drunk and stealing hats is going to grab my attention, but I actually picked up Dennis Lehane's "Any Given Day" without knowing anything about it beyond the name of the author. I am another one of those who came to Dennis Lehane's writing through the film versions of his works. When I learned that "Gone Baby Gone" and "Mystic River" were both adapted from Lehane's books, and that the former was the fourth in a series of, to date, five Kenzie-Gennaro novels (like him, love her), I went out and ordered the series. That was enough to move Lehane into the small but select category of authors whose books I pick up when they come out in hardcover.

"The Given Day" is a historical novel covering a two year period with the year 1919 in the middle. Gidge Ruth dominates the book's prologue, but the two star crossed characters are Luther Laurence, a black baseball player we first meet playing a pickup game against Ruth, and Danny Coughlin, a white Boston police officer . It seems strange that the paths of Luther and Danny should meet, but events conspire to form an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, there are anarchists stirring up trouble in the streets of Boston , an influenza epidemic, and a police force unable to live on pre-World War wages. Boston has not seen such a fertile ground for ferment since the days of the American Revolution. Ultimately, "The Given Day" is an epic novel writ small, more comparable to E. L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" than, say, Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Granted, the 1919 Boston Police Strike is not on a par with Napoleon's invasion of Russia, but there are so many threads related the transformation of the United States in the 20th century that you can see how our today is connected to these particular yesterdays.

While reading this novel I consistently found myself wanting more, not so much in terms of the story continuing on past the end point, which is a constant complaint with most compelling narratives, but more in terms of wanting more details as the story went along. Babe Ruth figures large in this response because he is the historical figure who is featured most prominently in the tale. This is because he is the character situated at the tipping point in what is happening when money and labor in the novel, and there is a sense that as Babe Ruth goes, so goes the nation. More than any other character he represents the future (when we talk about important sports figures in American history there are Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson on the top plateau and nobody else comes close in importance). But while I definitely agree with the privileged position Ruth plays in the narrative, I still wish that some of the other historical figures--which run the gamut from Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and Department of Justice lawyer John Hoover to former General Motors president James Jackson Storrow and Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge--were more than transient characters walking in and out of the story.

Yes, I know that Lehane's choices in this regards are all legitimate, but I ended up wanting more because of what the author was doing with Ruth, specifically in chapter twenty-four. That is the first chapter in the section "Babe Ruth and the White Baseball," which I thought could have stood alone as a short story. The chapter begins with a molasses tank exploding in Boston's North End and concludes with may well have been the longest home run Ruth ever hit, which was in a 1919 spring training game in Tampa, Florida. American League president Ban Johnson was requiring baseball teams to play with white (i.e., clean) baseballs, which is ironic since Ray Chapman would not be killed by a dirty baseball thrown by submariner Carl Mays until the following season. Lehane's eloquence with the metaphor and the way he casually works out the logic of Ruth's plate appearance, make this the standout chapter in the novel and well worth reading just on that score alone and justifies my rounding up on "The Given Day" in the end.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 9, 2008 12:34 PM PST

The Substitute
The Substitute
DVD ~ Paprika Steen
Price: $7.50
57 used & new from $1.45

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ah, the joys of a badly dubbed Danish science fiction-horror flick, October 25, 2008
This review is from: The Substitute (DVD)
"The Substitute" is not quite in the "so bad it is good" category, but I think it is definitely worth some laughs. The description of the film is fairly straightforward: this sixth grade class is getting a substitute teacher and they suspect that she is an alien. Sounds familiar, right? Well, this 2007 film is definitely another fun example of a movie that strikes you as being cobbled together from more familiar films. You have another teacher as alien like in "The Faculty," but they are teaching sixth graders (which makes them about the age of the kids in "The Goonies"), the flying sphere from "Phantasm," the idea of being taken to another planet like in "Cocoon", and several other cinematic points of reference that you can discover for yourselves. But that is not the main thing that makes this film fun.

THIS FILM IS DUBBED. That is because this is a Danish film and its original title is "Vikaren." Directed by Ole Bornedal ("Nightwatch") with a screenplay by Bornedal and Henrik Prip. When you pop in any of these Ghost House Underground DVDS you get the trailer for "Saw V" (or as we like to call it "Emily's Revenge," because it stars Scott Patterson from "Gilmore Girls"), and the trailers for the other seven GHU movies. The interesting thing about the trailer for "The Substitute" is that you cannot tell that this is one of those gloriously badly dubbed foreign movies that were a staple of afternoon and late night TV when I was a lad. Usually those were Japanese science fiction films like "The Mysterians" or any of the rubber suit monster movies, or the Italian muscle man gladiator type flicks. But just hearing those overly serious English voices mismatched with the lip movements of the actors takes me back to those halcyon days of yore. I forgot to check the DVD to see if you could listen to "Vikaren" in the original Dutch, the way you can listen to the Russian track on GHU's "Trackman," but as much fun as it is to listen to Dutch there is no way it can be as much fun as listening to this dubbed version.

