Who Directed Red State?

Red State does not feel like a Kevin Smith film at all.  Since leaving and reuniting and leaving his View Askew universe Smith has not been able to find his own voice.  Zach & Miri Make A Porno felt as though it rode on the coat tails of the Judd Apatow empire and here in Red State Smith seems to have made a Tarantino Cohen Brothers film.  While Smith has always infused a bit of politics within his films, here he does so in ample amounts.

To give away the plot would spoil the uneven thrills that populate the film, but to say the film digs at the Westboro church is an understatement.  Tarantino veteran, Michael Parks, gives us long winded but perfectly acted monologues about the fire and brimstone God who hates homosexuals and seeks the fear of his wrath.  Red State feels more like a political novel rather than a film.  Each character we believe to be the main protagonist works only to lead us to the next chapter.  This doesn't allow us to feel for anyone in particular but aids in telling a story with a bigger picture.

Overall we are given a few scenes of torture and a positively well pieced together gun fight, but there is no true horror.  Red State is worth viewing, but never rises to the occasion as a film of worth.

Rating: III/V

Friends With Kids: Why?

Normally we here at CineNiche have standards, but on this particular day we were roped into this one.  Jennifer Westfeldt wrote, directed, and stared in this slightly amusing rom-com that offers you and hour and a half of fulfilled expectations.

The moment Friends With Kids starts you already know the end, and as usual the perfectly acceptable retort to this type of film is that it is all about the journey.  The only trouble with stock answers is that they normally come attached to sub par films.

The journey Friends With Kids offers is the very American institution of monogamy.  From the offset we have two best friends who sleep around in an attempt to find, "the one," this is not their fault because popular culture dictates that soulmates exist so we cannot foul them for their search.  What comes next is the fundamental flaw of having a child - not that child rearing is a flaw but the instilled notion that it is what one is supposed to do, is.  Having not yet acquired a perfect mate the friends decide to create a child thus allowing them offspring while searching for "the one."

Even if up to this point you are still buying into the premise, then you want what we all do while watching, we want to see them fail.  Not only fail at obtaining someone significant, but fail as parents as well.  Had Westfeldt taken a few cues from Todd Solondz we would have had an interesting film indeed.

Friends With Kids as directed by Todd Solondz: Jason Fryman (Adam Scott) would have been a repressed homosexual while Julie Keller (Jennifer Westfeldt) a secret heroine user.  They have a baby - a girl with down syndrome.  Jason is brutally stabbed on his way home and left paralyzed.  Julie attempts to stay clean to raise the baby and take care of Jason, but when it gets to be too much she goes to get a fix.  She leaves Ben (Jon Hamm) to watch the baby and Jason.  While away and with Jason asleep Ben molests the infant.  Jason awakens to the baby screaming and Ben explains that the baby must be sick.  Ben brings the baby in and she calms down.  Jason then initiates a sexual advance to which Ben accepts.  Later when Julie comes back with her fix, Ben leaves and she does a dose which kills her.  Jason wakes up again to a screaming baby and a dead girlfriend unable to do anything about either.   A classy comedy - only slightly cliche.

Unfortunately in Westfeldts uninspired comedy we are given only cliche via a strong yearning for indie street cred.  One would hope that Ed Burns, Myah Rudolph, Jon Hamm, and Kristen Wiig would have been able to elevate this film at least to par level, but alas this is not the case.  Megan Fox was the only actor present with nothing to loose.  Once again, she plays an insipid debutante and she does so with such conviction it's hard to determine where her onscreen persona ends and her real 'self' begins.

Do yourself a favor and choose this film when your only choices are Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, or Friends With Kids.  We do believe that Jennifer Westfeldt is wonderful, it is just this film that falls flat.

Rated: 1/5

It's a mutant baby & It's Alive

Larry Cohen is not known for style, nor gruesome effects, or even good horror.  Most of his films can be easily overlooked and have been.  He's not likely to acquire a lifetime achievement award or any accolades for horror.  He has made a better name for himself in the last decade as a screenwriter of a few mainstream hits such as Phone Booth and Cellular, and while these films make him more money than anything he directed they don't have the power of his horror fare.  His directed films speak volumes about society.  Comparisons can be drawn between Cohen and Romero in this regard, but Cohen is often a bit more subtle.

