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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trailer Watch: Michael Peña Stars in the Diego Luna-Directed Biopic on Mexican American Civil Rights Activist César Chávez

I am really, really excited to show you this trailer for CHÁVEZ, the biopic on the Mexican American civil rights leader César Chávez starring the eternally underrated Michael Peña in the title role. It's one of the few biopics on an American civil activist of color that we get to watch on the big screen, so I am happy to see the film come to fruition. Not only does it give Peña a chance to shine in a major starring role, but it also adds another directing credit to actor Diego Luna's already long résumé.

The trailer is just over two minutes long, but you can already grasp the intensity of the story, which is also peppered with passionate speeches and dialogue. Rosario Dawson also stars in the film as Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Chávez. America Ferrera plays Chávez's wife, Helen. John Malkovich, who co-produced the film with Luna, Gael García Bernal, and several others, also makes an appearance in the trailer. Keir Pearson, who wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Hotel Rwanda, penned the film.

Watch the trailer:

CHÁVEZ opens in theaters April 4th, 2014.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Revisiting REC, JU-ON And Their Surprisingly Great American Remakes

When it comes to sequels and remakes, my reaction to them is probably similar to yours--something like a *facepalm* followed by an eye roll. It's even worse when it comes to the horror genre. With a few exceptions, horror remakes tend to be very indicative of the time during which they are made (i.e. Halloween, The Bad Seed or even Psycho), with themes that have proven difficult to modernize. But when it came to rebooting the Japanese horror classic, Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) and Spanish horror film, Rec (2007), Hollywood got it right.

It helps that both American remakes, 2004's The Grudge starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and 2008's Quarantine starring Jennifer Carpenter, are practically carbon copies of their predecessors. Also, director Takashi Shimizu helmed the two Ju-On films as well as two installments of The Grudge. Since he kept control of the story, it worked out for both him and the audience. Both the original and remake scare the bejesus out of the audience, while the remake also preserved the simplicity and suspense. Although Rec director Jaume Balagueró didn't have a hand in the production of any of the Quarantine films (he did the first two Rec films as well as the forthcoming Rec 4), you can tell that helmer John Erick Dowdle (who also co-wrote the remake) really paid attention to the tone Balagueró brought to the story as well as nearly duplicating his inflections in many of the same areas in the film. 

I actually ended up watching the American remake of both franchises before I ended up caught up with their foreign language originals. Despite already knowing the story, I was still effectively frightened when I got around to watching the originals. There's something about the modest effects particularly in Asian horror that make you focus almost entirely on the dialogue, which allows the horror to sneak up on you and make it that much more horrifying. Plus, Shimizu's very sensitive approach to the terror that continues to haunt the house's former inhabitants in Ju-On allows you to concentrate on who the characters and get to know their stories. When it came to The Grudge, it was just a matter of taking the foundation of Ju-On and applying it to a sleeker Hollywood lens. Even with that more technical enhancement (which is still far more authentic than many modern horror films today), the remake maintains the authenticity of the original. 

Balagueró took a similar approach when he adapted Rec. Whereas Asian horror is often more restrained in style, Spanish horror is more manic, more with quicker pace, but still terrifying. Both Rec and Quarantine did to the found footage genre what very few American filmmakers have been able to accomplish--inciting genuine fear from the audience without coming across sloppy. The sophistication, along with the frenzied yet controlled camera work, both Balagueró and Dowdle apply to the films avoids the campiness of what we've been seeing lately in American found footage-styled movies. Both pieces take the audience inside the horror that demoralizes the lead character, a journalist who thinks she's got her first big break on a story but ends up becoming one of many victims trapped in a apartment complex overrun with the undead. They're also one of the few horror films that are set in an apartment building and not one giant creepy-looking house. This makes it that much more accessible.

Both franchises reignited the psychology of 70s-styled horror, which played more to audience's emotions than their senses. They're less literal and more symbolic, truly excellent contributions to both American and international cinema.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I'm posting this new trailer for X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE mainly for you, fangirls and boys, because I can't really call myself a fan of this particular comic book film franchise (the more I think about the 2011 kiddie prequel, X-Men: First Class, the less I care about it). But any chance for me to see Michael Fassbender on the big screen, is a good thing to me!

Much of the casts from previous installments return for this new film, including Fassbender, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Paquin, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Evan Peters and Peter Dinklage join the series as Quicksilver and Bolivar Trask, respectively. Bryan Singer, who helmed X-Men and X2, returned for this film. X-Men: The Last Stand writer Simon Kinberg penned the script.

Here's the synopsis (from The Playlist):

The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from “X-Men: First Class,” in an epic battle that must change the past—to save our future.
Watch the trailer:

Looks like it could be fun, but I'll let you dissect it further and tear it apart if you must. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE is in theaters May 23rd, 2013.

Dick Hallorann from "The Shining", As Told by Stephen King

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are a few differences in the book versus the film version of the classic horror tale, The Shining. Besides Stanley Kubrick's more subdued characterization and focus on the psychological horror of the story, the filmmaker also rewrote certain plot elements regarding the hotel's chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), specifically during the last thirty minutes of the film. A vital character in the book, Dick shared a supernatural gift with Danny that only they can understand, which was more fleshed out in the book. Plus, Dick was the victor in Stephen King's original version (in which Wendy was nearly tortured to death). But regardless of what you think of Kubrick's alternate ending (which I still love), it was nice to see Kubrick keep Dick's compassion in the film.

Despite King's more detailed portrayal of Dick, who's one of four point of views in the book (the others being Wendy, Jack and Danny), there is a distance to his approach to the character. Much of his analysis, aside from what we learn about his fears regarding his "gift" and new surroundings in Florida, is vapid commentary on his race. King frequently uses his race as a means to describe how unfortunate he is, the doom he fears facing on account of it. It's even more random because, though Dick wasn't in the best economical position, he had a job, a home, and was generally respected among his peers. That makes King's reflection, the unnecessary pity, that much more peculiar to read, especially since the perspective he gives to the other characters is more genuine, like it's actually coming from each of them. With Dick, it's inaccessible, like it's more what King thinks of him rather than what the character thinks of himself. While each character is written in third person, Dick seems less familiar than the other three vital characters. 

