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Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

The Intruder/Eat My Dust

For a short time after first moving to Los
Angeles
, I worked for a foreign-born producer who
shall now remain nameless. It was an eye-opening experience, watching this guy
turn over movies and stay just ahead of collections, surfing through stacks of bills
by flipping short-term profits from one project to the next
. Taking a short-term
lease on a giant warehouse in downtown Los Angeles,
he would set up anywhere from six to eight movies at a time, shooting
back-to-back (-to-back, -to-back…), and incorporating both like-minded archival
and second unit footage into each project. Part shyster, part trash-heap
collagist, he would peddle his hearty genre wares back to European countries at
Cannes, MIPCOM and other cinematic
markets
.

His artistic instincts were reliably awful, but in his own
way this producer was indulging in the sincerest form of flattery toward
super-low-budget indie producer Roger Corman
(Rock and Roll High School, Death
Race 2000
, Big Bad Mama), who
over the course of more than two decades would have a hand in the launch of
more than a couple significant Hollywood careers, and in doing so lay the
groundwork for guys like Lloyd Kaufman and Nelson Zigler. Now, the improbable
revisionist king-making of Corman continues with the special edition DVD
release of two more movies from his vault
of over 50 years of filmmaking — the cult
classics The Intruder and Eat My Dust.

Eat My Dust,
couldn’t be more different — an action-comedy that tracks a young hero who
abandons innocence for a wild ride in a stolen race car. Fledgling
actor-director Ron Howard made a deal with the prince of junk-food cinema that
would forever alter the course of his career; Corman would produce Howard’s
feature directorial debut, Grand Theft
Auto
, if Howard would star in his quirky car comedy
. Written and directed
by Charles B. Griffith (Corman’s Little
Shop of Horrors
), Eat My Dust is
the story of Hoover Niebold (Howard), a small-town teen destined to fade into
obscurity until he gets the guts to ask out the most popular girl in school
(Kathy O’Dare), who says she’ll only hitch up with him if he steals a
professional race car. He drops his innocence, snags the ride and the girl, and
naturally much automotive mayhem ensues. Notable for its brilliant, low budget,
hood-mounted camerawork, the movie still packs a decent action punch
even if
its teen angst and stereotypical bumpkins now come off as cornpone.

Attractively packaged, both titles here come in regular
Amray cases, with cardboard slipcases
, and are presented in 1.33:1 full screen
with relatively shallow Dolby digital 2.0 mono soundtracks, even though Eat My Dust’s outer cover touts a Dolby
digital 5.1 surround sound track. As far as supplemental material, The Intruder features a nice, if brief, retrospective
look back at what Corman calls his personal favorite film, through the eyes of always
amusing star Shatner and Corman himself
. Eat
My Dust
, meanwhile, includes an introduction to the movie by Corman, the
film’s original theatrical trailer and a 10-minute, making-of featurette that explores
filmmaking on the cheap
. Entitled “How to Crash a Car on a Dime,” this segment of
reminiscences includes interview snippets with editor Tina Hirsch, director of
photography Eric Saarinen and the aforementioned O’Dare. To purchase the latter
movie via Amazon, click here;
to purchase the title via Half, meanwhile, click here.
For The Intruder, do me a favor and click
on those links and just type in the title yourself. Thanks. B/C+ (The Intruder/Eat My Dust) B- (Discs)

On Milla Jovovich’s Evil Bankability

Star bankability is a subject of endless debate around Hollywood,
especially when it comes to female leads
. Studios want guarantees on
their investments, which increasingly means big opening weekends and
overseas receipts equal to — or greater than — a film’s domestic yield.
Respect, photogenic worth and the ability to sell magazines are of far
less importance than the simple ability to put butts in seats.

Resident Evil: Extinction, the series looks alive and fresher than ever, despite its co-starring hordes of the undead.

Sure, the data can be cherry-picked in Bush-ian fashion (2006’s Ultraviolet, after all, only grossed a combined $31 million the world over), but since 2002 (and not yet counting Extinction),
Milla Jovovich has had the same number of $100 million movies as
Academy Award-winning Best Actress
Hilary Swank, and one more than
fellow Oscar winner
Charlize Theron. And with the release of Extinction this past weekend, Jovovich did something that even Angelina Jolie couldn’t do with the Tomb Raider
franchise — lay claim to an action heroine videogame franchise that
will feature three $100 million international hits
. All of Theron’s
smoldering sex appeal could barely push Aeon Flux past the $50 million mark worldwide. So what gives? For a Jovovich-centric review of Resident Evil: Extinction, from FilmStew, click here.