Cohen began his filmmaking career interestingly enough working within the blacksploitation sub-genre.  His first feature film was Bone made in 1972, then Black Caesar in 1973.  As all the films within the sub-genre they featured a dominate black male figure.  Bone  is a thug who breaks into a white couple's home and hyjinks ensue, all the while commenting on white racism and male dominance.  Black Caesar is the rags to riches tale of Toby Gibbs (Fred Williamson) stealing significantly from Little Caesar and the original Scarface with a little Godfather thrown in.  Its gritty illegal realism makes Caesar top notch exploitation and its sequel Hell Up In Harlem offers even more.

Cohen switched genres during the filming of Hell Up In Harlem.  He spent Monday through Friday working on It's Alive leaving the weekends open to shoot Harlem.  His quick low budget filmmaking kept him working during the 70's and most of the 80's.  It's amazing to think that a few decades ago all one had to do was stay under budget and deliver early.  If you kept to those simple rules you could continue creating.

He's made many films since It's Alive, like God Told Me To, two sequels to It's Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent, Special Effects, The Stuff, and A Return To Salem's Lot.  As we mentioned before he's also kept working through writing with Captivity and Maniac Cop (also the others mentioned above), but it his first trip into horror that still receives the highest praise.

It's Alive begins with a pregnancy and ends in pandemonium.  The Davis family seems to have it all.  Frank (John P. Ryan) has a well paying public relations position, Lenore (Sharon Farrell) is a stay at home mom content with keeping up their suburban home, and then there is their son Chris who is a normal pre-adolescent boy.  Why wouldn't they want to bring another bundle of joy into this world?  Our film begins with Lenore going into labor and Frank carting her off to the hospital.  Once she's in the delivery room something terrible happens and the next time we see her all of the doctors are dead and she's screaming, "let me see my baby!"  When the police canvass the scene they find only a small opening in the ceiling where the 'killer' escaped.  They are a bit too quick to assume it was a mutant baby who killed everyone, but commentary films are never too worried about subtle plot devices.  Quickly there is a chase for the demon newborn.  We are able to see a few of the infant's kills through blurry POV.  It becomes evident that the baby is trying to make its way home.  While everyone is pursuing the baby, Frank is fired, Lenore goes crazy, and doctors persuade the family to sign over the body once the child is killed.  Sub plots abound that give us our commentary.  Pharmaceutical companies want the child completely destroyed so they may not be held responsible for the mutation, while the doctors want to cut it up to see what pollutants may have caused the abnormality.  After a number of kills the baby finds his family, the mother protects him and at first the father wants to be the one to kill him (for ruining his life) but in the last moments of the film finds the patriarchal connection and wants the baby to live.  Of course the police, doctors, and companies cannot let the thing live so they shoot on site.  Never fear though, since this baby represents environmental fears the last thing we hear is that another one has been born.

This is classic 70's horror filled with the fears of the times and the paradigm shift of what constitutes a normal family.  Cohen's craft as we've indicated is not overt but within his low budget and quick pace he was able to churn out a film that dealt with more than just a mutant baby on a killing spree in suburban America.

Rating: 4/5

David Fincher's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher's eccentric film resume gives him the upper hand in this needless remake.  The tone of the film is in perfect balance with last years Social Network.  In the future people will discuss the pre Social Network era of Fincher and the post as if one film divided his work.  There is a sense of authorship in Alien 3, The Game, Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, and Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.  Each of his films relied heavily on inventive cinematography, whether it was amazingly orchestrated movements of the camera or his ability to light his scenes in a way to aide in character development.  There is a contrast on the celluloid that cannot easily be explained - a mysterious secret ingredient that allows for an immediate identification that the film is indeed a Fincher creation.

The Social Network is Fincher's transitory film within his oeuvre.  The cinematography and lighting are the same, while less extravagant.  It was the inclusion of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score that made The Social Network more accessible.  They emphasized the drama within their haunting score.  Tension and pace build with the music, and without it we would have a rather bland litigation film.  We at CineNiche love The Social Network and the awards and nominations were deserved, but it sparked a new Fincher that may be cause for alarm.

