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"Let Me In," "Freakonomics," "Leaving," More

October 1. This can only mean, for movie-lovers at least, that the Halloween season has officially begun. Not Coming to a Theater Near You launches its seventh edition of 31 Days of Horror today: "Our purpose with this feature was initially one of novelty, an attempt to broadly illustrate the gamut of what is dually one of cinema's most innovative and derivative genres, expressed over the course of a single month. Seven years on, the novelty of our survey has proven consistent, but the volume of our coverage thus far — over one-hundred and eighty days of horror, to which we will now add over thirty more — speaks demonstrably to the depth, variety, and longevity of the horror genre."

Wonders in the Dark has been counting down the top 100 horror films since early September, timed to hit #1, naturally, on October 31. You may want to begin with their Horror Primer.

"1958 must surely be the year when horror and science-fiction really caught fire." John McElwee explains how that happened. Bill Ryan begins his annual survey of horror fiction, "The Kind of Face You SLASH!!!" Greg Ferrara's begun his month-long series and Arbogast has his 31 Screams going. Meantime, Jack Sommersby lists Hollywood Bitchslap's "Top 10 Horror Films." And Bob Turnbull's put together a horror montage (6'28") set to Mogwai's "Batcat."

A couple horror flicks and another about horror flicks open in theaters today as well. "Let Me In, the American remake of Let the Right One In, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's 2008 paeon to adolescent angst, love, and exsanguinary activities, is a doozie of a do-over," Marc Savlov assures us in the Austin Chronicle. "Scripted by [Matt] Reeves and based on the novel and original Swedish screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let Me In moves the action from a lifeless and snowbound Stockholm suburb in the early Eighties to a lifeless and snowy New Mexico nowheresville in the early Eighties. Much of the story remains the same, but Reeves and Lindqvist throw some remarkably effective curveballs that not only heighten the original's existential sense of childhood (and by extension adult) dread but also serve as a reminder that the horrors and rare joys of preadolescence — real, imagined, or other — exist beyond the socially manufactured idea of borders."

It's "a great cover," agrees Ed Gonzalez in Slant, "though it begs the question: Does Matt Reeves have a style of his own? After Cloverfield (something borrowed — namely, from The Blair Witch Project) and Let Me In (not unlike Tomas Alfredson's predecessor, it is — in color and emotion — something almost unbearably blue), maybe next time we may expect something legitimately new from the man who cut his teeth as a writer for the teen drama Felicity. For now, though, do not doubt Reeves's shrewd, unmistakably humane understanding of the hurt and alienation felt by the young, because what makes Let Me In so remarkable, beyond its unexpected political perspective, is how that emotion is reflected in its self-consciously lush artistry."

For the Stranger's David Schmader, "against all odds and historical precedent, the American remake is as good as the original." More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Mary Pols (Time), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager (he gives it a B), AO Scott (New York Times), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B-), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8½/10). At Vulture, Bilge Ebiri has Reeves list his "Ten Favorite Movie Kills."

 



"In the 2007 indie horror hit Hatchet, a hulking, facially deformed ghoul named Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) slaughtered a boatful of Louisiana bayou tourists as revenge for his own murder, and that of his father, years before," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "The only survivor was Marybeth (Danielle Harris), a college girl who returns to the swamp in Hatchet II to kick Victor Crowley back to Hell."

"Hatchet II is distinguished both by a funky, frisky sense of humor, and gore of great quality and quantity," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "There's enough viscera on display here to please even the most debauched Fangoria subscriber." Director Adam Green "has clearly spent far too much time imagining the many ways in which the human body can be vivisected. Thankfully, he's also spent a lot of time dreaming up surprisingly funny, vivid characters that qualify as more than just interchangeable slasher-bait."

More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Eric Hynes (TONY), Michael Ordoña (Los Angeles Times) and Ray Pride (Newcity Film). Charles Webb interviews Green for Twitch.

 



"A strange hybrid of personal journey, half-baked documentary and cleverly executed tease, S&Man (pronounced 'Sandman') gets up close and personal with three of the more extreme makers of underground horror and fetish films," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Only two appear as themselves, but you'll have to wait for the end credits to learn which; suffice to say that the actor portraying the third was unsettling enough to make me wonder why his character — if he exists at all — was still at large."

For Nick Schager, writing in the Voice, director "JT Petty has a canny awareness of the underground horror genre — too canny, in fact, to convincingly sell his documentary about the subculture as a work of pure vérité."

