Here is my continuing look at the films of 2008, a year of cinema that kind of made me shrug my shoulders and say,"Eh, what else you got?" or something (I'm feeling a little dull-brained today so forgive my attempts at any kind of cleverness, humor or, y'know, wrting...)
1. Teeth- Certainly among my favorite films I saw this year, this tounge in cheek (so to speak) horror-comedy about a born again teenager who discovers vagina dentata upon her sexual awakening is...well, did you read that description? Written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, it's funny, sick, uncomfortable body horror balancing the cool veneer of Cronenberg with the sly humor and unsubtle social commentary of Romero. Star Jess Weixler is absolutely irresistable.
2. Son of Rambow- Another of my favorites of the year, this British film from the directors of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" film is imaginative and endearing without ever becoming overly self-impressedly clever or cloying. Set in the early 1980s, a young boy growing up in an ultraconservative religious sect (mom is played by Jessica Stepehenson of "Spaced") in the English countryside befriends at hyperactive juvenile delinquint at school. The wealthy bad kid has access to video equipment, and turns the other boy onto a tape of "First Blood," which becomes interwoven into the child's already very vivid fantasy life, and the two band together to film a video sequel- "Son of Rambow." Both are working towards differently emotional ends, dealing with family, love and loss, and their friendship is strained when a popular, ultracool French exchange student and his many followers get involved in the production. Moving, insightful and a wonderful celebration of the childhood ideal of play. Watch it twice.
3. Run, Fatboy, Run- As good as Simon Pegg's collaborations with director Edgar Wright and actor Nick Frost (and on TV, co-writer/co-ster Jessica Stephenson) are, his solo outings seem to be kind of unwatchable. Here, Pegg, as co-writer (with Michael Ian Black of "the State"), teams with actor-turned-director David Schwimmer (his costar in the medicore film "Big Nothing") for a predictable, unfunny comedy. On "Spaced," and in "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," Pegg and company hit all the right notes, blending relatable characters and recognizably human drama with astute verbal wit, bouts of slapstick, smart pop culture references and the occasional splash of blood and gore, a package of disparate elements that somehow meld together with near perfection. These films use flights of fancy and generic elements to explore the malaise of the late-20's/early-30's man-child on the brink of extended adolescence and forced adulthood, something many of us 30-something manchildren can relate to, something that really resonates. All those things, "Run Fatboy Run" isn't. Rather, we get the same loveable loser finds redemption sappy sweet stuff we've seen a hundred times before. I know actors and filmmakers are loathe to be pidgeonholed as one-trick ponies, but if you're good at something, do that. Don't do this. Seriously, what a waste.
4. Superhero Movie- Yeah, that's right, I watched "Superhero Movie," although to be fair it was a screener, I didn't pay to see it. This movie is exactly what you think it is, a barrage of slapstick and scatalogical gags ala "Airplane" (though, as far as I know, not directed by a creepy right-wing fuck), right down the presence of octagenarian Leslie Nielsen. That it isn't especially funny kind of goes without saying, and it suffers further by predating "Dark Knight," "Iron Man," "Hulk" and "Hancock," making it out-of-date before it even came out. Too bad, because the young cast- Drake Bell, Sarah Paxton, Kevin Hart- does what they can with the weak material and comes off rather appealing despite the lameness of the film surrounding them.
5. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay- Basically a joke-for-joke retread of the original, without the kicky nastiness of the original. The concept could have been somewhat brilliant had it maintained the first film's anarchic, subversive edge. Too bad it didn't. Like that Neil Patrick Harris, though (he fared much better this year in Joss Whedon's web series "Dr. Horrible's Sing a Long Blog").
6. Synechdoche, New York- I covered this here. As I said before, this film does an excellent job of portraying a character obsessed with his own mortality and physicality, a very human, very real character excellently played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Charlie Kaufman's presumed cleverness implodes under the weight of its' own pretensiousness, though, it's ultimately self-defeating as a character who resonates finds himself at the center of the film that doesn't at all. Yawn.
7. Donkey Punch- This British horror film is certainly stylish and sexy, but it fails to provide even one character whom the audience can care about. With a limited cast in a single setting, that makes this a near-impossible movie to care about. Still, it's viable as a mostly forgettable resource for softcore sex scenes and modest gore. Yawn.
8. Prom Night- It's hard to imagine a film as bland and unmemorable as the original "Prom Night," but here it is.
9. Funny Games- The original "Prom Night" wasn't much a film, so why not remake it? (Of course, they did a terminally mediocre job, but that's their problem). Michael Haneke's "Funny Games," though, is a harrowing and effective if somewhat pretentious horror film that stands perfectly well on its' own. The only purpose of this extremely faithful remake, by Haneke, is to import the film sans subtitles and plus name actors. Is it simply a crass marketing ploy? Or just an academic exercise for the filmmaker? Or this there something more to be gleaned from this film? Probably not on that last one, but I liked the original, and given the nature of this kind of remake, it made me difficult not to like the new version as well. A remake of Haneke's "Benny's Video" might have been more interesting, though. Still, Tim Roth is very good as the dad here.
10. The Ruins- Reviewed here. The more I think back on this film, the more I kind of love it. Like "Punisher War Zone," it's stripped down the bare essentials, doesn't take itself too seriously, provides some interesting characters and good performances and some genuinely disturbing moments of violence, horror and terror. In an era where forced cleverness and self-importance abounds, I really value these films that know exactly what they are and what they intend to do, and do it with a certain gutsiness, not entirely unlike the films of Roger Corman or Sam Fuller, solid b-movies that break the generic mode and show at bit of individual creativity from their makers.
More to come. Merry Christmas and stuff...