Saturday, March 31, 2007


Wes Craven has been recognized as a leading horror director since the triumph of The Last House on the Left in 1972. He’s responsible for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, launching two of the most lucrative franchises in the history of the genre. In 2006, Alexandre Aja vividly remade The Hills Have Eyes, Craven’s classic tale of monstrous savages attacking a Californian family. The movie’s warm reception among horror fans stirred Craven to revisit the story he invented 20 years ago, so he cowrote The Hills Have Eyes 2 with his son Jonathan.
NYP: Horror is regarded within the industry as immensely profitable, which sometimes obscures the fact that making these movies is an artistic process. How do you go about presenting the creative elements of the horror genre?
Wes Craven: It doesn’t usually enter my thoughts. Once you start worrying about convincing people that what you’re doing is legitimate, you’re stultifying it. I think there’s been a gradual change where a lot of fans who fell in love with horror around the time of Nightmare on Elm Street are now either critics or studio guys. So, from around Red Eye—or maybe Scream—you talk to studio executives who are fans and have been all their lives. Before that, studio heads wouldn’t even be associated with it. They knew it made a lot of money, but you felt like once you left, they thought, “That guy must be really fucked up.”

Read the rest of my interview with Wes Craven in the New York Press...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


First Snow

First-time director Mark Fergus’ slow-moving drama, First Snow, plays out like a vivid short story packed with shadowy characters and terse, involving scenes. Its central gimmick recalls the silly contrivances of EC Comics, with hints of supernatural elements providing a platform for a series of dreamy vignettes (appropriately, Fergus is one of the scribes on Marvel’s developing Iron Man feature). The filmmaker makes it work mainly by staying true to the seedy protagonist, a narrow-minded money-hound named Jimmy Starks (Guy Pearce) whose flimsy confidence slowly melts around him.


If New York’s dense assemblage of moviegoers ever faces extinction, someone should call Austin for reinforcements. The youth-oriented city sports a flourishing film culture united by its Alamo Drafthouses, where audiences can order drinks and food from their seats without losing sight of the screen. Such multitasking suits Austin’s evolving South by Southwest Film Festival, which opened the nine-day movie and music orgy on March 9. Programmer Matt Dentler did a stellar job this year with a diverse selection primarily composed of documentary and horror cinema. The two areas of filmmaking have nothing immediately in common—save for microbudgets and inspired starving artists.

Continue reading about South by Southwest in the New York Press...

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc Collection

Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation has developed, over the years, into the legend of an essential genius. Masterpieces like Psycho are considered a part of the director’s body, glued to his physique alongside his trademark rotund silhouette. All that hype can contaminate the actual experience of his films. Hitchcock pioneered many of the suspense mechanisms that sustain contemporary genre filmmaking, but it’s tough to decipher how he manages to create such marvelous thrills when you’re already buying into his wizardry in the opening credits.

Fortunately, the origin story remains lucid: The recent Alfred Hitchcock Box Set helps give context to Hitchcock’s better known works. The collection contains five features (gloriously restored by Studio Canal) from Hitchcock’s early career in the United Kingdom. It’s a fascinating gathering of silent and early sound films originally released between 1928 and 1931, a few years before he made his pilgrimage to America. Die-hard Hitchcock fans will take issue with notable exceptions, including his breakout accomplishment, The Lodger. But anyone unfamiliar with this period in Hitchcock’s career will certainly marvel at early signs of his ingenuity.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...

The Earrings of Madame De...

Ask any rabid cinephile: Max Ophüls’ The Earrings of Madame de… is a masterpiece of film form. A solemn romance set in early 20th century Paris, the story is tame and elegant, but Ophüls tells it with marvelous panache—all sweeping cameras and majestic mise-en-scene. I don’t buy Andrew Sarris’ assertion that this is “the greatest film of all time,” but its lyricism surely deserves attention: Earrings recounts tragedy with sincere attention to each of its characters. Nobody wins in the end, and you feel bad for everyone. But Ophüls combines an immersive atmosphere with fierce moral dilemmas so that the experience stays richly rewarding throughout.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...


