Archive for the ‘Boxoffice’ Category

[REC] 2

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

The sequel to the 2007 Spanish surprise-spook hit (itself already remade in English as 2008’s Quarantine) returns to the blood-diseased Barcelona tenement just minutes after the first film’s last survivor was dragged screaming into the dark. Like the original it’s a handycam horror, but this one’s concocted two more excuses for two new groups of victims to record their own deaths. And like its premise, the quality has deteriorated like a dubbed VHS. Hardcore horror fans made the film [REC] into a commendable crossover success–fewer will flock to the sequel, but enough to justify production company Filmax’s announcement that two more [REC] films are in the works.

The first horror flicks shot as first person nightmares were really taking on two enemies: the monster itself and the modern need to record everything. Part of the psychodrama of The Blair Witch Project was railing at the filmmakers to put down the camera and run. That camera made them culpable of their own demise–a theme George A. Romero picked up in Survival of the Dead and filmmakers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza did in the original [REC]. The act of carrying a camera into danger is narcissistic; it says that you trust you’ll live long enough to get famous from your footage. But the directors–and their audience–know that “found footage” means only the tape survived. And here, when a Spanish SWAT officer says “Make me look handsome” to the handycam, we’re already writing his obituary.

He and his team are entering a quarantined apartment building as the armed guards of a government official named Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor) hunting for a cure for the zombies gnawing on their neighbors. Once inside, Owen reveals himself as a priest–and worse, reveals that the zombies are actually possessed by a demon virus carried by Spain’s answer to Linda Blair. Yes, this is the Apartment Complex of the Damned, at once banal and bloody. The squad scoffs. So do we. And the writer/directors Balagueró, Plaza and Manu Díez can’t command our fear.

For one, they’re so desperate to scare us there’s no logic to their monsters. Sometimes they crawl on the ceiling. Sometimes they run fast on the ground. Sometimes they’re blind and mad. Other times they enjoy listening to records. They’re so inconsistent, they’re artificial and innocuous. In the infected’s first attack, Owen defeats a devil zombie with prayer. Score! So why don’t they keep praying?

A movie that overrules logic irritates its audience; we don’t like to be reminded that there’s a writer pulling the strings. And here, the POV horror is a conceit as well as a distraction, a crutch to create suspense from shaky, dark footage. With the entrance of a team of teenagers in search of YouTube glory, the film leaps back in time to show how they unknowingly intersected with the SWAT. It’s a nifty idea that bores the filmmakers within 20 minutes, after which they forget about the kids entirely. If [REC] 2 can’t care for its characters, why should we?

Click here for [REC] 2 in Boxoffice Magazine

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Fans feuding over Team Edward and Team Jacob can put down their fangs. After Eclipse, both fans will convert to Team David Slade. The first-time-to-the-franchise director combines his experience with violent vampires (30 Days of Night) and impassioned teen girls (Hard Candy) to create the series’ most balanced and fun vam-rom-drama. Twihards will embrace it as the first installment to live up to their imaginations (which, frankly, have always been better than either the movies or Stephenie Meyer’s prose) and Summit can breathe easy that the saga of Bella Swan still has momentum going into the fourth and fifth (and final) flicks.

Slade’s challenge is to navigate a novel that leaps from blood to tears, from a newly made bloodsucker (Xavier Samuel) slaughtering Seattle to Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) literally eternal love triangle between Robert Pattinson’s clenched-jawed sparkle-vamp and Taylor Lautner’s huggable werewolf. Eclipse is about extremes: it opens with a vampire attack, then cuts to Stewart and Pattinson snuggling in a meadow reading Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice,” a metaphor for the choice she has to make between warm-blooded wolves and the ice-cold undead. If tweens miss the symbolism, it’s repeated in every other scene. (The best is when Lautner snipes, “Let’s face it, I am hotter than you.”)

Eclipse has its cheesecake and eats it, too. Like New Moon, it’s heavy on topless shots of barely legal Taylor Lautner, but now Pattinson grumbles, “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” It’s winking melodrama that lets fans smile and critics snort with glee.