Ryan Gosling on Physicality, Mannerisms

At the Los Angeles press day for the forthcoming Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling talked about finding the look and actions of his characters, and in particular the Midwestern loner he portrays in his latest film. “Those things — like I had a beard and I was shaving it off
for the film,” explains Gosling, interrupting himself. “Then I caught a glimpse of myself with the
mustache and I saw him, I thought, ‘There he is.’
So the mustache just came
that easily. And everything, for me, I have all these, what I think are great
ideas about the character, and then they never make the movie. They are never
very good. But then in the process of me trying to attain these goals, all
these little things happen. They are things that are specific to each movie
that I work on.”

“All
those mannerisms and stuff are not conscious is I guess what I’m saying,” continues Gosling, “or
things that I plan. They just kind of happen
. It’s up to the filmmaker whether
he wants to put them in or not. And most films that I work on, directors always
cut them out because they think they are distracting or something. Craig is
great because he recognized they are specific to that character. And in Half Nelson they included a lot of that
stuff too. Then when I finish the film they kind of go away.”

A Weekend Love-In

Robert Benton’s Feast of Love opens today, September 28, and while I didn’t get to tap out a full-fledged review, it is worth pointing out that it’s a frank movie, about adult problems and told at a deliberate
pace, and yet it still has a sheen of positivity to it
. All of which means it will probably completely bomb at the box office — sacrificed at the altar of The Game Plan.

Movie Ads Don’t Talk Good

FilmStew has up an amusing piece today about the increase in grammatical laxness with respect to critics’ quotes and blurbs on movie ads. Among other bits, it rants about misplaced hyphens, ampersands, generally mangled sentiments and of course, words that don’t exist. I heartily second a lot of their points, and also would like to add that the recent poster for The Kingdom baffled me a bit, because of its mixture of fragment and sentence: “An elite FBI team sent to find a killer in Saudi Arabia. Now they have become the target.”

The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story

The story of Pink Floyd wunderkind Syd Barrett is at once a sad
and familiar one, but a story still fused with its own alluring mysteriousness
.
That tale, as well as the formation and rise of the famous band, get a fine
overview in this engaging mid-form (which is to say halfway between short-form
and long-form) 2003 documentary from producer-director John Edginton, a title which
includes interviews with all the members of Pink Floyd.

The Pink Floyd and Syd
Barrett Story
retells the fascinating story of the launch of one of the most
influential bands in rock ’n’ roll
— named on a whim for an album by obscure bluesmen
Pink Anderson and Floyd Council — and the drug-induced breakdown of their
original songwriter and lead singer
. As one of the most famous creators and
characters of the psychedelic era, Barrett conducted no interviews and released
no music between the early 1970s and his recent passing, yet his self-imposed
anonymity still fascinates fans old and new. The prodigiously talented original
songwriter for Pink Floyd was only with the band for a vibrant three years when
he left in 1968, yet when the group released their greatest hits album in 2001 Barrett’s
fingerprints were on over a fifth of the tracks.

The film incorporates rare early footage of the band
performing, including a live show at the UFO Club, and an appearance with
former landlord Mick Leonard on Tomorrows
World
. Roger Waters, Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright retell how Barrett’s
disconnection from reality happened rather quickly, yet still haunted the band
for many years, informing tracks like “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and, of
course, “Wish You Were Here.” Their recollections are candid (“Should I roar
with laughter or try to kill him?” muses Mason at one point, then adding, “I
don’t remember being overcome with compassion”) and sometimes downright harsh,
particularly as Gilmour was groomed to take over for an unreliable Barrett. Intervention
and drug treatment programs, it seems, were not part of the 1960s London
musical scene.

Running around 50 minutes, the movie at times feels like it
could use a bit more fleshing out, either from others who knew Barrett outside
of the band (an old girlfriend provides key reminiscences, for instance,
including the revelation that “Arnold Layne,” the tune that helped the group
first ink a record deal with EMI in 1967, was actually about a local
panty-sniffer) or critical-minded music authorities. Still, there’s no denying the
fascinating value of the insights and anecdotes that the major players all
provide
. Brief guitarist Bob Klose even half-jokingly notes that the band “needed
me to leave” to hone their signature sound.

