Day the Earth Stood Still, The

Day the Earth Stood Still, TheWhile it may not have the emotional wallop or the humour of Dr. Strangelove, this film is truly the first anti-atomic movie and it is surprisingly anti-American in its message. Released in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still is about a visit to Washington, D.C. by an intergalactic traveller named Klaatu and his emissary. The alien has landed not to begin experiments on man test subjects, play music to entice willing Earthlings to their planet, or anal probe any of the cast of X-Files. Instead, he is here to warn people about themselves and that the Cold War weapons build-up could not only destroy the planet, but also the universe.

Michael Rennie plays Carpenter, the emissary sent with Klaatu, who seeks to have conversations with all the world leaders at the United Nations. The U.S. will not allow it, and the other nations refuse to participate for all of the usual diplomatic reasons. In fact, it seems the only person who will take Carpenter seriously and is not absolutely petrified by him (in that typical American xenophobia which always comes across so realistically in good films) is a precocious boy named Bobby Benson who helps Carpenter meet with a top mathematician. As the nation lives in fear of Klaatu, the ten foot alien who will blow up the city if his emissary is harmed, Carpenter lives among the humans, observing their pettiness and fear of each other. Bobby, of course, has yet to be affected by the grown up’s world. The boy’s role is juxtaposed with that of Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe), the boyfriend of Bobby’s mother (Patricia Neal) and a royal jackass, who tries to cash in on knowing Carpenter.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is mistakenly seen as a science fiction movie, with a title designed for double bill matinees and evenings at the drive-in. But make no mistake, it as just as political as All the President’s Men. The only sci-fi aspect occurs in the first five minutes, when Klaatu vaporizes U.S. army guns and artillery. The rest of the film is a complex anti-war statement, a call to end the Cold War, and to strengthen communication among nations. Rennie is fantastic as the slightly off-kilter Carpenter, with his almost constipated alien demeanour and his refusal to judge too harshly the humans and their ways. But perhaps the best role is played by Sam Jaffe, as Professor Jacob Barnhardt. Not unlike Einstein or Werner Von Braun in his performance, Barnhardt sympathizes with Carpenter’s frustration in trying to get someone to listen. And after Carpenter shows some impressive math abilities (light years ahead of us humans), Barnhardt takes up the visitor’s cause.

The resolution of the film is effective. Carpenter finally gets a global spotlight, which he uses to warn humans about their nuclear build-up, and Stevens is put in his place. Bobby, our hero, and the professor form a close friendship and the aliens leave, without test subjects. But did anybody listen? It would take decades before even the first nuclear disarmament treaties were discussed. It is surprising that this film came out more than ten years prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. And considering the anti-communist spirit of the fifties, it is amazing that it even got made, with the rampant McCarthyism that defined the era. The most amazing thing about this excellent film is how well it has held up and how its message is just as true today as it was in the immediate post-Second World War years.

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Banger Sisters, The

Banger Sisters, TheWhat could have been a colossal failure is saved by its beautiful leading ladies. The Banger Sisters stars Academy Award winners Susan Sarandon, Goldie Hawn and Geoffrey Rush.

Hawn plays washed up cocktail waitress Suzette who loses her job and seeks out her old college friend Vinnie (Sarandon) for a financial loan. While on the road, she picks up a failed playwright returning home to shoot his father. Harry Plummer (Geoffrey Rush) is an obsessive compulsive whose life is turned upside down as he falls in love with the flattering Suzette. Upon arrival in Vinnie’s hometown, Suzette tracks down her friend, who is now going by her given name Lavinia and is married to Raymond Kingsley (Robin Thomas), a rich socialite who wouldn’t understand their wild past together.

Chickening out without even meeting Vinnie, Suzette returns to Harry’s hotel room where she espies her old friend’s daughter Hannah (Erika Christensen) drunkenly pass out in the hotel hallway. She takes responsibility for the girl and takes her home the next day, where she finally comes face to face with Vinnie. Together they begin reminiscing of their days as groupies following bands and offering themselves to their members and staff.