Not much happens in Eclipse. In their first scene, Pattinson and Stewart have this exchange: “Marry me.” “Change me.” 100 Minutes later, they’re still having the same conversation, but Slade doesn’t let the emo inertia drag. Since his leads are still more mannequins than actors, he physicalizes their emotions: Pattinson furiously peels out of parking lots, Lautner-in wolf form, as big as a horse-charms Stewart into petting his fur.

Though the first half hour struggles to shake off the dour New Moon vibes, this is likable fluff, junk food without regret. Reluctant boyfriends have a few minutes of the wolf pack’s bros-before-emos tumbling. Reluctant chaperons will be happy that all of the adults note that Bella and Edward’s romance is too obsessive. Reluctant history buffs will delight in the Civil War era reenactments. (Okay, that one’s a stretch.) And conservative abstinence advocates will thrill at a teen flick where the guy wants to wait for marriage. As he tells his hot-and-bothered girlfriend, he comes from a different culture of front porches and lemonades with the family. Can he be a 109-year-old virgin? True Love Waits: have I got a poster boy for you. And trust me, he makes the ladies swoon.

Click here for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse in Boxoffice Magazine

The Karate Kid

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Crane kick? Nah, this big-hearted reprise is all about the standing split, the inner thigh-splintering pose star Jaden Smith strikes on every billboard in town. Harald Zwart’s retooling takes the silhouette of the ‘84 classic but colors in new details; the two films share only a shape and a pulse and an old-fashioned eagerness to please. Getting fans of the original in the multiplex door might be a fight-the jaded show no mercy to remakes-but the film will find its champions (and good box office) in fresh-eyed kids and families.

Jaden Smith is destined to be a star by the force of will (and wallets) of parents Will and Jada Smith, both producers on The Karate Kid. But he’s also got the raw material. Like his dad, he’s got the makings to be a heartthrob guys respect-that rare collision of charisma, cool cred and cute. He’s still unformed and that’s part of his charm. Here, as a boy wrested from Detroit and replanted in Beijing, he’s shy, sullen and cocky-a natural kid who plays with different personas, but doesn’t play to the camera for validation. And on the rare moments he busts out his dad’s grin, you realize: he’s got it.

When Smith and single mom Taraji P. Henson land in China, Zwart doesn’t play to orientalist exotica. He flashes us the skyscrapers of a modern metropolis and lingers on the Beijing National Stadium, the steel-boned birds nest constructed for the ‘08 Olympics. Later, we’ll get temples and hypnotized snakes and the Great Wall swept clean of tourists-there’s a money shot. But this isn’t a city an American city kid can conquer. In short order, Smith makes a friend (Luke Carberry, who disappears after three scenes), meets a girl (Wenwen Han, a violin prodigy with a sculptural haircut) and unearths an enemy (Zhenwei Wang, a bully with a face that begs for a fist). The bully studies under the ruthless Rongguang Yu, a kung fu master who likes to make his students bleed. His signature lesson is that a winner never quits while their opponent is still conscious.

Enter an unsmiling Jackie Chan as the handyman who teaches Smith kung fu. What a pleasure to see Chan unhappy after a decade and a half of playing a grinning fool. Chan’s a quiet misanthrope. His heart of gold is never shined up and put on display. Like the film around him, he doesn’t sweat for our applause. Instead, he and Smith and their starring flick march on, staying straight and true to their work-hard ideals. Which is what makes Karate Kid a winner-the confidence to not smother the story with in-jokes or gimmicks that prove the filmmakers have studied the original. The Karate Kid trusts you’ll choose to come along on the journey, and you do. While we all know Smith will face off against his attackers at the big match, his story never feels calculated or focus-grouped for maximum audience appeal. And when he does prove his worth, we cheer like it’s the first time.

