Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy the Future with IN TIME

in_timeAs we speak, thousands of people are occupying Wall Street to protest the social and economic inequality between the richest top 1% and the remaining 99% of the people. IN TIME, a sci-fi thriller from Andrew Niccol (writer of such excellent films as THE TRUMAN SHOW and GATTACA) tackles this subject in a unique way: It is set in a future in which the aging process has been engineered to end at 25 and currency has been replaced by time that people must earn in order to continue living. The super-rich can therefore live forever, while the poor struggle to earn enough minutes to make it through the day. The world has been segregated into “time zones” comprised of desperate ghettos and opulent utopias. “Timekeepers” monitor the distribution of time to make sure the status quo remains intact.

Along comes Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a working stiff who has managed to survive three years past 25 by the skin of his teeth. After watching his mother’s (Olivia Wilde, the ultimate MILF) time expire in front of his eyes, a typical result of the system working against the impoverished, Will vows revenge -- and gets the opportunity when a wealthy stranger, tired with immortality, bequeaths him an astonishing 116 years to play with. Will crosses over to the richest zone with the hope of shaking things up -- which he does, especially after hooking up with a rebellious daughter of an aristocrat (Amanda Seyfried, smoking hot) -- but little does he know that the Timekeepers (led by Cillian Murphy, invoking Mr. Smith from THE MATRIX) are on his trail.

It’s an original, fascinating, Philip K. Dick-ian concept -- made even more intriguing when Salas decides that his true calling is to steal time from the rich and distribute it to the poor, thus making him some kind of futuristic Robin Hood. Unfortunately, the film is thwarted by some pretty horrible execution. Story aside, it’s flawed in pretty much every other way a movie can be flawed.

There are three particularly glaring problems. First, we are given no real foundation for what the heck is going on in this society. Not a single expository explanation as to how this dystopia came to be. (In fact, Niccol goes out of his way to brush off the explanation early.) That in itself would have made a fascinating movie -- and at the very least would have helped to ground the story in some semblance of reality. Along those lines, it’s hard to gauge exactly when the film takes place. I assume it’s the distant future, but aside from the glowing green time stamp on people’s wrists, there is little evidence of advanced technology -- people still use pay phones, shoot guns with bullets, etc. -- so perhaps it’s an alternate version of the past.

Secondly, the script is pretty bad. I can forgive a few “time is money” puns, but in general, cringe-worthy dialogue is rampant. More than that, the story is all over the place. Clearly Niccol was bursting at the seams with ideas and he tried to cram all of them into the film. The result is that there are a lot of potentially interesting details -- the roving band of time thieves, for example -- that just feel half-baked.

Third, for a movie so concerned with the preciousness of time, it sure does drag at times. Just saying.

On the plus side, it seems like Justin Timberlake has the makings of a believable action star. That does not surprise me, since he was already kind of an action hero (or anti-hero) in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, using words as weapons. Amanda Seyfried, meanwhile, does an okay job as Bonnie to JT’s Clyde. The two of them seemed to have legit physical chemistry, which helps distract the viewer from the dialogue -- or maybe it’s just that she is pretty much the hottest thing on the planet.

All in all, despite its problems, IN TIME still features one of the better and more thought-provoking concepts I’ve seen in a movie this year. Not necessarily a must-see, but if you’re jonesing for a interesting dose of sci-fi mixed with relevant politics, it’s not an awful way to spend your time. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

PUSS IN BOOTS Doesn’t Land on Its Feet

puss-in-bootsIt is pretty safe to say that the character of Puss in Boots is the only thing that saves the Shrek films from being a complete waste of time. Introduced in the second installment, Puss is legitimately hilarious, fully-realized and breathes life into what is otherwise a wasteland of dated pop-culture references. Turns out, though, that a little bit of Puss goes a long way -- and while PUSS IN BOOTS is considerably more entertaining than the series from which it has been spun-off, it still falls flat.

Granted, I may have had some unrealistic expectations floating around in my head. The film is, after all, very much for kids, as were the SHREK films. (Comparatively, I will always maintain that most Pixar films are actually themed towards adults, with a kiddie sheen.) But dammit, on some level, I was hoping for an edgy, more “adult” Puss in Boots story that fully embodies the reputation that has been established -- namely, that he’s a scoundrel and a womanizer. I realize that this was a silly pipe dream, and while there are certainly hints of adult themes and humor sprinkled throughout (for example, one of Puss’ aliases is “Frisky Two-Times”), there is only so much you can do with a PG-rated kiddie film. Doesn’t mean I have to like it!

