"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

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April 8-21, 2004

Philadelphia Film Festival 2004

The 13th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival has come and gone and here are my reviews of the many movies I saw over those two weeks. For more review fun, check out my coverage of last year's Festival or, of course, my running journal from Cannes 2002. Enjoy and feel free to email me at marc@shadowbloom.com if you have any lavish compliments/vitriol you'd like to throw my way.

Note: After every review is a link to each film's page on the Philadelphia Film Festival web site and on The Internet Movie Database.

US 2004, Written and Directed by Damian Nieman
Prince Music Theatre: 04/08/04: 08:15pm
(** and 1/2) of four

Less a compelling thriller of grifters and card sharks than a glossy exercise in plot manipulation, the Philadelphia Film Festival's Opening Night film is all pretension, trade slang, and slick editing with little depth. The story exists as a vehicle for myriad double-crosses and "surprise" twists. Stuart Townsend, Thandie Newton, and Gabriel Byrne are the con artists--they speak in ulterior motives and keep their cards held so close that even the viewers are kept distant, especially in the few awkward moments where writer/director Damian Nieman mines for the slightest character development. It's probably in the movie's favor, though, that we care so little for the characters because they're jerked around so much it would be annoying if their fates mattered to us. Nieman attempts to compensate by employing tricks from the Guy Ritchie Handbook that already feel aged and cliched: rapid fire jump cuts, slow-motion fades, even unnecessary, garish graphics to signal the film's chapters. That all being said, it doesn't make for a terrible night. There's still some enjoyment to be had in trying to anticipate the twists and Stuart Townsend deserves an award for learning those damn cool card tricks (credit goes to Nieman for not resorting to close-ups of a professional's hands). The awesome sleight-of-hand (also on display in the successfully slick opening titles) earns the film another half-star alone. Some of the dialogue is also entertaining for its pulpy vulgarity (a detective sneers, "When I want your opinion, I'll dial your fucking asshole." Priceless). For a well-tread genre, there's certainly much better out there, but there's also worse.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Legend of the Evil Lake
South Korea 2003, Directed by Lee Kwang-hoon
Written by Hong Ju-ri, Lee Seung-mu, and Lee Gwang-hun
The Bridge: 04/09/04: 05:15pm
(***) of four

A surprisingly dignified historical fantasy, Lake hits the familiar notes of your typical Asian action fare (hacked off limbs and heads, demonic possession, the ubiquitous rape scene), but director Lee Kwang-hoon wisely prevents the film from going over the top and sullying its solemn story. The actors treat the material respectfully, further keeping the film from sliding into unintentional comedy territory. The colorful, spacious sets and sparingly-used, but well done digital effects (check out the blood red moon) keep the film fun to watch during its brisk 90 minute runtime. There's plenty of splattery violence (including one victim sliced in half vertically), but nothing approaching the body-count levels of Japanese action auteurs Takeshi Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura. Lake even finds some room for a little misty-eyed poignancy (the beautiful underwater shot at the end of the film of the two lovers drifting away from each other). A solid entry in Korean genre cinema, it won't branch out to win over newcomers, but will offer an good time for those who know what to expect.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

No Rest for the Brave
Austria/France 2003, Written and Directed by Alain Guiraudie
The Bridge: 04/09/04: 08:00pm
(**) of four

Disappointingly obtuse and meandrous, Brave strives for existential wittiness and dreamy surrealism, but falls far short of its ambitions. Thomas Suire plays Basile, who is convinced that he will die the next time he falls asleep. Determined to stay awake, he sets off on a hallucinatory road trip. While the movie sounds good in theory (hell, I'll see anything that's described in the program notes as "Waking Life meets My Dinner With Andre"), director Guiraudie doesn't push the material far enough. Rather than fully inhabiting a world of absurdist dream logic, he instead confuses viewers (are we seeing reality or a dream?) with underdeveloped eccentricities (Basile's homosexual relationship with an older man; Johnny Got's "little red balls") and incongruous encounters with murderous gangsters. There are occasional moments of humor, but too much of the film is spent waiting for something meaningful to happen. By the end, Guiraudie resorts to having Basile directly tell us "what he learned" (which adds surprisingly little). If you're able to get on the film's wavelength, it may mean much more to you than it did to me, but I found it a sadly lost opportunity. But, for what it's worth, it has some pretty awesome guitar playing in it...
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Haute Tension
France 2003, Directed by Alexandre Aja
Written by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur
The Bridge: 04/09/04: 10:30pm
(****) of four