Click here for The Karate Kid in Boxoffice Magazine

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Liking Joan Rivers is like befriending the school bully — it’s tactical and troublesome — but this documentary lets her argue her own worth and she comes out winning. Tracking her 75th year of life, directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg treat their brassy subject with respect, not devotion, and we realize that respect is all she’s ever wanted…along with a Manhattan apartment that looks like Versailles and enough costume necklaces to choke a hydra. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work debuted to raves at Sundance in January and hasn’t lost steam since. For the small but enthusiastic documentary crowd and the comic’s diehard fans, it’s a must-see; though Rivers’ reputation so precedes her that a wider audience likely won’t pony up to spend 84 minutes with the bitch of the red carpet. (Though if they did, they wouldn’t regret a second.)

The doc opens with Rivers pancaking on her makeup. It’s a ritual tied closely to the doyenne whose nipped, tucked and puffed face has been the butt of more jokes than yo momma. To audiences under 40, Rivers is her face. And that’s her contradiction. She’s at war with herself, the media and her career, and the battleground is her face. In one moment she can sigh that, “No man has ever told me that I’m beautiful,” and recognize that it’s her blonded, botoxed artificial youth that’s kept her in the public eye. But a second later, Rivers can accept a gig making fun of other women’s looks. When Gabourey Sidibe wore an orange dress, she snarked, “You decide. Precious or The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?” She’s hardest on herself, but does that excuse her from shining that harsh light on others?

It doesn’t, but Rivers is so disarmingly frank about every area of her life that we want to wrap her brittle bones in a hug. “That’s fear,” she says while paging through an empty calendar, and she’ll do anything to fill her days with money-making publicity. At 75, she rarely says ‘no’ to any gig, no matter how punishing the schedule. One night in Wisconsin? Sure thing. Three days on a cruise ship? Of course. That’s been her lifelong career strategy and she’s sticking to it — how many other female comedians have stayed active and famous for five decades? (”Good luck to the next queen of comedy, because I’m not abdicating,” she growls, and you can picture a dartboard with Kathy Griffin’s face on it.) The camera doesn’t shellac her with sympathy when she tucks herself into yet another red eye. It pulls back, like a safari tracking a lioness, a respectful distance that acknowledges Rivers’ strength.

Stern and Sundberg’s doc works best when showing us how much work Rivers puts in to stay at the top. She’s a workaholic with file cabinets of cross-referenced jokes — and they’re shockingly funny. Sorry Sarah Silverman, Rivers was doing abortion jokes in the ’70s. But her surprising and sad truth is that she really wanted to be a legitimate actress-a disappointment that gnaws at her like a failure. “My career is an actresses’ career, and I play a comedian,” she sighs. In her youth, she was too gawky to be a romantic lead; when she was older, she was already Joan Rivers. “I paint. Who cares?” she notes. She’s made herself a media icon, but knows she’s had to slice off 70 percent of herself to do it. In one scene, Rivers arrives at her own comic roast and she and her entourage are wary that they’ve signed up for a whole evening of plastic surgery jokes. And they have. We might have made the same jokes 90 minutes earlier, but the gift of this movie is that now they seem unfair. Not because they’re too mean-because they’re too superficial. This is a smart, sharp woman with a full life under her 20 year old skin. Go ahead and make fun of her — just try harder.

Click here for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

MacGruber

Friday, May 21st, 2010

MacGruber — starring an SNL actor, written by an SNL writer and directed by an SNL director — has all the outward tics of an SNL movie: the one-sentence set-up, the bad wigs, the catch phrases. And Saturday Night Live films have a bad rap; most feel over-extended, like a single pixel snapshot blown up for the big screen. But MacGruber, like Wayne’s World, is hi-def hilarious — when a panther growls as Will Forte’s cocky secret agent lands a back flip, you can’t imagine how this ridiculous universe could ever be compressed for TV. Still, audiences have been so burned by It’s Pat! and Superstar they won’t be lining up for opening weekend, but expect word of mouth to keep it in the top ten for a respectable chunk of the summer season.