It also doesn’t help that the plot is both lackluster and kind of a mess. Taking place sometime before SHREK 2 (I guess?), it tells the story of how Puss achieved notoriety as a outlaw, lothario and legend. Along the way he reunites with his childhood friend-turned-rival-turned-criminal mastermind, Humpty Dumpty, and a female feline thief named Kitty Softpaws who proves to be a match for Puss in more ways than one. Then there’s something about stealing magic beans from Jack & Jill (portrayed here as hulking Bonnie & Clyde-type outlaws) to find a goose that lays golden eggs... you know, the usual twisted-fairy tale stuff. But the story just feels slapped together, convoluted and never manages to get off the ground. Even the action sequences, which could have been filled with swashbuckling fun, are unmemorable.

Fortunately there are some pluses. Voice work is very solid. Puss remains one of Antonio Banderas’ most memorable roles, since he plays it as a pitch-perfect send-up of his own on-screen persona (well, except for when he joins forces with Almodóvar and achieves a whole other level of excellence). Can’t go wrong with Salma Hayek as Banderas’ love interest -- in a twisted way, Puss & Kitty bring to mind the awesomeness puss_humpty_kitty(and hotness) of DESPERADO. Zach Galifianakis does a fine job as the disturbed (and disturbing) Humpty Dumpty, and Billy Bob Thornton & Amy Sedaris chew the animated scenery as Jack & Jill. There are some funny gags -- Puss lapping at the leche makes me chuckle -- and it’s worth mentioning that there is nary a pop culture reference to be found. (Disappointing, though, that they kind of run the “Puss in Boots sad face” gag into the ground.) Animation looks lovely with some better-than-average use of 3D, though it is definitely not necessary to spend the extra bucks. Great score, too, which invokes Morricone and was actually was stuck in my head for a while afterward -- which is more than I can say for the movie itself.

PUSS IN BOOTS opens this weekend. Kids will undoubtedly love it and parents should find it inoffensive, painless and, at times, mildly amusing. But let’s hope that the SHREK series ends here once and for all. Seriously, Dreamworks... even if PUSS makes a ton of money, please know that no good could come from a Gingerbread Man movie!

Monday, October 17, 2011

September Movie Sustenance, Part 2

More words about movies I saw way back in September. GO!

lion-king-3dTHE LION KING 3D -- For me, the biggest selling point for this highly-anticipated theatrical re-release was not the 3D conversion, but the mere fact that we would be able to see one of the all-time great Disney movies on the big screen once again. And indeed, it is just as magical now as it was 18 years ago (particularly at the hallowed Ziegfeld Theatre, where I saw it). The movie, of course, is pretty much cinematic perfection. Arguably one of the best collections of songs in any Disney movie. Featuring one of the most dastardly Disney villains and one of the single most devastating moments. The opening “Circle of Life” sequence remains the most majestic visual thing Disney has ever done. Happy to report that the 3D isn’t half bad, either -- Disney is one of the few companies who gets that technology right on a consistent basis -- though I’d be lying if I said that it added much to the film. Would have been very happy to see it in glorious 2D if it had been available. But since this re-release made a ton of money, it looks like we’ll be seeing a bunch more Disney films converted into 3D over the next few years, including MONSTERS INC., FINDING NEMO and my personal favorite, THE LITTLE MERMAID -- which, again, is fine with me since it means we get to see them on the big screen. Classic Disney rules!