Between Tension and Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, the French have the market cornered on Nightmare Cinema. A terrifyingly intense and unrelenting thriller, Tension brilliantly mediates between shockingly graphic acts of violence and harrowing moments of suspense. The story is a horror standard, but Aja's urgent direction pushes the material to new heights. Girlfriends Marie and Alex head off to the countryside to vacation with Alex's family, but soon a disheveled delivery man arrives (played by Philippe Nahon, no stranger to the role of a violent sociopath after I Stand Alone) and begins brutally executing the family one by one. The violence is portrayed with coldblooded precision and brutality and earned the film an NC-17 rating for its domestic release later in the year. Special attention must go to Francois Eudes for his unnerving musical score that helps keep the suspense at a fevered pitch. When I saw Irreversible in London in late 2002, Gaspar Noe discussed the use of a special low frequency sound drone during the opening scenes in the nightclub. It's often used by police to break up mobs or standoffs as it causes a feeling of unease and slight nausea in the hearer. Eudes takes the same approach, mixing this drone into his discordant soundtrack (counterpointed with high-pitched squeals) to create a visceral feeling of tension. The film ends with a controversial twist that will divide viewers. It's a little familiar and unnecessary and I think the film would play better without it, but I don't think it hurts the experience and it deepens the theme of sexual repression that the movie flirts with. For horror fans and those who enjoy good bloody mayhem on film, this is an absolute must-see.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Saddest Music in the World
Canada 2003, Directed by Guy Maddin
Written by Guy Maddin and George Toles based on an original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Bridge: 04/10/04: 08:00pm
(*** and 1/2) of four

The latest playful experimentation from Guy Maddin, Music is set in a beautiful Expressionist world straight out of Caligari (in a quick homage, watch for the brief cameo by a mysterious sleepwalker). Again employing his trademark cinematographic flourishes of silent film-era black and white visuals contrasted with injections of Technicolor, Maddin creates an anachronistic fairy tale of music, beer, and a talking tapeworm. Maddin's technique is flawless (stock footage is seamlessly mixed in, film speeds vary) and the sets (all inverted angles and diagonals) are stunning. No one else is making films like Maddin's and Music drips with originality and idiosyncrasy ("Are you an American?" -- "No, I'm a nymphomaniac.") Whimsical and endearing, Maddin's film is a charmer.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Toolbox Murders
US 2003, Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch
Prince Music Theatre: 04/10/04: 10:15pm
(** and 1/2) of four

An old-school slasher flick, complete with numerous crescendo jump scares and a villain who just won't die. The appeal of the movie is the murders, which are appropriately grisly. However, the story eventually takes a back seat and never resolves itself despite a promising beginning. Opening with a quote about the many aspiring actors who arrive in Hollywood only to disappear, it first appears the story is going to develop into a condemnation of the vagaries of the Hollywood system and how it devours innocent young men and women mercilessly like a serial killer. A supernatural bent is shoehorned into the story, though, and no explanation is bothered with at the end. The killer wipes out lots of victims, gets killed a couple times, and then just vanishes again, cut to credits. We've seen this many times before, but it's a little more disappointing this time because it looked like Hooper was going to take the story somewhere new, but in the end it's just another collection of bloody deaths (not that there's anything wrong with it...)
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Best Thief in the World
US 2003, Written and Directed by Jacob Kornbluth
Prince Music Theatre: 04/11/04: 12:15pm
(***) of four