This facet of King's characterization of Dick recently came to mind during the online conversation sparked by director John Singleton's op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter asking whether white filmmakers can write black narratives without a consultant to help them craft a more truthful "black experience." While I do believe that several great black narratives have come from white writers, it did make me think of how King approached Dick's character. Even screenwriter William Monahan's dialogue in The Departed (released 26 years after The Shining), particularly in the scene between Anthony Anderson and Leonardo DiCaprio as police academy cadets, implied that Anderson's character was far worse off in life simply because of his skin color. It's not the assumption that there are unique challenges people of color face in the U.S. that others do not (that's indisputable), it's the remote approach to their narrative in light of it. 

I still imagine how Crothers and Kubrick would have portrayed Dick had Kubrick stuck with the original character layout and kept King's ending. But, on the other hand, Kubrick's depiction had an element of closeness that King was unable to achieve.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cinema In Noir Asks: What's Your Favorite Scary...TV Show?

I'm kinda loving that the iconic question from Scream has now morphed into "What's your favorite scary TV show?" Why? Because there's just so many great horror stories that have come to the small screen, more so than there have been in theaters lately. We talk about all of them--from "Sleepy Hollow to "The Walking Dead"--on today's Cinema in Noir. Not only is it great that they're out there for you to watch, but that they have more characterization and have the capacity to explore certain themes that the big screen just hasn't been doing lately. And...the diversity on these shows is awesome! Our co-host, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon, counted seven characters on "Sleepy Hollow" alone. SEVEN! That's including the newest additions to the cast, Jill Marie Jones (who you may remember from last season's "American Horror Story: Coven") and Amandla Stenberg (Colombiana and The Hunger Games).

While discussing "The Walking Dead" the conversation inevitably (and to our joy) shifted to an appreciation of all the male characters on the show. Yes, we talk about the possibility of Richonne (the anticipated Rich/Michonne hookup) to my personal favorite, Daryl and Michonne, and Glenn and Tyrese (and even Shane, remember him?). So our second question of today's episode would have to be this: Who's your favorite man on "The Walking Dead?"

Leave your comments below on TV horror and the men of "The Walking Dead!" Watch today's Cinema in Noir here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


To my pleasant surprise (and despite not being a comic fangirl), I really enjoyed Captain America in 2011, so I've been patiently waiting for the next installment of the Marvel story. Titled CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, the sequel bringsma back Chris Evans in the titular role with Hayley Atwell reprising the character of Peggy Carter. The fascinatingly anachronistic superhero is joined by some of his Avengers family, including Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, as well as Anthony Mackie, who joins the Marvel universe as The Falcon.

Check out the film synopsis (courtesy of fan voice):

“After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – aka Captain America – living quietly in Washington, DC, and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy – the Winter Soldier.”

And the trailer:

Explosions, superheroes about that Robert Redford (as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Alexander Pierce)?! I didn't he even know he was going to be in this, which makes me that much more anxious to see it. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER comes to theaters April 4th. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wendy Torrance from "The Shining" Is One of the Most Misunderstood Female Heroines of Horror

Over the last few weeks I've noticed a great deal of criticism surrounding the character of Wendy Torrance in the big screen version of The Shining (1980). As a fan of both the Stephen King book and the Stanley Kubrick-directed film, I'm perplexed by the suggestion that Wendy (Shelley Duvall) is a "weak" character and made a number of "dumb" decisions throughout her ordeal with her possessed husband, Jack (Jack Nicholson).

I realize this may have something to do with the translation of the story from book to film. While the movie is a fair depiction of the novel (and a true classic, if not only for its mounting suspense, striking cinematography and frightening portrayals), it doesn't offer as much back story into Jack and Wendy's relationship before they arrived at the Overlook Hotel as the book did. It also doesn't include Jack's inner emotional struggle triggered by his tortured relationship with his father (and a vicious encounter with a high school student), which influenced his eventual psychosis later in the film.

From the book we learn that there was turmoil in the couple's relationship long before the birth of their son, Danny (whose arm was once broken by his dad in a drunken rage, as Wendy sheepishly admits this to a doctor in the beginning of the film). Wendy and Jack broke up a few times before they even got married. After an altercation before their nuptials, Wendy parted ways with Jack. Though they reconciled later, Jack's constant attempt to not become the man his father was (a manipulative, abusive drunk), and the disappointment he feels each time he fails, helped him become even more vulnerable bait for the spirits that haunted the hotel later. Wendy may not have known every detail about Jack's childhood, but she did try to acknowledge that he was trying. But after Danny's birth, she became more cautious of Jack even when he tried to reassure her. Her uneasiness toward him, which she genuinely tried to hide, only fueled his rage. This isn't to say that her reception of him led to his erratic behavior. Rather, they both felt responsible for his downfall, but Wendy felt the need to stick by him, possibly due to the guilt she felt.

Wendy loved Jack, yet that could have been influenced by both her fear of him as well as her memory of the great man he can sometimes be. It was a complicated adoration that perhaps only few could really understand. Despite his troubles, Jack did provide for his family, and he tried to love them as much as he could. But once he fell into the clutches of the Overlook, already shackled by his own demons, it really was just a matter of time until his madness would come out in full force.

So why didn't Wendy just take Danny and leave the Overlook and Jack behind? Both the book have slightly different ways of explaining this. From the book, Danny was actually a large part of the reason why Wendy wanted to stay committed to Jack even though she felt that he was losing control. Danny's bond with Jack was far more intense than his bond with his mother, and Wendy was jealous of that at times. Danny would also keep his supernatural "gifts" to himself even when he was wrought with them, so that his problems wouldn't put a further wedge between his parents, which made Wendy realize how important it was for him that they all stay together.