driveDRIVE -- Ryan Gosling IS Driver. He drives Hollywood stunt cars for a living and moonlights as a wheelman for armed heists -- a job at which he particularly excels. He is a loner, an enigma, a man of few words. But when he gets involved with a pretty neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan, very pretty indeed), and her young son, he finds a new purpose. He agrees to help Irene’s ex-con husband pay off a debt to a local crime syndicate, but the heist goes horribly wrong, and suddenly, Irene is in danger and Driver is forced to take matters into his own hands. And that’s when shit really gets heavy. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a gripping cinematic experience, featuring a cluster of homages spanning several decades: There’s the pulsing retro soundtrack. The pink COCKTAIL-esque title font. A grittiness that invokes old-school Michael Mann. The obvious parallel to Eastwood’s Man With No Name trilogy. A slow-burning plot punctuated by moments of incredible, gory violence (not unlike the Coens’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Intense car chases -- not so much because they are fast, but because of Driver’s calculated precision and knowledge of the terrain. Indeed, Gosling’s performance invokes stoic Eastwood and cool-as-hell Steve McQueen. In fact, “cool” may be the best word to describe this movie -- it just oozes coolness from every frame. Gosling has been on fire over the past few years (hell, he’s got three great performances this year alone) but this could and should be his real star-making turn. He’s backed up by a stellar supporting cast including Albert Brooks, Brian Cranston and Ron Perlman; Mulligan is also great if somewhat underused. This is the rare movie that lives up to all the hyperbole that inevitably surrounds it -- the kind of movie that sticks with you long after the credits roll. One of the year’s best and an absolute must-see, especially as Oscar season approaches.

restlessRESTLESS -- Here we have a morbidly sweet story of two teenagers who fall in love under the shroud of death. Enoch (played by Henry Hopper, son of Dennis) likes to attend funerals for kicks. He has an imaginary friend/fairy godfather, the ghost of a dead Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi. He is still reeling from the tragic deaths of his parents. Basically, he’s obsessed with death. At one of his funerals, he meets Annabel (the lovely Mia Wasikowska), who is dying of cancer. She tries to overlook her condition and enjoy her remaining days to the fullest. She has a breezy attitude and positive outlook. Plus she’s real pretty. Enoch and Annabel are instant kindred spirits, their relationship blossoms, and while her life cannot be saved, his lease on life is renewed. It’s all very precious and while I enjoy a good whimsical romance as much as the next guy, this one is just a bit TOO quirky for its own good. As usual, Gus van Sant coaxes excellent performances out of his actors -- Wasikowska is particularly luminous, giving her three great performances in a row, following THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and JANE EYRE (note that I don’t count ALICE IN WONDERLAND, though she WAS the best part of that god-awful dreck). But in the end, the film suffers from a case of twee-overload and thus, is aptly named because “restless” is kind of how I felt while watching it.

Killer-EliteKILLER ELITE -- It’s been a while since Robert De Niro has been the best part of a movie, as the latter part of his illustrious career has been, shall we say, somewhat uneven. Well, he is most definitely the best part of this action thriller -- but that’s kind of like saying that the kernels of corn in your shit are the best part of the shit. In what will surely rank as one of the worst movies of the year, this film pits Jason Statham (as an ex-special ops agent who is drawn back into the game) against Clive Owen (as the leader of a secret military society and sporting a terrible mustache). I suppose this could have been a fun battle of bad-asses; unfortunately, the result is a convoluted, over-plotted, poorly-written, dull mess involving oil tycoons, secret societies, a tell-all book and various levels of deception. I generally like Statham, but he’s pretty much a one-trick pony; if the trick doesn’t work, then it’s a bad scene. As for Owen, the only reason I haven’t given up on him completely is because I recently watched a movie called TRUST in which he displays legit acting talent beyond his usual shtick (first time that’s happened since CLOSER; note that I’m one of the few who doesn’t worship at the altar of CHILDREN OF MEN); would love to see more of that and less of this bullshit. Apparently the story is inspired by real events -- clearly they should have just made something up.

moneyballMONEYBALL -- A movie that does for the business of baseball what THE SOCIAL NETWORK did for the creation of Facebook, which is to say, it takes a potentially dull subject and turns it into a riveting adventure with memorable characters, snappy dialogue and exhilarating situations. Of course, the great Aaron Sorkin is once again responsible for a fantastic screenplay -- an adaptation of the Michael Lewis book that rocked the baseball boat and introduced the world to a whole new mode of thought in which traditional scouting tactics (often based on intangible player characteristics like “scrappiness”) were eschewed for a focus on pure statistical analysis. This theory was first adopted by Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s (portrayed here by Brad Pitt, who does a fantastic job). After the A’s lost some of their best players to free agency before the 2002 season, Beane, with the help of his wunderkind assistant (Jonah Hill in his best performance since SUPERBAD) and strapped by the team’s piddling small-market payroll, put together a ragtag group of players that, to most of the baseball world, seemed like a joke. But naturally, in pure baseball movie style, they shocked everybody and made the playoffs in a remarkable season highlighted by a league-record 20-game winning streak. On an emotional level, it’s as effective as any baseball movie I’ve ever seen and may rank among the best of ‘em. An outstanding film that breathes life into a subject that was once (foolishly) thought to take the heart out of America’s pastime.