MacGruber (Forte) plays a former agent who’s been hiding out in Ecuador since the wealthy villain Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer, great) blew up his wife (Maya Rudolph) on their wedding day. But now, in a surprisingly bloody intro that seems shot just to guarantee an R-rating, Von Cunth has shot up a squad of Russians and stolen a nuclear missile. MacGruber’s former Colonel (Powers Boothe, a grumbling powerhouse) and a prim rookie (Ryan Phillipe, not funny and not trying to be) enlist him to save the world and score some revenge. And so, joined by token chick Kristen Wiig (playing against cliché as an nervous coward instead of a brassy hottie), the team sets out to pound some Cunth — a joke that by sheer force of will never gets old.

Leslie Nielsen spoofed spy movies by giving us more, more, more: bigger spit takes, D-cup women and an Afro so big O.J. Simpson couldn’t walk through a door (much less dodge the cops). But this isn’t 1988-today’s audiences don’t want to see their comics sweating for a laugh. Lampoons are dead and sarcasm lost its sour glee just after Wayne and Garth. Today we dig anti-comedy, thinking that we discovered the joke, and director Jorma Taccone understands that odd tone of straight-faced, almost surrealist bluster. He’s always setting us up for an ordinary punchline and then changing course. When MacGruber hacks off his Michael Bolton curls and reveals a straight-haired, metal-head mullet, Taccone knows we don’t want a follicular explanation. When in one day, MacGruber travels from South America to Washington DC to Colorado to Vegas, we know it’s impossible and we don’t want the gag spelled out. Every expectation is subverted, every glorious moment undercut. Sexy love scenes devolve into uncomfortable thrusting and grunting. Even in the editing room, Taccone cuts off explosions in mid-blast and he gets more laughs from a close-up of Wiig and Forte touching hands than Eddie Murphy ever could huffing his way into an XXL fat suit.

Of course, part of the joke is that this is 1988 to MacGruber who loves tooling around town listening to “Careless Whispers” in his sweet red convertible. We’re meant to think the tragedy has frozen him in the past (though if he dropped out of pop culture in 1999, he should be dressing like Bono). But what makes Forte so funny is that he stalks through the flick cocksure and utterly deadpan. And even when he sticks celery up his ass cheeks as a diversionary tactic, no one in the movie laughs as if nervously elbowing us to join in. The grace note is we’re also not made to think his tossed salad is normal — it’s awkward nonsense, yet, like the film around it, it works.

Click here for MacGruber in Boxoffice Magazine

Just Wright

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Sanaa Hamri’s big-hearted RomCom is a Cinderella story where the princess wears Reebox. Queen Latifah stars as a tomboy physical therapist so certain she’ll never snag a prince-here, an NBA star played by Common (i.e. modern royalty)-that she never thinks to shove her ladies into a push-up bra. With just enough honest heartache to get us slavering for that kiss, Just Wright is two hours of femmepowering wish fulfillment-even though it won’t be a box office MVP, it’ll exit the multiplex having played a good game.

Latifah has more from-the-block charm and cred than a dozen J-Los and she’s served well by Michael Elliot’s script, which frames her as a confident caretaker who’s sick of hearing her first dates say she’s the perfect woman…for somebody else. Her character plays to her strengths and her audience: she’s a knock-your-socks-off girl next door, successful enough to buy her own fixer-upper in Jersey. Her foil is cousin Morgan (Paula Patton), a beauty who wants to snag a baller and become a brand. (Think Kimora.) But to the script’s credit, though Morgan is shallow, she’s not a snake. And when she snags Nets star Scott McKnight (Common), a sweetheart power forward who loves Joni Mitchell, we and the Queen take it in stride as the proper order of the universe.

Of course, we’re here to see Latifah earn her man, and while we’re never in doubt she’ll slam dunk his heart, Just Wright stays true enough to human nature that we’re actively cheering her on. This isn’t a wishful view of manhood that pretends Common won’t be swayed by Patton’s supermodel face, but neither is it so grim about a humble woman’s prospects that it makes Latifah win him through self-flagellating devotion. The girl’s got pride and heart-both rare commodities in a genre that likes its women to trip over their own stilettos.