There were other factors that attributed to Wendy's decisions that were echoed in the film. Once she realized there was no saving Jack, and that Danny was in serious trouble, the snow had piled up so high at the hotel that she was unable to escape (plus, Jack had destroyed their snowmobile so she had no mode of transport anyway). While the movie's depiction of Wendy was a slight variation of her book character, in both instances Wendy is the victim (hence why she completely unravels into a shaky, suffering shell of a character desperate to at least save the life of her son). It's interesting how she was manipulated, by her own mind as well as Jack's, into believing that he could get better. With everything going on around her, Wendy felt helpless. How can you wrap your head around the notion that your husband (however a recovering drunk) could be possessed by the spirits of both his deceased father and the past guests of an old hotel who have been dead for years? Just the mere thought of that is enough to rattle anyone, especially a mother with all her family baggage.

While I love the movie, I do think that the virtual absence of back story made both lead characters less complex than they were in the book. Yes, Wendy was a victim of Jack's possession, but both characters were much, much more than that. Kubrick, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Diane Johnson, focused on certain aspects of Jack's struggle--his alcoholism and subsequent possession/obsession--but we didn't get to see the character humanized for a long period of time. Aside from the movie's beginning, we see the monster come out of the man fairly soon in subtle actions. From there, it becomes a wild, bitter, escalating battle between Jack and Wendy (and subsequently between Jack and Danny).

But while there are many ridiculous victim characters that persist within the horror realm, Wendy Torrance is not one of them. Both King and Kubrick (with Duvall) created layers to a character that is too seldom seen in the genre that has become oversimplified with special effects and gore.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

5 Images From Rachel McAdams's Newest Romantic Drama, ABOUT TIME

Before Rachel McAdams became the romdram queen, I actually thought she was a very promising actress. But, like many actresses before her, she seems to have fallen into the vortex of the genre and can't seem to find her way out (with the exception of her smaller roles in Midnight in Paris and To The Wonder). Her newest movie, which you may be happy to learn is not at all affiliated with Nicholas Sparks, has her once again dealing with matters of the heart in the Richard Curtis-directed film, ABOUT TIME

Before you start rolling your eyes, the Internet has told me the film is actually pretty good (but I'll share my thoughts about it once I see it this week). Curtis, whose now 10-year-old directorial debut, Love Actually, continues to capture the hearts of audiences, reunites with his Love actor Bill Nighy in the movie, which also stars Domhnall Gleeson (of both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows films). 

You've probably already started seeing commercials about the film on TV. Here's a little more information on it (courtesy of

At the age of 21, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time… The night after another unsatisfactory New Year party, Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. Tim can’t change history, but he can change what happens and has happened in his own life—so he decides to make his world a better getting a girlfriend. Sadly, that turns out not to be as easy as you might think. Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets the beautiful but insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams). They fall in love, then an unfortunate time-travel incident means he’s never met her at all. So they meet for the first time again—and again—but finally, after a lot of cunning time-traveling, he wins her heart. Tim then uses his power to create the perfect romantic proposal, to save his wedding from the worst best-man speeches, to save his best friend from professional disaster and to get his pregnant wife to the hospital in time for the birth of their daughter, despite a nasty traffic jam outside Abbey Road. But as his unusual life progresses, Tim finds out that his unique gift can’t save him from the sorrows and ups and downs that affect all families, everywhere. There are great limits to what time travel can achieve, and it can be dangerous too. About Time is a comedy about love and time travel, which discovers that, in the end, making the most of life may not need time travel at all.

Check out a few images from the film:

ABOUT TIME hits theaters November 8th. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

5 Creepy Facts About "The Conjuring" In GIFs + A Blu-Ray Giveaway

Here's something cool for those of you who loved The Conjuring. The uber creepy movie that freaked out audiences this summer will be out on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, October 22nd, and one lucky person could win a Blu-ray copy! In case you're unfamiliar with the film, which stars Lili Taylor, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, below is a brief synopsis:

Based on a true story, the movie tells the horrifying account of how famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were summoned to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse which they recently bought. In fighting this powerful demonic being, the Warrens find themselves in the middle of the most terrifying case of their lives!

To enter the contest, check out the awesome GIFs below that share spine-tingling facts about the movie, and tell me (in the comments box below) why you most deserve to win. The contest ends on October 31st at 11:59pm EST.

The Conjuring 5 Things to know… INTERACTIVE GIFS! 

1) The Conjuring is directed by the acclaimed James Wan, the Australian-born director of the fright-fests Insidious and the Saw series. His Twitter handle is @CreepyPuppet. Say no more. 

2) The Conjuring has been given an “R” rating by the MPAA. Not because of blood, gore, or violence, but simply because it’s just so scary from start to finish!

3) The Conjuring’s cast and crew experienced creepy events during filming. Scratches appeared out of nowhere on Vera Farmiga’s computer soon after she agreed to act in the movie, the crew were routinely woken by something in the “witching hour” between 3 and 4AM, and the real-life Carolyn Perron fell and broke her hip while visiting the set.  

4) The Rhode Island farmhouse where The Conjuring is set once belonged to an accused witch, Bathsheba, who tried to sacrifice her children to the devil and killed herself in 1863.

5) Hold your applause! The Conjuring will make you terrified to clap! Whether it’s playing a traditional game of hide-and-seek by following the clapping sounds like the mother and daughter in the movie, or being terrorized by ghostly claps in different rooms of the haunted farmhouse, these claps throughout the movie will give you the creeps! 