50-5050/50 -- Wow, second movie of the month about a character that has cancer! But this time, it’s not morbidly quirky but legitimately funny, heartfelt and poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars is Adam, a twenty-something guy who is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. His mom freaks out. His girlfriend can’t deal with it. Fortunately, he has a best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen in a return to form), who rises to the occasion and gives Adam the support he needs. The film follows Adam as he goes through various stages of optimism and doubt, endures chemotherapy and attempts to live whatever life he may have left. There are some great episodic moments, such as Kyle coercing Adam to use his condition to get them both laid. Adam also develops relationships with a couple of Statler & Waldorf-esque fellow cancer patients, as well as a young, naive therapist (Anna Kendrick, great as always) who has been assigned to provide counsel. Characters are built nicely, setting the stage for a potent final act in which Adam learns that he must undergo potentially life-threatening surgery. Co-written by Rogen and Will Reiser, and based on Reiser’s real-life experience, the film toes the line between comedy and drama and packs an emotional punch -- at its core, it’s a story of true friendship and may well be the feel-good movie of the year.

By the way, gang, if you’ve seen any of these movies (or want to see them, or have zero interest in seeing them), please do share your thoughts, opinions, criticisms, etc. Movie discussion makes the world go ‘round!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

September Movie Sustenance, Part 1

*sigh*... yes, I am late with my monthly movie recap once again. What are ya gonna do? September was a very busy month at the cinema: I saw a total of 15 movies (that’s a lot) -- including my 100th movie of 2011 on Sept. 13th, by far the earliest I’ve ever reached the magical century mark. Clearly, I managed to overcome whatever mini-swoon I had in August and put myself back on potentially record-breaking pace. Go me! Here’s what I saw:

the-debtTHE DEBT -- The latest entry in the much-heralded “ass-kicking Jews” sub-genre. Directed by John Madden, it’s an espionage thriller that spans four decades: In 1966, a team of Mossad agents (Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas and breakout star of the year Jessica Chastain) embark on a mission to capture an insidious Nazi war criminal. Things do not go as planned, but their mission is accomplished nonetheless... or so the world is led to believe. But decades later, just as a book on the subject is about to be released, the aging heroes (now portrayed by Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds and Helen Mirren) are presented with startling revelations that put their reputations -- and history itself -- at risk. The film builds tension nicely as it shifts between time periods and performances are excellent across the board. Unfortunately, the plot goes a little overboard in the final act and loses much of its potency. That being said, there has not yet been a bad “ass-kicking Jews” movie, and while this installment is not in the same stratosphere as such films as MUNICH and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, it is still worth watching.

apollo-18APOLLO 18 -- In space, no one can hear you scream, “THIS SUCKS.” Sorry, couldn’t resist. Yeah... I think we can all agree that the “found footage” faux-documentary has been, at best, a mixed bag over the years. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was the reigning king for a long time, though this year’s amazing TROLLHUNTER may very well have stolen that title. Personally, I’ve also enjoyed the hell out of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films and am psyched for #3. But there have been far more misses than hits, and this dismally dull dreck may be the worst of the lot. The footage supposedly shows us why we never sent man back to the Moon after the last official mission, Apollo 17, in 1972. Seems that a year later, a secret mission was commissioned by the Department of Defense to investigate some strange business on the lunar surface. The astronauts brought along a handicam and hijinks ensued, involving abandoned Soviet spacecraft, inexplicable footprints, creepy-crawlies and space madness. It’s terribly plotted, terribly acted, and worst of all, terribly boring and feels terribly long even at a mere 86 minutes. An unfortunate waste of what actually could have been a good idea if done right.