Hawn hasn’t lost much of her beauty, a wiser and more serious attitude gives her a more adult visage, but her performance conjures to memory her old roles on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Hawn fits the part too perfectly, giving the audience the impression that perhaps Hawn herself was a groupie as a teenager. Sarandon on the other hand, plays the model of a modern well-to-do mother who has stripped off the vestiges of her former life to lead a dull and predictable one. Her performance is filled with the nervous energy that has made so many of her other roles believable.

Rush rounds out the talented cast as the phobic screenwriter whose delusions of success were crippled by his father’s cryptic prophesy. To return the favour, Rush gives us a self-centered malcontent whose pristine life is shattered by an outside force the strength of a hurricane. Rush is good in many ways, but in others he gives a performance similar to his work in Shine. Christensen never lives up to the brilliant expectations set in her first major film role in the 2000 drama Traffic. Here she plays the typical ne’er-do-well teenager with love for her parents, but no love for herself. Her role, while only a pale copy of her performance in Traffic, is limited and uneventful.

The cast isn’t The Banger Sisters’ problem. The lacklustre script and inept direction are to blame. This, Bob Dolman’s, directorial debut, is not his first screenplay. Dolman has by and large done very little with only two writing credits since his movie debut in 1988 with Willow. Dolman gives us a story that reeks of deja-vu. We’ve seen the premise before in so many movies. Rowdy woman breaks up perfect marriage, but everything works out in the end for everyone. It’s an age-old archetypical story and we don’t see a better treatment here. The Banger Sisters is predominantly an actor-driven movie with roles that don’t give much room for growth and never expand the actors’ potential.

The Banger Sisters sits as a love and hate kind of movie. The performances are easy to love while the story is not. Audiences will likely find this film tedious and wasteful while hoping that its stars could find better vehicles for their talents.

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Rock n Roll Frankenstein

Rock 'n' Roll FrankensteinChock-full of stunningly graphic gore, hilariously over-the-top vulgarity and some of the most joyously non-politically correct sensibilities ever caught on film, Rock ‘n’ Roll Frankenstein is a hardcore schlock fan’s idea of a sloppy good time. Sprinkling some surprisingly witty social commentary amidst the graphic carnage and non-stop crude jokes, the flick certainly slows down to a crawl from time to time, but if colourfully nasty B-movies are your cup of tea, you’ll have a good time here. (It’s entertaining in precisely the same way that the finer Troma flicks are entertaining.)

Bernie Stein is a music agent who’s just lost his last big client – but not to worry; the profane and abusive old jerk has a brilliant plan, one that involves building a man from the best parts of the world’s most famous rock stars. (Picture a creature with Elvis Presley’s face, Jimmi Hendrix’s hands, Sid Vicious’ butt and Buddy Holly’s hips and you’re halfway toward being able to appreciate a premise this inane.) The surgical procedures will be handled by Bernie’s nephew, a former medical student who was ousted from school for having sex with corpses.

Much like in the original Frankenstein, the doctor’s moronic manservant grabs the wrong organ and dooms the whole experiment. Way back when, the hunchback Igor mistakenly grabbed the brain of a lunatic; in this modern incarnation, the drug-addict Iggy mistakenly grabs the penis of Liberace. (The original goal was to obtain Jim Morrison’s but that organ inadvertently ends up inside a vial of hydrochloric acid. Don’t ask.)

Aside from the joyfully sick plot, the movie is graced with a few unknown actors who jump into the affair with both feet. Though much of the emoting is clearly of the amateur-hour variety, there’s something to be said for a low-rent schlockfest that contains such game and enthusiastic actors. Seldom has the ‘F-word’ been used so prevalently and to such humorous effect.