Each household is only eligible to win 1 Warner Bros. copy of the The Conjuring Blu-ray. Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you will not be eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification. Giveaway is open to the U.S. & Canada only. The prize will be sent via FedEx or USPS. No P.O. Boxes please.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cinema in Noir: Women of Color in Horror Films and a Q&A with "Una Noche" Director/Writer Lucy Mulloy

Today is Sunday, which means we aired another awesome episode of our podcast, "Cinema in Noir." We chatted about what has become the most buzzworthy film this year, 12 Years a Slave. Our co-host, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon, also shared a review of the documentary, American Promise, which "provides a rare look into the lives of two middle class Black families as they navigate the ups and downs of parenting and educating their sons." Watched the trailer below:

If you're at all interested in stories about the education system like I am, especially as it pertains to students of color, this sounds like someone you definitely want to add to your must-watch list. 

We took on the much talked about topic of "SNL" star Kenan Thompson's controversial comments about the state of black comediennes and their qualifications for being on the sketch comedy show. If you're unfamiliar with this bit of news, check out his here, in which he is quoted as saying, "It's just a tough part of the business. Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready" when asked about the lack of black female talent on the show. Honestly, my first thought (after laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of his statement) was that it sounds like he's trying to keep his job and not go against the system. But of course, the idea of there simply not being enough black talent out there is just a preposterous and inaccurate notion in and of itself. 

You might also be interested to read the Directors Guild of America's yearly report of the diversity ratios on the small screen here. The show with the most diversity (there doesn't seem to be a specification of whether it's women or minority helmers) is The Game on BET, which is tied at 100% with The Hustle, Real Husbands of Hollywood (an underrated show, in my opinion) and The Rickey Smiley Show. The show that fails the diversity test? It's actually a 13-show tie at 0%, which includes Hemlock Grove, Hot in Cleveland, iCarly and Supernatural (which I thought was canceled years ago).  

We ended the show with two really fascinating interviews with Lucy Mulloy, writer/director/co-producer of the wonderful Spanish-language drama, Una Noche. She talked about her experience directing the piece with three first-time young Cuban actors in the country that is still at a level of unrest. It's a honest, striking drama you definitely should see if you have't already. Check out the trailer here:

Our second interview was with Ashlee Blackwell, who is responsible for the really cool new blog,
Graveyard Shift Sisters, which chronicles the efforts and accomplishments of women of color in the horror genre (from Pam Grier in Scream Blacula Scream and the less familiar black female filmmakers breaking ground in the industry). She talks about what inspired her to take on this subgenre in film criticism, being a superfan of horror and finding very few black representation, and where she hopes to take the initiative. 

Missed the show? Listen here

Friday, October 18, 2013

TV Has Become The New Horror Haven

I remember when every October for several years there was the inevitable battle between horror juggernauts Paranormal Activity and Saw. Regardless of what you think of either franchise (I happen to prefer the latter), you can't argue with the fact that they were dependable. If you're a scary movie buff, then you'd be especially grateful to rush to the theaters to see what new shenanigans Jigsaw was up to, or what phantoms a suburban couple had to deal with this time.

But since just last year, after Paranormal bowed out with its fourth installment (its swan song came two years after Saw 3D: The Final Chapter in 2010), we have experienced a noticeable decrease in the genre on the big screen. Whereas in 2012 there were four popular horror films, including the Ethan Hawke-starrer Sinister, to choose from with staggered releases to fill up the entire month, we only have one major film representing the genre this month--Carrie (in theaters today), the remake of the classic 1976 film. This just doesn't seem right.

I don't know whether it's a lack of any-quality films to quench the horror movie appetite this year, the absence of big budget franchises, or even perhaps the fact that the "awards-worthy" films, which seemed to have started earlier than normal this year, have clogged the release schedule. But I think it's fair to say that the small screen has been doing a better job this month with providing a consistent amount of entertaining choices to watch. From "Sleepy Hollow" to "The Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story: Coven," not to mention all the great horror movie marathons airing on channels like AMC (shout out to AMC FearFest!), TV is simply where it's at. It's free (kinda) and convenient. Just more proof that the small screen has continued to become a viable contender in entertainment over the last few years.

But for those of you still looking for big screen scares, you may be in luck. Though it's not coming to theaters anytime this month (release date is January 3rd), Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones provides a Latino spin and hopes to recapture the style of the original franchise. Christopher Landon, who wrote the last three Paranormal screenplays, wrote and directed the new film. Only time will tell whether this will take off like the original franchise. Judging by the trailer below, it looks like more of the same, but with a mostly Latino cast. What say you?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Steve McQueen Delivers An Unflinching Account Of An American Tragedy With 12 YEARS A SLAVE

There is a scene in director Steve McQueen's new film, the historical narrative 12 YEARS A SLAVE, during which a character named Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) is strapped to a tree, naked, being  whipped several times by first a fellow slave (Chiwetel Ejiofor) then deliriously so by her master (Michael Fassbender) to the point where her skin rips open up in several places on her back. It can't be more than a few minutes long, but it is so powerful, so maniacal, with Hans Zimmer's score intensifying with every lash, that it is incredibly difficult to watch. 

During this time in the film, I started to look around at the theater audience. To my left was a Caucasian woman sobbing uncontrollably, so badly that the person sitting next to her felt compelled to put an arm around her. To my right, I heard another person say, desperately with a hint of annoyance, "Oh my God, I can't take this anymore." As for me, I sat there, dry-eyed and transfixed by the scene before me, growing angrier by each passing minute. I was enraged by the indelible mark that slavery made on U.S. history that still affects us today, and fascinated that the response to seeing this depicted in film sparks feelings of what may be described as guilt, grief or exasperation.

But it's hard not to feel something while watching the film. McQueen delivers an onerous, unflinching account of not only U.S. slavery. John Ridley's screenplay (adapted from the book of the same title) is much more focused than that; it is about one man. It specifically unfolds the true story of Solomon Northup (mercifully played by Ejiofor), a free-born man, somewhat of an aristocrat, living with his wife and two children (his daughter played by Quvenzhané Wallis) in upstate New York in 1841. While his wife (Kelsey Scott) and children are away, Solomon meets and is lured by two men with a promising job offer in Washington D.C. From there, he is drugged, abducted and sold into slavery in New Orleans. With the help of Sean Bobbit's stunning cinematography, McQueen frequently shifts the film from Solomon's home life in New York to the contrasting atrocities he witnesses and of which he is a victim on a plantation for the following twelve years.