a_good_old_fashioned_orgyA GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY -- Jason Sudekis stars as Eric, a thirtysomething guy, known for throwing epic parties at his parents’ house with his group of friends who have known each other since high school. When they learn that Eric’s dad is selling the house, they decide to have one last sendoff... in the form of a full-fledged naked sex orgy! Now, for you readers who don’t know me personally: I’m a thirtysomething guy. For years, I threw epic parties at my parents’ house (first known as HANDS ACROSS BEN’S GRANDFATHER’S BASEMENT, a music fest for local acts, headlined by my own band; and later BEN’S BACKYARD BIRTHDAY BASH, a binge-drinking extravaganza featuring multiple tables of Beer Pong). And I’ve had the same primary group of friends since high school. Sooo... make of that what you will. Seriously, though, this is a funny movie, featuring lots of raunchy humor and starring lots of funny people. The build-up is great with lots of “will they or won’t they?” tension as the characters attempt to psych themselves up for the big day. Then, in the final act... well, there is, in fact, an orgy and it is funny and ridiculous and awkward. This is not a classic comedy by any means, but if you, too, are a thirtysomething guy (or gal) caught in the throes of the aging process, it might just hit the spot.

Higher-GroundHIGHER GROUND -- I’ve been a fan of Vera Farmiga for a while now -- most notably her Oscar-nominated performance in UP IN THE AIR, in which she also provided that year’s hottest on-screen presence. But it turns out that she is also pretty talented behind the camera and pulls double-duty with this fantastic little film that explores one woman’s relationship with organized religion. Vera is outstanding as Corinne, a woman who has struggled to figure out her own spirituality since childhood. Over the course of her life, she experiences ebbs and flows of devoutness and doubt in her faith, often directly related to specific events and relationships with family and friends -- but the story (based on the memoir of Carolyn S. Briggs, who co-wrote the screenplay) never serves to judge the religious experience one way or the other. As a result, it can be interpreted in a number of ways depending upon your own views. Acting-wise, Vera is amazing and surrounds herself with a solid supporting cast, particularly Dagmara Dominczyk as her saucy best friend. It’s a well-crafted, heartfelt, thought-provoking film -- in a perfect world, Vera Farmiga would become the first woman ever to snag Oscar nods for both Best Actress AND Director. Here’s hoping it doesn’t fall too far under the radar when the time comes.

warriorWARRIOR -- I don’t give a damn about Mixed Martial Arts, but somehow this movie managed to draw me in. It’s not exactly what you’d call “good,” but it resonates on a crowd-pleasing, emotional level in spite of its flaws, which include a cliché-ridden plot, generic dialogue and stock characters. But there’s also a heartfelt focus on family, the plight of the underdog, far more intense fights than any real-life MMA match I’ve ever seen, gratuitous patriotism, surprisingly-compelling drama and strong lead performances. Joel Edgarton (Owen Lars in the STAR WARS prequels) and Tom Hardy (The Forger in INCEPTION) are Brendon and Tommy, estranged brothers who took very different paths after their family fell apart due to their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte, who is terrible and perfect at the same time): Brendon dabbled in MMA and went on to become a schoolteacher; Tommy joined the Marines and experienced some heavy shit. A series of unfortunate life events bring them together as competitors at the world’s biggest MMA tournament in Atlantic City -- Brendon as a feel-good underdog and Tommy as an unstoppable force -- which, naturally, sets them (and dear old dad) on a collision course both in and out of the octagon. Sappy and melodramatic? You betcha. But it works. Edgarton is especially good and will hopefully get his due after this. Also worth mentioning that A.C. looked pretty good on the big screen for a change -- lots of sweeping shots of the Boardwalk and the casinos and beaches. As a frequent visitor, it was nice to see!

contagionCONTAGION -- Steven Soderbergh gives us a compelling and downright frightening look at what might happen if a superflu threatened to wipe out a good chunk of humanity. Comparisons to Stephen King’s THE STAND immediately come to mind, but that was a story about good vs. evil and had a supernatural element, whereas this one is grounded in reality and focuses primarily on the scientists and government officials who race to find a cure and prevent worldwide panic. The pace is fast and furious and terrifying -- at times it feels like an action movie, but with science. The cast is the stuff that dreams are made of: Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Bryan Cranston... the list goes on. (Even Gwyneth Paltrow gives one of her most memorable performances ever, though it doesn’t hurt that she dies 10 minutes into the film.) Interestingly, with a fairly short run time and lots of intertwining storylines, most characters aren’t really given a whole lot of time to develop -- but because they are portrayed by some of the best actors on the planet, it adds a sense of gravitas that might not otherwise exist. Smart move on Soderbergh’s part. In the end, it’s a slick, effective film that suggests beyond a shadow of a doubt that if such a catastrophe ever struck in real life, we’d be fucked.