So we’ve firmly established that Rock ‘n’ Roll Frankenstein is not suitable for family viewing – but it goes way beyond that. Writer/ director Brian O’Hara seems intent on offending virtually any viewer out there, though those with open minds and strong constitutions may find themselves guiltily enjoying themselves. (Forgive me, but hearing a deformed penis mutter leeringly in a snide little Liberace voice always makes me laugh.) The no-name cast performs surprisingly well, the production design is impressive for such a low-budget affair and (at the very least) this one will offer you a few things you’ve never seen in a movie before! Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you.

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300Frank Milleris graphic novels have an undeniable appeal to young males, filled as they are with toughness and nihilism, bravado and smirking self importance. Best of all, Milleris cachet allows his adherents to claim that itis art, not just self indulgence. When my review of Sin City, similar to 300 in its stylish transformation of the graphic novel format to the big screen, dared to question the humanity-hating morally vacuous underpinning of its story, some readers (Iim guessing overwhelmingly young and male) were outraged. iYou donit get it,i they argued. iBut itis Frank Miller,i they intoned. iYouire just a wimp,i they concluded.

And then thereis 300, a macho young male poseuris wet dream. Again doing a credible job of combining live action with animation that skilfully evokes the graphic novel style, this is a movie thatis one-third blood and guts, one-third locker room bravado, and one-third slo-mo low-brow artiness.

If youive ever witnessed a high school social event, conjure up memories of that circle of cool dudes n football players, perhaps n who fancy their poses and smirks above all else. These are the folks 300 is aimed at n people who are stirred by a chanting phalanx of Spartan warriors, thrilled by every gush of Persian blood, and adamant in their claim that movies like this arenit about politics. Itis all just good fun.

Of course, the fans of this sort of movie donit understand that finding heroic cutting and slashing artful is itself a statement of a personis values, of their politics. And 300, which celebrates toughness, disregard for the rule of law, death as glory, and eno forgivenessi above all else, is every bit a political film.

Irrelevant arguments over the origins of Milleris graphic novel have focused on whether it was conceived as a right wing endorsement of George Bushis mid-east war-making. Defenders of Miller correctly rebuff such criticism, pointing out that the graphic novel preceded Bushis presidency by several years, let alone his invasion of Iraq. But who really cares about the specific events? Perhaps the president reads comic books. Itis the values of 300 that match Bushis worldview, not the specific events that unfold.

In fact, the simpleminded black and white of 300 very much reflects a value set thatis evident in 21st century politics. While far from sophisticated in its eno retreat, no surrenderi, freedom-as-the-product-of-brutality, eI have filled my heart with hatei messaging, this film resonates with the eus versus themi worldview thatis wildly popular in some circles these days.

This is a movie thatis all posing and boasting, with surprisingly little screen time devoted to the cut and thrust of battle. Of course, thereis still plenty of that, with heads and limbs flying, spurts of blood everywhere. But the filmmakers recognize that thereis only so much of that one can watch without eyes glossing over n even if one is thrilled by the sight of swords bursting through flesh. So, we get an endless stream of speeches n King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) exhorting his macho compatriots, and a long line of hateful enemies n Asians, liars, cowards, freaks, all those who are other than pure n arguing for despicable values such as compromise, peacemaking, valuing diversity, and following the rule of law. These latter values, of course, are linked throughout to cowardice and treachery.

300 is about a particular brand of heroism, hard inflexible heroism thatis easy to understand and well suited to slow motion set-pieces that show off rippling muscles, guttural shouts of the team at kick-off, and culminating with a Christ-crucified image and the distinctly Bush-like assertion that iToday, we rescue the world from mysticism and tyranny!i

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Sherlock Jr.

Sherlock Jr.In 1924, when motion pictures were still in their infancy, a tiny but resilient young genius named Buster Keaton pushed the limits of comedy further than anyone before him. With Sherlock Jr., he uses a unique blend of slapstick, romance, and comical noir to create one of the most important and influential comedies ever made. Its influence extends far past comedy as its observations about the possibilities of cinema shows how movies mirror reality and how they can relate to our subconscious fears and desires. Keaton keeps us in stitches with his brilliant physical comedy and does so using a complex, at least by the standards of 1924, narrative structure that intertwines dreams and reality, putting cinema somewhere between the two.