The film is presented in widescreen, with superlative audio in
the form of complementary Dolby digital 5.1 and DTS surround sound tracks. Supplemental
extras on the first disc include a few interview outtakes, and though these
seem to be mixed a bit lower, they include Gilmour’s thoughts on “Wish You Were
Here,” and him noodling around on what he recalls as the actual guitar that
birthed the original riff. There are performances, too: Blur guitarist Graham Coxon,
who talks up “Bike” during the movie, performs “Love You,” while Robyn
Hitchcock performs “Dominoes” and “It Is Obvious.” There’s also a detailed text
biography of Barrett. The release’s second disc contains the supplemental jackpot,
however, with more than two hours of unedited interview footage
between an
offscreen Edginton and his subjects. Overall, this great disc strikes a great
balance; it’s accessible enough for casual music fans looking to learn more
about Pink Floyd, while the high quotient of the never-before-seen footage (there’s
even some home video footage of one of Barrett’s first LSD experiences) is
impressive enough to woo longtime fans as well.
To purchase the film via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) A- (Disc)

On Airport Security on Screen

Good Luck Chuck isn’t going to win any awards, that’s for sure, especially for real-world accuracy and honesty, but one thing I did really appreciate in the movie was its airport security bit. Films have been struggling, ever since September 11, with ways to portray the new hassles and humor of air travel. In Good Luck Chuck, when Dane Cook’s Charlie is making his requisite madcap dash to the airport to win back Cam (Jessica Alba), he gets stuck in a security line, with first his shoes and then a pocket full of change setting off the metal detector. Sensing Charlie’s urgency, the wand-waving guard instructs him to take off his pants to hurry matters along. When Charlie starts to oblige, the guard quickly interrupts him: “Why would you do that, you weirdo?” On one level, it’s a silly moment, nothing more, but it’s also a smart, sly goof on the sheep mentality we’ve come to embrace at said security checkpoints.

More Thoughts on Resident Evil: Extinction

If there’s a notable silver lining to be found for cineastes in the
third installment of the Resident Evil franchise, it’s that a bravura, mid-film
zombie crow sequence may have squelched the need for Michael Bay’s
long-rumored remake of The Birds
. In Extinction, Milla Jovovich returns
as dispassionate butt-kicker Alice, the former head of security for the
shadowy, powerful Umbrella Corporation. In a land where an experimental
virus has transformed most of the population into a mass of shambling
flesh-eaters, Alice herself is marked by biogenic experimentation that
left her genetically altered. While a shady Umbrella scientist (Iain
Glen) works to capture and/or kill Alice for his own purposes, she
hooks up with a roaming band of survivors (including returnees Oded
Fehr and Mike Epps and newcomer Ali Larter). A planned escape to Alaska
is scotched by a pit stop gone awry in Las Vegas, where O.J. Simpson
shows up and angrily demands the return of his sports collectibles
.

For the original capsule review, from CityBeat, click here and scroll down.

Alfred Hitchcock Gets Blocked

For those in and around Chicago, the Block Museum of Art is hosting a special exhibit on Alfred Hitchcock entitled Casting a Shadow, from September 28 through December 9. In canny fashion, Hitchcock (and certainly his Hollywood financiers) presented himself as the sole author of his films. In reality, however, Hitchcock was a deeply collaborative
artist
, working intensely with actors, producers, cinematographers,
screenwriters, editors and production and sound designers to feed the myth of what the public knew only as “an Alfred Hitchcock film,” sometimes even crafting storyboards after the completion of principal photography.

This exhibition — presented in collaboration with the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — makes use of drawings,
storyboards, paintings and other production documents, showing that the
director’s colleagues often contributed critical ideas frequently credited solely to Hitchcock. For more information, click here.

Jamie Foxx on The Daily Show

I just put a bullet in an episode of last night’s The Daily Show, which featured Jamie Foxx as its guest, promoting The Kingdom. Foxx has descended into full-fledged slap-happy celeb-promo mode, which means pretty much shamelessly milking the crowd everywhere he goes. Last night, that meant plenty of dancing in place before sitting down, playing with his own nipples, and an extended bit talking about the astrological sign he and host Jon Stewart share (that would be Sagittarius). Stewart had the best bit of the interview, when he asked Foxx what part of Toronto stood in for Saudi Arabia during The Kingdom‘s shoot; he also asked Foxx to come to the Oscars next year, saying of his previous hosting gig, “Your laughter was the only thing that sustained me during the first 10 minutes.”

Notorious B.I.G.: Bigger than Life

The Notorious B.I.G., né Christopher Wallace in 1972, is no
doubt on every hip-hop fan’s short list of the greatest rappers of all time.
B.I.G. was respected and revered by his peers in the game; everyone from Jay Z and
Tupac Shakur to Sean “Puffy” Combs became captivated by the Brooklyn
big guy’s velvety flow and unparalleled rhyme style. He left behind a legacy
that reached mythic status.