love-crimeLOVE CRIME -- This French noir thriller pits the great Kristen Scott Thomas against the delectable Ludivine Sagnier in a game of corporate cat-and-mouse with increasingly costly consequences. Christine (Thomas) is a ruthless executive who takes pleasure in taking advantage of her protégé, Isabelle (Sagnier), toying with her naiveté and exploiting her skills under the pretense of teaching life lessons. But when Christine steals Isabelle’s ideas and passes them off as her own, she unwittingly awakens a hidden beast. The title actually refers to the film’s two distinct halves: “Love” deals with the rise & fall of Christine & Isabelle’s relationship and is intense and titillating; “Crime” deals with Isabelle’s quest for vengeance and that’s where the plot goes off the rails a bit. Co-written and directed by the late Alain Corneau, it strives to be Hitchcockian with its many twists and turns, but is a mostly laborious character study that feels much longer than its two-hour run time. Performances are excellent, though; this is probably Sagnier’s best work since the great SWIMMING POOL, though, honestly, she could sit there and read the Paris phone book for two hours and I’d walk out of the theatre a happy man. (Fun fact: This was my 100th movie of 2011. Random choice!)

Lots more September Movie Silliness to come -- stay tuned for Part 2!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Behold… The Cinematic Centipede

If that madman Tom Six is trying to teach us anything with his controversial magnum opus, it’s that it takes at least three segments to make a centipede. With that in mind, to mark the release of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE), I decided to create a centipede of my own. But instead of stitching people together anus-to-mouth... well, I stitched together three movie screenings. Why? Because this is the kind of shit I do. And so, my friends, I give to you... THE CINEMATIC CENTIPEDE.


ides-of-marchMy triple-feature began at 6:15 p.m. at the AMC Empire with THE IDES OF MARCH, a tasty political thriller that serves to burst the bubble of political idealists by insinuating that no matter how great your candidate may seem, chances are he’s got skeletons in his closet that would rock the foundation of your moral fiber. In that sense, and considering the backdoor political shenanigans that are surely happening as we speak, this is kind of a depressing film. But I have a deep-seeded aversion to political discussion/debate, so we’ll leave that alone. Instead, let’s focus on how this film is carried by four outstanding performances from four of the greatest actors on the planet: George Clooney (who also directed & co-wrote), Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Goddamn... watching these guys play games of political cat-and-mouse is nothing short of scintillating. Clooney’s Mike Morris is smooth, charismatic and perfectly believable -- if he (the character or the actor himself) ran for President, hell, I’d vote for him. Gosling is outstanding as Steven Meyers, a young press secretary who has devoted his life to Morris and everything he stands for, only to find himself drawn into a soul-sucking web of lies and treachery that ultimately transforms him into that which he once despised. In a sense, Steven’s character arc is similar to that of Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER, drawn into the dirty family business in spite of his best efforts to not get his hands dirty. And then, of course, there’s Giamatti and Hoffman -- amazing as always, and on screen together for the first time ever (though they don’t actually share any scenes together other than a brief nod from across the room early in the film, which seems fitting). It’s a veritable acting clinic between these four guys, combined with solid direction and taut dialogue -- another fine effort behind the camera for Clooney, along with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK. It’s not the kind of film that will blow the doors off of Washington or change the political climate (deep down, we all know what’s going on), but it’s a fine film nonetheless.