The story is of a projectionist, played by Keaton, who dreams of one day becoming a detective. After being falsely accused of stealing his girlfriend’s father’s watch, he is sent away, never to see the girl again. He begins following the local sheik who he believes has framed him but is unsuccessful in proving anything. Giving up, he goes back to work, where he falls asleep in the projection room. We then see a ghostly image of him (the dream version of himself) walk out of the projection room and onto the movie screen, where we are taken into the “film within a film”, representing the dream he is having in the projection room.

In this new world, the projectionist has become Sherlock Jr., the world’s greatest detective who is on a case involving a missing pearl necklace. He has made himself more handsome and the villain more evil because unlike reality, dreams and films have the power to take us where we normally could never go. This “film within a film” can be seen as a wish fulfillment dream in which everything he wants comes true – he catches the thief and gets the girl. The comparisons between dreams and film are fascinating, but that it is presented so vividly in what most people see as a simple slapstick comedy is truly amazing.

As we see in the final few scenes, films often portray the best of all of us – giving us an ideal that we cannot achieve but always strive for. Keaton obviously believed that movies do more than generate a few laughs. They have the power to inspire us and make us better people. Sherlock Jr. is an influential film, not only for its comedy, but also because of its observations about the possibilities of cinema – where it can take us and how it relates to our daily lives.

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Needful Things

Needful ThingsIf you’re going to sell your soul to the devil, make sure you get something good for it. With souls being banned from eBay, it’s a tough to gauge the going rate for one’s mystic side. Nevertheless, I would think it would be worth more than a couple of antiques or even a Mickey Mantle baseball card. But, apparently for the residents of Castle Rock, Maine, souls aren’t important as exemplified by Needful Things, a Stephen King story turned movie. It not only is in danger of being soulless, it’s also missing the all-important personality and entertainment qualities that make good movies good.

Needful Things is the name of the new store in town. From old vases to necklaces with magical healing powers, the store has it all. Even better are the prices. Even with just a few nickels and dimes, owner Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow) is open to bargaining. In fact, he’d rather take favours in trade. When these “favours” start to rip the town apart, Gaunt’s true colours and motives come to light.

With only a few notable exceptions (Misery, The Green Mile and Carrie to name three), the Stephen King novel rarely makes a successful transition to the screen. Needful Things is no different. It doesn’t help much that this was a below average book on the bell curve of Stephen King novels. I mean, a small town of hicks making deals with the devil or a super-obsessed fan forcibly holding her favourite author hostage as she makes him write the ultimate novel? I’ll take Misery, thanks.

At least in the novel, the townsfolk are interesting. They’re down to earth and real. Maybe not quite neighbours, but the people in the next town over. In the movie, these same people have been degraded into over-the-top caricatures, complete with hooting, catfights and bug eyes. I think the point is to make a creepy cautionary tale. The result is something close to an unintentional comedy.

Had he still been available, Vincent Price would have been the perfect casting choice as Gaunt. But since Price passed away not long after the film wrapped, Von Sydow is a worthy second choice. He’s got the charm, deep stare, slim build and moustache to be the perfect Beelzebub in disguise. Von Sydow’s is the complete package, filling his end of the bargain. Ed Harris – he’s a different story.

It’s a known fact that actors try to balance ambitious, yet generally unprofitable, projects with easy paydays. Needful Things looks like pay-cheque motivation for Harris. He plays the town sheriff, one of the few sensible people in the film. Yet his approach to the role feels more like something from a 1950s matinee serial. Bug-eyed and surprised by every revelation, the sheriff maintains the peace from the view of his own ignorance. Upstaged by Von Sydow, Harris’ protagonist is ridiculous and unable to rise above the cartoon status he and a lot of the other cast members hold. He’s weak and hard to take seriously, especially as Castle Rock’s primary hope to send the devil back to the flaming pits of the underworld.