The filmmaker helms a gargantuan cast of actors (from the aforementioned to Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Adepero Oduye, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, and Brad Pitt, to name a few) to tell the particularly grueling story of a man born free like many of us, whose life was turned upside down in the blink of an eye. Along his journey from freedom to servitude (then eventually back to freedom, but with a new perspective), Solomon quickly sinks into his new position as one element in a myriad of senseless horrors yet still holds on to his dignity, his hope as and his strength as wonderfully captured by Ejiofor.

In illuminating his story, McQueen casts a spotlight on other characters, some who interchange between victims and villains, who play other important roles in Solomon's journey--slaves like Patsey, the long suffering object of her master's brutal attention (exquisitely played by Nyong'o), Paulson's detestable Mistress Epps (akin to Dano's ahorrent and weak character), Oduye's mournful performance as a mother separated from her children, and Woodard's uppity post-servitude condescension as Mistress Shaw. But it is Ejiofor, Fassbender (as Master Edwin Epps) and Nyong'o (in only her first feature role) who anchor the film. While Solomon and Patsey provide the heartbreaking human aspect of the story, Fassbender's portrayal, which supplies the film's welcoming break in tone in one scene, is the beastly, hateful standard you've seen before in the genre, but with an almost berserk streak with carefully placed twists in the head rag he wears to block the sun in the relentless heat. He is vile and calculated at the same time. 

Ambitious, honest and horrifying all at once, 12 YEARS A SLAVE may not be the easiest film to watch more than once, but it will stay with you forever once you see it.

Rating: A (***** out of *****)

12 YEARS A SLAVE is in select theaters Friday.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Watch The New York Comic Con Fan Footage Of "Sleepy Hollow"

Are you watching "Sleepy Hollow" on FOX? If not, you definitely should be. The small screen re-imagining of the famous fable is like the distant cousin of "American Horror Story"--scary, mysterious and with a penchant for combining horror and history in a very accessible way.

Actress Nicole Beharie (Shame, American Violet, 42)  plays Lt. Abbie Mills, a present-day detective who partners with none other than Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) to solve extra creepy, extra cold cases from hundreds of years ago. Beharie, Mison, Katia Winter (who plays Ichabod's long suffering wife), Orlando Jones (who plays Captain Frank Irving on the show) and the show creator Len Wiseman and producers headlined New York Comic Con this past weekend and were met with a very captive audience, despite only four episodes having aired (it was recently announced that the series has just been renewed for a second season).

Check out the footage from the event, with a few sound bytes from the talent:

"Sleepy Hollow" airs on Monday nights at 9pm EST/8pm CST on FOX.

Female Heroines And Male Catalysts in Film

"All we talk about anymore is Big or balls or small d**cks. How does it happen that four smart women have nothing to talk about but their boyfriends? It's like seventh grade but with bank accounts. What about us? What we think, we feel, we know, Christ! Does it always have to be about them?" If you were a fan of Sex and the City like I was (and still am), then you probably remember no-nonsense lawyer Miranda Hobbs calling out her male-obsessed friends. It was what Oprah would have probably called an "Aha" moment, when your subconscious default mode is brought to the surface and you have no idea it had even become your modus operandi.

A similar sentiment was explored at a panel I attended a few days ago at New York Comic Con titled "Kill or Be Killed: Crafting a Powerful Female Protagonist." On the panel were four accomplished female authors (Kendare Blake of "Antigoddess," Amelia Kahaney of "Brokenhearted," Lauren Oliver of "Delirium trilogy," Danielle Paige of "Dorothy Must Die" and Lindsay Ribar of "The Art of Wishing") who discussed their perspective female heroines--how they were inspired (lots of mentions for Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor) and how they fit into the general literary landscape. This led to a very interesting question posed by the moderator, blogger Thea James of the Book Smugglers, which asked why so many female characters are influenced by male catalysts. In other words, why can't female characters rely on themselves or some alternate object in their quest for strength or self-identity?

It's an honest question, a profound one of which I never really thought about before. Where male characters are often propelled by outside sources or events that boost or help shape their character, females are often always elevated by the presence of a male character.This is not simply a case of the writer being a male scribe, since this panel strictly consisted of strong, seemingly independent women from various walks of life. When it came to this question, there was a bit of a hesitation, as if all four women were searching for the correct responses. As it happens, each of their female characters apparently fall under the category of being metaphorically awakened by their male counterparts (something that I call the Sleeping Beauty effect). While the story is about them, a male character still helps propel their arc.

You may remember I noticed that same problem in Rust and Bone, which featured a great performance by Marion Cotillard, but her character almost strictly relied on her male counterpart for emotional resonance. This type of writing further supports the notion that women are often identified by their relation to men, and perhaps could not be deemed universal without that crutch.

Interestingly enough, I can't say that whenever I meet up with a few girlfriends the topic doesn't always shift to men at some point. It does, without fail. But I wonder whether that is also in part due to the societal pressures to find someone to "complete" you, as if you are no one--or just half a person--without this counterpart. This is something the authors on the panel seemed to agree with, even sighting their own personal examples of how a male helped shape them in their lives. Can female characters be strong without the presence of a man?

Well, that depends on your definition of strong. Is it emotional, physical or mental strength we look for in our search for strong female characters? Or is it enough that the character is strongly written, but not actually strong in character? In the case of being strong, is it physical or emotional strength we seek in a female character, or do we look for them to be strong in relation to their male counterpart?