"S&Man is interested in the horror film in general as a perverse bridge between the genders," writes Chuck Bowen in Slant. "Many horror films, especially the slasher, are staged as implicit wars of the sexes, with have-nots viciously murdering the haves, giving release to those who might resent their place in the social pecking order of things. S&Man stresses that the creation of these movies logically serves an even more intimate catharsis for the director: These men, who have a tendency to look like serial killers themselves, get to interact with physically idealized women as they contort them to fit the demeaning images of their dreams. But it's thornier than that: Taking off from Carol Clover's influential Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, S&Man acknowledges that both genders are getting something out of these films — that the victim/killer relationship (or director/actress) is more complicated and mutually rewarding.... The film is onto something here — a working-class view of the symbiotic relationship between director and actress in the film business and its parallel with the fantasies of the viewers."

At Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater.

 

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEKEND


Well, The Social Network, of course. I've been gathering reviews and other related material at this entry since David Fincher's latest opened the New York Film Festival.

 



"Much happens, if not nearly enough, from the moment a shot rings out in the opening of the visually restrained, emotionally turbulent French drama Leaving and the film's blunt ending, when you learn who shot whom and why." Manohla Dargis in the NYT: "In between, a married woman, Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), and a single man, Ivan (Sergi López), fall in love, leading to bedroom panting, glazed post-coital smiles, domestic stress and storm, and a world that should be shattered but often comes across as canned."

Melissa Anderson in the Voice on Catherine Corsini's 2009 film: "In its first half, Leaving offers the delight of watching Scott Thomas expertly negotiate doubt and propriety, slowly giving in to lust; Suzanne and Ivan's midday rutting feels truly emancipating. But the sequence of ridiculously desperate events triggered after Suzanne leaves her vindictive spouse... call for Scott Thomas to transform from complicated bourgeoise to unbelievable desperate housewife. In any language, the actress does what she can to best serve her scripts, even when they're hopelessly beneath her."

More from Andrew Schenker (Slant), Keith Uhlich (TONY), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).

 



"Legend trumps fact in Ip Man, a kickass fictionalized biopic of the titular grandmaster of Wing Chun martial arts and mentor to Bruce Lee," writes Nick Schager in the Voice. "Hong Kong star Donnie Yen certainly proves a worthy heir to Lee's throne, bringing a calm and humility to Ip that enhances the grand precision and potency of his lightning-quick fighting techniques."

"Clichés aren't avoided, they're amplified," notes David Fear in Time Out New York. "If there's even a minuscule chance of employing lower-than-low-angle shots, gratuitous slo-mo or cut-rate Chinese kitsch for effect, [director Wilson] Yip not only exploits the opportunity, but slathers these elements on a thousandfold. Everything from the direction of actors to the dialogue ('It's not your style…the problem is within you!') signifies the work of a filmmaker who favors easy audience-baiting reactions over dramatic momentum."

"The film was a box office hit in China (and its sequel, Ip Man 2, will be one of the world's top-grossing non-English-language films this year)." Mike Hale in the NYT: "That may have had less to do with the excellent fight sequences, directed by Sammo Hung with the help of one of Mr Ip's sons, than with the appeals to nationalism and, particularly, the heavy-handed depiction of the occupying Japanese as giggling sadists or implacable killing machines. Over all, the film is a prime exhibit in the relentless and regrettable shift away from a natural, allusive, romantic Hong Kong style and toward a mainland studio aesthetic that is stagebound, literal, overstuffed and sentimental — like the big-budget Hollywood weepies of the 60s or the 80s."

More from Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant) and Noel Murray (AV Club).

 



"An attempt to turn the 2005 nonfiction bestseller into a high-energy docu-romp, Freakonomics is a misconceived botch," declares the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "The concept sounds promising: Five documentary filmmakers, all stars of the art-house circuit, have been brought on board to each illustrate a chapter of Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner's ode to bizarre statistics and the unexpected social truths they imply. Because the directors worked alone rather than collaborating, though, there's no connective tissue other than brief interstitials and author interviews shot by Seth Gordon (The King of Kong). Worse, there's no consistency: The main segments — essentially stand-alone shorts — are tonally all over the map."

On the other hand, Dan Kois for the Voice: "Though that overarching throughline never really materializes, one of the pleasures of Freakonomics is seeing how very different filmmakers — Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), and the team of Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp) — approach basically identical material. The 20-minute shorts range in style from traditional fly-on-the-wall narrative to a kind of hyperactive PowerPoint presentation."

More from Mark Asch (L), Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Kenneth Turan (LAT) and Lauren Wissot (Slant).