Biggie and Tupac,
but director Peter Spirer’s superlative Notorious
B.I.G.: Bigger than Life
gives a new and different perspective, celebrating
the rap superstar’s life and investigating the East Coast/West Coast beef that
fed into his death without getting bogged down in specific conspiracy theory
.

Narrated by Big Daddy Kane, Bigger than Life opens in novel fashion, with a series of answering
machine messages introducing the rapper in tangential fashion, and conveying
the immense love and respect out there for him in the industry. The rest of the
film is powered by interviews with not only rap heavyweights like Method Man,
Common, P-Diddy, Matteo “Matty C” Capoluongo, E-40, Raekwon and many more, but
also plenty of childhood friends, and academicians like USC cinema professor
Todd Boyd and author Cheo Hodari Coker. The firsthand accounts of Biggie’s
youth from his closest friends are fascinating, and Method Man spins some
interesting stories about Biggie’s personality and their collaboration on “The
What.”

Spirer (Tupac Shakur:
Thug Angel
) knows his stuff, and gets great material from his interview
subjects
, especially Ready to Die
producer Easy Mo Bee and “Unsigned Hype” Source
columnist Capoluongo — seminal figures within the industry that aren’t your
obvious, top-level, go-to interview “gets.”
Additional feathers in the title’s
cap include rare home video footage, a never-before-seen interview done with
Biggie shortly before his death and
undisclosed home video footage from the night of his murder outside the Petersen
Automotive Museum

in Los Angeles. In fact, it’s here
that Bigger than Life shines. Without
direct implications, the film paints a gripping, sad portrait of how Shakur’s
paranoia over his first, non-lethal shooting fed unfounded rumors about Biggie’s
involvement, and in turn how Puff Daddy made several miscalculations (including
releasing the single “Who Shot Ya” so close after Shakur’s shooting) that would
create or at least engender the sort of toxic environment preceding Biggie’s
own murder. While somewhat hamstrung by a lack of music rights licenses (when
you’re hearing about the crafting of a track like “Juicy,” well… you want to hear it), Bigger than Life is still a fantastic look at a rap superstar taken too
soon
.

The film comes housed in a stylish, gatefold case which
slides into a thin, clear, plasticine slipcase, saving a bit of shelf space and
making for an attractive, tightly packaged title. Bigger than Life is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with
solid Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and Dolby 2.0 stereo audio tracks. DVD
bonus features include a seven-minute, music-set photo gallery montage and nine
minutes of classic Bedford Stuyvesant street
jam footage
. The latter is definitely a kick, just to see a young Wallace
enjoying life and rocking the mic with his pals. To purchase the title via Amazon, click here.
A- (Movie) B (Disc)

Ryan Reynolds, In Triplicate

Ryan Reynolds got his start as a child actor on Canadian television,
and then, straddling the new millennium, spent the better part of four
seasons making small swatches of ABC’s Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place
bearable. It’s no great stretch, then, for him to play a TV
writer-creator… well, it wouldn’t be, really, except in just about any
other project than The Nines.

The Nines
is a flawed film, maybe what some would even call a failure, but it’s
getting a raw deal at the box office, not the least of which because
it’s a movie with an indefatigable curiosity one finds in few mainstream modern films. Set in and around Hollywood, the movie is a labyrinthine, very loosely autobiographical tale of
creativity, collapse and emotional and spiritual responsibility
. It
features three actors (Reynolds, Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy)
playing three parts apiece in three different stories, roles that sort
of overlap but, apart from their place within discrete narratives, may
or may not have something to do with one another. Reynolds is the
front-and-center star, playing a self-destructive actor, a videogame
designer/family man and the aforementioned small screen
multi-hyphenate, the character most directly based on August. “It’s really a difficult movie to logline,” concedes Reynolds during a recent spate of interviews for the film,
sporting a beard that he characterizes as his own personal salute to
lethargy
. “Most people want to kind of grab onto what they think is the
hook, which is that you play three different people in one movie. And
[that’s] not really a hook, it’s actually part of the story.”

“It’s not done in this indulgent, vain kind of way,” he continues. “But… even my parents say, ‘Ooh, that’s
the one where you play three different people, I can’t wait to see
that!’ My mother’s like Marge Simpson
. It’s a difficult thing to
explain; I usually just say it’s three separate stories that interlock
in mysterious ways.” For the full feature interview, from FilmStew, click here.

Wasted Orient


Wasted Orient
, a
film about Chinese punk band Joyside, plays like a soused travelogue document —
an alternately rowdy and curiously lulling waste of time for anyone not
directly connected to the movie’s subjects or its maker
.