We also run into the issue of whether some audiences even want a story about a strong women with no man in sight? Some would complain that a strong, beautiful and single woman sends a bad message. For instance, while The Hunger Games doesn't exactly have a romantic element in the story, the marketing of the film is still tailored toward the Twilight-heavy crowd which focused on the romance. It's a device that helps encourage audiences to believe that while Katniss Everdeen is strong and single, she is still vulnerable, romantic and, most importantly, accessible (which also plays to the themes in the book).

But at the same time, others would say that a strong woman is too often eclipsed by the presence of a man in fiction. It would become less about the woman's evolution and focus more on how it compares or reflects the man's story. This seems to be a catch 22.

There is, however, the case in Bridesmaids in which lead character Annie's new friend Megan served as her catalyst (but in tandem with a male romantic interest). It seems the types of stories in which female characters are more self-reliant or rely on female counterparts are part of the minority for both younger female (high school age) and women characters. Even the pro-feminist themes in Gravity showed small signs of a male catalyst, as did The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

As someone who has had both men and women catalysts in my life, I can't really say I favor either side of the debate more than the other, but I do want the female character to at least be fully realized on her own. Everything that is most interesting about the character shouldn't be her relationship or reflection of someone else. To me, that's a strong character--one with the ability to stand on her own in spite of her catalysts. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In Defense of Pamela Voorhees

Raise your hand if you remember the chilling first Friday the 13th movie in which--spoiler alert--Jason Voorhees' mom, Pamela, is the wild-eyed killer.  Those final few moments when she, hobbling and bloody, is chasing down one of the Camp Crystal Lake camp counselors all over the grounds (to her impending death) are forever etched in my mind.

So yesterday I asked twitter the following question: "Who's scarier: Jason or Jason's mom?" Surprisingly, despite all the movies (12 in total) in which Jason is seen slashing throats and hanging victims, his mom (whose only alive and running amok in the first film in 1980) is apparently considered the more horrifying killer. But I've always had a soft spot for Pamela. Not that I condone the gruesome murders of innocent people (of course not). But, unlike Jason, Pamela committed crimes of passion. Her crazy antics were actually revenge for her young son's fatal drowning, which she felt was caused by the unjustifiable neglect of the camp counselors who failed to watch him (a longtime rumor has faulted the counselors for being too busy fornicating and not paying attention to Jason's cries for help).

Meanwhile, Jason, who is supposed to be dead, has been on been on an aimless bloody mission. He is maniacal in the true sense of the word, no trigger, no reasoning, just brutal killing sprees that seem to result only to keep his mother's legacy alive. I always thought there was nothing scarier than a villain with no real motive. Because he can be coming for you, too. Why? Just because. You'd think his mother took care of all the culprits in the first movie. What's left for Jason to do? He's a terrifying, malicious machete-slinging corpse running around with mommy issues and no motive (cue disturbing Psycho score). This is who you should be most frightened of.

Upon further research, I've learned a very interesting back story for Pamela. She got pregnant at 16, and was married to a reckless abuser who she ended up chopping into pieces while he slept. Carrying her unborn son, she burned down the house with her husband's body still in it. Guys, this is what happened in The Burning Bed (which was released in 1984), and remember, you rooted for Farrah Fawcett's character in that. 

But back to Pamela. Jason was apparently born in June 1946. Pamela and her son moved into a house that was said to be haunted, but of course Pamela, being the boss she is, braved the rumor (and probably got an excellent deal on the mortgage). In the summer of 1957, she later got a job as a cook at the now notorious Camp Crystal Lake. Things were going fairly well for the mother-son pair until Jason drowned. No body was recovered, which means Pamela never got the closure she so needed. And no one was held accountable for Jason's death. You can only imagine how that could affect someone. This is about the time that I think she started to lose her grip on reality, and began poisoning the water at the then shut-down camp to further delay its reopening (Her son was killed there and no one seems to care. I mean, I get it). She did, however, spend 6 months in a mental institution before she was rehired at the camp in 1958. But she still had that vendetta and understandably couldn't get her son's mysterious death out of her mind. Hence, she resorted to her bloodbath, for which she is most famous. This is about where I depart her pity train. I empathize with her because she truly became a broken woman with years of traumatic memories. But she really could have taken permanent residence at that mental institution; it might have saved many lives (and possibly prevented the Jason outbreak).

Now that the antiheroes are having their moment in the spotlight, I have really been thinking about how some of our most dishonorable villains came to be. Pamela's origin story is particularly intriguing as it inspired one of the most unnerving serial killers in cinematic history. So the next time someone asks you, "Who's scarier: Jason or his mom?" how will you respond?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE Is An Inspiring Coming Of Age Drama With Two Star-Making Performances

"Mister, do you think it's bad to not love your mother?" This innocent question is asked by young Pete (Ethan Dizon), a stranded young boy plucked from a hopeless situation at home by Mister (Skylan Brooks), a boy not much older than him in a similarly dire circumstance in THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE.

Don't be turned away by its title's dejected tone; the film is not the heavy downtrodden meme we see too often in today's cinema featuring young minority characters. Directed by Soul Food's George Tillman Jr. and co-executive produced by singer Alicia Keys, the movie champions its two boys throughout each challenge they face, and even lightens the drama at the right time with genuine comedy relief. But 13-year-old Mister is in a constant state of frustration that usually takes years for most of us to acquire. His mother, Gloria (a remarkable Jennifer Hudson), is a drug-addicted prostitute, which leaves her unable to take on any responsible parental duties. So Mister is usually the only one making sure there is at least bread and ketchup in the refrigerator and that the lights stay on in their Brooklyn projects apartment. With all his adult burdens, his grades plummet. Needless to say, when he tries to pay for necessities with his mother's EBT card, he is often met with skeptical and even threatening  glares. No, things aren't ideal for Mister. Even his guardian angel (played by Jordin Sparks) in plain clothes is unreliable.