Exterminating Angels

Audiences confused by the detailed sensuality in Exterminating Angels should understand something: French filmmaker Jean-Claude Brisseau has essentially created autobiographical porn. The director went to trial late last year to face charges from disgraced actresses who claimed he forced them to masturbate for him while auditioning for his 2002 thriller Secret Things (they didn’t land the roles). Indeed, Brisseau seems to have coaxed several women into pleasuring themselves during private rehearsal sessions, but if you believe the stance put forth in Angels, his motives were entirely professional. The court’s verdict was a suspended jail sentence and a hefty fine, but now viewers have the option of judging the case for themselves.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...

The Host

When a talented emerging filmmaker directs an inarguably great work, those keeping track of such things tend to make comparisons to antecedents. So it comes as no great surprise that, in the months following the North American premiere of The Host at the New York Film Festival, critics compared Korean director Bong Joon-ho to a Jaws-era Steven Spielberg. On the surface, all the signs are there: An unspeakably horrible monster emerges from the sea and terrorizes an entire city; bureaucratic red tape hinders the establishment's operation to save lives; only a brave few souls gather the wits to launch a grassroots campaign and face off against the deadly beast. But where Spielberg invented the language of the modern blockbuster, The Host brilliantly deconstructs it.

Continue reading about The Host in The Reeler...

The story behind 300

When Zack Snyder presented his plans for adapting Frank Miller’s popular 300 comic book series to studio heads at Warner Bros., they expected another Gladiator. The plot suggested as much: An expressionistic retelling of the bloody Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC—which led to the decimation of the belligerent Spartan army at the hands of Persia’s enormous forces—Miller’s 300 plays out almost exclusively on the battlefield. Snyder, however, wasn’t interested in replacing Miller’s epic vision of chaos with expensive locations and stunts. Instead, the director envisioned a movie shot entirely in front of green and blue screens, adding the surrounding environment during postproduction. The final result brings to life the high contrast, densely colored landscapes of Miller’s book, engulfing viewers in a completely fabricated universe. The radical approach befuddled tradition-minded members of the Hollywood system, who viewed the pitch with typical concerns for budget and physical constraints.

“They were like, ‘Are you going to go to Morocco to shoot?’” recalls Snyder. “It’s sort of standard for them.” Snyder just went to Canada, used three small sets, and shot the whole thing on a relatively mild budget of $60 million. “We used a pretty basic technology,” he says. “Putting an actor in front of a screen is not a revolution. The weather man has the same basic technology.”

While computers have been inextricably bound to the blockbuster formula since Jurassic Park, Snyder’s project is the latest in a recent trend that introduces a new implementation of technology into the filmmaking process: While the simulated world plays a key role in the quality of the action sequences, the technique also finds quieter, dialogue-driven scenes placed within computerized environments. Given that anyone with access to basic editing programs can achieve greenscreen and bluescreen effects, Snyder’s chosen method has more in common with stage design than pricey special effects work.

Continue reading about 300 in the New York Press...

Wednesdays @ 10:00 p.m., ABC

How many lame puns can you make out of the realization that ABC’s impenetrable drama “Lost” is losing ratings?

Exactly one, which explains the difficulty in quantifying the value of a show that battles television convention while simultaneously embracing it. When “Lost” premiered in late 2004, Americans had developed a newfound sense of ideological partitioning: Bush II gained reelection, the war abroad reached its first birthday and 9/11 seemed like a fever dream. Along came this fantastical show about a plane crash, of all things, that tapped into the nation’s universal sense of despair and confusion within the broader framework of isolation (being marooned on a mysterious desert island). Its initial success, retrospectively speaking, was inevitable.

Continue reading about "Lost" in the New York Press...