For Filmmaker, Damon Smith talks with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady "about teens, shooting for the small screen, and why two heads are better than one." Movieline's ST VanAirsdale interviews Morgan Spurlock. Evan Narcisse talks with Seth Gordon for IFC.com. And for the NYT, Catherine Rampell talks with all of the contributors, but also with Magnolia Pictures president Eamonn Bowles about the release strategy: VOD via iTunes first, then "theaters in 16 markets on Friday and then roll into another 29 theaters around the country throughout the month." Bowles: "The business model for independent film has collapsed, and anyone who thinks otherwise is basically borderline delusional. So we try to stay open-minded about the commerce of film."

 

BRIEFLY


Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York on Douchebag: "The title certainly gets your attention. And fortunately, so does reed-thin lead actor Andrew Dickler, who gives an inspired comic performance as Sam Nussbaum, a days-from-his-wedding adulterer reunited with his estranged younger brother, Tom [Ben York Jones]. With his mountain-man beard, slacker-hippie attire and flippant wit, Sam is like Groucho Marx gone Grizzly Adams." Their road trip "is like a wispily superficial redo of the transcendental journey undertaken in Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, and like that film, Douchebag beautifully utilizes regional landmarks... But the film never entirely overcomes the sense that it's a calling-card vehicle" for cowriter-director Drake Doremus. More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Noel Murray (AV Club), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT) and Ella Taylor (NPR).

"Jouncing between acting exercises, The Hungry Ghosts' umbrella theme is the search for some holistic wellness in the hectic, enervating climes of Greater New York, set over one day, night, and morning-after," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "The film gestated at Off-Broadway's Studio Dante, run by Michael Imperioli, who has invited the cream of indigenous NYC acting to perform his writing/directing debut." TONY's Keith Uhlich: "Imperioli cites John Cassavetes as an influence — indeed, one shot of slo-mo silhouettes aimlessly wandering the streets (hungry ghosts, Michael?) could have come from Shadows B-roll footage. But the Sopranos actor-turned-director is really serving us a heaping plateful of Haggis (Paul, that is)." More from Mike Hale (NYT) and James van Maanen.

Scott Tobias for NPR: "It's funny to imagine the pitch meeting that brought Barry Munday, a deeply off-putting independent comedy, from page to screen: How do you sell a sane producer on the premise of a womanizer who loses the family jewels to the business end of a trumpet, then finds out he's going to be a father? 'It's like Knocked Up without the testicles!' writer-director Chris D'Arienzo must have announced optimistically, only to find to his astonishment that the man behind the desk was whipping out his checkbook." More from Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Karina Longworth (LA Weekly) and Nathan Rabin (AV Club).

 



Hot Summer Days, the "first Chinese-language production for 20th Century Fox is a super-slick, multistrand narrative about sweltering summertime hookups that effectively forgoes story for a succession of shots demonstrating how pretty young things perspire under bright lights," writes Eric Hynes for TONY. "[I]t's the kind of film where a young girl dies and the shadow of a butterfly then floats skyward," notes Ernest Hardy in the Voice. "There are tears, laughter, and eye-candy of both the male and female persuasions (including a sexily taciturn Daniel Wu as a sushi chef afraid to love), and while the film is slight, predictable, and familiar, it's great popcorn fare." More from Neil Genzlinger (NYT) and Glenn Heath, Jr (Slant).

"A bleak prison drama from the English team of Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin, Release recounts the tribulations of a gay priest who has been incarcerated for what we are primed to believe is pedophilia," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Borne on the parallel tones of grit and tenderness that characterized last year's Shank — the directors' writing debut about a gay thug living on the down-low — Release is a predictable yet poetic reflection on faith, hypocrisy and the weight of conscience." More from Michelle Orange (Voice).

"Nine Nation Animation is the third installment in the series The World According to Shorts, anthologies of award-winning short films made outside the United States," writes Mike Hale in the NYT. "It's the first to consist entirely of animation, and it's a winner, with only one or two duds among the nine movies." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant) and Andrew Schenker (Voice).

Andy Webster in the NYT: "Somewhere, there's a sparkling gay romance waiting to conquer the mainstream. Alas, Is It Just Me?, for all its good intentions, isn't it. Though the film, competently acted and shot on bare financial means, laudably upends perceptions of the gay dating scene, disdaining nightclub hedonism for committed relationships, it fails to ignite." More from Michelle Orange (Movieline).

"A tired mash-up of every men-behaving-badly sitcom ever to grace a third-tier television network, Speed-Dating tries to coax laughs from characters so dated even Eddie Murphy would balk," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. More from Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Andrew Schenker (TONY) and James van Maanen.

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