It's a somewhat generous comparison, though accurate, to call Thief a 100 Blows urbanized and transplanted into New York City. Both feature exceptional performances from the young leads (Michael Silverman as Izzy in Thief--I found it bemusing to happen to be sitting next to him and his family during Super Size Me). Mary Louise Parker also offers up a strong performance as Sue, Izzy's mother straining under the pressure of holding together her fractured family (she gives a more comedic variation on the flighty mother in Saved!). Some may be offended by the nine year-old gangstas whose explicit raps act as segues, but I thought they added some needed levity and helped give the movie its own flavor. They also mix well with the awesome soundtrack by Prince Paul (which, according to Kornbluth, is being released at some point this year). (PFF)    (IMDb)

Super Size Me
US 2003, Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Prince Music Theatre: 04/11/04: 2:30pm
(***) of four

As if he'd been switching between Bowling for Columbine and Jackass on TV when the idea struck him, Spurlock's propdoc aims at Michael Moore's social consciousness, but stays more in tune with Johnny Knoxville's mugging masochism. The result is still entertaining, though it's probably not as powerful as Spurlock would like. He pursues his quest to eat nothing but McDonalds for 30 days with the same self-destructive glee that makes Jackass fun and his charismatic humor will hit home with anyone who's eaten more than their share of McBurgers (myself included). Early on, and shortly before throwing up, he riffs on the McGurgles and the McSweats that come with eating a Super Size Meal. Flashy graphics and voxpop clips try to push forward a social agenda, but Spurlock is more interested in keeping the focus on himself. The skeptic in me wonders if, 21 days into his experiment and with all of his doctors telling him to stop before anything serious happens, Spurlock isn't thinking "No, I must finish 30 days because the results will be more meaningful," but instead, "No, '21 days of McD's' isn't nearly as catchy for the marketers and distributors as '30 days.' The show must go on!"
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Man Who Copied
Brazil 2003, Written and Directed by Jorge Furtado
Ritz East: 04/11/04: 7:15pm
(*** and 1/2) of four

Another delirious and compelling film from the fevered cinematic minds working in Brazil right now (home of City of God and the short film Love From Mother Only), Copied tells a romantic tale with the same stylistic verve that has propelled the other Brazilian imports. Appropriately (given the film's kinetic style), Copied recalls Fight Club in more than a few ways: flashy editing and camerawork (which beautifully complements the film's tone rather than existing simply for itself, e.g. Shade), a simmering techno score reminiscent of the Dust Brothers excellent work in Club and also Trent Reznor and Angelo Badalamenti's work in Lost Highway, and even a droll, darkly comic voiceover by lead Lazaro Ramos (who puts in a fantastic performance here). The pace remains fluid and quick over its two-hour running time and the fun "twist" ending hints at Julio Medem's Lovers of the Arctic Circle. Well-deserving of the same acclaim and art-house circuit run as City of God.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
US 1974, Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel
Ritz East: 04/11/04: 9:45pm
(****) of four

Aged enough to inspire a remake produced by Michael Bay, how does Chainsaw stand the test of time? Let's review: start with an ultra-creepy title sequence featuring a dead somber voiceover by an unknown John Larroquette. Then there's the screeching soundtrack that sounds like dead nails scraping on a tombstone. The tormented and pathological, wheelchair-bound Franklin, whose inevitable death is easily the most satisfying. The decrepit grandfather trying to get in on the action, but who's too weak to swing a hammer. Marilyn Burns' scream rattling in your ears as Leatherface lumbers behind with the steady growl of the chainsaw accompanying him. A final shot that nightmares are made of. A first-ballot Hall of Famer in the horror pantheon, oh yeah, Chainsaw's still got it.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Netherlands 2003, Written and Directed by Alex van Warmerdam
The Bridge: 04/12/04: 5:00pm
(** and 1/2) of four

Ostensibly a reimagining of Hansel and Gretel, Grimm flirts with potentially intriguing representations of parental abandonment and the subsequent bond between siblings, but trails off and meanders its way to a unsatisfying finish. After their father takes them into the woods, sends them off alone, and then leaves them, Jacob and Maria are forced to fend for themselves and keep on the move from escalating troubles. Van Warmerdam frames these opening scenes well, with a stark, phallic forest of dead trees giving way to a barren desert, but the plot derails with an intermission at a Spanish playboy's mansion. By the time the western showdown begins, Grimm has lost much of its momentum. It's watchable enough, but it feels like it could have been more.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