Things become even more critical when 9-year-old Pete enters the picture. There's no explanation why he all of a sudden begins living with Mister and Gloria (we can assume from one particular scene later in the movie that his mother may have been worse off than Mister's), but he becomes Mister's responsibility (someone he grows to accept). After Gloria is rendered completely useless, Mister finds an unlikely friendship with Pete. Together, Mister hopes that during this one hot summer they can rise above their circumstances by grasping for a few food items by any means, dodging street thugs and child services that want to collect them.

THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE doesn't rely on the elaborate devices we see in too often in coming of age films. It's an authentic portrayal of life through the eyes of a 13-year-old who's never had much, but always knew he was destined for more. The thing that drives him most isn't only his newfound dependent and confidante, but the fact that in August he will audition for the role of a lifetime, an opportunity that he is convinced will rescue him from his situation. First-time feature writer Michael Starrbury eschews the stereotypes of hoop dreams and rap careers by making its young hero an aspiring actor. He may not be the best caretaker, the best student and maybe not even the best son, but he becomes a great friend and shows that underneath he's also an impressive artist with a dream.

While the themes of the film certainly transcend geography and age, the inclusion of multicultural characters further help make the film universal. Once again, Tillman directs powerful performances from his actors, led by Brooks and Dizon who both authenticated their characters with impressive passion. Despite the fact that they come from two different families and are two separate ages, they cling to each other both out of desperation and friendship. Brooks especially delivers a truthful portrayal that allows Mister to be both strong and scared. Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Mackie also illuminate their determination as a veteran homeless man and neighborhood street thug, respectively.

A touching and honest tale about the loss of innocence and the achievement of friendship, THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE will hopefully usher in a new wave of coming of age tales that inspire and redefine expectations.

Rating: B+

THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE opens in select theaters this Friday.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Aaron Eckhart Stars In The Newest Adaptation Of The Famous Mary Shelley Character In 'I, FRANKENSTEIN' [Trailer]

I know I haven't paid attention to a Frankenstein story in years, but I certainly don't remember him looking like a sliced up jock who escaped from a video game. Director Stuart Beattie helms a new adaptation of the famous monster/scientist in the upcoming thriller, I FRANKENSTEIN.

Aaron Ekchart (who's no stranger to playing physically and emotionally damaged men) steps into the role made classic by author Mary Shelley. Beattie adapts Kevin Grevioux's comic book series that carry the character into the present day, battling demons with a centuries-old grudge. More on the film below:

I FRANKENSTEIN is a modern-day epic: Frankenstein’s creature, ADAM (Eckhart), has survived to present day due to a genetic quirk in his creation. Making his way to a dark, gothic metropolis, he finds himself caught in an all-out, centuries old war between two immortal clans.

As much as I was excited about a Mary Shelley character getting a modern treatment, I'm kinda disappointed with the trailer. It reminds me of the post traumatic stress I experienced once I realized what they did to Sherlock Holmes in the Robert Downey, Jr series. It just looks jarring. But I'm always here for Eckhart, and Bill Nighy (who also appears in the movie) is usually dependable. The Underworld producers are behind it, which does not ease my concerns one bit.

Check out the new trailer below, and share your comments.

I FRANKENSTEIN opens in theaters January 24th. 

[Review] GRAVITY: A Harrowing Yet Remarkable Film About Life, Death And The Fight In Between

After being inundated by the overwhelming number of vapid sci-fi films the past season, films that offered no real depth outside the glaring special effects and smoke screens, it's refreshing to see one that takes its story seriously. Director Alfonso Cuarón’s new film, GRAVITY, strips down the flashiness of what we’ve come to expect from the genre and presents a meaningful return to form in a story that honors birth, death and the fight in between.

To say that medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (magnificently played by Sandra Bullock) is having a tough day is an understatement. She is moments away from her very first shuttle mission. She is safely planted on the machine she's working on, when all of a sudden astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) tells her to back away from the task at hand after they receive a warning of a spiraling Russian missile shot has destroyed an orbiting satellite, causing rapidly spraying debris to shoot right their way. It is at this time when the movie graduates from nervous anxiousness to a desperately lucid nightmare where nerves and speed work against you. Determined to finish the task, Dr. Stone spends an extra moment longer than they had, causing space quiet pandemonium. Once she decides to throw in the towel less than a minute later, she can't unhinge herself from the machine. Heeding Matt's firmly calm advice amid the rapidly flinging debris, she detaches her suit from the surface, sending her flailing out into space.

All you can hear is the sound of her frightened breathing muffled by the weight of her space suit. She has lost connection to Earth and her fellow companions (including the lighthearted yet reassuring Matt). She is all alone.

For the remaining minutes of this succinct 90-minute film, Cuarón suspends our fear as we watch Dr. Stone struggle to latch on to something, anything in her nightmare in space. The intensity of the situation is further amplified by the unyielding single setting, which is never once interrupted by a personal flashback (a frequent device in single setting films). But GRAVITY is more than its pressure-filled suspense. As we spend more one-on-one time with Dr. Stone, we get to know her personally not through dialogue (though she does reveal to Matt early on in the film that her daughter died at a young age) but through her internal struggle so masterfully portrayed by Bullock in a career best performance. She's not like the archetypal Ripley in Alien; when we first meet her Dr. Stone is emotionally dead. She refuses to dwell on her daughter's death by speaking about it and carrying it with her each day, but she has not moved past it emotionally and has shut down.

Throughout the film, and perhaps for the first time in a long time, Dr. Stone is forced to fight for something--her life. It is not until she is spiraling in space, struggling to survive on her own with barely an ability to fly a broken shuttle, does she begin to feel again. Nothing makes you want to hold tighter to life more than the thought of death itself, something that awakens Dr. Stone from her emotional purgatory.

