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- The Call Of Cthulhu - The H.P. Lovecraft Preservation Society, a group of dauntless fans that created the brilliant, Cthulhu-themed musical, A Shoggoth On The Roof, have created the ultimate fan film, an incredible tribute to the writer whose work seeded modern horror favorites like Re-Animator and From Beyond. Shot like a 1920's era silent film, the 47-minute feature is technically amazing, shot (in black-and-white), lit and performed like an authentic film of the period would have been (although it would have horrified people of the time right into Arkham Sanitarium.) Considered Lovecraft's most famous story, the story of a man who inherits a collection of documents detailing the ghastly Cthulhu Cult, it is very faithfully adapted, not to mention super-efficient. The title cards are in the viewer's choice of an astonishing 24 different languages, and the lush, symphonic score can be played in hi-fi and the kitschy-fun, lo-fi "Mythoscope". A skillful build and an extremely satisfying payoff (think creature design King Kong '33 style) add up to one of the smartest horror films of recent memory.
- Delicatessen - Before charming audiences with Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet was
partnered with Marc Caro, and films like The City Of Lost Children and this
fellow dark treat resulted. Long absent from DVD shelves, it concerns an apartment building, post-apocalypse, in which
the landlord goes all Sweeney Todd
in an effort to feed his tenants. Co-producer and Monty Python
alum Terry Gilliam contributed his warped sensibilities, which allowed
these toxic twins to buff their minor cult masterpiece with a distinctive Brazil wax.
- The Family Stone - Thomas Bezucha's sweet ensemble piece is a Trojan horse of sorts. With a cast that includes Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Claire Danes and Craig T. Nelson, one would expect wacky non-stop holiday hijinks, in that the lot of them are skilled comic actors. Yes, this portrait of a changing family of academic Bohemians has its funny moments (with the physical comedy feeling a bit forced), but at its heart is a whole lot of well-metered, hanky-needin' Terms of Endearment grade human drama. Bezucha, who drew indirectly from his own college town experience with his own family in Amherst, Mass., gives his leads the kinds of dramatic arcs that truly test their mettle (not that there was any doubt as to whether or not linchpin Keaton could.) For the most part, they all pull it off, connecting with us as the reach out to each other, including the usually by-the-numbers Mulroney, with all his cryptic appeal. Bezucha's subtleness works, from a seemingly minor but purposeful affectation to creating the Stones' family home with such care and lived-in detail. The flawed but loving family may hit a little too close to home, especially during this already depressing time of the year, but humanity never takes a holiday, and this movie is a bittersweet reminder of that.
- Flight 93 - While making an objective movie about September 11, 2001 may still be a questionable effort, the effect of this A&E event is still undeniably powerful. It forensically reconstructs and dramatizes a likely scenario of United Flight 93, the airliner that went down in a Pennsylvania field (and not into one of its two likely targets: The U.S. Capitol or The White House). Director Peter Markle and writer Nevin Schreiner extrapolate judiciously from telephone conversations that some of the roughly 40 passengers had with people on the ground during the plane's hijacking by bin Laden-backed Muslim fundamentalists. Markle and Schreiner use their TV movie sensibilities to convey the tragedy of the day and the heroics of Flight 93's doomed crew without being exploitative. Not to be confused with Paul Greengrass's superior, just-released United 93.
- Hoodwinked - Proving that Pixar is still the one to beat is this CGI comedy from the former Disney allies of the newly formed Weinstein Company. It is the story of Little Red Riding Hood told from four very different perspectives, with a lot of attention paid to continuity in cleverly weaving all four tales together, and a script, while somewhat schizophrenic (thanks to three directors), that does not let up. The voice talent is solid, and includes former Disney princess Anne Hathaway as Red, Family Guy staple Patrick Warburton as the very Fletch-like Wolf and Glenn Close as Granny. The songs, save for a riotous number by a mountain goat (Benjy Gaither) whose curse dictates that he sing all his dialogue, are forgettable, but the movie's biggest crime is its overwhelmingly cheap look. The character designs are uninspired, and the humans look like cumbersome, Plasticine Thunderbirds puppets. The motion is very mechanical, and even makes the now-primitive looking Toy Story seem fluid and natural by comparison.
- Last Holiday - Queen Latifah's brand of comedy in turkeys like Taxi and Bringing Down The House has been disappointingly broad, considering her vulnerable Everygirl charm, which thankfully is on full display in this remake of the 1950 British gem. Latifah plays a retail clerk who learns she has three weeks to live and takes a trip to Czechoslovakia where she lives it up on her life savings. Some Being There style misperceptions make her the center of speculation as she comes to terms with her unlived life, which would have been far more precious if the ending was not a total fraud.
- 24 Hours On Craigslist - Michael Ferris Gibson's super low-budget documentary was a pretty lofty undertaking -- choose an engaging cross-section of the (San Francisco Bay Area) folks who post on the legendary Internet bulletin board and dispatch a camera crew to spend a day with each of them. The result is mixed, from quirky and interesting to monotonous and irrelevant. He conveys the phenomenon adequately, even though it occasionally becomes evident that he is trying to make boring weirdos seem less so.