She's One of Us
France 2003, Directed by Siegrid Alnoy
Written by Siegrid Alnoy, Jerome Beaujour, and Francois Favrat
The Bridge: 04/12/04: 7:15pm
(***) of four

She's One of Us is one of those films that seems ready-made for a film class. It causes me to write statements like, "An unnervingly dispassionate dissection of the crippling psychological manifestations of corporate homogenization of individuality, She's One of Us focuses on a woman paralyzed by her inability (and unwillingness) to exert her own identity in a culture that rewards uniformity." I'm not completely sure what that means either, but I'm also not sure of how I feel about the film. Technically, Siegrid Alnoy directs with cold precision: Christine is constantly pushed to the edges of the frame, unable to center herself and become the focus of attention in her own right. In some shots, she (and others) are framed without their heads--they're only physical bodies without clear identities (indeed, in a few scenes, Christine even fades out of the picture entirely). A traditional soundtrack is eschewed in favor of a repetitious drone--a grim soundtrack to the corporate machine chugging away. In many ways, the film recalls Nicole Garcia's excellent 2002 film The Adversary, which examines the violent ramifications of an individual overidentifying with his career and having it suddenly taken away (Angelo Badalamenti's somber score could be transplanted into She's One of Us without missing a beat). Garcia's film had an emotional core, though, that is missing from Alnoy's film. Alnoy layers on too much ambiguity and, by the end, I felt distant and removed (though that likely is intentional to some extent). The film was received very negatively by Festival goers and I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but nevertheless it's a promising debut for Alnoy and is fine Festival fare.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Dear Pillow
US 2003, Written and Directed by Bryan Poyser
Prince Music Theatre: 04/13/04: 5:00pm
(***) of four

Despite the Penthouse Forum dialogue, Pillow is a surprisingly subtle coming of age story. It follows Wes, an awkward, sex-obsessed teen who's taken to listening in on his neighbor's explicit phone sex calls, and his friendship with Dusty, a middle-aged writer of X-rated letters for porno mags. The development of their relationship carries the film as Dusty's motives are never entirely clear. Wes' father is convinced that Dusty is trying to seduce Wes, but the film luckily does not take such a pre-packaged route. Dusty mentors Wes, seeing a younger version of himself in Wes' naive innocence. Wes is happy to have someone he can be comfortable around, who he can share his curiosities with. Touches of black humor keep the tone fairly light early on, but as Pillow progresses, darker themes emerge. It emerges as a restrained look at the lonely and hurt lives of those who looked to the adult entertainment industry for a feeling of acceptance and found only more reason to lament what they have been missing.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Anatomy of Hell
France 2004, Directed by Catherine Breillat
Screenplay by Catherine Breillat based on her novel
Prince Music Theatre: 04/13/04: 7:15pm
(**) of four

I'll give Catherine Breillat credit for one thing: if her goal was to make her most sexually graphic and disturbing film, it couldn't possibly have a better title than "Anatomy of Hell." Breillat is a filmmaker whose work I respect much more than enjoy. I admire Breillat's resolve in making such daring and difficult films, but I think her ideas often get obscured by her compulsion to soar past traditional representations of cinematic sexuality (Anatomy is based on Breillat's novel and I'm curious how this material would work when we can create the images for ourselves). As a film, though, Anatomy is just empty platitudes on male fear of female sexuality intercut with uncomfortably graphic images (suffice to say, it's a rather bloody film--make of that what you will). My hope is that Breillat needed to get this out of her system and now she can return to less superficially shocking, but more fascinating fare such as her previous films Fat Girl and Sex is Comedy.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Nine Souls
Japan 2003, Written and Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda
Ritz East: 04/14/04: 5:15pm
(****) of four