A biography of Pennsylvania-born director Kevin Fritz
proudly notes that he applied for an overseas internship as a joke, and ended
up at China’s
prestigious Peking University
to study Chinese. There, he met Joyside’s band members in 2003, and began
filming their tour that same year. Obsessed with Johnny Thunders and the
philosophies of American punk, Joyside decide to spread their beer-soaked
message of apathy across the countryside, filming everything along the way
. This
mainly means countless binge drinking sessions, a few performances captured in
tight, handheld fashion (songs include “I Don’t Care About Society,” “I Want
Beer” and “I Wanna Piss Around You”), and band members traipsing through public
toilets and their cigarette-littered apartments. There are also a few muddled interview
segments, but mostly Wasted Orient offers
up a grab-bag collection of random footage, like someone pouring hot candle wax
on their tongue, or a mosh-pit kid dealing with a busted eye.

Fritz obviously somehow mistakes nihilism and the indulgence
of base behavior for truth
, and refuses to dig deeply at all into the personal
lives and backgrounds of his subjects — a group that includes perpetually bleary-eyed
frontman Bian Yuan (a figure somewhat reminiscent of G.G. Allin), as well as Liu
Hao, Fan Bo, Xin Shuang and Yang Yang. Viewers learn more from a random sticker
(using the first letters of the band’s name to spell out its ostensible “likes,”
which include: “Johnny Rotten, Orgasm, Your Money, Slut, Ice-Cold Beer, Drugs,
Every Fucking Day!”) than from anything that Fritz manifestly offers forth.

Presented in 1.33:1 full-screen, Wasted Orient comes housed in a nice, clear plastic Amray case,
with a tri-fold, full-color insert that includes a lengthy and surprisingly
well-reasoned director’s statement on one side and a smattering of Joyside
photos and illustrations on the other side. The English subtitles touted on the
back cover are not present on the disc, which is a huge additional strike on this title
, since it leaves one to
decipher the ramblings of Bian Yuan on their own. Sometimes he slips into
English and one can follow him (he deems rock ’n’ roll “an addiction to chaos,”
and says that he has no relationship with the world, and isn’t interested in
one), but just as frequently one is left grasping for straws. The disc’s
sole bonus feature consists of six extra minutes of footage
rather pointlessly divided
into three chapters; here we see another performance and… hey, some vomiting! Yawn.
To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here.
D+ (Movie) D+ (Disc)

Resident Evil: Extinction

A movie of intermittent action catharsis and reliably
deafening sound design
, the altogether middling Resident Evil: Extinction takes the videogame action franchise to
the desert, allowing star Milla Jovovich to energetically lop off zombie heads
in a manner that will please series aficionados but leave newcomers mostly fidgety
and baffled.

Ali Larter), a group of around 30 people that includes Carlos (Oded Fehr) and
L.J. (Mike Epps), reprising their roles from the franchise’s second installment.
The convoy decides to head north to Alaska — their last, best hope for refuge
from the undead — but first have to make a pit-stop in Las Vegas to refuel. There, hidden beneath an abandoned radio tower, are the Umbrella Corporation’s sleek research facilities, where Dr.
Isaacs (Iain Glen) works to create a docile work force, stripping zombies of
their baser instincts by using antibodies from Alice’s
blood. When Alice surfaces and is
located by satellite, Dr. Isaacs becomes obsessed with finding and capturing
her, dead or alive.

Whereas the first Resident Evil unfolded in claustrophobic fashion in
a contained space, and the second film took place largely at night, Extinction opens things up much more. Visually,
the film takes inspiration from dusty apocalyptic movies like The Road Warrior, with original Resident Evil cinematographer David
Johnson providing a dusty backdrop for Eugenio Caballero’s stirring production
design work. Much of the ground covered in series originating director
Paul W.S. Anderson’s script is familiar, from the obligatory character trying
to keep a zombie bite secret to loose, hazy strains of conspiracy. Narratively,
everything is in play and on the table, as at times Alice
can control objects and summon forth a force-field with her mind, while at other
times she seems to have to rely on martial arts. With no explication of the
particulars of her powers, each subsequent set piece becomes more shruggingly
inconsequential from the point of any emotional investment
. For the full review, from Screen International, click here.

Moore Thoughts on Dedication

Mandy Moore got
her start in show business as a singer. At 15, she was cutting albums and
touring with the Backstreet Boys — all the sort of coded prerequisites for an
eventual Behind the Music-type washout. Yet Moore
has gone the good girl route, avoiding all of the trampy clichés of many modern
young starlets
. In the process, she’s steadily accrued respect, and more and
more fame of the good, earned kind — not to be confused with mere notoriety.