Thankfully, we live in an age where eBay can fulfill our wanting for needful things at half the cost. Save your soul for something more important. Lesson learned and no need to catch this case of Needful Things.

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Light Keeps Me Company

Light Keeps Me CompanyAmong contemporary filmmakers, only a handful are truly excellent at relaying emotional introspection and understanding human nature. Woody Allen certainly belongs in that category, as does Robert Altman, whose ensemble films are wonderful at turning the camera on ourselves as human beings. But neither one of these greats is a master in the way that Ingmar Bergman has been a master – making films that enrich us emotionally and psychologically. As Sweden’s most recognisable director and one of its most important cultural icons, Bergman’s career – lasting well over five decades – has been full of fascinating and challenging motion pictures. The Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Autumn Sonata, Persona, Scenes From A Marriage, Cries and Whispers, and his immortal Fanny and Alexander are all classics of international cinema. And almost all of them were photographed by cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who made 22 films with Bargman between 1953 and 1984. Nykvist pioneered the use of natural light in movies and was decades ahead of his time, particularly in the experimental film Persona. His art was perfected in Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander, for which he received Academy Awards.

A reserved, quiet, but friendly man as this documentary, made by his son, demonstrates, Nykvist has gradually become as important as Bergman to Swedish film. He also paved the way for foreign cinematographers from all over the world to descend on Hollywood and open its eyes to different ways of filming movies. What I like so much about this documentary is that it provides the perfect balance between Nykvist’s films and Nykvist the man, who most would know almost nothing about. This documentary is both professional and personal in its focus.

Swedish film is often cryptic and seems highly unusual to those who are not from Scandinavia. But it is not so enigmatic that the stories are unfathomable. Rather, the subjects that Bergman, Lasse Hallstrom, Bo Widerberg, and more recently Lukas Moodysson, as well as the Danish Dogme directors like Lars Von Trier, delve into, take a different perspective than American and British sensibilities would dictate. The fun is in unravelling a culture from the north. Through understanding the Swedish characters portrayed in these films, we can begin to understand ourselves. Sven Nykvist made it possible for the world to enjoy Bergman, who filmed most of the time in drab, often snow-covered and colourless settings. But onscreen, those Swedish winters come to life with brilliant camerawork. This documentary includes many interviews with Nykvist’s friends, fans and family. Among the most colourful are those conducted with Woody Allen, who used Nykvist on four of his films (Another Woman, New York Stories, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Celebrity, . Light Keeps Me Company is a revealing documentary about an extraordinary man. I highly recommend it to film lovers.

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Emperors New Clothes, The

Emperor's New Clothes, TheIan Holm is a fantastic Napoleon Bonaparte in this fable that reinvents his story. Holm has played the role twice before, and it does not help avoid typecasting when one looks so much like the emperor. Exiled to St. Helena after losing power, Napoleon was supposed to have lived out the rest of his life in isolation. But what this film presupposes is that Napoleon escapes the confines of exile in order to reclaim his power and then comes to the realization that he cannot return to Paris, after his plan goes awry. In one of the better doppelganger films of recent memory, Napoleon and a look-alike peasant named Eugene Lenormand (also played by Holm) swap places. Eugene loves his exile on St. Helena because everyone thinks he is Bonaparte, and Napoleon realizes after his boat goes astray that life as a peasant in a beautiful rural setting accompanied by a woman with whom he is falling in love may be better than the crown and power he seeks to reclaim.

This is a minor film, subtle and not as fully developed as a big budget picture about Napoleonis life. Those expecting an epic will be disappointed. It is more of a character study of a plump and ageing Napoleon, still with the fervour of personality that defined the Little Corporal, but a man more set on revenge against traitors in his own regime than on conquering armies. Rural France and the island look spectacular, and are beautifully shot by Alessio Torresi. The village scenes are particularly convincing, and a lot of thought was put into set design that n while not extravagant n still gives a feeling of authenticity. The island looks similar to Malta and where Bonaparte is living seems a far cry from the beaches of St. Helena, but it also feels authentic, not unlike the barren fortress/ prison that housed the Count of Monte Cristo, but with luxuries to suit an emperor.

