Vampires fought on the side of the South. Of course.

This will run next week.

If you’ve been to the movies over the few months, you may have seen a preview for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and been one of the hundreds of thousands of people to laugh out loud while saying something to the effect of “What the hell?” It’s an apt response to what is probably one of the strangest premises for a big budget summer action film. Based on the popular, and very postmodern novel of the same name, the film follows the life of our 16th president: the murder of his mother by a vampire, his training as a vampire hunter, his courtship of Mary Todd, and, at the film’s climax, the Battle of Gettysburg, which, in this world, was actually fought between the North and a bunch of long-fanged undead in gray uniforms. Directed by one of the masters of slow-motion combat Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), it stars Ben Walker (Meryl Streep’s son-in-law) as Lincoln and a typecast Rufus Sewell as his slave-devouring arch nemesis Adam. The movie is knowingly ridiculous, from its premise to the balletic fights and the hilarious rewriting of history. But in that ridiculousness is whole hell of a lot of fun.

Don’t go in the basement!

OMG. I loved The Cabin in the Woods. It was all Whedonesque and awesomesauce. I dunno when it will appear on the LGBT Weekly site, so here’s my review.

If you’ve seen the ads for The Cabin in the Woods, I think you may have the impression that it is the same old horror movie: a group of sexy, stupid, and doomed young people go to the woods for a weekend of liquor and sex and they get attacked by creepy things wielding big knives. That movie has been made before, and you’ve seen it. But there are some quick glimpses in the ads of some things that don’t fit in the traditional hack-and-slash-in-the-woods film. You see a room full of computers, and some technicians are fiddling around with knobs and keyboards and on monitors above them, we see the nubile victims. They’re being watched, and maybe their fates are being controlled by these nerds. This makes the movie a little bit different, because it’s not a lone nut pulling the strings, as in Saw, but rather something like NASA. Continue…

Super 8, uncut

I know that editors are necessary, and there are space limitations in print publications, but when I lose a paragraph, it fees as if I losing… well, a meal or a good party. Not a finger. I mean, it’s just a paragraph. Anyway, my review of Super 8 is up at LGBT Weekly. The uncut version is below.

Spielberg is superior, but Abrams’ Super 8 is great fun

Super 8
Written and Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Kyle Chandler
Rated PG-13
At your local multiplex

About half way through J. J. Abrams’ enormously enjoyable Super 8, I watched 15-year-old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) riding his bike through a small town in Ohio at twilight in the summer of 1979, and suddenly I felt as if it was 30 years ago, and I was in a movie theater in Cincinnati seeing ET for the first time. Abrams is clearly quoting the iconic bicycle riding scenes from the great Spielberg film, just as he is also paying homage in Super 8 to Spielberg’s previous two films from the late 70s, the classics Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws. (There’s a dash of both Goonies and Jurassic Park, too.) While Abrams is not by any means Spielberg’s equal, the younger director, who rebooted Star Trek in 2009 and produced the TV series Lost, Fringe, and Alias, is just as much a populist crowd-pleaser. By repurposing some of Spielberg’s greatest ideas and images and having Spielberg himself approve and produce the film, Abrams has given us the first great popcorn flick of the summer.

The title of Super 8 refers to the film that was used in pre-video amateur movie cameras, which is what Joe’s friends are using to make a zombie movie. During the filming of a romantic scene at a train station, they witness a spectacular derailment. They all barely, and miraculously, survive and discover that the derailment was caused by their crotchety biology teacher. He tells them that if they don’t run and keep what they’ve seen to themselves, “they” will kill them all.

“They,” it turns out, is the US Air Force, which shows up to clean up the wreckage. As dogs, people, and machinery start disappearing all over town – all taken by a large, unseen, and very violent monster – Joe’s father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), tries to get to the bottom of the Air Force’s involvement with the train wreck and strange goings on. Meanwhile, Joe and his friends continue to make their movie, using the Air Force’s invasion of the small town as a backdrop. And Joe falls for Alice (Elle Fanning), who stars in the movie and whose father has something to do with the death of Joe’s mom.

Many of Abrams’ themes in Super 8 mirror late 70s, early 80s Spielberg: the powerful and pure wonder of children, the justified fear of a corrupt military, the painful loss of a parent, the redemption that comes only from empathy and kindness. And Abrams’ casting choices are not dissimilar from Spielberg’s. Joel Courtney, who plays the sensitive, smart, mop-headed Joe, was unknown before being cast in Super 8, just as Henry Thomas was when he was cast as Eliot in ET. And as the key blonde, Abrams cast Elle Fanning, an almost disturbingly brilliant child actress, just as Drew Barrymore was back in the early 80s. The relationship between Fanning’s Alice and Joe grounds the film in an innocent love that propels the story more than the Jaws-like monster attacks.

At its best, Super 8’s homage to Spielberg provides the humor, amazement, and excitement of the films that made sci-fi blockbusters an annual summer treat three decades ago. At its worst, when it was clear that Abrams is relying too much on his idol’s past work, the film reminded me that Spielberg’s genius needs to be revisited. AI, his misunderstood masterpiece about artifice and childhood, is now in my Netflix queue.