An exuberant and moving road movie, Souls follows nine convicts who escape prison and head off to rediscover their old lives. Toyoda employs a distinct visual style with subtlety, evoking the prisoners' world slowly crumbling apart (e.g. a brilliant title sequence with the camera soaring over a cityscape as the buildings gradually disappear, leaving only decayed land behind). Thanks to a memorable and diverse cast, Souls never drags and there's a surprising amount of black humor and pathos. As many of the men discover the lives they left behind cannot just be picked up again, there is a sad inevitability to the violent consequences. Also employing a superb guitar score, Toyoda draws a line in the sand in new Japanese cinema with Souls and marks him as a director to watch closely.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Kill Me Tender
Spain 2003, Written and Directed by Ramon De Espana
The Bridge: 04/14/04: 9:45pm
(** and 1/2) of four

My hopes were that Tender would feature the same engrossing melodrama and sharp, bitter wit of last year's sleeper surprise The City of No Limits, but instead I felt rather indifferent and unimpressed. The characters fall in and out of love, in and out of loyalties, and by the end I didn't particularly care about any of them. The cast is attractive and charismatic enough, but I couldn't stay in tune with their characters' flitting personalities. The dark humor director De Espana reaches for works on occasion and the dialogue has its moments of clever snappiness, so Tender will appeal to some people (my girlfriend enjoyed it more than I did), but I wanted to track down a copy of No Limits instead.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Five Obstructions
Denmark/Switzerland/Belgium/France 2003, Written and Directed by Jorgen Leth and Lars von Trier
Ritz East: 04/16/04: 7:45pm
(** and 1/2) of four

Okay, lesson learned: when you're about to see a new Lars Von Trier film, featuring a onerous game of abstract cinema one-upmanship between Von Trier and his mentor Jorgen Leth, it's not the best idea to have a few strong martinis on an empty stomach beforehand. Fits of artistic masturbation don't mix well with a sleep-deprived, alcohol-fueled short attention span. So that's my bad. That said, Obstructions has a promising premise that results in a film that looked much more fun to make than it is to watch. Von Trier challenges Leth to remake his 1967 short The Perfect Human five times, each with a Von Trier-imposed "obstruction." The restrictions are inspired (the first alone forces Leth to limit each shot to 12 frames (a fraction of a second), to answer all of the questions he posed in the original short, and to shoot in Cuba without a set) and there's a sort of "Jackass for the art house crowd" appeal in watching Leth jump through the numerous hurdles much to Von Trier's delight (and frustration). Von Trier seems to relish playing the controlling antagonist (it does not surprise me that Nicole Kidman, among others, has said she would never work with him again) and his scenes with Leth are the highlight of the film (says Von Trier, "There are just a few areas in life in which I think I am an expert. One of them is Jorgen Leth.") However, not being familiar with the original short, the remakes meant very little to me and are not particularly entertaining at face value. Short clips from the original are mixed in, but it might have been nice if they had just shown it as a whole in the beginning so the crowd could be primed. Mild recommendation for fans of Von Trier or Leth, but I was hoping for more.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Tesseract
Thailand/Japan/UK 2003, Directed by Oxide Pang
Screenplay by Oxide Pang and Patrick Neater based on the novel by Alex Garland
Ritz East: 04/16/04: 10:00pm
(* and 1/2) of four

Ouch, my least favorite movie of the festival, made all the more exhausting by coming in the aftermath of my fogged experience with The Five Obstructions [see above]. Overdirected with little success by Oxide Pang, Tesseract takes a minimally interesting story and confounds it with numerous editing tricks (scenes shown from different points of view, nonlinear narration) that do nothing but make the experience more wearisome. By the halfway point, I really just wanted to crawl on the floor and go to sleep. I do think Pang is talented (instead of seeing this, rent Bangkok Dangerous, directed by Oxide with his brother Danny), but he needs to make sure he has a solid, well-developed story before he begins displaying his pieces of flare. To its credit, it has a good techno soundtrack, but the best part of the night was that I got to watch Billy Wagner save a Phillies win at a bar right before heading to the movie.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

A Tale of Two Sisters
South Korea 2003, Written and Directed by Kim Ji-wun
Ritz East: 04/17/04: 7:30pm
(*** and 1/2) of four

