The Wider Angle 12-20-07
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The Wider Angle: Ruminations of a hardcore cineast
by Celluloid Dreams correspondent Ken Karn


Thursday, December 20, 2007

"What's Up With the Weird Holiday Movies?"

You should now be well into your holiday moovee buffet enough to realize that the bill o fare contains some odd entries that seem strangely out of place this time of year. Have the studios gone nucking futs, or are they being crazy-smart like that babbling downtown derelict who, when you stop and listen, is actually brilliant? I’d never be one to call the Hollywood honchos intelligent, but they may have stumbled upon something this year when they were forced to deviate from their usual seasonal release patterns because they had too many films.


If I asked you to name the biggest holiday release this year you’d most likely say Will Smith’s I Am Legend. What a minute…a sci-fi last-man-on-Earth zombie flick? That doesn’t sound very Christmas-y to me. How about Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, with Gubner Arnie’s favorite ugly MF creature battling those lovable metal-toothed bugs—releasing on Christmas day no less? Nick Cage is even on the list with National Treasure: Book o Secrets, a sequel to one of the worst reviewed films of a few years back. The final major out of place release is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story which is actually a parody of the type of film usually released at Christmas.


Any of these could have been summer tent pole releases for their respective studios. If this summer was too crowded (is there such a thing as too many good movies?) they could have saved them for next year. Perhaps the strategy was to give the end of year box office a jolt. Since these films usually hit big in the summer, why not try them when the cinemas are usually packed with serious adult dramas or kiddies’ fare. But whether by design or dumb luck (I’m betting on the latter) they serve to make this the most varied and interesting holiday season in memory.


I’m all in favor of more counterprogramming (see my last post) and this may be a sign that Hollywood is breaking free of its rigid traditions. Cinema fans need their dose of adrenalin all year around, not just in summer, and one of the 3 action movies mentioned above will likely do the trick. But the most impressive programming decision has been made by Sony Pictures with Walk Hard. Its release now is at once subversive and traditional. Let me splain it to y’all: Tis the season for Oscar bait films. Biopix are quintessential Oscar bait, so they usually come out at Christmas. Big comedies are generally not Oscar bait and are reserved for the rest of the year, unless it stars an icon like Jack Nicholson.


But Walk Hard is anchored by a performance from John C. Reilly that is subtly being touted as Oscar worthy even though it’s in a silly comedy. You can’t watch the entertainment magazine shows or listen to the radio without hearing director Jake Kasdan, the interviewers themselves, or some other collaborator who doesn’t rave about Reilly’s performance. So, you see, while subversive on the surface, the holiday release of this comedy is really in line with tradition for Oscar bait since the nomination ballots just went out to the Academy.



Horror Fans Get Hosed Again


Exactly one month ago today I was in a darkened theater hoping to have the holy piss scared out of me. I was one of the gullible fools who attended After Dark Films Horrorfest 2 at a theater near me. It was also at a theater near you, but you probably missed it. You’ll be pleased to know that you didn’t miss much, and all the films will be out soon on DVD in case you’re curious. Horrorfest looks cool on the surface, and as they did last year they managed to create a terrific trailer that tells you virtually nothing about the 8 films except that you have never seen anything like them. We are led to believe that these films are too strong for the regular studios to distribute, so as a public service to the gore hounds and chill seekers in the world, they will show them for a week in selected theaters (about 350 nationwide).


Of course this is a marketing gimmick, but I am no different than most horror fans in holding out hope that, maybe, these flicks are the reel deal. But just like last year, of the 8 films screened 1 or 2 of them are worth the effort to see in a theater, another couple are pretty cool, but the majority would not even qualify as bad late night TV. If you lower your standards and take them for what they are--low budget horror with mild-moderate scream factor—you can have some fun. Herewith is my take on the films:


Definitely worth a look – Mulberry Street, a stylish take on infected zombies in Manhattan from the POV of some tenants in an apartment building, and Borderline, a based-on-fact tale of ritual killings in a border town in Mexico which is not hard core horror but a terrific edgy thriller.


Pretty cool adequately describes The Deaths Of Ian Stone, about a guy who keeps getting murdered, but awakens the next day to be murdered again, and Nightmare Man, a total guilty pleasure about a hot babe who is either going crazy or being constantly attacked by a monster.


The rest are on the continuum from merely awful to as-bad-as-it-gets: Tooth & Nail (Michael Madsen cameo as a post apocalyptic cannibal), Lake Dead (nice gratuitous babeage), Crazy Eights, and Unearthed.

One film that was removed from Horrorfest at the last minute was a French film, Frontier(s). Advance buzz tracks this one as beyond NC-17 nasty. After Dark will be releasing it on its own in February. The conclusion: it was too good for Horrorfest.


In summary I’d have to say that Horrorfest is a complete rip-off. I’ll let you know next year’s dates when they’re released. 

2007 Ken Karn/Celluloid Dreams

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of Ken Karn, and do not necessarily reflect those of Celluloid Dreams staff or other contributors.





Respond to this column! Email Ken: ken@celluloiddreams.net.  Your message and/or Ken's response may appear on this page. You've been warned.

1-26-08 "Oscar Films to See, Films to Wait for DVD"
12-20-07 "What's Up With the Weird Holiday Movies?"
10-30-07 "The Overstuffed Cinema Buffet"
8-27-07 "Superbad"
7-7-07 "Oh, the horror... the horror..."
6-19-07 Ruminations on the Movie-going Experience
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