Of the two roles, the Eugene character is more comedically entertaining. He relishes his new starring role as the ex-emperor and Holm almost goes over-the-top with the performance. How Holm skilfully adopts the arrogance and pride of Bonaparte for Eugene while containing it for the real Napoleon is a wonder. What I love most is the understated role of Napoleon hiding from authorities in towns near Waterloo, the site of his biggest defeat, and in Paris.

Iben Hjejle (of High Fidelity fame) plays Pumpkin Truchaut, the wife of one of Napoleonis loyalists, who is to transport the great man to Paris for his triumphant return. Without funds, Bonaparte cannot convince anyone in Paris that he is indeed their emperor. He realizes that his plan is full of holes. Of course, he cannot go back to St. Helena because Eugene is hamming it up as himself! The absurdity of the Little Corporal at Waterloo buying souvenirs of himself is very humorous. But the slow revelation that he may just want to settle down in the Belgian countryside is the real joy of this film. Napoleon returns to the land, involving a great deal of melons, and lives out the remainder of his life in France. Holm pulls it off magnificently, and the film closes like the end of a fairy tale.

The Emperoris New Clothes is a great companion piece to other Napoleon films. Make a weekend of it, beginning with Abel Ganceis silent classic, through Time Bandits, and Rod Steigeris stab at the role in Waterloo. Holm is the best Napoleon of the post-silent era, although Albert DieudonnEis 1927 performance is hard to beat.

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Man Who Wasnt There, The

Man Who Wasn't There, TheA dark and hopeless atmosphere – a whole lot of folks who are up to no-good – nihilistic, alienated heroes who aren’t really heroes at all – these are the staples of film noir, a film genre that flourished in the post-Second World War U.S. and then largely disappeared during the 1950s. With 1984’s Blood Simple, the writing/directing team of Joel and Ethan Coen showed – in their first film – that they could update the film noir genre for the 1980s. A delightfully noirish thriller, liberally laced with black comedy, Blood Simple established the Coen’s as quirky and talented filmmakers with style, wit and eccentricity aplenty.

If Blood Simple brought film noir into the 1980s, then The Man Who Wasn’t There has dragged us back to the 1940s, complete with Humphrey Bogart-like voice-over narration by star Billy Bob Thornton, a classic 1949 small-town California setting, numerous reprehensible characters, and a wonderfully evocative black and white presentation. If you love film noir, then you’ll love this smart film, which benefits from a wonderfully dour performance by Thornton as the disillusioned barber Ed Crane, whose efforts to spice up his life with a little blackmail go oddly awry.

The atmosphere is great, but it’s the characters that quickly make it clear that this film is something special. Ed is the classic noir anti-hero – unimpressed by all around him, and – as the film’s title suggests – he makes no impression on them, either. Ed’s wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), is even less charismatic, conveying a coldness that makes it easy to understand why she and Ed haven’t been ‘together’ in a very long time. Many of the supporting characters are wonderfully obnoxious – Ed’s brother-in-law and owner of the barber shop, Frank (Michael Badalucco), who represents the unbearable status quo, Big Dave (James Gandolfini) the philandering department store manager, whose presence and stupidity offer Ed the means to get out, and Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito), the dry cleaning promoter who offers Ed the temptation of a changed life. Perhaps best of all the supporting characters is the big-time lawyer who comes to town when Ed and Doris find themselves in a touch of trouble. Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub) is a wonderful caricature of a cocky lawyer who’s never going to let the truth get in the way of doing the job his way.

Ed saunters through life, wandering into trouble, and then apparently – by fluke – out of it, only to have fate’s unsteady hand grab him again. He is consistently apathetic through it all, whether he’s dealing with Big Dave’s UFO-obsessed zombie wife (Katherine Borowitz), or salving his inspiration-starved soul through visits with the story’s one likeable character – the beautiful, piano-playing teen Birdy Abundas (Scarlett Johansson).