That strange, muted popping sound you hear scattered around the theatre during Sisters? No, it's not part of the soundtrack, but is actually the sound of synapses blowing in the brains of the audience members as Sister's plot takes another U-turn on the Plot Twist Expressway. Trying to explain a semblance of the plot would be pointless since it spirals off with reckless abandon towards the end, but it basically concerns two sisters returning home and coping with their harsh new stepmother. Kim generates a chilly atmosphere and piles on the scares without resorting to horror cliches. The twisting plot is more effective than similar genre fare like Hideo Nakata's Dark Water (which played in the festival last year). Both generate tension and suspense from eerie household occurrences, but Sisters's labyrinthine plot remains more involving than Water's obliqueness. Highly recommended for those who enjoy some psychological warfare (on the viewer that is) mixed in with their horror.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Japan 2003, Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by Isao Kiriyama, Yu Koyama, and Rikiya Mizushima
Ritz East: 04/17/04: 10:00pm
(***) of four

Ryuhei Kitamura and Takeshi Miike have easily been my All-Stars of the Film Festival for the past few years. Miike for the unforgettable Dead or Alive and Happiness of the Katakuris (not to mention last year's grim crime story Graveyard of Honor). Kitamura for Action Spectaculars Versus and Aragami. This year, though, the fest is without a new Miike film (much to the chagrin and disappointment of programmer Travis Crawford and numerous fans), so higher expectations were put on Kitamura's new female samurai flick. Azumi, though, while not quite a disappointment, isn't as propulsively exciting as his previous two films. Kitamura's been handed a much larger budget for Azumi and while that does mean lots more extras to hire as targets, there's a glossiness to the film and its many stylish camera effects that makes it feel less genuine than in Kitamura's previous films. Kitamura's hyperkinetic style has most recently been put to perfect use in the GameCube remake Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes where the over-the-top violence is a natural fit for the game's rendered cinematics. Here, though, I just didn't find myself enjoying Azumi as much as I would have liked, which is a shame since it was possibly my most anticipated movie of the festival. Perhaps my expectations were just too high--indeed, the audience rated the movie well enough to win the "Best Danger After Dark" award at the Closing Night awards ceremony.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Cowboys & Angels
Ireland 2003, Written and Directed by David Gleeson
Ritz East: 04/18/04: 2:45pm
(**) of four

Sort of a "Queer Eye for the Irish-Awkward-Would-be-Criminal-Straight Guy," Cowboys follows bashful and naive Shane, who's trying to make it on his own in a dead end job with dreams of artistic success. He ends up sharing an apartment with gay fashion student Vincent. If you think you know where the film is going, you're probably right. Lessons are learned, humorous misunderstandings occur, both leads grow and find themselves. The feeling of familiarity hurts Cowboys and keeps it from being any more than a slightly entertaining diversion. If you jump at any movies of this type, you'll probably be happy enough with this, but there are much better iterations of the formula out there.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

A Problem With Fear
Canada 2003, Directed by Gary Burns
Written by Gary Burns and Donna Brunsdale
Prince Music Theatre: 04/18/04: 4:45pm
(* and 1/2) of four

A bad ending to a bad afternoon of movies, Fear takes a flimsy premise and overinflates it beyond comprehension. Laurie is afraid of pretty much everything--he gets by thanks to a planned routine to avoid anything that could remotely present danger. He's even armed with a newly released bracelet that warns the wearer whenever the possibility of danger exists. But when freakish accidental deaths begin popping up all around the city, is it just coincidence or are everyone's fears somehow coming to life? If you watch the movie expecting an answer to that question, be warned that it doesn't offer even a hint of a satisfying one. Emily Hampshire is amazingly annoying and grating as Laurie's girlfriend Dot, grinding the film to a halt whenever she appears. The plot never really makes any sense, which I guess makes it appropriate that there's no effort to tie it up at all. Rightfully ranked by unfortunate audience members as one of the worst films of the festival.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Love From Mother Only
Short Film
Brazil 2003, Directed by Dennison Ramalho
The Bridge: 04/18/04: 10:00pm
(****) of four