The film stars Paprika Steen as Ulla the strapping blond Vikaren, in an over the top performance that plays well against the kids trying to respond to the crazy substitute teacher that wants to take them back to her planet so they can learn about love (this alone should indicate how big of a difference it makes to do this movie with sixth graders instead of hormonal high school students). Steen, of course, is familiar to Danish audiences in recent years as Line Anders in six episodes of "Der Kommissar und das Meer." Anyhow, she shows up as the titular figure and tells her young charges that they are stupid because they do not know anything whereas she knows everything, which she proceeds to demonstrate. She picks on poor Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) who has "lost" his mother, and Carl makes it his mission in this movie to find out what's up with Ulla. Then the problem is convincing the other kids, not to mention their parents and the town's inept authority figures, before Ulla takes the kids on the world's longest field trip.

The bottom line here is that if you intend to take this film seriously, you are probably not going to like it, especially by the time the chickens come home to roost in the finale. There are some surprisingly decent special effects in "The Substitute," which is interesting because you would think they would not bother given the hokey nature of the story and performances. But ultimately that expenditure of money only adds to the film's odd charm (emphasis on "odd"). Apparently Ghost House Pictures is going to remake "Vikaren" for American audiences, and I guess if we can remake Japanese horror films and Korean horror films then we can remake Danish horror films (although really it is more science fiction than horror). But I have to tell you, having the cast actually speak in English might well take a lot of the fun out of this one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2009 6:48 AM PDT

No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker
No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker
DVD ~ Robert Pine
Price: $12.69
57 used & new from $0.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Maybe the problem with this sequel is that I did not see the original, but I doubt it, October 19, 2008
So, there is a point in "No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker," where these two guys who have robbed a casino are walking through the desert and the one carrying the briefcase with the stolen money in it suddenly drops it because the briefcase has gotten hot. He opens it and discovers the money is on fair and despite (or because) he literally has half a brain at this point, he decides the only sane thing to do is to have the too of them urinate on the money. At that point I got the uneasy feeling that I was supposed to me finding more humor in the film than I had so far. But by the time I got to the end credits I was more concerned with trying to make complete sense of the rules of the games. Too many times movies are slowed down by someone spinning out the requisite exposition, but this film has the opposite problem.

I understand now that "No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker" is a sequel, with a prequel, to "Reeker," both of which are directed by Dave Payne. I cannot tell if not having seen the original helps or hinders my watching of this second film in what may well become a series. Ultimately, the best way I can describe this movie is to say that it is a Frankenstein-like collection of bits and pieces. Remember the Horrorfest trailers that have clips from all of the movies in the series? "No Man's Land" has that sense of bringing together disparite horror film elements and forcing them into a messy amalgamation. The movie starts off pretty well with an encounter thirty years ago between a travelling salesman and a hitchhiker in the middle of Death Valley. This is where we meet the Reeker, or I should say the guy who becomes the Reeker or a Reeker (I am not sure which). Death is apparently a gateway to whatever the hell is happening in this film. I am sure that Payne's bizzare little world here makes perfect sense to him, but it never did come together for me. It was close, but this film did not quite make it to the point where I had to figure out whether to round up or down.

Whether by commission or omission, the Ghost House Underground series is obviously a step below Lionsgate's Horrorfest lineup. Those at least were movies that ended up being screened in theaters, although ostensibly they were too gory, cutting edge, or whatever for theatrical distribution (a claim that really applied only to last year's "Frontier(s)," which was dropped from the Horrorfest lineup because of its NC-17 rating). Apparently the GHU series consists of films never intended to be more than direct to video offerings. I went to Horrorfest two years ago, but last year it did not come to the Zenith City and this fall's offering has been moved back to next year (they only have five films to die for at this point of the eight promised for January). So I figured checking out theses GHU films was better than nothing this October, a month when horror films are supposed to rule the roost. I organized the eight films in my queue according to what their ratings were at Netflix, and "No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker" was essentially in a three-way tie for the second best movie in the series ("Dance of the Dead" appears to be the best of the bunch by this standard). But since this is a below average film by my reckoning, I am pessimistic regarding the overall strength of the series. We shall see, hopefully between now and Halloween.

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