That Latifah gets to keep the guy and her dignity makes this modest charmer a winner. Where other RomComs fetishize handbags, the biggest swoons in my theater came when Common made Latifah a cup of chicken noodle soup. We don’t wholly buy their chemistry-nor do we buy Common as an NBA champ when he’s a full foot shorter than everyone on the court-but they’re kind to each other from day one. Just Wright makes us wonder what’s gone wrong in our Hollywood romances where boy meets girl, boy snipes at girl for 70 minutes and then boy magically realizes he loves girl in time for a closing credits kiss. These romances aren’t built on respect; they’re founded on mortification-the systematic stripping away of ego until both parties are such losers, they’re perfect for each other. I’m tired of this humiliating path to love where he’s got to be humped by a dog and she’s got to be thrown into a mud puddle. Katherine Hepburn demanded better. So does Latifah-and so should we.

Click here for Just Wright in Boxoffice Magazine

Babies

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

The rulebook for bearing babies–especially in the States–is longer than the Bible, and it grows every year. In fact, after the Bible, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care claims to be the second highest selling book of all time. (In truth, it’s edged out by Chairman Mao and Dan Brown, but still trumps J.K. Rowling.) Even so, this documentary on one of the most universal, photographed, analyzed, opined upon and slavered over human experiences manages to astound. French filmmaker Thomas Balmes has hit a box office homerun with Focus Features’ gambit of releasing Babies on Mother’s Day–we’ve all had, been or been married to a mom, and buying a pair of tickets is a better gift than a box of chocolates.

Here’s the scope of the project: Balmes scouted expectant families in San Francisco, Mongolia, Tokyo and Namibia. Once his new stars–three girls and a boy–popped out, he spent the next two years as the families’ silent uncle who always toted a camera. The footage he captured is astounding: Mari in Japan weeps with confusion when she can’t understand geometry blocks, but resolutely tries to shove a circle into a square; Bayar in Mongolia braves a stampede of cows; Ponijao (now the second-most famous baby born in Namibia) first discovers that boys and girls have different parts.

Our perspective is adamantly 18-inches tall. Parents flit by like babbling bodies–even Hattie’s English-speaking parents seem to buzz with white noise–and have themselves chopped into pieces by Balmes’ baby-centered camera. Nameless, they appear in chunks: a breast, a knee, an arm.

In the best way, Babies is like being born again into confusion. Why is calligraphy written on Mari’s feet? Why is Hattie’s first view a hospital bed with tubes? Who are the eight other children buzzing around Ponijao? We don’t know, and we won’t know, and that’s Balmes’ big idea. He wordlessly reminds us of wonder. Those of us old enough to have to pay full price admission need a refresher course.

But as we watch these four very similar children navigate four wildly different homesteads, our mind tries to anchor itself by clutching to our own rulebook. Mothers-in-law have always claimed to know best, but lately it seems our culture has become simpering busybodies. Part of the pleasure of watching Babies is realizing that your kids aren’t doomed if they don’t eat 100 percent organic — they aren’t even doomed if, like Ponijao, they down a fistful of dirt. But we aren’t hard on Ponijao’s mother. In fact, we’re hardest on the San Franciscians and their insistence on doing everything right. In one scene, they tote Hattie (even the name is precious) to a tribal drum circle to worship mother earth. When Hattie bolts desperately for the door, there were sniggers of schadenfreude in the theater–myself included.

The trap is that we’re as eager to judge as the kids are to explore. Balmes gives us scope and cultural perspective, and we have to fight not to digest it as practical vs. doting, chores vs. yoga, siblings vs. educational toys and, most sweepingly, indoor security vs. outdoor scenery. But this beautiful film with its postcard scenery deserves to be seen with young eyes. Everyone tells you how to raise a kid–this doc shows you how to feel like one. Leave adult neuroses in the lobby.