Lindsay Lohan), she’s shown a fun and flirty side, but also
convincingly modeled moderation, earning her respect and role model status from
countless “tween” girls
. Moore was
good in Paul Weitz’s satirical American Dreamz, where
she was required to play an aspirant singer who shrewdly trades on her small
town roots in audacious, eye-batting fashion. She’s also shown an endearing
willingness to indulge in goofiness (on the small screen in Scrubs,
in an arc with then-boyfriend Zach Braff). In her latest film, though, Moore utterly obliterates memories that she was ever “first” a singer.

The feature directorial debut of Mulholland
Drive
and Miami Vice actor Justin Theroux, Dedication is constructed around Billy Crudup’s
bitter-hearted children’s book author, an obsessive-compulsive who’s learning,
in What About Bob?-style baby steps, to interact with
the real world in a more positive, healthy manner. Yet the film also requires that
Moore push back in compelling ways
— mixing it up with Crudup in substantive fashion while still retaining an
innate likeability. Her character, Lucy, is part messed-up spitfire, part
broken-hearted bohemian — exactly the sort of role that Parker Posey would have
knocked out of the park 10 or 12 years ago. This decade, though, it’s Moore
. For the full review, from FilmStew, click here.

Dorm of the Dead

It’s my fault, really. I fired up a movie called Dorm of the Dead totally sober, and for that I have been rightfully punished. I should have known what I was in store for when a mock-frightful introduction included the line, “Zombies will crawl out of their graves!” (Err… zombies have graves?) Reminiscent of movies like Satan’s Cheerleaders, Zombie High and all those completely anonymous, schlocky, VHS-era horror flicks from fly-by-night companies, Dorm of the Dead is a horrible, horrible mess of both idea and execution, simply jaw-droppingly inept on every level.

Set at the fictional Arkham University, Dorm of the Dead unfolds against the backdrop of a zombie virus, which gets out when a philandering professor starts waving around a vial of “real zombie blood” picked up during a research trip to Haiti. Campus bimbo Clare (Jackey/Jackie Hall, simply awful) and her friend Julie (Andrea Ownbey) decide to exact revenge against vegetarian goth chick Sarah (Ciara Richards). In a parallel strand, abused and bi-curious Amy (Tiffany Shepis) escapes her jerky boyfriend, only to fail victim to a bite that renders her a member of the undead. Then… um, other stuff happens.

Where to start? The acting in this movie is atrocious; you could honestly pull a collection of people randomly off the street and coax, in aggregate, better performances out of them. Hall, Richards, Adrianna Eder (cute, but clueless) and Ownbey are the main offenders, but everyone gets in on the act. To compare Dorm of the Dead to any of the movies by which it might nominally be inspired would be to blight those titles perhaps irreparably.

Written and directed by Donald Farmer, the movie is an utter hack job, through and through — incompetently conceived, written, shot, paced and edited. The dialogue is wretched, continuity is routinely butchered, and basic principles of angle and sightline are just as frequently ignored. There’s also a two-and-a-half-minute scene of Ownbey and Hall walking through a building, the latter repeatedly saying, “Come on!” (This is actually one of the high points of the film — along with a passing mention of Abu Ghraib, only because that was the only thing that fixed this movie in time.) I wholeheartedly support the baring of breasts (on film, in life), and quite early on I figured out that that’s what this movie was — a student film (albeit a really bad one) constructed mainly to get a couple chicks to awkwardly lift blouse. But no… Farmer is 50 years old!

Presented in 1.33:1 full-screen, Dorm of the Dead comes in a regular plastic Amray case bearing the hilarious salutory blurb “Nice job — congratulations!” from Howard Stern. (Ownbey, it seems, is “Miss Howard Stern.”) A trailer is included, but the only other supplemental extra is a true jewel — a 15-minute “making-of featurette” (actually just a collection of on-set footage) in which Shepis fixes the camera in her gaze and sighs, “What we do to pay the rent…” Another dude, meanwhile, actively runs when the camera is pointed in his direction, saying, “I’m not in this!” If I were to give grades lower than a F, it would be in special cases like this. If for some reason you’re still interested, to check out the movie via Amazon, click here. F (Movie) C- (Disc)

Resident Evil Tops Box Office

Just like this summer’s The Bourne Ultimatum, a three-peat which improved on the opening numbers of its previous entries, Resident Evil: Extinction topped the box office charts this weekend, taking in an estimated $23.7 million.