“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted.”

[youtube:]At last! I finally saw “Southland Tales,” Richard Kelly’s much-maligned, barely released, long-awaited follow-up to “Donnie Darko” (which is one of my favorite movies ever). I had been a bit desperate to see the movie, but, alas, it wasn’t even released in San Diego during the week or so that 18 theaters were allowed to show it. So, I spent a weekend or two back in December trying to BitTorrent pirated versions, hoping someone had stuck an Academy screener DVD on the Interweb. But, alas, all that was available was a pretty shitty shot-in-the-theater-with-a-handicam version. (I guess there weren’t any Academy screeners. Natch.) Still, I downloaded it. And watched about 15 minutes. And I couldn’t stand how bad the video quality was. It was like watching a 20-year-old VHS tape during an earthquake. So, I chucked the file and waited. I was wasting some time (procrastinating like a mo-fo) on Netflix, and I saw that the DVD was coming out on the 18th. I had it in my mailbox on the 19th. How many ways I can say that I love Netflix? Anyhoo, after I finally finished writing my first qual paper (Woohoo! And more on that later…) I set about to watch the film that made all of $227,365 and Richard Roeper called “one of the most confusing, ridiculous, pretentious and disastrous cinematic train wrecks I’ve ever seen.” (For more critics trying to out-nasty each other, check out the Rotten Tomatoes site here.)

I think this would be a perfect moment to cite, in a Fisk-y but not really Fisk-y way, the wonderful essay by Joe Queenen in last week’s Guardian about what really makes a truly terrible movie:

To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met.

Agreed. Too many people will simply state, as Queenen complains, that such-and-such is one of the all-time worst movies without thinking deeply about what really makes some awful.

For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck?

Totes! That’s why, say, “Bad Love,” a Jenny McCarthy vehicle for Chrissake, which scored all those Razzies a couple years ago, doesn’t count for me. Neither, really, does “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” which was God-awful, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be any much better than the first movie, which was pretty near-God-awful. But, yes, after making “Donnie Darko,” Richard Kelly was expected to make another truly great film. He had a cast of thousands, and he had a lot of money, and he had heaps and heaps of ambition. It seems as if he wanted to make something like a cross between “Nashville” and “Dr. Strangelove,” which is pretty ambitious.


Last night, after we saw “Disturbia,” we found a freakishly large, freakishly lime green grasshopper katydid on the roof of our car. Here’s a close-up of the little, er, big guy. I didn’t realize that they came in that size. He was a cool critter, but I was a little, uh, disturbed.

Anyway, the movie was fun. Most of the remakes-for-teen-agers that have been released in the last few years have been really, really bad. You have to go back to “Cruel Intentions” for one that worked. And that one may have worked because it was so, so wrong and so, so campy. But “Disturbia” worked, more or less. And “Rear Window” is one of my favorite movies. Despite the utter sacrilege, I liked the update/rip-off/twist of

  1. setting it in suburbia, high school, and 2007 (instead of New York, early middle-age, and the mid-1950s)
  2. putting the protagonist under house arrest (instead of a cast and a wheelchair)
  3. having a wacky Asian friend (instead a sarcastic, sexless female friend)
  4. using all the modern, though still very limited, technologies for surveillance (instead of one telephoto lens)
  5. having the very cute, very charismatic Shia LaBeouf carry the movies (instead of, ya know, the great Jimmy Stewart)

Neverthess, there were some problems. Obviously. You don’t redo one of the greatest films ever made and get off scott free! (Unless, of course, you’re Tim Burton, and it’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and your version is so, so, so much better, and anyone who thinks the creepy Gene Wilder version is “great” had too much sugar before they saw it. So there.) Yeah, so there were some problems, like

  1. the replacement of Grace Kelly with Sarah Roemer wasn’t quite so great (probably because Roemer only has a career because she looks like a teen-aged Gwyneth)
  2. the replacement of the very creepy Raymond Burr with the pretty creepy David Morse didn’t quite work (possibly because Morse’s hair was so bad)
  3. turning the wife killer into a serial killer made the situation less believable and therefore less scary (and it had “make the movie bloodier!” notes-from-a-studio-exec written all over it)
  4. allowing LaBeouf to be able to fight back instead of being truly trapped made the situation less tense and therefore less scary (and it had “give the thing more action!” notes-from-a-studio-exec written all over it)

Eh. Still, it was fun. And the several dozen teen-aged girls just loved it.

Oh, the previews were pretty good. In fact, one was just plain awesome. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Michael Bay movie, but I cannot wait to see “Transformers” (which is another Shia LeBeouf film, and he’s been cast in the next Indian Jones film, so I guess he’s having a good year.) I also love the hilarious fanboy discourse about the movie. I love that some of them are refusing to see the movie because the Transformers aren’t going to transform the way the toys did in 1985. Well, if you’re going to go that route, why not demand that the Transformer not be able to transform unless an 8-year-old boy fumbles with its plastic parts for ten minutes. Fanboys can so, so strident.

Clearly, I’ve gone soft. It’s the suburbia. Disturbing, hunh?

(Even my prose has become cliched. Shit.)