machine-gun-preacherMoving on, I went downstairs for the 8:25 p.m. showing of MACHINE GUN PREACHER, which, considering the fact that it stars Gerard Butler as a badass junkie criminal-turned-missionary freedom fighter, sounds like something that should have been shown at midnight at a seedy ‘70s grindhouse theatre. But in fact, it’s the remarkable true story of Sam Childers, an ex-con who finds God and goes to Africa to help the children of Sudan as a means of atoning for his sins. While there, he gets personally involved in the brutal civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands, defending his charges against the enemy with force and earning his titular nickname. For such an incredible real-life story, the film is fairly straightforward and occasionally bogged down by clichés. The scenes in Sudan are staggering at times, but whenever Childers comes home to the U.S. and deals with his family troubles and his drug-addict best friend, it takes on a movie-of-the-week feel. That said, performances are solid. Gerard Butler can definitely bring the badassery and he’s not terrible at the melodramatic stuff (though I do hope he has gotten past his ill-advised romantic comedy phase). It’s always nice to see the lovely & talented Michelle Monghan, and as usual, Michael Shannon steals every scene he’s in. Not a great movie, but not bad -- and it certainly means well, drawing attention to atrocities that we Americans don’t know nearly enough about. (Would still like to see the grindhouse version, though....)


At last, it was time for the main event. After lingering outside for a few moments to follow the end of the Cardinals-Phillies game on my phone (PHUCK PHILLY!), I headed downtown to the IFC Center for a certain midnight screening. Turns out I wasn’t alone -- there was a line that stretched down the block and I ended up with a not-particularly-choice seat in the second row. There was some pre-show horror film trivia and they gave away the greatest piece of movie swag ever: Official HC2 staple removers. And then, at last, the lights went down and part two of Tom Six’s epic saga began.

the-human-centipede-2Now, let me just say that, despite my enthusiasm and the fact that I themed an entire night of movie-watching around it, I do not think THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a particularly great film. But it does have some great elements: Deiter Laser’s memorable performance as the sadistic Mengele-esque mastermind, Dr. Heiter. A wildly original idea. The fact that it is gross and over-the-top without really being gross and over-the-top -- much of its effectiveness is suggestive rather than overly graphic (quite an achievement, considering the subject matter). The mere fact that THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE has so engrained itself into American pop culture suggests that, like it or not, it has earned the right to be considered a modern horror classic in spite of itself.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE), however, takes things in a completely different direction. Gone is the suggestive horror that straddles the line between subtle and in-your-face. What we have here is sheer, unbridled brutality, senseless slaughter, lingering shots of teeth being bashed in, tattered orifices, gushing blood and splattering feces, all bound together by Tom Six’s own inflated sense of self-importance.

This time, the “mastermind” is a grotesque, obese, sweaty, mentally challenged asthmatic named Martin. Poor Martin has endured a lifetime of sexual, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his perverted father and homicidal mother, and, naturally, has become obsessed with the original HUMAN CENTIPEDE film. He watches it incessantly, masturbates to it, keeps a scrapbook of photos and diagrams, and, yes, dreams about someday creating a human centipede of his own. To this end, he uses his job as a parking garage night watchman as a means to capture potential centipede segments. He takes his victims to a dingy old warehouse and stores them there, bound, naked and face-down in their own filth. When he finally entices Ashlynn Yennie, the actress from the original film, to martincome to London (under the pretense that she is to audition for the new Tarantino film -- hilarious)... well, that’s when Martin’s work can begin.

Unlike Dr. Heiter, Martin does not have medical training and surgical supplies -- but he does have a variety of knives, pliers, a hammer, crowbar and staple gun. As Martin works, absolutely nothing is left to the imagination. Shot in stark black-and-white (with one creative use of isolated color, a la SCHINDLER’S LIST) and mostly dialogue-free except for the screams of the victims (in fact, Martin himself never utters a single word), the proceedings range from heinous to horrific to just plain gross. I have no idea where the hell Tom Six found this guy Laurence R. Harvey, but his performance as Martin is utterly insane and arguably more disturbing than that of Dieter Laser.

Honestly, while the original film may be a modern classic and a cult favorite, there is little redeeming value in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. Even the desensitized IFC Center midnight audience, who were hooting and hollering at the beginning, were mostly aghast by the end. And yet... Tom Six clearly has something grandiose in mind here. He is, after all, creating his own Cinematic Centipede. What the hell could he possibly have in store for THE FINAL SEQUENCE? All we know is that it will likely be set in the United States. Could we possibly see THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE ACROSS AMERICA? Tens of thousands of people stitched together, anus-to-mouth, from sea to shining sea? God help me, but I’m sure that come 2013, I’ll once again be there at midnight to find out.