Good Luck Chuck saw more modest returns, pulling in $13.7 million on around 3,100 screens, while Amanda Bynes’ Sydney White couldn’t capitalize on her Hairspray-aided bump in profile, grossing only $5.2 million at around 2,100 sites.

In holdovers, Jodie Foster’s gritty The Brave One dropped 46 percent, good for $7.3 million and $25 cumulatively to date. 3:10 to Yuma added another $6.1 million to its coffers, and now stands at $37 million overall. Mr. Woodcock fell 44 percent, down to $4.9 million for the weekend and $15.6 million in total. Still hanging around in the top 10, meanwhile, are Superbad (which has now raked in over $116 million), the aforementioned The Bourne Ultimatum ($220 million and counting), and sophomore release Dragon Wars, which pulled in $2.5 million to take its total haul to $8.6 million.

In limited release, Across the Universe, a sprawling love story set to the tunes of the Beatles and starring Evan Rachel Wood,
expanded to 275 theaters and pulled in $1.9 million. Sean Penn’s Into the Wild rang up $210,000 on four screens, The Jane Austen Book Club made $149,000 on 25 screens, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford made just under $148,000 at five theaters. Meanwhile, December Boys, starring Daniel Radcliffe, added four theaters (for a total of eight), and put another $11,000 in the bank.

The Washingtonians

American history gets turned upside down in The Washingtonians, one of the latest entries in the “Masters of Horror
anthology series. Starring Johnathon Schaech and Saul Rubinek, the movie posits that a grisly secret has been kept for more than two centuries by a homicidal, clandestine sect of cloak-and-dagger historians — namely that first American president George Washington’s had a cannibalistic urge for the flesh of children.

The Washingtonians centers on Mike and Pam Franks (Schaech and Venus Terzo, respectively), a young married couple who, along with their daughter (Julia Tortolano), move into an old Virginia home willed to Mike by his late grandmother. While rooting through some of his grandmother’s old belongings in the basement, Mike finds a strange painting of George Washington (Gozer not included), along with a hidden note in the frame that makes mention of eating children and making utensils from their bones. After deducing that the note is from Washington himself, Mike naturally starts casually mentioning it around town, and receives plenty of cold stares and clenched jaws. Mayhem ensues.

Helmed by Peter Medak (Pontiac Moon), whose abundant episodic television experience no doubt helped him when it came to crunching this production’s brisk schedule, and whose arguable comedic experience on Species II no doubt helped, at least in theoretical terms, in striking a balance between black comedy and horror, The Washingtonians has at its core a deliciously goofy concept, the perfect thing for this sort of anthology series. The problem, though, is that the treatment here doesn’t live up to the parallel story a viewer has in their mind, making for a frustrating viewing experience. If done right, the movie could be a cross between, say, The Da Vinci Code, The Wicker Man and some schlocky slice of ’80s-era horror. Schaech and co-writer Richard Chizmar, though, adapting a short story by Bentley Little, don’t have enough interesting set-ups or layered ideas, and so the movie becomes a quite literal (and boring) exercise in pitchfork-type ensemble cover-up and lynching.

Housed in a regular Amray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, The Washingtonians
is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, enhanced for 16×9 televisions. It comes with superb Dolby
digital 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 audio tracks. Multi-hyphenate Schaech and director Medak team up for a joint, feature-length audio commentary track, in which they dole out mad praise to all involved in the production and talk up both the challenges and the exhilaration of tackling such a shoestring-budgeted movie. Similarly effusive cast and crew interviews anchor a 13-minute making-of featurette, and there’s also a seven-minute-plus featurette on the make-up effects of the movie, and its many powdered wigs and bloody teeth. Rounding out the special features are a photo gallery, a DVD-ROM copy of the
movie’s screenplay, and plenty of trailers for other films in the series. C- (Movie) B+ (Disc)

All My Loving


All My Loving
is award-winning
filmmaker Tony Palmer’s groundbreaking documentary on music and its effect on
pop culture in the late ’60s
, with previously unseen footage from The Beatles,
Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Pink Floyd and many more. Produced for the BBC and
initially broadcast in 1968 only after being nervously shelved by fuddy-duddy
types for six months, the project was born out of a collaboration and challenge
of sorts from John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who tasked Palmer, then a
classical music documentarian, to make a film that encompassed the radical
changes taking place in the music world at that time. Alternately interesting
and hallucinatory, this hour-long title, powered by performances and chats, finally
makes its DVD debut, and while some of the pertinence is dented by time, there
remains an undeniable, slurry time-capsule value to it
.