This would be classic film noir, except for the presence of wonderful dry humour throughout the film. In typical smart-ass Coen-brothers fashion, the filmmakers are simultaneously revelling in the noir elements and playfully making fun of them. Those who romanticize the film’s era – the simpler post-war boom years – might find it disconcerting to find someone as alienated as Ed living unhappily in 1949 in Santa Rosa. Heck, he doesn’t even have awful wartime memories to explain his funk (fallen arches kept him out of the army, we’re told). But in the far more alienated early days of the ‘globalized’ 21st century, Ed’s resigned disillusionment fits right in. So, in addition to being smart and highly entertaining The Man Who Wasn’t There isn’t so much a throwback as a smartly-drawn reflection of where we are today. And in glorious black and white.

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Pep Squad

Pep SquadDo you love to sink your fangs into a nasty black comedy? Did you feel that War of the Roses was a sweet-natured and touching portrait of marital bliss? Maybe you thought that Heathers was darkly amusing, but didnit go ifar enoughi in its depiction of teenage suicide. Well, if youire looking for a dark comedy that makes Prizziis Honor look like When Harry Met Sally, keep an eye out for Pep Squad n a movie so ballsy and harsh that Iim stunned it ever got made.

Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Steve Balderson, Pep Squad is a colourful, shocking and generally amusing comedy set in the brutal realm of modern high school. The mania begins as soon as several girls are nominated for prom queen, with one notable exception n the hateful and despicable Cherry has not been nominated, and man, is she angry. Cherry takes to murdering a handful of the candidates, while a trio of relatively inormali teens finds itself embroiled in a web of unrelated kidnapping, murder and basic teenage mischief.

Beth, Julie, and Scott have the school principal bound and gagged in their basement, the result of the vile educatoris licentious advances on Beth. Unfortunately, a truly bizarre prom queen candidate named Terra (Scott refers to her as ithe worldis most absurd personi) has witnessed the crime, and promptly blackmails her way into the twisted proceedings. Julie decides to hire Cherry to kill Terra, partially because Cherryis been murdering people left and right, anyway and partially because Cherry hates Terra. (Several of the movieis more entertaining moments come as profane and insane screaming matches between Cherry and Terra.)

On a technical level, Pep Squad is quite impressive n especially considering the relatively meagre budget the filmmakers had to work with. As a director, Balderson keeps things moving along at a brisk pace and youid be hard pressed to find another low-budget movie that crams in as much ioff-kilter colouri as Pep Squad does. For the most part, the cast is a pleasant surprise as well; Brooke Baldersonis rabid performance as Cherry could sear the paint off your walls (thatis a compliment), and the lovely Summer Makovkin (as Julie) delivers a smart, sexy performance as well. The highlight of the cast is Amy Kelly as Terra, an actress who seems to think sheis playing Divine in a John Waters-directed biopic. Kellyis performance is strange, obnoxious and over-the-top hilarious.

As I sat watching Pep Squad, my jaw dropped open a few times. Regardless of how iquestionablei a filmis material may be, any time you can shock a jaded old film freak like me, youire doing something right. If you were under the impression that topics like pedophilia, kidnapping, mass murder, and teenagers blowing each other away with shotguns are itoo reali for comedy, then itis too bad that nobody told Steve Balderson. Pep Squad rockets from shock to jolt to outright assault, never once pausing to apologize, and the result is a solid little isick jokei of a comedy, one that would never be released by a inormali studio (seeing as how the big studios generally like their black comedies to come ialready evisceratedi a la Jawbreaker or Teaching Mrs. Tingle).

Much like those really nasty jokes you reserve for only your closest friends, Pep Squad will probably be most appreciated by those with an open mind and a penchant for sick humour that knows no boundaries. If this movie doesnit offend the living hell out of you, I bet youill have a ball with it.

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