Click here for Babies in Boxoffice Magazine

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Making Avatar is hard. Making The Room is harder. The only movie event more impossible to make than a visual revolution is a grassroots, cult classic. Neither can be faked and both are more rare than an eclipse. But for the cost of Avatar you could shoot 35,000 Birdemics, the $10,000 Hitchcock homage (not spoof) storming midnight movie screenings led by writer/director James Nguyen. That Nguyen brandishes a wire hanger (the new Tommy Wiseau spoon, or Rocky Horror rice) means he’s catching up to the joke, but that he’s selling out showings of a genuinely terrible film also means the joke is on us. With hipster comedians Tim & Eric and the Internet on its side, Birdemic will storm 2010, but needs to prove it’s not a fly-by-night fad.

You don’t watch Birdemic for the plot, but here it is: a Bay Area salesman named Rod (Alan Bagh) snags a date with his former high school classmate-turned-model, Nathalie (Whitney Moore). At a cozy strip mall restaurant they toast that day’s successes: she’s shot a cover for Victoria’s Secret (in a strip mall) and he’s made a million dollar deal. (Literally, one million dollars.) But their second date goes oh-so-right and oh-so-wrong. They consummate their insta-love and wake up to find they’re under attack from eagles—venom-spitting eagles who, like kamikaze pilots, explode on impact.

And here’s where the movie gets good. Or bad. Well, both.

Nguyen has confessed that he hired a student computer animator, Yeung Chan, to animate his first killer bird sequence for a down payment of $100. (In the opening credits, Yeung Chan gets a burst of applause. Notably not in the credits is a biologist.) The eagles, along with vultures that look like black eagles, are as 2D as a sticker and they hover, screeching, in front of our heroes who try very, very hard to pretend that something is there. (For first time actors, they pretend okay.) Sure, these angry avians spit venom and spontaneously blow up, but what they can’t actually do, given Nguyen and Chan’s limitations, is attack. To play fair, Rod and friend Ramsey (Adam Sessa) have guns that they can’t shoot—however, they’ve got an unlimited supply of bullets that fire with a nifty puff of animated smoke like a Dick Tracy comic.

What is Birdemic. trying to say? Actually, a lot. Nguyen stuffs his nest with his pro-peace, pro-green message, decrying the global warming that has caused eagles to mutate with fury and flammability, giving a shout-out to An Inconvenient Truth as a great first date flick and promoting Yoko Ono’s website, ImaginePeace.com.

More importantly: what are we trying to say by fete-ing it? Birdemic doesn’t have a story, doesn’t have actors, doesn’t have looks, doesn’t have skill. But it has craft. Nguyen’s DIY-fingerprints are on every frame. Like The Room, it’s the antidote to mass culture–a singular auteur with a dream. And if it had been focus-grouped (or even had collaboration), it would have crumbled apart in pre-production. Wiseau and Nguyen were both born outside the States, dodging Hollywood inoculation, and it’s their earnest disregard of Hollywood rules about sound design, sets, lighting and editing–coupled with their fervent belief that their work does stand up to the studios–that’s catnip to cult fans. Most bad films die unseen. A few are good once for a laugh. But the hapless directors who have cult thrust upon them have created accidental comedic brilliance–for them, there’s no greater reward than audiences spinning it into an interactive repeat event, and nothing more slanderous than “Fake!”

Avatar proved we love flash. But in this same decade, we’ve seen the ascent of the craft fair aesthetic, a love for the one-of-a-kind creation, however flawed, be it stitched-felt stuffed animals or the Deer Wars in Jared Hess’ otherwise execrable Gentlemen Broncos. Irony isn’t dead, but panting alongside it is the New Sincerity. We’re laughing at Nguyen’s budget barn special effects, but we can’t laugh at the fact that he set out to make the movie of his dreams–and he did it. And then he spent two years hustling just to get people to see it. And if we leave Birdemic blanketed in smug knowingness, then the joke is us.