Cuarón, who co-wrote the film with his son Jonás, helms a gripping and beautiful story that illuminates the circle of life in a very primal emotional sense. Where Terrence Malick aimed to recreate a very visual circle of life with effects and wild colors in The Tree of Life, Cuarón makes you feel the circle of life in a very quiet, solitary yet profound emotional journey brought on by a singular moment. Even though the cinematography is eye-catching and very realistic, Cuarón creates a very minimalist film that makes you feel more than see.

You'd be hard pressed to come up with a Bullock performance as gut-wrenching and honest as it is here. She allows Dr. Stone to not become a superhero, or a dolled up antihero. She's not perfect, and kicks herself about it to the point where she feels the urge several times to give up. In fact, it's not until she releases the emotional weight that roots her can she finally be free. She's just a woman, looking for her way. With almost 50 credits under her belt, Bullock may have finally found her definitive role.

With its themes of spirituality, religion, birth, rebirth and hope, GRAVITY is a film that will move audiences in different ways. That's the beauty of it; it transcends genres, generations and time, a modern classic.

Rating: A (***** out of *****)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why I Probably Wouldn't Last Long In A Horror Movie

Ever since I was a child, I've been a scaredy cat. I'm afraid of the dark (I can't turn off the light in one room, without turning on the light in the room I am going to first). I can't go to sleep with my closet door open because that slither of darkness between the door and the open closet is just a breeding ground for nightmares. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video still creeps me out (and don't act like it doesn't send a shiver down your spine, too). And I wouldn't dare utter the word "Candyman" in the mirror even once, never mind five times.

But I love scary movies, always have. I've seen all the classics, at least twelve times over (The Exorcist, The Shining, Psycho and Poltergeist are just a few of my favorites). So October is a very exciting month for me, because I get to re-watch all of them in steady rotation like a raging lunatic the fan I am. Still, people who know me well have always thought it was funny that I watch so many horror films because I am so jumpy.

I can usually determine whether I'm watching a great horror movie by the amount of times I yell at the screen, trying to warn the fictional characters to stay away from the obvious impending danger. I always think I'm smarter than the characters in the film and could probably fare better had I been in this situation. But then I get real with myself and admit that I'd probably be out a few minutes after the opening credits. Here are eight reasons why:

1. I'd never investigate the strange noise: Let there be a mysterious creak or shuffling in the basement or attic, I'd just huddle in the corner on my floor, with eyes tightly shut, rocking back and forth repeating the following words: "there's no place like home...there's no place like home..." Then the big bad thing would probably just come and eat me. The end.

2. My faulty cell phone would surely play dead when I need it the most: We all know that cell phones aren't the most reliable, especially in emergencies (if you question this, you haven't seen any modern horror film). Mine is particularly temperamental, even on a good day (the screen sometimes goes blank and that annoying "emergencies only" message sometimes pops up even when I'm in the heart of a metropolitan area). So when the big bad thing is chasing me and I need to call for help, I'd pull it out my bag and it would probably do something it's never done before (like melt like an m&m in my hand or something). Damn thing.

3. I'd be the one who'd want to leave immediately at any hint of danger: What I've noticed about horror films is that whenever there is a group of characters, there's always one--just one--logical person in the bunch who is terrified and suggests they all go back home. I would be this person. But, if you've noticed, this person is always the first to die, and the too curious/nosy one ends up the hero. This isn't fair, but it's the truth.

4. My state of shock would last one fatal moment too long: I pride myself on the fact that I'm a pretty decent runner, so I have the potential to outpace all my cohorts in the efforts to escape the big bad thing. But, like many children in horror movies, my fear would keep me frozen in one position, screaming with unblinking eyes staring at the big bad thing until it eventually reaches me and knocks me out cold.

5. I would waste my one bullet on a passing reflection: The protagonist in a horror film often finds a weapon to use against the big bad thing. If they're lucky, they get their hands on a gun. But this gun always has a limited number of bullets in it, if any, so when they shoot they best have good aim (and a backup weapon). And not all of them do. I'd be the person who finds a gun and would amateurishly start shooting at everything, not realizing that the gun only had one bullet in it and I used it on the innocent mirror that showed a very scary reflection of the big bad thing (which is, coincidentally, right behind me ready to clobber me). Fear kills, people.

6. I'd spend my final hours lying still in my car after I inevitably run out of gas: If I ever end up trapped in a horror movie of my own making, I'd be alone, in the dark, on the side of the road with an empty tank. And since I've seen one too many horror films, I'd be too scared to receive any help from "good Samaritans" (they're not to be trusted). So I'd sit and wait in my car for someone I know to happen by in the middle of nowhere where I am, at the cold. This would never happen, hence I'd freeze to death in my car.

7. I'm not very good in the woods, especially after dark: I'm actually not good anywhere after dark, as I mentioned before. I definitely don't want to be caught out being chased by the big bad thing in an obstructed area like a vast forest. Some people can do well in the woods. They may have built-in GPS that would lead them to the street. But I'd be the one trying to figure out making 360-degree circles in the forest like a madwoman looking for the escape route. Meanwhile, the big bad thing will stroll up to me (after laughing hysterically) and end me right then and there. SMH.

8. I'm terrified of things that are smaller than me: I have this stray cat in my neighborhood that always seems to jump out of the sky the bushes when I least expect it. I've seen it several times before, but it jumps out when I least expect it (i.e. all the time and in different places) and it always spooks the living daylights out of me. It has yet to ever do anything to me but walk down the street. I wish I could say it was bigger than 10 inches tall, but it's not. Thanks to horror films, I'm also scared of once harmless things like dolls and small children. If that little Chucky doll came at me, I always thought I'd pick him up by his legs and shove him down the garbage chute. But I'd likely cower against the wall and let him rob me of all my double AA batteries or whatever keeps that little freak going.

I'd like to think that I'd be tougher than this, but you just never know how fear will cripple you and alter your logic once you're actually in the situation. I make fun of the dumb mistakes these characters make in the films, but then I wonder, would I be any better?

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