Daily
Express’ James Thomas said at the time, a “hideous, clamorous force” about All My Loving, which leans mightily on
production affectation. And if some of the interview segments are indulgent and
unfocused, they’re almost all compellingly photographed in their own way, and
there’s no denying the worth of the British television debuts of Hendrix, Pink
Floyd (who had just lost Syd Barrett), Frank Zappa, Cream and the Animals’ Eric
Burden. The film passingly examines notions of audiences hero worship, but also
how keen almost all of these musicians are to change the world through the
power of their music. “Pop music is crucial to today’s art,” Pete Townsend
points out.

Palmer’s grand innovation comes in the striking
juxtapositions that he makes of the aftermath of the “Summer of Love” and the
beginning of the peace movement with all the violence that is still raging
around the world. There’s a razor’s-edge, in-your-face defiance to the manner
in which he intertwines gruesome newsreel footage with woozy performance pieces,
and sometimes the metaphorical dots connect and sometimes they don’t. For my
money, it was a Peoria, Illinois
Opera House performance by The Who that stood out as much as anything else,
courtesy of Townsend’s wild head-butting antics and mic stand playing. At the
bit’s conclusion, a fan runs up and furtively grabs a souvenir — as much for
the sheer shock value of what he’s just witnessed as anything else, it seems.

All My Loving is
presented in full-screen, and housed in a clear, regular Amray case. In
addition to a 90-second montage of Ralph Steadman cartoons set to the music of
Cream’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the DVD comes with a supplemental extra that’s
quite worthwhile if still a very shaggy, unpruned affair — a new, 40-minute interview with
Palmer
conducted by Jon Kirkman, who mostly lobs a few softballs at his subject
and gets out of the way for Palmer’s lengthy, digressive responses. Palmer
talks about meeting Lennon as a student in 1963 at the Cambridge
premiere of A Hard Day’s Night, and also
amusingly details the reactions of BBC management upon his completion of the
movie. For more information, click here, or to
purchase the disc on Amazon, click here.
B- (Movie) B (Disc)

Oh, Racial Epithet TV Replacement!

To bone up on the Resident Evil franchise in advance of the release of the third film in the series, I recently TiVoed 2004’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which introduces Mike Epps’ jive-talking L.J. The result? This poorly dubbed bon mot of edited-for-television hilarity, when he’s queried about his weaponry: “Motivator please — my stuff is custom!” Two words there, naturally, are substitutions…

Good Luck Chuck

A high-energy servicing of the randy, relationship-oriented sex comedy sub-genre, Good Luck Chuck feels work-shopped for big business, but beset by awkward tonal swings that seem less a function of story, and much more nakedly designed to try to lure in different demographics. The result is a ramshackle piece of fleeting entertainment that lacks the airy, character-rooted charms of fellow R-rated comedies Wedding Crashers and There’s Something about Mary, the films to which it most obviously aspires.

 Jessica Alba). Charlie becomes convinced that Cam is his perfect match, but she’s wary of his reputation. Eventually coming to believe in the curse himself, Charlie goes so far as to test out its power with the grossly overweight Eleanor (Jodie Stewart), all before a third act that comes back around to Charlie trying to get back in the good graces of Cam.

The directorial debut of longtime editor Mark Helfrich, Good Luck Chuck‘s chief concept takes a rather dim view of women, and Josh Stolberg’s script never really does much to tweak the notion of objectified masculinity, or elevate the proceedings beyond a sort of madcap steeplechase. The movie is studded with a few bawdy sequences, and mixes in some visual jokes (one woman has a “George W” tattoo just above her bikini line), but for the most part it serves as a shaggy, high-energy showcase for the affable presence of stand-up comedian Cook, with multiple set-ups designed simply to indulge character riffs rather than realistically advance the story.

Cook imports a lot of the same wild gesticulations and physical pantomime that are a large part of his stage act. It’s occasionally entertaining but also repetitive — a mannered tack which has the effect of undermining identification with him. Fogler, meanwhile, more than matches this tone of heightened mania, putting a wicked topspin on almost all of his dialogue. Needless to say, believing this pair as actual doctors of any sort is a stretch that exceeds the movie’s grasp. Mock-sexual deviants take heart, though — an end credit sequence showcases both Stu’s polymastic dream girl (addled with a third breast), and Charlie’s mock-fellating of a stuffed penguin, much to Cam‘s cooing, off-screen delight. So there’s that. For the film’s full review, from Screen International, click here. (Lionsgate, R, 96 minutes)