The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo is as the taglines read: an international phenomenon.  The remake the film isn't necessary, but nevertheless during a period of recession - remakes and sequels are cash cows.  Droves of Americans were interested in the cultural hype of the originals, yet did not want to read the books or "read" the films.  This is where the studios step in, believing that rather than allow Americans to suffer and miss a zeitgeist, that they will save the day and line their pockets.  We can detest remakes elsewhere since we may have already given the impression that we disliked the film, but the reality is: everyone's excited by a new Fincher film.

Our qualms about his new directing style or his choice in accepting a remake are made moot by the pure beauty of the film itself.  While it does not meet our pre Social Network standards it does tell a semi convoluted story with surgical skill.  The differences between the two are in most cases subtle, with the exception of Blomkvist and Salanders' "love" affair.  Perhaps this is the Americanization of the couple or possibly some overlooked text from the book, but Lisbeth is interested in Blomkvist yet completely maintains her fierce independence in the original.  In this remake there are scenes that give the impression of a semi-domestication that feel as out of place as the music video credit sequence (created to be an artistic interpretation of all three novels).  All other differences were thoroughly enjoyable and elevated the film to a nearly equal footing to the original.

Our only wish is that Fincher bet the one to handle the other Millennium films, good or bad his versions will be the best American's get.


The Fly: Cronenberg's Abject World Of Mutation

David Cronenberg's take on the 1958 classic The Fly is remarkable.  In the original we simply have a science gone awry parable, whereas the remake offers us a god complex and a philosophy on decomposition as only Cronenberg can.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is a reclusive scientist who has been working on the theory and practice of teleportation for six years and the moment his dreams come true, a nightmare is created.

Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) is a reporter that chats up Brundle at a science convention.  She finds him charming and decides to go home with him.  Once they arrive at Brundle's loft/lab/home their fates are sealed.  To impress her, he teleports her stocking across the room.  This is the beginning of the end for Brundle.

He pushes his experiments further and faster to continue to impress Veronica.  When he is finally able to teleport a Baboon without it turning inside out Brundle understands it is only a matter of time before his contribution to science will change transportation forever.  Unfortunately, due to jealousy and drunkeness he truncates the timing and decides to attempt teleporting himself.  The experiment is a success with one minor caveat, a housefly joins him in the chamber.

A few hours after his success he feels revitalized - a new man - a god.  He is only granted this ubermunch mentality for a short time before he learns what he is truly becoming: Brundlefly.

The transformation into Brundlefly is what the film is known for.  The Kafkaesque man to insect plays out for shock value while still maintaining the integrity of the storyline.  The practical effects used in the disintegrating metamorphosis could rival anything produced today.  When one references elements as being Cronenbergian they are referring to scenes of an abject medical abomination and nothing solidifies this more than the vomiting decaying tumorous Brundlefly.

Cronenberg's issues with maternity and birth come up again in The Fly, culminating in one of his many cameos.  The question of abortion is brought up when Veronica becomes pregnant and dreams of giving birth to a maggot (pulled from the womb by director David Cronenberg himself).  There is a familial sensibility that is covered here like The Brood.  Brundlefly doesn't want his offspring destroyed and in a poignant dialogue expresses that it may be the only part of his human life that carries on, but soon after he decides that a mother-father-child-fly mutation would be the perfect hybrid.  Only in a Cronenberg universe can that sentence make any sense.

We know from the horrible Fly II that a son is born, but because the film is too aweful to view we don't really know what continuation Cronenberg had in mind.  Recently there have been talks of a real sequal helmed by the Dr. of doom but only time will tell.  We may have to wait until he gets Viggo out of his system before he returns to the genre that empowered him.


Play Misty For Me: A Cautionary Tale

From his roots as the stranger with no name, to Inspector Harry Callahan, to various secret service men, to his turn in Gran Torino no one can deny that Clint Eastwood is an American icon.