The short film that played before The Last Horror Movie, Love deserves its own mention simply because it's utterly fucking creepy. Filled with carnal sexuality, bloody voodoo rituals, and a piercing soundtrack, Love would be the perfect appetizer to a night of nightmare horror capped off with, say, Haute Tension. No idea if something like this would ever find its way to DVD, but if it ever shows up at some macabre film festival, don't miss it (assuming you've got the constitution for it). Gives me a shiver just thinking about it.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Last Horror Movie
UK 2003, Directed by Julian Richards
Written by Julian Richards and James Handel
The Bridge: 04/18/04: 10:25pm
(** and 1/2) of four

Another serial killer faux-documentary in the footsteps of Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast, it's morbid fun, but doesn't add anything new to the equation. It starts off like your average, low-budget slasher film, but soon the picture is invaded by Max, our charismatic host who takes us on a guided tour of his latest killing spree. Max tells us that he's recorded over the video tape we rented of the slasher film that opens Horror and, honestly, the effect is lessened watching it in a theatre (especially the should-be-unnerving ending). The grainy, home-video feel just doesn't translate very well to the big screen. Anyone who's seen Man Bites Dog or other films of the Blair Witch ilk will know what to expect. If you're up for more of the same, enjoy. If not, Horror is probably not worth your time. If this is your first venture into these waters, though, Max will be more than happy to show you the way.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

The Uninvited
South Korea 2003, Written and Directed by Lee Soo-yeon
The Bridge: 04/20/04: 7:00pm
(****) of four

Cold and restrained one moment, jarring and disturbing the next, Uninvited is a powerful psychological ghost story focusing on the corrosive emotional effects of tragedy and loss. Lee employs traditional characteristics of modern horror (such as the loud, sudden intrusions of the soundtrack), but doesn't take the film into familiar territory. The death of young children haunts the pasts of the leads and, accordingly, Uninvited contains some scenes of shocking violence that burn into your memory. The audience literally gasped collectively at one particular moment (you will know it when you see it). It's a wholly original, solemn take on the horror genre that ends the Danger After Dark series in brilliant fashion. Programmer Travis Crawford introduced it as his favorite film of the festival (strong words indeed) and it's easy to see why.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

Japan 2003, Directed by Joji Iida
Written by Masaru Nakamura, Hiroshi Saito, and Joji Iida
The Bridge: 04/20/04: 10:00pm
(***) of four

Massive erupting volcanoes bursting forth in the middle of cities, rain of fire from a sky of smoke, a frenzied, ravenous populace slaughtering anything still alive. Total apocalypse. Needless to say, this ain't Armageddon and Bruce Willis isn't swooping in to save the day. Utterly grim end-of-the-world fare, Dragonhead is refreshing for its narrow, unwavering focus on global destruction without the cloying messages of hope. The special effects are excellent and the vast sets perfectly portray the stark devastation. Iida knows his audience and doesn't try catering to anyone else. Some days, there's nothing better than kicking back and watching the Earth go down in flames. On those days, Dragonhead will not disappoint.
(PFF)    (IMDb)

US 2004, Directed by Brian Dannelly
Written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban
Prince Music Theatre: 04/21/04: 7:00pm
(****) of four

If you're tired of "President" Bush's condescending Christian conservatism, or of the Jesus-mania surrounding Mel Gibson's Passion, there's an antidote out there and it's time to get Saved! Maybe I'm sharing too much here, but there's just something about poking fun of Jesus-freaks and close-minded Christians that puts a little spring in my step. If you agree, make sure not to miss Brian Dannelly's comedy/satire about a Baptist high school in Anytown, USA. The Who's Who of Young Hollywood cast (Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, etc.) is picture-perfect and the script by Dannelly and Michael Urban is filled with delicious puns and one-liners. The black humor brings to mind Heathers, but Saved! deserves credit for its refreshingly upbeat ending. As my girlfriend exclaimed as we walked out (pun warning), "The happy ending is reborn!" Easily the funniest movie I've seen all year, Saved! is a great remedy for our increasingly sensitive culture.
(PFF)    (IMDb)