Click here for Birdemic: Shock and Terror in Boxoffice Magazine

Splice

Friday, February 5th, 2010

What do you get when you cross a kangaroo, a dolphin and a human? Sexy horror, at least to director Vincenzo Natali’s thriller about a pair of scientists and long-time lovers (Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley) who create the daughter they never wanted in an experiment in “multi-specied morphism” that their bosses hope will cure cancer. Despite an A-list star and a high-tech plot, the film itself feels like a hybrid of silly science tingler and moral philosophy with a straight-to-video sheen—which is likely where their larger profit margins lie.

When we meet Brody and Polley they’ve just been slapped on the cover of Wired for creating a DNA smoothie that spawned two slug-like beasts named Fred and Ginger. The only missing ingredient is human chromosomes, and while Polley is reluctant to bear Brody’s love child, she races to the lab to add her own genes to the mix. The result is Dren (spell it backwards), a moppet who looks like a hairless otter-kangaroo, except for the toxic stinger at the end of her prehensile tail. (Surely nothing bad can come of that.)

Dren awakens Polley’s maternal instincts, and when she blossoms into a rabbit-legged supermodel with amphibious lungs she awakens something else in Brody’s pants. Say what you will about the derivative elements of Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor’s script: this is the first flick I’ve ever seen with two counts of simultaneous incest-bestiality.

But despite Brody and Polley’s reasonable efforts, they can’t compensate for a script that undermines its curiosity about humanity, responsibility and guilt with silly loose ends about Polley’s troubled childhood and odd flourishes like making Brody’s lab technician his clueless brother. In steadier hands, this techno-drama could be a fascinating mutant, but not when we’re asked to believe that it only takes two sexy scientists and one day to make “biotechnology’s most startling breakthrough in decades.”

Click here for Splice in Boxoffice Magazine

Frozen

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Adam Green’s sparse drama about three college kids abandoned in a blistering ski lift is a chillingly real look at spur-of-the-moment survival instincts that struggles to fill its feature length running time. Genre prospects are lukewarm for a flick that blazes its own path, shunning guts and inglorious deaths (mostly) for a measured, moderately effective look at three kids staring down their own doom.

Childhood best friends Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Joe (Shawn Ashmore) have set off on a skiing adventure to get away from it all, only part of what Joe wants to get away from—Dan’s tagalong girlfriend, Parker (Emma Bell)—is along for the ride. Frustrated after a day spent encouraging her down the bunny slope, Joe goads the trio into taking one final tear down a real trail. In a rush of closing time camaraderie, they convince the lift operator to allow them to take the last bench up of the night. But human error—a force as deadly and merciless as any serial killer—strands them a bone-breaking height above the hard-packed snow. And the slopes aren’t reopening for five days.

What works in Green’s script is the naturalism, a new move for the gore-tastic director of Hatchet (he’s now working on Hatchet 2): throughout, we know nothing more than the doomed trio. We don’t know if there’s a groundskeeper coming by in the morning. We don’t know if the overnight forecast is fatal. We don’t know whether to jump or wait. We’re caught between likely death and unlikely survival. In those moments when we (and the characters) are paralyzed between bad decisions, we’re as stiff with tension as an icicle.

The problem is, even though we empathize with their predicament—and it plays out realistically—the threesome is so impractical that we’re distracted by our own (better) escape routes. But then again, who doesn’t think they can outsmart a foolhardy frat guy when they’re in a warm theater with a bucket of popcorn? Zegers plays a stock alpha male with attitude, yet he’s redeemed as the film’s bravest character. As his girlfriend and hopeful wife-to-be, the spunky Bell turns weepy and weak quick, but it’s uncharitable to assume we’d be less obnoxious. Ashmore’s Joe is the least-drawn character; he’s clearly got a heart, but we never believe that a guy who loves his best friend would pick on his girlfriend mercilessly even when they’re cozy in the ski lodge. And when their numbers are whittled down and the survivors unleash their panic on each other, the emotional digressions feel like filler for a thriller struggling to be full length. Give Green credit for not padding it with a second villain—say a bear with attitude—but there’s really only enough drama here for a good sixty minute TV special.

Click here for Frozen in Boxoffice Magazine