It doesn't matter what taste you have in film, Clint has spiced them all either as an actor or as a director.  In 1971 he was given carte blanche to fulfill his dream of filmmaking.  The studio only asked for him to defer his acting wage which he did without a second thought.  Eastwood's thriller was lensed in 21 days and marked a complete departure from all the work he had accomplished previously.  Clint delved into the world of obsession and penance seemingly without effort.

Clint's onscreen persona Dave is a locally famed radio D.J. who has had his ample fill of women, to which he left them all in the dust, except for Tobie (Donna Mills).  Dave believes he has finally reformed, he's willing to give up his playboy ways and settle down to a nice monogamous relationship.  The only problem is his last fling is completely crazy and will stop at nothing to make Dave her mate.

Jessica Walters (known later as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Depelopment) plays the insane Evelyn with perfection.  Walters is able to pull off a split second shift between hysteria and tranquility multiple times in the film.  Clint is his normal stoic persona until Jessica burrows her way inside him.  Upon first viewing it is very easy to side with Dave, to feel sympathy for his dilemma, and while Dave tries to do the right thing at every turn one should never forget that his problem with Evelyn is his penance for his once carefree sexual attitude.

Play Misty For Me is at it's core a cautionary tale for men.  Dave's former flame Tobie, whom he's reforming for provides us with Dave's back-story by telling us that she had to runaway because she was growing jealous of all the other women coming and going.  Dave's revenge is received cold in the form of Evelyn.  Only after he has decided to end his philandering does Evelyn come into his life as a temptation - a siren if you will.  This time the girl cannot be tossed aside and while we sympathize with Dave, he gets exactly what he deserves.  If you haven't seen Play Misty, then you need to.


Sexy Beast or How To Deconstruct A Heist Film

Jonathan Glazer's feature film debut is a gem to behold.  If you ever had a doubt about Ben Kingsly this is the role he was born for.

In most of heist cinema you have a formula to follow:

1.) The Pitch: this is the who, what, and where of the scheme.
2.) The Roundup: you must collect the right thieves for the job.
3.) Planning: meticulous scouting and preparation that sometimes crosscuts into the action.
4.) The Job: self explanatory (the action we were waiting for)
5.) The Getaway: usually if everything else has worked out this is the step in which everything goes to hell.

Sexy Beast spends most of the film in The Roundup stage leaving only a fraction to the rest of the formula.  Glazer is able to take the genre and turn it on its axis - to find new truths in old cliches.  While he doesn't pander to recreating the wheel as Tarantino did with Reservoir Dogs, he is able to use the formula to delve into character and drama - two things sometimes missing in heist cinema.

If you're expecting Ocean's Eleven or Snatch you will be let down.  Even if you only see it for the astoundingly evil portrait of criminality that Kingsly embodies, we promise the rest will pay off.  The tension builds simply because we have no idea where Glazer is leading us, and while our journey has well established elements, the overall outcome is unknown till the end.


The Soderberghian Contagion

This is our formal declaration: Steven Soderbergh is not an autuer.  While others may have already came to this decision, we had hope.  With a director like Soderbergh with around 27 titles under his belt we had assumed there may be some subtle nuance of authorial style, some flourish that when seen one can say, "oh, there's that Soderbergh moment."  This is not to say there is no merit to his work, and overall we find his films enjoyable, but his mainstream fare is only entertaining the first time.  Contagion is no different.

We at CineNiche believe Contagion to be a more horrific rendering of Wolfgang Peterson's Outbreak.  We were drawn to Contagion not by the overwhelmingly star studded cast, but by the theme of apocalypse.  Of course we had assumed the film would play out like the awesome first half of The Stand and on a lesser scale it does.  It creates a world of palpable paranoia while trying to maintain the logistics of an epidemic.  Unfortunately the two are not well balanced and while you walk away afraid to touch anything you also maintain faith in the American government and our Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  Had this been in another filmmaker's hands there may have been no hope provided, which in the end is with every fan of apocalypse cinema looks forward to.

Perhaps faith in a happy ending is the new Soderberghian concept, but it seems like a fall from grace when you consider his Sex, Lies, And Videotape roots.